"pope innocent xliv was always a perfect gentleman," mrs nelson declared as she poured larry his third cup of tea. "not like some of these stuck up little monsignors who think they are the second coming of st stephen."
larry nodded politely. "and he had some particular views on the seven deadly sins? something that could shed some light on the case?"
"well, it wasn't so much a particular view, as a very strange story he told some of us - some of his favorites if i may so, after one of the regular sessions at st bibiana's."
larry took a sip of tea. "go ahead."
"well. it seems that pope innocent had just completed his term on the chair of st peter and was on his way to celebrate at a restaurant with some of his friends, namely his predecessors sixtus xiii and anastasius ix, the archangels jegudiel and barachiel, the abbess heloise, and marco bruni, a reporter for the gazette. the streets to the restaurant, which specialized in spicy artichoke and avocado dishes, were usually dark and deserted but on this night were alive with lights and frantic activity. the last act of pope innocent xliv's term had been the negotiation - handled with masterful delicacy - and in the teeth of a great deal of stormy opposition - of the church's placement on the redeemable religions list. as part of the negotiations the pope had turned over the secret files on heretics, and the streets were now filled with blue-uniformed fear and hatred police, many of them robots, flushing out and rounding up bands of arians, cathars, monophysites and other sects. some accepted their fate peacefully - others, not so peacefully.
a scrawny little fellow with his face covered by a big floppy straw hat rushed out of an alley, closely pursued by a large blue robot.
"holy father, holy father!" the little man rushed up to pope innocent. "help me! this ignorant mechanism thinks i am a heretic!"
"ah caravaggio! have no fear, i will take care of this" the pope turned to the robot who had come up to them. "there seems to be a misunderstanding, officer. this man is no heretic, he is an artist, one of the seven artists, along with bellini raphael leonardo buonarotti titian and some other, under the special protection of st peter."
"and is st peter here to protect him?" , answered the robot. as he approached closer under the streetlight pope innocent saw that the robot's blue casing was covered with decals expressing contempt for any and all religions. "away with ammon-ra and alexander", "bonks to baal and buddha", "endgame for elvis", "noogies for nostradamus," "zonks for zeus and zoroaster", were a few that caught his eye.
"and you, do you think to fool me? " continued the robot. "i know you, you are not even pope any more. do you know who you are dealing with? i am rango, the sworn enemy of all superstition. let me tell you, i have nothing but contempt for your cynical betrayal of your fellow dwellers in darkness. "
"that is all very well. officer.' the pontiff replied mildly. " but i am sure the new pope would insist on his negotiated prerogatives to protect one of the seven artists. also, i mean no disrespect but i see from your insignia that you are an ordinary patrolman. perhaps i could discuss this matter with a sergeant or lieutenant.'"
"ah," said the robot. "you enemies of progress have ever smooth tongues. if i had my way - " he shook his head.
"excuse me, officer, but you do not have your way. as little as you may think of it, the agreement that was reached is still in force the last i heard -"
"what's going on here, rango?" a round little blond woman with rosy cheeks and a sergeant's stripes on the sleeve of her blue uniform approached. she took the little group in with a glance.
"i was arresting this fellow, sergeant. he was in the doorway of a building identified - in the papal documents - as a monophysite hangout. and would you believe it, the master informer himself here is taking umbrage and trying to prevent me from doing my job."
"ah," smile the pope."in the doorway, indeed. i think we have resolved the question, sergeant."
the sergeant looked up at the pope from under the bill of her cap. "i see that you complete the unholy trinity, signore. for in addition to being a preacher and a politician, you are also a lawyer." she nodded to the robot. "let the little man go, rango."
pope innocent bowed slightly. "thank you, sergeant."
"for the record, rango's number is 91R-876h4-6429yr-559e34. you know his name. my number is 98H-321jy6-794grd-974439. my colleagues call me applesauce. you don't want to take this down?"
the pope waved this away with a princely gesture.
'very good, i offered. and recorded the offer."
"thank you, sergeant applesauce. your gesture is appreciated. would you like my number?
"i already know it. a word of advice, signore ex-pope. rango was not the person to antagonize. he is a comer in the department, and perhaps in the universe. his day is dawning, and yours - " she looked around the dark twisted streets in mock astonishment. "why, yours looks a little dim." with that, the sergeant and the robot departed.
the little party continued on their way to the restaurant, with caravaggio now in tow.
"good heavens, caravaggio, can't you stay out of mischief even when the police are on a rampage?"
'i was sleeping in a doorway, padre. what would you have? i was going to sleep under the stairs of heaven when bumpy bobo and giggly george, not one bit two of the seven ragamuffins -"
"wait, wait." larry interrupted mrs nelson. "the seven ragamuffins? besides the seven sins and the seven archangels and the seven sisters and the seven artists now we have the seven ragamuffins? do they have special protection too?"
"why, no. they are just the seven ragamuffins - bobo, lobo, hobo, mojo, jojo, ricky and george. "
larry looked down at his teacup. "and that was the story? that the pope and his pals had a run in with some police?'
"of course not, dear. i haven't even got to the good part - the strange thing that happened to them later that night. would you like some more tea?"
"yes, thank you very much." larry looked up at the old-fashioned clock on the wall.
it was one minute to midnight.