"I owe it all to you, Willie. I can't thank you enough."
"Think nothing of it, just following the code, you know. I shall watch your future career with interest, young Becksmith."
And, with proper camaraderie restored, Beaky rang off.
I smoothed the brow and looked to where Reeves sat polishing the phrases in the speech I was to give to St. Cecelia's Guild the next Sunday. "Extraordinary, eh, Reeves?"
"I mean to say, this time yesterday Beaky wanted to wring my neck, and now it's all I can do to stop him from wringing my hand in eternal gratitude."
"A most desirable change of affairs, your Excellency."
I eyed the fellow. "You know, Reeves, through the years I have made a study of your methods."
"My methods, your Excellency?"
"For fishing chaps out of the Mulligatawny. I'm afraid you've left your fingerprints all over this one. Unless I completely miss my mark, in l'affaire Becksmith you employed the trusty old study of the psychology of the individual."
"A very perceptive observation, your Excellency. When Mother Mary Dahlia suggested Bishop Becksmith's letter be intercepted, it occurred to me that, should his Excellency learn of the attempt, he could be counted on to shed the regrettable timidity that had heretofore been a factor limiting the suitable use of his skills in service of the Church."
"I'll say. Tigers will be telling their grandchildren about the day they heard Beaky roar in Cardinal Fratricidelli's office. And it was you, of course, who leaked word to him that there was a burglar on the prowl?"
"Yes, your Excellency. I was somewhat economical in the truth, as I had not telephoned Mother Mary Dahlia with the plan to have you attempt to steal the letter, but it was necessary to coordinate the timing as carefully as possible."
"Certainly, Reeves. These matters require delicate planning. But I don't see how you could know Beaky would react so strongly to the idea of his letter going astray. I'd have expected him to shrug his shoulders, asking permission first, and give it up for a lost cause."
"I based my judgment, your Excellency, on certain statements Bishop Becksmith made during our phone conversations."
"Yes, your Excellency. His Excellency had requested my assistance with the letter he was preparing, and our work extended over several weeks. He alluded numerous times to the passion that drove him to compose it."
My mouth fell open. "So you knew about his blasted letter all along!"
"Yes, your Excellency. The letter, while in my opinion insufficiently nuanced on certain matters, is the product of an inventive and original mind. Despite Mother Mary Dahlia's worry, there was little doubt that, if concerns over his retiring personality were allayed, Bishop Becksmith's abilities would be noticed."
"And allayed those concerns were, Reeves. Beaky was just telling me on the phone that he's off to Rome to head up one of those new bureaus they're always creating."
"Most welcome news, your Excellency."
"Indeed, and now I needn't quail every time the phone rings in fear that it's Mother M. D. calling to throttle me over the line for failing in my quest."
I paused to finish my drink, as we had reached a delicate point in the convers. "Which brings up another point, Reeves. I can't help but notice a certain running theme, as you might say, to be found throughout your otherwise sterling plots -- viz., that while they all pan out in the end, they too often seem to turn, in whole or in part, on me getting it in the neck."
"That has never been the end sought, your Excellency."
"Certainly not, Reeves, and yet. Well, take this most recent example. All's well that ends well and all that. We Boosters take the broad and flexible outlook and dwell not upon the past. Still, to launch Beaky off on his exciting new adventure, your plan led to me crawling about behind furniture, fumbling for a cover story, and being sized up for a long-sleeved overcoat by the president of the USCCB."
"The suffering you endured is regrettable, your Excellency. I arrived as soon as possible, but there was some risk that the events of the day would fall disproportionately on your head. Mention of Bishop Webster, however, calls to mind a message from him I regret to say I have neglected to deliver."
The Booster spirits, which had recovered their mid-season form, now took a stumble. "I suppose he's consulted with a nationally known loony doctor on the case of potty bishops?"
"Not to my knowledge, your Excellency. He wished me to inform you that, in light of what he termed your medical impairment, he would be pleased to receive your resignation from the national committees on which you serve, should you choose to tender them."
"Tender my resignations!" I leapt from my seat. I don't often leap from my seat, but when I do, it stays leapt from. "Do you realize what this means, Reeves!"
"From the perspective of the bishops' conference, your Excellency --"
"Oh, blast the perspective of the bishops' conference! From my perspective, it means I won't have to be sprinting back to the infernal sauna known to schoolchildren as Washington every other week to listen to Rotter and Pinkie natter on about the rural road paving bills before Congress. It means freedom, Reeves. What a stroke of luck!"
"So it would seem, your Excellency."
"I mean, you can't stand there and tell me you planned this part, can you, Reeves?"
"I would not presume to do so, your Excellency."
I snapped my fingers. "Oh, I've just thought of something! I never did make it to that shop to buy the icon for you. I suppose I'll have to put off resigning until after the next trip."
"That won't be necessary, your Excellency. I was able to purchase the icon at the shop myself, prior to meeting you at Bishop Webster's office."
"Did you? Well, well, Reeves. It seems like we both lucked out. That being the case, nothing more need be said on the matter of my role as chief prop in your stagings. Carry on, Reeves."