by Marcus L. Rowland
"I still don't understand why anyone would be demented enough to want us to be their child's godfather," said Patricia Holm, easily keeping up with Simon Templar as he strode through the streets of Soho one Saturday morning. "Neither of us even remembered to get a gift!"
Simon smiled at the willowy blonde and said "Search me, old thing, but Jerry was pretty insistent, and we don't want to let the old boy down. We've got a couple of hours to sort something out, and I'm pretty sure I saw a bookshop around here somewhere."
"There are dozens of bookshops in Soho, darling, but I'm not sure they sell the sort of book you'd want to give to a baby."
"This one was different... and there it is." He gestured across the road, where a small bookshop with peeling paint was wedged between a pub and a shop selling plumbing supplies. Faded gilt letters on the glass read 'A. Z. Fell. Antiquarian Books.'
"It looks a bit... dingy," said Patricia.
"I suppose so," said Simon, "but I looked through the window the other day, the place is stuffed with antique bibles."
Since he regarded his shop mainly as a convenient place to keep his collection of variant bibles and books of prophecy, and only reluctantly parted with any of the stock, Aziraphale always did as much as he could to deter customers. The shop smelled slightly of mould and old paper, although he naturally ensured that the books were actually in perfect condition. Opening hours were to say the least eccentric; for example, he rarely saw anyone on Saturday mornings because most collectors headed for Portobello Road market. When he heard the shop door jingle he was in the back room leafing through a near-fine copy of the suppressed Corsetry Bible, and adopted the time-honoured stratagem of pretending not to hear the bell and hoping that the customer would go away.
"There doesn't seem to be anyone around," said Patricia, "and there's a bit of a smell."
"Should I be looking for a body."
"Not that sort of smell, idiot."
"Hello?" Simon said loudly, "Anyone around?"
Aziraphale sighed, marked his place, and shuffled out into the main shop.
"Can I help you?" His voice implied that it seemed highly unlikely.
"We're after a bible, old thing," said Simon. "For a christening present."
"What sort of bible did you have in mind?" asked Aziraphale.
"Something nice," said Patricia. "An antique, something that he'll treasure when he's older."
"You would be the godparents, I assume?"
"That's right, old thing."
"Then surely you should attend to his religious instruction while he's still a child."
"We'll do that too, but we wanted to get something special for his christening. He won't be reading for a few years, you know."
"Well, I dare say I have something," said Aziraphale. "What sort of price did you have in mind?"
"Say thirty guineas?" said Simon.
Aziraphale sucked in a little air through his teeth, the noise somehow expressing a mixture of disapproval and sadness at Simon's meanness.
"We could go a little higher for something really good," said Patricia.
"Hmmmm...." said Aziraphale, steeling himself to the need to actually part with a book. "Just a moment..." He shuffled out of sight, and checked the shelf where he kept duplicate copies. Not one of the variants, not for a christening present. No need to send mixed messages. He thought for a moment and came back with two leather-bound volumes. "Either of these, perhaps." He pointed at the larger and more finely bound of the books. "This one's in English, from 1775, in excellent condition and inscribed as a gift to the Earl of Carnarvon. It was sold by an heir of the estate, and I have every reason to believe it authentic." He hefted the other volume and turned to the title page. "This is considerably older, and is inscribed as belonging to William Shakespeare. Unfortunately this edition was published from 1670 to 1693, more than fifty years after Shakespeare's death, and the book is the work of William Henry Ireland, the famous forger."
"The whole book?" asked Simon.
"The signature. It was one of a large number of Shakespearean documents he claimed to have found in 1797. The book itself is undoubtedly genuine, but there is a little evidence of bleaching where the original owner's name was removed. Should you purchase it, I would naturally be glad to send you an account of its provenance."
"What do you think, Pat?" asked Simon, "The genuine Earl or the fake Bard?"
"The Bard, of course," said Patricia. "You know it has to be. It's the perfect present."
"Of course it is. What's the damage?"
Aziraphale shrugged apologetically and said "Alas, the price is fifty guineas."
"Make it forty and you've got a deal."
"Oh dear..." Aziraphale sucked air through his teeth again. "I might manage forty-eight."
"Want to split the difference and call it forty-five?"
"Can you take a cheque?"
"Of course. Payable to A.Z. Fell please."
Aziraphale wrapped the book in brown paper while Simon wrote the cheque, and produced a receipt pad. "If I might have your name and address?"
Simon scribbled his details on the receipt, and Aziraphale looked at it. His eyebrows rose and he said "The Simon Templar?"
Simon waited for the inevitable continuation, 'The Saint?' often followed by 'The Robin Hood of modern crime?' Instead Aziraphale said "Author of The Pirate?"
"It's been a long time since I've heard that one," said Simon. In his early years of brigandry he had penned his sole effort at literature, an adventure novel which had sold reasonably well at station bookstalls, but received little critical acclaim. "Yes, that's me."
"Then if I might trouble you to wait one moment...." said Aziraphale, disappearing into the back again, and trying to remember... he snapped his fingers impatiently, and three pristine copies of The Pirate vanished from a shelf in the basement and appeared in his hand. He returned to the shop, and went on "...if I might trouble you for your autograph."
"I thought you only sold religious books," said Simon, signing the first copy.
"I do," said Aziraphale, "but sometimes other things come my way. I believe these were in a box labelled 'Saints' I acquired in a shop clearance before the war. I recall being a little disappointed, but of course..." He tapered off into slightly confused silence as Simon signed the second copy, while Patricia tried to avoid giggling.
"How much are you charging for them?" asked Simon, as he signed the last copy and blotted the ink.
"Well, usually two shillings."
"Tell you what, I'll have this one," said Simon, "I don't think I've got any spare copies left, we'll give it to the baby when he's a little older."
"Of course, sir," said Aziraphale, wrapping it efficiently and putting both books into a sturdy paper bag. "That will be two shillings and sixpence."
"But you just said two bob," said Simon.
"Alas, not for an autographed copy."
Simon grinned, added a few words to the signature in the second volume, and found a half crown to pay him.
Aziraphale took the money, and turned the book to read the dedication. "A book about a pirate, from one pirate to another ~ Simon Templar."
"My dear sir, if I've caused any offence..."
"No offence, old thing, I was just admiring your business practices. Now we really ought to be getting along to that christening." Simon took Patricia's arm with one hand and the books with the other, and led her out of the shop. Aziraphale could hear them laughing as they walked away and he re-read the dedication. Had he been uncharitable, or less than honest? There was only one... being... who would tell him honestly.
"...so he signed the book," said Aziraphale, throwing some bread to one of the St. James Park ducks, "and then I... I charged him an extra sixpence because it was signed."
"You conned the Saint out of sixpence?" said Anthony J. Crowley incredulously.
"Saint?" said Aziraphale. "You're saying he's a saint?"
"Widely known for it, old boy," Crowley said mischievously.
"That would explain the box," said Aziraphale. "Oh dear, what have I done? I shall have to... What sort of saint is he, anyway?"
"Militant," said Crowley, realising with a frisson of delight that he hadn't actually told any lies yet. "Well known for smiting the ungodly, so to speak, and for his generous gifts to charity." Crowley didn't mention that the gifts usually came from the pockets of the ungodly.
"Oh dear, oh deary me... Well, he obviously deserves a heavenly reward, of course, long life and so forth." Aziraphale clicked his fingers, passing a minor miracle. Several miles away, driving out of London, Simon's biological clock reset by a couple of decades. "That ought to help him do... his holy work." He looked around nervously, thinking of thunderbolts.
"Perhaps you ought to reward the young lady too, I understand she helps him sometimes."
"Right, thanks." Another click, another reset clock. "Thanks for your help," said Aziraphale, blissfully unaware of the chapter of mistakes.
"Tell you what," said Crowley, "I'll take one of those signed Templars off your hands, I could do with a good read."
"That would be a guinea."
"You were just saying half a crown!"
That was before I knew they were holy relics."
Crowley grinned and dug into his wallet. "We'll have you yet."
"Oh dear. Do you really think so?"
"It give me something to report to my masters," said Crowley, "and you can tell yours that you conned me into helping you perform a good deed. Everyone ought to be happy."
"Splendid. Meet you here the same time next week?"
"Count on it."
Several hundred miles away the current head of the Device family was reading through The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, and wondered if any of his ancestor's prophecies were about to come true. There was only one for 1947: "An' a Saint and Pyrate shalle be blessed of God, an' Heaven and Hell shalle rejoyce." No chance. He turned a few pages, and wondered what "Do Notte Buye Betamacks" would mean in 1972.
 8.45-11.45 AM
 An 1887 New Testament best known for a sixteen page illustrated article on ladies lingerie, originally intended for the Lady's Quarterly, which was accidentally bound into it in place of the Acts of the Apostles
 He wasn't worried about anything being stolen. Miraculously (and the term is used advisedly) nothing ever was.
 Yes, a half-crown really is two shillings and sixpence. A guinea is twenty-one shillings, a little more than a pound. You do NOT want to worry about pre-decimalization British currency. Your author is old enough to have actually had to use this stuff, and still has the mental scars.
 The demonic counterpart to Aziraphale, an angel who didn't so much fall as saunter downwards.
Author's Note: I wanted to find a way to account for the Saint's longevity, I'd already ruled out Highlander-style immortality in another story, and the Holy Grail and fountain of youth have been done to death in other fandoms. I hope that this solution will appeal.
Comments please before I post to archives