As Pat sat there in the great room of Fasif Khadid in this oasis in the Middle East on the second day of November he wondered what was this beast that had been unleashed. Hypnotically his gaze was drawn to the terrarium where the lizard Fasif had extracted had now crawled out from under the rock it had scurried behind when freed from his warm, fleshy grip. Now it seemed magnified in the reflection of the glass, sending shivers up and down Pat's spine. Goose bumps appeared on his arm despite the 90-degree weather. A damn lizard. It was absurd. Yet the scriptures bore it out. Was it in anyway connected to the Apocalyptic beast as Fasif and Niki had implied? What exactly was that horned monster with seven heads, ten horns and a like number of diadems? How did it connect with the Church and all the terrorist attacks over the past few decades?
Dateline: Fasif Khadid's Oasis Villa Estate, November 2, 2:15 p.m.
Pat's brain seemed to be on overload, trying to dissect everything he had been told this day. God, he was naive he thought as he gulped down a somewhat warm glass of what he could best describe as a bitter glass of some kind of wine. He wondered if it were homegrown. It surely wasn't imported. He silently hoped he wouldn't have to get used to this beverage. As his thoughts wandered toward trivial things, Fasif brought him back to the reality of the moment.
"Patrick, perhaps some fresh air and some fresh vino would help the cobwebs. I would assume they need to be cleared so you might better concentrate on the matter at hand."
"Huh, oh yeah," Gallagher drawled, snapping back to where he was. "Uh, I'll pass on the wine. I'm okay. I just...can't believe all these historical events bein' tied in with a lizard...which is supposed to be the Antichrist himself?"
"Most certainly," Fasif asserted.
Pat stammered a bit, "I always thought this Antichrist, if and when he or it came, would come dressed in sheep's clothin', or be tied in with 666."
"He could" enjoined Niki, "from reports we have received - he could take any shape or form."
"Reports?" Pat asked.
Before Fasif could respond, Elias entered hurriedly, leaning close to Khadid and whispered in the doctor's ear. Fasif's expression underwent no change that was discernible. Yet the cigar came out of his mouth as he nodded to Elias.
All this Pat observed, even though his entire psyche was reeling from the story Fasif had just woven around him so tightly that the American reporter felt claustrophobic. But there was no where to run. The emergence of the Antichrist, this Basilisk had cut off all escape routes. Even death. It was fight or be conquered for all eternity. And he'd never let that happen...not to him or Corrie, Pat vowed to himself.
"Yes, where were we?"
"Pat had asked about the reports..." Niki reminded Fasif.
Fasif chose to interrupt the direction Niki was heading. Niki realized it immediately and backed off. He knew to always take his cue from this wise and mystical man who had been born in Lebanon but had spent much of his life in this region and risen through the ranks medically, politically and ecclesiastically.
"My question now, Patrick. Can we count on you?" Fasif was blunt and to the point.
"I don't have much choice," sighed Pat. "I'm a journalist. My job is to get to the truth no matter where it leads."
Niki chimed in, "But you are not alone, my American friend. I, too, am committed to this, as I have been for some time."
Niki's comment caused Pat to ask, "What newspaper did you say you work for. Niki?"
Fasif smiled. "Let's just say he is on special assignment. It bodes well that there be unity among us. Therein lies our strength."
"So," Pat repeated, "Where do we go from here?"
"Elias has just notified me that tonight the body of the late pope will be secretly flown back to the Vatican along with the bodies of all those in the Holy See's party. The coffins have been shipped to the Field of Death and will be ready for a 10 p.m. flight direct to Rome."
"You mean they found his body already out of all that mess?" Pat was incredulous.
"My dear man," Fasif's voice softened, "I doubt one single body can be identified in that holocaust. No, they will just identify those corpses in the vicinity of where the Pope was, where the cardinals and bishops were seated before the explosions. As you recall from those terrible explosions in New York City and Washington D.C. identifying remains was a grisly task, an impossible one. Multiply the carnage on the Field of Abraham and it is much worse. Granted the structural damage is minimal compared to that terrible terrorism in your great city, Pat. Nevertheless, the crater that was hollowed out by the explosives and the heat of this area make it that much more difficult. All day expert dental forensic experts, as well as DNA specialists have sifted through all areas of the main stage by means of the special computers that were designed following the New York City disaster. Indeed, they found the papal ring and..."
"And..?" Niki anxiously wanted Fasif to complete his thought. Instead a puzzled look descended on the medical examiner's face.
"The dental records did not match," Khadid said, incredibility belying his tone. "Still, the authorities insist it is he and have marked his coffin as such. In truth, Patrick, Niki, no one will know who or what is in the coffins that are sent to Rome for the coffins will be closed. There will be no open casket in St. Peter's."
Fasif's voice trailed off. A great heaviness surged through his entire being, but he checked the ebb and continued, "With the funeral services most likely just a few days off, can the Legion be far behind?"
"But, if the Pope's dead, then why..?" Pat was puzzled.
"Because," Fasif responded, "there could be more violence planned around the funeral ceremonies or, God forbid, the papal election."
"You can't be serious, Fasif?" Pat countered.
"Very serious, Patrick, and, because I am...I want you to go to Rome for us."
"Rome?" Pat was trying to keep up.
"You will rendezvous with my daughter Karel Shenneker and an American priest in the Vatican - Father Stephen Navarro."
Niki eagerly inserted, "Do you wish I accompany him to..?"
"No, Nicholas, I need you here for pastoral work. I think now it is time to reveal your identity to our American friend so he knows the full truth."
Niki looked relieved, "I concur. You see, Patrick, I am not really a free lance journalist."
Pat clenched his teeth. "There goes the trust factor."
"On the contrary," Fasif reprimanded him, "Nicholas Andriopoulos is a priest."
"Man has the Church changed," was all Pat could muster.
"No, times change," Fasif quickly added, "but the Church must remain strong. Her people, her clergy have changed. They have weakened. They have let their guard down."
"Then why the ruse last night, Nik, when I stumbled over you?"
"Call it caution. I had to be sure you could be trusted."
"Likewise," Pat countered. "Though how do you know you can trust me now, amigo?"
"My soul senses it," Niki answered without hesitation.
"As does mine, Patrick" Fasif was smiling broadly.
"I take it I've passed your scrutiny." Pat wanted more answers. "But that doesn't necessarily mean you've passed mine. It still doesn't answer what you were doin' snappin' photos last night, Niki. Or should I say Father Niki?"
"Niki is fine, Pat," the now-revealed priest responded. "Why should I not be there doing what I could for those poor souls? While I administered the last rites to as many as possible - God knows who they were - I also searched for clues to the Basiliskos."
Pat turned to Fasif. "Where in Rome do I meet Karel and Father Stephen? When? Then what do I do? How? How do I get there?"
"Those inquisitive traits suit you well as a journalist, Patrick," Fasif replied. "But you must be more patient, more discerning of all you encounter from here on in. Trust your soul, not your mind."
Fasif snuffed out the stub of his cigar. "My friends, I must return at once to the Field of Death. I have been summoned." This medical examiner - Dr. Khadid did not say by whom or what. It was not really germane to the issue.
Fasif started to move away, then stopped, an expectant look covering his face, a sadness that he might never see Niki or Pat again. "Patrick, Niki will take you this afternoon to Kuwait City."
That didn't seem to answer Pat's questions, "Then what?"
"I have personally made all arrangements. You will continue to travel in your professional capacity as a reporter. From Kuwait City you will fly direct on a private jet with a group of clerics to Rome arriving at 5:45 Rome time. Your instructions will be sealed. Open them only when you arrive at the Esperia Hotel in Rome. Then destroy its contents immediately."
"The Esperia," Pat yawned, "Heard of it. Paparazzi hotspot."
Fasif was all business. "You will blend in. Take nothing with you except the suitcase you have and your other case...and these two small items."
Elias, still standing behind Fasif, handed Pat two items. A Rosary and a small medical pin with a blue cross on white background with green trim.
Pat didn't understand the significance. "I don't get it. A rosary and pin?"
"They will serve as your means of identification to your contacts in Rome," Fasif would only say.
"If you say so, " Pat was resigned, knowing Dr. Khadid would divulge only as much as needed. Pat had always been of the assumption that what he didn't know wouldn't hurt him, but now he wasn't so sure.
"I do," Fasif was assertive. "And, Patrick, I also must kindly request that you give Elias the Reflector disk you have supposedly been recording."
"You've no right to confiscate my..."
"And the Legion has no right to do what they've done. I must destroy the data on the Mirror's Reflector code for the safety of us all - especially for your sake, Patrick. They know where you are, they can trace it."
"I can protect my..." Pat shot back defensively taken aback by Fasif's change in tone.
"Until you've met Karel and have heard her report, make no attempt to contact your editor." Fasif's words were not a request but a command.
"Hold on a minute. I'm already late filin' my first story. If I wait any longer he'll..."
"Victor will know soon. Ben will inform him. There is no other path now. You are committed to this quest, my friend. That," Fasif emphasized, "takes precedence over everything else."
Niki tried to assure Pat. "Trust him, Pat. He speaks the truth. I know."
Fasif stood, "I must make some calls now. I wish you, Godspeed, Patrick Gallagher. God willing we will have the opportunity to meet again."
Pat, overwhelmed by the turn of events, stammered. "Yeah, I'd like that."
"As will I, my American friend."
Pat stood up, placing the Rosary on the side table as he walked toward Fasif. "How'd you know about Ben, about the Reflector code and Vic? How..?"
"All in good time, Patrick. In the meantime, I will keep our mutual Greek friend occupied right here where his hidden talents can best be utilized. Right, Niki?"
Niki rose to join the two. "If you insist, Fasif. But a bit of adventure would be good for my soul."
"On your journey to Kuwait City fill our inquisitive friend with some answers about Karel so he will be better prepared. I will meet you back here tonight, Nicholas." Fasif picked up the Rosary and pressed it into Pat's hand. "Remember, Patrick, common sense and Faith!"
Next issue: Sixth Chapter - Episode One
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WHITE SMOKE, BLACK FIRE!