While the darkness of the principalities was only too evident in Rome this night, the winter sun was preparing to pull the shades over Dallas as the clouds gathered dark momentum over the western plains. Frustration had engulfed Corrie Morelli waiting for word from Pat. Was Vic putting her off? If so, why? Thank God the fatherly Ben O'Fallon had soothed her angst. He would be the buffer between Corrie and Victor. But she had heard nothing lately from Benjamin either. The tension was steadily mounting, aided by the mental fuel of the known and unknown. The known in the revelation pouring from every network and cable news outlet of even more grizzly details of the terrible holocaust less than four days ago; the unknown in not knowing when or where the terrorists would strike next. Corrie had heard enough to fear the worst. What she was about to hear was what she feared most.
Dateline: Dallas - - November 4th, 5:30 p.m.
The traffic slowed to a crawl on the Expressway heading north out of the city. Vehicle lights casting a blinding blur of ribbon as bumper to bumper they inched forward. Corrie strummed her fingers against the wheel as she impatiently urged the car ahead of her to move up, fumbling with the cd player in trying to reach the set she sought. Another sound caused her to freeze in her thoughts. Her cell phone. Normally this was part and parcel of her day, a welcome attachment to her life. But for some reason this evening it was and interloper.
"Corrie, glad I got a hold of you." It was Victor and from the tone of his voice she imagined the worse.
"I need to see you as soon as possible."
"It's about Pat, isn't it?" Her words echoed through the sepulchre of thought.
"Yes." That was all Vic Van Wess could divulge for the moment.
"Oh, Vic, is it bad?"
"I can't say much on the phone. I need to see you. Where are you?"
Craning her neck to see the next exit sign ahead, "Backed up on the Expressway a mile from SMU."
"You know the Le Peep Restaurant on Buckner, Corrie?"
"Yeah, I can ease over and take the Mockingbird exit...eventually, and cut across."
"Good, I'll buy dinner. Can you make it in half an hour?"
"I'll try. Traffic's a bear right now."
Dateline: Outside of Rome - Brunatti's Villa in Palermo Heights - November 4th, 11:40 p.m.
The fire flickered in the fireplace, burning low. A glowing red mass of ashes seemed to be watching two men sipping brandy near the hearth.
"The master is not pleased," a somber Lucio Serrani acclaimed to his companion Guillaume Brunatti as the two sat in the latter's study high above the eternal city in the expansive Palermo Heights area.
"I wouldn't think he would be, Lucio."
Sipping a fine brandy which Brunatti had provided for this miserable night, Serrani responded. "Too much has gone awry of late. What about Maria?"
"Dead," he stated to Lucio, who nodded casually as if just told that his bank balance was correct.
"When she failed to stop the enemy at that restaurant, her fate was sealed, Guillaume. The power within her destroyed her in the same manner Shenneker died."
"Ah," as Brunatti smacked his lips as if imagining the scene of destruction, "the master ripped her apart. A fitting punishment for one who does not perform to maximum potential."
"Do not forget," reminded Serrani, "it was necessary. The master spewed her body all over the street, making it damn difficult for the authorities to know who she was. DNA or no DNA."
"A horrible sight," cackled Brunatti, "A tribute to his power, though."
"And a warning, Guillaume, to all who witnessed her death."
"Yes, well then, Lucio, tomorrow morning we shall follow up to make sure they don't discover her true identity." Reaching behind him he retrieved the flask of brandy, "more, my friend?"
"Si, encora," Serrani encouraged. "Has he instructed you as to what is next?"
"Si, Lucio. I've already made contact with Elena. She's in place within the Vatican. She'll not fail, not as Maria Figuerido failed. "
"She had better not fail, my dear Senor Brunatti, or his wrath will fall on us as well."
"Grabe has, what they say 'German guts' and loyalty," Guillaume said forcefully, trying to make the assessment of this disciple of the basilisk sound concrete as he scowled, "Not weak like Maria. Maria wanted the power, did she not?"
"Yes. Don't we all?" Serrani spoke truth.
"It doesn't matter, Lucio, as long as the power flows from the master and is given back when the task is done. Maria failed to meet the test of obedience."
"We will not fall victim to that fault," added Serrani.
"Nor to our pride." Brunatti was adamant.
"We have spent too long, Guillaume, to find ourselves failing the master at the moment when he is ready to assume full power and his rightful authority over the world. Has he not promised us such glory that neither of us can imagine?"
"Has he not provided for us all these years?"
"Quite well," sighed Brunatti with utter satisfaction. "A few more tasks, and his reign will begin, and our kingdoms will reign with his. No, Lucio?"
"Si. But do not forget, Guillaume, that between us and a portion of the master's power lies the tasks allotted first to Macelli and now to Elena. Their success precedes our final task."
"Ah yes, Lucio. The anticipation is delicious."
"Then the candles are secure?"
"You worry too much, my dear anxious Serrani." Brunatti gently ran his fingers over the rim of his brandy snifter, smiling. "They are loaded and ready for disbursal. The truck arrives tomorrow."
"Bene. More devastation, Guillaume."
Raising his glass in a toast with Serrani, Brunatti exclaimed triumphantly, "New Nasiriyah took out temporary foundations, this will destroy the one permanent foundation standing in our way."
Serrani joined his glass as the two snifters clinked and the elixir of brandy cascaded into their blood streams with a rush of warmth and a taste of victory.
"We pledge our loyalty to the master," Serrani intoned. "We pledge our lives to make his reign possible."
"Long live the Basilisk" Brunatti replied and then began to laugh. Softly at first, then louder, as if the emotion had long been imprisoned within him. He threw his head back against the maroon leather chair and howled in laughter that echoed another laugh that he'd heard before - the mocking leer of the master. But he didn't care if the master heard him now. He was entitled to his moment of mirth. He had served well. Damn those who had not.
Dateline: Vatican City - Father Urazzi's office in the Vatican - November 4th, 11:45 p.m.
"You know it won't go well if you do not tell us the truth." Cardinal Josef Vendhem screeched as he circled the chair where a weakened Riage Benziger slumped, prevented from slipping off the chair by the rope binding his body to this furniture.
With Vendhem, a caricature of a Nazi gestapo if there ever was one, were Cardinal Antonio Macelli and his assistant cleric, Father Roberto Urazzi. The only light in the room, a desk lamp that had been twisted up to glare in Riage's face in hopes he would break and tell all. Such a scene in the movies might work, but in this all-too real scenario the world had been plunged into, the heat of the light only served to force Benziger to sweat ever more profusely. The more he was grilled, the more stubbornly he dug in, determined to be loyal to the end.
That did not deter Vendhem, "If the Holy Father does not show up, then you will pay dearly."
Macelli could at least see that his compadre was getting nowhere. Thus he changed tactics, "Where did you go, Captain Benziger?"
"I - I told you, your Eminence, I was knocked out." Riage stammered.
"But how did you get out?" shot back Urazzi. "The Closet was locked."
"I didn't say anything about a closet," Benziger pounced on Urazzi's mistake.
"Perhaps, my dear Riage," Macelli paused, trying to cover up for the faux pas of his assistant, "you play us for fools. Sister Bridget told us she locked it herself. There was nothing amiss when she was there...and you were nowhere in sight."
"I do not understand your line of questioning," the Swiss Guard murmured, pain seering through his body as the ropes burned against his perspiring flesh.
Vendhem stepped in front of Benziger, trying yet another tactic. "You can see, Antonio, he is lying. He's is trying to cover up a dastardly plot against our dear pontiff."
"That is not true," gasped Riage, "I would die for him."
"Perhaps you may," Vendhem icily replied as the phone rung on Urazzi's desk.
Urazzi picked it up, wondering who knew they were there at this time of the night, he cupped his hand over the speaker to muffle out any other noise in the room.
"Pronto." A few seconds, and the Judas-like priest turned to Macelli, gesturing that it was for him. The Italian prelate motioned Urazzi to stall which Urazzi did, hesitating and then telling the caller, "Si, momento."
The Vatican priest handed the phone to his boss. Macelli turned his back to Benziger, Urazzi and Vendhem. "Yes. I'll be there immediately." Click.
"I must go, Josef. Tape his mouth and keep him in the next room until later." Leering now ever more impatiently, Macelli turned to Benziger, "We shall soon get to the bottom of this."
With that he slithered out of the room to his urgent appointment.
"Father Urazzi, you heard His Eminence. Tape his mouth and take him into that room."
"Uh, yes, your Eminence. Ah, I can't move him by myself."
"Ah, very well, untie him from the chair and he can walk on his own into the room. I will not risk a hernia on such tripe. Hurry, be quick, dear man." Almost disgustingly, Vendhem belittled Urazzi,
"what Antonio sees in you, I have no idea."
Urazzi was embarrassed as he bowed like a clutz to the cardinal in a pitiful fashion, kneeling down to untie the ropes around Benziger's feet as Vendhem watched with the eyes of a vulture.
Riage's strength had practically left him and so he did not resist when Urazzi shoved Benziger's arms up past the heavy hemp that held him to the chair behind his back. He would await a better opportunity when the odds were better. Shuffling to his feet, his hands still bound behind his back, he watched Vendhem shift ever so slightly near the desk and pick up a paper weight as if to defend himself against this helpless guard, whose hands were still bound, his legs weaked by the rope that had cut off much of the of circulation to his feet. After two steps his knee gave out and Benziger tumbled forward towards Vendhem who was now behind the desk.
Urazzi was slow to respond as he bent down to pull the fallen Swiss Guard back on his feet. It was then that Benziger saw it. A newspaper peeking out beneath a pile of other papers. The headline was legible. "MILLIONS TO PAY TRIBUTE TO POPE'S COFFIN." In shock his eyes betrayed him. Vendhem realized it immediately.
With a Teutonic rush Vendhem brought the heavy paper weight down hard on the back of Benziger's skull and the Swiss Guard crashed to the floor.
"Is he dead?" shrieked a startled, panicked Urazzi.
"You figure that out, Roberto, on your own time. I have too much to do to be piddling with peons like you and him. Be quick. Drag him in there and stand guard. Can you do that, Father Urazzi?"
"Si, your Eminence. Scuzi."
"Well then, dump him in there now!"
Dateline: Vatican City - Corridor outside Macelli's office - November 4th, 11:58 p.m.
A Swiss Guard, one whom had not been enticed by the basilisk to this point, stood between Cardinal Macelli's office door and the one demanding entrance, a nun, as Macelli came bounding down the hall.
"Your Eminence, this nun says you wanted to see her, but she has no credentials."
Recognizing Elena, Macelli assures the gatekeeper, "It is quite alright, I will vouch for her. Allow her to follow me into my office, kind sir."
Polished heels in quickly clicked as the Guard came to attention, resuming his sentry position with a salute and then he marching off quietly down the corridor in total obedience.
"I thought you had compromised most of them, Antonio," a disgusted Grabe chided the rotund prelate.
"Not all are worthy or ripe for the master, Elena. Now tell me. After your premature reaction in Iraq is all still in preparation?"
"A few minor setbacks, nothing more. I understand the prize is missing." Elena was throwing the onus back on Macelli.
"Only temporarily, Frau Grabe. Your help will be useful in locating the mole within."
"If it furthers the master's cause, of course."
"Bene. Then this is what I ask of you --"
The shadows droned out the rest of the details these two insidious members of the Legion were plotting as the Angelus bell rang out on the stroke of midnight in Rome. All was not well.
Next issue: Ninth Chapter - Episode Two
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