Glad, Tidings, Comfort and Joy – the theological detective agency – was quiet. Interest in paranormal, supernatural and doctrinal investigations had definitely flagged. These days people simply carried on with their lives failing to notice any but the weirdest weird stuff. Even angels found it easy to wander round in broad daylight, which is like ordinary daylight only wider.
There was a strange noise from the hall. Rich jumped up from his desk. He shouldn't have been standing on his desk so it was just as well. The sound was a gentle splatt with a bit of a whoosh as a side. He didn't recognise it at all.
Arriving in the firm's small hallway he saw a letter on the doormat. It had been a long time. He opened it in a trice. The trice didn't suit him. He put his suit back on.
'Dear Mr Godspell,' said the writer, 'the BBC is doing a nativity thing and the way they're telling it you'd think they thought it was history. The story isn't true is it?' From Annie.
Rich sat down. He'd dealt with this one many times before. It was the old problem of not understanding there are different sorts of truth. Not all truth is history. He had a form-letter response but frankly he couldn't bill more than half an hour's work for that so he decided to do something different. He waited until night fell, picked it up again, dusted it down and followed a star.
Four hours later Robbie Williams turned round in the street. 'Oy you' he said to Rich. 'Why are you following me?'
Rich explained that he was involved in a serious piece of theological detection. Robbie suggested he try loving angels instead.
'Brilliant' said Rich, fully aware that the ultimate inter-connectedness of all things, as taught by his mentor Dirk Gently, did not require him to do anything specific in order to solve his case. He offered Robbie profuse thanks which earned him a punch in the face as ignorance of the language can often lead to misunderstanding if you try to be a smart-arse and use unusual words when common ones will do. Ordinary thanks would have done fine. Discombobulated he forward-progressed towards the public transport utilisation facility.
'Follow that incomplete lead,' he barked to the driver, who ignored him since he was a bus driver and buses don't do that sort of thing. Rich handed over £4.75 as then requested and sat down to have a bit of a ponder.
Arriving home some hours later, sustained by the wholegrain ponder he had consumed, and after waking up in the bus garage and catching another, Rich headed for Tescos to buy some milk and groceries. He wandered through the trolleypark where the bobble-hatted, high-visibility jacketed collector was having a fag break.
'Excuse me,' he asked, 'You couldn't be an angel could you?' Rich was simply wanting help with a dodgy basket but the young man did happen to be an angel. Who knew? He offered his last cigarette. Rich took it and accepted a light, entirely forgetting in the presence of such holiness, that he had given up smoking some months earlier.
'You look troubled,' said the angel, whose name was Bob, 'Don't be afraid.'
'What makes you think I was afraid?' Rich asked.
'Sorry mate,' said Bob, 'Force of habit.' He gave a look of such comforting strangeness that Rich entirely forgot everything that had ever bothered him ever. It was nice. 'What you doing then?' Bob asked.
For some reason he didn't say 'getting some milk' and Rich shared that he was trying to find a long-winded way of explaining the simple fact that the Christmas story isn't exactly and precisely history. Angels can make you speak the whole truth. Or not speak at all. Some people take their shoes off they're so confused by goodness. 'What do you reckon Bob?'
Bob spent a long time thinking, as if he was collecting together all the disparate pieces of a long-lost answer from the whole of time and space. Which, strangely, was what he was doing but it only took a moment of Rich's time.
'I never worked out how he done it' said Bob, 'but sometimes stories is the best we got so we tell 'em and let other people worry about what sort of truth they are.'
'How who done what?' asked Rich.
'I'd tell the girl that the story is true and leave it at that. Don't want to cause trouble.' He gave Rich a look which contained such merciless implied threat that Rich knew causing trouble would be a bad thing. It also made him miss the lack of an answer to his question.
'How come you work on the trolleys at Tescos if you're so wise,' asked Rich.
'I like it. It's outdoor work. It's not complicated. You get to notice cars that are wrongly parked in the disabled spaces and can leave trolleys behind them. From time to time you can help people solve the deep mysteries of the universe like where they left their car or who buys muesli bars. Forget it.'
It sounded like a passing remark but it was actually a deeply hypnotic command. Rich forgot it, went home with his milk and sent Annie a postcard saying it was true. He charged no fee.
Some stories are so deep they are truer than history.
Do watch out for angels. They may be stacking trolleys in your local supermarket. Why not put yours away more tidily next time? They'll appreciate it anyway, however holy they are.
If you have further cases for Rich Gospel to investigate, contact him via the comment box. If you have not heard of him before then his previous adventure is here.