The rally at the sports stadium lasted far longer than he had expected. No matter, it’s the young who will carry me into the Vatican and get me elected Pope, Cardinal Aidan Michaels thought as he smiled his secret smile. Only his alter boys, standing nearby and dressed in faded torn blue jeans and a church tee shirts, knew that smile. He descended the speaker’s platform and, passing through a throng of teenagers, exchanged high-fives. As he broke away from his admirers, he heard notes from the Rite of Spring emanating from his robe pocket. Sighing, he reached into the pocket and withdrew his smart phone, a gift from his former congregation. Smiling his Cheshire cat smile, Cardinal Michaels glanced at the fading black screen. Who in the world was Father Gabrielle Tairino and why was his resume now saved to his phone’s memory without his permission?
“Nice job, Aidan!” a nearby voice called out. “We’ll get you to the Vatican and elected Pope yet. Just keep up the good work.”
Startled, Aidan turned his head and glanced back toward the platform, which workman had already started disassembling. There was no one nearby. Shrugging his massive shoulders, the cardinal turned toward the tunnel that led to the parking lot. His hazel eyes discerned an indistinct figure dressed in black approaching him from the tunnel, and immediately he felt anxious.
The cardinal waited with a calming prayer upon his thick lips, his stubby fingers fiddling with the gold lying against his chest, rising and falling with his now rapid breathing. Forcing out welcoming words, Cardinal Michaels quelled his inner fears and spoke to the oncoming shape.
“Welcome, stranger. How best may I serve you in this temporary but blessed sanctuary of God?”
Silence greeted the Cardinal’s ritualistic words as the shape floated toward him Aidan advanced three steps, stopped, and again called out to the shape that was quickly closing the distance tween them.
“I welcome you. How best may I help you in your hour of need?
The man stopped short and stretched out his hand.
“I am Father Gabrielle Tairino. I have come to serve under your leadership. A voice spoke during prayers to direct my steps toward your archdiocese. Your servant of God told me where to find you, and here I am to begin my earthly duties under the tutelage of your Eminence.” Finishing with a swallow of air, Father Gabrielle belched. Cardinal Michaels withdrew his silver-white hair head between protective shoulders and took his measure of Father Gabrielle Tairino.
“Your unsolicited resume appeared on my smartphone seeking a secretarial position within my church,” he said sternly. “I’m sure you meant to send your resume somewhere else. Tell me it’s a mistake and I won’t file a complaint with the Church authorities for violating the sanctity of my position.” As if not hearing a word, Tairino said, “Your Eminence, I’m here for my three o’clock interview.”
“What did you say?” Michaels asked incredulously.
“I’m sorry for the confusion, Father. It must be the one hour time difference between Chiapas and Harrisburg, but I was told by my superiors that a clerical position was open and I was ordered to report to you.” Michaels dry coughed into his cupped hand and studied the Mexican priest. He looked no different than the other immigrants who had passed through his congregation or the priests who had crossed the border in hopes of bettering themselves along with their illegal brethren.
“I am honored to accept whatever position that his Eminence has for me,” Tairino continued. “As shown on my resume, I am fluent in English, Spanish, French, Mexican, Romanian, and Mayan. I got both of my degrees from the University of Barcelona and have loyally served Father Valorous for ten years in various secretarial and administrative duties. My strengths come from the direction of the Holy Church and my ambition is serve the masters who direct me. May I not serve you?” Suddenly the need for water burned into Cardinal Michael’s throat so much that he tottered forward and was caught by Father Tairino.
“Easy there, your Eminence. Lean on me while I find a chair for you so you can collect your breath from the weight of your recent triumph.”
Shooting a withered glance at Father Tairino, the Cardinal accepted his muscled shoulder and stumbled forward, his stride not quite matching the priest’s energetic steps. Fifteen feet farther down the passageway was a row of wooden folding chairs. Father Tairino guided the cardinal toward one of them and gingerly lowered him into the chair.
“Thank you, my son. You have done me a great service today. Now, tell me again why you are here?”
Squatting beside him, Father Tairino radiated a dull reddish gleam into the cardinal’s face. Flushed and warmed as if by the devil himself, the cardinal couldn’t as much as move a finger. His ragged breathing came in fits and starts, and his heartbeat thundered in his ears, yet his eyes held were bedazzled by the pulsating vampire totem so close was it to his heart.
“I would like to become your secretary and help you become the first American Pope in the Vatican. We can do that, you and I. What say you, your Eminence? Are you ready for the spiritual ride into eternity?” The persistent beating of his heart reminded Cardinal Michaels that he was not yet in eternity. But he found himself drawn into the hazel eyes of his new secretary. His will never questioned his action consciously, but accepted the fact that he now had someone who would bow to his bidding and help him achieve his greatest triumph and become the physical head of Mother Church in Rome. Yet he felt that he must escape this mysterious man.
“I could use some water,” he managed to say with a swollen tongue.
“I’ll get some energy water. It’s the latest craze in the States and should perk you up to attend mass this evening. Can’t let tongues waggle about your health, now can we?” Tairino purred into his Eminence’s ear. “The refreshment stand may still be open. I’ll go fetch it. Please wait, your Eminence.” As soon as Tairino was out of sight, the cardinal pulled himself up and, not willing to yield himself a second time to his unwelcome visitor, he shuffled toward the exit door as fast as he could. At the end of the tunnel, the Cardinal shoved open the door with both hands and stepped into the bright sunlight. Blinking his eyes, he strode toward his bullet-proof SUV. He opened the door with a click of his key fob and slid into the front seat in one fluid burst of speed. Locking the doors, he shoved his car key into the ignition and revved the engine, praying that no intrusive security guard would prevent his leaving the lot without an official escort. He was in luck. No guard appeared asking for his token ticket for parking in this side of the lot. The Cardinal fled the stadium, thumping his fingers against the steering wheel and pushing aside thoughts that the encounter with Mexican priest was real and not a figment of his tormented imagination.
At the archdiocese, the cardinal bumped into one of his many attendants. He didn’t pay attention to what the priest was saying until he heard the name, Gabrielle Tairino.
“There’s a cleric in the front parlor waiting for you, your Eminence. He says you hired him this afternoon to become your personal assistant. I wish that you had let me know of this beforehand and make the appropriate arrangements. As is, he’ll have to bunk with me or settle in one of the older compartments that the graduate students used when living here. What do you desire?” Cardinal Michael’s face paled.
“Father Gabrielle Tairino is here? Waiting in the parlor? That can’t be!” Cardinal Michael spluttered. “I left him at the sport’s stadium not twenty minutes ago? He couldn’t have made it back here so quickly . . . unless he flew, and that’s impossible.” His attendant smiled nervously twisting his long, tapered fingers together like so many mating snakes in a pit. His Eminence fought to keep his eyes from becoming entangled with his attendant’s uneasiness and pushed him aside.
“He’s here now so I might as well get this over with. We’ll need to get him a laptop and a telephone. A land line. He’ll have to wait for a smart phone. Even I don’t perform miracles with technology. There are two beds in your room, so he can sleep there. You might as well have a companion and learn to suffer humility in silence. You’ve been derelict of your duties of late, and this should calm you down from your youthful excesses.” The young priest laughed nervously, a dry rasping sound as if coarse sandpaper was dragging across wood against its grain.
“It is my penance for my neglect of duties toward you and the congregation,” he agreed. “I’ll show him where he is to stay and work. Do you wish him to join you for supper?”
“I wish to see him now before I ready myself for devotions. Then we shall eat. I’ll go announce myself.”
As Cardinal Michaels entered his own parlor, he saw Father Tairino squatted on a chair with his knees drawn up underneath his chin while his arms drooped at his sides. For a moment, the cardinal saw a bat hanging upside down. But when he blinked his eyes in rapid succession, as if eliminating specks of dirt, his vision cleared, he saw that Father Tairino remained seated upright in a wood backed chair in front of a window. Late afternoon sunlight poured through the curtains.
“Did I disturb you, your Eminence?” Father Tairino asked the cardinal.
Lacing his fingers together, Michaels glanced down at the floor. There was nothing, not even a faint outline of the Mexican priest. Sighing, Cardinal Michaels sat heavily on the stiff sofa that he insisted be put in this room. It kept his back ramrod straight as he faced penitents kneeling in his presence. The panic he felt at the sports stadium had passed. Keeping his face calm and benevolent, he addressed his new secretary in a modest but strong voice.
“I see that you got here before me, Father, even though I left the stadium while you were on an errand in my behalf. Might I ask how that can be? Unless you come well blessed from your last place of employment, I am at a loss of how you arrived here before me.” Before answering, Father Tairino removed an aluminum flask from his breast pocket, raised it to his lips, swallowed, and said.
“Salud y amor y tiempo para disfrutarlo.”
Cardinal Michaels sprang to his feet and tore the flash from the priest’s titled head. He held the flask under his nose and sniffed. The scent of water lilies raced up his nostrils giving the cardinal a quick kick. With mouthwatering, he tilted the flask up against his lips and took a swig. Bright pinkish juice ran down his jowls and splattered on to his red cardinal’s robe. Coughing and spluttering, he let the flask drop from his hands to the carpet while his entire body shuddered with an exquisite feeling of pleasure, warmth, and light-headedness. The Cardinal stooped, his numbed fingers fumbling on the carpet as he searched for the flask.
In the mind’s eye of Cardinal Michaels, the figure of Father Tairino unwrapped itself from the chair and floated toward him. With talons extended, Tairino swooped the flask from the carpet and inserted it into the cardinal’s grasping fingers.
“Here it is, your Eminence. Careful, it’s a potent drink reserved for Mayan royalty and our priests before communicating with our gods.”
Cardinal Michaels gasped as he stilled tics in both eyes. The room seemed to tilt as his heart thumped wildly in his chest. Lowering his head and covering the flask’s opening with gaping lips, he tilted his head backward and gulped down the remaining liquid into his mouth. In a rapid torrent, the brew flowed down the Cardinals throat and into his stomach. The impact of the distilled alcohol affected Cardinal Michaels’ mind and body immediately. Light as a feather, he floated above the room with eyes tearing. His new secretary, Father Gabrielle Tairino, became a shape of shifting colored lights with black wings that opened and flapped. The image floated across the room.
Shaking his head, the cardinal rubbed his palms across his eyes and blinked. Father Tairino’s image sharpened and his Eminence lunged aside, avoiding a head-to-head collision with the priest. All the while Cardinal Michaels’ inner buzz increased, turning his fear and apprehension into an adjusted contentment while his sharpened nerves pulsed with new awareness of touch and scent.
The scent of the flask now comforted him and he found himself holding the emptied flask under his nose and sniffing.
“What is this stuff called?”
“A native drink your Eminence. It’s given to our priest before worshiping your gods.”
Cardinal Michaels took another sniff before lowering the flask.
“Can you procure more of it?”
Sucking inward on his lips, Cardinal Michaels sighed, then belched and farted. Father Tairino kept a straight face, although a cunning look came into his face. His hand reached into a pocket and withdrew a squared white paper package tied neatly with coarse hemp twine.
“For you your Eminence, a present. It’s for a time when you’re alone and need more time for prayers, reflection, and inner peace. It will make you feel as one with our Lord God. Please take it and put it to good use. And as to what you can do for me, please rephrase that as to what I can do for us in your immortal climb to becoming Pope,” he said in a voice tight and even.
Father Tairino offered the gift to Cardinal Michaels, who accepted the package gingerly. Looking down, he brought it up to his nose, smelled, and smiled.
“It smells like a man’s cologne. Musk scent, is it not? And, it is to be used as?”
“A depository. Relief comes instantly it is said, and brings with it sweet dreams and aromatic visions that brings one closer to God. We are all of His sacred blood. As a representative of our God, it’s the least that I can do for you. A small thing, truly for a man of God who can serve for an eternity.” Tairino bowed.
“Can you get more of that beverage for me?”
“At once,” Gabrielle Tairino purred. “But before we do, please sign my employment contract given to me by your office manager. By midnight mass tonight, more flasks will be delivered and you shall have your beloved drink” Holding out Ambros and Erros’ contract, similar to the one that Sen͂or Roberto Eduardo Gonzalez had signed in Budapest, Romania, a blood-red line was added underneath the wealthy hacienda’s signature.
His senses overwhelmed by the alcohol and water lily drink, and without thinking twice about reading the employment contract, Cardinal Aidan Michaels signed the paper with a gold-tipped red felt pen given to him by Tairono, who had uncapped the pen with his fangs and handed it to the cardinal.
Signing his life away, the cardinal affixed his signature upon the document, watching the letters drip down the parchment in a ragged line of what appeared as pitchforks and lightning bolts.
“Does the ink stain the page like this all the time?” Cardinal Michaels asked, his voice subdued by the amount of alcohol and drugs in his system.
“Always,” Tairino said, bowing as he sanded the cardinal’s signature with earth from his adopted native land, Romania.
With a faint whisper, the cardinal clutched his heart and leaned heavily into the waiting arms of his secretary.
“It is done.”