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

Part V
Eleventh Chapter
The Shedding

Episode One: Wake the Angels!

    "And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony, and they loved not their lives unto death. Therefore rejoice, O ye Heavens, and you that dwell therein. Wo to the earth, and to the sea, because the devil is come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he hath but a short time."

    Apocalypse 12: 11-12


       More than just a few had scattered as the dark side of midnight passed into the sixth day of November. Yet all along the Via della Concilliazione, and practically every adjacent street near the Vatican, in alleys and entrance ways, despite the coolness of the night, the homeless were huddled. These were not the homeless of the destitute pauper type, but those who were homeless of heart, mourning the loss of their leader. Many could afford the comforts of a hotel, but chose, for various reasons, to spend the night vigil in prayer, sleep, and mortification of the flesh. For these it was the Catholic way, faith and culture that kept them on their knees in prayer.

       They had wanted to camp out in St. Peter's Square, beneath the porticos, near the steps of the great Basilica in anticipation of the funeral that would begin at ten a.m., now less than ten hours away. But Vatican gendarmes and Italian police had been under orders to vacate the Square, clear it out for security reasons. Nevertheless, many of the dispatched would be ready, first in line. Some would even be privileged to get inside. Thus they waited on the cold hearth of the pavement, blanketing two entire blocks where no one could pass. They whiled away their time praying, talking, singing, crying and laughing. Some even tried to sleep, huddled in various contortions to stay warm beneath makeshift hovels of blankets, coats, umbrellas and other material this night that reflected a strange tableau from above as the moon shone brightly in the southeastern sky.

       The lunar reflection glimmered off the Tiber as a truck rumbled over the bridge, heading west down the wide Via Della Concilliazione where few looked up. They did not know or care about the contents of this rig barreling towards the Vatican. Inside the cargo hold, two men clung to grip-handles to prevent being jostled to and fro. Jonah had spent three days and three nights in the belly of the whale. The Greek priest Father Niki Andriopoulos and Dr. Makuta Ogidi were relieved their journey in the paunch of this truck would be less than twenty minutes. The crates had been secured, not so the human cargo that had stowawayed this night.

       Two traffic gendarmes signaled the truck to detour. The flood of mourners blocked a clear path on the main avenue. The driver was instructed to turn right for one block then left to the Colonnade and left again. A cordoned off path had been made for necessary traffic. Few were allowed to proceed, but the driver provided a pass that left the police officer unquestioning the reason. He signaled the rig through.

Dateline: Vatican City - Roof of the Bernini Colonnade - November 6, 12:14 a.m.

       The moonlight caught the glimmer of a heavy-duty cable wire extending from the base of the portico out from the farthest corner of the elliptical colonnade across the street to the six story building on the Italian side. It was too far for Pat Gallagher to reach. He paced the ledge, frustrated, knowing the other guards would return. Think, Gallagher! Think! He berated himself, the adrenaline surging through his body.

       Despite the heavy static on Dionis' telecom unit, Pat knew they were close. Glancing at the unit, he remembered the rope. Decisively he grabbed the guard's discarded knife that had nearly missed ending Pat's life. He bent down to extract the hawser fastened to the dead guard's belt by cutting the belt itself. The sturdy Velcro tips on the belt might be a lifesaver, he hoped, as his mind formulated a plan.

       In a matter of seconds he rehearsed his next move in his head, visualizing it clearly in his mind's eye. Maybe it would work. He'd seen enough Tarzan movies, even marveled how Indiana Jones had done it on the silver screen, as well as several actors from the Errol Flynn-era to the present, all of whom had perfected the swinging rope trick. But that was stunt work, make believe. This was real.

       Pat didn't have time to debate the wisdom of his actions. The other turn-coat guards were already climbing the tiles on the other side. Within seconds they'd discover him. If he was going to go, he might as well do it with flare. With the clip end for weight he gave it his best fling. It serpentined out into the darkness like a honing missile zoning in on its target ten feet out from where he was standing on the edge. Zrip, zzrip, zzzrip, zzzripp it whipped instantly around the cable. Had the Velcro grabbed? It was now or never.

       Wrapping his uninjured right wrist around the end of the rope, Pat swung his body out over the abyss of concrete below, just as a truck turned left heading south on Largo Degli Alicorni. the one-way street that served as the canyon between the six-story building on the Italian side and the east end of the Bernini Colonnade.

       Pat felt himself plunging as the rope vibrated to its source. In bungee fashion it grabbed him, whipping him back up and then down again. Would his weight hold him? He knew the Velcro could not hold much longer. Dangling forty feet above the street he would plunge to his death or be shot down from above. Dilemma and peril had become his middle names. He could feel the rope slipping. Beneath him he could see a black truck approaching. He prayed the rope would hold long enough. Above, the voices of the Legion's guards became clearer as they searched for him. They had not seen him fly off the ledge. Despite the lunar luminescence, they could not see the figure desperately clinging to the very same type of hemp that had been used to bind Sister Lucy to the chair earlier.

       The truck rumbled closer, sounding like a death train approaching.

       Then the Velcro gave way.

       Pat felt himself plummeting; not even enough time for his entire life to flash before his mind's eye.

       Thump! The centrifugal force of his body ripped through the canvas covering the top of the truck.. He might have plunged to his death had he not, for the mere sake of survival, instinctively grabbed the steel bar framing the cargo hold.

       He could feel someone tugging at his legs, pulling him down. What strength he had left was waning. He couldn't hang on any longer. He sank into the dark guts of the rig, overwhelmed by two men who wrestled him into submission, trying to asphyxiate him with the canvas tarp.

       "Keep him quiet," commanded Ogidi boosting himself up hoping to see from where he had descended. No clue as the truck rolled past the concrete hitching posts - those stone barriers that jutted up from the pavement bordering the open end of St. Peter's Square. The truck veered right around the outside of the south Colonnade.

       "Where'd he come from, Dr?," a puzzled Niki inquired as Makuta lowered himself back down to where Niki had Pat pinned against the bed of the truck. Niki held the ripped canvas around his head, smothering Pat who flailed in desperation.

       "Perhaps we should ask him," suggested a cautious Ogidi, motioning for Niki to lift him up, but very carefully.

       Niki slowly peeled the canvas from his face. Pat exhaled deeply, gulping at the air now available. It took a few seconds to realize Providence had again provided the impossible.

       Even in the dim light of night Niki recognized him immediately, letting go momentarily of the angst built up within. "We have got to stop meeting like this, my American friend."

       "God, I thought I was a goner! But how...?"

       "We can talk later," Ogidi cut him off. "I must stay close to this shipment."

       "They will surely see the hole in the roof, Makuta," Niki gestured upward.

       "Yes," Ogidi agreed. "Once we pass through the gates and behind the Basilica you and Pat jump off. I shall stay with the truck to its final destination."

       "Do you think that is a good idea, Dr?" Niki challenged.

       "For now, yes."

       "What's in this truck, gang?" Pat interjected, the reporter in him surfacing once again.

       "That we shall soon find out," Ogidi responded. "For now, help me gather up the tarp so the guards will not suspect."

       The three men scurried to neatly fold the ripped section of the tarp as the truck rumbled toward the side gate.

       "Pat," Niki inquired intently, "I must get into the Basilica, see what is in the coffins. Can you - how you say - keep up with me?"

       "I'm beginnin' to feel like a cat and my nine lives are runnin' out, But don't worry, Nik, I'll keep up."

       The truck slowed at the gate as they all crouched low so as not to be detected. The driver was speaking rapidly in Italian with the guard. Fortunately for the three stowaways in the bed of the truck, the guard had already been bought off. He had no intention of being suspicious of this intruding vehicle. Thus, he quickly motioned the driver through. Soon the rig was moving again passing between the great Basilica on the right and St. Martha's Place on the left, heading behind St. Peter's.

       "Now!" commanded Ogidi.

       "What about rescuin' the Pope?" Pat remembered, looking at Ogidi just as Niki grabbed him. The two tumbled to the ground as the truck continued on with Ogidi still undercover. Would they discover him? What tricks did the resourceful doctor have left in his repertoire?

       They both hit the pavement running once they had landed and rolled, heading for a copse of trees that would give them cover from detection in the moonlight. They huddled near a batch of cypress, blending into the shadows.

       "Now what, Nik?"

       "I am thinking," he retorted looking up toward the backside of the great Basilica. The angels! "That's it, Pat!" Niki announced. "Wake the Angels and the Holy Doctors. Over there. Let us proceed at once."

       "Why not?" trailed Pat facetiously, trying to catch his breath, as he followed Niki on his crusade to God knew where.

       "Over there by the moat, Patrick."

       They moved swiftly towards the base of the Basilica. A stone railing barricaded the sidewalk from the ten-foot deep by fifteen-foot wide gutter. Across the waterless moat the massive edifice of the Basilica towering above reaching from the base of the trench. The backbone of the building arching straight up where two 24' high windows flanking the center rib interrupted the flow before continuing skyward. A faint glow emanated from the windows.

       "Now what, Nik?"

       "Jump, my friend. Use your legs." Niki sprang into the pit, landing, tumbling, and rolling to a stop. "I am okay, Patrick. Quickly. Jump."

       Pat didn't stop to think as he hurtled forward, landing and rolling. "Kinda like parachute jumpin'!" he exclaimed, wincing a bit as the pain in his arm reminded him of the wounds that were still there. The fall, and two leaps had brought the pain to the surface.

       One hundred feet or so beneath the circular stained glass window a 4x4 stone marker jutted out. It almost resembled a gravestone. There was about a foot of space between it and the exterior wall of St. Peter's at the base of this moat-like pit that spanned the backside of the Basilica.

       "How strong are you, my friend."

       "Legs are pretty strong."

       "Good. You will need them."

       "I hate it when you say things like that, Nik. It always means trouble."

       "My friend, please help me slide this out," Niki gestured, deliberately ignoring Pat's remark.

       Pitching in with all the muscle Pat and Niki could muster, the two loosened the stone barrier. It sat on a pedestal that swung on a rusty crank pulley. With some difficulty they were able to pry the two-foot by two-foot trap door open. A dark tunnel within beckoned them like a siren on speed.

       "Gotta flashlight, Nik?"

       "Unfortunately, no. But I have the next best thing." Andriopoulos pulled from his satchel one of four candles. "I lifted these church candles from one of the crates on the truck. Providence. No?" As Pat lit the wick for him and Niki stuffed the other candles back into his pouch, he left one of the candles sticking out in case he would need it. "Well, my friend. Shall we proceed?"

       "After you, Nik. You lead, I'll follow."

       They disappeared into the nether regions of the Holy See, directly below the Altar of St. Peter's Throne. Though Pat and Niki could not see it from their blind vantagepoint it was there. Niki had seen it in his mind's eye through the dream of Fasif's warning, where he had been subliminally alerted. Directly above them inside the great Basilica the magnificent large bronze Masterpiece faced out toward the main altar and through the great Canopy to the entrance. Below the Chair of Peter in gilded bronze were four noted Doctors of the Church. On the left St. Ambrose in the foreground, St. Athanasius in the background. One represented the Latin Church, the other St. Athanasius for the Greek Church. On the right St. John Chrysostom, also for the Greek Church, and in front of him St. Augustine representing the Western Church of Rome. Dressed in the garments of apostolic successors with bright bronze miters, they seemed as if they were there to carry the Chair of the Holy See for all time. Indeed, they represented what the Church stood for, against the heresies of their time. The significance of their authority signaled they would not and could not stand for the heresies and errors that had so permeated the contemporary Church in these times either.

       Above this magnificent scene designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini was the tiara and the keys, symbolizing the papacy. Looking down from either side of the circular window bearing the Dove of the Holy Ghost were brilliant bronzed angels in a whirling array of adoration and vigilance.

       As Niki probed the darkness with the lighted wax, he still could not realize why he was here, but he knew he had to be here and at this very time. God had a reason. He had wakened the Angels and the Holy Doctors.

       They continued on their caliginous journey which began to slope upward like a ramp zigzagging as if in a stairwell. While they walked Pat relayed the information he had discovered about the location of the true Pope. He had few answers and many, many questions as they delved deeper into the darkness.


Dateline: Vatican City - Roof of the Bernini Colonnade - November 6, 12:25 a.m.

       Three guards had just returned to the elevator area leading to the roof. In tow they had with them the body of the slain Sergeant Alonzo Dionis. Grabe was livid as Macelli stood by, seething with anger.

       "Narr! Where is the American?"

       "Disappeared, Senora," answered one of the guards.

       "Impossible," raged the fraulein. "Dummkoffs! Ganz!"

       Rather than taking the verbal abuse, the guards moved past her to the elevator. It would be left to the rotund Italian to soothe this tornadic woman, if such was possible.

       "Elena, we must cut the losses and get on with the matter at hand. No?"

       "As long as the American is free, we are at great risk, Antonio! Do you not realize that?"

       The words hit him like nails. "Si. But you forget we have the Irish nun in the cellar," he tried to rationalize the irrational. "Let us proceed back there and see what we can uncover. The truth serum was working. She told you Gallagher was in the infirmary. I believe she knows even more."

       Elena raced ahead as the robust and overweight Antonio Macelli huffed behind. She'd still have to wait for vertical transportation. The Italian prelate lagged also with a purpose. He needed to update Vendhem via the telecom unit.

       Once the elevator arrived, he and Grabe would return to the second floor, then cross the transverse to the Apostolic Palace side where they would take the other lift to the basement. Surprise and shock would greet them. Their reaction would be not unlike the countenance found on gargoyles - an image of the beast the Church had fashioned to remind the faithful of the existence of the devil and to fear him.

       But in modern times the gargoyles had been shelved in favor of modern architecture. No rhyme nor reason provided the evil one a comfortable playing field to convince the masses that he did not exist. No reminders, no fears. The faithfuls' guard was relaxed, causing a relaxation of the disciplines which had resulted in the modernization and updating, novelty and other methods that molded the bridge for satan to cross so easily and escort others back across into the inescapable black hole of hell.


Dateline: Vatican City - St. Peter's Basilica - November 6, 12:35 a.m.

       Cardinal Gregory Zachmunn emerged from the confessional in the near-end apse of the Gregorian Chapel. He had arrived in the right transept of the great Basilica. He held the door as Sister Bridie, and then Monsignor Stephen Navarro, followed. They stood between the altarpieces of St. Erasmus - his body of polished marble arched backward as Diocletian's Roman torturers burrowed a burning rod into his entrails - and Saints Processo and Martiano - St. Peter's prison guards who converted and paid the price evident in their being stretched on racks. To the left was a magnificent mosaic of the Bohemian king St. Wenceslaus comforted by an angel. Martyrs all. Did it foretell an omen, Gregory wondered as he slippered across the immaculate marble floor. As he walked, he prayed for strength and guidance.

       "How did you know about this secret passage?" Stephen whispered in wonderment to Zachmunn.

       "There are many, Stephen, for there has always been intrigue here. Where God is the closest, know His enemy will be near, mocking, taunting, tempting."

       So true realized the head of the Pontifical Council for Universal Communications as they reached the stairway to the crypt. Quickly and carefully they descended below the main altar, passing the tomb of the first Apostle and on to the Clementine Chapel where Gregory ushered them both inside. He led them to the altar and behind, gently positioning the obedient nun near the standing rows of votive lights behind the altar in the walls.

       "You'll be safe here for the time being," assured Gregory. "Don't stray, Sister."

       "Sure n' I not be leavin' this refuge, your Eminence. I be at home here."

       "Remember, Sister," Stephen proffered advice, "if you hear anyone approach, crouch behind the altar. There's a niche under the candles. Don't stay there too long though. Can get a bit hot."

       "N' I not be wantin' to be an exhibit in a wax museum," Sister quipped, her smile trying to lighten the situation.

       Stephen returned the smile, reminding her gently. "Just remember the signal."

       "Stephen," the Cardinal reminded, "let's pray for a few minutes. Then, I must get back and prepare for the funeral and Conclave and ...you've got to find Pat."

       Little did they realize that in another subterranean tunnel within this great Basilica, so rich in history and mystery, another secret passage was drawing Pat and Niki closer, yet farther away.

* * * * * * *


       "How'd you know that trap door was there, Nik?" Pat wondered aloud as the two began climbing some steep stairs in this narrow passage. The only light available was provided by the candle Andriopoulos held aloft to guide the way. Deep in his soul Pat felt as if he was climbing Calvary this night.

       "I attribute it to a dream, my friend. A very prophetic dream."

       "Huh? Explain," Pat urged.

       "Tonight, just before Makuta awakened me, I kept hearing ' Danger is near. Wake the angels. Look for the Trap. The Door is there. Danger is near. Wake the angels.' It was so clear."

       "Well, here we are," resigned Pat. I don't know where but I do know we're climbing."

       "By my calculations we are inside."

       "Great deduction, Sherlock!"

       "No, Pat. I mean inside St. Peter's."

       "Great! But the Pope is at the castle on the Tiber!" protested Pat.

       "I know. But we must think of our journey as a - how you say it - roundabout way to get there."

       "How 'roundabout'?" Pat was getting anxious. "Sure hope that candle holds out."

       "It will," Niki assured him. "Lucky for us it was on the truck. In fact that was all we could find. Candles."

* * * * * * *


       Not far away, yet totally muffled in sight and sound, another agenda was underway as Cardinal Josef Vendhem, Guillaume Brunatti, Luciani Serrano and Sergeant Kutsch arrived with two workers - the driver and his passenger. They were carting in the crates from the truck. Ogidi was nowhere in sight.

       "Macelli and Grabe will be here soon," Vendhem informed as he turned to Serrano. "You and the guard will need to go to Paul VI Hall to make sure all the 142 coffins are locked. They must not be opened!"

       "Did they find more information from the Irish nun, Josef?" Guillaume asked.

       "No," growled Vendhem in beastly agitation. "They fouled that up as well! She was gone."

       "Gone?" puzzled Brunatti, irritating the German cardinal all the more.

       "Vanished!" motioned Vendhem disgustedly, snapping his long fingers in the manner of a magician.

       Guillaume shook his head as his comrade - whom he called Lucio - and the Swiss Guard Kutsch - the same who had been surprised by Stephen's left uppercut in Urazzi's office - continued to check the boxes being unloaded. Each thought only of his individual duty, which, to their demented thinking, would alone save them from the wrath of the Master.

       Shortly Macelli and the imposter nun of German descent arrived, escorted by Lieutenant Laroche Meichardt and another guard, both who had crossed over and had opted for the worthless pieces of silver offered by mammon.

       Grabe set up the portable computer called The Determinator, which the guard had lugged into St. Peter's.

       "That crate, Guillaume," Vendhem instructed. "That is the one. Offen!"

       The Italian, with the help of Meichardt, pulled up the wooden slats binding the box. Inside a 6' x 28" molded Plexiglas body with a domed beam in the chest.

       "Ein-setzen balken uberzug aus kammer sarg und ich setzen sich. Mach schnell," Grabe demanded. Impatiently she waited for the men to carry out her command to place the body bar in the center of the Papal coffin. With none but the Legion present, there was no shock when the casket was opened to find only mylar strips fastened to the inside walls.

       Once the domed beam was in place it would govern the other coffins that would explode wherever they were, no matter if they were in St. Peter's or at a nearby Cathedral or crypt, chapel or church, or even overseas, whether enroute or in their particular diocesan church. This special mechanism was the ultimate weapon of mass destruction with a range of 10,000 miles. All would be triggered after the announcement of the new Pope - one hour after white smoke appeared.

       Vendhem was counting on it. As the new Pontiff it would be to him all looked to recover from this tragic loss of treasure and culture worldwide. The Master had planned it. Christians everywhere would be putty in his hands.

       While Rome slept this eve, the Legion was busy at work setting up the fail-safe trigger that would cause the greatest destruction in the history of mankind. The great Basilica would come crumbling down; boulders, bricks, mosaics, frescoes, oils, priceless treasures, glass, and marble -all indistinguishable rubble in the ruins where once stood the symbol of Christianity. The Fallen Angel of Light's greatest victory was imminent.


Dateline: Vatican City - St. Peter's Basilica - November 6, 1:10 a.m.

       Long had it been said: 'All roads lead to Rome.' At least on this night all paths guided the principals toward the heart of Rome, the heart of Christianity, the heart of the essence of Christ's sacrifice - the high altar beneath the great baldacchino of Bernini in St. Peter's Basilica. The players on this stage would arrive by different ventricles.

       Just as Jonah knew not where the whale would take him, so also Pat and Niki had been transferred from the belly of the truck to the narrow viscera of a dark tunnel. This constricted cavity spiraled upward with no light to identify where this capillary led...only that it sloped upward, steeper and steeper, no end in sight.

       Meanwhile, unbeknownst to all parties, the forces of good were outflanking the Legion. From the artery of the crypt Gregory and Stephen climbed the stairs within the colossal pillar connecting the right transept to the nave. Sister Bridie remained hidden in the Clementine Chapel, an intercessory ally - a source of powerful prayer, more powerful than the explosives being placed this night.

       Elsewhere within the vast walls of this Basilica, Pat and Niki forged onward and upward as the candle flickered, wax dripping to the hard dirt surface by their feet.

       "Just where are we goin', Nik?" Pat wheezed, huffing and puffing as the ascent became more declivitous, the flight higher. "I know they're lookin' for me. What about Stephen and Sister Bridie. Have you seen 'em?"

       "Not yet," Niki answered easily.

       "Well, I'm worried they're in deep shit."

       "Please, Pat," Niki remonstrated his vulgar American friend, "we are in the house of the Lord."

       "You sure about that, Nik?"

       "Relatively sure," he responded.

       "So where in the hell are we...oops, sorry, where in God's name are we Niki?"

       "By my calculations just about there," gushed Niki as he felt for something on the wall in the dark. "Ah, hah. This is it."

       Niki pushed on the wall after he extinguished the candle. It couldn't have come at a better time. The wick had burned down to a point where, in less than another minute, the explosive within the candle would have rendered the tunnel they were in and the tambour of the great Cupola they were about to enter totally destroyed by the impact of the explosive within the wax that had been planted one third of the way down the candle. Little did they realize how close they had come to this tunnel becoming their tomb; little did they realize at the time the impact of the explosive Niki held in his own hand.

       To Pat's amazement, and gratitude, a soft light flooded into the dark crawl space. His eyes had adjusted over the time they had been in this ascending artery. Even the least bit of light was blinding to one who had developed the senses of a mole. That's exactly how Pat felt after burrowing through the trap door beneath the great stained glass window of the Dove. They had entered by the gutter below the exterior wall of St. Peter's, directly beneath the Altar of the Throne of Peter where the Holy Doctors of the Church stood vigil and the Angels hovered above the Chair. Now Niki seemed like an angel suspended in the doorway, the glow emanating off of him. He flowed into the light, a mere silhouette as Pat blindly followed.

       "At last," Pat exclaimed in relief, "the 'light at the end of the tunnel'."

       The luminescence came from the natural and man-made lighting which reflected off the reliefs and works of art adorning the inside of the great dome of St. Peter's. The two quietly closed the door behind them, their backs to the massive lettering on gold mosaic. Pat stood frozen in place on the narrow circular catwalk, looking out in awe and fear. The enormity of the great Basilica hit him squarely in the gut. He felt utterly suspended between Heaven and earth, between paradise and hell.

       His eyes beheld the majestic pendentive ribs rising and tapering to the open Lantern above. Massive. Cherub heads looked down on him from above - sixteen of them encircling the pendentives at the base of the lantern. The immensity of this building hit home with Pat. The Sistine Chapel was a mere dollhouse compared to this. While many assumed Michelangelo's legacy lived in the power of the frescos that lined the ceiling and walls of the otherwise plain rectangular Sistine room, the real genius came from the architectural feats of God's artist. It was evident in this awesome dome of St. Peter's. Everyone had said such an accomplishment was not possible, but Buonarotti knew it was. Because of his ironclad will, millions had held and would forever hold the great Michelangelo in esteem for the technological wonder he had designed centuries ahead of its time. This, Pat finally realized as he stood there - a mere speck, a mere brush stroke within this elliptical canvas of an impossible architectural achievement - this monumental dome was the Florentine artist's true legacy.

       He stood there mesmerized by this marvel until Niki brought him back to reality. Niki motioned Pat to look down through the railing towards the source of voices that Gallagher finally became aware of, barely audible some 200 feet below in the Presbytery area around the main altar.

       "What're they doin'?" Pat whispered, looking down. The sensation seemed to trigger a sense of vertigo, which started to play with his psyche.

       "I wish I knew," Niki replied, "but it does not bode well. We must be careful. Stay low."

       "We're not the only ones who better stay low," Pat informed. "Look, near the far corner of that pillar, Nik."

       "It could be Dr. Ogidi, my friend."

       "Look again, sharp eyes. They're two of 'em. From here it sure looks like Stephen and a Cardinal."

       "Ah, you're right. Cardinal Zachmunn. They looked trapped...like us."

       At the distance of a football field's length below, the conversation of Macelli, Vendhem, Grabe and the other Legion operatives rigging the coffin and candles was not distinguishable. The acoustics were good, but not that good.

       Crouching on the third step from the top and peering over the top of the stairs, Zachmunn and Navarro were much closer. They could hear bits and pieces.

       "Josef, how long does it take for Elena to program the detonator?" Macelli asked nervously.

       "She is one third of the way through, Antonio."

       "Can we hurry it up any?"

       "My dear Cardinal Macelli," Vendhem mocked, "you, above all, should know that a master at their craft must not be rushed."

       "I know, but I fear Gallagher or Navarro may summon reinforcements."

       "Are your guards not on duty, Antonio?"

       "Si."

       "Well, then, fear not. If your organization is competent we will find all three, Nein?"

       Macelli still felt uneasy for Vendhem was toying with him, gaining the upper hand. Nothing frustrated a follower of Lucifer more than chipping away at pride. A surge of rejuvenation coursed through the rotund Prelate's cholesterol-encrusted veins at the sight of Soto Ichariak.

       Ans' twin brother had just arrived from the Paul VI Hall. He had been there for the past 30 minutes overseeing the progress of the implementation of the covert ammunition supplied by his employer Edwin Blix and assuring the coffins were all locked and in place.

       "Ah, Mr. Soto," Macelli patronized, "How are things with your master?"

       "He should be here before the funeral, sir."

       "Then we better have everything ready. Ja?" Grabe pushed her way in, glaring at the little man. Her tone suggested that Soto was a mere gnat, and an unwelcome one at that.

       Soto realized her intent, but did not fear her. How could a servant of Edwin Blix fear anyone? Ichariak cut to the quick. "Your Eminences, fraulein, the coffins in the Pauline Hall have all been secured."

       Brunatti looked to Vendhem, wondering if he needed to carry out the earlier command the Archpriest of the Basilica had given him. Vendhem did not look up. Guillaume took that as a no and remained silent as Macelli spoke up. "Good, then we are on schedule."

       "Regardless, I will personally check them." Grabe insisted, her tone a direct insult to Soto's integrity, as if any among the Legion had any.

       Macelli had felt the barbs, and the disgust for this partner in crime grew. "And I suggest, Elena, once you have finished programming the coordinates that you find the intruders before they find these." The Italian gestured towards the open crates scattered about, "Or before the Master finds you!"

       The fraulein ignored the rantings of the pudgy busy-body Macelli, ignored the simpering of the eunuch Soto and returned to her work. Farther away, behind the pillar two figures quietly slipped back down the stairs to the mouth of the crypt.

       "What do we do now, your Eminence?" Stephen's question was laced with urgency.

       "First we've got to somehow get those coffins out of the Nervi Hall."

       "How?"

       "That is the million dollar question, Stephen. Especially since Macelli and Vendhem have choreographed the entire proceedings for the funeral."

       "Then we pray."

       "I couldn't have said it better myself, Stephen. Did you see above the altar?"

       "What?" Stephen was totally puzzled for he had locked onto the Legion members on a horizontal plane, paying no attention to the surrounding areas from a vertical perspective.

       "Father Andriopoulos and the Dallas reporter."

       "You saw them?"

       "Hiding on the Cupola catwalk."

       "Then Pat made it! Thank God they're safe."

       "For now."

       "And us, your Eminence?"

       "Several years ago, while studying in Rome, an Italian seminarian showed me a passage. Let's hope it's still there," Cardinal Zachmunn expressed, as he pointed towards a darkened, rustic rock corridor beyond the lighted crypt, past the guard rails with the signs emblazoned liberally with the warning 'NO ENTRATA.'

       As they headed in that direction they could clearly hear from above the booming voice of Macelli. "Put four boxes of the candles in the crypt chapels."

       Macelli's order registered at once on the concerned faces of Gregory and his pupil.

       High above, Niki had seen enough. "Lorenzo was right," he said arching his back against the gold mosaic wall away from the railing. "The plastic strip I took from the casket."

       "What? When?" Pat expressed confusion, wanting to know more.

       "They are explosives."

       "Come again?" Pat's sensibilities were shocked.

       "Their plan is to blow up the Vatican," Niki's voice trailed off as he made a quick sign of the cross.

       "No way!," Pat protested.

       As he reached for the railing to get a better look, Pat shifted his feet. For all the caution they had taken, they would be betrayed by an eight-inch piece of history from this great Basilica. It would not change the texture of the Basilica in any fashion, but it would forever change the course of the resisters as Pat's toe caught a protracted piece of marble by the post of the railing. In banging it, a loose chunk of smooth granite dislodged and teasingly teetered on the edge. Pat hurriedly reached for it to retract his clumsiness, to keep their presence still hidden.

       It was too late.

       The solid mass of flint hurtled downward. Like a speeding projectile it fell, just missing one of the Legion's guards, crashing into the harder marble floor where they stood. The small piece of marble became many more pieces. It had not only left a dent in the floor, it had left a wake-up call to the Legion.

       Four, six, eight, then ten pairs of eyes looked upwards toward the launch source of the missile. Pat and Niki could not hide. Like two ants they stood on the ledge of the great tambour knowing they had been seen, realizing already Guillaume Brunatti was on his way up via the elevator shaft inside the main pillar of the left transept. Lieutenant Meichardt and Sergeant Rene Maribault were ascending the stairs to the Cupola balcony at lightening speed.

       "We're only gonna run around in circles here, Nik," Pat rasped. "There's no way out!"

       "Have faith, my friend," Niki encouraged, his eyes searching for an 'Open sesame' somewhere in the magnificent gilded bronze reliefs of the wall. Below them, a golden-hued mosaic frieze beckoned them to believe in Andriopoulos' words. On the ribbon which encircled the cylindrical tambour immediately beneath the balcony was the Latin inscription in 6' foot high lettering. Though the two trapped resisters had other things on their minds, the words truly gave hope to their nearly impossible mission: 'TU ES PETRUS, ET SUPER HANC PETRAM AEDIFICABO ECCLESIAM MEAM, ET PORTAE INFERI NON PRAEVALEBUNT ADVERSUS EAM. ET TIBI DABO CLAVES REGNI CAELORUM,' It was the great promise our Lord had made to the first Pope Simon Bar Jonah - St. Peter: Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I shall build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it; and to thee I will give the keys of the kingdom of Heaven.

       Now Niki hoped and prayed that Christ would see them through this as the Greek priest smashed his shoulder into a section of the wall he thought might be an opening. The fact that it did not give forced Niki back in a natural motion of physics. He lost his balance, toppling over the edge of the railing. Instinctively he reached and grabbed the bottom railing, hanging on for dear life. Yes, life was dear and precious, very precious, especially when hanging precariously above the dizzying perils of sure death. Even worse to Niki was the thought of the sure destruction of the resisters who remained the only obstacle to the Legion carrying out their nefarious agenda. Would the Legion really win?

       As Niki clutched to his only grip on reality - the brass rail post embedded in the marble balcony, he could not prevent his satchel, slung around his neck, from tipping forward. When one clings to life, losing possessions is of minor importance. No one gave it a thought when the candle he had not secured, slipped from the pouch, hurtling downward.

       No one gave it a thought until impact.

       Once it hit the polished granite floor there was a tremendous explosion that shot flames up 75 feet, scattering the Legion members below as it scorched the marble floor and two nearby priedieus.

       Pat saw the explosion as well for he had reacted immediately after Niki lost his balance. Desperately grabbing Niki's wrist and pulling with all his might, he cried out. "I need your other hand, Nik"

       "I am trying," Niki gasped, "Hold it tight so I can swing."

       Gallagher held both wrists tighter than anything he had ever clenched in his life.

       "Please, God, please," Pat begged through clenched teeth. "Help him. Help me hold him. Please, God."

       Pat's frenetic prayer would be heard as Niki, with a boost from the angels, swung his body twice and then raised his leg so his foot caught on the edge. He dug in his heel, hoping to God there was no more loose pieces as he got a better grip on the railing.

       Below Grabe was, as usual, impatient. "They should have been there by now. Acht nehmen!"

       "Always impatient, Elena," her countryman Josef Vendhem smiled sinisterly. "Vhat is ze hurry? If he does not fall, he is cornered. Nein? There is no outlet except over there at the entrance and Serrano will have that blocked." Vendhem relished seeing others foul up, fail, be finite. It empowered him in his mistaken, warped sense of self, ego, and pride - unmitigated pride.

       How much weight would the railing hold? Would Niki's strength pull the railing rods out of the ancient granite base? He didn't have time to wait around to see. Inching himself up, Pat acted as the fulcrum for his Greek friend by tugging and pulling on Niki's wrists until Andriopoulos was able to hoist his upper torso to the top of the railing.

       With supernatural strength he rolled over the railing onto the balcony, huffing and gasping for breath as he rasped to Pat, "That was too close, my friend. Thank you."

       Pat didn't have time to console his friend for he knew the two guards had arrived across the Cupola. One was coming clockwise, the other counterclockwise. Where they would meet was the problem. With panic in his voice Pat alerted Niki. "If you think that was close, don't look both ways right now."

       From the Legion's point of view victory was assured as the two guards Lieutenant Laroche Meichart and Sergeant Maribault closed in while the two pursued ones kept leaning on the wall.

       Up close and on the Cupola catwalk the thundering hooves of the Swiss boots grew louder, closer.

       Like a cornered bull Pat braced himself. By God he'd take them with him if he had to die for the cause. Niki kept pounding on the wall for a hollow sound. "It just has to be here! Please, God?!? Niki was near hysteria. "Aha!"

       If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. That was Niki's determination this night as he once again lowered his shoulder and rammed the wall, this time it gave. He had found the hidden door. The force of his thrust catapulted Niki into the hidden contractura. Despite his state of exhaustion from so much exertion, the Greek priest had the providential sense of mind to reach back and pull Pat towards him. Just in time.

       The oncoming guards had committed. No centrifugal force could stop them except the cold, deadly blade of the steel-plated halberd driven into the heart of Maribault and the shoulder of Meichardt respectively -the result of each's fatal thrust. Maribault fell instantly in place; Laroche lost his balance toppling over the railing and plunging to his death with the force of an aborted missile gone awry.

       The collision with the hard marble below splattered everything, blending with the red veined marble that was inlaid to signify the martyrs of the Church. Meichardt did not belong to this honored list. Accordingly, he would be dispatched of as so much refuse by those he was loyal to, loyal to the end. In the end, mammon had no more use for this traitor.

       "Damn!" shouted Grabe just as Vendhem screamed, "This is not good!" Both Germans were animated and upset, visibly agitated.

       "Brunatti will finish them," assured Macelli, revenge bulging from the veins in his neck as he craned to watch Guillaume advance.

       From their vantagepoint they could not see Brunatti forcing the door open into the crawl space where Niki and Pat had taken cover. Guillaume was prepared, pistol in hand as he probed into the darkness aiming it directly at Niki's temple, exposed by the light beaming in.

       Overconfident that he had his prey, the Italian never saw the blur at his knees. Pat barreled into him in a perfect imitation of Goldberg's spearing move, knocking Brunatti back against the railing and off balance. He toppled over the railing, plunging to his death in even more gruesome fashion than Laroche Meichardt. The weight of Guillaume Brunatti torpedoed onto the already splattered marble floor below, sending the contents sprawling, the sides shattering and fresh blood anew splattering several adjoining priedieus and the marmoreal surface of the great Basilica.

       The Legion was reeling.

       "That does it. The Master will be livid!" Macelli shrieked. He was on the verge of disbelief, insanity.

       "What do you mean 'vill be'?" Vendhem, a true sadist, apprised.

       "Now can we do it my way?" demanded the Bavarian barbarian, her eyes glowing with coals of hate.

       "Si!," Macelli snapped, trying to regain his composure, wiping off the splattered blood from his cassock. "Go to the main course. Soto, clean up the mess!"

       Poor Ichariak, always the servant, always mopping up the muddle of mammon, yet always obedient to a fault.

       "We must finish here before Lauds and Prime. The place will be crawling with religious in two hours."

       "And the two intruders?" whined Soto, looking towards the Cupola.

       "Ja. They are trapped," assured Vendhem. "They are no doubt heading for the roof. There is no way out. They can not hurt us there. Soto needs help. Where is the other guard?"

       "In the crypt doing as he was told," Grabe retorted abruptly.

       "Get him! Sofort!"

       The guard had obediently carried four crates to the crypt, putting one in each of the crypts, the final one being the Clementine Chapel. He might have just set it down and moved on had he not heard something just as he was leaving. Sister Bridie had heard someone coming and had scurried to hide behind the altar, behind the vigil candles. In her haste she accidentally bumped one of the candles on the floor, letting it roll forward. It had created a creaking noise that alerted the guard.

       He came forward, knife at the ready. "Halt, who is there? Zeigen ihr!"

       Sister had nowhere to hide. Frozen in place, she was discovered.

       Rudely, the guard pushed her out and towards the stairs of the crypt, just as Cardinal Zachmunn intercepted them at the base of the stairs.

       "Oh good, you have her. I'll take it from here."

       The guard suspected something, knew not to trust one who trusted in God. He raised his halberd, eyes glued on Gregory, as from the other side came the ambush. Stephen leveled a heavy candlestick holder on the guard's temple, sending him sprawling to the ground.

       "I'm not one to condone violence, but in this case I'll make an exception," the Cardinal smiled in relief. "Well done, Stephen. Are you all right, Sister?"

       "I be shakin' in my boots, your Eminence. I be thinkin' my time be up."

       "We know that feeling, Sister," Monsignor Navarro reassured her.

       "We've no time to spare. Someone else is coming. Hurry."

       They headed past the NO ENTRATA sign, ducking under it, and into the darkness as Grabe descended into the crypt. She would find the fallen Swiss Guard in the hallway but he would remain unconscious long enough to keep Elena and the rest in the dark.

       As Cardinal Zachmunn, Monsignor Navarro and Sister Bridie traveled deeper into the hidden tunnel, Gregory gave thanks that he had learned of these subterranean passages many, many years ago when studying the lore and legends of this vaunted place and history. Little did he realize then how vital it would be this night; an interlude of time when everyone would be looking over their shoulder, fearing the Angels of Light and Death.



"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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WHITE SMOKE, BLACK FIRE!
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