Despite the pain, it was fortunate for Corrie, Pat, and Niki that Blix had been so garrulous, dropping his guard with unseemly overconfidence while up front in the plane Macelli and Vendhem had fallen asleep, the effects of the celebratory champagne in which Blix had mixed some Temazepam powder to make sure the two prelates would remain inconsequential. Blix had been most liberal in divulging just where they were headed. Pat and Corrie, along with Niki had been masters at probing, and Blix had complied without realizing how he had divulged where they were heading.
That would serve them well for as Colin Rembert was walking back to the Vatican from the Hospital Santo Spirito, he had heard the alert buzz on his Penultimate and immediately honed in on the conversation, hearing it all.
Realizing the stakes Rembert picked up his pace toward St. Peter's Square which was still packed. Colin knew he could alert federal authorities instantly, but that might compromise Pat, Niki and Corrie. He couldn't afford to take that chance. He knew the ultimate destination and perhaps Stephen might have some answers. He had to reach the Monsignor as soon as possible as he squeezed through the massive throng towards the Bronze Doors.
Dateline: Vatican City - just outside the Sala Regia - Apostolic Palace - Nov 6, 7:30 p.m.
"Ladies and gentlemen, that's all the questions for now," the President of the Pontifical Council for Universal Communications Cardinal-elect Stephen Navarro concluded from the podium. Despite the ungracious, boorish questioning that continued, he spoke above the fray. "We've been here an hour and a half. That is well enough time. You all have a copy of the final decree of His Holiness of happy memory Clement XV. That says it all. We'll have another press conference on the steps of St. Peter's Square tomorrow immediately following the Angelus Bells at 12:05. We'll be able to inform you then of the schedule for Novemdiales which begins tomorrow for the next nine days. Now, please follow the guards single file to the exits for these areas are restricted. Thank you. We will notify you immediately if there are any new findings."
With that a weary Stephen immediately headed for the side entrance away from the maddening mob of prying reporters and into the refuge of the quiet antechamber leading into the Sala Regia and the entrance corridor directly to the Sistine Chapel. There waiting was the one man he had so hoped to see - Cardinal Gregory Zachmunn.
"Your Eminence, I am overwhelmed by the Holy Father's generosity to me."
"Yes, your Eminence-elect," chuckled Gregory as he gave Stephen a warm embrace, "it is generous, but well deserved. I've been waiting for you. Let us have dinner at the Oblate House. Tell me, how did Fr. Andriopoulos take the news of the red biretta?"
"Oh, my God, I almost forgot. I didn't get a chance to tell him. He raced into the office in a panic. Someone had kidnapped Corrie. He and Pat rushed out in pursuit. I haven't heard from them since."
"This has been some day, my son," Cardinal Zachmunn consoled. "Has Captain Schuster been alerted?"
"I didn't have a chance what with the press conference and all, hopefully Lt. Giraud notified him."
"Well, then we need to--"
"I must see Monsignor Navarro immediately, mate," demanded a familiar voice at the far end of the corridor.
Stephen recognized the accent immediately. "Guards, let him through," Stephen announced as Colin Rembert rushed up to them.
"Monsignor, your Eminence, I have some very troubling news," Rembert stammered, still a bit out of breath because of his swift journey from the heliopad.
"Fill us in, Mr. Rembert," Cardinal Zachmunn insisted.
"Someone wisely left the Penultimate on and I was able to eaves drop on a nasty chap named Edwin Blix, along with Cardinals Macelli and Vendhem boasting about triumphing all. The young fellow asking the questions was a Texan who mentioned Niki and Corrie, and badgered Blix on where they're heading. They're flying to Iraq and the Field of Abraham."
"Oh, my God, that's gotta be Pat," nodded Stephen as Lieutenant Giraud entered the group,
"It can't be Macelli and Vendhem," exclaimed Gregory, "they're locked up in the dungeon."
"I am afraid, your Eminence, they are not," alerted Giraud. "That's what I needed to tell you. There are bodies all over but no sign of Macelli and Vendhem."
"Damn," Gregory exclaimed uncharacteristically.
"Now what?" Stephen wondered. "We're too late to notify the authorities."
"You could scramble some jets from a nearby airbase, mate," offered Colin.
"No," countered Zachmunn, "too dangerous with Pat, Niki and Corrie on board."
"That's what I felt, too, your Eminence," added Rembert.
"What then," a frustrated Stephen asked.
"I've got some ideas. You have it recorded on the Penultimate?" Gregory asked.
"Yes, your Eminence," Colin answered.
"Good. Allow the Monsignor and I to listen to the recordings and then we'll take it from there," responded the Cardinal. "Oh, Lieutenant, find out what exactly happened and secure everything. And, Mr. Rembert, I must insist, for now, an absolute blackout is imperative. No leaks."
"I understand, your Eminence. God be with you."
"You, too, my friend." Gregory forced a smile, but his heart was heavy.
Dateline: Vatican City - Stephen's Office - Apostolic Palace - Nov 6, 7:55 p.m.
Gregory and Stephen had finished listening to the Penultimate tape for the second time. Gregory knew exactly where Blix was heading, and what his intent was. He had one ace left and he was about to use it. As he made a call from Stephen's office, Blix' Lear Jet approached Turkish airspace and nearer to where it all began.
Dateline: Blix Lear Jet - Heading east - Nov 6, 8:30 p.m.
Macelli and Vendhem were still zonked, sprawled out on their chairs oblivious to what was really going on, dreaming only of the temporal rewards the Master would shower them with. Blix had been dozing in his plush command chair in his in-flight office near the cockpit. He had not noticed the co-pilot slip by him and head quietly towards the back of the plane.
Niki saw him first and in a hushed surprise, "Makuta! How did you get on board?"
"Shh," counseled Ogidi, looking back over his shoulder to make sure Blix was still asleep. "My name is Emil Marinko. I am the substitute pilot assigned to assist Derrick Fenton."
Pat awoke from a fitful doze, "Ogidi, what's goin' on? What'yre doin' here?"
"It was the only way I could find out what Blix and the rest are up to," replied Ogidi barely above a whisper. "Please, do not give away our secret. I believe I am all you have left. Am I not right?"
"Yeah, ya got a point," agreed Pat.
"Very well," replied Makuta, "I must return to the cockpit before anyone suspects. I will stay close to the scene as Marinko to find out more."
He turned and headed back toward the cockpit, just as he passed by the supposedly sleeping Blix, the publisher stuck out his stiff stingray boot as a barrier for Ogidi to go any further. "An' who might ya be and what the hell were ya doin' back theah?" Blix demanded.
In a very condescending manner, Ogidi played his role to perfection. "I am Marinko. Emil Marinko. The Aviation Authority sent me to replace Van der Mindt who took sick."
"Hell, Ah think he took a powdah, that yellow pimp."
"Regardless, I am here to serve, Sir. I was looking for the water closet back there."
"It's over theah. Now git, and don't go back there again, ya heah?"
"Perfectly, ah Mr. --" Ogidi was playing Blix.
"Blix," the Texan enunciated.
Makuta feigned amazement. "Thee Edwin Blix of Blix International?"
Blix bit on the flattery. "Yeah, what, it surprise ya I'd be on mah own plane?"
"No, I just didn't realize the importance of this flight. I must get back to assist Captain Fenton. If you will excuse me." Ogidi looked down at the extended boot across the aisle and then back at Blix, who then retracted his foot, no longer impeding this new co-pilot from proceeding back to the cockpit.
After Makuta had passed, Blix stretched out his black stingrays, crossing them so the heel rested on the arm rest across the aisle. It was a sign he was trying to get some sleep. Niki could see from his vantage point between the seats the boots. He could keep an eye on him as he tried desperately to wrestle free of the taut binding. To no avail.
"Cara Mia," Pat whispered. "I -- " What could he say? What words existed to let her know he cared?
"I'll be okay," she replied weakly. "Don't worry about me, my love. Please. I've played this game with him almost from the beginning of our odyssey together. It's working. I can sense it. I can take a few more blows...with the grace of God. He's brought me this far. At least - at least we're together again."
Fr. Andriopoulos interrupted. "Corrie, though my hands are bound, I give you God's blessing. You are most certainly destroying Blix piece by piece, by going after his pride, sowing the seeds of doubt. He will come undone. He will seek to justify himself rather than serve the Master, and when he does, the Master will kill him."
"If he hasn't killed himself first," Pat added.
"Exactly. Thanks for the blessing," Corrie was grateful. "I guess it won't hurt to admit that we need all the divine intervention we can get."
"Yeah," Pat chipped in. "Once this jet lands in Iraq, I doubt there's gonna be any U.S. Cavalry there to get us outta this mess."
"Remember, Patrick," Niki reminded him. "Faith. Keep the Faith."
"Well that's all fine and good," Pat quipped, "but we're gonna have to rewrite the script if we're gonna get outta this alive. Anybody got a pen?"
"Very funny, my friend," Niki responded. "I wish it were so simple. To write a new ending. Let us hope, my friends, that we will have time and opportunity to make one more effort to destroy the Antichrist. And let us not forget," Niki said more to Pat than to Corrie, "that we still have Ogidi. He may be able to handle Vendhem and Macelli. He's a man of strange and mysterious powers, no?"
"God only knows," Gallagher sighed wearily as into the darkness the jet soared less than an hour from its final destination.
"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.