The lobbying had begun in earnest on both sides of the board. Pawns were being moved, Knights were moving into place, willing to sacrifice for their Bishops as the Rooks hoped to hold, advancing towards the Queen. The Queen of Angels would guide the forces of good. On the dark side the queen looked so inviting, for Lucifer disguised can be alluring to those who do not recognize the signs. The ultimate battle would come down to the White King vs. the black king - Basileus vs. Basiliskos.
* * * * * *
Dateline: Vatican City - Sacristy off the Sistine Chapel, November 5, 9:55 p.m.
After the rest of the Cardinals had thinned out, Cardinal Mendoza made his way to the Sistine Chapel. There were a few workers just finishing up but the room was ready. Even the fine white linen laced tunic-like surplices called rochets had been carefully laid out for each participating Cardinal. All that was left was to place purple banners from the baldacchini of those Prelates created Cardinals during Clement XV's pontificate, and green banners from those consecrated prior. The altar linens were not covered, while in the center the chalice and the paten stood waiting for the ballots to be deposited. He recognized Prince Elisio Borundici, the Keeper of the Key, who nodded to the Spanish Prelate and continued arranging the chairs for the Scrutinarians in front of the altar.
"You have heard there will be only twenty-one, Senor Borundici?"
"Si, your Eminence. I am very happy."
"Si. It will make it much more comfortable," reasoned Julies as he continued to the door at the back and into the sacristy.
Cardinals Gregory Zachmunn and Thomas Wetherby were both waiting for him, Gregory seated in the same plush wine-colored velvet chair he had been sitting in when Stephen had sought him out earlier in the day. Both he and the Canadian hierarch rose to their feet to greet the Dean of the College of Cardinals.
"Fratres," he acknowledged. "Gratias agamus Domino Deo nostro."
"Deo gratias," the two North American Cardinals responded.
"It was touch and go there for a while," recalled Gregory.
"Too close, my brothers, too close," Mendoza sighed.
"We know the progressivists will not sit still," Wetherby inserted.
"No," agreed Zachmunn, "they will try to intimidate at least four in order to gain a two-thirds majority.
I am willing to wage a month's worth of Rosaries that their targets are Cardinals Maurin, Estrado, Medelia and Kravic, as well."
"I believe you are right, Gregory," the Spanish Prelate nodded.
"I don't think you would have too many wagering against your hunch, Gregory," added Thomas. "I will try and find Cardinal Kravic immediately. If I do not find him, I'll catch up with him after Matins. I must go now. I am confident the good Lord will not let us fall."
"Oh, we may fall, and many times I might add." chuckled Gregory, "The key is getting back up and forging on."
"Agreed," Wetherby said as he opened the door to the Sistine Chapel, then closed the sacristy door behind him.
"Let us conjecture, Julies." Cardinal Zachmunn advanced. "Of the twelve Cardinals, whom I respectfully refer to as 'the apostles' because of the number, how many do you think voted against?"
"Well," Mendoza began, "we know Cardinals Marcini, Mubenga, Quentin, Carvajal, and Castiglione are solid. They all favored a return to more orthodox measures."
"That makes five," nodded Gregory. "What about the other seven."
Mendoza spoke slowly with assuredness. "We are relatively sure the modernists within this group of 'apostles', as you refer to them, Gregory, are d'Estambleau, Marzure, Parelliera and Giongoliosi."
"That means there are three on the fence," deduced the American, "Cardinals Auguste Ribera Lorenzo, Maximilian Von Stultz and our friend Louis Cottier."
"Gregory?" Mendoza looked puzzled. "Are you so sure they will be received into the Conclave after the hassles of tonight?"
"That was grueling, I admit," agreed Zachmunn. "Yes, I am relatively sure, with the grace and mercy of God, that we will have at least 33 Cardinals before the first ballot is cast in the Sacred Conclave."
"But how can you be so sure?"
"Julies, I am going to take you into my confidence. I ask you before God to say not a word to anyone."
"Yes, of course, Gregory, I await with anxious ears and vow my silence before God."
Audibility hushed to a whisper as Cardinal Zachmunn confided in his confrere one more ace card he had been holding. Let the Legion plot. The longer they were ignorant of the power of the Holy Ghost the less the Legion knew. It would work for the forces of good to keep the enemy in the dark, to hide the strategy of the men God had chosen for His team in this title chess game for souls. It would give the resisters a better opportunity to position themselves to checkmate the enemy's moves.
Gregory had completed his revelation to Cardinal Mendoza. The Archbishop of Madrid was encouraged. Life is a roller coaster and they had come around a dangerous curve with verve. They anticipated the next drop or turn with much more confidence.
"Interesting. Very interesting," smiled Cardinal Julies Mendoza. "You know, Gregory, your name will be put in for nomination. How do you feel about that?"
"Such a great honor I am not worthy of. Rather, if we can muster the votes I believe you, Julies, stand a better chance of carrying out God's will. You are four years younger and know the ways of the Curia. I feel my mission is to see that we have a Pope, a holy Pope."
"You flatter me, Gregory. I only wish I could live up to your expectations."
"If you follow your heart and stay true to tradition God will lift you up to do great things for His people. Remember, Julies, Rome was not built in a day. We have much work ahead. We have the core of the foundation. We will rebuild."
"Well, Gregory, you encourage me greatly. If holy Francis could answer God's call and move thousands wearing only a cloak and a pair of sandals, yet garbed with the armor of Faith, why can we not as well?" The Spanish Cardinal paused, exhaling deeply. "Let us wait and see how the Sanctifier moves us tomorrow. I quite expect much subterfuge, Gregory."
"Unfortunately, you can count on it. I offer my Rosary this evening that our dear Blessed Mother will intervene on our behalf before the great throne of her Divine Son."
"There is no greater insurance than that, Gregory. Come, I am famished. Let us stop by the refectory before proceeding to the Basilica."
Dateline: Dallas, Texas - Edwin Blix's Turtle Creek Mansion - November 5, 3:05 p.m.
While those supporting the Holy Basileus were getting some nourishment, those supporting the unholy Basiliskos were preparing to parasitically and voraciously feed on whatever got in their way. Such was the case within the Holy See this night and this day as well in Dallas.
Within the sprawling estate of Edwin Blix, one of America's most powerful moguls, the Basilisk was playing with its prey. Let the victim wait, let the victim fidget, twist in agonizing anticipation of the unknown. Slowly the Basilisk descended on its target, circling, moving in for the kill.
Victor Van Wess was no longer fidgeting, no longer impatient as he waited in Blix's study to confront his publisher, his employer, and his boss. Edwin Blix could no longer be Vic's boss. Obedience to a higher, safer, more secure Boss dictated that. The great hour of Mercy had arrived. Three o'clock. The hour Christ died on the Cross. It was the hour when those who believed prayed for the grace to persevere. Believers realized why the Son of God became flesh, why He chose to be like all other men in all ways except sin, and why He died for all mankind. Through the recitation of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy or a simple "Jesus, I trust in You," those who consciously observed the great hour of Mercy understood what faith meant. They knew what it took and the price they would have to pay to preserve it.
Vic had strategically placed his Reflector pilot by the planter near the doorway as he entered behind Ans. No one had seen him point it towards Blix's desk. Now, as Vic quietly prayed the chaplet on his rosary beads, his soul was soothed. He knew his time was near. With every 'For the sake of His Sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world' he grew calmer.
This calm and serenity only antagonized the Basilisk more. As Vic prayed he meditated on the fact that the devil hates a gentle heart, hates tranquility, recoils at the thought of Divine Mercy, and despises sanctifying grace. It is the only armor that protects against the wiles and snares laid out so cleverly and insidiously to trap all finite beings on this planet earth. They are inferior to the fallen angels in all ways but choice. Man has a free will to choose which path he selects. God is okay with that. All Satan's ex-Boss asks is that the privileged species of homo sapiens realizes each soul must be held accountable for his or her actions when the time comes for each person's particular judgment. No excuses, no alibis.
Vic was comfortable with that. Blix was not. The longer he waited for Van Wess to squirm, the more he wriggled, shedding the veneer of flesh for the scales of evil, pure evil.
"You should never have sent Gallagher to Iraq." Blix hissed as he silently entered the room, interrupting the fifth and final decade of Vic's chaplet.
Vic ignored him as he began the final decade in a low voice, "Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your Dearly Beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world. For the sake of His Sorrowful Passion, have mercy on--"
"You have disappointed me greatly, Victor." Blix's eyes were steely, growing redder.
Van Wess continued trying to ignore the stench of evil that permeated his nostrils, his pores. "For the sake of His Sorrowful Passion--"
"What gibberish, you fool! He will not save you! Only Ah can--"
"I knew you were ruthless," Vic interrupted the beast, "but not as vile as this."
"And how vile do you think Ah am?"
"You know that sewage station down by the river?" Vic spit out.
"Such insubordination from Mah editor."
"White Smoke, Black Fire!" is an original work, registered with the Writers' Guild 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 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.