Tuesday, September 29, 1964
After dinner, I drove Hank over to St. Joe Hall for a debriefing from Father Joe Perry on Jimmy Parker's funeral. Driving the equivalent of four blocks seemed silly, but Hank resisted the idea of walking and I didn't want to argue about it. On the way, Hank informed me that he had buttonholed Bernie Fox to get his take on the funeral, but Bernie didn't want to talk about it. Surprise.
As soon as we walked into Father Perry's office, he flipped me another packet of Three-Star Blue. Apparently, his campaign to get me to trade in my cigarettes for a pipe was serious. I didn't mind. I had a chance to sample the tobacco and was impressed.
Then, without asking, Joe made Hank a scotch rocks and two club sodas with lime for himself and me. Hank just looked at him.
Father Perry answered Hank's implied question. "I'm exhausted," he said. "I need a decent night's sleep, and I find that the term nightcap is a misnomer. Doesn't help at all."
"Okay then," said Hank, taking a sip of scotch. "Whatcha got for us."
"More than I expected," said Father Perry. "Bernie gave the eulogy and led the rosary at the wake."
"Led the rosary," said Hank. "Doesn't sound like Bernie."
"It was a command performance," said Father Perry. "The family insisted. Actually, they wanted him to be preside over the Mass and to give the homily, but Bernie didn't want to do that. He offered to handle the wake instead."
"Why?" I asked.
"I asked Bernie about that," said Joe. "He wanted to do a eulogy instead of the homily because he wanted to talk about Jimmy rather than what he called the 'religious fru-fru' required in a homily."
"Religious fru-fru," I said.
"Now that sounds like the Bernie I know," said Hank.
"In any case, his eulogy wasn't religious fru-fru," said Father Perry. "It was intense—and impressive in its way. He was pretty blunt about 'certain people,' as he referred to them, who bullied Jimmy in high school."
"In high school? Not in college?"
"He didn't mention college, thank God."
"It sounds like Bernie was quite close to the young man," I said.
"Yes, but as his champion," said Father Perry. "At any rate, that's how Jimmy's parents view Bernie. They are definitely in his camp of admirers."
"You saw that?" I said.
"I heard that directly—from Jimmy's mother," Father Perry said. "She talked at some length about what happened at the high school last year. It seems three students, who had bothered Jimmy in previous years, were even worse as seniors. Much worse. They went from calling him names—she wouldn't or couldn't tell me what kind of names by the way—to playing pranks and finally to physical abuse."
"She didn't say he was a homosexual, then?" As soon as I said that, I thought it might have been a mistake. Hank and I knew the implications of the paperback, The Charioteer, that Jimmy had in his possession when he hung himself. It made it obvious, in our minds, that Jimmy was struggling with homosexuality.
Joe didn't miss a bit. "My guess is that she suspects, but she didn't say."
I looked at Hank. He made a slight movement with his hands, palms down, indicating "Don't worry about it. " He must have had a conversation with Father Perry that I didn't know about it. After a long pause, I asked, "Where does Bernie come into it?"
"According to Mrs. Parker, he went after the bullies—big time," Father Perry said. "When talking to them didn't work, he kept them after class. When that didn't work, he began sending them to the office almost every day. He tried talking to their parents."
"And ... "
"That was the beginning of big trouble," Joe said. "Mrs. Parker didn't know how it went for sure, but she pointed out that all three of the fathers are big wheels—one is a bank president, one is a corporate lawyer, and the third is a real estate developer. She guessed that Bernie wasn't able to talk to them—she thought he must have talked to the mothers. In any case, after he approached the families, stuff started to happen."
"Talk, especially about Bernie. This appears to have been when the accusations of, uh, impropriety started. In March of this year. Bernie wanted the principal to set up a meeting among the parents, himself, and the principal—but the parents refused."
"Outright refused?" I said.
"Yep," Father Perry said. "However, Mrs. Parker thinks they threatened the principal."
Hank interrupted. "I guess I should say something."
"I noticed you were strangely quiet," I said.
"What Joe is telling us, by way of Mrs. Parker, jives with what I had been told by our provincial."
"And you never told me, your esteemed detective," I said.
"I wanted you to start from a neutral point," he said, handing his glass to Father Perry for a refill. "At this point, I think it's pretty clear that Jimmy was the victim of some bullying. And while I can't be one-hundred percent sure that Bernie didn't engage in some, uh, sexual misbehavior, the evidence is more compelling that he went to bat for this kid and became himself the victim of bullying—in the form of vicious tale-bearing by some powerful people. That was the story I got from the provincial, and Joe's info supports it."
"So the provincial knew all along?" I asked.
"He had a strong suspicion," Hank said. "For one thing, the principal didn't buy the stories about Bernie. He stood by him, refused to fire him, or even stand him down. Do you think the provincial would have put Bernie in another boy's high school if he was a pederast? If he had any serious doubts, he would have set him up as chaplain of an old folks home or something like that."
"But you had enough doubts to hire me," I said.
"Due diligence, that's all," Hank said. "Besides, even if Bernie is innocent, which we think he is, we still have a problem."
That we did.