Breakfast began an hour later than usual, thanks to the incomprehensible obligation for priests to say three masses instead of one and for the even less understandable reason for the seminarians to sit through three masses. Nevertheless, it was All Soul's Day, a dark day accompanied by black vestments in a catch-all memorial for the expired sinners who weren't counted among the "saints" and collectively remembered the day before. For most seminarians, it functioned as penance for the excesses of Halloween.
The seminarians filed into the refectory with something like relief, the ordeal of three masses having been accomplished, leaving them with a ravenous hunger. The exception was a sophomore, who after grace and the delivery of gluey oatmeal befitting the day, barked two octaves below a hiccup and propelled the remains of yesterday's supper into the face of the table captain, a senior unfamiliar with such indignities. The senior yelped, jumped, and knocked over his chair, and stared at the backside of the vomit rocket who was running from the room.
The dining room was abuzz.
Once he deciphered what was going on, Hank aka Father Grease rang the bell and announced that a) the victimized table should leave the room that b) everyone should pipe down and get back to business while c) he personally cleaned up the mess.
I thought the last was a nice touch, almost Franciscan, something he would surely regret once he started mopping up the vomit. However, my thoughts had outraced the events. Hank grabbed one of the priest-waiters and immediately went into supervisory mode, sending the young man out to fill up a mop bucket, bring it along with a roll of napkins, and then begin cleaning up the mess.
Appetites had not restored themselves by the time Father Grease and his unfortunate helper were done cleaning up the worst of the mess. Therefore, while standing in the middle of the room, Father Grease said a perfunctory grace after meals and excused everyone. The room cleared of most seminarians in less than a minute, except for the food servers who had the responsibility of preparing the room for the next meal and were gathering like sour milk on the ramp to the kitchen.
"Get to work," Father Grease commanded.
"Well, that was entertaining," I said to him. "Too bad Bernie missed it."
"Speaking of the good Father Fox," Hank said after taking a deep breath, "he is here. He said his three masses in the sister's chapel. It's not like him to miss a breakfast. When you go back to your room, check on him."
I didn't much care for the assignment, but I was the natural choice. Bernie's room was next to mine. Procrastination, especially when it involved unpleasant tasks, was a bad habit I would address one of these days. In this case, Hank was glaring at me, and I decided to get my mission out of the way. I made the trek down the hall and up three flights of stairs, and stopped in front of the Fox's door. It was shut, which was no surprise. Bernie was a private man. I knocked and got no answer. Maybe he was in the bathroom. I went to my room, left my door cracked, and lit up a Lucky Strike. I figured smoking the cigarette would give him time to get out of the bathroom. I heard footsteps and looked out, hoping it was Bernie. It was a seminarian, coming up to do his obedience, which would consist of dust-mopping the dorms on both sides of my room and Bernie's. I stubbed out the Lucky and resigned myself to checking.
I knocked. Nothing. I knocked again. Nothing. With resignation, I tried the door. It wasn't locked.
The smell hit me, a harsh reminder of our recent breakfast. Vomit. There was a splatter trail leading from Bernie's easy chair toward the bathroom. The contents weren't abundant, but their color was a strange mix of bright yellow and streaks of blood. Bernie was in the bathroom, laying on his back in a pool of bright yellow, more bright yellow dripping from his mouth. His head was bleeding. It wasn't pretty, but I had seen—and smelled—worse in the war. This problem was—this was now and he was not moving. When I felt his neck for a pulse, I felt nothing.
I went to his phone, dialed "0", and then hung up. Bernie wasn't going anywhere. All hell was about to break loose, and it might help to face it with a plan.
I hung the do-not-disturb sign on my doorknob and did the same on Bernie's door. Then I headed downstairs in search of Hank.
Five minutes later
"Heart attack?" It was the first words Hank said after I gave him the news. The air had gone out of him, and it took more than a minute for him to speak.
"Don't think so. Some kind of stomach thing. He's in the bathroom, vomit—mostly blood and bile—all over. He puked his guts out, literally. Looks like he might have fallen and hit his head. It's ugly."
"You sure he's dead?"
I just looked at him.
"Okay, right," he said. "You've seen your share of trauma." Twenty years ago, Hank and I had been in the seminary. He stayed put. I went to war.
"I didn't call the police," I said. "I thought about it, but this is going to throw the school into chaos. I thought we might take some time to figure out how to handle it. We've got about forty-five minutes before the guys start filing into their classrooms. Time to step up, Boss."
"Well, okay then," he said. "I'll tell you what. I'll grab my kit, run upstairs, give Bernie the last rites, and look things over. In the meantime, see if you can round up the faculty and ask them to meet me in the lounge. Umm, don't tell them anything—except that we need an emergency meeting."
"And after that," I said.
"I have no idea."
Fifteen minutes later
"Heart attack?" Father Al Hopfensperger's question broke the silence.
"We should be so lucky," I said, as much to myself as to the assembled staff.
Hank continued, describing the scene and the likelihood that something besides natural causes was behind Bernie's sudden departure.
"This is bad," someone muttered.
"What are we going to do?" someone else asked.
"The sixty-four thousand dollar question," Hank said.
"Are you going to call the authorities?" Father Hop wanted to know.
"I don't want to," Hank said. "But I think I have to."
"That's going to open up a can of worms," said Brother Rufus.
"I'm afraid the worms have been loose for some time," said Hank. "Now they are so obvious we have to deal with them."
"But how?" asked Father Hop.
Even though I was the new guy, I'd had the most time to think about it, maybe twenty minutes. I figured I should jump in. "'First things first. Let's starting with what we do right now. How do we break it to the seminarians, and then what do we do with them for the rest of the day."
"Or even just this morning," said Hank, looking at me with something like relief.
"What about this?" I said. "As soon as we leave here, let's corral everyone into the chapel for an emergency assembly."
"Good," said Father Hop. "Classes are supposed to start in twenty minutes or so. That'll be a good time to gather them. I'll stand in front the school building and redirect everyone to the chapel."
"And once everyone is assembled, someone—Hank?—can make the announcement," I said. "Probably should keep it general. He was found dead. We don't know what happened. That sort of thing."
"Absolutely," said Hank. "But I'm afraid I'm going to have to be available to the authorities. Al, as assistant superior, the job should fall to you. Bert, why don't you can handle redirecting the guys to the chapel?" I nodded assent, and he continued. "Al, keep it general, per Bert's suggestion. Don't give any details. Just say that Father Fox was found dead in his room. We don't know what happened. None of you should give out any more than that."
"After that, we can say a rosary," said Father Hop, warming to the task. "That will us buy some time. Twenty minutes, maybe. Then what."
"That's a quandary," said Hank. "I imagine it's going to take the authorities the rest of the morning—at the very least—to process the body and the scene. I'm just guessing, but I'm not keen on having the boys staring at ambulances, hearses, police cars, and whatnot. That'll just feed speculation."
"How about sending the underclassmen to their locker rooms until further notice?" I said. "Seniors can go to their rooms."
"Why not send them to study hall?" asked Father Hop. "At least they can study there."
"Because the guys in the north study hall will have their noses pressed to the windows, staring at the police cars, ambulances, comings and goings," I said. "They can't do that from the locker rooms. Besides, they are comfortable hanging out in the locker rooms. They can manage there until lunch."
"Okay," said Hank. "If you're not otherwise tied up, each of you join the boys in their space. Al, take the seniors. Bert, take the juniors. The rest of you, take the underclassmen. Everyone, answer their questions—generally please—and help them process the news. Try to control their speculating and wild theories."
"Good luck with that," I said.
After 10 A.M.
"Mr. Foote, I need you upstairs."
That was ominous. Hank hadn't visited the junior locker room all year. I was there as part of the plan, helping the seminarians process the death of their history teacher by hanging out with them. I had been there for a good hour, listening, pretending I didn't know anything when they asked me "what happened?" This part of the plan had worked fairly well. Breaking the news in the chapel, where the seminarians never spoke anything but prayers, and saying the rosary afterward had grounded everyone. Moving them to their locker rooms had worked as well. There was the expected shock of coming to terms with the sudden death of someone they had seen alive and well the day before, but the main reaction among juniors had been divided between dramatic sadness and guilty silence, the former on the part of those who liked their teacher and the latter on the part of those who didn't. Or at least I surmised as such. Dingo Dave sat on a bench, stared into his locker, and said nothing while I was around. As a change of pace, a couple of them made reference to the breakfast drama, whose perpetrator—Charles Weber—they had already branded as "UpChuck."
"Let's walk slowly," Hank said. "I have to fill you in." After getting out of earshot, we stopped at the foot of the stairs.
"I made two phone calls," Hank said. "One was to campus security, which generated a visit from the chief of security and the MD from the campus infirmary. After one look at the body, the doc called the time of death and the chief called the county coroner. He's not here yet.
"I made another call to the provincial, who instructed me not to tell law enforcement anything until the congregation's lawyer arrived."
"You lawyered up?"
"No surprise," Hank said. "We're not sure how much to say about Bernie and all the rumors."
"There's that. And the possibility that the murderer ... " I paused. "We're pretty sure this was a murder, aren't we ...?"
"I can tell you this: the chief waited about a second before calling the coroner," Hank said. "So yeah, I don't think anybody's gonna think Bernie ate a bad clam."
"Some clam," I said. "Then there's the possibility—even the likelihood—that the murderer is going to be—how should I say this—one of us."
Hank looked at his shoes and then at me. "You know, I hadn't even thought of that. I guess I didn't want to."
"So what did you say to the authorities?"
"Not much," Hank said. "I told the chief that you found Bernie, came and told me, whereupon I went upstairs, checked his pulse, gave him the last rites, and went to the faculty lounge to break the news to the team and plan the logistics of the morning. I had asked the provincial if it would be okay to do that much. That's what you should do as well."
"Stick to finding the body then? What if he asks me other questions—about Bernie and so on."
"Just tell him you need to wait. The chief is waiting as well. The coroner is here. When he declares this to be a suspicious death, the chief plans to call the sheriff. He'll send out a detective, who will do the in-depth interviews. By then, we'll have talked to the lawyer."
"What do we do about the seminarians?"
"Well, while I'm here I'll go talk to the juniors. Maybe that'll help me decide what to do next."
Hank went off to the locker room, and I went off in search of the chief of security. I found him outside, sitting in his car, waiting for the coroner. He gathered that I was the person he had asked for, opened the passenger door, and motioned me to sit. I did—and waited.
The chief was mature, maybe in his early fifties, a retired city cop I guessed, not entirely correctly as it turned out. There was a chill in the air, and he was in uniform, without a coat, probably why he was waiting in his car.
"You're Mr. Foote, I assume."
"Foote" with an "e". My first name is Englebert, but everybody calls me Bert—for obvious reasons."
"I'll be calling you Mr. Foote, and you may call me Chief Ziolkowski—or Chief, for obvious reasons."
"Okay, I guess I'll be calling you Chief."
"Father Grieshaber said you found the body."
"Yes, Father Fox didn't show up for breakfast, which was unlike him," I said. "Hank, er, Father Griesehaber asked me to check on him. His room is next to mine."
"Did you have any reason to suspect a problem?"
"Other than that he didn't show up for breakfast, no."
"What did you do when you found him?"
"I checked for a pulse on his neck. Nothing. Then I left, went to find Father Grieshaber."
"Why didn't you call someone? The operator? Campus security?"
"Two reasons. It was pretty clear Bernie, Father Fox, was dead. There wasn't going to be anything we could do for him. Second, we're a boarding school. Sudden death like this is bound to create some chaos. I wanted to give ... Father Grieshaber ... a chance to think through how we were going to handle the seminarians, at least for the day. He called you shortly after a short meeting with the staff."
"You seem pretty calm for someone who found a dead body hardly more than an hour ago."
If I had been perfectly honest, I would have told the chief that I wasn't all that calm. In fact, I could have used a drink. On the other hand, strictly speaking, there wasn't anything novel about that. Even at 10 in the morning. There was something odd about the situation, though. My hands weren't shaking. I was calm. Oddly so. Finally, I said, "I was in the infantry during the war. I've seen more than my share of dead bodies."
"Europe. France and Germany. 1945, the tail end of things. Some fighting. A lot of cleanup. Maybe it wasn't the worst duty, but it was bad enough."
"Me, I was Marine MP, stationed on the U.S.S. Hornet for a while. The Hornet saw plenty of action, but we were never hit. All things considered, my job was fairly routine, mostly busting the chops of all the eighteen to twenty-two year olds who wanted to act like eighteen to twenty-two year olds."
"Sounds like it has something in common with campus security."
"In some ways, yeah," he said. "I figured I'd be well equipped to oversee security for seven thousand sex-starved boys." He paused. "Father Grieshaber asked if we'd wait until this afternoon for extended questioning, I said, fine, figuring someone from the sheriff's office was going to do the honors."
"He mentioned that."
"Still, is there anything you'd care to tell me before then."
"You know, I think I can tell you something. One of the boys tossed his cookies at breakfast. It made quite an impression on his table mates. In fact, we ended breakfast a bit early. It didn't occur to me until now, but there might be a connection."
"A connection? You think?"
"Well, yeah, you know. Two instances of projectile vomiting on the same morning. Same bilious contents. Could be a clue."
A clue? Who are you, Agatha Christie?"
"What, you don't want a clue?"
"I'm a campus security guard," he said. "I expect to call the sheriff' soon. I'll ask him about this clue thing. In the meantime, who tossed the yellow cookies at breakfast?"
"He's a sophomore, name of Charles Weber, though I heard someone calling him 'Upchuck' as everybody filed out after breakfast."
"Poor kid, that'll stick and he'll have that nickname for life. I'd like to talk to him, but I've got to wait here and it's a bit of a deal to talk to minors anyway."
"The kid's in my class. How about I talk to him, find out what he's eaten or drunk in the past twenty-four hours or so?"
"Good idea, but make the timeline forty-eight hours. And find out where he's been, not just what he's eaten."
"Deal. Give me a half hour. I think he's in the infirmary." I was starting to feel like a real detective, but I didn't say that.
About 10:45 A.M.
I made the trek up to the infirmary. Father Hop had already given the seniors the news and was having a standing meeting with six of them at the end of the hallway, Others were talking quietly in groups of three to four, in the hallway or in someone's room. No one was at the nurse's station. I rang the doorbell and waited a couple of minutes until Sister Angela showed up.
"How's your bronchitis?" she said.
"Progressing nicely, thank you," I said. "Throat pain is gone, but it's migrated to my chest, waiting to break up."
"I'll give you a decongestant."
"Good, but that's not the main reason I'm here."
"Is Charles Weber up here? He had an, uh, incident this morning at breakfast."
"Yes," she said. "He came in here looking a little green, but he's feeling some better."
"I'd like to speak to him."
"He's not much for conversation right now."
"It's important. It has to do with Father Fox."
"You didn't hear?" Apparently, Hank had neglected to inform the good sisters.
"I, um ... Father Fox was found dead in his room this morning." I decided I'd best keep to the protocol.
Neither her voice nor her face showed any emotion, so I said, "Maybe you didn't know him?"
"Not really," she said. "He came up here once for some aspirin. We weren't close." Her face registered something, maybe amusement, maybe curiosity. "He said the masses for us this morning. Seemed okay. Maybe a little anxious to get it over with, but it was three masses—and he's always been a quick one. Heart attack?"
"I have no idea." A little lie. "Anyway, if Charles is in your infirmary, he probably doesn't know either."
"I can tell him."
"I'd rather do it, if you don't mind. The teachers are dealing with all the students—and thanks to his little incident, Charles is out of the loop. I've been sent to rectify that." Another little lie.
"Okay then." With that she led me into a ward with a dozen beds in it. Charles Weber was in one of them. There were no other patients.
"Hey, Charlie, how are you doing?"
"Getting better," he said. "Man, something came over me at breakfast. I slept fine, served three masses in the sister's chapel, no problem. And then at breakfast, bang ..."
My antennae went up. "So you were Father Fox's altar boy this morning?"
"That's one of the reasons I came in here. To let you know—Father Fox was found dead this morning.'
"No! Really?" He looked shocked. No reason not too."Heart attack?"
"No idea," I said. Third lie in ten minutes. "You might have been the last person to see him alive. Did he seem okay?"
"Yea, well. Sure, I mean, he did the last mass really fast and then disappeared. That's his style, though. So ... the last person to see him. Whoa!"
About 11:00 A.M.
Things moved quickly while I was talking to Charles. The coroner had ruled within five minutes of inspecting the scene that the death was suspicious; he called the sheriff, who gave his forewarned homicide investigators the go ahead. By the time I got outside to talk to the chief, the homicide guys were upstairs in Bernie's room consulting with the coroner.
Meanwhile, I filled in the chief on Upchuck's activities, whereabouts, and menu for the last forty eight hours.
"Oh," was his response, which I gathered was copspeak for "I'm really excited."
Just as I finished my briefing, another car showed up, which turned out to belong to the congregation's attorney. He introduced himself as Al Mueller, after which I offered to go in search of Hank, who the chief said had gone upstairs just before our conversation.
"I told him the coroner wasn't going to let him in the room," the chief said, "but he went up there anyway."
"Probably didn't know what else to do," I said.
"The coroner is not going to let me in there either," the attorney said. "So I'll take you up on your offer to climb those stairs and retrieve Father Grease."
"You call him by his nickname," I noticed, curious.
"Everybody calls him that," Mueller said. "Even the provincial. I don't even remember his full name."
"Grieshaber," I said, "but I call him Hank." I headed off on my climbing expedition, coughing and wheezing by the time I reached the fourth floor.
As predicted, Hank was pacing the corridor. He greeted me, almost glad to have some direction, even if it was "let's get out of here." On the way down, I told him what I had found out about Charles Weber and his morning whereabouts coinciding with Bernie's. He was aghast.
"You told the chief about this?"
"It had to do with the morning's events," I said, "which I figured was reasonable to share with the officer." I had wondered if I should say anything and felt mildly guilty about it. On the other hand, I rather relished the idea of contributing to the case. Gosh, I was sober enough to have an ego.
Mueller was waiting for us, just inside the entrance. It was a little cool, and no one was about. The seminarians were still being warehoused in their locker rooms. We huddled.
"Here's the deal," Mueller began. "I'm the attorney for the congregation. If you think you need an attorney for yourself, go get one. In my role, I'm not going to stop you from cooperating with the authorities. In fact, you have to cooperate with them. Answer their questions as best you can. Provide the information they ask for. Volunteer whatever information you think might be helpful."
"Does this include sharing our suspicions ..." Hank paused and swallowed. "... and/or the rumors about Father Fox?"
"The provincial briefed me on that," the attorney said. "Like I said, you have to be seen to be cooperating. So, yes, share this with them. You can certainly give your take on them. You didn't believe the rumors, et cetera, et cetera. However, my role is to keep the lid on what the public will hear."
"You're doing PR?" I asked.
"Yes, basically," he said. "The local authorities are going to do their investigations. They aren't going to pull any punches, but they understand the university's need—and by association the congregation's need—for discretion. It's not that they are good buddies with us. They have a natural distaste for releasing any but the most minimal information—until they identify a perpetrator."
"If there is a perpetrator," said Hank.
"Yes, of course. The point is, when that happens, reporters will be out in full force and you'll be at the mercy of events. In the meantime, though, I'll help you keep a lid on things."
"Until the cover blows off," I said.
After 11 A.M.
After a bit of negotiation, Al Mueller, Hank, and I convened with Sergeant Frank Hayden and Deputy Andrew Wood from the Sheriff's Office and Chief Ziolkowski from the university. The discussion had involved a quick rundown on my role in the matter and Hank's desire to have me included in informal questioning. We fit conveniently around a game table and gathered there. The sheriff's deputies weren't in uniform, unless you considered sport coats, black pants, blue shirts with no tie a uniform. Sergeant Hayden was in his mid-forties, by my guess, a notch over six feet tall, and had a shock of very blonde hair. Detective Wood was shorter and with dark hair receding quickly, which made him look older than his partner. I guessed that he wasn't. They looked like a couple of college professors, which suggested they were the go-to team for anything to do with Notre Dame. Sergeant Hayden even took out a pipe to complete the look.
"You men need something to drink," Hank asked.
"No, thanks," said Sergeant Hayden.
"I'm fine, thanks," said Detective Wood.
"Nope," said Mueller.
I half expected Hank to go pour himself a glass of scotch. He didn't, and I tried not to register a sigh of relief.
The attorney spoke first, explaining that he was the congregation's attorney and that he had advised each of us to get our own attorneys if we were concerned about talking to the police. He explained that his main interest was in working with the authorities to ensure discretion with regard to the initial reports about Father Fox's death and the cause.
"In that respect, I'd like to ask that Father Fox's room be secured in a way that does not suggest that it is a crime scene. This will reduce the speculation on the part of the seminarians and ultimately the public."
"Good idea. I hadn't thought of that," said Hank. He had that deer in headlights look.
Chief Ziolkowski jumped in. "I can handle that. I'll give the university's locksmith a call. Someone will be here within the half hour to add a keyed deadbolt to Father Fox's room, very discrete."
"And you'll hold the keys, presumably," said Sgt. Hayden.
"Yes, sir," the chief said and left the room.
After that, Sergeant Hayden took the lead, reviewing my encounter and Hank's with the body. We went through it again. With that out of the way, he asked the expected question, "Can you think of anyone who who wanted to harm Father Fox?"
Hank looked at me, then at Mueller, and said nothing.
Muller looked back at Hank and said, "The congregation has no objection to filling them in."
Hank sighed and began by explaining that Bernie Fox had been moved to Holy Cross Seminary after rumors surfaced that he had molested a student in his previous assignment at Notre Dame High School in Niles, Illinois. "The provincial didn't believe the rumors, but he believed he had to transfer Bernie to another job."
"Why to another high school?" Sergeant Hayden asked.
"Like I said, he didn't believe the stories."
"With good reason," I interjected. "The stories began to circulate after Bernie—Father Fox—stood up for a kid who was being bullied. The bullies were the sons of prominent Chicagoans, and Bernie tried to get them expelled."
"So he made some enemies?" Sergeant Hayden said.
"It appears so," Hank said.
"But why the molestation charges?"
"Because the boy who was being bullied was struggling with homosexuality."
"How do you know that?" Sergeant Hayden asked.
"His name was Jimmy Parker," Hank said. "He entered St. Joe Hall in August. That's our first-year residence for seminarians who join us after high school or later. Jimmy committed suicide a month ago. You can check with the chief and the coroner."
"And homosexuality was an issue for this young man?"
"It appears so," I said and told them about the copy of The Charioteer, signed by Father Fox, that Father Perry found at the scene of the suicide.
"Doesn't this suggest that Father Fox and this Jimmy Parker had a relationship?"
"A relationship, yes," said Hank. He had a little edge to his voice. "But don't jump to the worst—and likely the wrong—conclusion. Father Fox was a teacher, as I am and as Bert is. We all have relationships with our students, relationships that are appropriate to us as teachers—and sometimes as counselors. The book didn't suggest to me that Father Fox was having sex with the boy."
"Nor to me, either," I said. "The book is about a young man struggling with his sexual identity. My first thought was that Father Fox was counseling the young man."
"And telling him it was okay to be a homosexual?" said the Detective Wood.
"Is this really your issue?" asked Mueller.
"Point taken," said the sergeant. "We're looking for a motive, but our primary issue is who killed Father Fox."
"If anyone killed Father Fox," said Mueller.
"Correct," said the sergeant. "Technically, we're jumping the gun—we don't have the coroner's ruling—but we have an expectation. That's why we're here."
Hank's jaw tightened. I thought he was going to break a tooth.
"Mr. Foote," continued the sergeant. "You found the body, but you seem to know as much as anyone about Father Fox. What's going on? Were you his best friend—or what?"
I looked at Hank and then at Mueller. "Not hardly," and I proceeded to tell them why I was hired.
"So tell us what you know," Sgt. Hayden ordered.
"I suppose you mean about Father Fox," I said.
"Yes," said the detective. "I'm not so interested in how you diagram sentences."
Good cop, bad cop, funny cop. "I think I've told you must of what I know," I said. "Father Fox tried to protect Jimmy Parker from being bullied. Because of that, he pissed off—excuse me—some powerful parents. This doesn't make him a bad guy. Quite the contrary. The seminarians gossip a bit about him, they call him BJ, playing off the rumors ..."
Hank was glaring at me.
"What's up with the nickname?" Sergeant Hayden said.
"His name is Bernard John Fox." I emphasized Bernard and John.
"So it could be innocent," Hank said, still glaring at me.
"But not so much," I said. "It's ..."
"I get it," Sergeant Hayden said. "And you don't think that's an indication he might be misbehaving."
"I get nothing from the students but gossip. No red flags on that score. But he is controversial."
"Go on," the sergeant said.
I looked at Hank and proceeded. "On the first day of class, he announced that he was going to teach history backwards. This sounded radical and thrilled some students. Others thought it was stupid. He has, um, had ... this is hard to get used to ... I'm just going to use the present tense if you don't mind."
"Always the English teacher," Hank said.
"Father Fox" has a sour disposition. He hardly ever laughs," I said and stopped, thinking of my wife. "He's prone to cutting remarks, which I find hard to take, but it tickles a lot of the seminarians, depending on the target."
"And if they are the target ..." said Detective Wood.
"I suppose they might develop a bit of a resentment," I admitted. "On the other hand, some of the seminarians identify with his cynicism. He says mass in half the time of all the other priests, which makes him popular with most of the seminarians."
Sergeant Hayden puffed on his pipe and asked, "Any of the seminarians exhibit any particular animus to Father Fox."
"Animus?" Must be the pipe, I thought.
"It's Latin," the sergeant said. "I like to work university cases because I get to try out my vocabulary. Can anyone answer the question?"
Hank and I looked at each other. He shrugged, which gave me the go-ahead. "The Johnson brothers exhibit a certain, um, animus, The younger brother, Dan, He seems to be in some kind of intellectual competition with the man, but I don't think it rises to level of murderous rage." I explained Dan's class confrontation with his history teacher and his explanation of what was behind it. I added that the older brother, Dave, had expressed some misgivings about him. Nothing too dramatic.
"And that's it?" The sergeant took another puff from his pipe.
"Well, it would be, except ..." And I told the group about the collages I found on his door.
"And you think the Johnson brothers might have had something to do with that?" Another puff.
"I asked Dan about it, and he denied it," I said. "I have my suspicions, but I can't be sure."
"Sounds like someone has a certain, how do you say..." The sergeant paused to take another puff.
"Animus," I finished for him. "I guess. But I don't know who. And there is one other thing you should know." I looked at Hank and stopped.
Hank took a breath. "I received a threatening note regarding Father Fox in my mail cubby last week."
The sergeant beat the bowl of his pipe into the palm of his hand and dropped the contents into an ashtray. He stared at Hank. "Go on."
"It's downstairs in my office. It looks like one of those ransom notes, with the cut-out letters. It says, 'Foxes are predators. Get rid of yours before someone does it for you.' It was folded inside a blank envelope."
"Blank?" the sergeant said.
"And you didn't do anything about it?"
"Actually, I did," said Hank. "I showed it to our provincial. He had appointed Father Fox to teach here, in spite of the rumors about him. He didn't believe them. He still doesn't believe them, but the note made him contemplate moving Father Fox somewhere else, somewhere out of harm's way. He was supposed to let us know his decision today."
"I guess you should have acted on Friday," the sergeant said.
By 1 p.m., Bernie's body had been transported to the morgue, the seminarians had been released, lunch had been served, and the staff was gathering in the faculty lounge.
Lunch had been a little querky. The kitchen sisters were distracted and off their game, more annoyed than anything else by not having been officially informed of the day's tragedy. In fact, they had found out about it more or less accidentally from me after I had gone through Sister Angela to interview Charlie Weber.
The priest's table was subdued after Hank asked the teachers to table their questions and concerns until the meeting afterwards.
The seminarians were full of energy, which seemed odd under the circumstances. However, the underclassmen had been cooped up in their locker rooms for three hours, and they must have felt like they just got out of jail. The tragedy for them was real, but it produced what amounted to a free day for them—with conditions. Father Grease informed them they could not leave the seminary campus, a freedom that had been new this year. The lock-down was at the request of the sheriff's deputies, but Hank didn't call it a lock-down and didn't say where the request had come from.
The faculty meeting didn't consume a half hour. Hank told the staff about our meeting with the deputies, leaving out some details. He didn't mention the threatening note. He informed them that the two deputies would be back at 2 p.m to interview the staff, beginning with the cooks.
"I hope they speak German," said Brother Rufus. "Those sisters don't speak a lick of English."
"But they understand plenty," said Father Hop. "I'll be available if they need an interpreter."
"Good, but I have another job for you," said Hank. "I need you to gin up some kind of report detailing the movement of the students, beginning with the Halloween activities on Friday night until breakfast this morning."
"Hmm, I can," Father Hop said. "But it's quite a job."
"Yes it is," Hank allowed. "But the deputies are reluctant to interview 100-plus students until they have to. This will save time and give them some direction. You can group some of them, but you'll need to individualize some things, like obediences."
"That one's easy," Father Hop said. "I can give them the obedience list."
I asked how we were going to handle Bernie's history class the next day.
"I haven't thought about it,' Hank said. "Off the top of my head, let's send the lads to study hall. In the meantime, when I get a chance, I'll talk to the provincial about it. I have a feeling, we'll have to bring somebody out of retirement." With that, he dismissed everyone.
When the others had left, Hank spoke to me. "I need a drink. Do you mind?"
"I could use one myself," I said.
"Yea, I better," I said. "And thank you for thinking of me."
"No problem," he said. getting up to pour himself a Red Label over ice. "We need a steady hand around here, and I'm feeling a tad shaky."
I followed him to the counter, grabbed a mug, and poured myself some coffee. "Be good if you can settle down," I said. "Before this whole place gets the shakes."
He took more than a sip from his scotch and let let out a deep sigh. "But hey, no pressure."
"Sorry," I made a face. The coffee was hours old and nasty. "Keep in mind, you aren't alone. You're part of a religious community, and your faculty is close."
"Hmm, one of whom could have killed their brother."
That stopped me. "I don't see that, do you? Even given Bernie's prickly nature."
"So what are you thinking?"
"I'm not getting anywhere with my thinking," I said. "It's got to be a member of the staff or a student."
"Or one of the good sisters," he said.
"Or one of the good sisters, Hard to imagine, although I am hoping for accidental food poisoning."
"Wouldn't that be nice," he said, more as a statement than a question.
"The detectives came alive when they found out Charlie Parker did the big barf at breakfast," I said. "I think they'll chase that tail for a while, but I don't buy it. If it were food poisoning, we'd be overrun with the puke-and-trots. We had only two victims, so it's not likely."
"Coulda been something that nobody else eats," Hank said.
"You mean like mystery squares," I said. "Nobody likes them. The legend is that the sisters serve 100 mystery squares and get back 150."
"So maybe Bernie and Charlie were the only ones who dared eat one. I like it." Hank made a sound, the distant ancestor of a chuckle, took a good pull on his scotch, and sighed.
"We can always hope, but Bernie would have had to eat a dozen yesterday," I said.
"Change of subject. I could handle Bernie's sophomore history class for the next week or so. Last I heard, they were still talking about World War II. I've got a little experience there."
"What about his other classes?"
"Can't solve that one for you," I said. "All my other classes are in the same period with his."
AfternoonIt seemed like the day had gone on for a week. It was only 3 p.m. I had no classes. The authorities had left, except for the detectives who were on site, interviewing the sisters responsible for preparing the food. I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall, watching their reaction to the veiled hint that their food preparation might have been responsible for the death of a priest.
The detectives were not going to talk to me until tomorrow, if then. It was a crazy day, and I needed to talk to someone. My sponsor was at work. So was my wife, but her work was at the university library. I started the walk on the cinder path, past St. Mary's Lake, and across campus, wondering what I would tell her. I hadn't even told her the details of why I was hired. And I hadn't been good at confiding in her when we were together.
I stopped at the Huddle, thinking I needed a decent cup of coffee and a relaxed smoke. Before going to the counter, I went to the bank of phone booths in the student center and called Eli, who would have to serve as my lawyer if I needed one, and arranged an appointment for later in the afternoon. I didn't expect him to make room for me today, but when I told him the basics, he said he'd stay later to talk with me. That worried me.
I decided to skip the coffee and the smoke and headed to the library. I stopped at the desk, asked for Sarah, and was pointed to the periodicals section. I found her there, got her agreement to meet me in fifteen minutes in the canteen downstairs.
That gave me time to buy a cup of coffee from the machine—not great but better than the swill in the faculty lounge—and a chance to light my pipe and relax a bit.
Sarah was as good as her word, as was her practice. She took one look at me and said, "Wow! What's going on? You look like you just stuck your finger in a wall socket."
"Yea, well, at nine this morning, I did get a bit of shock." And I began to fill her in, starting with my discovery of the body.
"Doesn't sound like death from natural causes," she said.
"No, it doesn't. Hank ... Father Grease, the school superior ... and I are holding out for food poisoning, but it's a vain hope. Somebody poisoned him on purpose."
"Poisoned? How strange."
"And why would someone kill this guy, especially if, as seems likely, that someone is part of the seminary landscape."
"Okay, there is something I haven't told you." And I finally told her the real reason that I, a recently sober alcoholic with no teaching experience and a dubious relationship to the Catholic church, had been hired to teach English in a high school seminary.
When I stopped talking, she paused a bit and said, "Of course, I knew that you weren't hired for your spectacular qualifications," she said, "but I just assumed that your seminary classmate was trying to give you a helping hand."
"That was part of it, I'm sure," I said, "but he was in a jam, and he needed an outsider he could trust."
"And he could trust you?"
"He was willing to take the chance."
"So why are you telling me now," she said. "Confiding in me hasn't been your long suit."
"Yeah, right. I get that, but confiding in anyone has never been my long suit. But lately, I've been dipping my toe in the waters."
"A benefit of your meetings perhaps. But again, why me?"
"Two reasons I can think of. One, I need another person to talk to, someone not connected to the seminary, someone who can keep a confidence. Aside from not being good at the confiding thing and not being comfortable talking to you—thanks to our, hmm, situation—I had an ethical reason for not telling you why I was hired."
"And that is ..."
"And that was ... the need to avoid spreading tales about people, especially Father Fox. The situation was awkward."
"And now that he's gone, you can talk to me."
"Yes, but I think I could have talked to you before. My lawyer, the Jewish guy, told me that the laws against spreading gossip don't apply to sharing between a husband and wife. This is partly because a husband and wife shouldn't have secrets from each other—and they should be able to assume their confidence will be kept."
"And we are separated, so the husband and wife thing ..."
"... was up in the air," said. "But maybe more important, I just wasn't ready to confide in you."
"And now you are?"
"I'm getting there."