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Killing Cardinal Finch
Cardinal Finch was the biggest man I ever seen, with skin the color of dark chocolate and big expressive black eyes, he had hands the size of dinner plates. I never did learn why they called him Cardinal, perhaps that really was his real name, or maybe they just felt it suited him, and perhaps it did. It was a smoldering hot day in July in the year 1933, the sun burnin’ a hole through the south, when Mr. Finch stood in front of the judge in the sleepy little town where nothin’ much ever happens. He was being tried against Mr. Jones, the meanest man the world ever knew with a baldin’ head and sharp blue eyes, Mr. Cardinal Finch was being tried for murder.
Now, I’ve no idea how it really happened, or if it ever really did at all. Maybe I don’ really wanna know. The only fact that really mattered to me was that Mr. Cardinal Finch was a good man, regardless of what he did or didn’ do, and that’s all I really have to say.
They said he killed a little girl, round six or so, with hair like straw, stringy and yellow and eyes as green as mornin’ light shaftin’ through the trees. She used a like to play down near the stream behind her house and that’s where they found ‘em. Mr. Finch just sittin’ there with her head in his lap, tears streamin’ down his face as he petted her hair, her scull was smashed clean to pieces.
As Mr. Finch stood there facin’ the judge on a burnin’ afternoon in July in 1933, his big hands shakin’ as he waited for his sentence, Mr. Jones just snickered. While he stood to win the world, or at least a nice healthy sum a money, poor Cardinal Finch stood only to loose his life. That was how Mr. Jones saw it anyway, his daughter may have been dead, but at least he could pay off his house.
“Mr. Cardinal Finch, you are sentenced to death by electrocution for the murder of Miss May-Bell Jane Jones,” you could see the judges words cut inta poor Cardinal like a knife, but he never said a word as they put him in hand cuffs and lead him away, Mr. Jones laughin’ all the while. I never did understand why any one man could be so cruel.
There was no electric chair in the tiny little prison in Sunshine (Yes, that’s right, that’s what the town was called alright. I s’pose they called it that on a couna the sun never did stop shinin’, not even in winter.) which meant Mr. Finch would have to be transported ta the next little town over, where his sentence could be carried out proper. When the day arrived, Cardinal followed the prison guard into the truck in silence with only the simplest of human pain written across his dark face.
Now, I don’ think Mr. Finch ever had any intention of tryin’ ta run, fear gets ta people in strange ways and I think when the time presented itself, Cardinal’s legs suddenly found their way outa the truck and down the road, the guard’s voice only a faint hum behind him. When the judge heard the news, he gave the authorities, and for that matter, the civilians, the order to shoot on sight and so the man hunt began.
Poor Mr. Finch was terrified right outa his mind but what could he do? If he kept runnin’ they’d eventually find him and shoot him, if he went back, they’d shoot him anyway. And so he kept goin’, for days and days he didn’ stop, that is, until he run inta me.
Oh I musta been nearly six at the time with hair yellow as lemons and eyes as green as April grass. I was wanderin’ through the bit of wooded patch behind our house when he can barrelin’ round the corner just as fast as he could and from the look in his big black eyes when he saw me, I must a been the scariest thing he ever saw.
“Well hey mister,” I said as he stood stiffly in front a me, tried ta make himself look small and playin’ with his big hands still all done up in hand cuffs, “my name’s Janie-May, who are you?” For a long moment, he just stood and looked at me like I was the strangest thing. That name! I could see his eyes scream but when he did speak, his voice was small but deep and smooth.
“Cardinal Finch, ma’am,” I giggled at his strange name and at how he called me ma’am but when I saw the pain on his big face I stopped and hurried through my apology
“I’m offal sorry Mr. Finch, I didn’ mean no harm, but what you runnin’ so fast for?” I could see him flinch at my question and the way he kept his eyes away from mine made me think that maybe whatever it was he was runnin’ from made him too sad ta talk about. “It’s okay, you don’ have ta tell me if you don’ wanna,” I tell him and stepping forward, I took one of his big hands in mine, ignoring the discomfort of the iron cuffs, and lead him on through the trees, skippin’ at his side, chatterin’ all the while. I told him about a lota things, mostly about my family; my ma and pa and older brother, Ted who was always pickin’ on me, about my dog, Smudge, and the cat that lived in the old shed round the back of the house and Mr. Cardinal Finch just listened, never sayin’ a word.
I stopped then and looked into his black eyes and saw how sad he looked, how much the world seemed to be hurtin’ him. I spotted a lone bluebell sproutin’ from the ground and ran to pick it, I presented it to him with a thrust of my hand and smiled as he stuck it wordlessly inta the chest pocket of his gray prison uniform.
“Mr. Finch,” I asked lookin’ straight but into his big round face, “are you hidin’ from some one?” slowly, he nodded lookin’ down at his feet. “If I take you to a good place to hide, will you stay and I’ll come see you every day?” slowly, he nodded again and taking up his hand once more, I lead him to the old tree house my pa built for us in the middle a the wood.
For the whole resta that summer, Cardinal Finch lived up in those trees. I used to come see him every day, sneak him food and once I brought a pare a wire cutters from the shed and together we got the cuffs off his hands. I used ta walk him through the forest, holdin’ his big brown hand in mine and we’d pick flowers and I’d talk and Mr. Finch, well, he’d listen. That summer seemed to me to last a lifetime and when it finally ended, it was gently painful, like dandelion seeds in the wind.
I remember the day perfectly, must have been late August and pleasant was the only way to describe it, not too hot and the birds singin’ in the trees. We’d been pickin’ flowers like always and I had just bent down to pull up a big red poppy when we heard the policemen’s dogs, or at least he did.
I don’t really remember what happened next, when I turned around, Mr. Finch was on his knees on the forest floor, fat tears rollin’ down his face and fear burnin’ in his eyes. I ran to him, throwin’ my arms around his neck.
“Don’t cry, Mr. Finch,” I tell him, I never saw the policeman at my back and I don’t think I ever heard the gun go off, only Cardinal Finch’s scream and all in that moment, the truth came to me and it was like I had known it from the very beginnin’.
“I didn’t do it, Miss Janie-May,” his entire being seemed to cry, “I never hurt nobody! The river was flooded and that little May-Bell Jane got trapped in the mud, sceamin’ like mad. When I wenta pull her out I must a…”
“I know, Mr. Finch,” and I think we both died knowin’ the truth, whether those policemen ever did, that sometimes people do bad things with good intentions and what comes of it, is simply what comes.