the roundup of the heretics seemed almost complete, and their last despairing cries faded behind pope innocent xliv and his friends as they approached the restaurant.
pope sixtus xiii noticed a football lying in the gutter, and he and pope anastasius ix began kicking it back and forth.
the football made no sound as they thumped it.
their childish antics brought smiles to the faces of pope innocent xliv and the abbess heloise as they proceeded.
"the ball is not a damned soul, at any rate," observed sixtus. "it makes no sound."
"true." agreed anastasius as be bounced the ball off the brick wall they were passing.
"ah." caravaggio interrupted, "but notice that it makes no sound at all - not even the usual sound of a ball being kicked. but you two geezers are too hearing impaired to notice."
"true," added bruni the reporter. "i deduce from this that is the soul of the nestorian hermit patrick of memphis, who at his trial in absentia for heresy appeared in the form of a purple dove and declared a vow of absolute silence until nestorianism triumphed in heaven and earth."
"and i," responded caravaggio, "deduce that it is the soul of prester james, the brother of prester john, who pretended to be mute in order to infiltrate the ranks of the qizilbash bodyguard of the emperor babur and convert him to the true path. he succeeded in the first part of this endeavor but one day at the emperor's lavish pagan court, on hearing the poet ali-sher navai declaim his verses, was so overcome by their beauty that he exclaimed out loud, and in the latin tongue. on thus being discovered, he was seized by the qizilbash and was about to be subjected to the most hideous tortures when he prayed to st constancia , virgin and martyr, to save him. she obliged by changing him into a red and white striped bat, so that he flew away and escaped his captors. but as punishment for admiring the verses of the unbeliever, she condemned him to retain this form and fly in it through heaven and earth until judgment day. therefore it is obvious that this football is the soul of prester james, and not the hermit patrick of memphis."
pope anastasius laughed. "we have a couple of dueling theologians here, brother," he cried to pope sixtus as they continued to kick the ball back and forth. "we can truly retire now, with such as these to carry on the good work."
pope innocent had smiled tolerantly at the painter's account. "well, caravaggio, if prester james pretended to be mute, how was he to convert the emperor babur?"
"what a question! why, through the power of art, of course. the gardens of the emperor had a clear pool in their center surrounded by golden sands. prester james, when attending the emperor, would attempt to amuse and instruct him by drawing pictures in the sands with a stick given to him by st bartholomew after he had converted a tribe of uzbeks on his way through the steppes. on the morning of his exposure and arrest, he had drawn a picture of the prophet isaiah appearing to the princess salome on the balcony of herod's palace during a violent thunderstorm - "
"he must have been quite an artist." observed pope anastasius, "to draw a thunderstorm in the sand."
"indeed he was! but the prophet calmed the storm and that made the artist's task easier."
as they were walking and talking, applesauce and rango were counting the heretics they were loading into their wagon.
"one short of our quota," applesauce announced.
"you shouldn't have let that pope have that one," rango responded.
"you are right - i was pretty weak there ." she looked back down the alleys. "we can still catch them. come on!"
they jumped into the cab of the wagon. applesauce started it up.
"i have a question," the abbess heloise said to caravaggio. "if prester james was condemned by st constancia to retain the form of the red and white striped bat until judgment day, how then can his soul be in the football?"
"why," answered caravaggio, "obviously, because judgment day has come and gone."
"what!!! but that is the most abominable heresy imaginable!" she turned to pope innocent. "holy father, your friend here is spouting blatant postmilleniumism!"
at this, even the angels jegudiel and barachiel, who had been floating peacefully above the others and taking little part in the conversations, dropped down to listen.
the good-natured smiles had disappeared from the faces of popes anastasius and sixtus. pope innocent, usually the most loquacious of men, seemed too stunned to speak.
bruni the reporter broke the silence. "we shall have to have a trial for heresy - immediately."
"can't we eat first?" asked caravaggio. "i'm hungry. besides, where are you going to have the trial?" he looked around at the run down and abandoned buildings. "we can have it in the restaurant - after we eat."
"postmilleniumism is no joke, young man," the abbess answered angrily. "we will have the trial right here in the street if necessary. i, for one, might work up a good appetite denouncing your hateful dogma."
pope innocent finally recovered enough to speak. "caravaggio, where did you ever pick up such an idea? who have you been spending time with, the wandering judas?"
"no. i got it from my own experience, from an encounter i had when i was painting "the conversion of st john the cossack at the battle of baku" for pope celestine iii - or maybe it was for the king of sweden, i will tell you all about it. but can't we please eat first?"
suddenly a light burst on them and the police wagon came around the corner and stopped. applesauce and rango got out and approached them.
applesauce spoke. "sorry, folks, we've changed our minds. we need this heretic and we need him now. no ifs, ands , or buts."
"you can't have him," said the abbess. "we need him - to )try him for heresy ."
"what?" rango the robot spoke. 'but that's perfect - we are agreed, he is a heretic. we take him, and everybody is happy."
the archangel jegudiel swooped lower and spoke. "you can not have him - he is ours."
"oh really?" applesauce answered. "can i have your number, fellow?"
"i don't have a number, i am an archangel.'
"oh excuse me!!' applesauce waved her arms theatrically. "excuse meee! i didn't realize! i didn't realize i was speaking to an archangel! oh!! what was i thinking?"
larry was nodding in his chair.
"i see i am losing you, young man" said mrs nelson. "would you like another cup."
"no thank you. we haven't come to the good part yet?"
"not even close, i'm afraid,"
"i have to get going. people are going to wonder where i am."
"don't they know? but go ahead." mrs nelson sighed. "you are a nice young man, but i see you don't know how to appreciate the details of a good story."