"Thanks again, bish," he said, looking like a fish who looked like a cat who just ate a canary.
"Not at all."
"I leave for Rome next Monday, and Ernesto has insisted I stay at St. Aldhelm's with him 'til then."
"Capital!" I said, catching the bartender's eye for another round.
"By Jove!" he went on. "Personal secretary to the president of a pontifical commission, and I'm just three years out of seminary!"
"I shall watch your future career with interest."
"Thanks again, bish."
"Not at all."
I took a sip of my drink -- Reeves would approve of the speed a pectoral cross induces among the bartenders in the upper bar at the downtown Knights of Columbus hall -- and added, "I still can't think why Reeves couldn't turn you up at the jail the other evening."
"Who did he say he was looking for?"
"Why, you, of course."
"That explains it," young Thos. said with a nod. "I'd given the police a false name."
"A false name! What on earth for?"
"I didn't think either of us wanted word to get round to Sister Agatha about such a trifling misunderstanding."
I considered this. "Yes, I see your point. Still, I'm surprised Reeves didn't press the matter. It couldn't have taken too long to work through the list of men in stir for impersonating clergy."
He shrugged. "Perhaps he didn't think of it. Ernesto had the advantage that he didn't know what my real name was anyway."
"A dashed good thing for all of us Stinker was so remorseful he insisted on turning the jail inside out. Reeves spoke to him on the phone just before we headed out for the evening, and at the end of the conversation Stinker swore he'd spring you or bust."
"And talk about luck! One of his oldest friends, just settling in at HQ, and needing a personal secretary."
"Not the position I'd wish for myself, my boy, but I couldn't be happier for you."
Young Thos. looked stricken for a moment. "The chaps from Latine Dictum are disappointed, of course, but they understand the need to scale back."
"Quite. As I always say, one doesn't lose one's point man on the Old Missal without having to adjust."
"And Ernesto has promised to do what he can until you find my replacement."
"It couldn't have worked out better if someone had planned it."
"Pardon, your Excellency." Reeves had materialized at by elbow. "Sister Agatha is on your cell phone, inquiring about her protege. While your standing orders are to do what is possible to keep her from reaching you, I thought perhaps --"
"Say no more, Reeves," I interrupted, holding out a hand for my phone. "You are quite right. This is one call from her I look forward to." That alone should give you a sign of how rum a week it had been.
"There is a quiet alcove this way, your Excellency."
Excusing myself from young Thos., who was now mumbling greetings out of an Italian phrasebook to himself, I followed Reeves across the barroom. "I say, Reeves, I hope you're not put out by all this."
"All this, your Excellency?"
"There I was, up to my eyebrows in the soup as we headed for the Matrons' gala. And by the time it was finished, the skies were already starting to clear. For once, I didn't need one of your schemes. In fact," I added as we reached the alcove, "if you had been your usual brainy self at the jail and not insisted your quarry was cataloged under the proper name, all would not now be served up en croute."
"The consequences of my choice of action are indeed gratifying, your Excellency."
"Good of you to take it so well. Carry on, Reeves." I pressed the "mute" button on my phone and surprised the party on the line by calling out, "What ho, aged religious! Pax vobis!"