The charred crater of twisted metal was all that remained of the gray helicopter and its inhabitants. Impacted in the crash were the Doric columns and the statue of the Emperor Trajan, which had been fractured by the blow. The irony would not be lost on historians. This tragic figure in Roman history came into power during the reign of Pope St. Clement I, the fourth Pope who had been consecrated by Peter himself. During Trajan's rise to despotism, he chose to elevate himself by persecuting Christians more feverishly, including banishing Clement to Pontus at the end of the first century. The twist was that now, during the reign of the first Clement's namesake - Pope Clement XV - the Imperial Forum area enshrined to the Roman gods had been desecrated. The flagitious flames, amid the ruins of Trajan's Columns which had been scattered and crushed, were a sign of the destructive nature of the Legion; the very same forces that motivated and corrupted the "great sovereign" Trajan.
The crash and resulting orb of fire had attracted two men who had no idea their boss had been the cause of the commotion. Ans and Soto Ichariak had been searching the streets on foot trying to find Corrie, confused by the great explosion coming from the Vatican, fearful of what Blix would do to them if he discovered the woman had eluded them with the limo. The infernal heat of the crash site only fueled more fear in the two eunuchs who, despite their aversion to fire, played with it in their idolatry to their earthly master. Not possessing even a modicum of intelligence of a Mensa candidate, they had meandered to a bistro on the Piazza Grazioli just a few blocks from the Wedding Cake monument to try to reason what they would do next. There they had heard the explosion. Waiting at least half an hour because of the heat and blockaded area, they eventually were able to get close enough.
From this vantage point it was Ans who had first noticed the unattended white limo abandoned in front of the great Monument to Victor Emmanuel II. By the time they reached it, they could see the bullet riddled side and totally smashed back windows. Little did they know this had been the handiwork of their tyrannical employer, a true psycho if there ever was one. All they knew was that Soto had retained a key and soon they were inside and steering the wrecked limo back towards the Vatican three kilometers away. They had no idea what they would tell Blix, if they would tell him, if they would live to tell him or anyone else, or if they told him, would let them live.
Dateline: Vatican City - the steps in front of the Basilica - November 6, 3:05 p.m.
Macelli was still impatiently droning on, answering questions from various reporters with his well-crafted ambiguity and evasiveness. So intent was he on diverting attention toward the Conclave, that he did not see the African jockey towards the front. The gentleman was dressed in a colorful magenta and purple sarong with all the markings of a tribal leader. Sporting a goatee and ivory earrings, he wore dark glasses that hid his eyes. Deftly he watched the proceedings as Colin Rembert boldly stepped forward with a booming voice to intercept the others clamoring for Macelli's attention. Colin didn't wait to be recognized nor did he hesitate.
"Colin Rembert, GSN." The boos from his peers peppered the air, and Macelli signaled for them to stop by pushing his outstretched palms down. The silencing allowed the Australian the opening. "Begging your pardon, Your Eminence, but I must ask you about the document released a few days ago on the Jewish Guilt and Exoneration. Are you sure the late Pontiff authorized such a controversial document. Does it not go against Catholic teaching? Does it not contradict the Holy Scriptures?"
Macelli had to answer. He knew it. Rembert's question had him tied to the stake, the fire of hatred encroaching his veins. He wanted to avoid that issue until he could present the false document with the fake seal. Damn that Australian. It was more difficult without the various faux documents that would be shown to the Conclave. Once the forged motu proprio admitting the 40 Cardinals-to-be was made manifest, it stood to reason, he assumed, that the others would automatically be ushered in as authentic as well. He hesitated, almost skirting the issue, but then pride got the best of him. He would rue the day.
Macelli masked his emotions to all while looking daggers at Colin. "Mr. Rembert, now that you ask, I can personally attest to the Holy Father signing the document, even going over it in detail with the late Secretary of State Cardinal Adamo Uodomo, as well as Cardinals Messerial, Montague, Van Dandt and Pessare who all met such a dastardly end in Iraq. Uh, His Eminence the Vicar General Josef Vendhem can vouch for what I am saying. He was present as well."
Vendhem nodded matter-of-factly, not realizing he, along with Macelli, had been caught in their lie. Rembert had set two Penultimates up focused on both Cardinals, recording every facial gesture. They were being beamed back to the rotunda in the tower where Pope Clement XV, along with Cardinal Zachmunn and the others, were watching. It was confirmation to Clement that the subterfuge was indeed Macelli and Vendhem. He knew it all along, yet had not wanted to admit such treachery. Now it was inevitable and Clement had to take action.
Satisfied that Macelli had bit on the bait, Colin retreated into the crowd of reporters where he quickly exited the other side just as a deer flees from circling vultures. Stephen's plan had worked to perfection. Colin would position himself for the next phase.
Dateline: Rome - Side Street near the Vatican - November 6, 3:10 p.m.
The Audi crept slowly along the Borgo Angelico. Blix had somehow managed to allude the authorities who were no doubt looking for him and the car. The older 1999 Audi had not had the On-Star computer system on board and for that Blix was able to sneak under the radar. Once across the Tiber at the Ponte Cavour, he had veered onto side streets edging closer to the Vatican.
In the distance he heard police sirens and quickly pulled the car into an alley and slowly guided the car south through the partly covered narrow cobblestone lane. Up ahead a man knelt on the rough pavement while another dressed in a brown hood was seated on a back bench, listening. Blix adroitly stopped the car and exited, waiting for what would come next as he stealthily eased closer. The man in the hood raised his hand, making the sign of the cross. It was a street confessional and Blix, after sizing up the man in the brown cowl, was not going to pass this chance. A loose brick by the wall. Perfect.
Once the penitent left, Blix made his move. He slipped in behind the priest.
"Buon giorno, Padre. Ah've been a bad, bad hombre," The vile Texan drawled, a skeletal smile etched upon his hollow cheeks.
"Non capisco," the Franciscan friar replied, holding his hands palms up and scrunching his shoulders. "Scusi. Non parlo inglese."
"Well, that's too bad then," Blix mumbled, as he brought the brick down hard on the head of the unsuspecting priest. The Franciscan slumped on the bench and Blix quickly pulled him back down the alley a short ways to the Audi. Stripping the brown habit and cincture off the unconscious friar, Blix opened the trunk and hoisted the body into the back with a thud. He divested his jacket and threw it into the trunk as well, then slammed the lid shut while donning the holy garment of the Friars Minor. Never had this habit been so defiled. Pulling the cowl up around his head to help conceal his identity and fastening the cincture, he moved quickly out of the alley and towards the Holy See on foot, relishing the irony of this convenient costume, yet abhorring what this woolen frock of the friars represented.
Dateline: Vatican City - the steps in front of the Basilica - November 6, 3:15 p.m.
Macelli had given way to a few other prelates to answer some questions. Finally it was Cardinal Mendoza's turn as Dean of the College.
"I would like to make this announcement to the five Cardinals who have not checked in yet," Julies began. "We are 45 minutes away from convening in the Sistine. We will begin promptly at four. The doors will be locked and trusted guards will make sure no one is admitted or leaves. The Guardian of the Conclave Prince Borundici will monitor all to assure secrecy. All are to meet in the Pauline Chapel and proceed from there to the Sistine. Most Reverend Navarro will keep you informed at intervals as promised. Ladies and Gentlemen, we ask for your prayers. May God's will be fulfilled in all we do."
It was pretty difficult to pose a question to that kind of statement, and so, with those few words the press frenzy had subsided. Macelli and Vendhem had already made their exit while the other cardinals and Stephen fielded questions. Eagerly they anticipated the Conclave, assuming the 40 bishops who waited in the wings of the Sala Regia would be admitted shortly after the Conclave began.
As the various prelates began to disburse, Stephen caught up with Cardinal Mendoza.
"You know of the plan, your Eminence?"
"Si, Monsignore, I am prepared." Mendoza responded.
"We must consult with Cardinal Marcini to assure clearance and to utilize his Penultimate," Stephen offered.
The Spanish Cardinal nodded. "Yes, I quite agree. I believe we will find him in the Sistine. Such a small pen. That is most impressive technology."
"And quite a life saver, your Eminence. Had it not been for this and Mr. Rembert's quick thinking I fear the damage would have been extensive."
"How did you know it would occur at noon, my son?"
"We found the detonator after the German nun was killed. She had set it. Last night they planted the candles. We knew where they were. Extinguishing them gave us time."
"Someday, Monsignor, you will make an excellent Prince of the Church. We need dedicated men like you."
Dateline: Rome - Castel Sant'Angelo - November 6, 3:25 p.m.
The gate had been opened by one of the guardians of the Castle who, though not on duty, had been contacted through Dr. Ghislieri. An emergency medical van had slowly passed through the gates and along the grass area to the turret. Captain Royce Schuster had secured the area and checked credentials of all in the ambulance. Once all attendants were cleared, they carried a gurney and other equipment to the tower.
Each had been sworn to secrecy. Immediately they genuflected and kissed the Papal Fisherman's Ring. Then, carefully, they eased Pope Clement XV onto the leather stretcher on wheels and strapped him in snuggly, hooking up the IV which would give the Holy Father necessary sustenance. Though he was still hurting greatly, he consciously nodded his gratitude toward his handlers, ready for the task ahead - a most vital obligation for the good of countless souls, the most crucial decision of pontificates over the past 50 years.
Lifting the Sovereign Pontiff, the paramedics transported him down the stairs to the waiting ambulance. Cardinal Zachmunn and Dr. Ghislieri accompanied His Holiness, with Pat, Niki and Corrie trailing. Soon they were all crammed inside the EMS van as it circled around and headed toward the gate. The gendarmes had been alerted and had cleared a path down the Via della Conciliazione to St. Peter's Square. No one knew the contents of the medical transport as it slowly made its way west toward the Holy See with three motorcycle escorts clearing the way. Crowds on both sides stopped to gawk as it passed. The plan was not to cause a commotion. No siren. Yet the mass of humanity lining the street, after all that had happened this day, could not help but notice.
Nevertheless, once the ambulance reached the end of the wide boulevard, it was obvious none of the pedestrians would get past the phalanx of Italian militia who were standing sentinel on the perimeters of Vatican City. They were diligently guarding all entrances to the Square as well as the areas of ruin to prevent looting or trespassing. Arriving at the open portal into the Square, the soldiers had removed one of the short pillars with brass grommet, enabling the vehicle to enter the Square, proceeding onward past the center Obelisk.
The ambulance had not gone unnoticed by two figures in the Square who had avoided detection. One was the African in magenta and purple who had settled beneath the Colonnade at the base of the stairs, watching the vehicle pull up by the Bronze Doors where three figures exited. He recognized them immediately.
So also, another set of eyes recognized two of them - Pat Gallagher and Corrie Morelli - as they headed for the Bronze Doors. They had no trouble moving past the guard and disappearing into the darkness of the hall's chamber. The acute, but sunken unearthly eyes peering out from beneath the woolen cowl of a Franciscan habit, studied their every move from his position behind one of the massive columns of the Colonnade on the east. How had she escaped? How did they have carte blanche into the Vatican? Who was the tall man with them? And who was in the EMS vehicle that had continued on toward the Basilica. Where was it going? Edwin Blix, with Satan's fury stirring up in his blackened soul, skulked into the daylight free of the Colonnade to try to get a better look and also to avoid, for now, from allowing himself to serve as a willing host for the hideous transmutation of the reptilian monster once again welling up within. From his position in the Square, he could not see what the paramedic van was doing for guards were blocking his view, standing at attention in front of the vehicle on the far end.
The African had a better vantage point. He was able to follow the ambulance all the way to the base of the stairs on the far right of St. Peter's where it had stopped and maneuvered around to back in to the entrance of the public First Aid Station beneath the great Basilica. Guards had been summoned. Four of them who stood in front. Someone was being unloaded, but who? He didn't notice the Franciscan stalking closer. Dr. Makuta Ogidi had not been informed of this twist or who was beneath the habit. Being a lone wolf didn't always pay dividends.
Dateline: Vatican City - Sistine Chapel and Sala Regia - November 6, 3:40 p.m.
Stephen, with the aid of Cardinals Wetherby and Kabwela as well as Lieutenant Alexis Giraud and four of his trusted sentinels, had cleared the area where the Pope would be transferred to a wheel chair and escorted through a private door in the back of the public First Aid Station to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and then up the Scala Regia to the Sistine Chapel. There he would be wheeled up the ramp where Cardinal Marcini would be waiting.
Cardinal Mendoza had notified both Guido and Prince Elisio Borundici, chief guardian of the Sistine. They were excited and delighted to cooperate. Cardinal Marcini had prepared a faux wall of crates and left-over planks to deflect any suspicion that anyone else was on the platform with him.
The key to this necessary clandestine operation was convincing the Cardinals in the Pauline Chapel and the Bishops in the Sala Regia to evacuate the area and move to the Belvedere Courtyard. They were assured they would be safe. After what had happened at high noon today, even Vendhem and Macelli bought the ruse for they had no idea what other double-crosses Elena had manufactured.
The corridors were clear as Pope Clement XV was wheeled into the Sistine and up the ramp. Guido, despite his own disability, bowed profoundly and kissed the Pontiff's ring.
"O Papa, I am so overjoyed to see you in the flesh," Cardinal Marcini emoted. "Magnifico. I can hardly contain my glee, your Holiness."
"Bene, Guido," Clement replied, his eyes dancing with delight to see his handicapped friend whom everyone loved.
Likewise Prince Borundici came forward, genuflecting to kiss the Fisherman's Ring. "Viva le Papa!" he expressed, tears welling up in his maple eyes. Clement placed both hands on Elisio's head, blessing this loyal Guardian and Secretary of the Conclave silently.
Captain Schuster and Dr. Ghislieri wheeled Clement up the ramp into place behind the temporary imitation wall of crates and extra lumber.
The Pope grasped Dr. Ghislieri's hand. "Grazie, Giuseppe, you are truly a God-send."
"Shh, your Holiness, save your strength," the good doctor replied, checking to make sure the fluids in the IV were working properly, while at the same time trying to divert any attention on his God-given talents as a healing physician.
Quickly, the doctor had rejoined Cardinals Mendoza and Cardinal Zachmunn. Royce Schuster stood with another guard near the entrance.
"Give the all-clear, Captain," directed Gregory. "All is in readiness."
Dateline: Vatican City - Sistine Chapel - November 6, 3:55 p.m.
All the Cardinals had returned and were now in their places. Workmen had prepared 33 baldacchino stations. Macelli and Vendhem noticed there were no extra chairs reserved for those 40 waiting in the wings. Antonio scanned the room, looking up right at the stack of crates to the side and a bit behind Guido, but didn't suspect it was a faux barrier and, that behind that pile of wood and wires and metal rested the one man who would bring the Legion's plans to hijack the papacy to a halt. Yet, the Camerlengo sensed something was not right.
In the Sala Regia off the entrance to the Chapel, the 40 hopeful prelates had returned to wait. Their ambition far outweighed their spirituality. Most in this room assumed they would shortly be admitted just as Cardinals Medelia, Krementz and Carteaga had assured.
Dateline: Vatican City - St. Peter's Square - November 6, 3:57 p.m.
Outside in the Square the clearance had been given to the Italian military to allow the people back into the Square, a traditional custom during the proceedings of the Sacred Conclave. Despite their motive for being there, more than a few belied their Christian charity, jockeying for positions and knocking down others to get a better vantage point for seeing the chimney off the Sistine where the white smoke would billow forth once a new Pope had been elected. Young and old, religious and non-religious, rich and poor. They were all culprits who lacked consideration for others.
Unable to hold back the flood of humanity pouring into the Square ten minutes after the EMS vehicle had entered, the militia had almost been trampled as they all shifted to the south side of the Square to provide a human barrier from the destruction behind, while people raced from Via della Conciliazione and other side streets across the invisible border. Others came flowing through those columns not barricaded. The massive tide of anxious observers forced Blix back into the shadows, while Makuta slinked away back to the Bronze Doors and ascended to where Sister Bridie waited alone in the Papal Quarters. He needed to change disguises.
The resisters' web had been spun, the trap set. The scope of the game would depend on catching the Legion off-guard within the Sistine where all the chief principals of the largest Church in the world were gathered. God forbid that one of those hideous, satanic reptilian monsters might evade the trap that was being set. If one were unleashed within the sacred confines of the Sistine there would not only be hell to pay, but there would also be no survivors. None!
Next: PART V: The Shedding FIFTEENTH CHAPTER Episode Six
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