Read The Letter Killeth Online

Authors: Ralph McInerny

The Letter Killeth

 

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Contents

Title Page

Copyright Notice

Dedication

Part One

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Part Two

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Part Three

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Part Four

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Postscript

Also by Ralph McInerny

Copyright

 

For Bill Miscamble, C.S.C.

PART ONE

1

Winter lingers in northern Indiana, and snow continues to fall well into March, courtesy of Lake Michigan. Sometimes, of course, snow comes fluttering down with all the sweetness of a Christmas card, the weather almost balmy, puffs of breath before the face a delightful joke. More often than not, however, the temperature hovers around zero, and snow comes in on a blast of frigid wind that sends students scurrying across the campus from room to library to class to dining hall, all bundled up like Nanook of the North. Fortunately the campus walks are quickly cleared or it would have been impossible for Roger Knight to get around in his golf cart. For his brother, Phil, the Notre Dame winters were the only blemish in their current life. Not even following the fortunes of the hockey team could keep Florida from his mind as the days grew short and overcast and the snow deeper.

“You should go, Phil,” Roger urged.

“But you can't get away now.”

“What does that have to do with it? Phil, you know I don't golf or play tennis.” Roger paused. “Of course, you smile. The thought is ridiculous. Check with the travel bureau.”

“Maybe I will.”

Later, Roger got on the Web and went to a travel site and looked into plane tickets and resorts in the Sarasota area. Of course, he could not make the arrangements final without Phil's go-ahead.

“You're trying to get rid of me.”

“Of course, if you insist, I could resign from the faculty and go off with you.”

“Ha. Actually, I'm beginning to like this kind of winter.”

“Snow eventually melts, Phil.”

Yes, and the sun also rises, but it would have been difficult to prove that in the gray and overcast days that lay ahead. How much gloomier it would have been without the snow.

Phil's decision to stay was not the result of anything Roger said. It was the letters.

*   *   *

Father Carmody called and told Phil, “You'll think I'm crazy.”

“The weather getting to you, Father?”

“What's wrong with the weather?”

“Have you been out lately?”

“I am just this minute leaving the Main Building. I think I've taken on a fool's errand, and I want company. Can I come over there?”

“I could come to Holy Cross House.”

“It'll be easier for me to come there.”

Father Carmody was a reluctant resident of Holy Cross House, not because he did not like the accommodations of the retirement home for priests, but because of its associations. All the other residents save one or two were sliding slowly from this life, often having already left their minds behind. Father Carmody had his meals in his room so as to avoid the refectory where old men were spoon-fed by nurses, their chins wiped, all the while being talked to as if they were babies. Many of the most pathetic cases were men years younger than Father Carmody.

Father Wangle had given him excellent advice when he moved in. “Avoid all gatherings, refuse to take part in physical therapy, get your hair cut on campus.”

The reason for the last remark became clear to Father Carmody when he saw the wheelchairs lined up, their occupants, many once prominent and powerful in the congregation or in the university, awaiting their turn to get a haircut that would have done a marine recruit proud.

“Stay active,” Wangle said, summing it up.

Father Carmody had stayed active, perhaps too active for some. There were times when he felt like the Ghost of Christmas Past when he dropped in on the president or provost to give them the advantage of his thoughts on this or that. Once he had been a powerful presence in the university administration, not out front, but influencing the course of things from discreet obscurity. Officers came and went, golden boys rose and fell, but Father Carmody had always survived, ready to guide neophytes along the paths of effective administration.

*   *   *

Nowadays he did not speak softly, but he carried no big stick. In the provost's outer office, he took a chair and fell into conversation with a young priest he did not know. How pink and blond he looked. And nervous. Ah well, coming to see the provost was like a visit to Oz. Father Carmody sought to cheer him up, asked his name, found that he had studied in Rome.

“Ah, Rome.”

“Have you been there, Father?”

Carmody looked sharply at the young priest, but neither humor nor insolence seemed to explain the preposterous question. No point in explaining that he had been in Rome as assistant general of the Congregation of Holy Cross during what he liked to think were the boom years. Obviously Father Conway did not recognize him. Well, for that matter, ten minutes had passed before he realized that Conway was an assistant provost.

“I'm thinking of visiting,” Father Carmody murmured.

“We have a house there, you know.”

This is what it will be like after I am dead, Father Carmody thought. Like grass of the field, swept away to be burnt, and no memory of it left. He had become a stranger in the institution to which he had devoted the long years of his life. Well, what did he want, a life-sized statue like those of Ned and Ted in front of the library? His name on a building or two? Better try to wring spiritual benefit from it. We have here no lasting city. Heaven's my destination.

The young priest was Tim Conway, and he had only recently been appointed assistant to the provost.

“And what are your tasks?”

“Troubleshooting. Mostly student affairs so far.”

“Isn't there a prefect of student affairs?”

“You must mean Iglesias.”

Father Carmody frowned. “The singer?”

Tim looked blank. “No, Ben Iglesias. Student affairs.”

“He's the prefect?”

“He's a vice president.”

“Of course.”

What Father Carmody thought of the bureaucratization of the university and the resulting multiplication of administrative officers was a subject best brought up during a visit to the community cemetery, where he could walk the rows of identical crosses, communing with the dead and letting them know what Charles Carmody thought of what was going on around here.

*   *   *

Just then the provost emerged from his office and cried out, “Father Carmody! I thought I heard your voice.”

Much shaking of hands, smiles all around, and did Father Conway realize who he had been talking to? In short, a great fuss was made over the unexpected visit of the old priest who had advised presidents since the early days of the Hesburgh regime. Carmody was beginning to think that being forgotten was preferable to this kind of attention.

“I was just going to tell Father Carmody about those letters,” Father Conway said with a touch of obsequiousness.

The provost's eyebrows shot up and his eyes rounded, though his smile did not falter. “Let's go into my office, shall we?”

There, in a comfortable island of furniture in a corner of the vast inner room, they sat. Father Carmody refused coffee. The provost composed himself and began.

It was, he was sure, a tempest in a teapot. With a little laugh, he took an envelope from his inner pocket and handed it to the old priest. The message was in block letters, some capitals, some not. BeWarE! yOUr ofFice WilL bE bomBEd. GOD is nOt moCked. The letters had been Scotch-taped to a sheet of paper.

Father Carmody read it a second time. “How did you get this?”

“My secretary found it slipped under the door when she arrived yesterday morning.”

“Some student's idea of a joke.”

“Of course.” But the provost sounded dubious. “Others have received similar letters.”

The dean of Arts and Letters. The football coach.

“The football coach?”

It was difficult to think that any student could be otherwise than elated by the abrupt reversal in the fortunes of the Fighting Irish wrought by Charlie Weis. That certain members of the administration or of the faculty might have their lives brightened by a bomb in their office seemed a pardonable student fantasy. To threaten to blow up the Guglielmino Center was something very much else.

“This is the sort of thing you always handled,” the provost said.

“I'll take this.” Father Carmody folded the sheet and stuffed it into a pocket.

“What will you do?”

“I'll ask Phil Knight for help.”

The provost had to think. “The brother of Professor Knight.”

“He is a licensed private detective. For that matter, so is Roger.”

“Roger Knight is a detective?”

“Was. Before we brought him here as the Huneker Professor of Catholic Studies. His brother came with him. He is more or less inactive now, but he has been of help to the university on a number of occasions.”

“We don't want any publicity.”

“If we did, we would call in the South Bend police.”

“Not even Notre Dame security knows of these letters.”

“I should hope not.”

*   *   *

The provost came with Father Carmody into the reception area, where a man rose from his seat, a look of expectation on his face. The provost blanched.

“Mr. Quirk.”

Quirk hurried to Father Carmody and put out his hand. “Quirk, Ned. Class of '65. I'll bet you don't remember me.”

Carmody smiled. “You lived in Dillon. You're from Kansas City and majored in electrical engineering.”

“Civil.”

“You changed your major?”

The provost threw up his hands in delight. “Father Carmody, you are remarkable!”

“The place was smaller then.” He couldn't resist adding, “Once we didn't even have a provost. Only an academic vice president.”

Quirk, smallish and rotund, bald as an egg, beamed. “I don't recognize the campus anymore.”

Then, as it sometimes will to any administrator, an idea came to the provost. “Ned, why don't you discuss your suggestion with Father Carmody? I would be seeking his advice in any case.”

This was a diplomatic bum's rush, of course, but Father Carmody fell in with the plan. He took Quirk's arm, and they went into the hall.

“What did they do to this building, Father?” Quirk looked around him with dismay.

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