WHITE SMOKE, BLACK FIRE! c 1986, 2001, 2003

Part IV:
White Smoke, Black Fire!
The Shrouding

Eleventh Chapter

      Episode Seven

             Vic and Ben had made their good-byes short, as unemotional as possible. After all they were men. Men don't cry, don't show their feelings, unless they truly care, truly love as a true friend. Though they didn't show it, more than a few tears flowed from each man's eye after Vic left The Crooked Spigot. He had one more thing to do before his appointed mission at the Turtle Creek home of Edwin Blix.
             Ben had consciously wiped the moisture from his face, cleared his throat, and made the call to Corrie on her cell phone. How do you tell someone his or her one true love might not be coming back? How do you break it to them when you yourself don't know the outcome, have no idea what is really happening?
             Corrie was in shock. Was it better to know the possible or the impossible? She had no idea Pat was sleeping soundly in a comfortable bed, recuperating in the Vatican infirmary this night. The light of day in Dallas could not infuse her with that knowledge. Ben did not know yet, and neither did Vic. The last time Ben had talked to Cardinal Zachmunn had been this morning. Gregory had expressed fear that there was much sabotage afoot, but couldn't pinpoint it. He hoped he would learn more and get back to Ben after he and his fellow Cardinals had paid their respects to those who fell on the Field of Abraham. He would do so during Matins at St. Peter's late in the evening.
             The St. Louis Archbishop blanched at the whole concept of One Eucharist. It should never have been. The devil had a way of luring souls in and not letting go until it was too late. Gregory knew that; so did Ben, Vic, and a few others. They needed to warn the masses of the danger. To convince the doubters, the good guys needed proof, viable proof that could not be denied. Vic had to confront Blix, force him to show his hand.
             As he drove towards his appointed destination, he made one more call, one last call to his beloved Amy. It would help spur him on in his Calvary, in the same manner Christ was spurred on by His Blessed Mother's kind, loving look and Veronica's gentle touch to clear the blood from His face. So also Vic would not give up. Yes, death awaited at the pinnacle of Golgotha, but it was necessary for the redemption of mankind. It was part of the Divine Plan. So also was Vic's mission.
             His conversation with Amy was short and sweet. As he turned off I-35 towards Blix's Turtle Creek Mansion, he couldn't help but think of how far the world had plummeted; how much farther it was about to plunge.
             The poles of right and wrong had been turned topsy-turvy. Sin was in, virtue and vigilance isolated, even worse persecuted.
             Vic's thoughts turned to the clever, insidious legislation that had rendered abortion a human right in 1973 and, then, subsequent loop hole-free statutes passed a few years ago which even a Supreme Court could not overturn. The Homeland Security Branch, introduced by George W. Bush in 2002 in the aftermath of the tragic event - simply referred to as "9-11" - had enabled the State to take over under the guise of protecting the citizens after the U.S. had been lured into a war that had lasted much longer than anyone had anticipated. As the casualties on all fronts had mounted, the exceptions had become the norm and Martial Law had been liberally applied in the subsequent years. This had been employed through a joint effort of the Total Information Awareness team which had reached its tentacles into every community, and UN forces which had been authorized by legislation to oversee jurisdiction in every state of America, and throughout the world.
             Vic realized the agenda. The U.S. had become one big melting pot with too many cooks in the kitchen. Immigration laws had been suspended, opening the floodgates for anyone and everyone to surge across the borders. If you couldn't beat 'em, join 'em. George Orwell's "Big Brother" had been more than twenty years late, but it had arrived with a vengeance. Surveillance had intensified in keeping tabs on all citizens, especially those who went against the grain of conformity.

      Dateline: Dallas - Enroute to the mansion of Edwin Blix, November 5, 12:30 p.m.

             As Victor Van Wess swung his car onto Blackburn Road past the Diocesan Chancery, he couldn't help but regret how the Church, for over half a century, had followed the siren of the world, not realizing the pied-piper was the devil himself. It seemed so simple, so innocent, so innovative at first. After all, the Pope - John XXIII - had announced on January 25, 1959 that he was going to call a council. Surely a Pope and council could be trusted.
             The Pope had promised a council would make the Church more user-friendly. He would open the windows and let in the fresh air of modern thought and ideas that would make it more compatible for others to accept Catholicism. Aggiornamento he called it. What could have been better? It had caught on big, so much so that it made it much easier for the devil to do his thing. It had allowed the angel of light, the ancient serpent to blot out goodness through relativism and revolution. The counter-culture of the sixties had been followed by the "do your own thing" malaise of the seventies, enabling the drug culture and gods of the wasteland to take center stage.
             By the third generation most Christians had been completely dumbed down, completely numb to the evil that had seeped in as a trickle, and which now engulfed the world in a tsunami of indifference and amorality. Morals were so blurred that few believed hell even existed. God was love. So many rationalized that God would not condemn even those who knowingly dismissed the Commandments He imparted to Moses. Toleration and diversity had become the watchwords of the times. Abortion, euthanasia, contraception, cloning, and even ethnic cleansing had become less obtrusive, less evil in the mindset of the populace. Those who objected had been submitted to mind-control through sensitivity programming, where governments from China to the U.S. had continued to attempt to brainwash the masses on the necessity of such social programs for the citizens' own safety and protection. It had become a subliminal magma flow of propaganda which had rendered so many as nothing more than pillars of salt; sodium souls who had lost their savor, especially the shepherds for they were no longer the salt of the earth.
             The onus could not be put fully on the Church for the evil that ran amok today. No, the evil one was already here; had been here since Eve had bitten into that apple. What the Church could be blamed for was withdrawing the sentinels that had safeguarded so many from the traps laid by the evil one and his minions. By letting down her guard, by accommodating those who were not willing to live the Gospel, by dispensing of prayers, rituals and disciplines, the modern Church had abdicated her moral authority. The results had been catastrophic not only in the dwindling numbers of converts, but also in the alarming surge of Muslims who had taken over Europe, changing cultures, ideas and ideals.
             The great crusades of the middle ages had been revisited by the revisionists with great distortion. This had only further polarized those who had sought to warn of the impending doom so many were heading toward by not resisting those forces, which were the antithesis of Christ's followers. Their omens had only landed on deaf ears and reprogrammed minds.
             This paralysis of good had continued, metastasizing further through compromised principles which favored the encouragement of an earthly utopia. This had been evident through the all-embracing terms of a "civilization of love," "a new springtime," and other ambiguous phrases that had become part of the political correctness creed. Never mind the Nicene Creed. Now it was the "Nice Creed." The former had been considered antiquity in the new developing doctrines that had evolved in these enlightened, high technology times when science was worshipped at the altar of tolerance and diversity. All for man in the name of humanity.
             What a great way to get along! What an ideal way to achieve world peace! What better goals could there be than to strive for utopia on earth?
             It was perfect in every way - for the prince of the world. For those born of the flesh, destined to toil for the small treasures of this trial period - this drop of water in an ocean of eternity - it was not the plan to follow. But when offered a short cut, how many would opt to stay with the longer, surer, but boring route? Sadly, many had chosen the easy way, the wide path strewn with roses...camouflaged thorn-covered bushes that over the centuries have prevented so many from turning back from the path to perdition.
             A roadblock had to be set up to slow those souls plunging unwittingly on the slippery slope. That was why Vic had to literally enter the jaws of hell to save the rest. He would have to travel that very narrow ledge between Heaven and the precarious infernal regions of eternal darkness in order to expose the evil one. Only in that way could he unveil him for the demon he was in the light of the awareness of truth.
             Vic knew, as he passed the massive gargoyles at the entrance to the driveway into the Blix mansion, there was no turning back. This foreboding edifice of stone, vine and wood sat in the middle of the old, elite section of Dallas where bohemian, homosexual and blue blood tried to coexist in the most eclectic of ways.
             The grounds on Blix's property were immaculately groomed. The snow from the night before had melted and left a verdant carpet behind. The green would soon transform back to the dormant stage, becoming brown until spring would bring forth new life, a new cycle of growth. Would Vic live to see it?
             He slowed to a stop under the great canopy of mortar and grotesque stone figures; monsters to any one with a soul. Thinking better of blocking the entrance, he steered his car further about fifty feet and over to the right. He retracted his Reflector pilot and inserted his Mirror Reflector card, setting it to remote. All would be recorded for posterity. Slowly he got out of his car, leaning on the door as if frozen in the moment as he drank in the medievality of the exterior palatial expanse. The realization that it was even gloomier and more macabre inside would have detained even the most valiant Conquistador from his quest. But Vic was undaunted. This modern Don Quixote was not chasing windmills, but very real dangers. Heroic virtue was necessary and Van Wess, though trembling in human fear, was up to the task.
             A foreboding sense seemed to hover around in the gray light as he slowly shuffled toward the entrance, leaning on his cane. The pain in the old leg was excruciating but he pressed on. Silently he prayed that when his body was reunited with his soul at the Last Judgment God would be merciful and give him new legs.
             As he moved closer to the front door, Vic tried to dismiss the sensation that a thousand eyes watched from a large copse of trees off to the left. Haunted or not, he would press on as he lifted his throbbing leg onto the top step. Before him two large ebony doors loomed, highly polished and carved with intricate patterns of vines and fruits; in the center an oversized knocker, its golden luster ring somewhat tarnished, beckoned all visitors to summon those within. Vic bypassed the distinctive knocker for the more expedient doorbell.
             The chimes were eerie; not quite as bazaar, however, as the Lilliputian who answered the door. He had met this man and his twin brother several times during his tenure as editor of the Metroplex Mirror. At each interval, he had shuddered with feelings of nausea at the sight of these impish creatures whose faces better resembled bleached jack-o-lanterns. This day was no exception. He swallowed hard staring straight into the eyes of the pale faced man whose own eyes resembled minute pieces of coal, like those a child might steal for punctuating a snowman.
             "Vic Van Wess to see Edwin Blix. It's urgent."
             "I am so sorry, Mr. Van Wess, Mr. Blix is indisposed at this moment."
             "Then I'll wait," groused Vic, as he gruffly squeezed past the greeter and inside the foyer.
             The whining one was not prepared for such bravado. "I'm afraid, sir, that you will have to- -"
             Vic was in no mood for this wimp. "Or you will have to what?" He stood on his haunches, masking the pain in his leg. Still, he towered above the eunuch. The latter was duly intimidated.
             "Very well, sir," the servant simpered. "You may wait in the study. If you will follow me."
             With much effort Vic lugged his leg toward the imposing study, through a great hall of expensive ebony and redwood. Not a good match. But then he realized nothing in this godforsaken house was a good match.
             "I can never get the two of you straight." Van Wess made small talk. "Are you Ans or Soto?"
             "I am Ans, Ans Ichariak."
             "So where's your brother then?"
             "He is- -." Ans caught himself in time. No need for this disgruntled newspaperman to pry. "--on a special assignment for Mr. Blix."
             "I'll bet!" muttered Vic.
             They arrived at the entrance to the study. Ans stopped, gesturing Vic to go first. Reluctantly the old veteran limped past the gaunt eunuch into the room. Bookcases reached to the ceiling, ancient works of rare find, many in various languages, the vast majority there for show - pretense. Blix didn't read. He dictated.
             Vic's eye caught sticky streaks, like juice, on the wallpaper across from the desk adjacent to the massive fireplace. On the floor a few orange peels authenticated his deduction. Strange, he thought. But then everything in this Gothic, dark hellhole was strange including its occupants; especially them.
             Ans returned. "I must run an errand, sir. Mr. Blix will be with you shortly. Until then, make yourself comfortable. Help yourself to some Sherry on the table there."
             "No thanks. If I need anything I'll just grab an orange," Vic retorted facetiously. He was glad to be rid of this spooky dwarf of a man.
             "You may be waiting for quite some time, Mr. Van Wess." Ans endeavored to retaliate with smugness.
             But Vic defeated his attempt very simply. "Then if I have to wait. I'll wait. I'll wait until hell freezes over."

      Dateline: Rome - North side of the Coliseum, November 5, 7:55 p.m.

             Niki raced across the moat of light that separated the street from the ancient, worn walls of the Coliseum. Quickly he ducked through one of the arches, jumped a fence and found himself inside this ancient structure. In recent decades this historic place had undergone a complete renovation. It was floodlit in parts, and Niki had chosen wisely this north entrance where there were no prominent lights. Walking into this place was like stepping back in time. As he eased forward, staying close to whatever wall was available, he felt his feet crunch on loose stones. He wondered if the early Christians, the very same ones who had faced death so courageously in this very place, had also crunched those stones as they'd marched to their deaths.
             Andriopoulos said a silent prayer for these brave souls, especially for those who went to their death with some trepidation. Such doubt was only human. Niki marveled that faith was by word of mouth in those days, not dogma written down and ingrained in them from birth. He realized the great fortitude they must have had as he walked further into the bowels of the stadia, dwarfed by the immensity of the stone more ancient than he could imagine. With every few steps he hoped to hear a signal that Makuta Ogidi was near, waiting for him. Nothing. Deeper and deeper into the recesses of this Roman monument he probed, his breath forming steam around him like a protective halo.
             Suddenly, he felt but did not see what he'd been waiting for. A hand clutched him by the collar and jerked him backward into a side alcove between two rock formations.
             "You are late, Father."
             "Doctor, did you need to hide so deep into this place?" Niki reacted, dusting himself off.
             "I thought you would head directly here after fleeing the warehouse," wondered Makuta.
             Niki tried to explain, "Well, Makuta, the direct route is not always the most expedient. I did not know if they--"
             "That is quite alright, dear Father, you need not explain. You are here. That is enough. The Mercedes left with the two men ten minutes ago. We need to rest for the next few hours. I will awake you at 11 p.m. We will return to the warehouse and slip inside the truck."
             "Three hours to sleep. I can use it. I hope that truck has good suspension."
             "Whatever it has, it will get us in and we will know more of the Legion's plan, Niki. I have prepared a makeshift mattress for you over there. Go, you need to rest."
             Niki was grateful as he plopped down on the straw bedding which Ogidi had prepared. Putting his head on some towels, bunched up to form a pillow, he tried to close his eyes and sleep. It seemed as if he could hear the lions roar as they lunged at helpless Christians ripping and tearing flesh, drowned out only by the roar of the blood-thirsty spectators clamoring for more, more, more... Niki was lost in the void of time as sleep saved him from seeing more carnage in his imagination.
             While the Greek priest slept, Ogidi busied himself with preparations for later this night. Before they left this hovel within the Coliseum to return to the warehouse and stowaway in the truck heading for the Vatican with its mysterious shipment, Ogidi might catch a few winks of sleep. And then he might not.
             Once inside the Holy See, what would they discover? What dangers awaited? Would they be able to communicate with Pat and Stephen? What contacts had Gallagher and Navarro made? Were they safe from detection? For that matter, were they still alive? Many questions remained this night; so many that sleep took a low ranking on Dr. Makuta Ogidi's list of priorities.


      Next: PART IV: The Shrouding ELEVENTH CHAPTER Episode Eight

"White Smoke, Black Fire!" is an original work, registered with the Writers' Guild and Library of Congress and all rights are the exclusive rights of The DAILY CATHOLIC who owns the copyright. Because of the nature of the internet and the importance of sharing, we hereby give the reader permission to collect and disseminate by e-mail each episode as it is presented in each issue of The DAILY CATHOLIC, provided that one includes this 1986, 2001, 2003 copyright statement and source - www.DailyCatholic.org - and take nothing out of context, nor reproduce it for profit. This work, seventeen years in the making, is a work of fiction that replicates the reality of today in many ways. However names, characters, places and incidents are used fictionally and any resemblance to actual persons and events, except those recorded in history, are purely coincidental.

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