I started to ask for a third cup of coffee but heard myself ordering a scotch instead.
The Cardinal was dressed, not in his usual combination of black on black but in what was, a day or two ago, a respectable suit--gray with a blood-red shirt with a roman collar (I doubt if anyone younger than I am even knows that this is prohibited attire in the Park, much less why). He was unshaven and rumpled but he had a little gleam in his eye that started warning lights blinking in my head.
"Sorry I'm late. This time it's not my fault. I just now made bail. I spent the night as a guest of the Rangers. They claim to have evidence that I received a shipment of arms from a distributor of mannequin parts in a competing Park. Of course the charges are ludicrous."
After His Eminence had seated himself and motioned to the barkeep for two more of what I was drinking I asked him what was so dammed important that it required vandalizing my front door.
"Ah, well, that," he said. "Yesterday it was a matter of the utmost urgency. But that was yesterday. Today the situation has changed completely: power struggles in upper management, rumors of forced restructuring, scorched-earth take-overs, yet another re-engineering of the social contract. Yesterday's sure-thing fades as quickly as that dirty dream that woke you in a sweat last night but now you can barely remember."
The waitron brought two glasses whose bottoms were barely covered by a too-yellow liquid that might have passed for scotch if scotch was something you had only read about but never actually met face to face. To my complete and utter astonishment the Cardinal paid for the drinks. "And today?" I asked, willing to feed him straight lines so long as His Eminence was willing to buy the drinks, paltry as they were.
"Today..." he said and then paused to close his eyes and mutter some curse or blessing before swallowing the meager contents of his glass. "Today all bets are off. Alliances have shifted. The balance of ungoverned power has been replaced by the oscillator of random and arbitrary tyranny." He glanced over his shoulder and leaned in conspiratorially before dropping his voice. "It's the real thing this time, my friend. I shit you not."