The afternoon had grown colder, darker as the sun took a holiday from Rome. The discovery by Niki of the purpose of the analyzed piece of plastic had caused him great concern and he had returned immediately to Via di S. Basileos. Dr. Makuta Ogidi was nowhere to be found when Niki arrived. He would wait throughout the afternoon, not knowing exactly how he would approach Ogidi. But he knew the African had been there. That he could see by the rearrangement of furniture and a fresh bouquet of flowers on the table. In November!?! Bizarre, but then what wasn't bizarre in these days following the terrible conflagration near the birthplace of Abraham?
* * * * * *
News analysts had assumed much, leaving a great deal of the facts to conjecture for few were still able to examine the key areas of the Field of Death. Now the world was beginning to focus on the mourning part with eulogies and funerals for all heads of state and religious leaders killed in the holocaust in Iraq.
Pat was gnawing at the bit to contact Vic, if, indeed, he still even had a job. He also had his wits about him enough to realize he was being watched and he would jeopardize not only Vic, but Corrie by trying to contact them. Without his MirrorReflector card, he could not use a secure line. He would have to wait, hope and pray. Thus he rested at the Esperia, rested for the evening rendezvous with Karel. He felt much more comfortable dealing with this nefarious Legion during the daylight hours. Why had she waited until tonight? He shuddered at having to deal with these devils in the shadows of the night.
Dateline: Rome - Castel Sant'Angelo - November 3, 4:40 P.M.
Huddled in a damp, cold alcove, Riage Benziger knew this evening he must go for help. The Pope had gone in and out of consciousness throughout the day. Though the loyal Swiss Guard had tried to get the weakened Pontiff to eat more, to drink more water, he realized that one can reach a point where no matter how dehydrated, no matter how hungry, one is not able to ingest or digest anything. Such was the case with the man who all but Riage knew to be slain in the greatest explosion in history two and a half days ago. Indeed the whole world was in mourning for a man that still lived. How much longer depended on how successful Benziger would be.
He had built a small fire, wrapped the Vicar in burlap and old vestments he found in one of the museums which he had broken into. God would forgive him for such trespassing considering the cause.
He himself was weak, drained of strength by his feats of loyalty. He would not even be able to stand were it not for the condiments and water he had found in the abandoned restaurant near the top of this massive, medieval castle that fended off the volleys of Charles V's armies during the upheaval in the sixteenth century. Here now in the twenty-first century so much had changed and yet he felt as helpless as Pope Clement VII who was ultimately captured. Who could Riage trust? In this age of cell phones and palm computers, how ironic that Benziger was catapulted back to the time of the Reformation. No modern conveniences would help him here. That communication worked both ways for nothing of the news of the past three days had reached the Swiss Guard. He was in the dark as darkness settled on Rome for the evening. Under nightfall he had to get back to his commandant and inform him the Pope was still alive. But who could he trust? He focused on one man he felt sure he could trust. Yet, as he pulled the course material up around the neck of the comatose Holy Father for further warmth, Benziger wondered just how deep was the penetration of the enemy?
Dateline: Rome - Hotel Esperia - November 3, 6:25 P.M.
A winter norther had swept into Rome this early night, like a thief in the night small icicles were already forming shards of cold rain. Yet Pat Gallagher was oblivious to the elements of this reality for he was caught in the vortex of images that transformed according to his subconsciousness as Niki, Fasif, Elias, Blix, Vic, Ben, Corrie and Karel floated in and out of his dreams morphing into death masks of those whose visage he beheld when the explosions ripped across the screen less than three nights ago.
His altered state was sated with silent screams of agony and terror, the last conscious thoughts or acts of most of those poor people before death had blotted out all existence. Their mouths became great ovals of blackness; in those dark holes he saw eyes staring back at him, haunting him.
The kind of eyes Fasif had described to him, that Tenazi had told Karel of.
Pat bolted upright, groping in the dim light for the travel clock he kept by the bed. 6:30! Morning or evening. He struggled to get his bearings, finally realizing he had not missed his appointment with Karel, had not slept through until the morrow. With a sigh of relief in reality, if such could seek relief from that, he stretched, instinctively reaching for his Pall Malls. Oh, hell, he thought. That can wait, he had better get rid of the 5 o-clock shadow that already had heavily stubbled. He gargled, stared at himself in the mirror and noticed how much he had aged in just the last few days. It was depressing.
A growling stomach alerted him he had better grab a quick meal before his meeting with Karel in the alleyway at 9 p.m.
The hotel restaurant hummed with the chatter of tourists tonight. Pat's luck held and he got a small table to himself that was set in the far corner near the swinging door where waiters constantly came and went from the kitchen.
He ordered a standard pasta dish which was served within minutes. He gulped most of it down without so much as tasting its excellence. His thoughts were not on his stomach this night. They were still caught in the twilight of his receding dreams - nightmares; in the uncertainty of what awaited him and Karel this evening, and of his cara mia back in Texas. Ah, what he wouldn't give to be in her arms right now. Lonesomeness poured through his veins, almost paralyzing him. He wanted to so desperately connect with Corrie, with Vic and Ben. Yet any attempt might place them in jeopardy. He couldn't afford that. Despite the pain he knew they must be feeling because of his silence, Vic's evident fury at Pat's apparent AWOL to his journalistic commitment, Corrie's consternation and anger at his dropping off the face of the earth, he realized there was no alternative. That pained him the more. Yet, the paralysis of worry soon passed and he wolfed down the rest of the entree, passing on both the desert tray and an after dinner drink, tempting though they were.
Dateline: Rome - Via Dulce District - November 3, 8:50 P.M.
Just Pat's luck that he'd get a cabby who was unfamiliar with the Via Dulce District. Even though he had a map, the driver still dropped him five blocks away. Literally dropped him. Suddenly developing a "non capisco" attitude, the taxi driver wanted to be quit of his American passenger as soon as possible and was only too happy to stop while Pat exited the cab to get a closer look at the street sign blurred by rain. He wanted to get his bearings so he could help the lost Sicilian cab driver. The latter was spooked by the area, yet had no qualms leaving Pat stranded, unprotected as a pedestrian for as quickly as he deposited Pat, he took off. Tires screeched over the wet cobblestone and Pat was beached on the lonely shore of Rome's shady side. The sounds of the cab soon faded and the sounds of the night took over, muffled by the rain as he walked toward his destination in a light mist that had 'miserable' written on every drop.
As he walked he clutched his Rosary. A cat darted across a roof and the shadow startled him.
He clutched the Rosary more firmly as he arrived at Via Magdalena. It was a slum, a place where the poorest of the poor shopped and discarded the refuse of their life.
There were no lights here to alleviate the depressing squalor. His footsteps echoed loudly on the cobblestone street, littered with decayed produce, paper, boxes and the wet slime produced by the all-day rain. Instinctively he hugged the buildings, trying to remain unseen should anyone but Karel be watching. The silent dank darkness unnerved him.
Thirty yards down on his left he spotted the cobbler shop where the wine velvet shoes were set beneath a sign that said, 'Va molto bene' which meant handmade shoes that fit very well. He wondered who could afford such luxury in this pitiful place.
He began to softly whistle Take me out to the ballgame. It was the signal they had devised. Pat expected Karel to move from the shadows and summon him quickly. He wasn't in the least prepared for the sudden happenings of the next several seconds.
Next issue: Seventh Chapter - Episode Eight
"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!