Saturday, 26 January 2008


Chapter Three : Hesitancy

The Pager alerted Athanasio while in conference with the heads of five and seven.

He'd guessed correctly: but it had been too late for the two women - Collapsing into his chair ,his eyes closed slowly : They were not the first; nor even the thousandth....Nevertheless ; he wept.

Five , Seven and Nine were the non-diplomatic, non-communications-based offices - negligible aspects of the secretariat. Only close scrutiny of the directors would lead to the conclusion that size and renown meant very little regarding the intrinsic importance of these offices.
[There had been no sixth office for nearly fifty years -mainly through deference to the 'lamplights ' - the many thousands of covert priest-operatives ; murdered under Stalin ]

Eight dealt solely with the US, and had therefore been situated on the North American Continent for over thirty years at three separate locations...directly under the oblivious noses of the CIA , NSA and the FBI.
Even Mossad no longer knew its whereabouts; a phenomena which a brought endless amusement to the eighth office's director, Archbishop Stone [himself a grandson of anti-zionist Jewish immigrants] .
It was bitterly ironic that the eighth's major concern involved ensuring they remained 'under the radar' of those whom , in an ideal world , would have co-ordinated proceedings : The US National conference of Bishops. To have done so would not merely have been folly; but suicide.
With such concerns the old Vatican stalwart Cardinal Ottaviani had guaranteed assurances from Papa Montini that the Eighth office answered solely to him and his successors within the Holy Office.
Only a dozen or so Senior US clergy were even aware of the eighth office's existence. Among these select few none were hostile; and all were ready to serve the Church Universal; rather than the pragmatic , deeply compromised travesty which paraded itself as a national catholic hierarchy . Regrettably the eighth's problem's arose from different quarters ; confusing political fervour and intervention with orthodoxy being one of them.

The senior Cardinal brought proceedings to a halt out of respect for the dead.
After an appropriate period the Buddha-like Austrian, Zwimmer, head of seven, continued his diatribe as to why any requisition of his staff to the ninth was "out of the question"; especially with the Venezuelan situation. He also had months ahead ensuring the young Miss Graziani was trained to Seventh Office standards [the jibe was not malicious ] ; together with two impending consistories where he had to confront some highly belligerent misbehaving Maryknoll priests.
Were circumstances any other way he would always be happy to assist the ninth office in their endeavours.
Tremayne of New Zealand, [Newly appointed head of five after Ng Hoc's stroke, and Wilson,his deputy and natural successor; having gained promotion to Canadian Nuncio] was less aggressive but equally as determined - The Eastern European Mafias, especially the Bulgarian,were inundating his office with more "hessle!" than they could cope with; not only that , two of his office were newbies with only eight months experience between them...

Athanasio had assumed their responses before he asked; still, it had been worth a try.
Very well. The Secretary of State had already stated [ quite smugly and acerbically ] the futility of making the request for operatives from other departments ; and of the ultimate consequences ; a meeting Athanasio had very little desire of attending now faced him: The General Council.

Any assistance he received from the council would have been burdened with a whole array of conditions, provisos, and expectations of being informed at every step ; something to which Athanasio was adamantly unwilling to concede; having no desire for the Levi directive to make its way onto Fox News or The New York Times.

Even though he had the Secretariat's and Papal permission to "lie through his back teeth" to those council members below "blue tag" status; the Cardinal still found the whole situation disagreeable.
What was worse was having to face Monica with the news. She had optimistically hoped Zwimmer would have at least offered Ponti or Casaregna ; as they had already been brought in to assist with the Incardination.
Ideally they would have all wanted Tissone from Fourth, but his heart was weak and he'd been promised a Sabbatical for years, now his sister had bone cancer and the Secretary of State issued that Tissone was Off-Limits for any extraordinary duties for the rest of the year.

Athanasio expressed a heartfelt appreciation to his fellow brothers for gracing him with a few precious minutes; despite their cumbersome schedules.
Before all three could rise, their pagers sounded. Hourly Intelligence updates. The death of a retired american archbishop, news of the arrested chinese priests and two reports of more deaths in the middle east....

Only Athanasio received a fifth message:

Heard you needed help. The Council won't cross Firenze ,Reinhardt's worse than useless and there's a leak on the Council telling the Yanks everything they want to know. In possession of six ugly ducklings. Reckon you'll get at least two swans. Will be with Monica when you return. Our Help is the Name of The Lord. J.

Jack ! How poignantly appropriate ! The Holy Spirit was indeed working overtime.
Five minutes to Midnight and assistance arrives from strange places...

Zwimmer exited like a bullet , a hesitant Tremayne turned and asked "Sorry Excellency, did you say something ?"
Athanasio sank back into the highly uncomfortable chair in relief...
"Yes your Grace, you will be pleased to know aid has indeed arrived from .... He paused.
From "The Lord who made Heaven and Earth!" "
" well ? " he thought "...from one of his most unlikely followers anyway."

It was only a matter of seconds before Zwimmer stormed into the conference room - his clenched fist betrayed the albeit silent, rage and ensuing outburst :
"something wrong your Grace? " inquired the none-too-insightful Tremayne
Zwimmer glowered at the New Zealander and asked politely through gritted teeth if he minded leaving the room for a few moments...
Athanasio looked up, expecting the full force of the archbishop's fury...
"What's wrong Otto ?"
"Your damned american Athanasio, he's escaped in a taxi and he's heading straight for your Cardinal"
Athanasio groaned internally . But his voice retained its sombre timbre.
"I apologise unreservedly , but it's nothing that cannot be remedied your Grace, I'll take care of the american from this point onwards. "
Sliding off the side plate to his pager, the cardinal flicked a tiny red switch within...
Walking over to the phone he turned to Zwimmer.
"Otto I'm kidnapping your operatives for a few hours if that's all right with you?"
Zwimmer grunted affirmatively.
The phone rang. Athanasio lifted the receiver.
The codewords for any Deparrtmental head to summon an emergency guard were from the opening line of Psalm 90 :
"Athanasio nine five one.....He who dwells in the shelter of the most high, and abides in the shade of the Almighty, says to the Lord my Refuge, my Stronghold, my God in whom I trust."
He handed the phone to Zwimmer -his clearance code being the seventh line from the universal prayer of pope Clement XI
"Zwimmer seven zero zero - affirmo - I wish whatever you wish, because you wish it, in the way you wish it, for as long as you wish it" - he returned the handset to Athanasio.
"Athanasio - code 2 - american college seventh office safehouse mark 4 - Liaise officer Gianni Visconti [ Damn ! he's in the Congo ] correction Liaise Fr Officer Richard Madison - ninth office safehouse mark 12 - Alberto Ludovico - Is Endotti available ? Very well , yes, understandable. God's blessings upon you all. Grazie"
Athanasio hung up and redialled.
" Sister ? Is Jack there ? Excellent - ask him to contact the college and activate nine-twelve for five please. Our young cardinal ,"laurel and hardy" [he winced remembering Zwimmer had no idea that was ninth slang for Ponti and Casaregna] and Sister Gianetta; Ludo to follow. Thankyou. Rick to seven-four, pick up the american.Hold. Maddy to seven-five, collect two then on to seven-four. Bring the american home . Cleared with Zwimmer. Thankyou sister. I'll be there within the hour "
He replaced the receiver.
"Otto - What happened ?"
"Well it was quite ingenious and utterly ridiculous at the same time , but I should warn you. Your american : I believe he thinks you, or others in your employ , want to kill him."
Athanasio was about to enter into a tirade of colourful adjectives when the secure phone rang again.
"Athanasio qui ? QUI??? Bene...Eminence I trust you are well ? His Holiness did not "knock you for six?" Yes....No Eminence...Thankyou that is most interesting...I am certain that you are correct...No. That would be highly inadvisable....I am afraid that is simply not possible...Maybe when we meet later you will give me the opportunity to explain more fully?...Thankyou...Everything will be well...he has nothing to fear...Thankyou once again.."
The Cardinal sighed ; and replaced the receiver by releasing it from a satisfying height for the noise to indicate 'panic over' . He turned to a puzzled Zwimmer.
"Otto I will no longer need seven-four or seven-five ; but I do require a driver...any chance of purloining yours for half an hour ?"
"Would you also care for the shirt off my back excellency? perhaps a pint of my blood ? my left kidney ?"
Zwimmer's deadpan austrian humour took a little getting used to; but Athanasio loved his colleague all the more for his ability to use sarcasm to express deep filial devotion.
"Want to join me for the ride? This meeting will be most interesting."
"Excellency at present I am dealing with two civil wars, a hostage situation with psychotic Tamils , a band of renegade Jesuits, an insurgency against a less-than-friendly government and the disciplining of three Franciscans caught cocaine smuggling. I have a weak heart, an empty stomach and a staff that cannot babysit a priest for two minutes!!!. Add three to your guest list for Vincente's - we can talk about it then."
"Vincente's ?"
"Thursday, Monica arranged a meal for the ninth and your young cardinal, the head waiter is "Laurel" 's nephew. He keeps me informed."
As Zwimmer smugly trundled off , Athanasio hoped to God the archbishop never discovered his nickname.
After telephoning Monica to cancel the orders for Sister Madeleine and Father Richard ; he proceeded along the Januarian corridor towards the waiting car.

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