Part V:
White Smoke, Black Fire!
The Shedding

Fourteenth Chapter

      Episode Two

             The low rising eastern sun shot off the cockpit window as the private jet made its final approach into Fiumicino. Edwin Blix had been awake for the past few hours, communicating with various sources, keeping abreast of all he controlled. That which he governed was far greater than any human being could imagine.
             He had seemed pleased when Ans Soto delivered poached eggs, toast and orange slices on fine china. Jordan Collier had wolfed down the same, much to Edwin's disgust. Disgust is all Corrie could feel as she struggled with her feelings. Hate swelled within, surging toward the surface and still she suppressed it as best she could. Collier had escorted her to the lavatory where she was able to finally gain some privacy. Yet, even here she felt watched. Perhaps it was the small lens peering back at her above the toilet. The scope of its focus did not include the commode or anyone near the commode. However, all activities at the sink were visible to whomever was monitoring these cameras. It made her shiver as she stared into the mirror trying to muster the courage to resist at the right time. How could she have gotten herself into such a mess, into such straits? Love. Love for Pat and, yes, love for God. She was slowly coming to the realization that the right priority was her Creator first, Pat second! However, the renaissance of her concern for the Infinite had not diminished her feelings for the very finite love of her life.
             Standing at the sink, mesmerized by her own transient and mussed image in the mirror, exaggerated by her day-old make-up, she wondered how anyone could love her. She thought back to how she had pondered all the cosmetics she had and how futile these face-saving facades were in the overall picture. She tried to recollect her thoughts, mentally map out her escape or, at the very least, stay a step ahead of the demons who were escorting her to Rome. Would she find Pat? Would she be able to warn him of Blix's intent? Questions swirled within as the warning buzzer above alerted her that they would be landing soon, that she must take her seat.
             Reluctantly she left the safe confines of the lavatory cubicle. There at the door was the blanched, soulless face of Jordan Collier waiting to escort her back to her seat, to cuff her to the chair. Without resisting, she complied in robotic form. Collier, standing behind the seat, pulled the belt tight against her waist, almost delighting in her grimace as he purposely allowed his wrists and lower arms to nudge and stay on her breasts while he pretended to be helping to loosen her seat belt. The thought of him, anyone on this plane, touching her in any way, sickened her.
             Blix said nothing, refusing even to acknowledge her presence as he stared straight ahead. He had other things on his mind. Collier fell back just in time to buckle himself as the wheels thumped the runway, then lifted a few feet and then another thud that jerked the passengers as the jet found pavement, swayed, and began screeching to a halt. The bumpy landing played on Corrie's stomach, teasing a nauseating feeling that she stifled by holding her breath until the plane slowed to a taxing pace.
             From her vantage point she could see one who looked exactly like Ans standing on the tarmac next to a black stretch limo. She had to do a double-take to make sure it wasn't Ans. Blix's observation confirmed the obvious.
             "Ah, there's Soto now. Well, y'all, we're right on schedule. All is goin' accordin' to Hoyle. Yes, indeedy." He was absolutely giddy in satanic delight. Corrie gave silent thanks she wasn't seated any closer to him for surely she would have been singed by the hellish heat of this man, this beast.

      Dateline: Vatican City - Office of the Camerlengo - November 6, 6:40 a.m.

             "They are in Rome now. All have arrived for the splendid ritual at the Pantheon," a nervous Macelli informed the Vicar General and Archpriest of the Basilica Cardinal Josef Vendhem in a whisper before they both approached the sterile German nun Elena Grabe and Luciani Serrano, who also had also been summoned to the Camerlengo's office.
             Grabe had overheard. "Then they will not be attending the funeral either, Lord Macelli?" Elena was brusque, knowing the answer to her question.
             "No," Antonio curtly replied. "We must join them for Lord Vendhem will be the celebrant, but we have to clean up here first."
             "The damages?" Vendhem inquired rudely. "What is the final tally?"
             "Four guards dead including Guillaume." Macelli admitted, hating any questions from Vendhem.
             "They will rue the day," Luciani cursed, obviously riled over the death of his friend Brunatti.
             "Yes, they will," agreed Vendhem, "but if you let emotion rule you, they will sense that. We cannot show our Achilles heel to them. Ever! Do you hear?" The German cardinal was in Luciani' face, making an example for the sake of both Macelli and Grabe, both of whom had made grave errors in carrying out their duties for the Master.
             "We will be ready," Macelli answered, trying to assure Vendhem, yet with a blend of loathing and grave concern in his voice.
             "Any word on the night intruders?" Vendhem inquired, as if again knowing the obvious answer.
             "None." Grabe answered in a low tone. "They have vanished into thin air."
             "I doubt that, Elena," Vendhem rebuked. "The Master is definitely not pleased. Four of ours failed while four of theirs escaped. I would not call that successful, would you, fraulein?" The Archpriest of the Basilica was livid and not hiding it. His veins in his long, craggy face bulged. "I must go make preparations for the funeral and assure our guards are in place. I trust you will carry on in a responsible manner, Lord Cardinal Macelli?" He was still staring at Grabe.
             "Si. Prego." It was evident the Italian prelate was intimidated. Not so Elena Grabe who dared to look Vendhem in the eye.
             It didn't faze the German cardinal. "Das gutt. Fortsetzen, Frau Grabe."
             She didn't budge, fixing her steely eyes at Vendhem. Without taking his eyes off her glare he asked, "I vunder if the Master really desires that Elena prepare the main meal, Antonio."
             Macelli directed his question to Grabe. "You have the trigger?"
             "Ja voll, Herr Macelli und Vendhem," she huffed, revenge roiling in her veins.
             "Bene. You are to remain here. I will let you know when to squeeze it."
             Vendhem was not convinced. "Do not fail this time. It is your last."
             "I vill not fail, Herr Josef. And neither will you. Are we understood?" Elena was ready for his superiority games, tired of this treatment by the weakling species of man.
             "Perfectly," Macelli complied if only to be rid of this Teutonic wench. "I have instructed the sisters under my control to make ready for the new Pope."
             "Then," Vendhem icily inquired, "they will see to the distribution of the candles?"
             "Well, then," Vendhem concluded, "we have our assignments. Now we prepare for the Master's entrance soon." He intoned in a deep guttural timbre, "We pledge our loyalty to the master. We pledge our lives to make his reign possible. We are the Legion."
             In unison they intoned in staccato reverberation, "Long live the Basilisk."
             With that they scattered. Vendhem and Macelli flowed out into the corridor, escorted by two Swiss Guards; Serrano and Grabe went the other way towards the Papal Quarters. Elena was positive the Papal Ring was inside the Pope's Apartment. With all the keys she had been given, surely one of them would open the front door.

      * * * * * * *

             As they walked Elena gambled that she could trust the burly Italian Luciani Serrano.
             "Dear Luciani, the Master has chosen an alternate agenda," she tested him. "Unbeknownst to Vendhem and Macelli, we will, of course, excuse ourselves from the procession and funeral. We will have a limo waiting to rush us away from this hideous place."
             "We will not wait for the funeral or Conclave?" Serrano was not aware of the alternative plans.
             "No. That is useless I fear, Luciani," Grabe confided. "Rather, the Master has decided to strike during the funeral. The votes last night in General Congregation did not go as the Master had planned. Those cardinals who assured the Master of victory have come up empty. Therefore we resort to the failsafe method." A wicked smile creased her lips.
             "Do you not fear those who eluded us last night?" a skeptical Serrano inquired.
             "That is why we must strike today before they can regroup," Elena reasoned. "If they are scattered they cannot gain strength."
             "And what of Macelli, Vendhem, and the Legion guards?" Serrano's voice betrayed his confusion at being left out of the loop.
             "Collateral damage."
             Luciani's jaw dropped. Was the Master willing to sacrifice the man who was to be the next Pope? A double-cross was in the works and Serrano was caught in the middle. "I am afraid, Luciani, that dear Josef and Antonio have become too ambitious. The Master is not pleased how they have treated we who work in the trenches, do his dirty work for him. We shall have our day, Herr Serrano."

      * * * * * * *

             While the pride of these two nefarious souls swelled and plotted, humility and meekness of heart were the focus of three other souls bathed in the mystical lumen of grace in the isolated room on the northwest side of Castel Sant'Angelo's walls.
             After Father Niki had broken the Sacred Host and thoroughly placed the particles into the Chalice, and consumed the Sacrament in both species, he turned, facing both the stricken Pontiff and Pat Gallagher. Holding the Sacred Host above the Sacred Blood, the Greek priest intoned in Latin "Domine non sum dignus, ut intres sub tectum meum; sed tantum dic verbo, et sanabitur anima mea." He repeated these words three times, taken from the words of the trusting centurion of the New Testament whose faith in Christ signified all, "Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst come under my roof; say but the word and my soul shall be healed."
             Reverently Niki approached Pope Clement XV, holding a particle of the Sacred Host, saying "Corpus Domini nostri Jesu Christi custodiat animam tuam in vitam aeternam. Amen." These words, said before every communicant receives Holy Communion remained a simple reminder of the salvific essence of this fulfillment of the Sacred Mystery of the Altar - "The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve thy soul unto life everlasting. Amen."
             After reciting these words Niki placed the Holy Eucharist on the Pope's tongue, then offered him the Sacred Chalice. Pat helped the Holy Father prop up so he could take the cup and sip just a little. Then Niki, after bowing to kiss the Fisherman's Ring, reached back on the makeshift altar and retrieved a small vial of water, gently pouring it into the Pontiff's mouth.
             "I am sorry, your Holiness, that is all I can provide for now."
             In a barely audible, raspy voice Clement XV smiled, "This Gesu - migliore - molto bene, grazie - I can ask for nothing better."
             Niki then turned to Pat with the final Host, beginning the prayer "Corpus Domini nostri--"
             Pat gently, embarrassingly interrupted. "Hey, Father Nik, I appreciate it and all. But I've been away for years. I need to go to confession. Got an hour?"
             Niki looked into his eyes and in a kind, loving voice simply said, "Then, my honest American friend, we shall preserve this for you to receive later." With that he quickly blessed Gallagher and turned back to the ledge where he placed the consecrated Host in a small crystal lunette, which he put inside a compact gold pyx.
             While he was finishing up the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass with the ablutions, Blix, Collier, the Ichariak twins and Corrie were motoring toward the city in the stretch limo. No one said a word as the sun rose higher in the east against the backdrop of a rose hued mauve-colored sky. Red sky at night, sailor's delight; red sky in the morning, sailor take warning. Indeed the signs were the omen of what lay ahead this day.
             Fr. Niki completed the Mass for the Pope and began repacking his Mass kit into his waterproof pouch. While he placed the small pyx in his waterproof pack, repositioning it in baldric fashion so the Holy Viaticum rested near his heart, Pat searched the room and the tunnel that connected the room.
             "We gotta stop the funeral, Nik," Pat exclaimed, pointing towards the tunnel. "Where'd ya think that leads?"
             "I believe back to the Holy See, my friend. That would be the only visible way I can see that the Holy Father got in here. You could swim out or take the tunnel."
             "No more swimmin'. I'm gonna check out the tunnel."
             "Be very cautious, Patrick. This was built centuries ago. I suspect the Leonine Walls could have many traps. Niki retrieved one of the two votive candles he had used for the Mass. "Here, use this wisely. If you can get any kind of food and water it would be wonderful. He is greatly dehydrated."
             "You don't by chance, Nik, have any cigs in your pack, do ya? "
             "I am afraid not, my friend. You will survive. Go with God."
             "I'll sure try if I don't have a nicotine fit. I've only got two left!"
             With that Pat disappeared into the tunnel which wended its way above the Via Dei Coridori back to the Holy See and the Apostolic Palace. Thankfully for Pat, the light piercing the open stone ducts in the wall made the candle, for the most part, archaic.

      Dateline: Vatican City - 2nd Floor of the Apostolic Palace - November 6, 7 a.m.

             After Stephen had laid out a possible evacuation plan which, to most, would be impossible considering the time allotted, Cardinal Zachmunn had slipped out and up the Scalia Nobile to the third floor where he crossed through the long corridor, then down another staircase toward the Courtyard of St. Damascus.
             Having decided enough time had elapsed, Stephen, leaving a few vestments strategically hanging over the opening to the secret tunnel to conceal the entrance, exited the Sacristy out through the Pope's Private Chapel to the Sala Clementina. This was the same room Sister Bridie had brought the new superior, Sister Elena, the day before. No nuns were visible this morning, not even the Swiss Guards for they were needed at St. Peter's, the Sistine area, and the Nervi Hall. No one was about except an old figure just off the Scalia Nobile.
             From a distance the old bearded priest with black bag in hand looked like one of the Eastern Rite clerics, possibly Chaldean. As Stephen approached, the Monsignor tried to act nonchalant, yet suspicious in every way for this person was well out of the allowed jurisdiction. He could be a member of the Legion.
             "Padre, you are lost, no?" Stephen asked.
             "It is truly neither fit for man nor beast out there," the old priest responded.
             Navarro gawked in amazement, "Makuta!"
             "Shhh, not so loud, Stephen." Ogidi wrapped his arm around Stephen hoping to quell the enthusiasm. "You are in great danger. Now, quickly, in there."
             Dr. Ogidi shooed Stephen behind a statue as he quickly repositioned himself near the door of the Sala Clementina to throw off any who approached from having any inclination that someone might be hiding behind one of the magnificent statues in the open area near the Scalia Nobile. His sense of timing was perfect as Sister Elena and one of the guards came around the corner from the Loggie.
             Ogidi jumped on the opportunity before she could react, "Pardon me, Sister and Signore, but can you help this old man out. I fear I am lost in this maze. I need to use the water closet. Which--"
             Impatiently the one dressed as a Swiss Guard - Luciani Serrano - pointed, "Around that corner I believe, third door on your right."
             Elena studied the old man suspiciously. Ogidi directly met her gaze and she looked away as she hinted contempt. "After that I suggest you leave this area. It is highly restricted. The funeral is not here. It is in--"
             "Yes, of course, Sister," Ogidi bowed profoundly in contriteness. "The funeral is in San Pietro. A thousand pardons. I will do as you suggest. Grazie, molto bene, grazie."
             "Prego," Serrano dismissed him and continued on with Grabe. Once they had turned the corner and out of sight, Ogidi returned swiftly to Stephen still crouched behind the statue. "Quickly, we must move."

    "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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