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

Part IV
Eighth Chapter
The Shrouding

Episode Five: Omens and Ogres

      Monsignor Stephen Michael Navarro, O.M.I., Head of the Pontifical Council for Universal Communications was not one to panic. Through the grace of the Paraclete his plan of action became clearer as he wheeled the laundry cart with the good martyr Riage Benziger buried beneath the oft-used towels.

      He gave silent thanks in his heart that no guard had been posted at the stairwell. He steered the deep gurney past the statue of St. Joseph, then through the doorway into the narrower back hallway where he had dragged Pat to safe refuge in the auxiliary utility closet.

      It was here that he returned. Depositing the cart, he covered it up with even more towels. He found some toilet deodorant cakes on one of the shelves. They were the kind of disinfectants hung in urinals and on the edge of commodes. He placed those strategically on top and at various layers within the towels to mask the smell.

      This terry cloth crypt was only temporary, Stephen vowed to himself and to the lifeless Riage Benziger. "I will not leave you here to rot, Captain. I will see to it that, when it is feasible, you shall be afforded a proper burial befitting your noble deeds, good and faithful servant."

      The Monsignor wheeled him into a corner, and grabbed more deodorant cakes, emptying the box on top of this temporary bier. He hoped it would last until he could return and move the body later. Before departing, Stephen retrieved the pen Rembert had given him - the "penultimate." He must find out if this was a tracing device.

      With that in mind, he left the cart to stagnate for the time being in this enclosed room, and quickly exited the side door, retracing his steps and stealthily, swiftly slipping outside into one of the courtyards.

Dateline: Vatican City - Sistine Chapel, November 5, 2:35 p.m.

      Cardinal Marcini was still tinkering with camera angles, joyfully immersed in his work; so much so that he didn't look up until Stephen gained his attention.

      "Ah, Monsignore, Buon giorno. Back again. What can I do for you?"

       "Si, your Eminence. When you turned the equipment on for a scan, did it register waves?"

      "Si. They are recorded until I re-engage the scanners."

      "I need for you to check this pen thoroughly."

      "Lucky for you, Monsignore, I have not erased the data." Marcini's laugh was warm, "No problemo." It told Stephen he had nothing to worry about. If only that were true.

      "Well, we can never be too careful," Stephen sheepishly spoke.

      "Me lo mostri," the elderly Prelate motioned in asking for the pen which Stephen soon produced. "Interesting. No?"

      Cardinal Guido Marcini traced the tracking waves to the point where it triggered the pen. Stephen leaned over the Prelate's right shoulder. "I need to know if that has a tracking device on it and, if so, can you trace it, your Eminence?"

      "Hah, you Yankees are always suspicious. Spies everywhere, no?" His laugh was hearty. No one ever took offense at anything this good Cardinal said, for it was the way he said it which verified no malice was intended.

      Stephen knew that this likeable old Prelate had tweaked the equipment so that nothing would escape his scrutiny, be it the smallest bug. Even the inventor Q, who emerged from the imagination of Ian Flemming's James Bond series, couldn't have fooled this Neapolitan Prelate.

      "Ah, Padre, set your fears at ease. I assure you this is exactly what Mr. Rembert assured us it is."

      "You're sure?"

      "Monsignore, see this line?"

      "Si," acknowledged Stephen.
      "It would be fluctuating if there was any feedback within ten miles. This originates only between the satellite and Sydney. Is there anyone in Sydney you do not trust?"

      "I sure hope not," smiled Stephen, relieved that the pen held no danger to compromising the conclave or him.

      And then it hit him. He remembered how Colin had demonstrated it. He could use it as a backup in case he was cornered. If he was to die for the cause the world would know those who caused it.

      The Cardinal was anxious to show Stephen a few other things he had been working on since Rembert was there. Stephen feigned interest, his mind on other things when he saw, out of the corner of his eye, Cardinal Gregory Zachmunn with Cardinal Thomas Wetherby walking towards the far exit. He had only a few minutes. He hoped his timing would be right, that he would catch him on time.

      As Stephen descended the ramp, he could see the two Cardinals go through the door to the sacristy. It was the room which served as the area where, upon election, the chosen Pontiff would retire to be clothed in the garments of the Papal Office. During this time the electing Cardinals awaited him to pay the new Vicar of Christ the first homage. Then with a contingent of Cardinals he would be escorted to the balcony of St. Peter's where the world waited for the first look at the new Sovereign Pontiff. Every camera would be focused on that balcony once the white smoke wafted from the chimney above the Sistine Chapel to the right of the Basilica. The Dean of the College of Cardinals would step forward first, announcing to the world, "Habemus Papam!" Then the new Pope would appear, the very moment the entire world would anticipate with baited breath.

      Stephen was just catching his breath as he reached the door and entered. Cardinal Zachmunn was seated in a plush chair of wine velvet, head bent forward as he listened to the words spoken by Cardinal Thomas Wetherby, a small-framed man from Ontario. The Monsignor could not make out the Canadian Cardinal's words, but from the look of serious concentration on Gregory's face, he knew it must be quite important.

      Nonetheless he came forward with purpose and verve. "I beg your pardon, your Eminences."

      Both men looked up, somewhat startled.

      "Oh, Monsignor Navarro," the American Cardinal said evenly, showing relief that it was Stephen and not someone else.

      "Yes?" politely inquired Wetherby, who seemed plainly annoyed by the interruption.

      "I have news for Cardinal Zachmunn," Stephen began, trying to sound like a mere courier for Wetherby's sake. "From the Cardinal Camerlengo. If I may--?"

      Gregory realized the signal immediately. "I'll only be a few minutes, Thomas," Zachmunn assured the shorter man. "I'll meet you in the Court of the Sentry. We'll continue our discussion then."

      The Canadian Cardinal rose and left, leaving Navarro with the one man who long ago had first suspected the rise of the Basilisk. It was Cardinal Zachmunn who had managed to assign Stephen here in Rome to watch for any telltale signs of its coming.

      "Your Eminence," Stephen reached out after Wetherby had gone, bowing to kiss Gregory's signet ring.

      "Stephen," he said with a fondness that the young priest well remembered. It had been so long since he'd heard such a warm tone. It suddenly struck him how painful his exile had been here in this place which should have been a holy refuge.

      "I have urgent news," Navarro whispered, glancing over his shoulder. "I don't know where to begin."

      "I see," Gregory assured, rising. "Come, let us walk a bit through the outer corridors. I need to stretch these old legs of mine anyway."

      Stephen contented himself to silence until they were well away from the hubbub of the Sistine Chapel, moving at a sedate pace down one of the long corridors. No one saw them as they moved on through two great rooms and then out into the Borgia Courtyard, where they stood together in the shade offered from a high overhang of stone canopy. The sun felt good but they needed to communicate in the shadows for now.

      "Now, tell me what you have learned, Stephen," Gregory coaxed gently. "I'm sure there's danger for both of us. So be quick."

      Stephen quickly summarized everything that had happened since he had last talked briefly with the good Cardinal a few days ago by phone. He told him about the envelope he had given Sister Bridie which contained evidence of tampering with the 'document' Macelli had forged.

      Zachmunn did not interrupt, showing no surprise about any of the events Stephen related, nor surprise that he had linked up with three other men - Father Niki Andriopoulos, Patrick Gallagher, and a Dr. Makuta Ogidi. Nor was the St. Louis Prelate surprised that the Basilisk had grown so great in power that its disciples would use everything in their power to safeguard his final entrance into the world. Stephen filled the Cardinal in regarding his own experience in the hallway the night before. He related, in chronological order, the close shave at the Ristorante Romano and the subsequent time in the catacomb. He told how Sister Bridie had tended to Pat's wounds and smuggled him into the infirmary and then Sister's revelation that Pope Clement XV was still alive. Stephen also informed the Cardinal on what he had entrusted Sister to bring to His Eminence. Navarro explained how Sister tried to smuggle the Monsignor to the infirmary in order to check up on Pat and how Macelli had intercepted her and taken her to the basement, then how he had overpowered the guard in Urazzi's office and subsequently stashed Benziger's body until someone could provide a casket for proper burial. It was a veritable Perils of Pauline.

      By the time he had brought Gregory up to date, Stephen looked slightly taken aback, then realized there would be little, if anything, that would shock Gregory at this time.

      "This Sister Bridie. Is she in imminent danger?" the Cardinal inquired.

      "I'm afraid so. No telling what Macelli will do. I know the guards with him are bad ones."

      "There are a few who can still be trusted." Gregory stated. "I will see what I can do."

      "I'm concerned for Pat. If Macelli suspects Sister Bridie then perhaps he knows about Pat. Also, there is the new nun, a Sister Elena whom Sister Bridie told me about. She did not have a good feeling about that woman."

      "I'm sure Sister Bridie's instincts are good for she sounds virtuous. There aren't many here we can really rely on until we've managed to isolate the Devil's coven."

      "You know, your Eminence, if they find that letter on Sister your life won't be worth a hill of beans."

      "Hmph," chortled the Cardinal, "no life is worth anything to those who serve Mammon."

      "Nevertheless, your life is threatened by the mere fact that you're considered by many of your fellow colleagues in the conclave and, by popular opinion as well, to be the most logical choice for the papacy."

      "Yes," Gregory sighed, for the weight of this burdened him greatly. "A very undesirable position to be in, I assure you, Stephen. Nonetheless, it affords me this opportunity to mingle with my brothers in the College and attempt to draw forth their opinions. There is a move to allow 40 Archbishops into conclave to boost, if you will, the numbers. I quite suspect that idea germinated with both Vendhem and Macelli. I cannot believe His Holiness authorized such a list. I pray the majority of my brothers will vote it down in the first General Congregation tonight."

      "Then, that threat is dissipated?" Stephen asked with concern.

      "It will be the first motion on the docket and I'm relatively sure we have enough votes to defeat it. Too many of those who wear the miters have compromised their faith, forgotten their flocks and followed after the promises of the prince of the world, not seeing, until it's too late, the ugly, horrific facade of the beast."

      "I have seen and felt it firsthand here inside the Vatican, your Eminence."

      "Yes, what you've told me, Stephen, only confirms my fears. Tell me, how did Macelli first justify to you his moving up the funeral and conclave?"

      "I believe his exact words were 'these are non-traditional times'," Stephen answered.

      "Non-traditional!" scoffed Zachmunn. "In a way, I suppose there's much truth to that. But I've always been of the persuasion that we must work within God's time, not man's. Especially in this time of great crisis. It does not bode well for the Church or the world to rush an election that was not properly prepared for in the spirit of tradition. Indeed, if anything, this is a time for tradition."

      "As you have long advocated, your Eminence, the time is imminent for a return to tradition."

      "Definitely, my son. The last 50 years are evidence of that. There's much unease among the twenty-one electors. Many were shocked that Macelli as Camerlengo would so drastically veer from the directives left. Of course the media was thrilled. Instant news."

      "Yeah," Stephen opined, "Get on with it, get it over with, and get on to something else."

      "In a manner of speaking, yes. But now your news that the Holy Father could still be alive! That would be very, very good news indeed. But I need proof to prevent the conclave from advancing."

      "We're all trying, your Eminence...and praying!"

      "Never hurts, does it, Stephen?" He had a twinkle in his eyes, knowing the danger but calmed by the sure sense that God would never allow the gates of hell to prevail.

      "Definitely not."

      "Do all you can to find out where the Holy Father might be and how he is. I have someone else I need to notify."

      "In effect the lobbying has already begun," chuckled Stephen, trying to bring some levity to the seriousness of the subject matter, if only to see his dear mentor smile. When Zachmunn smiled it always eased Stephen's world, a visible sign that all would be right with God.

      A curl formed on his lip, but only his eyes sparkled. "I fear we will be watched even moreso from now on, Stephen."

      "That is my fear as well, your Eminence."

      Zachmunn spoke slowly, deliberately. "He will come this way. I have long watched and studied the slow but painstakingly sure progress of this Basilisk and his Legion. Since 1958, Stephen. That long ago time when, quite suddenly and without explanation, the new Pope unleashed so many dissenters of doctrine. Without realizing it he allowed them access to positions of authority, positions of influence. We know the results only too well. Twenty years later the then newly elected Pontiff Cardinal Albino Luciani was dead a month after election. Prior to that, Stephen, violence had been suppressed within these walls. At that time, however, if it was the Basilisk who oversaw the demise of John Paul I, then it was merely testing its power, paving the way, as it were, for this moment."

      "If only I could be a fly on the wall."

      "You're doing fine, Stephen."

      "But I feel at times I've failed you and God."

      "Truth be known, Stephen, we've all failed. We've had the intervening years to struggle against the incarnate evil, but we've failed to take the initiative. We've been lax, torpid, and phlegmatic in our approach to serious evil. The Church Militant has become the Church Milquetoast, softened in its disciplines and enamored with novelty and innovation, overwhelmed by ambiguity and tolerance for those very things that every Pontiff and saint warned against. We must be cleansed of the corruption that infects the Mystical Body of Christ; from abortion; from contraception; from sodomy; from blind obedience to men who would lead souls astray; and from unmitigated laziness and ignorance. Heaven has tried to warn us and still we proceed on the path of folly - the animus delendi of all we believe. The wonder is that God has not yet vomited the lukewarm from His mouth. Perhaps because God alone knows the outcome. Yet, we cannot sit idly by and wait for the scenario to be completed.

      The good cardinal let out deep sigh which Stephen felt within his own heart, as Gregory looked directly at Stephen.

      If we do we deserve to become so much apocalyptic regurgitation that will rot away, fit only for the infernal maggots. No! As long as the last line remains unwritten, we must struggle. And, if necessary, be the living ink. Sacrificial ink that, if needs be, must mix with the blood of the Lamb for the good of Our Lord and His Church. We must hold up our end of the bargain in the great Communion of Saints; for the final demise of the Antichrist. The victory can never be for our glory. God will be the victor, we His beneficiaries. We will reap the harvest only if we're willing to toe the mark, till the hoe, bear the sword, and carry the cross. It is the epic struggle of the soul resolved on the most sacrosanct stage at the crescendo of civilization. I do believe, though this battle transcends time, that we have arrived at the moment of truth."

      Stephen couldn't help but think that had His Eminence's soliloquy been written on an envelope that it might very well have rivaled Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. But only Stephen knew it had been uttered. The only other witnesses were the ancient statues that graced this garden; silent sentries who would remain forever voiceless.

      "I know, your Eminence," Stephen managed, seemingly coming out of a mesmerized state so enhanced had he been by the Cardinal's words. "I will do my best. If I need to reach you, where can I find you?"

      "I'm afraid I cannot answer that, Stephen. I may have to find you."

      "Well, I'll make myself available, your Eminence, though I have to try to be at the Coliseum tonight."

      "The Coliseum?"

      "Yes, Pat and I were to rendezvous with Fr. Niki and Dr. Ogidi."

      "Ah, yes, send my deepest regard and gratitude to Father Andriopoulos."

      "You know Father Niki?" Stephen was delighted.

      "Yes," nodded Gregory.

      "And Dr. Makuta Ogidi from Africa?" Stephen inquired.

      Gregory was pensive. "I am afraid I am not familiar with him, Stephen."

      "But how do you know Niki, your Eminence?"

      "Through my good friend Cardinal Fasif Khadid. "

      "Ah, I see...did you say 'Cardinal'?" The realization hit Stephen squarely in the heart.

      "Yes, he had been chosen by Pope Clement in pectore three years ago. Because of the tenuous and tumultous situation in the Mideast, the Pope felt it was not prudent to make it known to anyone else about this Palestinian-born man, a very holy one at that. His Holiness feared if it were known his mission would be compromised, as well as his sister's. His life would be in danger, especially with the enemies of the Church."

      "So he could move about more freely?"

      "Exactly. He has long been a source of vital information; a spy and a Prelate with so few knowing until somehow, the Basilisk, discovered his prowess and moved to silence him in their attempt to destroy the Church as well."

      "Yes, and they accomplished it," Navarro's voice dropped. "Fasif was killed. Niki affirmed that he found--"

      "We can only pray that God preserved him. Remember, Stephen, with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

      "Ah, yes, Matthew 19: 26."

      "Stephen, you've done well. Very well." The Cardinal was beaming with pride for he considered Stephen like a son. "Remember that I am always with you in prayer, and that above all, God does not abandon us. Ever. Even in this hour when death is everywhere."

      "I have been taught well, remember?"

      "You honor me, but I am humbled. It is not I but God Who has molded you, my son. Oh, before I go, I have one more thing I would like to share."

      "Yes, your Eminence?"

      "I have prepared some very important - nay, vital - documents. I have made three copies. Two are safely deposited, the third I will attempt to have sent to you. Stephen, in the event of my death, in the event that you are in grave peril, be sure that the contents of this package are not delivered into the hands of our enemies. Trust only those who are joined in the fight against the Legions of hell."

      "Your Eminence, you shouldn't talk of--"

      "Stephen, If I should not make it through the Conclave, see to it that this document is revealed only within the Sacred Conclave."

      "But--?" Stephen began, bewildered. As his friend, his role model, his mentor stood there facing him, Stephen felt a heaviness of heart. It was as if God would soon take this dearly loved friend home. This man had truly been a spiritual father to Navarro. Victor Van Wess had originally taken him under his wing and fostered his vocation before passing a raw recruit on to this molder of men, builder of saints - Cardinal Gregory Zachmunn. Would he live to become Pope?

      Only God held that answer as Stephen felt the Cardinal place his left hand firmly on Stephen's shoulder and with his right palm raised, proceeded to bless his faithful pupil, "Benedicat vos omnipotens Deus, Pater, et Filius, et Spiritus Sanctus."

      "Amen" Stephen instinctively replied. And so be it. It felt as if a shroud had been placed on his heart, on the hearts of all who believed. A shroud of sadness, and yet also a shroud of grace - necessary grace to protect against the wickedness and snares of the Devil and those who prowled about the world seeking the ruin of souls.

* * * * * *

      Though violence is definitely not a virtue, over the course of history its employment has sometimes been necessary in order to preserve virtue. From the time Lucifer and the legions of angels, bewitched by his infernal insanity, were cast from the Heavens, the modus operandi has always been not to dialogue with the Devil. No deals have ever proved fruitful in dealing with the demons. Those who planned and orchestrated the Second Vatican Council ignored that maxim in believing man could serve both God and mammon. It is impossible to play both sides.

      Now the few who clung to the truths and traditions that had served the Church of Rome so well for so many centuries were ready to fight. They were ready to use violence if violence were thrust at them. They would do so not only to preserve the Mystical Body of Christ, but also to validate the countless souls who had fought for the faith; that they had not done so in vain. This tenet had been clouded greatly during the last five decades as matters of this world had more and more been given preference over things of Heaven. Indeed, the dogmas had been blurred by the relativism of the heresy that all worshipped the same God.

      This had been the premise of the ill-fated One Eucharist document which Clement XV had been coerced into, never seeing the final anathema-ridden revised draft. Macelli had seen to it through another compromised pawn - the late Cardinal Solomon Adamo, a man who did not share the wisdom of his namesake. Indeed the Secretary of State Adamo would never have urged the Pope to go to Iraq, never have traveled to Iraq himself, never have been a party to such subterfuge had he only known Macelli's intent.

      The same, no doubt, for other members of the Curia such as Cardinal Galeotto Brancacci, the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. He had inherited a veritable mess of confusion and relativism allowed to fester by previous prefects, most notably Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. The latter was the trusted prelate John Paul II had appointed, the one who had signed off on the anathema-riddled Pontifical Biblical Commission's conclusions that the Jews wait for the Messiah had not been in vain. Soon after he was elected Benedict XVI. The decline continued.

      Pope Clement had tried to stop the bleeding by temporarily suspending this commission and other Vatican II-influenced commissions. Though Clement had been a compromise choice, many assumed he would continue the failed Vatican II agenda, despite the universal deterioration that had resulted from the reforms enacted. The schemas prepared had watered down the Faith. Consequently they had also so insidiously given credence to the false beliefs that had always been accursed by the Church prior to the 1960's. The institutional Church had failed to uphold its Divine doctrines.

      The balance of power had been thrown out of kilter since the bishops, despite the rash of scandals caused by so many prelates, had continued to wield their power and intimidate the head shepherd. This was the main obstacle the mild mannered Cardinal from Rimini had inherited and had to deal with: mutiny among the miters. The hierarchy was out of control; the monster of collegiality created by Clement's two predecessors.

      In the same manner God allowed destruction in Old Testament times, so also the Field of Abraham catastrophe was sending shockwaves throughout the world. The question most asked: 'How could God allow this?' The real question, considering the moral malaise the world had sunk to, should have been: 'How, in all justice, could He not allow it?!'

      Conspiracy abounded as Clement XV, in the short time as the Sovereign Pontiff, had seemed like a cyclone cutting down the houses of hypocrites firmly entrenched in the Church hierarchy. Various curial offices had been put on hold by Clement, most specifically the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. Though they were in a state of limbo, still the acting Prefects and their secretaries had accompanied the papal party to Iraq. Once the consentual Judas ink was dry, they were malleable pawns for the evil one; each and everyone of them expendable.

      The same fate held for Prefects of the other curial offices. Casualties included nineteen from the nine sacred congregations and twenty-seven from the nine pontifical councils, counting seven of the presidents and fifteen secretaries. In addition, twenty-four from the Offices and Tribunals, including the Prefect of the Apostolic Signature and Vendhem's three assistants in the Reverend Apostolic Chamber, had perished. If one wanted to get rid of the help, send them on a fateful trip to Iraq. At least that was the German Cardinal's warped and sadistic inference, so insanely dedicated was he to his Master.

Dateline: - Vatican City, Apostolic Palace Infirmary - November 5, 5:30 p.m.

      Traces of the winter sun were disappearing over the Bernini Colonnade as inside St. Peter's attendants were frantically shooing mourners out of the Basilica. It was already a half-hour past the deadline for viewing. Within a few minutes Prelates, diplomats and Vatican personnel would be arriving for Vespers and the Holy Rosary in paying their respects to their deceased colleagues.

      As darkness descended the Square still swelled with people. They would exit eventually, but they would not go quickly nor quietly. The surge of "Ave, Ave, Ave Maria" slippered across the massive St. Peter's Square in reverent, melodious tones, acoustically boxed in by the great Basilica on one side and the enclosed curved Colonnade on either side. It forced the melody out onto the open Via della Conciliazione which was now wall-to-wall with bodies who were slowly, reluctantly moving inch by inch away from the Vatican.

      From the Cortile di San Damaso, Pat Gallagher would have had a clear view from the second floor of the Infirmary all afternoon had he been awake. As it was he had been in a deep sedated state. Time and rest would heal the wounds more quickly as the medical staff prepared for a skeleton crew so most could attend the pre-funeral services.

      The night nurse had begun her rounds after relieving the day nurse at 5 p.m. As this tertiary nurse reviewed the charts and prepared the prescribed medicine for the nine patients in the infirmary this night, she was unaware of the dangers that lurked within these hallowed halls. She entered the room where Pat rested, moving to his side to check the monitor and IV. Then she gently prodded him.

      "Scusi, Signore. Let us take your blood pressure, per favore?"

      Pat was coming out of a deep sleep. He felt woozy but cognizant of his surroundings. The Third Order nun wrapped the blood pressure cuff around his arm and pumped. He could feel the pressure which brought him back to the reality of it all. As she studied the gage, Pat couldn't help but think of all that had passed so quickly over this last week. Poor Karel, he thought. God how he wished he could turn back the clock! Even inside the Vatican he could feel the Basilisk's presence, could smell its stench. Were his friends safe? God, he thought, what about Corrie, and Vic?

      He was scared for not only himself, but also for those he loved.

      "Well, you won't be getting around anytime soon, Padre. Your blood pressure is still way too high. You do not smoke, do you?" The night nurse inquired clinically.

      "Some," Pat tempered the truth.

      "It can kill you," she remarked still in a very clinical tone.

      "So can a lot of other things," Pat shot back. "Think about it. No one gets out of this life alive anyway."

      "Si. Tranquillo. Shh, il termometro."

      With that she stuck the thermometer in his mouth, jamming it under his tongue. Pat was content to wile away the next few seconds as he scanned the room, more coherent now that he had been awakened. The pain wasn't as intense. Was it the laser surgery or the pain medicine? He didn't know and prayed it was the former while his attention focused on a magnificent painting of Castel Sant'Angelo on the side wall. Something was familiar about it, but he couldn't remember it was the same one he saw on his way into Rome in the taxi. His mind was focusing slowly. Impressive. The nurse withdrew the thermometer.

      "Bene. No febbre."

      "That picture over there. It's an interesting setting. What's it of?" inquired Pat.

      "Oh, that. Castel Sant'Angelo," the nurse responded. "It was critical to the Popes in times past as an escape route when the Vatican was under siege."

      "Really?" enthused Gallagher, urging her to continue.

      "Si. Pope Saint Gregory VII in the eleventh century fled there when the German King Henry marched on the city. So also Pope Clement VII in 1527. They and many other Popes escaped danger in the Vatican through secret tunnel to the great circular fortress that had once been a pagan tomb. Today it is empty. Too many problems. A tourist filed a lawsuit some years ago and the Italian Parliament thought it best to just close it down"

      "Empty?" asked Pat. "What's it called again?"

      "For a priest," the nurse remarked, "you ask an awful lot of questions. No? You would have made a good, what they call - reporter. No?"

      "So I've been told," Pat winked. If only she knew.

      "You need to stop talking and rest, Father Donaldson," she playfully reprimanded him.

      "I'm not that tired."

      "You will be," she assured as she maneuvered a clip on the IV. "Rest now. We will check on you later this evening."

      As she exited she looked back at the picture, nodding to him. "Si, much history in those turrets."

      "Turrets?" The epiphany finally hit him.

      She had left the room as he stared at the picture, trying to penetrate the stone walls and see through to the room, to where the Pope was. He had to notify, he had to... The castle began fading into the distance, farther and farther away, rising into the sky, swirls enveloping it, and then a black fog totally engulfed it as the sedative in Pat's system took full effect.

Dateline: Vatican City - Apostolic Palace Basement - November 5, 5:40 p.m.

      Three floors below another resister for the cause would not make Vespers this evening. Sister Bridie was in an unconscious state, her head drooped towards her right shoulder, hands stretched painfully behind the wooden chair. For hours she had been rudely sealed to this wooden constriction by the taut rope, which bound her wrists and held her fast to this position. Her ankles had also been tied to the legs of the chair. Sergeant Alonzo Dionis had secured her members tightly to the wood with a reel of fresh rope. He had cut three sections off the long 100-foot hemp to confine the Irish nun, then rewound the rope, clasping a clip around it to hold the roll in place and fastened it to another clip on his belt.

      She had been helpless and, after Gestapo-like grilling, much in the same manner Macelli, Vendhem and Urazzi had subjected Riage Benziger to before his untimely death, she divulged nothing. More than the physical torture, it was the mental agony that grew and, through mercy, God allowed her to escape the grueling treatment by lapsing into an insentient state.

      To her good fortune and the guards', who would eventually be held accountable for their actions before the almighty Judge, they had not searched her, not stripped her down nor defiled her in any way. Whether these particular guards were truly evil or merely duped obedient stewards of a far worse evil, they were accomplices to the Legion. The fact was that most who had secured the approval of mammon had no time for a woman, so perverted were their carnal desires. As she sat there barely breathing, the two guards sat and waited, joking and wagering on when she would awake, much in the same fashion the Roman soldiers cast lots for the cloak of Christ.

      Whatever they wagered, all bets were off as the elevator door dinged and out stepped a perturbed Antonio Macelli accompanied by Elena Grabe. The guards snapped to attention.

      "Buona sera, Senor Macelli."

      "E oribile!" the rotund Camerlengo scowled.

      One of the guards tried to apologize and appease at the same time. "We have not been able to extract any- -"

      "No excuses," Macelli snapped, taking a glass of water from the table and splashing it in Sister Bridie's face.

      The shock of the cold liquid awoke the weakened nun. Realizing it had not been a dream, but a living nightmare uncontrollable tears began to flow, disgusting Macelli all the more.

      "I have no time for tears, woman. I want answers."

      Sister tried to abate her weeping, castigating the ecclesial fraud standing over her. "You be a shameful disgrace to the Church and our dear Lord, you be."

      Macelli snarled and then, in a sickly sweet tone, attempted to mock her further. "My dear misguided Irish whore of your Christ, being a hero will only cost you your life. You don't want that. You want to live."

      "Not if it be by the Basilisk's rule?" she sniffled, the tear ducts still moist.

      "Vat does she know of the Basilisk?" Elena demanded as she moved into Sister's view.

      Sister Bridie was now more defiant than ever. "Just that it will fail. You will fail. God not be allowin' it!"

      "Hah, God!" snorted Macelli. "There is no God. He will not save you. Forget Him and cooperate with us and you may have anything you wish, dear Sister."

      Indignantly Sister Bridie gathered up all the strength that she could, bellowing in the most authoritative voice possible. "Begone, Satan!!!"

      Her outburst caused Macelli to lose control. In a fit of temper he reached back and pulled with all his might one of the many giant ceramic statues being stored in this room. It crashed to the floor, plaster flying everywhere. In outrage he grabbed the nape of Sister Bridie's neck beneath her veil, twisting her head down towards the shattered pieces.

      "You see that? Smashed beyond recognition. That, Sister, will be your fate if you do not tell us what you know about the Pope. Where is he?"

      "Go to hell!" Sister managed to mutter in disgust and contempt.

      "Use it now," demanded Grabe to Macelli. "Ve vaste valuable time with this harlot. This truth serum will be the answer. Urazzi failed but I shall not. Men. They do not think." Loathing laced her words as she continued. "Let a real woman handle this weeping willow of a woman."

      With the syringe in her right hand, she grabbed Sister Bridie's left arm and rudely pulled the cuff and sleeve up towards her exposed bicep to insert the syringe. A corner of white towel with deep black marks was visible. She yanked at it, then began pulling it out from the sleeve beneath Sister's wimple. Grabe was not gentle.

      "Vat is this?" she barked, yanking it all the way out.

      "There is something written on it," observed Macelli, despising this dominant German female.

      "Ja. But it is all smeared."

      Turning back to the helpless nun, Macelli glared and probed. "But there was something written here, wasn't there, Sister Bridie?"

      "You be goin' back to hell!!!" she spit out.

      Grabe had seen enough. Furiously she wielded the syringe down toward Sister's exposed arm. With every fiber of strength left Sister Bridie rocked in her chair as the needle found nothing but the back of the chair. The impact of the hard surface forced the needle back up into the container which continued on its instant course to collide with the wood. The crack of glass and the fluid spilled out, forcing the syringe from Elena's hand in shock. Shards hit the floor breaking up into smaller pieces melding with the shattered statue. Macelli was livid.

      "Now you have lost control and the means to make her talk as well, you dumbkoff!" snapped Macelli, taking great delight in mocking this obnoxious fraulein. The fact of the matter was that even though Macelli had not coaxed the information he so desperately desired, he got a sick rush from seeing his competitors within the Legion fail. Misery loves company and there is no company more despised like the love of evil to create infernal misery.

      "I have more upstairs," retaliated Grabe in a pique. "I will get it. All is not lost."

      "Bring it later tonight," commanded Antonio. "I have other matters to tend to which I am late for as it is. We waste time here."

      He turned to one of the guards, "Captain Lubac, temporarily dispatch the sister until we have need for her later."

      The guard, known as Leon Lubac, strategically placed his thumb and forefinger on the back of Sister Bridie's neck. Pinching just the right spot, he quickly rendered her unconscious. She would thank him later. It sure beat being knocked over the head with a blunt object.

      "Do you think it is a good idea to wait?" Grabe dared question Macelli's decision.

      "Under the circumstances, yes," retorted the red-robed prelate. "Besides, Elena, you allowed your anger to conquer your sensibilities. That serum was valuable."

      "It will not happen again," Grabe reeled under the rebuke.

      Macelli had once again gained the upper hand. "It had better not, We have already had too many foul ups."

      Again he turned to the Judas guard Captain Leon Lubac. "Captain, where is that guard with the soiled linen?"

      "Sergeant Kutsch never returned. I thought--"

      "Damn!" Macelli realized something was afoot.

      "I will go bring him back. Urazzi's office, no?" Lubac was trying to gain redemption.

      "No! Elena will go and take care of the problem. You, Captain, call your cohorts and post two guards at the entrance to Monsignor Navarro's office and two at the entrance to his room."

      "Why not just bring him here?" Grabe tried to reason.

      "No! We need to loosen the knot, let him betray his hand. He knows much more than he is letting on. There is also another man. Navarro smuggled him into the Vatican last night or this morning. Lieutenant Rogers van Bulthazar identified him. He digitized a still photo from the security cameras. Here is what he looks like. He is a reporter from Dallas. His name: Pat Gallagher. Find him!"

      Macelli had reached beneath his blood-red cassock to produce a folded Xerox of Pat's photo, handing it to Lubac. He handed two more to Elena as they stepped into the elevator.

      "See that the guards you pass are given these. Wait until 6:15. Then go to Urazzi's office. There will be no one in the halls for they will be in the Basilica or the receptions. Bring the bodies of Urazzi and Benziger back here in the linen cart. We will dispatch of them in the incinerator behind this room along with the meddlesome nun as well. Oh, and see if you can locate Sergeant Felix Kutsch. I sent him up there hours ago. I suspect he may have run into some problems. Find him also."

      "Ja voll." Grabe complied. "For the Master I will do this."

      The elevator door opened to the third floor and the two exited. Grabe turned right down the corridor towards the cloistered wing where Mother Agnes' old room was located. The German would retrieve more serum. Macelli headed left down the marbled corridor to the intimate gathering in the outer reception room of the Secretary of State. Here in the Vatican Palace five of his compromised colleagues awaited in a pre-General Congregation session that few others knew about.

      A floor below, Monsignor Stephen Navarro, O.M.I. was in his office working diligently, so much so that he did not hear the two guards, whom Lubac had called, arrive for sentinel duty on either side of the front door. Stephen's mind, for now, was focused on collating the last of the eulogies of those Vatican personnel slain on the Field of Abraham five days ago. He had already left biographies of each Cardinal eligible for the conclave in the respective areas where the Cardinals would gather. Along with these, he had copies of the Holy Father's Quodcumque Solveris which had pre-empted John Paul II's Universi Dominici Gregis. These would be distributed to the press corps later tonight or before 8 a.m. tomorrow in the common press room located in the Nervi Hall. This latest collection, this tome of material would furnish the fifth estate the material they would need to provide stories, features, and sidebars before, during and after the funeral.

      He looked at his watch. Still ten minutes or so before four volunteer attendants would arrive. With their assistance he'd be able to get them to Paul VI Hall. Realizing time was slipping away, he intensified his efforts of preparing the last of the kits, each weighing five pounds or roughly one fourth of a ream. It took that much paper when eulogizing and providing data on the final tally of 172 victims from the Holy See who lost their lives in Iraq, including 81 Cardinals.

      With his immediate duties completed, he could focus all his attention on rescuing Sister Bridie if she was still alive. The thought sent chills up his spine as he wrapped up the final kits.

      So much work. So little time. So short the help. So many dangers. So great the sorrow. How would he elude the guards standing sentinel on the other side?

"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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