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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

(”In my little town, I grew up believing, God keeps his eye on us all”)… Paul Simon

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration
  
 
"THE MIGRANT"
Chapter Twenty-three
 
Los Angeles, California, January 1970

Pablo Villa Cruz, Monsignor to the Catholic Church, and the Archdioceses of Los Angeles, sank deep into one of the two wing-backed Queen Ann chairs in the rectory study. He gazed intensely into the fire blazing in the hearth, the flickering light reflecting in the lenses of his bifocals. He had been sitting for the better part of the last hour contemplating and stewing over the letter that lay in his lap. The priest reached up with his left hand and grabbed his face just below the eyes. He squeezed in with his thumb and four fingers and dragged his hand slowly downward, stretching the flesh as he did so. His hand passed down over his mouth, then around his chin, across the length of his neck, stopping finally just below his throat and at the top of his breastplate.
   He removed the hand from his chest and reached for the fine bone china teacup setting on the table next to the chair. The cup was empty and cold to the touch so he turned and poured more hot tea from the matching cozy covered teapot. He picked up the cup and saucer and lifted the cup to his lips. Blowing lightly across the brim of the cup he sipped the strong Earl Grey tea and then returned the set to the table. Father Villa Cruz settled back into a comfortable thinking position in the chair and placed the tips of his fingers together, flexing them back and forth against each other as he continued to vex over the news from Rome.
   “This is unacceptable, but undeniable,” he whispered to himself.
   “I know that radical peasant Father Willet is connected with this somehow,” he continued, talking to the fireplace and the empty room.
   He picked up the letter, and unfolded it as he adjusted his specs. Moving his arms forward and back until his eyes focused just right, he began to read it one more time. The Monsignor mouthed the words as he read a habit from childhood. English was of course his second language and even after so many years in this country, he still had to go slow in order to keep from misinterpreting words and phrases. Reciting the words as he read them seemed to keep him at a pace that prevented him from making careless mistakes.
   The letter was from his dear friend, His Holiness, Cardinal Giancarlo Pavongatta. He and Carlo began their service to God and the Holy Roman Church at the same time, in Sicily during World War Two. They had been young priests together at the Basilica Cathedrae in Messina, shortly before the Americans landed on the island and taking control of Palermo in July of 1943. One year later, in July of 1944, the Americans would capture Rome after successfully landing at Anzio in January. By April of the following year, 1945, that bidonista (swindler) Mussolini and his whore Carlotta Petacci would be shot and hung by their feet, on display in the Piazzale Loreta in Milan. Once the war was over, the two friends were summoned back to Rome, and from there; their lives went in very different directions.
   Carlo, who came from a politically influential family in Rome, took an assignment at the Holy City as a researcher for the Vatican Secret Archives. While Pablo, a child from modest beginnings in the sprawling countryside of Tuscany accepted a post on the other side of the world in the United States, at St Paul’s Cathedral in Buffalo New York. There the diligent wheeler and dealer haggled his way to a position of power within the Church, where he was eventually elevated to Bishop and assigned to the Archdioceses of Los Angeles on the opposite side of the country. It was a move that he welcomed though, given the perpetual warm climate and absence of mountains of snow. Father Villa Cruz began to read:

My Dear Friend Pablolito,

  How sad it is that we cannot sit on the veranda and share a glass of wine like in the old days. I miss those simpler times, the spirited debates, the warm conversation, the food, bella mia, the food Pablo. Do you remember Sister Demarco? I tell you that woman was a genius in the kitchen! Oh Pablo, the ciapino, and the linguini with clams, Madre Dio, we should have petitioned her name to the council for sainthood! If only I could have stolen her when we left Sicily and brought her with me to Rome, the Council of Cardinals might have appointed me the youngest Pontiff in history. I tease Pablo, I tease, and not a word of this should pass your lips! Can you imagine the penance for such a boastful remark? Ah, but enough reminiscing, we have business you and I.

          Pablo, these letters you have been sending me of the accounts of this child are remarkable. In all my years of research in this area of study, this is the most excited I have been about truly witnessing a miracle. Unlike the Stigmata claims and the healing waters or even the paranormal apparitions of Holy Mother Mary’s image supposedly hovering in photos of random occurrences, this phenomenon has been documented flawlessly. The film footage that your agents were able to take of the girl raising that bastardo doctor from the dead, and actually reversing the effects of his horrible burns, was more than incredible, it was nearly unbelievable!

My friend, I will always be allied to your aspiration to reach the College of Cardinals, but I must tell you. This film is dangerous, and your desire to share knowledge of the child with the world is wrong headed. Pablo, this letter is not to protect you from discovery by the College, it is to rebuke you in their name. In fact, I’ve been ordered to intervene on behalf of the Church and petition you to abandon this plan of action. My friend I’m to inform you that you’ve been recalled to the Holy City to appear before the College of Cardinals on this matter. Until these arrangements can be arranged, you are directed to cease with your pursuit of this child and disavow any knowledge of her existence.

Distance yourself from her Pablo, this child no longer exists in the eyes of the faith. If you are careful and do as you are told there is a good chance that you will suffer no hindrance to your hopes and dreams for the future.  Settle your business in California my friend and get yourself to Rome as quickly as possible. I will anxiously await your reply, your brother in Christ, Carlo.
 

Father Villa Cruz set the letter back in his lap and removed his glasses. He pinched the bridge of his nose where the heavy frames had rested, leaving deep indentations. He closed his eyes and slowly shook his head. “Who has put you to this Carlo,” he wondered. “Who is it that has the ear of the Church, and how high does this person reach?” He would have to comply of course, but before God he would find out the reason for the Church’s reluctance to capitalize on this. He had seen this film, and he had talked with that devil Katz. Father Villa Cruz knew the child was for true, he knew it! And to his mind, if she were carefully managed, the Holy Church might convert tens of millions with the kind of hope and promise that the angel of the valley could bring into the living rooms of the world, courtesy of the mainstream media!

    He leaned back in the comfy chair and settled in for a nice peaceful siesta, it would be the first of the New Year for him. Perhaps he would see things more clearly in an hour or so? A moment later he was fast asleep, a low hum of a snore permeating the airspace of the peaceful study.
 

Firebaugh, California, January 1970

   KC pressed down on the little arm at the left of the steering wheel of her rented Plymouth Duster. The blinker sprang to life and started its loud rhythmic cadence of clicking and clacking as she exited the Freeway onto Central Avenue. She was getting weary of the long commutes from San Francisco to Hooterville, but the extra effort had been paying big dividends with regard to her career. Her star was rising in the world of newsprint and in fact she was starting to get offers from the glitzy folk in the TV biz! She decided that she would wait a little while before she sprang that one on Brian and Grover. Her series on serial killers and violent offenders had been extremely popular having been picked up by the major papers up and down the coast of California, as well as a couple of neighboring states as well.

   The timing of her work couldn’t have been more perfect, her stories coming out just ahead of the Manson crap in LA. She was being regularly interviewed and quoted as an expert in bizarre senseless crimes, and to be honest, she was enjoying all the attention. Her last piece had compared the two men, one psycho to another. Dr. Murray Katz and Charles Manson were sort of the Frick and Frack of psychopaths. Charlie’s bizarre nature, flagrant actions, and apparent absence of remorse starkly contrasted Dr. Katz’s obvious repentance and controlled, articulate, and gracious social demeanor. It was actually difficult to determine who was the most frightening, the lunatic or the liar?  KC’s money was on the liar. It was her contention that one could see a lunatic’s moves and follow his trail; he could be tracked and plotted. But a truly gifted liar was clever, careful, not easily followed, not easily caught. A lunatic can be seen easily, all you have to do is pay attention. However, a gifted liar is cleverly camouflaged and is able to walk among us.  She turned onto Central Avenue and went back under the overpass, heading toward Avenue C and the small home of Victor and Maria Lopez. She had been invited for supper a while back and she saw this as a chance to see how the family dynamic worked given all the commotion. Victor Lopez had been a hard sell, but apparently Arthur Donnelly had convinced him that she was no threat, and after all, she had kept her word about leaving the little girl out of the limelight. She patted herself on the back daily for that little triumph. She had no idea that it was the Big Kahuna himself, Grover Gateway who was running interference for her, as he wrestled with his journalistic instincts and his recent acceptance of his own mortality.

   Anyway, KC thought that this would be a good chance to quiz Maria Lopez a bit more and also have some alone time with Tina. KC remembered the last time she had scheduled an interview with Tina’s mother. She had arranged to meet with Maria at her home one morning, quite early, so as to avoid any interruptions by the kids and the husband. You know, talk woman to woman so to speak, while Maria puttered around the house doing chores and what not.

   However, when KC arrived at her doorstep she was greeted by pandemonium. As t turned out, KC had scheduled the interview on the very day that it was Maria’s turn to be the neighborhood mommy for about 5 or 6 infants and rug rats! There wouldn’t be one free minute that day to chat, much less for KC to jot down any notes, as she was instantly drafted into Maria’s one woman army. The children whined and cried, crawled and squirmed, ate and pooped all over the modest little home on the range! While there may not have been much time to devote to a meaningful interview, the two women did get a chance to know one another, and Maria was so happy to have help for a change. To be honest, though KC may have done a fair share of whining herself, she secretly kind of dug the experience. She was at the late nesting age, 32 or 28 depending on who was asking! And the allure of motherhood was never too far from her collective sub-conscious.

   “All I need is a man that I can trust with my heart,” she would say to herself occasionally, whenever this mood would wash over her. And therein lay the problem. She had become quite jaded from her extensive dating experiences, and had difficulty using the words man and trust in the same sentence! The two words just didn’t sound right together, at least not without sounding like an oxymoron anyway. KC shuddered and shook off her little mental detour.

   “GET YOUR HORMONES IN LINE KC GIRL,” she said out loud!

   “What’d you say,” Jay Namura asked sleepily, waking from a catnap in the seat next to her?

   “Nothing, just forget it,” she snapped back at him! She felt an instant pang of guilt and apologized, “Sorry Jay-man,” she said, shrugging her shoulders and rolling her eyes.

   “Is it THAT time of the month already,” he teased, pretending to flip open a notepad and count the days on a pretend calendar.

   “How often do you go through this anyway? I mean they do call them periods right, like they might happen periodically? Or in your case does it mean that you just have them PERIOD!

   “SHUT UP,” KC yelled, turning toward Jay completely and slugging him with both fists, the old one-two punch. Jay covered up like an experienced boxer and protected his face.

   “HEY crazy lady, the wheel, keep your hands on the freaking steering wheel OK!”

   “Watch the road will ya, WATCH THE ROAD!

   “OH SHIT,” KC exclaimed, turning back quickly and grabbing the steering wheel to avoid veering off into the opposing lane of traffic. The rental car swerved sharply back to the right of the road as she regained control of the vehicle.

   “You OK Jay,” she asked huffing and puffing, her heart racing while she slowed down to the speed limit.

   “Still here, but that right cross of yours is gonna leave a mark,” he replied checking out the purple bruise that was forming on his bicep.

   “Sorry sweetie, but you know how crazy I get when my friend is visiting,” KC said, blowing her hair from her eyes, and blushing slightly.

   “Was that an apology or an excuse?”

  JAAAYYY, COME ON!”

  “OK, OK, I forgive you! Now calm down before we get to the house. You’ll scare everyone with that MADD BITCH routine. For crying out loud girl, sometimes you worry me,” Jay said shaking his head. KC reached up and tilted the rear view mirror toward her and checked her look.

   “Oh my gosh,” she said, alarmed by her own reflection.

   “Take the wheel a minute will ya Jay,” she asked letting go, without waiting for a reply.

She fixed her short hair by combing it with her hand, and then picked up a tissue from the seat and dabbed the tears from the corners of her eyes.

   “You’re a real piece of work Kathy, I don’t know how you managed to make it to the ripe old age of 33,” Jay lamented.

   “32, I’m 32 Jay!”

   “Yeah, whatever”

   “Just for the record though, you were 32 last year. I remember because that lamer Jordan surprised you with 32 roses at your desk in front of everyone and you didn’t speak to him for a week!”

   “I laughed my ass off. I never did understand your attraction to that wiener anyway. Especially not with all of this available to you,” Jay said, holding the steering wheel with his left hand and waving his right down the length of his body. KC turned her head slowly toward her best friend and gave him the evil eye.

   “I’m 32 Jay, GET IT?  

   “Meooooww,” Jay replied, letting loose of the wheel and sliding back to his side of the car.

   “And for your information, Jordan is ancient history. That was a low blow by the way, I told you my friend was visiting. We’re supposed to have an understanding during times like these, right? It’s you be nice to me, and I won’t KILL YOU!”

   “Peace, I stand corrected on both counts,” Jay replied, raising both hands to surrender. KC nodded and returned her full attention to the road. They remained silent until she pulled into the long dirt driveway that led to the Lopez home.

   “We’re here,” KC said as they drove slowly along the rural access road.

   “Good thing we stopped in Gilroy and had the car washed,” Jay teased while he cranked up the window to keep the cloud of dust from filling the inside of the car.

   KC decided not to react to his little breach of their truce and kept her eyes on the road. Jay removed a pack of Juicy Fruit from his pocket and offered KC a stick of gum. She nodded her head and signaled for him to unwrap it for her. Then she opened her mouth and Jay stuck the gum between her teeth.

   “Thanks”

   “My pleasure”

   As they pulled up near the house KC noticed that the Donnelly’s were here as well, she recognized their big Cadillac El Dorado parked in front. Arthur Donnelly broke the unwritten law that only small men drive all big ass cars. At six feet four inches a car that size actually suited the man. KC pulled up behind the big Chevy and shut off the engine.

   “Remember Jay; only shoot group photos of the family. No pictures of Tina alone, not even one of me and her together,” KC reminded her photographer.

   “Yeah, yeah, I got it. I don’t get it, but I got it,” said Jay sarcastically. With that said, the two of them walked up to the front porch and climbed the three steps to the door. Alma Donnelly answered the door on the first knock, opening the wooden screen to let them into the house.

   “Hello KC dear, so nice to see you again,” Alma said, placing her hands on KC’s shoulders and busing her on each cheek.

   “I’m sorry dear, I don’t believe I know your friend,” Alma continued, nodding toward Jay.

   “Excuse my manners Mrs. Donnelly, this is my associate Jay Namura,” KC said politely.

   “Mr. Namura, a pleasure I’m sure,” Alma said, extending her hand for Jay to shake.

   Jay, please, and the pleasure’s all mine,” he replied as he took her hand and shook in gently.

   “Well, come on in and meet everybody else, won’t you,” Alma asked, taking Jay by the arm and leading him toward the small living room.

   “Come along dear,” she said over her shoulder to KC. Jay looked back over his own shoulder at her, “She called me your friend,” he teased in a whisper.

   “SHUT UP,” KC mouthed at him, threatening him with a clenched fist!

   After all of the introductions were finished, the small crowd seated themselves around the table for supper. Victor took his place at the head of the table to proudly preside over the little gathering.

   “Senor, would you like to say the blessing,” he respectfully asked of Arthur Donnelly?

   “Oh no Victor, this is your home, please by all means,” Arthur answered with equal respect.

   Victor reached up and took the hand of the people seated beside him, and everyone did likewise in preparation for saying grace. Jay leaned in close to KC and whispered in her ear.

   “I’m not sure the Buddha would approve of this little bit of treason, “ he teased. KC stomped on his foot with the heel of her pump and Jay instantly bowed his head and bit his lips, stifling the scream that was about to escape his mouth.

   “Father God, we thank you for this meal we are about to receive. We thank you for the many blessings that you grant us, for each may we be truly grateful. We thank you for the health of everyone here tonight. And we thank you for the love that you give to us, to wear and to share. Lord, for all of these things and more we offer praise and thanksgiving. In Christ’s name we pray, amen,” Victor said, his enunciation nearly perfect. He only rolled his R’s on the word receive. Then KC genuflected along with everyone, else except Jay who drew the line at symbolism, and they all repeated the amen part right after Victor.

   “Let’s EAT,” exclaimed Gilbert in a squeaky voice. He was seated on a stack of telephone books right next to his mother.

   “Quiet mijo,” Maria said softly, playfully scolding her anxious and hungry son.

   They all enjoyed a bountiful meal that featured a collision of two cultures. There were taquitos, rice and beans served along side of fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet baby peas and corn on the cob. Add in the iced tea and the coffee and peach cobbler afterward and it was a veritable feast!

   The conversation remained light during the meal and Jay did manage to get up and take a few candid group shots of everyone sitting around the table and enjoying themselves. He even let Victor snap a couple, which was a major coup for Jay as he was positively anal about his equipment! KC noticed that Arthur and Alma were more like family than employers, and how much the children seemed to love them. It was the main reason that she had agreed to all of the secrecy in the first place. Her naturally blabby instincts had been trumped by Alma Donnelly’s sincerity that day nearly a year ago when they had first met together at the Donnelly home.

   KC looked over at Tina who was seated next to her father. The little girl had not said a word during supper, but she didn’t appear to be upset either. However KC’s sixth sense told her that something was amiss, that something was on the child’s mind. She didn’t have to wait long to investigate her instinct. While Alma and Maria cleared the table and the men went onto the front porch to stretch, belch, and Lord knows what else, Tina came over to her and took her hand. She didn’t say any words, but here eyes asked KC to follow her. They went through the kitchen and out the back door, and out into the small yard. Tina looked back over her shoulder and waived at her mother who was watching them from the kitchen window. The two of them walked up to the tire swing hanging from a thick low branch on the elm tree near the garage. Tina let go of KC’s hand and jumped up into the middle of the swing. She twirled around in it for a minute or so, and then dragged her shoes on the grass, slowing herself to a stop. She looked at KC as she lay on her stomach inside the tire. Then she reached behind her back and removed an envelope from the back pocket of her jeans, and she held it out to KC.

   “I got this,” she said in a tiny voice.

   “I see that, what is it,” KC asked sweetly?

   “It’s a letter silly,” said Tina, looking at KC like she might be a little slow.

   “Oh, do you want me to read it to you?”

   No, mama said that I should show it to you.”

   “She did?”

   “Yes”

   “Have you read it?”

   “Yes”

   “Who is it from?”

   “From the burned up man.”

   “What did he say?”
   Tina didn’t answer right away. She just kicked at the ground and started to twirl the swing again.

   “Tina, what did the man say?”

   “I don’t know”

   KC reached over and stopped the swing from twirling. She held out her hand and Tina gave the letter to her. KC looked back at the house and saw Maria working at the sink and watching them through the window.

   “Aunt Alma says we can’t show the letter to Papa,” said Tina matter of factly.

   KC did not reply, she just walked over to a set of lawn chairs under the elm tree and sat down in the nearest one. She looked at the envelope and her heart sank when she read the return address.

   “What fresh Hell is this,” she whispered out loud.

   KC opened the envelope and pulled out the one page letter and read silently to herself. When she finished she looked back at the house and then read the letter again. When she finished the second time she leaned back in the lawn chair and was startled to discover that Alma and Maria were seated in the two chairs across from her.

   “What do you make of that,” asked Alma?

   “I don’t know what to think Mrs. Donnelly, but I can understand why you don’t want to show it to Victor,” KC said, rubbing her temples with one hand and handing the letter to Alma with the other.

   “It wasn’t threatening or inappropriate in any way other than it was sent to her at all. But it did give me the heebie jeebies, I can’t explain it, but it did?”

   “You know, it was actually quite sweet in a way, almost loving. WAIT, that’s what’s so weird, he loves her! Oh my God, he loves her,” KC exclaimed in a harsh whisper.

   Yes, that’s what I was reading between the lines as well,” Mrs. Donnelly agreed, slapping her knee with the hand that held the letter!

   “Aye Dios mio,” Maria said, rocking in her chair and wrenching a dishtowel in her hands. Tina walked over to her mother and crawled up into her lap. She looked over at KC and smiled.

   “He won’t hurt me like the others,” she said softly.

   “What sweetie,” KC asked, looking back at the child?

   Tina pulled the gold cross and chain from her mother’s blouse and fiddled with it.

   “He won’t hurt me like the others,” she repeated.

   KC got up and strode quickly over to Maria and Tina. She knelt down in front of the chair and reached out and abruptly took the cross and chain from the little girl’s hands, causing Tina to look back at KC and frown. KC took hold of Tina’s shoulders roughly and turned her towards herself. The two of them stared at one another intently while Maria and Alma looked on puzzled.

   “Why do you say that Tina,” KC demanded?

   KC realized at once that she had frightened the child and she immediately relaxed her tone and unscrewed her face, letting go of Tina at the same time.

   “I’m sorry honey,” she said apologizing.

   “Sweetheart, why do you say that he won’t hurt you? Who won’t hurt you?”

   ”The burned up man,” Tina said calmly, looking KC directly in the eye without blinking her eyes even once. KC almost gasped out loud and looked back over her shoulder at Alma Donnelly who had raised her own hand to her mouth to silence herself as well.

   “Honey, why did the burned up man write to you,” KC pressed gently?

Tina didn’t answer. She just looked at KC for a full two minutes. It was an uncomfortable pause, but KC kept silent, she felt an answer coming.

   “That day, Jesus asked me to pray with the burned up man, and I did, Papa said it was OK. Then it got hot, it got really, really hot and I sweated and then I got sleepy. When I woke up, Mama was with me and we went home. The burned up man was crying, but he wasn’t burned up no more,” Tina said smiling as she recounted the day at the hospital.

   She picked up her mother’s crucifix and began fiddling with it again. The three adults sat speechless for a couple minutes. There didn’t seem to be much else to say, nobody had a clue as to what the little girl was trying to communicate or what Dr. Katz’s letter really meant, not a clue.

   “He wants me to come see him, he needs to know something, I have to tell him something,” Tina said suddenly, breaking the silence. KC looked at the child puzzled.

   “What baby, what does he want to know, what do you have to tell him?”

   Tina let go of the cross and chain and it fell back into Maria’s blouse. Tina leaned forward towards KC, bending and flexing her index finger repeatedly at the joints, indicating for KC to scoot in closer. Katherine Littleton moved in close to the little girl, they were face-to-face, nearly nose-to-nose. Tina reached up to KC’s face and placed her hands on her cheeks, pushing them in slightly so that KC involuntarily made a fish face. Tina leaned in further and kissed KC on her forehead, a slow, soft, loving, kiss. Not a child’s kiss, it was more like a mother’s kiss, it made KC feel awkward. Then she pulled back away a little and looked into KC’s eyes saying sweetly, “All better.”

   KC started to say something when she suddenly realized that the terrible cramps that she had been suffering from ever since she got her period in Gilroy, nearly six and a half hours ago, were gone! Not just feeling better gone either, but gone-gone, like they had never existed gone. She hadn’t felt this relaxed since before puberty, this was too weird? She looked at Tina and she was smiling at her.

   “Will you take me to see the burned up man?” the child asked.

KC swallowed hard and replied.

   “Why honey, why do you want to go see this man,” KC pleaded.

Tina leaned in close to KC’s face again.
   “It’s a secret…”






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