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

Part V
Eleventh Chapter
The Shedding

Episode Three: Emergency Entrances

       The helicopter had continued to hover for ten more minutes before banking away, abandoning its search. The pilot, guards, Elena, Serrano and Macelli were stupefied. How could Gallagher and the other intruder have disappeared into thin air. They were quite sure the Master they served would not, could not, work such magic. They would never find out though they would search every inch of the roof and beneath thoroughly. Could the fugitives have doubled back? Were they in St. Peter's?
       Cardinal Antonio Macelli had other problems as well. Monsignor Stephen Navarro, the man who had been the Italian's constant thorn in his side, was still missing, and so were Sister Bridie and Cardinal Gregory Zachmunn. Though Macelli had not deduced they were together, he had made a visit to the Apostolic Palace and the Borgia Apartments. Here was where many of the College of Cardinals had opted to stay rather than the more modern, distraction-filled St. Martha's Place which was located on the other side of St. Peter's near Paul VI Hall, also called the Nervi Hall. Macelli's blood pressure had neared stroke level when he had found Gregory's room vacant.
       Before the meetings last night, Cardinal Zachmunn had had his things transferred from the Oblate House to Borgia Apartments. He had then no time to settle in, evident from his suitcase across the bed, opened but not unpacked. Believing he would return to the room soon after the General Congregation adjourned, Gregory had neglected to take his nitroglycerin pills with him. A prescription bottle along with his Breviary on the nightstand were the only visible signs he had even been here. Macelli raged inwardly. Where was Zachmunn?
       While Macelli frantically, even erratically, sought answers, Stephen found himself in the Papal quarters, having entered by the same secret passageway to the Papal closet. After the initial shock of realizing where the secret passageway had led them, he'd quickly sought out the phone. Dead. Definitely something rotten in Denmark! How would he be able to help Cardinal Zachmunn without a phone? Stephen's cell phone had died an hour or so ago, before it had become evident the Cardinal was sick.

Dateline: Vatican City - Papal Quarters - November 6, 2:35 a.m.

       Stephen sat down, spent, dejected that he could not find a means to communicate with the outside world, to get help for his dear mentor. Then it hit him. He had forgotten the obvious. The pen in his pocket. The Penultimate Colin Rembert had gifted him. Quickly retrieving it, he pushed the button which Colin had said would convey one-way communication to the Satellite control center in Sydney. He pushed it and prayed.
       The summer sun was reaching its apex as the proximity of the noonday beckoned Australians to seek shelter in their air-conditioned refuges of office and home. In the control room of Global NetSat, Navarro's distress signal reached an attendant on duty.
       "This is Monsignor Stephen Navarro. Colin Rembert gave me a Penultimate yesterday. I need to reach him."
       A beep prompted Stephen to press another button. A beam shot out and Stephen immediately aimed it at a blank space on the wall. They had heard his SOS.
       "Monsignor, Global NetSat here. Mr. Rembert is in Rome."
       "Yes, I know," Stephen responded in frustration, "I cannot get to a phone. I need to have him call a doctor."
       "Oh, in that case we will patch you through, Father. Hang on, mate."
       Nearly a minute passed as the technical director in Sydney sought out a sleeping Colin Rembert in his hotel room at the Ambasciatori Palace on the Via Veneto, a five-star hotel of unparalleled Bachanalian cuisine and accommodations. The Australians knew how to do it up right.
       "Almost three in the morning. This better be important, Father." Rembert wasn't his jolly self. That happened to those awakened in the middle of the night.
       "I realize that, Colin," Stephen apologized. "We have an emergency and I can't call out. I need you to call a Dr. Ghislieri. His number is 033-055-233. Please call him and tell him to come to the Papal Sacristy as fast as he can and bring some nitroglycerin tablets immediately. Please."
       "Will do, mate. Anything else?"
       "Yeah, but I'll contact you in the morning. For now - get the doctor and hurry. And thanks a million, Colin. I really, really appreciate it."
       "Don't mention it, mate. Time's a wasting. G'day or should I say G'nite."
       'Thank you, God,' Stephen whispered to himself. The Lord had a reason for placing Colin Rembert in his path yesterday afternoon. Now he only hoped Rembert would be able to locate the Doctor.
       He headed to the kitchen where he extracted a knife and a nut-cracker, then grabbed a pillow and table cloth, whiling filling up a bottle with water. With this eclectic equipment in hand, he headed back through the closet into the tunnel, down the steep ladder-type steps to the area where Sister Bridie and Cardinal Zachmunn were waiting. Would Dr. Ghislieri be on time? Stephen could only pray.

Dateline: Rome - Outside Castel Sant'Angelo - November 6, 2:45 a.m.

       Father Niki Andriopoulos and Patrick Gallagher had mingled with the crowd of mourners, pushing and edging away from St. Peter's to the Via Ombrelliani. There they had broken from the crowd. Shortly they had found the Via Dei Corridori, the street that followed the ancient Leonine Wall. They hugged the shadows as they made their way eastward beneath the great wall that connected the Holy See to Castel Sant'Angelo.
       The nurse had told Pat that the Castle had been closed, locked tighter than a drum for a few years. She wasn't kidding. Pat and Niki raced the entire circumference of the stone ramparts. The outer perimeter fortress was a pentagon structure of impenetrable rock. It had ten sides. Where it had previously been open along the Lungotevere Castello on both sides of the main square base, 18' high wire fence had been erected with three rows of barbed wire stringing the top. It stretched from rock wall to rock wall. Nowhere, unless one had a catapult, ladder or helicopter, could these walls be mounted. How did one get into the secret corridor of the Leonine Wall? How did one get inside the great fortress above the Tiber?
       They stood frustrated, huddled in the shadows of Bernini's magnificent stone angels on the Pont Sant'Angelo. This bridge replicated the style of the Baroque Master's Colonnade. Instead of saints, 12 winged angels - six on each side - lined the stately Roman bridge, which led from the Lungot Tor di Nona on the south side of the Tiber to the main entrance of the great citadel. Now it towered above them. No wonder it had been such a powerful fortress in times past. There had to be an entrance! It was imperative they find the Pope before it was too late, if, indeed, he was still alive!
       "God, Nik, we've tried everything. The place is sealed like a drum."
       "It does present a challenge." Fr. Andriopoulos glanced down from the bridge to the silent waters below. "Patrick, how good a swimmer are you?"
       "Fair. Why?"
       "If I remember correctly, there is an underground passage beneath the river."
       "Beneath?!? Oh great!" Pat was initially shocked at the very idea. Then, reason took over. "I can't argue with your track record for secret passages though. If there's a secret door, leave it to you, Nik, to find it."
       Niki had already hopped the barrier and was heading down the built-in steps that jutted from the 50' stone parapet that bermed the drop from street to the river. Pat was fast on his heels as they reached the lower shore where grass separated the buttress from the bank of the Tiber.
       "So we swim in?" He asked looking down at the cold water, barely rippling in the moonlight.
       "If it is possible, my friend."
       Niki started to empty his pockets, placing his satchel and other personal items by the nearest wide, thick arched stanchion that anchored the bridge. Pat followed suit.
       "I estimate the entrance is approximately six to eight feet beneath the surface in the base of the buttress. If you need air, resurface. It may take us a few times to find it."
       "If it's there, we'll find it, Nik."
       "That is not what worries me, my friend. It is frigid enough outside. The water can bring on hypothermia quite quickly."
       "Yeah, I know. Not a lot to choose from." Pat shed his leather jacket, which Niki had lifted for him and headed for the bank. "Last one in is a rotten apple," he yelled back, taking great delight in his childishness. It helped bury the fears, reminded him of his Devil-may-care exploits back in Shreveport on Cross Lake. At least there were no water moccasins or gators to contend with here.
       He might have wished there were once he hit the water. At least it would have been warmer. The shock to his system numbed him into a sudden surge of adrenaline to survive as he dove deeper. Niki was not far behind and from the look on his face, he was just as chilled, hurting just as much. Despite the cold, the water was clearer than the summer or early autumn when pollutants gathered and muddied the river. The more lucid conditions enabled them to spot the iron grate covering an archway roughly ten feet high by twelve feet wide.
       They both tugged on the bars. There was no give. They tried again. Nothing. Pat pointed up and they shot back to the surface, gasping for air, splashing back toward the shore.
       "Brrrrr. That's freezin', Nik."
       "YYYess," Niki agreed, shivering.
       "So what do we do now?
       "Back to the ssshhhore," Niki blubbered, his lips freezing up as they swam back to the bank.
       Once both were on dry land, Pat cowled himself beneath the leather jacket. "SSSo much for tttthe po-oohhhlar bear club. Not my idea to take a sssswim in Novemberrrr."
       Niki was hunched over, working on something with his back to Pat. "Yes, I-I-I would say the water is a bit cohhhld."
       "A bit?!? That's an understate--"
       "Perhaps we can heat things up some," Niki grinned as he rose, holding both candles he had lifted from the truck. He had carved a small niche into the sides near the center. "If these are what I think they are we will only have a few seconds to plant these near the bars and then swim like--"
       "...Hell!! Hell yeah, let's go for it!" It was do or die with Pat. "It's now or neverrr."
       "On three," Niki advised as he began the countdown. "One, Two, THREE!"
       They dove underwater wasting no time for the search. They darted directly for the archway. Pat jammed one candle between the bars on the right while Niki was doing the same on the left. Once in place they swam away as fast as they could, heading back to the surface. Niki's calculations were true. Within seconds the water rumbled and rolled as the iron gates flew from their standards, the force of the current knocking both swimmers into an equilibrium zone, suspended in the frigid flow of heat and cold that collided on detonation. Once the cavernous reverberations ceased and the rumblings shed their captives, Pat and Niki were freed to return to the surface, again grasping for oxygen.
       "Think that did it?" Pat asked, knocking his head to rid the echo in his water-filled ears.
       "We can only hope, my friend. Let us recoup our things and find out." Niki exited the river, retrieving his satchel and a few things Pat had left including his jacket. "Tuck this beneath your shirt."
       They plunged back into the icy depths and into the gutted-out gaping hole through the underground cavern. They remained submerged until the water grew shallower. When they could finally see that the crude ceiling had heightened, they surfaced, leaving the water behind. The two weary warriors boosted themselves up on the ledge that ran the length of this tunnel beneath the road toward the castle. It was cold, but the tunnel was unusually light considering there were no torches, no windows. Above, numerous bar-covered narrow openings from the piazza in front of the Castle allowed the moonlight to stream in. Was it a miracle or were their clothes becoming drier, warmer?
       "Thank God for air." Pat expired, checking Niki's pouch to see if his cigarettes had survived the drenching. "Thank God for waterproof pouches," he announced triumphantly as he lit up a Pall Mall.
       "I could say you were not born to be a fish, but you performed admirably back there."
       "Did you see what those two candles did to those bars, Nik?"
       "Can you imagine what the Legion is planning to do?"
       "We've gotta stop 'em, Nik."
       "We will, but first the Pope. He's here somewhere."
       They walked on further until they reached a room that might very well have served as the famous dungeon prison of medieval times. Here the Inquisition was abused. Just as in modern times offices were compromised and turned towards personal, more devious means so also in those times this necessary discipline was inculpated for the sake of political agendas, whether it be religion or the State. Tolerance told the tale that gave entrance to the fallen angels. Satan was not limited to linear time.
       Moving up several stairways, they came eventually upon a quadrant that led out to a courtyard. Stacked against the stone parapets were cannonballs from the time of Clement VII. They glistened in the moonlight. They had breached the walls. They were inside the castle. Now to find the Pope.
       The image of the old-fashioned country doctor fit Giuseppe Ghislieri, M.D. so appropriately. He was a throwback to times past. Colin Rembert was the perfect concierge. He had immediately reached Dr. Ghislieri at his flat on the top floor of an old monastery that had been converted into a pensione on the Via Alberico. He managed the entire fourth floor. Stained glass windows highlighted his living area, the perfect harmonious touch for this medical man who was so religious as well. He had lived here for several years. It was ideal for him since it was close to both the Holy See and the Ospedale di Sant'Spirito, the hospital at the base of the Piazza della Rovere. His abode, compact, but spacious enough for him, looked out towards the Castle of the Holy Angel beyond his veranda balcony on one side and to the Vatican from his bedroom window on the other end of the floor. It was in the latter where Colin had reached him. Within minutes Dr. Ghislieri had descended the steps to his Mercedes in the garage.
       Ten minutes later he was mounting the stairs of the Scala Pia, enroute to the Pope's Private Chapel which was situated between the Sala degli Arazzi and the Sala del Trono on the second floor of the Papal Apartments. This trusted man had a perpetual pass. Pope's personal orders. No one questioned where the head physician of the Holy See went.
       Meanwhile, Stephen had returned to the area of the tunnel where Zachmunn was growing weaker. Sacristy. Together he and Sister Bridie helped to make Cardinal Zachmunn more comfortable, placing a pillow beneath his head and covering his prone body with the tablecloth which Navarro had pilfered from the Pope's kitchen. Though it would not add warmth physically, psychologically a thin garment over a person could give a sense of security, hope. For Gregory it had helped. However, it was not the sheer white pellicle that gave him strength. No, it was Zachmunn's faith in God and knowing that Stephen had been so reliable; he knew and saw the true dedication of Sister Bridie. If he were to die here, at least he was in good company.
       Once Gregory had been made as comfortable as possible, Stephen, with Sister's assistance, had used the knife and nut-cracker to chisel away the primitive bolts that seemingly had not been unloosened for quite possibly sixty or seventy years. Finally they had been able to pry the door open. Blocking it had been a sacristan bench. With the ornate backing it stood six feet tall. With some difficulty Stephen had been able to hoist himself up and over it and, then had pulled it away from the wall, allowing free access for anyone coming or going.
       Their wait had not been not long.

Dateline: Vatican City - Tunnel just off Papal Sacristy - November 6, 3:00 a.m.

       Crossing in haste through the Sala del Trono to the Sacristy, Dr. Ghislieri took no notice of the two ancient clocks set upon marble tables in this Room of the Throne. Looking down from the other side of the room a delicately ivory-carved Christ peered out from the cross. The features on His face illustrated the pain He must have felt then and now at the sorrowful state to which His beloved Church and His children had sunk. The old timepieces could very well have represented that linear time of Christ and modern time. Perhaps elliptical time. One thing was certain as the Doctor passed through these room enroute to the Pope's Private Sacristy where Stephen awaited with a very weakened, possibly dying Cardinal Gregory Zachmunn: The only time that really counted was beyond finite control for God's time remained infinite.
       Dr. Ghislieri was somewhat surprised that no guards were standing duty either at the entrance to the Sala del Trono nor here at the entrance to the Pope's Private Chapel. There must be more pressing matters elsewhere he assumed as he opened the ornate door to the quiet, dark chapel where a vigil light flickered. Genuflecting, he crossed through the sanctuary to the Sacristy.
       Stephen eagerly greeted Giuseppe, "Thank you for coming, Doctor."
       "Buona sera. Quanto tempo?" the Doctor asked.
       "It started about half an hour ago, Doctor," Navarro answered, ushering him into the tunnel where Ghislieri soon knelt to feel Cardinal Zachmunn's pulse, as a concerned Sister Bridie looked on.
       "Si. Il cuore. Very, very weak. difficolta a respirare," was all Dr. Ghislieri said as he reached into his bag and retrieved a syringe of atropine to relieve pain.
       Cardinal Zachmunn raised his eyelids, trying to speak.
       "No," the Doctor insisted, rolling up the sleeve of Gregory's cassock. "Le daro un antievralgico," as he plunged the needle into Zachmunn's arm. "This make him more comfortable," he assured all present as he removed Gregory's Roman collar and unbuttoned the top few buttons of his cassock. He reached in and pulled out over the black cassock with red trim a chain which contained the Cardinal's Miraculous Medal and another medallion. It was what he had hoped.
       "Si, he heaved a sigh of relief and quickly retrieved from his black bag a small palm pilot in which he entered the numbers on the medallion. Within seconds Gregory's medical history and treatment was in front of him on the small screen. "Si, you were right, Monsignore. Nitroglycerin."
       The Doctor placed two of the tiny pills beneath Gregory's tongue where they would dissolve, then took Zachmunn's blood pressure. "Some Ephenefrine will help raise his blood pressure, very low," diagnosed Ghislieri as Gregory started to sluggishly respond to the medicine applied by the Vatican's chief physician.
       Fifteen minutes passed while the Doctor stayed, monitoring Gregory's progress every few minutes. Meanwhile Sister Bridie joined Stephen in the Papal Chapel praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy at the great hour of 3 o'clock. Never mind it was after three in the morning, it was still the great hour of mercy for God had preserved the good Cardinal.
       Returning at 3:15, Stephen confided in the Doctor about some of the events that had occurred. In his heart, he knew Dr. Ghislieri could be trusted. Slowly Gregory regained his strength. The color returned and he was strong enough to sit up, to drink some more water.
       "I recommend, your Eminence, you rest here tonight. No?" Dr. Ghislieri respectfully and firmly suggested.
       "Under the circumstances, Giuseppe, I believe you are right."
       "Buono. Would Monsignore then prepare bed in this room to make his Eminence comfortable?"
       "Yes, of course," Stephen replied, throwing open the sacristy cabinets where magnificent copes, chasubles, and white albs hung. He gathered several and laid them out reverently on the marble floor of the Sacristy, giving the Cardinal enough soft padding beneath.
       Sister Bridie followed up by preparing one of the larger copes as a bed covering. Gregory had gotten to his feet and was now standing, aided by the Doctor.
       "I can't thank you enough, dear Doctor," Gregory spoke. "I'm tired, but not discouraged. Once again God has provided."
       As the doctor aided Gregory to recline on the prepared mattress of vestments, Stephen suggested that Sister Bridie take refuge in the Papal quarters. "I know it isn't according to protocol, your Eminence, but considering the time and dangers about, wouldn't you agree that the safest place for Sister Bridie would be in the Pope's own quarters."
       Her amazement and blush were soon calmed by the Cardinal's affirmation. "I agree wholeheartedly with you, Stephen. Indeed, our dear Lord Himself would have it so tonight." Turning his head towards her with a smile that danced in his eyes, "Sister, you've been a true angel."
       "See, Sister, we won't take no for an answer," Stephen chided her good-naturedly. "You need some sleep. We all do. I'll take Sister to the Apartment and I'll be back to keep watch with you, your Eminence."
       "I appreciate that, Stephen. Go in peace."
       Stephen escorted the Irish nun back into the tunnel and up the steep stairs to the Papal Apartment, while the Doctor finished up his diagnosis on the Cardinal.
       "St. Louis? You must have been appalled, your Eminence, at what they did to Fr. Donaldson."
       "What?" Gregory was taken aback by the Doctor's comment.
       "Fr. Donaldson's arm. Flesh was burnt through. Any longer he could very well have lost arm. Had we not had laser technology I fear--"
       "Fr. Donaldson is home in St. Louis, Doctor. I don't know what--" Just then it registered with Gregory as he recalled what Stephen had explained about Pat Gallagher and his odyssey into the Vatican. He couldn't help but chuckle. "That, good Doctor, was not my Fr. Donaldson."
       "Che?" Ghislieri was both upset and confused.
       Gregory tried to appease him, still musing how Pat had pulled it off. "It's okay. You treated a very good man. His name is Patrick Gallagher. He's on our side. He was attacked by the Legion. Stephen smuggled him into the Holy See and Sister Bridie brought him to the infirmary. God just knew you'd be there for him!"
       The Italian physician made a quick sign of the cross in thanksgiving for being God's instrument just as Stephen reappeared. "Sister's fine. I'm gonna grab some vestments and plop down over there. I'll watch him, Doctor."
       "Molto bene, Monsignore. I can see he is in good hands." Extracting from his bag a Remington cordless shaver and a tube of toothpaste and a toothbrush he placed it on the counter between the sacristy cabinets. "I have these at home. You need this more than I in morning. Speaking of mattino, I must get some sleep anche."
       "Buona notte, Doctor, and grazie." Stephen gratefully expressed as the Doctor packed his bag and headed for the door.
       "Si. Buona notte," the Doctor replied looking at his watch, "or should I say, buon giorno, it will be light soon. Ah, one more thing. My fee?"
       Stephen and Gregory looked at the Doctor a bit stupefied. "Your fee, Doctor? How much will it--"
       Ghislieri interrupted with a broad smile. "No, no denaro. Orare. You, Monsignore, a Rosary. Si?"
       Stephen nodded enthusiastically.
       "And from your Eminence, when you are stronger, a Mass for my family?"
       "Consider it done, Giuseppe," Gregory assured him. "Thank you again, my dear friend."
       "Ah, my kind of patients," the Italian physician piped as he exited whistling the Ave Maria. Hopefully, in retracing his steps out of the Vatican, his happy piccolo tones would not be heard by unfriendly ears, would not wake the Legion.

Dateline: Rome - Castel Sant'Angelo - November 6, 3:25 a.m.

       The maze within the ancient fortress had been puzzling and most frustrating for Pat and Niki. They had entered the castle, descending some steps where they came across a giant black phoenix rising from the ashes, with blue and red streaks; a pagan symbol to be sure from the time of the Roman Emperor Hadrian. They had traveled up a wide caverned corridor which was amply illuminated by the moon above thanks to wide, thick ventilation shafts that reached from the wide tunnels to the upper ceiling of this rock citadel. Shortly, they had come across a miniature of the castle as it had been centuries ago. Niki had stopped to study it, trying to pinpoint what room the Holy Father might be in. It was like finding a needle in the haystack, except this needle was intended to be the thread that held the fabric of the Faith together.
       They had searched practically every room, every nook and cranny - there were plenty of them on seven, maybe eight different levels - until they had realized they had been looking in the wrong place. They finally had come to that realization when they arrived above the parapets of the circular citadel. There, in the shadow of the cast iron angel and bell perched above them on the pinnacle of the castle, they had a better vantagepoint. They had arrived near an area which just a few years ago had served as a restaurant and multi-level observation deck to survey landmarks of the Eternal City. Looking out toward the northwest corner, they had realized instantly where the Roman Pontiff was when they had seen the 80 foot high wall serpentining from the Vatican to the northwest turret on the outer wall. Major Benziger would not have been able to carry the Pope further into the castle. The Pope had to be somewhere in the vicinity of that solid stone minaret jutting out from the wall they hadn't been able to penetrate.
       Racing back down the thick stone ramps, they had hurried outside and to the entrance on the inner side of the exterior rampart.
       Now, mounting two flights of stairs, they arrived in a room where the moonlight was filtered, muted more or less by the lunar angle. Yet, it was not pitch black. They could still see objects faintly.
       "Over there," Niki shouted, as Pat joined him, flicking his lighter. There against the wall was His Holiness Clement XV.
       "That's him," Pat buzzed, without realizing the lighter was getting hot. "Ouch."
       Niki moved to the Pontiff's side. "He is unconscious, but there is a pulse. He is alive, Patrick." You could almost hear the celebration in the Greek priest's voice as if he had seen the wounds of Christ Himself as St. Thomas had when he proclaimed, 'Dominus meus, et Deus meus.'
       "Thank God," Pat declared, dropping to his knees out of both sincere thanks and total exhaustion.
       "This is when we could sure use Doctor Ogidi," Niki lamented.
       "So how do we get the Pope outta here?"
       "I am not sure, my friend. I do know we can neither move him right now nor leave him."
       Pat was already stretched out on the hard stone, curled up in a fetal position. "Maybe if we sleep on it..." He was gone, sound asleep. After a few prayers, Fr. Nikolas Andriopoulos would join him in slumberland. Renewed hope sustained their rest. The Pope was still alive.
       As the clouds shrouded the moon from casting its light this night in Castel Sant'Angelo, the resisters knew in the depths of their hearts what they must do. Somehow the great shroud of evil had to be exposed, the mask of the Legion must be shed for all to see the perfidious hideousness of its face.

"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. Towever 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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