E vening gradually descended on Europe. The Seven Hills of Rome sparkled as the twilight blended with the lights of the city. From the air no one could see the treachery and intrigue that was underway in this eternal city. From the Heavens all was peaceful, at ground level the clock was ticking.
Dateline: Rome - November 2, 6:10 p.m.
The traffic was normally heavy as the cab transporting Pat from the airport to the hotel inched its way into the city. Italians are a friendly lot. Giorgio was the driver of his cab. Pat had introduced himself and immediately Giorgio embraced him as if he had been a long lost friend, "Ah, Patricio, bene. Multa bene. Ah, Esperia. Prima di lusso!" He approved of Pat's accommodations. Good. God, you've got to love the Italians. They can stab you in the back smiling all the way, mused Pat, and you still love 'em. Not so the French. Gallagher gave a thankful sigh he was in the land of the Caesars, not the Napoleons.
As Giorgio headed northeast towards the city from Fiumicino Airport, the tall cypress trees reminded him of the same flora at Fasif's palatial estate. Pat thought about the last several hours. Not bad time, Pat calculated. Leave Kuwait City at 4:00 and arrive in Rome at 5:45. In actuality it was an uneventful three-hour and 54 minute flight. Several somber clerics and a few nuns and nurses along. They had been at the Field of Death earlier as well and realized there was no way they could do anymore. He understood they were with Caritas in Rome. He wished Niki could have accompanied him. He'd known the Greek less than 24 hours and yet he had formed a bond with this mysterious priest and an even more mysterious doctor who had really confounded Pat with the volume of material he had imparted.
Slowly but surely Pat was piecing it all together. It still boggled his mind. It helped that Niki had filled him in on the gaps Fasif had not gone into detail on. He understood more the bond between Niki and Fasif, how it had been Niki, while still a seminarian, who Fasif took under his wing, how he instilled in the young Greek appreciation for the Roman Rite. Though that sounded strange considering the Eastern Rite of the Maronite and Chaldean Church, it was the Tridentine Rite which impressed Fasif the most. There was something more about Fasif that Pat didn't know instinctively, but intuitively he suspected. Niki had also celebrated a memorial Mass for Malachi after his untimely, mysterious death. Because of his connections with The Mossad Fasif and Helene had to keep their own identity a secret. Also keeping clandestine was Helene's christening of Karel. To have the daughter of a member of The Mossad baptized into the Catholic Faith...that would have been the ruination of Helene as a person and the end of her diplomatic career. Therefore Niki Andriopoulos was called upon again. He baptized the child and took the added, but wonderful role as her godfather. No wonder Niki followed her development as a person of God and sought only her welfare. According to Niki, she does Helene and her Uncle Fasif credit. Also, according to Niki, shortly after the birth of Karel, Niki also served as a witness to some notarized secret papers that had been couriered from high levels in Rome.
Ah, yes, Rome. Here he was at last. As the cab turned onto the Viale Trastevere, Pat thought about what a dedicated man Niki was and how much he looked forward to meeting this Karel. He wondered if he'd ever see Niki or Fasif again, if he'd ever get to meet Karel's mother. As he mulled over what Karel might look like, a multi-car accident on Viale Trastevere and the shouting that surrounded it interrupted his thoughts.
Giorgio rolled down his window, pointing his fist and emitting refrains that surely must be cussing as only Italians can do. One did not need to know the language, the gestures told the story. Just as quickly a carabinieri signaled for him to veer his car to the right.
Pat's driver muttered something, yelled "Prego!" sarcastically and sharply made a left-hand turn up the hill.
Pat craned his neck to see the Roman police officer waving his fist frantically as the cab put distance between the officer of the law and this fleeing cab that wasn't going to be directed along a snake-like procession that could take hours. This Roman taxi billed its fare on distance, not time. He had other fares to curry this evening. Stalled traffic meant less customers. Giorgio was only too happy to take Pat to the Esperia. There would surely be a supper crowd waiting for taxi service at the entrance. Big tippers. But if he got there after the rush there would be slim pickings.
Motivated by this prospect, Giorgio put his pedal to the metal, well-worn medal Pat noticed, the black rubber almost totally worn off. Yes, Giorgio's prowess on the curves was the caliber of someone on the NASCAR circuit thought Pat as he grabbed the looped belt above the window, bracing himself and holding on tight. Away from the bottlenecked logjam the cab sped, cutting up Viale Glorioso where, after many twists and turns that left Gallagher gasping for breath, he turned onto Via Aurelia at the Garibaldi Piazza and headed north up the hill where it crested.
Soon Pat could see the majestic dome of St. Peter's, the setting sun glimmering off the western side of the Basilica. Shortly the cab descended to the bridge over the Tiber at the Piazza Rovere and headed up the one-way thoroughfare on the eastern side of the river, the last open space for Giorgio and Pat before once again having no other avenue but to join the bottleneck of noisy, evening traffic. Giorgio had run out of shortcuts. All roads may lead to Rome, but only one led to the Esperia and it was heavily clogged.
As motorbikes and small cars the size of kitchen sinks made 90 degree zigzag cuts throughout the maze of vehicles inching along, Pat mused that if one could drive in Rome, one could drive anywhere. As much as he loved to drive, as much as he wanted to take the wheel rather than the jolly crazed one that was chauffeuring him to the Esperia, he knew hijacking was a fellony even in Rome. He decided to sit back and enjoy the view. After all, the cabbie had gotten him this far in one piece. The lights on the Ponte San Angelo caught his eye with the majestic statues standing sentinel every 50 feet on each side of this magnificent bridge that led straight to an imposing circular edifice.
"Scusi, is that the monument they call the Weddin' Cake?" Pat blurted with all the naivete of a tourist.
"No, Patricio, you want Vittoriano. This is Castel SantAngelo. Si?"
"Ah, si," replied Pat as he leaned forward to get a better look at the looming round castle. Little did he realize how his path would cross those two who were holed up on the third level still in an unconscious, weakened state. Little did he know just what was hidden and yet to be revealed.
"Many tourists?" Pat asked in probing whether it was open to the public.
The driver chuckled. "No, no more. Shut down. Why? Ah, who knows. Many think the terrorist threats..."
"Ah, yeah, I know all about that," the passenger from Texas interjected. Georgio responded in kind, waving his hands frantically at an invisible foe.
Georgio's hand gestures frightened Pat as the Roman taxi driver had both hands off the wheel and was turning his head back toward Pat. These Italians Pat thought, how do they make it through a day? Then again, with all that has happened in the last 36 hours, how does anyone get through the day? He instinctively reached into his pocket and squeezed the Rosary beads Fasif had given him. Somehow, someway, that gave him comfort. Somehow he knew God would be with him through it all.
Giorgio's laugh reminded him of Niki's easy-going, no pretense chuckling. As welcoming as that was, there was a burning sensation coursing through Pat' entire being. It wasn't the scotch and soda he'd had on the flight. No. Rather, it was the knowledge which seeped into his bloodstream with every beat of his heart that the depravity of the Basilisk had already reached out and marked him; tracked him from the moment he'd landed in Basra to the time at Fasif's to this point in time as the cab turned onto the street that would take him directly to the Esperia Hotel. He had been smelling the Basilisk's fetid breath and it was getting stronger.
Next issue: Sixth Chapter - Episode Four
"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!