By the time the Angelus bells had pealed off for the six o'clock hour from the loudspeaker on the right side of St. Peter's facade, most had settled in to the reality of what had taken place this day. Throughout the world the vast majority were now aware that His Holiness Clement XV was this time indeed dead. There was not the same sadness and weeping that accompanied so many mourners a week prior. This time there was a peace, knowing somehow things would get better. How? Few knew, but a surprising number were willing to try. Considering the alternative, the Pope's heartfelt and shockingly honest words of Lamentabili Culpa had touched more hearts than one might imagine.
Yes, hearts were softening, but hardened hearts were still not that malleable. Most of the elite, liberal media still didn't know how to decipher the Pontiff's words. Did he really condemn most of what the press had promoted for nearly half a century? They hoped not as they waited for the head of the Pontifical Council for Universal Communications Cardinal-elect Stephen Navarro to explain what exactly went down this afternoon. Few of the fifth estate could remember an address like Clement's for it did not contain the ambiguity of his predecessors since the late fifties. This was more Romanita-speak and they needed to interpret the spin so they could capsulize it correctly in 30 second sound-bites. Such was the search for truth in the 21st century.
Clement had not cared for political correctness, had not given a whit what the press would write, only what God insisted be done, albeit 50 years too late, but nevertheless better late than never. In a crowded, bustling Sala Regia an ignorant collection of men and women with press credentials, waited for answers, all eyes and camera lenses focused on the microphone-cluttered podium where Stephen would soon address this international band of self-appointed geniuses.
Meanwhile those who had been outsmarted were retaliating as the Legion tried to regroup, to reach the helicopter which had just alighted on the heliopad at the southwest corner of Vatican City behind the great medieval rampart wall.
Dateline: Vatican City - High ground beyond Governor's Palace behind St. Peter's - Nov 6, 6:03 p.m.
Ans had directed the helicopter pilot at gunpoint to settle down on the Vatican heliopad, and keep the rotor blade going so they could lift off quickly once Blix was safely aboard. While Ans kept his attention on the pilot, Soto surveyed the scene watching for Blix.
"There, he's carrying someone," Soto alerted his brother. As Blix lumbered closer in his muddy Stingray boots, Soto recognized his cargo. "It's the Morelli bitch. We are vindicated, my brother."
While the Ichariak twins' attention was on their approaching boss still 200 feet away, they did not see two other figures approach the helicopter from the other side, pounding loudly on the window. Both brothers fixed their gaze on Josef Vendhem and Antonio Macelli who were trying to shout above the roar of the propeller blade. Thus distracted, they did not see Pat and Niki gaining on Blix, who had been slowed down more and more by the additional weight of Corrie on his shoulder. Strain and age was taking its toll. Gallagher pounced on this. Just within his grasp, Pat lunged at the older Blix, while Niki reached out to catch Corrie.
Publisher and reporter wrestled for the gun, knocking it away as Gallagher landed a hard right, leaving an indent on Blix's already sunken jaw. Fr. Andriopoulos cradled Corrie's bruised head in his arms. She was still unconscious. Pat muscled Edwin to his feet, holding Blix arms behind his back, bending them back with terrific force so that the aging mogul wrenched with pain.
"We're taking him back to Stephen's office and get Corrie medical help," Pat screamed to be heard above the nearby chopper noise. "So help me, Blix, if she doesn't recover I'll--"
"You will do what?" The voice came from another direction, behind them where the helicopter had landed. While Pat and Niki had been focused on subduing Blix and rescuing Corrie, they had not seen Macelli, Soto and Vendhem sneak up behind them. Macelli held the Luger in his left hand with the barrel of the Parabellum pistol aimed directly at Corrie's head. "I think, Mr. Gallagher, you and your friend are outnumbered. Release Senor Blix immediately," snapped Macelli.
Pat had no choice as he pushed his publisher away in disgust, holding his hands behind his head, muttering to himself in chagrin that he and Niki had not been better prepared for the ambush.
Blix had retrieved the Beretta 92FS handgun which he had pilfered from the Italian guard earlier. He now turned the gun on Pat and Niki. "Y'all want your gal pal to live," Edwin drawled, "ya best be gittin on that chopper over theahh."
At gunpoint Pat reached down and gently picked Corrie up in his arms as Niki held her head and they obediently marched dejectedly toward the waiting helicopter with two guns fixed on them if they tried any tricks. No, any form of escape would have to wait. For now survival was paramount. The Legion had won this battle, but not the war, Pat vowed silently to himself. Somehow, someway, he would find a way.
Dateline: Rome - Fiumicino Tarmac - Nov 6, 6:40 p.m.
Cardinal-elect Stephen Navarro had been only half-way into his press conference in a special roped-off area outside the Sala Regia in the Apostolic Palace, when the chopper Ans and Soto had hijacked had returned to the scene of the crime, landing within forty feet of the waiting jet on the Fiumicino airstrip. The pilot Derrick Fenton and the replacement co-pilot had the engines throttling, ready to take off as the prisoners had been transferred quickly to the plane and shoved into the plush seats in the center. Corrie remembered it only too well. Here she was, once again bound and gagged aboard this death trap heading for the Field of Death.
Within minutes the jet had roared down the runway, lifting into the sky over the Tyrollean Sea before banking away from the setting sun and setting its course southeast as it gained more altitude.
Dateline: Blix Lear Jet - Heading east - Nov 6, 7:15 p.m.
Inside the elaborately decorated plush Lear, the mood of the inhabitants ran the gamut of exhilaration to total dejection. The former belonged to the Legion, the latter to Pat, Corrie and Niki who were slumped in their seats, restrained by the tight cords binding their hands and feet.
Father Andriopoulos tried to console Pat and Corrie, whispering to them, "There is only one real weapon we have left to use against them."
"Yeah, I know. Faith!" Gallagher nodded. "I won't forget, Nik. I know you're right. I just don't like the feeling they've gotten the best of us." Pat edged his thigh closer to the armrest and pressed against it. In his front pocket was the Penultimate which Stephen had given Pat to connect to his Mirror Reflector Card. He hoped to God something would trigger it and either broadcast to Colin or Stephen or maybe even the world their plight. That was his only hope left for indeed it looked from all practical purposes that, despite all the opposition, the Legion had trumped the resisters' best efforts.
Pat straightened up and he broke off the conversation with Niki as Blix strolled leisurely into the cabin from the forward section. He paused, hands in pockets, surveying the scene.
"Well, y'all had a good chat?" Blix chided. "Splendid," he beamed, "Ah hope ya'll've come to your senses and realize ya cain't hope to win against the Master."
"Blix," dared Gallagher. "I do think you owe me at least an explanation as to why you're involved in all this and where we're headin'."
"Just like a good little reporter, except Ah didn't get the story, Gallagher!"
"Now you will, Edwin," Pat tried to coax with honey. "Come on, gimme an exclusive story. It probably isn't going to go anywhere considerin' the circumstances."
"Oh, come on, Edwin," Corrie taunted, making Blix' eyes flare with renewed hatred. "You can trust us," she continued. "Pat won't spill the beans. You've got us trussed up like pigs anyway. Besides," she added with a sly, albeit forced grin, "Come to think about it, I doubt very much that the story's worth beans when the bag's opened."
She had hit a nerve. "Bitch," Blix stormed, the word spewing forth and striking at her as if it had physical force.
Pat's veins grew red with anger at the treatment of his cara mia. Niki could see the obvious and tried to temper his inner rage with a raised eyebrow, marveling at Corrie. The lady had guts. More than that, she had found a way to punch Blix' raw nerves, hit the right buttons. Maybe if she kept hitting a few of the right ones, he'd destroy himself. She was clever - this Corrie Morelli and Niki hoped Pat would recognize Corrie's tactics, as she continued to dig away at his pride.
"And speaking of bags," Corrie injected with sarcasm, "you're nothing but a bag of bones."
"Ya'll die pleading for mercy," bellowed Blix.
"Is that a headline, Blix...or your Obituary!?" Pat screamed angrily.
"Ya know," Blix taunted back, "had that fool Victor not sent ya, Gallagher, ya might be a free man today."
"I've learned a lot on this odyssey, Blix," Pat angrily shot back. "Most of all, you're a son of a bitch!"
Blix laughed mockingly, "Ah've been called worse."
"How about Lucifer, or Beelzebub?" Niki blurted.
"Or Satan?" Corrie emphasized deridingly.
"Y'all honor me," Edwin retaliated sadistically, then threw back his skeletal head and let out an inhuman sound that was neither laughter or anger, but something in-between that reeked of death.
"Ya want facts? Ah'll give them to ya, Gallagher, and ya can take them with ya to yer grave."
The gaunt publisher began pacing up and down the aisle between his prisoners.
"Facts, Gallagher." Blix was putting on his publishers' hat as if teaching Journalism 101. "Remember, that's the first rule of a good journalist. And there was a time when Ah thought ya had the makins of a good journalist."
"He's still a damn good journalist," Corrie snapped angrily.
Blix ignored her rant as he continued, "Mah allegiance with the Master began many years ago when Ah came to realize that through him and him alone would come the power and prestige and influence Ah craved. as well as the future opportunity to be part of the Master's reign. Ah had a hand in arranging the disaster in Guyana back in the late 70's. Then mah associates and Ah planned the debacle in Rome when we were able to murder the newly elected Pope John Paul I, and demonstrate that our power was growin' and there was only a short time left before the Master would take over."
"How did you get to the Pope?" Niki asked, almost knowing the answer.
"Inside help, of course," Blix retorted. "There've been many other incidents. Terrorism ya'd call it," he chortled. "We had 'em all fooled with 9-11. There had to be a scapegoat and a religious war was the obvious."
"You mean Al Qaeda didn't do it?" Pat puzzled.
"Anyone can be bought, Gallagher. Anyone. No, truth be known the World Trade Towers had been rigged a week earlier. We just needed a trigger. Can ya say remote control?" Blix laughed sinisterly. "But the grandest of them all was manipulating the religious leaders to stage the grand event in Iraq. Ingenious if Ah must say so mahself. The two Assisi summits and the fear of terrorism narrowed it down to the inevitable one world religion. Oh, no one would admit it, but that's what it was. They were ours."
"Not all," Niki piped up. "You couldn't convince Pope Clement XV. Is that why you tried to eliminate him?"
"Vendhem and Macelli botched that one," admitted Blix. "By the way those two bunglers are up front drinkin' themselves into a drunken stupor. Ah, the grape. Such a useful tool."
"What's their role now, butthead?" Pat pumped Blix.
"Merely to serve mine and the Master's end."
"Oh, I'd like to see your end, believe me!" Gallagher blurted in frustration.
"And what of the religious leaders in Iraq? Were they plants?" Niki queried.
"Yeah, all pawns in our plan," boasted Blix. "Ah provided the explosives, helped select the poor suckers who sacrificed their lives to eradicate the rest."
"But you couldn't blow up St. Peter's," Niki countered.
"It don't matter now," snapped an irritated Blix.
"And you couldn't penetrate the Conclave. Clement defeated you there," Pat triumphed.
An agitated Blix shot back, "Macelli and Vendhem failed the Master. Now they and y'all will have to deal with him at the scene of the first garden. He'll have his revenge on all of you and the Woman clothed with the sun as well. And her Son the Christ: He's weak. He'll not triumph over the Master."
"That's not the way the good book reads," Niki injected, "you lose in the end."
"Don't ya wish. Sorry, that's a fairy tale perpetuated for centuries. Superstitious fools."
"Bastard," Pat spat back at him.
"True," Blix smiled back.
"But, Edwin," Corrie intoned saccharinely, as if trying to seduce him. "You left out another very important fact. You forgot to tell them about Victor Van Wess."
"Getting forgetful, Blix?" Gallagher taunted, not realizing what had happened to Vic. "Old age must be catching up with you."
The verbal barrage from the woman ate at Blix. Now this from Gallagher, too. "Van Wess," he sneered, his eyes starting to roll and seethe with a power his prisoners felt. His words were like red-hot iron prods. "Victor was a nobody. But Ah hated him because he sent a young man to the seminary who was pretty high up inside the Vatican."
"Who?" Pat probed.
"Don't know, but that don't matter now. Victor meddled. The Basilisk destroyed him. They'll be scoopin' bits of flesh, bone and tissue off the ground for weeks." Blix was relentless in his sadism.
"You're unspeakable, you bastard," Pat growled, stretching to break the binding around his feet and hands.
"Ah know," retorted the merciless publisher. "Ah work hard at it."
"Yes, Blix. You do," Corrie agreed, bating him again with her feminine mystique. " I mean, the Master has got to see that you're just perfect...for fodder. The new kingdom's gonna need a lot of fertilizer, if you ask me. I think you'd be the perfect one to spread it around."
At this Blix couldn't contain himself, leveling her across the face with one hand, then the other, rocking her head back. When he stepped back, she was bleeding from cuts on her lips and near her nose, and another long scratch where his ring had caught and ripped the skin along her cheekbone. But there were no tears in her yes. She refused to let him see her cry. She just glared back at him.
"You bloody bastard," raged Gallagher, seeing what he'd done to Corrie. Pat's own desire to destroy this monster nearly gave him the strength to tear the bonds from his arms. But Corrie wasn't done taunting.
"See what I mean, Blix," managed Corrie, drawing up an inner strength. "You're too hot-headed to lead. Go ahead, hit me again. The Master will never have need of someone who has no control. Maybe not even as fertilizer."
"Wonder what other job he might have for you?" Pat piped up. "Licking the toilets of hell, shit face?"
Now Blix was beside himself with rage.
Niki nervously motioned to Pat, "My friend, be still. You must consider the situation carefully, no?"
Pat took a deep breath, looking again at Corrie who still had no tears in her eyes and was licking at the blood dripping onto her chin, while she watched Edwin's every move. He was astounded by the cool-headedness his cara mia showed under the circumstances. He had never realized her to possess such strength. He could see, just like a boxer doing the rope-a-dope, that Corrie had a game plan. Her hurts were necessary under the circumstances. Each blow rained down upon her was an expulsion of Blix' strength derived from the Basilisk. Since she knew how to goad him, she was literally driving him to his death for he couldn't contain his own rage.
Pat sought to deflect some of those blows by taking attention away from Corrie, confusing Blix further.
Pride would be his downfall. This was evident in his boast. "Y'all honor me Ah promise ya that!"
"Or else what, Blix? We wouldn't honor a shit like you!" Pat barked.
"Ya no longer humor me, Gallagher." Blix had turned serious. "Humans are such weaklins. Soon Ah shall rule forever."
"So you are the chosen Antichrist?" Niki probed.
Blix seemed to relish the flattery as he sat down in the seat just in front and turned his head back with a wicked grin. "Ah, there is one here with smarts. The answer is yeah. The struggle's been a game, played by amateurs and Ah've been able to outmaneuver all. There's no more opposition. Now Ah'm free to consummate the total transition in the mornin.' "
"Where?" goaded Pat, already knowing the answer.
"Where it all began. Between the Tigris and Euphrates. Ya know it now as the Field of Death."
"Why there, Lizard breath?" Pat was livid.
"Because there is where many millenniums ago He cursed us," hissed Blix.
"You refer," snarled Niki, "I take it, to the Garden of Eden?"
"Yeah," affirmed Blix, coals burning in his eyes. "Once banished from the Heavens we swore our revenge and now, finally it's inevitable."
"Do not be so sure, evil one," Niki snapped back. "For you have not destroyed the Church - only temporal buildings. People, yes, martyrs for God's cause, but you cannot destroy the spirit."
"Oh, but Ah can and Ah will," roared Blix. "Ah've created chaos. The world'll be more vulnerable than ever now that the Church is outta the way. It was the one obstacle that has long haunted us. Now the path's clear."
"So why're ya keepin' us alive?" Pat queried, trying to further bait this unearthly being.
"Ya serve a purpose," Blix retorted matter of factly. "Merely that."
"And what might that be?" Niki joined in.
"In the mornin' ya'll see."
"...so now many antichrists have arisen;
whence we know that is the last hour."
1 John 2: 18
Next: Part VI - The Unveiling SIXTEENTH 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, seventeen 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.