While many of the participants of the clandestine and repulsive Black Mass were still queasy, the other Mass underway in St. Peter's - the Funeral Mass for the Pope and Hierarchy and other members of the Vatican - was a sad but noble affair. Some 30 miles away Dominic was climbing into the upper regions north of Rome, gaining more distance. Beads of sweat had formed on his face as he guardedly kept glancing over his shoulder out the window, not knowing when the coffins could be triggered. He offered a silent prayer that it would not be soon as he called for more coal to stoke the engine, which was now chugging mightily against the grade, growing steeper by the mile.
Dateline: Vatican City - St. Peter's Basilica - November 6, 10:45 a.m.
Stephen had reached the hidden doorway adjacent to the confessional behind the massive pillar on the right. Slipping inside he mounted the steps. A few Vatican personnel had grabbed this coveted spot, along with Colin Rembert and a few of his technicians. That was the least Stephen could do for this man who had done so much in such a short time.
Colin greeted him with a reverent smile, but continued to focus on the Mass. Monsignor Navarro was pleased that this Australian's priorities placed the Word of God before the word or words of men and social niceties. That attribute was sorely missing throughout the Church today - especially among the clerics and hierarchy.
However this was an emergency. Protocol would have to give way. "Colin -"
Rembert interrupted, not realizing the severity of Stephen's plea, "Monsignor, I thank you for this perch. Perfect. It affords me an ideal location for -"
Stephen's face showed his concern as he interrupted his Australian friend. Colin, we have another problem that must be tended to immediately."
"What be that, mate?"
"The candles. The ones lit now must be extinguished. The others cannot be lit," Navarro stammered.
"There are explosives planted in the candles. We've got to extinguish all candles."
"Dear God," Colin gasped, "You're not asking much, are ya, mate?"
"To my knowledge Cardinal Zachmunn dispatched the coffins," Stephen rationalized, "but the candles still remain. Can you make an announcement that--"
"Whoa, Monsignor, I don't think that would be appropriate coming from me, under the circumstances."
"Well, Colin, what do you propose?"
"Gimme a sec, mate." It seemed like minutes and then, "I got it. Get to Cardinal Mendoza and tell him..."
Flanked by his deacon Cardinal Kabwela and subdeacon Cardinal Castiglione, emeritus of Genoa, the celebrant Cardinal Mendoza was seated to the side on the sedilium as the Sistine Choir sang out the poetic Sequence "Dies Irae".
Julies' thoughts were racing, trying to digest all Gregory had confided in him and the repercussions of what could have happened. He gave silent thanks the loaded caskets had been removed and for the smooth network of CEO and correspondent Colin Rembert. What connections that man had. He gave a quick Te Deum and a plea to protect those conveying the train away from here.
The choir was finishing up the Sequence - that 13th century masterpiece composed by Franciscan Frere Thomas de Celano used at all solemn Masses for the Dead. "Day of wrath!" it translated to and now the wrath was seething below, ready to envelop the surface and swallow up those few innocent souls still left compared to the vast majority of hard, cold hearts in this world. Julies had seen it in his own country and knew the same deterioration had occurred in practically every other country, with his neighboring small country to the west standing out as the lone exception. The promise of the Blessed Mother at Fatima that Portugal would keep the faith was not lost on this kindhearted, and strictly orthodox Archbishop of Madrid.
With the concluding verse "Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem. Amen" Julies stood to bless Cardinal Kabwela who, holding the Sacred Lectionary, would read the Gospel to all. Many were expecting the deacon to pronounce it in English, possibly even Italian.
After giving his blessing, Cardinal Mendoza mouthed to the African prelate two words which told volumes to his deacon. "Evangelium Latinum."
Mbuta understood as he gracefully glided to the pulpit and intoned the Gospel, "Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Joannem."
Cardinal Castiglione handed him the censor for the Ugandan prince of the Church to incense the pulpit and holy book as the choir responded "Gloria tibi Domine."
As he chanted in one octave the Gospel of John 6: 21-27, Stephen had descended the stairs and managed to inch his way to the right side of the altar, where he stood reverently during the recitation of the Word.
With the Gospel completed, Kabwela returned to where Mendoza stood, bowed and moved to his seat beside him. Then Julies slowly moved to the pulpit to address the massive throng. At the same time Stephen reverently passed behind the altar, genuflecting in the center and around the Baldacchino to the Gospel side as Julies, in the best English he could, spoke. "This is truly a solemn occasion, a sad one, yet one we must entrust to the Lord Who, for us men, and for our salvation, came down from Heaven through the mystery of the incarnation was made man, suffered, died and was buried. He rose on the third day according to the Scriptures and ascended to the Father. We can take hope this day, dear friends in--"
Stephen had attracted his attention. The Cardinal was savvy enough to know it was urgent. He leaned over, covering the mike as he acknowledged Navarro. "Yes, Monsignor, what it is?"
"Your Eminence," Stephen spoke softly but with authority, "all candles must be extinguished now."
"Do you have this on authentic authority, my son?"
"Yes," nodded the President of the Universal Communications Council, "I need a moment to explain."
Cardinal Mendoza turned back to the microphone. Puzzled faces stared back from everywhere. "My friends, if you will permit me a moment or two, I shall return to the pulpit shortly. Please pray a Pater Noster, Ave and Gloria Patri for the souls of the faithful departed." With that he descended the pulpit to the main floor.
From his position Gregory thought of joining them, but that would be too obvious. Discretion was the better part of valor at this point. Whatever Stephen needed to impart to Julies, Navarro was capable of handling it. He said a silent prayer as he joined in the reciting of the prayers.
With the congregation completing the Gloria Patri, Mendoza returned to the pulpit in all promptness.
"My apologies to all for the delay. It seems, dear friends, that the candles are creating an atmospheric disturbance that is effecting the transmission of some television cameras. I, like you, do not know the reason or cause, but in deference to those seeking to broadcast this solemn event to the world that is the least we can all do. An acolyte is replacing the main altar candles with lower light candles. All others must be extinguished now."
His voice was firm and authoritative and immediately those near the coffins lying in state rose and extinguished all the candles. A darker hue overtook the great basilica, but the high tech cameras adjusted to the light.
Stephen knew he would have to explain to the press why, but he would cross that bridge after the funeral Mass. For now the immediate danger had been abated, at least he hoped and prayed it was.
"Thank you and I apologize again, distinguished guests, for this necessary interruption." Cardinal Mendoza had recaptured the attention of the congregation. "I will not give a eulogy today for any of the deceased before you. So much has already been said and I would be only redundant. We entrust them to the Father. I will add however, that there is one man, a martyr, whom we and the noble Swiss Guard honor and thank. Those who need to know do know, I will leave it at that. For each of the deceased souls in this Basilica today "Requiem aeternam dona Domine."
The clergy and many of the laity in the Basilica automatically responded "Et lux perpetua luceat."
Julies continued, "Requiescat in pace."
"Amen," rung out.
Mendoza concluded, "Anima ejus, et animae omnium fidelium defunctorum per misericordiam Dei requiescant in pace."
Again all responded in kind, "Amen."
Mendoza descended the pulpit, returning to the altar where he paused, then, as everyone rose, he incanted "Credo in unum Deum..."
The Choir was on key as they carried on the Nicene Creed, the boldness of belief reaching every ear.
As this essence of the Faith was sung by the Choir, Stephen stole away through the Sacrestia towards his temporary makeshift office in the Nervi Hall. He knew they would be hounding him. Therefore he had to prepare a release for the press on the candle issue. He knew they'd be hounding him because maybe most of the public bought the clever reason Colin had come up with, but it wouldn't fly with the cynical high-tech boys of the fifth estate.
He reached his office and turned on his Sony VAIO, logging on to his software. Meanwhile he plugged his laptop into the lazer nearby in order to print out a thousand copies on official Vatican News Release letterhead with his signature already keyed in. All that was missing was the release. Stephen stared at the blank screen as he mulled the words to compose in his mind.
Dateline: Rome - Phone Booth near the Piazza Pia near the Tiber - November 6, 11:00 a.m.
Corrie nervously looked around as she tapped on the glass while waiting for someone to answer the phone. Ten feet away stood the limo she had commandeered. It was parked facing toward Via della Conciliazione and locked. Hopefully Ans and Soto would not spot it.
"Bonjiourno, Vaticano Civitae," a Vatican operator answered.
"Cardinal Gregory Zachmunn please," Corrie pleaded.
"Scusi," the operator injected, "He is at Mass, the funeral. I take message. No?"
"Uh, no," Corrie stammered, "that's okay. Uh, how about Father Stephen Navarro? He's the--"
"Si," replied the operator and immediately patched her through. Several short rings frustrated Corrie more. Then the operator came back on. Scusi, no answer. I take message or you want mail voice?"
"Yes, his voice mail, this is very important," asserted Corrie.
Corrie was in luck for Stephen was almost finished when his cell phone vibrated. Probably a nosy member of the press trying to get to the bottom of it before anyone else he thought, as he picked it up.
"This is Corrine Morelli from Dallas. Vic told me to contact you or Cardinal Zachmunn. He told me to tell you the Basilisk is near. Vic is dead -"
Stephen's ears perked up as his heart sank. "Vic Van Wess?"
"Yes, Father. Blix did it and he's in Rome now. So am I. Have you seen Pat Gallagher?"
"Yes, just recently, I -"
"I'm on the run, Father, I've got wheels for now. Where can we meet?"
"Ah, let me think," Stephen pondered. "How about the Vittorio Emmanuel Monument on the Piazza Venezia, you know that building that looks like a wedding cake?"
"Yes, I can find it," assured Corrie.
"Can you be there, say in 20 minutes?" Stephen asked, looking at his watch and then back down at his press release which was almost finished.
"Yes, I'll be there. How will I know-"
"I'll be the only American with a Roman collar most likely," Stephen opined. "Look, I'll be finished here in five minutes or so and it might take me a few minutes to get out of here. Stay behind one of the columns out of sight on the right until you see me by the base of the stairs."
"Will do, thank you, Father."
Corrie stood near the limo for a few minutes, trying to focus while back in the Pauline Hall Stephen quickly finished his release and transferred it to the lazer printer. Closing down, he decided to take his VAIO with him. Just a hunch, but he had long learned it is better to act on these impulses that often come on the gentle wind of inspiration from the Holy Ghost, than to regret later.
Dateline: Rome - Castle Sant'Angelo - November 6, 11:02 a.m.
"Patrick, it is after eleven." Niki nudged Gallagher, awakening him from his hour nap. "His Holiness is exhausted. I fear he has a few broken ribs, but he'll sleep now for awhile. The Demoral is, how you say, kicking in. You best stretch and circulate the blood, my friend."
Pat lifted his frame and moseyed toward the open turret window that looked south towards the bend in the Tiber. "You know, Nik, I don't know how this is all gonna end, but I can tell you one thing--"
Niki was caught off-guard by the silence, failing to notice that something had caught Pat's keen eye by the Tiber.
"What were you saying, Patrick?"
"God, I miss Corrie. Maybe it's the nicotine withdrawal, but now the Italian women are starting to look exactly like her. What a resemblance."
Niki joined Pat at the window, peering over his shoulder. "I doubt, my friend, that your Corrie is a chauffeur in Rome."
"No, guess not," Pat sighed as the limo pulled away.
"How long is that tunnel?" Niki asked, a ray of hope in his questioning, which was also a way of getting Pat refocused on the task at hand.
"A good eight blocks," Pat winced. "Stairs can be tricky."
"I don't think we can move His Holiness yet," Niki realized.
"So, then," Pat replied, "what's the next move?"
"You have had an hour to rest. The stationery and computer, if you can," Niki reminded him.
"Oh yeah, I'd best be gettin' at it! Later, Nik." With that Pat was off once again into the hollow cavity that stretched to the Papal Quarters. Niki would use the time to refresh with some nourishment Pat had brought, and rest. He would also pray that Stephen was in time to thwart the candles and coffins. Right now that was all he could do. Pray!
Next: PART V: The Shedding FOURTEENTH CHAPTER Episode Eight
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