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Criminal defense attorney Joe Gonzalez was chatting with his staff.
"Mr. González, did you hear about the Christ without a cross that was found floating in the river by the U.S. Border Patrol?" asked Becky Peñalber.
"Yes. A friend of mine took a picture of it at police headquarters. He rushed over to see it with his own eyes. He had heard it was a miracle that it had not been scratched one bit by the rough currents of the Rio Grande River."
"Is it a miracle?"
"No, Becky. More likely, it is a trick, an explainable distraction, but not a miracle. There must be some explanation for its presence in the deadly currents of the river. Supposedly, it was circling around in the waters just below the International Bridge at the time U.S. Border Patrol agents manning a boat recovered it. My friend Humberto Ramos commented that whoever painted the Christ did a beautiful job. Whether the Christ was ever affixed on a cross before it was placed in the river, and eventually found, is intriguing, but it's not a miracle as the Roman Catholic Church would evaluate the event. Most likely, since it is made of balsa wood, it was used by irreverent criminals to float a person or a load of dope across the Rio Grande River. Once the crossing was completed, it was discarded and left to drift until it was eventually seen and retrieved."
"The recovery of the Christ without a cross was covered by Telemundo," said legal assistant, Gloria Macías. "The Christ without a cross has been linked by some to the plight of Mexican and other undocumented aliens-especially those who have drowned in pursuit of the American Dream."
"Mr. González, it's time," said Becky, the legal secretary reminding her boss that he had a hearing before District Judge Antonio "Tony" Gálaviz.
Joe González grabbed his briefcase and exited the law office with a bounce. The crisp coolness of the early morning had quickly escalated into a sweltering afternoon. The panorama gleamed with inspirited sunlight, domed by a blue sky and adorned with wisps of pallid clouds painted ethereally against the majesty of the south Texas horizon.
The song of the male cicadas magnified the hot afternoon as González strode briskly over the west sidewalk of the historic Maverick County Courthouse, eager to attend the hearing at the Maverick County Government Center.
August and September promised more of the hot lazy afternoons of July that ushered in the breeding cycle of the cicadas. In the midst of the slow descent of the canícula, the Apache cicadas continued to emerge from the soil to molt, sing, mate, and die.
The glistening golden walls of the restored courthouse amplified the vibration of the magical insect's tymbal into an irascible din-south Texas' symphony to philosophy. The reverberating echo of the incessant hiss composed an ascending and descending crescendo of eternal lamentations-an ode to death in one eulogizing note.
Eternally situate, even as González moved past the symbolic courthouse, the mystery of lawlessness hovered pneumatically amidst the sharp vibes of the cicadas' requiem to human essence-to being, death, and resurrection.
The babble of the cicadas faded as González turned and walked through the atrium to the open stairway of the Maverick County Government Center.
The spacious atrium was quiet.
People went about engaged in the business of ordinary citizens. Local news media personalities were meandering about in their usual friendly manner garnering tidbits of gossip or sniffing around for reportable news. The Texas attorney general's child support enforcement unit was litigating cases before Master Juan Jesús Falcón in Commissioner's Court rather than upstairs in the courtroom because the District Court was in session.
As González approached, the news team quickly activated the video camcorder and untangled the microphone's cord.
TV anchorman Féderico Cabrera asked, "Do you have some news, Mr. González?"
Smiling, González shook Cabrera's hand, but proceeded upstairs.
Dashing up the stairs, cameraman Pablo Marines asked, "¿Qué hay de nuevo?"
From the foot of the stairs, Cabrera entreated the old man, "Súeltela, Jefe."
"No hay nada. Todo está muerto," Gonzalez said, still moving up the stairs.
When he reached the breezeway of the second floor, González heard screams and the distinct din of panic inside the courtroom. Dropping his briefcase, he dashed forward and aggressively opened the courtroom door, which hit the wall with a resounding thud.
The bailiff and several lawyers and courtroom personnel, all familiar to González, were hunched over around and behind the bench, where González immediately concluded that his friend, District Judge Antonio Gálaviz, had just collapsed.
The bailiff radioed for an ambulance.
Police officers and the fire department's paramedic unit arrived and checked the fallen body.
It was too late.
An era of outstanding public service had ended. Men and women were sobbing. The awesome void was poignant and so improvident.
The courtroom personnel embraced each other, trying to find some explanation for the troubling event.
Internally, González nodded a profound "No" to God's will, and then pretended to resolve his true feelings by lowering his head with a recalcitrant, "Thy will be done."
Justice of the Peace Martín Elizondo pronounced District Judge Gálaviz dead at 3:37 P. M. on Friday, August 1, 2008. He was almost 68.
More and more people arrived.
The body was removed for transfer to the Fort Duncan Regional Medical Center to await notification of next of kin.
J. P. Elizondo looked at González with inquiring eyes.
"Raul was present; ask him. I arrived after Judge Gálaviz collapsed."
"In an instant, it's over," Elizondo said, adjusting his glasses, which had slipped down his oily nose.
"Martín, La Pelona does not set an appointment."
Retrieving his briefcase, González walked down the stairs.
The local media frantically gleaned details from the clerks, lawyers, and emergency personnel.
Friends, colleagues, and members of the general public congregated at the scene as the news of the tragedy spread. Many spectators were visibly moved by the demise of the familiar figure in Eagle Pass, Crystal City, and Carrizo Springs, the judicial district's three county seats where Judge Gálaviz had presided over so many docket calls, hearings, and trials.
The scales of justice had been violently jostled.
Now, even as the grip of death imperceptibly stiffened the jurist's body, the statue of justice would be frozen in rigorous balance until the political will of the people, reflected in existing protocol and procedure, was spurred into motion to replace the jurist.
González left the Government Center. The sun was still blazing, and the cicadas were still hissing as if an eon had transpired without a trace. He walked slowly in a lingering state of shock.
The man was pensive and, strangely, angry. Death had stolen some precious time, which his friend had undoubtedly hoped to spend in communion with himself enjoying the consummation of a life of service to his profession and his community.
The death of a friend is a draining and exasperating experience.
Antonio was robust and full of energy. Why did he die so abruptly?
Beyond the old courthouse, the poignant song of the chilingín faded as González crossed Main Street and entered his office at the Rhodes Building.
"I'm sorry, Mr. González," legal assistant Gloria Macías said, tears swelling in her deep blue eyes. "We just learned what happened."
Becky Peñalber rose and stood mute and sad.
González nodded thankfully and, discarding the briefcase, went to his desk and sat down. He looked up to the wall and fixed his gaze on an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
He retrieved a bright red rosary from his shirt pocket and silently began reciting Friday's Sorrowful Mysteries, petitioning Mary's intercession for the eternal rest of his friend's soul.
In a recurring distraction during his recital of the rosary, now, too, the approaching anniversary of the Muslim terrorist attacks of 9/11 in New York came to his conscious mind. That distraction led him to remember Roman Catholic Europe's defeat of Islamic forces at Lepanto on October 7, 1571, and, more than a century later, in Vienna on September 11, 1683.
Apologetically, González ended his wayward prayers with the sign of the cross.
Before leaving, he invited the girls to close early.
When González entered his home, the phone was ringing in the living room home.
"The Honorable Joe González, District Judge."
The caller was young Oscar Montemar, the president of the Maverick County Bar Association and the executive secretary of the Border District Bar Association.
Oscar Montemar was the epitome of enthusiasm and energy focused on his one ebullient love, the traditional law profession, the "jealous mistress" that enraptures and arouses its best litigating attorneys with its eclectic lure-demanding creativity and scholarship, offering power and lucre, and delivering order and justice to generations of mankind ever disturbed by the mystery of lawlessness.
"Sorry, Mr. González, I know how close you were to Judge Gálaviz. But, really, you must realize-can't you see that you have to take over? There is a consensus, as I see it, for you to assume the duties of the bench."
"It's a simple no. I'm not called. What I mean is that by temperament I'm a criminal defense attorney. Besides, I'm not worthy. No. And that's it."
"Mr. González, do you mind if I come over?"
"Oscar, I need to be alone. Let's drop this now, please."
González was embarrassed. Although Oscar meant well, the subject was premature. The senior counselor felt a strange lethargy in his bones. He had not subdued the aberrant anger festering in his mind against God's providence.
Oscar's proposal was beyond his power. Young and impetuous as he was, he nevertheless had made quite an impact on the local cliques of leadership. However, he was not yet a full partner. Perhaps it was time to invite him to the inner circles of politics.
González sensed that county commissioner Luis Mesa's political machine needed Oscar Montemar's fresh leadership and progressive ideas.
Oscar Montemar was born to be a trial attorney. He was an advocate by nature and disposition. He had an engaging personality that hid a fountain of disciplined aggressiveness that appeared whenever he faced opponents in front of a judge or jury.
He was of medium build, yet there was no lack of personal magnetism. His advocacy, acumen, and fluent persuasiveness were a marvel to observe. The control of facial expressions, body language, and delivery of an argument in expert legalese characterized an overall style of elocution that was a pleasure for other lawyers to watch, admire, and hope to emulate.
"Your spirit is down. I'm sorry. Sure hope you'll let me know your feelings later on. I'd like to get involved in finding a good judge."
"Oscar, you can count on it," González said, hanging up.
Any expectation that Joe González could remain aloof and independent of the replacement process in a statesmanship capacity had been destroyed by Oscar's impertinence and characteristic zeal.
Oscar's reaction was a microcosm of what was happening in Dimmit, Maverick, and Zavala counties. Everyone wants a friendly forum.
González sat in his recliner and, out of habit, turned on the television set.
He wondered, "Who should assume the duties of the vacant 392nd judicial District Court?"
The daily carnage reported live from Iraq soon caught González's attention. The horrendous images were a pernicious reminder of the evil animosities that result when religious conflicts spill over into local, regional, and international politics. It is an evil hatred that stifles statesmanship at all levels.
Almost seven years earlier, on September 11, 2001, while he was reclining in bed waiting for his wife, Faustina, to finish her shower, he watched the second passenger jet deliberately strike the second of the Twin Towers and concluded immediately that it was a terrorist attack.
And after watching Muslim crowds live on television celebrating the attack on the streets of the Middle East, he began praying that God in his providence would at long last draw the people of the Crescent to himself, even as in 1531 his providence had drawn the indigenous people of Mexico through the humility and motherly love of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the handmaid of the Lord.
The common people's unfortunate reaction to the finding of the Christ without a cross in the Rio Grande River and now the shock of Judge Gálaviz's death, stirred Joe González to pray that through the intercession of Mary the people of the Crescent would finally discard the heresy of Islam and embrace the true church established by Christ.
The phone was ringing.
"Joe González," he said with a sigh.
"Joe, what happened to Judge Gálaviz?"
It was Judge Chester Klingemann.
"He had a massive heart attack. It was over quickly, Your Honor."
"I'm sure sorry to see Tony go that way. He was looking forward to lessening his workload. He would have qualified for senior judge status in 2012."
"You're certainly correct about that. There is only so much work and pressure a body can sustain," González said, recalling Tony's healthful habits.
"I know how you feel, Joe, so I'll let you go now. Please keep me posted. I want to attend Tony's funeral."
"I'll call you as soon as Aurora Gálaviz announces the arrangements."
González returned to the recliner.
He clicked over to a Mexico City channel to hear the news. He kept up with Mexican accounts of the war in Iraq because they did not avoid mentioning the deaths and maiming of Muslim civilians, particularly children. The Mexican news media objectively covered the historical strife between Shiites and Sunnis.
With President Bush's surge, the war's momentum had escalated. Opposing suicide bombers had without mercy killed civilians, militiamen, and American soldiers alike.
González turned and looked out the window toward the driveway when he heard the familiar hum of his wife's Ford Expedition.
Faustina returned home with the couple's eleven-year-old son, Manuel who was enjoying summer swimming lessons.
Manuel was explaining something to his mother as they entered. The child was in a bright blue and yellow swimsuit and had a fluffy white towel draped over his sunburned shoulders. The boy ran to his father and hugged him robustly.
"Hey, you're wet!"
Manuel chuckled. He loved jostling with his old dad.
González admired the interaction between his son and his mother. Manuel was getting stronger and more self-confident. The swimming lessons, but more so, the effect of years of training as a budding Kajukenbo junior black belt, had helped Manuel become a precocious athlete.
González detested the thought that Manuel and other boys like him might soon have to fight Islamic terrorists in the Middle East or even in Central or South America.
"Go on," he heard Faustina say, beckoning the youngster upstairs.
As was customary, after Manuel showered and changed, Faustina would take him some munchies and a Sprite.
González warmly accepted Faustina's brief embrace.
He turned when she addressed him on her way to the kitchen, "They told me at the pool. I'm sorry, honey. He was such a good man."
González relaxed at last. He turned off the television and waited for Faustina to join him. She approached, sipping a Coke. He loosened his tie and dress shirt.
He sensed Faustina must have been mulling in her own mind what impact the demise of Judge Gálaviz would have on his law practice.
The couple looked into each other's eyes, lovingly, probing for a point of spiritual understanding, an unspoken language deeply relished with their mutuality of mind, heart, and soul.
Faustina had retired from her work as a CPA to devote time to Manuel and her husband. The couple and their only child were a typical middle-class Mexican American Catholic family who frequented the activities of Sacred Heart Church beyond regular attendance at Sunday Mass. She supported González's scholarly interest in the church, but limited herself to active membership in Las Guadalupanas and involvement with Manuel's religious education.
Excerpted from The Mystery of Lawlessness by Alberto Ramon Copyright © 2010 by Alberto Ramon. Excerpted by permission.
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