While Stephen was struggling with the capabilities of the amazing transmitting pen he had been given, another high tech instrument had been used to suture Pat's wounds, after replacing the burned skin with skin grafted by laser from his thigh. Advanced laser surgery had come into its own in recent years, replacing the scalpel, and the Vatican was no exception.
* * * * * *
Dr. Giuseppe Ghislieri was one of Firenze's most adept surgeons. Tall in stature, lithe, and basically bald except for a neat fringe of gray-blue strands from hear to hear, he had been lured away from Florence by the promise of becoming the Pope's personal physician and overseeing the Vatican medical staff. He was a knowledgeable man, deeply religious but earthy in his speech, more than a few times slipping in the presence of the Holy Father himself. But his heart was good and he was well respected throughout the Vatican. He treated rulers and peasant alike, rich and poor, from the Pope to the penniless pilgrim. Each to Dr. Ghislieri, was important for he truly understood each person was made in the image and likeness of Christ.
The good doctor did not cater to many of the innovations that had been implemented since the Second Vatican Council. In fact, he had made no bones of telling the Supreme Pontiff himself and anyone who was within earshot of his rantings of how the Church had been going to hell in a hand-basket because of all the compromises. He was leery of most in the Curia. He could spot a progressivist at fifty meters and they knew it. That was one reason the liberal members of the Curia, those who despised the tried and true traditions, avoided Dr. Ghislieri like the plague. He was a divining rod quite possibly sent by the Divine.
Giuseppe's family tree dated back to the fourteenth century; the most famous in his lineage being the holy Dominican Giovanni Antonio Michele Ghislieri who went on to become the 225th successor of Peter. Most remembered him better as the great St. Pius V. No doubt from his perch in Heaven this great Pontiff was directing divine intervention for his distant cousin.
This day the saintly Michele's present descendent Giuseppe Ghislieri, M.D. had just finished smoothing out the burns, renewing the skin where once there had been charred flesh in Pat Gallagher's arm. This had been accomplished through the wonder of lasers that had helped grow new skin in only a few hours by reinvigorating the area of transplanted tissue. It would be painful for awhile. Even in modern times there was still no such thing, save for a miracle, of an instant cure, but the advances of laser technology approximated the next best thing. Pat didn't realize it at the time but he couldn't have been in better hands.
Dateline: Vatican City - Vatican Infirmary, November 5, 1:55 p.m.
Pat was groggy, but conscious, as Dr. Ghislieri entered the room to check on him.
"Ah, como sta? Those were some deep wounds. You will need to rest for a few days, Father. Tell me, what kind of weapon did the mugger have? A blow torch?
Pat struggled to manage a reply, making it up as he went along. "They jumped me and dragged me over by the Via Ombrellari. Stomped on me and ripped at me with something like a hot iron."
"Si. That makes sense, Father. I apologize you have been so rudely treated."
Pat sighed in relief. He had pulled it off. The doctor believed him.
"You'll be woozy for a few hours. I suggest you get some sleep. We've replenished your blood supply. I wouldn't advise much physical activity for a while. The pain medication should hold you until tonight. I know I am not supposed to give you these, but here are some extra Percocet to get you through the night. Do not tell any one, Padre."
The doctor squeezed them into Pat's hands, clasping his hand shut just as the nurse entered. The doctor continued. "In a day or two you should be as good as new. Nurse, keep checking on him over the next few hours. You rest now, Father."
"You gotta deal, Doc. Thanks," Pat exhaled.
The Doctor smiled, gesturing to the nurse. "Wheel him into the back room, Nurse. He can watch the activities from the square. That will help him pass the time, though I doubt he will last five more minutes before the medicine I gave him takes effect. Rest well, dear Padre. I will return around six o'clock tomorrow morning during my rounds. Ciao."
Dateline: Vatican City - Apostolic Palace, November 5, 2:02 p.m.
Sister Bridie had successfully returned with the cart to the second floor supply room where Stephen was patiently waiting. Thankfully the door had not been locked. She relayed the good news that Pat had been taken in and was under excellent care, warning the Monsignor of the impending danger for his office was too closely guarded. Stephen had entered by the back door of the supply room off the little-used hallway and had not passed by the main corridor where his office stood next to this large linen closet. The acoustics of the room muffled sounds from the outer corridor.
Stephen knew it had been too good to be true. His euphoria turned to trepidation now. Did they know he was here? That pen had to be a bug. They were following his every move. If that was the case then he had to get rid of the pen. He pulled the shiny silver writing instrument with its various buttons and placed it on the shelf behind some glasses.
"Sister, did anyone see you come in?" He queried anxiously.
"I be checkin' both ways. There be no one. The guards know I passed by, but once I turned the corner they not be followin' me."
"Good," Stephen exhaled. "How many workers normally use this room?"
"Very few, Monsignor. They be utilizin' the larger room at the other end. This be basically for dignitaries."
"Ah, I see," Stephen realized. "With the depletion of so many from the Holy See in Iraq, I don't think they'll be using this room for a while."
"Meanin'?" Sister was puzzled.
"Meaning, Sister, that if this pen is a tracking device, then they will be led to it. I've placed it up here on the fifth shelf behind the glasses. If any of these are moved, we'll know that Colin Rembert is one of them and I'll have to warn Cardinal Marcini."
"Who be Colin Rembert?"
"Another long story, Sister." He left it at that. "Sister, I almost forgot. I have documentation here that will correctly incriminate many members of the Curia. I made a copy as well. I must get it to Cardinal Zachmunn but the fact the Legion is now keeping a bead on me may make it difficult."
"You be wantin' me to try and get it to him?"
"You are a smart cookie, Sister. And a loyal one, too."
"That be the second time today I be referred to as a pastry, Monsignor." She was evidently unfamiliar with American slang.
"It was a compliment, I assure you, Sister," chuckled Stephen. "I don't know where the Cardinal will be and they will be watching me like a hawk." Stephen handed her a sealed envelope. "Make sure no one else sees this, Sister."
Nervously the Irish nun took the envelope. "Sure n' they be watchin' me, too, I be fearin'. I be havin' a new superior. I met her just a short while ago, I did. I not be likin' what I see."
"How do you mean, Sister?"
"Be it far from me to be judgin', but this Sister Elena be not like any nun I ever be seein'. This German nun be givin' me the shivers, she did, like an evil spirit be governin' her."
"Go with your heart, Sister. Be careful."
"Sure n' I be doin' me best." she assured, tucking the envelope safely beneath her scapular and up under the edge of her wimple.
"That's all anyone can expect, Sister. The rest we leave in God's hands."
The Monsignor was grateful. But he realized they were searching for him. He had to make sure Pat was safe. He did not want to jeopardize his position now, nor the good Sister.
"I'm concerned for Pat. Sister, are you willing to taxi me to the infirmary?"
"Sure n' I can, but they might be suspicious, especially the guard."
"Tell you what, if you take the elevator to the third floor and then take the elevator on the east end we could return to the second floor and cross the transverse. Then take a right you can - -."
"I be knowin' the route, Monsignor," the petite nun assured him with her charming smile that still betrayed the angst in her eyes.
"After you wheel me near the infirmary, try the Cappelia Paolina. Cardinal Zachmunn could be there around 3 p.m. If you can, give him the envelope. No one else."
"I understand," she replied somewhat impatiently. "Now, if you don't mind me rushin' you, Father, put yer head down."
She covered him totally in the towels, whispering, "Can ya breathe?"
"Barely," came the muffled sound inside the laundry cart, a virtual taxi this day within the Vatican.
She opened the door and cast out into the deep once more. Slowly she pushed the cart towards the elevator. The lift seemed miles away, beckoning her forward. Finally she reached the elevator door. Within thirty seconds it opened to her and she wheeled Stephen, concealed beneath the towels, into the elevator.
The door began to slide shut when a hand reached in, stopping the momentum of closure.
"Going down, Sister?" The slime-like inflection oozed from Macelli's lips.
"To be truthful, your Eminence, I was goin' up I was." Her voice betrayed her nervousness.
Macelli put his thumb on the basement button and the elevator began to descend.
"You've no right to be detainin' me from me duties," Sister protested indignantly, fearing for Stephen just concealed beneath the towels.
The fat Prelate smugly replied, "I think I do. If I recall Sister Elena gave you instructions that you would report to me when I need you?
"Well, yes, but --"
"And are you an obedient nun, Sister Bridget McCullough?"
His words dripped with sarcasm.
"I be obedient always, your Eminence."
"Good, then this should be painless." A sly grin formed on his grotesque countenance.
With a thud the compartment hit bottom and the doors slowly opened to the basement level where three guards met Macelli, beckoning the scared nun off the elevator.
"Come, Sister," Macelli roughly prodded, grabbing her arm.
She tried to push the cart to the side of the lift, but Macelli seemed wise to her. "Push the cart out and---" He paused, looked at it again, pondering.
Sister Bridie prayed with all her heart, tears flowing down her cheeks. It was inevitable the Monsignor would be discovered. Would God allow it?
Not this time.
Macelli motioned to one of the guards, and retracted his last statement. "No. Wait. We can most definitely use the cart. Take it to Urazzi's office and pick up the packages lying around and bring them down here. Avanti! Adesso!"
One of the three Swiss Guards nodded and pushed the rest of the cart back into the elevator. He followed suit, stepping inside. Just the guard and the cart. The door closed and Sister Bridie was alone with Macelli and the two remaining guards. The Monsignor was on his own. Whatever her fate, they could not find the envelope on her. With her hands beneath her scapular she discreetly pushed the envelope farther under her wimple secured by the tight coif. They would have to strip her to find it. Surely they weren't that cruel.
As Sister Bride trembled, the elevator ascended back to the first floor where the compromised guard quickly wheeled the cart at no comfort to Stephen, still concealed beneath the towels. Monsignor Navarro knew he had only one shot. He improvised in his mind as he could hear the guard jingle the key chain, finding the right key that would open Father Urazzi's office door.
The smell of blood immediately reached Stephen's nostrils and he instinctively moved the shroud of towels closer to his nose to stave off the stench that was building. Macelli, to keep the murders concealed, had kept the room closed, not daring to open a window for fear someone might detect the pungent odor produced from the dead bodies.
Stephen knew he must be ready. The element of surprise was paramount. The cart came to a halt and he could hear the guard mumbling in French, "Mon Dieu, que diable." The sight seemed to sicken the guard as he moved first to collect Urazzi's slumped corpse, lugging it closer to the cart.
Then, in order to create a cavity for the two bodies, a hand reached in to sweep the towels out. The guard was caught totally off-guard. Stephen sprung from beneath the heap of terrycloth and sheets with a right uppercut reminiscent of the great undefeated boxer Rocky Marciano of the mid 20th century. Unlike Marciano, Stephen did not have the advantage of a boxing glove. Only his bare knuckles. It hurt like hell as he found the guard's jaw, but a little pain wasn't going to deter someone when they were fighting for their life.
Thus Stephen followed with a quick left that knocked the stunned guard to the floor. Like a jaguar Navarro pounced on the fallen Swiss soldier as they struggled. In desperation Stephen reached for a heavy bookend that, along with a few books and papers, had been knocked from Urazzi's desk onto the floor and strewn about during Pat's struggle with Urazzi seven hours earlier. Now Stephen and another were locked in a similar conflict.
With survival his only thought Navarro brought the bronze weight down on the guard's shoulder, then again on his skull, knocking him unconscious.
Trying to catch his breath Stephen rolled over on his back, breathing deeply as he stared at the ceiling. Now what?
Did he dare take the chance of alerting the Swiss Guards? How many had compromised their pledge to defend the Holy Father and sworn their loyalty to Macelli? Did he dare try to return to the basement to rescue Sister Bridie? No, not yet. He couldn't overpower the guards who were down there. Oh, why did he give Sister the envelope? He smashed his hand down on the floor in a regretful fit of passion. What about Rembert? He must notify Cardinal Guido Marcini. But he also must seek out Cardinal Zachmunn. Checking on Pat would have to wait. First, he must get the body of Riage Benziger out, away from these traitors who had followed the same course as Judas.
As Stephen struggled to lift the lifeless body of the most loyal of the Pope's servants into the laundry cart, he did not notice the bible strewn on the floor. It was facing up, open to Luke 16 where the words prophesied the fate of all those who had abandoned the true path. It told the story of four men in this room, two who were faithful, two who were not. Two were already in the midst of their individual judgments. No doubt their fondest wish would be to return to warn others of what awaited them:
"And I say to you: Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of iniquity, that when you shall fail, they may receive you into everlasting dwellings. He that is faithful in that which is least, is faithful also in that which is greater. If then you have not been faithful in the unjust mammon, who will trust you with that which is true? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's: who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two Masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or he will hold to the one, and despise the other: you cannot serve God and mammon."
Luke 16: 9-13
Next: PART IV: The Shrouding ELEVENTH CHAPTER Episode One
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