Chapter II  •  Chapter IV


Excerpt from Chapter I: Forty-five Years Later
(after the prologue) Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, April 1996

“So, John, what brings me here today?”

John watched with heightened curiosity as his visitor, Sydney Schuster, an impeccably groomed gentleman in an expertly tailored suit, approached his table. John had been anxiously waiting for half an hour. He took a long swig of his Miller Lite before he pushed his chair back, stood up, and extended a hand to Sydney.

Sydney made no move to accept John’s offer of civility. “Tell me, John. What brings the bully to ask his victim to drive all the way from Chicago to have lunch at a rinky-dink restaurant in Menomonee Falls?”

John let his hand drop to his side and forced a smile. “I know this place is not up to your usual standard, Sydney. Thanks for coming.” John could have chosen a more prestigious restaurant, but he had his reasons for choosing this one.

Sydney turned his back to John, walked over to the rack, and carefully hung his cashmere coat on a hanger before he seated himself. “I’m waiting, John. What brings me here?”

“I’m glad you came, Sydney.” John took his seat across from his guest. “To be honest, I didn’t think you would. I suppose I’m just as curious about why you came as you are about why I invited you. Let’s order lunch. We have a lot to talk about.” He motioned to the waitress for a menu.

“You brought me here for this? You brought me here to listen to an old man ramble about a couple of kids?”

“Why did you come, Syd?”

“I came because I wanted to get a good look at John Murphy, the bully in a Roman collar.”

John flinched at Sydney’s words. He knew he was taking the wrong approach when he answered, “Oh, come on, Sydney. You were a wimp. You were asking for it. All we had to do was give you the eye, and you went running off to mama, or Mrs. Trent, or a cop. We’re grown men now; you know what I mean.” John scraped some potatoes onto his fork.

“No—yes—well, I suppose I did seek help.” Sydney cleared his throat. “It wasn’t just giving me the eye, you know. You were downright brutal. You ganged up on me!” -

“Yeah, Sydney, I know, but you brought out the worst in us. I admit it did get out of hand, but—”

“But! What do you mean, ‘but’? There’s no ‘but’ about it! While you three punks were congratulating each other and celebrating your glorious manhood, I was in the hospital with a broken clavicle and three broken ribs!”

“I’m truly sorry, Syd, but—”

“There you go with the ‘but’ again. You don’t seem to understand. It wasn’t just physical wounds that you inflicted. I was in shock! Do you know how much distress and anguish you and your macho cohorts caused me?” Sydney slammed his knuckles on the table. “Right now, I feel like giving you a few broken bones, John!”

“Let’s get this straight, John. I was the victim then; Susie’s the victim now. She didn’t ask for it any more than I did. Surely Jerry has committed a crime or two. He should be in jail. Where are the police when he beats her up? Anyway, I’m assuming you didn’t invite me here to talk about Susie and Jerry. Get to the point.”

“Susie and Jerry are the point, Syd. Let me ask you, what good did it do you to go to the authorities when you were being victimized?”

“They weren’t much help,” Sydney responded in a monotone.

“You damn well know they weren’t. Look, Syd, I’m not proud of what we did to you, but I gotta believe I’m a decent human being. I asked you here because I want you to help me help the Susies and the Jerrys. There’s gotta be a better way—”

“I might look like a patsy to you, John, but one thing I’ve learned: I can’t just keep giving money to every cause that comes along with its hand out.” Sydney pushed his chair back from the table and folded his arms across his chest. “What happens in the wealthiest families is no different from what you just described.”

John folded his hands as if to pray. “I was hoping—”

“Believe me,” Sydney barked, “all the money in the world can’t transform a bully into a decent human being!”

John winced. “I was hoping you’d help us to keep our parish school open. There are a lot of kids who need our help. It’s the weak ones I worry about the most.”

In spite of how badly he thought things had gone, John was determined to put the period at the end of his prepared speech. “They’re the ones who need a no-nonsense school where they can learn to be winners in a tough, competitive world.”

“You have a lot of nerve, John—asking me, of all people!”

“I knew it was a long shot. The board’s already voted to close our school. The pay is so bad we can’t attract good teachers. There are only two nuns left, and they’re too old and out-of-sync with the times.”

“Let me see if I understand you.” Sydney shook his finger at John and spoke through clenched teeth. “You want me to give you money so you can keep pumping out more little do-gooder Catholic girls like Susie and more little bullies for the Susies to take care of. Just tell me, John, just tell me how do you expect that to help?”