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

Part V
Thirteenth Chapter
The Shedding

Episode Eight: Snuffed Out


       The mid-morning sun broke out in a chorus of penetrating rays that warmed the throngs huddled shoulder to shoulder in St. Peter's Square. The funeral was just minutes away and as the time grew closer the volume increased the crescendo of Ave's ascending into the morning sky. All was in readiness for pomp and circumstance, for the ritual of the Requiem.

       The small noble band of resisters were not among the mass of humanity that packed the Square. Few were aware that the Legion was reeling, disintegrating as evidence from the fate of Elena Grabe, her memory baked on the asphalt of the courtyard, never more to seen or heard of, except at Gehenna's gates.

       Divide and conquer was the unplanned strategy of both forces this morning. On the southwestern side of St. Peter's the explosive coffins had been loaded onto the box cars, the coal stoked and the engineer Dominic Nicolosi was prepared for the journey north. Time was of the essence as the locomotive built up steam. Meanwhile east of the tracks and south of the Basilica in the modern Pauline Hall, Jordan Collier had trapped himself in the tunnel from the Nervi to the entrance beneath St. Martha's Place. He had not counted on two gates. The gate he had locked with a thundering thud had signaled the guards in the Nervi Hall to lock down the gate at the entrance to the tunnel for fear of fire backdrafting into the Hall. Now Collier was sealed in the tunnel, along with 28 explosive-lined coffins that had not been loaded due to Collier's spontaneous ploy which would seal his fate forever.

       While the vile six and their cohorts sunk deeper into defilement as the nefarious Black Mass progressed beneath the Pantheon, Stephen, still shaking from his encounter with the Basilisk, had returned to his office. There he washed his face, refreshed, applied the shaver and then retrieved his cell phone He needed to check Grabe's room, but first he had to make sure the potentially deadly candles would not be lit as he inched his way through the cordoned off area beneath the columns towards the Basilica.

       As the Cardinals lined up to process from the Sala Regia into St. Peter's, Pat had reached the room in the turret of Sant'Angelo where Niki awaited with the ailing pontiff Pope Clement XV.


Dateline: Rome - Turret room in the walls of Castel Sant'Angelo - November 6, 9:58 a.m.

       Eyes closed in prayer, Niki huddled near the stricken Pope, comforting him in performing the fullness of the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy. A welcome smile greeted Pat as he shuffled into the room from the Hadrian passageway.

       "Made it," sighed Pat. "How's he doin'?"

       "Considering the circumstances," Niki answered, "much better, my friend, than one would expect. God is good."

       "I've got nourishment for him. Here's some fresh water, and bread, and --"

       "Deo Gratias," exclaimed Niki as he sprung to his feet to gather up the refreshments which Pat had lugged from the Papal Chambers. Niki then rushed to the Holy Father's side, offering water to his parched lips.

       Pat followed behind. "Got some Demerol, Tylenol and--"

       "Please, Patrick, yes, the Demerol. That will help him, along with this bread. Hopefully it is not too late and his system will not reject the food."

       "Sure as hell hope - whoops, sorry, Nik."

       "Just the fact you caught yourself in your profanity is an improvement, my friend."

       "Hey, old habits are hard to break, Nik."

       "I understand, and I am sure His Holiness does, too. He is most grateful."

       Niki continued to nurse the Vicar of Christ, helping the weakened Pontiff swallow the water and bread. Pat prepared the syringe and carefully, reverently jabbed it into the Pope's buttocks.

       "Imagine it'll take a while for the Demerol to work, Nik."

       "Do not be too surprised, Patrick. The medicine will make him sleep, but he should be stronger when he awakes."

       "So you've gotta be hungry, Nik. Here, eat."

       "Thank you, I will. As weak as His Holiness is, he has been talking to me, incoherent at times, but to me I understood him perfectly. He wants to make a statement for the universal Church while he still can. If it is not too dangerous, I am afraid, my friend, I must ask you to return and retrieve some paper, stationary would be preferable - -"

       "Papal stationery?" Pat quipped.

       "That would be ideal, but..." Niki seemed puzzled as he could see a sly smile crease Pat's mouth.

       "No prob, Nik. This tunnel leads straight to the Holy Father's own Papal Apartment. I can get the stationery and bring more food, more --"

       "Can you get your computer?"

       "My computer?"

       "Yes, the one you had at the Field of Death."

       "Ah, it's at the hotel, but what good'll that do," Pat quizzed. "Fasif took the Reflector card. Remember?"

       This time it was Niki's turn to turn the tables. Smiling, he rose to his feet to his satchel where he retrieved the Reflector card. "Is this what you need, my friend?" A big grin breaking out on his countenance.

       "How'd you get it, Nik? Damn, I coulda used that when--"

       "It was not safe then, Patrick. Not until now. Now, it is necessary, very necessary."

       "Well, as far as I know my laptop is still back at the hotel. Haven't been there for a few days in case you didn't notice."

       "That does pose a problem," pondered Niki. "Will that work with any other computer?"

       "If it's a newer version with the flash card slot drive, yeah," Pat replied. "I can get in with the password."

       "I doubt, Patrick, that His Holiness had a laptop in his quarters, but it is worth a--"

       "Hey," Pat interrupted, the eureka exploding in his voice, "Maybe Stephen has one I can use. He was back in the Holy Father's place with Sr. Bridie!"

       "That would work. The Pope has been mulling over a very important pronouncement and if you can document it on the Reflector card and I have the candle and wax, it can be sealed with his Fishermen's Ring seal. That will make it authentic. After that, you will need to get it to the Cardinals in the Conclave."

       "Great if they'll let me in," Pat wondered.

       "Oh, what you will present will give you entrance, I can guarantee you that, my friend."

       "What's he gonna say that's so important?"

       "Let us just say," cautioned Niki, "that I can sense the Holy Spirit preparing a landmark Papal Bull. It is in God's hands now. If it is meant to be, God will keep Papa Clement with us a little while longer."

       "What else will you need? Might as well kill two birds with one stone," quipped Pat emoting a huge yawn.

       "Your phraseology is unique, Patrick. Perhaps an hour of rest might reinvigorate you. Then, with a little rest, if you could return to the Papal Quarters and bring..."

       As Niki ran off a list of other things that would help comfort the Pope and help him prepare a short document, the great bells above the Basilica and throughout Rome clarioned that the funeral procession at the other end of Via Della Concilliazione had begun.


Dateline: Vatican City - St. Peter's Basilica and Square - November 6, 10:01 a.m.

       The crowd had lulled to a hush when the Sistine Choir's first tones of "De profundis" wafted out from the side of St. Peter's Square as the first coffins came into view on the left side of the Square. Gradually the chanting of this requiem prayer of the Psalmist David, trusting in the mercies of God, reached the ears of all. Slowly the funeral cortege wended its way with coffin after coffin emerging from Paul VI Hall via the side columns of the great Bernini Colonnade and out into the great square where a six-foot path had been cordoned off for the entourage which included six pall-bearers for each coffin.

       Lost on the hundreds of thousands standing elbow to elbow inside and outside St. Peter's, was the unceremonial exit of the sturdy iron horse chugging away from the Vatican Railway Station, backing through the arch of the portal wall and across the viaduct trestle over the busy Via Aurelia and beyond until it had cleared the tracks leading to the Vatican. With Luigi in communication with Pietro back at the station, authorization was granted to switch tracks as the rails coupled to the new route once it reached the area adjacent to Via Paolo II. Steam heaved all around the funneled smoke stack as the gears picked up speed and soon it lunged forward picking up speed. It was gaining more power, heading northward toward Poggio.

       While the locomotive put more distance between Vatican City and its deadly content stacked in the holds of two box cars, another train grew fuller and closer to St. Peter's. The entire string of caskets were now in full view as the lead cortege entered through the great doors of the Basilica and up the aisle toward the assigned places circumferencing the main Altar.

       When most had already been set in place, the trumpets sounded three times and from the right side slowly came the entourage of the College of Cardinals. They had descended the Royal Staircase from the Sala Regia in the Vatican Palaces through the Bronze Doors and out into the Square along the narrow cordoned-off area that led to the steps of the great Basilica. The modes of the choir's Miserere mixed with the moans and cries of anguish emoted from the crowd once the ornately adorned Papal Bier came into their view. Stately and with all pomp it was carried by six Pontifical Guards for this special and saddest of occasions. Cardinal Julies Mendoza, as the Dean of the College, led the caravan of red-hats as they processed slowly through the formed pathway leading into St. Peter's.

       One could not decipher what was in the hearts of these men from the expressions on their faces. One could not tell a liberal from a conservative for Cardinal Raul Carteaga Santiago's countenance was no different than Cardinal Gregory Zachmunn's or Cardinal Auguste Ribera Lorenzo, the oldest Prince of the Church in procession. The oldest cardinal - His Eminence Cesare Carlo Giongiolosi, 97 and wheel-chair bound Cardinal Guido Marcini had been escorted to a special place in the Basilica ahead of time.

       The Bishops and priests had followed the coffins of their peers prior to the Papal Bier and the entourage of the Princes of the Church making their appearance. Slowly the train of cardinals made their way to the steps leading to the Basilica. Through the Filarete Door they glided, on the rails of a shroud, into the packed expansions of this venerable place where from the highest rafters of stone and cupolas reverberated the solemn Gregorian tones of the "Subvenite".

       All the coffins were in place circumferencing the main altar as the red-robed princes of the Church sidled into their assigned priedieus on both sides of the tomb of St. Peter in front of Bernini's great Baldacchino. Slowly, meticulously in sync with the music the Papal Guard pall-bearers bore the Papal Bier to its stanchion directly in front of the entrance to the Apostles's crypt, the head of the coffin towards the altar.

       As they placed the white casket with gold handles on its posts, the whir of Nikons could be heard even as the last strains of the responsory Subvenite, the entire hymn repeated for the third time, concluded with the last verse "Offerentes eam in conspectu Altissimi".

       The main celebrant Cardinal Mendoza, accompanied by his Cardinal deacon his eminence Georgio Castiglione and his subdeacon from Uganda Cardinal Mbuta Celestin Kabwela, mounted the steps of the altar beneath the great Baldacchino. Facing east with the choir, prelates and Vatican personnel behind him and the clerics, family and religious to his right, non-Catholic and government dignitaries to his left, and the rest of the packed throng in front of him stretching out into and beyond the great square. The aisles had been flooded with flesh. There was not a square foot of empty space anywhere except in the main aisle and sanctuary. The doors of the Basilica remained opened as those in attendance as far away as Via del Falco tuned their ears to hear. Loudspeakers, strategically placed, resonated the Spanish Cardinal's intoning of the Introit, "Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine." The Guila Choir took it from there, responding with the mellow sounds of "et lux pereptua lucent eis..."

       The Funeral Mass had begun as the response of Psalm 64 continued in the Mother tongue. While those within the great Basilica called upon the angels to bear these deceased up into the Heavenly Jerusalem, across town another incantation was being completed calling upon the demons to do their deed.


Dateline: Rome - Subterranean room beneath the Pantheon - November 6, 10:31 a.m.

       Incense from both the Funeral Mass censer and the Black Mass censer curled upward. Despite the distance in space, the time continuum was one. It was as if the milky white smoke from the gold and jewel-encrusted censer in St. Peter's merged with the sooty serpent of vapor wafting up from the silver and black censer utilized at the Satanic Mass in the depths of the Pantheon. In this suspension of time, they entwined - the white and black smoke - merging the spiraling snake-like plumes of smoke into a reptilian pendulous funnel, transforming into an ascending grayish mass of venom as the white smoke surrendered to the caliginous, noxious clouds of blackened smoke, engorging the good. The light could not penetrate the darkness.

       A senior citizens busload of Belgian tourists were mulling about on the main floor of the ancient Pantheon, marveling at the immensity of the structures and the great corona exposing the sun above. Maybe it was beneficial for these visitors that they were directing their attention upward rather than downward. Indeed, if their olfactory senses had been acute, they might have smelled the stench wafting up from the subterranean regions where the Black Mass was just coming to its conclusion.

       All those present in the lowest recesses of this pagan temple had been satiated with the innocent blood of the three victims, now discarded in the holocaust of the burning embers that reeked of human flesh and entrails in the recessed stone cavity which had served as a water storage well beneath this ancient structure. It had long gone dry. This day it was like a furnace. It was surprising the European sightseers couldn't feel the heat. Had they known what vile activity was being staged beneath them, they would have fled back to the buses and far away from this iniquitous monument.

       During the Offertory, all had pledged their allegiance to the Satanic Pontiff as Lord Vendhem took the Luciferian Oath. Then, consecrated hosts, stolen from communion services at various churches in Rome, had been presented by each participant and then, urged on by the lustful, frenzied, and hypnotic chant of the participants, the victims had mercilessly been dispatched.

       With the formal permission of the Knight of the Scimitar, Vendhem had taken the curved blade from the subdeacon and had handed it with great pomp to a black-hooded executioner representing the subdeacon on the left. Vendhem had repeated the process by presenting the sword to his deacon Macelli, who in turn had given it to the executioner representing him on the right. Still bound and gagged the young victims' cheeks had ballooned in agony, but they could not let out a scream. Blood had begun to ooze in their eyes, full of shock and horror. Just this sight would have curdled the stomach of any decent person.

       But these were definitely not decent human beings. The question could be asked whether they were human at all. Especially when the gore had grown worse as simultaneously the hooded ones had meticulously sliced the breasts from the two girls and placed them near the chalice. Vendhem, with the aid of hooded acolytes and Macelli, had squeezed, like one does a grapefruit, the bloody mammaries into the chalice, symbolizing the milk of the spirit. After the Knight of the Scimitar had held up the chalice, the fleshy, blood-soaked severed paps were discarded.

       Then, the executioner representing the deacon had thrust the sword into the abdomen of the gypsy woman and extracted the not-fully-formed fetus from the womb, holding it aloft for all to see as the chanting had grown more feverish.

       Ripping his finger into the tiny unborn, the deacon had pinched out the infinitesimal heart which ceremoniously he had presented to Vendhem who deposited it in the cup. Then, with the two females' muffled screams drowned out by the discordant cacophony of the chanting with the participants bobbing up and down in a charismatic-like frenzy, both hooded presbyters had ended the tormented squeals in a swift final agony.

       In sync the hooded ones had simultaneously plunged the sword into the bleeding chest cavities of both and had extracted the hearts of the two teen-age girls. They had presented the oozing ventricles to Macelli who had offered two patens. He had then ceremoniously presented the dripping patens to Vendhem while the subdeacon had incensed the entire altar and celebrant.

       As Vendhem had prepared for the Canon of the Black Mass, the lifeless and mutilated nude victims, their vital organs extracted, had been removed from the altar and cast into the stone fire-pit, already fully ablaze. Burning flesh had vied with the frenzy of insanity in those still breathing.

       At the consecration, Vendhem had elevated to the Master the desecrated hosts and then the communion cup where the meat of the flesh of the hearts were mixed with the blood of the two young women and the six-month-old fetus at the faux Haec commixtio.

       Each had come forward to receive and be transformed further in union with Lucifer as they had insanely ingested the black communion, each intinctioning a distributed desecrated host in the chalice of fetid blood and organs, stirred into a thick, foul-smelling liquid mass, black in color.

       Now, from past experiences in this putrescent ceremony, vomitorium urns had been distributed where many were making use of...except for for a few. One definitely not availing himself of it was Edwin Blix, who instead smacked his lips and gulped down the remainder at Vendhem's request. The German prelate, whose aspirations as the next Pope he assumed everyone in this room had concorded, could not stomach but a few sips of the fetid substance. He had washed it down with plenty of water as the subdeacon purified the chalices and patens. Macelli still looked green around the gills as did the Belgian Eislaume.

       The hedonistic, sadistic ecstasy of the event had subsided and now stomachs were rebelling as the demons rumbled and roiled within these participants of this ultimate Black Mass. Because of obvious nausea among the human creatures that were present, they would linger longer, much longer than anticipated in the blood-soaked fuliginous bowels of the Pantheon.

       While many of the participants of the clandestine and repulsive Black Mass were still queasy, the other Mass underway in St. Peter's - the Funeral Mass for the Pope and Hierarchy and other members of the Vatican - was a sad but noble affair. Some 30 miles away Dominic was climbing into the upper regions north of Rome, gaining more distance. Beads of sweat had formed on his face as he guardedly kept glancing over his shoulder out the window, not knowing when the coffins could be triggered. He offered a silent prayer that it would not be soon as he called for more coal to stoke the engine, which was now chugging mightily against the grade, growing steeper by the mile.


Dateline: Vatican City - St. Peter's Basilica - November 6, 10:45 a.m.

       Stephen had reached the hidden doorway adjacent to the confessional behind the massive pillar on the right. Slipping inside he mounted the steps. A few Vatican personnel had grabbed this coveted spot, along with Colin Rembert and a few of his technicians. That was the least Stephen could do for this man who had done so much in such a short time.

       Colin greeted him with a reverent smile, but continued to focus on the Mass. Monsignor Navarro was pleased that this Australian's priorities placed the Word of God before the word or words of men and social niceties. That attribute had been sorely missing throughout the Church in modern times - especially among the clerics and hierarchy.

       However this was an emergency. Protocol would have to give way. "Colin -"

       Rembert interrupted, not realizing the severity of Stephen's plea, "Monsignor, I thank you for this perch. Perfect. It affords me an ideal location for -"

       Stephen's face showed his concern as he interrupted his Australian friend. Colin, we have another problem that must be tended to immediately."

       "What be that, mate?"

       "The candles. The ones lit now must be extinguished. The others cannot be lit," Navarro stammered.

       "Come again?"

       "There are explosives planted in the candles. We've got to extinguish all candles."

       "Dear God," Colin gasped, "You're not asking much, are ya, mate?"

       "To my knowledge Cardinal Zachmunn dispatched the coffins," Stephen rationalized, "but the candles still remain. Can you make an announcement that--"

       "Whoa, Monsignor, I don't think that would be appropriate coming from me, under the circumstances."

       "Well, Colin, what do you propose?"

       "Gimme a sec, mate." It seemed like minutes and then, "I got it. Get to Cardinal Mendoza and tell him..."

       Flanked by his deacon Cardinal Kabwela and subdeacon Cardinal Castiglione, emeritus of Genoa, the celebrant Cardinal Mendoza was seated to the side on the sedilium as the Sistine Choir continued the solemn poetic Sequence "Dies Irae".

       Julies' thoughts were racing, trying to digest all Gregory had confided in him and the repercussions of what could have happened. He gave silent thanks the loaded caskets had been removed and for the smooth network of CEO and correspondent Colin Rembert. What connections that man had. He gave a quick Te Deum and a plea to protect those conveying the train away from here.

       The choir was finishing up the Sequence - that 13th century masterpiece composed by Franciscan Frere Thomas de Celano used at all solemn Masses for the Dead. "Day of wrath!" it translated to and now the wrath was seething below, ready to envelop the surface and swallow up those few innocent souls still left compared to the vast majority of hard, cold hearts in this world. Julies had seen it in his own country and knew the same deterioration had occurred in practically every other country, with his neighboring small country to the west standing out as the lone exception. The promise of the Blessed Mother at Fatima that Portugal would keep the faith was not lost on this kindhearted, and strictly orthodox Archbishop of Madrid.

       With the concluding verse "Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem. Amen" Julies stood to bless Cardinal Kabwela who, holding the Sacred Lectionary, would read the Gospel to all. Many were expecting the deacon to pronounce it in English, possibly even Italian.

       After giving his blessing, Cardinal Mendoza mouthed to the African prelate two words which told volumes to his deacon. "Evangelium Latinum."

       Mbuta understood as he gracefully glided to the pulpit and intoned the Gospel, "Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Joannem."

       Cardinal Castiglione handed him the censor for the Ugandan prince of the Church to incense the pulpit and holy book as the choir responded "Gloria tibi Domine."

       As he chanted in one octave the Gospel of John 6: 21-27, Stephen had descended the stairs and managed to inch his way to the right side of the altar, where he stood reverently during the recitation of the Word.

       With the Gospel completed, Kabwela returned to where Mendoza stood, bowed and moved to his seat beside him. Then Julies slowly moved to the pulpit to address the massive throng. At the same time Stephen reverently passed behind the altar, genuflecting in the center and around the Baldacchino to the Gospel side as Julies, in the best English he could, spoke. "This is truly a solemn occasion, a sad one, yet one we must entrust to the Lord Who, for us men, and for our salvation, came down from Heaven through the mystery of the incarnation was made man, suffered, died and was buried. He rose on the third day according to the Scriptures and ascended to the Father. We can take hope this day, dear friends in--"

       Stephen had attracted his attention. The Cardinal was savvy enough to know it was urgent. He leaned over, covering the mike as he acknowledged Navarro. "Yes, Monsignor, what it is?"

       "Your Eminence," Stephen spoke softly but with authority, "all candles must be extinguished now."

       "Do you have this on authentic authority, my son?"

       "Yes," nodded the President of the Universal Communications Council, "I need a moment to explain."

       Cardinal Mendoza turned back to the microphone. Puzzled faces stared back from everywhere. "My friends, if you will permit me a moment or two, I shall return to the pulpit shortly. Please pray a Pater Noster, Ave and Gloria Patri for the souls of the faithful departed." With that he descended the pulpit to the main floor.

       From his position Gregory thought of joining them, but that would be too obvious. Discretion was the better part of valor at this point. Whatever Stephen needed to impart to Julies, Navarro was capable of handling it. He said a silent prayer as he joined in the reciting of the prayers.

       With the congregation completing the Gloria Patri, Mendoza returned to the pulpit in all promptness. "My apologies to all for the delay. It seems, dear friends, that the candles are creating an atmospheric disturbance that is effecting the transmission of some television cameras. I, like you, do not know the reason or cause, but in deference to those seeking to broadcast this solemn event to the world that is the least we can all do. An acolyte is replacing the main altar candles with lower light candles. All others must be extinguished now."

       His voice was firm and authoritative and immediately those near the coffins lying in state rose and extinguished all the candles. A darker hue overtook the great basilica, but the high tech cameras adjusted to the light.

       Stephen knew he would have to explain to the press why, but he would cross that bridge after the funeral Mass. For now the immediate danger had been abated, at least he hoped and prayed it was.

       "Thank you and I apologize again, distinguished guests, for this necessary interruption." Cardinal Mendoza had recaptured the attention of the congregation. "I will not give a eulogy today for any of the deceased before you. So much has already been said and I would be only redundant. We entrust them to the Father. I will add however, that there is one man, a martyr, whom we and the noble Swiss Guard honor and thank. Those who need to know do know, I will leave it at that for as Christ Jesus asserts in the Gospel just chanted, "I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth in Me, although he be dead, shall live. and every one that liveth, and believeth in Me, shall not die for ever." For each of the deceased souls in this Basilica today "Requiem aeternam dona Domine."

       The clergy and many of the laity in the Basilica automatically responded "Et lux perpetua luceat."

       Julies continued, "Requiescat in pace."

       "Amen," rung out.

       Mendoza concluded, "Anima ejus, et animae omnium fidelium defunctorum per misericordiam Dei requiescant in pace."

       Again all responded in kind, "Amen."

       Mendoza descended the pulpit, returning to the altar where he paused, then, as everyone rose, he incanted "Credo in unum Deum..."

       The Choir was on key as they carried on the Nicene Creed, the boldness of belief reaching every ear.

       As this essence of the Faith was sung by the Choir, Stephen stole away through the Sacrestia towards his temporary makeshift office in the Nervi Hall. He knew they would be hounding him. Therefore he had to prepare a release for the press on the candle issue. He knew they'd be hounding him because maybe most of the public bought the clever reason Colin had come up with, but it wouldn't fly with the cynical high-tech boys of the fifth estate.

       He reached his office and turned on his Sony VAIO, logging on to his software. Meanwhile he plugged his laptop into the lazer nearby in order to print out a thousand copies on official Vatican News Release letterhead with his signature already keyed in. All that was missing was the release. Stephen stared at the blank screen as he mulled the words to compose in his mind.


Dateline: Rome - Phone Booth near the Piazza Pia near the Tiber - November 6, 11:00 a.m.

       Corrie nervously looked around as she tapped on the glass while waiting for someone to answer the phone. Ten feet away stood the limo she had commandeered. It was parked facing toward Via della Concilliazione and locked. Hopefully Ans and Soto would not spot it.

       "Bonjiourno, Vaticano Civitae," a Vatican operator answered.

       "Cardinal Gregory Zachmunn please," Corrie pleaded.

       "Scusi," the operator injected, "He is at Mass, the funeral. I take message. No?"

       "Uh, no," Corrie stammered, "that's okay. Uh, how about Father Stephen Navarro? He's the--"

       "Si," replied the operator and immediately patched her through. Several short rings frustrated Corrie more. Then the operator came back on. Scusi, no answer. I take message or you want mail voice?"

       "Yes, his voice mail, this is very important," asserted Corrie.

       Corrie was in luck for Stephen was almost finished when his cell phone vibrated. Probably a nosy member of the press trying to get to the bottom of it before anyone else he thought, as he picked it up.

       "Father?"

       "Yes?"

       "This is Corrine Morelli from Dallas."

       "I'm sorry, I don't know you - I-" Stephen replied guardedly.

       "Does 'Redbird' ring a bell, Father?" Corrie countered.

       Stephen knew it was safe. "Yes, go on."

       "Victor Van Wess told me to contact Cardinal Zachmunn, but he isn't available. Vic told me to tell you the Basilisk is near. Vic is dead -"

       Stephen's ears perked up as his heart sank. "Vic Van Wess?"

       "Yes, Father. Blix did it and he's in Rome now. So am I. Have you seen Pat Gallagher?"

       "Yes, just recently, I -"

       Corrie heaved a huge sigh. "He's alive then."

       "I don't know how, but yes."

       "I'm on the run, Father, I've got wheels for now. Where can we meet?"

       "Ah, let me think," Stephen pondered. "How about the Vittorio Emmanuel Monument on the Piazza Venezia, you know that building that looks like a wedding cake?"

       "Yes, I can find it," assured Corrie.

       "Can you be there, say in 20 minutes?" Stephen asked, looking at his watch and then back down at his press release which was almost finished.

       "Yes, I'll be there. How will I know-"

       "I'll be the only American with a Roman collar most likely," Stephen opined. "Look, I'll be finished here in five minutes or so and it might take me a few minutes to get out of here. Stay behind one of the columns out of sight on the right until you see me by the base of the stairs."

       "Will do, thank you, Father."

       Corrie stood near the limo for a few minutes, trying to focus while back in the Pauline Hall Stephen quickly finished his release and transferred it to the lazer printer. Closing down, he decided to take his VAIO with him. Just a hunch, but he had long learned it is better to act on these impulses that often come on the gentle wind of inspiration from the Holy Ghost, than to regret later.


Dateline: Rome - Castle Sant'Angelo - November 6, 11:02 a.m.

       "Patrick, it is after eleven." Niki nudged Gallagher, awakening him from his hour nap. "His Holiness is exhausted. I fear he has a few broken ribs, but he'll sleep now for awhile. The Demoral is, how you say, kicking in. You best stretch and circulate the blood, my friend."

       Pat lifted his frame and moseyed toward the open turret window that looked south towards the bend in the Tiber. "You know, Nik, I don't know how this is all gonna end, but I can tell you one thing--"

       Niki was caught off-guard by the silence, failing to notice that something had caught Pat's keen eye by the Tiber.

       "What were you saying, Patrick?"

       "God, I miss Corrie. Maybe it's the nicotine withdrawal, but now the Italian women are starting to look exactly like her. What a resemblance."

       Niki joined Pat at the window, peering over his shoulder. "I doubt, my friend, that your Corrie is a chauffeur in Rome."

       "No, guess not," Pat sighed as the limo pulled away.

       "How long is that tunnel?" Niki asked, a ray of hope in his questioning, which was also a way of getting Pat refocused on the task at hand.

       "A good eight blocks," Pat winced. "Stairs can be tricky."

       "I don't think we can move His Holiness yet," Niki realized.

       "So, then," Pat replied, "what's the next move?"

       "You have had an hour to rest. The stationery and computer, if you can," Niki reminded him.

       "Oh yeah, I'd best be gettin' at it! Later, Nik." With that Pat was off once again into the hollow cavity that stretched to the Papal Quarters. Niki would use the time to refresh with some nourishment Pat had brought, and rest. He would also pray that Stephen was in time to thwart the candles and coffins. Right now that was all he could do. Pray!



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WHITE SMOKE, BLACK FIRE!
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