FIVE DAYS TO ETERNITY
What if Jesus came back? Would we believe him? Would we listen to him? Would we kill him again, or is Juan de Peru a fake and the leader of a dangerous religious cult? These are the questions Thurman Williams and the CBS crew must answer in the five days before the execution.
de Peru has had his last appeal turned down by the United States Supreme Court and he is scheduled to die in five days on June 5, 1970. His followers, which have grown to two million people in Florida, Georgia and Alabama, have vowed to die with him and the suicides have already begun. CBS and the St. Petersburg Times have become suspicious of the conviction and have started their own separate investigations, but they only have five days to discover if he is innocent or not.
There are 40,000 people outside the prison, half praying for his life, half praying for his death, and the Florida National Guard, in full battle gear, is stationed at one end of the prison. The Florida State troopers, from every county in the state are at the other end of the prison, ready to disperse the massive crowd on a moment's notice, and the prison yard is on fire.
The pain from the wounds in his hands and feet were so excruciating, they made his limbs throb, and now a new wound was in his side that grew with each new breath. He was weak and disoriented. He ached with dispair and hopelessness. He wondered why he must suffer this pain. Why him? His fleshless skin stretched against the skeletal bones of his body and became almost transparent. One could see his hip bones and the jointed bones that led to his thighs. His ribs stuck out of his chest and his eyes, hollow now and more clear, were sad glimpses of what they once were and mirrored the sorrow in his heart, which though still beating, was a faint echo of the large heart he once had. He was limp from the lack of food and water. His head swam from the gauzy haze that formed in his mind. Alone in his cell, he had no sense of time. He did not know the time of the day, the day of the week, or even the month or season. Time, at last was nothing, yet it was everything.
The tents for reporters were on the west side of the prison grounds in dull colors of gray or brown. This was their command post on the prison grounds. Food and supplies were kept in large tubs and barrels filled with ice cubes and ice chips.
Thurman took a large bite of a hoagie he had made close to Philadelphia standards and washed it down with a root beer. He suddenly felt a presence in the tent and turned around to the flap opening. A woman stood in the opening, her face lined with wrinkles she did not seem old enough to earn. Her eyes, a dark, slate blue, peered out from under her gray shawl, a haunting, familiar face, like an ancient Madonna carrying the anger of the world on her soul, like all the mothers in the world who have lost a son. Thurman rose and wanted to speak to her, but he did not know what to say.
Browning picked up the phone and said, "Okay Willie, what do you have?"
"Boss, you're going to love this," Willie said. "This is primitive country. Nothing has changed here in the last six thousand years. They're still doing the same rituals that they did when the Sumerians ruled the Middle East and that world, before the Romans, before Greece, before Egypt, before Babylon, even before the bible was written. They have lived in relative isolation for six millenniums, but time and modern technology have caught up to them in the last twenty-five years, and they have now become accessible and even popular for eager historians and archeologists, who are disrupting their whole way of life. The tribe has become the people that time has found, which, the tribal leaders know will mean an end to their prized culture and customs, which they believe to be the purest in the universe."
Browning turned to his secretary. "God damn, this is great. Are you getting all this down?"
She nodded and returned to the tape recorder.
"Boss," Willie said. "I spoke to the shaman. He said he never slept with Marie Jorgas, de Peru's mother."
"A virgin birth," Browning said. "Perfect."
"The shaman seems sincere, but, I don't know. Anyway, he said that the night that they brought her to the village, the sun came down from the sky, and she could be heard praying in that strange tongue of hers, which was probably German. No one touched her after that because they thought she was the bride of their sun god.
I spoke to the Ancient One, who was the Shaman until his eyesight left him. Boss, he must be one hundred and twenty-five years old. He lives in the funeral cave waiting to die. No one goes near the cave because that is where death lives, but Boss, he has been there 60 years and has outlived three new shamans. He told us through our interpreter, that his people had worshipped the Son of Heaven, but with the ignorance of the people and the reluctance of the new shamans, this became the sun from heaven.
From the CBS control room, Rebmann was counting down to zero. Thurman stood at the front of the huge entrance to the mission. At the signal, Thurman said, "This is the San Luis de Accilla Mission, the oldest mission in Florida. It outdates St. Augustine, the oldest city in the United States by one hundred years. It began as an Indian village. The Apalachee Indians first built these buildings consisting of a large number of huts and hatches with the roofs going down to the floor. These dwellings are sprinkled on the grounds of the mission which spreads to over two square miles on the edge of the Everglades, an uncharted swampland of saw grass and submerged cypress trees and mangrove trees which sometimes grow as high as seventy or eighty feet and melaleuca trees that form an impenetrable thicket so dense that sunlight cannot pierce it. It is a unique ecological system, a part of Florida as mysterious as the Amazom jungle." Corky panned the camera around the tops of the small hatches. "Over here in the center," Thurman said, "is the council building which served as the political, social, and ritual center and also the celebrations of war for the Indians. To the right of the main building is the large house of the chief of the council. When the Spaniards came, they were appropriated by them and used as forts. Later the Catholic friars took over the missions in the name of God and began their instructions of the Catholic faith to the Indians, who came to Catholicism with the ease of children. "This is where it all, began. This is the place that changed Maria Jorgas' son Conception into Juan de Peru, the mystical holy man who touched so many lives with his words and his logic defying miracles.