Saturday, January 16, 1965
Sarah called the motherhouse at 8 A.M., which I thought was chancy on two accounts. First, it seemed a bit early to call. Second, it gave the community a chance to turn us away.
Sarah didn't agree. "They're sisters," she said. "By eight, they've attended mass, sung Lauds and Matins, had breakfast, and started their housework. It's practically the middle of the day." She dismissed my point two out of hand. "It's polite," she said. "And why wouldn't mother superior—or her second—agree to see us?"
"Because ... Oh, never mind."
Sarah also got her way on driving up there in her car. She didn't think the Edsel was reliable. I didn't argue with her about that one.
The motherhouse was really a big house, set into a residential area. "I'll take the lead on this," she said, as we were walking up the front porch. She did let me ring the doorbell.
A sister in a white habit, probably a novice, opened the door, welcomed us inside, and sat us in a front room, simply but tastefully appointed. In less than two minutes, another sister appeared and introduced herself as Mother Lucia.
"May I call you Mother," I was tempted to ask. I did not. I just shook her hand, after she shook Sarah's hand. This was a house of women, after all.
"Perhaps we should meet in my office," Mother Lucia said. We dutifully followed her into her office, which was not much larger than the waiting room but which featured a big desk, a swivel chair for the boss, and two nice armchairs across from her. We sat in those.
"What can I do for you?" she asked.
Sarah described the death of Father Fox, the subsequent investigation, the arrest, and punishment of Dave Johnson. Then she paused.
"And the problem is ..." Mother Lucia said with her own invitational pause.
"We don't think he's guilty."
"His lawyer, my husband, and I."
"But everybody else thinks he's guilty," Mother Lucia said.
"Not really," Sarah said. "We know that the basis for pinning the murder on Dave Johnson was flawed. Someone else did it, for a different motive. We're sure of that. Well, almost sure. And we think Sister Angela—Gina Scarpelli—has some answers."
Sarah said that in the beginning we all thought the murder had to do with the rumors about Father Fox molesting students. I was glad that she took pains to say that the rumors appeared to be based more on revenge than on truth. She then explained how we had begun to think that the murder might have been related to his background as a Nazi, which we had learned about later but in considerable detail.
"What's this got to do with Gina?" Mother Lucia said.
I was getting nervous. This was the essential question.
Now Sarah explained that Bernhard Fuchs was a deserter, apparently repenting of his deeds, taking refuge in the Vatican. "Something happened there in Italy."
"Something like the Nazis losing the war?"
Mother Lucia was no fool. I felt myself beginning to sweat.
"Fair question," Sarah said. "One shared by others. But this Bernhard Fuchs was clearly repentant. He didn't have to join the Congregation of Holy Cross and become a priest. Obviously he was making amends for his actions during the war. We think something about Italy put him over the edge."
"So ... "
"So, Gina Scarpelli was there, orphaned after an SS officer killed her father with the butt of his rifle. Her parents had been hiding a Jewish couple, who were taken away in the raid."
"We think Bernhard Fuchs might have been involved."
"And Sister Angela, while serving as the nurse at Holy Cross Seminary this school year, recognized him, perhaps as far back as September."
"And we don't know," Sarah said. "But Gina Scarpelli does."
"You think Sister Angela might have ..."
Sarah interrupted. "Mother Lucia, we don't know. We think Gina Scarlelli knows something. Perhaps it wasn't Bernhard Fuchs she recognized in September, and we're barking up the wrong tree."
"In any case, we think Gina Scarpelli knows something. Like I said, we are pretty sure that Dave Johnson has been convicted of something he didn't do. Gina Scarpelli might help us untangle that." Sarah paused. "Do you know where she is?"
"If I knew, I wouldn't tell you," Mother Lucia said.
"If you do know," Sarah said with emphasis, "perhaps you can pass along the information we've given you."
"Perhaps," Mother Lucia said. "Thank you for coming."
With that she got up, ushered us out of the room, shook Sarah's hand and then mine, and opened the door for us.
Sarah and I got in her car without saying anything. Finally, I said, "Well, that was a waste of time."
"I don't think so," Sarah said.
"Mother Lucia will pass on the information to Gina Scarpell."
"How do you know that," I said. "She probably doesn't even know where Gina is."
"She probably does."
"How do you know?"
"If she didn't know, she would have said,. 'I don't know where she is.' Instead, she carefully said, 'If I knew, I wouldn't tell you.' This is a woman who can lie only with difficulty. She knows where Gina Scarpell is, and she will tell her what we know and what we suspect."
"And how do you know that?"
"She doesn't want the unjustified punishment of Dave Johnson on her conscience," Sarah said. "I'm hoping the former Sister Angela feels the same way."
"What do we do now?" I asked.