The modern, spacious auditorium of Paul VI Hall was practically filled to capacity. Someone had begun a series of Ave's and soon all were praying the Rosary in Latin. It was truly a sight to behold. Faith builds character and character depends on God's graces and providence. This morning He was smiling on His little ones enveloped in a reverent rote of Ave Maria's interrupted every ten by a Gloria Patri and Pater Noster.
The wave of Ave's had not penetrated the exterior, or into the circular Square that was blanketed with umbrellas and wet pavement.
Dateline: Rome - St. Peter's Square - November 3, 8:30 A.M.
Pat was prepared. A wide umbrella kept him dry as he walked gingerly under the Bernini Colonade towards the Bronze Doors. He had placed the medical pin on his sportcoat and the Rosary was very visible in his right hand, as instructed. Several young ladies passed by him. He smiled, some smiled back but moved on. No recognition yet. The sea of mourners had moved closer to the western side of the square away from him and he was grateful for that as he felt a tap on his shoulder.
"You've come. I'm glad" It was Karel Shenneker.
He turned to see a beautiful young woman, partially hidden beneath a large rainhood, on her coat the identical pin. Awkwardly he blurted, "You are Karel?"
She laughed with a lilt that reminded him of Corrie. "The rain was not expected."
"You got that right," Pat nodded, "It's no picnic."
"Such phraseology, you Americans." Karel's tone turned serious. "Listen my friend of Fasif, I'll leave here first. Do not follow. Remain in the square for awhile."
"Take a taxi in exactly one hour to this location." She slipped him a piece of paper, smiled and soon exited behind a column and seemingly dissolved into the crowd.
Pat stood like a flummoxed Yank as more mourners filed past him.
Dateline: Rome - Near Citta Universitaria - November 3, 8:55 A.M.
Niki's cab dropped him at the corner of Viale dell'Universita and Viale di Scienze. Students were scurrying past on bikes, on foot, even a few skateboards here and there. With his rugged look he fit right into the college atmosphere. Across from him was the impressive Citta Universitaria. To his right was the Ministereo Difesa Aeronautica. Perfect, he thought as he mounted the flight of marble steps to the entrance of the aeronautics building and moved quickly to the front desk. A bespectacled woman looked up, methodically suspicious of Niki's presence.
"Scusi," Niki's brown pupils searched his eyelids for the perfect words. "Vorrei parlare a Lorenzo Stravianzzi? Ahh, Puo dirmi? Ah, plastica, di che cos e?" He was stumbling with his Italian he knew.
"No, scusi," Niki apologized as he strugged on, "La Grecia" Parla grecia?" He hoped they could converse in his native tongue if not Italian, but it didn't look good.
"No, mi dispiace." A pause and then she asked, "hmmm, capisce...parla inglese?"
"Bene, what may I do?"
Niki decided to cut to the chase and just ask for his old friend. "Is Lorenzo Stravianzzi in?"
She told Niki, "momento. wait over there, per favore."
Niki complied, thanking her as he backed away and over to a reception area to wait. Niki had not seen Stravianzzi in five years. Old seminary buddies. Lorenzo left after the second year of theology. He was a scientist at heart and had followed his ambitions in technology and research. For seven years he had worked for the Ministry of Defense, specializing in aeronautics. Niki wanted Lorenzo to examine the plastic material he had peeled off the side of the coffin during his claustrophobic journey to Rome. Something didn't add up.
A few minutes and the soprano voice of Lorenzo could be heard humming a cantata as he sauntered down the hallway toward Niki. Lorenzo could never sneak up on anyone, Niki chuckled as he warmly embraced his former classmate.
"Nikolas, you are a sight, a beooootiful sight - multa bene por l'occhio!"
"And you, Lorenzo, a few pounds you have added, no?"
"Ah, si, the good life, Nikolas. I must admit a priest I would never have made," said Lorenzo with a wide smile on his face. "Fasting and Lorenzo do not mix. You see?" He broke into a wider grin.
It was infectious as Niki's eyes danced with delight at his friend. God knew what was best for Lorenzo. A brilliant mind, but analytical, not aptly suited for theology or philosophy for that matter. A contemplative Stravianzzi was not.
"What brings you here, my friend?"
His question brought Niki back to the matter at hand as he retrieved a small strip of plastic he had rolled up. "This, Lorenzo, can you analyze it for me?"
"Hmm, it looks familiar. How long do you have?"
"Not much, it's vital I know as soon as possible. Sorry to inconvenience you and-"
"Think nothing of it, Nikolas. If it is this small piece of plastic that brings us together, then I accept that. Oh, it is so good to see you again. Say, 11:30? That's two hours or so. I need that time. I'll meet you here and we have lunch?
"Sounds wonderful. On one condition, Lorenzo."
"I buy the lunch."
"Fine, and I'll buy the vino." Lorenzo chuckled as he embraced Niki's shoulder with his right arm, giving it a good squeeze. "I will see you in two hours then. In sequito fino, arrivederci."
With that he scooped up the plastic roll carefully and picked up in perfect melody where he left when he spied Niki. That was Lorenzo. Niki looked at his watch. Two hours he could relax and walk about in the soothing rain in the park across the street, get in his daily prayers and a Rosary or two. Perfect. Something going smoothly wasn't what he had been accustomed to over the past twelve hours.
Dateline: Rome - Piza San Croce in Gerusalemme - November 3, 9:35 A.M.
Five miles or so south of Niki the taxi conveying Pat to his next rendezvous turned onto Vialle Carlo Felice and he could see the church ahead. A baroque building with a high steeple on the right. It was the Church of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem where the relic of the True Cross, retrieved by Saint Helena early in the fourth century, was venerated. As the cab swung to the right off the road and to the wide but narrow plaza in front of the church, he grabbed his umbrella, paid his fare and exited the taxi.
The rain had subsided considerably and Pat discarded any idea of opening his umbrella. Just a short ways to go and he'd be inside. He crossed the cobblestones and up the series of steps unaware of a figure watching him from the shadows across the street.
Opaque light drifted through the high windows of the dimly lit nave and apse as Gallagher blessed himself at the large marble holy water font and moved up the side aisle toward a confessional where he was instructed to meet Karel again. Cloak-and-dagger. That's what this was, thought Pat. It all seemed so surreal. What was it? God getting even for all those years he had turned away from Him and His Church? Well, he was back now, but was it too late? First the Pope, now Fasif and Elias. What about Niki? Had he been there? Just who was that person who called? Pat pondered as he neared the confessional.
Pulling the curtain behind to conceal him in this small, dark space, he knelt down, the squeak amplified in the echoes bouncing off these ancient walls. How would or could he tell Karel about her uncle?
The wooden screen separating the booth slid back and he could see a hooded figure.
"Now we can speak. I am Karel. I come from Shenneker."
"Yeah, I know. Pleased to meet 'ya. I'm Pat. Pat Gallagher."
"Good. Then we have no secrets between us," Karel exhaled as she removed her hood revealing a chestnut mane of dark hair that cascaded over her shoulders. In the light he couldn't tell if it was totally black or dark brown. Definitely not blonde.
Innocence personified thought Pat as he tried to summon up the courage to tell her the bad news.
"In that case, there's something I gotta tell yo---"
Karel interrupted immediately, her eyes rolled to the side as if hearing an interloper. "Shhhh."
They both froze as a worshipper outside the enclosed cubicles walked dangerously close to where they were. Once the person continued, Karel changed the tone.
"We must not tarry," the young Shenneker cautioned. "First, I give you my news. Then you will have knowledge in the event we must go separate ways."
"I'm listening," Pat was resigned to wait for the opportune time to break it to her gently.
"I talked with a man, a street beggar, the day after the massacre." Karel continued, "He told me of a clandestine meeting of four who we suspect are a key cell of the Legion. We must find this place, try to search for clues."
Karel nodded, "I've scheduled a meeting with Tenazi the beggar tonight at 8. I will be able to get a clearer descriptions of these members for Tenazi saw the eyes of one of the men. It scared the wits out of the old vagrant. He said the man's eyes glowed with an inner fire - red - the fire of evil."
"Sounds like the Basilisk to me," Pat affirmed. "But, I've got to tell-"
Again disturbance outside their confines prevented him from telling her. This time they would not go quietly. It was a busload of tourists. They can be the noisiest.
Whispering, Karel warned, "We must be careful. The Legion can infiltrate any group."
"If we can't stay here, Karel, where can we meet?"
"The Zona Via Dulce, a small marketplace near the Pantheon. We'll meet in one hour. That will give you time to get there and blend in. We'll meet near the fruit."
How ironic thought Pat, he would have to tell her then. He would have to bruise the fruit, so to speak, with the worm of reality. God he hated being the bearer of bad news. "I'll be there," is all he could manage.
Dateline: Rome - Near the Via Dulce Market - November 3, 10:40 A.M.
Roman taxis. Ah, thought Pat, they outta be outlawed he grimaced as the cabbie was truly lost. It was amazing how they found their way as soon as the passenger produced more money. Amazing. That is what Pat had to resort to. Ah, zona dei negozi! exclaimed the driver as if he just had an epiphany.
"Near the Pantheon," Pat reminded him again.
Si, Pantheon. Prego.
In no time he had deposited the American reporter in the midst of a crowd of shoppers. No tip for this driver. Just my luck, thought Pat, that I'd get him again!
As the taxi lit out before the door was even closed, Pat started to make a typical Italian gesture with his one hand on his elbow but saw the worthlessness in such behavior and stopped himself in time, just waving his hand in disgust instead as he started surveying the area looking for Karel.
He found her, or rather she found him right where she said near the fruit stand.
"You're late." She was reprimanding him, this lass possibly twenty-years younger than him.
"Yeah, well, you know this city. Me, I'm just a damn tourist!"
With a lilt to her voice she shot back, "I didn't see you staying behind with that busload of them at the church."
It broke the ice and prompted a chuckle from Pat. "Hey, I apologize, I'm new to this game, Karel."
"And, believe it or not, Patrick, I am too. In fact, I'm very worried."
"No kiddin'," he kibitzed, but Karel was dead serious now.
"Just minutes ago I tried to call Shenneker. There was no answer. When I checked with the operator she said it had been disconnected. I also tried Fasif. The same results."
No time like the present to break the news Pat decided as he swallowed hard and tried to be tenderly in tone. "Karel, I know this may sound cold, coming from a stranger and all, but--"
"What are you trying to say?" Her face showed she expected the worst.
"I'm afraid it's bad. Mighty bad. Fasif was murdered last night. I'm sor--"
Karel buried her head in his chest sobbing, the realization of her worst fears evident. He clutched her, trying to console her while his thoughts raced to Corrie. "There, there, it'll be okay." How stupid that must sound, Pat thought as he heard himself parroting those same words everyone always says when they don't know what else to say in consolation.
He handed her a handkerchief. Thank God he hadn't used it. At times like this crazy thoughts and concerns fly into the conscious, invaded by the subconscious. "Here, wipe the tears."
"Thanks," she managed. Soon she had regained her composure. Still sniffing, she asked hoping against hope that he was wrong, "Are you sure? You have proof?"
"Uh, no, of course not. I got a call in the middle of the night about Fasif and Elias."
"Elias, too? From who? Who called you?" Now she was demanding.
"I don't know, Karel. But he knew about you. He called to warn us. I'm concerned about Niki, whether--"
Now my concerns for my mother grow stronger. If they could reach my uncle, then--"
It was Pat's turn to interrupt, trying hard to ease her worries. "I'm sure she's gone into hiding, Karel."
"Oh, I hope to God you are right, Mr. Gallagher. We must pray."
"Yeah, and watch our own tails."
He noticed a string of garlic cloves hanging a few feet away and lifted them off the hook. "They say wearin' garlic can be good luck."
Trying to be brave, Karel retorted, "And leave a scent the Legion can easily follow? No!"
"Ya got a point there."
"It's vital, Pat, that all of us be very cautious."
"I hear ya there. So what's the battle plan?"
"Now we must search for that basement corridor, for clues."
"I'm ready when you are."
"Definitely," she replied, trying to keep a stiff upper lip. "Time is of the essence and we have no other solid lead as yet on their location."
"Then let's get it done." Nothing like the direct, rush-in-where-angels-fear-to-tread approach.
"Don't be too hasty, my rash American friend. Now is not the time. Better to carry out our plans under cover of darkness."
"Ah, in other words, take a few tricks out of the Legion's book."
"Exactly. For now, go back to your hotel. Rest and pray. Do not contact anyone."
"No one?" Pat's face showed disappointment but resignation to do as she asked.
"No one," she insisted. "Tonight at 9 we will meet at the Via Magdalena, next to the cobbler's shop. Study the area maps well and wear dark clothes. There's a sign beneath a pair of wine velvet shoes on display. I will be in the alleyway about thirty to forty feet down the street. Carry your rosary, Pat, but not the pin."
"Yeah, but what's the Rosary for? I mean what good--"
"A lot of good, Patrick. It is your most powerful weapon. Never be without it."
"Boy, you sound just like Fasif and Niki."
"Indeed, I was taught well. I will make amends for Fasif's death, but it will be of no avail if we discard this link to Heaven."
"Now you sound like my grandma."
"Sound advice, Patrick, listen to her, listen to your heart. When you arrive in the alley, just whistle something, just a few notes that I'll recognize."
Almost on cue, he whistled a few notes of Take me out to the ballgame. "It's the only tune I know," he replied sheepishly.
"I recognize it. "Take me to the game?"
"Close," patronized Pat, "Just be careful, Karel. Three strikes an' yer out at the ol' bawwwl game!"
Next issue: Seventh Chapter - Episode Six
"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!