Episode Fourth Down, but not out!
The shivers of this November night had chilled more than a few to the bone. While Cardinal Gregory Zachmunn slept warmly at the Oblate General House and Father Stephen Navarro within the Holy See, Cardinal Macelli snored away in his wide bed, ordered special for his wide girth. A nearly empty bottle tilted precariously on the edge of his nightstand, as he lay there in a drunken stupor. His counterpart Cardinal Vendhem was deep in a sleep-like trance in his own quarters, comforted by the devil.
Meanwhile in the dark, damp, and dank dungeon-like climes of Castel Sant'Angelo, Riage Benziger huddled close to the weakened and unconscious Pope Clement XV as the Swiss Guard sought all means to draw body heat from each other for pure survival. He had wanted to go for help this night, but he was still too weak, too chilled to the bone to make the journey through the secret passage in Hadrian's Wall. It was his only outlet for all exits had been sealed off a year ago after terrorist threats closed down this medieval tourist attraction standing sentinel over the murky Tiber. And so he opted to stay with the dying Pontiff.
Across the Tiber in a more remote area of Rome in the upper room at Via di S. Basileos, two men were hovering over another. One standing on the corner would have thought an intense grilling was going on if one had viewed the silhouette figures through the pulled-down shades in the corner room above.
Dateline: Rome - Ogidi's apartment flat - November 4, 4:55 A.M.
"Will he be alright?" a concerned voice asked.
"He will live. He was very fortunate the blow was not higher."
Was he dreaming, Gallagher wondered? Who was talking? The voice sounded familiar, but -
"It is God's good fortune you were there and not afraid to act," the first voice intoned.
Pat could hear this exchange of terse conversation. He couldn't figure it out. He was lying in a dark world of pain and confusion. His brain wave patterns seemed to be short-circuited. Unless he was dead and this was...HELL!
Ridiculous thought. Hell for him would be forever the vision of Karel and the swinging death club. Now he was remembering. Nightmare? No, reality started to flood through him. He silently questioned his aching self. He couldn't locate the pain. It was everywhere but nowhere, and he didn't want to think. But his brain, acting independently of his body's wishes, worked. The gray cells were clicking and clanking, finally meshing into place. Soon he realized he couldn't be dead if he heard voices talking. The pain searing through him in such waves of agony alerted him he was still alive, but hurting. Definitely hurting.
Why couldn't he open his eyes? Better to face whatever awaited him, he thought grimly, light-headedly. At least he wasn't lying in that filthy street. His hands rested on something smooth...soft. His fingers managed to press the cushion. He could sense his wrists move and a groan of pain finally escaped from his throat.
The first voice noticed the movement, "I think he is coming to. Thank God."
"Better get some whiskey. Top shelf," barked the second voice, a deeper one with a crisp accent. I think he is going to need something to shock his senses."
Soon a shot-glass of bourbon was held to Pat's lips and trickled over the tongue, down the gullet. Ahh, life began to surge within the strapping Texan. He moved and moaned more.
"Pat? Patrick, my friend, can you hear me?"
All Pat could answer was a shriek of pain. Ooowwww!"
"Huh?" Pat was trying to shake the cobwebs of the void, trying to open his eyes.
"He is going to be okay," the deeper voice assured the first, then addressed Pat, "just take it easy. We're here with you."
We're. Who the hell were we? Finally Pat's eyelashes fluttered, a muscle twitched and his eyelids slid upward a fraction causing the light in the room to pierce him with a new blinding flash. He groaned loudly and clamped his eyes shut again.
He could hear shuffling in the room, the suggestion made by the deeper voice to "cover the lamp with a towel," and then he was urged to try again to open his eyes.
Pat struggled to unlock the lids that sealed out the light. Then slowly his pupils came into view of the two men, but the light forced them shut again.
"Do not close your eyes yet. There is the possibility of a concussion," the deeper voice warned as his hands clasped Pat's arm tightly in trying to keep him awake.
The grip. Pat knew it immediately and instinctively his eyes flashed recognition, "You're the one
"Yes," acknowledged the deeper voice. "Here drink all of this." He eased the rest of the 100-proof moonshine down Pat's throat. It was definitely a wake-up call as Pat struggled to sit up. He couldn't turn his aching head, but he slid his eyes in the direction of the voice. It was a blur. Pat knew however this was the man in the alleyway, the man who'd shown him Karel's body, and who had... What had he done then?
The fuzzy profile turned, and Pat could feel the strong hand gently lifting Pat's throbbing head from the soft pillow and braced him as Gallagher sipped at the fiery liquid again. He choked and sputtered and groaned from the effort, but the man only encouraged him to finish every drop. The effort would do him good.
Good!? Gallagher knew now what walking death was like. O Christ, he felt terrible.
The man helped him lie his head back down, and in a few seconds the whiskey began to stimulate his circulation. Pat felt a tingling warmth in his limbs and the mental alacrity he needed began to blossom. Memories of his first drink back behind the boathouse in Shreveport as a young teen tinged his sense of recognition.
"Where the hell am I? Pat asked hoarsely, choked by the whiskey. "And who the hell are you? What happened back there?" Always the inquisitive reporter.
Moving behind him as he spoke a totally familiar sight came into his view. Pat could see the source of the first voice. It was Niki Andriopoulos as a wide smile filled the Greek priest's face.
"Your impatience has not suffered from the blows to your body, I see," said the source of the other voice, this one totally familiar and completely unexpected.
Despite the pain, Pat tried to sit up but was too weak. He collapsed back against the pillow a wide grin creased his sore jaw as he gasped, "Niki! Thank God, you're alive!"
"But of course, my American friend. Someone has to watch over you."
It all flooded back as Pat blurted out, "Elias and Fasif are dead and now...Karel."
"Yes, I know. Our ranks dwindle." Sadness, but not despair permeated Niki's response.
"How?" was all Pat could manage.
"You must rest so you can regain your strength. Your pulse was alarmingly low." It was the voice of the other man in the room.
"Who are you? And why'd - -?" Pat snapped.
Niki tried to assuage his anxiety. "This, Patrick, is Dr. Makuta Ogidi. He saved your life, my friend."
"But you couldn't save Karel's!" Pat was not in a good mood.
"Do not be upset with your rescuer, Patrick, he too arrived too late to save dear Karel." Niki remanded him. "But thank God he saved you from the same fate. You must rest, my friend. Your task is hardly finished just because someone took a baseball bat to your head."
Sheepishly, Pat fixed his dazed glaze on Ogidi, "I'm glad you were on deck. Sure like to know who you are and where you figure into all this."
Niki nodded to Ogidi, "Get used to the questions. Reporters."
Ogidi acknowledged Niki's humor as he addressed Pat. "The question is: do you really want to know? Remember, ignorance is bliss."
"I'm hardly in a state of bliss," Pat reasoned, "mostly due to ignorance."
Andriopoulos held his finger up, motioning to Ogidi, "No so dumb, No?"
Pat was regaining his senses. "I may have muddled it up tonight, but I put my life on the line. Now I want some answers."
Niki tried to calm him. "Do not distress yourself further, Pat. Our esteemed colleague's words should give you much to ponder."
"Christ, Niki," Pat retorted in frustration, "don't you have any friends who aren't mysterious and filled with ponderous pearls of wisdom?"
"I'm afraid, my friend, not any more."
"You sure about that?" Pat replied skeptically.
"Yes," Niki assured him, "Now we need to develop an extraordinary sense of Solomon's wisdom and Job's patience...though you're still working on the latter, I believe?"
"Don't hold your breath." Pat concluded. "I missed out on that attribute when God passed out virtue. I was too busy demanding action. You know, like God, grant me patience and I want it right NOW!"
"Enough chatter," reprimanded the African who in the meantime had taken from the shelf more gauze from his medical kit. "I will tell you what you want to know, but I need to finish wrapping your shoulder and chest."
"Fair enough," agreed Pat, wincing in pain as he tried to turn.
"As your friend said, I am known as Ogidi, Dr. Makuta Ogidi from Somalia."
"If you're a doctor, what're you doin' playin' James Bond?" Pat grilled.
"It would appear," Ogidi quipped, "for the moment at least keeping you alive." That quieted Pat for a moment or so as Ogidi continued, "I need to finish wrapping your chest. You do not make a very good 'baseball'," Ogidi smiled sardonically, loosening Pat's shirt. "Some of your stuffing nearly spilled out."
"Thanks for keeping it in, Doc. If you're gentle, I promise to listen."
The dawning sun was preparing to pierce the night, roosters were ruffling their feathers in anticipation of the first rays. The November chill had given way to an unexpected, but very welcome warm front beginning to form off the Mediterranean as Niki flung open the shutters of Ogidi's second story flat to allow a breeze into the room, some fresh air to erase the stifling odor of rubbing alcohol that had been applied to Pat Gallagher's wounds.
"I would prefer you keep those shut until daybreak, my friend," Ogidi reprimanded Niki Andriopoulos.
"My apologies, Dr. Ogidi, but does it not reek of a hospital wing in here?" Niki sought justification for his imprudent act of giving prying eyes entrance by his act.
"Nevertheless, my Greek friend, it might smell more like a morgue if you do not take extreme care." Ogidi replied abruptly, yet barely above a whisper without ever looking directly toward Niki.
Makuta's tone prompted Niki to immediately close the shutters as Ogidi continued to unwrap yards of gauze and snip off lengths of adhesive tape.
Gallagher watched and winced, still somewhat weak and dazed, yet amazed at Ogidi's appearance, finding it hard to picture him involved with Niki and with himself in this battle with the Legion of the Basilisk.
This Ogidi was unusual. Maybe, Pat considered, because he just hadn't expected a black man sitting over him ministering to his wounds in the manner of the Good Samaritan; maybe because he mused inwardly how he and Niki had ever gotten together.
Despite the fact that wherever Niki was, trouble was sure to follow, Pat was glad to see a familiar face, realizing he wasn't totally alone. And what of the doctor? He wondered if this man had known Fasif and Elias. So many questions. So few answers. It was wearisome. The unanswered points gnawed at his subconscious.
Ogidi anticipated Pat's thoughts. "I sense the questions welling up, Mr. Gallagher. No, you probably have not heard of me, but no matter. What is important is that we work for the same cause, we have the same objective."
"Stopping the Legion?" Pat quizzed.
"Silence, let me do the talking," as he finished wrapping Pat's upper torso. It made the American journalist wince and grit his teeth in pain despite Ogidi's assurance. "To divert a moment, I assure you that once you are bandaged, the pain will subside to some extent. You were extremely lucky. There are two very bruised ribs, but they will mend. A few lacerations. But I think no internal hemorrhaging."
"Great. I feel better already," Pat muttered dryly, but Ogidi went right on, even though Niki had to laugh.
"I came to Rome about the same time. For the same reason, I suspect. The man I work for had also been informed of a possible link between the Legion of the Basilisk and the city of Rome. A mutual contact had informed us that you would be making contact with some who had come upon an obscure lead. It was felt that I should monitor the situation, and if that lead should prove worthwhile, make my presence known and lend assistance in whatever way I could by supplying the knowledge I possessed about the Legion."
"Very helpful. Gobbledygook, if you ask me," rasped Pat, who couldn't help biting his lips against the pain. Geez, who'd have thought a couple bruised ribs could be so excruciating?
"Patrick is right, Makuta," Niki intervened, "Why, as you say, beat around the bush. The proverbial bush has burned to the ground, do you not agree?"
"Unfortunately. Forgive my reticence," Ogidi apologized to Pat. "It is a habit I form as a matter of self-perseverance."
"Get on with it," Pat demanded.
"As I said, I followed you. I knew you were in Rome. You have a way with the Roman taxis, no?"
"You followed me this morning?" Pat was incredulous.
"Yes, from St. Peter's to the church to the Via Dulce District," affirmed Ogidi.
"Then you knew every move by Karel and I? Who told--"
Niki interrupted, "Fasif. He left no stone unturned."
"Except his own," Pat moaned, "Dammit. Why?"
Ogidi, a bit exasperated, continued. "The Legion discovered Tenazzi's attempt to disclose information to Karel and you. I believe certain members of the Legion panicked. That is why they killed her. I knew you were next. They acted in haste and violence."
Pat was ticked as the memories of that vision made his blood boil. "Violence doesn't begin to describe-"
Niki, sensing anger would only cloud the picture, craftily, interrupted. "We are now certain the four seen in that basement by Tenazzi were directly linked to the Field of Death - the Legion of the Basilisk."
"Now there are only three," added Ogidi. "The man who attacked you was one of them - a nasty Turk. Usif Ezerbet."
"Ugly, too!" frowned Pat. "How'd you know about the Legion, Doc?"
"On my mother's deathbed, she told me of the ancient legend about a creature called Basiliskos."
Ogidi began to describe the legend from his African village along the upper Jubba River. "My mother was visiting a friend who told her about two boys who had gone hunting. When they returned they were breathless with terror. They described a hideous monster."
"It is just as Fasif described, no, Patrick?" Niki intoned.
Pat nodded as Ogidi continued, "They came upon two large lizards standing guard over an egg. From the egg hatched another lizard which grew in tremendous strides before their eyes."
"What'da they feed it?" Pat broke in, semi-facetiously.
A stern look from both Ogidi and Niki caused Pat to slink back on his pillow as Ogidi pursued his trend of thought. "The new-born creature turned on its parents and devoured both, leaving not so much as a bone or a splatter of blood."
Pat was on a roll, "Definitely carnivores. Then what?"
Ogidi realized he had better get used to the interruptions as he carried on. "This monster of antiquity stood on its hind legs, roaring at the two boys. Its eyes so evil they felt paralyzed. The basilisk trotted after them and they ran."
"Who wouldn't?" Pat's words were ignored as Ogidi went on.
"They escaped. But a week later, the boys disappeared and were never heard from again."
"But the Basiliskos has been heard," added Niki. "I saw what the Basilisk's followers did to Fasif and Elias. I had to flee. I owe my life, in a sense, also to Dr. Makuta, Patrick."
"He could very well have turned me in when he discovered me in the hold of the C-130's."
"It is a long story, Mr. Gallagher," Ogidi rose and stretched his tall frame. "Let us just say had our Greek friend not been honest, I would very well have turned him in to authorities for being, what you Americans I believe call a stoway?"
"That's stowaway. But how did you know where I was?"
"Evidently Fasif told Ogidi that he was sending you to Rome to meet with Karel," Niki offered. "He wanted Makuta here to back you up in the event Karel had gotten a real lead on the Legion."
"It was advantageous," opined Ogidi, "Fasif's forethought, no? I was assigned by the International Health Organization to inspect the coffins of the slain papal party when they arrived in the early morning yesterday at the airport. That's when I discovered Andriopoulos. I sent him here to rest and be safe. In the meantime, I began to track you down as Fasif had asked. When you left Karel in the Via Dulce, I first made sure you were going back to your hotel. Satisfied, I returned back here where our Greek stowaway here disclosed information that they have targeted the Vatican as their next strike. He has proof."
"And that is?" Pat turned his focus to Niki.
"Plastic explosives, powerful ones in thin strips that most likely caused the destruction at the Field of Abraham, Patrick. The same were lined in the coffin I discovered."
"The one I slipped into to escape Iraq with its destination Rome."
"You travel in style, Nik."
"We have reason to believe more, if not all the coffins contained the same plastic explosives, Mr. Gallagher. I have alerted my contacts at the Vatican to follow up and remove the strips to defuse that threat," assured Makuta. "Though it will take time."
"Wow, how long was I out?"
"A good seven hours, Patrick."
"So," turning his attention back to Ogidi, "How'd ya hook up with Fasif, Doc?"
"I met Fasif at a medical conference. We talked. Probed one another's mind and exchanged notes. The rest-"
"Evidently, Fasif told Ogidi he was sending you to Rome to meet with Karel," Niki attempted to fill in the missing pieces.
"Thank God for back-up," Pat sighed.
"If only we could have saved dear Karel," Niki lamented.
"I followed her, too," Ogidi added. "A very clever young woman. Not easy to track. But I was successful in following her to Via Magdalena."
"Correction," Pat blurted. "Unsuccessful. She's dead!"
"Do not blame Makuta, Patrick." Niki was quick to defend the African medical man. "I too was with Makuta following Karel to Via Magdalena. I only wish I had followed my inner sense and stopped her before she entered that alley. But that would have given everyone's position away. We had come so close. We could not get too close, so Dr. Ogidi got out and I took the car and parked it down the street. I was to wait ten minutes, and if Makuta and Karel weren't back by then, I was to head back here."
"I take it you stayed past ten minutes, Nik?"
"I - I had to know, Patrick. Karel had disappeared down the street. Ogidi was waiting to see if you would come. Whoever that Turk Ezerbet was who killed her, he must have been waiting in the alley. He was very swift, very thorough. Ogidi was not in time to save her... But, my friend, he got you out of there alive. I am glad for that."
Pat couldn't talk, no words could salve Niki's sorrow. Pat laid his hand on Niki's arm, felt the Greek trembling. Niki had loved Karel as Fasif loved her. Now four people had been wiped out by the Legion, people who, through Niki, had become 'family' to him. Pat felt tears brimming. " I never told her about her mother," Gallagher whispered to the Greek priest.
"I did not know you knew," Niki replied in a low, sad voice.
"A phone call at my hotel, middle of the night, Nik?" I have no idea who the hell it was. 'Bout two in the mornin'. Said he was one of us and we'd meet soon. He also notified me of Helene's death earlier that evening in Tel Aviv. I tried to tell Karel. I just didn't have the guts."
"It doesn't matter now, Patrick. God will take care of them. It is left to the living to give their legacy honor by carrying through with our mission against the Legion."
"This call," Ogidi asked, "do you have any idea who made it?"
"None. Had a damn good American accent though. No offense but you don't sound like you'd pull off an American accent that well."
"None taken, Mr. Gallagher."
Niki looked pensively at Pat. "I do not know for certain, but it could very well have been Father Stephen who contacted you."
"And who the hell's Fr. Stephen, Nik?
"Hopefully you will meet him later today, Patrick."
"Aw, never mind. My head's splittin'!"
"And speaking of splitting heads, we must take great care, Patrick," Niki warned. "They are determined to eradicate all who fight them. We are surely next. We must all realize that those who are the disciples of this nefarious entity gain their power directly from the Basiliskos, their master."
"Therein lies the source of the evil," Ogidi informed.
"So, where do we go from here?" Pat interrogated.
"First," Ogidi replied handing him a glass of water and some pills, "take this to expedite the healing and ease that headache."
"And call you in the morning? No thanks, I don'-"
"For God's sake, Patrick, it is for your own welfare. Take your medicine."
Looking sheepishly towards Ogidi, Pat realized when to give in, "Never argue with a priest. Okay, down the hatch." He swallowed the pills in one gulp. "Now, what have we got to go on?"
"Faith," Niki voiced. "That's the heart of it. For now we rest. It's essential. We are targets."
"They will be searching the city for you, Mr. Gallagher." Ogidi insisted. "They must revenge the death of their own."
"You must rest now, Patrick. It is almost dawn."
"The remainder of the cardinals arrive in Rome this morning," advised Makuta.
"Yes, despite our intercepting the plastic explosives, we fear they will strike the Vatican next, Patrick." Niki was deadly serious.
"You actually think they're plannin' to disrupt those sacred proceedins' inside the Holy See?
Ogidi's firm, deep voice brought Pat to the reality of the situation even as the medicine began taking its sedative, drowsy effects. "Nothing is holy or sacred to the Basiliskos."
"White Smoke, Black Fire!" is an original work, registered with the Writers' Guild and all rights are the exclusive rights of The Daily Catholic who owns the copyright. Because of the nature of the internet and the importance of sharing, we hereby give the reader permission to collect and disseminate by e-mail each episode as it is presented in each issue of The Daily Catholic, provided that one includes this 1986, 2001, 2005 copyright statement and source - www.DailyCatholic.org - and take nothing out of context, nor reproduce it for profit. This work, nineteen years in the making, is a work of fiction that replicates the reality of today in many ways. Each day the fiction of this novel is shockingly becoming fact. However names, characters, places and incidents are used fictionally and any resemblance to actual persons and events, except those recorded in history, are purely coincidental. We have been retooling and bringing everything up to date since its second release in 2001. Because of the times, we are most interested in publishing this work and are open to any help anyone can provide in seeing this become a reality.