It was the Son of a Jewish carpenter Who assured His followers, "Ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you." This day more than a few were relying on His promise. That included Father Niki Andriopoulos, as he huddled below the sill, out of sight of the inside inhabitants, praying for the Lord to literally open the window. Like the parting of the Red Sea, his prayer was finally answered. The curtains separated slightly, a shaft of light falling on the slate patio as one of the men opened the bottom window a crack.
Dateline: Paloma Estate Hills outside Rome, November 5, 9:30 a.m.
Niki did not know it at the time, but the two he monitored were half of the foursome of Legion members who had been party to the clandestine meeting in that moldy basement room three nights ago. the ones the old drunk Sebastiano Tenazi had identified to Karel Shenneker before her hideous death at the hands of the Turk Usif Ezerbet. The one woman at that meeting was Maria Figuerido, now just a figment of ashes. The other two in that moldy room that night conversed on another stage this day, a brighter, more airy arena, especially now that one of them had opened the window half way to let in the cool November air. As the ether of invisible cool oxygen and molecules of infinitesimal filaments meshed and rushed into the room, the air sought an escape through a crack in a window on the far side of the room. For the air to stay in stagnant circulation within this room would endanger the atmosphere itself. The suffocating breath of the Basilisk was stifling. It was the same vapor, which had consumed the two men who spoke this day: Guillaume Brunatti and Luciani "Lucio" Serrano.
"You know I always prefer a little fresh air, Guillaume."
"Very well, Lucio."
Silently Niki gave God thanks for Luciani's fetish.
"So," Lucio continued, "you have the material?"
"Once we got the order, Lucio, it was not difficult to find our contact in the United States who supplied the money necessary to obtain it."
"When are you planning to deliver it, Guillaume?"
"In two stages. After Elena is in position. We will deliver the trunk early this evening. The truck carrying the second shipment will arrive shortly after midnight and be unloaded in the back of the great hall of the Master's pope. They will stack them in the room beneath the stage. They will be distributed at the moment white smoke appears. We will have half an hour after that."
Niki and Ogidi looked at each other, trying to fathom the meaning as the one called Lucio Serrano asked another question. "Are you sure of the timing? After all Elena was, shall we say, premature with the operation in New Nasiriyah."
"Si. I am well aware, Lucio, but I have been assured by Vendhem of the procedure. We shall not fail. You worry too much. Trust the Master. We have come too far to begin fostering doubts now."
"Of course, Guillaume, you are right. I just feel we must be very cautious. We are so close."
"For now we will relax. I must pack the trunk so they will not detect it. We will leave here at five, Lucio. With traffic we should arrive at the warehouse by six. We must make sure everything is completed and loaded. We will then proceed to the Vaticano."
"Has Macelli cleared us?"
"Vendhem. Elena should be there as well. Vendhem has assured me that the guards there have crossed over. They will have two full sets of Swiss Guard uniforms for us. We will have no problems."
"Ah, Guillaume, bene. I always wondered what I would look like as a member of the Swiss Guards."
"Now you will have your chance, Lucio. But your greatest opportunity is coming soon. At the given moment the world will witness the strength of our Master and end the reign of the enemy."
"Bene. Multa bene," sighed Lucio. "I am anxious. I admit it. I grow weary of waiting and eager to welcome the New Kingdom."
"Ah, I know what you mean, Lucio. It has been the motivating force for us these long years. Come, you can help with the trunk. We must find some religious items to put in the trunk in case we run into a guard who has not been compromised once we are inside. Vendhem warned me that not all had been so easily swayed."
The voices ceased. No further sounds emerged from the room save for shuffling of feet and the closing of a door. Where had they gone? Not wanting to be detected, Niki and Makuta stole their way back across the patio. Stealthily they headed down the steps and across the driveway. They did not stop until they had reached the base of the hill and were safely back in the stolen car.
"Well, Dr. Ogidi, we must do something." Niki was breathless, more from the knowledge he had just overheard than from the exertion of their exodus.
"I know. And we will, too. But how? Of that I am not quite sure yet, Niki."
"Well, my good doctor, have you robbed any trucks lately?" Niki quipped, a mischievous smile creasing his mouth and eyes.
Ogidi knew the gist, replying testily. "I have found it rather difficult to fit it into my schedule. Niki. Be serious. We cannot rob a truck. We have already stolen this car."
"Borrowed," Niki gently corrected, emitting a small laugh. "Dear doctor, this is no time to take all the rules seriously."
"How then do you propose to pull off this heist?"
"Quite simply, Makuta." Niki was resolute as he started up the car and made a quick U-turn back down the road. "We will, of course, follow those two to where the warehouse is. Then we will --"
"You have seen too many American adventure films, dear Father Niki. No, we must be careful. You above all know the art of smuggling one in. I am counting on that talent from you again."
"I hope I will not disappoint you," the Greek offered.
"I am sure you will not."
"So what, Doctor, do you suggest?"
"We at least know this Guillaume and Lucio will not be on the move until five today. I am counting on them being overconfident. We can use that. Perhaps, Niki, we can be in and out tonight before the Legion knows of our movements."
"Yes, Makuta." Like a magnet Niki's thoughts were being pulled toward Vatican City. "I wonder how Pat and Stephen have fared. It has been a night of terror and yet hope. For we have finally found a lead to the Basiliskos. No?"
"Yes," noted Ogidi.
Dateline: Vatican City - supply room on second floor of the Apostolic Palace, November 5, 10:30 a.m.
Sister Bridie remained silent for a few moments after she finished tending to Pat's wounds the best she could. He dared not say anything, presuming she was either lost in prayer or shock. So lost that she did not look up when another figure entered stealthily from the back directly behind the seated nun. Despite the dim light, Pat recognized him immediately. It was Monsignor Navarro.
"Stephen, thank God your safe."
"For now, Pat, for now."
Sister turned quickly and rose to her feet, bowing to the Monsignor.
"No need, Sister, I cannot thank you enough for your help. I've brought a complete set of clerical clothing for you, Pat. A pair of black pants, shirt, new collar and a cassock, not to mention a pair of shoes - size 11."
"Perfect," piped Pat.
"Dear God, Monsignor, this man be needin' medical attention, not a new wardrobe," Sister Bridie protested.
"You're thinking correctly, Sister. I know he's lost a lot of blood. He needs antibiotics, but I couldn't find any. Unfortunately I have no contacts I can trust in the south wing."
"You be referrin' to the infirmary?"
"Exactly, Sister," Stephen confirmed. "How can we get some antibiotics for him?"
"He be needin' more than that, Monsignor."
"Meanin' might you be askin' how we be smugglin' Mr. Gallagher into the infirmary."
"No, Sister, that will never work. The guards would detect him immediately."
"If they saw him they would, Monsignor." A wry smile creased her lips.
"Meaning?" a puzzled Navarro asked.
"Meanin', Monsignor, we could be usin' that cart in the corner n' be coverin' him up with towels."
"Worth a try," reasoned Stephen.
"Tis a darin' thing, but these be dangerous times, they be."
"It'll work," enthused a weakened Pat. "But how do I get out of the infirmary?"
"One step at a time, Pat," the Monsignor suggested.
"In other words, play it by ear!" Pat affirmed the obvious.
"But trust in God," Sister Bridie added.
"Speakin' of towels," Pat piped up, "tell him what you told me about the towel, Sister."
Sister turned away from both men and, with some effort, retrieved the white terrycloth from beneath her scapular. "Here, Monsignor, is what I found in Major Benziger's room."
Stephen studied it, wiping the smudges. "This shoe polish is still fairly fresh. God bless him. A true martyr. This means the Pope is definitely still alive."
"But where?" Pat quizzed.
"An old castle, those were his last words," Navarro replied in a pensive tone.
"Who?" asked Sister Bridie.
"Riage Benziger. He took a bullet defending the Holy Father."
"Then what Pat told me be ringin' true. Major Benziger is dead?"
"'Fraid so, Sister. Shot by Urazzi in his office," Pat affirmed.
"Urazzi's dead too," added Stephen.
"They be droppin' like flies around here, they be."
Stephen nodded, his brow furrowed in confusion. "But according to Benziger, the Pope is still alive."
A eureka flashed into Pat's memory. "Come to think of it, Stephen, when was the last time the Pope wore a tiara?"
"Not since Pius XII, Pat. Why?"
"Bingo?" Sister Bridie puzzled.
"It makes sense," reasoned Pat. "That wasn't Pope Clement XV who died in Iraq. No, it was--"
Stephen finished Pat's thought. "An imposter! Of course. That's why Macelli was so intent on publishing the Papal Letter that blames the Jews and decrees that sin doesn't really exist."
"Huh?" Pat was in the dark on that event.
"Oh, the saints preserve us! Our Holy Father would never have done that."
"No, Sister, but those, who promoted the rationale that the Jews didn't have to be converted, would."
Pat beat Sister Bridie to the punch with the question. "Why is that, Stephen?"
"Because there was so much backlash from that contradiction of Sacred Scripture and Doctrine that the traditional movement gained greatly from the fallout."
"Huh?" Pat frowned.
Stephen explained further. "Those who desperately clung to the ambiguous and, as we now can clearly see, dangerous Vatican II directives, they created their own defense of their actions by going the other way."
"Cover one heresy with another?" Pat deduced.
"Exactly, Pat. They're trying to stir dissension even among their own ranks."
"Sounds more like the Devil's doin' if you be askin' me, Monsignor."
"You're right there, Sister." Stephen was piecing it all together. "They knew Clement XV thought differently than his successors. They were afraid he would annul Vatican II by calling a third council. Indeed I know for a fact such plans have been in the works. In fact, in studying the roster of the invited Cardinals to Iraq, two thirds were favorable to such an event and would have protested vigorously any more innovations such as Macelli sprung on us the other day."
"So that's why Benziger never made it to Iraq," added Pat.
"Or the Pope," added Navarro. "I knew he was dreading the event when it was first announced."
"I be seein' it in his face, too, Monsignor. He even be askin' me what I be thinkin' about all bein' one."
"Wow? The Pope spoke to you, Sister?" Pat was incredulous.
"Sure n' often he would chat when Sister Agnes de Christi and I be workin' away in the Papal Quarters. So I know it bothered him, many things that be goin' on behind his back be botherin' him."
"It makes sense, Sister. The Curia was trying to control him. Since the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958 the Curia has become more powerful - too powerful."
"Then what Fasif told me makes sense about the Black Mass after Paul VI's election. The Devil's callin' the shots inside the Vatican."
"Afraid so, Pat."
"That's another reason they had to try to take him and those protectin' him out of the picture before they made the switch," Pat reasoned.
"Right," agreed Stephen. "You see, Sister, the imposter was going to make the pronouncement in Iraq as part of that abominable One Eucharist document. Then, unbeknownst to the participants, the Legion was to destroy the evidence and the imposter, along with everyone else."
"But even the imposter never made the announcement, Stephen, at least I don't remember him--"
"Right. That's what still puzzles me. Maybe he had a change of heart. I don't know." A resigned Stephen shook his head.
"No wonder the Legion of the Basilisk is on the attack," Pat assumed. "The explosions were to happen after he spoke, but they got their wires crossed."
"You'll be pardonin' me," Sister Bridie interpolated, "but if the Pope is still alive, where be this castle?"
"That," Pat chimed in, "we're tryin' to figure out, Sister, and the clock's tickin'."
"Then we be wastin' time. We might all be next if we not be gettin' a move on with the cart."
"She's right, Pat. Sister, I'll help Pat get these clerical clothes on if you'd just step over there. Oh, and Sister, smudge that towel up so no one can read it. We don't want it falling in the wrong hands."
The diminutive nun modestly moved to the far wall so she could mush the towel together. Her back was turned as Stephen helped Pat into the new set of clothes. She could hear him moan as he put the new shirt on, then the cassock.
"Okay Sister, your passenger is ready."
"Get in, Mr. Gallagher," Sister cheerfully commanded.
"Aye, aye, Sister."
"Sister," Stephen called after her. "If you can get away, you and I will meet back here, say 2 p.m. We can touch bases and try to figure out some strategy. We're on our own from here on in. Go with the angels and for God's sake, be careful," Stephen called after her.
"Sure n' I will," she concurred. "Monsignor, I be feelin' in me bones that you should have this key, and this one too."
She extracted from her key chain the key to this utility room.
"It takes two keys for this room, Sister?" Stephen inquired.
"No, the other key be for the Papal Sacristy. Some say there be a back entrance to the Pope's apartment. I just be feelin' the good Lord wants you to have it for safe keepin'."
"Very well, I'll see you back here at two. Go with God."
"I be thankin' you. Now, I must be gettin' back to my duties as soon as I be droppin' your friend off, Father."
"Thank you, Sister. Oh, and, Pat, if anyone asks, tell them you're Father Donaldson. He's a friend. He's Cardinal Zachmunn's secretary. He's not here, but tell them you're with him and you were mugged just off the grounds while walking. Got it?"
"Will they buy that?" Pat asked, peaking out from beneath the towels concealing him.
"Right now, my man, that's all we've got," Stephen sighed as Sister repositioned the towels to hide her injured cargo.
Next: PART IV: The Shrouding TENTH CHAPTER, Episode Four
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