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

Part V
Thirteenth Chapter
The Shedding

Episode Twelve: Extra omnes! Let the Conclave Begin!

       The charred crater of twisted metal was all that remained of the gray helicopter and its inhabitants. Impacted in the crash were the Doric columns and the statue of the Emperor Trajan, which had been fractured by the blow. The irony would not be lost on historians. This tragic figure in Roman history came into power during the reign of Pope St. Clement I, the fourth Pope who had been consecrated by Peter himself. During Trajan's rise to despotism, he chose to elevate himself by persecuting Christians more feverishly, including banishing Clement to Pontus at the end of the first century. The twist was that now, during the reign of the first Clement's namesake - Pope Clement XV - the Imperial Forum area enshrined to the Roman gods had been desecrated. The flagitious flames, amid the ruins of Trajan's Columns which had been scattered and crushed, were a sign of the destructive nature of the Legion; the very same forces that motivated and corrupted the "great sovereign" Trajan.

       The crash and resulting orb of fire had attracted two men who had no idea their boss had been the cause of the commotion. Ans and Soto Ichariak had been searching the streets on foot trying to find Corrie, confused by the great explosion earlier and the mass of crowds fleeing from the Vatican. Now they were fearful of what Blix would do to them if he discovered the woman had eluded them with the limo. The infernal heat of the crash site only fueled more fear in the two eunuchs who, despite their aversion to fire, played with it in their idolatry to their earthly master. Not possessing even a modicum of intelligence of a Mensa candidate, they had meandered to a bistro on the Piazza Grazioli just a few blocks from the Wedding Cake monument to try to reason what they would do next. There they had heard the explosion. Waiting at least half an hour because of the heat and blockaded area, they eventually were able to get close enough.

       From this vantage point it was Ans who had first noticed the unattended white limo abandoned in front of the great Monument to Victor Emmanuel II. By the time they reached it, they could see the bullet riddled side and totally smashed back windows. Little did they know this had been the handiwork of their tyrannical employer, a true psycho if there ever was one. All they knew was that Soto had retained a key and soon they were inside and steering the wrecked limo back towards the Vatican three kilometers away. They had no idea what they would tell Blix, if they would tell him, if they would live to tell him or anyone else, or if they told him, whether he would let them live.

Dateline: Vatican City - the steps in front of the Basilica - November 6, 3:10 p.m.

       Macelli was still impatiently droning on, answering questions from various reporters with his well-crafted ambiguity and evasiveness. So intent was he on diverting attention toward the Conclave, that he did not see the African jockey towards the front. The gentleman was dressed in a colorful magenta and purple sarong with all the markings of a tribal leader. Sporting a goatee and ivory earrings, he wore dark glasses that hid his eyes. Deftly he watched the proceedings as Colin Rembert boldly stepped forward with a booming voice to intercept the others clamoring for Macelli's attention. Colin didn't wait to be recognized nor did he hesitate.

       "Colin Rembert, GSN." The boos from his peers peppered the air, and Macelli signaled for them to stop by pushing his outstretched palms down. The silencing allowed the Australian the opening. "Begging your pardon, Your Eminence, but I must ask you about the document released a few days ago on the Jewish Guilt and Exoneration. Are you sure the late Pontiff authorized such a controversial document. Does it not go against Catholic teaching? Does it not contradict the Holy Scriptures?"

       Macelli had to answer. He knew it. Rembert's question had him tied to the stake, the fire of hatred encroaching his veins. He wanted to avoid that issue until he could present the false document with the fake seal. Damn that Australian. It was more difficult without the various faux documents that would be shown to the Conclave. Once the forged motu proprio admitting the 40 Cardinals-to-be was made manifest, it stood to reason, he assumed, that the others would automatically be ushered in as authentic as well. He hesitated, almost skirting the issue, but then pride got the best of him. He would rue the day.

       Macelli masked his emotions to all while looking daggers at Colin. "Mr. Rembert, now that you ask, I can personally attest to the Holy Father signing the document, even going over it in detail with the late Secretary of State Cardinal Adamo, as well as Cardinals Messerial, Montague, Van Dandt and Pessare who all met such a dastardly end in Iraq. Uh, His Eminence the Vicar General Josef Vendhem can vouch for what I am saying. He was present as well."

       Vendhem nodded matter-of-factly, not realizing he, along with Macelli, had been caught in their lie. Rembert had set two Penultimates up focused on both Cardinals, recording every facial gesture. They were being beamed back to the rotunda in the old turret tower where Pope Clement XV, along with Cardinal Zachmunn and the others, were watching. It was confirmation to Clement that the subterfuge was indeed Macelli and Vendhem. He knew it all along, yet had not wanted to admit such treachery. Now it was inevitable and Clement had to take action.

       Satisfied that Macelli had bit on the bait, Colin retreated into the crowd of reporters where he quickly exited the other side just as a deer flees from circling vultures. Stephen's plan had worked to perfection. Colin would position himself for the next phase.

Dateline: Rome - Side Street near the Vatican - November 6, 3:20 p.m.
The Audi crept slowly along the Borgo Angelico. Blix had somehow managed to allude the authorities who were no doubt looking for him and the car. The older 1999 Audi had not had the On-Star computer tracking system on board and for that Blix was able to sneak under the radar. Once across the Tiber at the Ponte Cavour, he had veered onto side streets edging closer to the Vatican.

       In the distance he heard police sirens and quickly pulled the car into an alley and slowly guided the car south through the partly covered narrow cobblestone lane. Up ahead a man knelt on the rough pavement while another dressed in a brown hood was seated on a back bench, listening.

       Blix adroitly stopped the car and exited, waiting for what would come next as he stealthily eased closer, spotting a loose brick near the wall.

       The man in the hood raised his hand, making the sign of the cross. It was a street confessional and Blix, after sizing up the man in the brown cowl, was not going to pass this chance. He reached for the loose brick.

       Once the penitent left, Blix made his move. He slipped in behind the priest.

       "Buon giorno, Padre. Ah've been a bad, bad hombre," The vile Texan drawled, a skeletal smile etched upon his hollow cheeks.

       "Non capisco," the Franciscan friar replied, holding his hands palms up and scrunching his shoulders. "Scusi. Non parlo inglese."

       "Well, that's too bad then," Blix mumbled, as he brought the brick down hard on the head of the unsuspecting priest.

       The Franciscan slumped to the ground and Blix quickly pulled him back down the alley a short ways to the Audi. Stripping the brown habit and cincture off the unconscious friar, Blix opened the trunk and hoisted the body into the back with a thud. He divested his jacket and threw it into the trunk as well, then slammed the lid shut while donning the holy garment of the Friars Minor. Never had this habit been so defiled. Pulling the cowl up around his head to help conceal his identity and fastening the cincture, he moved quickly out of the alley and towards the Holy See on foot, relishing the irony of this convenient costume, yet abhorring what this woolen frock of the friars represented.

Dateline: Vatican City - the steps in front of the Basilica - November 6, 3:25 p.m.

       Macelli had given way to a few other prelates to answer some questions. Finally it was Cardinal Mendoza's turn as Dean of the College.

       "I would like to make this announcement to the five Cardinals who have not checked in yet," Julies began. "We are 35 minutes away from convening in the Sistine. We will begin promptly at four. The doors will be locked and trusted guards will make sure no one is admitted or leaves. The Guardian of the Conclave Prince Borundici will monitor all to assure secrecy. All fellow cardinals are to meet in the Pauline Chapel in 20 minutes and we will proceed from there to the Sistine. Most Reverend Navarro will keep you informed at intervals as promised. Ladies and Gentlemen, we ask for your prayers. May God's will be fulfilled in all we do."

       It was pretty difficult to pose a question to that kind of statement, and so, with those few words the press frenzy had subsided. Macelli and Vendhem had already made their exit while the other cardinals and Stephen fielded questions. Eagerly they anticipated the Conclave, assuming the 40 bishops who waited in the wings of the Sala Regia would be admitted shortly after the Conclave began.

       As the various prelates began to disburse, Stephen caught up with Cardinal Mendoza.

       "You know of the plan, your Eminence?"

       "Si, Monsignore, I am prepared." Mendoza responded.

       "We must consult with Cardinal Marcini to assure clearance and to utilize his Penultimate," Stephen offered.

       The Spanish Cardinal nodded. "Yes, I quite agree. I believe we will find him in the Sistine. Such a small pen. That is most impressive technology."

       "And quite a life saver, your Eminence. Had it not been for this and Mr. Rembert's quick thinking I fear the damage would have been extensive."

       "How did you know it would occur at noon, my son?"

       "We found the detonator after the German nun was killed. She had set it. Last night they planted the candles. We knew where they were. Extinguishing them gave us time."

       "Someday, Monsignor, you will make an excellent Prince of the Church. We need dedicated men like you."

Dateline: Rome - Castel Sant'Angelo - November 6, 3:35 p.m.

       The gate had been opened by one of the guardians of the Castle who, though not on duty, had been contacted through Dr. Ghislieri. An emergency medical van had slowly passed through the gates and along the grass area to the turret. Captain Royce Schuster had secured the area and checked credentials of all in the ambulance. Once all attendants were cleared, they carried a gurney and other equipment to the tower.

       Each had been sworn to secrecy. Immediately they genuflected and kissed the Pope's Fisherman's Ring. Then, carefully, they eased Pope Clement XV onto the leather stretcher on wheels and strapped him in snuggly, hooking up the IV which would give the Holy Father necessary sustenance. Though he was still hurting greatly, he consciously nodded his gratitude toward his handlers, ready for the task ahead - a most vital obligation for the good of countless souls, the most crucial decision of pontificates over the past 50 years.

       Lifting the Sovereign Pontiff, the paramedics transported him down the stairs to the waiting ambulance. Cardinal Zachmunn and Dr. Ghislieri accompanied His Holiness, with Pat, Niki and Corrie trailing. Soon they were all crammed inside the EMS van as it circled around and headed toward the gate. The gendarmes had been alerted and had cleared a path down the Via della Concilliazione to St. Peter's Square. No one knew the contents of the medical transport as it slowly made its way west toward the Holy See with three motorcycle escorts clearing the way. Crowds on both sides stopped to gawk as it passed. The plan was not to cause a commotion. No siren. Yet the mass of humanity lining the street, after all that had happened this day, could not help but notice.

       Nevertheless, once the ambulance reached the end of the wide boulevard, it was obvious none of the pedestrians would get past the phalanx of Italian militia who were standing sentinel on the perimeters of Vatican City. They were diligently guarding all entrances to the Square as well as the areas of ruin to prevent looting or trespassing. Arriving at the open portal into the Square, the soldiers had removed one of the short pillars with brass grommet, enabling the vehicle to enter the Square, proceeding onward past the center Obelisk.

       The ambulance had not gone unnoticed by two figures in the Square who had avoided detection. One was the African in magenta and purple who had settled beneath the Colonnade at the base of the stairs, watching the vehicle pull up by the Bronze Doors where three figures exited. He recognized them immediately.

       So also, another set of eyes recognized two of them - Pat Gallagher and Corrie Morelli - as they headed for the Bronze Doors. They had no trouble moving past the guard and disappearing into the darkness of the hall's chamber. The acute, but sunken unearthly eyes peering out from beneath the woolen cowl of a Franciscan habit, studied their every move from his position behind one of the massive columns of the Colonnade on the east. How had she escaped? How did they have carte blanche into the Vatican? Who was the tall man with them? And who was in the EMS vehicle that had continued on toward the Basilica. Where was it going? Edwin Blix, with Satan's fury stirring up in his blackened soul, skulked into the daylight free of the Colonnade to try to get a better look and also to avoid, for now, from allowing himself to serve as a willing host for the hideous transmutation of the reptilian monster once again welling up within. From his position in the Square, he could not see what the paramedic van was doing for guards were blocking his view, standing at attention in front of the vehicle on the far end.

       The African had a better vantage point. He was able to follow the ambulance all the way to the base of the stairs on the far right of St. Peter's where it had stopped and maneuvered around to back in to the entrance of the public First Aid Station beneath the great Basilica. Guards had been summoned. Four of them who stood in front. Someone was being unloaded, but who? He didn't notice the Franciscan stalking closer. Dr. Makuta Ogidi had not been informed of this twist or who was beneath the habit. Being a lone wolf didn't always pay dividends.

Dateline: Vatican City - Sistine Chapel and Sala Regia - November 6, 3:50 p.m.

       Stephen, with the aid of Cardinals Wetherby and Kabwela as well as Lieutenant Alexis Giraud and four of his trusted sentinels, had cleared the area where the Pope would be transferred to a wheel chair and escorted through a private door in the back of the public First Aid Station to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and then up the Scala Regia to the Sistine Chapel. There he would be wheeled up the ramp where Cardinal Marcini would be waiting.

       Cardinal Mendoza had notified both Guido and Prince Elisio Borundici, chief guardian of the Sistine. They were excited and delighted to cooperate. The Prince, with Cardinal Marcini's suggestion, had prepared a faux wall of crates and left-over planks to deflect any suspicion that anyone else was on the platform with the wheel-chair bound cardinal.

       The key to this necessary clandestine operation was convincing the Cardinals in the Pauline Chapel and the Bishops in the Sala Regia to evacuate the area and move to the Belvedere Courtyard. They were assured they would be safe. After what had happened at high noon today, even Vendhem and Macelli bought the ruse for they had no idea what other double-crosses Elena had manufactured.

       The corridors were clear as Pope Clement XV was wheeled into the Sistine and up the ramp. Guido, despite his own disability, bowed profoundly and kissed the Pontiff's ring.

       "O Papa, I am so overjoyed to see you in the flesh," Cardinal Marcini emoted. "Magnifico. I can hardly contain my glee, your Holiness."

       "Bene, Guido," Clement replied, his eyes dancing with delight to see his handicapped friend whom everyone loved.

       Likewise Prince Borundici came forward, genuflecting to kiss the Fisherman's Ring. "Viva le Papa!" he expressed, tears welling up in his maple eyes. Clement placed both hands on Elisio's head, blessing this loyal Guardian and Secretary of the Conclave silently.

       Captain Schuster and Dr. Ghislieri wheeled Clement up the ramp into place behind the temporary imitation wall of crates and extra lumber.

       The Pope grasped Dr. Ghislieri's hand. "Grazie, Giuseppe, you are truly a God-send."

       "Shh, your Holiness, save your strength," the good doctor replied, checking to make sure the fluids in the IV were working properly, while at the same time trying to divert any attention on his God-given talents as a healing physician.

       Quickly, the doctor had rejoined Cardinals Mendoza and Cardinal Zachmunn. Royce Schuster stood with another guard near the entrance.

       "Give the all-clear, Captain," directed Gregory. "All is in readiness."

Dateline: Vatican City - Sistine Chapel - November 6, 3:58 p.m.

       All the Cardinals had returned and were now in their places. Workmen had prepared 33 baldacchino stations. Macelli and Vendhem noticed there were no extra chairs reserved for those 40 waiting in the wings. Antonio scanned the room, looking up right at the stack of crates to the side and a bit behind Guido, but didn't suspect it was a faux barrier and, that behind that pile of wood and wires and metal rested the one man who would bring the Legion's plans to hijack the papacy to a halt. Yet, the Camerlengo sensed something was not right.

       In the Sala Regia off the entrance to the Chapel, the 40 hopeful prelates had returned to wait. Their ambition far outweighed their spirituality. Most in this room assumed they would shortly be admitted just as Cardinals Medelia, Krementz and Carteaga had assured.

Dateline: Vatican City - St. Peter's Square - November 6, 3:59 p.m.

       Outside in the Square the clearance had been given to the Italian military to allow the people back into the Square, a traditional custom during the proceedings of the Sacred Conclave. Despite their motive for being there, more than a few belied their Christian charity, jockeying for positions and knocking down others to get a better vantage point for seeing the chimney off the Sistine where the white smoke would billow forth once a new Pope had been elected. Young and old, religious and non-religious, rich and poor. They were all culprits who lacked consideration for others.

       Unable to hold back the flood of humanity pouring into the Square ten minutes after the EMS vehicle had entered, the militia had almost been trampled as they all shifted to the south side of the Square to provide a human barrier from the destruction behind, while people raced from Via della Concilliazione and other side streets across the invisible border. Others came flowing through those columns not barricaded. The massive tide of anxious observers forced Blix back into the shadows, while Makuta slinked away back to the Bronze Doors and ascended to where Sister Bridie waited alone in the Papal Quarters. He needed to change disguises.

       The resisters' web had been spun, the trap set. The scope of the game would depend on catching the Legion off-guard within the Sistine where all the chief principals of the largest Church in the world were gathered. God forbid that one of those hideous, satanic reptilian monsters might evade the trap that was being set. If one were unleashed within the sacred confines of the Sistine there would not only be hell to pay, but there would also be no survivors. None!

Dateline: Vatican City - Sistine Chapel - November 6, 4:00 p.m.

       The traditional Votive Mass Pro Eligendo Papa, which preceded every Conclave, had been noticeably missing for this one. There were several reasons for this exclusion. One aim might have been the emergency status the Vatican had been thrown into; another impetus could have been the fact that the Funeral Mass, though expedited, had been completed late in the morning and, thus, another Mass was not required. But the real cause of why it was eliminated was because of the inordinate power given to the Cardinal Camerlengo and his three Cardinal Assistants who were all very malleable to Macelli's abominable agendas. This unbridled authority had been empowered by Paul VI's Apostolic Constitution Romano Pontifici Eligendo, and perpetuated by John Paul II's Universi Dominici Gregis, and, sadly, not corrected by Clement XV in his Apostolic Constitution Quodcumque Solveris.

       Promptly on the hour, with 33 Cardinal Electors assembled in the Sistine beneath the never-ending scenes of Michelangelo's inspired imagination, the Dean of the College commenced the Conclave. Biblical figures - Old and New, holy and unholy - stood silent sentinel in this room of utmost secrecy. Each elector was dressed in black cassock with scarlet piping, skull cap and matching waist sash with a surplice carrying lace stitching. Pectoral crosses sparkled beneath the baldachinum of each participant as they faced each other; 16 lined up along one wall, 16 on the other with a specially adapted baldacchino for Cardinal Guido Marcini to maneuver into once the voting began.

       Beneath the great fresco of the 16th century master's Last Judgment, which covered the entire front wall, the altar had been moved back against the wall, reminiscent of the nearly 500 year tradition of the Sistine. On the high altar was placed the gold repository, covered with a gold plate. Here the ballots would be placed with the Cardinal Scrutineers watching closely. Each Cardinal would bring his twice-folded ballot forward to the altar where he would vow, 'I call as my witness Christ the Lord Who will be my Judge, that my vote is given to the one who before God I think should be elected.'

       The procedure following this brief oath would be for the Cardinal Elector to place it on the gold plate, then would lift it to allow the ballot to slide into the gold receptacle, covering the container with the plate once again. Then the Cardinal Elector would descend the steps where he would bow profoundly toward the altar, then proceed back to his place, seated beneath his own baldacchino. This tradition-steeped process would be repeated by all in the Assembly as many times as necessary until two-thirds of a majority had been reached.

       In front of the altar at the base of the three-tiered steps, was a long mahogany table. Behind it were five chairs. On the table was a Bible, various stacks of papers, pens, water glasses and pitchers of water, in addition to several stacks of blank ballots. The two Masters of Ceremonies would pass out three to each of the Cardinal Electors prior to each vote. Each ballot was a regulation blank 5" x 5" paper with the words 'Eligio in Summum Pontificem' printed on the upper half. To the far left of the table was a small cast-iron cauldron in which the casted ballot slips for each balloting would be placed after being scrutinized, counted and a needle of thread pierced through the "o" in the word 'Eligio' of each ballot.

       In the center of the table, on a white cushion, was a red biretta that had been turned upside down. In it were the names of each Cardinal not previously assigned for a permanent duty of the Conclave. From this would be drawn the various assignments for the Scrutineers, Infirmarii, and Revisers that would hold through the first three full days of the Conclave. Were further balloting necessary, alternating names would be chosen from the biretta, and changed again every three days.

       On the other end of the Sistine Chapel near the entrance, behind the cloister grill wall and below the elevated platform where Cardinal Marcini was presently stationed inconspicuously, stood the two selected as the necessary medical attendants, Dr. Giuseppe Ghislieri and Dr. Gerardi Kinsajira, a Zambian physician who had served at the Gemelli Hospital for the past nine years. Once the Conclave began, they would be just outside the door for possible emergencies that could arise. Standing with them were two Religious priests attached to the Papal Sacristy and Monsignor Bracio Lumendi, a tall thin, middle-aged priest from Bologna, who was the ecclesiastic appointed to give the meditation before the Official Opening of the Conclave. All three priests, collectively versed in many languages, would also serve as confessors when needed. For several red-hats in this room, it was desperately needed, but those who needed it most would reject it. Pride had engulfed them.

       All those non-Cardinal Electors, save for the Secretary of the Conclave, would be asked to leave the Sistine Chapel after Msgr. Lumendi had delivered his reflection for the College to contemplate in calling upon the Holy Ghost for inspiration. Those exiting would be on standby outside the door. Nearby in the Apostolic Palace, standing at the ready, were security-cleared personnel for housekeeping, cooking and serving.

       Marcini had turned his Penultimate over to Captain Schuster who stood guard with several of his platoon now gathered in the hall outside the Chapel. Guido could vow there were no technical instruments of any kind for recording, reproducing or transmitting any sound, video or text. All stipulations and regulations were being followed to the letter of the law.

       The time having arrived, Cardinal Mendoza left his baldacchino station, where above hung his Coat of Arms for the See of Madrid. He glided to the front behind the table, bowing at the center of the altar and turned to the Assembly to begin the proceedings. The Opening Prayer had been recited in Latin and now Cardinal Mendoza beckoned Msgr. Lumendi forward to present his brief meditation to the Cardinal Electors. Following that there would be five minutes of silence before the Dean of the College would lead the 33 Princes of the Church in the profession of the Sacred Conclave Oath.

Dateline: Vatican City - Portone di Bronzo - November 6, 4:05 p.m.

       Father Niki Andriopoulos, Pat Gallagher and Corrine Morelli, with official security clearance badges provided by Captain Royce Schuster, had been able to pass through the Bronze Doors and return to the Papal Quarters where Sister Bridie had fully recovered from her semi-concussion. It was time to vacate the premises, primarily because it was a strict stipulation that no one could be residing in the Papal Apartments once the Conclave began. The four had retreated back down the Scalia Pia toward the main corridor when they heard a commotion. A minor argument was ensuing.

       "Monsieur," one of the guards was asserting in a very loud voice, "you do not have authorization to go further. Back outside, sil vous plait."

       "As I said, I understand, kind sir, your consternation," the magenta and purple clad African repeated. "However, I was assured this pass was valid."

       Niki recognized Ogidi beneath the colorful garb, and raced ahead of the others.

       "Sergeant, I can vouch for this man," Niki exclaimed, breathing somewhat heavily from descending two stairs at a time, as he handed the guard his special badge.

       "N'est ce pas?" the one guard asked, showing it to the other guard.

       "Oui. Certainment," the second guard assumed, looking toward Pat and Corrie just arriving with Sister Bridget McCullough. "Et vous?"

       "Americans, Corporal," Sister Bridie affirmed. "They be fine as well, they be."

       "Pardon mois, on ne sait jamais," the second guard responded, almost apologetically.

       "Bien. Continuer avec soin," the first Swiss sentinel nodded to Niki and Ogidi, handing the Greek priest his pass back. "S'absenter de le Sistine."

       "Huh?," Pat heard Sistine but didn't understand the full French.

       "Stay away from the Sistine. The Conclave," Ogidi confirmed, then gratefully acknowledged the two Swiss Guards. "Oui, merci beaucoup, mes amis."

       The second guard was still not totally convinced. This African looked familiar. Where had the Swiss soldier seen him before? "Pourquois vous objet?"

       Niki took charge. "We are to meet Monsignor Navarro in his office. That is our purpose."

       "Permission allouer. You are free to go," finalized the first guard, as they both clicked their heels and returned to their stations, though the second guard was still not totally convinced. He would not remember why until later this afternoon that this man in the flowing magenta and purple robes had been the same Coptic cleric as well as the Auxiliary Bishop Bantu Nukumba of Zaire who had come and gone so freely. Truly, Ogidi was a master of disguises.

Dateline: Vatican City - St. Peter's Square - November 6, 4:10 p.m.

       Another who was disguised, but was not who some thought, was the hooded faux-Franciscan. Sporting his steel-toed Stingray western boots beneath the poor garment of rough wool, he was being jostled by spectators crowding into St. Peter's Square. Edwin Blix was piqued. He hated crowds, hated this costume he had to utilize to get this far. What a disgrace for one as powerful as he. After a seemingly interminable time of bumping his way out of the main fray of the Square toward the columns beneath the Colonnade near the Bronze Doors where Pat and Corrie had entered, he spotted a pay phone on the wall. Frenetically he picked it up. Yes, there was a dial tone, even if it was a weird sounding pitch with short beeps. He dialed the only number he had left, the phone in the abandoned limo. Perhaps he could forward a message through that line to somehow reach Ans or Soto, wherever they were.

       Impatiently he prepared to wait out the series of steps before he could finally leave a message. One could imagine his surprise, even rue Blix's good fortune, when Ans finally answered.

       "Who's this?" Blix demanded, suspicious that the Polizia had most probably impounded the limo.

       "Ans Ichariak. Is this you, sir?"

       "Damn right it's me, man."

       "We have the limo, but it has been dam--"

       "Yeah, and y'all don't have the broad either do ya?

       "Well, no, sir, but we can explain."

       "Never mind. Ah got her in mah sites, sort of. How'd ya ever get the limo back? Ah hell, never mind that, where the hell y'all at?"

       "My brother and I are stuck in traffic on the boulevard just before the bridge. We can see the Basilica from here."

       "Well, for now don't even try. It's a mess heah, too. The place is swimmin with stinkin' people. Damn them. Listen, for now, get back to the airport. Alert the pilot to have the jet fueled. We're headin' back to Iraq tonight. Oh, and ah'll need another helo. Have it meet me at the Heliport on the far western corner inside the walls of this god-forsaken place. Ah don't know how Ah'll get back there, but Ah will. Six sharp. Got it?"

       "Yes, sir, we shall try."

       "No, Ans, you shall not try, y'all shall do it. Ya heah?"

       "Yes, sir."

       "Good. See ya at six. Don't be late or else."

       Nearby bystanders were shocked at the harsh tones from a Franciscan no less. Blix tried to assuage fears with a quick quip, "Sandals ain't ready yet!" Digging in his heels, he slithered into the crowd, closer to the Bronze Doors.

Dateline: Vatican City - Sistine Chapel - November 6, 4:15 p.m.

       All non-voting personnel save for the Masters of Ceremonies had been escorted out of the Sistine Chapel. The five minutes of silence had elapsed. Cardinal Julies Mendoza stood to administer the solemn oath. Because of the acoustics in this room no microphone was necessary.

       "Before drawing the names of the Cardinal Scrutineers, Infirmarii, and Revisers, I would ask the Cardinal Camerlengo to come forward, His Lordship from Italy, Antonio Cardinal Macelli." The black-hearted rotund one squeezed out from beneath his baldacchino and lumbered to the front.

       "I now ask the Cardinal Assistants, predetermined at the General Congregation last night, to come forward. First, the Sub-Dean of the College, His Lordship from Italy, Gregorio Cardinal Bondi," Cardinal Mendoza announced. "He will also serve as Secretary of this Electoral Assembly." The latter ambled forward, a slight limp to his gait, the result of a gimpy knee he had endured since his elevation by Cardinal Giuseppe Siri on August 15, 1985 in Genoa.

       "Next, continued the Spanish Cardinal, "I call forth the second assistant, the Advocate for the Ordo Rituum Conclavis, His Lordship from Canada, Thomas Cardinal Wetherby. And," Julies concluded, "would His Lordship from Croatia, Jon Anton Cardinal Kracic, please join the Electors' dais please as the third Cardinal Assistant."

       "We shall now draw from the scarlet biretta the first three names. They shall serve as the three Cardinal Scrutineers for the first three full days. He reached in and pulled out the first slip. "His Lordship from England, His Eminence William Quentin Richards. Please, Lord Richards, take your place here," Julies motioned to the chair to the far left while at the same time reaching back to select the next name. "His Lordship from France, Philippe Cardinal Maurin. Please, Lord Maurin, take your place next to Lord Richards." Selecting the third name, Julies announced, "the third Scrutineer shall be His Lordship from Brazil, Joaquim Sinke Plinio Cardinal Arcoverde."

       "We shall now draw the first set of Infirmarii," Mendoza continued, reaching into the biretta. "These three shall remain in their place until the balloting begins. If there are any who they need to minister to, then they will be called upon. The first name drawn is His Lordship from Zimbabwe, Mbuta Celestin Kabwela."

       While the Dean of the College announced the names of the other two Infirmarii chosen by random from the scarlet biretta, Lieutenant Alexis Geraud and two other guards approached the hallway leading to the Camerlengo's office in the Apostolic Palace. Luciani Serrano would soon be placed under house arrest and called to join Jordan Collier and Sergeant Kutch, as well as other turncoat guards who had been rounded up and imprisoned. The Legion was coming to the end of their rope, a heinous hemp that was unraveling fast.

       Back in the Sistine, Mendoza was continuing the process. "We shall now choose the three Revisers The first shall be His Lordship from the Ivory Coast, Peter Folenga Cardinal Marzure. Lord Marzure, please take your place on the right. The second name is His Lordship from Puerto Rico, Frederico Eijo Cardinal Lopez, and the final name for the first three-day segment, is His Lordship from Hungary, Bela Cardinal Luzlo. We now have our full complement of Scrutineers, Infirmarii and Revisers. As previously prescribed, I remind the Infirmarians Cardinals Kabwela, d'Estambleau, and Strovinksy that they need not come forward, but remain in place to be called upon when needed."

       Macelli had taken his place next to the Dean's chair. To the left of Camerlengo were the Cardinal Assistants Bondi, Wetherby and Kracic. Adjacent at a 90 degree angle to the table three chairs were set for the Scrutineers Richards, Maurin and Arcoverde. To the left side, mirroring the Scrutineers' chairs, were three more chairs; in front of which stood the chosen Revisers Cardinals Marzure, Lopez, and Luzlo.

       Mendoza tapped the table with his gavel and all were seated, as Mendoza came forward front and center before the table. "As you know, venerable brothers, it is the custom to now read aloud the formula of the Sacred Oath of the Conclave. This is necessary before we can address any other business, and I know there are a few in here who want to address that. However, first we must tend to the tradition passed down and decreed in the most recent Apostolic Constitution Quodcumque Solveris. I trust you all have the scripts in front of you. Let us begin."
       Banging the gavel twice, all in the Assembly stood as Bishop Jose Malvonte from Portugal and Bishop Jahartin Mhunundi from Indonesia, serving as Masters of Ceremony, presented themselves before the Dean of the College. Bishop Mhunundi held the scroll which contained the oath, Bishop Malvonte the Latin Vulgate Bible.

       Cardinal Mendoza led the recitation as each Cardinal Elector held his right hand up and in unison they pronounced,

    "We, the Cardinal electors present in this election of the Supreme Pontiff promise, pledge and swear, as individuals and as a group, to observe faithfully and scrupulously the prescriptions contained in the Apostolic Constitution of the Supreme Pontiff Clement XV, Quodcumque Solveris. We likewise promise, pledge and swear that whichever of us by divine disposition is elected Roman Pontiff will commit himself faithfully to carrying out the munus Petrinum of Pastor of the Universal Church and will not fail to affirm and defend strenuously the spiritual and temporal rights and the liberty of the Holy See. In a particular way, we promise and swear to observe with the greatest fidelity and with all persons, clerical or lay, secrecy regarding everything that in any way relates to the election of the Roman Pontiff and regarding what occurs in the place of the election, directly or indirectly related to the results of the voting; we promise and swear not to break this secret in any way, either during or after the election of the new Pontiff, unless explicit authorization is granted by the same Pontiff; and never to lend support or favor to any interference, opposition or any other form of intervention, whereby secular authorities of whatever order and degree or any group of people or individuals might wish to intervene in the election of the Roman Pontiff."
       With this accomplished, the next step was for each Cardinal Elector by order of their precedence, to place their hand on the holy book and personally conclude the oath. Mendoza was first, as he placed his hand on the deep burgundy gold-leafed bible His Grace Cardinal Malvonte was holding. From his heart he vowed, "And I, Julies Cardinal Mendoza, do so promise, pledge and swear. So help me, God, and these Holy Gospels which I touch with my hand."

       The two Master of Ceremonies then moved to Cardinal Bondi, then Cardinal Wetherby, and from there to Macelli. Whatever the latter would vow meant nothing, but he continued the facade despite the knowing glances of so many of his peers. Included in this ritual were the twelve Cardinals who had passed the age of 80. Silently Vendhem and Macelli stewed as did their cohorts Krementz, Carteaga, Radkalionis, Hong-Ju, Visserant and others. They could do nothing until this process was completed. Once the Extra omnes had been announced, and all but the Cardinal Electors removed from the Sistine chamber, then the sparks would fly. Oh, would they!

      "Blessed is he, that readeth and heareth the words of this prophecy; and keepeth those things which are written in it; for the time is at hand."
      Apocalypse 1: 3

"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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