Like the primitive, but effective Native American smoke signals of times past, this afternoon in these same Southwest plains the black smoke billowing upward into the Texas sky was just now alerting the world of instant technology.
As Romans were preparing to retire for the night, news of the latest act of terrorism had not yet reached across the Atlantic. It would not be long.
Kyle Jarek, GNN's Rome correspondent for the last eight months was setting up for a remote report. His cameraman, Derek Turley had set up across the square with the Basilica and the area of the Sistine Chapel in the background.
A GNN Satellite News trailer was parked strategically near the press pool satellite in the roped-off Piazza Sant'Uffizio. This latter plaza was located just on the outside of the Bernini Colonnade south of the Square. Inside the trailer a news director was choreographing a remote live feed to GNN Central in New York City.
Jarek readjusted the knot in his tie, pulling it up tighter. Despite the hills and buildings that sheltered them from the full force of the winter wind that had picked up, there was a definite chill to the air. A cold airstream was coming in off the Mediterranean. Kyle buttoned his Armani overcoat higher, stretching his neck, then unbuttoned it, and buttoned it again, pressing his earpiece firmly into his ear. He was ready to discuss what had transpired earlier today at the Vatican, as well as tomorrow's funeral, and the possibilities which might arise during the upcoming Conclave.
Dateline: Vatican City - St. Peter's Square - November 5, 11:32 p.m.
"We have the feed from New York, Kyle," came the announcement in Kyle Jarek's small earpiece.
"Which looks better?" he asked the cameraman just four feet away.
"Keep it unbuttoned, you look too stiff. Loosen up, man," Turley advised.
"Jarek, give me a voice check," directed the control room.
Kyle inhaled deeply, "Testing, testing. Hommmm, hayyymmmm, heeeemmmmm, haaammmmmm, hoooommmmmm."
It was his way of loosening the diaphragm as he got a thumb's up from Turley.
The control room buzzed. "Two minutes away. They're in commercial break. Can you see the monitor, Kyle?"
"Yeah," he affirmed, glancing at the monitor and prompter which Derek held at eye-level, making it more intimate, more personal when talking to the anchors and guests in the New York studio, as well as the viewer. So many thought these news reporters and anchors were so well versed, so eloquent. If only they realized these news people were merely reading almost everything. All part of the illusion.
"One minute thirty, Kyle," the director alerted. "I'm going to switch you to Bart Sundgren, Julie Simpson and Father Cameron - - uh, what's his last name, Ginny? Yeah, Lewis. Fr. Cameron Lewis. Make sure you give leeway for the A-B roll. I'll let you know. Go ahead, you're connected."
"Kyle, good to hear you." It was Julie Simpson, the 31-year old blonde co-host of "Outfoxed" a mid-day magazine program. The title of the show was an obvious dig at Fox News Channel which, ever since the election of 2000, had risen to the top of the cable news ratings. Outfoxed was a tongue-in-cheek, tough talking news show that dealt primarily with remote reporters to discuss the key events of the day around the world.
"Listen, Bart wanted to ask you a couple of questions. Okay?"
"Here he is, Kyle," she gave way to Bart Sundgren, an older 50-ish anchor who acted as the ringmaster, so to speak, for these sessions that had gained in the ratings. Opinions paid well. Bart knew the game and was a master at his craft.
"Kyle, how're you doing?"
"Good evening, Bart."
"Listen, Kyle, we've got Fr. Cameron here. He says there are four Cardinals being considered as serious Pope material. Can you confirm the scuttlebutt you've heard?"
"I'll try," Kyle offered.
"Okay, he says the front-runner is not Cardinal Gregory Zachmunn, but the Genoese Prelate Cardinal Gregorio Bondi who had been consecrated by the esteemed Cardinal Giuseppe Siri on August 15, 1985 in Genoa. Does that jive with what's coming out of Rome?"
"I have heard a few- -"
"Excuse me, Kyle, we've got to break away," Julie hurriedly interrupted. "News breaking event in Dallas. Explosion at the newspaper out there. Just keep monitoring. Don't know when we'll get back. Gotta go."
Just like that Kyle was left holding the mike.
"What was that all about?" Turley was confused.
No more so than Kyle Jarek as he shrugged, suggesting a most welcoming idea to Derek. "Hell with 'em, let's go get some coffee. If they want me they've got my pager. Doubt there'll be much happening tonight."
"You've got a point Turley agreed. "Whatever happened in Dallas will consume the networks until tomorrow morning."
"C'mon, it's getting colder," Kyle invited as he wrapped his arm around Turley's shoulder as they headed toward the truck and back to their hotel. Little did they realize that had they stayed they would have witnessed some scenes reminiscent of an old-fashioned serial of yesteryear. The sparks would fly in less than an hour.
Dateline: Blix's Lear Jet - airborne above the Texas-Oklahoma border - November 5, 4:34 p.m.
Sparks were flying verbally inside Blix's Lear jet as it continued its course, now approaching Oklahoma airspace in a northeasterly direction.
"Ah do believe you haven't touched your champagne, darlin'." Blix wouldn't let the psychological browbeating go.
"I've nothing to celebrate," Corrie replied firmly, refusing the drink.
"Mah dear," Edwin sighed, sipping the golden liquid that fizzed in the finely cut crystal glass. "It's irrelevant what you celebrate. Ah insist, darlin', you drink to mah success. Or, Ah will kill you heah and now and you'll never see your dear Gallagher again."
"Go to hell."
Ignoring her anger, he continued. "Ya'd like to see him...at least one more time before y'all die. Wouldn't you?" Blix slipped the idea into her mind and watched it ferment. "After all, ya don't want to go to an eternity of hell not knowin' what he's been up to...why he walked out on ya. Do ya?"
"You monster," she snapped at him, wishing she could grab the glass and hurl it at his face, that mouth.
"Monster. A lovely epitaph," he agreed, sipping again. "Come, missy. Drink. It's an order. Either that or Ah'll dispatch ya in the same manner as Van Wess.
"Why?" she cried, "Victor was a good man."
"Good!?!" Blix screamed. "He was unspeakably good. A 'moral' man of virtue. A meddler. He guessed at the ultimate struggle which was takin' place in the world, and he did what he could to assure that victory would fall to his side. What might be good for him and for you definitely ain't good for me, darlin'."
Corrie's tears, sliding down her cheeks, were a visible reminder of the emotional storm in her heart. She dared make no sound out of fear that her own hatred of this man, this beast, would feed his own evilness and weaken whatever remained of her own resolve.
Blix continued. "He signed his death warrant when he sent yer lover boy. He'd become a damn danger so Ah obliterated him."
The word escaped him in a breathless denial of reality. But he was brought back to it immediately when Jordan Collier interrupted him.
"Sir, I believe you should turn on channel 3. Now!" Collier insisted with great urgency. Blix flipped the screen above to the satellite channel Jordan had referred to.
The station came up immediately; a short, dark-haired reporter was interviewing a fire fighter.
"'...so we can be thankful for that. We've also evacuated all buildings within a half mile radius, but have found nothing suspect yet."
"Thank you, sir. Ladies and gentlemen, that was Fire Chief Donald Denton and we're happy to hear there were no casualties. Amazing, considering the total destruction here at the Metroplex Mirror."
"Rachel?" A split screen of the smoldering scene and Bart Sundgren in the GNN studios appeared.
"Can you tell us how is it that not one person was killed or injured?"
"That's a miracle," the viewers could hear Julie Simpson exclaim into her mike.
"Bart, Julie, I couldn't believe it myself, but you heard it first-hand from Fire Chief Denton. Let me see if I can find out more here," She moved toward a group of people standing across the street, poking the
microphone in the face of one man. "Sir, how did you know to get out of the building in time?"
A balding gentleman in the standard printer's ink apron responded, "Somebody said 'get out now' and we moved. Dropped everything."
The GNN field reporter Rachel Rodriguez moved her microphone to another, a woman, still trembling and wrapped in a warm coat. "And you, Ma'am, how did you know enough to get out?"
"The alarm went off and we moved. Dropped everything."
"Who set off the alarm?" probed Rodriguez.
She was met by various shrugs of the shoulder until she heard someone in the back yell, "Lori called our department, that it was no joke."
"Who's Lori?" asked Rachel to the crowd.
"Vic Van Wess' secretary," called out one man.
"Is she here?" Rodriguez pressed on.
"Over there, she's in the group on that corner."
The camera panned towards a group of people standing on a corner a half block away, two blocks from the cinder crevice that firemen had pretty much had under control by now.
"I'm going to seek this Lori out as we walk, you can--"
"Excuse me, Rachel, this is Bart. We've got Renaldo Morgan standing by in Turtle Creek. Renaldo, can you tell us what happened there?"
"Yes, Bart, truly horrendous. There was a similar explosion here at the magnificent mansion of the publisher Edwin Blix. It too has been demolished. Police and firemen are just arriving. I'm keeping my distance because I don't know how safe it is. I'm standing to the left of the entrance. A car has been upended. Debris has flown all over the area. It looks very much like a deliberate attack on Blix and his company."
Sirens could be heard in the distance as Bart interrupted again. "Thank you, Renaldo, we'll get right back to you. Right now Rachel is with the secretary of the editor of the Metroplex Mirror. Rachel?"
"Thank you, Bart. Yes, I'm standing with Lori Jorgensen, secretary for the editor Victor Van Wess. Tell me, Lori. Did your boss call you to warn you?"
"No, a very good friend of his did. I - I thought it was a ruse at first, but his tone told me I better do something."
"Thank God you did. What--"
The screen went blank. Blix had turned it off. He was livid.
Corrie knew instinctively that it was Ben who had called. How he knew she didn't have a clue, but she knew it was dear old Ben. God bless him. For the first time today she felt a rush of hope. It showed as she looked directly at a seething Blix. She couldn't resist the next thing that came out of her mouth:
"I do believe you are right, Blix. It is time to celebrate. Now I think I will have that drink."
Dateline: Vatican City - Basement - November 5, 11:44 p.m.
Grabe barreled out of the elevator surprising the two guards who had been sleeping.
"Wake up, you fools. We have work to do."
"Sorry, Sister, I --"
"Captain Lubac, my name is Elena. Never call me 'Sister,' she snarled. "Macelli wants you both to search the entire Basilica, crypts, Sacristy, and chapels for Gallagher and Navarro. Here are their photos and two telecom units to keep in touch. Stay on channel 6."
Sister Bridie was still unconscious, tied to the chair. Grabe moved behind and grabbed her arm, plunging the syringe into her bicep. "No resistance now, you Anglo Saxon wretch," the German rebuked.
Stephen watched helplessly, hidden behind the stored pillars and huge ceramic statues behind and to the right of the elevator. He wanted to lunge at this heartless fraulein, but wisely recalled Captain Schuster's warning.
Dateline: Vatican City - Sistine Chapel - November 5, 11:45 p.m.
Macelli's intercom buzzed just as he closed the door to the sacristy, the anti-chamber to the Sistine Chapel.
"Pronto. Si?" Concern formed on his face. "Are you sure? Alright, I will notify Elena immediately. Meanwhile I will finish up here."
Dateline: Vatican City - Basement of Apostolic Palace - November 5, 11:45 p.m.
"Captain Lubac, she is not responding. Wake her up! Mach schnell!"
"It is not as easily done as putting her to sleep, Elena."
"Do it! Eben!" Grabe's tone signaled that Lubac had no other alternative.
He placed his fingers just above her nostrils and squeezed at a strategic point. Sister Bridie gasped for air, bringing her back to consciousness.
"Good. Now both of you get over to the Basilica. I can handle this simple nun. Go."
They scurried onto the elevator. The door closed and headed upward just as Elena's telecom buzzed.
"Ja." She listened intently as Macelli explained the urgent situation and the break the Legion had been waiting for. "I vill go there immediately," Elena promised Macelli.
Turning toward the bound Irish nun, Grabe revealed the conversation with Macelli. "Schwester, I vill be back and you can tell me about this Fr. Donaldson who you knew was in the infirmary. According to our sources he is still there." Elena hunched down to look Sister Bridie in the face. "However, is it not strange that he would call from St. Louis in the United States just a few minutes ago? Who then, Sister, is in the bed upstairs in the infirmary?"
"Patrick Gallagher, it be." Sister Bridie said sluggishly, but surely. She could not help it, the truth serum had taken effect as Elena stood up and moved quickly toward the elevator,
The German imposter nun pressed the button impatiently, waiting for the lift to return. "Dank, Schwester. I shall return for more news you might like to impart. For now I need to eliminate the American if he does not know where the ring is."
The elevator arrived and soon Elena was ascending to the second floor and headed for the infirmary.
Stephen, still crouching until the door was fully closed, realized now was his chance to free Sister Bridie before they returned. But how, how would he be able to warn Pat in time?
Next: PART IV: The Shrouding TWELFTH CHAPTER Episode Seven
"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.