Episode Nine: Basileus vs. Basiliskos
The lobbying had begun in earnest on both sides of the board. Pawns were being moved, Knights were moving into place, willing to sacrifice for their Bishops as the Rooks hoped to hold, advancing towards the Queen. The Queen of Angels would guide the forces of good. On the dark side the queen looked so inviting, for Lucifer disguised can be alluring to those who do not recognize the signs. The ultimate battle would come down to the White King vs. the black king - Basileus vs. Basiliskos.
* * * * * *
Dateline: Vatican City - Sacristy off the Sistine Chapel, November 5, 9:55 p.m.
After the rest of the Cardinals had thinned out, Cardinal Mendoza made his way to the Sistine Chapel. There were a few workers just finishing up but the room was ready. Even the fine white linen laced tunic-like surplices called rochets had been carefully laid out for each participating Cardinal. All that was left was to place purple banners from the baldacchini of those Prelates created Cardinals during Clement XV's pontificate, and green banners from those consecrated prior. The altar linens were not covered, while in the center the chalice and the paten stood waiting for the ballots to be deposited. He recognized Prince Elisio Borundici, the Keeper of the Key, who nodded to the Spanish Prelate and continued arranging the chairs for the Scrutinarians in front of the altar.
"You have heard there will be only twenty-one, Senor Borundici?"
"Si, your Eminence. I am very happy."
"Si. It will make it much more comfortable," reasoned Julies as he continued to the door at the back and into the sacristy.
Cardinals Gregory Zachmunn and Thomas Wetherby were both waiting for him, Gregory seated in the same plush wine-colored velvet chair he had been sitting in when Stephen had sought him out earlier in the day. Both he and the Canadian hierarch rose to their feet to greet the Dean of the College of Cardinals.
"Fratres," he acknowledged. "Gratias agamus Domino Deo nostro."
"Deo gratias," the two North American Cardinals responded.
"It was touch and go there for a while," recalled Gregory.
"Too close, my brothers, too close," Mendoza sighed.
"We know the progressivists will not sit still," Wetherby inserted.
"No," agreed Zachmunn, "they will try to intimidate at least four in order to gain a two-thirds majority.
I am willing to wage a month's worth of Rosaries that their targets are Cardinals Maurin, Estrado, Medelia and Kravic, as well."
"I believe you are right, Gregory," the Spanish Prelate nodded.
"I don't think you would have too many wagering against your hunch, Gregory," added Thomas. "I will try and find Cardinal Kravic immediately. If I do not find him, I'll catch up with him after Matins. I must go now. I am confident the good Lord will not let us fall."
"Oh, we may fall, and many times I might add." chuckled Gregory, "The key is getting back up and forging on."
"Agreed," Wetherby said as he opened the door to the Sistine Chapel, then closed the sacristy door behind him.
"Let us conjecture, Julies." Cardinal Zachmunn advanced. "Of the twelve Cardinals, whom I respectfully refer to as 'the apostles' because of the number, how many do you think voted against?"
"Well," Mendoza began, "we know Cardinals Marcini, Mubenga, Quentin, Carvajal, and Castiglione are solid. They all favored a return to more orthodox measures."
"That makes five," nodded Gregory. "What about the other seven."
Mendoza spoke slowly with assuredness. "We are relatively sure the modernists within this group of 'apostles', as you refer to them, Gregory, are d'Estambleau, Marzure, Parelliera and Giongoliosi."
"That means there are three on the fence," deduced the American, "Cardinals Auguste Ribera Lorenzo, Maximilian Von Stultz and our friend Louis Cottier."
"Gregory?" Mendoza looked puzzled. "Are you so sure they will be received into the Conclave after the hassles of tonight?"
"That was grueling, I admit," agreed Zachmunn. "Yes, I am relatively sure, with the grace and mercy of God, that we will have at least 33 Cardinals before the first ballot is cast in the Sacred Conclave."
"But how can you be so sure?"
"Julies, I am going to take you into my confidence. I ask you before God to say not a word to anyone."
"Yes, of course, Gregory, I await with anxious ears and vow my silence before God."
Audibility hushed to a whisper as Cardinal Zachmunn confided in his confrere one more ace card he had been holding. Let the Legion plot. The longer they were ignorant of the power of the Holy Ghost the less the Legion knew. It would work for the forces of good to keep the enemy in the dark, to hide the strategy of the men God had chosen for His team in this title chess game for souls. It would give the resisters a better opportunity to position themselves to checkmate the enemy's moves.
Gregory had completed his revelation to Cardinal Mendoza. The Archbishop of Madrid was encouraged. Life is a roller coaster and they had come around a dangerous curve with verve. They anticipated the next drop or turn with much more confidence.
"Interesting. Very interesting," smiled Cardinal Julies Mendoza. "You know, Gregory, your name will be put in for nomination. How do you feel about that?"
"Such a great honor I am not worthy of. Rather, if we can muster the votes I believe you, Julies, stand a better chance of carrying out God's will. You are four years younger and know the ways of the Curia. I feel my mission is to see that we have a Pope, a holy Pope."
"You flatter me, Gregory. I only wish I could live up to your expectations."
"Not mine, God's. My dear, Julies, if you follow your heart and stay true to tradition God will lift you up to do great things for His people. Remember, Julies, Rome was not built in a day. We have much work ahead. We have the core of the foundation. We will rebuild."
"Well, Gregory, you encourage me greatly. If holy Francis could answer God's call and move thousands wearing only a cloak and a pair of sandals, yet garbed with the armor of Faith, why can we not as well?" The Spanish Cardinal paused, exhaling deeply. "Let us wait and see how the Sanctifier moves us tomorrow. I quite expect much subterfuge, Gregory."
"Unfortunately, you can count on it. I offer my Rosary this evening that our dear Blessed Mother will intervene on our behalf before the great throne of her Divine Son."
"There is no greater insurance than that, Gregory. Come, I am famished. Let us stop by the refectory before proceeding to the Basilica."
Dateline: Dallas, Texas - Edwin Blix's Turtle Creek Mansion - November 5, 3:05 p.m.
While those supporting the Holy Basileus were getting some nourishment, those supporting the unholy Basiliskos were preparing to parasitically and voraciously feed on whatever got in their way. Such was the case within the Holy See this night and this day as well in Dallas.
Within the sprawling estate of Edwin Blix, one of America's most powerful moguls, the Basilisk was playing with its prey. Let the victim wait, let the victim fidget, twist in agonizing anticipation of the unknown. Slowly the Basilisk descended on its target, circling, moving in for the kill.
Victor Van Wess was no longer fidgeting, no longer impatient as he waited in Blix's study to confront his publisher, his employer, and his boss. Edwin Blix could no longer be Vic's boss. Obedience to a higher, safer, more secure Boss dictated that. The great hour of Mercy had arrived. Three o'clock. The hour Christ died on the Cross. It was the hour when those who believed prayed for the grace to persevere. Believers realized why the Son of God became flesh, why He chose to be like all other men in all ways except sin, and why He died for all mankind. Through the recitation of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy or a simple "Jesus, I trust in You," those who consciously observed the great hour of Mercy understood what faith meant. They knew what it took and the price they would have to pay to preserve it.
Vic had strategically placed his Reflector pilot by the planter near the doorway as he entered behind Ans. No one had seen him point it towards Blix's desk. Now, as Vic quietly prayed the chaplet on his rosary beads, his soul was soothed. He knew his time was near. With every 'For the sake of His Sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world' he grew calmer.
This calm and serenity only antagonized the Basilisk more. As Vic prayed he meditated on the fact that the Devil hates a gentle heart, hates tranquility, recoils at the thought of Divine Mercy, and despises sanctifying grace. It is the only armor that protects against the wiles and snares laid out so cleverly and insidiously to trap all finite beings on this planet earth. They are inferior to the fallen angels in all ways but choice. Man has a free will to choose which path he selects. God is okay with that. All Satan's ex-Boss asks is that the privileged species of homo sapiens realizes each soul must be held accountable for his or her actions when the time comes for each person's particular judgment. No excuses, no alibis.
Vic was comfortable with that. Blix was not. The longer he waited for Van Wess to squirm, the more he wriggled, shedding the veneer of flesh for the scales of evil, pure evil.
"You should never have sent Gallagher to Iraq." Blix hissed as he silently entered the room, interrupting the fifth and final decade of Vic's chaplet.
Vic ignored him as he began the final decade in a low voice, "Eternal Father, I offer Thee the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Thy Dearly Beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world. For the sake of His Sorrowful Passion, have mercy on--"
"You have disappointed me greatly, Victor." Blix's eyes were steely, growing redder.
Van Wess continued trying to ignore the stench of evil that permeated his nostrils, his pores. "For the sake of His Sorrowful Passion--"
"What gibberish, you fool! He will not save you! Only Ah can--"
"I knew you were ruthless," Vic interrupted the beast, "but not as vile as this."
"And how vile do you think Ah am?"
"You know that sewage station down by the river?" Vic spit out.
"Such insubordination from mah editor."
"I've filed my final story, Blix. You can read it tomorrow. Here's my official resignation."
Vic pulled out from beneath his coat a galley of tomorrow's front page with the headline in 72 point bold: 'Mirror Publisher behind Terrorism in Iraq!' The story beneath, with Vic's by-line told the story, with documentation of how Edwin Blix and his corporation Blix International had funded and funneled the weapons of mass destruction and his ties with the Legion of the Basilisk. Blix's eyes grew redder, hotter, and narrower.
The gaunt, cadavered publisher tried to remain aloof, in charge, but his blood was boiling. "This is Gallagher's work ain't it? He somehow smuggled the story to you. Why am Ah not surprised, Victor?"
"Perhaps because you know more, much more than you're letting on, Blix, or do you go by another name?"
Blix had moved behind his desk, dialing on his speakerphone. "Annnnsss!" Blix screamed into the air.
"Yes, sir?" responded the squeamish, pathetic weak voice of his patsy servant, the eunuch Ans Ichariak.
"Ans, mah good man, where y'all at?"
"On my way to the Farmer's Market, Sir, to pick up more oranges for you per your request, since the shipment from--"
"Never mind that! Change of plans. See that the plane's fueled and ready to leave at 4:15 from Love Field."
"Very good, sir."
"Oh, and do we have any of the mylar mirror strips still available?"
"Seventy crates in the warehouse, sir."
"Contact the trigger men immediately. See to it that enough are placed strategically on all floors of the Metroplex Mirror building. 4:30 would be ideal. Also ask them to pay a visit heah after we've taken off. Ah do believe Fasif Khadid's home was merely a dress rehearsal. Ah'd sure like another test run. Ah no longer have need of this earthy hovel. Destroy it!"
"Anything else, sir?"
"That'll do for now, Ans. Just git back heah as soon as ya can."
"Of course, sir."
As he was talking, Blix was unaware of a car pulling up in the driveway. It was not Ans. He was completing the sinister mission entrusted to him by his boss just now. He would return shortly, but not now. No, it was someone else outside. The car slowed and pulled up next to Vic's parked car.
A determined Corrie stepped out, straightening her exquisite black slacks and pure white turtleneck silk blouse. She pulled the mink collar of her winter coat up around her neck as she started to head for the front entrance.
Meanwhile in his study, Blix had focused his attention on Van Wess.
"Ah'd love to kibitz with ya for hours, Victor. Y'all such easy fodder. But, as ya heard, Ah've
a plane to catch so Ah'll have ta dispatch of ya quickly."
"Oh, don't worry," Vic shot back, rising and positioning himself between the door and the desk. "I don't expect to get out of this house alive. But I know the truth, Blix, and now everyone else will too."
"Ah wouldn't be so sure of that, Victor." Though Blix tried to hide it, he was seething underneath.
"You are a demon and your mission will fail. God will not allow--"
"Don't you dare mention Him in this house!" Blix shouted in rage. "Ever! Did ya hear me? Ever!!!"
The fury of fire was now evident. His hate exposed ugliness as skin shriveled, revealing scales forming a grotesque reptilian hide. Molten lava-like color surged to his pupils as the mutation continued. The rage grew stronger as did the body. Before Vic's stunned senses Blix's hands morphed into claws, teeth protruded from his disfigured face, growing longer, faster and leaner, weaving, coiling.
Vic had seen enough. He knew what was coming. He had to try to stop it, slow it down somehow. He pulled from his coat his prize possession - his Derringer pistol - and aimed it at the hideous monster forming before his very eyes.
Corrie was at the front steps when she heard an unearthly, hellish roar and then three - four, finally six bullet blasts. Startled she backtracked toward the sound around the side of the house. She would not be in time.
Vic had emptied his gun into the heart of this heartless beast that grew stronger, more voracious as it advanced on Victor.
"Holy God," Vic cried out with all the strength of his vocal chords. It was not a curse, but a prayer, the final prayer of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. It was the only weapon he had left as he held the Rosary high. "Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole worl --"
Vic never finished the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, but his prayer for mercy would be answered. God would undoubtedly welcome this loyal son of the faith into His kingdom immediately, for he had given himself totally in trying to destroy the consummate evil personified in Edwin Blix; the very man who had transmorphed into the demonic serpent of the scriptures.
The ghastly and grizzly reptilian creature gorged into Vic, engulfing him in a mass of venomous nothingness as Vic's body, bones and blood imploded within the vortex of pure evil. A devastating sound obliterated the atmosphere. Victor Van Wess had finished his journey on earth. The Basilisk had decimated the remains of his flesh, but it could never have his soul.
Corrie had seen it from 40 feet away through the large Old English windowpanes into Blix's study. Vic had been helpless against this monster. Its bellow had been insane, a roar of rage as it had lunged at Victor, knocking him flat. She could hear Victor's own screams. She had seen the very Basilisk Vic had told her of, warned her about. The same one Pat had been attacked by. It was true. It was hideous, this lizard of a man. It did exist. She had seen it with her own eyes.
Her sense of survival kicked in as she raced back toward her car, screaming "Oh God, it can't be happening. Nooooo!!!"
Frantically she fumbled for her keys. The adrenaline was surging throughout her body as she jumped into her car, gunning the motor. She shoved the gear into reverse and accelerated backwards, propelling towards the gate, trying to steer while looking over her shoulder and watching the rearview mirror. Tears coursed down her face. She gulped for air. Halfway there. It still seemed an eternity away. Almost there.
Within 50 feet of the two gargoyle portals a black limo turned into the driveway heading toward the mansion. Corrie slammed on the brakes, skidding towards the oncoming grill of the limo. Pumping the brake and turning the wheel, she spun the car as it hurtled toward a copse of trees near the outer wall.
With a thud the passenger's side of her car rammed into a mighty oak, tilting the vehicle in a 40-degree angle, the gas tank dangling. Corrie squeezed her lithe frame barely through the small opening in the sunroof and rolled away as the dangling gas container caught a spark from the friction.
The explosion towered above her as she rolled out of harm's way, trying to get as far away as possible. Debris just missed as she struggled to her feet, trying to run on the grass, crusted by the previous days snow that had left it brittle in the cold. Looking over her shoulder, she could see someone gaining on her. A young thug she thought. She realized it as he tackled her to the turf, practically knocking the wind out of this Italian filly.
As he lugged her back towards the mansion, she swore it would take more than this to keep her down. She swore to herself that she would somehow avenge Vic's death.
They arrived at the front door of the mansion, Corrie still kicking and screaming as Blix opened the door. He looked blanched and more gaunt than before, as if he had just given 8 pints of blood. He was definitely weaker than just a few minutes earlier when he had goaded Vic before destroying him.
"Let me go, let me go, you ass!" Corrie's temper flared.
"Good work, Jordan," Blix complimented Jordan Collier as the latter tightened his grip on Corrie's arm. "Victor should've sent y'al and none of this woulda been necessary."
"Thank you, Mr. Blix." Collier simpered.
"Shall we kill her, Master?" Ans whining voice might have reminded one of Peter Lorre's role in The Maltese Falcon.
"Not right now, Ans. Ah think she can be very valuable to us in Rome." Then, turning toward Corrie, Blix shifted into his saccharinely sweet mode, "Well Ms. Morelli, y'all be returnin' to the land of yur ancestry."
"And you can go to yours: HELL!"
Corrie's slam was meant as an insult. Blix took it as a compliment. He threw back his head and laughed, opening his parched lips to let the sound emerge. Corrie felt the vise of fear constrict her heart. She knew that in all her life all the things she'd ever been afraid of had been merely surface emotions, nothing more than bad dreams. This horrible sound, which cackled up from the depths of Edwin Blix's being and rumbled through the room, booming off the wall-papered and paneled walls like a boomerang, was the core of all Corrie's fears.
"Corinne Morelli, yorah fool!" Blix taunted. "Fools are the tools by which our victory'll be won. Come, we go. Ah do not wish to remain heah any longer."
Immediately Ans and Collier gripped her, dragging her down the steps to the limo. Her hands were bound behind her. Blix slipped into the seat directly across from her to gloat some more.
"You're no doubt askin' yerself, 'why me, why me?'" Blix mocked her.
"Victor was so right!" she substantiated.
"Darlin', understand and understand well. Y'all surrendered yer freedom when ya entered mah domain. Ya shoulda heeded Victor's advice and stayed the hell outta this. Now y'all come with me and see what power's really about!"
She just glared back. She'd not give this literal beast of a man the pleasure of seeing her fight fruitlessly. She'd rather die than have him know he'd won by fear. Die. Had she really thought that? God forbid! A new strength blossomed within her at that moment, an energy that took her by surprise because she'd never known it existed within her before. Where it came from she knew, realizing it was the same force that spurred the martyrs on. One simple word that meant the world and beyond: Faith.
It persuaded her onward, strengthening her inner resolve. "We'll see, Blix," she calmly replied after a long pause. "The end has not come yet."
"Only a matter of time, mah dear. A matter of time."
"Time will prove to be your enemy, Blix," she countered as the limo approached Love Field and Blix's private jet waiting on the tarmac.
"On the contrary, Ms. Morelli. Now you're gonna find out what retribution is like when it's been kept waiting for an eternity."
"I already know the outcome. Ever read the bible, Blix?"
"A fairy tale Ah assure ya. This little trip'll prove it. A little trip, mah dear," he taunted wickedly, "a jaunt into hell before ya die. A fittin' tribute to the woman left behind, don't ya agree?"
Corrie's emotions were in a pique. He was manipulating her. The Devil was trolling and she was unwittingly taking the bait. Hatred was swelling up. She was unable to contain it.
"I'll see you in hell!" she sneered.
"Ya probably will." Blix heckled.
The triggermen sent by Blix blended in as they moved throughout the six story Metroplex Mirror southwest of downtown Dallas between I-35 and the Trinity River. The unpatented mylar mirror strips were placed behind computers on the five floors of offices and in the main bay where the huge web presses were being prepared for prepping.
The inks were being mixed, the massive two-ton rolls of high quality newsprint hydraulically lined up. By six p.m. tonight the first edition would be sent down from production and plates electronically laid out in galleys. Gone were the days of setting lead type. Speed and efficiency were paramount in the age of instant news. Competing against cable TV, news radio and the internet had necessitated changes that drastically reduced jobs and impersonalized so much.
If only this night it had impersonalized everyone so that only machines were left vulnerable to the Legion's destruction. Machines could be rebuilt. Buildings could be reconstructed. New roads could be paved. But one human life could never be replaced, ever. No matter how much one evangelized for cloning and the medical benefits it might produce for others, it had no soul. It was not created in goodness. Soulless creatures have no role in God's Master plan.
Within the confines of the Metroplex Mirror complex this afternoon machines were powerless without the human intellect. As many as two hundred people were busy at their duties in producing a daily newspaper. They were so engrossed in compiling everything that would be in the November 6th issue that few even saw the triggermen as they slipped right in and slithered right out. Mylar strips with chips were left in all five elevators and the main plant to assure a complete implosion.
Those workers who decided to go home early this day would forever be thankful they acted on a gut hunch, whether that was selfish or not, at least they would still be alive. Not so, it seemed, for those poor unfortunate souls who were conscientious to their jobs or those motorists who, the fates determined, would be driving by right at 4:30 this afternoon.
Terrorism in Iraq yes. That was the mid-east. But Dallas? Homeland Security was too well employed for terrorism to penetrate the perimeters of the U.S. Ever since 9-11-01 that had been top priority for several years. Without realizing it, millions and millions of Americans had freely forfeited their constitutional rights of freedom and privacy in return for feeling secure. How secure they would feel tonight was another matter.
Journalists, secretaries, composers, artists, sales people, accountants, executives, mail room employees, maintenance, repair and security guards had no idea. Most were busy preparing tomorrow's early edition.
The fleet of Metroplex Mirror trucks were backed against the fifteen bay doors, ready to receive the bundles and distribute them throughout the Metroplex area. Dallasites had come to expect it, especially for the coupons and specials, not to mention crossword puzzle. It was also a means to trump the competition. With such marketing savvy Blix had gotten the jump on the rival Dallas Morning News. The latter had long been the only paper in town until the Metroplex Mirror took the area by storm with an advertising and promotional discount blitz during a strike at the Morning News. Blix had bankrolled not only the new endeavor, but also the strikers of the Morning News.
By 8:45 p.m. the trucks would be rolling. By 9 p.m. tomorrow's first edition would be on the street.
The Basilisk could not allow that sequence; would not allow it. Blix was a Master at planning, plotting. He had used the fabric of the media as a cover to manipulate and build his power. Few realized Blix International had for years funded terrorism and trusts, mayhem and museums, philanthropists and philanderers, charities and chaos, judges and jihads.
Vic had gone to his death willingly for the cause. Others would not have a choice. Such was the collateral damage of war with the Devil. Few knew that less than 40 minutes away all hell would break out in their own back yard. By taking Corrie along with him, Blix was counting on the fact there was no one that could warn anyone in the Metroplex of the impending holocaust. The clock was ticking and there were few who knew the devastating omen that lurked just 40 minutes away.
Dateline: Vatican City - St. Peter's Square - November 5, 10:50 p.m.
In Rome this night it was the calm before the storm. Piazza San Pietro had been cleared. Though thousands had planned to camp out in St. Peter's Square overnight, Italian gendarmes and Vatican security had put the kibosh on that idea. They had learned their lesson during the interregnum after John Paul II's death when it was total gridlock; a logistics nightmare. This time the whole area would be sealed off and the perimeter enforced.
Thus there was an eeriness that pervaded the grounds this night. In the very center of the piazza the great Egyptian obelisk from Heliopolis pierced the night sky like a needle; appropriate since it was called that in medieval times - the aguglia. The porticos and all 140 colossal, magnificent statues were floodlit and backlit, creating a glow around them. The lights focused on the front facade of the great Basilica as well.
Against this backdrop, a few field reporters were preparing to file reports; one was Colin Rembert for Global SatNet.
Standing with Colin was His Eminence Malachi Chester Lewiston. This New Zealander Cardinal was the Aussies' sentimental favorite to be Pope. Though he really didn't want to do an interview, Lewiston felt he owed Oceania at least a token piece and Colin's company had been most generous to his See.
"Cold, your Eminence?" Colin asked.
"I'll be fine, thank you," responded the ruddy complexioned Prelate, standing two inches taller than the six-foot Rembert.
"Very well. When I press this button and nod you'll know we are on. Are there any questions you don't want me to ask?"
"Only my choice for Pope. That is between God and I," asserted Lewiston.
"I quite understand, your Eminence," Colin responded, holding the pen up. "Shall we?"
He held the 'penultimate' at less than an arm's length. The small spoon-sized dish emerged and folded out, then he pushed the button.
"G'day mates from Rome. This is your friendly correspondent Colin Rembert again. While most of you are just getting up throughout Oceania in what is essentially tomorrow, here at the Vatican night has arrived. It is nearing 11 p.m. and things are relatively quiet right now. Throughout the day this Square behind me was packed."
He pushed another button on the pen, and took a deep breath.
"Right now, your Eminence, we have 15 seconds. They are seeing what I shot earlier. Now, shall we?"
With that and right on cue he clicked another button and held the pen towards the two of them as he moved to the Cardinal's side, holding the penultimate a full arm's length in front to capture both of them.
"We are privileged this evening to be standing with one of twenty-one who will be secluded tomorrow in the Sistine Chapel. Malachi Chester Cardinal Lewiston, the Archbishop of Christchurch. Thank you, your Eminence, for taking time out from your busy schedule."
"You are quite welcome," the Cardinal politely replied.
"You had the privilege of being consecrated by James Darcy Cardinal Freeman in Sydney, correct?"
"Yes," smiled Lewiston. "He was consecrated by His Eminence Cardinal Gilroy in 1959."
"Ah, Norman Thomas Cardinal Gilroy who preceded Cardinal Freeman," Colin added.
"Yes." agreed the Cardinal.
"Well, then, you can see why all of Australia is pulling for you, your Eminence."
The Cardinal's frown warned Colin he was treading on dangerous ground. Rembert picked up on it immediately.
"I meant, your Eminence, know of our affection for you as our favorite son, as it were. Now you know, ladies and gentlemen, that all the Cardinals are sworn to secrecy once they enter the sacred threshold of the Sistine Chapel. Therefore, in respect for your confidentiality, your Eminence, I will not test your patience by asking personal questions."
"Thank you," Lewiston said, showing relief in his eyes.
"But I will ask you, kind sir," Colin continued, "Do you feel the Church can recover from this terrible tragedy?"
"Yes, with God's help, and only with His help," complied the Cardinal.
"What do you think should be the first course of importance for the new Pontiff once he is elected?"
It was a loaded question and Colin knew it. He was counting on catching the Prelate off guard much in the manner another broadcaster - Barbara Walters - had gained fame for setting interviewees at ease and then springing a question on them which they answered before they realized it. Once out, it could not be recalled; maybe explained away, but not denied. This had always been her tactic. It served as the open sesame to other topics that delved deeper into her subjects. For once they were put on the defense, they would try desperately to explain away perceptions which, in turn, opened new vistas into their personalities and psyche. She was a master at it and Colin had gone to school on her technique.
After hesitating briefly, the Cardinal felt impelled to give Rembert's audience some kind of answer.
"I think the first matter of importance is reorganizing the Roman Curia," stated Lewiston simply, not realizing he had just given Colin the opening he had been waiting for.
"So then, your Eminence, with the ranks of the College of Cardinals now reduced to 21...," Colin jumped to another question, cleverly disarming the interviewee. "Ah, your Eminence isn't that the smallest number since 1471 during the conclave that would elect Pope Sixtus IV?"
"Yes, you are correct," Cardinal Malachi informed. "You have done your homework."
"Well," continued Rembert as if on cue, "do you feel it vital to hold a consistory fairly soon after the election to increase the ranks?"
"Well, that of course depends on the eligible harvest of worthy Bishops. It is something the next Pope must carefully examine and seek feedback from the various--"
"But, your Eminence, isn't that thinking conciliar in the nature of depending on the collegiality factor?"
What kind of question was this, thought Cardinal Lewiston. "Well, I think--"
Again Colin Rembert interrupted. "Let me put it this way, your Eminence. Is there a danger that there will be a deadlock, a polarization during the conclave, that it is possible factions will be drawn and whoever comes out victorious will stack the deck toward that persuasion, whether it be liberal or conservative or moderate?"
That was a loaded question if ever there was one. "We cannot presume, sir, that such a scenario will evolve."
"But if it did," Rembert probed further, "would not there be more resentment from the losing side?"
"You, and, I fear, your viewers," as the Cardinal looked directly toward the penultimate, "have forgotten the power of the Paraclete - the Holy Ghost."
"Yes, true," signaled the Australian reporter. "But how can the world and the Church recover from the slaughter of over a million people through the worst kind of fanatic terrorists this world has ever known? Does it not seem to you, as it does to millions around the world, that, indeed, all of hell has been unleashed on the earth?"
"The world, the Church may never fully recover. We leave that to divine providence. But I assure you, as Christ has assured us in Matthew 16: 18 that the gates of hell shall not prevail against His Church."
"We would hope and pray you are right, your Eminence. Tell me then, how would one go about rearranging the Roman Curia?"
"I believe that the new Pope must get back to basics. Over the last century the offices within the Holy See have become too departmentalized, too secularized, too focused on temporal needs and not enough on the needs of the soul."
Spoken as a true shepherd. Colin was unwittingly lobbying for Malachi Chester Lewiston as the next Pope. He would be ideal, a moderate with conservative ideas. While this might have been favorable to the masses that tuned in this morning during their breakfasts down under, it would work against the Cardinal with those who counted: his fellow colleagues in the College of Cardinals.
Long it had been said that he who would enter the Sistine Chapel as a possible Pope more often than not exited still a Cardinal. Those who knew how the Holy Ghost worked realized that once the Sacred Conclave began, man had to give way to God. Only in this way could the convening Cardinals allow the power of the Sanctifier - the Third Person of the Trinity - to do His work, enabling the miracles which Cardinal Lewiston spoke of in his reply to Rembert's probing questions.
"Your Eminence, tell me, can we expect--"
"I'm sorry to interrupt you, Mr. Rembert and your viewers. I must be at Matins. Please forgive me for cutting this short. May God bless and keep you all. I ask you to pray for me and my fellow Cardinals that we will do God's will."
With that Cardinal Lewiston quietly slipped away toward the Bronze Door and the Sistine Chapel side of the Basilica where they could enter on the north side through the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament.
* * * * * * *
Fasif came closer. He was smiling. Around him a glow, an aura of holiness. 'Elias is at peace. You have served well, Niki. God is pleased. Vic has gone home. Follow your heart. Keep the faith. Beware of the deceiver. Wake the Angels. Wake the Holy Doctors. Danger is near. Wake the Angels and the Holy Doctors. Look for the Door beneath the Chair. There is the Door to the See. Danger is near. Wake the angels, Niki.'
"Niki, Wake up, it's Doctor Ogidi. We've got to get out of here. Wake up, Niki."
Dateline: Rome - In the bowels of the Coliseum - November 5, 10:59 p.m.
Niki opened his eyes. Makuta Ogidi stood over him.
"You were in a deep sleep, my friend," the doctor remarked. "Come, we must prepare. We must be at the top of the hill in half an hour. Hurry. Here is a flashlight. Use it sparingly. We cannot afford detection. I will leave now. We will meet at 11:30 across from the warehouse. Set your watch."
"Go with God, Doctor," Fr. Andriopoulos called after him. "I will be there."
Niki yawned and stretched his 6' frame. Had he only been asleep for three hours? He felt refreshed,
energized, ready to go forth for the Lord against His enemies, Niki's enemies. He would not fail his Maker. He would not fail his mentor Fasif Khadid.
"You did not die in vain, my dear, dear friend." Niki said to Fasif as if he were there. To Niki he was.
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