Saturday, 26 January 2008


Chapter Two : Oscitancy

No discussion between His Eminence Athanasio and his deputy was insignificant ; yet the fallout from this encounter in particular was far from perennial; for as a result ,before the day was over ; people were to meet their deaths.

Item four on the agenda was not only a sign of failure; in lesser departments than the ninth it should have been fatal. After reassurance from Sister Monica that Monsignore Lovec would bring it to a successful resolution by the end of business today, the cardinal moved on to less unpleasant matters.
"Did I ever tell you the story of the Iguanadon's horn ?"
Sister Monica's eyes looked up from the itinerary.
"Several times Excellency." She had wanted to answer in the negative to keep the Cardinal in good spirits, but she was already fifty minutes behind schedule due to Athanasio's ponderings over today's deliberations.

The first of "the two" , the american , would be here within seven hours and there was still nothing on paper regarding the whole procedure.
Interviewing these men , and the subsequent decisions, would "make or break" the whole Levi directive.
Tonight's meetings would be crucial for the propositions placed before the freshly incardinated Cardinal Listener. If Levi was given the green light it would mean the inclusion of the "Perigord Finesse" - One of His Holiness' most outlandish ideas, and something the ninth office would only consider through their intense, unswerving loyalty and devotion to the Bishop of Rome.

It may be hard for an outsider to believe, but some vatican departments would less than politely inform the Pontiff that he could "take a running jump!" at such a reckless suggestion.

After a hasty prayer under her breath to Saint Rita, patroness of hopeless causes, Sister Monica decided upon a more forthright approach:
"The Black Widow ?"
The Cardinal's eyes closed briefly, when they opened, the windows to his soul sparkled like those of a mischievous child.
"Do you think that's an appropriate way of dealing with a brother cardinal and a prospective bishop, sister ?"
"Well considering you used it on Gorbachev and the Dalai Lama I think the precedent's long left the building. You know exactly how I feel about it, Excellency. One day it will be the death of us. You use it far too often, and it has rarely worked in years."
"It brought Hunter to us"
"I had already decided on Micha before you summoned him to play chess with you Excellency"
"Your protege had an original, if inelegant,solution, as I recall"
"You mean Micha turned the tables on you and you got what you deserved!" [her patience was weakening at the seams]
The Cardinal threw back his head and after too short a period of angelic laughter , sighed deeply and stared down at the chaos of manila folders on the desk before him.
His tone changed to one of redolence...
"His Holiness..."
Monica's face seemed to age with concern as the cardinal continued.
"...after the conclave and the dinner with the cardinals I had to broach his Holiness with the protocols of Office."
"I remember, it was the night you had Rick delay the Camerlengo with the Honduras fiasco, Vespighi didn't want to know so Rick set off the fire alarm."
"Ah ! Father Ricky is always the one for the extravaganza - the vaudeville . Nevertheless it kept that old fox out of my hair long enough for me to inform his Holiness that in no uncertain terms must my blessed brother Vespighi be removed as Secretary of State .
As I was leaving, his Holiness called after me
"my spider cardinal - I pray most sincerely for those caught in your web. Remember my son, your prime directive is to protect the innocent,"..."
Monica removed her spectacles, closed the file and clicked her pen.
In an attempt to return to the present she joked :
"All that grief and we ended up with a Vespighi clone anyway" [Monica was of the opinion that the majority of Reinhardt's interventions were at the request of the Secretary of State Firenze, not the other way round.]
"God's will sister....We all serve a purpose."
It was as if a shadow had fallen across the room.
Sister Monica , devoid of anything pertinent or comforting to say, rose and approached the soundproof door to exit.

"Sister , be so kind as to arrange the black widow for our two guests"

With an instantaneous return to decorum and formality the nun turned on her heels. The hitherto [loaded] jovial banter was now replaced with a heartfelt sincerity that only seventeen years of companionship on unending journeys to hell and back could create :
"Monsignore Lovec issued the order yesterday evening Excellency. The provisos for its enactment always being in your auspices."
"In your opinion sister, am I so wrong to think our young cardinal will pass the test ?"

Monica wrapped her arms about the clipboard and drew it close to her chest .For a brief instant she wished she was back in the crumbling Liverpool convent of her youth ,training scruffy children for their first holy communion....

"I like the man a great deal, and I understand the necessity for his appointment, however transitory; but how can he possibly hope to endure against those unscrupulous...? I'm sorry excellency, but they're monsters." [It sounded better in Italian]

Athanasio remonstrated "we are all God's children sister, but will he pass ?"

the Cardinal's eyes darted quickly, seeking every possible nuance the nun's face muscles would ultimately fail to obscure.
Feeling honesty was more apposite than amelioration, Monica declared more loudly than she originally intended :
"No your excellency I do not believe he will pass. I do not want him to pass. I have no desire to send him out amongst wolves. Not after I saw the children. We'd be sending him in blind, and alone into a place where he wouldn't be safe with a cohort of swiss guards...I do not want him to pass so I cannot contemplate it happening. Levi should end tomorrow for all our sakes. There have been no further deaths,let the killer rot !! "

Athanasio's eyebrows knitted. [Monica adopting Reinhardt's position ? The passage of time certainly made strange bedfellows.]

"We rarely disagree sister, but I feel so deeply he will surprise us both...Nor will he ever be alone.I have arranged a little er, protection".

In his attempt at empathy his mood lightened ,his voice became airily effusive ,"and what of the other ? Father Rick has already expressed his disdain..."
"Rick has an aversion to modernists of every shade, so his opinion must be discounted, Madeleine believes Perigord is guilty and will be brought to judgment by our friend the american. Gianni is ambivalent, but leans towards the evidence for the fourth death confirming probable innocence.,Ludovico thinks he smells too sweet but Ludo would have put St Peter under a polygraph, and although not entirely "in the loop", Maria and Mary-Luke are too ready to condemn Perigord but they're both inveterate intellectual snobs. Micha is reserving judgment until am I."

"So it would seem my ever-loyal department think I was duped by a twenty-five year old killer ?"

"No excellency. Some of our colleagues are of the opinion that my assessment of the situation was flawed while we were enacting emergency protocols. Soeur Madeleine, in particular, believes that Perigord was an unreliable witness and we should have placed more value upon the the reports from authorised sources. She doesn't believe he is not in some way responsible , and hopes this endeavour will give him enough rope to hang himself."

"and do you think young Hunter will agree with her ?"

"Micha did all the groundwork to brief Cardinal Listener with an enthusiasm which implies an extreme viewpoint he has so far left unexpressed. I think he'll back the Perigord position but allow the american to prove or disprove his position to the cardinal. However this turns out , the cardinal will be unable to run away from the undeniable evidence for Perigord's guilt or innocence. I sincerely hope we're on the side of the angels. But Micha's opinion could reverse within a second of meeting the cardinal. He relies heavily on empathy, he reminds me of you in that respect excellency"

"Sister are you implying that I have already made up my mind concerning the Levi directive ?"
"Cardinals are not made on a whim excellency"
"It was a necessity for tonight's privileged meeting sister, let alone the possibility of its protective necessity"
"Neither of us believe that your excellency, we did it to placate the pope and ensure that all formalities were attained before we pulled out "a few minutes before midnight" "
"so you think I have made up my mind ?" his eyes still glinted but this time it was accompanied with a deceptively gentle smile which camouflaged a steel-like determination.

Monica nervously inhaled and through almost pursed lips asked
"would it be too rude of me to suggest that you have?"
"His Holiness has expressed the desire that our young cardinal may be given the opportunity to prove the case. The american and Perigord are necessary parts of the directive and the cardinal will not have an easy time of it . All other peripherals must remain just that.

If 'Levi' can be enacted,any reticence must be pushed aside.The entire co-operation of the ninth , well, what will be left of it , is imperative"

"Forgive me your Excellency, but what are we doing ? Playing detective? In the old days we'd have sent in fifty Dominicans with a gallon of holy water and a tinder box."
"The hounds are not what they used to be."
"...and exactly whose fault is that ? We had the opportunity to..."
"Sister we're living in the..."
"Real world ? Hardly. Reality seems to be re-written every other Tuesday with this crowd. We let this happen"
"I was going to say we're living in the aftermath of great upheaval, but Sister, are you suggesting the Vatican Civil service should have participated in a Coup D'Etat ?"
"...are you intimating that had either of us been around at the time we would have allowed it to happen ?"
"Not all the water in the rough rude sea,can wash the balm from an anointed king..."

The attempt to silence this ongoing gripe of Monica's was fruitless.
"poor example excellency, Richard II didn't last five minutes after relinquishing the crown; why do you think we'll never retire before we're ready to meet our Maker ? they poisoned Celestine...This is no glorious victory because "the Sleeper" stayed silent and died in his bed!!"

For a few seconds the cardinal closed his eyes.
"It was never meant to be . You are the philosopher sister . I seem to recall you wrote an exceptional essay on Leibnitz while at St Catherine's ? God's will sister, best of all possible worlds ?"
"It was Spinoza...and I plagiarised the whole thing." [despite Monica's vows she had no reticence in "bending the truth" to win an argument. Even by her own humble estimations her published analyses of Leibnitz and Wolff were renowned in academic circles, but she was highly reticent in ever letting it be known to her underlings that they were working for a philosophical genius. Vatican Masterspy was enough of an imposition on any young clerical worker ]

Athanasio retorted :
"Phocion and Demosthenes, Monica. If the insane win they kill us, if the sane win they kill others. The powers that be decided it would be better that no battle was fought and holy mother church didn't implode.
"survival under siege?"
"...and your point sister ?"

Athanasio's comment was peremptory. He looked downward, collected the files into a less-than-stable pile and dropped them into the vast abyss of his lower desk-drawer.
It was one of those instants where so much needed to be said that it would have taken a lifetime to fully express even the peripherals :the only alternative was silence.
The few minutes of subsequent quiet between them brought an unspoken reassurance they both required in abundance.
She looked out the artificial bay window. Through the glass, the yellow climbing roses and ivy, a whitewashed brick wall faced her ;illuminated by fluorescent striplights and mirrors it gave the overall effect of being above ground.

Athanasio's Polish predecessor underwent a lightning execution and burial as a "lamplight" in Stalinist Ukraine. The bullet didn't kill him and the frozen soil of the shallow grave allowed access to enough air for the young priest to spend five hours digging himself out. He escaped into Hungary where,like his successor years later, Archbishop Mindszentsky got him safely back to Rome.
Never again could the future archbishop sleep with the lights out,nor pray with his eyes closed. When he was appointed head of the Ninth the other divisional heads had the faux window installed as a welcoming gift... Psychologically it had the reverse effect and induced a claustrophobic terror in the Pole but the archbishop never made it known out of dutiful appreciation to the thought and friendship the window indicated....

After adjusting the net curtains Monica turned sharply, her voice croaking :
"Why are we here ?"
Athanasio exhaled deeply through his nose. The staccatto revealing a nervous laugh.
"Would you want anyone else to do this? Yes sister we are under siege in an interminable war where the enemy is not only within, they sometimes politely open the door for us , pay our wages, or even thank us for being so loyal and devoted to their cause for the greater glory of God. What do you english call it? tipsy-topsy ?"
"Yes, this is a topsy-turvy world and we're at the heart of it.

But remember this sister "Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.""
Monica ran a finger over a Chinese wooden puzzle box displayed on a side-table , puzzles were regular gifts to the ninth from archbishop Ng Hoc, who, having retired from the fifth office after a stroke, was now travelling the world. She envied him.

"Another puzzle ? Pak must spend half his stipend on them..."
"He feels he needs to make amends. I have spent many years trying to allay his guilt. God knows he has little to be ashamed of..."

Realising this was getting nowhere, Monica decided to conclude this navel-gazing.
"This will all end in tears, it's like Cologne all over again; too many independent variables..."
"Sister Monica. There is a distinct possibility we may be doing the right thing."
A single thought flashed through the cardinal's head...without fully forming it dissipated

"Twelve years too late..."

She'd gone too far; but felt justified...

Before the Nun said something she regretted, the cardinal gave her an exit strategy to 'save-face'
"I believe there is an office to exorcise...perhaps the Monsignore may require a 'pep-talk' ?"

As Monica departed, her emotions simply could not resist the overt expression of disapproval in a quintessentially english manner.

She slammed the door behind her .

"The Old Goat!!!" she thought,

"he really thinks it can be done!! Surely this is beneath us ??"

The thought returned to the cardinal, something Monica had said, a face, the letter, the adamant assertion that events which couldn't be true did happen.

There was an answer...a terrible one; if even remotely true it would now require the grandest of deceptions....
He lifted the receiver and made a call to an old enemy...
The Cardinal's door opened only moments after he had finished his call.
Monica was still in the outer office and perfectly willing to continue with a verbal tirade against her superior when she saw a countenance that seemed to have aged ten years in a matter of seconds.
The voice was but a whisper.
"Inside now.This is worse than we ever presumed."

When reminiscing, Monica was fully aware that the briefing could only have lasted a couple of minutes, but it's reverberations effect the ninth and beyond to this day.

The sensations overwhelming her as she withdrew seemed to confirm to the ageing nun that were it not for His Holiness' almost miraculous power of clairvoyance by proposing Levi, her incompetence, their incompetence would have wrought havoc and death.

She should have seen it!

But this battle was to be fought by those younger than she.
Much as she cherished Micha like a son, there was no pride in Monica's breast that her protege had turned a minor directive to remedy an injustice into a full-scale war. Twenty years ago she would have been the instigator, she would have noticed, the first blow would have been hers, this was her war,she'd endured more than enough , since the first man died in her arms on a mission betrayed by alleged "allies" she had wanted to take the war to them!

Now the opportunity had arisen and her participation was "not to be"
The brief prayer to help purge the envy she held for the young slovak brought little solace. Micha Lovec and the new cardinal were being led like lambs to the slaughter.

During her training twenty eight years ago for special operations, the belligerent Bishop Gilbert had asked her a question :
"what's the best way to prevent an assassination ?"
Was the answer the same for murder ?
Firenze wouldn't help, Reinhardt couldn't ; so who else ?
The Metropolitan !

Monica pinched the bridge of her nose.The miniscule figure of Sister Mary-Luke approached hesitantly, and after a few moments of signatures, minor procedural amendments and a brief exchange regarding the palestinian updates, Mary Luke chose not to question the nervous lip-biting of her superior, gathered the documents and commenced a hasty retreat.
She had not returned to her desk for more than twenty seconds before Sister Monica's voice resounded through the intercom.
"Mary-Luke? I need to speak to the Metropolitan. Tell him preferably within the hour"
The Belgian Nun bit her lip now.
Would she be doing so had she not been "neurotically infected" by her boss?
She dismissed the idea. Deep within her pocket she fingered a small silver many arrowed trinket.

[What is the old witch up to now ? and with that parasitical Romanian reprobate ?]
She made the call. Her mind went into overdrive.

The Metropolitan's first name was Athanasios,his second was unpronounceable,even to most Romanians; therefore to avoid confusion with the head of the ninth, he was never known as anything but "The Metropolitan" - something which disturbed the various other possessors of that title.

Although almost as old as time itself, and living longer in Rome than any period he had spent in the prison cells under Ceaucescu, his popularity was sadly limited amongst the Romanita.

Ironically he was a continual favourite of Popes and a regular dinner guest of any noble foreign visitor to the city [ though regrettably only a handful of american bishops had the nerve to defy their conference of bishops and converse with the old man who was deemed "persona no grata" by the NSA].

Ludo described the venerable old hack as "Gandalf on Vallium".

Mary-Luke failed to see the worth of the decaying black-ragged stick who reeked of frankincense and linament.

Had she been more trusted by her associates she would have been aware that the antediluvian orthodox cleric was worth his weight in diamond dust to the fifth office. Few were ever aware that more Eastern Orthodox Clergy behind the Iron Curtain reported to the Metropolitan than were ever in the pay of the KGB. It was not however for this reason that he was the most highly-regarded unofficial adviser to the Ninth Office. It was his indispensable knowledge of the Human Psyche. Small wonder he never "hit it off" with Mary-Luke. He always looked like he pitied her, and the nun normally found an excuse to be out of the room within seconds of the Metropolitan being present....

"Everything ok?"
Mary-Luke started. It was Hunter, Micha Lovec.

Of the entire office Mary-Luke held this naive pretty boy in the most contempt.
"Hunter!" she beamed ,

"you gave me the fright of my life,you wicked Monsignore!"
"Is my forked tail showing then?" joked the Slovak

"just been down to satan's subterranean sauna for some R&R"

[Sycophant ! You should have stayed in Bratislava with the rent boys ! Now you're just that english witch's bitch ]

The nun's smile became twisted and she changed the subject with a little too much emphasis.
"you ready to meet the new cardinal ? All this secrecy, Endotti has been haranguing me for a description"

[a lie, but one with little risk]

Hunter sat on the corner of the nun's desk and ran his finger along the top of the computer monitor....he gave little indication of pre-occupation.
"Endotti will be informed when he needs to be. He'll have ample notice..."

[you're a lap-dog Micha ! nothing more.You think you're in Fred's confidence ?- he'll screw you over just as soon as look at you]

Mary -Luke's tiny stature assisted the conspiratorial ambience of the scene "The office has been taking bets as to where he's from. Rick reckons he's an american or a nigerian right-winger, Maria is sure she heard on the grapevine that he was from south-east asia and Maddy assures me that Listener is a german name and he's that Moral Theology professor from Lucerne..."
"..and what about you my sweet Mary-Luke ?" pushing some stationery aside the agile young monsignore swung his legs onto the desk and crossed them.
Head in hands,eyebrows raised innocently, the young slovakian Puck posed the question :
"come on sister , I trust your perceptions, where do you think he's from ?"
Nervously, but still smiling, the sister averted her eyes ,lounged back in her seat and clasped her hands, one finger gently stroking a tiny gold band on another. The "bride of Christ" sighed.
"He's western european. You've hinted at such. But not continental because Cardinal Gilson would never have been off the phone. That leaves British or Irish. On the whole two islands there are only three intellectually competent bishops and two orthodox ones and none fit for a red hat under seventy. That leaves lecturers and abbotts, as the cardinal is young it rules out religious orders so we're looking at an english or irish academic"
"not from Wales or Scotland ?"

[His smugness is becoming unsettling.

How dare he!

Perhaps a few days of gastro-enteritis might be in order?

That'll wipe the smile off his face.

The pubic lice worked when Gianni got too big for his boots...]

"No. When Sister Monica flew out to meet him she was only away for six hours. Our cardinal's from England or Dublin, or at least was there when Monica pounced on him."

[that should be enough to mislead him, but what is he up to ? he can't...?]

"you're very impressive sister!"
"Well, it is our job after all Hunter,"

[supercilious runt! You can't seriouly think we haven't known it was the american for weeks ? Ludo still hasn't discovered the bug]

" we're not all employed for our aesthetic value "

[did the barb catch? maybe not. I wonder if lonewolf has any pretty seminarians with which to snare him? - why is he sitting so close to me?]

" to his identity we're all in the dark until nine this evening"
"nine? not seven ?"

[too late! fuck!]

Mary-Luke realised her mistake but could not prevent the words being said...she would have to think quickly.
"seven ?" Lovec now adopted a menacing form - no longer an androgynous pixie ,now his eyes blazed like some maleficent Loki.
"I overheard Sister Monica,we had the priority call from Beijing and I had to escort monsignore Casaregna to Maddy's"
"Ahhh !" the visage changed to plain old tousled haired hunter -the neurotic, overworked glorified office junior.

[He bought it! I'm safe!]

{As it happened,this time she was wrong.}

"Yes, the meeting was indeed arranged for seven, but there were...shall we say,complications?"
"Oh ?"

[I have to stop shaking - stay calm. No-one knows...especially this imbecile, Ludo I need to be wary of, not this lady-boy]

A red-light buzzed on the intercom - probably Ludo returning from lunch - the code was correct so she pushed the button to open the main door. An archaic security procedure, but Monica preferred to maintain the old ways Sister Filomena had implemented....
"Yes, had the Cardinal left the seventh office's safe house at six twenty , by six forty he would have had an appointment with someone very different to our beloved cardinal Athanasio."

[How can he know? he can't's not possible! They promised me...]


[who screwed up? Weiss ? No, Morgan ! It must have been Morgan...that dumb...]

"Once the cardinal's identity was revealed he was to "hasten to St Peter" - not St Peter's - luckily security has a long reach, and you are perfectly aware of the number of people we have who dwell in shadow. The threat has been eliminated. I don't understand it. What is your crowd's motive now of all times ? Why now?"

Her demeanour changed very little. Perhaps there was a little more defiance behind the eyes ?

[ So you finally know ? Big deal ! You could never understand the full picture. What you are dealing with - who you deal with !]

"We're still trying to work out why 'your crowd' would want to assassinate a young american priest in broad daylight but I'm sure you'll inform Endotti. We'd all appreciate some insight regarding your reasons. Cardinal or not this Levi thing is small fish and not your scene at all . Sure it means a lot to us because the pope wants to right a minor wrong ; but you lot ? You're normally into coercion,corruption,blackmail. Why kill? It's really not a satanist's style."

[So you DO know nothing ? Good. My work is done. We'll get him. My master will be safe.]

"You were unfortunate sister,you inadvertently failed to remember I had a life before this office, deleting files on a computer does not always mean they are irretrievable.

You were clever enough not to leave anything blatantly incriminating, but there were nuances, minor alterations to security records which intimated that grey areas became less so. You wilfully implied fair was foul, and foul fair.

But now ? You're grateful we found you; other enemies your organisation has gathered on the way have less benign means of, um, process ?

Endotti's father has associates with links to the Universal assembly which will not allow you to "piss on their doorstep" , even if it means helping us out for a change "

[Not me? No, it couldn't have been me !? The computer's clean. He's lying.They have a mole that's it. Morgan. A tiny scratch on the american and Levi would have been dead in the water. It has to be Morgan]

There were several sets of harsh orderly footsteps echoing from the entrance lobby.
Lovec swirled round from the desk , walked over to the coffee machine, swiftly poured out a strong sweet cup and handed it to the ashen-faced nun.
"I had to stop you Mary-Luke, or should I say Lilith ? you're Onyx Star aren't you ?"

[No. No mole. They know's up - time to relax!]

She ran both hands through her hair as if she'd just finished a performance on stage...
"Oh Monsignore Lovec !! I was so hoping we were going to have a second date too" She narrowed her eyes and looked away...
The mask fell. It wasn't over. She was, but it would never be over. Already her associates knew more than enough, she had seen to that...

Sister Monica's office door opened and she began to speak , but fell silent upon seeing Hunter's solemn face.
"" Hunter's face spoke volumes...this was his job. Monica should walk back into her office and not demean herself.
"I'm sorry Monsignore, I had no idea this was happening now..." she turned as if to return to her office, hesitated, and walked over to the desk, never once looking at the woman she once trusted with her life.
"I won't thank you for all your hard work...Lilith is it ? Please be aware that both you and Maria received no pertinent information regarding the Levi directive; or anything else for that matter for six weeks. All you fed to your masters was invented by the hard work of myself,Madeleine and begrudgingly Fr Rick; as has practically everything passing through your desk. Be grateful you are under the merciful safeguard of the cardinal. Rick and I would have handed you over to the Rwandans."

[Typical mercenary nazarene ! You think I'm in this for me you stupid old hag ? I'm here to serve! Protect him!!]

Rwanda. One of Mary-Luke's finest hours in the service of her Master ; and all performed in seconds with the stroke of a pen - seventeen thousand natives led into a massacre through a vatican "error" over emergency base-camp co-ordinates. Monica had personally sent out the already corrupted details via radio; she blamed herself entirely and it led her to take a month's leave of absence.

Monica stood as if in a trance, Hunter was disturbed by the silence.

He wanted this finished: Now.
What is more he could not understand why this Devil-worshipper wasn't more upset at her discovery: Mary-Luke was not exactly calm, but she did not possess the demeanour of the vanquished.
Endotti and four armed officers hovered around the doorway, reluctant to intervene where the executive deputy was involved.
"Federico...your wife is recuperating I trust ?"
"Yes Sister Monica, she appreciated the Mass-cards and the flowers"
"Good. Will only be a few moments more...Now, Mary-Luke, our leniency may depend upon the answer you give me now.... Butler?"

Lilith made her final attempt to wreak chaos. A desperate bluff which could still instill confusion.

"You were wrong good lady !! You were Oh so wrong !! He was one of ours..all those things the archbishop was accused of, he did so much more you'll never uncover ? Let me tell you, you arrogant know-it-all bitch!! He was always one of ours and he died praising my master..."

[Lilith wished she could have affected a more maniacally vitriolic disposition but the overwhelming nervous exhaustion made her response clinical and lacking in efficacy]

Hunter stared at Monica's eerily expressionless face...five seconds of silence filled eternity.
Monica moved towards the nun-no-nun and Lilith flinched.

Dextrously with one swift manoeuvre Monica had reached into Lilith's pocket and extracted the tiny silver brooch - Eight arrows pointing outwards - the arcane symbol of chaos.

It was slightly too thick for cosmetic conspicuous a bug would normally be unsettling, nevertheless it was the nature of the enemy.
" I apologise for the assault, I just always wanted to know what you kept fingering in your pocket "
Monica knew exactly how to deal with the transmitter.
For a sixty three year old liverpudlian, her american southern drawl was quite convincing...whoever was listening on the device was confronted with the shocking revelation that the executive deputy was fully aware of the location of the organization's centre of operations.
" Li'l ol' Lilith's signin' off now sugah, ya'll come back now ya hear ?"
The brooch barely made a ripple as it sank into the coffee...
"These must be pretty good to fly under our scanners.

When Gianni gets back have him rip tech support's head off!"
Staring deeply into the Satanist's eyes, Monica announced like a diagnosing medic

"She's lying! I knew it...Stone's been duped.

I warned him about that reprobate but Stone and the eight "always know best" "
Micha intervened
"If Archbishop Butler was innocent, and they framed him, murdered him, who were they protecting ? Thompson ?"
"No Micha....not him.Thompson may be a damned fool but he's our damned fool. I think eighth office has been compromised"
From behind Endotti and his retinue came a single word uttered by the only one true Romanita in the Ninth Office.

"McGinley!! I told you he was another..."

[for the sake of the already disillusioned faithful, I will refrain from recording the name of the prominent cleric Ludovico mentioned, needless to say, in these days of the internet you can discover it for yourself; the sin of detraction is rarely considered in this media age...]

Lilith's vainglorious attempt to display little emotion at the name betrayed the veracity of it. Monica pounced on the realisation.

"Ludo ?" all eyes except the executive deputy's turned as the rotund cleric squeezed his way through the crowd, the aroma of a two-thirds eaten stromboli hung around him.
"It has to be McGinley. Always suspected that arrogant would explain Henderson too."
"Henderson ?" Hunter was confused.
"They were lovers, Micha. McGinley and Henderson . Over thirty years ago. We thought it had been dealt with..."
Monica's face grew intensely morose, her eyes filling with indignant anger at her own reckless stupidity. Her dislike of Butler had clouded her judgment.

"Butler appealed to Papa Montini for clemency for them and arranged their separation on either side of the".
Ludo broke the silence.

"Poor fool signed his own death warrant. Eighth office didn't trust him so they didn't think he needed protection . Never trust a queer eh Micha ?"

Ludo's crass thoughtlessness was a cross they all bore, this was recompensed by his encyclopedic mind and his acute ability to remember everything about everyone ; but it still gave rise to the daily desire of some member of the ninth office to push Ludovico's head into a computer monitor.

Monica stiffly raised herself to her full height...
"Madeleine is in archives, Rick is at the Beda giving a lecture on the Donatists - I want them here within the hour. Micha, the Metropolitan will be here in twelve minutes. You're in on the meeting too. Ludo - I want everything on McGinley and Henderson, every associate of theirs below blue tag is to be grey tagged forthwith and all files to be raised to "throne" status. You have three hours."
"Gianni and I did the groundwork two weeks ago before he went off to to the Congo. On the off-chance it really was those two reprobates It will be ready in twenty minutes...we haven't got the eighth files but I think they'll be useless"
Micha interrupted.
"No Ludo, get them. The first way to find something is to discover that something is missing"
Monica was unabashed at this diligent foresight. She had expected nothing less from her staff.
"A precis to his excellency,then forward all the relevant material to the carthusians. Keep the eighth out."
"The carthusians sister ? I thought I might...?"
"No Ludo. As of this moment, irrespective of the young cardinal's capabilities; Levi is green."
Micha and Ludo looked at each other. Ludo mouthed "I told you". Micha now owed Ludovico an expensive meal at "Vincente's".
"Endotti, you can proceed. Miss Lilith can give us the details at your whim. Oh, one more thing, Maria Graziani's privileges have been rescinded.I want a code seven. Please ensure her desk is cleared and she is on the train home to Turin before five. I wish it to be made clear that her presence is not welcome in Rome. Ever."

Endotti understood perfectly. Graziani must have been fully briefed and prepared to leave, but it was imperative this viper or any of her clan got no wind of it.

As Lilith was being escorted from the office she shouted after the executive deputy. "Maria is innocent..why punish her you vindictive bitch? You and your petty "Levi" - you still have no idea who you're dealing with - you hear me you whore ? we've already won! This is an.."
Endotti struck her with the back of his hand. A mere fly-swat ; but it silenced her.
After a momentary pause, Monica closed the door to her office behind her , leaving Ludo and Hunter alone.

The tension mounted for a few minutes before Ludovico broke the silence.
"Don't look at me like that Micha, Monica had to fire Maria."
"I fail to see why..."
"For twenty months she worked side by side with a Luciferian. She must have noticed something before we did. She's either a damned fool or she kept her own counsel out of fear. Whichever way she has let this office down irredeemably. Micha I loved the girl ! But she had to go."

[Ludo internally congratulated himself that he could lie like the horned one when duty called. Micha would learn the truth eventually]

Hunter not only knew Ludo was right, he was more angry with himself for not seeing it that way immediately.
"Ludo, why did Endotti and his men touch their...[he didn't know the word in Italian so he pointed towards his crotch]... before they arrested Mary-Luke?"
"The Italian way Micha, warding off evil spirits"
Hunter blushed.
"I'd better go and await the Metropolitan"
"Don't leave him alone - Beatitude Ivanko warned me the Metro's kleptomania has returned with a vengeance"
Hunter groaned. A low female metallic sounding voice alerted him , he winked at Ludo and raised his voice.
"Are you telling me this gold pen he gave me last time is stolen property ?"
"Is that a papal seal I see ?" Ludovico pretended to swan haughtily to his office
" Don't forget Vincente's, Thursday, at eight .I'll be famished by then"
Hunter's shoulders visibly sunk by about three inches as he sighed , but his eyes twinkled.
"Is possession of the Holy Father's purloined pen an excommunicable offence ?"
"You should be so lucky!!!"
Ludo was now out of sight, but Hunter still called out..
"Don't forget we have tonight to get through first." Lovec's voice then modulated in fear of the answer to his next question.
"Ludo...why 'Green' now? What's changed ? It's still only a murder hunt"
"My dear hunter haven't you guessed who the cardinal is ? that brings more than enough problems in itself ,especially with eighth, but Il Papa was right to protect him in such a way. Secondly, this used to be all about redemption for the fallen - a last ditch attempt for justice. Now ? thanks to you and your coffee my clumsy friend this is war!"

It was not the first time that Lovec simply had no idea what his associate meant. It was a test. Ludo was forever challenging him with the "Lady or Tiger" routines and by Ludo [never was a name more appropriate] informing the slovak that he could know who the cardinal was merely from the few facts he had gleaned, it left him with two possibilities: One distasteful, the other recklessly insane.
Hunter blessed himself and exclaimed "They couldn't !!?"
It all clicked into place. Like some oriental puzzle box one single push made the chaos ordered with a precision only a genius or a lunatic could have devised . He knew his superiors and colleagues had extraordinary intellect but with this? Not only had they surpassed themselves, this was worthy of...

The proverbial hammer-blow struck. The fourth killing.The timetable.The monk. The man who wasn't there....
The Realisation froze him to the spot.
This was never about...why that poor bastard...he's going in thinking he's...and as for the other guy, what the hell was he contemplating ?
A thought came into Lovec's head . Three words of St Paul from Colossians : "Always be thankful"
"Paul you may have had a rough time of it but you certainly didn't work for the ninth"

Monica's office door opened, the executive deputy's head appeared like a glove puppet...
"Micha ? The Papal secretary is on the phone - something about the metropolitan and a pen?"
Lovec flinched and turned slowly enough to alter his expression.
Hunter's look of sheer panic was enough to send Monica over the edge, she burst into fits of laughter.It was utterly inappropriate given the circumstances but the price was too high for this grey cloud to linger. She needed Hunter on top-form tonight and so did both cardinals.
With over-emphasised trudging steps Sister Monica proceeded to the intercom and flicked the main speaker switch
"How many times have I told you to look out for listening devices Monsignore? "
Micha managed a feeble smile.
"So we revert to seven and nine again for the american and cardinal then sister...?"
"Aaaah ! you've worked out who he is. I was expecting you to, but thought it would come in that adrenaline rush just before the "examination bell" went and he was almost on our doorstep."
"I didn't. Ludo told me"
"No, Ludo couldn't have told you. Only the seventh know and Ponti's assistant , like our resident polymath Ludo, thinks there is only one person arriving tonight and that we lied about there being two to protect him.Any second person being an unecessary stooge who could be positioned at any time without our intervention. Mary-Luke thought so too which is why she and her hounds of hell went after the wrong guy. But you my dear Micha - you have come to the right conclusion. Perhaps because having him was your idea in the first place?"
"Mine? I don't understand. This isn't my..."
"Hunter, do you remember that first time you came here ?"
"you mean the time I and Novotny stormed in past old sister Filomena and demanded your head on a plate for...."
"No, I meant the night of the Black Widow ? What you did had never been done before."
"But it was obvious that..."
"OBVIOUS TO YOU MICHA!! Heavens ! when are you ever going to realise how much God has graced you ? I promised never to tell you this but sometimes they are made to be broken. The only other person who ever came near to having the wisdom and the gall to turn the tables like that , amongst all the presidents and cardinals and heads of intelligence who have been through these doors, was Papa Luciani; and he knew the trick because the sleeping Pope told him!!"
The young slovak would have been less shocked if Monica had announced her pregnancy.
"The sleeping Pope ? you mean Rick was right about Conclave 80 ? all those conspiracy theories are...?"
"Enough ! Of course it's true, why do you think Veronese once had an office of twenty people on the payroll, but you only ever saw fourteen? Why did prince Farnese threaten to withdraw the bargain ? Why did Endotti's father retire ? You don't threaten to arrest seventeen cardinals without a backlash. So what could we do? We let those half-witted right-wingers scream about it from the rooftops because it makes it look just like another one of their dotty "smoke of satan" conspiracies and it kept our man safe!!! We've paid the price a hundred times over,but none so much as the faithful abandoned to that pack of apostate hyenas .Have you any idea how much hell we went through having to endure from those Sartre wannabes ? Eris' golden apple brought about the trojan war. The Angel's silver apples brought an even greater one and we have at least another century of fallout before anything can be done."

"I apologise sister.I didn't know. My mind has been on other things and I have always veered away from Rick's"
Monica anticipated the next question. If one rumour was true , what about another ?
"Micha ! If you value your life and the lives of all those you hold dear you must never ask me about "the enthronement" - I won't lie to you about it, and it would condemn you to spend the rest of your life struggling against yourself from fighting a battle that cannot be won except in the way Our Holy Father, a few select cardinals,archbishops and bishops and that wonderful man who is both our Boss and protector , have chosen for it to be fought. For the time being we must continue , like Claudius before us, playing the fool...besides,we had a minor victory today. You behaved admirably, a little too melodramatic for my tastes but I'll blame Rick's influence on you for that ."
"You mentioned the black widow ?"
"Yes, well our beloved cardinal believes we've found another table-turner tonight in our second guest. I'm more of the opinion that our first has more chance, I'm not entirely certain but I think we tried it on Kiel and he was never one to keep his mouth shut about anything, but apparently he and Kiel never saw eye to eye. Liturgy and Latin I think, still he could know ?
As for our young cardinal ? I feel dear Athanasio will be bitterly disappointed before the day is done. What makes it worse is that whatever the conclusion, Levi IS green!
And Levi is all based upon that night I proved to his excellency that you were to be my successor. That ,and some advice I gained before you were born."
A cool breze rushed through the office.Monica shivered slightly and continued.
"Micha, what's the best way to prevent an assassination?"
"Off the top of my head ? I'd pretend to kill the victim before the assassins got the chance to really do it. why?"
Monica smiled...To Lovec it seemed like she was changing the subject; she wasn't.
"Before Athanasio and I go we want to fight back, one final push. You do realise that this could be the "ninth's final outing" ?"
Lovec failed to see the relevance with Levi. Something he could look back on with gratitude. As for the Ninth he was aware the axe was falling; everyone knew that it was only Reinhardt's intervention which prevented Firenze sweeping the vatican clean of them all. The Secretary of State was firmly of the opinion that when the Berlin Wall fell any enmity between the church and the world ceased and all these Cloak and Dagger merchants in the tunnels under the lateran palace should be put out to pasture. But so soon? Lovec had barely known his parents before their deaths and this was both home and family to him.
"Sister, what's the new cardinal like ? He seems on paper to be just an above-average..."
"We didn't tell him of his elevation until he arrived in Rome. He's very unhappy about the whole thing. Feels it debases Holy Mother Church and he hasn't even been fully briefed yet. Ponti of Seventh had to show him the Papal order,and then hear his confession before he would even move out of his room. He refused to touch the nails. Many do. The Georgian did not believe they were real, the Saudi said he was not worthy.Our man gave no reason. He merely made the vows and then burst into tears."
"He wept ? But.."
"He's not you Micha ! Anyway His Holiness embraced him and, according to Casaregna, Il Papa said "My Son .What is a few days for the sake of an eternity?" but you know how melodramatic Casaregna can be, he always romanticizes things.For all we truly know His Holinesss may have just handed him a handkerchief and departed! It was funny because Ponti came on the phone and told me you would like the new cardinal because he spills coffee too. I could have sworn there was laughter from a group in the same room. Zwimmer needs to get his whip out"

The ancient bakelite telephone emitted a pulsing ring.It was one of Monica's quirky luxuries : An old english ringtone to always remind her of home. It was also the emergency hotline.
"Tiernan qui ? Gianni...Fine..You found him?'s tonight and it's green,Gianni, it's green...No it's not that Indian bishop the sikhs shot!! No not him won't guess so stop trying...Il Dottore is fine ? You'll both be in London for Saturday ? Excellent. it's important that the encounters with Perigord go as planned Gianni.I want Perigord shaken up a little before we offer him the job. Oh and you were right...McGinley and Henderson...No,you go to London Gianni, that's an order monsignore !! No, the carthusians...Yes, they're gone...maria? seventh...very nasty,tried to poison the american...yes,all over by tonight...Lilith,Onyx Star we think....she forced her hand too soon and we had to protect her... those bastards would have killed her the instant the trap was sprung...sorry who did what ? who do you think ? No, it was Hunter, he spilled his coffee and..what's that ? San Salvador...Yes, I know.ok's important so don't stop at a bookmakers on your way...a casino!? Just you dare! Tiernan out. "

Sister Monica stalled for an instant, a tiny click from the receiver told her all was not well.
Operator?...sorry are you new? and what is your name ? Thankyou, and might I ask who authorised your tracking of this line?
I'm afraid you must be mistaken, there is no active emergency protocol. I understand Signora, I know, it's ok..we are all on the same side signora..thankyou."
Monica winced.
"Endotti's at it again ! how many times have I told him he is not to track this line? Every recording goes to transcript in archives and is sealed.
My operatives need a secure line... I'll give him "emergency protocol"!!...."
The Nun looked across at the pensive young Slovak,nervously chewing a fingernail...
"It's been a rough day Hunter, and tonight won't be any better, we'll have his excellency's theatrics to endure. Don't worry about Vincente's, I've arranged a table for seven at eight on Thursday - His excellency is paying ; although he doesn't know it yet .

Oh and Micha I hope you take it from that phonecall that Gianni is to be left out of the loop regarding our cardinal. I don't want him slipping up in front of Perigord."
"Of course Sister, Thankyou sister. I'll go get the metropolitan before he acquires a swiss guard's assault rifle"
"Monsignore Lovec ? you surprise me by not asking who the seventh guest will be."
"Well I presume it's the young cardinal , I first thought it was Gianni when I heard you on the phone to Vincente's via the intercom, and then Ludo and I convinced you this was the pope's pen, but after our talk about Gianni dealing with Perigord; It had to be the cardinal"
He was still holding aloft his plastic biro like an olympic torch.

Hoisted with her own petard !
He'd known she'd been listening !
Her little hunter was growing up!
But the slovakian wink was too much not to deserve the full force of a phone directory aimed at his head; Sister Monica's usually impeccable english collapsing into a choice selection of scouse perjoratives.

There was only a slight hesitation to gaze at Mary-Luke's empty desk before Monica returned to her duties.
Now.Whom could she wrangle from the metropolitan?

The emergency protocols had been verified and enacted immediately.
The rationale only came later. Ludo was the first to discover something was wrong when, eating the remains of his now cold stromboli , his game of internet bridge was rudely interrupted with server shutdown. His Ukrainian partner's bid of 3NT should have been countered with four spades; so Ludo was saved the ignominy of going down five tricks to two chinese teenagers....
Sometimes there are unexpected delays in the vatican grapevine for all manner of reasons. There was never a clear answer as to why it took Endotti's dept over eighty minutes to contact the cardinal and his executive deputy regarding the two deaths.
Endotti could only apologise.

Officer Francesca Gambrelli , one of Endotti's personal favourite young operatives, had only been impersonating a 'tearful ' Maria Graziani for a matter of minutes before she was mown down in the street outside Graziani's appartment.
No one in security believed for an instant that the dead man,a petty thief, found in the crushed car's remains was the driver,nor that his heart attack was due to natural causes. The two operatives tailing Gambrelli on her route to Turin were discovered bound and unconscious in the boot of their unmarked vehicle many miles away from the crime-scene. Endotti refused to employ wives or mothers, but he still had problems sleeping at night.
Forensics found nothing save a silver eight-arrowed badge with no prints or dna trace.

Soeur Mary-Luke, born Justine Bonsecours in Bruges in 1958, baptised by her stepmother into the dark as Lilith of the Onyx Star in 1973 and subsequently ordered to enter the order of Ursuline Nuns as a "Sleeper"; was being transported to a safe-house in Ostia for questioning.
The source or means of administering the poison remain unknown, pathology's best guess was a polymer based transparent temporary tattoo on her forearm.

It took forty seven excruciating minutes for her to die.

For the first thirteeen minutes, before the muscular spasms caused her to fall into unconsciousness, amid her screams came the agonising plea :
"Master, you promised me it would be quick!!!?? Oh my God. They Lied !!! They told me it would be quick!!!"

The security detail on Maria Graziani , en route to her new life as seventh office special liaison for central americal; was automatically doubled.

Endotti was more than perplexed. This didn't happen.
Satanists didn't kill. Sure they would execute their own should they betray them...but this simply made no sense.
This required the intellect and light touch of...?
Endotti made the call to his father.

Sergio was in Ireland "soil-feeding" - early reconnaissance, liaison and operational analysis as a precursor to Levi's "going green".

He and his men were security assessing the college grounds and perimeter.

This kind of work was almost a form of recreation to him.
Sergio Endotti was nicknamed "Acromel" - bitter honey.

His gentle ,suave unruffled exterior revealed none of his hidden depths or talents.
He was on record as only having lost his temper four times in his eighty years on earth. However disturbing the loss of any operative and suicide of an enemy in custody ,this was not going to be the fifth .
Sergio knew who to contact; fully aware that the answers he received would be welcomed by no-one
Onyx star ? This makes no sense. Unless ?

No. They've never used that cover before....

No comments: