Cardinal Marin and his trio of priest/spies had returned to the Vatican once the tabloids had scooped Father Radnaezewski. The possibility of gaining any verifiable information once the “circus came to town” (Cardinal Marin’s words), along with the fact that no one had been able to figure out where the mysterious Father Cass was hiding, made staying in Detroit pointless.
Since touching down at Fiumicino Airport in Rome, Paul Marin had been in a vile, less-than-Christian mood. To begin with, Tony Paglia had spent the majority of his time in the states curled up in a quilt, drinking Gatorade and nursing what he claimed was the flu. As far as the Cardinal was concerned, Paglia was a useless pansy-ass, and if he had any input, Father Anthony Paglia would soon be reassigned to a brand new parish, hopefully somewhere in Uganda.
Furthermore, Zemenick and Zolnierczak hadn’t been able to come up with any new information at all, despite being embedded in Radnaezewski’s parish. For God’s sake, the National Secret’s report had more new info than the two of them had been able to gather. He’d find them some challenging new posts too. He had a meeting in the morning with Cardinal Vignola, and Vignola didn’t fool around. He expected results.
Finally, he was starving. He got barely anything to eat on the flight, even though he’d gone to Koz’s and packed four pazcki’s in his carry-on bag. Jesus! he thought, where on earth am I going to get something like a paczki in Italy? They never told me the damn things were addictive!
The following morning at eight, Cardinal Marin sat in Cardinal Vignola’s outer office. The appointment was for eight, and so per his usual habits, Paul Marin had arrived at seven forty-five. Now at twenty minutes past eight, he was still waiting. Most likely this waiting had been staged to instill anxiety or at least uneasiness in the person waiting, and in this case, was clearly successful. Cardinal Damiano Vignola had earned a reputation that was unusual for a priest, much less a cardinal, of the Roman Catholic Church. He was unforgiving, volatile, and quick to punish; in fact, he lived up to the meaning of his given name, Damiano, which loosely translated meant “to tame or subdue”. However, those who knew him had euphemistically changed “tame or subdue” to “KILL.”
Knowing all this, Cardinal Marin’s usual grace in regard to being patient slipped, and tiny beads of perspiration could be seen on his forehead and upper lip. Finally at approximately ten minutes of nine, the Cardinal’s secretary, Father Andrea Colletto stood and ushered him in to the meeting that could result in what might possibly be his last day at the Vatican.
“Buon giorno, Paul. I trust your flight wasn’t too taxing? I know how difficult these trans-Atlantic flights can be on one’s body, which is why I prefer to stay put and send others. Sorry to call you in so early.” He pulled his antique Patek Philippe pocket watch from his voluminous robes, did some mental calculations, and said, “Oh my, I should have taken that into consideration, shouldn’t I? You’re still on United States time, aren’t you? I believe that would be about three a.m. Well, you’re here now, we may as well begin, yes?”
“Of course, yes. Let me show you what I have.” He opened his briefcase and pulled out an array of folders, which he then lined up on the table adjacent to his chair. “Let me begin with my interview with the priest, Father Cass…”
“No.” Cardinal Vignola spat out the word out onto the desk in front of him.
Paul Marin said a silent prayer that he would make it out of the room with at least his priesthood still intact.
Vignola continued, his voice rising with every word. “Your interviews, your observations, your assistant priests-and I use that term very lightly, are sciocchezze, fesserie-garbage, rubbish. Do you understand me?”
Thinking it may be wise to take a conciliatory stance, Paul lowered his head slightly and said, “Your Eminence, all of my files, my interviews, my observations, and conclusions, everything has been double-checked and verified. I am sorry we couldn’t get more. The doctors involved weren’t willing to go out on a limb and claim that the supposed healings were miraculous. That’s good. Really, I think in the long run, if we can sit on this, it will die down and simply go away. We just need to be patient.”
Cardinal Vignola stood and pounded his fist on his desk, shaking the fresh delphiniums floating in a delicate crystal vase, which nearly toppled over, had Paul not had the wherewithal to grab it. “Sempliciotto!!! You want me to be patient? Let it die? You think this will just go away? Have you not read the American newspapers? Those blood-sucking, faggot reporters have dug out more on this ‘miracleman’ in three days than you and your idiot priests have managed to do with all the resources of the Vatican at your disposal. They have reports from nurses and hospital aides and pharmacists and the goddamn wife of one of the idiots who was healed. Not to mention the fact that more of these ‘Blessed Miracles’ have come crawling out of the woodwork and gone running to the press and the radio and the TV stations. Which begs the question, where in the hell were you and your, your, whatever they claimed to be? Were you all at a ballgame? At a tavern? Maybe out visiting family? Or were you too busy feeding your fat face? Was that it, Marin? Because if that was the case, I’m going to have your head in addition to theirs.”
Starting with the word sempliciotto, which in Italian meant simpleton or idiot, Paul Marin’s blood pressure began to rise. By the time the verbal attack had finished, he could feel the rushing of his blood in every part of his body. It was as if tiny gremlins were hiding behind his eyeballs and with every beat of his heart, they slammed the back of his eyes with tiny mallets in time with each beat. He took one long, deep breath and as he exhaled, he spoke. “If you are unhappy with my work, I will accept whatever decision you come to, as you are my superior in this office. However, I refuse to stand here and take this abuse when you have not even taken the time to read my report.”
He breathed in deeply again, closed his eyes for a moment as he said a silent prayer, and then continued. “My findings are in my report, which I will leave for your inspection. I am in dire need of a good night’s sleep. Good day and may God bless
you, Cardinal.” He turned away from Vignola and took a step toward the door.
“I did not give you leave to go. We are not finished here. Sit.”
Turning around, Paul Marin went back to the chair in front of Cardinal Vignola’s desk, sat down, and waited.
He did not wait long. Vignola was not one for playing games. “I interviewed your companions two hours ago. All three of them, worse than sempliciotto! They will be lucky to find themselves reading the gospel to naked pagans with no knowledge of the English language. Ridicolo! Educated men without common knowledge – how is this possible?”
“Exactly!” Marin saw his chance for redemption and grabbed hold with both hands. “You can see how I had nothing to work with in these priests, Your Eminence. They were incompetent from the beginning…”
However, Vignola wasn’t buying. “They were and are irrelevant. If you had only listened, if you had only paid attention, you would have seen and understood. Your investigation could have been over in a matter of days. We have all the information we need, Paul. Do you still not see? Think, go over it in your mind. Examine it again. What do you see? Take your time. I don’t mind waiting.” He got up out of his chair and walked out of the room.
Sitting alone in the office of the one and only Cardinal Damiano Vignola, the man who held all the answers and the keys, so to speak, to the Holy See of the Vatican, Cardinal Paul Marin was stunned. What had he missed in his investigation that Vignola had obviously seen? Was it in the reports of the American papers? Could it have been something that Zemenick, Paglia, or Zolnierczak had told him? Unlikely, since they had been about as useful as fertilizer in a weed garden. He hadn’t even read Paul’s own files yet, so it wasn’t in there, yet he expected Paul to know what it was. What was he missing?
He carefully went over every interview in his mind: the doctors, Mrs. Cleary, Joe at the bakery and little Amanda, even Tiffany Fennell at the hotel. Then he went over the information, little that there was, gathered from the priests. There was nothing, wait a minute, that was it; the interview with Father Cass, himself. He had asked him if he was the Son of God and he’d said “No,” yet there were indeed signs of miraculous healings. If these healings were not coming from God, through Jesus Christ, well then, oh my God! How on earth did I miss this?
For a man of Paul Marin’s girth, to say that he leaped out of the chair is really extraordinary, but that is just what he did, he leaped out of his chair and by the time his hand touched the doorknob, Cardinal Damiano Vignola was opening it from the other side. Had it not been for the fact that Paul Marin was ironically graceful for his size, enabling him to do a half-turn, allowing the cardinal to enter, they both would have collapsed in a heap on the floor.
They spoke at the same time.
“He’s the antichrist!”
“Have you come up with an answer?”
Cardinal Vignola took control. “So you see now? How did you miss it before?”
“To be honest, I think I was so focused on disproving the miracles, it never occurred to me that perhaps they were real and the problem might be their origin.”
“And you do see it as a problem?”
“Of course. He said outright to my face that he is not the Son of God. If he is not and no one has claimed that he is doing these healings through our Lord Jesus Christ, then there is only one possible explanation. He must be, he can only be-the antichrist.”
“Agreed. And you know what must be done?”
“Yes, Your Eminence.”
“Alert the council. We will meet at the appointed place at twenty-three hundred hours. No exceptions.”
“Thank you, Your Eminence. God bless you.”
“And you, my son.”
Cardinal Paul Marin, faith in himself restored, exited Cardinal Vignola’s office with the vigor and excitement of a man on a quest. He strode with confidence down the gilded halls of the Vatican with conviction and a certainty that he carried with him the grace of God. For wouldn’t God bless the one man among all others who had managed to identify the Pretender, the Evil One, the antichrist? And more importantly wouldn’t He bless him in more ways than could be counted when that man were part of the council that found and destroyed him for all time? Perhaps this could be his first step on the road to that most holy of places, the Papal Throne. He felt his cheeks flush and his eyes fill with joyful tears. His heart swelled and though somewhere in the far reaches of his mind, he was aware of the sin of pride, it was too far afield to be remembered and he glowed in the vision he held of himself in the white and gold robes of the papacy. So overcome with this vision he failed to watch where he was going and collided with a priest coming from the opposite direction.
“Oh! Your Grace, I apologize. I’m so sorry. Are you quite all right?”
Cardinal Marin, feeling quite beneficent, smiled and patted the young man on the shoulder and said, “Think nothing of it, my son. No harm done. God bless you.” He then continued on in that dreamlike state for the remainder of the day.
After Cardinal Vignola had at least temporarily disposed of Paul Marin, he called his secretary, Father Andrea Colletto into his office. Father Colletto had been Cardinal Vignola’s secretary since he had first come to work at the Office of the Holy See, and their relationship was built on a mutual trust that had been built over a number of years.
Father Colletto had been born in Trenton, New Jersey on April 7, 1981. He was raised by his father, as his mother died while she gave birth to him. Andy, as he was called, was an unusual child compared to the children he grew up around, particularly since he was motherless. He never got into trouble, he loved going to church and he seemed to bring out the best in people. The neighborhood he lived in voted one way or the other; Andy would either be a cop or a priest, the odds were fifty/fifty. Half of them were right. On May 11th, 2003 with a BA in library Sciences and a BS in forensic science, Andrea Colletto became a priest in the Roman Catholic Church.
His father, Tony, held the biggest party Joe’s Mill Hill Saloon had ever seen. By the end of the evening, the running joke was that Joe’s may still have beer, but Tony was probably going to have to mortgage his house. It probably wasn’t the most appropriate way to celebrate becoming one of God’s shepherds, but as the newly appointed shepherd, Father Andy himself said toward the end of the evening, “I hope you all know that you’ll be expected at confession before next Sunday’s mass!”
Father Colletto’s first assignment was to St. Mary of the Assumption parish in Trenton. While there, as low man on the totem pole, his job was to celebrate Mass at 6:30 a.m. and again at 8:00 a.m. He was also tasked with teaching catechism to first and second graders. All in all not a bad gig, but with the kind of intellectual curiosity that Andy had been given, the job was lacking. Nevertheless he had agreed to do the Lord’s work, and if that meant saying mass for eleven or twelve people at six thirty in the morning and then eighteen or twenty again at eight o’clock, then that’s what he would do. He did find satisfaction in the insatiable curiosity of the first and second graders and he would always enjoy giving the sacrament of confession. He took his job as a priest very seriously, and if he could help someone seek forgiveness and peace, by allowing them to confess their sins to him, then he was certainly up to the challenge. If this were to be his lot in life as a priest, then he would be grateful and praise God for his blessings.
However that was not to be. One of Father Colletto’s favorite professors at seminary, Monsignor Agostini, could not forget this particular student. Andrea Colletto had made a distinct and lasting impression on the monsignor for many reasons. In addition to his intelligence and unending quest and desire to learn, was his desire to know and love God. The monsignor had seen this in very few of his students in his nearly fifty-five years of teaching, so when he did find it, he did not want it wasted, so he did not forget it. Subsequently after a good bit of maneuvering, five months after Father Andrea Colletto had been installed as the lowest man on the priestly totem pole at St. Mary of the Assumption in Trenton, he was reassigned to the Vatican as Assistant to the Chief Librarian of the Vatican Library. He was given three days to pack and get his affairs in order. He was expected in Rome on October 18.
Monsignor Denis Barret had been the chief librarian of the Vatican Library for thirty-one years and he treated it not only as if it were his child, but as if it were his only child who was possibly sick and in danger of being kidnapped. In other words the Vatican Library could not have been in better hands. Monsignor Barret was by birth a Frenchman, and in addition to French was also fluent in English, Italian, Greek, Latin, Spanish, Japanese, and could read ancient Aramaic. It would be an understatement to say that he was a very educated man. He was also a collector of ancient erotica. He did not see this as contrary to his life as a cleric. Since the erotica was ancient, it was considered art, and therefore in his mind could not be considered obscene in any way. Although it was telling that he kept his collection under lock and key.
Father Colletto and Monsignor Barret found in each other a missing piece of themselves. Finally someone understood their need to search for answers, to look further, to investigate. At times it was as if they didn’t need to speak to each other at all, because they somehow vibrated on the same wavelength. Father Colletto was a quick student and had easily mastered the two years required study of the Italian language in seminary. With Monsignor Barret, he found himself easily conversing in no time at all. For ‘fun’ the monsignor reawakened Andrea’s high school French, and soon they were conversing in three languages, English, Italian, and French. In Father Colletto, Monsignor Barret had finally found an “adoptive parent” for his cherished library.
Their work together was prolific and unending, sometimes they worked round the clock, searching for forgotten volumes, unearthing ancient tomes. But old adages become well known because they are true. No good deed goes unpunished. Word became known far and wide throughout the Vatican in every hall and corner of Father Colletto and his work ethic, his dedication and, better still, his skill and talent. It wasn’t long before word came from on high. Thirteen years, four months and six days to be exact. Cardinal Damiano Vignola requested the honor of Father Colletto’s presence in his office. The fact was, it wasn’t really a request. It was a transfer, from the Vatican Library to the outer office of Cardinal Vignola’s red chair. He had been there ever since.
Father Colletto entered the cardinal’s office with his clipboard in his hand as he usually did. “You wanted to talk to me, Your Eminence?”
“Yes, Andrea. Please sit.”
“Thank you, Eminence.”
“You won’t need your clipboard. Write nothing down. The council will be meeting tonight. I need you to make excuses for me. Cancel my appointments for
the rest of the day. I need to prepare.”
“Yes, Your Eminence. I understand.”
“Do you, Andrea? Do you?”
“I understand only what you tell me, Eminence.”
“And what is that?”
“I will cancel all your appointments and make excuses for you.”
“Very good. You may go now.”
“Thank you, Your Eminence.”