Wednesday, November 4, 1964
I learned at breakfast that plans were afoot for Bernie's funeral on Friday. Hank had made the announcement at mass in the main chapel. The other priests weren't there—they had been celebrating mass in the smaller chapels. Of course, I wasn't there either. It wasn't my practice. Hank had to bring me and the others up to date at breakfast. Everyone expressed relief, Father Hop asking for the obvious update on the investigation. Hank said the only information he had was that the coroner expected to release the body for burial later in the day. Obviously, he didn't know how the investigation was going.
After instructing Father Hop to schedule the juniors and seniors for the all-night wake on Thursday evening and Friday morning, Hank dismissed the faculty. They dispersed, relieved for the normalcy of a funeral.
Hank took me aside privately and explained a few things. "What I told the group was not the whole truth," he said. "I probably should not tell you, but I have to tell somebody who is not suspected as the perpetrator."
"They don't suspect me?"
"Well, let's just say I choose to assume they don't," he said. "There appears to be something developing. I jumped the gun on announcing the funeral, though I had permission from everyone concerned to do so."
"That sounds opaque."
"I know what it means. Bernie's body is still in the morgue, but the coroner is planning to get clearance to release the body from the National Poison Control Center later today. He is almost certain that the center will be able to identify the poison by today or tomorrow, which normally would trigger his announcement that the death was a homicide."
"Well, this assumes that the particular poison would not have been ingested accidentally. Still, the normal expectation would be for him to follow the center's determination with his own ruling. However ,,," he paused. "However, the congregation's lawyer seems to have worked out an arrangement benefiting both the congregation and law enforcement, at least temporarily. The lawyer told us—told the provincial, at any rate—that the detectives wanted the coroner to delay announcing the ruling out of fear that it might prompt the killer to flee."
"Suggesting that they think whoever did the deed feels safe at the moment, which narrows the field."
It took me a while, but I finally got it—to my dismay. "This means the detectives are not suspecting a faculty member."
"That's my guess. They know that the faculty knows Bernie's death is suspicious."
"And there behavior is ,,," I paused.
"Normal, at least under the circumstances," Hank said. "Faculty members are shocked, saddened, and nervous about what lies ahead."
"Normal under the circumstances," I repeated. "But how do the detectives know about the faculty's behavior? Through you?"
"Some," he said. "But they interviewed everyone on the staff—at some length—and I don't think they stirred anybody up. Well, except for the good sisters."
"What? Surely the authorities don't expect food poisoning."
"They don't," Hank said. "But it's something they needed to eliminate. They talked to the cooks yesterday, and Father Hop said that it didn't go well."
"He was the interpreter."
"Yes, and he said the good sisters took considerable umbrage ..."
"Umbrage. Big word. And how can you tell? Those two are not known for their conviviality."
"Father Hop had no trouble identifying it as umbrage. He said the velocity, volume, and quantity of the German was up three or four notches—and he didn't dare translate much of what they said literally."
"I bet," I said, "Sorry I missed it."
"Despite Father Hop's best intentions, the detectives got the gist—and they weren't pleased."
"But they don't suspect them."
"Of course not, but their reaction forced them to call in the health department to check the kitchen. Today, as I understand it."
"Umm, more fireworks to come."
"You might want to eat at the Huddle tonight."
"If they aren't suspecting the good sisters, who are they suspecting?" I didn't really want an answer.
"I think they are looking at one of the students."
"You tell me."
"I'd rather not."
"Everything seems to be pointing to Dave Johnson."
"Don't you love their nicknames? As I understand it, Dingo Dave has motive, means, opportunity."
"But they haven't even talked to any of the students yet, Dave included," I said.
"No, but they've talked to you."
"But the seminarians think it was a natural death, like a heart attack."
"Except for the um, killer, who—if he's a seminarian—feels safe because nobody seems the wiser."
"They suspect a seminarian," I said. "That's ugly."
"You think there is an outcome that is not ugly?"
"We've stepped in something nasty, and we're not likely to get it off our shoes for some time."
My classes went better than I expected. The seminarians were subdued, but returning to the regular schedule had anchored them. Lunch, which featured bologna sandwiches, was uneventful. I didn't have a history class, but I collared Dan Johnson after my sophomore English class and gave him Dr. Mueller's book to read, clarifying that I wanted it back. He seemed interested.
There was one afternoon class, and then the boys went off to recreation. Mostly flag football, the last games before attention turned to basketball.
Then, at dinner, everything fell apart. The cooks were in a foul mood, banging pots and slinging German that nobody could understand. The waiters waited impatiently for the food, which was slow to come to the counters. When it did, it featured mystery squares cooked to a black crisp, stewed tomatoes heated to room temperature, and partially boiled potatoes.
The priest table, whose fare was a notch above what the seminarians were served, got the same treatment. Something was going on. The good sisters had served up a trifecta of the most hated foods—and ruined them, which heretofore no one had thought possible. The gathering set to murmuring, and Hank sent Father Hop back to the kitchen to reconnoiter.
He returned ten minutes later to report.
"As near as I can tell," he said after taking his chair and staring for a bit at the plate of burned mystery squares, "our cooks are in rebellion, thanks to yesterday's interview with the detectives and today's visit from the health department."
"I assume they will settle down by breakfast."
"I wouldn't count on it," Father Hop said.
"I see," said Hank.
The table got very quiet, while the priest waiters poured everyone coffee, an item they controlled.
"I sense we'll be doing some snacking in the faculty lounge and in our rooms," said Brother Rufus.
"What about the seminarians?" asked Hank.
"We could do an impromptu soiree," I suggested.
"A party hardly seems appropriate under the circumstances," Hank said. "Are they getting enough to tide them over."
Father Hop responded, "While I was down there, the runners were asking the cooks for bread, at which point they threw unopened loaves of white bread at them. I think everyone got a loaf. They won't starve, but they won't be in a good mood either."
"It'll have to do," Hank said and turned to me. "You've chatted with Sister Angela?"
"Most of the time I had a tongue depressor down my throat, so I did a lot of listening."
"Well, maybe you could go up to the dispensary after dinner, such as it is, and give her a buzz," Hank said. "As I understand it, she speaks English. Maybe she can tell us what's going on with those two."
After the seminarians got done tearing into the loaves of bread and exhausting the supplies of butter and honey, Hank slammed his hand on the bell and led the closing blessing. Since it focused on thanksgiving, participation was limp.
I went off on my errand. I climbed a flight of stairs to the section of the third floor that housed the infirmary and the seniors' rooms. A couple of seniors climbed the stairs with me, grumbling about the meal, planning to fire up the available popcorn poppers, and making fun of Sister Marta, Why the seminarians chose to make fun of Marta—when Sister Celia looked and behaved pretty much like her twin sister—was beyond me. They asked me what was going on.
"I don't know," I said. "I just live here." I went into the infirmary and rang the bell. The way things were going, I wasn't expecting an answer. But after five minutes or so, Sister Angela appeared in the infirmary.
"May I help you," she said.
"Perhaps. Your sisters—the cooks—were in something of a state at dinner."
She waited for me to say more, but I didn't. "A state," she repeated neutrally.
"They seemed upset. Very upset. The food was ... um, they seemed very upset. Father Superior ... " I paused to let the more formal title for Hank sink in. I didn't want her to think I was here on my own recognizance. "Father superior was wondering if anything was wrong."
"I wasn't there, of course," Sister Angela said.
"Of course," I repeated. "But you speak English, whereas Sisters Marta and Celia are a bit challenged in English, and we were wondering if you knew what is going on."
"I see," said Sr. Angela. This was like watching a boat dock.
"Do you .. um, know?"
"I know that this afternoon some men came to inspect their kitchen."
"Yes, from the health department," I said. "It was routine."
"The sisters did not think so."
"Well, okay, it was not a regular inspection, as I understand it, but it was a routine practice, given the intensity of Charlie Parker's distress."
"But nobody else was sick," she said.
I said nothing.
"And Sister Marta and Sister Celia did not like being accused of food poisoning."
"I don't think they were accused of food poisoning."
"They think so."
"Sister. Angela, you know they were not accused of food poisoning. If they had been, the health inspectors would have closed down the kitchen."'
"I understand. I told them as much, but they would not listen."
"Can't you settle them down?"
"I'd have an easier time jumping over the moon," she said. "In any case, they ... maybe I shouldn't say."
"Would you tell Father Grieshaber if he were here?"
"Then tell me," I said. "I'm his emissary."
"On their behalf, I spoke to Mother Superior and requested that we be transferred to the Mother House."
"Ouch. We don't need this."
"Mr. Foote, the point is, we don't need it either. I'm afraid the die is cast. Sisters Marta and Celia are packing as we speak, and I must attend to my own suitcase." With that, she turned and left.
A shiver went through me. I got up and headed down the stairs and to the faculty lounge, where I expected to find Hank. He was there, and I broke the news. It didn't need embellishment.