Truth Is the Perfect Disguise
a novel in progress

THREE

                 In my day you could drive all around the campus once you got past the gate, but the eruption over the years of enough new structures to accommodate vastly increased enrollment had cluttered up what had once been a sprawling green enclave. Now there were barriers tossed in some undecipherable pattern across most of the roads and paths which stretched from here to there. We used to joke as undergraduates that the school's ultimate aim was to cover the entire campus in asphalt and ugly buildings. Who knew?

        I wended my way through the maze, taking some consolation in the fact that it was dark so I wouldn't have to deal with the question that always plagued me on my rare trips back to this realm of my wayward youth: why in hell didn't they at least try to make the architecture of the new blend in with the old so that there could be some sort of aesthetic balance to the place?

        I got as close as I could with the car, then parked on the grass next to the cemetery where they used to bury all the dead priests until they ran out of room. Now they're running out of priests. Possibly there is some logic to the universe after all.

        It was only a couple of hundred yards to the front steps of the administrative offices located in the second oldest building on campus, a Gothic monstrosity linked by an enclosed second story walkway to the even more monstrous monastery, the oldest building on campus. Walking that passageway, you crossed, almost instantaneously, from a closed, cloistered world darkened by centuries of repression and blind faith into a place of inquiry and learning where the exchange of ideas and the explicitness of science held sway. It took a certain kind of man to make that journey successfully day after day.

        A man like Jack Hanlon.

        The President's Office was on the south corner of the second floor. Dim night lights set at periodic intervals along the baseboard gave the stairwell and corridors an eerie feeling but provided just enough vision to enable me to make my way toward the light that streamed from the open office door like a beacon. That was an image I'm sure the present occupant of that hallowed place would appreciate, which meant it was one I never intended to share with him.

        The two of them were huddled in the far corner talking. They had to have heard me coming--even in sneakers my footsteps had echoed loudly down the empty hall--but neither looked up immediately when I entered. O'Brian had that sour look on his face which those who knew him well were all too familiar with, the look that he never let his friends in the press see. He appeared to be talking rapidly. Too rapidly, I'd guess. Hanlon was expressionless and seemingly attentive, though I be willing to wager he hadn't heard a word. As O'Brian finished whatever self-serving crap he was feeding his lord and master, they both turned my way, almost in unison.

        Jack Hanlon's face broke out into the famous smile that was as much a part of his success as his highly touted skills as a manager of men and money. I knew that smile well. He crossed quickly to greet me, hand outstretched. His was a hand I would shake, despite differences between us at least as great as those I had with O'Brian. I'd be hard pressed to explain exactly why this was so.

        "I knew you'd come," he said as if this was nothing unusual and we got together all the time. Putting his arm easily around my shoulder, he steered me toward the desk so smoothly and naturally that it almost felt like it was my idea. O'Brian hadn't moved at all. He just stood watching us, his eyes angry and bitter. James Francis O'Brian was the sort of person who'd tell you, with sad eyes and doleful tone, that he lived by the old platitude that you should hate the sin but not the sinner. In my case at least, he was congenitally unable to separate the two.

        Hanlon picked up a folder from the desktop and got right to it without preamble. "This is everything we know about the..." he paused, searching for the right word, "...the event you read about in the papers this morning. I'd like you to look into it."

        "And what makes you think I care what you'd like?" I almost winced as I said it. The words and tone were harsher than seemed necessary, even for me.

        But Hanlon didn't react, instead giving me the "Father Jack" serious look, the one he used when pressing a rich alumnus for money or a politician for a special favor. That look that said I've got you right where I want you. He paused briefly to let me feel its full impact.

        "You care, old friend," he said finally, "because this is your chance to get even with the Church, with the University and with me." He allowed the smile to light up his features again. "And your chance to bring Matt Riley down."

        Damned if he hadn't nailed it cold. I looked Jack Hanlon, once my best friend in the whole world, straight in the eye and smiled back at him for perhaps the first time in nearly two decades. "You silver-tongued devil, you," I said, and took the file from his hand.

Chapter Four


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Copyright (c) 2007 Jack Curtin