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THERE WAS A BUMPER STICKER Roger Knight saw around the campus on game days when fans flowed in from across the land. GOD MADE NOTRE DAME #1. The claim was theologically impeccable so long as one had in mind the Lady after whom the university was named and not the university itself, still less one of the varsity teams. A statue of the eponymous Notre Dame graced the golden dome, a huge effigy visible for miles around, the emblem of the university named for her: Notre Dame du Lac, to be exact, Our Lady of the Lake. Or rather to be inexact, since there were two campus lakes, Saint Joseph’s and Saint Mary’s. But if the great golden dome and the statue of the Virgin atop it were visible from the ground, they were even more so from the air. Flights coming into South Bend followed a landing pattern that brought them in low over the campus, and pilots liked to give their passengers an extended view.
“There she is, folks, Notre Dame.”
Thus spoke the pilot of the commuter plane Roger and his brother, Phil, were flying in on from Chicago, propeller driven, cramped, a notch or two above a hang glider. Roger was wedged into two seats, the armrest between them raised, with Phil across the aisle. The little plane had headed immediately out over Lake Michigan when it took off from O’Hare and had stayed over the great lake until a few minutes before entering the pattern that took it over the campus.
“That’s the stadium!” cried the pilot, and those with window seats dutifully pressed their noses against the glass and looked. “And that’s the golden dome. See that statue on top of it? That’s Knute Rockne, the famous football coach.”
Roger looked at Phil. “He can’t be serious, Roger.”
But apparently he was serious. Perhaps he thought the statue was of Rockne in academic garb.
The pilot would not be the first one to mistake the athletic excellence of the university for its central purpose. This year God had indeed made Notre Dame #1 in both senses. Its academic ranking had risen into the top ten, a fact featured on the home page of the university web site, to the chagrin of senior faculty computer literate enough to have noticed it.
“What in hell is U.S. News & World Report?”
“A lesser TIME.”
“What is time?”
“The measure of motion,” broke in a philosopher, and cackled.
Apart from the questionable legitimacy of such academic ranking, the varsity teams had excelled in every sport. The football team, after half a dozen years of drought, had ended its season playing for the national championship. Alas, they lost, but loyal fans attributed this to the outrageous officiating. Whatever wounds the loss inflicted were soon healed by the performance of the basketball teams, women’s and men’s, both of which were said to be headed for the Final Four. Even hockey, that poor brother of the Joyce Athletic Center, had swept its divisional play-offs, but this success melted away before the ascendancy of the basketball teams.
The two aspects of the university were loved unequally by the Knight brothers. When Roger had been offered the Huneker Chair of Catholic Studies, he had been flattered and delighted. He had not taught after receiving his doctorate from Princeton as a precocious nineteen year old. His enormous weight and eccentric manner had stood in the way of an academic career, and after a stint in the navy, where he ballooned to a size that earned him an early discharge, he lived with Phil and eventually became, like him, a private detective. They had been working out of Rye, New York, whither they had moved after Phil had been mugged in Manhattan for the third time. That one whose investigative services were his bread and butter should himself be unsafe on the streets of the metropolis did not seem a good marketing line. From Rye, Phil began to run an ad in the phone directories of various major cities, giving only an 800 number and accepting only those clients who offered a particular challenge and one that did not pose too great a difficulty for Roger’s participation. Their’s had been a pleasant life, active and lucrative enough for their purposes, and allowing Roger to pursue his myriad intellectual interests and carry on an enormous E-mail correspondence with kindred souls around the globe. The offer from Notre Dame, a welcome and unlooked for surprise, had meant the end of their life in Rye.
“Of course you’ll take it,” Philip had cried.
“But the agency?”
“I can work from anywhere, Roger. Clients don’t know we live in Rye unless we tell them. South Bend might be even more convenient.”
Roger was not deceived. Phil lifted the notion of sports fan to hitherto unknown heights, and he had long followed the fortunes of Notre Dame with a close and biased eye. Moving to South Bend ranked for Phil just below the beatific vision. His enthusiasm removed Roger’s hesitation. Roger himself had looked forward to the library and the stimulation of his new colleagues, to say nothing of the prospect of teaching.
And so they had come to Notre Dame. The few years of their residence had rooted them in the university to such a degree that it took an effort of memory to think of a time before this.
Their flight from Chicago touched down, and the passengers straggled into the terminal. Roger took up his vigil by the baggage carousel, while Phil went to fetch the van from long-term parking. The vehicle had been remodeled so as to accommodate Roger’s bulk. A rotating chair in the middle of the van, behind Phil in the driver’s seat, enabled Roger to maneuver like a swivel gunner in World War II. A laptop was anchored to a table and thus out of use when he turned to the back, but he could easily swing east and west and then forward to chat with Phil. But on the ride from the airport this day, both brothers were quiet.
“I want a nap,” Phil murmured.
“You deserve it.”
Joseph Primero, a prospective client in Minneapolis, whose collection of rare books was destined for Notre Dame, had wanted to interview Philip, and vice versa, and Roger had gone along in order to see Primero’s collection. For the nonce, he too could use some rest. But when they pulled up in front of their apartment, located in one of the buildings making up the graduate student village, a horn sounded and Nancy Beatty hopped out of her car and hurried toward them.
“Where have you two been! I was so worried about you.”
Phil looked at Roger. “We’ve been away.”
“That explains why your phone wasn’t answered. It just rang and rang with no beep to leave a message. Larry wouldn’t let me call Campus Security.”
It was a pleasant thought that their absence had caused such concern. It was still a novelty for the Knight brothers to have people who worried about them.
Her eyes rolled upward. “Studying.”
“Would you like to come in?”
She thought about it, then shook her head. “No. You’re tired. But after this, let someone know when you’re going away. Where have you been?”
“Can I help with those?”
Phil had begun to unload their bags from the van. The thought of this frail girl helping him with the luggage brought a frown.
“It was just a thought.” She paused. “I do have something to tell you.”
“Come on in.”
Again she shook her head. “Not now. I want Larry with me when I tell you.”
“Can I guess?”
“Don’t you dare.”
EMERALD AISLE. Copyright © 2001 by Ralph McInerny. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Posted December 9, 2008
Six years ago, two freshmen, Larry Morton and Dolores Torre, met in a Notre Dame University philosophy class in which they debated Socrates¿ death. They began seeing one another, fell in love, and planned to marry. Larry and Dolores reserve Notre Dame¿s Basilica of the Sacred Heart for a June 17, 2002 wedding. However, the couple goes their separate ways after obtaining their undergraduate degrees. Larry goes on to Notre Dame Law School and Dolores becomes a personal assistant to attorney Dudley Fyte in Minneapolis. <P>Dudley and Dolores decide to marry and use the June reservation, but so do Larry and his fiancee Nancy Beatty. Larry goes to Minneapolis to talk with Dolores. Meanwhile, Professor Roger Knight and his brother Private Investigator Philip work on a case of valuable documents stolen from Joseph Primero¿s Cardinal Newman collection that one day will go to Notre Dame. Coincidentally, Joseph¿s estranged wife Bianca has had an affair with Dudley and is soon murdered. The Knight siblings try to catch a killer, learn who purloined the valuable books, and straighten out affairs of the heart. <P> EMERALD AISLE is an engaging who-done-it that employs too much coincidence, but still retains a fun to read plot. The story line entices the audience because the reader understands the motives of the key secondary cast. This novel and its four predecessors provide enlightenment on the university including the reference to the championship women¿s basketball team. Ralph McInerny provides a pleasant academic mystery starring two likable chaps. <P>Harriet Klausner
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