Headlights, taillights and exhaust meshed with the flurries of an early November snow that had been falling on Dallas for the last few hours. It was getting more intense now, evident by the fleet of sand trucks that had been dispatched by the city. One such metro vehicle was slowing traffic along Buckner Boulevard, depositing the granules to prevent skidding. Never mind the residue it left on the rocker panels or played havoc with underpinnings, it was for the safety of the populace.
Dateline: Dallas - - November 4th, 6:05 p.m.
Safety. Victor Van Wess mulled that thought in his mind as he watched this surrealistic traffic scene from his perch inside the Le Peep restaurant. No one was safe any more and the more the talking heads on the cable news networks along with the big three network news experts expounded and repeated ad nauseum the measures that must be taken, the more obvious it became they didn't have a clue.
Vic had seen it coming over the years, but, like a puzzle with several missing pieces that drive one toward frustration, even insanity at times, he struggled with answers in following trails that so often wound up at dead ends. This time however, Van Wess had found one piece that had led to a destination he suspected but never could garner enough evidence to verify his fears. He would take that trail tonight after securing Corrine Morelli's trust and ensuring that his loving, unsuspecting wife Amy was taken care of in the event of his sudden demise.
It was not something he feared, rather something he dreaded. Despite his sailor vocabulary, part and parcel of the industry of the press room for more decades than he cared to remember, Vic was one who had always followed the path of righteousness and morality. One who always sought to set things right. That is why he waited this evening to speak face to face with Corrie. He owed her that because it was he who had caved to Pat's promptings, sending him to that godforsaken place in Iraq. His last words to Pat seemed to haunt him. " Don't like sending you, Pat...but, it's your funeral."
With the evidence Vic had just received an hour ago, those words ate at him like acid on a battery cable. How could he explain to Corrie? As he quaffed down another cup of coffee and motioned the waitress for more, he realized he had better come up with something quickly for she had just exited her car, sloshing toward the warmth of the lobby of the restaurant.
Corrie spotted him from the entrance. Her heart racing, she mounted the elevated platform where seven tables were set near the window. Vic was in the far corner facing out into the bleak night, much like his heart this evening.
"Victor, it is good to see you. Though I wish it were Pat."
Always a gentleman, Vic stood and pulled out her chair for her as he helped her remove her overcoat and drape it over another chair. "Me too, Corrie, me too."
"I don't like that tone, Vic. Something's wrong isn't it? Oh my God is it Pat?"
Vic didn't look her in the eye immediately as he lit a cigarette, stalling for how to tell her.
Corrie waved the smoke away, "God, Victor, those cancer sticks'll kill you...if not me."
"Sorry. There are a lot worse things than these that scare me, Corrie. Like this."
Never one to finesse, Vic pulled out his Mirror Reflector Card and inserted it into a small MP3-like gismo dubbed the Reflector Imager "By revealing what I'm about to show you, I'm placing both of our necks in a noose - a very dangerous noose. I'm afraid, Corrie, that it might already be too late for Pat."
"No, don't say that!" Corrie was in denial.
"Here's the proof, Corrie. Watch and listen.
He moved closer to her and pointed the lazer beam toward the back of the white chair at an angle where no one else in the restaurant could see what she was about to witness. He placed a small node on the back of her ear. "You'll be able to hear everything and it won't disturb the customers." With that an image, almost in holographic fashion flashed on the back of the chair and Corrie fixed her eyes on it, her fingers trembling as she grasped Vic's hand and squeezed, anticipating the worst.
What followed, with amazing clarity and audio, was a short eye-witness account of the horrendous events of this evening. From the camera angle it would seem someone had been across the street with a high-powered, high tech zoom lens that captured, in amazing pixilated resolution, the events that occurred just two hours earlier in Rome. Whoever recorded it was not in the restaurant, and had access to the Mirror Reflector Card. The Imager revealed the four masqueraded resisters of the Legion of the Basilisk enjoying their meal. Corrie didn't recognize Pat at first, but Vic pointed out the ever present Pall Mall in his hand and his voice - his drawl - cinched it for Corrie. New emotions surged over her as she watched Pat for a few seconds, then saw the waitress move toward him, almost bump him in her effort to hand something to someone else. Then, her heart plunged as a hellish morphing occurred, one that the Imager could play in phenomenal slow-motion to capture the change from finite being to infernal monster. The noise level increased as shouts and screams were heard and she saw this freak - a hideous reptilian monster lunge at Pat. From that point on patrons of the restaurant, fleeing the restaurant in panic blocked the cameraman's angle as shadows raced in staccato fashion in front of the lens. And then it was over.
Vic, took the Imager, with the Reflector Card still inserted and pressed it into Corrie's hand, unclenching it first as the tears welled up within this fragile soul.
"There is no evidence that he's definitely dead, Corrie."
"Not much evidence he's alive, Vic." Corrie's sadness was now turning toward anger, anger at Vic for allowing him to go. Anger at herself for not putting up more resistance. Anger at the world for causing the events that brought him to his apparent death in a Roman bistro. "How could you? Why didn't you tell me sooner. You knew, damnit, you knew where he was. Why? Vic? Why?" The emotions gained the best of her and she balled like a baby as nearby patrons craned their necks, then looked away as not to seem intruders.
Vic retrieved a clean hanky, trying to assuage her. "I know it looks bad. Indeed, I thought the worst as well when I first saw it. He was dead. Gone."
"Thanks, but that's not helping, sir!" She pulled away from him, bitterness swelled within a broken heart that had always been so warm and loving.
Vic smiled. Was he that sadistic thought Corrie repelled by his saccharine gesture. "I thought so, Corrie, until I received just a little over half an hour ago via encrypted e-mail a short note: 'Pat sleeping with the fish for now. Soon he will swim again. All is not lost.' "
"I don't get it," Corrie stammered, trying to gain her composure, her emotions on a veritable roller coaster and Vic seemingly controlling the psychological cart she was in. She wanted out of that cart. She wanted Vic to cut the power and leave her alone. She tried to bolt the buckles. "That is not encouraging, Vic, especially after what we've just seen. I think you're just trying to patronize me." She paused a second, then, "I think I feared this moment from the second he kissed me goodnight after the explosions."
"I know, Corrie. And what you saw was devastating, but I do believe in miracles and I honestly believe Pat is still alive."
"I want to believe you, Vic, but it sure doesn't look like it does it?"
"Looks can be deceiving. There is a lot of deception going on."
Corrie shot back facetiously, her Italian temper evident, "Tell me about it." Her indignation mounted. "So where is he now, Vic? Who are your contacts that have watched him like a peeping tom?"
Vic took a deep breath. He was determined that now she needed to know as much as possible for time was indeed running out; yet for the sake of all, not everything as he hemmed over the last question.
"He's in Rome. From my latest communiqué he's in the catacombs, away from the shadow of the Basilisk and recovering. They are getting him medical help. Look, Corrie, this isn't just a terrorist group with a political agenda of hate like Al Qaeda or the Seventh Storm or any of the other radical Muslim groups."
"What is it about, Vic?" Her tone was getting icier. "And why is Pat so enmeshed in this mess?"
"Because he had to, Corrie. It is either fight the beast or perish."
"And you say he hasn't perished, but the pictures you showed me say otherwise."
"Yeah, I know. It's confusing enough. You saw it, the deadly, satanic lizard that can grow to be six to eight feet in seconds."
"Yes, I still don't believe it." A pensiveness was pervading the acerbity.
"I know it's not natural, Corrie. It's not natural. Corrie, it's a supernatural phenomena orchestrated by Lucifer himself through a world-wide organization of the devil's own."
"Sounds like an exaggeration of the Exorcist, Vic. Come on, I mean--"
"I'm not exaggerating! This organization - the Legion of the Basilisk is intent on one thing: to usher in the antichrist."
"I'm already scared to death. You're not helping."
"But we need your help, Corrie. If this thing has penetrated as far as I think it has, we're all going to need help. Spiritual help! That's all we've got left to fight this beast...that, and plenty of cunning to counter the cunning one."
"I suppose this antichrist has got 666 carved on his skull, too!" Corrie was still confused.
"It's not that simple and I don't have time to draw you a pert chart. I've been tracking this Legion for almost 15 years."
"I know it exists. This scene you just saw gives credence to my fears."
"And mine, too. I mean that was Pat, not some movie stuntman, for God's sake, Vic."
"I hear you, Corrie. These pictures are proof enough for me to use, somehow, to convince an unbelieving world that it does exist. That's why I'm confiding in you. I've been warned that the Basilisk's presence is very much here in Dallas as well, Very, very near. I suspect who it is, but before I confront it I want you to promise me that if anything happens to me you'll deliver the Imager I gave you to the address code on the Reflector Card."
"Okay, but answer me this. Why didn't Pat contact me?"
"Too dangerous. He's been fighting to stay alive long enough to see the Legion trampled back into hell...otherwise we'll all be trampled by this deadly, diabolical menace."
"Well, you've got connections. Can't we get Pat out of Rome, Vic?"
"Corrie, we need him there because Pat and just a handful of others are all that stand between the struggle of good and the dominance of evil for a mighty long time."
"So who are these others working with Pat?"
"You sound like Pat now, Corrie, grilling me, but I've got it coming." He managed to force a chuckle as he continued, "It's too dangerous for all concerned if I tell you all those involved. Remember, I don't know everything. But I swear I'll get to the bottom of it. So help me, God."
"Come hell or high water!" Corrie was now deadly serious and convinced.
"Corrie, everything I've told you has to remain here. Strict confidence, got it?"
"Top secret," a she crossed her heart to show her sincerity. "You have my word on it. Can you give me some idea - some tangible name or names I can relate to? Anything?"
Vic shuffled uncomfortably in his chair, "Ahhh, that's not easy. Okay. I'll try. How about Cardinal Gregory Zachmunn."
"From St. Louis? The one everyone's ballyhooing as the next pope?"
"One and the same, Corrie. For at least seven years I've worked secretly with him. We've even worked to have one of ours installed in a Vatican post. He's proven valuable."
"Who is that?"
"Monsignor Stephen Navarro. A dear and loyal friend that's meant much to this old sinner here."
"But aren't there more in the Vatican that can be trusted? I mean, after all it's the --"
"That's how deep the devil has penetrated, Corrie. It was predicted by Pope Leo XIII and no one paid any attention. So much has been compromised over the past century."
If I remember from my early catechism classes, Vic, wasn't it the Virgin Mary who also foretold these events at Lourdes?"
Actually it was around that time but at La Salette in the western Alps. The one thing she said that stuck is that 'Rome would lose the Faith and become the seat of the antichrist.' The modern church has definitely lost the faith. Now it is ripe for becoming the seat of the antichrist and I'm going to do all I can to stop it.
"God, now I hope Zachmunn does become pope," Corrie opined.
"That makes it all the more dangerous for him and those working for the same cause."
"Well, I've never been much of a joiner, but in this case...with Pat and...oh, I'd go to hell and back to find him, Vic. There's got to be something we can do. Can't we go to Rome to help Pat?
"I wish it were that easy. No. I doubt we'd be of any help, even if we got there in time."
"Yes. Time is vital. This Basilisk can be in many places at one time...take any form...it's not confined to a mortal body...yet."
"Yet?" Corrie was incredulous.
"The Basilisk is a spirit, a being. Evil, yes, but nevertheless a being. Remember they were once angels. They are spirits who are much more powerful than finite beings and when they are desperate as all evil spirits are, it makes it even more dangerous."
"So are we talking about a lizard or the devil, Vic?"
"One and the same. To establish an earthly kingdom it must take on human form. A 'host' if you will - one of its disciples. You can bet it'll be one of its most powerful disciples, too."
"So what do we do, Vic?"
"Pray, Corrie. Now you know as much as you need to know. Guard this Imager with your life. I'm going to do a little more digging. If my suspicions are correct, then I'll call you."
"For God's sake be careful, Vic."
"It's for God's sake that I'm doing this. Only contact the code I gave you in the event anything should happen to me."
"No, Victor, don't say that."
"God alone knows, Corrie. But never forget the Basilisk does exist. You have visible proof of that. Its power is incredible."
They finished their meal quickly and left. In truth, both had only been picked at their food for the subject matter was one that would cause anyone to lose their appetite. So also with Vic and Corrie. As he hugged her and lugged his aching steel-pegged leg out into the frigid November night Corrie had a sense she would not see Vic alive again. The thought sent shivers through her spine, mingled with the chill of not knowing for certain whether Pat was still alive, whether he was seriously injured, and whether she would ever see him again.
As she scraped snow off her windshield before getting into her car, she felt a coldness in her heart. She was not consciously nor totally aware that the stalactites of doubt and fear were melting into a searing stalagmite of hate and revenge. But she had a suspicion as she pulled out of the parking lot and headed home. Hope springs eternal, but her springs of hope were solidifying, forming frozen icicles that threatened to pierce her heart, her flesh. The thaw would be dangerous, very dangerous.
Next: PART III: The Shadowing NINTH 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.