Evening gradually descended on Europe. The Seven Hills of Rome sparkled as the twilight blended with the lights of the city. From the air no one could see the treachery and intrigue that was underway in this eternal city. From the Heavens all was peaceful, at ground level the clock was ticking.
Dateline: Rome - November 2, 6:10 p.m.
The traffic was normally heavy as the cab transporting Pat from the airport to the hotel inched its way into the city. Italians are a friendly lot. Giorgio was the driver of his cab. Pat had introduced himself and immediately Giorgio embraced him as if he had been a long lost friend, "Ah, Patricio, bene. Multa bene."
As Giorgio headed northeast towards the city from Fiumicino Airport, the tall cypress trees reminded him of the same flora at Fasif's place. Pat thought about the last several hours. Not bad time, Pat mused. Leave Kuwait City at 4:00 and arrive in Rome at 5:45. In actuality it was an uneventful three-hour and 54 minute flight. Several somber clerics and a few nuns and nurses along. They had been at the Field of Death earlier as well and realized there was no way they could do anymore. He understood they were with Caritas in Rome. He wished Niki could have accompanied him. He'd known the Greek less than 24 hours and yet he had formed a bond with this mysterious priest and an even more mysterious doctor who had really confounded Pat with the volume of material he had imparted.
Slowly but surely Pat was piecing it all together. It still boggled his mind. It helped that Niki had filled him in on the gaps Fasif had not gone into detail on. Niki was Karel's godfather. No wonder Niki followed her development as a person of God and sought only her welfare. According to Niki, she does Fasif and Helene credit, as well as her father Malachi who she never knew.
As the cab turned onto the Viale Trastevere, Pat thought about what a dedicated man Niki was and how much he looked forward to meeting this Karel. He wondered if he'd ever see Niki or Fasif again, if he'd ever get to meet Karel's mother. As he mulled over what Karel might look like, a multi-car accident on Viale Trastevere and the shouting surrounded it interrupted his thoughts.
Giorgio rolled down his window, pointing his fist and emitting refrains that surely must be cussing as only Italians can do. One did not need to know the language, the gestures told the story. Just as quickly a carabinieri signaled for him to veer his car to the right.
Pat's driver muttered something, yelled "Prego!" and sharply made a left-hand turn up the hill.
Pat craned his neck to see the Roman police officer waving his fist frantically as the cab put distance between the officer of the law and this fleeing cab that wasn't going to be directed along a snake-like procession that could take hours. This Roman taxi billed its fare on distance, not time. Speed prompted the driver to make up for time. Away from the bottlenecked logjam the cab sped, cutting up Viale Glorioso where, after many twists and turns that left Gallagher gasping for breath, he turned onto Via Aurelia at the Garibaldi Piazza and headed north up the hill where it crested. Soon Pat could see the majestic dome of St. Peter's, the setting sun glimmering off the western side of the Basilica. Soon the cab descended to the bridge over the Tiber at the Piazza Rovere and headed up the one way thoroughfare on the eastern side of the river winding its way through traffic again.
Pat mused that if one could drive in Rome, one could drive anywhere. As much as he loved to drive, as much as he wanted to take the wheel rather than the maniac that was chauffeuring him to the Esperia, he knew that would be hijacking. He decided to sit back and enjoy the view. After all, the cabbie had gotten him this far in one piece. The lights on the Ponte San Angelo caught his eye with the majestic statues standing sentinel every 50 feet on each side of this magnificent bridge that led straight to a magnificent circular edifice.
"Scusi, is that the monument they call the Weddin' Cake? Pat asked with all the naivete of a tourist.
"No, Patricio, you want Vittoriano. This is Castel Sant'Angelo. Si?"
"Ah, si," replied Pat as he leaned forward to get a better look at the looming round castle. Little did he realize how his path would cross those two who were holed up on the third level still in a very weakened state. Little did he know just what was hidden and yet to be revealed.
"Many tourists?" Pat asked in seeking if it were open to the public.
The driver chuckled. "No, no more. Shut down. Why? Ah, who knows."
Georgio's hand gestures frightened Pat as the Roman taxi driver had both hands off the wheel and was turning his head back toward Pat. These Italians Pat thought, how do they make it through a day? Then again, with all that has happened in the last 36 hours, how does anyone get through the day? He instinctively reached into his pocket and squeezed the Rosary beads Fasif had given him. Somehow, someway, that gave him comfort. Somehow he knew God would be with him through it all.
Giorgio's laugh reminded him of Niki's easy-going, no pretense chuckling. As welcoming as that was, there was a burning sensation coursing through Pat' entire being. It wasn't the scotch and soda he'd had on the flight. No. Rather, it was the knowledge which seeped into his bloodstream with every beat of his heart that the depravity of the Basilisk had already reached out and marked him; tracked him from the moment he'd landed in Basra to the time at Fasif's to this point in time as the cab turned onto the street that would take him directly to the Esperia Hotel. He had been smelling the Basilisk's fetid breath and it was getting stronger.
Dateline: Tel Aviv, Israel - Home of Helene Shenneker - November 2, 7:30 p.m.
While Pat checked into the Esperia and settled in for a well-deserved rest, Helene Shenneker sat in the veranda of her modest home on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, a slight breeze blowing in off the Mediterranean through the portal of her small balcony that faced westward. Her fingers rested lightly on the opened pages of the Psalms of David.
Beside her a lighted candle burned steadily, its glow adding to the sincerity of her reading and the flame sheltered from the breeze by small bookcase. Helene's eyes were closed in prayer, and she did not stir so much as an eyelash for several long minutes.
The day's events had drummed mercilessly in her mind. The depleted Israeli coalition, the same one that survived the terrible fall of Jerusalem earlier in this fateful year, had been in an uproar throughout the day. They had protested loudly the innuendoes which were moving like a tsunami throughout the Mid East and beyond to all continents. Cardinal Macelli's announcement the morning before of the pope's proclamation had not sat well with Hebrew interests. Fueled by continued hatred by neighboring countries, assumptions were being made that rebellious Jews, indeed, former members of The Mossad, had planted the explosives. The world was in a vengeful mood. Terrorists the likes of the al-quaida and Taliban marshalled at one time by Osama bin Laden could not be blamed for this one and so the scapegoat mantle fell upon those descendants of Judea who were supposedly retaliating for the atrocities of World War II and the siege and destruction of the Holy City.
Never mind that there was no proof. Rumors and half-truths have a way of blotting out such facts. Helene had not been surprised. Her entire career in the Israeli government had taught her that her country would always be a prime target for any nation to pin a crime on. It was the nature of the country and the history of its people. What did surprise her was the incredulity on the faces and in the voices of her fellow cabinet members. Would they never learn?
Her heart and soul were weary this evening. She sensed a quietness about. Glancing out toward the evening sky where the stars and moon were muted by intermittent clouds, she felt as if the night moved about on feet slippered by darkness. It was as if the entire world held its breath in anticipation.
There appeared to be no one else about. The silence was complete. The room was immaculate, almost monastic in its furnishings. Yet, within this very room Helene had achieved much wisdom and virtue of patience through long hours of prayer and meditation. These were her real strengths, given her by God. She sought refuge in them this evening.
Her brief conversation with Fasif earlier in the day had awakened sleeping memories. Now they seemed even more vivid. She realized there was no turning back. No wishing what might have been, what could have been. She realized it was her choice, her will to accept or block. She would not stand in his way. A deep sigh escaped her fragile frame. Like Fasif, she knew only too well that the Legion was close. The time was at hand. As if knowing her death was imminent.
She did not know if it was still possible to halt the Legion of the Basilisk in its relentless march upon the world, but, like Fasif, she knew she must try. Death in trying to prevent it was preferable to living in a kingdom that swirled in a black mist of hatred.
Despite her prayers this day, she could not shake off the concern for Fasif's life. Anyone who stood in the way of this evil force would be marked for death. It was inevitable. Even more than Fasif, she worried over the safety of her only child. She knew she could not protect Karel. She knew, though she tried in several ways, that she could not dissuade her daughter from undertaking her role in this mission to halt the Antichrist. The forces of good were in Karel's blood and heart. Karel was the daughter of hers and Malachi's love and convictions, the daughter of their minds and souls. The night she was conceived, their honeymoon night on the Isle of Cyprus seemed such a distant memory now. Without Fasif she wouldn't have made it after Malachi's gruesome, mysterious death. Fasif was her rock. Like Joseph, he protected his sister by caring for her and giving the outside world the idea they were married to protect her identity. It was like a witness-protection program which The Mossad, with the cooperation of the Vatican, had set up. It worked well with the Holy See and aided greatly in keeping it very secret for the sake of all. Now Karel was a grown woman in her 20's who had to live out her own role in this. Karel was adjusting to who her father really was. Fasif's secret was safe with Karel. Confidentiality was one of her greatest traits. Helene had learned to accept whatever came along, learning long ago that her brother had been chosen by God to play a very important role in the world. Such an extraordinary man!
Khadid had indicated to her that the pope's body - or more accurately his pile of ashes - would be secretly returned to Rome later this night. This was uppermost in her mind. For it meant only one thing. The Legion of the Basilisk would seize this opportunity. The entire world was in mourning for the pope and scores of other religious and political leaders, and a creeping fear gripped Shenneker, a dread that Basilisk would seize the moment.
Her objective now was to know where that attack was planned and how these disciples of the serpent of sin intended to manifest their power and strike fear anew into the already shell-shocked planet called earth. What threatened them was not of this world.
She realized her own days, even hours, were numbered for the Legion was well aware of her role against them. While the world media had trumpeted various terrorist cells that had to be responsible for the holocaust on the Field of Abraham - a retaliation for the destruction of Jerusalem, Helene wanted, with every fiber, to shout from the rooftops that the 'terrorists' were not just a cell but a damnation from and for all time. The media had not a clue that the world was a victim to an elite squad of people who belonged totally to their master, who thought as the master wished them to think, who took their strength from the devil himself, and that in turn strengthened him further in the wake of so much hopelessness and despair of the natural and manmade destruction that had prevailed worldwide for decades.
Helene had sent Karel to Rome the morning of the massacre to meet with another man who could help piece together the location of the den. However that man had mysteriously disappeared, as had many others, for the forces of good were dwindling quickly. Now those who fought with every fiber to detect and root out the Legion were putting their trust in an American whom Fasif had known for only a few hours. He was going on that inner sense that had always sustained him so well. For he trusted in God, not his own prejudices and hunches. Though Helene was a bit skeptical, she knew Fasif had done a quick background check and knew people who could vouch for him. God, she hoped that would be enough.
Karel loved being in Rome. Prior to the attack on the Field of Abraham on November 1st she had been in the eternal city seeking information from various sources, but many of those sources had dried up or disappeared. At the time Karel felt she was losing her touch and confided such in a stream of tears in her mother's arms on the night of October 30th in this very room Helene sat in this night. As a loving mother, Shenneker had tried to console her daughter, tried to tell her that failure was part of the human struggle that could only be truly successful when in harmony with God.
The last time she talked with Karel was earlier this afternoon when she called on the secure line, a renewed enthusiasm in her voice as she told of her findings in the ancient city of Romulus and Remus. She had met with a man, a rather drunken one at that, one Sebastiano Tenazi, who had been more than willing to talk to her for the promise of wine.
Karel had told her mother that Sebastiano had related to her of his assignment to hide in the basement corridor below a produce hop in the Via Magdalena, to watch as four people dressed as the night gathered to hold a secret meeting. He confirmed to her the Basilisk salute and that he had caught a glimpse of one man whose eyes glowed like burning coals. All this, he had told Karel, he had later reported to another man, one he seemed greatly fearful of and yet drawn to, a man who periodically asked such favors of him in return for a bountiful supply of Chianti and heroin. Karel had believed the old man, though it was clear his mind was affected by the excessive use of alcohol and narcotics, not to mention his breath and the putrid odor emitted from a lack of proper hygiene. Such is the hopeless trap so many homeless fall into. Despite all of this, there was something about the way he spoke of these people, in particular the man whom he later met who gave him the barbiturates that sent shivers up Karel's spine. Helene knew Karel was convinced these were members of the inner circle of the Legion. They were in Rome, no doubt about that.
Helene closed the Book of Psalms and extinguished the candle. There in the moonlight she meditated in silent prayer, as if making her total peace with God.
A wisp of wind blew the candle out. It was maybe a minute before she noticed it as she reached for a match to re-light the wick. Her hand paused in the very action of striking the match. Had she imagined it? Surely she had not heard a hissing sound in the room? Never! There were no lethal serpents in this part of Israel, especially so close to the coast for the government had been most methodical in keeping wildlife away from the settlements.
She started to strike the match again. Just as she did she heard it again. A slithering, hissing movement that was all of one piece. She applied the match to the wick and watched the flame leap from the door which she had not fully closed.
Helene was not given to hysteria by any means. She had been through too much. However, tonight she felt a quickening of her heartbeat at this unprecedented sound. Her imagination, nothing more, she told herself firmly. After all, concentrating as she must on the Legion of the Basilisk can conjure up many scenarios that can play with the mind and psyche.
She held the candle aloft, lighting a portion of the room directly in front of her. Nothing there. She began to move forward, toward the front door when the sound repeated. It was much closer now. She whirled about, candle held high, and shed its light to her left.
Then she saw it!
Not a lizard she had ever seen before, accustomed as she was to seeing strange creatures in the remoter parts of the Israeli state. This was the same reptile Pat had learned of earlier this day; the same Basilisk Fasif had alerted Helene to so often in recent years. The same unearthly reptile which had taken her beloved Malachi from her - so dastardly that many of the operatives within her own agency at The Mossad had refused to believe this legend. It was no legend. What was this beast?
It hissed and grew larger even as she watched in stunned horror. The sight paralyzed her. The candle trembled in her hand, making the shadows waver and the hideous effect upon the reptile's puffing dilatable pouch was even more appalling. From its mouth its tongue darted, seeking her scent, her flesh.
She managed to back up an inch.
That was as far as she got. Another hiss, this more powerful, more satanic than any previous sound, as it rose on its hind legs, the crest along its spine standing upright, each one a spike of death. Beneath its belching throat the pouch enlarged more, glowing red in the candlelight.
Her gaze was hypnotically riveted upon this creature. The tongue still darted in and out with great rapidity. Yet that was not where her gaze was fixed. She looked with terror upon its own eyes. Eyes of deepest ebony that transformed in the flickering to eyes that took on the red glow of molten hatred.
All this took mere seconds, though to Helene it seemed endless minutes as she stood frozen to the spot, captured by an evilness which she had only guessed at, and never thought to behold.
The Basilisk came at her, far more omnipotent than she could have imagined - than anyone could have imagined. There was no preparation on earth for what she experienced. The lizard grew to the proportions of a grown man and caught her throat with its diabolical claws, ripping, tearing, and breathing upon her the stench of her own death. She tried to fight it off, but her efforts were as futile as the blood pouring from her numerous wounds and the blood spurting from her ruptured carotid artery, the candle dropping on the couch.
The monster of depravity lunged full on, knocking Helene to the floor. With her last ounce of breath she managed to scream one final exclamation, one last prayer into the fetid air before the end came.
"Fasif! May God protect you!" Her lungs expelled the words as the final agony took hold.
No sooner were her last words uttered than the Basilisk was on her, goring into her side and burrowing into an open cavity until her entire body imploded in a mass of tissue, bone and blood. Then the hissing filled the air once more. Yet it was quieter now. Satisfied and satiated.
The flames seared to the ceiling as the curtains spread the candleflame into a conflagration that soon engulfed the entire room. It created a thick Black Fire that boiled and rolled, thundering forth, creating its own velocity as the lizard moved swiftly through the thick smoke to the balcony and down the wall and out into the night, leaving behind only ashes.
Next: PART II: The Smoldering SIXTH CHAPTER, Episode Four
"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.