It was decided to first visit the senior class with the lowest collective grades of all the senior classes. Father John figured a culprit was more likely to be there rather than from a class of top students. He and O’Shea broke into a Marriage and Family class, taught by Father Albert, a pudgy teacher that despised the coursework he was charged to teach. Instructing on such a topic he felt was ludicrous for him. He stepped aside hoping Father Principal was there to reassign him.
“This is Special Agent O’Shea of the FBI,” the principal announced standing at the front of the class, causing many students to murmur nervously. “A serious issue has come to light and I have asked Father Bill, along with agent O’Shea, to inspect all lockers and possessions on your person.
A student in an end seat of the last row raised his hand waving it for attention. He wore a checked flannel shirt with frayed cuffs.
“Yes, Thompson?” Father Bill said curtly.
“Father, I think this might be considered an invasion of privacy according to the city charter.” Many class members snickered, knowing what was coming next, but were silenced by Father Bill’s dark unamusing eyes that quickly scanned the room.
“Get out in the hall, Thompson.”
“Yes, Father.” Jimmy Thompson wasn’t the brightest bulb on the block, but he also wasn’t a complete fool, aware that Father Principal only brought Father Cech along if severe punishment might be merited. He would set aside his constitutional principles for the time being and argue no more. Besides, he couldn’t remember if this privacy thing he had heard about was in Mayor Daley’s city charter, or some other charter. He cursed himself for opening his mouth and hustled up the aisle and out the door, careful not to get too close to the reach of the grim priest.
Father Bill’s dark eyes behind the tinted glasses followed the student out the door and then he turned back to the class, all of which were standing and reluctantly emptying pockets onto their desks. All sorts of incriminating items summarily appeared on desks throughout the classroom – pocket knives, pictures of nude women, brass knuckles, parley cards, condoms, and then the melted down pennies. Lots of melted down pennies. Upon one desk Agent O’Shea with a quick calculation figured there were at least thirty shiny dime-sized pennies.
Penance handed out by Father Bill was swift and severe. He went after those with the condoms and dirty pictures first, whacking the culprits hard in the back of the head with a powerful cuffed hand. It was chaos as the priest moved up and down the aisles, slapping and cuffing anyone and everyone for there was not a desk free of some sort of improper item. Realizing they had been caught red-handed in sinning grievously, the brave boys took their medicine in stride. All, excluding the fake dimes, were scooped into a waste basket and set on Father Albert’s desk. Agent O’Shea produced a plastic evidence bag for the coins and moved through the room scrapping them off desks into the bag.
Father John then moved to the center of the class and announced, “I want everyone to sit down so I can see you.” The boys returned to their desks as one with their eyes on the principal in fearful anticipation. The principal waited for absolute quiet and let that sink in for several long moments and then said, “I am sorry to say that this is disgraceful! Boys in a Catholic high school carrying such filth where anyone can see it. What about your mothers? Do you want them to come across pictures like that? How can you do that?”
Now all eyes were down on the desks or the floors. After a pause the principal continued. “I expect to see all of you to go in confession after school. Now the problem that brought us here is obvious and real. I want the name of the student responsible for this crime of defacing money that has brought a federal agent into our school, and I want it now!”
The room remained quiet and, though no one wished to be the subject of further atonement by Father Bill, no one wanted either to be the one to snitch on a fellow student. Even with Father Cech moving up and down the aisle with his intimidating look through the dark glasses, the boys squirmed in the seats, but said nothing. Nothing, that is until Jimmy Thompson who had been watching Father Bill’s carnage through a crack in the open door, hedged back into the room. Hoping to elude Father Bill’s dissemination of penance, he blurted out, “It was Charlie Resnick! He sold us the coins!” Father Bill nonetheless grabbed Jimmy by the arm and cuffed him good on the back of the head. He then shoved the boy back toward his desk and the other students moved away, shunning the stoolpigeon in their midst.
The principal’s eyes widened and then he leaned over to Agent O’Shea to whisper, “Charlie Resnick is by far the most brilliant student we’ve had in years. He’s never been in trouble.” The agent nodded not citing the obvious that Charlie Resnick was indeed now in a heap of trouble.
They reached Charlie in the Chemistry lab. As he often did during any free time, which he had at the moment, he was discussing worldwide scientific developments with Father Adolph as the pair came through the door.
Father John spoke as the agent had never met Charlie. “Charlie, this is Special Agent O’Shea with the FBI.”
Charlie realized at once that he was cooked, and Father Adolph sensed also that his prize student might be in considerable trouble. As there were a few students scattered about the lab, the principal directed that they go move to his office. Though not asked, the Chemistry teacher accompanied them down to the Father John’s office.
The Malloy principal’s office was small with barely enough room for the four to be seated. Father John sat behind his glass-topped desk with O’Shea in a straight back at the side of the desk while Charlie and Father Adolph were in a pair of inexpensive arm chairs across the desk. The chemistry teacher moved an ashtray nearer to him to catch ashes from the cigarette he held upward.
The FBI agent spoke first. “Charlie, I’m investigating a crime that involves counterfeiting coins that has cost many people a lot of money. Do you have any knowledge of that?”
Charlie frowned rubbing his hands together and nodded. “Yes, I’m responsible for this wrongdoing.”
“Why, son?” the agent, surprised by the quick confession, questioned with a tone of sympathy in his voice that didn’t escape Father Adolph’s notice.
The boy pushed his thick horn rimmed glasses back causing his eyes to appear even rounder and larger and said, “It started out as an experiment with nitric acid. Realizing that this compound dissolved copper, I was curious to see if I could generate a mathematical formula that would provide the exact time required to transform a penny into something else, say a dime.”
Father Adolph nodded slightly following his student’s hypothesis and then brought the cigarette up to inhale, causing an eye to squint from the smoke.
“So you were successful,” the agent broke in. “But then you decided to start an enterprise?”
“Correct,” Charlie eagerly answered as if the agent had said something profound. “I am a weak person, and I found also a vain person. I wanted the world to know of my accomplishments, but I erred grievously and I am sorry for that.”
O’Shea and the principal looked at each other and then the agent turned back to Charlie. “Son, you’ve committed a serious felony that has hurt many people financially. A crime like this could well mean having a prison record which would follow you throughout your life.”
The room was quiet due to the enormity of the consequences. But then the chemistry teacher leaned forward. “Might I make a suggestion?” the wily chemistry teacher that had long ago dealt with the rising Nazi thugs during the thirties as a novitiate, until deciding to leave his home country when they started tossing priests from rooftops, said in his thick Bavarian accent. All heads turned to him.
“Yes, Father Adolph,” the principal replied, realizing with all of the turmoil that he hadn’t introduced his chemistry teacher to O’Shea. “Father Adolph is the student’s chemistry teacher,” he explained to the agent.
“Thank you, Father.” He turned slightly to half-face his prized student next to him. “Mr. Resnick has certainly done wrong, by his own admission. And he must pay for that. But he is young with a bright future ahead of him. He is not a bad boy, but a good boy who has strayed from the path. He must return to that path and we as responsible adults can help him do that.” The teacher’s left hand moved a little bringing attention to the long ash on his cigarette that seemed to be defying gravity. To O’Shea he questioned, “I believe the FBI has an intern program for students with special skills, such as in mathematics and chemistry. Is that correct?” O’Shea hesitated and then nodded reluctantly. Father Adolph continued, “What if Charlie would have a chance to use his God-given talents to benefit the FBI and our wonderful country? And whatever money he might earn could be used to pay back those unfortunate businesses hurt by his misbehavior.” His look to Charlie required concurrence from him which he readily gave with a vigorous nod.
Father John, preferring not to see his top student behind bars either, looked to the special agent who seemed to be weighing the peculiar possibility of employing a suspect against whom he was about to press charges. Working toward a conclusion, he checked the faces of those in the room; Father John who looked to be silently encouraging him to go along with the bizarre proposal; Father Adolph who finally tapped the cigarette ashes into the ash tray; and the perpetrator himself, avoiding the agent’s eyes with seemingly innocuous glances at spots on the wall behind his principal.
Finally, Special Agent O’Shea said, “I must clear this with my supervisor of course, but I’m quite sure we can use someone with Mr. Resnick’s gifts.”
Father John sprung up and suggested, “I will have Father Bill round up the fake coins from the rest of the school for you, and I will take care of the punishment for those possessing any counterfeit money, Mr. Resnick included. I’ll let you certainly determine what Charlie must provide for compensation to his victims. All were standing now shaking hands all around, Charlie excluded as he thought that might be pushing the envelope a bit.
Gratefully, Charlie started back to his class instead of being carted off to a Federal prison. Sadly, though, he was out of a lucrative source of income. But on the bright side, he figured, he still had the parley card business.