In a mansion just across town from The Crooked Spigot an interested viewer sliced at a Valencia orange as the red juice dribbled onto the plate as if it were blood in anticipation of a greater slaughter.
The bells from the great cathedral Basilica of St.Louis IX rang full, signaling the midnight hour as a red-robed figure continued to write at his desk. Beyond, near a window that revealed a small glimpse of the great gateway arch several miles to the east on the banks of the Mississippi, the televised images of the event flickered in the dimly lit room.
Half way across the world in Qasr as Sabiyah the wiry man who had been serving at Mass earlier was now gathered with a group of natives, all looking on intently as the group huddled in what could best be described as a hovel. They were all straining their eyes to watch the small TV elevated on a chair resting precariously on a rickety table. All were focused on the event.
In Tel Aviv an attractive Jewish woman curled up on her couch watching the events in her bathrobe, sipping on a cup of tea as the morning rays filled the small veranda.
In a villa above Rome two figures dined on wine and cheese as an on-air Italian correspondent spoke rapidly. The invading rising sun that played havoc on the face of the TV screen hindered the crispness of the picture being transmitted. The glowing golden orb seemed to relish this peek-a-boo game as it peered northwestward between swaying cypress trees on the grove to the east. Its success could be measured by the audible cursing of the two Italians who scurried to secure a makeshift blanket to block out the rays.
In another part of Rome a young lady had just hung up the phone in her hotel room, watching intently the TV screen, a look of frustration on her lovely, youthful face. Her fingers drummed the arm of the lounge chair as she closed her eyes in prayerful plea, her lips mouthing an Ave Maria.
A few miles away in the squalor of old Rome an old wino stumbled in and out of the morning shadows, looking for anything that would give him relief from the increasing pain and hopelessness that had returned all too quickly after a few short hours of numbness. Shopkeepers, preparing for a new day, shooed him away and the rats scurried out from under parked cars and motor scooters as the street sweepers made their rounds. On a third floor balcony facing the alley an elderly matron, hanging out her morning laundry, tossed the beggar a half loaf of stale bread. Painful though it was he bent down, grasped the bread and craned his neck up to acknowledge his thanks. His toothless smile was not returned.
Some 75 miles south of New Nasiriyah on an estate overlooking the Persian Gulf, the TV images of the event and the vestiges of a full-bearded gentleman reflected in the clear glass of a lush terrarium as this bearded one relaxed in his study. Drawing on a fine cigar, the exhaled plume of grayish-white smoke hung in suspension above the room.
The trumpets alerted all it that it had begun. The music was in full orchestra now as the processions had begun. The cameras zoomed closer. One by one, the entourage of clerics and guards in plain clothes, armed soldiers at their flanks, escorted each contingent out of the twelve pyramid tents. The regiments of religious were tightly packed, moving at a snail's pace as each moved slowly down a special aisle to their respective platforms at the foot of the main round table. The zenith of the moment was ever nearer. All was in readiness now for the Ecumenical Treaty of the ages. Who would be the victor, what would be the spoils?
The mid-day sun reflected fully on the crowd, causing the cameras to strobe while trying to give equal time to all twelve processions. The scene shifted to a moderate close-up of the Pope, now half way down the ramp leading to the stage.
"Sure takes guts for the new Pope to do that," Pat thought outloud.
"Or faith," Corrie replied as she kept her eyes glued to the screen.
Pat's eyebrow curled up, the wrinkles in his forehead increased as he uttered, "That's strange?"
"That he wouldn't have faith?" Corrie queried.
"No, cara mia, the tiara," Pat pointed out, now standing as if to see better.
Ben was quick to back Pat up as he also took notice. "He's right, Corrie. No Pope be a wearing' it since Pius XII, bless his soul."
"You sure, Benj? Pat quizzed.
Ben squinted, "Can't tell. Damn camera won't stay still. But somethin' not be right, me dear friends. By Jesus, Mary and Joseph there be somethin' afoot, I fear. Feel it in ma gut, I do."
The camera pulled back to show all parties converging now at the center, only the Greek Orthodox group seemed to be a step behind. The music was subsiding and at each podium one by one over the loudspeaker the respective creeds were announced. The arrival of each religious leader was given its full due in grand pomp and circumstance.
Meanwhile, Trevor Anders and Briana Bryce continued to convey the significance of this event and how it would evolve. As each leader was led to the table, they explained how they would be seated on a swivel, well-cushioned armchair that would allow each leader to sign the document and then turn in all directions to acknowledge the crowd and his fellow leaders. In addition, at each station a special audio screen was equipped to translate all into their language. Each leader would give a brief address and then all would sign thirteen like documents. As they were signing, envoys would carry the signed document to the next station as they rotated the massive circle. Each leader would have to sign 156 times, which would not only take time but also resemble more of an autograph session. During this time a liturgical performance by chorales or groups from each creed would take their place on the massive circular stage, beginning with the Taoist leader, followed by the Anglican Archbishop, then the Pope, Grand Imam, Chief Rabbi, Lutheran President and so on until finishing up with those under the umbrella of all other Protestants and followers of New Age ideologies. Once all were signed, all twelve leaders would rise and the table would elevate upward where over 2000 doves were to be released.
On a hill a mile away a jeep pulled to a stop. Elena Grabe, now dressed as an Iraqi lieutenant exited the right side and focused her binoculars on the pageantry, holding her eyes over the rim to block out the eastern sun as best she could. She looked down at her watch, then back to the massive gathering. Returning to the jeep, she retracted a metal box two times larger than a shoebox. Carefully opening it, she set it on the hood of the jeep and lifted the top. Inside she pulled out a special keyboard attached to a compact terminal.
Picking up the binoculars she again counted out as she focused on the center stage, "ein, zwei, drei, vier, funf, sechs, sieben...ah, zwolf." Her inhuman frame leaned over the fender of the olive-drab jeep as the driver, a rugged Iranian with curled mustache, sat motionless, his eyes focused in the rear-view mirror at the massive gathering below.
Returning to the keyboard, she inserted a CD of the hymn recorded yesterday during a final rehearsal in Kuwait City. She had typed in codes for the triggers that would coincide with the decibel of the Anglican chorus when they hit the high note of their chorus of "Amazing Grace." Now she was meshing the CD with the codes.
According to her sources, this hymn was scheduled to be the finale, just before the huge tympany orchestra would signal the release of the doves. She hit two more buttons, then a deep sigh as she retrieved the binoculars, adjusting the lens toward her target. "Ja vol, right on time." Placing the binoculars on the front seat, she returned to the keyboard and set the coordinates to coincide with the words and notes of the first verse of the fifth stanza. The trigger would come on the notes of "...And mortal life shall cease." How ironic she chuckled, as she locked in the code. Then she quickly clicked on an icon of a red lizard and hit the send button. With that she snapped the box shut, slipped it carefully into a compartment behind the front seat and slipped into the front seat, slammed the side door shut and ordered the driver, "Ausgehen!"
She knew the Taoist performers were just taking their bows as they lithely exited the center stage. Next up would be the twirling earth girls with their banners to represent non-mainline Protestants and New Agers. Crystals had been passed out with the promo participation packets to many in the vast audience. A giant prism would rise out of the circular stage and those who believed were to hold them up to catch the rays of a higher power bouncing off the prism to their own hand-held crystals. Each major faith represented had a souvenir of importance included in the promotional packets. PR people cover everything.
Elena Grabe had given attention to every detail. She had geared everything to detonate after the twelfth religious leader - the Archbishop of Canterbury had signed the final documents and given his address. All would be in a festive mood, unsuspecting. A full set of the documents would be in the hands of the Legion, whisked out before the Anglican chorus hit the fated notes.
Surely that would give all Legion members time, throughout the eleven to come, to deftly extract their belts and, through choreography of timing with the event on stage, step by step remove the thin translucent plastic explosive strip from the belt. Then at another moment when all were distracted, the infiltrators would drop their hand to one side below their waste holding the tip of the practically invisible -strip down. At the moment the fireworks were to begin all would be distracted. It would come in the fourth set after the Grand Imam had spoken and the Muslim extravaganza had begun. They had planned it perfectly. Within a 30-second span as the sky filled with multi-color bursts, they would craftily and stealthily slap the thin strip to the back lower legs of unsuspecting spectators.
The strips were thin and practically weightless. It seemed like child's play getting past the impenetrable security forces. With the fire crackers exploding, the diversion of a bump would be insignificant to the one being nudged. After all, it was crowded. It was expected among a packed contingent like this. The perpetrator would dismiss the nudge with an oops and a smile of pardon. None would be the wiser. It was all so perfect. Strips had already been placed in strategic places on and around the stage. Translucent is so hard to detect. If one were to look closely, they would think only that the paint had been poured on a little thicker in a spot. One had to look with a microscopic eye to locate the small microchip on the edge of each strip. That microchip would trigger the explosives and the main computer in Grabe's jeep governed that. She had set the coordinates to coincide with the exact notes as she had heard and recorded in numerous practices days before in Kuwait City where the Anglican chorale was lodged prior to being bussed to the site early that morning.
Little did Grabe realize, as the jeep rumbled southwest down the rutted road away from the Field of Abraham, that time was not on her side. She had counted on everything except how to count. She had assumed the assembly would go counter-clockwise. The initial program had indicated thusly. She had not calculated that the media had forced the change in the order of presentation to accommodate viewers in the west, grab them and keep them tuned. A high official not involved with the Legion had approved this and made the changes with those needing to know. The programs had been changed as well, but the shipment never made it. The cargo plane carrying them from Athens had had engine trouble on the tarmac. This forced plan B to quickly be put into effect at the last minute. It was a plan Grabe, for all her meticulous preparation, had not foreseen.
The dust behind the jeep prevented her from seeing the gray and red-robed choristers from St. Andrews take their place on the stage. There were seventy-six of them, thirty-three men, forty-three women and from their full-throated larynxes "Amazing Grace" would fill the mid-morning air. The Archbishop of Canterbury had just finished his address. The masses were applauding heartily, all caught up in the moment. Trevor, Briana, and hundreds of other communicators for various international networks were gushing their approval and describing the events. As the acclaim calmed to a hush in anticipation, the portable organ struck the first chord and the choral had their cue. It would be their swan song.
Next issue: Second Chapter - Episode One
"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 copyright statement and source - www.DailyCatholic.org - and take nothing out of context, nor reproduce it for profit. This work, fifteen years in the making, is a work of fiction that replicates the reality of today in many ways. However names, characters, places and incidents are used fictionally and any resemblance to actual persons and events, except those recorded in history, are purely coincidental.
WHITE SMOKE, BLACK FIRE!