Like the Greeks moving the Trojan horse into place, like Hannibal scaling the Alps, carefully Sister Bridie wheeled the cart smuggling Pat down one corridor, then another. She was heading south across the transverse wing towards the infirmary.
The infirmary had been added in addition to the first location near the Swiss Guard quarters and the ospidale de Vaticano. Clement XV had reasoned that an additional infirmary closer to the Square would afford a more convenient location for both Vatican personnel and those pilgrims in need of medical care in a sectioned-off area of the Cortile di San Damaso. It butted up directly against the north side of the Bernini Colonnade before it spanned out elliptically. Its reddish exterior rose straight up above the columns and statues facing the inner part of the Square near the great steps fronting St. Peter's.
To avoid suspicion, Sister Bridie stayed out of the main corridor, choosing the servant's hall. The route, by design, was not direct, not nearly as direct as Macelli was in trying to find out what had happened to Urazzi and Benziger. Once within his grasp, the opportunity to find out where Riage had hidden the Pope was now gone forever. The devil was not pleased. The Legion could feel their doom breathing at the nape of their necks.
Three full-regalia Swiss Guards stood sentinel outside the office of the Camerlengo's office. Inside two plain-clothed black-suited guards were being grilled by the rotund Italian Prelate. Another red hat, Cardinal Josef Vendhem, stood in the shadows behind Macelli's desk and to the side. The inquisitors and those being interrogated had all succumbed to the promises of the prince of darkness
Dateline: Rome - Macelli's office inside the Vatican, November 5, 10:50 a.m.
"Dammit, three hours and no one has found anything?" Macelli fumed.
The two guards cowered beneath this Italian Prelate's heated breath as he continued. "Someone has penetrated the interior."
"Again, your Eminence, we have searched everywhere," tentatively offered one of the guards. Perhaps Benziger shot Father Urazzi."
"Perhaps?" mocked Macelli. "No! Someone else was in that room." His fist slammed down upon his ornate mahogany desk.
"But there were no signs except some blood in the hallway," assured the other guard.
"We tried to trace it, but it seemed to have ended where the corridors cross," admitted the first guard.
"Abbastanza! No one can vanish into thin air!" roared the rotund Prelate, his veins bulging, eyes bugging out.
"With so many about this day, it would be quite simple to slip out."
"I want no excuses, do you hear me?" Macelli could barely contain his hellish anger.
"Yes, your Eminence."
"Well, keep watch. Something not of the Master's wishes is afoot here. That does not bode well for all of us. Do you understand my meaning, men?"
They nodded as the first guard tried to appease Macelli's wrath. "As you requested we will report to you immediately if we see anything out of the ordinary."
"That is all we can do for now, your Eminence," added the second guard apologetically.
"Quello pericoloso!" Macelli slammed his fist down on the desk again.
The two compromised guards retreated a few steps away from the desk, fear livid in their eyes and body language.
"Call off the dogs, Antonio," Vendhem snidely interrupted. "Whoever it is, he is long gone."
"How can you be so sure, Josef?" Macelli swiveled in his chair to face the German Prelate.
"Had you left some guards with that fool Urazzi, perhaps we would not have this problem, dear Lord Cardinal Macelli." Vendhem's words dripped with icy acidity.
Macelli turned his head back towards the guards, "Keep me posted. Avanti."
They couldn't get out of the room fast enough. As the door closed Macelli stood and addressed Vendhem.
"And had you seen to disposing of the prize when I suggested, we would not have this mess at all, Josef." Both prelates knew how to play the blame game as masterfully as a chess match.
"Perhaps. But I fear you have failed the Master, Antonio, and you should be very, very careful. Ja voll?"
"Do not be so smug, Josef. We are both at risk." The sweat was noticeable on Antonio's brow as he tried to soften the situation. "We must work together and not panic. We are so close."
"Would the Master agree, Antonio?" Vendhem enjoyed backing the rat into a corner considering the grave error his comrade had committed.
"We still have the upper hand, Josef. Do not forget the funeral."
"Ja voll. Elena will not fail us. You may be right, Antonio." The German prelate's words were laced with sarcasm.
The Italian Prelate rose from his chair and circled the desk, his countenance changing to that of surety in the face of Vendhem's goading. The Archpriest of the Basilica might be a colleague realized Macelli, but the history of Italian and German alliance had always been one of oil and water. It was definitely an uneasy federation between these two men who had only one thing in common. Both had sold their souls long ago.
"The coffins are prepared, no?" Macelli asked matter-of-factly, trying to distance the immediate past from plans yet in the works.
"Ja. Elena will have the means to determine the coordinates by tonight. All is in place for the appointed time."
"And the trigger?"
"Elena will take care of everything. Have no fear, Antonio. We shall strike after I am elected."
Macelli gritted his teeth and feigned approval. "Bene. Multo bene. And the back-up?"
"The second shipment also arrives after midnight."
"The Conclave, Josef?"
"The two shipments combined should render the Sistine Chapel and all its treasures mere fragments."
"Bene." Cardinal Macelli took great sadistic delight in anticipating the destruction of all that had been held so sacrosanct for so many centuries.
"But it must be after I am escorted to the balcony, Antonio." For the first time true concern registered on Vendhem as he sought reassurance he would be safe.
"Bene," patronized Macelli. "The Sistine Chapel is being prepared now. As Camerlengo I have full access to everything. as well as the Lateran."
"It amazes me, Antonio, how the Master has provided for this most climactic moment that will soon be ours; the prize - mine."
"You forget, Josef, that I also have friends in high places from the previous regimes who are no longer with us. We cannot rely on them. Do you have the dossiers to assure the vote?"
"No need to be concerned, Antonio. We have them."
"I want to be sure, Josef."
"That sounds strange coming from one who had the answer to the location of the Pontiff and let it slip right out of his grasp." Vendhem was on the attack again and Macelli knew it. He quickly chose to alter the conversation.
"What have you heard, my dear Vendhem, regarding feedback on the 'document'?"
"The Jews?!" The German Cardinal's words were biting, traces of a prejudice handed down by Nazi parents.
"Si. Have the secular media bit on the repercussions?"
"Navarro has not been so enthusiastic in disseminating it as you, Antonio. It is, unfortunately, not as we would have hoped."
"Well, we must dispose of the problem then, Josef. Immediately."
"I fear, poor misguided Antonio, that may not be so easily accomplished. The world is still in mourning and the Western media is owned by the Zionists. They are suppressing much of the content for the most part. Israel has been in denial and their damage control experts have seemed to curtail further suspicion. The Jewish interests have circulated the latest discovery by forensic examiners that Syrian terrorists were at the site."
"Damn that whole Mid East mess! What does this boil down to?" Macelli demanded impatiently.
Vendhem retorted disgustedly. "Turning the world against the Jews may not work as we had planned."
"Damn! Why didn't you get that ring when we had the chance?" Macelli's eyes bulged with loathing.
"As usual, Antonio, your paranoia is showing. There is no need to panic, Antonio. We still have the list of Cardinals who were sympathetic to the 'document.' They are ambitious and ambition is one of the Master's favorite tools. I shall personally visit each of them before this evening's gathering...to remind them."
"We must have those additional 40 votes, Lord Vendhem. With them we shall have two-thirds majority."
"And if the other Cardinals vote it down?"
"Then there will be hell to pay, Josef." That statement sobered them both as Macelli cautioned Vendhem.
"Literally!" Vendhem smacked his lips, envisioning the wrath of the Master on all but himself.
"Be careful, Josef. Zachmunn has prying ears."
"Then keep him preoccupied. We would not want any Traditionalists interfering with the Master's plan for the last conclave ever. Would we, Antonio?" Vendhem knew all too well Macelli's great contempt for the most conservative upholder of the decrees of Trent.
"If there is a Conclave," chortled Macelli.
Vendhem was not amused. Macelli had once again gained the last word. His cackle seemingly crept up, gaining altitude. It slithered out the slightly cracked transom above the door and echoed through the marbled halls of the Vatican, finding its source in the bowels of hell, so well entrenched inside the Vatican.
Dateline: Vatican City - Apostolic Palace - Vatican Infirmary, November 5, 10:57 a.m.
Sister Bridie felt the evil of Vendhem's demonic laughter within her intuitive senses. She turned the corner on the transverse hall. One more guard and she was home free. She had maneuvered the cart past three sets of guards on her journey to the second floor infirmary with Pat in tow. Almost there, she thought to herself, saying a silent prayer that she could accomplish her mission.
The guard at the door opened it widely so she could edge the cart through and into the main waiting room of the infirmary. Thank God no one was at the desk. She parked the cart behind a partition, removing a few towels and, with a nod of her head, signaled for Pat to exit quickly.
As soon as he was clear she wheeled the cart back to the front desk and put her thumb down hard on the call bell. Immediately an attendant appeared.
"If you be pardonin' me per favore, be you havin' any soiled linens that need to be collected?"
"They already picked them up this morning," responded the female attendant suspiciously. "You don't usually service the infirmary, do you, Sister?"
"Uh, not usually. But with all the new priests n' Cardinals here for the funeral, I thought you might be needin' some extra towels."
"Si. Capisco. Leave dozen or so, Sister. Never have enough towels."
Sister Bridie counted out twelve towels and handed them to the attendant.
"Prego," she replied, as she steered the cart back by the partition where Pat had been hiding. He was much weaker now. She hoped to God that he could pull off this plan. She motioned for him to stoop low and go with the cart to the door, where she would distract the guard.
Fortunately the partition partially hid the front door from the attendant's view. This enabled Patrick to feign entering at the same time the Irish nun was leaving.
She opened the door , the guard extending his courtesy. She purposely dropped her keys on the other side of the cart. The Swiss Guard didn't move to pick them up, but he kept his eyes on her, making it possible for Pat to straighten up and move in front of the partition. Sister Bridie retrieved her keys, and then asked the guard if she could leave the cart there for a moment as she had forgotten something. He nodded affirmatively. She hurried back just in time to see Pat standing in front of the attendant.
"Why, Father Donaldson." Sister Bridie said loudly, "I not be recognizin' you."
"You know this priest, Sister?" The attendant asked, puzzled by his abrupt entrance and weakened appearance.
"Sure n' I do. He be Cardinal Zachmunn's secretary. We be talkin' this mornin'," she said as she moved in front of him. She could see Pat was ready to faint. "Quick, he be needin' medical attention," she shouted, as the attendant called for more help. Just as one of the nurses reached Pat, he collapsed in her arms.
The nurse cried out, "Emergenza! Emergenza!"
Another shouted, "Chiami un medico."
"He be an important priest, he be. Father James Donaldson. Sure n' take good care o' him," Sister Bridie asserted nervously as more assistants came to his aid. In the commotion Sister slipped out of sight back to her cart and quickly down the hall.
Within seconds the medical staff had Pat on a gurney, which they wheeled into another room where a Vatican-assigned doctor was waiting. In less than a minute they had him hooked up with an IV and monitors.
"Chi? Who is he?" demanded the doctor.
"A Father Donaldson from St. Louis," the attendant responded.
"Si. Cardinal Zachmunn's assistant," said the attendant, repeating Sister Bridie's words verbatim.
"We had better take good care of him then," added another nurse.
"He lose much blood," concluded the doctor. "He needs transfusion. We must anesthetize him. Give me ten Cc's of Demerol per favore." A nurse assisted the Roman physician as he studied the scars. "Prepare anesthesia and lasers. More gauze. Encora."
"He is conscious. Pulse rate high, so is blood pressure."
"Boost penicillin. Anche. Muggers. Damn them," blurted the doctor, assuming exactly what Pat, Stephen and Sister Bridie had hoped they would.
Next: PART IV: The Shrouding TENTH CHAPTER, Episode Five
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