The dawning sun was preparing to pierce the night, roosters were ruffling their feathers in anticipation of the first rays. The November chill had given way to an unexpected, but very welcome warm front beginning to form off the Mediterranean as Niki flung open the shutters of Ogidi's second story flat to allow a breeze into the room, some fresh air to erase the stifling odor of rubbing alcohol that had been applied to Pat Gallagher's wounds.
Dateline: Rome - Ogidi's apartment flat - November 4, 5:15 A.M.
"I would prefer you keep those shut until daybreak, my friend," Ogidi reprimanded Niki Andriopoulos.
"My apologies, Dr. Ogidi, but does it not reek of a hospital wing in here?" Niki sought justification for his imprudent act of giving prying eyes entrance by his act.
"Nevertheless, my Greek friend, it might smell more like a morgue if you do not take extreme care." Ogidi replied abruptly, yet barely above a whisper without ever looking directly toward Niki.
Makuta's tone prompted Niki to immediately close the shutters as Ogidi continued to unwrap yards of gauze and snip off lengths of adhesive tape.
Gallagher watched and winced, still somewhat weak and dazed, yet amazed at Ogidi's appearance, finding it hard to picture him involved with Niki and with himself in this battle with the Legion of the Basilisk.
This Ogidi was unusual. Maybe, Pat considered, because he just hadn't expected a black man sitting over him ministering to his wounds in the manner of the Good Samaritan; maybe because he mused inwardly how he and Niki had ever gotten together.
Despite the fact that wherever Niki was, trouble was sure to follow, Pat was glad to see a familiar face, realizing he wasn't totally alone. And what of the doctor? He wondered if this man had known Fasif and Elias. So many questions. So few answers. It was wearisome. The unanswered points gnawed at his subconscious.
Ogidi anticipated Pat's thoughts. "I sense the questions welling up, Mr. Gallagher. No, you probably have not heard of me, but no matter. What is important is that we work for the same cause, we have the same objective."
"Stopping the Legion?" Pat quizzed.
"Silence, let me do the talking," as he finished wrapping Pat's upper torso. It made the American journalist wince and grit his teeth in pain despite Ogidi's assurance. "To divert a moment, I assure you that once I've bandaged in place, the pain will subside to some extent. You were extremely lucky. There are two very bruised ribs, but they will mend. A few lacerations. But I think no internal hemorrhaging."
"Great. I feel better already," Pat muttered dryly, but Ogidi went right on, even though Niki had to laugh.
"I came to Rome about the same time. For the same reason, I suspect. The man I work for had also been informed of a possible link between the Legion of the Basilisk and the city of Rome. A mutual contact had informed us that you would be making contact with some who had come upon an obscure lead. It was felt that I should monitor the situation, and if that lead should prove worthwhile, make my presence known and lend assistance in whatever way I could by supplying the knowledge I possessed about the Legion."
"Very helpful. Gobbledygook, if you ask me," rasped Pat, who couldn't help biting his lips against the pain. Geez, who'd have thought a couple bruised ribs could be so excruciating?
"Patrick is right, Makuta," Niki intervened, "Why, as you say, beat around the bush. The proverbial bush has burned to the ground, do you not agree?"
"Unfortunately. Forgive my reticence," Ogidi apologized to Pat. "It is a habit I form as a matter of self-perseverance."
"Get on with it," Pat demanded.
"As I said, I followed you. I knew you were in Rome. You have a way with the Roman taxis, no?"
"You followed me this morning?" Pat was incredulous.
"Yes, from St. Peter's to the church to the Via Dulce District," affirmed Ogidi.
"Then you knew every move by Karel and I? Who told--"
Niki interrupted, "Fasif. He left no stone unturned."
"Except his own," Pat moaned, "Dammit. Why?"
Ogidi, a bit exasperated, continued. "The Legion discovered Tenazzi's attempt to disclose information to Karel and you. I believe certain members of the Legion panicked. That is why they killed her. I knew you were next. They acted in haste and violence."
Pat was ticked as the memories of that vision made his blood boil. "Violence doesn't begin to describe-"
Niki, sensing anger would only cloud the picture, craftily, interrupted. "We are certain the four seen in that basement by Tenazzi were directly linked to the Field of Death - the Legion of the Basilisk."
"Now there are only three," added Ogidi. "The man who attacked you was one of them - a nasty Turk. Usif Ezerbet."
"Ugly, too!" frowned Pat. "How'd you know about the Legion, Doc?"
"On my mother's deathbed, she told me of the ancient legend about a creature called Basiliskos."
Ogidi began to describe the legend from his African village along the upper Jubba River. "My mother was visiting a friend who told her about two boys who had gone hunting. When they returned they were breathless with terror. They described a hideous monster."
"It is just as Fasif described, no, Patrick?" Niki intoned.
Pat nodded as Ogidi continued, "They came upon two large lizards standing guard over an egg. From the egg hatched another lizard which grew in tremendous strides before their eyes."
"What'da they feed it?" Pat broke in, semi-facetiously.
A stern look from both Ogidi and Niki caused Pat to slink back on his pillow as Ogidi pursued his trend of thought. "The new-born creature turned on its parents and devoured both, leaving not so much as a bone or a splatter of blood."
Pat was on a roll, "Definitely carnivores. Then what?"
Ogidi realized he had better get used to the interruptions as he carried on. "This monster of antiquity stood on its hind legs, roaring at the two boys. Its eyes so evil they felt paralyzed. The basilisk trotted after them and they ran."
"Who wouldn't?" Pat's words were ignored as Ogidi went on.
"They escaped. But a week later, the boys disappeared and were never heard from again."
"But the Basiliskos has been heard," added Niki. "I saw what the Basilisk's followers did to Fasif and Elias. I had to flee. I owe my life, in a sense, also to Dr. Makuta, Patrick."
"He could very well have turned me in when he discovered me in the hold of the C-130's."
"It is a long story, Mr. Gallagher," Ogidi rose and stretched his tall frame. "Let us just say had our Greek friend not been honest, I would very well have turned him in to authorities for being, what you Americans I believe call a stoway?"
"That's stowaway. But how did you know where I was?"
"Evidently Fasif told Ogidi that he was sending you to Rome to meet with Karel," Niki offered. "He wanted Makuta here to back you up in the event Karel had gotten a real lead on the Legion."
"It was advantageous," opined Ogidi, "Fasif's forethought, no? I was assigned by the International Health Organization to inspect the coffins of the slain papal party when they arrived in the early morning yesterday at the airport. That's when I discovered Andriopoulos. I sent him here to rest and be safe. In the meantime, I began to track you down as Fasif had asked. When you left Karel in the Via Dulce, I first made sure you were going back to your hotel. Satisfied, I returned back here where our Greek stowaway here disclosed information that they have targeted the Vatican as their next strike. He has proof."
"And that is?" Pat turned his focus to Niki.
"Plastic explosives, powerful ones in thin strips that most likely caused the destruction at the Field of Abraham, Patrick. The same were lined in the coffin I discovered."
"The one I slipped into to escape Iraq with its destination Rome."
"You travel in style, Nik."
"We have reason to believe more, if not all the coffins contained the same plastic explosives, Mr. Gallagher. I have alerted my contacts at the Vatican to follow up and remove the strips to defuse that threat. It will take time."
"Wow, how long was I out?"
"A good five or six hours, Patrick."
"So," turning his attention back to Ogidi, "How'd ya hook up with Fasif, Doc?"
"I met Fasif at a medical conference. We talked. Probed one another's mind and exchanged notes. The rest-"
"Evidently, Fasif told Ogidi he was sending you to Rome to meet with Karel," Niki attempted to fill in the missing pieces.
"Thank God for back-up," Pat sighed.
"If only we could have saved dear Karel," Niki lamented.
"I followed her, too," Ogidi added. "A very clever young woman. Not easy to track. But I was successful in following her to Via Magdalena."
"Correction," Pat blurted. "Unsuccessful. She's dead!"
"Do not blame Makuta, Patrick." Niki was quick to defend the African medical man. "I too was with Makuta following Karel to Via Magdalena. I only wish I had followed my inner sense and stopped her before she entered that alley. But that would have given everyone's position away. We had come so close. We didn't want to get too close, so Dr. Ogidi got out and I took the car and parked it down the street. I was to wait ten minutes, and if Makuta and Karel weren't back by then, I was to head back here."
"I take it you stayed past ten minutes, Nik?"
"I - I had to know, Patrick. Karel had disappeared down the street. Ogidi was waiting to see if you would come. Whoever that Turk Ezerbet was who killed her, he must have been waiting in the alley. He was very swift, very thorough. Ogidi was not in time to save her... But, my friend, he got you out of there alive. I am glad for that."
Pat couldn't talk, no words could salve Niki's sorrow. Pat laid his hand on Niki's arm, felt the Greek trembling. Niki had loved Karel as Fasif loved her. Now four people had been wiped out by the Legion, people who, through Niki, had become 'family' to him. Pat felt tears brimming. " I never told her about Fasif and her mother," Gallagher whispered to the Greek priest.
"I did not know you knew," Niki replied in a low, sad voice.
"A phone call at my hotel, middle of the night, Nik?" I have no idea who the hell it was. 'Bout two in the mornin'. Said he was one of us and we'd meet soon. He also notified me of Helene's death earlier that evening in Tel Aviv. I tried to tell Karel. I just didn't have the guts."
"It doesn't matter now, Patrick. God will take care of them. It is left to the living to give their legacy honor by carrying through with our mission against the Legion."
"This call," Ogidi asked, "do you have any idea who made it?"
"None. Had a damn good American accent though. No offense but you don't sound like you'd pull off an American accent that well."
"None taken, Mr. Gallagher."
Niki looked pensively at Pat. "I do not know for certain, but it could very well have been Father Stephen who contacted you."
"And who the hell's Fr. Stephen, Nik?
"Hopefully you will meet him later today, Patrick."
"Aw, never mind. My head's splittin'!"
"And speaking of splitting heads, we must take great care, Patrick., " Niki warned. "They are determined to eradicate all who fight them. We are surely next. We must all realize that those who are the disciples of this nefarious entity gain their power directly from the Basiliskos, their master."
"Therein lies the source of the evil," Ogidi informed.
"So, where do we go from here?" Pat interrogated.
"First," Ogidi replied handing him a glass of water and some pills, "take this to expedite the healing and ease that headache."
"And call you in the morning? No thanks, I don'-"
"For God's sake, Patrick, it is for your own welfare. Take your medicine."
Looking sheepishly towards Ogidi, Pat realized when to give in, "Never argue with a priest. Okay, down the hatch." He swallowed the pills in one gulp. "Now, what have we got to go on?"
"Faith," Niki voiced. "That's the heart of it. For now we rest. It's essential. We are targets."
"They will be searching the city for you, Mr. Gallagher." Ogidi insisted. "They must revenge the death of their own."
"You must rest now, Patrick. It is almost dawn."
"The remainder of the cardinals arrive in Rome this morning," advised Makuta.
"Yes, despite our intercepting the plastic explosives, we fear they will strike the Vatican next, Patrick." Niki was deadly serious.
"You actually think they're plannin' to disrupt those sacred proceedins' inside the Holy See?
Ogidi's firm, deep voice brought Pat to the reality of the situation even as the medicine began taking its sedative, drowsy effects. "Nothing is holy or sacred to the Basiliskos."
Next issue: Eighth Chapter - Episode Three
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WHITE SMOKE, BLACK FIRE!