Part V:
White Smoke, Black Fire!
The Shedding

Thirteenth Chapter

      Episode Five

             The helicopter had continued to hover for ten more minutes before banking away, abandoning its search. The pilot, guards, Elena, Serrano and Macelli were stupefied. How could Gallagher and the other intruder have disappeared into thin air. They were quite sure the Master they served would not, could not, work such magic. They would never find out though they would search every inch of the roof and beneath thoroughly. Could the fugitives have doubled back? Were they in St. Peter's?
             Cardinal Antonio Macelli had other problems as well. Monsignor Stephen Navarro, the man who had been the Italian's constant thorn in his side, was still missing, and so were Sister Bridie and Cardinal Gregory Zachmunn. Though Macelli had not deduced they were together, he had made a visit to the Apostolic Palace and the Borgia Apartments. Here was where many of the College of Cardinals had opted to stay rather than the more modern, distraction-filled St. Martha's Place which was located on the other side of St. Peter's near Paul VI Hall, also called the Nervi Hall. Macelli's blood pressure had neared stroke level when he had found Gregory's room vacant.
             Before the meetings last night, Cardinal Zachmunn had had his things transferred from the Oblate House to Borgia Apartments. He had then no time to settle in, evident from his suitcase across the bed, opened but not unpacked. Believing he would return to the room soon after the General Congregation adjourned, Gregory had neglected to take his nitroglycerin pills with him. A prescription bottle along with his Breviary on the nightstand were the only visible signs he had even been here. Macelli raged inwardly. Where was Zachmunn?
             While Macelli frantically, even erratically, sought answers, Stephen found himself in the Papal quarters, having entered by the same secret passageway to the Papal closet. After the initial shock of realizing where the secret passageway had led them, he'd quickly sought out the phone. Dead. Definitely something rotten in Denmark! How would he be able to help Cardinal Zachmunn without a phone? Stephen's cell phone had died an hour or so ago, before it had become evident the Cardinal was sick.

      Dateline: Vatican City - Papal Quarters - November 6, 2:35 a.m.

             Stephen sat down, spent, dejected that he could not find a means to communicate with the outside world, to get help for his dear mentor. Then it hit him. He had forgotten the obvious. The pen in his pocket. The Penultimate Colin Rembert had gifted him. Quickly retrieving it, he pushed the button which Colin had said would convey one-way communication to the Satellite control center in Sydney. He pushed it and prayed.
             The summer sun was reaching its apex as the proximity of the noonday beckoned Australians to seek shelter in their air-conditioned refuges of office and home. In the control room of Global NetSat, Navarro's distress signal reached an attendant on duty.
             "This is Monsignor Stephen Navarro. Colin Rembert gave me a Penultimate yesterday. I need to reach him."
             A beep prompted Stephen to press another button. A beam shot out and Stephen immediately aimed it at a blank space on the wall. They had heard his SOS.
             "Monsignor, Global NetSat here. Mr. Rembert is in Rome."
             "Yes, I know," Stephen responded in frustration, "I cannot get to a phone. I need to have him call a doctor."
             "Oh, in that case we will patch you through, Father. Hang on, mate."
             Nearly a minute passed as the technical director in Sydney sought out a sleeping Colin Rembert in his hotel room at the Ambasciatori Palace on the Via Veneto, a five-star hotel of unparalleled Bachanalian cuisine and accommodations. The Australians knew how to do it up right.
             "Almost three in the morning. This better be important, Father." Rembert wasn't his jolly self. That happened to those awakened in the middle of the night.
             "I realize that, Colin," Stephen apologized. "We have an emergency and I can't call out. I need you to call a Dr. Ghislieri. His number is 033-055-233. Please call him and tell him to come to the Papal Sacristy as fast as he can and bring some nitroglycerin tablets immediately. Please."
             "Will do, mate. Anything else?"
             "Yeah, but I'll contact you in the morning. For now - get the doctor and hurry. And thanks a million, Colin. I really, really appreciate it."
             "Don't mention it, mate. Time's a wasting. G'day or should I say G'nite."
             'Thank you, God,' Stephen whispered to himself. The Lord had a reason for placing Colin Rembert in his path yesterday afternoon. Now he only hoped Rembert would be able to locate the Doctor.
             He headed to the kitchen where he extracted a knife and a nut-cracker, then grabbed a pillow and table cloth, whiling filling up a bottle with water. With this eclectic equipment in hand, he headed back through the closet into the tunnel, down the steep ladder-type steps to the area where Sister Bridie and Cardinal Zachmunn were waiting. Would Dr. Ghislieri be on time? Stephen could only pray.

      Dateline: Rome - Outside Castel Sant'Angelo - November 6, 2:45 a.m.

             Father Niki Andriopoulos and Patrick Gallagher had mingled with the crowd of mourners, pushing and edging away from St. Peter's to the Via Ombrelliani. There they had broken from the crowd. Shortly they had found the Via Dei Corridori, the street that followed the ancient Leonine Wall. They hugged the shadows as they made their way eastward beneath the great wall that connected the Holy See to Castel Sant'Angelo.
             The nurse had told Pat that the Castle had been closed, locked tighter than a drum for a few years. She wasn't kidding. Pat and Niki raced the entire circumference of the stone ramparts. The outer perimeter fortress was a pentagon structure of impenetrable rock. It had ten sides. Where it had previously been open along the Lungotevere Castello on both sides of the main square base, 18' high wire fence had been erected with three rows of barbed wire stringing the top. It stretched from rock wall to rock wall. Nowhere, unless one had a catapult, ladder or helicopter, could these walls be mounted. How did one get into the secret corridor of the Leonine Wall? How did one get inside the great fortress above the Tiber?
             They stood frustrated, huddled in the shadows of Bernini's magnificent stone angels on the Pont Sant'Angelo. This bridge replicated the style of the Baroque Master's Colonnade. Instead of saints, 12 winged angels - six on each side - lined the stately Roman bridge, which led from the Lungot Tor di Nona on the south side of the Tiber to the main entrance of the great citadel. Now it towered above them. No wonder it had been such a powerful fortress in times past. There had to be an entrance! It was imperative they find the Pope before it was too late, if, indeed, he was still alive!
             "God, Nik, we've tried everything. The place is sealed like a drum."
             "It does present a challenge." Fr. Andriopoulos glanced down from the bridge to the silent waters below. "Patrick, how good a swimmer are you?"
             "Fair. Why?"
             "If I remember correctly, there is an underground passage beneath the river."
             "Beneath?!? Oh great!" Pat was initially shocked at the very idea. Then, reason took over. "I can't argue with your track record for secret passages though. If there's a secret door, leave it to you, Nik, to find it."
             Niki had already hopped the barrier and was heading down the built-in steps that jutted from the 50' stone parapet that bermed the drop from street to the river. Pat was fast on his heels as they reached the lower shore where grass separated the buttress from the bank of the Tiber.
             "So we swim in?" He asked looking down at the cold water, barely rippling in the moonlight.
             "If it is possible, my friend."
             Niki started to empty his pockets, placing his satchel and other personal items by the nearest wide, thick arched stanchion that anchored the bridge. Pat followed suit.
             "I estimate the entrance is approximately six to eight feet beneath the surface in the base of the buttress. If you need air, resurface. It may take us a few times to find it."
             "If it's there, we'll find it, Nik."
             "That is not what worries me, my friend. It is frigid enough outside. The water can bring on hypothermia quite quickly."
             "Yeah, I know. Not a lot to choose from." Pat shed his leather jacket, which Niki had lifted for him and headed for the bank. "Last one in is a rotten apple," he yelled back, taking great delight in his childishness. It helped bury the fears, reminded him of his Devil-may-care exploits back in Shreveport on Cross Lake. At least there were no water moccasins or gators to contend with here.
             He might have wished there were once he hit the water. At least it would have been warmer. The shock to his system numbed him into a sudden surge of adrenaline to survive as he dove deeper. Niki was not far behind and from the look on his face, he was just as chilled, hurting just as much. Despite the cold, the water was clearer than the summer or early autumn when pollutants gathered and muddied the river. The more lucid conditions enabled them to spot the iron grate covering an archway roughly ten feet high by twelve feet wide.
             They both tugged on the bars. There was no give. They tried again. Nothing. Pat pointed up and they shot back to the surface, gasping for air, splashing back toward the shore.
             "Brrrrr. That's freezin', Nik."
             "YYYess," Niki agreed, shivering.
             "So what do we do now?
             "Back to the ssshhhore," Niki blubbered, his lips freezing up as they swam back to the bank.
             Once both were on dry land, Pat cowled himself beneath the leather jacket. "SSSo much for tttthe po-oohhhlar bear club. Not my idea to take a sssswim in Novemberrrr."
             Niki was hunched over, working on something with his back to Pat. "Yes, I-I-I would say the water is a bit cohhhld."
             "A bit?!? That's an understate--"
             "Perhaps we can heat things up some," Niki grinned as he rose, holding both candles he had lifted from the truck. He had carved a small niche into the sides near the center. "If these are what I think they are we will only have a few seconds to plant these near the bars and then swim like--"
             "...Hell!! Hell yeah, let's go for it!" It was do or die with Pat. "It's now or neverrr."
             "On three," Niki advised as he began the countdown. "One, Two, THREE!"
             They dove underwater wasting no time for the search. They darted directly for the archway. Pat jammed one candle between the bars on the right while Niki was doing the same on the left. Once in place they swam away as fast as they could, heading back to the surface. Niki's calculations were true. Within seconds the water rumbled and rolled as the iron gates flew from their standards, the force of the current knocking both swimmers into an equilibrium zone, suspended in the frigid flow of heat and cold that collided on detonation. Once the cavernous reverberations ceased and the rumblings shed their captives, Pat and Niki were freed to return to the surface, again grasping for oxygen.
             "Think that did it?" Pat asked, knocking his head to rid the echo in his water-filled ears.
             "We can only hope, my friend. Let us recoup our things and find out." Niki exited the river, retrieving his satchel and a few things Pat had left including his jacket. "Tuck this beneath your shirt."
             They plunged back into the icy depths and into the gutted-out gaping hole through the underground cavern. They remained submerged until the water grew shallower. When they could finally see that the crude ceiling had heightened, they surfaced, leaving the water behind. The two weary warriors boosted themselves up on the ledge that ran the length of this tunnel beneath the road toward the castle. It was cold, but the tunnel was unusually light considering there were no torches, no windows. Above, numerous bar-covered narrow openings from the piazza in front of the Castle allowed the moonlight to stream in. Was it a miracle or were their clothes becoming drier, warmer?
             "Thank God for air." Pat expired, checking Niki's pouch to see if his cigarettes had survived the drenching. "Thank God for waterproof pouches," he announced triumphantly as he lit up a Pall Mall.
             "I could say you were not born to be a fish, but you performed admirably back there."
             "Did you see what those two candles did to those bars, Nik?"
             "Can you imagine what the Legion is planning to do?"
             "We've gotta stop 'em, Nik."
             "We will, but first the Pope. He's here somewhere."
             They walked on further until they reached a room that might very well have served as the famous dungeon prison of medieval times. Here the Inquisition was abused. Just as in modern times offices were compromised and turned towards personal, more devious means so also in those times this necessary discipline was inculpated for the sake of political agendas, whether it be religion or the State. Satan was not limited to linear time.
             Moving up several stairways, they came eventually upon a quadrant that led out to a courtyard. Stacked against the stone parapets were cannonballs from the time of Clement VII. They glistened in the moonlight. They had breached the walls. They were inside the castle. Now to find the Pope.

      Next: PART V: The Shedding THIRTEENTH 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.


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