Tuesday, November 3, 1964
The day after wasn't the adrenalin rush of All Soul's Day, but it had its own inner drama.
My meeting yesterday with Eli was both a comfort and a concern. A comfort because he didn't seem terribly concerned about my exposure. A concern because there was some exposure. He pointed out that I, along with everyone else at the seminary, would be a suspect.
"But if you're not worried, I'm not worried," he had said. "In this situation, you're most likely exposure is in how you cooperate with the investigators. On one hand, you're working for Holy Cross Seminary and might be inclined to protect your employer. On the other hand, you don't want to open yourself to a charge of obstruction of justice. As an attorney, I've got to warn you to pay attention to the latter. Cooperate with the authorities."
He pooh-poohed my belief that I was sitting on the horns of a dilemma. "Only if you have reason to feel particularly protective of your employer," he had said. At any rate, he wasn't concerned enough to insist that he be there when the detectives interviewed me again, if they did. He did point out that I could stop the process at any time and ask for my lawyer.
"And wouldn't that make them think I had something to hide?"
"Of course," he had said. "Use your judgment."
After that, I skipped dinner and went to an AA meeting, during which I shared, in general terms, about the day. I had noticed how alive I felt, something I could only compare to the time on the battlefield when the Lieutenant sent me up a utility pole to cut the communication lines. I was the target and could hear bullets whistling past me. I had entered the fray in late 1944, toward the end of things but just in time for one of Europe's coldest winters. Most of the time I was freezing, wet, or dog tired. In combat, I never volunteered. Never moved more than I had to. Yesterday was different. I wasn't cold, wet, or tired. Something bad had happened, and I was being asked to do something. The parts were moving. I felt alive again.
Today, in the morning, my first class was Bernie's sophomore history class, in which I shared my experience in the war and opened the floor for questions. I shared the same experience—the World War II part, that is—and opened the floor to questions. There were many. Were you afraid? Did you kill anyone? What was it like? And so on.
Dan Johnson raised his hand and asked, "Did the Nazis exterminate homos along with Jews in their concentration camps?"
We had discussed this in private before. It was a fair question, but the way he phrased it, in public and in the light of yesterday's event, sent a shiver up my spine. Had he researched it like I asked? I didn't challenge him, only admitted I wasn't up on the facts—and made a mental note to enlist the help of a certain reference librarian to fill me in. I did say I knew that the Nazis had executed some Christians, gypsies, and homosexuals along with roughly six million Jews.
I did tell them that I was part of the 71st Infantry Division that liberated Gunskirchen Lager, a work camp in Northern Austria. In this case, I said, there were 400 or so political prisoners, who could have been anything, but the rest of the estimated 15,000 prisoners were Jews.
Of course, they wanted to know what it was like. I did my best to explain. It was an intense experience, a mixture of horror and ecstasy. On the one hand, we were liberators, marching into a screaming sea of humanity grateful beyond words. They wanted to thank us, to touch us, to let us see their tears. In case we had forgotten—and in the cold, mud, and blood we had—this was what the war was all about. On the other hand, this human horde was like nothing I had ever seen. It was like marching in a Fourth of July Parade where the onlookers were not men, women, and children applauding politely but skeletons attacking the marchers with frantic joy. They were skeletons, albeit covered with a tissue of skin and rags barely showing the horizontal stripes of prison uniforms. They milled around, impeding the progress of troops and vehicles, mouthing what must have been "thank you" in different languages. Some, unable to walk, crawled toward us. One man couldn't crawl but propped himself up on an elbow and waved. People fell, knocked over by their fellows or just fainted from hunger.
To a man, we wanted to do something, anything. We didn't have much. I gave one skeleton a cigarette, but he put it in his mouth and ate it before I could light it for him. One of my buddies handed out a chocolate bar, which was consumed instantly, wrapper and all. After that, we knew to break the bar into bits, sans wrapper, and pass it around. Another soldier pointed to the left, toward a jury of human crows picking over a bloated horse that had been killed by artillery fire.
I hadn't talked about this, ever. The bloated horse wasn't the thing that stuck with me. It was the smell. We were a dirty bunch, inured to our own stink and the smell of rotting bodies, but the stench that greeted us a mile before we entered the camp sent some of us to vomit in the ditches. It was a combination of human excrement, urine, decaying bodies, smoke, and German tobacco—which worked like an emulsifier bonding the putrid with the decay into an everlasting nasal memorial. And that was the thing. The peculiar and disgusting smell permeated everything and lingered for what seemed like forever. Six hours after we left the camp, we swore we could still smell it on our clothes. It may still be there. Last night, I had a nightmare in which the images were dark and vague but the smell was there, more the structure than the decoration. When I woke up in a cold sweat, I sniffed my sheets, horrified at the familiarity of it. I got up early and showered for forty minutes. I didn't share my stinking dream with the seminarians.
My next class, just before lunch, was junior English. They were still wired about the death of Father Fox, so—on the spot—I assigned them to take twenty minutes to write a short eulogy for their fallen history teacher. Most had a vague idea of what a eulogy should do—say nice things about the deceased. Dave Johnson, Dingo Dave, argued that this sounded a bit phony, that a eulogy like this might not fairly describe the person.
I suggested that everyone has good and bad things about them. However, when a person dies, we bury some things but try to hold onto some things, the better things, the things we can learn from. It's the job of a eulogy to identify those things. With that, they set to work.
After twenty minutes, I invited the willing to share their eulogies. It was revealing. His "speed mass" was popular, which most thought exhibited his thoughtfulness. Several thought he was "real," citing his propensity for "telling it like it is," no matter what anybody else thought. A couple of comments, including one from Dingo Dave, mentioned that he went out of his way to defend the underdogs.. Some felt like they were reaching for something to say—great bridge player, tough basketball coach, no homework. Nothing suggested he had been misbehaving with students.
At lunch, Hank led grace with no further comment to the seminarians but told the assembled at the priest's table that we had caught a break, albeit a temporary one. "The coroner's office completed the autopsy and determined that Bernie was poisoned," he said. "By what, they don't know. It wasn't arsenic, strychnine, rat poison or something easy. They sent the stomach contents and such to the National Poison Control Center at St. Luke's-Presbyterian Hospital in Chicago, which is better equipped to determine the specific poison. More good news. The coroner prefers not to release any information until he hears back from Chicago. Meantime, we've got a few days to get our ducks in a row."
Nobody said anything, presumably contemplating what it would take to get 100 or so ducks in a row during an explosion.
I was looking forward to a free afternoon, but Sergeant Hayden was waiting in the hallway as Hank and I left the dining room. Nobody paid him any mind. The way the sergeant dressed, he didn't look like a cop. After shaking hands with both of us, he turned to me and asked if I would mind being interviewed—now.
Answering for me, Hank said, "I expect he'll be thrilled. You can use my office."
We followed him to his office. He waved us in and left.
Sergeant Hayden scanned the room. I thought he'd take Hank's desk chair. He didn't. Instead he motioned to the guest chairs on the outside of the desk and said. "Let's do this friendly like. I'll take this chair and you take that one."
"How's it going?" I said. Great opening line.
"Fine, thanks." Informative comeback. "Tell me about Charlie Parker." Down to business.
"I assume the chief filled you in," I said.
"I'd like you to hear it from you."
"Charlie vomited rather dramatically at breakfast yesterday. After I had a chance to think a bit yesterday, I realized there might be a connection between him and Father Fox."
"Puke being the common symptom."
"Yes, along with the fact that no one else registered any similar symptoms."
"So you interviewed him?"
"Not really," I said. "As it turned out, he hadn't heard that Father Fox was, umm, found dead. I broke the news to him, let him absorb that. His reaction gave me some interesting information."
"He was the altar boy for Father Fox that morning."
"So he might have been the last person to see him alive?"
"Along with the sisters. But more than that." And I stopped.
"Maybe the sister's chapel was the crime scene."
Now it was his turn to pause. "Because it was the only place the two people with stomach issues were together?"
"Let's say that the young man and Father Fox ingested the poison there," he said. "How would they have done that?"
"Best guess. They drank something."
"Wine?" Sergeant Hayden didn't need to be Catholic to make this guess.
"Bingo," I said. "They could have eaten something. Unleavened bread. Hosts. But I think you can eliminate that."
"Multiple reasons. I'm no expert, but I think it would be hard to deliver the poison via the hosts. Anyway, if it were so, the sisters might have gotten sick."
"Okay, how about water?"
"It's a thought, "I admitted. "During the mass, the priest puts a few drops of water in the chalice. If you were trying to deliver some poison, I don't think you'd use water."
"You'd use wine."
"Yes, the more so because on this day the priest would be saying three masses and drinking multiple cups of wine."
"Might Father Fox have cut back on the wine for masses two and three?"
"Some priests do, I'm sure," I said, "To be honest, I don't know his habits in this area. I didn't think to ask Charlie about this. I'm sorry."
"And what about Charlie? Surely he wouldn't have drunk as much as Father Fox?"
"He shouldn't have drunk any, but ... have you ever been an altar boy?"
"Nope, where I go everyone drinks grape juice out of little cups four times a year."
"Well, then, you may not know that altar boys have been known to sneak a sip now and then."
"When the priest is not looking."
"They are very good at it."
"And you think, Charlie might have done so."
"I didn't ask," I said. "In this instance, I thought discretion was important. Besides, I didn't have to ask."
"Because you're certain he filched some wine."
"Ninety-nine-point-nine percent. Probably after Father Fox left, in a hurry according to Charlie."
"Can you take me to the sister's chapel?"
I paused. I wasn't sure, but I thought about Eli's warning and said, "Sure." We headed upstairs without talking, heading past a couple of seminarians in the library and into the sister's chapel. It was empty. Sergeant Hayden looked it over and asked me show him where wine might have been positioned. I showed him the credence table, where the cruets would have been and the altar where the chalice would have been. I demonstrated where and how the altar boy would have handed off the cruets and the priest would have poured the wine and water into the chalice.
"Was there only one altar boy?"
"Yes," I said. "In the main chapel, two. In the small chapels, like here, only one."
"Who else was here? Nuns?"
"Yes, that's all. They handled their own singing, I think, but we, uh, you should check that. In the other small chapels, two seminarians sometimes did the chants for a high mass. Here—I think—the sisters handled that."
"No one else was here?"
"Hmm. not during the service, no. Just Father Fox, three sisters, and one altar boy."
"You said 'during the service,' " the sergeant said. "Did anyone else have access to this chapel?"
"Well, any of the priests can come in here, but they usually don't unless they are saying the mass here. Then the sacristans, of course."
"Sacristans? What's that?"
"Two seminarians are assigned this role. Their job is to set things up for the next mass and cleanup after a mass. One usually handles the main chapel. The other handles the small chapels."
"What does this setup and cleanup involve?"
"Here, I'll show you." I took him into the sacristy, a small room at the side where the vestments, vessels, and other accessories were kept.
He was very interested in this and asked plenty of questions, including but not limited to the wine. "You said there was one seminarian assigned to the small chapels. Who was that?"
Oops. I don't know why I wasn't prepared for this. The thought that Dingo Dave might be a suspect had crossed my mind. But so, I reasoned, should have been the sisters, priests, and other staff. They all had access. I took a breath and told myself to keep to the truth, the minimum truth where possible. "Dave Johnson. His classmates call him Dingo Dave because his mother hails from Australia and he sometimes affects an Australian accent. I saw him in here the night before the, uh, unfortunate event."
"Was he supposed to be in here at the time?"
"Sure. I think so anyway. I believe the sacristans usually set up the night before."
"And the cleanup? When do they do that?"
"In the morning. After breakfast. That's when everybody does their obediences. That's our name for assigned housekeeping roles."
"So he would have had time to get rid of the evidence before Father Fox's body was found?"
"Well, actually, he probably would have been here just about the time I found the body."
"With enough time to get rid of the evidence."
This was going to a place I didn't like. Fast. "Are you assuming Dave Johnson did the deed?"
"Right now, I'm just looking at someone who seems to have had the opportunity to do it and the opportunity to clean it up."
"But the sisters also would had the opportunity on both counts." I can't believe I said that.
"Yes, that's true," Sergeant Hayden said. "As did the altar boy, though he probably wouldn't have drunk his own poison. We'll be looking at other things too."
"Sure. Do the sisters have motive? Does Charlie Parker, who may have drank some of the poison, have motive? Does this Dave Johnson have motive?"
Early afternoonAfter I told Sergeant Hayden what I knew about Dingo Dave and his brother, I went up to my room and tried to think. I filled my pipe with Cherry Blend and tried to feel wise. It didn't help, Between coughs I felt like an idiot. I tried to tell myself that I had no choice, that I had to tell the police what I knew, but I felt like a snitch—and an idiot. I contemplated trying to find Hank and talking it over with him and decided against it.
With no better plan, I knocked the remains of my pipe tobacco into an ashtray and headed out the door, downstairs, and out and onto the cinder path, along the lake to the library. Before I reached the lake, I remembered I hadn't voted. Lyndon Johnson was going to clobber Barry Goldwater, I was pretty sure of that, but there were other offices open. It wouldn't do for a history teacher, however interim, to skip voting. I reversed direction, fired up the Edsel, and headed to a voting station near my house, Sarah's house, where I was registered. The lines were long, but I was able to do my civic duty in half an hour. I got back in the car, drove to the university library, and parked my car in the faculty lot across the road.
When I got to the library, I found Sarah at the front desk. I told her I was interested in doing some research on Nazis and homosexuality. I expected her to think this was a bit strange, but she reacted as if I was anyone coming in off the street.
"Fifth floor," she said. "But you might want to talk to Dr. Paul Schueller. He's an expert on Germany, specifically the run-up to World War II and beyond. His office is downstairs. Can't say when he'll be there. Anything else?"
"No, thanks. Talk to you later."
I worked my way down to the basement, found his office, which had office hours posted on his door. Supposedly, he'd be there at 4. It was almost 3:30. I figured I could wait. I assumed he'd be on time—with a name like Schueller and and a specialty on Nazis, he wouldn't be careless about time. I just hoped there wouldn't be a line of students.
After browsing the periodical section for twenty minutes, I went back downstairs. He wasn't there, and there were no students in line. I leaned against the wall next to his door. I wanted to be first.
And he was on time. Good German. I recognized him, probably had seen him on campus somewhere. He was short, was balding with frizzy gray hair on the sides, glasses, and a grumpy demeanor.
"You're not a student," he said, looking at me suspiciously.
I explained who I was and the surface of what I wanted.
"Pity about Father Fox," he said. "I didn't really know him. You'd think we would have crossed paths."
"Well, he's been in the Chicago area since ordination," I said. "Can you help?"
"Have your students read my book, Nazis from the Weimar Republic until the End."
"Not a bad idea," I said. "At least for one student. Is it in the library?"
"Of course, but you could buy it from me." The man wasn't shy about self-promotion.
"Do you mind giving me the gist—about the homosexual part at least?"
He looked at me suspiciously. "The Cliff Notes version, then. The Weimar Republic was not very good on economics but quite liberal socially. It was fairly tolerant of homosexuality. The Nazis swam with this tide for a while, to the point where certain elements—notably the Brownshirts or Sturmabteilung, which predated the Nazis but became its early paramilitary wing—was well known for homosexuality within its ranks. Some sources think this was mixed up with a cult of virility. At any rate they were a tough bunch, not effeminate types at all. They were instrumental in bringing Hitler to power, but he turned on them. Big time."
"Because they were homosexual ...?
"Because he perceived them as a threat—or, at any rate, because Himmler and Goering perceived them as a threat and convinced Hitler this was so. This may or may not have been true, but they apparently were trying to replace the German army, which made them serious enemies. Their leader, Ernst Rohm, was popular and influential. He surely was a threat to some. Not incidentally, his taste for young boys was well known and accepted for a time. Hitler with considerable help from the SS or Schutzstaffel, with which you might be familiar, purged them in 1934, killing most of the leadership in something called the 'Blood Purge' or 'The Night of the Long Knives.'
"Somehow the perceived threat of the Brownshirts and their reputation for homosexual behavior got mixed together, to the point where purges spread to the Hitler Youth and then to homosexuals—and suspected homosexuals—who had no connection to any of these groups. It's hard to tell how widespread the purge was, but the Nazis left the tolerance of the Weimar Republic behind. They were pretty vicious."
"Well, I'm shocked," I said in mock outrage. "Not really, but it sounds like Father Fox was onto something."
"If that's what he was alluding to," Dr. Mueller said. "We just don't know the extent of it. Clearly, some people were sent to concentration camps because they were homosexuals."
"And I bet some were accused of being homosexual because someone wanted to get rid of them."
"Surely," he said. "Hard to know how many."
I left with a copy of his book, which I offered to pay for and which offer was accepted.