he city appeared deserted to Pat as he and Stephen had slowly ambled away from St. Clement's, hugging the shadows of the wet pavement to avoid detection. Traffic was practically nil, giving credence to the fear that finding a taxi at this early hour might be difficult. However providence provided the duo with renewed hope when Monsignor Navarro had spotted a cab parked beneath a street lamp on the Via Appia Antica. Soon the two, by sheer will power and adrenaline, had propelled themselves forward, waking the driver who had pulled over to catch some sleep.
Neither Pat nor Stephen had spoken on the trip to the Vatican. Man, by his masculine nature, never wants to show he is hurting. So it was with this stubborn, some might say obstinate, Texan. Though his teeth were clenched, Gallagher would never admit to anyone that it really hurt. Hurt like hell. Pat considered it part of the wimp classification to complain. He would have none of it and so, in true macho fashion, he had just sucked it in, gutted it out; a man in the mold of a modern martyr who didn't exactly relish the role.
As they rumbled toward their destination, both were lost in their own thoughts. Neither would have dared to speak of the avenues their inner psyches took. Like the arteries of the city, jutting out from main thoroughfares and interwining in web-like fashion, thought processes seek out many boulevards and alleys of distraction that take one in an entire different direction from which they originally charted. All the modern technology today and to come can never match the awesome, irreplaceable mind of man, finely tuned and fashioned by a Supreme Being, who fashioned a mechanism that allows one to return to the very spot he wandered from, no matter how far, in a millisecond. Yet it was impossible to doubt, to wonder if there was any feasible way to defeat this nefarious Legion.
As the cab turned onto the Ponte Sant'Angelo Bridge, with the angels standing sentinel over the polluted waters of the Tiber, the dome of Saint Peter's came into view. They were almost there. Both Pat and Stephen knew intuitively that there was no way to know if one's faith was strong enough until it was truly put to the test.
The examination of will was about to commence.
Dateline: Vatican City, November 5, 6:10 a.m.
No wonder the other side of town had been so deserted, pondered Pat. The whole city was gathered in St. Peter's to pay their respects at the bier of the late pope and those prelates and religious senselessly slaughtered on the Field of Abraham five short days ago.
Mourners of every race, even creed, held aloft various defenses against the rain. From a higher perch it would convey a splash of colors of water-proof fabrics blanketing St. Peter's square and beyond, spreading out into the adjoining streets.
The cab could go no further on the Via de Conciliazone as an Italian gendarme was directing all traffic to the right onto Via Ombrelliani.
Quickly they exited the cab and climbed out into the rain; a steady downpour that seemed as endless as the stream of people, massing together in preparation for the funeral that was still four hours away. People crushed against each other, groping for valuable elbow room, breathing space. Pat was astounded. Even in this horrible weather and at 6:15 in the morning so many mourners kept vigil in the large square before the great Basilica. A sea of uplifted umbrellas sheltered them from the heavy moisture - Heaven's tears, as it were. It seemed to represent a canopy of collective anguish for a day which these mourners had come to, albeit reluctantly and with great trepidation and sorrow.
Stephen wedged his way through the crowd clearing a way for Pat a few steps behind. His arm ached excruciatingly, his feet were cold now and wet, very wet. Moisture pouring from his hair as they squeezed their way forward through the square, hugging the Bernini Columns as they inched closer to the Bronze Doors.
"We must be careful," Stephen cautioned. "The hour of Prime is approaching. Many of the religious have already said Lauds, others will be up and on their way to chapel for the same. Here."
Stephen pulled off his Roman collar and thrust it into Pat's good hand. "Put this around your neck and tighten the coat. Keep your arm hidden. I have identification. You don't. The collar will blur their suspicions."
Pat nodded, jamming the collar into position around his neck, unaccustomed as he was to anything tightening his neck. No wonder he hated wearing ties. This was even more constricting to him, yet he knew this collar was a necessary passport to where they were heading. They moved on. Shortly, though it seemed like an eternity to Pat, they had arrived. Stephen flashed his ID and whispered something to the Swiss Guard standing sentinel and then they were both through the massive doors and up the steps to the entry hall of the great corridor that seemed to go on forever.
Stephen guided Gallagher around a corner across from a small room where two Swiss Guards were conversing in German, most likely one getting his orders for the day for the shift had just changed. The timing was perfect as Stephen gestured Pat forward past the room and right through a door under a staircase, a few lefts and they were in another corridor. They reached the back stairway and began to climb. Pat, as bad as he was hurting, was beginning to breathe easier now. He and Monsignor Navarro had made it!
That sense of security faded once they had reached the second floor and turned out into the corridor. Numerous prelates and religious were heading for Lauds and Prime. The two unshaven ones tried to blend in without being as conspicuous as they were. As they turned into another corridor, Stephen stopped suddenly and pulled Pat against the marble wall. "Shhh, two Swiss Guards blocking my office. Not good. Macelli has to know I'm missing."
"Great. So what's plan B?"
"Follow me, Pat, we'll try another route. Please, be as silent as you can be."
Backtracking, Stephen turned left instead of right and entered another door, a short corridor that led to another door and into a room with two doors. One led to the outer corridor, the other to the way they entered. It was dark and the two felt their way around the obstacles in the room. Stephen had been here before and knew his way, slipping to the far left wall where he leaned his ear against the plaster. He could hear voices in his office on the other side of the wall. Stephen's office was on the other side.
"What the hell are you --"
"Shhh, quiet," whispered Stephen, "they're in there."
As the Monsignor leaned closer to hear, Pat handed him a glass off a nearby shelf which he had bumped into. Stephen gratefully took it and held it up to the wall. He could hear so much clearer.
"We must find out where the Pope is."
The voice, Stephen knew, was definitely Fr. Urazzi's.
"Keep looking, you idiot." And that voice had to be Macelli. "Your slip of the mouth last night did not help. The master will not be pleased."
"Scusi. A thousand pardons. Let me make amends." Urazzi was his whiney self, thought Stephen. A very poor excuse for a cleric, a patronizing pansy at that.
"There's nothing in here that I can find right now," Macelli could be heard to say as the direction moved closer to the door into his office. The cardinal was now addressing the two Swiss Guards at the entrance. "Alright, our work here is done. Return to your posts. Alert me immediately if you see Navarro."
"Oh, oh," whispered Stephen to Pat. "I'm definitely AWOL now."
"You're gonna be more than that, bud, if they catch you in here."
"Great, meanwhile ---"
The turning of the doorknob alerted both of them just in time. It was Macelli and Urazzi. They moved into the darkness, silhouetted against the misty light of the corridor. Macelli preferred to remain shrouded in semi-darkness for, as usual, he was up to his malicious ways. Thank God, they didn't turn on the lights. Stephen and Pat gave silent thanks for this as they clung to the shadows, daring to not even breathe.
"Grabe is in place."
"Where?" a puzzled Fr. Urazzi blurted.
"Not here, you idiot. Here in the Holy See." Macelli's impatience and lack of respect for this lackey priest was evident as he continued to murmured in low tones. "We have this truth serum to help you get to the bottom of this Benziger mess."
The rotund, corrupt Italian cardinal who had long ago crossed over to the dark side, handed Urazzi a syringe, continuing in hushed tones. "Go to your office. Inject Benziger. Then he will talk. We must find out where he took the pope. I've got to find Vendhem. Zachmunn could pose a problem. We must see he doesn't."
Stephen froze, his thoughts racing to save His Eminence. Did he know of the danger, could he be warned in time?
"Go! Do it. Now!" Impatience showed considerably in Macelli's voice as he dispatched Urazzi and then waddled to the door, looking back briefly as if he could sense something. He scanned the room for a few seconds, and then closed the door behind him. All was silent. The darkness of the room blotted out the gasps of breath let out by both Pat and Stephen.
"That was close, Padre."
"I was afraid you were going to scream out in pain. I've got to get you medical care, but how?"
"What'd he mean, find the Pope?"
"I don't know exactly, but I suspect Benziger does."
"He was the Holy Father's closest guard. He went everywhere with him. But, evidently not to Iraq. In fact, it's my hunch he's here - in Urazzi's office I'd bed. Can you hold on a little longer, Pat?"
"If I have to, damn right. Where to?"
"We'll go back the way we came. I know a short cut."
Urazzi had already returned to his office by the time Pat and Stephen started their circuitous path to the same destination.
The Italian priest plunged the needle into Benziger's arm and roughly pulled it out, hoping to be rid of this stubborn Swiss Guard who was cluttering his office. Urazzi's penchant for neatness was obsessive. He would have been simply beside himself had he saw, some 75 yards from his office, the tell-tale trail Pat was leaving on the smooth polished marble hall floor in the more narrow alternate hallway used by maintenance personnel.
Pat and Stephen didn't discover it until the truth serum had started to take effect in Benziger's brain. The duo had reached the room beneath the staircase when, at this point in their pursuit, Stephen saw the trail. A delay, the Monsignor knew, was necessary for detection could create a problem, a very dangerous one. Blood. A spoor of blood from Pat's wounds betrayed their path. Quickly, Stephen motioned Pat into a crevice under the staircase room and retraced his path back to the room they had been in. Flipping a light switch, he reached up on the shelf for some towels. The room was full of towels and linens, cleaning supplies, glasses and wash bowls. It was the main supply room for this floor of the Vatican and Stephen made sure he had all the necessary supplies to cover their tracks and blot the bleeding wounds.
Meanwhile, nearly a football field away on these marbled gridlines of conflict, the truth serum was taking its desired effect as the nervous Urazzi could now see.
"Tell me now! Where is the Pope?" Urazzi's command was harsh as he glowered over the dazed Swiss Guard, slumped in his chair in the former's office. The huge, bloody welt on Riage's head had dried over night and the malodor reached Urazzi's nostrils, repelling him back. Yet the turncoat Italian priest was determined. "Where did you put him?"
"Whoooo?" Benziger's question probed the air of unawareness through light-headedness.
"The Holy Father, Riage?" Urazzi moved further away from the defenseless guard. "You know where he is. Where is he?"
Benziger struggled with each word, fighting within himself not to betray his Supreme Pontiff. "He, he - - needs - - medical - - care."
"Where?" Urazzi plied again.
"Pl - please - help him."
"We can't help him if you don't tell us where he is. Tell us so we can help him."
"Y - you will - help him?"
"Why yes. Of course, yes, yes!" Urazzi lied through his teeth.
"He - he is - -"
Impatience formed on Roberto's face. "Yes, out with it, man. Where?"
"In - the castle."
Urazzi was giddy with anticipation. "Castle?"
"Castel Sant'Angel - o." He --"
Before Urazzi could celebrate or share his eureka, Pat and Stephen burst into the room from a side entrance not off the main corridor.
"What is the meaning of this?" Urazzi stammered, obviously caught off guard.
"Why don't you tell us." Pat demanded in true Texas Ranger fashion.
"Who might I ask is this, Monsignor?" Urazzi was derogatively pointing to Pat.
Stephen was adamant. "What are you doing with Captain Benziger, Roberto?"
"That is not your concern."
"Afraid so, bud." Pat was asserting his frustrations, trying to mask the pain that he could no longer ignore.
They stood their ground, like figures at High Noon, imaginary guns at the ready as Urazzi slowly moved behind the desk, stalling for time, as he tried to draw attention from the fact he was reaching into his top side drawer to retract a silencer. "It is unfortunate, gentlemen, that you arrived when you did. Now you'll have to come with me."
The suddenness of Pat and Stephen's urgency overrode the effects of the serum on a groggy Benziger. Sensing something wrong, Benziger tried to get up, his hands still tied, turning toward Stephen. "Monsignor, they tried to kill the Pope. Help him please."
"Tranquillo!" Urazzi demanded.
"He is very ill." Benziger ignored the Italian priest's furious command and struggled to reach Stephen, leaning forward in desperation. "You must help."
"We will!" insisted Pat just as Benziger looked up. His eyes told it all. The window of the soul had felt the tornadic impact of the bullet. Riage's pupils expanded grotesquely signaling a sudden burst of pain streaking through Riage's entire body. Urazzi's impetuous fear and action of his sudden unrestraint had changed the course of the Swiss Guard's fate. The deadly, but silent explosive projectile had found its mark.
In one last heroic gasp, Benziger managed to emote,
"The - old - castle."
He slumped to the ground, dead at the feet of Monsignor Navarro. Urazzi watched. Stephen watched. Both were in shock. Urazzi had never killed a man before. He had been party to much evil, but never killed anyone in his life. The shock of his last act distracted him enough that Pat was able to lunge like a kamikaze at the amateur marksman without Urazzi being able to zero on his second target. Despite the loss of blood, Pat's instincts took over. Anger surged through his veins as he struggled to wrest the gun from Urazzi's hand. Rolling over, a second bullet muffled against the acoustic pillows of flesh. Both bodies hit the floor. One would not get up again.
Pat rolled over, moaning in pain as he hunched up, just avoiding the pool of blood oozing out from beneath Urazzi. Riage had been avenged.
Stephen was visibly shaken, but ostensibly relieved that Pat had escaped yet another close shave.
"Too close for comfort." exhaled Pat.
Stephen instinctively retrieved a small vial of oil and began anointing the lifeless foreheads of Benziger, and Urazzi as well, with the old rubrics of the Sacrament of Extreme Unction. The Just Judge would receive both men at this moment. Their destinations may be different, but both would receive a fair hearing. How they lived their lives, what was in their hearts would either acquit or convict them. Their jury would be their ledger on earth.
"Ordo secundum consuetudine..." Stephen began, as Pat stared at this sight. A priest, in the midst of danger, was anointing both friend and foe. Here was another man who could truly be trusted, Pat deduced. As the Monsignor was finishing his hurried-up, albeit abbreviated, anointing of the dead, Pat still wasn't entirely convinced that all that he had gone through over the past several days was just a bad nightmare or, if, indeed, he was interminably trapped in a very real Perils of Pauline episode that wouldn't end, refusing to give him resolution.
"Oracio commendationis anime...requiescat in pace. In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen."
"Our duty is done here, Pat. We've got to get out of here. The guards...or Macelli. They'll be here soon."
"No shit, Sherlock."
The two headed out the side door just as one of Macelli's turncoat guards entered by the front door. His staccato "Hilfe! Hilfe!" alert would soon bring others, specifically Macelli at this sudden turn of events; a cog in the well-oiled Legion wheel. Another loud "Hilfe! Mord!" echoed throughout the second floor. Within minutes the area would be locked tighter than a drum...with a beat that assimilated the cardiac thump of Pat's heart, racing faster than his feet. He shuffled them forward by sheer will-power as they raced down the halls past statues that watched in marmoreal silence while the two men in black sought to avoid detection.
While the commotion of more guards trundling to the source of the alert mounted, Pat and Stephen breathlessly reached the staircase and slipped into the room beneath the stairs, the room that led to the maintenance hall. Pat was panting badly, weakening with every step. Stephen slung his arm under Pat's right arm and lifted him up as he dragged him, checking for any blood trail behind. He was relieved that either the wound was covered or Pat had no more blood to give. The floor was clean now.
"For Christ's sake, Padre, I can't go another step."
"Niki was right about your profanity."
"Yeah, well, I'm no choir boy." Pat was groaning, ready to pass out.
"I didn't think you could sing." Stephen retorted as they barreled into the supply room.
Navarro quickly laid out some towels where Pat could recline and rest, then gestured in exaggerated fashion: "For now, home sweet, home, Pat."
"Home," Gallagher muttered wistfully. "Don't I wish."
With that he collapsed onto the towels. He was unaware how dark it was in this room for he had retreated back into the darkness of the psyche. He could take refuge there from the pain that was now throbbing, searing through his entire being.
Next issue: Ninth Chapter - Episode Five
"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.