Episode Eleven: Out on the Ledge
Patrick Michael Gallagher had been resting and recuperating. The laser surgery performed by Dr. Ghislieri had done wonders to the tissues. By the grace of God the healing was almost complete. While something within prompted the Texas reporter out of a somnambulant state, he could not envision the journey ahead this night. He had been to hell and back. Within minutes the fates would call for a return trip. Would he be ready?
While Stephen was struggling to unloosen the taut binding that fettered Sister Bridie, Pat's last thoughts - before he had drifted off while the nurse was explaining the painting - returned to his consciousness. The castle and the turrets. The voice within urged him to get dressed, get moving, out of this infirmary to that castle.
Despite the fact his wounds were still tender, he hurriedly slipped on his pants and shirt. Little did he know that it might be too late. Elena Grabe was approaching the infirmary. Four guards plus Captain Lubac and Sergeant Dionis had been alerted and were heading for the infirmary as well. Macelli, too, was on his way. All exits would be covered. Trouble by any other name was Legion.
Dateline: Vatican City - Infirmary on the Second Floor of the Apostolic Palace - November 5, 11:50 p.m.
Slowly, Pat slipped out of his room. The hall was empty. He could see a light at the far end. All was quiet. Then he heard it. A hissing sound. He turned, expecting someone directly behind him. Nothing. Yet something, as yet invisible, but nonetheless palpable.
A commotion and a thud. It came from the far end of the hall. Into view came a nun, her habit somewhat disheveled. She was heading towards Pat's room. Pat jumped back in bed, pulling up the covers to hide the fact he was dressed. Maybe this nun had news on Sister Bridie, he thought optimistically. He had to know as he grabbed the IV and slipped it between his arm and body to give the impression it was still in...just as the nun appeared in the doorway.
Feigning the state of just coming out of a deep sleep, Pat spoke in a weakened voice, "Sister, I was expecting the night nurse. She was supposed to be here by now."
"She has been relieved. I am the night nurse. I see from your chart you have been badly injured. No?"
"Looks worse than it is," Pat amended as Grabe moved closer. He didn't like the look in her eyes; pools of darkness whose depth seemed to envelop him, drawing him under like a swirling whirlpool. "Listen, I gotta get outta here. Got business to attend to."
"So do I, MR. GALLAGHER!"
Grabe reached for his arm, the syringe of truth serum in the other hand. Pat immediately, and with surprising agility, rolled to the other side of the bed and landed feet first on the floor.
"I demand to see the doctor," he shouted, hoping other infirmary staffers would hear.
"You are in no position to make demands. I vill do the demanding. Where is Pope?"
"Sorry, sister, but you remind me of my 7th grade math teacher," Pat said curtly, as he desperately tried to keep his distance while she lunged across the bed. He was too quick. "Know what? Couldn't stand her either."
She had him cornered now. With his back to the window, voices from the hallway momentarily distracted Grabe. Someone had heard Pat's shout.
"Medico, medico. Pronto! These two are badly hurt. Pronto! Pronto!!! The voice came from the reception room.
Grabe had left her calling card on the way in, now she would have to answer. Pat seized the instant, not quite sure how or what to do, but he knew he had the know-how and guts to improvise as he went along. It was no time to rationalize a plan. Instinctively he pushed the shutter and rolled his body out on the window ledge, out into the night, desperately trying to flee this raging nun. It was the only lifeline he had. His shirt caught on the crank handle, ripping and giving way. Whoa, that was close, he thought as he teetered for a split second before grabbing a buttress on the side to brace himself from falling. Breathing deeply, he set his feet firmly on the denticules extending from below the ledge, clinging to the wall as he surveyed his next leap.
Into the room burst the tertiary nurse who had been tending to another patient. "Dear God, Sister, what happened?" exclaimed the bewildered tertiary scanning the chaos in the room.
Grabe looked to the ledge, but was forced to devise an alternative plan. "The murderer - he vent berserk. He escaped out on ledge," she cried out, trying to sound frightened to throw off her real intent.
The tertiary nurse started towards the window, but Grabe held her back. "You won't catch him. He is quick. I vill call guards. They vill catch him."
"I cannot believe Father Donaldson would--" the tertiary nurse shook her head.
"That was not a priest." Grabe's guttural tone betrayed her intentions as she boldly interrupted the nurse. "That man was Pat Gallagher, a very dangerous man."
"I find that hard to believe," the third order nun stated with conviction. "I treated his wounds."
"Looks can be deceiving," Grabe railed at this person who had intercepted her plans. The naive tertiary did not see it coming as Elena brought the full force of the back of her hand down on the nurse's carotid. A thud and then silence. Life is so fleeting. Little did this innocent nurse realize that when she had checked in this evening at 5 p.m. that she would not check out.
While her soul was left to God, Grabe reached the window and craned her neck. Thanks to the heroics of the tertiary nurse, Pat had been given something precious. Time! Time to put distance between that raging German and himself even if it meant gaining an additional 50 feet farther away and down to the narrow ledge that led him to the upper entablature of the Bernini Colonnade. He could hear her breathing, roiling, her spewing hatred hanging like a rope circling to entrap him, suffocate him in the hell the Legion had chosen.
"American one," she derided in the most diabolical tone. "You can run from us, but you cannot hide."
She let out a hideous hellish cackle that made Pat shudder. He wondered how the whole of Rome could not hear it. So now what? He was out on the ledge, his breathing short and heavy; heart pounding. But, considering the alternative, he wasn't about to complain.
Dateline: Rome - Warehouse above the Coliseum - November 5, 11:55 p.m.
"Let us not tarry, my Grecian friend," Ogidi cautioned Fr. Niki Andriopoulos as they crouched in dark clothes close to the truck that had been loaded earlier.
The driver closed the back gate. Like a Dutch door the top was open. Climbing into the cab, the one delivering this shipment revved the engine. Silently the two figures hiding in the shadows darted to the back of the truck. They catapulted over the five-foot lift gate, tumbling into the entrails of the rig as it picked up speed heading down hill past the Coliseum and beyond to its appointed destination.
Dateline: Vatican City - Infirmary on the Second Floor of the Apostolic Palace - November 5, 11:57 p.m.
All the Legion operatives had been alerted by Macelli to the whereabouts of Pat Gallagher as they all converged in the entrance to the infirmary. Cardinal Josef Vendhem was the first to pounce.
"This is not good, Antonio," the German prelate shrieked facing his Italian comrade. "Too many loose ends."
"We must get these bodies out of here mach schnell," Grabe demanded.
"May I remind you, Elena," Macelli's acidic voice trilled. "You let the American elude you. The fault is yours before the Master."
"Bickering only weakens our mission," Vendhem reprimanded them "It is time to clean up the messes you have both made."
Oh, how Lucifer thrived on in-fighting. Divide and conquer! Despite his brilliant scheming, chaos was one of his priceless entertainments.
Macelli groaned angrily, "Because our man we sent as Pope did not have the opportunity to make the statement, it is difficult to convince the public that he wrote what the Master conceived."
"Especially with Navarro still alive," Grabe's words stabbed the Italian Camerlengo.
"And Zachmunn," added a steely Vendhem.
"And the American reporter you let get away." Macelli returned to fling his barbs solely at the German fraulein.
It was a game of thrust and parley among Legion members. Was this their Achilles heel?
"We waste the Master's valuable time," quaked the acting Vicar General. "Dispatch every available guard immediately."
Dateline: Vatican City - Basement of the Apostolic Palace - November 5, 11:58 p.m.
"Those guards knew how to tie ropes," grumbled Stephen, as he tried to unloose the first knot binding Sister Bridie's right ankle to the base of the chair. He struggled with the left foot. No use.
"My hands, Monsignor," Sister Bridie suggested, "can you unty them?" Her voice was regaining strength.
"Hope the knot's looser than this one, Sister," a concerned Navarro voiced as he moved behind the chair, starting to tug at the double knot Lubac had fastened. "I need a knife or a--"
His eyes scanned the shattered shards of the statue. He reached down, choosing a sturdy sharp piece by rumbling through the thick ceramic rubble. Reaching for the piece that looked ideal for his purpose, he grabbed it while a yellowed piece of paper partly covered by the dust of the shattering peeked out. Instinctively he picked it up. It was an envelope and it was sealed. Sealed with a wax coating. He stuffed it inside his cassock and quickly sliced at the hemp binding Sister's right wrist. Thank God for strong and sharp ceramic. He sawed away with Sister anxiously watching the slow progress.
He was concentrating so intently on the tightly wound hemp that he did not see the level light above the elevator begin its descent. Sister Bridie did, frozen in place. The truth serum told her there was no escape. She was being honest with herself, honest with God. Tears flowed as she began praying a Hail Mary.
"Keep praying, Sister, I've just about got it."
"I fear it be too late, Monsignor. They be here. Hide. Quickly!"
Stephen had been so engrossed in unfettering the knots that he had not realized the elevator was descending. The elevator dinged. He quickly peered over the top of the chair behind the partially bound Irish nun as the door began to open. Both nun and priest froze in place, fear etching their features.
Two Swiss Guards came forward. Behind them a Cardinal. Was it Macelli and his henchmen?
"Are you a sight for sore eyes!!!" exclaimed Stephen, letting out a huge sigh as he rushed forward. It was not the feared Macelli, but the kind rescuer Cardinal Gregory Zachmunn who was smiling broadly.
"I might say the same for you two," Gregory acknowledged, surveying the shattered pieces of plaster and Sister incarcerated to the chair.
"What be happenin', your Eminence?" A lilt and yet shock laced her words as the two guards, Captain Royce Schuster and Lieutenant Alexis Geraud quickly freed her from her bonds.
"Nothing that is pleasing to God. That I can assure you. There are too many casualties. I feared you both might be among them. Thank God you're safe."
"For now." Stephen exhaled. "But the guards, the German nun." Navarro was animated. "They were heading for the infirmary. Pat!!?"
"We've no time to waste," urged Gregory. Quickly."
Dateline: Vatican City - Roof of the Bernini Colonnade - November 5, 11:59 p.m.
Like an evil tide five Swiss Guards, Macelli and the Teutonic nun poured out of another elevator and scrambled the 10 feet to the tiled roof of the Colonnade. There they fanned out in search of the fugitive American. Pat had a head start, huffing and puffing eastward along the narrow walkway that butted up against the continuous stone railing and the colossal statues that peered out to the square, oblivious to the intruder racing behind them. However, the expanse of light shed by a nearly full moon tracked every step.
The knell nearly knocked Pat and his pursuers off their feet. The midnight bells clarioned from the top of St. Peter's, resonating to the very elevated pavement beneath their feet. In the moonlight one of the guards caught sight of Gallagher's shadow and was in hot pursuit, gaining on him as Pat raced towards the far end of the Colonnade roof on the Square's side. There was no way down as he peered over the ledge. Dead end. He climbed the tiles like a crazed chimpanzee, reaching the peak and then no choice but to head down the other side, away from the great Square with the obelisk piercing the night sky. Again he looked down. Thank God he didn't suffer from vertigo. He could hear two guards in the distance closing in on the dark side of the slope. He had no other choice but to face the guard advancing down the slanted tiles towards him with halberd held forward.
The nimble Texan sidestepped the first thrust, then lunged for the rolled-up rope fastened to the guard's belt. It momentarily threw the papal gladiator off balance as Pat clutched a fistful of rope. Yanking on it, Pat was able to force the guard to his knees, still attached at the belt to the rope Pat clung to, clutching desperately as a fulcrum to stave off this armed warrior of the Legion. With a mighty kick Pat knocked the halberd from the guard's hands. It buggy-whipped into the air, plunging down into a tight crevice where it clanked and stuck. The small thin blade of the halberd perilously faced straight up just a few feet away on the ledge of the Intrado above the Doric columns.
The Legion guard Sergeant Alonzo Dionis hurtled himself at Pat. The force of their two bodies crashed into the stone railing. The impact knocked them to the pavement ledge as they wrestled to regain control. Dionis reached beneath his scabbard, pulling out a ten-inch knife, the moonlight reflecting off the metallic blade just before the guard drove it towards Pat's chest. With all the strength Gallagher had left, he dodged the stiletto point by inches as it clanked against the concrete, then Pat leveled the guard with a left forehand that knocked Dionis off. The guard sprung to his feet, his back to the rail, bracing to rush Gallagher, but the savvy Texan was ready. He bowled forward ramming his shoulder into Alonzo Dionis' stomach. Gravity took over as Dionis toppled over backward, impaled on the halberd point now protruding from Dionis' sternum, blood gurgling from his throat.
Pat heaved a huge sigh, steadying himself in preparation for the next onslaught. He could hear them but he couldn't see them. Maybe two, possibly three of them loping along the walkway on the other side of the peak of the northeast Colonnade.
"Dionis! Dionis, come in. Do you hear me?" The static on the dead guard's telecom unit, clipped to his side opposite the rope, could not disguise the voice. It was that damn German nun. "Dionis. Goddammit! Dionis, answer..."
Dateline: Vatican City - Infirmary - November 6, 12:10 a.m.
The 'debris' had been removed from the infirmary. The lifeless bodies of the tertiary nurse, receptionist and another nurse - all who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time - had been quickly removed by the Legion's guards under Vendhem's supervision. Where? Only the devil knew. No one would be the wiser unless one knew what the Devil was up to. The Legion had fled the scene of the crime, not realizing that was the destination of Cardinal Zachmunn, Monsignor Navarro and Sister Bridie as they arrived with the loyal Swiss Guards Schuster and Geraud. Had the Legion recognized the strategy they would not be flailing at windmills on the roof of the Colonnade, but have set a trap in the infirmary. Because the Devil had been distracted, the resisters found the room in the Infirmary with the open window.
"I be feelin' the worse for Patrick," gulped Sister Bridie.
"No trace of him, your Eminence, they must have him," Stephen lamented, burying his face in his hands. How could any of this be happening behind and within these sacred and holy walls? How could Lucifer have gained so much power as to render the institutional Church a mockery before the world, before God Himself?
"They may not," announced Gregory, discovering a torn piece of Pat's shirt. He leaned out the window and knew instantly. Grabe's desperate tones told them Pat had somehow eluded his attackers.
"He's a step ahead - for now. Come, we must create a diversion. Stephen, my son, I need a loud, Italian voice."
Intuitively Navarro caught the drift. Arising from his morose, he leaned out the window, pulling from his diaphragm every resonance he could find and shouted out, "Pronto! I find him. On ledge. This way. Pronto! Pronto!"
They could only pray the diversion would give Pat some extra time.
The angels carried Stephen's cry for help to the ears of Pat's pursuers. It caught them on the dead run. They turned on their heels. Where they were heading was the diversion; they needed to return. The American had outwitted them. He was still on the ledge. They hurried back as quickly as they could towards the sound of the urgent call.
Elena could see their silhouettes getting closer. "No, you fools! No! No!" Her anger was unabated as they drew closer, huffing and puffing. "YOU IDIOTS! That was a ruse. He must be back there. Dionis will not answer."
As Gregory, Stephen and Sister Bridie quickly exited the infirmary in the escort of Captain Schuster and Lieutenant Geraud, they were driven onward with the awareness they had helped buy time for Pat. Just how much time? That would be left to God.
While they fled the floor, Stephen did not realize the significance of the contents he was carrying safely tucked within his upper pocket in his magenta-trimmed black cassock. It was the envelope he had retrieved from the rubble of the shattered statue.
Little did anyone realize that envelope had frantically been hidden in haste within the hollow base of the now demolished statue over 50 years ago. That statue at one time stood proudly as a magnificent sculpture of Saint Catherine of Siena within the Apostolic Apartment of the Pope. The two who had concealed the contents had long passed. Only Heaven now knew the content of that envelope. When revealed, it would shed a prophetic light on what had happened over the past half century. The sealed envelope held the key: the key to the Keys of the Kingdom!
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