Hell hath no fury like the wrath of one foiled by good. The devil would have been ever more furious had he realized he was being outflanked.
The Oblate of Mary Immaculate priest and head of the Pontifical Council for Universal Communications Monsignor Stephen Navarro had brailled his way along the narrow basement tunnel that led to the storage room where Sister Bridie still remained unconscious.
Under cover of darkness the body of the noble Riage Benziger was being escorted to the Swiss Guard Chapel by Captain Royce Schuster and Lieutenant Alexis Geraud. Since those who had betrayed their vow would have no time for religion, it was doubtful they would discover his casket until tomorrow. Schuster would make sure it was securely closed so others would not pry, not make it widely known about this stray coffin.
Cardinal Gregory Zachmunn was in deep conversation with Cardinal Philippe Maurin, hoping to convince him of the necessity of keeping the Sacred Conclave proceedings pure with the twenty-one appointed Cardinals, while not complicating it by adding the very questionable 40 preconized candidates.
Across the great Atlantic and beyond, the sun had still quite a few hours before calling it a night; especially in Dallas where a few resisters determined the next step they must take.
Meanwhile back in Rome, as they approached the old Coliseum, Father Niki Andriopoulos and Dr. Makuta Ogidi were keeping their distance while following Legion members Guillaume Brunatti and Luciani Serrano in the black Mercedes. Where were they heading? Why?
Dateline: Rome - Just north of the Coliseum, November 5, 6:35 p.m.
The imposing ancient structure of the Roman Coliseum loomed in Niki's side-view mirror as he steered the 1999 BMW into an alley.
"Pull it over there," Ogidi directed Niki.
"We can surely go further, Makuta."
"No. They'll see us. Park here."
Fr. Andriopoulos pulled the car over and doused the lights. Lorenzo Straviannzi was right. The car he had loaned Niki was not the best looking car; a few dents and scratches made that evident. But his brother-in-law's wheels were welcome considering the alternative. Were the police still looking for Niki and Makuta? Did they get an ID on them or was it just the car. If the latter, then he could rest assured that restitution had been made: the owner had retrieved his car. Niki felt a pang of guilt that he had not refueled the 'borrowed' vehicle. He vowed special prayers for the owner and prayers of thanks for Lorenzo's understanding.
But that had been earlier. After Lorenzo dropped him off at his sister's Niki had taken the blue BMW back to pick up Ogidi and had motored out to the foothills of the Paloma Estates where they had waited for the black Mercedes. They had followed at a safe distance up to the Coliseum. Ogidi had known immediately where they were going once they arrived in the neighborhood.
Now they were mounting the high hill of bermed stairs on foot. Maybe he shouldn't have had that additional helping of tiramisu at lunch regretted Niki as they passed a pair of forlorn gypsy teens on the top landing. They looked so young, so innocent, and so deceptive. One was carrying a child no older than six months, the other was at least six months pregnant. They smiled as they offered Niki a newspaper.
"No. Scusi. No grazie." Niki insisted, spinning deftly away from them to make sure he didn't bump them.
Clutching at his wallet pocket, he squeezed through the typical phalanx these girls posed in trying to deceive tourists, bilking them out of thousands a year. They weren't as poor as they looked, that was for sure and Niki continued the next ten steps sideways, making sure they were not following nor were their nebulous accomplices at the top of the stairs. No wonder Rome had the reputation for being the pickpocket capital of Europe.
Niki and Makuta reached the summit, free of the gypsy ring but with another problem ahead. Half a block away was a two-story warehouse. They darted across the street, hugging the shadows littered by trash, scrap metal and squalor, and crouched behind a trash bin that had not been emptied in at least a month according to Niki's nose. From this putrid vantagepoint they could see the men they were following - Guillaume Brunatti and Lucio Serrano. They were talking with men loading relatively heavy boxes in the back of a mid-size Peter-Built truck, more like a mini semi-truck, a moving van; shorter in length, but tall in cargo capacity and about ten feet wide.
Ogidi motioned Niki to wait. A minute passed and then Makuta made a dash, positioning himself just behind the black Mercedes parked next to the truck. Safely behind the car, he signaled for Niki to follow, staying low. Like a deer fleeing a hunter's scope, Niki high-tailed it to the same spot. From this vantage point they could better hear the conversation.
Just their luck! Brunatti and Serrano moved deeper into the warehouse where workers were assembling candles. A short man greeted them enthusiastically, proud of the progress as he gestured liberally toward the handiwork of the packers. Neither Ogidi nor Niki knew the man. Had Pat been with them he would easily have been able to identify this pathetic little man as the eunuch Soto Ichariak...the lackey of Edwin Blix, publisher and mogul of the Metroplex Mirror and Blix International.
Andriopoulos did not know it at the time, but beyond any doubt Blix was financing the Legion lock, stock and barrel. Blix was, in his own mind, Satan's right hand man.
Niki turned to ask Ogidi if he knew who the small man was when he discovered Ogidi was no longer there. He looked up again to see Makuta distracting the dock-Master.
"Scusi. I am truly lost," pandered Ogidi, posing as a lost tourist. "I am supposed to catch metro from Coliseum to Piazza del Trieste, but I do not know..."
The distraction was just enough. Niki made his move as Ogidi kept the dock-Master occupied. Andriopoulos capitalized, moving quickly behind and grabbing a hat off a wall rack as he continued on deeper into the warehouse past a clipboard hanging on the wall. He retracted it, looking back. Niki could see Ogidi was doing a Masterful job frustrating the dock-Master with Makuta's perplexed tourist act. He was truly a pro, polished in so many ways.
"Mama mia," the dock-Master moaned. "How you wind up here, Senor? I show you route, old man."
As Ogidi maneuvered the man to keep his back to Niki, the Greek eased deeper into the warehouse, scanning the manifest on the clipboard. Definitely going to the Vatican. 90 boxes.
One of the workers not too far away from Niki was getting frustrated. "Puo aspettarmi?"
The other rebuked him, "Ho fretta." He then spotted Niki. "Hey, get back to work. These things are heavy. Here, load these."
"Si, mi dispiace." Niki nodded, trying not to betray himself with his broken Italian, then turned his head and stooped down, setting the clipboard down while hoisting one of the heavy boxes on his left shoulder. It would block his face from anyone on his left, allowing him to move towards the bay, keeping to the right side of the wide aisle leading to the truck.
"Grazie. Grazie. I am truly stupido to have strayed so far." Ogidi was stalling as long as he could. He saw Niki approaching swiftly and clasped the dock-Master's hand, distracting him with another "Grazie."
"Prego. Careful, old man," the dock-Master responded throwing up his hands in defeat, his eyes following Niki as he rumbled past Ogidi and towards the truck "That worker almost knocked you ove...wait! I do not recognize him."
The dock-Master was alarmed as he watched Niki slide the box onto the truck's back bed, then take off behind the truck like a bat out of hell. "You there. Hold on. Arieto!"
The dock-Master turned back to where the old man had been, only to discover he was gone. "Che?"
Both men had vanished. "Achhh, gypsies!" He railed disgustedly, spitting at the name.
Soto, Brunatti, Serrano, the dock-Master, none were the wiser as to who had really scoped out the warehouse. Just as Ogidi had planned. Get in and get out before they knew what hit them.
That was exactly what Victor Van Wess should have done. Hindsight was always so convenient when it dealt with someone else. Man was an expert in everyone else's affairs, but seldom his own.
Dateline: Dallas - The Crooked Spigot, November 5, 11:50 a.m.
Because he had doubted his own gut instincts, Vic had sought the counsel of a dear friend - one whom he had confided in for many years: Benjamin O'Fallon. The owner of The Crooked Spigot was not really the hard-crusted tavern owner so many might have surmised, but a caring, very Christian sort of man who had been Vic's friend through thick and thin.
Ben O'Fallon and Vic had become good friends after Vic, then a younger writer for The Dallas Morning News, had often started frequenting Ben's place. Over the years their friendship had grown. They had shared and cared. When Vic and Amy were having a spat, Ben was the ear for Vic to get it off his chest. When Blix had increased the pressure on Vic, Ben had always been there to listen.
Many years ago Ben had shared his perception with Vic about a certain young man who O'Fallon felt had a definite vocation to the priesthood. Vic had learned to trust Ben's instincts, for he knew that if a potential priest had O'Fallon's stamp of approval then that young man would forever serve God well. That is why Vic had agreed to take young Stephen Navarro under his wing while he was completing his last year at the University of Dallas.
Through Vic's financial help and Ben's influence with the auxiliary Bishops of the Fort Worth Diocese, Stephen advanced and Vic came to better know another man who would be a friend for life - Bishop Gregory Zachmunn. Unbeknownst to most, Vic and Ben had kept in contact with Gregory over the past five days, as well as with another who, like the St. Louis Cardinal, wielded great respect.
With the lunch crowd pretty much thinned out and the jukebox playing a golden oldie-but-goody rendition of Glen Campbell's "Southern Nights," Ben had time to give Vic his full attention. Leaning over the bar, Ben's face betrayed the macho image. His eyes revealed a true concern for Pat, their mutual friend Gregory and, now, for Vic himself. Vic had just confided his plan to Ben and the latter was very apprehensive.
"Are you sure that's the best way to approach this, Vic?"
"Ben, if I don't act now, all might be lost."
"What about Amy?"
"We talked long into the morning last night, Ben. She knows the risk. She, too, has placed it all in God's hands. It had to be a joint decision. We're both aware we may be called to be martyrs. But when you consider the alternative, what choice do we have?"
"Are you positive it's Blix?" Ben wanted assurance.
"Definitely. The evidence uncovered proves he is funding the terrorists of the Legion of the Basilisk.
I also believe he's calling the shots, Ben."
"But to venture into the cobra's den is suicide, Vic."
"I know, but if we don't stop him now, tomorrow another million or more will die."
"Yeah, this is no time to be apprehensive, but it doesn't hurt to tread carefully, Vic."
"Time is of the essence, Ben. I'll have the Mirror Reflector card on me. It should record everything. If I get out of there alive it will be on the news tonight. If I don't, you know where to find it. We'll get him, Ben. Have faith."
"That's all we have, Victor. That's what you're going to need the most. Faith!"
"Yeah, that's what Amy said."
"What about Corrie, Vic?"
"I suppose you should notify her. It does not look good for Pat. Coming from you, I think your shoulder is softer to cry on than mine, Ben."
Ben felt a lump in his throat, "I be hatin' it when you be puttin' it like that."
Both O'Fallon and Van Wess realized the inevitable had arrived. There was no way around it. The Devil himself must be confronted head on. Fools may rush in where angels fear to tread, but Ben knew intrinsically that Vic was no fool. Too many had been fooled into believing the demon didn't exist and now society had become the unknowing, sacrificial pawns on a very deadly chess board that preserved no prisoners.
Next: PART IV: The Shrouding ELEVENTH CHAPTER Episode Seven
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