The inhumanity of the heinous act on the Field of Abraham had left the world in a depressed state that many felt they might never be extricated from. It was similar to the tragedy of the World Trade Center Towers in New York and other terrible senseless terrorist acts before and after, yet now on such a wider, more petrifying scale. Untold numbers had died needlessly, including world leaders in the religious and political scene at the highest echelons. How could man have become so intrinsically evil to destroy himself and his fellow man? What could stop such an evil? A world searched for answers as aerial shots of the Field of Death and other devastating shots of the blackened, cratered grave, where millions had been shattered and scattered, filled countless TV screens the world over.
Dateline: Dallas, Texas - Edwin Blix's Turtle Creek Mansion, November 2, 8:00 a.m.
The eastern sun would not shine on the publisher of the Metroplex Mirror this morning. Edwin Blix would not allow it. The heavy Mandarin drapes were pulled to block out all sunlight. He preferred it that way. Blix hated company. He was truly a loner. Despite the facade of countless social functions, he relished his privacy and solitude. He tolerated Ans and Soto Ichariak. They could be used. Blix liked to use people. Any other human relationship was passe. It interfered with his twisted thought process.
That he was inordinately proud of his mind, which he felt superior to any man's perception of the world, did not phase him in the least. He had a right to be proud. Finally his genius would be properly compensated. It was not about money, but power!
He was not particularly attractive for a man of his stature. Not that Blix cared. It suited him to stand apart from the world, even if it meant being classified, "slightly cadaverous."
"Humph," he resented as he plucked an orange from the silver bowl of fruit Ans had placed on the table. He gripped a paring knife as his cantankerous thoughts engulfed him. People were inept. Best be rid of them. They'd had too many centuries to improve and had not.
Blix? He was far from inept. He was powerful. Influential. He was one of the world's greatest makers and shakers of policy, rules, laws and overall planning for the globalization of a one-world order. His media conglomerates had helped forge this agenda. Here, in his magnificent, yet macabre and eclectic mansion, he could luxuriate in the knowledge of his manipulation of lesser beings.
As the flames in the fireplace flickered this morning an eerie glow reflected on Blix's countenance. His peregrine eyes were narrow and furrowed beneath bushy gray brows that rose to a point which led the beholder to his high forehead, where the skin was stretched parchment thin. Atop the skull wisps of white hair sprouted in disarray. Blix was nearly fanatical about those stray strands. He labored every morning to get them to stand upright. This morning in the reflection of the pyre beneath the massive mantle in his study, those wisps reminded one of a set of horns.
He was already at his desk, fidgeting when Ans Ichariak appeared at the door.
"Excuse me, sire, my brother Soto has returned and you have a call from Rome on line one."
"I'll take it. That will be all." Blix retorted bluntly, a hollow, empty void to his tone.
Picking up the receiver after Ans had closed the door, the caller could tell Blix was listening.
"I fear there are loose ends. Nasiriyah and on the border," a caller with a heavily accented masculine voice informed.
Blix recognized the voice immediately. "You've always been three step behind in this whole affair. I've already taken care of the potential problems."
"Then Collier made his contacts?" The caller was assertive.
"Let's just say Collier is no longer necessary to that cause. I will use him elsewhere. You had best be up-to-date to be of any help," Blix snorted, slitting yet another orange as juice splattered everywhere.
"You forget," the mysterious caller reminded, "I am the Keeper of the Calendar."
"For now." Blix replied icily.
There was a warning in the caller's tone. "The master will not be pleased if you are not cooperative, Edwin."
"The master has no reason to be displeased with my efforts. Can the same be said for yours? Do not call me at the mansion again. Do I make myself clear?"
"As you wish." With that the caller ended all communication with a click on his end.
"Good-bye," Blix said, cackling into the phone. "Try to do better."
The orange lay mutilated on the bone-china plate rimmed in 14-karat gold and bearing a peculiar design of red etchings.
Ah, Blix was satisfied. To work for the master was the epitome of exhilaration. It added so much twisted joy to the mundane tasks he still had to pretend mattered. Like the Metroplex Mirror. But the charade was nearly ended. Soon would come the great conquest - the final conquest. Victory.
Another cackle, this with the edge of insanity escaping his thin lips. His eyes glowed diabolically as he dialed Vic Van Wess' office, all the while stabbing at the pieces of fruity citrus flesh while he waited.
Van Wess answered. Blix knew he would.
"Victor," he began, flinging a piece of orange across the room and watching it splatter against the ebony sideboard which Ans would have to clean later.
"Blix!" Van Wess' voice was less than cordial.
"You aren't on top of this thing," the publisher chided maliciously. "I don't like incompetence."
"I told you I'm doing the best I can under the circumstances," an irritated Vic shot back.
"Really? I doubt it," Blix wheezed, "You haven't the imagination. So, Gallagher's gone incommunicado on us. Why?"
"Maybe things are tougher over there than we know. After all I don't know how many lunatics just murdered nearly a million people - what's one more to you?" Vic was going to take no guff and was returning a salvo of sarcasm.
"Might I add, Victor," as Blix's voice pitched to a lower tone, almost guttural one, "that one more might be you! Have you thought about that?"
"Don't threaten me, Blix. I don't cater to that kind of..."
"Tough!" Victor shrieked into the speaker as he spun another piece of orange in a high arc across the room, this time leaving an orange splotch on the immaculate rug. "Doesn't do our circulation or reputation a damn bit of good having a silent reporter, who by the way, is spending my money!"
Vic tried to mollify his boss. "We've got enough from the wire services for now, Edwin."
"If I had wanted to use second-hand copy I'd have ignored the whole incident," Blix shouted. "Not good enough. But - -" For some reason Blix allowed the alternative to hang, giving Van Wess a chance to snatch at it.
"But what?" Vic snapped.
"I'll be patient a while longer. You get on the phone now, hear me? Make some calls. Track Gallagher down. And if you don't, Victor, you can start worrying all over again. I don't tolerate fools."
"And I won't be intimidated," Van Wess had enough guff. "Gallagher's the best reporter we've got. I'll not jeopardize or compromise his position in that hellhole because you want revenues or your reputation to climb!"
"Give my regards to Amy," Blix oozed dryly. "Try to have a good day, Victor. Oh, and I hope the legs don't get any worse." Knowing he had exposed a raw nerve in his editor, Blix deliberately disconnected the call and rose from his desk.
"Annnnns!!!" he bellowed, hurling the last orange piece against the wall as he strolled toward the roaring fire in his study that Ans had prepared an hour before Blix awoke. There silhouetted by the glow of the black fire, he cackled in a way that was inhuman. It is likely his loyal eunuch servant Ans, cowering hear the door, heard it. His rustling alerting Blix that he had entered the room.
"I've got a few messes to clean up overseas. Send Soto in. Oh, and clean up this mess in here." Blix' eyes glowed with hate. "Things have gotten a bit sticky wouldn't you say?"
Dateline: Rome, November 2, 4 p.m.
Oblivious to these horrific images were those who had plotted this demonic deed. Usif Ezerbet met the woman for a late afternoon lunch at an outdoor cafe near the Spanish Steps. Rome was just awakening from its afternoon siesta on an unusually warm November as Ezerbet and Elena Grabe soaked in the rays hitting them from the western sky. They were lucky, Usif realized, for the winds had shifted and brought them warmth from the Mediterranean. Soon the wind would shift and biting winter winds would descend from the north. All boded well for them...an omen of success!
Like Ezerbet, Grabe served in the inner elite circle of the Legion of the Basilisk...at least for now. She had yet to hear from the master. She feared he might be merciless in the fact the explosions had come sooner, much sooner than anticipated, then planned. A foul up in communications, in realizing the change in venue of the order of stage appearances. Grabe complained to her inner self why the Legion could not have had anyone who might have intercepted those last minute alterations. She sought to fend off any blame on herself. She had arrived in Rome only a short time before, but appeared refreshed and utterly composed considering the flack she expected. She permitted Ezerbet to pour the blood red Chianti into her glass, and to toast her successful arrival.
They ordered and waited until the food had come and the waiter was busy elsewhere before she dared to speak.
"The shipping orders are complete, though a bit rushed," she informed the Turk.
"A bit?" Usif was noticeably piqued. "The master cannot be happy that it did not go off as planned. We needed those signed papers to authenticate..."
"I understand we have alternate plans to compensate for the misfortune," Elena smiled sinisterly.
"Yes, but I wouldn't overestimate your luck, Elena. There can be no more mistakes. I'm sure you, of all people, realize that?" Usif was assertive but gentle with this fraulein.
She smiled again, steel in her eyes. "There's something else," she said conversationally, actually smiling at him as if they discussed romance. Nothing about her would suggest that she bore such important information, or that she belonged to an organization that fed on pure evil.
Ezerbet, suspicious of the approaching waiter or others hearing, cautioned. "That can wait. After we have dined. Ah, our meal is here."
The waiter set the plates and entrees on the table and asked if there was anything else they needed.
"No, prego, grazie." Usif said curtly signaling the waiter he was no longer needed.
They ate their meal in relative silence. These two people who blended in so well with all others.
Elena was in every outward aspect a normal woman. She bore the marks of her heritage with great pride. She had been born in the 50's, the only child of Hermann and Elizabet Grabe. She was German, pure Deutschland, the kind of Arian Adolph Hitler himself would have been proud of: blonde hair, eyes tending to a lovely shade of blue-gray, skin unlined, smooth as foam on a lager. Her parents, sympathizers toward the Nazi regime, had bitterly raised Elena to think only of the glorious past that the world had stripped from her. She had been reared in an atmosphere of hate and anger.
Her adult life had been one unsuccessful attempt after another to punish the world for what it had done to her country, her people, her parents and herself. For every German life lost in that long-ago glorious struggle, Elena sought to take a life from the present day. Only when she joined the Legion, pledged her soul to the master, had she been able to realize her ambitions. For a dozen years she had labored under the power of the Basilisk - twelve of the most fruitful, satisfying years of her life.
She felt confidant this day that soon all her expectations would come to pass. The master had promised. He had only to establish his kingdom and then the world would be shaped as he saw fit. She had seen his vision of the new world. It suited her for hate attracts like-minded people. Love has no place in their lives.
Nothing in Ezerbet's demeanor betrayed his true character either. He returned her cheerful smile and took pleasure in finishing the last of the wine, enjoying its effect.
"You are finished, no?" he inquired of her. When she nodded he summoned the waiter with a pre-emptory wave of his hand.
Within moments they were strolling leisurely down the street away from the cafe, away from the more crowded areas. They had no particular destination. They sought only to blend in, so as to continue their conversation beneath the general hub of activity of a city already suspicious, yet unaware that the enemy was in its midst.
Ezerbet waited until they were some blocks distant before speaking first. "You were discovered?"
Elena enjoyed a brief laugh, though it was more a sound of contempt. "No, of course not. I had no difficulties," she informed him tersely, making sure he understood just how powerfully the master worked within her. "The uniform of an International Red Cross nurse served me well. Naturally, I was one of the very first on the scene a few hours later. We drove back to the base for further instructions and then proceeded immediately back. I also saw the explosions from the ridge."
"Then you had best tell me what else has come up so we can judge what to do," he said curtly, annoyed by her arrogance.
"This," she said with a reverent pride, taking her handbag a piece of ordinary tissue and carefully unwrapping it to expose on the white surface a piece of metal. At first glance there appeared nothing unusual about it, with the possible exception that its ends were charred and bent. Ezerbet picked it up and turned it over, unaware that Elena enjoyed this moment of triumph. His face turned pale. Elena laughed.
"Where did you get this?" he snapped. He stared a moment longer, zeroing in on the logo etched upon the surface that had somehow remained intact throughout its ordeal. It was the symbol of the master, the Basilisk - - the forbidden symbol to any but those of the elite inner circle.
"It is most extraordinary, Usif, " she told him carefully, not wishing to let him see that she personally blamed others of the inner circle for this failure in security. "These identifications are never to be used unless specifically instructed by the master. No such instructions were given."
"No they weren't. Were there any others?"
"Not that I know of, Usif."
"The master was most emphatic that for this particular event there be no symbol left behind for someone to find. I fear someone has betrayed the master, Elena."
"Yes, I believe we must intensify our watch. The enemy is on our hoofs."
"It is time then to exterminate the pests, the quicker the better. Do you not agree, Elena?"
"Quite. Ja vol." She slowed her pace and stopped. "I suggest you explain what you wish me to do now. I obey orders, remember? And for now you are to give them," came her less-than-kind reminder.
"Ah yes, very well, you are to go to the apartment we have rented on the Via Crescenzio," he instructed. "Remain there. Late tonight, when the ashes of the pathetic victims arrive to be taken to the Vatican, arrangements have been made for a member of the Legion to be on hand to verify that they have been delivered."
"And who might that be?" Elena inquired.
"That is for the master to know only," Ezerbet abruptly ended her speculation. "In the meantime I'll have to inform the master of the matter you've brought to our attention." He phrased the statement very carefully, indicating that he was the preferred disciple, not her. He saw her flinch. "Have no fear, Elena. I will indeed tell him that you have served faithfully. Oh, and one more thing..."
"What is it?" A trepidation betrayed her voice.
"You've indentified the weapon to be used in our next strike?"
"Of course. I have confirmation," she patted her handbag. "Well concealed, my comrade, a microdot amidst my cosmetics. It will be perfectly safe."
"Excellent. Then, for now, rest. Soon we'll have to make ready for delivery of the 'cosmetics' once you have decrypted the instructions. You will keep me abreast. Our plans go forward. As we speak the Legion is closing in on the moles who seek to thwart us."
Next: PART II: The Smoldering SIXTH CHAPTER, Episode Three
"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.