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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


"THE MIGRANT"
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.”

“Yes?”

“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.

“GO AWAY…”

“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!





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