Monsignor Reeves returned at a quarter past martini. I was dealing with the dividend, and reviewing the notes for my after-dinner speech to the Matrons of St. Monica, when he materialized just inside the study door.
"Ah, Reeves," I said, my mood considerably improved by the joke I had just inserted before the final benediction. "Place our young lawbreaker firmly in the third story guestroom -- you might give some thought to how the door could be locked from the outside -- and hurry back. I've got a perfect clipper about Saint Augustine and a Manichee playing golf I want to try out on you."
"I'm afraid Fr. Connaughton is not here, your Excellency."
"Not here? You mean he's given you the slip already? Did he sign on for a three to five year stint as prison chaplain before you has a chance to spring him?"
"I have not seen him since late this morning, your Excellency. The policemen at the jail where he was reportedly taken have no record of him there."
The Booster constitution is one which rebounds quickly from all but the nastiest shocks. And in fact, mine had done so much rebounding all day long that it didn't trouble to bound first at this latest shock.
Instead, I merely remarked, "The fellow's a perfect Houdini, Reeves. He not only disappears from the poky, but he manages to convince the screws he was never there in the first place."
"That possibility did not suggest itself to me, your Excellency."
"No, no, of course not. It's far too simple and straightforward to be true. No doubt Masons, or possibly the Fourth Dimension, lie behind this mystery. As things stand, however," I added, glancing at my watch, "we have thirty-five minutes to get to the Matrons of Saint Monica's gala, and I would rather misplace every last blasted priest of Berggo's diocese, though it mean a battalion of irate Sister Agathas, than to slight the Matrons."
"The prudence of a timely arrival this evening is manifest, your Excellency."
"Besides, Stinker DiPietro will do the worrying for all of us. He called a while ago, you see. Felt awful when he learned that young Thos. really was a priest."
"Monsignor DiPietro is a man of great sensitivity, your Excellency."
"He still would have hit him, of course. You remember how he laid out Pat Murtaugh at our priests' retreat back in Ninety-Seven. But he would have hit him with the respect due a man of the cloth."
Reeves remained silent. He didn't approve of rough stuff from a chap wearing the purple, I knew, but he couldn't help admiring a chap who insisted on a different punch against each ecclesial rank. Semper dignosco, was one of Reeve's watchwords. Always distinguish.