"...I hope they know what the hell they're doing..."

The bus lurched to a stop in a cloud of diesel, clutch and brake fumes. Molina climbed off the back exit, moving casually down the hill from the town's main piazza to a large building. He knocked on a heavy, iron-bound door.

The novitate monk who eventually opened it eyed him with a glance as jaded and suspicious as Guiseppe Aldo's. Telling Molina they were fresh out of alms for the day, he began to swing it shut.

Molina stuck his foot in the crack.  He appeared completely unmoved as the considerable momentum of the heavy door crunched to a loud halt on his instep. He quietly spoke a name. The novice reversed the door's ponderous progress and stared at Molina with new interest, awe, and not a little fear.

This vagrant, he realized belatedly, could bust his monkly chops in fewer seconds than the kind of loud and costly red Italian sports car that he had officially and forever forsaken lusting after, would need to demolish the speed limit on the autostrada.

The thought sank beneath his tonsure. He grinned a sick grin, bowed, scraped, tugged his short forelock, and fulsomely invited Molina into the monastery.

Molina smiled and accepted.


Two hours later, the Levantine was bathed, shaved and clad in a simple clean brown monk's habit. He was also smoking a very good Cuban cigar and sipping an exquisite Armagnac from a large snifter, all in the beatific company of Father Francesco, 95-year-old conscience and patriarch of the Guidonian Order.

Father Francesco always said Saint Guido of the Apennines approved of Armagnac and cigars. The fact that absolutely nobody in the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy seemed to know exactly who the hell Saint Guido of the Apennines was, apparently left Father Francesco unperturbed.

"I don't know why you don't come more often, Molina," he said, his voice resonating with the power of one half his age. "You could certainly stand the personal hygiene. Thirteen years is a long time."

Molina drew on his cigar, turning it to look at the even ash and savor the smoke before he exhaled. He admired the last light of the sunset as it poured through a Renaissance leaded-glass window that filled one wall. Then he took an unhurried swallow of brandy.

"Yes," he said. "But there's much to keep me occupied out there, Francesco. Milo's given me the slip more than a few times. He's suspicious of me, which is as it should be" - Molina paused to smile his gap-fanged smile - "I don't want him knowing I represent your, uh, clients on a contract basis. But I've had to come very close once because he absolutely needed forceful persuasion. Any more than what I've done could tip your hand."

Father Francesco nodded.

"Milo doesn't trust in anything good anymore. He doesn't trust anything, really.  We can't let him know that something good is on his side, and more actively involved than he thinks. He's already poured enough chemicals through his brain to turn any normal person into a vegetable. He finds out about this, he'd freak totally."

The colloquialism slipped off his tongue glibly. Father Francesco was 95, but he stayed current. He had to. He was more powerful than the Pope, although the Pope didn't know it. And wouldn't, if Francesco had anything at all to say about it.

"So what do you need, Molina?" Francesco said. "You didn't come back here for a bath and a cigar." 

Molina smiled briefly at Francesco. They'd known each other a long time, and the joke was an old one.

"No," he said. "I gotta talk to the angels."

Francesco blew a thoughtful smoke ring, consider­ing. 

"Okay. Maybe it's time. We haven't disturbed them in decades, since they first told us about The Plan, but Pavlov's unpredictability is coming close to forcing their cards. Jesus, the makeshift tools we end up having to use on some of these cosmic plumbing jobs. . . "

The old priest shook his head wearily, for a moment looking every one of his 95 cheerfully misspent years.

"I know everything's ordained in its own time, but when you end up with a deck full of jokers like we've got this time. . . Lime jello, lust, Lenore and a laundry van in central America. The entire American military-industrial complex. And their batshit-crazy political masters. Sometimes I wonder what the divinities let themselves in for, here. I've never had serious cause to question them before, but this time, I find myself rather hoping that they know what the hell they're doing..."

Molina nodded, somehow managing to appear simultaneously sybaritic, businesslike, spring-fresh and Levan­tine-greasy. It was a talent.

Then Francesco seemed to tap an internal fountain of youth. He roused himself, stood, opened a concealed door in the ancient and rich paneling behind his desk and beckoned. Together the unlikely pair climbed the 106 worn stone steps to the top of the bell tower, up beneath the ancient slate acorn roof where angels dwelt.