DEATH IN THE FACULTY ROOM -CHAPTER XVII

How did I get into this mess? I wish that I had never gone into the faculty room and seen Driggs laying there. Now my family is in danger. I have got to get to the bottom of this. Now that we know who killed Miss Reinhold that takes a bit of the pressure off finding out other things. There is something going on at the Fleming Elementary School that precedes my arrival. It isn’t just Driggs’ death that is peculiar; it is the way that people react to things. The only one who is seriously concerned about these deaths in Mama Pags. I believe it is time to talk to the old witch and see what she knows and what she will tell me. She had been here a long time and may have seen things. I hope that she trusts me and is willing to talk.
I went back to work the next day. There were no questions about my absence the previous afternoon. Even Mr. Ryerson kind of gave me his usual cool greeting and then passed me by. The rest of the staff either did not know that I was gone for half a day, or didn’t care. I did get many questions from my 3rd graders. They were all concerned that I might be sick or that Daphne had the baby already. I told them that I was fine and the baby was not due for another month or so. That seemed to calm them down bit, but not for long.
Two of my “problem” children, Danny Angelo and Brian Fitzmaurice got into a brawl at recess. They were fighting over the monkey bars and who could do a better trick. I happened to be on duty out on the playground and was able to keep the confrontation to a low roar. I picked both of them up by the scruff of the neck and told them that I would make sure that they tried out for the gymnastics team when they got to junior high school. That seemed to satisfy them, although they still glared at each other. I had no ideas where this would be going.
The day passed rather routinely; no calls from the FBI or the local police. I was almost sorry that it was so quiet. I was kind of high from the day before and could not really tell anyone, other than Daphne. Her reaction was really troubling. She asked me how far this was going to go in our lives. Would we always be subject to phone calls in the middle of the night or threats from gangsters or killers? I had no answer for her then or now. Once you were in the game, you could not get out.
My first job was to find out who the spies were in the building. Right now were at least two people who had a need to find out what was happening to me. One was the administration’s spy who, evidently, told the central office person anything they thought might be useful. The other was the person who might have gotten me killed and still might. My priority was the person who indirectly got Miss Reinhold killed.
I had to get Mama Pags alone in a corner sometime in the near future. I had a limited time to speak to her in the morning, at lunch, or after school. All of those times would not suit. There would always be people around and I was aware of the danger of appearing too nosy. A few days after school began, I was sitting in the faculty room listening, not too intently, to the conversations . A few of the women staff members were talking about a movie that had just come out. It was called the Sound of Music. It was based on a stage play and starred Julie Andrews. Many of the women were going to go to see it that evening and invited everyone to come along. Mama Pags said that she could not go, but would go the following evening. It was playing at the Cheltenham Movie Theater.
I called the Cheltenham when I got home that afternoon. The following day the film would be playing at 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Since Mama Pags was widowed, I surmised that she would be going alone, or with a friend. I showed up at the theater at about 6:30. At 6:45, sure enough, Mama Pags got on line to buy a ticket. I slipped into the line a few people behind her. As we entered the theater, the ticket taker ripped our tickets in half. Mama Pags went directly to the candy counter and so did I. I practically knocked her over trying to get close to her. She turned around and saw me and almost gasped. “What are you doing here?” she exclaimed. “I heard about this movie in the faculty room and since Daphne was not feeling so well, I thought that I would see it. The future looks a little busy, with a new child and all. I thought I would catch it before we started staying up all night with a tiny baby.”
Mama Pags seemed to accept that explanation and said that we should sit together in the theater. I told her that I had not had a date in a long time. She laughed and said that I should not get fresh with her. Unlike the way things work today, we saw a selected short subject, a cartoon from Czechoslovakia, a newsreel and then the feature film. It was a really great film and I still love it today. When it was over, people clapped. That’s something that has disappeared.
I asked Mama Pags if she would like to go out for a cup of coffee. She said that it really felt like a date now. She must have been a lonely person and seemed to enjoy my company. We went to a nearby diner on Cheltenham Avenue. We ordered coffee and a piece of pie. As we took the first sip, she looked at me quizzically and said, “What are we really doing here?” I raised my head very slowly and told her that I could not keep those two deaths out of my mind. I knew that she was the only person on the faculty who had been there for many years who seemed to have some sort of openly negative feelings about Mr. Driggs and really was upset by Miss Reinhold’s death. I believed that she could shed some light on what was going on in the school.
She lowered her coffee cup. “Now you tell me Doug, why do you really want to know?” I was almost ready to tell her that I was an FBI agent, but thought better of it. I said that Miss Reinhold had told me that she had found some things in Mr. Driggs’ desk drawer and wanted to talk to me about it. That was the night that she was killed. I was to speak with her the next day. Since I was the one who found the body of Mr. Driggs, I felt a need to see what was really going on and was I in some sort of trouble.
“I am going to tell you this in the strictest of confidence. If you betray that confidence, I will never speak to you again. Do I have your word?” “Yes you do ma’am, You surely do,” I blurted out. She began by telling me that when she came to Fleming in 1941, she had already raised her family. She had gone to West Chester Normal School to get her teaching certificate. Her husband had worked as a civilian in the Department of the Army in Lansdowne. He worked with some of classified information that came to the Army via other clandestine services. There was no CIA then or even the OSS. All of that came later.
When she got to Fleming, Mr. Driggs, Sleepy James, and Jim O’Malley and Elder Angstadt were already there. Two of them were inducted into the Army; She couldn’t remember which two and came back in 1945. The war had not yet begun in September of 1941 (for the United States). However, there was every indication that we would get involved in the conflict. That began in December of 1941 with the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
There was something going on, at the time between Russia and Germany. They had some sort of treaty, which the Germans broke. Mr. Driggs, especially was anxious for us to get into the war. It was a bunch of talk from him that made her wonder why someone, who evidently could not be drafted would be so gung ho about our entry into the war. Eventually, she called on her husband to find out something about Mr. Driggs’ background. Driggs had told us almost nothing about his life, other than the name of his wife, Anastasia.
Her husband could find nothing about Driggs. When she said nothing, she meant nothing. He did not appear on any kind of public listing of births, in any year, his social security card had been issued in 1940. That was not so unusual since social security was fairly new. The name of Ronald Driggs was absent from any other listing that all governmental agencies had at that time.
That was most peculiar. Over the next few months, she tried to extract any kind of information from Driggs and failed. He did his music teaching job dreadfully over those first few years. It was as if he did not every have a methods of education course or student teaching. Although she had gotten there the second year of his teaching, she still did not know his stuff from a hole in the ground. One day, in the faculty room, she got into a conversation with some other members of the faculty about classical music. It was her attempt to draw Driggs out. At the first mention of a classical composer, Rimsky-Korsakov, he walked out the room.
That was twenty four years ago and she still had her suspicions, unblemished by time that Driggs was a phony, not a teacher or even a real person. There was something about his presence in the building that did not ring true. She found herself in a minority on that subject and did not want to isolate herself from the rest of the faculty. So, she quit talking to people about her suspicions.
When Mr. Ryerson came to Fleming about ten years ago, she tried to get him to a look at Mr. Driggs and his teaching methods. She also told him about his gratuitous remarks in the faculty room about the students. Ryerson was completely uninterested in what she had to say. She even felt that he was taking Driggs’ part. Her relationship with Ryerson was tenuous at best and she never forgave him for allowing Driggs to continue to say such terrible things about the kids.
One more thing she said. One Saturday evening, she and her husband went out to dinner at a fancy restaurant in Philly. The waiter had put them at a back table. It was in such a position that she could see the rest of the restaurant. In came Mr. Driggs with a group of gentlemen, five or six, and sat down at a table. It appeared that the staff there knew these people. They all scurried about trying to be helpful. Driggs seemed to know these people very well. He did not seem to have met them that evening. When they spoke, it was in hushed tones. The thing that made her husband take notice was that they were not speaking English. They spent the whole evening speaking Russian.

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5 thoughts on “DEATH IN THE FACULTY ROOM -CHAPTER XVII

  1. I just read this chapter and within the hour after reading it, “Scheherezade” by non-other than Rimsky-Korsakovis is on Sirius XM Pops. What a coincidence! …. or is it? Oy!

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