Episode Two Trojan Horses
It was the Son of a Jewish carpenter Who assured His followers, "Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you." This day more than a few were relying on His promise. That included Father Niki Andriopoulos, as he huddled below the sill, out of sight of the inside inhabitants, praying for the Lord to literally open the window. Like the parting of the Red Sea, his prayer was finally answered. The curtains separated slightly, a shaft of light falling on the slate patio as one of the men opened the bottom window a crack.
Dateline: Paloma Estate Hills outside Rome, November 5, 10:40 a.m.
Niki did not know it at the time, but the two he monitored were half of the foursome of Legion members who had been party to the clandestine meeting in that moldy basement room three nights ago. the ones the old drunk Sebastiano Tenazi had identified to Karel Shenneker before her hideous death at the hands of the Turk Usif Ezerbet. The one woman at that meeting was Maria Figuerido, now just a figment of ashes. The other two in that moldy room that night conversed on another stage this day, a brighter, more airy arena, especially now that one of them had opened the window half way to let in the cool November air. As the ether of invisible cool oxygen and molecules of infinitesimal filaments meshed and rushed into the room, the air sought an escape through a crack in a window on the far side of the room. For the air to stay in stagnant circulation within this room would endanger the atmosphere itself. The suffocating breath of the Basilisk was stifling. It was the same vapor, which had consumed the two men who spoke this day: Guillaume Brunatti and Luciani "Lucio" Serrano.
"You know I always prefer a little fresh air, Guillaume."
"Very well, Lucio."
Silently Niki gave God thanks for Luciani's fetish.
"So," Lucio continued, "you have the material?"
"Once we got the order, Lucio, it was not difficult to find our contact in the United States who supplied the money necessary to obtain it."
"When are you planning to deliver it, Guillaume?"
"In two stages. After Elena is in position. We will deliver the trunk early this evening. The truck carrying the second shipment will arrive shortly after midnight and be unloaded in the back of the great hall of the Master's pope. They will stack them in the room beneath the stage. They will be distributed at the moment white smoke appears. We will have half an hour after that."
Niki and Ogidi looked at each other, trying to fathom the meaning as the one called Lucio Serrano asked another question. "Are you sure of the timing? After all Elena was, shall we say, premature with the operation in New Nasiriyah."
"Si. I am well aware, Lucio, but I have been assured by Vendhem of the procedure. We shall not fail. You worry too much. Trust the Master. We have come too far to begin fostering doubts now."
"Of course, Guillaume, you are right. I just feel we must be very cautious. We are so close."
"For now we will relax. I must pack the trunk so they will not detect it. We will leave here at five, Lucio. With traffic we should arrive at the warehouse by six. We must make sure everything is completed and loaded. We will then proceed to the Vaticano."
"Has Macelli cleared us?"
"Vendhem. Elena should be there as well. Vendhem has assured me that the guards there have crossed over. They will have two full sets of Swiss Guard uniforms for us. We will have no problems."
"Ah, Guillaume, bene. I always wondered what I would look like as a member of the Swiss Guards."
"Now you will have your chance, Lucio. But your greatest opportunity is coming soon. At the given moment the world will witness the strength of our Master and end the reign of the enemy."
"Bene. Multa bene," sighed Lucio. "I am anxious. I admit it. I grow weary of waiting and eager to welcome the New Kingdom."
"Ah, I know what you mean, Lucio. It has been the motivating force for us these long years. Come, you can help with the trunk. We must find some religious items to put in the trunk in case we run into a guard who has not been compromised once we are inside. Vendhem warned me that not all had been so easily swayed."
The voices ceased. No further sounds emerged from the room save for shuffling of feet and the closing of a door. Where had they gone? Not wanting to be detected, Niki and Makuta stole their way back across the patio. Stealthily they headed down the steps and across the driveway. They did not stop until they had reached the base of the hill and were safely back in the stolen car.
"Well, Dr. Ogidi, we must do something." Niki was breathless, more from the knowledge he had just overheard than from the exertion of their exodus.
"I know. And we will, too. But how? Of that I am not quite sure yet, Niki."
"Well, my good doctor, have you robbed any trucks lately?" Niki quipped, a mischievous smile creasing his mouth and eyes.
Ogidi knew the gist, replying testily. "I have found it rather difficult to fit it into my schedule. Niki. Be serious. We cannot rob a truck. We have already stolen this car."
"Borrowed," Niki gently corrected, emitting a small laugh. "Dear doctor, this is no time to take all the rules seriously."
"How then do you propose to pull off this heist?"
"Quite simply, Makuta." Niki was resolute as he started up the car and made a quick U-turn back down the road. "We will, of course, follow those two to where the warehouse is. Then we will --"
"You have seen too many American adventure films, dear Father Niki. No, we must be careful. You above all know the art of smuggling one in. I am counting on that talent from you again."
"I hope I will not disappoint you," the Greek offered.
"I am sure you will not."
"So what, Doctor, do you suggest?"
"We at least know this Guillaume and Lucio will not be on the move until five today. I am counting on them being overconfident. We can use that. Perhaps, Niki, we can be in and out tonight before the Legion knows of our movements."
"Yes, Makuta." Like a magnet Niki's thoughts were being pulled toward Vatican City. "I wonder how Pat and Stephen have fared. It has been a night of terror and yet hope. For we have finally found a lead to the Basiliskos. No?"
"Yes," noted Ogidi.
Dateline: Vatican City - supply room on second floor of the Apostolic Palace, November 5, 10:50 a.m.
Sister Bridie remained silent for a few moments after she finished tending to Pat's wounds the best she could. He dared not say anything, presuming she was either lost in prayer or shock. So lost that she did not look up when another figure entered stealthily from the back directly behind the seated nun. Despite the dim light, Pat recognized him immediately. It was Monsignor Navarro.
"Stephen, thank God your safe."
"For now, Pat, for now."
Sister turned quickly and rose to her feet, bowing to the Monsignor.
"No need, Sister, I cannot thank you enough for your help. I've brought a complete set of clerical clothing for you, Pat. A pair of black pants, shirt, new collar and a cassock, not to mention a pair of shoes - size 11."
"Perfect," piped Pat.
"Dear God, Monsignor, this man be needing medical attention, not a new wardrobe," Sister Bridie protested.
"You're thinking correctly, Sister. I know he's lost a lot of blood. He needs antibiotics, but I couldn't find any. Unfortunately I have no contacts I can trust in the south wing."
"You be referrin' to the infirmary?"
"Exactly, Sister," Stephen confirmed. "How can we get some antibiotics for him?"
"He be needin' more than that, Monsignor."
"Meanin' might you be askin' how we be smugglin' Mr. Gallagher into the infirmary."
"No, Sister, that will never work. The guards would detect him immediately."
"If they saw him they would, Monsignor." A wry smile creased her lips.
"Meaning?" a puzzled Navarro asked.
"Meanin', Monsignor, we could be usin' that cart in the corner n' be coverin' him up with towels."
"Worth a try," reasoned Stephen.
"Tis a darin' thing, but these be dangerous times, they be."
"It'll work," enthused a weakened Pat. "But how do I get out of the infirmary?"
"One step at a time, Pat," the Monsignor suggested.
"In other words, play it by ear!" Pat affirmed the obvious.
"But trust in God," Sister Bridie added.
"Speakin' of towels," Pat piped up, "tell him what you told me about the towel, Sister."
Sister turned away from both men and, with some effort, retrieved the white terrycloth from beneath her scapular. "Here, Monsignor, is what I found in Major Benziger's room."
Stephen studied it, wiping the smudges. "This shoe polish is still fairly fresh. God bless him. A true martyr. This means the Pope is definitely still alive."
"But where?" Pat quizzed.
"The 'turret room', those were his last words," Navarro replied in a pensive tone.
"Who?" asked Sister Bridie.
"Riage Benziger. He took a bullet defending the Holy Father."
"Then what Pat told me be true. Captain Benziger is dead?"
"'Fraid so, Sister. Shot by Urazzi in his office," Pat affirmed.
"Urazzi's dead too," added Stephen.
"They be droppin' like flies around here, they be."
Stephen nodded, his brow furrowed in confusion. "But according to Benziger, the Pope is still alive."
A eureka flashed into Pat's memory. "Come to think of it, Stephen, when was the last time the Pope wore a tiara?"
"Not regularly since Pius XII, Pat. Why?"
"Bingo?" Sister Bridie puzzled.
"It makes sense," reasoned Pat. "That wasn't Pope Clement XV who died in Iraq. No, it was--"
Stephen finished Pat's thought. "An imposter! Of course. That's why Macelli was so intent on publishing the Papal Letter that blames the Jews and decrees that sin doesn't really exist."
"Huh?" Pat was in the dark on that event.
"Oh, the saints preserve us! Our Holy Father would never have done that."
"No, Sister, but those, who promoted the rationale that the Jews didn't have to be converted, would."
Pat beat Sister Bridie to the punch with the question. "Why is that, Stephen?"
"Because there was so much backlash from that contradiction of Sacred Scripture and Doctrine that the traditional movement gained greatly from the fallout."
"Huh?" Pat frowned.
Stephen explained further. "Those who desperately clung to the ambiguous and, as we now can clearly see, dangerous Vatican II directives, they created their own defense of their actions by going the other way."
"Cover one heresy with another?" Pat deduced.
"Exactly, Pat. They're trying to stir dissension even among their own ranks."
"Sounds more like the Devil's doin' if you be askin' me, Monsignor."
"You're right there, Sister." Stephen was piecing it all together. "They knew Clement XV thought differently than his successors. They were afraid he would annul Vatican II by calling a third council. Indeed I know for a fact such plans have been in the works. In fact, in studying the roster of the invited Cardinals to Iraq, two thirds were favorable to such an event and would have protested vigorously any more innovations such as Macelli sprung on us the other day."
"So that's why Benziger never made it to Iraq," added Pat.
"Or the Pope," added Navarro. "I knew he was dreading the event when it was first announced."
"I be seein' it in his face, too, Monsignor. He even be askin' me what I be thinkin' about this all being one without really being one."
"Wow? The Pope spoke to you, Sister?" Pat was incredulous.
"Often he would chat when Sister Agnes de Christi and I be workin' away in the Papal Quarters. So I know it bothered him, many things goin' on behind his back be botherin' him."
"It makes sense, Sister. The Curia was trying to control him. Since the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958 the Curia has become more powerful - too powerful."
"Then what Fasif told me makes sense about the Black Mass after Paul VI's election. The Devil's callin' the shots inside the Vatican."
"Afraid so, Pat," Stephen confirmed.
"That's another reason they had to try to take him and those protectin' him out of the picture before they made the switch," Pat reasoned.
"You nailed it," agreed Stephen as the epiphany hit him. "You see, Sister, the imposter was going to make the pronouncement in Iraq as part of that abominable One Eucharist document. Then, unbeknownst to the participants, the Legion was to mark the documents with the watermark of the Basilisk and promulgate the One World Religion after the imposter, along with everyone else were annihilated."
"But even the imposter never made the announcement, Stephen, at least I don't remember him--"
"Right. That's what still puzzles me. Maybe he had a change of heart. I don't know." A resigned Stephen shook his head.
"No wonder the Legion of the Basilisk is on the attack," Pat assumed. "The explosions were to happen after he spoke, but they must've gotten their wires crossed."
"You'll be pardonin' me," Sister Bridie interpolated, "but if the Pope is still alive, where be this 'turret room'?"
"That," Pat chimed in, "we're tryin' to figure out, Sister, and the clock's tickin'."
"Then we be wastin' time. We might all be next if we not be gettin' a move on with the cart."
"She's right, Pat. Sister, I'll help Pat get these clerical clothes on if you'd just step over there. Oh, and Sister, smudge that towel up so no one can read it. We don't want it falling in the wrong hands."
The diminutive nun modestly moved to the far wall so she could mush the towel together. Her back was turned as Stephen helped Pat into the new set of clothes. She could hear him moan as he put the new shirt on, then the cassock.
"Okay Sister, your passenger is ready."
"Get in, Mr. Gallagher," Sister cheerfully commanded.
"Aye, aye, Sister."
"Sister," Stephen called after her. "If you can get away, you and I will meet back here, say 2 p.m. We can touch bases and try to figure out some strategy. We're on our own from here on in. Go with the angels and for God's sake, be careful," Stephen called after her.
"Sure n' I will," she concurred. "Monsignor, I be feelin' in me bones that you should have this key, and this one too."
She extracted from her key chain the key to this utility room.
"It takes two keys for this room, Sister?" Stephen inquired.
"No, the other key be for the Papal Sacristy. Some say there be a back entrance to the Pope's apartment. I just be feelin' the good Lord wants you to have it for safe keepin'."
"Very well, I'll see you back here at two. Go with God."
"I must be gettin' back to my duties as soon as I drop your friend off, Father."
"Thank you, Sister. Oh, and, Pat, if anyone asks, tell them you're Father Donaldson. He's a friend. He's Cardinal Zachmunn's secretary. He's not here, but tell them you're with him and you were mugged just off the grounds while walking. Got it?"
"Will they buy that?" Pat asked, peaking out from beneath the towels concealing him.
"Right now, my man, that's all we've got," Stephen sighed as Sister repositioned the towels to hide her injured cargo.
Like the Greeks moving the Trojan horse into place, like Hannibal scaling the Alps, carefully Sister Bridie wheeled the cart smuggling Pat down one corridor, then another. She was heading south across the transverse wing towards the infirmary.
The infirmary had been added in addition to the first location near the Swiss Guard quarters and the ospidale de Vaticano. Clement XV had reasoned that an additional infirmary closer to the Square would afford a more convenient location for both Vatican personnel and those pilgrims in need of medical care in a sectioned-off area of the Cortile di San Damaso. It butted up directly against the north side of the Bernini Colonnade before it spanned out elliptically. Its reddish exterior rose straight up above the columns and statues facing the inner part of the Square near the great steps fronting St. Peter's.
To avoid suspicion, Sister Bridie stayed out of the main corridor, choosing the servant's hall. The route, by design, was not direct, not nearly as direct as Macelli was in trying to find out what had happened to Urazzi and Benziger. Once within his grasp, the opportunity to find out where Riage had hidden the Pope was now gone forever. The devil was not pleased. The Legion could feel their doom breathing at the nape of their necks.
Three full-regalia Swiss Guards stood sentinel outside the office of the Camerlengo's office. Inside two plain-clothed black-suited guards were being grilled by the rotund Italian Prelate. Another red hat, Cardinal Josef Vendhem, stood in the shadows behind Macelli's desk and to the side. The inquisitors and those being interrogated had all succumbed to the promises of the prince of darkness
Dateline: Rome - Macelli's office inside the Vatican, November 5, 11:00 a.m.
"Dammit, over two hours and no one has found anything?" Macelli fumed.
The two guards cowered beneath this Italian Prelate's heated breath as he continued. "Someone has penetrated the interior."
"Again, your Eminence, we have searched everywhere," tentatively offered one of the guards. Perhaps Benziger shot Father Urazzi."
"Perhaps?" mocked Macelli. "No! Someone else was in that room." His fist slammed down upon his ornate mahogany desk.
"But there were no signs except some blood in the hallway," assured the other guard.
"We tried to trace it, but it seemed to have ended where the corridors cross," admitted the first guard.
"Abbastanza! No one can vanish into thin air!" roared the rotund Prelate, his veins bulging, eyes bugging out.
"With so many about this day, it would be quite simple to slip out."
"I want no excuses, do you hear me?" Macelli could barely contain his hellish anger.
"Yes, your Eminence."
"Well, keep watch. Something not of the Master's wishes is afoot here. That does not bode well for all of us. Do you understand my meaning, men?"
They nodded as the first guard tried to appease Macelli's wrath. "As you requested we will report to you immediately if we see anything out of the ordinary."
"That is all we can do for now, your Eminence," added the second guard apologetically.
"Quello pericoloso!" Macelli slammed his fist down on the desk again.
The two compromised guards retreated a few steps away from the desk, fear livid in their eyes and body language.
"Call off the dogs, Antonio," Vendhem snidely interrupted. "Whoever it is, he is long gone."
"How can you be so sure, Josef?" Macelli swiveled in his chair to face the German Prelate.
"Had you left some guards with that fool Urazzi, perhaps we would not have this problem, dear Lord Cardinal Macelli." Vendhem's words dripped with icy acidity.
Macelli turned his head back towards the guards, "Keep me posted. Avanti."
They couldn't get out of the room fast enough. As the door closed Macelli stood and addressed Vendhem.
"And had you seen to disposing of the prize when I suggested, we would not have this mess at all, Josef." Both prelates knew how to play the blame game as masterfully as a chess match.
"Perhaps. But I fear you have failed the Master, Antonio, and you should be very, very careful. Ja voll?"
"Do not be so smug, Josef. We are both at risk." The sweat was noticeable on Antonio's brow as he tried to soften the situation. "We must work together and not panic. We are so close."
"Would the Master agree, Antonio?" Vendhem enjoyed backing the rat into a corner considering the grave error his comrade had committed.
"We still have the upper hand, Josef. Do not forget the funeral."
"Ja voll. Elena will not fail us. You may be right, Antonio." The German prelate's words were laced with sarcasm.
The Italian Prelate rose from his chair and circled the desk, his countenance changing to that of surety in the face of Vendhem's goading. The Archpriest of the Basilica might be a colleague realized Macelli, but the history of Italian and German alliance had always been one of oil and water. It was definitely an uneasy federation between these two men who had only one thing in common. Both had sold their souls long ago.
"The coffins are prepared, no?" Macelli asked matter-of-factly, trying to distance the immediate past from plans yet in the works.
"Ja. Elena will have the means to determine the coordinates by tonight. All is in place for the appointed time."
"And the trigger?"
"Elena will take care of everything. Have no fear, Antonio. We shall strike after I am elected."
Macelli gritted his teeth and feigned approval. "Bene. Multo bene. And the back-up?"
"The second shipment also arrives after midnight."
"The Conclave, Josef?"
"The two shipments combined should render the Sistine Chapel and all its treasures mere fragments."
"Bene." Cardinal Macelli took great sadistic delight in anticipating the destruction of all that had been held so sacrosanct for so many centuries.
"But it must be after I am escorted to the balcony, Antonio." For the first time true concern registered on Vendhem as he sought reassurance he would be safe.
"Bene," patronized Macelli. "The Sistine Chapel is being prepared now. As Camerlengo I have full access to everything. as well as the Lateran."
"It amazes me, Antonio, how the Master has provided for this most climactic moment that will soon be ours; the prize - mine."
"You forget, Josef, that I also have friends in high places from the previous regimes who are no longer with us. We cannot rely on them. Do you have the dossiers to assure the vote?"
"No need to be concerned, Antonio. We have them."
"I want to be sure, Josef."
"That sounds strange coming from one who had the answer to the location of the Pontiff and let it slip right out of his grasp." Vendhem was on the attack again and Macelli knew it. He quickly chose to alter the conversation.
"What have you heard, my dear Vendhem, regarding feedback on the 'document'?"
"The Jews?!" The German Cardinal's words were biting, traces of a prejudice handed down by Nazi parents.
"Si. Have the secular media bit on the repercussions?"
"Navarro has not been so enthusiastic in disseminating it as you, Antonio. It is, unfortunately, not as we would have hoped."
"Well, we must dispose of the problem then, Josef. Immediately."
"I fear, poor misguided Antonio, that may not be so easily accomplished. The world is still in mourning and the Western media is owned by the Zionists. They are suppressing much of the content for the most part. Israel has been in denial and their damage control experts have seemed to curtail further suspicion. The Jewish interests have circulated the latest discovery by forensic examiners that Syrian terrorists were at the site."
"Damn that whole Mid East mess! What does this boil down to?" Macelli demanded impatiently.
Vendhem retorted disgustedly. "Turning the world against the Jews may not work as we had planned."
"Damn! Why didn't you get that ring when we had the chance?" Macelli's eyes bulged with loathing.
"As usual, Antonio, your paranoia is showing. There is no need to panic, Antonio. We still have the list of Cardinals who were sympathetic to the 'document.' They are ambitious and ambition is one of the Master's favorite tools. I shall personally visit each of them before this evening's gathering...to remind them."
"We must have those additional 40 votes, Lord Vendhem. With them we shall have two-thirds majority."
"And if the other Cardinals vote it down?"
"Then there will be hell to pay, Josef." That statement sobered them both as Macelli cautioned Vendhem.
"Literally!" Vendhem smacked his lips, envisioning the wrath of the Master on all but himself.
"Be careful, Josef. Zachmunn has prying ears."
"Then keep him preoccupied. We would not want any Traditionalists interfering with the Master's plan for the last conclave ever. Would we, Antonio?" Vendhem knew all too well Macelli's great contempt for the most conservative upholder of the decrees of Trent.
"If there is a Conclave," chortled Macelli.
Vendhem was not amused. Macelli had once again gained the last word. His cackle seemingly crept up, gaining altitude. It slithered out the slightly cracked transom above the door and echoed through the marbled halls of the Vatican, finding its source in the bowels of hell, so well entrenched inside the Vatican.
Dateline: Vatican City - Apostolic Palace - Vatican Infirmary, November 5, 11:07 a.m.
Sister Bridie felt the evil of Vendhem's demonic laughter within her intuitive senses. She turned the corner on the transverse hall. One more guard and she was home free. She had maneuvered the cart past three sets of guards on her journey to the second floor infirmary with Pat in tow. Almost there, she thought to herself, saying a silent prayer that she could accomplish her mission.
The guard at the door opened it widely so she could edge the cart through and into the main waiting room of the infirmary. Thank God no one was at the desk. She parked the cart behind a partition, removing a few towels and, with a nod of her head, signaled for Pat to exit quickly.
As soon as he was clear she wheeled the cart back to the front desk and put her thumb down hard on the call bell. Immediately an attendant appeared.
"If you be pardonin' me per favore, be you havin' any soiled linens that need to be collected?"
"They already picked them up this morning," responded the female attendant suspiciously. "You don't usually service the infirmary, do you, Sister?"
"Uh, not usually. But with all the new priests n' Cardinals here for the funeral, I thought you might be needin' some extra towels."
"Si. Capisco. Leave dozen or so, Sister. Never have enough towels."
Sister Bridie counted out twelve towels and handed them to the attendant.
"Prego," she replied, as she steered the cart back by the partition where Pat had been hiding. He was much weaker now. She hoped to God that he could pull off this plan. She motioned for him to stoop low and go with the cart to the door, where she would distract the guard.
Fortunately the partition partially hid the front door from the attendant's view. This enabled Patrick to feign entering at the same time the Irish nun was leaving.
She opened the door , the guard extending his courtesy. She purposely dropped her keys on the other side of the cart. The Swiss Guard didn't move to pick them up, but he kept his eyes on her, making it possible for Pat to straighten up and move in front of the partition. Sister Bridie retrieved her keys, and then asked the guard if she could leave the cart there for a moment as she had forgotten something. He nodded affirmatively. She hurried back just in time to see Pat standing in front of the attendant.
"Why, Father Donaldson." Sister Bridie said loudly, "I not be recognizin' you."
"You know this priest, Sister?" The attendant asked, puzzled by his abrupt entrance and weakened appearance.
"Sure n' I do. He be Cardinal Zachmunn's secretary. We be talkin' this mornin'," she said as she moved in front of him. She could see Pat was ready to faint. "Quick, he be needin' medical attention," she shouted, as the attendant called for more help. Just as one of the nurses reached Pat, he collapsed in her arms.
The nurse cried out, "Emergenza! Emergenza!"
Another shouted, "Chiami un medico."
"He be an important priest, he be. Father James Donaldson. Sure n' take good care o' him," Sister Bridie asserted nervously as more assistants came to his aid. In the commotion Sister slipped out of sight back to her cart and quickly down the hall.
Within seconds the medical staff had Pat on a gurney, which they wheeled into another room where a Vatican-assigned doctor was waiting. In less than a minute they had him hooked up with an IV and monitors.
"Chi? Who is he?" demanded the doctor.
"A Father Donaldson from St. Louis," the attendant responded.
"Si. Cardinal Zachmunn's assistant," said the attendant, repeating Sister Bridie's words verbatim.
"We had better take good care of him then," added another nurse.
"He lose much blood," concluded the doctor. "He needs transfusion. We must anesthetize him. Give me ten Cc's of Demerol per favore." A nurse assisted the Roman physician as he studied the scars. "Prepare anesthesia and lasers. More gauze. Encora."
"He is conscious. Pulse rate high, so is blood pressure."
"Boost penicillin. Anche. Muggers. Damn them," blurted the doctor, assuming exactly what Pat, Stephen and Sister Bridie had hoped they would in treating this American 'priest' and damning the Basilisk.
It would take more than just words as the
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