DEATH IN THE FACULTY ROOM-CHAPTER VI

I pushed the detective to tell me anything that he could about the present situation, but he would not divulge anything. He wanted to speak to other faculty members about what they saw, or remembered. His aim was to get a full picture of what was going on that morning. I was just the first one to be interviewed because I had found the body. I had the feeling that this was just the beginning of a myriad of experiences that I would remember for the rest of my life.
I went back to my classroom to face my students with a bunch of lingering doubts in my mind. I believe that the kids knew there was something wrong. As kids get older they increasingly look inward. In third grade they can read every expression on your face and your body language. They are more Holmesian than when they get to be in middle school or in high school. A couple of the more verbal kids raised their hands and asked me what was wrong. Then the whole class chimed in and said the same thing. I had no choice but to answer them. I said that I was still in shock about Mr. Driggs’ death. I was the one who found the body and I still had not gotten over it.
One of my quiet boys raised his hand and said, “I once found a dead body.” I guess I could not let that one go. I asked, “When did that happen?” He answered that he was at his grandma and grandpa’s house last year. They were babysitting for him because his parents did not trust anyone else with him and his sister. He was sitting with his grandma playing Candyland when he heard a noise coming from Grandpa’s office. His grandpa was an accountant and did lots of his work in his office. Grandma had heard it too. Both of them rushed to Grandpa’s office to see him slumped over an adding machine. He was not breathing and his face looked all red.
Grandma quickly called the police and they came in a few minutes. But, they were too late, grandpa was already dead. Luckily his younger sister was asleep in an upstairs room and didn’t hear any of the commotion. The ambulance came and took grandpa away. They had something called a viewing a few days later and then they put grandpa into the ground. We now have a big white stone with his name on it in back of the grave.
Many other hands shot up to discuss deaths that they had seen on TV or in their family and friends. I guess they were more familiar with it than I was. No one in my family had yet died and I had never seen a dead body before. I was awash with the concern of the kids. They always made me feel better about things. I tried my hardest to do the same thing for them on an individual basis.
The school year went on and eventually there was a funeral for Mr. Driggs, which was attended by the entire community. Most of the faculty was there, other than Mama Pags. I guess she did not want to be a hypocrite. There were discussions in dark corners of the funeral home about the length of time it took to get Mr. Driggs into a cemetery. I also heard some disquieting news from some people that he might have taken his own life. There did not seem to be any reports by either the coroner or the family about the cause of death. It was pretty strange that none of that information was forthcoming.
A couple of the attendees at the funeral were obviously police officers. They seemed to be glancing around furtively at the attendees. I did not notice either of them speak to Anastasia Driggs or any members of the family. I had heard that they pretty much quizzed the entire staff of the Fleming elementary school, both professional and associated staff. None of us really talked about the questioning. I was kind of hesitant to communicate with anyone. I feared that I was the only one who knew that Driggs had not died of natural causes. I am sure that some staff wondered why all the questioning had taken place.
Daphne and I talked about Driggs’ death at length. However, more importantly, we talked about Daphne’s new found pregnancy. She was a few months along and we had to make some plans for the near future. We lived in a small apartment in Cheltenham, with only one bedroom Daphne would have to quit her job (there were no maternity leaves then) and we would be cutting our income in half. Fortunately, we had saved Daphne’s entire pay from the time that we were married and we had a stash of about $13,000. That would probably be enough to put a down payment on a house.
As the spring approached, we went out looking for houses and found one in Abington Township. It was on a kind of busy street, but it served our purposes well. It cost about $20,000. We could then put down $5,000 and still have enough dough to by some furniture (used probably). Things were moving along quite well for us until one evening, when a knock on the door interrupted our TV watching. When I looked through the keyhole, I beheld the policeman who had interviewed me and another man, a stranger. The detective asked if he could come in. I said it would be o.k.
We sat down on the spare chairs in the living room. We did not yet have a couch or easy chairs. The detective, whose name we learned was Jim Harner, introduced his guest, Benton Ellerbee from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the FBI. Daphne and I were stunned. What the heck was the FBI doing here in our apartment interested in a death in Atherhold? That community was not usually involved in interstate criminal activity.
The conversation was very strange. Ellerbee took the lead in questioning me. Both had figured out that Daphne knew nothing about Mr. Driggs. They were interested in Driggs’ friends, his political leanings (we were passed the McCarthy era, so I wasn’t worried), his relationship with kids and parents, his various vacation trips during the school year at Easter and Christmas and his trips during the summer. I was only around for a few years, so I was not really conversant with Driggs personal life. I did know that most of his trips were to Europe and that he rarely spoke of them.
Did I know if Driggs spoke a foreign language? I told them that I had never heard him speak anything but American English. Was he involved in sports at all? Never heard him talk about anything but music and his wife. He did not ever talk about his family or where he came from. Mostly he spoke about the students and what bad things they had done in the elementary school during his tenure there. He did not belong to the teacher’s organization (later the PSEA union), nor did he ever mention anything about clubs that he might belong to.
Harner and Ellerbee, once again, refused to answer any of our questions about what this thing was about. We tried to find out how Driggs died. We even were told that we were not to talk about this visit. We could get into trouble if we did. We might be asked some more questions at a future time. They got up, bid us farewell and then left. We were stupefied.
What were the questions about? Why would they want to know if Driggs spoke a foreign language? As the night wore on, we realized that we knew absolutely nothing about Driggs’ background; where he went to school, where he was born, where did he live, what did he do with his free time, etc. It amazed us that we did not think about these things before. I could have recited chapter and verse about all of the other staff members, both professional and paraprofessional. None of this made any sense.
It was at that moment that I remembered an old friend of mine from the Army. Roger DeCinces had remained in the service after I got out and was in the CID the last time I spoke to him. CID was the investigative branch of the Army, their equivalent of civilian spooks. I was determined to find out what was going on and Roger was going to be just the beginning.

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