The shivers of this November night had chilled more than a few to the bone. While Cardinal Gregory Zachmann slept warmly at the Oblate General House and Father Stephen Navarro within the Holy See, Cardinal Macelli snored away in his wide bed, ordered special for his wide girth, a nearly empty bottle on his bed side as he lay there in a drunken stupor. His counterpart Cardinal Vendhem was deep in a sleep-like trance, comforted by the devil.
Meanwhile in the dark, damp; and dank dungeon-like climes of Castel Sant'Angelo Riage Benziger huddled close to the weakened and unconscious Pope as the Swiss Guard sought all means to draw body heat from each other for pure survival. He had wanted to go for help this night, but he was still too weak, too chilled to the bone to make the journey through the secret passage in Hadrian's Wall. It was his only outlet for all exits had been sealed off a year ago after terrorist threats closed down this medieval tourist attraction standing sentinel over the mucky Tiber. And so he opted to stay with the dying Pontiff.
Across the Tiber in a more remote area of Rome in the upper room at Via di S. Basileos, two men were hovering over another. One would have thought an intense grilling was going on if one could view the silhouettes from the corner looking through the pulled down shades in the corner room above.
Dateline: Rome - Ogidi's apartment flat - November 4, 4:45 A.M.
"Will he be alright?" a concerned voice asked.
"He will live. He was very fortunate the blow was not higher."
Was he dreaming, Gallagher wondered? Who was talking? The voice sounded familiar, but -
"It is God's good fortune you were there and not afraid to act," the first voice intoned.
Pat could hear this exchange of terse conversation. He couldn't figure it out. He was lying in a dark world of pain and confusion. His brain wave patterns seemed to be short-circuited. Unless he was dead and this was...HELL!
Ridiculous thought. Hell for him would be forever the vision of Karel and the swinging death club. Now he was remembering. Nightmare? No, reality started to flood through him. He silently questioned his aching self. He couldn't locate the pain. It was everywhere but nowhere, and he didn't want to think. But his brain, acting independently of his body's wishes, worked and the gray cells clicked and clanked, finally meshing into place. Soon he realized he couldn't be dead if he heard voices talking. The pain searing through him in such waves of agony alerted him he was still alive, but hurting. Definitely hurting.
Why couldn't he open his eyes? Better to face whatever awaited him, he thought grimly, light-headedly. At least he wasn't lying in that filthy street. His hands rested on something smooth...soft. His fingers managed to press the cushion. He could sense his wrists move and a groan of pain finally escaped from his throat.
The first voice noticed the movement, "I think he is coming to. Thank God."
"Better get some whiskey. Top shelf," barked the second voice, a deeper one with a crisp accent. I think he is going to need something to shock his senses."
Soon a shot-glass of bourbon was held to Pat's lips and trickled over the tongue, down the gullet. Ahh, life began to surge within the strapping Texan. He moved and moaned more.
"Pat? Patrick, my friend, can you hear me?"
All Pat could answer was a shriek of pain. Ooowwww!"
"Huh?" Pat was trying to shake the cobwebs of the void, trying to open his eyes.
"He is going to be okay," the deeper voice assured the first, then addressed Pat, "just take it easy. We're here with you."
We're. Who the hell were we? Finally Pat's eyelashes fluttered, a muscle twitched and his eyelids slid upward a fraction causing the light in the room to pierce him with a new blinding flash. He groaned loudly and clamped his eyes shut again.
He could hear shuffling in the room, the suggestion made by the deeper voice to "cover the lamp with a towel," and then he was urged to try again to open his eyes.
Pat struggled to unlock the lids that sealed out the light. Then slowly his pupils came into view of the two men, but the light forced them shut again.
"Do not close your eyes yet. There is the possibility of a concussion," the deeper voice warned as his hands clasped Pat's arm tightly in trying to keep him awake.
The grip. Pat knew it immediately and instinctively his eyes flashed recognition, "You're the one
"Yes," acknowledged the deeper voice. "Here drink all of this." He eased the rest of the 100-proof moonshine down Pat's throat. It was definitely a wake-up call as Pat struggled to sit up. He couldn't turn his aching head, but he slid his eyes in the direction of the voice. It was a blur. Pat knew however this was the man in the alleyway, the man who'd shown him Karel's body, and who had... What had he done then?
The fuzzy profile turned, and Pat could feel the strong hand gently lifting Pat's throbbing head from the soft pillow and braced him as Gallagher sipped at the fiery liquid again. He choked and sputtered and groaned from the effort, but the man only encouraged him to finish every drop. The effort would do him good.
Good! Gallagher knew now what walking death was like. Christ, he felt terrible.
The man helped him lie his head back down, and in a few seconds the whiskey began to stimulate his circulation. Pat felt a tingling warmth in his limbs and the mental alacrity he needed began to blossom. Memories of his first drink back behind the boathouse in Shreveport as a young teen tinged his sense of recognition.
"Where the hell am I? Pat asked hoarsely, choked by the whiskey. "And who the hell are you? What happened back there?" Always the inquisitive reporter.
Moving behind him as he spoke a totally familiar sight came into his view. Pat could see the source of the first voice. It was Niki Andriopoulos as a wide smile filled the Greek priest's face.
"Your impatience has not suffered from the blows to your body, I see," said the source of the other voice, this one totally familiar and completely unexpected.
Despite the pain, Pat tried to sit up but was too weak. He collapsed back against the pillow a wide grin creased his sore jaw as he gasped, "Niki! Thank God, you're alive!"
"But of course, my American friend. Someone has to watch over you."
Reality flooded back as Pat blurted out, "Elias and Fasif are dead and now...Karel."
"Yes, I know. Our ranks dwindle." Sadness, but not despair permeated Niki's response.
"How?" was all Pat could manage.
"You must rest so you can regain your strength. Your pulse was alarmingly low." It was the voice of the other man in the room.
"Who are you? And why'd - -?" Pat snapped.
Niki tried to assuage his anxiety. "This, Patrick, is Dr. Makuta Ogidi. He saved your life, my friend."
"But you couldn't save Karel's!" Pat was not in a good mood.
"Do not be upset with your rescuer, Patrick, he too arrived too late to save dear Karel." Niki remanded him. "But thank God he saved you from the same fate. You must rest, my friend. Your task is hardly finished just because someone took a baseball bat to your head."
Sheepishly, Pat fixed his dazed glaze on Ogidi, "I'm glad you were on deck. Sure like to know who you are and where you figure into all this."
Niki nodded to Ogidi, "Get used to the questions. Reporters."
Ogidi acknowledged Niki's humor as he addressed Pat. "The question is: do you really want to know? Remember, ignorance is bliss."
"I'm hardly in a state of bliss," Pat reasoned, "mostly due to ignorance."
Andriopoulos held his finger up, motioning to Ogidi, "No so dumb, No?"
Pat was regaining his senses. "I may have muddled it up tonight, but I put my life on the line. Now I want some answers."
Niki tried to calm him. "Do not distress yourself further, Pat. Our esteemed colleague's words should give you much to ponder."
"Christ, Niki," Pat retorted in frustration, "don't you have any friends who aren't mysterious and filled with ponderous pearls of wisdom?"
"I'm afraid, my friend, not any more."
"You sure about that?" Pat replied skeptically.
"Yes," Niki assured him, "Now we need to develop an extraordinary sense of Solomon's wisdom and Job's patience...though you're still working on the latter, I believe?"
"Don't hold your breath." Pat concluded. "I missed out on that attribute when God passed out virtue. I was too busy demanding action. You know, like God, grant me patience and I want it right NOW!"
"Enough chatter," reprimanded the African who in the meantime had taken from the shelf more gauze from his medical kit. "I will tell you what you want to know, but I need to finish wrapping your shoulder and chest."
"Fair enough," agreed Pat, wincing in pain as he tried to turn.
"As your friend said, I am known as Ogidi, Dr. Makuta Ogidi from Somalia."
"If you're a doctor, what're you doin' playin' James Bond?" Pat grilled.
"It would appear," Ogidi quipped, "for the moment at least keeping you alive." That quieted Pat for a moment or so as Ogidi continued, "I need to finish wrapping your chest. You do not make a very good 'baseball'," Ogidi smiled sardonically, loosening Pat's shirt. "Some of your stuffing nearly spilled out."
"Thanks for keeping it in, Doc. If you're gentle, I promise to listen."
Next issue: Eighth 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!