The Cardinal Sins
By Andrew M. Greeley
Tom Doherty Associates Copyright © 1981 Andrew M. Greeley
All rights reserved.
Patrick Donahue had been my closest friend since as long as I could remember. We were inseparable all through grammar school and our three years at Jesuit High. He'd been a little guy, much shorter than I, until we were freshmen. Then he shot up and out almost overnight. Grown-ups thought he was adorable when he was little; now they were charmed by his poise and his mature courtesy. Older girls once said he was "so cute" with his towhead, long eyelashes, and silver-blue eyes. Now that he was seventeen, women of all ages thought he was magnificent.
Two years before, at fifteen, Pat was tongue-tied and embarrassed with girls; now he seemed to have nothing else but girls on his mind, even when they were only well-developed freshmen like my "cousin" Maureen Cunningham.
It was said by everyone in those days that Pat looked like Guy Madison, a comment that will make sense only if you can remember those days or if you watch very late television movies. Guy Madison or not, his laugh was contagious, and his sense of fun made him the center of any group of which he was a part.
Pat was not as good a student as I, and not a leader, either. He was — and it is important that I note this — much more devout than I. It was an erratic kind of devotion, marked by closed retreats, sustained periods of daily mass and rosary recitation, complicated reforms of his moral life, and then dramatic relapses into drinking and girl-chasing: the Irish approach to spirituality, my father assured me, disapproving of my more even and casual approach to the deity.
Early on a Saturday morning in the humid July of 1948, Pat was walking next to me, talking about my cousin Maureen, when a gray Packard rolled over in the ditch across the road from us and exploded. Pat's courage and quick reaction saved their lives. I stood there glued in the summer dust, waiting for an orange ball of flame and smoke to devour the car. Still, I got the credit.
I had been walking down the hill behind the village on my way to church. Pat was climbing up the hill, his handsome face and cheery smile undimmed by a night of merriment on the beach. He offered to walk back down to church with me, mostly, I think, because if we came home from church together, my mother and father might not ask any questions about how he had spent the night. I should have been angry with him; he was my guest, and I was responsible for his spiritual and physical welfare. But Pat's laughter and high spirits, especially in those days, made it hard to be angry at him.
"Not much in the way of serious necking," he said, grinning complacently. "Not even enough to keep me from Communion at mass."
"Beer after twelve breaks your fast," I said primly.
"You already sound like a monsignor." Pat walloped me on the back in great humor. "Kevin, they're going to ordain you a monsignor."
"At least a bishop," I said. "Maybe even a cardinal."
"Kevin Cardinal Brennan." He laughed. "I like the sound of it. Make me a papal knight or something?"
The asphalt on the road was soft from the heat. I dreaded the walk back after mass. It was going to be another miserably hot day. "And Maureen a papal dame. Dame Mo. I like the sound of that!"
"She is some dame." Pat shook his head appreciatively. "I know she's your cousin, but for a freshman she's got the hottest lips on the beach."
"Not really a cousin," I pointed out. "Our fathers have been law partners for so long that we call each other 'Cousin.' So those hot lips aren't off limits to me, either."
"That'd be the day. Kevin Brennan, the pillar of piety, necking all night on the beach."
The thought of Mo's lips pressed against mine was far more appealing than I was willing to admit. "Where is Maureen? Too hung over to walk up the hill? Or just too spoiled?"
Pat shrugged his shoulders. "Marty Delaney is going to drive them back up in his Packard. I wanted the exercise. Told them you would be angry if I didn't stay in condition for the basketball season."
"It's your scholarship, not mine."
My reminder sailed by him unnoticed. Pat needed the scholarship to go to college. The Brennans were wealthy enough that money would never be a worry for any of us. I suspected Pat thought it was unfair. I thought it unfair that he possessed ten times as much charm as I did.
Before we could say anything more, the Delaney Packard roared around the final curve separating the hill from the village. Marty must have been driving sixty miles an hour. He would have made the turn with a few inches to spare if old Doc Crawford's Buick, on its way to the yacht club, hadn't turned the corner from the opposite direction. Delaney swerved — instinctively, I suppose — to avoid the big red car, skidded toward the side of the road where we were walking, then back across the slippery asphalt and into the ditch. The Packard rolled over like a turtle at the end of a stick, its wheels spinning helplessly in the air.
Pat raced toward the car. "Let's get them out of there," he shouted.
My feet felt as if they were cemented in the ground. I finally trudged after him, each stride taking an eternity.
Inside the car, people were screaming. Pat wrenched the door open. "Give me a hand, Kevin," he yelled to me.
We pulled Marty Delaney out from the driver's seat. His face was a mask of blood. Sue Hanlon was next to him, unconscious, her dress torn and her slim legs twisted beneath her at an unnatural angle. I helped the battered but conscious Delaney to the side of the ditch as Pat gently set Sue in the dust.
We were dragging Joan Ryan and Joe Heeney from the back seat when the fuel tank blew. The force of the explosion knocked all of us into the ditch. Joan's thin dress caught fire, and she wailed hysterically as the flames leaped to her long, blond hair. Joe lay silently by the side of the road. For a moment I thought we were all going to die. Then Pat knocked Joan down and rolled her over in the dust, extinguishing the fire, and I carried Sue to the safety of the road. I stood there dumbly while Joan, her hysteria spent and her freckled face streaked with dirt and soot, and Pat dragged the two boys away from the crackling flames.
Doc Crawford, who had managed to stop his car only a few yards from the accident, was suddenly next to me, trying to get Sue out of my arms. I struggled for a while and then put her down on the grass. I sat next to her while Doc probed and grunted and shook his head. Acrid smoke from the burning automobile tore at my nostrils and stung my eyes.
The State Police ambulance arrived after what seemed like hours. Ted Smith, the police lieutenant, and Father O'Rourke, the alcoholic pastor of our village church, stood next to the smoldering wreck, shaking their heads.
"If we had been a few seconds later," Pat was breathing heavily, "they all would have gone up in smoke." His face and hair were black, his white shirt and slacks ripped and dirty.
"And us with them," I said. Only then did I realize that Maureen had not been in the car.
"None of them have a right to be alive," said the lieutenant in a nasal, rural-Wisconsin drawl. "Damn fool kids, drinking all night and then doing sixty miles an hour in a twenty-mile-an-hour zone. Lucky you were here, Kevin."
"You saved their lives and maybe their souls, Kevin," added the haggard old priest, rolling up a soiled purple stole. "If they'd died without the last rites, after what they were doing on the beach, they would have gone straight to hell."
"How do you know?" I demanded. "Anyway, it was Pat who saved them."
They didn't seem to hear me. I saw a spasm of pain cross Pat's face.
"Two of them look like they're goners, the girl especially," said Ted, fingering his trim, Tom Dewey mustache. "If they make it, Kevin, it's all your doing."
Still in a daze, I walked back to our house, at the top of the hill, vomited the knots out of my stomach, and went to my room to sleep away the rest of the day.
"They're all going to be fine except the Hanlon girl," my mother said when she woke me for supper, her red hair glowing in the rays of the afternoon sun. "Sue Hanlon will probably be crippled for the rest of her life."
For years I saw Sue's legs, twisted beneath her, in my dreams. Now I can't distinguish them from the butchered legs of another woman who also haunts my dreams.
Pat returned to our summer house at the lake the last week in August, after the excitement about the accident had died down. One afternoon he blew a softball game against some of the local kids; he was the tying run coming in from third, and he tried to skirt around a half-pint catcher instead of knocking him down.
I sulked at supper that night, angry at him for losing the softball game, although Pat, as usual, joked with the rest of the family. After supper, he asked if he could borrow the Studebaker to see what was going on in town. I knew, of course, that he wanted to go pick up Maureen on the property next to ours. Mrs. Cunningham thought Pat was a charming young man and raised no objections to her daughter's roaming around southern Wisconsin with the son of a sanitation worker.
Silently I gave him the keys.
"You want to come?" he asked tentatively, his face turning the bashful pink that so charmed the ladies. "We could find Cunningham and Foley."
Ellen Foley, to whom I was assigned for the week by Maureen and Pat, was the runt of the litter. Maureen had taken the poor thing under her wing, and I had got her by default.
"Forget it," I said sullenly. I settled in a rocking chair on our open front porch, which overlooked the village and the lake. My grandfather and Maureen's had bought several square miles in the hills behind the lake before the First World War, preferring the quiet and privacy to what my father called the "resort slums" along the beach.
In the years spent recovering from the Depression my father had been tempted to sell his section of the land. Finally, just before he went into the service, Tom Cunningham assured him there would be enough money in the law firm to take care of our family while he was away. Dad returned from nearly four years of service with white hair, a chest full of medals, and an eagle on his shoulder, only to find that the law firm had sagged. Tom was more interested in his beautiful little girl than in running the firm. Dad, now "the Colonel," permitted himself only the comment that such was the fruit of marrying late in life, and threw himself into the practice the same way he had led charges at Cassino and Bastogne.
Three years later we were affluent beyond anyone's dreams. The Cunninghams, without doing much work, were trailing close behind us. Dad was talking about building a swimming pool at the lake and a winter house in Florida; neither he nor my mother suffered any compunctions about spending money. In those years everyone's expectations rose and expanded like a hot-air balloon. There was never going to be another Depression. The sky was the limit.
In our neighborhood in Chicago, though, "postwar" created a split that, in 1948, seemed permanent. The Cunninghams and the Brennans had seemed only a little ahead of the Donahues and the Foleys during the common suffering of the earlier years, but now we were rich, and Pat's father was still a sanitation worker — a garbage man — and Ellen's father was a poor Irish cop.
I watched the lake beneath me turn crimson in the sunset, motorboat wakes slicing across it, colored sails lazily drooping in the still air, cars slipping around the shore roads to Friday-evening cocktail and dinner parties. I was worried about Pat Donahue. Unless we won the city championship next year, he probably would not get a scholarship to Notre Dame. If he had girls on his mind during the season, as he did this summer, he could blow it.
My father slipped into the rocking chair next to me. "Beautiful view, isn't it, Champ?"
I grunted agreement. My father didn't know what to make of me. I'd been a winsome little punk when he went off to war. He'd come home to find his wife as beautiful as ever, his younger kids wide-eyed with joy, and his oldest a mysterious, calculating fourteen-year-old. As he put it later, "A tall, lean gallowglass with a grim face, thick red hair, and hard green eyes." To make matters worse, I promptly told him I was going to be a priest.
"This reminds me of a lot of places in Italy and Switzerland," he said thoughtfully. He rarely shared memories of the war with us. "A few times I thought I'd never see it again."
I didn't say anything.
"Hard one to lose today," he went on, tentatively.
"Pickup game," I said noncommittally.
"You like to win them all, though," he mused.
"Can't imagine where I got it, Colonel," I said dryly.
His eyes were twinkling in the fading light. "Maybe winning isn't as important to Pat as it is to you."
"I was thinking the same thing," I replied. "So when Pat comes back with the car and the girls, I'll forget about it."
He slapped my knee and wandered off in the darkness looking for my mother, trailing a rich smell of Turkish tobacco in the night air.
When the Studebaker lumbered up the driveway with Pat and Maureen Cunningham in the front seat, I cut through Pat's apology and got in the back of the car with Ellen Foley. She looked, I thought, like a frightened, ponytailed third-grader caught disobeying the instructions of a patrol boy.
Pat drove down the hill to the village with elaborate care. Maureen taunted him that it was my car and there was no reason to be careful.
"Sure, Pat," I said tartly, "pile it up. It's covered by the company insurance policy. Mo's father will probably get you off with involuntary manslaughter; Father O'Rourke will anoint us, if he's sober enough; and we can play poker with Sue Hanlon in the hospital."
"You should have gone into the seminary three years ago," Mo said, dismissing me. "Then you'd be in a place where everyone keeps all the rules all the time."
"And I wouldn't have to put up with spoiled only children whose fathers think they can do no wrong," I answered.
We drove to the Sugar Bowl in silence. I sensed reproach from the small person next to me.
The Sugar Bowl was an ice-cream joint with a jukebox, very bright lights, the smell of sour milk, and wooden tables that may well have predated the Civil War. All the male heads, and most of the female ones, turned when Maureen entered. She sensed all the attention and loved it.
Maureen was gorgeous: perfect white complexion, long black hair, the figure of a model, reckless wit, teasing dark eyes. She was any teenage male's dream of The Woman. When we saw State Fair at the beginning of the summer, we all agreed that Mo was better-looking than Jeanne Crain.
Maureen maneuvered herself into the booth so that Pat would have to sit next to her. Her bare knee brushed lightly against mine. "Are your folks going to the Labor Day dance at the club?" she asked me, effectively cutting out the two nonmembers who sat with us.
Flustered by the unexpected contact, I turned to the waitress and gave her our order: two banana splits, one chocolate sundae, and one chocolate malt for my "date."
In control again, I answered Maureen's question.
"I doubt it. You know how my mother objects to drunkenness. We'll probably have a hot-dog roast at the pond. My father cleaned up the place so we can swim in it."
"Oh, good, that sounds like fun," Maureen said. "We'll have to go there one day."
"Another setting for one of your immoral swimsuits?" I asked, trying to sound disapproving.
"I don't notice you looking away when I show up," she said acidly. "For someone who's going to be a priest, you stare as much as anyone else."
The jukebox finished "It Might as Well Be Spring" and turned to jitterbug music. "Come on, Pat," said Mo, grabbing his hand, "let's dance. Kevin the Creep can explain to Ellen why I'm the only one who dares to make fun of him."
I watched them dance. Two tall, handsome young people superbly coordinated, in full possession of their supple bodies — a black-haired magic princess and a blond, fair knight. The stuff of which romantic dreams are made.
"Why did you send him home today?"
I looked for the voice that sounded like distant bells chiming and discovered that it had come from Ellen. It was the first time all evening she had spoken directly to me.
"I didn't send him home. I went home before him."
Her eyes were wide and soft and remarkably clear. "I don't mean that. I mean when you were coaching at third. You had a tie. Why not hold him at third and wait for the next batter? You were grandstanding as much as he was."
"We were building up steam," I said. "If he'd scored, we might have got five or six more runs."
Her eyes continued to watch me unblinkingly. "Tim Curran is the best hitter on the team. Chances were better that he'd drive Pat in than that Pat would knock over the catcher." Her pert, sunburned nose wrinkled slightly.
"Girls don't know anything about baseball," I said lamely, immediately vexed with myself for falling back on such an unfair put-down.
"He didn't want to win enough, and you wanted to win too much," she said, her voice decisive. "Anyway," she added, placating me, "I think it's nice the way you take care of him." Her eyes fell away from my face.
"When you grow up, Ellen Foley, you may be dangerous."
Her face colored to the roots of her pale ponytail. I watched her sip her chocolate malt. There was something neatly delectable about her smooth throat, clear complexion, and determined chin. (Continues...)
Excerpted from The Cardinal Sins by Andrew M. Greeley. Copyright © 1981 Andrew M. Greeley. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.