WHITE SMOKE, BLACK FIRE! c 1986, 2001, 2005

Part III
Eighth Chapter
The Shadowing

Episode Nine Legacy of the Martyred

       The nexus of rain and sediment seeped through some of the time-worn razor-thin cracks in the rough hewn ceiling of the lower caverns of the catacomb chamber. This particular room was a mere cavity that had been recently carved out by excavation efforts. A few geologist tools had been left, neatly laid to the side wall. In the flickering light below, the suffocating room gave the impression of crimson, as sanguine flexuous droplets trickled down the side of the rock wall and over the Roman numeral majuscules that had long ago been etched in the stone; hieroglyphic chronicles that would identify to the pious and historian alike a memorial melange of bloody and unbloody sacrifices from the earliest of Anno Domini times.

       These uneven, worn confines, which had sheltered and witnessed an explosion of Faith in the face of indescribable, insane persecution and suffering over the early centuries, and in later centuries harbored clochards who were not welcome in Roman homes, would this night testify silently to the conventicle of three men who believed fate had dealt them a cruel blow as they hovered close to the lifeless body of Patrick Michael Gallagher.

       He had been breathing, though not well when they had managed to steal him out of the restaurant and find a willing cab a few blocks away. To the Roman driver it had seemed like just another night of drunkenness that had turned to stupor. Bar fights and bawdy behavior were common to these night coachmen who had been privy to things so ribald that often times such tales never made it to the confessional; so embarrassed were the violators or witnesses to such behavior. Therefore the cabbie hadn't blinked when Niki and Stephen cradled a weak, incoherent Pat, shuffling him into the back seat, concealing his bloody wounds with Niki's overcoat. They considered their fortunes improved when Niki had spotted Ogidi a few blocks further down in the shadows. He had evidently gone to retrieve his medical bag. That was vital. After rejoining them, Makuta had quickly taken charge in the front seat, relaying directions and conversing in Italian with the driver.

       Dropped off a block from St. Clement's, on Stephen's directions they had found a door near the sacristy of the ancient church and carefully carried Pat down the steep, rickety steps where construction workers had abandoned for the last week their work of reinforcing the walls and ceilings of the first level beneath the church. The trio, carting Pat's wounded body, had wended their way through narrow, dank, dirt-filled tunnels and down wider stone steps covered in loam until they had found a larger room where they had carefully laid Pat, cradling his head beneath Ogidi's medical bag. The good doctor had emptied it of the vital ingredients he would need. After a shot, some gauze and salve, Makuta had inserted an IV, drawn blood from both Niki and Stephen to replenish Pat's, whose breathing became steadier for a short time and then had tapered off until a comatose state took over. Less that half an hour later the breathing ceased altogether and Ogidi had removed the IV. There was nothing more anyone could do.

Dateline: Catacomb chamber beneath Rome - November 5th, 5:05 a.m.

       "O ye of little faith," might have been the watchword this cold night in the dank catacombs that connected to the second level beneath St. Clement's Church. Here in the dank climes of near darkness a light was brighter than anyone could imagine. Yet Dr. Makuta Ogidi and the two consecrated ones - Monsignor Stephen Navarro and Father Nicolosi Andriopoulos - could not see it. Were they blinded by it or to it? Truth be known, in their grief they saw it not for it was an interior light, one which Niki had prayed for endlessly from the very second the demonic, inhuman claw clutched at Pat Gallagher's throat in the Ristorante Romano and the guttural roar of the monster that signaled victory before unspeakably and inexplicably exploding in an implosionary fashion before their very eyes. Unbelievable! Unreal! Unearthly! Hideous and horrible!

       The two priests knelt in prayer over the lifeless, body of the Texas reporter who, less than six hours ago had been so alive and animated in the restaurant. As Niki wiped off melted wax that had dripped onto the cold ground floor to warm his own hands, he held out hope that life would return - hope against hope that somehow, someway God would see fit to bring Pat back, back to fight another day.

       At that moment, though he hoped, Niki did not truly believe God would perform a magnum opus on this contentious American whose blood oozed skepticism. Yet, unbeknownst to Niki and Stephen, within the lifeless body over which they held prayer vigil, there was a recrudescence of a survivor; one who had faced death and passed beyond and then, for reasons only known to the Almighty, was ushered back from the blinding light into the reality of the finite purgatory of mortal man. Pain was the first signal he was back.

       Slowly his mind rose from the velvet-lined oblivion where he had lingered in ethereal suspension, desirous of remembering nothing, to an intense aching which seemed to encompass his entire body. Pat's groan signaled a miracle. Niki was ecstatic as he made a quick sign of the cross and a prayerful ejaculation and leaned closer to his weakened friend.

       "Welcome back to the world...again."

       "Ooooh, Nik, what happened?"

       "You, my friend, were dead. Medically in every way," stated Ogidi in seeming disbelief as he moved to the other side above Stephen. "I monitored you myself."

       "God does exist, Doctor," Stephen affirmed as Niki nodded almost giddily.

       "Ouch." Pat cringed as the pain brought him back to the circumstances of the agony he was in. "This is getting to be a bad habit. How bad's the damage?"

       "Thank God, you'll live," Niki emoted.

       "I think we'll call you Lazarus," Fr. Navarro chided.

       "Don't ever let me doubt you again, Nik." Pat's sincerity and gratitude was genuine.

       "Ah, blessed are they who believe but have not seen."

       "Well, I seen it, guys and I still don't believe it!" Gallagher was dead serious.

       "And somehow we were seen," injected Ogidi, ruining the reunion.

       Stephen was defensive. "But we're safe now. I don't think we were followed."

       "Where are we?

       Niki was the first to answer Pat's query. "Where Christians sought refuge when they too were persecuted - the catacombs."

       "Well, they had better odds against the lions than we do with lizards!"

       Kneeling to check Pat's wounds and check the blood supply, Ogidi turned clinical. "You have lost much blood. You, Patrick are one lucky young man. I am reinserting the IV that I had used until you were declared dead."

       "Huh, dead!? Pat's blank stare turned to recognition from the affirmative nods of both Niki and Stephen.

       "We administered Extreme Unction, Patrick," Stephen explained. "We thought you were a goner."

       Was it all a nightmare, Pat thought as the elixir Ogidi had injected began to take effect. Everything was slowing down, the pain was easing but he was maintaining consciousness. What quickened were his memories, sketchy thoughts of the inky events that blanketed his psyche. That woman - Maria - at the restaurant. No, she'd not been a woman. Far from it. A thing! A hideous monster that bespoke the growing power of the Basilisk. Pat tried to remember more specifically what happened. It helped blot out the pain, especially in his right arm. Fragments flew by his thoughts. The hate-filled monster who'd seared his flesh, the mad flight through rain-soaked streets, the agony in his arm and chest.

       He could not describe in human terms the interior sense of peace he experienced after that. No pain, just buoyant in that brilliant light which faded from his memory the more he tried to recall its image. Had he seen God? If that was Heaven what fears could he possibly have here on earth. He had crossed the Rubicon of revelation and resurrection. The Church was right, "to die is to gain" for Christ said it, "He who believes in Me, even if he die, shall live."

       The reverence of this discovery was interrupted by a jolt of pain as Ogidi extracted the IV. "I fear that is all the blood we have right now, my American friend."

       "He'll live won't he?" Stephen was practically pleading.

       "He is - how do you Americans say - 'not out of the woods' yet." Ogidi responded, turning towards Pat, "You need to receive injections to prevent infection. I regret that I do not carry such medicines with me."

       "What can we do, Makuta?" Andriopoulos pensively probed.

       "We need to get him to a hospital, but that is risky, very risky. Frankly, we're all at risk."

       Niki nodded, "we were fortunate to escape the Legion's clutches."

       "I was afraid they'd gotten to you, Makuta." A look of concern flushed Stephen's face. "Once outside the restaurant I lost you."

       "I, too, feared the worst, Makuta," Niki added.

       "Diversionary tactics," assured Ogidi.

       "More like survival tactics, I'd say, Nik." Pat's spirits and spunk were returning.

       Ogidi finished wrapping Pat's wounds. "There. That will stop the bleeding - for now."

       "Much obliged, Doc." After a pause, Pat managed to sit up, bracing his body with his good left arm. "So, guys, what do we do now? Don't know about you, but I'm mighty tired of being the fall guy for this Legion. I say we strike back."

       "Patrick, we cannot afford to rush headlong into their midst," Niki counseled him. "Until we are certain we have the means to stop the Antichrist."

       "And do we?"

       "We will." Stephen assured Pat.

       "Do not forget, my friends," Niki admonished, "that it is darkest before it is light. We have God...and from Him will come the means necessary to do what we must."

       "Then I must return to the Vatican. It is imperative I speak to Cardinal Zachmunn," Stephen insisted. "I believe he holds the key."

       "What key?" Pat wanted to know. "What can he know, or do for that matter, that we can't figure out by ourselves? I mean, from what you've told us, Stephen, Zachmunn's not in a particularly good position to have a private chat with you. If the Basilisk has penetrated the Vatican you can be sure Zachmunn's bein' watched."

       "I'm certain of it," Navarro agreed. "Which is why I must go back. Maybe I can prevent any tragedy from befalling him. He is, after all, a man who has traced the rise of the Basilisk for years and has striven to find it and stop it before - - "

       "In the meantime," Niki spoke up, "we must try to find out what the next move of the Legion is going to be. We are going to have to go back out there, and seek them out."

       "Wonderful," Pat commented dryly, wincing in pain. "I'm so relieved to know that. It's what I've been saying from the beginnin'. We're not gonna accomplish a damn thing sittin' around here."

       "We are sitting around here," Niki reminded him, "because you were 'cooked' by that thing in the restaurant. We could hardly leave you smoldering on the floor, now could we?"

       "I'm better," Pat lied, knowing he deceived no one. "Stephen, I've got an idea."

       "Oh, oh," Niki muttered.

       "No, seriously, hear me out. Why not take one of us back to the Vatican with you?"

       "No. I --" Stephen interrupted, but Pat rushed on.

       "Just hear me out, dammit. You can get one of us in and out of that place. And there has to be places to hide...we'll be creative. Anyway, once you can get to Zachmunn, how else are you goin' to report back to us what you've learned? This way, you've got a ready-made courier and someone to cover your ass. What could be better?"

       "Profanely put," tutted Niki. "War games. You have studied the military maneuvers well, no?"

       "No. I watched a lot of old WWII movies on TV," came Pat's sarcastic reply. "Look, it's not as stupid as it sounds. Why take any more chances than we have to? There's too few of us to scatter our remains about Rome, while the Antichrist or whatever you want to call the head lizard just walks in and takes over. And if it sounds like a war maneuver, hey, let's face it. It is! Hey, we gotta play the same game, think like the enemy, or else be defeated by those bastards."

       "The American reporter is right, my friends," Ogidi agreed. "One of us must go with you, Monsignor Navarro. There is safety in numbers. We are not soldiers in the proper sense. But unless we quickly learn to think in the way of the Legion we will succumb. All our efforts will be in vain, and those who have already died will have done so for nothing. I, for one, do not like to face those facts."

       "Okay," Stephen was impatient. "But we must decide quickly. It's growing late. If Macelli or Father Urazzi should wake early and find me missing, we may be too late to get any information from His Eminence, or even warn him."

       "Can you smuggle Pat in with you?" asked Ogidi.

       Niki was adamant. "Pat's in no condition to--"

       "I'll go," Pat grimaced, rising stiffly to his feet and holding his injured arm tightly against his side.

       "You are in no condition to go," Niki sharply rebuked him yet again.

       "Look, it's about time I started doing more than bumblin' my way from one near brush with death to another. I owe you guys that much," Pat said tersely. "I'm not opposed to gittin' down and dirty if I have to. Not now. Not after that 'thing' nearly barbecued me. Besides, Nik, I'm not afraid to die anymore. I'm ready."

       "Are you really, Pat?" Niki was searching for total conviction.

       "Well," Gallagher hesitated, "I'm no saint, but --"

       "I think it is wise that he goes, Father. The monsignor can get him the medical attention he needs at the infirmary and he can keep him hidden. Surely you can furnish some clerical garb for him?"

       "Yes, of course, but we must hurry."

       "Then it is settled," finalized Ogidi. "We will proceed in this manner. Stephen and Pat will return to the Vatican before dawn. My Greek friend and I will, in the meantime, seek a place where we can remain in some safety. I fear my flat is no longer safe. At the same time we will continue to track down the other members of the Legion. Tonight, either Pat or Stephen will rendezvous with us."

       "So we meet back here?"

       "No, we must stay on the move." Niki was adamant. "Even though I agree we weren't followed, it is no longer wise for us to return to a place for a second time. This Legion, deriving its power from the Basiliskos, will no doubt be able to scent us out. Just as we smell its evil, it can smell our good intentions."

       "A hidden place, ah the Colosseo," suggested Stephen. "The Coliseum would be good. By the north gate. I've been there often. It's a virtual labyrinth. Tomorrow night, at one o'clock, one of us will be there to give you an update."

       Niki bent and picked up the small candle which he'd placed on the stone floor near Pat and held it aloft, shedding a soft light over their faces.

       "Go with God," he softly intoned, anointing both Stephen and Pat.

       Immediately the two Americans were on their way out the twisting, tangent and pungent corridors of the ancient ruin. While they made their way toward the entrance, despite the nagging pain and weakness from loss of blood, Pat could not help but derive satisfaction from a renewed faith in God, himself and his friends. He could now more readily identify with those forefathers of the faith who were interred in these crude walls, the same who had given their lives. He was willing to do the same now to save the world from the advent of the Antichrist. Martyr. That term never made much sense to him until now. As he and Stephen traversed the underground passageways toward the surface, Pat realized that his allies - countless Christians whose remains had composited into the very soil that further fortified these walls - were now Heavenly souls cheering and praying him onward and upward.

       The one thought that he clung to as they neared the door to the outside was this: Inevitably those brave souls had to leave the sanctuary of the catacombs and bravely, boldly, fearlessly face the enemy. So did he. That thought carried him up and out into the drenching rain which could not quench the stench that pervaded the earth, a fetor which came from the ultimate evil on earth - the yet-to-be revealed Antichrist who still lurked in the shadows, watching, waiting, plotting and preying.

       The city appeared deserted to Pat as he and Stephen had slowly ambled away from St. Clement's, hugging the shadows of the wet pavement to avoid detection. Traffic was practically nil, giving credence to the fear that finding a taxi at this early hour might be difficult. However providence provided the duo with renewed hope when Monsignor Navarro had spotted a cab parked beneath a street lamp on the Via Appia Antica. Soon the two, by sheer will power and adrenaline, had propelled themselves forward, waking the driver who had pulled over to catch some sleep.

       Neither Pat nor Stephen had spoken on the trip to the Vatican. Man, by his masculine nature, never wants to show he is hurting. So it was with this stubborn, some might say obstinate, Texan. Though his teeth were clenched, Gallagher would never admit to anyone that it really hurt. Hurt like hell. Pat considered it part of the wimp classification to complain. He would have none of it and so, in true macho fashion, he had just sucked it in, gutted it out; a man in the mold of a modern martyr who didn't exactly relish the role.

       As they rumbled toward their destination, both were lost in their own thoughts. Neither would have dared to speak of the avenues their inner psyches took. Like the arteries of the city, jutting out from main thoroughfares and intertwining in web-like fashion, thought processes seek out many boulevards and alleys of distraction that take one in an entire different direction from which they originally charted. All the modern technology today and to come can never match the awesome, irreplaceable mind of man, finely tuned and fashioned by a Supreme Being, Who fashioned a mechanism that allows one to return to the very spot he wandered from, no matter how far, in a millisecond. Yet it was impossible to doubt, to wonder if there was any feasible way to defeat this nefarious Legion.

       As the cab turned onto the Ponte Sant'Angelo Bridge, with the angels standing sentinel over the polluted waters of the Tiber, the dome of Saint Peter's came into view. They were almost there. Both Pat and Stephen knew intuitively that there was no way to know if one's faith was strong enough until it was truly put to the test.

       The examination of will was about to commence.

       No wonder the other side of town had been so deserted, pondered Pat. The whole city was gathered in St. Peter's to pay their respects at the bier of the late pope and those prelates and religious senselessly slaughtered on the Field of Abraham five short days ago.

       Mourners of every race, even creed, held aloft various defenses against the rain. From a higher perch it would convey a splash of colors of water-proof fabrics blanketing St. Peter's square and beyond, spreading out into the adjoining streets.

       The cab could go no further on the Via de Conciliazone as an Italian gendarme was directing all traffic to the right onto Via Ombrelliani.

       Quickly they exited the cab and climbed out into the rain; a steady downpour that seemed as endless as the stream of people, massing together in preparation for the public viewing of respect that was still a four hours away. People crushed against each other, groping for valuable elbow room, breathing space. Pat was astounded. Even in this horrible weather and at 6:15 on the morning of November 5th so many mourners kept vigil in the large square before the great Basilica. A sea of uplifted umbrellas sheltered them from the heavy moisture - Heaven's tears, as it were. It seemed to represent a canopy of collective anguish for a day which these mourners had come to, albeit reluctantly and with great trepidation and sorrow.

       Stephen wedged his way through the crowd clearing a way for Pat a few steps behind. His arm ached excruciatingly, his feet were cold now and wet, very wet. Moisture pouring from his hair as they squeezed their way forward through the square, hugging the Bernini Columns as they inched closer to the Bronze Doors.

       "We must be careful," Stephen cautioned. "The hour of Prime is approaching. Many of the religious have already said Lauds, others will be up and on their way to chapel for the same. Here."

       Stephen pulled off his Roman collar and thrust it into Pat's good hand. "Put this around your neck and tighten the coat. Keep your arm hidden. I have identification. You don't. The collar will blur their suspicions."

       Pat nodded, jamming the collar into position around his neck, unaccustomed as he was to anything tightening his neck. No wonder he hated wearing ties. This was even more constricting to him, yet he knew this collar was a necessary passport to where they were heading. They moved on. Shortly, though it seemed like an eternity to Pat, they had arrived. Stephen flashed his ID and whispered something to the Swiss Guard standing sentinel and then they were both through the massive doors and up the steps to the entry hall of the great corridor that seemed to go on forever.

       Stephen guided Gallagher around a corner across from a small room where two Swiss Guards were conversing in German, most likely one getting his orders for the day for the shift had just changed. The timing was perfect as Stephen gestured Pat forward past the room and right through a door under a staircase, a few lefts and they were in another corridor. They reached the back stairway and began to climb. Pat, as bad as he was hurting, was beginning to breathe easier now. He and Monsignor Navarro had made it!

       That sense of security faded once they had reached the second floor and turned out into the corridor. Numerous prelates and religious were heading for Lauds and Prime. The two unshaven ones tried to blend in without being as conspicuous as they were. As they turned into another corridor, Stephen stopped suddenly and pulled Pat against the marble wall. "Shhh, two Swiss Guards blocking my office. Not good. Macelli has to know I'm missing."

       "Great. So what's plan B?"

       "Follow me, Pat, we'll try another route. Please, be as silent as you can be."

       Backtracking, Stephen turned left instead of right and entered another door, a short corridor that led to another door and into a room with two doors. One led to the outer corridor, the other to the way they entered. It was dark and the two felt their way around the obstacles in the room. Stephen had been here before and knew his way, slipping to the far left wall where he leaned his ear against the plaster. He could hear voices in his office on the other side of the wall. Stephen's office was on the other side.

       "What the hell are you --"

       "Shhh, quiet," whispered Stephen, "they're in there."



       As the Monsignor leaned closer to hear, Pat handed him a glass off a nearby shelf which he had bumped into. Stephen gratefully took it and held it up to the wall. He could hear so much clearer.

       "We must find out where the Pope is."

       The voice, Stephen knew, was definitely Fr. Urazzi's.

       "Keep looking, you idiot." And that voice had to be Macelli. "Your slip of the mouth last night did not help. The master will not be pleased."

       "Scusi. A thousand pardons. Let me make amends." Urazzi was his whiney self, thought Stephen. A very poor excuse for a cleric, a patronizing pansy at that.

       "There's nothing in here that I can find right now," Macelli could be heard to say as the direction moved closer to the door into his office. The cardinal was now addressing the two Swiss Guards at the entrance. "Alright, our work here is done. Return to your posts. Alert me immediately if you see Navarro."

       "Oh, oh," whispered Stephen to Pat. "I'm definitely AWOL now."

       "You're gonna be more than that, bud, if they catch you in here."

       "I'm thinking."

       "Great, meanwhile ---"

       The turning of the doorknob alerted both of them just in time. It was Macelli and Urazzi. They moved into the darkness, silhouetted against the misty light of the corridor. Macelli preferred to remain shrouded in semi-darkness for, as usual, he was up to his malicious ways. Thank God, they didn't turn on the lights. Stephen and Pat gave a silent Deo gratias for this as they clung to the shadows, daring to not even breathe.

       "Grabe is in place." "Where?" a puzzled Fr. Urazzi blurted.

       "Not here, you idiot. Here in the Holy See." Macelli's impatience and lack of respect for this lackey priest was evident as he continued to murmured in low tones. "We have this truth serum to help you get to the bottom of this Benziger mess."

       The rotund, corrupt Italian cardinal who had long ago crossed over to the dark side, handed Urazzi a syringe, continuing in hushed tones. "Go to your office. Inject Benziger. Then he will talk. We must find out where he took the pope. I've got to find Vendhem. Zachmunn could pose a problem. We must see he doesn't."

       Stephen froze, his thoughts racing to save His Eminence. Did he know of the danger, could he be warned in time?

       "Go! Do it. Now!" Impatience showed considerably in Macelli's voice as he dispatched Urazzi and then waddled to the door, looking back briefly as if he could sense something. He scanned the room for a few seconds, and then closed the door behind him. All was silent. The darkness of the room blotted out the gasps of breath let out by both Pat and Stephen.

       "That was close, Padre."

       "I was afraid you were going to scream out in pain. I've got to get you medical care, but how?"

       "What'd he mean, find the Pope?"

       "I don't know exactly, but I suspect Benziger does."

       "Who's he?"

       "He was the Holy Father's closest guard. He went everywhere with him. But, evidently not to Iraq. In fact, it's my hunch he's here - in Urazzi's office I'd bet. Can you hold on a little longer, Pat?"

       "If I have to, damn right. Where to?"

       "We'll go back the way we came. I know a short cut."

       "To where?"

       "Urazzi's office."

       Urazzi had already returned to his office by the time Pat and Stephen started their circuitous path to the same destination.

       The Italian priest plunged the needle into Benziger's arm and roughly pulled it out, hoping to be rid of this stubborn Swiss Guard who was cluttering his office. Urazzi's penchant for neatness was obsessive. He would have been simply beside himself had he saw, some 75 yards from his office, the tell-tale trail Pat was leaving on the smooth polished marble hall floor in the more narrow alternate hallway used by maintenance personnel.

       Pat and Stephen didn't discover it until the truth serum had started to take effect in Benziger's brain. The duo had reached the room beneath the staircase when, at this point in their pursuit, Stephen saw the trail. A delay, the Monsignor knew, was necessary for detection could create a problem, a very dangerous one. Blood. A spoor of blood from Pat's wounds betrayed their path. Quickly, Stephen motioned Pat into a crevice under the staircase room and retraced his path back to the room they had been in. Flipping a light switch, he reached up on the shelf for some towels. The room was full of towels and linens, cleaning supplies, glasses and wash bowls. It was the main supply room for this floor of the Vatican and Stephen made sure he had all the necessary supplies to cover their tracks and blot the bleeding wounds.

       Meanwhile, nearly a football field away on these marbled gridlines of conflict, the truth serum was taking its desired effect as the nervous Urazzi could now see.

       "Tell me now! Where is the Pope?" Urazzi's command was harsh as he glowered over the dazed Swiss Guard, slumped in his chair in the former's office. The huge, bloody welt on Riage's head had dried over night and the malodor reached Urazzi's nostrils, repelling him back. Yet the turncoat Italian priest was determined. "Where did you put him?"

       "Whoooo?" Benziger's question probed the air of unawareness through light-headedness.

       "The Holy Father, Riage?" Urazzi moved further away from the defenseless guard. "You know where he is. Where is he?"

       Benziger struggled with each word, fighting within himself not to betray his Supreme Pontiff. "He, he - - needs - - medical - - care."

       "Where?" Urazzi plied again.

       "Pl - please - help him."

       "We can't help him if you don't tell us where he is. Tell us so we can help him."

       "Y - you will - help him?"

       "Why yes. Of course, yes, yes!" Urazzi lied through his teeth.

       "He - he is - -"

       Impatience formed on Roberto's face. "Yes, out with it, man. Where?"

       "In - the castle."

       Urazzi was giddy with anticipation. "Castle?"

       "Castel Sant'Angel - o." He --"

       Before Urazzi could celebrate or share his eureka, Pat and Stephen burst into the room from a side entrance not off the main corridor.

       "What is the meaning of this?" Urazzi stammered, obviously caught off guard.

       "Why don't you tell us." Pat demanded in true Texas Ranger fashion.

       "Who might I ask is this, Monsignor?" Urazzi was derogatively pointing to Pat.

       Stephen was adamant. "What are you doing with Captain Benziger, Roberto?"

       "That is not your concern."

       "Afraid so, bud." Pat was asserting his frustrations, trying to mask the pain that he could no longer ignore.

       They stood their ground, like figures at High Noon, imaginary guns at the ready as Urazzi slowly moved behind the desk, stalling for time, as he tried to draw attention from the fact he was reaching into his top side drawer to retract a silencer. "It is unfortunate, gentlemen, that you arrived when you did. Now you'll have to come with me."

       The suddenness of Pat and Stephen's urgency overrode the effects of the serum on a groggy Benziger. Sensing something wrong, Benziger tried to get up, his hands still tied, turning toward Stephen. "Monsignor, they tried to kill the Pope. Help him please."

       "Tranquillo!" Urazzi demanded.

       "He is very ill." Benziger ignored the Italian priest's furious command and struggled to reach Stephen, leaning forward in desperation. "You must help."

       "We will!" insisted Pat just as Benziger looked up. His eyes told it all. The window of the soul had felt the tornadic impact of the bullet. Riage's pupils expanded grotesquely signaling a sudden burst of pain streaking through Riage's entire body. Urazzi's impetuous fear and action of his sudden unrestraint had changed the course of the Swiss Guard's fate. The deadly, but silent explosive projectile had found its mark.

       In one last heroic gasp, Benziger managed to emote, "The - old - castle."

       He slumped to the ground, dead at the feet of Monsignor Navarro. Urazzi watched. Stephen watched. Both were in shock. Urazzi had never killed a man before. He had been party to much evil, but never killed anyone in his life. The shock of his last act distracted him enough that Pat was able to lunge like a kamikaze at the amateur marksman without Urazzi being able to zero on his second target. Despite the loss of blood, Pat's instincts took over. Anger surged through his veins as he struggled to wrest the gun from Urazzi's hand. Rolling over, a second bullet muffled against the acoustic pillows of flesh. Both bodies hit the floor. One would not get up again.

       Pat rolled over, moaning in pain as he hunched up, just avoiding the pool of blood oozing out from beneath Urazzi. Riage had been avenged.

       Stephen was visibly shaken, but ostensibly relieved that Pat had escaped yet another close shave.

       "Too close for comfort." exhaled Pat.

       Stephen instinctively retrieved a small vial of oil and began anointing the lifeless foreheads of Benziger, and Urazzi as well, with the old rubrics of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction. The Just Judge would receive both men at this moment. Their destinations may be different, but both would receive a fair hearing. How they lived their lives, what was in their hearts would either acquit or convict them. Their jury would be their ledger on earth.

       "Ordo secundum consuetudine..." Stephen began, as Pat stared at this sight. A priest, in the midst of danger, was anointing both friend and foe. Here was another man who could truly be trusted, Pat deduced. As the Monsignor was finishing his hurried-up, albeit abbreviated, anointing of the dead, Pat still wasn't entirely convinced that all that he had gone through over the past several days was just a bad nightmare or, if, indeed, he was interminably trapped in a very real Perils of Pauline episode that wouldn't end, refusing to give him resolution.

       "Oracio commendationis anime...requiescat in pace. In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen."

       "Our duty is done here, Pat. We've got to get out of here. The guards...or Macelli. They'll be here soon."

       "No shit, Sherlock."

       The two headed out the side door just as one of Macelli's turncoat guards entered by the front door. His staccato "Hilfe! Hilfe!" alert would soon bring others, specifically Macelli at this sudden turn of events; a cog in the well-oiled Legion wheel. Another loud "Hilfe! Mord!" echoed throughout the second floor. Within minutes the area would be locked tighter than a drum...with a beat that assimilated the cardiac thump of Pat's heart, racing faster than his feet. He shuffled them forward by sheer will-power as they raced down the halls past statues that watched in marmoreal silence while the two men in black sought to avoid detection.

       While the commotion of more guards trundling to the source of the alert mounted, Pat and Stephen breathlessly reached the staircase and slipped into the room beneath the stairs, the room that led to the maintenance hall. Pat was panting badly, weakening with every step. Stephen slung his arm under Pat's right arm and lifted him up as he dragged him, checking for any blood trail behind. He was relieved that either the wound was covered or Pat had no more blood to give. The floor was clean now.

       "For Christ's sake, Padre, I can't go another step."

       "Niki was right about your profanity."

       "Yeah, well, I'm no choir boy." Pat was groaning, ready to pass out.

       "I didn't think you could sing." Stephen retorted as they barreled into the supply room.

       Navarro quickly laid out some towels where Pat could recline and rest, then gestured in exaggerated fashion: "For now, home sweet, home, Pat."

       "Home," Gallagher muttered wistfully. "Don't I wish."

       With that he collapsed onto the towels. He was unaware how dark it was in this room for he had retreated back into the darkness of the psyche. He could take refuge there from the pain that was now throbbing, searing through his entire being.

"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.

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