Eleven o'clock and the stillness of St. Peter's Basilica took on an added luster. The lights remained dimmed, but thirty-one candles were placed before the altar above the tomb of the Apostle Peter. Thirty-one Cardinals gathered to pray the holy Rosary and chant Matins, the first prayer of the day in the Ordinary of the Divine Office according to the Roman Rite. They knelt near the papal bier. Three candle standards flanked each side. Standing at attention perfectly still, were two Noble Guards in full requiem regalia. The Rosary had begun in Latin. "Credo in Deum Patri omnipotentem, Cratorum Caeli et terrae; et in Iesum Christum, Filium Eius, Unicum, Dominum nostrum, Qui conceptus est..."
* * * * * * *
The group was missing two from their ranks. The thirty-one realized it would be fruitless to wait for them. They weren't coming. Sour grapes one might call it. The truth is bitter gall runs deep. The Legion was reeling and railing, roiling and rallying.
That was evident in the office of Cardinal Antonio Macelli as five members of the Legion met to plot their next move and assess the damage. These five had no idea that one of their members had taken it upon himself to create another diversion; one that would have universal repercussions. Even if they did, it wouldn't have mattered. Human life meant nothing to those who had sold their souls. They had no heart.
Dateline: Vatican City - Camerlengo's office in the Apostolic Palace - November 5, 11:05 p.m.
Cardinal Josef Vendhem was pacing. Elena Grabe was thumping her fingers impatiently. Macelli was writing something as Guillaume Brunatti and Luciani Serrano lounged, still looking ridiculous in their Swiss Guard outfits. The tension was palpable like a malignant tumor.
"Alright. We can sit here and mope or we can regroup." Macelli tried to rally some enthusiasm. It would not be easy.
"I wish I could share your optimism, Antonio, but that was a major blow tonight," railed Vendhem.
"Without the forty I do not see how we can get the needed votes."
"Perhaps we should go immediately to the alternative plan, no?" offered Elena.
"We know how anxious you are, Elena," Macelli replied. "But that will not accomplish our goal until we can gain control from within. Destroying what we have worked for will only strengthen the opposition."
"He is right. They do not give up," Brunatti fretted. "The more that are destroyed, the more rise up."
"I believe," roiled Vendhem, literally spitting the words out, "it was the historian Tertullian who said 'the blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christianity.' I do not mind the blood, but I, for one, am sick of the seeds."
"Then," countered Macelli, "we need to plant more dissension and doubt among our colleagues in the Conclave before it begins."
"How do you propose to do that, Antonio?" asked Serrano.
Macelli directed his question to Vendhem. "Josef, how incriminating are the sin sheets?"
"We will have to fabricate some things in order to nail a few of them," scowled the acting Vicar General.
"They are that clean?" Serrano was incredulous.
"You forget, Lucio, many we could have compromised were sacrificed for the Master in Iraq," Brunatti informed. He knew his words would agitate Grabe, if not Macelli and Vendhem as well. But he felt a need for pre-eminence in the midst of these would-be power mongers.
Macelli chose to ignore Guillaume's remark, focusing instead on still finding the elusive Papal ring and seal. "If we can only find the ring we can introduce into the conclave tomorrow a document that will give us a simple majority. Can you get eleven votes, Josef?"
"Ja. I can guarantee eleven. But you must find the ring."
"We have not been able to get anything out of the Irish nun," groused Macelli.
"Damn that Irish whore!" blurted Elena. "I have ways of making her talk. I vill waste no more time coddling her!" Anger swelled up in Grabe's voice and eyes.
"Perhaps she really knows nothing," suggested Brunatti.
"Oh, she knows something," Elena shot back. "And I will get it out of her. First we must find the American Gallagher. He is here. We must find him."
"And Navarro," demanded Macelli. "He has disappeared. Captain Lubac notified me that they found Kutsch. He had been jumped by Navarro from the laundry cart. Yes, Sister Bridie definitely knows more than she is letting on."
"I would say then," deduced Vendhem, "when we find Navarro or Gallagher we will find out more as well. They, too, must know something."
"Both Americans are here, I know it," insisted Grabe. "I talked with Blix earlier. He is sure the reporter is here as well."
"Reporter?" Vendhem seethed with this unexpected news. "Then that is the tie with Navarro," he pontificated. "Find them and we will find the ring."
"As the Americans would say, 'Easier said than done'," chirped Serrano.
Macelli ignored his quip, turning to the fraulein. "Elena, do you have enough serum?"
"I vill make it last, Herr Antonio."
"Can we increase the guards, Antonio?" Vendhem inquired.
"We have lost two," complained the rotund Italian Prelate. "I might be able to obtain two others off duty, and then there is Kutsch as well as Lubac and Dionis in the basement with the nun."
"The nun is tied up, no?" Vendhem surmised in a sarcastic tone.
"Ja." confirmed Grabe.
"Well then, Antonio, utilize them," commanded Vendhem.
"You also have Lucio and I, Antonio." Guillaume reminded, fearing he and his friend had been lost in the shuffle for power-mongering among the three others.
"Yes, but you need to be there when the shipment arrives," reminded Macelli, seeking to pacify the two lesser men in the Master's plan.
"We must begin the search immediately," advised Vendhem. "Let the hunt begin."
"I have enough wireless intercoms here for everyone," Macelli indicated as he pulled out from his desk drawer slim, state-of-the-art intercoms smaller than one's hand.
"Ah, bene, we keep in touch, no?" Brunatti enthused.
"Si," Macelli nodded as he handed Grabe three of the sleek walkie-talkies. "Elena, take these. Go to the basement. Apply the truth serum. Let it work throughout her system. In a short time Sister Bridie will tell us all we need to know. Give one of these to Captain Lubac and one to Sergeant Dionis and have them search the Basilica and crypt."
"Ja vol." Grabe obeyed, "And then?"
"Search the nuns' area. They might be hiding there," barked Macelli.
"What about Lucio and I?" begged Brunatti.
"As guards no one should suspect you in the Cortile di San Damaso. Search that area. It is through the hallway to the left. Search every room," commanded Macelli.
"Josef, work on the sin sheets. I will take two guards and search the west wing, the Loggie di Raffaello and the Sistine area. I will send two more guards to search the Swiss Guard quarters and the area behind the Palace, and I will contact the two off-duty guards to search the Audience Hall and the Domus Sanctae Marthae." finalized the Camerlengo, feeling once again the power of his Master surge through his being.
"What about the Vatican Museum and Library?" offered the Vicar General, a stickler for perfection.
"No, Josef, those have been locked for a full day," assured Macelli. The gates are on a timer. There is no way they could have penetrated those areas, but have Lubac search the Sacristy chapel as well, Elena."
"I believe we have every area covered then, Antonio," encouraged Serrano.
"It may be a needle in the haystack," Vendhem emphasized, "but we must find it. The Master demands it. Do you understand?"
"Bene," noted Macelli. "We are the Legion."
The others joined in. "We pledge our lives to make his reign possible. We are the Legion. Long live the Basilisk."
They dispersed, in hunt for their prey. They would sweep the halls and rooms, awakening not a few. It was only a necessary security check, nothing to be alarmed over they would assure as they probed and poked in closets, under beds, in every nook and cranny of the Apostolic Palace, St. Peter's and beyond.
Dateline: Dallas, Texas - The Crooked Spigot - November 5, 4:08 p.m.
Patrons were filling up Ben's happy honky-tonk. Happy hour. Normally he'd be whistling and pouring
drinks, laughing and joking with the crowd. This afternoon his thoughts were elsewhere. They had been ever since Vic had left around one o'clock.
Patrons were clamoring for service and old Benjamin O'Fallon was pouring as fast as he could, trying to fill all the orders. Trying just to catch up, praying even as he poured.
"Sorry, I'm late, Ben. Traffic," alibied Nelly Mae Austin, a mid-fifties red head who, despite her makeup and mascara, could not hide the fact her youthful beauty was waning. She had more problems than that however.
"I believe, Nelly Mae," Ben retorted gently but firmly, "you be needin' to work on the eighth commandment a bit. Might cha be agreein'?"
"Sorry, Ben. It won't happen again, I promise." She meant it, but it would happen again. It had become part of her comfort level, part of her psychological make up.
Always looking for the brass ring, this Fort Worth-born lass had thrown her marriage away for a career and an affair. It had been a tryst that had ended in heartbreak and a professional life that had met with one disappointment after another, in one city after another. The more she had endeavored to find happiness, the more promises she had made, the more she had broken. Her aspiration had always been found wanting. She could have had more, she was told, if she had slept her way to the top.
The vicious circle had seemed to be straightening out. Ben had been a godsend to her, What she had found was stability. It was something she realized she had and throne away all because of false promises and glitter, sparkles and flash that had soon lost their luster. All had fizzled, leaving her with a void she could not fill until she had met Ben. Ben, in his inimitable fatherly Irish ways had been guiding Nelly Mae to the Faith, something her blue-collar parents had never instilled in her. In his gentle way, Ben had been showing her not to regret, not to look back, but look up and trust in God. Slowly but surely she was realizing life wasn't as complicated as she had thought. It was really quite simple if she kept God in mind first and foremost and kept His commandments. She truly respected and trusted Ben.
"You be lettin; me down and me patrons as well, Missy. We're way behind. I be needin' you to put it in anither gear. I almost had to recruit Juan Pablo over there to work the tables."
"That would have been a catastrophe," laughed Nelly Mae as she grabbed two trays and started placing the filled orders on them. "I've just had a lot on my mind, Ben."
That was something Ben would have to work on with her. No excuses. It only empowered failure.
"Ya be puttin' those things out o' your mind while ya be workin', Missy Mae. Concentrate on the customers. They be comin' first. They be rewardin' ya for good service, they be."
"You're right. Why are you so nice to me, Ben?"
"Because ya be God's child, Missy Mae. Now take these over to that table and these to those good folks in the corner. Then come back for these. After that, can ya be takin' the bar? I be tendin' to somethin' important in back."
"Will do," she enthused. The bounce in her step had shown she would treat Ben's customers well this afternoon. Ben had a way of winning people for the Lord.
Right now the Spirit of the Lord was prompting Ben to check on Vic. If Ben had not heard from Vic by 5 o'clock, Ben was to log on to his computer and use a special password. That way he could patch into Vic's Mirror Reflector file. Vic had confided that he would record his showdown with Blix. Vic had left Ben a galley copy of the front page and story he had written for tomorrow's issue. It was tucked safely in Ben's safe. Ben had placed it there immediately after Vic had left.
That was still a little less than an hour to go, but something told Ben to check now, not wait until five.
Retreating to his small office behind the bar, Ben booted up his old Gateway. It was of the ancient variety, a Pentium II, but it still worked and that was good enough for Ben. His eyes weren't as good as they used to be and he chose not to spend more than a few minutes at the computer. He himself had never trusted in computers. Computers had only made man more pliant for the devil. Soft. Slothful. Lazy.
Squinting to see the URL Vic had given him, he typed in www.metromirror.com and then the page Vic had instructed him to pursue. An encrypted page appeared and Ben typed in saintjude, then the special password Vic had confided. It took a minute or so to load but Ben was in. He was instructed to refresh and a new screen popped up. Hitting play he watched trepidatiously the replay of Vic's encounter this afternoon. He found himself praying the prayers of Divine Mercy with Vic. Then gun shots and the vile monstrous satanic beast. Shock. Nausea. Anger. Sadness, immense sorrow. Most would have turned it off immediately after Blix devoured Ben's dear friend, but again the voice within urged O'Fallon to keep watching, learn, and warn. Hundreds, nay thousands would be thankful this night.
Within minutes Ben was on the phone. Getting through to someone took another minute with the voicemail nonsense that was entirely impersonal. Ben hated it, but had to get through to someone, anyone.
"Metroplex Mirror, editor's office. Lori speaking."
"Lori, this be Benjamin O'Fallon. I be havin' urgent, very urgent news for you. Please, you must be notifyin' all in the buildin' to evacuate immediately. Sound the alarm and get movin' for God's sake."
"Mr. O'Fallon, where did you get this information?"
"From Vic. The place be rigged to go off any minute. Go do it now."
"This be no joke. God be havin' mercy on anyone who thinks it be. Hurry. Get everyone as far away as possible. Now!!!"
Before grabbing the Reflector disc, retrieving the galley from his safe, and evacuating The Crooked Spigot for the last time, Ben made two more calls. The first was to 911 to notify the police and fire departments, the second to the Middle East while, just a mile away, workers were already scurrying down stairwells and out onto the street and as far away from the Metroplex Mirror as they could. The efficiency of the DFD and DPD was evident. Within two minutes they had arrived and the building had been completely evacuated by 4:25. All 213 employees had safely made it out of the building and were still moving away to the south two blocks away. Thank God for Benjamin O'Fallon; thank God he had listened to his heart and gut.
Across town Edwin Blix was unaware of this rescue effort as he strapped in. The plane had been delayed in taking off. The fuel truck had been late in filling up the tanks. It had just left. Blix looked at his watch. 4:28 as the Lear picked up speed, the buildings racing by and then liftoff. The jet elevated above the city and banked right to head north across Greenland. He glanced at his watch again. 4:30. Peering out the window towards the metropolis of Dallas he saw it and grinned. A satisfaction that knew no bounds, knew no mercy. The implosion brought the six-story, block-wide structure to its foundation and below. The smoke billowed into the air. It could be seen in the distance as Blix shifted Corrie to the window.
"Mah dear, Ah would like y'all to see the fruits of mah work. See. Ah do mean business, Ms. Morelli."
Corrie didn't say a word. The tears said it all as she slumped in her seat, strapped in this metal monster bearing a living monster within.
The ruthless publisher, who had deliberately destroyed his own business with such sadistic delight, called out to Ans. "Champagne, mah good man. Let's celebrate."
The bald eunuch robotically responded, soon producing a bottle of France's finest along with two Irish crystal glasses.
"A fine show of power, don't ya agree?" Blix goaded and gloated as Ans popped the cork and began to pour. "Ah must say Ah do enjoy using mah power. Always have. Suppose you might say that's what first led me into the path of mah Master: Power. Riches and worldly kingdoms to rule over. Those are thoughts to keep the heart pumpin', darlin'."
"What heart?" Corrie regurgitated her feelings; her words blending with the blackness of the night outside as the plane sped towards Rome, propelled by turbos of black fire.
Next: PART IV: The Shrouding TWELFTH CHAPTER Episode Six
"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.