Episode Five: Back to the Beginning
Despite the pain, it was fortunate for Corrie, Pat, and Niki that Blix had been so garrulous, dropping his guard with unseemly overconfidence while up front in the plane Macelli and Vendhem had fallen asleep, the effects of the celebratory champagne in which Blix had mixed some sleep powder to make sure the two prelates would remain inconsequential. Blix had been most liberal in divulging just where they were headed. Pat and Corrie, along with Niki had been masters at probing, and Blix had complied without realizing how he had divulged where they were heading.
That would serve them well for as Colin Rembert was walking back to the Vatican from the Hospital Santo Spirito, he had heard the alert buzz on his Penultimate and immediately honed in on the conversation, hearing it all.
Realizing the stakes Rembert picked up his pace toward St. Peter's Square which was still packed. Colin knew he could alert federal authorities instantly, but that might compromise Pat, Niki and Corrie. He couldn't afford to take that chance. He knew the ultimate destination and perhaps Stephen might have some answers. He had to reach the Monsignor as soon as possible as he squeezed through the massive throng towards the Bronze Doors.
Dateline: Vatican City - Steps in front of St. Peter's - Nov 6, 7:30 p.m.
"Ladies and gentlemen, that's all the questions for now," the President of the Pontifical Council for Universal Communications Cardinal-elect Stephen Navarro concluded from the podium. Despite the ungracious, boorish questioning that continued, he spoke above the fray. "We've been here an hour and a half. That is well enough time. You all have a copy of the final decree of His Holiness of happy memory Clement XV. That says it all. We'll have another press conference on the steps of St. Peter's Square tomorrow immediately following the Angelus Bells at 12:05. We'll be able to inform you then of the schedule for the Novendiales which begins tomorrow for the next nine days. Now, please follow the guards single file to the exits for these areas are restricted. Thank you. We will notify you immediately if there are any new findings."
With that a weary Stephen immediately headed into St. Peter's and to the right side away from the maddening mob of prying reporters and through the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and into the refuge of the quiet antechamber leading to the Scalia Regia and up to the Sala Regia and the entrance corridor directly to the Sistine Chapel. There waiting was the one man he had so hoped to see - Cardinal Gregory Zachmunn.
"Your Eminence, I am overwhelmed by the Holy Father's generosity to me," gushed Stephen in happy excitement.
"Yes, your Eminence-elect," chuckled Gregory as he gave Stephen a warm embrace, "it is generous, but well deserved. I've been waiting for you. Let us have dinner at the Oblate House. Tell me, how did Fr. Andriopoulos take the news of the red biretta?"
"Oh, my God, I almost forgot. I didn't get a chance to tell him. He raced into the office in a panic. Someone had kidnapped Corrie. He and Pat rushed out in pursuit. I haven't heard from them since."
"This has been some day, my son," Cardinal Zachmunn consoled. "Has Captain Schuster been alerted?"
"I didn't have a chance what with the press conference and all, hopefully Lieutenant Giraud notified him."
"Well, then we need to--"
"I must see Monsignor Navarro immediately, mate," demanded a familiar voice at the far end of the corridor.
Stephen recognized the accent immediately. "Guards, let him through," Stephen announced as Colin Rembert rushed up to them.
"Monsignor, your Eminence, I have some very troubling news," Rembert stammered, still a bit out of breath because of his swift journey from the heliopad.
"Fill us in, Mr. Rembert," Cardinal Zachmunn insisted.
"Someone wisely left the Penultimate on and I was able to eaves drop on a nasty chap named Edwin Blix, along with Cardinals Macelli and Vendhem boasting about triumphing all. The young fellow asking the questions was a Texan who mentioned Niki and Corrie, and badgered Blix on where they're heading. They're flying to Iraq and the Field of Abraham."
"Oh, my God, that's gotta be Pat," nodded Stephen as Lieutenant Giraud entered the group,
"It can't be Macelli and Vendhem," exclaimed Gregory, "they're locked up in the dungeon."
"I am afraid, your Eminence, they are not," alerted Giraud. "That's what I needed to tell you. There are bodies all over but no sign of Macelli and Vendhem."
"Damn," Gregory exclaimed uncharacteristically.
"Now what?" Stephen wondered. "We're too late to notify the authorities."
"You could scramble some jets from a nearby airbase, mate," offered Colin.
"No," countered Zachmunn, "too dangerous with Pat, Niki and Corrie on board."
"That's what I felt, too, your Eminence," added Rembert.
"What then," a frustrated Stephen asked.
"I've got some ideas. You have it recorded on the Penultimate?" Gregory asked.
"Yes, your Eminence," Colin answered.
"Good. Allow the Monsignor and I to listen to the recordings and then we'll take it from there," responded the Cardinal. "Oh, Lieutenant, find out what exactly happened and secure everything. And, Mr. Rembert, I must insist, for now, an absolute blackout is imperative. No leaks."
"I understand, your Eminence. God be with you."
"You, too, my friend." Gregory forced a smile, but his heart was heavy.
Dateline: Vatican City - Stephen's Office - Apostolic Palace - Nov 6, 7:45 p.m.
As Gregory and Stephen were just finishing up listening to the Penultimate tape, Cardinal Julies Mendoza and Cardinal Thomas Wetherby, accompanied by Captain Royce Schuster approached.
"We have the bible, Gregory, now we shall see," announced Mendoza.
"It was with Pius' artifacts in the Museum," informed Cardinal Wetherby.
"Good work," intoned Gregory, a concerned frown on his furrowed brow.
"For now all we need to see are the circled numbers. We can decode it later."
Captain Schuster carefully extracted from a deep tray box the worn Bible with a white leather cover, and placed it on a jeweled bookstand he also had brought from the Vatican Museum. The Swiss Guard placed both on the table near the prelates. Gregory and Julies stepped toward the table, almost as if they were approaching the Holy Grail. Coded within the Holy Book were the names in the book who were incriminated by the Holy Father himself as enemies - mortal enemies of the Church, of man, of God.
Carefully Jules leafed through it, opening first to Psalms to center the Bible on its base, then Isaias, Daniel, Zacharias. Closer, there it was. The First Book of Machabees. It was the Latin Vulgate in the Mother tongue of the Church translated by St. Jerome in the 4th century. Gregory edged closer to Julies as the Spanish Cardinal turned the page. There, very discreetly were circled the numbers of the Second Chapter. Verses 2, 6, 4, 8, 11, 15, and 23 Cardinal Wetherby was quick to decipher.
"S-H-E-S-O-V-U-S-" Wetherby enunciated.
"Shesovusaam," corrected Mendoza as if an epiphany had hit him. "Hans Shesovusaam, the Dutch theologian."
He turned the page to Chapter 4. Again Wetherby was ahead of him as he translated the verse numbers 9, 10, 15, 32, 34, 35, 37, 61. That was it.
"Mendevec," announced Thomas Wetherby, "the Slavic cardinal. He was under an interdict of the Holy See."
"And John XXIII dropped all charges within months after he took over," Gregory added.
"That doesn't make sense?" a puzzled Wetherby looked up.
"It's a fact, Thomas," Gregory asserted. "Mendevec was..."
"No, I don't mean that. I mean this code. Chapter 2. I coded verses 17, 22, 24, 34, 40, 62 and a few more and all I get is ENEEEEEE so far. I don't get it."
"No, that doesn't sound right," Gregory agreed. "Let's see that, Thomas."
All three Cardinals studied the circles carefully. "Ah, notice the opening!" discovered Julies. "The circles are not complete look at these, whereas on the others it was open to the right. These are open to the left."
"You're right," Gregory realized. "Go to the last letter of the chapter preceding it, Thomas."
"Bingo!" pronounced Zachmunn. "We know the names are here. Now we know how to decode them. We must safeguard this for now and entrust it to the new Pope upon his election. The three of us will hand deliver it to him. For now, we have more pressing matters."
The other two cardinals were somewhat taken aback, but attentive.
If you'll excuse me, I have a quick call I must make. But while I do could I implore you both to be so kind as to listen to what Stephen and I have just heard before you entered?"
They nodded affirmatively and Gregory keyed the replay on the Penultimate so his colleagues in red could hear the voices of Pat, Niki, Corrie and Edwin Blix. It was not easy to listen to, but Julies and Thomas persevered. Gregory knew exactly where Blix was heading, and what his intent was. He had one ace left and he was about to use it.
As Gregory made his call from a small vacant alcove near the Salia Regia, Blix' Lear Jet approached Turkish airspace and nearer to where it all began.
Dateline: Blix Lear Jet - Heading east - Nov 6, 8:30 p.m.
Macelli and Vendhem were still zonked, sprawled out on their chairs oblivious to what was really going on, dreaming only of the temporal rewards the Master would shower them with. Blix had been dozing in his plush command chair in his in-flight office near the cockpit. He had not noticed the co-pilot slip by him and head quietly towards the back of the plane, slipping his cell phone into his pocket.
Niki saw him first and in a hushed surprise, "Makuta! How did you get on board?"
"Shh," counseled Ogidi, looking back over his shoulder to make sure Blix was still asleep. "My name is Emil Marinko. I am the substitute pilot assigned to assist Derrick Fenton."
Pat awoke from a fitful doze, "Ogidi, what's goin' on? What'yre doin' here?"
"It was the only way I could find out what Blix and the rest are up to," replied Ogidi barely above a whisper. "Please, do not give away our secret. I believe I am all you have left. Am I not right?"
"Yeah, ya got a point," agreed Pat.
"Very well," replied Makuta, "I must return to the cockpit before anyone suspects. I will stay close to the scene as Marinko to find out more."
He turned and headed back toward the cockpit, just as he passed by the supposedly sleeping Blix, the publisher stuck out his scuffed, but stiff stingray boot as a barrier for Ogidi to go any further. "An' who are yewww and what the hell were ya doin' back theah?" Blix demanded.
In a very condescending manner, Ogidi played his role to perfection. "I am Marinko. Emil Marinko. The Aviation Authority sent me to replace Van der Mindt who took sick."
"Hell, Ah think he took a powdah, that yellow pimp."
"Regardless, I am here to serve, Sir. I was looking for the water closet back there."
"It's over theah. Now git, and don't go back there again, ya heah?"
"Perfectly, ah Mr. --" Ogidi was playing Blix.
"Blix," the Texan enunciated.
Makuta feigned amazement. "Thee Edwin Blix of Blix International?"
Blix bit on the flattery. "Yeah, what, it surprise ya I'd be on mah own plane?"
"No, I just didn't realize the importance of this flight. I must get back to assist Captain Fenton. If you will excuse me." Ogidi looked down at the extended boot across the aisle and then back at Blix, who then retracted his foot, no longer impeding this new co-pilot from proceeding back to the controls.
After Makuta had passed, Blix stretched out his black stingrays, crossing them so the heel rested on the arm rest across the aisle. It was a sign he was trying to get some sleep. Niki could see the boots from his vantage point between the seats. He could keep an eye on him as he tried desperately to wrestle free of the taut binding. To no avail.
"Cara Mia," Pat whispered. "I -- " What could he say? What words existed to let her know he cared?
"I'll be okay," she replied weakly. "Don't worry about me, my love. Please. I've played this game with him almost from the beginning of our odyssey together. It's working. I can sense it. I can take a few more blows...with the grace of God. He's brought me this far. At least - at least we're together again."
Fr. Andriopoulos interrupted. "Corrie, though my hands are bound, I give you God's blessing. You are most certainly destroying Blix piece by piece, by going after his pride, sowing the seeds of doubt. He will come undone. He will seek to justify himself rather than serve the Master, and when he does, the Master will kill him."
"If he hasn't killed himself first," Pat added.
"Exactly. Thanks for the blessing," Corrie was grateful. "I guess it won't hurt to admit that we need all the divine intervention we can get."
"Yeah," Pat chipped in. "Once this jet lands in Iraq, I doubt there's gonna be any U.S. Cavalry there to get us outta this mess."
"Remember, Patrick," Niki reminded him. "Faith. Keep the Faith."
"Well that's all fine and good," Pat quipped, "but we're gonna have to rewrite the script if we're gonna get outta this alive. Anybody got a pen?"
"Very funny, my friend," Niki responded. "I wish it were so simple. To write a new ending. Let us hope, my friends, that we will have time and opportunity to make one more effort to destroy the Antichrist. And let us not forget," Niki said more to Pat than to Corrie, "that we still have Ogidi. He may be able to handle Vendhem and Macelli. He's a man of strange and mysterious powers, no?"
"God only knows," Gallagher sighed wearily as into the darkness the jet soared less than an hour from its final destination.
Dateline: Basra Air Strip - Southern Iraq - Nov 6, 9:35 p.m.
Down through the clouds the jet descended, its inhabitants heading to a fate unknown. Soon the landing lights came into view and in the darkness the Lear Jet touched down on the rugged concrete, screeching to a halt in front of the same makeshift terminal left over from the Iraqi War. The plane glided as smoothly as possible to a stop in exactly the same spot where, on the night of November 1st it had discharged Pat Gallagher into a world gone mad. Now Gallagher was back, and he'd brought the madness with him.
There were the ever-present limos waiting for Edwin.
"Fenton, Marinko, Ah need ya now," snapped Blix, knocking on the cockpit door while Macelli and Vendhem both sporting hangovers, lumbered down the steps to the first limo carting off suitcases and vestment bags with Ans and Soto's help in placing them in the spacious trunk.
"Yes, sir," Derrick Fenton responded, with Marinko behind him.
"There's an old truck parked over there by the hangar," Blix indicated. "Soto will be bringin' the driver to the base of the stairs. Ah want ya and what's his face heah -"
"Marinko, sir." Ogidi reminded him.
"Yeah, whatever. Just bring the three prisoners in the back down the stairs. Leave their hands and arms securely bound, only undo their feet so they can walk. If they talk, pop 'em a good one to remind 'em whose in charge. Ya think ya can do that, pahdnuhs?"
"Yes, sir." Fenton snapped to attention.
"Good, then git," Blix cracked.
With Marinko and Fenton heading to gather the three prisoners still trussed up inside the cabin, Blix hurried down the steps to the driver's side of the limo. He spoke briefly but sharply to the driver. It didn't matter if the Iraqi man behind the wheel thought Edwin was strange, eccentric or bizarre. The wad of money Blix put into his hands as payment for services rendered made all the difference in the world. Blix could be crazier than the Mad Hatter or a crazed Shiite, but the driver of the limo didn't care. It was more than enough money to feed his family for a year. He'd do what he was told, and keep his mouth shut.
Soon an old Soviet convoy truck rumbled to a halt at the base of the ramp as first Corrie, then Niki and finally Pat appeared at the door, shoved forward roughly by Fenton and Marinko. Waiting at the bottom with Blix was none other than Colonel Juri Hudec who had hunted Niki down to no avail when Niki escaped by a whisker in the belly of the coffin.
"You know where to take 'em, Juri," Blix instructed. "Do it."
"I see you have the Greek. He is mine. Give him to me," demanded Hudec.
"Not yet, Juri, but soon."
Hudec caught the drift and, with Fenton and Marinko's help they shoved the three into the back of the truck roughly, making sure their ropes were tight.
The Legion indeed had the upper hand as Hudec jumped into the driver's seat of the rig, Fenton in the passenger's seat while Marinko was ushered to the limo to go with Vendhem and Macelli. The chubby Italian eyed the co-pilot shrewdly. Something familiar about that face, thought Antonio. But he couldn't put his finger on it as Ans drove off towards the palatial palace on the outskirts of New Nasiriyah. Blix and Soto would join them later. First Blix had some preparations to do at the Field of Death.
A few minutes after the first limo had left, the truck pulled out into the dusty climes, followed by the second limo with Blix on board. It stayed back a good distance.
Within an hour Hudec passed unchecked to the Field of Death. Blix was setting the stage for the Master's entrance, even to the point of providing an audience to witness the arrival.
The truck pulled to a halt at the first security check point. In the eerie darkness the place was nothing more than a deserted field which stank of death and destruction. The limo pulled up to the side as the guard sought to question Hudec. The guard was distracted as the limo sidled up next to his heels. He turned toward the limo startled.
"State your purpose here," demanded the guard. "Your papers?"
The tinted window lowered and Edwin hollered. "Turn around."
The guard spun and looked squarely into the barrel of Hudec's gun. Blam! He fired pointblank into the guard's face. There was a horrible scream, and Fenton quickly turned his head so he wouldn't be sick as the guard's face exploded in a bloody mess that splattered the side of the truck and turned the dust crimson.
"Drive on," Blix ordered and Hudec's foot soon found the accelerator, shifting into second as he spun out of there.
In the bed of the truck the shot had echoed with all the percussion of a sub-woofer at ground zero. Corrie sat frozen. Beside her was Pat who couldn't even put his arms around her for comfort. He cursed Blix again as the pain in his jaw seared through to the brain. Despite the intense suffering, he hoped with all his heart to have a chance to fight it out mano-a-mano with Blix.
As the entourage approached the second check point, they discovered it abandoned except for one guard. Most likely the other guards were out partying or screwing around, was the consensus as the poor wretch met the same fate the first guard did. Fenton, knowing what was coming, looked the other way when Hudec fired again. Blix motioned the truck to keep on going.
As the truck rumbled forward Derrick Fenton started to wish to God he'd never been born to see these things...and having no courage whatsoever to stop them.
Several more miles of rutted road found the truck and limo descending into the open pit where the massive circular stage had stood so majestically a week ago. Now there was nothing left except the high rise of ground covered with ashes. But it would be sufficient for what Blix wanted.
"Get 'em out of the truck," Blix shouted to Hudec. "Bring 'em around to the front."
The ghostly glow of headlights against the evening fog mixing with the stirred-up ashes and dust from the traffic, cast a surreal nightmarish scene as Pat, Niki and Corrie were dragged into the light and pushed down on the ground.
With the shots that had been fired echoing in their memories, the three resisters were relieved to be released from their cargo cage. Until they saw their destination. Even Corrie recognized it. It was like no other place on the face of the earth. Its odor unmistakable. Its utter devastation portending the aura of evil that permeated this place.
Hudec prodded them forward to stand in the glare of the headlights as Blix bellowed out: "Ah've brung y'all heah to await the Master," he informed them haughtily. "See..." and he pointed a short distance away to a spot directly beneath the center of the hill where a post had been left standing in the ground at the far end of the light. "Take 'em to the post, Juri. Fenton, help him tie 'em up."
They complied, mostly out of fear for their lives as they were herded forward with Blix wielding his Beretta 92FS, the barrel glistening in the headlights. "Y'all see to it that all three are securely tied to the post. Ah want their feet bound as well, good and tight."
Fenton bent to his task. His face was wet with perspiration. He wanted to do the right thing, but Blix's eyes were everywhere. There seemed no chance to leave the bonds loose, to tie a knot carelessly. Blix or that maniac Hudec would kill him instantly. And the last thing Fenton wanted was to die.
"Father, forgive them," Niki uttered, looking up at Fenton, "for they know not what they do."
Derrick Fenton felt a lump in his throat as the priest's words hit a soft spot in his heart. The pilot gazed into the face of Corrie, Gallagher and finally Andriopoulos and realized there was no malice in their hearts for him. They realized too well the predicament he was in. Maybe, Fenton thought, if the circumstances in their individual cases were different, they, too, would have fought for survival as Fenton did.
He finished binding Pat, and then tied Corrie while Hudec pulled the hemp tight on Niki's wrists. "It's done, sir," Fenton announced. "You want to check the ropes?"
Blix came over to do just that, which gave Corrie a chance to chide him further. "What's the matter, Blix? Can't find good help anymore? Can't trust anyone can you? I'd say that's the Master's problem, too. Tough to find loyal followers who'll work themselves to the bone and get nothing in return. Ah, whatever happened to the good old days."
"Yeah, an honest day's work," Pat teamed up with Corrie, "You wouldn't know what that is, butt-head."
Blix deliberately tightened the ropes around Corrie's wrists. "How 'bout a little more pain, bitch," Blix drawled and with tremendous force snapped her arm, deliberately fracturing the bone at the joint.
Corrie moaned, biting down hard on her lip. The pain was excruciating as her left arm hung limp.
"There. That should see ya through til dawn," Blix gloated. "After that, ya can take all the pain ya want with ya ta hell."
"No thanks, " she managed to say through clenched teeth, the pain becoming almost unbearable. "I prefer to travel light. I'll leave the pain behind for you, Blix. It's the least I can do."
"Let's go," Edwin said, for some reason wanting to get away from Corrie as fast as he could. He didn't like her gamesmanship. "Ah'll return in the mornin' with Vendhem, Macelli and the others. Together y'all watch Christianity die and our Master rise at last from the ashes. You might wish to keep that thought in mind as ya wait out the night. Yer last night, "he added gleefully, sadistically looking directly at Corrie while addressing the others. "Oh, by the way, since misery loves company, Missy, it may ease the pain to know Ms. Morelli heah vowed she'd see me dead. The last time Ah looked in a mirror, and as you can see now...A'hm quite alive. You have all failed. How does that make you feel??" he chided.
"It only grieves us more," Niki winced.
"Good," blared Blix. "The more grief, the better. Until mornin'...sleep well. It shall be yer last sunrise. It shall be Christianity's last sunrise. By sunset tomorrow the Basilisk shall rule...forever!"
"Like hell it will!" Pat cursed at Blix.
Hudec retaliated for Blix, ramming his fist into Pat's other jaw - the good jaw. Then Juri turned to Niki. "Finally, Greek, you will not elude us this time." Wielding his knife, he gestured by Niki's throat. "Do you know what it is like to be sliced here, and here, and here? You die slowly, wretched, wreaking pain where you will beg me to shoot you. But I will. No, I will watch you die a slow, miserable death."
"Time's wastin'," Blix yelled after Hudec. "Let's git goin'."
Reluctantly Hudec shot Niki a menacing glance and spit in his face, then swung around and eyed Corrie. Her eyes met his menacing, blood shot pupils. The pain for Corrie was excruciating and she was helpless as his leering look searched her body. She knew it was fruitless to fight intelligence with this creature for any intellect was noticeably missing. She said a silent prayer as Hudec drew closer, lechery and lust on his mind.
Thankfully for Corrie, Blix would have none of that until his mission was accomplished.
Sharply he rebuked the Colonel. "Ah told ya, Colonel, enough! Ah don't want spoiled goods for tomorrow mornin', ya heah?"
Hudec and Fenton returned to the truck and Blix ordered the limo to take the lead. As they retraced the path the driver of the limo deliberately ignored the shattered remains of the second guard who lay a few feet away. It wasn't any of his business anyway he rationalized as he drove on.
Presently, the headlights of the truck bobbed along in the darkness and it pulled out onto the main road behind the limo, continuing its course. After three miles, the limo slowed to a stop and Hudec brought the lumbering rig to a halt. As the driver of the limo watched in his rear-view mirror, Blix called Hudec and Fenton forward. Hudec jumped from the cab and started forward when he realized he had left his rifle in the truck. It was too late. Blix held the Beretta 92FS in his cold hands.
Derrick Fenton also knew the inevitable. The old guy wasn't going to show any mercy. His only chance was to run. The pilot took off into the darkness, stumbling and racing over the rocks and debris. Hudec tried to reason. That was useless as shots rang out in the stale night air. The velocity of the bullet carried through the muscles and lung tissue of the Colonel and directly into his heart. He had time for one scream of agony and then he toppled forward on the road, blood pouring from his mouth.
The echo of Hudec's death cry rattled in Fenton's ears as he kept running, sweating profusely. Shots zinged past him as he dropped to the ground in the darkness, crawling through the muck to wherever he could to escape the demon to whom he had almost sold his soul.
Blix emptied his ammo, and then could be heard some profanities and Blix returned to the limo.
From his low bunker position 150 feet away in the darkness he could see the headlights and account for all persons. That was a consoling thought, the only consoling thought for Derrick Fenton this night.
A few minutes and the driver of the limo was ordered out of the driver's seat and marched to the truck where Blix ordered him to drive the truck off the road into the ditch. Hey, if Blix was paying for it, the driver would do anything.
Another minute and an explosion mushroomed into the sky, lighting up the whole field. Fenton ducked lower as he could see Blix scanning the area still in hopes of eliminating his pilot as the driver returned to the limo. Thankfully the flames died down and the smoldering caused darkness in the area once again. Blix's former pilot breathed a sigh of relief as he saw Blix finally get in the limo and head off.
Fenton didn't know it, but Blix's destination was his palatial home on the outskirts of Nasiriyah where Lords Vendhem and Macelli, already there, awaited his arrival.
Once the car was out of sight, Fenton sat up, brushed himself off and stood up to stretch. He hated being here on this godforsaken Field of Death, but at least he was still alive. That sure beat the alternative.
The stage was set. Somewhere on this dark night illuminated only by a half moon through the fog, Derrick Fenton cowered, afraid Blix would send his dogs after him. Why had he agreed to take the flight anyway. He had tickets to the Cowboys-Redskins game and he gave the 50-yard line up for these! He had to have his head examined. He knew he was undergoing an examination of the heart and soul right now. No matter what kind of reward, he'd have no part of outright murder.
Murder was commonplace to the Legion. Body and soul. No questions asked. No answers given. Until now. The resistance had steadfastly persevered. They had thwarted the Legion within the Vatican itself, though not without much devastation. Now three of the principal players were bound and tied, front row seats to the transformation of the man into beast - the Antichrist would appear, not as man, but as the dragon foretold through the Revelation to the beloved disciple, forever known as the Apocalypse of St. John. The time had arrived.
Dateline: Field of Death - New Nasiriyah, Southern Iraq - Nov 6, 11:55 p.m.
Corrie was all cried out. Niki sought to console her. "I believe this is known as a room with a 360-degree view."
"Some view," Corrie whimpered dryly, her words exposing the pain racing through her whole body.
"Okay, Nik," Pat inquired somewhat dejectedly, "any ideas how we get out of here?"
"Why, my friend," Niki responded, "are you always asking me if I have the ideas? I thought Americans were the enterprising ones."
"An old wives' tale," Gallagher quipped. "Seriously, Nik, we've got to find a way to get free."
Without saying anything he nodded in Corrie's direction. Niki understood. Her injuries were serious. They needed to get her medical help. But where out here? If only they could untie her, maybe Pat could put a splint on her arm to ease the pain.
"That abominable fellow Hudec took my knife," Niki muttered regretfully. "I didn't bring a spare."
"And I don't have the Penultimate anymore," Pat lamented. "That's all he took when they took us off the plane. God, as much as I hated that freak Hudec searching my pockets, I despise him for feeling up Corrie."
"If it makes you feel better, my love," Corrie emoted apologetically, "I didn't feel a thing. I was only thinking of you."
"Likewise, cara mia," Pat added.
"So where are we?" Niki reminded them. "We're stuck here, hours away from certain death."
"Yeah, and no weapons," Pat groaned.
Niki waxed philosophical, "Throughout this whole ideal, my friends, we all know that there will be a moment when we'll need all the resources, those divine and those that come from a human weapon."
"More or less," Pat remarked.
"Then, my friend, unless you wish to be sitting here tied to this stake in the dawn's light at the mercy of those depraved beings, let us try to find something upon the ground. Surely, in all the devastation that was reeked upon this place, a piece of something sharp was left behind."
"The eternal optimist," Pat sighed, scanning the dusty tundra for something within reach.
Dateline: Blix's Palatial Mansion - Outside Nasiriyah, Southern Iraq - Nov 6, 12:10 p.m.
While they searched, Blix was just arriving at the palatial home he had bought six months ago. A perfect place to funnel the explosives through, and an ideal front posing as an event constructor to have the inside access to set the plastic strips in place.
The mansion was cast in darkness except for a small light upon the front veranda. He and Ans exited the limo, and instructed the driver to return the limo to the airport. By the time the young husband was halfway there, he, too, would find that one didn't live to tell when witnessing the power of the Basilisk.
During the drive from the Field of Death to the mansion, Edwin had taken from his pocket a small cartridge and placed it beneath the seat in the rear compartment of the limo. It was, of course, another of his clever devises. A bomb. Tiny but powerful, and timed for thirty minutes once he had rotated the cap. That meant twenty-two minutes after leaving this palatial estate the limo would explode in flames, the driver unrecognizable, and there'd be no one to remark upon the events of this night, until the Master approved of it.
Once the limo was out of sight, Blix caught up with Ans as they entered the home that would be the Royal Seat of the Master. Tired but elated, Blix leaned against the heavy wood of the hall doors for a second, realizing the long awaited moment was almost at hand.
Now for some rest. Blix moved forward. The Basilisk awaited to reward him in but a few short hours. The Master needed him...as much as he needed it.
Soto appeared and broke his trend of thought. "Sir, we have a prisoner, but he is under control."
"What prisoner?" Blix's voice rose in consternation. "There isn't supposed to be any enemy heah in this house. You know the Master's orders."
"I assure you the matter is under control. And it will prove most amusing in the morning for the Master to have another witness in his midst as he assumes his new role."
"Who's this person?" Edwin demanded.
"Someone who was working against us in Rome," Soto answered. "Vendhem and Macelli overpowered him ten minutes ago and I was able to help tie him up. Macelli remembered who Marinko was."
"Marinko?" Blix was taken aback. "The co-pilot?"
Soto nodded, "one and the same, sir. His name is really Makuta Ogidi. He's a doctor."
"Ogidi," Edwin breathed, trying to rotate his memory and see if it had any knowledge of this person. Only a vacuum existed. "Ah don't recognize the name. But if Macelli and Vendhem are sure, then he can join the other three in the morning. They'll witness the new kingdom, then die knowin' of their failure."
"Excellent," enjoined Ans who had Edwin's overnight bag in hand. "It is getting late, sir. We must all rest this night."
"Yeah," agreed Blix. "Gotta be strong to allow the Master to take form and rule."
"And the candidates, sir?" asked Soto.
"Right now it looks like yers truly and Macelli and Vendhem." informed Blix. "No one else Ah know of. Speakin' of those two, where are they?"
"Asleep in the two rooms on the second floor at the end of the corridor," replied Soto. "Across the hall Ogidi is tied to the bed. He'll not escape, sir. I have your room prepared if you will follow me."
They climbed the stairs, turned right and entered the first bedroom they came to. Ans put down the bags, and backed out to join his brother Soto who had remained in the hallway. Ans flipped off the switch leaving Blix to bathe in the darkness. He stretched out his gaunt frame on the mattress, feeling the weight of his years, the burden of his evil heart taking their toll upon him. He couldn't fend off sleep. It crept over him like a shroud. In seconds he was snoring, his mouth slightly agape, his breath ragged and shallow.
The rattling of the lungs of a dying man who doesn't know he's dying.
Dateline: Field of Death - New Nasiriyah, Southern Iraq - Nov 7, 1:15 p.m.
Their search in the dust and grime was painfully slow. Corrie didn't feel like she was much help because the ropes binding her arms were cutting her flesh, making movement difficult, the broken arm throbbing with agony. Yet she was the one who spotted the piece of glass, its sharp edge partially buried in the ground.
"Niki," she called. "Here, by me. Can you see it?"
He peered in the direction she indicated, but couldn't make it out clearly. Pat stretched and craned his neck to see if he could see it, but it was closer to Niki and Corrie on their side.
"Cara mia, can you work your feet free? Pat asked hopefully.
"I'll try," Corrie concurred. "If I can reach it and shove it toward you. My upper body is useless at this point."
She winced as she stretched her legs trying to loosen the binding around the ankles. Fortunately for Corrie, Fenton hadn't tied her feet as tight as Blix did her wrists. She worked the ropes and after what seemed an interminable amount of time she was able to free her feet. Now to reach the shard. She dug her foot into the soil, loosening the soot around the glass. She had to be careful not to cut herself or break it further where she couldn't reach it. One shot.
Both Andriopoulos and Gallagher sat tensely, watching and trying with their minds to direct her movements and help her get the thing safely close to Niki's hands. She stretched out her legs with all her might and was able to tip the shard upward and toward her. With her toes she carefully pinched it and drew her legs in.
Niki held his hands out, stretching his fingers as far as he could beyond the hemp binding his wrists. Cupping his hands in a bowl, he motioned to Corrie. "It is now or never."
It prompted a lot of painful contortions on Corrie's part, but just when she thought the pain would win out over her, she was able to flip the shard skyward hoping to God it would find its mark in Niki's cupped hands.
"Ouch," yelled Niki, "I am cut but I have it."
"Deo Gratias," spouted Pat gratefully.
"I will work my ropes," Fr. Andriopoulos expressed. "Hopefully I will have us all untied in no time."
"Good job, Cara mia," Pat cooed. She merely nodded, having no strength left to answer him. He wanted to help her, reach out and hold her. Soon. As soon as Niki got free.
"Hold on, Cara mia. Don't give up yet."
"Never," Corrie managed to whisper, and then fell silent as Niki continued to saw away at the hampering ropes clutching the sharp shard between his fingers. His hands were ripped with glass for the glass was chipping away at this strong, rough rope. Niki had very little left to work with until finally the shard had ground down to nothing. The ropes still bound.
All seemed lost. And then he appeared. Derrick Fenton, dust covered from crawling had circled back to help these three prisoners. Pat saw him first.
"It's the pilot. What's goin' on, I didn't hear a car. Where's Blix?"
"He left me for dead," Fenton confessed. "I never thought I'd get involved with such gangsters."
"Gangsters?!," Pat shrieked, "Demons. Monsters. That's what they are, especially Blix."
"I know that now," Fenton agreed as he untied Pat's hands, then moved to free Niki. Pat stretched and removed his heavy jacket, placing it carefully around Corrie's shoulders as he unfastened her wrists. She was shivering and there was no shelter they could find for her.
Pat braced her in his arms as Niki and Fenton made a makeshift splint and, with the rope, tied it around her arm. She finally gave in to the pain becoming numb through sleep.
"We're lucky we were able to get that poor splint on it," Pat assuaged.
"I can't be certain, but it doesn't look too good," warned Fenton.
"He is right, Patrick," Niki chimed in. "It may not mend correctly if we don't get her to a hospital as soon as possible. She could also have internal injuries. She was coughing up blood.
"Well," Pat heaved a sigh, "seein' as how we don't have any way to get outta here other than foot," I'd say we stay and fight."
"Agreed, Patrick," confirmed Niki. "Our place is here to stop the Antichrist. Nothing else matters."
"You guys are spooking me out," Fenton complained. "I gotta get out of here."
"We will be eternally grateful for untying us," Niki was cordial. "If you must go, I suggest toward the southeast. There is a checkpoint about 500 yards on the other side of that ridge. Hopefully you can contact authorities in time if the phone lines are still working."
Fenton nodded and was off.
"Ya think he'll bring the posse?" Pat wondered. "Time to dig in. Kinda like Custer and the Alamo all rolled into one."
"Ah," remarked Niki, "but they were only fending off mortals."
"Dammit, Nikolas Andriopoulos, you sure know how to cheer a guy up."
They huddled closer, trying to gather warmth from their own bodies pressed together as they waited for the sky over them to lighten, and the first rays of the coming dawn to signal the moment they had traveled far and wide to come. It all came down to this.
"When Blix, Vendhem, Macelli and the rest of the entourage arrive," Niki reminded Pat, "we must appear to still be tied up. That will at least give us the element of surprise."
Pat nodded his agreement as his thoughts wafted back to what Sister Bridie had told him: "Remember, the Antichrist cannot be standin' the presence of God. 'Tis your only real weapon. Never be forgettin' it."
But how much, Pat reflected, were they representatives of God? Sure they struggled for perfection and fell far short. Sure they worked hard to prevent the rise of the Antichrist, but they had to kill in the process, and their own human anger and rage had filled them with destructive hate. How effective were they going to be, Pat questioned in his mind, and decided there was nothing to do but find out when the moment came. He was no Marine, but he realized the importance of Semper Fidelis.
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