Wednesday, August 01, 2012
Story #1: Peeper Baumgratz and the Sister's Snowplow
Henry Werner knew that being the Chief of Police in Marienstadt, Pennsylvania, was an easy job but any day that started out with a visit from Sister Adelaide, the Prioress of St. Joseph's Convent, and which was followed by a call from the State Police, was off to an unpromising start. Despite the fact that he was close to forty and had been a policeman ever since he left the Marines, one withering stare from Sister Adelaide could reduce him to a single throbbing nerve. The worst part was, she knew it.
“Henry,” she said, looking at him over the top of the half-moon glasses perched on her long, patrician nose, “is it really necessary to ticket the convent's automobiles at every single opportunity? I understand that the sisters need to be more mindful of making sure there is adequate money in the parking meters but, honestly, the time had barely run out when Patrolman Ginther wrote this out.” She waved the bright orange ticket in front of him.
“Give it to me, Sister,” he said. “I'll take care of it.” He knew that by 'taking care of it' he meant that he would pay for it himself but he preferred that she not know that.
“No.” She jerked the ticket back and tucked it into the pocket of the impeccably tailored black wool coat she wore. “We do not expect favors but we would like a small amount of ...” She paused, raised her eyebrows, cleared her throat, and then said, “a small amount of courtesy, shall we say?”
“I'll have a word with Dean, I'm sure he'll be reasonable.” Actually he was quite sure that Dean Ginther would be anything but reasonable. Dean had been a troublemaker through all eight years of his confinement in St. Walburga's Parochial School when Sister Adelaide was the principal there and, even at the age of thirty-three, he took a perverse pride in doing anything he could to aggravate her. Henry knew quite well that Dean kept an eye on any of the convent's vehicles when he spotted them on the street. He couldn't wait to pounce if he noticed the least offense – a burnt-out turn signal, a parking meter about to expire, an inspection sticker one day overdue. Writing out a ticket for one of the sisters was all it took to make Dean's day.
Sister Adelaide sighed. Henry thought she must be close to seventy now. When he had been a student at St. Walburga's and she was principal she always wore the traditional Benedictine black and white habit. She was a tall woman with strong, elegant features. Actually, they were related though Henry had never figured out how all that cousin business worked. Sister Adelaide was the daughter of Henry's grandfather's brother. Once Sister traded her habit for more modern dress and gave up her veil anyone who saw the two of them together might easily mistake them for mother and son. Even without her habit, Sister always wore black and white – tailored suits or a white, mannish shirt with a long, straight skirt. It looked very good on her. Her once-blond hair was snow white and she kept it very short and combed straight back from her face with its high-cheekbones and wide blue eyes. She had never been beautiful but she was striking.
“Do you have a few minutes?” she asked.
“Sure,” he said, standing up, “let me get you a chair.” He pulled one of the heavy wooden arm chairs away from the wall and held it for her as she sat down. Henry Werner was the kind of man who really liked women, young, old, any size, any shape. His manners with women were always old-fashioned and rather courtly, not out of any desire to impress but simply because he loved women.
“As I am sure you can imagine,” Sister Adelaide began as he returned to his chair. “Keeping the convent solvent is a full-time job. We have far fewer nuns than we once had and most of them are elderly and retired. A few of the younger nuns – and when I say younger I mean those in their forties and fifties – teach at St. Walburga’s but expenses have increased and income has not.”
“That's happening everywhere, I suspect,” he said. “I remember when there were three priests at St. Walburga’s. Now there's just Father Nick.”
“Yes. Father Bauer's been a godsend to us.”
He noted the subtle correction.
“Anyway,” she resumed, “we may have an opportunity that I am not quite comfortable with but which we might be foolish to pass up and I thought I'd ask your advice.”
Henry spread his hands. “Anything I can do?”
“You know Sister Ursula? She's August Wolfe's sister?”
“Sure, of course, I do. She was a couple years behind me in school. Brenda.”
“I have to admit I was surprised when she became a nun,” he said recalling Augie's sassy, rambunctious sister. “I thought she'd be a tennis pro or something like that.”
“Sister Ursula has always been quite athletic,” she agreed. “She's done a good job with the girl's softball team. Well, as you know, her father has a snow-plowing business and he has decided he wants to retire.”
“Yeah, Augie mentioned it last time I saw him. He said old Gus has been having quite a time with sciatica.”
“Indeed. We have been praying for him. At any rate, Sister Ursula has suggested that her father give his snowplow to the convent which he is perfectly willing to do. Apparently she knows how to run it and she is of the opinion that the convent might benefit from the added income by taking over his clients.”
Henry couldn't keep the smile from his face. The idea of the sisters running a snow-plowing business was just too entertaining.
Sister Adelaide smiled too. “Yes, I don't blame you for being amused. I can't quite see it myself.”
“I don't know,” he said. “Why not? Brenda... Sister Ursula can do anything any guy I know can do so maybe it's a good opportunity.”
She nodded slowly. “Do you suppose that the city would use our services for plowing?”
He shrugged. “I don't see why not. If you want me to I'll mention it to the mayor.”
“The other thing that concerns me is maintenance. Sister Ursula says the plow is in basically good shape but it does need, as she put it, a 'few tweaks'. I have learned through experience that Sister Ursula's idea of a 'few tweaks' tends to be woefully modest.”
Henry chuckled then thought better of it. “I'm sure I can find someone who could have a look at it.” He smiled. “If there's anything Marienstadt has an abundance of, it's guys who can tweak stuff.”
She sat still for a moment then slowly rose. Henry stood up and rounded the desk to escort her to the door.
“Thank you, Henry,” she said. “You've always been very helpful.”
“Just doing my job.” He held the door for her.
She smiled. “You do far more than your job.” She paused then looked at him. He noticed that they were nearly eye to eye and he was over six feet tall.
“Do you ever hear from Kelly?”
That took him by surprise. “Not really. I think she's made a whole new life for herself in Palm Beach. I doubt she even thinks about me.”
Sister Adelaide sighed. “I had such high hopes for you two.”
He looked down but could think of nothing to say. His ex-wife Kelly had high hopes for him, too, which was why she decided to be his ex-wife. When she married him he was a young, handsome, tantalizing Marine with unlimited potential. Being the Chief of Police of a town the size of Marienstadt was most definitely not what she thought that potential should be.
“Me, too, Sister,” he said. “I'll give you a call about the snowplow.”
She passed in front of him and he followed her out onto the sidewalk. It was a brilliantly sunny, but terrifically cold November day with little sparkles of snow in the air. Her black Toyota was parked directly in front of Town Hall and he noticed that she still had a few minutes left on the meter. He held the car door while she tucked herself neatly inside.
“And have a word with Patrolman Ginther, will you?” she said as she turned the key in the ignition.
“Yes, Sister,” he said and was slightly chagrined at how that sounded like the schoolboy he once was.
He shut the door and before he had backed away she zipped out of the parking space and zoomed down the street. For all her fastidiousness, Sister Adelaide had a reputation for a heavy foot. Back at St. Walburga's the joke was that when her car hit sixty miles per hour the windows turned to stained glass and the radio played “Nearer My God To Thee.” Henry wouldn't be surprised.
“Good morning, Henry.”
“Good morning, Mary Katherine. Good morning, Gretchen.” Mary Katherine Dippold and Gretchen Fritz were hurrying down the sidewalk in the direction of Gretchen's shop, The Calico Cuckoo. He glanced at his watch, almost ten. If anyone asked he'd guess that they just had breakfast at Lola's Strudel Shop and were rushing to open Gretchen's store on time. They passed him and, when he looked after them, Mary Katherine glanced back over her shoulder and flashed a wide smile. He smiled back at her. He'd always liked Mary Katherine. Gretchen, too, for that matter, though she was a quite a bit younger than he was.
Henry Werner might be divorced but, despite having no plans to remarry any time soon, he didn't spend much time alone. According to the opinions of most women in Marienstadt Henry Werner was downright gorgeous. What was striking, though harsh, on Sister Adelaide was absolutely stunning on Henry. Tall, lean but muscular, with high cheekbones, a square jaw and a head of thick, wavy, silver-blond hair, Henry had been turning heads since boyhood and that wasn't changing as he faced forty. The truth was there were not a lot of women in Marienstadt who would turn him down and, in point of fact, he'd tested that truth on a regular basis. Henry didn't smoke, didn't swear, rarely drank, and attended Mass and the sacraments regularly but when it came to the sins of the flesh, as they had been called in school, he committed his share and the shares of several others.
He turned to find their dispatcher, Donna Lynch, poking her head out of the door.
“Okay.” He pulled the door open and, as he crossed the lobby to the police department door, she said, “It's Grant Caruso from the State Police.”
Henry groaned. “Now what?” He took the phone from her.
Read the rest of the story at "The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall: Volume 1".....
Posted by Kathleen Valentine at 11:15 AM