Cosmic plumbing, reasonable rates...

When they returned, six hours later, Francesco was calm but glum. It was Molina whose brow was lined with exhaustion.

"It's clear then," he said tiredly. "I have no time to waste. I have to catch the next plane out of Milano for the States. Things are moving way too fast."

"True, my son. The proverbial poo-poo's gonna hit the propeller at their next concert, if it hasn't already,” nodded Francesco, pulling a decanter from a spacious and well-stocked sideboard. "A vecchio for the road, then, old friend."

He poured the spirit into two ancient metal cups that might have been gold, handed one to Molina and toasted.

"To the good guys."

"To the good guys, then."

Molina drained the cup, set it down and turned to go.    

Francesco coughed. The Levantine turned halfway back to him, a questioning tilt to one black eyebrow.

"And Molina? Tell Jerry for me that the last album was dynamite, willya?"

Molina nodded. "If I make it in time."

Then he was gone.

Francesco nodded quietly to the empty doorway. A single dust bunny pirouetted in the lamplight to show anyone had been there at all.

"Yeah. If you make it in time."

He shook his head ruefully, and repeated something under his breath. To a fly on the wall or an angel, it would have sounded suspiciously like, "Jesus. The tools we use on these cosmic plumbing jobs..."

He could have been talking about Molina, but he wasn't.


The next morning, a well-scrubbed monk in a plain brown habit stepped from a second class compartment on the train from Parma, walked out of Milano Centrale train station, bought a hazelnut gelato and hailed a taxi for the airport. The fare came to 45,200 lire, less the price of a gelato, exactly.

He walked to the Al Italia desk, and in a crude southern peasant accent booked a ticket on the first possible flight to Chicago. He charged it to an obscure American Express account ostensibly held by the Vatican.

It was so obscure, even the Vatican didn't realize it existed. But when the female ticket attendant routinely ran the card through a telephone authorization machine, it cleared unquestioned.

The transaction over, the monk - somehow - pinched her fashionably miniskirted ass from the opposite side of the high counter, then disappeared through customs. He carried no luggage except for a handful of excellent Cuban cigars.