Wherein Fr. Z meets Tracer Bullet, Private Eye

tracer bullet calvin hobbes 01I’ve been busy with the Challenge Coin project.  More have gone out to friends and donors, two yesterday, a couple more today.

It’s been awhile since we heard about the doings of Tracer Bullet, Private Eye.  I think the last update was HERE.  Our frequent commentator “Semper Gumby” posts on Tracer from time to time.

Come to think of it, SG also opined about the design of my challenge coin:

But I’m still partial to a coin with Fr. Z in Braveheart blueface, biretta, night vision goggles, and aspergillum. Ah well.

Well, SG isn’t the only one with word from Tracer, sent by Father Z to investigate the The Mysterious Case of the Hallow’s Missing Maniple.

Here’s my account, which I quickly typed out on my old Underwood.


The smell of stale beer and cigar smoke mixed in the dark low-ceilinged bar like a trench filled with poison gas. The slowly drifting fumes drifted languidly to the tune from the jukebox. Maybe it was his imagination, but to him the dust motes hanging in the flickers of the dying neon sign over the bottles by the dull cracked mirror spelt something. “Danger… danger….”

“Stubby” described both the bartender’s height and his face. He paced the length, seeing to refills and watching for trouble.

“What’ll it be, Faddah? The usual?”

The trial-worn priest sloughed of his rain dampened greca and romano, hanging them on the rack that stood like a sentinel near the door. Cocking his head he listened for a moment to the tune on the jukebox. It was like the stars were lining up.

“Not tonight, Stubs. I’ll have that one you made the other day for… well, you know who.”

The barkeep went very still and, after a few breaths, said quietly, just audible over the moaning blues.

“Yah, sure ‘ting, Faddah. One of doz’ … doz’ Inky Montanas. Right?”

“That’s right, Stubs, one of those ‘Inky Montanas’.”

Stubby turned to his potions, but his sad eyes fixed on the priest a beat too long.

A couple minutes passed before he neared the cleric’s place again, alone at the middle of the brass-railed bar, shining with the neon and the low-watt bulbs.   He set the drink down.

“Jus’ like da…”.

There was a sudden change in the air.  The barkeep froze, eyes widening as he peered beyond the cleric toward the door.

The priest’s old, sharply-honed senses tightened around him like the grip of an angry Swedish masseuse as the figure entered from the rain swept, street-light glittering darkness.  He had the newcomer in the mirror.  In the reflections off the cash register. Finally in Stubby’s horn-rimmed glasses. The smell of old wet trenchcoat and spent gunpowder all preceded him with the squeak of leather soles before the man sat heavily on the stool beside the priest, still dripping fedora pulled forward.

Beat… beat… beat…

“Tracer”, the ecclesiastic nodded.

“Z”, he returned, a little too informally.

The jukebox started to ratchet in a new tune.  The priest didn’t move.

The private eye took off his hat. But as he set it down, his grip loosened an instant too soon. It dropped, spilling the priest’s untouched drink, which bled out over the flat surface finding his folded copy of the The Wanderer.

“Sorry, Z”, he mumbled, little too nonchalantly, tense.

Beat… beat… beat…

“Tracer?”, the priest said quietly.

There was a pause.

The long smoky room slowly quieted but for the sound of the neon buzz and “How Long, How Long”.

Heard the whistle blowin’, couldn’t see no train
Way down in my heart, I had an achin’ pain
How long, how long, baby how long

“My drink is no longer in my glass, Tracer.”

The Private Dick licked his lips and slowly stood back up.



“My drink.”

The bartender stirred into action. “No problem, Faddah, I’ll jus…”

With the slightest raise of the cleric’s hand from the counter top, he stopped.

“There’s time for that in a moment, Stubs.”

Tracer Bullet stood by the bar stool in the haze of the long, dark smoky-laden watering hole, hands hanging at his side.

Father Z rose, cassock falling into place, hands at his sides.


“Yes, Z.”

Beat… beat… beat….

“My name is Father. You killed my Inigo Montoya. Prepare to die.”

Beat… beat… beat….

The house erupted in howls of mirth and everyone jolted back into motion.

“So, how do we settled this… little problem?, he said, “The usual way?”

Tracer’s shoulder visibly relaxed.

“Yes, Father.”

After a second’s pause, eyes locked, their hands flew to their pockets at the same moment. The black-clad divine filled his hand with smooth cold metal and drew, shooting his arm toward his opponent. Tracer was still fumbling, checking one pocket after another… trousers, jacket, trench coat.


The worn challenge coin glinted in the priest’s palm with the flickers of the dying neon sign by the cracked mirror.

“Tracer, you don’t have your coin.”

“No, Father.”

“You know what that means, right?”

“Yes, Father.”

“Stubbs! Set ’em up. Tonight the drinks are on our friend Mr. Bullet, here.”

Cheers went up from the shadowy length of the caliginous bar and someone by the jukebox punched up the Stevie Ray.
“So,” Father Z said reclaiming his barstool, “I take it that you saw my old friends at MI-6.  What did you find out in London?  Tell me everything, omitting nothing….”

The priest twisted his head sidelong and looked at the weary detective like a black cobra at mongoose having really bad day.

“If you do… I’ll know.”

The detective extracted a holy card from the breast pocket of his sharp-lapelled pinstripe and placed it on the counter which the hovering Stubby had just wiped down.

“Southworth”, said the priest, without moving his eyes from the investigator’s worn face.

“Southworth”, he replied.  “And Moneypence sends her regards.”

The silent bespectacled bartender, nodded with a distant smile and went to clear some tables.

“Okay, Tracer, get to it or I’ll start on you with the Maledictory Psalms.”

“Okay, padre, keep your fascia on.  It’s like this….


For those of you who don’t know… there is a cocktail called an “Inigo Montoya”, a movie character who utters a famous phrase echoed in the account above.  The drink is quite similar to the Moscow Mule, which is growing in popularity, though it substitutes the vodka with tequilla.  The ginger beer and lime remain, obviously, though a dash of cardamon is added.

Something to lighten up a Friday.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in ¡Hagan lío!, Lighter fare and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Gerhard says:

    “… It wasn’t there,” continued the sleuth. He looked the priest straight in the eyes, and paused. Father Z did not rise to the bait. “Drawn, hung and quartered, he were. Then they put him back together again…” Stubbs slid a glass of Tracer’s favourite Danziger Goldwasser in front of him. He lifted it, tapped it with his fore-finger. “…then covered his face and hands in gold-leaf before vesting him. As if for Mass.”
    “Wrong,” said Father Z. “Not as if.”
    “Waddya mean, not as if? There he lies, sleeping the sleep of the just, in his glass case on the left there in Westminster Cathedral…”
    Stubbs revealed a sudden flash of spirituality. He muttered softly in his native Irish brogue, “How dya know his isn’t singing Mass in Heaven for you an me?”
    “But without a maniple?” ventured Tracer.
    “Hold it right there!” interjected Father Z. The bare light bulbs flickered through the smoke as the power struggled to keep going, and then plunged into darkness.

  2. MWindsor says:

    Ok, so I gotta ask…

    How would you say, “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die”

    In Latin.

  3. Kathleen10 says:

    Well done, Chapter One and Chapter Two!
    What a great film, so many quotable lines. I never knew there was a drink with that name.

  4. Semper Gumby says:

    Gerhard: Ok, I’m intrigued. What happens after lights out? Zombies? Maybe Dean Martin staggers out of the shadows with a grin and a martini?

    Masked Chicken: I’ve been falling behind on WDTPRS reading with this work travel, but recently saw your Hercule Poirot “ad Orientem Express” tale from a few weeks ago. Excellent.

    (If I could add what started this 1930s detective stuff: acardnal, and another commenter who was curious about restaurants on a Fr. Z-in-New York City post last year and of course Calvin & Hobbes.)

    Fr. Z: Great story. Nothin’ beats an Underwood typewriter, a bare light bulb, a bottle of gin, and an open window through which the occasional siren, the sound of breaking glass, and the barks of an outraged dog intrudes.


    New York City, November 1937, Ralph’s Bar&Grill near the docks.

    Outside the bar an early evening rain fell, not enough to clean the streets, just enough to irritate the stray cats. The bar was a homely joint, with photos of ballplayers on the walls and the occasional dockworker on the floor. Ralph kept a baseball bat behind the bar, as many of his patrons divided their time between the docks and prison.

    At the bar Fr. Z set down his drink. “So, it was a crooked employee at the British Museum, art smugglers, and a Nazi spy ring laundering money.”

    Tracer nodded. “And their cut-out was an occult shop run by Commie sympathizers. With a cut-out the crooks and Nazis never had to meet face-to-face. Lowers the drama.”

    Fr. Z frowned. “One thing I still don’t get. How many sets of holy cards were floating around?”

    “Several. They used altered Southworth cards for secret communications. Then the occultists got cute. Thought they’d monkey with yet another set of cards, open a line to the Commies at their London Embassy, skim the take from the crooks and Nazis, and send the booty to Stalin. Then Fr. Hunwicke noticed something fishy with the Cathedral’s holy cards, had a chin wag with Admiral Sinclair at MI-6, and that’s all she wrote.”

    Tracer waved over Stubbs. “How about some dinner?”

    “You want the fifty-cent meal or the sixty-cent?”

    “Fifty-cent. I’m not on the job.”

    Fr. Z searched his pockets for a cigar. Tracer lit a Lucky Strike. The jukebox wrapped up Benny Goodman and kicked off some Duke Ellington.

    “So,” Fr. Z observed, “their downfall was the hocus-pocus people.” He chuckled. “Chalk one up for St. Michael.”

    “You bet. And for that MI-6 analyst Jean Austen,” Tracer added. “Sharp as a tack.”

    Fr. Z looked at Tracer mischievously. “I wouldn’t mind a cruise across the Atlantic for a wedding.”

    Tracer grinned at the priest and thought, I can play this game too. “Well, she informed me I was a troglodyte, and that belching politely was the extent of my manners.”

    Fr. Z eyed Tracer, that might have actually happened. “What did you say to that?”

    “I told her, ‘Two wrongs don’t make a right Miss Austen, your parents for example.'”

    Fr. Z laughed and slowly shook his head. “Tracer, you’re a regular Thomas Aquinas.”

    “Was he a jokeman on vaudeville? Never heard of him. Actually Father, I told her, ‘You and I are going to get along just fine.’ And we did. That Oxford professor guy, Tolkien, he was alright too. Helped crack whatever Old German was encoded on those cards. Bit of a funny feller about languages. Tried to teach me how to smoke a pipe. I like my Lucky Strikes. Travelled to London with six cartons. But that Tolkien guy, he just wrote a book about little people with hairy feet.”

    “The Hobbit.”

    “That’s it.” Tracer drained his glass. “Anyway, it seems from that London caper that the Nazis and Commies are in cahoots sometimes.”

    Fr. Z nodded thoughtfully. “Those socialists are alot alike, filled with sourness and bad ideas. I think we’re going to find out soon just how bad those ideas are.”

    Tracer stared at the bottom of his glass as if he were reading sheep entrails. “I think so too.”

    Fr. Z reached for the bottle of bourbon. In the corner of the bar Duke Ellington was giving the Wurlitzer jukebox a workout. Tracer looked hopefully at the door to the kitchen. No sign of activity yet.

    “Hey Father.”

    “Yes Tracer.”

    Tracer looked at the priest and grinned. “You owe me three packs of Lucky Strikes.*

    *Fr. Z: See my comment to your Jan. 18 post “The Maltese Fiasco – The Movie?” Bazinga!

    [Ah, yes… Lucky Strikes. “It’s toasted!” And so is Tracer half the time. The Lucky Strikes were still in the green packs back then. Ah, yes. I remember them well. Here ya go.]


  5. jskelley says:

    While we’re speaking of detectives, Father, I wonder your thoughts on the BBC’s adaptation of Chesterton’s Father Brown.

  6. Gerhard says:

    Semper Gumby – my “lights out” was meant to be an “over to you, Father”, but since you ask…

    “The silence of the dark was broken, far off, by the barking of a dog. Closer, the siren of a beaten out cop-car cut loose and wailed up the street. Closer still, suddenly, came the rinkling of falling window glass. Tracer heard a low click and the almost inaudible sound of a metal object being placed on the table between him and Father Z. He dug into his breast pocket and flipped open a gasoline lighter. There were only the drinks on the table, the Southworth card, and Father Z’s biretta. He lifted it between his thumb and forefinger, to reveal Father Z’s concealed carry 9mm Beretta, and dropped it back.

    The other patrons were all as frozen.

    A couple of broken-nosed thugs paused over their card game. Then, without warning, the power came back on and the juke-box slurred back into life.

    Tracer strode over to the thugs, bent down and shuffled their cards mid-game by stirring the pile with a sweep of his hand.

    “Wadya mean?! began one of them, rising.

    “Siddown!” replied Tracer, shoving him back into his place. He returned to Father Z.

    He dug into his other breast pocket and pulled out a wad of paper scraps. He slapped one after the other down. A single word or phrase was scrawled on each: “Cathedral rector sworn to silence”, “Hostile Archbishop”, “Gay Mass”, “Reparation”, “Summorum Pontificum”, “EF”, “Ad orientem”, “Glass case”, “No time”, “Who was the Third Priest?”, “Paris to Chartres Walk”, “At your word, Lord”, “male liturgical dancers in tights”, “Wembley Arena”, “Spanish Place”, “Farm Street”, “Opinel pocket knife”, “the date on the card”, “maniple re-appeared”, “why????”. Lastly he tossed a blank slip of paper onto the growing pile.

    Tracer shuffled the slips brusquely the same way he had done with the cards. “Figure out the permutations….”

    Father Z pulled the safety back into place on his weapon and buried it in his cassock. “I have the beginnings of a theory,” he ventured.

    “Not so fast,” riposted Tracer. “There’s a good young priest in danger – of being laicized. He needs help. There’s no time to lose…”

  7. The Masked Chicken says:

    We should have a team-up: Tracer Bullet meets Hercules Poirot. I have an excellent title:

    Cross Purposes

    The Chicken

  8. Semper Gumby says:

    Masked Chicken: Sterling idea. “Cross Purposes.” I see what you did there, nice.

    Fr. Z: A telegram from Tracer Bullet. “Thanks for the Lucky Strikes Stop Next time how about a case of Coca-Cola and a box of those new-fangled Twinkies Stop”

  9. The Masked Chicken says:

    I would so like to create a Tracer Bullet computer game. I have written several for my students and I started a Catholic-themed game called, Novus Ordo.

    To see what i mean, it would be similar to this one, which someone else created and may be played, online (it is really good):


    The Chicken

  10. Semper Gumby says:

    Another possibility is a Catholic-themed online game set in the Middle Ages. Nothing too difficult, just something with a little adventure that also introduces Catholic themes (and apologetics and TLM as the game rolls along).

    The player would be a pilgrim in, say, France, and on the trail to Italy or Spain. Stops along the way could be Cluny or Tours. The player would encounter: churches in the Romanesque and Gothic style; monks and friars; Franciscans and Dominicans (maybe a basic debate between the two). Just for the player’s familiarization with the Church.

    A little adventure can be thrown in from bandits to Muslim raiding parties (I know, little chance of that being approved by some game company. But the goal would not be to engage in combat but to avoid these brigands, warn the locals who provide the traveller with a sack of chow, and then back to the pilgrim trail.) Perhaps travelling merchants and fairs can provide some basic economic lessons.

    Then there are the little details for apologetics and evangelization. Bibles chained at the church so the public can read them when they wished. Spending a night at a monastery introduces the player to Matins, Vespers, and chant (click on sound file). Hospitals run by Orders. Universities and the Trivium and Quadrivium. Not to bludgeon a young player with info, just to introduce the basic concepts and terminology.

    Of course there is the TLM, a Marian procession, Eucharistic adoration, and works of art by painters and sculptors that can be worked in. Perhaps the player meets a travelling merchant who asks for the player’s help and who is carrying (for penance?) some priestly vestments (what kind? what color? what is a biretta?) to Chartres.

    Anyway, this is a half-baked idea. Combine a little adventure with a little apologetics and some basic TLM info. And a little history such as “Charlemagne slept here.”

    Okay, and a Monty Python moment such as the traveller late in the game having to solve some riddles based on what they saw earlier- in order to cross a bridge.

  11. The Masked Chicken says:

    A game something like this is famous in the Interactive Fiction Community. It is called, Vespers, by Jason Devlin. It won awards in 2005. It can be found, here:


    One can play it, online (click on the blue box in the upper right top). It is dark, being set during The Plague.

    How about something like the Canterbury Tales, where the players tell stories on the way during a pilgrimage? It could be called, The Crusaids.

    The Chicken

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