Part V:
White Smoke, Black Fire!
The Shedding

Fourteenth Chapter

      Episode Four

             In the game of life, checks and balances are vital to keep men on the safe and narrow path. This is not always the will of man who seeks to fashion his own stubbornness in the scope of events.
             Thus was the case this morning as the white Mercedes emptied its bowels of its inhabitants at a side entrance to the Pantheon for a summit of the six most powerful men in the world and their accomplices - all soulless creatures who had long ago forsaken good for the fleeting power of evil. Such was the warped mentality of men who could not fathom the mystery of God's Justice and Mercy. They would have none of that. Superstition they considered it, while they clung to the most vile of superstition - Satanic worship.

      Dateline: Rome - Subterranean room beneath the Pantheon - November 6, 8:15 a.m.

             The pagan temple built in 27 B.C. by Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa had, for well over a century, served as one of the chief Temples of Satan in Rome. For the summit of the six it was the ultimate location. They would not frequent the large main rotunda for the light from the opening at the top of the dome was something they shrunk from. Their business, like the four Legion workhorses who met in the dank basement off the Via Magdalena, would be conducted in the darkness. There was light in the room they entered, but not natural light. Candle light, huge candles flickered, giving a hellish glow to the small subterranean rotunda they entered.
             The ceiling was low and dark. Below was a circular stone round table with stone chairs with high backs. At the crest of the back of the chair was inset an immense zirconium diamond to represent the all-seeing evil eye, which cast a hypnotic effect on all who would sit at the table. Twelve chairs surrounded the elevated solid black stone slab. Save for the satanic symbols, one might mistake it for a movie set portraying King Arthur's legendary Round Table. Except, on the surface of the orbed stone was the Satanic pentagram ingrained in the black granite. This would be the conference table where they would meet to discuss their infernal agenda. Following that, it would become the unholy altar in the entrails of this pagan shrine for the service reviled even by the gods of ancient Rome - the Satanic Black Mass.
             The particulars were such that few were admitted to this most vile, debase rite. Corrie might have been the victim but, because her flower had been tainted through her own human frailties of the flesh, and, more importantly, as bait to lure Pat out, Blix passed on the prize he had brought to Rome.
             While the summit of six had begun right on schedule, outside in broad daylight assigned hunters had captured their prey. Since even Luciferians value a stainless sacrifice, a virgin had been plucked from the streets of Rome - a thirteen year-old raven-haired blossom just beginning to mature. She had been the choice this morning. She would not live to see the noonday sun. Her parents would search in vain for their missing daughter and rue the day they did not rein in the rebellion of teen independence, for she had chosen to skip school and mingle with the merchants in the Piazza Navona. Like so many abductions, she had been lured from a public place - this time Gian Lorenzo Bernini's famous Fountain of Four Rivers - where few tourists noted how roughly she had been scooped into a copse of three men and disappeared without a trace. Her body would never be found for it would be carved and burned as a blasphemous sacrifice to the stygian fallen angel Lucifer.
             Mocking the Holy Trinity as the Devil does, the Master had instructed this day to add two more - making it a triune victim. So great was this anticipated day by the Legion that another had been chosen, a gypsy girl not yet fifteen who was six months pregnant. The virgin, the gypsy and the unborn child would make three.
             One had to wonder from this action, that if the Devil and his closest followers recognized life in the womb, then why, those, who crusaded for abortion and whom he had so easily manipulated, had not? The great majority of the population he had squarely in his corner believing the lie that a woman could do anything to her body. They believed the canard for they had been in denial of the fact all flesh comes from God. They had not understood that life begins at conception.
             Regardless of the aspirations the young harlot mother-to-be might have had for her infant in the womb, neither would have a chance to explore life once she was sacrificed on Lucifer's platform of perdition.

      Dateline: Vatican City - Vatican Railway Station west of Nervi Hall - November 6, 8:20 a.m.

             The events of the night before in the General Congregation had forced Macelli and Vendhem to bide their time between early lobbying in the Sala Regia among their fellow cardinals before hightailing it to the Pantheon by 9 a.m. The Black Mass would take them away from the Vatican. Though the Resistance was not aware of these black-hearted prelates' destination, it would be enough time for the resisters to command the Nervi Hall. With the help of the large cadre of recruited helpers, the virile volunteers recruited by the resisters were already moving coffins out through the underground tunnel towards the railway station.
             A few problems remained. Getting the locked coffins out of harm's way and replacing them so the funeral could still commence in less than two hours, would be no easy task. Colin Rembert had been a trooper, coming through for Stephen at the eleventh hour. When Navarro had rousted him from a sound sleep at 6:30 this morning, Colin was up for the massive task ahead. Immediately, he had alerted his people at Global NetSat in Sydney. Fortunately it was already near 4 p.m. down under. Using his clout and influence, he had been able to rally the troops at the network to contact officials of the railroad in Rome, and every mortuary in and around the eternal city. The rail cars had been sent, but not as many as Cardinal Zachmunn had hoped for. The replacement coffins were now arriving en masse as various sized hearses pulled to a crawl in procession outside Paul VI Hall. Two loyal Swiss Guards directed them to the side entrance where another of the cardinals' recruits helped direct traffic and another made out receipts for the morticians to reclaim their caskets after the funeral. The whys were not explained; these men had been paid handsomely not to ask, only to cooperate. Such was the tremendous contribution and cooperation of Colin Rembert. Indeed God does raise up heroes in times of crisis.
             Captain Royce Schuster and Lieutenant Alexis Geraud had marshaled the recruiters to work in tandems, one group pulling off the palls and another group of six hoisting the coffins off to the tunnel. As the hearses arrived, the second group would bring the new empty coffins in and place the particular pall over them and place them back in place between the six candleholders. They had to move quickly for official pall-bearers were scheduled to assemble in the Hall at 9:30 a.m. Until then they were safe. Fortunately the caisson of vehicles bearing the replacement coffins had arrived on the south side of the Nervi Hall between the Vatican wall and the building on the narrow driveway used for deliveries. They were out of sight of the press who had been gathering on the roof of the colonnade and in the square. Stephen had made sure all material had been disseminated the evening before so his office was dark this morning. He would give a "Deo Gratias" that no one sought him out this morning.
             Another hero was deep in planning with the engineer, the brakeman and two steam stokers in a room just off the main deserted lobby of the Vatican Railway Station. As the sworn-to-secrecy volunteers loaded the two box cars, Cardinal Gregory Zachmunn laid out the strategy for the three railroad experts, seeking their input as he addressed the engineer Dominic Nicolosi, brakeman Luigi Rosmini, and the switchman Pietro Ciappi.
             "Prego, we go north," the engineer gestured in typical Italian fashion to Cardinal Zachmunn. "South is too dangerous, much population. We must get cars north of Poggio. There is steep grade as we climb into foothills of Apennines in Lazio region."
             "How soon can you get there?" Gregory inquired, his tone indicating the urgency of his question.
             "Maybe one and a half hours if we leave here by ten." The engineer was being realistic. "It also depends, your Eminence, on how fast they can load cars."
             "Si," acknowledged Gregory. We may be cutting it close but our people are working as fast as they can."
             "Luigi will be with me. Pietro will stay in touch with us through radio over there," assured Nicolosi, pointing to the short-wave that would be turned to the frequency of the engineer's set.
             Enthusiastically Pietro agreed, "Si. Si." His big grin highlighted a gap tooth, partly covered by a bushy black and gray-flecked mustache which caricatured Ciappi's wiry, long face matching his Ichabod Crane-like body. He clasped his large hands in anticipation of the feat ahead, as he leaned back in his chair, extending his oversized boots where they scuffed the ledge of the desk.
             "Then we are ready," assured Dominic.
             Gregory took a deep sigh. "Imiei amico, do you realize the risks of this mission. Capisce?"
             Nicolosi, the balding engineer with a slight paunch and handlebar mustache, glanced at his fellow workers. Their approval shone in their eyes. "We were born for danger, your Eminence. It has been dull on our rails, no? We are up to task. Once we reach gully of grade where it curves sharply, three of my men will disembark and fix rails as we climb. Once I reach pass we will disengage cars. They will race down and, if all goes as God wishes, they will fly off rail into deep ravine below. There is nothing down there but creek that runs toward Bracciano Lake."
             "May God bless you, Dominic, Pietro and Luigi, and the rest of your men for your bravery and courage," Gregory rose to give them his blessing while outside the volunteers continued to load the coffins carefully into the box cars where two other railroad men supervised. Once he had extended his blessing, Cardinal Zachmunn stopped by the doorway. "We still need to get the Papal coffin out of St. Peter's. That may be a little more dicey. I'll stay in touch. Ciao."
             While Gregory headed towards the Sacristy, Captain Schuster was waiting for him with a coffin on wheels by the entrance. To offset suspicions by any on-lookers, other guards or press who might be snooping, it was concealed in the same box that Royce and Alexis had taken Major Riage Benziger from the storage room the day before. Now his body would be carried into St. Peter's in less than an hour. His would be the only coffin to contain human remains. A glorious funeral for a true hero, but few, if any, would know outside of the key resisters.

      Dateline: Vatican City - St. Peter's Basilica - November 6, 8:35 a.m.

             Without saying a word Gregory picked up the pace and helped Captain Schuster roll the box into the Sacristy and through a corridor leading to the Vestry and out under the Tenerani - the magnificent monument to Pope St. Pius V , the noble Sovereign Pontiff who codified the infallible Council of Trent and the Latin Tridentine Mass. As Gregory passed under it, subconsciously he apologized to this holy Pontiff of well over three centuries ago who, from Heaven, had to have been weeping greatly over what had happened to his beloved Church over the past century.
             Zachmunn and Schuster quietly rolled Benziger's coffin past the Altar dedicated to Sts. Peter and Andrew, and to the right into the main nave of St. Peter's, where the Papal Bier stood in front of the brass railing at the entrance to the Tomb of St. Peter in front of the main Altar, beneath Bernini's massive Baldacchino. Unless one looked closely at the chips in the floor from the commotion the night before, one would not know of the terrifying events that had taken place and the narrow escape of the resisters from the clutches of the Legion.
             Scanning the Basilica for any sign of life, both Gregory and Royce heaved a sigh of relief that it was, for this moment, empty. Quickly the loyal Swiss Guard lifted the corrugated covering and slid the Papal coffin onto the cart. Then he swung the cart around and slid the major's coffin into place. Cardinal Zachmunn placed the white Papal pall on the casket, rearranging it so that none were the wiser while Captain Schuster slid the papal coffin into place and repositioned the faux covering over the cart.
             Just then, a man Gregory didn't recognize, along with two guards entered from the back of the Basilica. Gregory motioned the Swiss Guard to continue on with the coffin as he sauntered back to intercept the men coming forward.
             "May I help you?" Gregory launched the first question to fend off any inquisition from the two other guards following behind.
             "Yeah, pardnah," the lead man in an expensive Armani burgundy suit replete with Gucci shoes blurted. "What're you doin' heah?"
             The voice was unmistakably American, Texan no less, and rude. Gregory geared for an unpleasant encounter once he recognized the heavy-set guard from the night before in this very same area. It was the man called Serrano.
             Cardinal Gregory Zachmunn's encounter with the obnoxious American and the two Legion guards had been awkward to say the least. Their questions to the St. Louis prelate smacked of unadulterated impertinence. They had asked questions only the Legion would be interested in. He had tried to throw them off by pointing out that the Swiss Guard with the cart of boxes, who had "mistakenly thought" the programs for the funeral were to be distributed inside St. Peter's. He explained that the guard had been informed that they would be distributed as the mourners entered. A lie for sure, but a necessary ruse to fend off the enemy and gain time to evacuate the Nervi Hall of the sarcophagus explosives. The longer he could stand toe-to-toe arguing with this brash Texan, the better the resistance's chances.
             Gregory felt he might be in trouble when the Archpriest of the Basilica Cardinal Josef Vendhem along with Lithuanian Cardinal Teofilius Radkalionis, his eyes steely gray, his brow furled, made their entrance. When Serrano explained the problem and the cart, Vendhem had demanded to know the particulars of this "cart" from both guards and the American, who was none other than Blix's man - Jordan Collier.
             Just when Vendhem was ready to inspect the coffin himself, Providence intercepted the Vicar General and black-hearted Lithuanian in red as Cardinal Julies Mendoza, accompanied by six Swiss Guards, entered from the Vestry. They were there to escort the Papal Bier to the Sala Regia where the cardinals were waiting.
             Vendhem could sense something was wrong. He wanted to double-check the Papal Bier that was now going to be whisked out of St. Peter's, but his eye caught Macelli in the back of the church signaling to the German prelate by frantically pointing to his watch. The Master would not wait. They were already late. Vendhem motioned to Radkalionis to follow the cortege at a distance as he nodded in recognition of Antonio's expectations.
             Deftly, Gregory fell in line with Mendoza as the loyal guards silently lifted the Papal coffin and statuesquely carried it out of St. Peter's. With a vulture's eye Radkalionis watched, not realizing the coffin they were carrying out was not the Papal coffin containing the plastic explosives, but the casket of Major Riage Benziger. As Mendoza and Gregory, following behind the six guards, reached the entrance to the Scalia Regia through the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, they both heaved a sigh of relief even though they were being shadowed by the Lithuanian.
             One thing Zachmunn could not count on, however, was containing the obnoxious Texan who had confronted him. While Serrano and the other guard remained in the Basilica, Vendhem briskly headed toward Macelli. They still had to travel behind the Apostolic Palace to Macelli's car and get to the Pantheon in fifteen minutes. No small feat.
             Lost in the shuffle was the American. On a quixotic hunch Collier took off toward the Vestry and through the Sacristy to the Pauline Hall. In the hustle and bustle of getting the charged coffins out and replacing them, no one saw him enter or noticed as he discarded his coat and tie, rolling up his sleeves and falling right in with the other volunteers. He grasped the handle with five others as they heaved-ho and carried it toward the tunnel. What was going on? Collier would get to the bottom of it and alert Blix. After all, wasn't that the essence of a crack reporter for the Metroplex Mirror?
             Meanwhile, another Metroplex Mirror reporter was on another mission, a far greater and more nobler crusade. Pat Gallagher had to have felt like he was trekking up Calvary; the load he was carrying grew heavier the closer he drew to the turret room where Fr. Niki and Pope Clement XV waited. Would he be in time?

      Dateline: Vatican City - Leonine Wall - November 6, 8:46 a.m.

             Pat was well stocked with food and medical supplies as he lugged the equipment and the gallon of water back through the ancient wall rampart toward Castel Sant'Angelo. He only hoped he would be in time as he picked up the pace.

      Dateline: Rome - On a side street across the Tiber - November 6, 8:46 a.m.

             No matter that this was the day of the dead, most wives and mothers in Rome were busy in the tasks of the living. This included the morning ritual of hanging out laundry on the lines that linked residences over alleyways. With the sun now beaming in between the arcade of clotheslines above the pavement, the shadows of the swaying undergarments and towels flopping in the wind danced off the tinted windows of the black Mercedes idling on the Via del Monte Giordano. In the front Ans had joined Soto, confident that Corrie Morelli could go nowhere tied up in the far back section of the limo. It was her good fortune that they underestimated her. They should have known someone of her nature would never give in, never succumb to hopelessness. From the moment Ans had exited the backseat, she had been scoping out everything in the limo, trying to find some means to escape. She found it in the very receptacle where they had toasted her bondage - a champagne glass Jordan Collier had left in the cup holder just three feet away from her.
             Edging her face close to the door ledge, she maneuvered her chin to lift the glass in the very same manner she had played "pass the orange" in her younger, care-free days. Twisting her head over her right shoulder she lowered her body so the glass slipped down behind her onto the seat. Sitting back up straight she grasped for the stem of the glass behind her as her fingers found it. She grasped the base and brought it hard down on the metal seat buckle beneath her. Several times she tried it until finally the shatter of glass echoed her success. She looked up to make sure the Ichariak twins hadn't heard it. They were too engrossed in conversation or listening to music to hear.
             Thank God, sighed Corrie as she began chiseling away at the cords binding her hands, taking care not to cut herself with the fragmented shards beneath and behind her. All the time she stared straight ahead as, a few times, Ans, then Soto, turned to peer in on her. She glared back, sticking out her tongue once or twice. Consciously they looked away for fear of being conspicuous, allowing her to continue cutting the ropes.
             It took her a good fifteen minutes to loosen it enough that it unraveled, freeing her hands. Once that was done she was able to cut at the binding on her feet. She lifted her legs up so she could cut at the cords by the ankles on the inside, in such a way that the two eunuchs in the front seat could not see what she was doing. Another five minutes and she was able to loosen the ties that bound.
             She slid to the right and tried the door. Locked. She slid to the left and tried the door. Locked as well. The jiggling of the door signaled an alert on the dash. Ans and Soto knew immediately from the blinking light that the door had been tampered with. They both looked back. Corrie had dropped below their sight, knowing they would rush to find out where she was. It was her only chance to surprise them and it worked better than she had hoped.
             Soto was the first to the right door, and Ans to the left. On cue they opened the doors simultaneously. Corrie was ready for them. As both doors opened she chose the left to kick her heels at Soto, knocking him over as one of her heels broke off from the impact. Scurrying out the left side, she kicked at Soto while he was trying to get back up. Once again he toppled over as she herself regained her balance, racing toward the front with Ans coming around the back in pursuit.
             In near panic Corrie was off like a crazed cheetah, speeding down an alley on one good heel. As soon as she reached the next street near the Torre dell'Orologio, she pulled off her good shoe and smashed the heel against the nearest light post. Now with no heels, her flats would enable her to outrun the eunuchs chasing her. All those years of working out at 24-Hour Fitness paid off as she darted into a small bistro, flying by tables and through the kitchen back into an alley. The commotion she stirred signaled Ans and Soto where she had gone, but they weren't as quick as they addled through her wake to the kitchen.
             Corrie was already out of sight, hieing down the alley to another opening where she spotted the limo still idling along the Via dell Monte Giordano. In their haste, Blix's lackeys had not bothered to lock the door, let alone turn off the ignition. Corrie scurried to the driver's side and jumped in, locked the doors and sobbed uncontrollably, also trying to catch her collective breath for a moment. Perhaps she waited too long, for while turning the wheel to steer out of the parking spot, the Ichariaks appeared in the sideview mirror coming up behind. She jammed it into reverse and floored it, ramming Ans at the knees with Soto diving to the pavement to elude the rear bumper. Corrie slammed it into drive and peeled out, leaving the two in her dust.

      Next: PART V: The Shedding FOURTEENTH CHAPTER Episode Five

"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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