DEATH IN THE FACULTY ROOM-CHAPTER XXIII

Maybe the tapping of the phone would get us what we needed. I was hoping to see staff members coming down the hall to get their 9:00 phone call. As it turned out, there were no more calls and the Christmas and New Year’s vacation interfered with my observations. As I left school on the last day, I meandered into the faculty room. I thought that I might see some of the staff and say Merry Christmas. When I did walk in, all conversation stopped. It was replaced with smiles and bonhomie and lots of Merry Christmases and Happy New Year’s all around. I was well aware that I had walked into something that I was not supposed to hear.
When I come home and tell Daphne what has happened, she comes full circle and explains to me what it might mean. Daphne is the smartest person that I know. She was number 1 in her high school class and got a full boat to Columbia University’s Teacher’s College. All of the big wheels in education taught there, including John Dewey till he died in 1956.
When Daphne was growing up, there were few choices for women, mostly teaching and nursing. She chose teaching because she loved it and still does. I was lucky enough to meet her at a frat party that she came to at NYU, when I was going there. We hit it off right from the start. Our first date was a four hour argument about capital punishment. Her parents thought that was the last time they would see me. It wasn’t and it went on from there.
Although Daphne was not around during my discussion with Mama Pags, she heard enough of it to come to some conclusions. Whatever was going on had the tacit approval of the higher ups in the district. It was also apparent that the principal, Ryerson was either aware or complicit in the undertaking. She believed that the phone call would tell us very little about what was going on and boy was she correct.
Our Christmas vacation involved us travelling to New York to visit our folks, and siblings. There was a large Christmas Dinner at both our parents’ houses. We ate enough for an army. We could hardly get to sleep and Dougie was not too pleased with all of the happenings. He was too young to eat any of the adult food and too sleepy to participate in the family stuff. It was just our turn to show off our boy, as our siblings had done with their children.
When we got back home, we kept in contact with Baumgartner. We even had a chance to go down to the Philadelphia FBI office and be introduced around. It was surprising that they let Daphne come along. I guess they wanted to show her that they were family oriented (which they are not). The FBI folks were a cold lot. They concentrated on their jobs and that was about it. Most of them worked long hours on a case and did not care if their personal needs were taken care of. I am not sure that I was an example of a good FBI agent.
School opened again in early January. The second day back, the same routine started. Two faculty members passed by my door at 9:00 and came back a few minutes later. When I came home I called Baumgartner and he told me that they had a tape of the phone call. I asked him what it was about. “There were no greetings on the call, just a tinny voice saying some numbers and letters and then a hang-up. The two faculty members said nothing. We think that it was some kind of code or hypnotic suggestion that brings an anticipated response. The numbers and letters are being reviewed by our cryptology boys right now. We could not trace the call because it was very short.”
I was beginning to wonder if I would ever come to a conclusion about what was going on. I tried to concentrate on my duties as a third grade teacher while still observing what all was happening around me. An elementary school with self-contained classrooms is a place where people kind of do their own thing. Although there was a curriculum for each grade, there was yet to be a sharing of students as there would be in future years. The middle school concept was not yet all the rage. The junior high school was the school that all kids went to after elementary school. Some city schools still had elementary schools that went up to 8th grade followed by the kids going to high school.
So, teachers in the elementary schools were kind of masters of their universe. The only real check on how they were doing with the kids on national standardized tests. The go for broke state testing had not yet made its appearance in Pennsylvania. That would come in a few years with the consolidation of school districts. For now, teachers pretty much did what they wanted in their classrooms and things seem to be o.k.
All that meant that I did not have much of an opportunity to see things beyond my own classroom. It was only a freak that I saw staff members walking to the office on those days. However, since I had taught for two years in NYC, I had some experience with the way schools ran. This, being my third year here at Fleming, I knew that this was not a normal elementary school. I soon found myself worrying about my own safety. I tried hard not to seem obvious, but my involvement with finding Mr. Driggs and my discussion with Miss Reinhold put me in harm’s way. I could only hope that Mama Pags was what she seemed. That much, I believe, was something I could count on.
Almost a year to the day, January 24, 1966 that Mr. Driggs died, we were all called to an early morning meeting with Mr. Ryerson. He welcomed us, as only he could, and told us that he had some sad news for us. The previous night Mrs. Pagliarulo had died of a heart attack. He asked us to bow our heads and pray.

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