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Sunday, November 24, 2013

(“I finally decided my future lies beyond the yellow brick road.")...Elton John

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Nineteen

Boston, Massachusetts, 19 February 1973

    The smell of pancakes cooking nearly overpowered me! The warm fresh aroma of the batter as it bubbled and tanned on the hot griddle wafted from the kitchen and across to the counter that I was perched on. I watched as the waitress, Patty her name tag read, paraded them by me in a steady stream around the diner, covering all points of the compass. There were buttermilk, blueberry, banana, strawberry, buckwheat, and every now and then a golden brown waffle. Oh Lord not the waffles, each of them with a gooey pile of sumptuous strawberries and a healthy dollop of home made whipped cream crowning the heavenly concoction! The smells were driving me mad, I had to force myself not to leap onto the next plate that passed me and lick the pat of melting butter right off of a warm stack of hotcakes!
    Picking up the thick ceramic mug in front of me I took a big gulp of freshly brewed coffee and washed down the saliva before it drooled onto my shirt. Eggs and home fries to the left of me, French toast and sausage to the right, it was almost too much to bear. Just as I was about to surrender to temptation and spear a sausage link dowsed in maple syrup from the plate nearest me, Paulie’s booming voice rescued me from my shameful moment of weakness.
   “Ah, Ah, Ah, Ethan buddy, you want to start your new job doing penance for Oscar Meyer?”
Startled, I stealthily retracted my wandering fork and laid it next to its brother and sister, the knife and spoon.
   “Oh man, this is a heck of a way to start the day. First, I’m last in the pancake queue, and now I’m totally waylaid by a tip toeing grizzly bear!” 
    Paul laughed and sat at the counter next to me, patting me on the shoulder as he did so. He tossed his P-coat over the two seats next to him and signaled to Patty that he would like some coffee. I looked at him with a furrowed brow turning my face into a question mark. That was of course, as everyone knows, the universal facial expression for what, why, who, when? Paul nodded in acknowledgement that my silent message was received and shot me the equally well known just a sec signal, the single index finger wave, as he thanked Patty for bringing his coffee and asked for two more as well. He took a quick sip and set his mug down, giving Patty the okey-doke gesture making an “O” with his thumb and index finger, thanking her for the mighty fine cup of joe she had brought him. Then he turned to me and said, “Kenny, Carolyn and Shannon are right behind me. I saw them as I walked in; they were parking the car in the lot.”
   “Oh,” I replied, nodding my head.
   “Well buddy, are you ready for your trip to sunny California? As for me, I’m just a little nervous about the new job in Chi-town,” Paul said.
   As fate would have it, today he and I would be flying as far as Chicago together. He had just been hired as an air traffic controller at O’Hare International Airport, and was on his way to a new life of his own. The Navy had been good enough to teach him this trade during his service on board the USS Constellation, while on station in the South China Sea. We had been within a few hundred miles of each other the entire time I was in country with the Marine Corps, and never even knew it.
   I grunted and nodded an affirmative reply, then pointed to my cup as Patty breezed by, indicating that I wanted a refill. She blew the hair from her eyes and gave me a look that made me wish that I had been more polite with my request. I mouthed an apology and she smiled weakly, making me feel even more like an ass. I made a mental note to make sure that I absolved myself by leaving an obscenely large tip when we left. I also made yet another mental entry onto the list, volume three now (major backsliding during finals week in 1972). The tinkling chimes on the front door rattled and rang, turning the heads of a few restless children as they looked to see what the cat dragged in.
   “Over here Kenny,” Paulie shouted at our friend as he entered the diner with his family and my sister in tow. Ken waived at us and I flagged down Patty to ask about a larger table. She leaned across the counter holding a half-full coffeepot and motioned for me to do likewise.
   “A big group just left, I’ll have the table bused ASAP, it’ll just be a minute Father,” she said sweetly.
   “Thanks,” I said awkwardly. I had forgotten about the collar and was embarrassed by my assumption that she might be interested in me. For a millisecond I thought that I was still just a regular guy, I could see that my new status was going to take some getting used to. Ken and company reached the counter and the hugs and greetings got started.
   “Well if it isn’t the great Father Kelly, top of the mornin to ye Father, top o’ the mornin,” Kenny said in his best Irish accent. It wasn’t bad for a first generation Chinese American, actually he did a much better German accent, but then he had been practicing that one on Carolyn’s parents for a while now. I hugged my buddy and we did the standard guy back slap, just to make sure nobody got the impression that we were enjoying the embrace more than we should be. Carolyn nudged in and broke up our hug-fest and kissed me on the cheek. She was holding Sophie as well, so I got a double smooch as the child landed a wet kiss on the other side of my face.
   “Hello Ethan, I’m so proud of you,” she said, beaming at me.
   “Me too, Uncle Ethan, me too,” Sophie added, reaching out with both arms for me to take hold of her. Carolyn released her into my arms and Sophie hugged my neck as hard as she could, making her little growling sound, pretending to be the Incredible Hulk. It was a little skill she acquired from her Uncle Paulie, much to her parent’s dismay.
   “If I had a nickel for every picture that was ruined by that awful face that Paul taught her,” Carolyn lamented, swatting Paulie on the shoulder as she said so.
   “OK, break it up you two, take the donnybrook outside, let me in there to hug my big brother,” Shannon said playfully. Sophie fussed a little as I gently handed her over to her mother, and I stood to embrace my sister. Shannon and I held onto each other for a moment and then she leaned back just enough to look up into my eyes. She held my gaze for a second, her eyes clear and sparkling, and then she pushed away from me, retreating a step or two. She stamped her foot just like she did when she was a child and gruffly folded her arms in front of her.
   “Oh, I am so mad at you Ethan Kelly,” she said startling the others and me as well.
   “I’m sick and tired of always saying goodbye to you!”
   “I want you to promise me that this will be the last time,” she said feigning anger, and then smiling to set everyone at ease again. She laughed and poked at me, looked around the room, and made sure that everyone heard her when she added, “I’m kidding, I swear, I’m only kidding.”
   I watched her and she saw that I was watching. I knew she wasn’t kidding, and she knew that I knew. Shannon went over to Paulie and hugged the big man like he was a six-foot version of Buster, the rag tag teddy bear we shared as kids. Paulie hugged her back, a bewildered look on his gob. He made eye contact with me, an odd if not somewhat guilty expression on his face that said, “where did that coming from, she hates me!” Before I could think of what to say to either of them, Patty arrived to brake up our small reunion, and lead us to our freshly cleaned table in the corner of the diner.
   “This way folks,” she said with a smile. And we all followed her to take our seats like the dutiful and hungry young Americans that we were!

   Nearly ninety minutes later and following the feast of the decade, we sat chatting idly while we waited for Patty to bring our check. Kenny was skillfully working over his teeth with a toothpick, which by the way, was fascinating Sophie to no end. And Carolyn was keeping Paul and Shannon in stitches telling the story of the time Ken and Sophie tried to give, Wilson, Sophie’s black Labrador puppy, his first bath. Sophie had named the puppy Wilson after the mait’re de at Ken’s folk’s swanky restaurant. Wilson the dog had a white diamond shaped birthmark on his neck that looked very much like a bow tie, so he appeared as though he were wearing a tuxedo round the clock. Not being in on the joke, poor Wilson the person never quite understood why the boss’s grandchild would always giggle and point his way whenever the family visited the restaurant.
   Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Sophie, who had lost interest in her Dad’s amateur dentistry as well as the dull banter of the other chitchatting adults, had fallen asleep while we weren’t looking. She was now napping comfortably curled up in my lap. I looked down at her and watched her breathing softly and smiled to myself. To be honest, I was a little envious of Kenny right at this moment; he just seemed to have it all going for him. Father Mac had warned me that these sorts of doubts and heartaches would come and go throughout the life of a priest. It was normal to envy he said, but it was quite another thing indeed to covet.
      This was one of the reasons that it took so long to become a priest. It was why novices were given an opportunity to serve before taking their vows. Because giving up the secular life was a difficult decision for everyone, it was meant to be difficult. The call to service was deeply personal, and could be misread in many ways. In order to truly understand whether or not the calling was for you, it was important to count the costs, to understand the sacrifices, as they were to last your entire earthly life.
   I looked over at Ken. He had joined in the retelling of the dog-bathing incident and was correcting Carolyn on a couple of key details, bringing even more laughter to the table. I then looked around the diner, it was still pretty busy and I could see that our waitress had her hands full. I decided that the last thing she needed was another me first gesture from across the room.  I looked out the window and watched the traffic move slowly.
      It was fairly light as opposed to nonexistent like yesterday in the wake of the blizzard. During the night the snowplows had piled drifts four feet tall on either side of the street, but there were still more pedestrians than autos. Sophie stirred in my lap and nudged her way into a more comfortable position continuing with her nap. As she pushed against my coat I felt the papers inside my breast pocket. Reaching in, I removed them, and unfolded the two-page letter. It was the letter that I had received three years earlier from Mitchell Rojas’ wife, Elena. I stared at the letter a moment without reading the words.
   I remembered the day it arrived in the mail, re-routed to me from Albany by my Mother. It had come more than a year after I had written to Mitchell’s family about his death. To be honest it had been long enough that I had successfully put it all, put them all, totally out of my short-term memory. By then I had launched myself into school and the pursuit of this very moment with all of my heart and soul. It was a kind of a defense mechanism, I knew that, but it was a really effective one. And up until the day that this letter had arrived, I had managed to put all of that part of my life behind me, securely locked away in a place where it could no longer hurt me. Now, I had already read this letter at least a dozen times, but I couldn’t resist the urge to read it once more. You know, I had actually tried to reach Elena and her son once or twice, but the letters that I had sent kept coming back stamped in red, return to sender, or, not at this address. I stroked Sophie’s soft black hair and read silently to myself:

Dear Father Ethan,

      I wanted to write and tell you how grateful I am for the nice letter that you sent. My Mitchell, he had written to me several times about you and said that one day he would bring you to our home and introduce us all to the gringo Padre that he met in Hell. He told us about the way that you would share your letters with everyone when they were all homesick and blue. He said that you were teaching him to read better, and fix his English so that he could get a good job and not sweat in the fields anymore.
      Whenever he wrote about you I could see his face and I knew that he was smiling. When I got the letter from the Marines, the one about him dying, it was cold, only two lines, and it made me feel cold, it made me shudder, like I was standing on a grave. It didn’t even sound like they were talking about a person; it was more like they had lost a jeep or something. It made me very sad, it made me very angry, it made me want to hurt them back. Forgive me Father, I know that these are bad thoughts, but you are a priest and who can I confess these things to if not you?
      When you’re letter came a few weeks later, I was afraid to open it. I didn’t open it for many days. But one afternoon, after Miguel, my son, came home from school, I watched him sitting at the table, eating a jelly sandwich. He looked so much like his papa, and I thought of his letters and I went to read them all again. Sitting on top of the stack was your unopened letter and I picked it up and held it for a moment. I decided that it wasn’t from the Marines or the Government because the address was hand written, so I opened it. Your words were so sweet, so beautiful; they made my Mitchell, my husband, come to life again. You gave me back my life in the few minutes that it took to read your letter.
      For this I will never forget you, my prayers will always be with you Father. Please remember me and Miguel to the Lord and the Blessed Virgin when you pray each day and each night. I know that Mitchell is waiting for me in Heaven; I know that I will see him again in his glory.
      Peace be with you Father Ethan, forever your sister in Christ,
   I set the letter down and saw that everyone was looking at me. Feeling the wetness on my cheeks I realized that I had been crying. Shannon scooted closer to me and put her arms around me, pulling my head close to hers. She reached up and wiped the tears away from my face with a tissue and took the letter from my hands. I didn’t protest, I just held onto Sophie and looked across the table and past Carolyn, out at the snowdrifts in the street. The sun had begun to peek out from behind the heavy cloud cover, and for a moment it seemed like the forecasted storm might not materialize.
      My face felt warm as the light shined through the big window and I came out of my little trance. By now the letter had made its way around the table and everyone was quiet. Only Paul knew what I was feeling and he respectfully held his tongue, he knew that words only brought the ghosts. I decided to take the advise that I had given to Junior Martinez those many years ago, to leave the war behind me, where it belonged, it had no place here, not now. Our cute but exhausted waitress interrupted the awkward silence thankfully.
   “Sorry for the wait folks, here’s your check, hope everything was OK,” Patty said cheerfully, tearing the slip of paper from her book and putting it on the table in front of me. I started to reach for hit, but Paulie swatted my hand and grabbed it.
   “What do you think you’re doing, this is all on me,” he said reaching past Shannon and pinching my cheek. Paul set the check on the table and leaned forward to free his thick wallet from its snug housing in his pants pocket. While he was digging for it Kenny reached over and grabbed the check.
   “Not so fast ya big ape, this is on the Wong family today, Happy Belated Valentine’s Day one and all,” Ken said with a big grin. 
   “Thanks Kenny, that’s sweet,” Shannon said, reaching across the table and squeezing his hand.
   “You know, I’ve been doing pretty well since Pop turned the family business over to my management company. I’m showing him that he didn’t waste his money on all that higher education. Me and my Harvard MBA are gonna open high-class Asian restaurants from coast to coast my friends,” Kenny said, tugging at the lapels of his Brooks Brothers jacket with pride. 
   “Show off,” Carolyn said teasing her husband lovingly. He reached into his jacket and retrieved a slender, posh, alligator skin billfold and pulled out his Diner’s Club Card.
   “Plastic man, it’s the future dudes, mark my words, in thirty years cash will be passé!”
Ken set the card on top of the check and signaled for our waitress to come over. Paul relaxed and settled back into his seat.
   “You’re the man Kenny-san,” he said.
   “You’re the man!”
   “Dude, I’m Chinese, not Japanese! Jeez, you’ve known me your whole life! You’ve sat at my mother’s table and scarfed down gallons of hot and sour soup. My Pop even gave you a Chinese name at your sixth birthday party at his restaurant when the staff sang you the birthday song in Mandarin ya goofball,” Ken said exasperated!
   “Honey, leave him alone, he didn’t mean anything by it,” Carolyn said rubbing Paul’s shoulder sympathetically. Suddenly a little voice broke through all the huffing and puffing and announced to the table.
   “Uncle Ethan, I have to tinkle!” Sophie sat up, stretched her little arms in a big girl yawn, and then began rubbing her eyes with tiny fists.
   “I’ll take her,” Shannon said, reaching over to take the child from my lap.
   “Come on baby, your Auntie Shannon will take you to the loo dear,” my sister cooed.
   “Hey, wait for me,” Carolyn said, “I’ve had four cups of coffee and it’s a long drive back to Albany!”
   “We’re really going to have to make tracks after we drop Ethan and Paul at Logan if we’re going to stay ahead of this storm!”
   She elbowed Kenny in the stomach, “Scoot over Ken, I really need to pee,” she pleaded, pushing at her husband with her two hands and her head.
   We all rolled left out of the cramped corner booth so that she could catch up with Shannon and Sophie. I got up right after Shannon and Ken followed me as we started the exit daisy chain. Paul was last to get out and the three of us males gathered up all of the coats while we waited for the women to return. Patty came back with Ken’s receipt and waited to retrieve his signature. While he signed the slip I pulled out a twenty-dollar bill from my pocket and set it under an empty juice glass. I didn’t want to forget to take care of Patty and make up for my shameful lack of compassion earlier. Shannon waived at us from near the front door and we made our way over to her and then out of the diner. We spilled out onto the sidewalk just as the clouds rolled back in, covering up the sun that had peeked out only moments before. The wind began to blow a little harder and I turned my collar up against the sudden chill. Ken pointed over to the parking lot while I shouldered my duffel bag and followed the crowd to the station wagon.
   “You sure you’ve got room for this bunch, I mean with the storm coming and all,” I asked?
   “We could just take a cab you know,” I said, pointing at Paul and myself.
   “Yeah, we could just take a cab,” Paul chimed in.
   “Don’t be silly you two,” Carolyn said.
   “Yeah, don’t be silly Uncle Ethan, noodle head,” Sophie added.
   “Noodle head, that’s a new one,” I said chuckling.
   “Well at least we know she didn’t learn it from Shannon, there are more than four letters,” Paul teased.
   “SHUT IT,” Shannon quipped at Paul, socking him hard in the arm.
   “Owww! Why are the Irish so gosh-darned hot headed!”
   “If it’s a donnybrook ya want, I’m just the girl that can give it to ya,” Shannon said harshly but playfully, as she walked quickly to catch up with the Wong family.
  She turned back after a few strides and stuck her tongue out at Paul before she climbed into the car. And if I’m not mistaken, I believe I saw a wicked little smile on her face as she did so. I made another mental note; Shannon and I were going have a talk soon that was for sure. I looked over at Paul to study his reaction. He had none, which wasn’t unusual, so he was safe for the moment. Ken opened the tailgate of the station wagon and I tossed in my duffel bag, as did Paulie. We had been raised together as boy scouts and had been trained by the same branch of the service. So we had similar notions about traveling, light and lean, and the less you carry the less you ferry, that was our creed. I squeezed in next to Shannon who sat between Paul and me. Ken and Carolyn were up front and Sophie was strapped into a car seat between them.
   “OK, everybody comfy,” Ken asked?
   “Guess we’re off to Logan to watch Paul and Ethan take to the friendly skies.”
   I suddenly detected a familiar odor and immediately looked over at Paul. Shannon was already pinching her nose and looking his way as well.
   “Oh man, Paulie,” Kenny said from the driver’s seat, looking at Paul in the rear view mirror.
   “You couldn’t cut us a break and let that bad boy go outside!”
   “Hey, it wasn’t me, I swear,” Paul exclaimed, raising both hands in the air as if he were surrendering.
   A tiny, evil giggle came from the front of the car and I looked that way in time to see Carolyn pinching her nose and pointing at the small bundle of joy sitting next to her. Four doors opened simultaneously and all of the people over three feet tall exited the vehicle holding their breath and gasping for fresh air as soon as their feet touched the snow covered ground.
   “Darn it Ken, I told you not to feed her any of your chili and cheese omelet, you know what that stuff does to her,” Carolyn whined at her husband. Kenny blushed and looked to the rest of us for support.
   “It was just a bite, I swear, one bite,” he said, pleading his case.
   We could hear Sophie giggling loudly from inside the car while we stood around with the doors open and waited for the chill breeze to whip through the vehicle and work its magic. One by one we began to laugh hysterically until finally we had become quite the spectacle.
   People began to point at us from inside diner and from the passing cars. Its funny how God works I thought. A little bit ago my heart was aching because I was sad and sorrowful. Now my stomach was aching because I was happy and feeling pretty good about things, standing in the snow, freezing my testicles off alongside of my family and my friends.
   So it’s true, God never gives us more than we can handle. I guess that means that the answers are always in the love.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

(“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”)…Proverbs 16:24

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Eighteen

Los Angeles, California, April 1969

   The telephone rang and rang in the outer office of the Monsignor, Father Pablo Villa Cruz. But the shrill bells fell on deaf ears, echoing fruitlessly down the long corridors of the Archdioceses of Los Angeles. It was already half past eight in the evening, well after vespers and too late to reach anyone at their desks. Everyone had either gone home or had moved on to the rectory to settle in for the night. Whoever it was would have to call back in the morning, as the good Father did not like those confounded answering contraptions. It was his notion that those machines just encouraged people to be annoying and disrespectful of the privacy of others.

“If I wanted to take calls at all hours I would buy a recliner and live in my office,” he would say whenever his assistants pleaded with him to join the twentieth century. The infernal ringing finally subsided and the disturbing vibrations died a natural death as they faded into nothingness. Whoever it was and whatever they wanted would be dealt with tomorrow.

Fresno, California, April 1969

“Goddamn it,” Father Willet said slamming down the receiver onto the cradle. He quickly genuflected and repented for his outburst and blasphemy.

“Forgive me Lord, but that old man just gets my goat,” he said looking to the heavens, talking more at himself than actually praying.

He was of course, speaking of Monsignor Villa Cruz, the very man that he had apprenticed under, and who had placed him in charge of his own parish at a very early age. Father William Willet had been at Saint John’s for nearly thirty years now and had become something of a neighborhood icon in the process of building his congregation.

He was known affectionately among the parishioners as Wee Billy, although you would never actually hear that term of endearment uttered in his presence. Standing in at a whopping, five feet two inches, he was small only in physical stature, as he had the heart of a giant. Father Willet had arrived at Saint John’s Cathedral during a time when the political climate of the rural countryside was sleepy and quite, almost dull for a young priest, looking to prove to God that he had called the right man into service. But within a couple of years the winds of social change began to blow, even way out west, and a great turmoil was on the way.

A natural born cross bearer, and a true champion for underdogs and lost causes, Father Willet put himself at the forefront of each new movement. First, he campaigned for American support to China after the invasion by Japan. Then, conversely, he supported with equal vigor, the rights of Japanese Americans in relocation camps like Manzanar. He took a brief sabbatical when he left Saint John’s Cathedral for two years, from 1950 to 1952 to serve his country in Korea as a chaplain with the United States Army. Later, he stood side by side with illegal aliens in their struggle for basic rights as human beings.

He had even started his own freedom riding campaign in support of Rosa Parks, the courageous Negro woman who stood her ground in Jackson Mississippi. He viewed discrimination in the country as a national plague, one that was multi-racial, multi-cultural, and multi-faith. It always amazed him whenever he included an historical lesson in his sermon, watching the puzzled looks from the pews as he spoke of the plight of the early Chinese and Irish immigrants. For many people in the congregation, color was the common denominator when factoring the problems of segregation and discrimination. The spiritually human equation that his congregation subscribed to read this way, brown and black divided by white. That was how people defined the social norm around these parts.

It never occurred to any of them that ignorance and hate could actually be color-blind. The truth, according to Father Willet, was that evil was an equal opportunity spoiler, and it flourished in the hearts of those who could not love beyond themselves. Why do people treat love like the good china, only bringing it out on special occasions? Was it so hard to understand that it was in the everyday dishes where love could be found? This would be a lesson that he would spend the rest of his career and his life teaching to his flock. In his mind, love was the simple answer to all the hard questions where God’s children were concerned. Now he was finding time to organize peaceful demonstrations in protest of the war in Viet Nam, applying those principles of love that he believed in so passionately.

However, the crowning achievement of his long service to date was probably the community-sponsored school that he began for the children of migrant farm workers, those who were in the country illegally. These children by law, up until very recently, were not permitted to attend State funded public schools. Sure, the local cities usually allowed the kids to enroll if they could provide a permanent address within their district, and to be honest, most of the time the State officials would look the other way. But in Father Willet’s eyes, just because there were loop holes to squeeze through didn’t excuse the legislature from punishing hard working immigrant families, albeit unofficial immigrants, in a nation of immigrants. For goodness sake, our founding fathers themselves arrived at Plymouth Rock without papers!

“Everyone has the right to learn, to have the opportunity to read and write, to take their best shot in life, to provide for themselves, and for their family, its as basic as it gets people” he would preach to his flock at each and every mass.

“Remember, it is pleasing to God to give cheerfully, not just when it's easy, but when it’s hard, much more so when it’s hard!”

“Did not our Lord Jesus, indiscriminately save the souls of us all?”

“So who are we to decide who is privileged and who is not,” he would beseech them one and all.

Not everyone was happy to hear these words as they cut deep and required personal reflection. Nor were many pleased by his activist approach in serving the Church. The haves were as uncomfortable in the light as the have-nots. Neither wanted attention drawn to them, preferring to hide in the comfortable shadows of their silence, afraid to stand and be noticed for their capitulation. Shamefully, this look the other way attitude became the accepted norm for many years, a form of segregation that was not unlike the situation a thousand miles to the east in the nation’s Deep South. Prayerfully, he might reach enough of them to inspire changes.

Father Willet sat in the floral Queen Anne chair next to his bed and stared at the silent telephone. He had taken a moment to reflect on his mission with this Church, and then shook himself out of his daydream and cleared his throat. He picked up his address book and thumbed to the section he wanted and looked up the number to his old friend Grover Gateway. He knew that he was risking an official reprimand from the Archdiocese in LA for going outside the family to settle this issue. But he also knew that the Church hierarchy moved at a snails pace when it came to real decision-making. Especially when the matter at hand just might provide a platform for a certain old ladder climber to acquire the red robe of a Cardinal, the aspiration of a lifetime!

The aging priest reached over and lifted the receiver from the telephone cradle and spun the rotary dial with a shaking hand. He leaned back in the chair as the dial ratcheted laboriously back to its starting place and he waited for the ring on the other end of the line. Picking up the newspaper from his lap and adjusting his glasses, he started to read the article again, ‘there could be no other explanation, what I saw was a miracle, an honest to God miracle,’ the article said, quoting Nurse Mahoney, as she described her encounter with the ‘angel of the valley.’

Father Willet slowly shook his head, feeling deeply for the child and her family, their quiet and simple lives being altered forever. They would be exploited by the curiosity of the masses, as well as the greed of those who would look to profit by her existence. But it was her safety that he was most concerned for. The Church could be quite imposing when dealing with matters of spiritual abnormalities. He feared that what could not be explained away might have to be put away, out of sight out of mind if you will. The Church, the Government, they were cut from the same cloth, entities unto themselves really, it has always been so he thought. He set the paper down, removed his glasses and listened to the ringing in his ear.

Finally from the other end, “Hello, who is it,” inquired a gruff voice.

“GG, it’s me Billy, do you have a minute for an old friend,” Father Willet asked tiredly.

“You are aware of the late hour, are you not, old friend?”

“Spare me the pious platitudes Grover, I need your help so put the phone up to your good ear!”

“Now there’s a voice that I recognize, what I can do for you Billy boy, I mean Father, forgive me.”

“These stories your paper is running, the ‘angel of the valley’ stories.”


“GG, how much do you personally know about this child?”

“Why do you ask, where are you going with this Billy, you’re making the hair on my neck stand up?”

“I want to come see you Grover, and I want to bring Arthur with me.”

“Arthur? Do you mean Arthur Donnelly?”

“Yes” Father Willet closed his eyes and crossed his fingers while he waited for a reply. A couple minutes of uncomfortable silence ensued and then Grover Gateway spoke.

“When can you be here?”

Crosstown in Fresno, California, April 1969

The loud banging on the door of her hotel room, BAM BAM BAM, awakened KC. She pulled the pillow out from under her, placed it snuggly over her ears groaning a muffled response.


“Come on KC, I’ve been beating on this door for ten minutes, I’m gonna get arrested if you don’t open up soon,” Jay Namura pleaded from the hall.

KC peeked out from under the pillow at the nightstand. What was left of the alarm clock was scattered all over the table, pieces of dull black plastic and clear bits of Plexiglas. She squinted at the small bit of devastation trying to mentally piece together the puzzle that was the night before. She felt around under the tangled mass of sheets and blankets, fumbling for a possible clue in the alleged murder of the alarm clock. Lying close to her on the bed was what appeared to be a fairly heavy police issue flashlight.

“Yep,” she mumbled aloud, “this would do it.”

“WHAT TIME IS IT,” she yelled from her nest of twisted blankets and sheets.

“It’s time to GO NOW, KC, it’s already past nine o’clock babe,” Jay replied through the door.

“OH crap,” she exclaimed softly, in a horse whisper. She rose up onto all fours and tried to kick her way out of the blanket cocoon she had made during the night. Finally she was able to roll out of bed and onto her feet.

“Just a sec Jay, I’m throwing on a robe,” she hollered in the direction of the door. She was fully clothed already, but she didn’t want him to see her in the same clothes she was wearing the night before. Passing the mirror on the dresser she caught a glimpse of herself.

“Ugh, good thing I kept this short haircut,” she said to herself as she tried to flatten a severe case of pillow head. She reached the door and fumbled with the three locks for a moment before finally letting in her favorite sidekick, photographer, and oft time partner in crime.

“Christ Kathy, you’re a real treat in the morning, no wonder you’re still single!”

“Shut up, and call down to the desk for some room service, we won’t have time to stop for breakfast anywhere now.” she said to her partner.

“The usual?” he asked.

“Yeah, yeah, coffee, coffee, coffee, three eggs, scrambled bacon crisp, sausage links, home fries, an English muffin and strawberry jam. Tell them not to forget the jam this time!”

“OK, I’m gonna shower and stuff, make yourself at home,” she said disappearing into the bathroom, closing the door most of the way.

“Jeez, how does she live like this,” Jay muttered to himself as he cleared a spot on the little sofa, sat down and dialed the front desk.

“Hello, yes, I’d like to order breakfast for room 222, Miss Katherine Littleton,” he said into the handset. He heard the shower start and the toilet flush almost simultaneously. Curious he thought.

“How did she do that?” He snapped back to attention as a voice spoke to him from the front desk.

“Oh, OK, that’ll be fine,” he said raising an eyebrow. The desk clerk seemed to know what she wanted before he even had asked; apparently KC had made an impression on the staff.

“HEY JAY, don’t forget to remind them not to forget the jam,” KC yelled from the bathroom, her wet head and soapy face peeking around the door.

“I WILL, now get back in the shower before you trip and crack your skull, crazy woman,” Jay yelled back at her.

“Did you get that,” he asked into the telephone receiver?

“Good, fifteen minutes then, thank you,” Jay said hanging up the telephone.

KC emerged from the bath with her head wrapped in a thick white towel, in that turban-like fashion that all girls master at birth, a matching terrycloth robe, and freshly painted toes. The toe thing was her signature morning ritual. She NEVER left home with naked toenails, even if she were wearing sweat socks and sneakers! She went over to the dresser and selected a nice pair of blue/black slacks and a cute cream-colored long sleeve blouse to go with the beautiful spring day that was blooming just outside the window. She sat down at the little table near the window and waited for her food to arrive, working an emery board over her already perfect nails.

“Well, today’s the big day, aye Jay,” she said smiling.

“Looks like it,” he said while he fussed with his equipment, checking each bag to be certain that he hadn’t forgotten or misplaced anything. He affixed a telephoto lens onto his 35mm Nikon and peered through the eyepiece, focusing in on his lead reporter. KC smiled a fake cheesy smile and batted her eyelashes.

“Sweet,” Jay uttered as he broke the camera back down into its separate pieces and returned them to their case. “So, how long will we have with this guy anyway,” he asked watching her finish her sprucing?

“Not sure, we’re only in there because of old man Gateway and his money, I mean influence,” she replied.

“It doesn’t really matter though, nobody else will be getting this story, so snap as many pics as you can, and get close up. We want to have our own experts look over his condition to corroborate Miss Mahoney’s account of the alleged miracle.”

“Check, up close and personal, gotcha!”

“Hey KC, tell me again why we haven’t shot any footage of that kid you’ve been talking to for the last month or so, I don’t get it?”

“It’s complicated Jay; I didn’t understand it myself at first. To be honest I still don’t really get it very well, but I can tell you this much. That little girl gives me the heebie-jeebies. You know when we’re talking she watches me. And it’s not so much that she’s looking at me, but through me. It feels like she is looking right into me, seeing it all, even the stuff I hide from myself. She may act normal, she may look normal, no different than any other kid on the playground, but I’m telling you she’s unique in a way that I cannot find the words to explain.”

“I want to meet her,” Jay said.

“I know you do, and you will, soon, I swear. But I need to keep a promise that I made the Donnelly woman, back around Christmas time.”

“What promise, you don’t make promises, at least promises that you keep,” he teased.

“Hey now, be nice,” she teased back.

“In return for Alma’s personal account of the facts regarding the Arroyo Grande Clinic scandal and the circumstances surrounding the subsequent arrest of Dr. Katz, I agreed to only write about the legend but never name the legend,” KC explained.

“I know what you’re thinking, who is this woman and what has she done with your pal KC,” she quipped.

“Something like that,” Jay said, studying her.

“You’re serious aren’t you,” he asked, realizing the answer before she offered it.

“I am.” They stared at one another for a moment when there came a short rap at the door.

“Room Service,” the voice said from the other side. Jay got up and let the bell hop in to set up on the table where KC was sitting. He could smell the fried meats and suddenly was famished even though he had already consumed a short stack of buckwheat hotcakes before he had arrived here. He tipped the bellhop a five and sat down opposite KC, helping himself to a sausage link.

“HEY,” she said, swatting his hand with her butter knife.

“Sorry,” he mumbled, smiling broadly, his mouth full of little bits of sausage, unglamorously clinging to his front teeth. She laughed at his reply and stuck her tongue out at him, totally caked with scrambled egg, they were even now!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

(“She's some kind of demon messing in the glue. If you don't watch out it'll stick to you, to you, what kind of fool are you? Strange brew -- kill what's inside of you.”)…Cream

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Seventeen

San Francisco, California, 13 December 1968

“I don’t care what you stumbled on KC, I told you we haven’t the budget for witch-hunts,” Brian Williams shouted into the telephone receiver! The voice of his tenacious little wildcat of a news hound could be heard pleading her case from across the room, even with the handset firmly pressed against his aching ear! Brian took the phone and pounded the handset several times on his desktop and then returned it to his ear, his head resting in his free hand, his fingers slowly massaging his throbbing migraine.

“KC, KC, KC, KaaaCeee, will you let me get a word in edge wise, please, I’m exhausted just listening to you!” Brian said, imploring his favorite pain in the ass to shut up long enough for him to change his mind. The attack on his peace of mind was relentless and he knew that in the end he would find himself pleading her case in the big man’s office. Grover Cleveland Gateway, the founding father of their grand old publication, was still a pretty tough customer, even at the ripe old age of eighty-one.

Twenty years past the age of sensible retirement, the cagey old man had the energy and keen mind of someone fifty years his junior! He had made his bones in the newspaper business at the turn of the century, covering the assassination of President William McKinley on the sixth of September, nineteen hundred and one for the New York Times. Then after a twenty-five year career, moving back and forth between New York (Times) and Chicago (Tribune), his life took a major detour.

This was the time when he came into great wealth upon the death of his estranged father in nineteen hundred and twenty-seven. Timing being everything in life, he pulled the bulk of his father’s fortune from Wall Street and invested heavily in California real estate. Relocating his growing family to San Francisco, the jewel of the Great Golden State in nineteen hundred and twenty-eight, he started the San Francisco Daily News, establishing himself as editor and chief, it was a life long dream come true! As he was an only child with no surviving family beyond his own, he answered to no one for his actions or decisions. The fact that the fortune was his solely had allowed him to avoid the annoying pitfalls of dealing with nagging, criticizing, and kibitzing well-intentioned relatives.

The only criticism would come from the highbrow financial circles that he disdained anyway. And ironically, on his newspaper’s first birthday, he would report on the crash of the very market that they worshiped, their safe haven, the one that he had chosen to abandon against their counsel, leaving those arrogant fools behind to mock him. This was the man that Brian was going to have to negotiate with in support of his fledgling reporter’s hunch. But Brian knew KC well enough to accept the fact that she rarely cried wolf.

If there were a story of National interest to be found in Hooterville, she would nose it out, no matter how many people she had to drive insane in the process. He smiled to himself and picked up the receiver again, after having placed it under a magazine to mute her non-stop chatter while he gave the aspirin he had popped a chance to work it’s magic. He waited for the right moment, and when she paused slightly to draw a breath he jumped in.

“OK, OK, I surrender! Let me call you back in a half hour, I need to go see the old man on this one KC. You know he’s the only one that can over ride the bean counter’s edicts. Lucky for you he treats you like a kid sister, it must be that crooked little smile of yours,” he said, finally squeezing in a whole sentence before she started yammering again.

He listened to her impatiently as she offered him her advice on how to pitch the story. Brian checked his wristwatch, restlessly hemming and hawing as she spoke. He’d have to hurry up and end this call so he could catch GCG before he went into Chinatown for his daily dose of Chow Mei Fun. The old man was a well-known noodle fiend all over the city.

“Gotta go kid, I’m on deadline here, I’ll call you back at the hotel, so stay near a phone for the next hour or so,” he said quickly, his face following the handset to it’s cradle as he hung up the phone, his last word fading on the air. Success, he thought, he finally got the last word!

Brian exited the elevator on the eleventh floor and walked into the large reception area of the newspaper’s executive offices. He was greeted with a smile from a young intern named Abby, who was working the reception desk, and he returned her polite gesture.

“Good morning Mr. Williams,” the young woman said cheerfully.

“Morning Abby, how are things young lady?”

“Aced my Psych final,” she replied, pantomiming an over the top swiping of her forehead, indicating her relief.

“Good for you! I believe Mr. Gateway is expecting me.”

“Sure, I’ll just buzz Mrs. Harris and let her know that you are out here, just a sec OK?”

Brian nodded and relaxed in a slightly modified parade-rest stance, as his hands were folded in front of him while he waited to be waived on in. A minute later Abby answered the phone ringing in front of her and then looked up at Brian and winked, “You can go on in now, see ya round the water cooler,” she said sweetly.

“Thanks,” he answered back as he walked past her desk and into the long hallway lined in rich, dark mahogany.

He passed the power wall of framed front pages depicting several significant historical events of the last forty or so years. Brian paused a second as he looked at the most recent addition, the sorrowful photo of a dying Robert Kennedy, his bleeding head cradled in the arms of an unknown immigrant busboy on the kitchen floor of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. His eyes traversed up the page to the headline that simply read, “NOT AGAIN.” Clearing his throat and straightening his tie, Brian walked up to the desk of Francine Harris, the long time executive secretary to Grover Gateway. She met his arrival with her usual professionalism, not too stiff, but not too casual either.

“Hello Brain, good to see you again,” she said greeting him.

“Nice to see you as well Frankie thanks for squeezing me in on such short notice.”

“Not at all, Mr. Gateway should be off the phone in a moment, have a seat.”

“Can I get you some coffee or tea?”

“Oh no, I’m fine, please don’t fuss over me, really, I’ll probably only be a few minutes anyway,” he said, hoping that his assumption would not turn out to be prophetic. Frankie smiled back at him and nodded, and returned to her work. A minute later Grover Gateway appeared at the open door to the right of her desk.

“Brian, come on in son! Now what do we need to discuss so urgently this morning anyway,” he asked, placing his hand on Brian’s shoulder and leading him into his office.

“Frankie, make sure to hold all my calls until we finish. Oh, and call ahead to Wah Lee’s and order me the usual, OK?” Mr. Gateway said without looking back at his secretary, following his visitor into the room, closing the door behind him.

“Sit down Brian, sit down, and let’s chat about what that wildcat of ours is up to.”

“Well sir, I really don’t have all the details yet, but she is definitely excited about something. It's tied to this serial rapist case in Fresno. Honestly sir, you know how she is, sometimes I wonder if she’s worth the aggravation, and you can quote me on that,” the frustrated managing editor said.

“But, then again, we can’t argue with success, she’s become one of the best investigative reporters in the Bay Area, if not the State. You called that one sir I never would have believed that was possible. What exactly did you see in her that made you so certain that she could cut it? Grover Gateway leaned back in his big leather chair, it squeaked slightly as he rocked slowly and finally he answered.

“You remember the piece she did a couple years ago, when you had her working the entertainment desk? By the way, what were you thinking anyway, I meant to call you out on that one, you’re lucky I nap more than I used to!”

“Anyway, it was the story about that silent film actress who had been arrested for allegedly ignoring an enormous stack of parking citations, and then battled the SFPD physically when they came to serve her papers. KC could have had a lot of easy fun at that poor woman’s expense, just like everyone else in this town did. But instead, she treated her with respect, and stuck to reporting the facts in a light that subtly championed the cause of the aging and prideful actress. If I remember right, and I do, the city not only backed off on their right to prosecute, they actually went after the slum lord who owned the building where she lived and gently coaxed him into providing assigned parking to all tenants so that she could park her beat up, old Studebaker off the street,” Mr. Gateway concluded, snickering to himself, and slapping his open palm to his desktop to emphasize his point.

“RESPECT, that’s what I saw Brian, a genuine respect of others. I saw in her a sense of compassion that compelled her to avoid the easy angle on an easy mark, and instead, put her effort into ferreting out the real story, the more meaningful story. The one that all of the others had missed in their hurry to be first, in their hurry to scoop one another. And in their haste they missed the opportunity to be extraordinary, to write a piece that people would respond to, that would effect change.”

“Now that’s real instinct boy, that’s a heart that rules the mind,” Mr. Gateway finished, staring down his managing editor, giving him a single nod of his head. Brian was at a loss for words.

As usual his boss had sucked all of the energy out of the room and used it to build a soapbox to stand on. He fought the urge to roll his eyes at Grover Gateway’s lengthy retort, for Christ sake, he thought, the man could have just said that he liked her style, why did everything have to be… Brian shook off his mental detour and re-established eye contact with his boss.

“Yes sir, I do remember that story now that you remind me, it was a great piece. I don’t know if I’d go as far as getting KC fitted for a halo yet or dust off the mantel for her Pulitzer, but I do agree that she has turned out be something pretty special,” he said, studying Mr. Gateway’s face for a reaction. Feeling confident that he hadn’t been too flippant in his response, Brian started to continue with the purpose of his visit.

“And it's those instincts that you mentioned that have brought me here this morning,” he continued, shifting in his chair as he spoke.

“KC called in about an hour ago; very excited about something she’s uncovered while on assignment down in Fresno.”

“Fresno,” Mr. Gateway said raising an eyebrow. “Is she on that Katz case, the one where the sicko was attacked by one of his own victims?”

“Yeah, that’s the one,” Brian answered, not surprised at how current his boss was.

“Hmmm, go on then, what is she onto?”

“She got suspicious while pressing for details about the arrest and everyone seemed to clam up.”

“She found out that this Katz fella is in lock up at the hospital in a sealed off ward. Nobody goes in or out without clearance and escort, and no press is allowed anywhere near the place. She said it’s like a fortress over there.”

“Well, he’s probably in pretty bad shape given the fact that his victim set him on fire,” Gateway said sarcastically.

“Yeah, well that’s the thing, he should be, but KC seems to think that may not be the case.”

“And she knows this, how?”

“She met some nurse while having lunch in the hospital cafeteria, and the woman told her an interesting story.”

“Do tell…” Grover Gateway said, leaning back in his chair, touching his fingertips together lightly.

“Yes sir, well, the woman claimed to have witnessed something that she couldn’t explain.” “A real miracle she called it.”

“Oh please Brian, don’t tell me you’re spending my money on an excursion into fantasyland!”

“No sir, I don’t think so. Like you said earlier, KC has real instincts and she’s convinced that there is a much bigger story here.”

“When she called, she said that she had followed up on a few leads that she got from this nurse, and she hit pay dirt on the first call!”

“It’s a fascinating tale this person told her sir, nationally fascinating.”

“And Grover, nobody else has picked up on this angle, not anyone, not anywhere. We would scoop every paper in State, hell, the country!” Brian said, a sly grin projecting his eagerness.

He watched a smile begin to spread from corner to corner on Grover Gateway’s heavily lined face. Then he leaned back in his chair, relaxing for the first time since he arrived at the meeting, his own face beginning to mirror the same smirk that was beaming at him from across the desk between them.

“You know what, I’m famished! How do you feel about Chinese noodles anyway Mr. Williams?”

Saturday, November 2, 2013

(“Do not forsake her, and she will guard you, love her, and she will watch over you”)…Proverbs 4:6

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Chapter Sixteen

Firebaugh, California, 12 December 1968

Alma Donnelly wet her thumb and turned the page of the magazine she was reading. Actually she was just flipping through ir while she waited impatiently for her vistor to arrive, her unplanned visitor. She didn't like surprises very much, they interrupted her daily routine and schedule. It was order and discipline that had always been the cornerstones of her adult life. So this morning's telephone call from some pushy newspaper journalist had put an unwelcome wrinkle into her smoothly planned day. Feeling a little agitated by the lien on her personal freedom to come and go as she pleased, Alma uncrossed her legs and slapped the magazine onto her lap.

“Damn it, where is that woman anyway,” she muttered, looking over to the crystal timepiece perched at the edge of the exquisite mahogany coffee table in front of her.

“RUTH, please bring the tea service and set it here in the living room,” she called to her housekeeper. Alma looked once again toward the timepiece, “I’ll give her five more minutes,” she said to herself, leaning back on the sofa. She picked up the magazine, crossed her legs and stared once again at the National Geographic, November 1966 issue.

“Excuse me madam, shall I set the tray here in the center, or would you prefer nearer to you?”

“Oh thank you Ruth dear, over here by me if you please,” Alma said sweetly.

“As you wish madam,” Ruth said politely as she gracefully placed the serving tray on the table next to her employer.

“Will that be all Mrs. Donnelly?”

“Yes dear, thank you.”

Ruth turned and exited the room while Alma fussed with the flower arrangement on the silver tea set. One of Alma’s most favorite pastimes was working in her garden, and she and Arthur had a fabulous one. This rural area had some of the most fertile soil on Earth, and she spent many joyous hours tilling that soil, raising her beautiful roses and wildflowers. She would wake early with her husband each morning, and after breakfast would go out into the garden to cut a basket full of flowers for the house.

She loved the way they brightened up the home and the wonderfully fresh and fragrant scent that lingered throughout the day. Her smile was returning along with her usual sunny disposition when she heard the doorbell chime. Smoothing her skirt, she sat up straight and then reclined back against the sofa, waiting for her guest to be announced. She could hear the sound of heels on the hardwood floors in the hall, on again and off again as they went from runner to runner.

“Excuse me madam, Miss Katherine Littleton,” Ruth announced to the room.

“KC, please,” Miss Littleton pleaded, extending her hand as she entered the room and walked towards the sofa. Alma stood up, smiled and reached to take her visitor’s hand.

“Alright then, KC it is, a pleasure I’m sure,” Alma said, gesturing toward the sofa, indicating for the young woman to sit beside her.

“I hope you don’t mind, I arranged for tea, do you take milk, or sweetener?”

“Thank you so much, I’m a coffee girl myself, but when in Rome, right,” KC said, trying to lighten the tense mood a bit. She accepted the cup and saucer from Mrs. Donnelly and politely took a sip.

“Yes, well, what is it that I can do for you Miss Littleton? Forgive me, I mean KC?”

KC pursed her lips and gently blew on her tea, watching Alma from over the brim of the cup as she took another sip. She studied the woman’s face and posture, trying to get an indication of how much she knew about the purpose of her visit. She had suspected that Alma may have been briefed from the get go, she had sensed as much from the tone of Alma’s voice.

“My goodness, this tea is really quite good, I may have to convert,” she exclaimed!

“Poor Juan Valdez, this just might put him out of business,” KC added, jokingly referring to the popular television ad as she attempted to make friends.

“I’m happy you’re enjoying the tea dear, but really, I have quite a busy day ahead, so may we please get to the purpose of your visit,” Alma said as politely as she could, given her frustration.

“Uhmm, I’m sorry, yes of course,” KC said clearing her throat.

“Mrs. Donnelly, my paper is working on a piece about violent crimes against women in California. Its a four part series and I am here doing some research on the Arroyo Grande Clinic case, the one involving Dr. Murray Katz and all of those young women and little girls, you’ve heard of it right?”

“Of course I have, dreadful, but how could I possibly help you with your research?”

“Forgive me, I can understand your confusion, I should have done a better job of explaining,” KC said setting her cup down on the table and reaching into her purse for her spiral notepad. Quickly flipping back several pages, she stopped and tapped her pencil on the place where she wanted to start.

“In the course of my interviews with police, prosecutors, and various witnesses I have come across several facts that seem to contradict other facts, and a few things that honestly just do not make any sense at all,” she continued, scratching her head with the eraser of her pencil and wincing at the notepad.

“For one thing, are you aware that no one has been allowed to see or interview the accused since his arrest?

“Oh, and given all the print coverage that exists on this case, it just seems odd that there is only one candid and fuzzy photo of him since his arrest. It was taken as he walked from a police van to the courthouse for his arraignment. And his cuffed hands were up blocking his face at that!”

“Why all the smoke and mirrors you think?”

“All of this secrecy makes someone like me very curious,” KC said, trying to analyze Alma’s facial expression for a telltale reaction, but there was none, this lady was cool as a cucumber!

“That is all quite fascinating Miss Littleton, but what does it have to do with your visit to my home?”

KC looked back down at her notepad, circled something with her pencil and then placed the eraser on her pursed lips.

“You know, I was having lunch yesterday in the cafeteria at the very same hospital where Dr. Katz had been taken for treatment after the fire. I was trying to make heads or tails of this puzzle and choke down a plate of tuna surprise, when someone, a nurse, sat beside me and noticed a news article that I was reading,” she said, pausing a moment for effect.

She looked over at Alma and smiled, silently studying her reaction, and then she was rewarded for her patience. Mrs. Donnelly blinked several times and then loudly and nervously cleared her throat. KC thought to herself, she flinched! Not wanting to give the woman any time to regain her composure KC let out a little more line before she set the hook.

“The nurse, her name was Dorothy Mahoney, but she said to call her Dot, excused herself for intruding and for looking over my shoulder. She said that she couldn’t help but recognize the article that I was reading. Dot said that she had been there, that she was one of the ER nurses on duty that day,” KC continued, growing more confident in the ultimate success of this visit. She decided that now was the time to set the hook and reel this woman in, sensing that there would be very little struggle, hell, Alma Donnelly would probably jump right in the boat!

“Dot told me a story Mrs. Donnelly, actually it sounded more like a fairytale, but you were in it Alma, and that is why I’m here,” KC said as she helped herself to a refill from the beautiful silver tea service.

Alma Donnelly sat still like a deer caught in the headlights; her eyes revealing her secret struggle between fight or flight. She watched the young journalist doctoring her tea with milk. Remaining silent she stalled for time as her mind worked vigorously at devising a believable explanation, one that would satisfy the reporter and still protect the Lopez family. The seconds passed slowly, agonizingly so, and Alma could almost hear her eyelids open and close as she blinked in time with her thought process. Finally, she spoke.

“What exactly do you want to hear from me Miss Littleton?”

KC Littleton forced herself to suppress a victory smile and set her cup back onto its saucer.

“It's KC,” she started. “And may I call you Alma,” she asked sincerely? Mrs. Donnelly nodded in agreement.

“Alright then, Alma, what I want is to understand what apparently you already understand, namely what really happened that day. I think that you know exactly why I am having such trouble gaining access to the truth surrounding Dr. Katz’s case. But more than that, I think that you have a story that may be far more interesting than the one that I came here to research. The question is, are you willing to share it with the world,” KC said, leaning forward to rest her arms on her knees?

Alma sat for moment or two and looked out the bay window beyond the lawn and the drive and out at the endless hectors of farmland. From where she was sitting she could see the fruits of her husband’s life work, the lettuce fields, the strawberry fields, the radish and carrot fields, all of it green and lush and vibrant. She thought about all of the people she had come to know and whom she had befriended over the many years that they had lived in this valley. They had become more than just employers or patrons; they had become family to them all. And now she was about to betray their trust, not of her own volition, but in an attempt to control the damage. Alma turned and looked at KC and searched her face for a sign of compassion. She breathed in deeply and tried to see if she could feel a sense of justice within the young woman’s character. And to her great surprise, that is exactly what she felt, and it caused her to smile brightly, catching the young journalist completely off guard. KC sat up straight and leaned back against the sofa.

“What had just happened here?” she wondered. She wasn’t sure what is was, but she could feel something in the air, and she smiled back at Alma, although she didn't understand from where the smile came?

“Alright dear, I’ll tell you what I can, where would you like to begin?”

Nestle Avenue Elementary: Recess, 9:20am

The bell rang loudly and the hoard of little people scurried toward the door and out to the playground.

“WALK, all of you, I don’t want to have to spend my coffee break treating your little skinned knees,” shouted Miss Miller, the substitute teacher filling in for Mr. Rawlins today.

It was a nanosecond late as the last of the children exited through the door and the words fell silently to the ground, unheard. The lines quickly formed at the tetherball courts and the handball courts. Several girls were already playing hopscotch on the yellow lined blacktop, and all the cool boys had already chosen sides and were about to roll the first pitch on the kick-ball field. It was just another day at Nobel Elementary School. The entire student-body was positively giddy, anticipating the pending break for Christmas vacation.

Hector Hernandez stood out in right field painfully aware that the bases were loaded and secretly hoping against hope that nobody would kick him a fly ball to catch. He wasn’t the most gifted athlete on the field, and he didn’t want to drop a ball and give Davy Myers another reason to bag on him! It wasn’t like it would just stay at school, he had to ride the bus with him too, and that was too much grief in one day for him to bear. Hector would actually pray each night for a miracle where he'd wake up in the morning and be BIG, like maybe six feet tall. Then he'd pound the daylights out of that kid. But for now he would settle for a little basic coordination skills, ‘come onnnnnn God!’, he whispered to himself.

As it happened, today God was on Davy’s side, and Hector could feel his breakfast churning around in his stomach as he tracked the high fly ball coming his way. His little feet propelled him left then right, forward then back in quick static movements as he tried to position himself under the rapidly descending red rubber ball. Just when he thought he was going to make the catch, the sun peeked out from behind the falling object and blinded him. The ball came down squarely on his Charlie Brown like noggin and bounced another twenty feet behind him before he regained his sight and figured out which way to run! Never in the history of childhood had any little boy wished harder to be invisible. Hector tried to block out all of the noise, the jeers and the taunts, that were being hurled his way, and ran after the still rolling ball. By the time he reached it all four runs had scored, and he had personally allowed the first grand slam in the history of Alfred E. Nobel Elementary School to be scored against his team, Los Gatos Grande, whose captain by the way was on his way out to right field to pound him at this very moment!

“IT WASN”T MY FAULT DAVY, I LOST IT IN THE SUN,” Hector shouted as he ran as fast as he could in the opposite direction!

Tina Lopez sat Indian style on the grass and watched as first Hector then Davy passed her, grinning widely at the little comedy. She wasn’t worried about Hector, he could run circles around Davy, that gordo, she thought to herself. She got to her feet as soon as the first bell rang and started walking back toward the classroom. As she walked through centerfield, Hector flew past her in a dead run, seeking the safety of Mr. Rawlins’ classroom. Davy ran by a few seconds later, already out of breath.

“You’ll never catch him,” Tina sang out loud as he passed her.

“Shut up freak,” Davy said, turning to face her while running backward.

A second later he tripped over his own shoelaces and fell onto his behind onto the hot blacktop. Putting out his hands to break his fall, Davy skinned a couple layers of epidermis off of his palms. He shouted an expletive beyond his years as he watched the strawberries on his hands brighten with his blood. He picked himself up more embarrassed than hurt. Tina walked up to him slowly and stopped to see how badly he was hurt. As she reached out to take his hand Davy jumped back away from her.

“Get away from me Freakenstein, I don’t want you touching me, you little witch!” he said harshly, an inkling of fear in his eyes.

“I won’t hurt you Davy, let me see,” Tina pleaded softly.

“No way, get away from me!” Davy shouted from over his shoulder as he ran toward the Boys Room to clean himself up.

Tina watched him run away and disappear into the restroom next to the drinking fountains. She felt the eyes of the other children on her as they looked on from a safe distance. Some of the kids at school could be cruel, not all of them mind you, but some. They would call her names and avoid her, or leave her out of games and activities. But she didn’t mind very much, she had her share of close friends, like Hector, who always made her laugh, and her best friend Wendy who knew all the words to every Beatle’s song. They would sing together on the bus to and from school for as long as the driver would stand for it. So their stares did not bother her as much as one might think. But she was growing up, and was becoming more and more aware that people were uncomfortable around her, maybe even a little afraid. That was just silly she thought. Most people did not even know her, only of her.

Her parents had explained that her gift was one from God, and that it was given to her to share with everyone. It was not important for her or anyone else for that matter, to understand this thing. It was only important that they accept it. So, child that she was, she faithfully and innocently accepted what she was told as truth. Her faith was in her parents love for her, and her parents had placed their faith in God’s love for them all. She knew instinctively that they were right of course, and in her faith she knew no fear.

Whatever it was that passed through her to those who suffered was not harmful to anyone, she knew that. There was not any transfer of pain she was not empathetic in that way. There was never a shared consciousness between her and whomever she touched. She could neither read their minds nor their hearts. There was only the dream, the compulsion to sleep and wait for the spirit to come and sing to her and to watch over her until such time that her mother or father came to wake her and take her home. Tina closed her eyes and took a deep cleansing breath and then raised her arms high over her head and twirled around in a circle. She giggled and called after Davy Myers even though he was no longer in plain view.

“That’s OK gordo, it wasn’t bad you’ll be OK.”

She turned and smiled at the other kids the excitement over for the moment, and they all continued on toward their classrooms, only a little faster now as they had the second bell to beat!

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