Had Macelli only known the resisters would not go quietly, he might have stationed even more guards. He might have taken Navarro into custody the same time he cornered Sister Bridie. He might have alerted his spies within the Sala Regia hall to report back to him sooner. In fact, two of them had tried to contact Macelli when they received word of the early invitation this afternoon, but Macelli was nowhere to be found. His secretary Father Roberto Urazzi could not take a message for he was dead as a doornail lying in a pool of his own tepid blood. Macelli himself had been in the basement interrogating Sister Bridie when Cardinal Kai-Jeng Hong-Ju, and then Cardinal Krementz had come calling. He had not checked his voice mail or he would have known ahead of time from Cardinal Luzlo.
Antonio Macelli had assumed nothing could go wrong and had assured his skeptical cohort Vendhem by posting guards outside Navarro's office, with instructions to tail him wherever he went. He had not counted on the ones who remained loyal. The fatal flaw of pride over prudence.
Dateline: Vatican City - Second Floor of the Apostolic Palace, November 5, 6:04 p.m.
Stephen could hear voices outside his door. Most likely the volunteers. But it was not exuberant, helpful and youthful volunteers who barged into his office this evening. Instead two Swiss Guards entered abruptly.
"Monsignor Stephen Navarro?"
"Yes," a stunned Stephen stammered.
"You are to come with us," snapped one of the guards. He meant business.
"But I am waiting for attendants to carry off these press releases to the Nervi," the Monsignor objected.
"They are stacked and ready?" questioned the other guard.
"Yes, they just need to be placed in the boxes they are bringing and- -"
The first guard interrupted him. "We will get that later. Come."
Before Stephen knew it the other guard had grasped his arm and twisted it behind his back, producing handcuffs, which he proceeded to slap on Navarro's wrists. He was shackled and being led away in disgrace.
They marched out of his office, Stephen flanked by the two who no doubt were Macelli's men. They saluted the other two guards standing sentinel on either side of the door and proceeded down the hallway.
Where were they taking him? Was he heading for the basement? God he hoped Sister Bridie was still alive. What about Pat? Had they discovered his identity? Why else were they hauling him away to the gallows in irons, he thought despondently.
They passed another set of guards, and then another. Each time they saluted them. Definitely they had all sold their souls. The Vatican was now the devil's domain.
With these morbid thoughts Stephen slumped along toward the Scala Pia - the great stairwell in the center of the Apostolic Palace. Instead of continuing down the corridor, the guards diverted their course and pulled him to the side and under the stairwell, ducking through the door and into the narrower auxiliary hallway. They picked up the pace as they came to the side entrance of the auxiliary supply room. Up against the hallway wall was a large flat cart with a huge box on top.
"You have the key, Monsignor?"
What could he do? Deny it? He had to stall for time. But any noise would only bring more guards. For now it was just two. He had no idea how he could overpower them, but he felt cooperation at this point might buy him more time.
"My left pocket beneath the cincture," he relented.
One of the guards retrieved one of the keys Sister Bridie had given the Monsignor. Stephen had put the other key in his right pocket. Turning the key, they pushed him inside and turned on the lights. The stench enveloped them. No matter how many deodorant cakes, nothing could suppress the smell of rotting flesh save for strong formaldehyde. They would surely discover Riage's body, lamented Stephen.
One of the guards moved behind Stephen and grabbed his wrists. Now what? To Stephen's amazement the guard had unloosened his handcuffs, taking them off completely.
"A thousand pardons, Monsignor, for the ruse. I am Captain Royce Schuster, this is Lieutenant Alexis Geraud. We had to make it look thus for your safety."
"I - I don't get - get it," Stephen stuttered, still in disbelief. "Macelli didn't send you?"
"No, Reverend, Cardinal Zachmunn dispatched us. We want to make sure our comrade Major Benziger is given all the honor he deserves. His Eminence explained briefly to us. We are marshaling others to suppress the insurrection."
"Thank God," exhaled Stephen. How are we going to get him out?"
No sooner had he asked than the other guard produced a black body bag from the box. Together the three lifted Riage's body out of the fetid laundry cart and placed him in the bag, then zipped it up. The odor nearly floored them all. They carefully carried the bag into the hallway and lifted the hollow foam-core box that covered the flat cart. Beneath was a casket, the kind provided for the Swiss Guards killed in Iraq. The emblem of the Order and the Holy See adorned the top. All around were empty cartons, the kind Stephen was expecting so he could stack the press kits. Cardinal Zachmunn had thought of everything.
Carefully Schuster and Geraud placed their fallen colleague in the coffin and fastened the lid. Then rearranging the empty boxes so that the large false box would fit over both the crates and coffin, they repositioned the outer skin, locking it into place. Then, to Stephen's surprise, they unfurled a wallpaper-like banner on all four sides that replicated stacked boxes and secured the bottoms taught. If one were to touch it one would know, but from a distance more than three feet away they looked real.
"Captain, Sister Bridie is missing," Stephen informed them. "I'm afraid she's being held prisoner in the basement."
"We know. We will return. For now, I suggest you use the secret corridor to the basement."
"There is one?" Stephen asked in amazement.
"Yes, near the stairwell," Captain Schuster revealed. "It is behind the statue of St. Joseph. Press the button on the inside of the lilies by his feet. That will open the back and you can descend on the narrow spiral staircase. Follow the corridor to the right. It will bring you out by the stored pillars and paintings. Stay hidden if there are more than two of them."
"Yes, but if --" Navarro interjected.
"Do not try to overpower them by yourself," advised Lieutenant Geraud.
"He's right," affirmed Captain Schuster. "All of us are taught the art of the kill and will not hesitate, especially those who have betrayed their vow."
Soon they were rolling the camouflaged coffin out the hallway, bidding adieu to Stephen as he slipped behind and under St. Joseph and down into the depths. Meanwhile the two honorable guards continued on towards Stephen's office where they would retrieve the press kits, stack them in the boxes and proceed to the press room on the other side of Vatican City. The volunteers had been notified that their services were requested in the modern Pauline Hall where they waited for Captain Schuster and Lt. Geraud to arrive with the boxes. The press kits would be ready when the press needed them. Efficiency by any other name is excellence - par excellence.
These loyal guards would then transport the casket to the Chapel of the Swiss Guard where they were to place it in the Cappelle di Sans Martino e Sebastianio per Cardinal Zachmunn's instructions. Riage would be given an honorable burial once the Conclave was underway in Campo Santo Teutonico. This German Cemetery was the traditional place of burial for the Swiss Guards lying in state within the shadows of the great dome of St. Peter's.
First, however, Captain Royce Schuster and Lieutenant Alexis Geraud had to notify the guards outside Navarro's office that he had been properly dispatched and thus vigilance was no longer needed.
This they did without much suspicion. After all, the turncoat guards had seen Navarro led away in handcuffs. No doubt Schuster and Geraud were Macelli's men. With that they abandoned their posts, confident in Schuster and Geraud.
With the obstacle of Macelli's guards out of the way, the ones sent by Cardinal Gregory Zachmunn had free access to pack up the press releases and head for Paul VI Hall. No one was the wiser that, stowed away beneath the facade of boxes, the body of Major Riage Benziger was concealed.
They had stacked four boxes directly on top of the facade, braced by the coffin itself in case anyone would stop them, attempt to search. Schuster would produce a few of the boxes on top immediately and whoever might be suspicious would wave them through. The loyal guards anticipated no problems this night. Regardless, Royce and Alexis knew an alternate plan was necessary for those who are wise and always alert.
Dateline: Vatican City - Urazzi's Office in the Apostolic Palace, November 5, 6:14 p.m.
Trying to alert someone, anyone, was one who had not been wise. He had been surprised by someone in the laundry cart and conked on the head in Urazzi's office. Suffering a throbbing headache with a possible concussion, Sergeant Felix Kutsch managed to regain his footing and wobble out of Urazzi's office, flinging the door wide.
Incoherently he staggered down the empty corridor moving away from the direction where Elena Grabe was heading. By the time she came into view of Roberto Urazzi's office, Kutsch had just turned the corner stumbling towards God knew where. Perhaps it was the angels who muffled his sounds from the ears of the tough fraulein. Perhaps it was the foul, retching odor that escaped through the open door of the office, overwhelming her senses which stopped her in her tracks. Whatever the providence that prevented Grabe and Kutsch from meeting earlier rather than later, it offered more time for the forces of good.
Staving off the stench with her habit pulled up over her nose, she forced her way into the room. She surveyed the scene. There had been scuffling. One body lay slumped in a pool of fetid blood behind the desk. It was Urazzi. Poor fool, scoffed Elena as she looked around for other signs, clues. They were there but she did not have the patience to stay. She couldn't exit the room fast enough, slamming shut the door and leaning against the wall trying to draw in fresh air. Never did it cross her mind that the Master she so loyally served exhaled this same rotting odor. She headed back in the direction she had come.
There are those who claim the devil may be smart, but his pride will defeat him every time. This night the resisters of his agenda were counting on that.
Dateline: Vatican City - Sala Regia Hall near the Sistine Chapel, November 5: 6:20 p.m.
Three of those resisters - Cardinals Zachmunn, Mendoza and Wetherby - continued to lobby for enough votes to offset Macelli's moves. His agenda would be revealed in this same Sala Regia hall once the general congregation convened at 8 p.m. this night.
Moving about, Gregory realized three Cardinals were verbally ganging up in trying to persuade the very tradition-oriented Cardinal Joaquim Sinke Arcoverde Plinio that he should vote for the additional 40 Bishops. Gregory moved immediately to aid the Brazilian Prelate.
"I see you all have enough to drink," Gregory remarked amiably, trying to disarm the three.
"Cardinal Zachmunn, I know where you stand. There is no hope for you."
Those sharp words came from the German Cardinal Erich Rupert Krementz. This avowed disciple of Hans Kung was truly a hopeless modernist. He had sided with Cardinal Karl Lehmann against John Paul II when the issue of abortion vouchers had been raised. A modernist through and through, Krementz realized that once Lehmann, Vendhem. and his mentor Cardinal Walter Kasper had been elevated that they would see to his receiving the red hat. Even though Kasper had been summarily dismissed by Clement XV, the Deutschland fealty ran deep.
No one was more intent on keeping the status quo of the Vatican II reforms than Krementz unless it was the man who stood next to him glaring at Gregory: Belgian Cardinal Dietrich Kalschthoeler. This hard-nosed, no nonsense Metropolitan of Brussels was a carbon copy of the strong-headed countryman
he succeeded - Cardinal Godfried Danneels. The latter had gotten himself in hot water with the new Pope over women priests. Stubbornly he had refused to back down. In order not to ruffle the feathers of the people of Belgium, Clement had replaced Danneels with Kalschthoeler. He had not wanted to elevate the latter, but he faced an all-out schism if he did not compromise.
In retrospect Pope Clement XV had come to regret his decision for fear of offending the faithful when by selecting Kalschthoeler he had only given credence to that way of thinking. Clement realized that had he been a strong Pontiff, he would have acted in the best interest of the Church and would not have worried about the sensibilities of those who had come to embrace heresies as merely divergence of opinion. Even as he lay in a much weakened state in the darkness of Castel Sant'Angelo, Clement XV intuitively knew what a mistake he had made in not snipping these progressivists at the root.
"On the contrary, dear Dietrich," Gregory intoned, "there is always hope; hope that you and your two colleagues will realize the error of your ways in expanding the College by 40, and on a forged document no less."
"But we do not know if it is a forgery, Herr Gregor," Cardinal Krementz insisted.
"If it is not, where is the seal that accompanies every official papal document?" Gregory countered.
"He has a point, a very good point," affirmed Cardinal Plinio.
"But having only 21 is hardly representative of the Church," argued Cardinal Bela Luzlo.
"You are hardly representative of the Church, Bela." It was an uncharacteristic response from Cardinal Zachmunn, but it was necessary.
The hypocrisy of this man was too much for even Gregory to take. Here was a man who walked in lock step with the socialists, promoting the good of the state over the good of the individual; an anti-Catholic stance in every way. Yet here he was, dictating what is representative for Holy Mother Church. During the great resistance to the Soviets in 1956, Bela's father had been an informer against the Budapest Premier Imre Nagy. Consequently the blood of many Hungarians had been on his hands after the execution of Nagy in 1958 and the deportation of so many of his countrymen to the gulags. St. Elizabeth of Hungary would not smile on this Hungarian Prelate.
"You judge harshly, Herr Zachmunn." Krementz deduced.
"Never, I repeat, never dance with the Devil," Gregory curtly replied and then turned to Cardinal Plinio. "Come, Joaquim, let us shake the dust from our sandals."
With that he quickly ushered the Brazilian Prelate away from these three jackals. Yes, there were several in this room who could not be trusted, several who no matter how much proof was put before them, would not believe, did not want to believe.
Next: PART IV: The Shrouding ELEVENTH CHAPTER Episode Five
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