While Patrick Gallagher and Niki Andriopoulos caught up on much needed sleep, two time zones away in the magnificent city of Rome, Cardinal Antonio Macelli, Cardinal Josef Vendham, Guillaume Brunatti, Luciani Serrano, Maria Figuerido, and Usif Ezerbet also slept, but their dreams were quite different.
Theirs was of the nefarious Basilisk. They were instilled with the prescience of future glories that would be theirs in the new kingdom when the Basilisk would rule. They saw with unnerving perspicacity what awaited the world - the present world. They saw their roles in bringing the basilisk into power, and were filled with sensations of glory and power, greed, lust and avarice. They no longer recognized these ase elements of their human nature, so commonplace had this baseness become in them, as with other Legion members. Their entire beings, minds, hearts and souls belonged exclusively to the master, and, unlike the so-called Christian God, this master left no free will. There was only one way. The only other alternative was annihilation.
Few could not be touched by the Basilisk if the master wished. Its power had grown so strong in the last half of the twentieth century and early 21st century that its ultimate revelation to mankind would come possibly on its next fetid breath, its next belch of horror. Yet it was so cleverly concealed that hideousness was portrayed as beautiful and inviting. Such is the way of the evil one in luring souls into his lair, his fatal factory of destruction.
So deep was Gallagher's sleep this night that he couldn't hear the demonic laughter which surreptiously entered his room. It was hardly a reverberation of merriment. Not a modicum of happiness anywhere in the grotesque sound that was inaudible to human ears. Just as the angels and Heavenly spirits are unintelligible to the vast majority of humans' senses, so also the demon and his nefarious legions lurk and scurry in and out of the id and libido. It rumbles low and deep and long, a clatter of both agony and hate, of diabolical power and might.
Even here, in the house where Niki had brought him, the Basilisk could enter at will. Despite the appalling tragedy of less than 24 hours ago, little did Pat realize that the Black Fire was just beginning to gain combustion. Out of the ashes came the smoldering.
Dateline: Kuwait Oasis Villa Estate, November 2, 6:25 a.m.
A gray sedan pulled up under the protective canopy of palms and cypress trees guiding the circular driveway just as dawn adorned the sky in cerise, as the last vestiges of stars gave way to the first peek of the sun over the eastern dunes. It manuevered deftly past the dust-beaten jeep and Humvee and veered a few more feet into a nearly hidden driveway. In a matter of seconds, an elderly gentlemen in his late 60's exited the car, moving with masterful decorum through a side door into the great villa where he was met promptly by Elias. Though the latter was a faithful servant, he was a friend to Fasif Khadid first and foremost. Fasif was the resident owner of this brilliant estate. An olive-skinned man of Lebanese descent in his mid-60's., Fasif sported a short cut gray beard to match his closely cropped hairline. His demeanor was gentle and royal at the same time, every pore of his 6'2" frame emanated charity and love. This showed when he allowed Elias to take his attache case and ease from his burdened shoulders the heavy satchel he had lugged with him from the car.
"I see Andriopoulos is here," he began, whispering in the stillness of the dawn. Elias had turned to pour from a distinguished tea set a steaming cup of tea for Khadid which he gratefully accepted, continuing "There was another car, a jeep from the war zone. Is all in order, Elias?"
"Ah, yes," Elias replied, "I was waiting for the moment to tell you. A friend of Niki's. An American reporter from Texas. I assure you all is in order. Niki left this envelope for you."
"If Niki's sure and you're sure, then so am I." Fasif's voice was weary but strong. "Give me a few minutes, Elias. I have to finish this tedious paper work and make a phone call. What time did our guests get in?"
"Just a few hours ago, Sir."
"Well then, what say we allow them to sleep a few more hours and you can get them up then. Say breakfast at nine?"
"In the patio garden, Sir?"
"On this morning, my dear Elias, that would be ideal."
"Consider it done, Sir."
Fasif crossed from the foyer to his study off the main great room. His hallmark was immediately visible in the floor-to-ceiling cedar bookshelves which lined three sides of the four walls. The ornate desk of ebony stood atop a rug of deep blues and greens, and in the fireplace, Elias had been stoking the embers for an inviting welcome home glow. He retrieved a cigar from the humidor on the carved olive-wood mantle and eased his frame into the oversized chair behind the desk.
Almost immediately Elias wheeled in a cart containing a fresh pot of tea, a few scones, some fruit and Fasif's briefcase, and stacked papers and books that had been retracted from the satchel and neatly stacked. The faithful servant and friend pushed the cart to the side of Fasif where it was easily reachable. He then moved to the window where he drew open the heavy drapes revealing a splendid garden beyond. He opened the windows and the morning air filtered in, sweeping away any staleness of the night. "Will there be anything else you need at this time, Sir?"
"Yes there is, Elias. I will that you take some time for yourself. Get a few hours of sleep before waking our guests. Will you do that?"
Sheepishly, Elias nodded and closed the door to Fasif's study. Fasif lit his cigar and placed it in an oversized ashtray to the side near his phone. His body conformed perfectly to the molded indentations of his oversized chair, caused by years of use. On the desk were a tangle of papers sticking out of folders, and numerous notepads upon which he scribbled pertinent information that was totally harmless should any intruder happen upon it. That was commonplace in this region. Above the mantle was a masterful painting of Raphael's "Flight into Egypt" meaningful to Fasif in more ways than met the eye for indeed he had made his flight to Kuwait from his home in Beirut over three decades ago.
He took the envelope Elias had given him and, with his ivory letter opener - a gift from an intriguing acquaintance from Africa several years ago - he sought the ingredients. Inside was a note from Niki giving Fasif knowledge of Pat and a small, charred pin. It was unmistakable. Fasif needed this edge to fight his secret war. The vital information concerning the Legion of the Basilisk he kept stored within the gray cells of his mind, neatly catalogued and readily available whenever he wanted. In his quest of the basilisk, Fasif had also become adept at forgetting much of what he really knew, and also much of what he really was. It meant survival.
He glanced over the rest of the papers in the briefcase and the satchel; enough to be bound into a legal tome and only the beginning of the Field of Death investigation. He put the pin in his pocket and picked up the phone.
Dateline: St. Louis, Missouri, November 1, 9:30 p.m.
Gregory Cardinal Zachmann was just finishing up some paper work at his desk in the Archbishop's residence before heading to Rome later this evening on the nonstop redeye flight. They were diocesan directives to his Vicar General and Chancellor in case he did not return. There was that possibility though he recoiled at such talk that he was papabile, yet the media loved to promote that possibility. Even the liberal media in the United States - the media that so embraced the culture of death - even they were caught up in the recent talk and gladly allowed themselves to be engulfed in the enthusiasm for indeed he was an American. That was the unifying link that the western mindset clung to. "He's one of ours," they would boast. Those who were not Catholic, those who weren't even religious, those who couldn't tell the difference between the beloved baseball Cardinals and the role of a prince of the Church still hawked his cause for the good of American pride.
While a politician might be skewered for having a far-right viewpoint, the media had been mesmirized by this St. Louis' prelate's kind, but firm nature in dealing with matters that mattered with Americans. He was uncompromising in his approach to upholding the Sancity of Life in all its stages and he didn't hide that fact. But his approach had always been charitable and, because of that, he garnered few enemies, winning over even the most avowed pro-abort. Gregory lived as Christ asked. This was evident to all - Christian and heathen.
Within his own Church he had not been as fortunate yet he had been a buffer between factions, showing the fruits of each and working toward harmony without compromising the truths and traditions of the Church he served. This was not easy in a sea of apathetic and pathetic prelates that had permeated the chanceries and sees from sea to shining sea. When his eminence John Cardinal O'Connor passed a void was left as to leadership in the American hierarchy. There were pretenders who sought that role over the ensuing years, but none proved themselves worthy until the Pope had surprised the world with a special consistory. It caught many by surprise and, from the look on many a curia member's face, was not expected. In this consistory the Holy Father, in effect, forced the retirement of not a few offending prelates including a cardinal on the west coast who had for years been leading his flock away from the Church. This signaled a renewed hope and assurance that the abuses would be discontinued. Yet an ambiguous General Instruction of the Roman Missal had failed to curb the degradation of so much that had been considered sacred and holy.
Gregory was part of the new wave of ultra-conservative, traditional prelates that sought to restore reverence to the sanctuaries. Upon his elevation to the Sacred Conclave along with the archbishop of Denver and a few others who had begun in the heartland, a new fervor began sweeping the land. Yet it still met with resistance from the liberal, modernist factions who tried so hard to obliterate so much of what was passed down. Gregory realized it could not be done overnight. Indeed, he reasoned it might take 40 more years to undo the relativistic thinking that had engulfed so many. It might take four decades or more, even the next generation to restore all that had been held so sacrosanct for nearly 2000 years before the great upheaval, revolution they called it, of the sixties in the Church and society.
Cardinal Zachmann still had his enemies. Holy men usually do. Part of it stemmed back to his traditional leanings for in his earlier years as a priest he had been privileged to attend several retreats given by Cardinal Giuseppe Cardinal Siri. He had studied under Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre at Econe in Switzerland for a few years. In fact Gregory might well have been one of the bishops ordained by Lefebvre for he was good friends with Bernard Fellay and Richard Williamson. But a staph infection prevented him from continuing and he had to return to the United States for medical care in the autumn of 1987. It pained him greatly the cross Lefebvre carried for Gregory had known of the inner workings and vendetta of the Curia, having been a confidante of Siri and Silvio Angelo Cardinal Oddi. It had indeed been a dark day when the Vatican apparatus had forged an excommunication of Lefebvre and then the death of Cardinal Siri a year later. He didn't know which was the bleakest, the way the archbishop had been ostracized or the cunning, cold, uncharitable, even sinful acts of several members of the Roman Curia and liberal interests in their deceitful attempts to snuff out so any and all remnants of the past glories of Holy Mother Church.
Cardinal Oddi had kept in contact with Gregory right up to his death on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul in 2001. The aging Italian Prince of the Church had placed the hope of the Church he so loved in his protege from America. In fact, Gregory suspected, his own elevation had come through Oddi's prodding to the Pope. Oddi thought truthfully the Pontiff would be dissuaded, but with God all things are possible as Gregory realized when the call came through from Rome on his appointment.
While Gregory had wanted with his whole heart and soul to embrace the traditions that had been passed down and preserved up until the death of Pope Pius XII, he realized he must work within to effect good. He had to set the example without alerting the foe. As archbishop he carefully weeded out the 'We Are Church' and 'A Call to Action' radicals from his chancery and eliminated their influence in the parishes by placing holier men in charge in key positions. They were all accountable directly to him. He held an open-door policy with all staff of the diocese, all priests and even parishioners. He cut drastically his social activities, sending emissaries when necessary, calling on increased prayer life for both clergy and laity. He had strongly urged perpetual adoration in every parish and had resurrected the ancient Corpus Christi processions where parishes joined as one on that glorious summer Sunday to walk through the city as he humbly held Our Lord high in the monstrance for all to see and adore.
He had consecrated the city of St. Louis after the great saintly king whom Gregory held in such esteem. He upheld the virtues and values St. Louis IX had set for his kingdom eight centuries prior and strove to establish, even among the secular and civil authorities, a subliminal message that the Social Kingship of Christ was paramount to promoting true justice and peace for all - regardless of their creed.
He put a stop to the architectural abominations that had sacked so many churches and reinstated, despite protests from feminist movements, that only males would serve or be on the altar. He also had established that at least one Tridentine Mass would be said in every parish throughout his see no less than once a week in hopes of rekindling a true love and reverence for the Mass held in such esteem for so many centuries. In an even more shocking move, he eliminated the need for all lay ministers of the Eucharist in the sanctuary. Yes, it was more work for his priests he realized, but that was what they were there for, to minister to the faithful - to set the example for holiness. Gregory knew that began with him. He knew that was the only answer for every diocese, every parish, every home. Striving for sanctity in a world gone mad. It was not easy. That was the price one paid to follow Christ fully without compromise.
Gregory had always been an avid student of history, theology and Canon Law. He had studied meticulously the Conciliar documents from Nicaea on. Every papal document he had stored for reference, having read and understood each one. He was a virtual font of wisdom. He had mastered Latin, Italian, French, Spanish, German, Hebrew, Arabaic, Greek and Russian. He was still studying the Chinese language as he prepared this evening to head toward the eternal city. This oriental language was the toughest by far, but he realized its necessity for beyond that great wall was a rich harvest of souls for Christ. He was a missionary in every way.
Yet he was still very much a part of the local community as the Cardinals, Rams, Blues and Steamers pennants on the walls signified. He had always been an avid sports fan, but his duties to God came first. Truth be known he had been discouraged by the greed and selfishness of the pro and collegiate game and would rather watch the young ones in a pick-up game; innocents frolicking unaware that this world would soon pluck that virtue from them, clouding their memories of better times when scores or standings didn't matter, only the fun and exercise, the team concept of working together. That was the excitement of the game that always thrilled Gregory.
The game being played this day was a deadly one he realized in the aftermath of the horrible holocaust in Iraq. As he put his pen down he pondered on what lie ahead, what did this purport for the world, for the Church?
His thoughts were interrupted as his private phone's shrill ring pierced the quietude. Even Stephen didn't have that number.
"Yes?" he cautiously mouthed into the receiver.
"Gregory? Khadid here."
A sigh of relief passed through the cardinal's lungs. "What news?"
"I've been at it all night. A grizzly affair to be blunt," Fasif confided.
"Dear Fasif, you've a knack for understatement. Any further developments?"
"Nothing extraordinary. No doubt the work of the Legion. We were too late to stop it. I should have seen it forming. How could I have been so---"
"Do not berate yourself, Fasif. You could not have prevented it. None of us could. We must concentrate on stopping them next time."
"That is the problem, Gregory, I do not yet have solid evidence to indicate where they will strike next. All I know is that they will."
"Yes, I agree. If anything, Fasif, we know for certain the basilisk grows in power. I fear they are deeper within the Holy See than even I suspected."
"Then every contact must do double time to get information on their next move. Helene and Karel are following clues as we speak. I have not yet talked to Niki but he has uncovered proof the Legion did it.
We must be so careful. We need every able body available. Our numbers are already small and I fear will diminish even further. All are being targeted. You must be careful, Gregory. They lie in wait for you in Rome I fear."
"I'm sure of that, Fasif. I do know we will need a contact for Karel and Stephen in Rome."
"I'm working on that. Maybe Andriopoulos."
"No, Fasif. They know of him. It won't work."
"Give me some time, Gregory. We have so few left."
"God willing, the few of us will be enough. Will you be at the Conclave, Fasif?"
"My in pectore status prevents me from being revealed yet. I must remain hidden for now."
"You know in these times your leadership would be so valuable."
"Not at this time...in God's time. I would say anyone's leadership would be valuable in these times, Gregory. You sell yourself short for you are the one who should lead us."
"That, my friend, we will leave in the good graces of the Holy Ghost."
"Oh, one other thing. my friend from Dallas Victor Van Wess alerted me he has sent a man to Iraq who could possibly be of help. He arrived last night."
"Yes. Patrick Gallagher. He's 44, about five-eleven, one ninety---"
"God works in strange and mysterious ways, Gregory. He is here at my villa. I will meet him at breakfast. Can he be trusted in Rome?"
"You have my word. According to Vic he's a bit of a renegade, but solid. His Catholicity needs work, but he is sincere. Because of his journalistic skepticism he might be a tad of a hard sell, but you can convince him. I will notify Stephen when I arrive in Rome."
"You have unbounded optimism of my abilities. I only hope God will give me the graces."
"He will. I've a plane to catch. Go with God."
"And you, too, Gregory. Deo Gratias."
Dateline: Kuwait Oasis Villa Estate, November 2, 6:35 a.m.
Fasif put the receiver down and swiveled in his chair to catch the rising sun beaming into his office off the garden. He boosted himself out of the comfortable chair and walked out into the garden, stooping to preen and prune a few blossoms as he conversed with the flowers. "Ah, garden of glory. Elias does well. The birds honor you. How long will you bloom? What fools be we? Why can't we exist as you do? In peace and beauty. Who among us is safe? What plan can be safe? There's something afoot in this world which defies description and has not been imagined by anyone, anywhere...except a few and they have not been listened to. Now the weeds grow stronger and we begin to suffer and suffocate."
As Fasif conversed with God's flora, Pat was deep in sleep, so exhausted that no dream or nightmare could penetrate his brief hibernation. Little did he realize that his mission was just beginning. Were he to know the full scope of his involvement he might have never wanted to leave The Crooked Spigot the night before. But man cannot turn back the clock. The sands of time would not allow it. Such is the fate of those seeking truth.
Next issue: Fifth Chapter - Episode Two
"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!