Monday, December 14, 1964
The weekend had unfolded well enough, though not dramatically. On Saturday, the kids had gone over to the sem for a soiree, the last one before Christmas break, for a showing of Donovan's Reef. They had firm instructions to play it cool, keeping quiet about their relationship to the investigation. I talked to Butch beforehand, noting that the seminarians wouldn't be surprised if he asked a couple of questions about his friend.
His report dovetailed with what I knew—or thought I knew. Some of the seminarians were sympathetic to Dave; some were not, but the consensus was that Dave had gone off the rails somehow and had done the deed. Butch handled himself well. I was pleased with his restraint.
Sissy added a more general report, that the boys were looking forward to going home for Christmas and that there was a quality of normalcy about the place.
For my part, I had been able to talk to Hank, expressing a need to talk to the provincial. Initially, he was nervous about it, but I told him we were getting close to learning something—we weren't there yet—but I would be more comfortable if both he and the provincial knew what I—we—were doing. After some conversation, he got behind the deal, and left a message for the provincial to call him.
By the end of the day, Hank informed me that he had arranged for me to meet with the provincial today. And so, I found myself in Father Michael Miller's office.
"Thank you for agreeing to see me," I said.
"Thank Hank Grieshaber," Father Miller said. "He assured me that you were doing great work, as a teacher and other things."
"And that I have been clean and sober for the duration."
"I assumed he would not have asked for this meeting otherwise," he said. "What's up?"
I filled him in on where we were and where we weren't. My misgivings about Dave Johnson as the perpetrator, the likelihood that a parent or parents of students at Notre Dame High School were responsible for the threatening letter, my doubts about their involvement in the poisoning, and our current strategy for finding out the truth.
"It sounds like all of you've got is speculation."
"Correct," I said. "But I have the strong suspicion that we've been assuming, incorrectly, that the homicide had something to do with Father Fox's reputation as an, um, abuser."
"Undeserved reputation," he said.
"Agreed," I said. "All of the gossip seems to have originated with the parents in Niles."
"Good to know."
"We don't know it for sure, but there is no evidence that Father Fox misbehaved in that way. What we know is that he came to the defense of a student thought to be a homosexual, who committed suicide and left an article related to the young man."
"Charlie Parker," he said.
"All of the gossip seems to have been in response to his defense of the young man."
"That corresponds with what I know about Father Fox," he said. "The gossip never rang true. He could be fierce, but it always was in defense of the weak. That's supposed to be what we're about."
"Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."
"That was Bernie Fox, all over. You said that his death may have had nothing to do with the gossip. If not that, then what?"
"It might have something to do with his war background."
"You were at the wake where I read the letter."
"Yes, quite interesting. Why was the assumption made that his transition from Nazi soldier to Catholic priest was sincere?"
"You think he made a commitment to a life of poverty, chastity, and obedience as a way of going underground?"
"Perhaps, but I think he would have been long gone in the late fifties. Besides, out of dozens of German soldiers who took refuge in the Vatican, he's the only one who became a priest."
"How do you know that?
"It's in his file."
"What else is in his file?"
"I've said enough," the provincial said. "Are you thinking his death had something to do with his background?"
"I'm thinking someone, perhaps with a background in Germany or Italy, had it out for him."
"Hmm, so you're suspecting one of our brother priests."
"Or brother brothers," I said. "Or sisters."
He said nothing.
After an uncomfortable silence, I said, "I need to know who on the faculty might be from or have strong ties to Germany."
"Yes, good point. Do you mind if I ask Hank about the background of faculty members. He should know."
"Fine, and thank you for asking. What about the good sisters?"
"Ve haf our vays." I probably shouldn't have said that.