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					THE VATICAN CONSPIRACY
by Jonathan Cross

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THE VATICAN CONSPIRACY A Novel by Jonathan Cross

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CHAPTER 1

THE VATICAN

Pope Francis lithely entered into the small chapel next to his private quarters. The dark chapel was dimly lit by a row of flickering votive candles that cast a soothing splay of shadows across the ancient altar. The Pope knelt his thin, angular body before it; his white cassock cascaded across the red, soft cushion. He gently entwined the ebony rosary beads between his fingers, crossed himself in the supplicant tradition, and kissed the crucifix as he closed his eyes and began to recite out-loud the Five Holy Mysteries of the Rosary. His nightly reverie, before bed, calmed him and connected his soul to the sublime obedience of God. During these moments of prayer, he put the chaos of his Office into perspective: the business of running the Vatican, the spiritual responsibility of guiding over one-billion Catholics in the area of faith and morals. This was his time to commune with his own spirituality, to harmonize his soul with the peace of his Father in Heaven. He rolled the rosary beads, one by one, through his fingers as he chanted the Ave Maria. His voice rose into a cadence of a Gregorian chant, the beauty of the alliterated ancient Latin echoed through the chapel like a spiritual sonnet. As he prayed, a soft, almost imperceptible light began to invade the small shadowy chapel. Oblivious, he continued his chanting recital of the rosary until the light brightened into an intrusive force, causing his eyes to open. Startled, he watched with curious astonishment as a purple mist emanated from the Tabernacle on the altar where the Holy Eucharist was kept. A singular focus began to take shape within the mist – a presence with form and face. An indescribable harmonic rhythm pulsated from an

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iridescent, glowing white and purple translucent form, which floated above the altar and then started moving toward him. His heart pounded with both fear and excitement as the ethereal presence shimmered before him. The apparition raised, what appeared to be, a filmy form of an arm that began to roll toward him like a slow moving ocean wave; it pointed a milky white semblance of a finger directly at his chest and then smoothly entered into Francis’ heart. Transfixed by the face of the purple presence, which seemed neither male nor female, froze his body, mind and spirit into an eternal moment of ecstasy. No words, only the rhythmic pulsing. He saw what he thought to be a smile forming on the face of the unworldly presence, his being filled with a soothing, warm liquid-like feeling as four names were imprinted into his mind.

Throngs of tourists spread out over St. Peter’s Square like a living quilt. The late morning sun broke through a bank of gray clouds, and rays of sun spotlighted the hills of Rome. Alfredo, the Pope’s personal secretary, knocked once and then entered the Pope’s private office. “Your Holiness,” Alfredo said, dipping his head in a gesture of respect, “you’ve got a full schedule today. By the way,” his voice rising slightly, “I should warn you that Cardinal Berini is on the warpath again. I heard him shouting up and down the halls that the American Bishops were trying to rewrite Church Doctrine again.” Ignoring Alfredo’s concerned warning, “Sit down, Alfredo,” the Pope said, removing his glasses and motioning him toward a chair next to his desk, “I want to talk to you.” The Pope’s usually robust and eager mood, to which Alfredo had become accustomed, was strangely absent. “ Is His Holiness feeling well?” he asked with genuine concern, as he sat down. “We are fine, Alfredo.” The Pope paused and looked out the window, which was

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slightly ajar, at two white doves sitting on the ledge, cooing. “I have a special request. A quiet assignment, Alfredo. Do you know what I mean?” Francis spoke softly as he studied Alfredo. Alfredo didn’t. For centuries, the word WE was always used instead of I when referring to the Papacy. After serving three Popes, the use of the word I threw Alfredo momentarily, but then he quickly reminded himself that this was the first American Pope in history, and more importantly the first one of Jewish decent, except for maybe the first few of course. So, if tradition were to be broken it seemed only fitting for Francis, the First, to do it. But Alfredo was puzzled. During the last eight years the Pope had never broken with any Vatican tradition. Why today? “Is it serious, Your Holiness?” Alfredo asked, as deep furrows formed on his brow. “No, no. Just personal,” he said, shaking his head. “Family?” “No, Alfredo. A personal favor. Nothing to do with family or Church business.” “Whatever Your Holiness wishes.” Alfredo nodded. “I want you to do this as...as a friend,” Francis said not quite sure how to ask. “You have served several Popes, and your loyalty has been unique. I know you’ll maintain the trust I place in you.” Alfredo began to feel uneasy. “Of course, Your Holiness.” “I know how difficult your assignment has been, considering everything.” Alfredo shrugged in a non-committal way. Francis began to pace. “The Church has become the order of men, instead of the order of God.” “Your Holiness,” Alfredo said, sounding like a professor, “Politics has always been part of the history and doctrine of the Church.”

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“You’re right, of course.” “Your request, Holy Father?” “Ah, yes. Thank you, Alfredo.” The Pope pulled a notepad from his drawer, tore off a page and handed it to Alfredo. “Do you know these four names?” Alfredo studied them for a minute. “A couple of them look familiar, but I can’t be sure.” He started to hand the page back. “No, keep it. I want you to find out who these men are, or if they even exist.” The last words startled Alfredo. “You don’t know them then, Your Eminence?” “See what you can find out. Quietly, Alfredo.” “Yes, Your Holiness. I will be discreet.” “Thank you,” Francis sighed. “Now, for today’s agenda,” he said more upbeat. “Your first Audience is with a group of young Jesuit Priests from Venice. After that...” As Alfredo read off the day’s business, the Pontiff’s mind drifted off into the strange event of the night before. After experiencing a visitation, worthy only of the mystic saints, he should have felt exhilarated, consumed in a state of reverie. Instead, his mind reeled in confusion, and his heart ached with a foreboding feeling. When Alfredo left, Francis dressed to meet the young Jesuits. The Audience began as usual. Each priest was introduced, then knelt in the ritual show of obedience to the Vicar of Christ, and kissed the Ring that represented the power and majesty of the Papal Office. One by one they followed; Francis gave them each, in turn, the Papal Blessing, that was, until he heard the name “Father Antonio Salvi” -- the first name that had been imprinted by the strange apparition. The young Jesuit knelt before him. Francis’ heart quickened. “How long have you been a priest, my son?” Antonio was startled, visiting priests were spoken to only as a group, never individually. He couldn’t help but look up into the eyes of the Pontiff. “Five years, Your Holiness,” he words sputtered out.

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“I see... Well, may God bless you in your chosen mission,” Francis said. The word ‘mission’ instantly rang like a bell in his mind, and immediately realized that the apparition had come to deliver a Divine Mission, in which, somehow, this young priest was to play an important role. Francis gave him the Papal Blessing while making the Sign of the Cross over his head. When the Audience ended, Francis quickly asked one of the prelates how long the group would be visiting the Vatican. “Most of the day, Your Holiness,” he responded. “We’re giving them a complete tour, and then Cardinal Berini has insisted on giving them a private mass.” Francis knew it would be more a liturgical lecture than a Pastoral message. “Find Father Alfredo immediately, and have him come to my office.” The prelate nodded and moved away swiftly.

Eight years before, when the College of Cardinals had elected him Pope, Cardinal, Joseph McCully, had taken the name of Francis, the First, out of respect for St. Francis, the Founder of his order, the Franciscans. He had been the last Cardinal appointed just prior to the previous Pope’s death. The chance of him being a potential Successor was unimaginable. Not only because he had been newly appointed, but primarily because he was an American Cardinal, and the mood in the Vatican was to return the Papacy to an Italian. Cardinal Berini was the most obvious choice; he had lobbied, subtly and not so subtly, the most influential Cardinals. However, after the white smoke rose from the chimney announcing the election of a new Pope, the word spread like wild fire through the mass of people, who had been waiting patiently in the Square, that the newly elected Pope was an unknown American Cardinal; the mostly Italian crowd stared at each other in disbelief. Later, when the other Cardinals were asked by Berini concerning the voting, ironically, almost all of them were fuzzy about the actual voting. The next day the Italian

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newspapers ran bold headlines declaring the end of the Catholic Church as the world knew it. Cardinal Berini was furious, and made it known to everyone, including the new Pope. When it was later discovered that Pope Francis was not only a recently appointed American Cardinal, but that he was of Jewish decent who had been adopted by Catholic parents: the Lira dropped, the Italian Stock Market almost collapsed; and Cardinal Berini actually had a mild heart attack. But during the intervening years, Pope Francis, the First, had become one of the most effective spiritual spokesmen of the last century. It was he who had found the solution to the Balkan crisis, and personally mediated a comprehensive peace agreement, which amazingly enough had held, and in spite of the skepticism had been getting stronger over the last five years. Pope Francis, with his magnetic personality and his inclusive religious pronouncements, had inspired and activated a dormant spiritual power within the individual, regardless of their religious Faith. In the beginning, many had called him the Anti-Christ, but now most of his detractors fell silent. He had proven himself as a true religious leader, that is, except, to Berini who yearned for the good-old days of the Infallible Papacy.

Pope Francis paced in a circle studying the names he had written down. The first name was Antonio Salvi. He had written the names down immediately after the visitation in the exact order that they had appeared in his mind. He believed the names were given to him in a certain order for a specific reason. But what was the reason? Perhaps, after talking with Father Salvi he would have a better idea as to the significance of the order of the names. After the customary knock, Father Alfredo walked, exuberantly, into the room. “Your Holiness…”

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“Ah, Alfredo.” Francis interrupted him with his own excitement. “I have met the first name on the list. He’s a young Jesuit from Venice. He was part of the Audience this morning. I want you to find him and bring him here, quickly and quietly, Alfredo. I do not want anyone to know of this meeting, especially, Berini.” “I will bring him immediately, Holy Father. Also, I believe I know two of the other names on the list,” Alfredo said, sharing the Pope’s excitement. “Good. Who are they?” “If I’m right...” he paused for minute and then frowned. “Holy Father, you may not like the man who belongs to this name. He is Angelo Gallucci, Capo di Capo of the Italian Mafia. He possess the name of an angel, but he does the work of the devil,” Alfredo said, crossing himself. Francis offered no outward reaction. “He’s the third name on the list, Alfredo.” “Yes, Holy Father. I thought you would like to know about him first. The second name on the list is Alexander Artemis, a United States Senator. His picture, conveniently enough, was all over the front pages of the morning papers. He’s the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and is due to be here in Rome in a few weeks for a scheduled meeting with the NATO countries. With all the talk of NATO breaking up, the speculation is that he’s bound to be a central figure in the debate.” “Has he taken a position?” “He’s a politician, Holy Father,” Alfredo said, screwing his face into a wry grin. “Anything else about him?” “Just gossip.” “Come, come Alfredo,” Francis said impatiently “The article said that he might not seek re-election. It seems that his daughter died under questionable circumstances, and he might have had the real cause of her death covered up. But, this is only suspicion, rumor, nothing more. The source is attributed to his political opponent.” Alfredo shrugged his shoulders. “You know politicians, Holy

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Father, who can be sure.” The words, ‘death of his daughter’, echoed in Francis’ ears like the sound of the Vatican bells. “Anything about when and how his daughter died?” “It was unclear, Holy Father. Maybe a year ago.” “Find Father Salvi, Alfredo.” His voice spiked with urgency. Alfredo nodded and left. Francis walked to the window and watched a flock of pigeons sail across a gray Italian sky, and thought again about the order of the names he had been given. The order had to be important. The rumor of the Senator’s daughter’s death darted through his mind, and suddenly, the warm, liquid-like feeling he had experienced the night before, filled his chest, and the word “Drugs” were etched into his mind. “Ah,” he said, quizzically to himself, “it seems, I am only to be told a little at a time.” Now, at least, he had a direction. His mind immediately turned to Gallucci. What about Gallucci? Devil or Angel?

Within ten minutes, Father Alfredo knocked on the door and entered into the Pope’s private office with the young Jesuit priest in tow. Father Salvi looked like someone who was being brought to the Principal’s office. s Before Alfredo could say a word, the Pope thanked him and raised one eyebrow, which was their private signal for him to leave. The Pope felt it unseemly and demeaning to ask his secretary to leave his Presence when others could hear. Alfredo bowed and exited quickly through the rustic, door of the Papal office. Father Salvi stood with his hands folded in front of him, feeling alone and very uncomfortable before the premiere Eminence of the Roman Catholic Church, to which he had dedicated his life The Pope addressed the young priest in Italian. “Father, you look like the fox who ate the chicken.” “Your Holiness, have I done something wrong?” the young Jesuit asked with a

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great deal of nervousness. “Father Alfredo,” he said, perplexed, “was quite mysterious. We had to wait until the rest of the group moved on, and then we secretly took your private elevator, so that no one would see us coming here.” Francis answered, “I asked Father Alfredo to bring you here, discreetly. A little melodramatic, perhaps... But, please, come over here and sit down.” Father Salvi moved with the obedience of a servant and came over to where the Pope was sitting, knelt down next to him, and started to kiss the Ring. The Pope withdrew his hand. “Once today is enough. Please sit down Father... May I call you Antonio?” he asked. “Of course, Holy Father,” he replied and sat down in an ancient wooden chair. “Antonio,” the Pope began with a smile, “tell me about yourself? By the way, you are not in any trouble.” Antonio relaxed, but only slightly. “Well, Holy Father, I was born in a small town just outside of Palermo...” Ah, Angelo Gallucci the Pope mused. Palermo, Sicily was the command center of the Mafia. “...I had a Calling at an early age. My mother believed it was a good idea to have a priest in the family, so I was encouraged.” “And your father?” “He thought it might be useful someday. You know how Sicilians are.” “You don’t have a Sicilian accent.” “I do when I need it.” “Do you also speak English?” “Very well, Holy Father,” Antonio replied in perfect English. “I also speak five other languages fluently,” Antonio said with pride. “And, if I might say, Holy Father, you speak beautiful Italian.” “For an American?” the Pope quipped in English.

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“Forgive me, Holy Father, I meant no disrespect.” “None taken. Please continue, in English, if you don’t mind?” “I would like that very much, I need the practice. But, there’s not much more to tell, Holy Father. I entered the Seminary at seventeen. I had, let’s say, an aptitude for learning, so they sent me to Venice where I was ordained after ten years, and have been there ever since.” “What were your studies, aside from what was required?” “Political Science, Holy Father.” Again things started to take shape. “Why Political Science?” “You know the Jesuits, they’re into everything.” “So, I’ve been told. But I was referring to why you studied Politics.” “I have had some ambition to work in the Vatican’s Foreign Service. Maybe, even apply for a position in one of the Vatican’s Embassies somewhere.” “I see. And are you going to apply?” “It is a difficult process, Holy Father. So much red tape; so many permissions from so many higher ups. Besides, I think they intend to send me back to Sicily.” “How do you know?” “One of the Monsignors has suggested it.” “Antonio,” the Pope paused and looked intently at the handsome young priest, “is your family Mafioso?” Antonio squirmed. “Holy Father, everyone in Sicily has some family in the Mafia.” “Angelo Gallucci,” the Pope enunciated the name with precise intention. “Holy Father, I have done nothing wrong. And I am proud to be a Sicilian,” Antonio said defensively. “Calm yourself Antonio. It was merely a name. Do you know him?” It wasn’t merely a name.

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“He’s my uncle, Holy Father,” Antonio said quietly and with great trepidation. “He’s a powerful man. Does he want you back in Palermo?” “I don’t know. I haven’t talked to him in many years.” “Do you think the Monsignor’s suggestion was coincidence?” “Not really,” he said fidgeting. The Pope got up and walked over to a wall cabinet and withdrew some papers. “Fill these out. I am sending you on a Papal mission.” He handed the papers to Antonio. As he read the papers he could hardly contain himself. “These papers are assigning me to the Vatican Embassy in Washington, DC.” “I am making you a Special Papal Ambassador-at-large. You will report only to me. I will arrange that no one will question anything you do.” “Holy Father, with all due respect, there will be many questions. What shall I say?” “You will say you are learning to be a politician. We cannot let your studies go in vain.” “Your Holiness, I do not understand any of this. First, your questions scared me, now you give me what I have always dreamed of, but never imagined possible. To go to the United States is more than a dream come true.” Antonio fell to his knees. “I am not worthy of this honor, Holy Father.” Pope Francis picked him up by the shoulders. “None of us are worthy, my son.” Antonio brushed a tear from his eye. “What do you want me to do, Holy Father?” “I don’t know yet. You will remain here in the Vatican. Father Alfredo will make the arrangements. Tomorrow you will have your Diplomatic Passport. You are to talk to no one. You’re to answer no questions. Not even to your family. From now on you will make contact with no one without my consent. I assume you take your vow of Obedience seriously,” The Pope said, raising an eyebrow. “I do Holy Father.”

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“Good. Then you will leave for Washington day after tomorrow.” “What should I do when I get there?” “Before you leave I will tell you.” The Pope had no better answer. He only hoped that he would have something to tell him.

CHAPTER 2

WASHINGTON, DC

Senator Alexander Artemis held one of the most powerful positions in Congress. As Chairman of the Armed Services Committee he controlled the purse strings of the world's most sophisticated Army. An Army designed to protect a Nation; but, in the end, he couldn't even protect the life of his own daughter. His eyes flooded with tears as he held the framed photograph of his daughter's high school graduation picture. How beautiful she was. How young. How much he loved her. And now that love was turning him inside-out with hate and guilt. He had become morose and irritable, the least little thing set him off. His colleagues tiptoed around him. He had never been late for a committee meeting, but now it had become a continual pattern. His work in Congress had seemed so unimportant now. He was in the throes of a deep depression, but refused to acknowledge it. Now his wife was threatening to leave him. He felt lost in a world of confusion; life no longer held any meaning for him. What happened? What had gone wrong? What had he done wrong? Why couldn't he have stopped it? He had now excluded everyone from his life, except the memory of his daughter

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and the ones who were responsible for her death. A harsh knock on the door interrupted his emotions. He dabbed at his eyes with a handkerchief. "Come in," he called out. His Chief of Staff, Walter Baker, walked into the office. "Senator, it's almost time for your committee meeting." "I'll be ready in a minute," he said shuffling some unimportant papers. "Senator, is everything all right?" Walter asked. Alexander Artemis wanted to scream at the top of his lungs and keep on screaming, No! No! No!…”Walt, I said I'd be ready," he snapped. Walter Baker just stood there and finally said, "Senator, we have a few minutes. Can I speak with you?" "Not now Walt." "I'm considering resigning," he said flatly. "Oh, for Christ sakes, not you too Walter!” he said as a wave of despair washed over him. “First, my wife, and now you. After everything that's happened..." His words trailed off. "Alex," Walter said, sitting down his huge, six foot-four frame, "we can't stand by and watch you ruin yourself and throw away a lifetime of accomplishment." "So, the answer is to run away?" "That's exactly what you're doing,” Walter said frustrated. “Running away as fast as you can. Marian feels if she leaves you, that you might come to your senses and get some help. And, frankly, so do I." The Senator turned his back and stared out of the window. He wished he could stop the pain, and the anger. "There's talk they're going to vote you out of your Chairmanship." "Fuck'em!" Artemis swung around, his face contorted in a twisted rage. "Let'em try. I'll step on'em like ants!"

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"That's the point, Alex. We're all just a bunch of ants to you." Walter threw a folder on the Senator's desk. "I think you can handle this meeting by yourself." Walter Baker turned and stomped out of the office. Alexander Artemis dropped to his knees and cried out from the bottom of his soul, "God, please help me!" At that instant, the intercom came on, "Senator, there's a Father Antonio Salvi on the line. Should I take a message?" Father Antonio Salvi had arrived at the Vatican Embassy the night before. For the first time in his life he felt important. Just a few days before, he was dreading the thought of returning to Palermo and leading the life of a Parish priest. Not that it was an unimportant job, but he loved learning, and he loved Venice. He wanted to make a difference, contribute something to the Church, something that would be of value. And now, the Holy Father had made it possible. Antonio thought about his flight from Rome. The Pontiff had insisted that he fly 'First Class'. He felt as though he were being treated like royalty. The Embassy had sent a black limousine to pick him up at the airport, and the Bishop, himself, greeted him. Antonio quickly reminded himself that Pride was a sin. Tomorrow he would go to Confession. But then, looking around at the beautiful quarters he had been given in the Embassy, he said to himself, "For tonight, I will relish the feelings, after all, it is only a venial sin." Before leaving the Vatican, he had one last meeting with the Pope. He was told to meet with a United States Senator by the name of Alexander Artemis and to give him a message: ‘Pope Francis is ready to help you with your mission.’ He was then told never to repeat the message to anyone, except to the Senator, which made Antonio believe that the Holy Father and the Senator must be working together on something very important.

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What Antonio couldn't figure out, however, was why the Pontiff had sent him. The only other thing that the Pope had requested was to report the Senator's response to him immediately. The following morning he called the Senator's office and was given an appointment for that very afternoon. Having had experience at trying to get appointments with higher-ups in the Church, Antonio was surprised at the ease in which he was able to secure an immediate appointment with such an important man. And that confused Antonio all the more, because he had not mentioned the Pope's name or the purpose of his visit. Perhaps, the Pope had called the Senator and told him he was coming. But, if he had called him, then why hadn't the Pope simply given the message to the Senator himself? A tiny fear crept into Antonio's mind. After delivering the message, would the Pontiff order him to return to Venice, and then to Palermo? Somehow, he vowed to himself, he had to make himself a part of this mission. He would not go back without doing everything he could to stay. And then he remembered what the Pontiff had asked him: "Do you take your vow of Obedience seriously". Antonio knew he had no choice in the matter. But, he decided that he would not go easily. Tonight, he would send a powerful prayer to God.

Antonio had been instructed by the Pope not to tell anyone what he was doing or where he was going, so he took a taxi to the Senator's office. No one at the Embassy had asked any questions, including the Bishop, who had been most cordial to him. Antonio figured the Pope had made things clear to everyone. He only wished that the Pope had made things clear to him. But he was not complaining, he was glad to be here. And whatever will be, will be. Father Antonio Salvi walked proudly into the Senator's office and presented himself to a very polite elderly woman, who promptly spoke into the intercom and

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announced that he, Father Antonio Salvi, had arrived. "Send him in, Mildred," the reply came back. Antonio straightened his jacket, adjusted his white collar and walked into the Senator's office. The Senator was seated behind an enormous desk with folders placed in neat stacks across the front of it. "What can I do for you, Father…?" "Father Antonio Salvi,” he stated. “I have a message from Pope Francis, the First, the Pontiff in Rome." The Senator eyed the young priest who was standing in front of him like a soldier at attention, and then asked, "Who are you?" "I am a Special Ambassador for the Pontiff." Antonio immediately showed him his Diplomatic Passport. "Is this is an official visit?" the Senator asked, not sure what to make of the young priest. "I would say more like a secret visit," Antonio stated, still standing stiff and erect. "A secret visit?" the Senator asked confused. "I was told by the Holy Father not to speak of this visit with anyone. And the message I have been instructed to give you, under my vow of Obedience, I can not repeat to anyone else." "Like our Secrecy Oath?" Artemis asked, trying to understand. "I am not familiar with your Secrecy Oath, Senator," Antonio responded. "Well, let me understand then." The Senator rose slightly in his chair. "You have a secret message from the Pope that can only be delivered to me, is that right?" "That is correct, Senator," Antonio replied. "Father Salvi," the Senator began, "I have never met your Pope. I'm not even a Catholic. It is true that Pope Francis has been of immeasurable help in negotiating the Bosnian/Serb Peace Agreement, and I for one, am very grateful. I have nothing but the

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highest regard for your Pope, but frankly, Father, I'm a bit baffled." "Then you're not working on something important together?" Antonio asked as his eyes flashed confusion. The Senator didn't miss Antonio's reaction. "As I said, I haven't had the pleasure of meeting Pope Francis, but I certainly look forward to such a meeting." Antonio composed himself, and got right to the point. "This is the message, Senator: 'Pope Francis is ready to help you with your mission." "I'm not working on any mission, except the usual Committee agendas. Are you sure I'm the man you want to see?" "Quite sure, Senator. Pope Francis was explicit." Antonio paused for a second not knowing exactly what to say next. "I had assumed that you asked for the Pope's help." Alexander Artemis shifted in his chair, and remembered the coincidence of the phone call at the very moment he was crying out for help. And, in that split second, without thinking, he had agreed to see Father Salvi. He had regretted the decision almost immediately. He concluded he had made such an irrational decision because of his emotional state of mind, and a deep feeling of desperation. Whatever the reason, he had wanted to cancel the meeting, but didn't know how to reach Father Salvi. "I don't know what to say. Father Salvi...I" Father Salvi’s mind drifted off into some unknown place. A single word entered his mind, and he uttered it to the Senator: "Drugs!" The word stabbed hard into the pit of the Senator's stomach. Artemis jumped up from behind his desk and screamed, " Just who in the hell are you?" Normally, an outburst like that would have rattled the young priest. But, for some reason, Father Salvi remained calm. "I'm here to help you, Senator," he said with a soft compassion. The words had an immediate effect. The Senator fell backwards into his chair and started to weep. Father Salvi walked over to the Senator and put his hands on his

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shoulders, and began praying out-loud the only words that Alexander Artemis could hear, "God will help you, Senator." Instantly, the weeping turned into a sobbing wail that Alexander Artemis could not stop. To Antonio, Alexander Artemis was no longer a Senator, he was now, merely, a penitent in need, and he would not attempt to stop the painful sobbing. Crying was the only prayer that Alexander Artemis knew how to pray. The young Jesuit walked behind the Senator and put his hands on his shoulders and prayed. Antonio had no idea how long he prayed as he held the sobbing Artemis. Time was irrelevant. Finally, the sobs began to subside as Artemis slowly began to regain his composure. “I’ve lost everything, Father.” His voice was shaky and hoarse from the deep, gut wrenching experience. "My wife, my friends, probably my career; but most of all the love of my daughter." "Love can never be lost, Senator," Antonio intoned quietly, walking around to the front of the desk. "My daughter is dead. Killed by filthy drugs," he said, screeching the words. "You felt ashamed, and you covered it up. Didn't you, Senator?" Antonio had no idea where the words were coming from. He spoke them as they formed in his mind. The words stunned the Senator. Anger began to boil within him as he glared at the man who had just prayed over him, but now said the most despicable thing imaginable. "If you weren't a priest I'd hit you for saying that." "If I weren't a priest, I wouldn't have said it." "You think that collar allows you to say something like that to me?" he spit out the words. "Senator, there's an old saying, ‘The truth will set you free’." "You give me religious clichés!" the Senator's eyes steeled at Antonio. "I think

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you'd better leave." "And I think you'd better face yourself." Antonio was startled by his own willingness to engage this powerful man. "You asked me earlier who I was. I ask you, now, who are you? A man? A father? Or a Senator?" "What are you driving at?" he said, still captured within his anger. "A father is never ashamed of his child." "I did it to save her reputation. Can't you understand?" "Help me to understand, Senator Artemis. Help me to understand why your soul aches, and yet, you do nothing about it. You cry like a child. Do you think your Father in Heaven is ashamed of you?" "Then why did God do this to me?" "You blame God, Senator?" "Why did God let this happen to my daughter? She was beautiful. She never hurt anyone." "Senator, there is an evil in the world. It is called 'Drugs'. It was drugs that killed your daughter, and the men who sell them to children for profit." Antonio paused and then said, "Pope Francis has sent me here to help you with your mission." "What mission?" "The elimination of drugs from the face of the earth." The words were now just spilling out. "You're a powerful man, Senator. It is a mission worthy of your daughter. And Pope Francis is ready to help you with your mission." The words penetrated deep into his being. Alexander Artemis could feel the waves of emotion beginning to release within him. He looked into Father Salvi's eyes, "It is a mission worthy of my daughter," he said softly. "Worthy of all children, Senator. Your daughter was a victim, like so many thousands of other children who have been the victims of drugs. Let us cry Senator, for all the children, and the parents who have lost, as you have, their precious child."

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Artemis thought for a long time before speaking. "A war on drugs!" he said vehemently, pounding the top of his desk. "No, Senator. Not a war. There have been too many wars." "Father, I appreciate your sentiment, but forgive me for saying, you're young and naive. We have already spent billions of dollars trying to stop the drug trade. The more drug dealers we capture, the more take their place. They have armies, Father. They have money and guns. They control the people through terror; they corrupt the politicians, even Presidents of countries. No, Father, if we are to stop the drug trade we must have an all-out war. Call it a 'Holy War' if you like, but nonetheless, a war!" "Senator, there is much about me you do not know. It is true that I am young, but far from naive. And neither is the Pontiff." "Preaching is not going to get the job done." "I do not believe preaching is what the Holy Father has in mind. He sent me here to give you his message. You! Senator. Why he selected you, I don't know. But he was very clear that this message was to be given only to you." "What do you suggest then?" Artemis said softening his tone. "I will speak with the Holy Father. Maybe he has some ideas. Can we meet again, Senator?" "Of course, anytime." Artemis managed a smile. "In the meantime, I will consider other ideas, besides a war." Artemis wanted to say something more, but didn't know how, so he just sat there feeling helpless. "Is there something you want to ask, Senator?" Antonio inquired. "I want to say thank you, but under the circumstances it doesn't seem adequate... It's been a long time, Father, since I thought about God... My parents were Greek Orthodox, they did their best to raise me in the Church, but I always thought I knew better than the priests. I guess, maybe, I was wrong." "Priests, too, can be wrong, Senator. Only God is right. May I suggest a prayer

23 J.Cross/Artemis

now and then," Antonio said with a smile.

Antonio reported to Pope Francis when he returned to the Embassy, doing his best to describe his meeting in detail, especially, the Senator's frame of mind. "Did the Senator explain to you the circumstances surrounding his daughter's death?" the Pope asked when Antonio finished. "No, Holy Father. It didn't seem like the right time to pry. He was hurting, Your Holiness," Antonio replied compassionately. "I understand, my son. But when you meet with him again, Antonio, it is imperative that we find out." "I will do my best, Holy Father." Antonio paused and then said, "I've been having strange thoughts." "What kind of thoughts, Antonio?" "When I was speaking with the Senator, the word 'Drugs' just appeared in my mind. And later, when I left the Senator's office, the words ‘Cautious. Be cautious, Antonio,’ came to me. What does it mean, Holy Father? Why am I here?" Pope Francis could feel Antonio's fear and confusion. "The Angel of the Lord will protect you, Antonio. This mission has just begun. Much will be asked of us. It will take courage, but we have been chosen." Antonio assumed the we referred to the Papal we. "I will meet again with the Senator, and find out what you have requested, Holy Father." Pope Francis wanted to repeat the same words that Antonio had been given, "Be cautious", but thought better of it. Instead, he said, "Antonio, remember what I said to you, 'The Angel of the Lord will protect you'." "Yes, Your Holiness, I will remember." Antonio hung up the phone, and suddenly started shaking. He dropped to his knees and prayed. "Oh, God, in my foolishness and pride, I asked you to let me be a part

24 J.Cross/Artemis

of this mission. I am only a simple priest. I am not trained to talk with powerful men. The Holy Father has put his trust in me, but I am fearful he has chosen the wrong man. And then suddenly he heard the voice of Pope Francis as clearly as if he were standing next to him, "I will always be with you."

THE SENATOR’S OFFICE

The next day Alexander Artemis convened a meeting with his entire staff, including his wife, who had been his Campaign Manager, and whom he considered to be one of the most astute political observers he had ever known. Maybe, that’s why he married her. Maybe, that’s why he stilled loved her after twenty-five years. Before anyone arrived, Alexander went over in his mind the events of the day before.

After his meeting with Father Salvi, he had immediately left his office feeling like a great weight had been lifted from him. He felt like a new man; a man with a purpose. He knew what he had to do. As he drove down the congested Washington Turnpike, he thought of all the ways he could apologize to his wife. What could he tell her that wouldn’t sound like he had completely gone over the edge? If he recounted what had happened during his meeting with the young priest, Marian would never believe it. He could hardly believe it. He then considered for a minute that he had hallucinated the whole thing. No, he could prove that he had a meeting with Father Salvi, his secretary could testify to that fact. Still, he knew that he couldn’t tell his wife everything that had occurred, at least, not for now. However, he had to find a way to explain his apparent transformation. He couldn’t even explain it to himself. All he knew was that he felt strong again. In command, like he was before. No, that was not exactly right, not in command, in search -- In search of a way to make his daughter’s death a victory instead of making her a victim. Father Salvi was right; it

25 J.Cross/Artemis

was a mission worthy of his daughter. The young priest was also right about facing himself; in one sentence the priest had penetrated to the awful truth: he had been more concerned about his reputation than his daughter’s. And that fact, which he had refused to face, had been eating at his insides like a cancer. He then thought about Father Salvi’s phone call at the very moment he had cried out for God’s help, and the cryptic message from a Pope he had never met. And finally, the advice the young priest had given him, “May I suggest a prayer now and then.” And that’s exactly what Alexander Artemis had done before entering his house to face his wife. At first, he sat uncomfortably not knowing how to begin. His wife, Marian, just sat on the sofa staring at him from across the room through her piercing blue eyes, which made him all the more nervous. Finally, he simply said, “I love you.” His wife didn’t move a muscle, nor did her facial expression change. Alexander fidgeted like a high school boy. “I love you,” he repeated, and tears started welling up in his eyes. “You need help, Alex,” she said coldly. “Marian, I need your help,” he said, emphasizing ‘your’. “I’ve done everything I can do.” “I’ll do anything that you ask, if you’ll just listen to me,” Alex pleaded. Marian let out a deep, unenthused sigh. “All right, Alex. I’m listening.” “I know, now, what’s been wrong with me. Why I’ve acted the way I have.” Alex said and walked over and sat down next to his wife. Marian stiffened. “I couldn’t face the truth.” “And what truth is that?” she asked sarcastically. The tears started coming again. “I’m afraid to tell you. I’m afraid you’ll hate me.”

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“I don’t hate you, Alex. I can never hate you. I love you. But, I can’t live with you anymore. You’re destroying yourself, and I will not let you destroy me as well.” Alex dabbed at his eyes. “When Alicia died, I covered everything up. I said it was to save her reputation, but the truth was that I was trying to save my own. My career was more important than my daughter’s death. That’s the awful truth I couldn’t face. And that guilt has been driving me crazy.” “And tell me Alex, how did you come to this awful truth? You think I didn’t know that?” she said with a fiery fierceness. “I needed you to comfort me, to hold me. To mourn together for our daughter.” “I’m sorry, Marian. I’m sorry for all that I have done, and for all that I should have done.” “You still haven’t told me how you came to this remarkable revelation,” she said unconvinced. “I...I saw a priest.” “Alex. You? Saw a priest?” she said disbelieving. “I know you, Alex, you make fun of priests.” Alex wanted to tell her everything, but couldn’t. “It’s true. A Father Salvi from the Vatican Embassy paid me a surprise visit. Something Pope Francis was concerned about.” “What was he concerned about?” she said still skeptical. Alex had to do some real fast thinking. “It was something about the potential break-up of NATO.” “What about it?” she persisted. “I’m the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee. I guess he was looking for some answers. You know he’s very political,” he said trying to make some sense. “Alex, you’re not telling me everything. I can always tell when you’re lying.” “I can’t tell you everything, Marian. At least, not yet. You’ll have to trust me

27 J.Cross/Artemis

about that. But I want you to look into my eyes,” he said staring straight into hers. “I had a long talk with this Father Salvi, he sensed something was wrong...I guess, it’s obvious to everyone.” “Well, Alex, you got that right.” “Please, Marian, this is hard enough.” “I’m sorry, Alex, go ahead.” “All I can tell you is that we prayed together.” Marian started to laugh. Alex gently grabbed both of her arms. “We prayed Marian. I prayed! After, I felt a huge relief...I can’t explain it...a release of my own guilt, I suppose.” Alex squeezed her arms a little tighter. “Now, look in my eyes and tell me I’m lying.” He said as sincerely as he knew how. “You’re serious, aren’t you? You really did talk to this priest,” she said, softening her voice for the first time. Alex pulled her close, and before she knew what was happening, he kissed her as passionately as he had ever kissed her. “I love you,” he said as he released his embrace. Marian just stared at him. Alex felt a slight tremor coming from her body and then he saw the tears forming in the corner of her eyes. “I love you,” he repeated gently, and kissed her softly on the mouth. “I need you. I need to love you. I need to make right all the things that I have done wrong.” Marian was stunned. “Alex...I don’t know...my bags are packed,” she said, caught between emotions.” I was just about to leave...you came home early.” She turned her back to him. Alex turned her around. “I’m back, for real, Marian,” he said and kissed her again. Marian responded with her whole body, and held him tightly. “I’ve cried, I’ve prayed for this, Alex.”

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“From now on we’ll pray together.” Alex brushed a long curl of hair from the side of her face, then took a handkerchief and softly wiped away the tears. They walked upstairs holding hands, and Alex made love to her for the first time in a year. Afterwards, he said, “I feel like a teenager.” Marian just smiled and cuddled in his arms.

Alexander’s office staff, his wife, and Walter Baker, who had come only because Marian had asked him, settled around the room. “I’m waiting for one more person,” Alex said. Everyone looked at each other to see who was missing. No one was. “Who?” Marian asked. She was as surprised as anyone. Alex looked at his watch. “He should be here any minute, Darling.” The words were barely out of his mouth when Father Antonio Salvi walked into the room. “Would you close the door, Father,” Alex said, “and we’ll get started. The shock was obvious on everyone’s face, especially, Marian’s. “I want you all to meet, Father Antonio Salvi,” Alex said enthusiastically. Strained smiles and nods rotated around the room, except for Father Salvi, who was beaming at everyone. “Father Salvi is a Special Ambassador from the Vatican in Rome. It’ll become clear, later, why I’ve invited him.” Alex rubbed two sweaty hands together and began, “To say that I’ve made all of your lives miserable during the past year, including my own, is putting it mildly. First, I want to apologize to everyone, especially to my wife, and to you Walter.” Alex took a step toward him. “You’re not only the best Chief of Staff on the Hill, but you’re my friend. And I’m asking you to forgive me for my behavior. I need you.”

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Walter looked at Marian. She smiled and nodded approvingly. “Have I missed something here, Alex?” Walter said not knowing what else to say. “Apparently, we all have,” Marian said. “What’s been missing here, is Me. Well, I’m back. And I owe it to Father Salvi, my wife, and to you, Walter, for helping me to face myself.” Alex reached out a hand to Walter, who took it, and then gave him a hardy handshake. Still bewildered by the astonishing turn of events, Walter was only able to crack a small smile. Alex then walked behind his desk and stood with his hands on the back of his chair, and looked at everyone – one at a time. “I want everyone here to know the truth about Alicia’s death. I know there have been rumors flying around,” Alex said waving an arm in the air. “But I want you to know the truth, the whole truth.” Alex turned and looked at his wife and flashed her a nervous smile. She returned it with an encouraging one. “It was the night of her graduation,” Alex began, “Alicia and some of her classmates had arranged for a party that night – you know – the kind of party when you’re not sure if you’ll ever see each other again... She looked beautiful...” Alex could feel the emotions rising up inside. “What I am about to tell you is what I’ve pieced together from police reports, other teenagers who attended the party, and from their parents.” Alex paused and shifted behind the chair and began again haltingly, as if trying to remember something from the distant past; but the fact was, his memory was as clear as if it were yesterday:

Alex was sitting on the sofa reading an article in the Washington Times about the First Lady. Marian was snuggled next to him reading the same article over his shoulder. “The First Lady puts her foot in her mouth again,” the caption read. The article went on to state that a Susan Aimes, a Society news reporter, asked her what she thought about the color of the Blue Room, and the First Lady responded, “I don’t know why they don’t paint it

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pink”. Alex started chuckling, and Marian gave him a gentle whack on the shoulder, “She was only joking, Alex. You know how those media hounds are stalking her for one of those one-liners,” she said defensively. “I know, but it’s funny,” Alex lied. “She reminds me of Gerald Ford, always tripping over himself.” “You don’t think it’s funny at all, you think she’s funny,” Marian said and jabbed him in the ribs, which caused Alex to start laughing all the more. “She can’t help herself, and those media vultures keep setting her up,” Marian said disgusted. Alex calmed down. “Sweetheart, you know I like her personally, but you have to admit, sometimes she...” Marian just groaned. “You know you’re a real chauvinist, Alex.” “I know, that’s why you married me,” Alex said and grabbed her trying to kiss her neck. Marian feigned resistance, and soon they were playfully wrestling on the sofa, when... “Is that anyway for an old married couple to act,” Alicia said pretending to sound stern as she came bouncing down the staircase. For an instant, Alex and Marian froze in place, as if they were playing “Simon Says Freeze”. Marian immediately adjusted her clothes and tried patting her hair back into place. “Darling, you look great in that dress,” Marian said not wanting to answer the obvious. “A little tight, don’t you think?” Alex said and winked at his daughter. “Oh, Daddy, I’m eighteen years old now. And, besides, haven’t you heard about boys?” Alicia said knowing exactly how to tease her father. “Yes, I have, and that’s what I’m afraid of,” he responded in a serious tone. “Oh, Alex,” Marian said. “She looks beautiful.” “That’s precisely the point, I...” Alex stopped in mid-sentence, he knew he had

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been sucked in. “Yes, you look absolutely beautiful, Ally,” he said smiling. Whenever he called her Ally, his daughter knew she had succeeded. “You really think so, Daddy?” she said and twirled once around the room. “Almost as beautiful as your mother,” he said. Alex felt that was worth at least one “Gotcha”. “Who’s picking you up?” Marian asked in vain, trying to stop the game. “David is. His father’s loaning him the Buick.” That got a rise out of her father. Alicia knew she was ahead on points. “I don’t know why the two of you play this silly one-up’s-man-ship. You know it usually leads to an argument between the two of you,” Marian said, annoyed at the both of them. “Mom, but it’s fun watching Daddy get so serious.” “Well, I don’t think it’s funny,” Marian said. Alex kept his mouth shut. Staying quiet was the better part of valor. “Don’t be too late, Alicia,” her mother said just as a horn honked from outside. “It’s David. It’s going to be a great party,” she giggled. “Promise, I won’t be too late,” she said half-skipped out of the room toward the front door. “And stay out of that Buick,” Alex yelled after her. “If I do, then I can’t get to the party. Can I? Don’t wait up…Bye.” Those were the last words that they would ever hear from their daughter as the sound of the door slammed shut.

Alexander Artemis trembled inside as the words “Don’t wait up…Bye,” echoed in his mind. It was almost too much for him to continue. Marian walked over to him and rubbed his back lovingly. Several people in the room wiped a tear away. The last year had been hell for their boss, and they all knew why.

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But, for Walter, listening to it now, made him feel guilty and ashamed he had walked out on the one man who had hired and trusted him when he couldn’t even get a job interview on the Hill at the time. Alex sat down in the chair he had been using to steady himself. Marian stood next to him with her hand on his shoulder. “About three in the morning the Police Department called.” Alex started to choke up, but continued, “They said six teenagers were dead from a drug over-dose, and twenty others were hospitalized. Seems, someone had spiked the punch, or whatever they were drinking.” Alex paused to re-collect himself. A complete silence draped over the room. Father Antonio said a silent prayer for the man who was finally beginning to grieve. “I went down to the police station and put a clamp on everything. Of course, everyone cooperated. I asked all the parents to let me handle it; I said it was our children’s reputation that must be protected. They all agreed, including the surviving teenagers. The newspaper reported only that six teenagers had died in an unfortunate automobile accident; the other teenagers were never mentioned. I covered it all up, very neatly. Police records, coroner reports, hospital records; yeah, they all cooperated all right, including the parents.” The words started coming harder now. “Yes, I did care about my daughter’s reputation; but the truth is, at that moment, I cared more about my own reputation and the shame I felt.” Alex just sat there, shaking his head. No one in the room said a word. There were no words to say. “Why don’t we take a five minute break,” Marian said, not feeling very steady herself. “Walter, would you and Father Salvi please stay?” Alex asked. After everyone left, Walter went over and put his huge arms around both Alex and Marian. The three of them had been through thick and thin, and now, to hell and back. As they slowly broke their embrace, Alex glanced over at Father Salvi who had

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been sitting quietly on the sofa. “Oh, Father,” Alex said, “please forgive us, this reunion has been a long time coming.” “On the contrary, I feel very privileged to have witnessed it,” Antonio said warmly. Walter walked over to the priest, “I haven’t introduced myself properly. I’m Walter Baker, Alex’s Chief of Staff. I’m grateful for whatever part you’ve played in bringing Alex back to us.” “Senator Artemis brought himself back,” Antonio replied, matter-of-factly, as they shook hands. Marian chimed in, “This is all so awkward, Father. I, too, am grateful. But...” she continued with a puzzled look on her face, “you’re like a mystery man, appearing, seemingly from out of no where. I have a thousand questions.” Alex interrupted, “Sweetheart, they’ll all be answered,” he said rubbing the small of her back, and then added to himself, “I hope.” Marian and Walter just looked at each other and then at Alex. “Before the staff comes back, there’s something you should know. I’ve decided to run for the Presidency,” Alex stated calmly. Walter and Marian’s mouth dropped open in unison. The shock of hearing Alex’s pronouncement registered on their faces like someone who had just witnessed a train wreak. Marian blurted out before Walter could say the same thing, “Alex, you said, and I quote, ‘If I ever entertain any thoughts about running for the Presidency, please have me committed to an insane asylum’, end of quote.” The incredulity in her voice was obvious. Walter fell backwards onto a wooden framed chair, his huge bulk nearly collapsing it. He put his hands on his head, and his head between his legs, and let out a loud moan, “Marian. Marian,” he said, pleading for help. Marian re-gathered herself. “Walter, now, let’s not jump to any conclusions,” she said after studying her husband’s face. His calm, firm voice and his body language

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conveyed a seriousness that she had seen only once before – the first time he had announced his candidacy for the US Senate. His tone and manner were exactly the same. The possibility scared and excited her all at the same time. She held her husband’s shoulders and stared intently into his eyes, “You can’t be serious?” “Serious as a heart attack,” he said smiling like Cheshire cat. “What’s up, Alex? What’s going on behind those beady, brown eyes?” she prodded. “I’ve been given a mission, Marian,” Alex said changing the tone of his voice so that his words would not be mistaken. “What’s that supposed to mean?” Walter said still in a state of disbelief. “Forgive me, Alex, but are you okay?” Marian promptly came to his defense, “I’ve seen this look before. He’s serious all right, Walter,” she said still holding her husband’s gaze. “I am,” he said to her softly. Marian wrapped her arm around her husband’s arm and then led him to a small sofa and sat him down. “So, what do you want us to do?” she asked; now changing roles from wife to Campaign Manager. “I’m not sure,” Alex said. “Well, you must have thought about it. Do you have a strategy in mind?” “I have a mission,” he repeated enigmatically. Hearing that, Marian sat down next to him. She began feeling confused and worried, and it scared her. Walter came to life, “Alex, do you want to be President, or are you on a mission?” he asked not understanding any of it. “I know one thing, I don’t want to be President,” Alex said, confounding Marian and Walter all the more. “I intend to stop the Drug-Trade. Not only here, but all over the world. I want to save the children. Alicia’s death will not be meaningless,” he said

35 J.Cross/Artemis

emphatically. “Our campaign platform will be a single issue: End the illegal drug-trade on a global scale. Running for the Presidency will give me the perfect forum. The rest, I don’t know,” he said looking quizzically at Father Salvi. Antonio wanted to help, but his vow would not let him repeat the Pope’s message. “Whose idea is this, anyway?” Walter asked. “I don’t really know,” Alex replied honestly. “All I know, is that my life has changed since I met Father Salvi...Maybe,” Alex said addressing the young priest, “you can explain it?” “I’m sorry, Senator, I was only told to deliver the Pope’s message to you. I don’t know anymore than that.” “Did this message,” Walter cut in, “say that the Senator was to stop drugs all over the world?” Alex stepped in. “No, his message was simply that he was ready to support me in my mission.” “This is too weird for words,” Walter said shaking his head. “No!” Marian said with purpose, “Alex is right. The Drug issue must be addressed. And, Alex’s running for the Presidency will give him the perfect forum.” Alex looked at his wife and felt a love for her that was close to ecstatic. He heard the same confident tone in her voice as he did, twenty-five years before, when he had announced his decision to run for the US Senate. And, it was on that day, at that moment, he had fallen completely in love with her. “You’ll have to give up your Senate seat,” Walter said, hoping it would make a difference. “My Senate seat is not important.” Alex cleared his throat and then asked, “Father Salvi, I would like you to join our team, that is, if you are willing?” “I came only to deliver a message, Senator.” “I know, I know,” Alex said, “but Pope Francis’ message said he was ready to

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support me in my mission.” I will ask the Pontiff when I speak with him tonight,” Antonio said, “but he may have other plans for me.” “I’ll call and ask him, myself,” Alex said sharply. “Now, hold on, Alex,” Walter interrupted, “I know you feel grateful to Father Salvi, but this is Politics.” “No, Walter, this is a mission.” There was silence in the room. Marian would have normally echoed Walter’s words, but instead, she stood thoughtfully looking out the window at soft, silky clouds etched into a blue, September sky that overlooked Pennsylvania Avenue. Something was different, she knew it, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. She turned back to Alex, who was waiting patiently, as he usually did, for her advice. She smiled at him, and then asked the young Jesuit, “Father, do you have any political experience?” “I have a Doctorate in Political Science,” he stated proudly. Marian nodded her head; Walter moaned and rubbed the back of his neck; and Alex just smiled. “Well,” Marian said, “I think Father Salvi would make an excellent addition to the team, if he gets permission.” She then asked, “ Father, would you like to be in politics?” “If it’s the Pontiff’s will, I would be privileged to help the Senator with his mission,” Antonio said feeling excited at the prospect. But then said with a note of concern, “Senator, it would be better if I ask the Pontiff myself.” “Alright,” Alex conceded, “but I’m not going to give up easily. If Pope Francis is serious about helping, then I’m sure he’ll agree.” “There are many ways of helping, Senator,” Antonio said.

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Antonio pressed the numbers to the Pontiff’s private telephone, and waited patiently as the overseas numbers clicked into place. He checked his watch it would be ten o’clock at night in Rome. Antonio hoped fervently that Pope Francis was not asleep, or worse, praying. The thought made him feel anxious as he listened to the sound of the phone ringing. Finally, “Si.” The voice sounded tired. “Holy Father, it’s me, Antonio.” “Ah, Antonio, I have been thinking about you.” The Pope’s voice came awake. “I hope it’s not too late for Your Holiness?” he asked nervously. “No, no, my son. I want to hear every detail.” Antonio described, as best he could, his meeting at the Senator’s office. “I see.” Pope Francis said and then went quiet for a moment. “Antonio, I want you to ask the Senator if he knows a man by the name of Michael Brand. If he does, tell the Senator that he must get in touch with him immediately. This man, Michael Brand, will be indispensable to the success of the mission.” The Pope paused again. “And then, Antonio, I want you to catch the next plane back to Rome. Come to the rear of the Vatican, the guards will let you in, use the private elevator and come to my quarters.” Antonio’s heart sank. “What about the Senator and his request,” Antonio asked solemnly. “I have another assignment for you, Antonio.” The Pope had heard the disappointment in Antonio’s voice. “Then we’ll discuss your involvement with the Artemis Campaign,” he said evenly. “Can I ask where I am to go?” “You can not,” the Pope said emphatically. “When you arrive in Rome, you are to come to my quarters immediately, regardless of the time. Understand?” “Yes, Holy Father, I understand,” Antonio replied quietly. Antonio held the phone in his hand long after the line went silent. The day’s

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excitement drained from his body. He tried, however, to take some small solace in the fact that the Pope, actually, hadn’t said no to his working with the Senator. Strangely, without any conscious effort, Antonio’s mind began to flood with questions that cascaded out: What was really going on? Why had he been sworn to secrecy? Why had the Pope wanted him to meet with a man, that even the Pope, himself, did not know? What was the true meaning of this strange message that he had been ordered to deliver, and to such a powerful man at that? And more importantly, why had he been chosen to be the Holy Father’s personal emissary? Antonio carefully replaced the receiver into its cradle, and then suddenly, felt a shiver of fear.

After talking with Antonio, Pope Francis walked slowly into his private chapel. He couldn’t tell Antonio that the Senator had been right when he wanted to call his mission a Holy War. There was going to be much blood shed; both the innocent and the guilty would be slaughtered. He dropped to his knees, clasping the rosary tightly in his hands, and wept bitterly. He then prayed that the end would come swiftly.

Before leaving for the airport, Antonio placed a call to Senator Artemis. “Senator,” Antonio began, “I have spoken with the Pontiff, and I am to return to the Vatican immediately. He has another assignment for me.” “Did you explain to the Pope that I need your help?” the Senator asked vigorously. “Yes, Senator, I did. He also instructed me to ask you if you know a man by the name of Michael Brand?” Alex thought for a moment, trying to place the name. “Yes. I met him once, about two years ago. He’s a political consultant. But, tell me, Father, how does the Pope know such a man like this?”

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“I don’t think he does, Senator. But he said that this man would be indispensable to your mission.” “I’ll call him,” Alex said reluctantly. “The Holy Father said it was urgent,” Antonio said emphasizing the Pope’s wishes. “I’ll call him right after I hang up. Okay? Now, what about you helping me?” “The Pope said we would discuss it after my next assignment.” “I’ll call him,” Alex said adamantly. “Please, Senator, do not call him,” Antonio pleaded. “I’ll be in touch with you after I complete my new assignment.” “I told you, I’m not going to give up easily.” “Thank you, Senator, but if it’s meant to be, it will be. You must get in touch with this Michael Brand. He will help you.” “Alright, Father.” Alex let out a long sigh. “Oh, and Father, thank you for everything. And thank Pope Francis for sending you, and his message,” Alex said genuinely. “I have a feeling we’ll be seeing each other soon.”

Marian walked into Alex’s office with an armful of files, followed by Walter Baker carrying a similar load. “I think these are all the files from the last campaign,” Marian said as she and Walter dropped the stacks of folders on the coffee table. Alex ignored the files. “Good, I’m glad both of you are here. Walter, get me Michael Brand’s phone number,” he ordered. “You mean that sleazy political hack that swaggers around like he knows something that the rest of us dummies are supposed to be too stupid to understand?” Walter said disgusted at the thought. “Why do you want to talk to him?” Marian asked puzzled. “You wouldn’t believe it, if I told you.”

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“Try me,” she said. “Yeah, I’d like to know, too,” Walter added. Alex leaned back in his chair. “I just talked with Father Salvi, he’s leaving for the Vatican.” “Good,” Walter said. Alex frowned at him. “You know, Walter, sometimes you should give people the benefit of the doubt. I remember when I first met you...” Walter stopped him with a wave of his arm. “Alright, Senator, I get the picture,” he said not wanting to be reminded of how no one would even talk to him when he first came to the Hill. “What’s Father Salvi’s going home have to do with calling this Brand character?” Marian asked. “Or, did I miss something?” “As I was saying, before Walter went sideways...” Alex took a deep breath. “It seems that Pope Francis had another message for me. This Michael Brand, according to Pope Francis, is supposed to be indispensable in helping me with my mission. And I’m to get in touch with him immediately.” “You’re right, I don’t believe it,” Marian said and collapsed onto the sofa. “Who’s running this thing anyway? You, us, the Pope, Father Salvi?” Walter asked exasperated. “I know this all sounds nutty. Messages from a Pope I never met, a request to meet with a man I can’t stand. But,” Alex said pointedly, “you have to admit that his message about a mission brought me back from certain disaster. And,” Alex continued thoughtfully, “you know that I can’t let Alicia’s death...” Alex caught himself. “I mean, for Christ sakes, there are young people out there,” Alex said pointing out the window, “dying every day from drugs, while we go on with business as usual. Every politician on the Hill, including the President, has closed his or her eyes to the truth. No! I can’t let drugs and drug dealers keep on taking innocent lives. Marian, I know, I can do something

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about it, and I will. And if this Michael Brand can help, then I need him...Now, please Walter, go get his number,” Alex ended softly. “Alright, you’re the boss. Let me check my in my office, and I’ll get right back to you,” Walter said and left the room. Marian, feeling confused again, just stared at her husband. She didn’t know if he was going crazy, or just obsessed. Whatever it was she was going to find out which. “Alex, you know I love you...” “Marian,” Alex interrupted her gently, “whenever you start that way, I know what’s coming. I know, you’ve got to be thinking I’ve lost my mind, but right now, I need you to believe in me, trust me, like you used to. I’m asking you to believe in me again. I can’t do this without you,” Alex pleaded. Marian could feel her husband’s pain and anger as he spoke. Maybe, it was really her own hurt and anger that she had to deal with. Maybe, Alex was the only sane person around with enough guts to do something about these awful drugs that took her daughter’s life, and left her with an unending pain. Alex walked over to her and sat down next to her and put his arms around her. She had started to cry without even knowing it. “We’ve got to do this, Marian,” he said lovingly, wiping the tears away gently with his fingers. “You know we do…for ourselves, for Alicia, for all the kids out there. How many more young, innocent lives are we going to lose before someone does something?” “It seems so impossible, Alex. What can we really do? Maybe, we can put a crimp into the drug trade, for a while. But, in the end, it’ll just keep on going. They’re too powerful, Alex. They’ve got too much money, too much power, and too many guns. If you start closing in on them, they’ll kill you. I can’t lose...” Marian couldn’t say the words, and her tears just wouldn’t stop. Walter walked in, and then immediately walked out without saying a word,

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leaving Michael Brand’s number on the desk. “We’ve got resources, Marian,” Alex said, trying to calm her fears. “I’ve got access to the Army, Navy, Air Force, hell, I’ve got a whole damn Marine Corp.” “You’re going to start a war, Alex,” she said through her tears. “Your damn right, I am.” “And what about all the young lives that will be lost fighting your war?” Alex had no answer. Even if he had, it wasn’t the right time. So, he just held her as she clung to him, weeping.

CHAPTER 3

WALTER REED ARMY HOSPITAL

Alexander Artemis knocked softly, and then opened the door. A rush of light from the corridor splashed into the dimly lit room as Alex stood in the doorway. A small cot, hidden in the shadows, was tucked away in one corner of the room. At first, Alex couldn't tell if anyone was there, and then he heard, "Leave me alone." The voice, muffled through a pillow, sounded old and throaty. The crumpled figure that had been rolled into a fetal position squirmed into an even tighter ball, and dug his head deeper under the pillow. "Michael...Michael Brand?" Alex asked softly. "Go away." The words were barely audible.

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Alex looked around the room. It was empty, except for the cot. There was nothing in the room. No chairs, no mirror, just the cot and the hard linoleum floor. Alex could make out the outline of bars silhouetted against the tightly, drawn shade. It was more like a prison cell that a hospital room. "Michael, it's Alexander Artemis. I'd like to talk to you." After a long minute, Brand removed the pillow from over his head and slowly turned his face toward Alex, and at the same time, shielded his eyes from the light with his arm. "What do you want? How did you find me?" the words came out raspy. "It wasn't easy. You have very protective friends." "Look," Brand said speaking with obvious difficulty. By the sound, Alex surmised that his speaking was also painful. "I think you can see that this is not a good time for a political conversation," Brand said. "It's good to see that you haven't lost your sense of humor." "Well, that's all I have left. Now, if you don't mind, close the door on your way out," Brand said and rolled over and put the pillow back over his head. Alex closed the door, and walked over to the window and raised the shade just enough to see clearly in the darkened room. He then went over to Brand and took the pillow from his face and held it away as Brand struggled to reach for it. "I said I want to talk," Alex said firmly. "Call a talk show. Now give me back my pillow, and get outt'a here." "I know what happened," Alex said. "Good for you," Brand said, gripping at his throat from the pain. "I'll be back in a minute," Alex said and left the room. Alex walked down the hospital corridor until he came to the nurse's station, which was barricaded behind a wire-meshed, glass window. Alex knocked on the window until he got the attention of one of the nurses. She slid the window back revealing a small

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crack. "I want to see Doctor Raymond. Could you please call him for me?" Alex asked. The duty nurse nodded and picked up a phone and spoke into it. "He'll be here in a minute," she said indifferently, and closed the wire-meshed glass, and returned to the other side of the nurse's station which had no windows, and faced out onto a pleasant looking ward with flowers and people walking by. In less than a minute, Dr. Raymond appeared, and inserted a key into a thick wiremeshed, glass door that guarded the ward. "I'm sorry for this, Senator, but we thought it was best to keep him here under a suicide watch." "I understand, Doctor, but I need a favor. It's obvious that Brand is having a lot of pain speaking, can you give him something that will ease the pain. It's absolutely essential that I speak with him, now," "It's just minor bruising from the tubing when we pumped his stomach. Here, have him suck on a couple of these, and he should be fine in a minute or so," Raymond said as he handed Alex two lozenges. "Thanks, Doctor. By the way, how long does he have to remain here?" "Until I say he can leave. I have to be certain he's all right. Letting an attempted suicide patient out early is always risky business. I'm sure you understand, Senator." "Right, Doctor. I'm sure he'll be fine in a day or two. Under the circumstances his actions are -- let's say -- understandable." Raymond nodded his agreement. "When you're ready to leave, Senator, just push that red button next to the door...Oh, and Senator, give my regards to General Radcliff when you see him. Tell him I said to say hello to Ratzo, he'll understand." Alex smiled and walked back to Brand's room. Brand had returned to his fetal position. Alex tore the pillow away and turned Brand over. "Here suck on these, you'll feel better," Alex said sternly. "We need to talk." Brand started to throw the lozenges, Alex grabbed him by the wrist, "I'll shove'em down your throat if I have to," Alex warned.

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"Who in the hell did you say you were?" Brand asked trying to focus his eyes. "Alexander Artemis." Brand popped both lozenges in his mouth, and tried to steady himself on one elbow. "Senator, so nice to see you again," he said almost spitting out the lozenges. "Not one of my better days." "I have had a few days myself." "I hope not like this," Brand said, his throat was beginning to feel better. "What's in this stuff? Tastes good, too...Well, what can I do for you, Senator?" Brand asked and shoved a handful of fingers through his matted hair. "Fill in the details for me. Why the suicide?" "I thought you were a Senator, not a shrink." "Look, I know the basic story. I'll tell you what I know, and then you tell me what you know. Fair enough?" "You're the Doctor," Brand said and tried to shrug one shoulder. "What I know is that your seventeen year old son died Friday night from a drug overdose, and on Sunday you tried to kill yourself by also taking a drug overdose. Your ex-wife found you lying on the bathroom floor and called the ambulance. She was smart enough to have you brought here. Seems you have some army connections..." Michael Brand just stared off into space. "On the surface it appears obvious why you tried to commit suicide. I almost tried it myself once. What I want to know is, how your son got the stuff?" Brand just kept staring off into nothingness. He finally fell back onto the cot and stared at the ceiling. Alex saw the look on his face and began to feel guilty. He chided himself for his insensitive approach. Here's a man who just tried to kill himself because he lost his son, and he was rattling it off like reading some kind of a supermarket gossip tabloid. "I'm sorry," Alex said. “It should have been obvious. I was callous and presumptuous." Alex

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had been caught off guard by Brand's seeming wittiness, which he used, expertly, like a shield. "Don't presume anything, Senator. Nothing is obvious," Brand said quietly and rolled away from Alex, inching closer to the wall. Within seconds, Brand's body began to shudder, and muted sobs came through the rumpled pillow. Alex, very tentatively, reached out his hand toward Brand, ambivalent whether he should touch him. He desperately wanted to help Brand relieve his pain as Father Salvi had done for him. Alex's hand hovered, frozen above Brand's shoulder, and then deciding, he moved it the final inches and touched him sympathetically. With that, Brand's body began to shake uncontrollably. Alex knew the feeling, but felt helpless. He wanted to hold him, father to father; he wanted to cry with him for the loss of their children. Remembering how the young priest prayed over him as he wept, so, he too, prayed, but silently. He prayed the words from his heart that came from his soul. Alex didn't know how much time had passed, nor did he care. He was only aware of another man's pain, and he understood that Brand had to grieve. He was impressed that Brand could do what he had been unable to do for so long: let his emotions go. A small naked, yellow bulb, perched high on the wall, slowly began to glow. Alex hadn't realized that day had slipped into night. The yellow light recast the green walls into a putrid ocher, highlighting hideous looking dark blotches of stains. Brand spoke, breaking the silence and Alex's thoughts, "You've been here a long time, Senator. Why?" he asked somberly. "Why not?" Alex answered. "Because, I'm not worth it." "No one is worth it," Alex said echoing Father Salvi's sentiment. Alex was struck with how universal pain and grief were. We believe we are all so different, but in the end, we're all alike Alex thought. "I don't think you understand, Senator. My son got the drugs from me. I killed

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him," Brand said sullenly…“He was innocent. He was raised by his mother to be a good boy, but he wanted to be like me." For some reason, which Alex couldn't fathom, he had no reaction to Brand's confession. He simply asked, "And what kind of man are you?" "You don't want to know." "It may come as a surprise to you, but I really do." Brand rolled over and faced Alex. "What are you doing here? We hardly know each other. And the last I heard, you thought I was a sleazy bastard," Brand said very calmly. Alex ignored the assertion. "Tell me about your son, and how it happened." "Why do you want to know, and why do you care?" "I lost my own daughter to a drug overdose. I want to make sure that it doesn't happen to other innocent kids. Would you, please, tell me how it happened?" Alex asked without any judgment. Brand stared at Alex for a long time. "For what it's worth," Brand replied falling back onto the bed and stared up at the ceiling again. "My son, his name is also Michael...was..." "It still is," Alex interrupted, not knowing where the words came from. Brand gripped Alex's wrist hard, and searched the Senator's face, "You think you know something," Brand said, his voice filled with anger. "All I can tell you is that, I still feel very connected to Alicia. And I always will." Brand released his grip and said thoughtfully," I, too, feel connected, which makes the pain even worse." "Did you give, Michael, the drugs?" After another long silence, "Michael was at my house, he came one weekend a month. I was at a fundraiser. I don't know how, but he found the cocaine. He had no idea of what he was doing. He took too much. He then, must have gone into my liquor cabinet

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and started drinking Bourbon. The combination killed him." Brand paused and let out a long sigh. "If it was good enough for me, then it was good enough for him. He wanted to be like me." "It was an accident." "Accident!" Brand roared with raw emotion. "I killed him as sure as if I had given him the stuff myself." "You'll probably feel guilty the rest of your life," Alex said compassionately. "But you can do something about it." "What?" "You can help me stop these drugs, and the dealers, who kill our children. "I can't even help myself," Brand said sounding pathetic. "You have a choice, as I did." Alex said, "Remain in your guilt and shame, or join with me in a mission." "A mission?" "Yes, a mission. A mission that..." Alex hesitated, "...that Pope Francis gave me," Alex said with great reticence, not really knowing who's mission or idea it truly was. "How do you know the Pope?" "I don't. Look, right now, this is too complicated to explain. I can only tell you this: a Father Salvi, from the Vatican, came to my office with a message from the Pope. He said that I should get in touch with you immediately. He also said that you would be an indispensable part of this mission." "Senator, you've only succeeded in confusing me more. I don't know the Pope, and I'm sure he's never heard of me. So, how can you tell me he said I would be indispensable to a mission? Forgive me, Senator, but I think we should order a cot for you and put it right next to me." "I admit, I don't understand it myself. But the Pope promised me his full support if I take on this mission."

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"And he said you needed my help?" "Believe me, if he hadn't, do you think I'd be here?" "Tell me again about this mission?" "I’m going to stop the drug trade -- all over the world." Brand started to laugh. "You really need to spend sometime with Doctor Raymond." "I'm going to run for the Presidency. It's the platform I need to communicate just how bad the drug situation is." "You think people don't know that," Brand said incredulously. "Besides, the problem's bigger than you can imagine. A couple of speeches isn't going to stop anything." "What will?" "A war, Senator. A bloody war!" "Maybe, a Holy War." The two men just sat and looked at one another, each in his own thoughts. "Why do you think," Alex asked, "that the Pope would send me to you?" Brand shrugged his shoulders. "You know something about the drug trade, don't you? Alex said. "In fact, I bet, you know a lot." "More than I want to know." "Are you, or have you been involved in drug trafficking?" "Never. But I have been involved with men…some of which are the most powerful Drug Lords in the world." "Why? And how?" "Jesus, Senator! How do think I raise all that money -- from the good citizens, or the Community Chest?" "Do your clients know?"

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"Senator, do you know where your campaign contributions come from?" "I think so." "Think again. There are literally thousands of PACs (Political Action Committees) in this country that contribute millions of dollars to further their own interests. It's also perfect for laundering money. And, it buys a lot of favors." Of course it does, Alex conceded to himself. "What I know about the drug trade, I could never tell anyway. They'd wipe out my entire family." It was now Alex's turn to think. "In spite of the fact that you've got a reputation as a scum-bag, some say you're a brilliant political consultant and analyst." "An insult and a compliment, all in one sentence," Brand commented and attempted a smile. "So, Senator, I ask you again, what can I do for you?" "You can run my campaign." Brand began laughing again until the rawness of his throat started him to choke in pain. His laughter whimpered into a cough. "Senator, for starters, politically we're on opposite sides. Second, your wife would probably shoot the both of us. Third, the media would have a field day, and kill your campaign before it got off the ground." "You're right about one thing, Marian probably would shoot me. But, as I said, I'm on a mission. Anyway, I'm not interested in becoming President. I'm interested in stopping the drug trade." "Well, good luck, Senator." Alex was stumped. "I wonder why the Pope would send me to a man like you?" Alex said out loud. "You got me," Brand said. "What if the Pope asked you?" "I don't know." "What if your son, Michael, asked you?"

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"And you call me a scum-bag?" "You're right, I'm sorry, that was a low blow," Alex said sheepishly and tried again. "Let's play 'What If'’ for a minute. What if you were a consultant to the campaign? And what if your primary duties were to raise money? And what if you went about it in the same way you've always done...I mean, with the drug money part of it..." Brand interrupted, "I and my entire family would be dead in a minute, here, and in Colombia." "Colombia?" Alex filed it away. "Never mind that for now. The idea is simple: I'm out there running as a single issue candidate against drugs, while you're getting campaign contributions from drug dealers. You keep records showing that I've received money from the drug cartels, and you promise them to use it against me if the drug issue becomes too sensitive. That should make them feel safe. And, after all, they know how you make your living -- you're a consultant and a fundraiser. The irony of it will appeal to them." Brand stroked his chin, which had a two-day growth of beard, "Might work. But then what?" "Then...Then, I don't know," Alex said and started pacing around the small dimly lit room.

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CHAPTER 4

THE VATICAN

As the 747 swooped down into it's final landing pattern, Father Antonio looked out over the city of Rome, it's lights shimmered like jewels set into a royal crown of seven diadems against a black, velvet night. Others on the plane may have merely viewed the beauty of Rome, but Father Antonio saw the Holy Roman Empire, headed by the most powerful religious leader in the world, Pope Francis. During the drive to the Vatican, through the sounds of horns blaring and taxi drivers yelling a cacophony of Italian insults, Antonio wondered how many other

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innocent children had been the victims of drugs; many he thought. And how many more he asked himself? Stopping the drugs, that infested a world, seemed like such an impossible mission. The men behind the drug trade were merciless; they would kill to protect just a small portion of their territory. Imagine, a total assault on their most profitable, and Antonio added to himself, evil business. The repercussions would be catastrophic. Why had the Pope decided to take on such a mission? He resolved to ask the Pope just that question, and also, about the role he was to play. The black limousine scaled the narrow streets that led to the rear of the Vatican. After identifying himself to the guards, he was shown to a door that led to the Pope's private elevator. As he knocked on the door of the Pope's quarters, Antonio checked his watch. It was after eleven. He waited for what seemed to be an eternity before the door opened, and Pope Francis greeted him. "I hope I'm not disturbing Your Holiness at such an hour. You said..." "I know what I said, Antonio," the Pope interrupted him quietly, and then grabbed him by the arm. "Please, come in, there is much we have to discuss." The Pope ushered Antonio in and sat him down in a chair next to small desk. "Holy Father," Antonio said, "I have many questions." "They will all be answered, my son. But first you will listen, "the Pope replied. Antonio could feel the Pope's tension as he spoke. "There is a deadly plague in the world, Antonio. It has spread through every corner of the earth. I have been given a mission from Heaven to stop this plague. I was also given four names that will help me carry out this mission. Three names I'm sure you could guess." "You mean myself, Holy Father?" Antonio asked as fear started seeping into his body, "And the Senator, and the man's name you gave me to ask the Senator about?" "Yes, Antonio. The fourth name is your uncle's, Angelo Gallucci."

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At first, Antonio went stiff with fright, then his body melted and slipped to the floor onto his knees, "Forgive me, Holy Father, but Heaven must choose another. I cannot do this thing," Antonio said with his head bowed before the Pontiff. "My uncle is a powerful man, it will cause great trouble for my family. Maybe even death." "Antonio, Heaven does not make mistakes," the Pope said sternly. "Of course, we are always free to choose. You may go back to Venice, and I will go to Palermo myself." "Holy Father, you can't do that," Antonio pleaded. "Why? Does he have so little regard for the Holy Mother the Church?" Antonio didn't know the answer, but his heart and mind surged with a feeling of protectiveness for Pope Francis. "I have taken a vow of Obedience, and if it is the Holy Father's wish that I go. I will." Pope Francis put his hands on Antonio's head, "We are all fearful, my son. But Heaven will not continue to let its children be enslaved and murdered. The Angel of Death has appeared to me with a message which you are to deliver to your uncle, Angelo Gallucci." Antonio shuddered again at the thought of him delivering any message to the Capo di Capo. "What is the message, Holy Father?" "You are to say to your uncle that unless he stops his part of the drug trade, and agree to become part of this mission, the Angel of Death will visit his first-born." The words struck Antonio like lightening, sending shock waves of terror through body as he slid almost prone on the floor. "Is there no other way, Holy Father?” He begged. “He has such a great love for his daughter, as I do, she is my cousin. She is young and innocent, Holy Father. It would send my uncle into a rage that Heaven, itself, might not be able to stop." "Sit up, Antonio, let us talk," Pope Francis said with kindness, and helped Antonio into a chair. "Antonio, life is a complicated matter." "But, Holy Father, Jesus said that God is a God of Mercy."

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"And, so he is, my son...Think of yourself as Moses, offering Pharaoh mercy, if he will let God's children go. If not, the Angel of Death will come too many. Heaven will no longer allow its children to be enslaved. Sides must now be chosen between good and evil." "Why have I been chosen to deliver this message?" Antonio asked still trembling. "Who can say, Antonio? Perhaps, it is because you are related." "When should I leave?" Antonio asked, accepting his fate. "In the morning, my son." "Holy Father," Antonio asked timidly, "what if my uncle does not agree? After all, I am not someone to be respected by such a powerful man?" "Pray that he does not disagree, Antonio. And, if this will help you," Pope Francis said taking off the Papal Ring from his finger, "take this as a sign to him that you speak for Heaven." "The Papal Ring, Holy Father?" Francis enclosed the Ring into Antonio's hand. "Heaven will always be with you, Antonio." Francis flashed a comforting smile. Antonio got up to leave, "It really is true, isn't, Holy Father?' "What is that, my son?" "That God does intervene." "You doubted it, Antonio?" Antonio bowed and started toward the door. "I will do my best, Holy Father." "I have no doubt, Antonio. Oh, and before you leave, I want you to call the Senator and ask him about this Michael Brand." "I will, Your Holiness." And remember, Antonio, you are to deliver this message, as before, to no one but your uncle."

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It had been two years since Antonio had been home. The ancient city of Palermo with its ornate fountains and cobblestone streets that dated back hundreds of years was still a magical place. The smell of garlic, salami, and sweet bread filled the air as he passed the outdoor cafes that lined the narrow streets: bottles of Chianti, fresh salads, black olives, large plates of spaghetti, and the sound of opera music wafting over the tops of loud Sicilian voices. As Antonio walked to his father’s house, he could smell the scent of the season’s last budding fruit coming from the nearby orchards. Antonio took his time, savoring everything. His family had moved into the city since his mother had become ill. His father wanted her closer to the hospital. Antonio had heard rumors from his cousins that his father was now working for his brother-in-law, Angelo Gallucci. Antonio prayed that the rumors were untrue. As he approached the small house, brightly plastered white with a green trim and an orange tiled roof, his father was on the porch having lunch. Probably, goat cheese, crusted bread, fresh fruit, and a glass of red wine. Antonio started up the steps just as his father saw him. "Antonio," his father bellowed, and almost choked on a piece of bread. "Why didn't you tell us you were coming?" his father chided him in Sicilian, wiping his hands on a white, stained apron that hung from his waist, and then ran down the steps to greet him. His father hugged him nearly lifting him off his feet. The force of the hug caused Antonio's small suitcase to tumble down. "It's so good to see you, Antonio, or should I say, Father," he said with a wide grin and winked. "Your Mama will be so glad to see you." And then he said in a whisper, "You know she's not well, Antonio." And then his father remembered, "How come you've stayed away?" He gave Antonio the Sicilian tradition of a slap to the back of his head. "Mama's been worried sick about you. I tell her every day that you have important business to perform for the Church. It satisfies her, but she still worries." "I'm sorry, Papa, but it is true, I have been very busy. I cannot stay long, I am on

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Church business right now." "What kind of business? Maybe, you come here, to Saint Mary's?" "No, Papa. I will explain later. But for now I want to see Mama." "Of course, of course. Go see your Mama. I will get your valise." Antonio stepped quietly into his mother's room. Her eyes were closed. His father was right, he had stayed away too long. She looked old and tired. "Mama," Antonio whispered. She opened her eyes slowly, and then a big smile lit up her face. "Antonio, my son," she said warmly, and then frowned "Is everything all right?" "Everything is fine, Mama. I came to see how you're feeling?" "But you're so busy, Antonio. You must have great duties to perform for the Church. Your Papa has told me all about them." "I'm sorry, Mama, I haven't come sooner," Antonio said and kissed her. "How are you feeling?" "Each day God gives me life. Some days he gives me more than other days." "How is Papa?" "Papa, you know Papa, he worries about me like an old hen. He's a good man, Antonio," she said touching his arm. "I heard that Papa was working for uncle Angelo." "Between my brother and your father they give me no peace. Your uncle insisted on buying our farm, so that Papa could move me into town. It's nice here, but too noisy. Papa had nothing to do, so now he does odd jobs for your uncle." "What kind of jobs, Mama?" "Men. Who knows what they do," his mother said and started coughing. Antonio held her head up and helped her sip from a water glass. "Better, Mama?" he asked as he fluffed the pillow under her head. "I'm fine."

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Antonio smiled at his mother and touched her forehead. "I'm going to talk to Papa. Get some rest. I'll be back later, Mama." "Can you stay until Sunday? You know how much I love to hear you say Mass." "We'll see, Mama. Maybe." Antonio left the room and found his father on the front porch finishing his wine and cheese. "What do the doctors say, Papa?" "Doctors! What do they know? Only pills, and more pills," he said disgusted and waved his hand in the air. "How is uncle, Angelo?" "Angelo?" his father asked, surprised by the question. "Why do you ask?" "I need to talk to him, Papa." "About what? I thought you disliked him?" "I dislike what he does." "He keeps things together, that's what he does," his father said defensively. "I hear you're working for him." "Aah, I deliver a few messages. Keeps me busy. Keeps me out of the house, so that I don't have to see Mama suffer. When she hurts, I hurt," his father said and started to choke up with tears, but held them back. "Where can I find him?" "What is this, Antonio? You come home for two minutes, and you want to see Angelo. Why?" "Papa," Antonio said sympathetically, "there's a question I need to ask him." "What question?" "It's about Angelina," Antonio stretched the truth. "Your cousin? What about her?" "It's personal, it has to do with the Church." "All right, don't tell me," he said acting hurt.

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"Is he at the compound?" "No, you will find him at Enrico's, listening to opera. Always Caruso." "You mean the card room?" "Card room, ha! He'll be in the back with the other hoods." All of a sudden his father's face flashed with fear. "Don't say I said that. Okay, Antonio?" "Don't worry, Papa." Antonio immediately felt better. His father had not changed his feelings about Angelo Gallucci. "We owe him a lot, Antonio. He made it possible for Mama to get good care." "She's his sister, he should. You don't owe him anything...I'll be back in time for dinner." "I'll make your favorite. You know how happy that makes Mama," his father's voice intoned a deep sadness. Antonio rubbed his father's shoulder, and then walked toward Enrico's. He inhaled the sights and sounds, which flooded his mind with nostalgic memories from his youth. When he arrived at Enrico's it looked just like any other small cafe in Palermo; it was anything but. Antonio entered the crowded cafe, late diners feasted on their favorite food and wine. They ate and talked while wildly waving their hands and arms, which, somehow, seemed to accentuate the loudness of their voices. To an outsider, it would appear that they were engaged in an argument instead of conversation. Antonio wondered if a scene like this could be found in refined Venice. He doubted it. But this was home, and he loved the sound of vibrant emotions being expressed without regard to who thought what. This was Sicily, not Italy. The minute he had spoken to his father, his proper Italian turned automatically into his native Sicilian dialect. Father Antonio walked directly through the cafe and into the card room where thick, sweet smelling Toscana cigar smoke filtered the daylight into a dirty blue. A

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couple of dozen players sat around assorted sized card tables with green felt that draped over them like a tablecloth. Few heads turned as Antonio made his way to the back of the card room and knocked on the door. It was not unusual to see a priest in such a place. A small, wooden window slid opened. A partial face peered out and just stared. "I come to see, Signore Gallucci. Is he in?" Antonio asked. "Who wants to know?" "His nephew." The wooden window slammed shut. In less than a minute the door opened, and Antonio walked into the Godfather of Godfather's inner sanctum. The huge room was painted a garish red with expensive Persian rugs thrown around the floor, and crystal chandeliers hung randomly from the ceiling. The scratchy voice of Caruso singing Pagliacci wafted through the air. Angelo Gallucci was seated behind a massive, dark wooden desk. "Ah, my favorite nephew," Gallucci boomed from across the room. "Your only nephew," Antonio quipped. "True, true," Gallucci said, seemingly not to be offended by the correction. "I suppose you're here to see how your Mama is?" "I came to see you, Uncle." "Me?" he asked, pointing to himself. "And, of course, my mother and father," Antonio added. "It's been years, Antonio. So, what can I do for you?" Gallucci asked in a serious, but not unfriendly tone. Antonio surveyed the room, at least a half-dozen men sat in various chairs reading the daily newspaper. Others slouched and snored on soft burgundy, velvet sofas. "It's private," Antonio said and walked closer to Gallucci sitting behind the huge desk. "About your Mama?"

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"No." "Your father, then?" "About Angelina." "My daughter, Angelina?" Gallucci narrowed his eyes and glared at Antonio. "It must be in private," Antonio said firmly. Gallucci nodded, "Tonight, at the compound. Come for dinner." "After dinner. Tonight I spend it with Mama." "Of course. Come any time, I'll be home." "Then I'll see you later, Uncle," Antonio said and started toward the door. "By the way, you look good, Antonio. Venice must agree with you." "You, also look good, Uncle. Crime must agree with you," Antonio said not knowing where the courage came from. The sound of newspapers rattling stopped, only the sounds of Caruso’s singing wafted through the room. "You may be a priest, Antonio. Even, my only nephew. But choose your words carefully," Gallucci said, but not in a menacing tone. "I did, Uncle," Antonio said and walked out of the room.

Antonio's father had prepared his favorite meal: braciole, a thinly rolled flank steak filled with eggplant, finely chopped hard boiled eggs, parsley, garlic, and bread crumbs soaked in olive oil, and tied together with a string and baked; plus, a side plate of pasta, and a fresh garden salad with cherry tomatoes. For dessert: melons, grapes, cheese and a bottle of Chianti. And for an added touch, spumoni ice cream. Antonio thought Mama had been in good spirits through dinner, but then tired quickly. His father, with Antonio's help, put her to bed. Each took turns kissing her good night, and then retreated to the front porch. "Now, Antonio, I know you. You've been too quiet. What's going on?" His father

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asked in a tone that would not take 'Nothing' for an answer. "Papa, I'm going to see, uncle Angelo, tonight. Can I borrow the car?" "Only, after you tell me what's going on," his father said sternly. "I can't, Papa. Trust me. If I could, I would like nothing better. This is personal." "I'm your father, Antonio, you can tell me anything," he said, softening his tone. "Believe me, Papa, you do not want to know. If Gallucci thought you knew, there could be trouble for you." "Antonio, you scare me with such talk," he said touching Antonio's arm. "Papa, I'm scared, too," Antonio said lowering his eyes. "Then, I come with you. I'm not afraid of Gallucci," his father said, slapping both hands on his knees. Antonio knew his father was deathly afraid of Gallucci. "Papa, I know you want to do the right thing. But, please, trust me." Antonio grabbed his father's arm. "It is very important that you know nothing. Now, can I have the keys?" His father reached into his pocket and tossed the keys at Antonio, and then walked into the house without looking at him.

The compound was surrounded by a cyclone fence with barbed wire on the top, and, at least, ten men dressed in black carrying Lupos, a special kind of sawed-off shot gun, guarded the perimeter. The guards were courteous to Antonio, tipping their hats as he drove through the gate. The house, itself, was an elegant mansion, and decorated with exquisite taste, unlike the crass room at Enrico's. Gallucci greeted him at the door, but neither spoke a word. Antonio followed his uncle into the library. Books filled every shelf, and a series of world maps hung on a huge, paneled wall. His uncle pointed to a chair for him to sit in, and then walked over to a humidor and extracted a long cigar. “Now, what about Angelina?” He bit off the end

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and spit it on the floor. Antonio sat down. "I have come to you on orders from Pope Francis with a message for you.” "You mean the American - Jew? Only Italians should be Pope," he said and lit the over-sized cigar. "Pope Francis is a good and worthy Pope," Antonio replied politely. This was not going to be easy. He wished he were back in Venice, safe behind the walls of his Church. "What does this have to do with Angelina?" he asked again, impatiently. Antonio hadn't really thought about how to start, he fumbled for words. "Uncle, can I talk freely with you?" Antonio asked, half pleading. His uncle glared at him, as he rolled the cigar between his fingers. "I know we have not been close..." Gallucci interrupted him with a roar, "Don't make me laugh. You've hated me since you were a kid. If you weren't my sister's son, I would have killed you long ago." Gallucci paced. "I ask you once more, Antonio, what about Angelina?" Fear stuck in Antonio's throat. "This is complicated, Uncle. I need time to explain," he said, now fully pleading. The thought of him not leaving the compound alive, all of a sudden, became a real possibility. "Take your time, Antonio," Gallucci said, playing with him like a cat plays with a mouse. "I would like to ask you a question, with your permission?" "One question, then answers. Understand?" Antonio nodded. "What are your feelings about drugs?" The question threw Gallucci off stride. "Drugs? Why do you want to know how I feel about drugs?" "Please, Uncle, I would like to know your feelings." "They make people slaves, and me rich," he said with a sardonic smile.

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"They kill people, Uncle." "That's their business, not mine." "They sell drugs to young children, innocent children." "No one is innocent." "Angelina is innocent," Antonio replied. "What if she were killed by drugs?" Antonio never felt more scared in his life. "Careful, Antonio," Gallucci cautioned. "Angelina would never take drugs. Only stupid people take them." "What if she were at a party, and someone put poisoned drugs into a punch bowl?" "Antonio, Angelina is married, has two children. This is a stupid conversation." "What if she were seventeen, Uncle?" "I would kill everybody who had anything to do with it," Gallucci said without hesitation. It was not an answer he had to think about. "That's exactly what's going to happen, Uncle. The people who are selling these drugs are going to die. Except, in some cases, worse. Their first-born is going to die first." "What are you talking about?" Gallucci's voice strained with anger. "Are you telling me that someone is going to kill Angelina?" Antonio summoned up all of his courage. "I will repeat to you the message as it was given to me from Pope Francis: “Unless you stop selling drugs, and help the Pope to stop the worldwide drug trade, the Angel of Death will visit Angelina." Instantly, Gallucci lunged across the room and hit Antonio in the face with all his force. "Have you gone crazy, Antonio? I should kill you for speaking those words. As for the Pope, he better be careful that the Angel of Death doesn't visit him." Antonio wiped the blood from his mouth. He then reached into his pocket and retrieved the Pope's Ring, and showed it to Gallucci. "The Pope said I should show you

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this Ring, so that you will know..." Antonio never finished his sentence. Suddenly, a strange purple light began to emanate from the Ring and floated upward into a translucent lavender mist. The sight mesmerized both Antonio and Gallucci. The mist formed into a dark, purple cloud and hovered over the room. A face emerged -- a terrible face -- a face of death. It slowly moved over Gallucci’s head. Gallucci dropped his cigar and froze. The purple face opened its mouth into a gaping black hole, and with an unearthly roar, clamped it shut over Gallucci's head. The Capo di Capo's body shuddered violently as if he were in the jaws of pure electricity. The face shook Gallucci around the room like a dog tearing at the head of a rag doll. Antonio had been standing, paralyzed, watching in utter horror, until the words burst, screaming from his mouth, "No. No. Pope Francis needs him." The black and purple face spilled Gallucci onto the floor, and then slowly evaporated, leaving Gallucci's body shaking in spasms. Antonio was in a panic. He ran to his uncle, and searched for a heart beat. Miraculously, it was still beating. After several minutes, Gallucci slowly opened his eyes. His once gray eyes had turned into two black pieces of coal. "Uncle," Antonio screamed "are you all right?" Gallucci's face was drained white, saliva seeping from one corner of his mouth. Unblinking, black orbs stared off into space. Wherever Gallucci was, Antonio knew he was not here. Again, he felt for a heartbeat, it was strong, beating at rate that Antonio considered normal. Antonio sat back on the floor and stared at his uncle's prone body, which jerked every few seconds with an eerie cadence. An acrid stench permeated the air. The horrific vision of the Angel of Death tossing Gallucci around had been burned into his mind forever. And then the words, "Fear of the Lord", raced through his mind. Antonio prayed as sweat dripped, like tears, from his face. Suddenly, the Papal Ring, still clutched in his hand began to vibrate. Antonio looked at it; a soft, warm glow began to emanate from it. A feeling of peace flooded into him. He held the Ring, tightly

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in his palm, hanging onto it like a drowning man would a lifeline. Antonio wondered why none of the guards had burst into the room. The roar from the face of death had bellowed like rolling thunder, surely someone must have heard it. Moments passed like hours before he heard Gallucci moan. The white, corpse-like face began to regain a semblance of life. "Where am I?" Gallucci asked, barely able to speak. "Where have you been?" Antonio asked instinctively. "Is that you Antonio?" he asked, his eyes unable to focus. "Yes, Uncle." Antonio said. Gallucci tried to move, but couldn't. His body was so wracked with pain he was forced to lie still, but wanted to answer the question. "Antonio, I think I have been to hell," his voice almost in a whisper. "What did you see, Uncle?" Antonio asked. His curiosity getting the better of him. "Only blackness, and the smell of burning flesh. I can still smell it." "I can smell it too, Uncle," Antonio said, sniffing the air. "I heard screams, Antonio. Screams!" Gallucci started to shake. "Calm yourself, Uncle. You're all right." Antonio patted Gallucci's chest. "I have never known such fear," he said. "Such power...You're a priest, Antonio, can you explain it." "Neither have I ever experienced such fear, or power. I can only say, Uncle, that you had foolishly challenged Heaven by threatening the Pope." "Help me up, Antonio." His uncle was a short man with a muscular, burly body. Antonio had great difficulty in getting a good grip, his uncle slipped from his hands and bounced off the floor. "Careful, Antonio. I think my body is about to break, and you're not helping

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matters." "I'm sorry, Uncle." Antonio struggled with Gallucci's body, and finally managed to drag him to the sofa and roll him onto it. It was then that Antonio realized that Gallucci must have lost complete control of his bowels. He tried holding his breath. "Your Pope sends a powerful message," Gallucci grimaced, his body ached all over. "It was the Angel of Death, Uncle," Antonio said, crossing himself. "I can still smell the stink," Gallucci winced, beginning to regain his senses. "I think it is you, Uncle," Antonio replied. Gallucci inhaled. "Aah, I am like a baby, someone should change my diapers," he said trying to laugh at himself. Antonio sat in a chair, but not quite out of range of the smell. "You tell anyone of this, Antonio, and I'll kill you." Gallucci caught himself immediately. "I didn't mean it, Antonio. I use the words too freely," he said not wanting a repeat encounter. "So, Uncle, I have delivered Pope Francis' message. What is your answer?" Antonio asked feeling safer. "With all due respect, Antonio, it was not the Pope's message I got." Antonio, too, had gotten the same message. "What the Pope asks is not easy. If I attempt to do what he asks, I will probably be killed." Gallucci answered his own question. "Then, again, if I don't, I'll be killed anyway by...by whatever it was." "Worse, Uncle, Angelina will be taken." "No harm must come to Angelina," Gallucci said, making a fist, and then realized for the first time that he could move. "You must promise me that, Antonio." "I will pray, Uncle, that Heaven keeps her safe." "I guess," Gallucci said thoughtfully, "I am not the Capo di Tutti, after all. There

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is one Capo higher, eh, Antonio? So, go and ask your American Pope, how he expects me to stop what cannot be stopped." "It must be stopped, Uncle," Antonio said firmly. "Tomorrow, you come back, and we'll talk. I must clean up now, I can't stand my own smell."

Antonio left the compound trembling. His encounter with, what was surely, the Angel of Death and the unimaginable fierceness of the attack left him frightened. He knew now that he had to re-visualize his concept of Heaven. But, he was now able to give Pope Francis the good news: Gallucci was ready to help. However, Gallucci's question, "Ask the Pope how to stop the unstoppable" haunted him. Perhaps, the Pope would have an answer, or maybe, Antonio thought, the Angel of Death would come like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and slay the enemy. “The Four Horsemen”, the thought thundered in his mind; the Pope said that he had been given four names. The possibility that he might be cast as one of the Horsemen made even his shoes shudder. The next day he enjoyed a beautiful, Palermo morning and a wonderful breakfast with his father and mother, whom he assured that everything was well between Gallucci and himself. His father was unconvinced, but accepted it. After a short stroll among the olive trees behind the house, Antonio called the Pope. He recounted the events of the night before with horrific detail. Pope Francis' response was simply, "Pray, Antonio", which made him all the more afraid. One of Gallucci's men came to the house and informed him that Gallucci was waiting for him at Enrico's and offered him a ride. Antonio declined, he treasured the short walk to town, taking in the nostalgic smells and sounds of the ancient city, the cobblestone streets, and people laughing and yelling all at the same time. This was home. He couldn't help but contrast the pleasant feelings with the horror of the night before, and

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for the first time, he wondered about the phrase from the Lord's Prayer, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth, as it is in Heaven". It was the words, "As it is in Heaven", that concerned him the most.

Enrico's was alive with people, the chattering and the waving of hands was as much a staple as the food itself. Antonio made his way through the cafe and was always amazed at how much Sicilians could eat. He entered the card room and maneuvered his way through the tables and the sweet smelling cigar smoke that hung lazily in thick blue clouds. Antonio knocked on the back door, the wooden window slit opened and the door instantly sprung open. Antonio walked in, the sight of Gallucci wearing dark sunglasses and seven of, what he presumed to be, his top men all sitting in a circle dressed in black shirts and double breasted suits, startled him. "Come, come here, Antonio," Gallucci said stone-faced, waving him over to an empty seat, the only empty seat, which had been obviously waiting for him. Antonio concluded from the way the men were dressed, and especially their somber faces, that Gallucci had ordered a special meeting of the Council. These were not the same men who were lounging around the day before. "Let me introduce you, Antonio," he said turning to the rest of the circle. "This is my nephew, Father Antonio Salvi, you know his father, Pietro. Father Antonio has come to us," he said emphasizing 'us', "on a mission from the Vatican with a message from the Pope, and from Heaven." The latter he intoned quietly. "I have given my promise to the Pope," and then added quickly, "the Holy Mother the Church." At that, every man crossed himself in the traditional Catholic Sign of the Cross. One man even uttered aloud, "In Nomenae Patris, Filitus, Spiritus Sanctus," as he crossed himself and then brought his thumb to his lips and kissed it. The reaction of these hardened men, including Gallucci also crossing himself,

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could mean only one thing: Gallucci had shared some, if not all, of the events of the night before. What Antonio had construed as somber was in realty, terror. Gallucci went on to introduce the men in the circle without naming names, "These men," he said pointing, individually to five men who immediately sat up straight, "Are Capos in charge of great Families." And then indicating two men who were sitting at his right side, "Are our Consigliatories." Each man nodded his respect to Antonio. Gallucci paused with a deep sigh and ran his hands through his massive white mane, "I have reminded them of our beginnings, how and why we Sicilians formed ourselves, many generations ago, into what became known as Mafioso." Gallucci's voice had started out solemnly like the beginning of an aria that built into a crescendo of emotions. "We did it to protect ourselves from the French who invaded our island, pillaged our towns, slaughtered our people, but that was not enough for them, they raped our wives and then our daughters. That, we could not tolerate. We prayed. Yes, Antonio, we prayed for God's help, but there was no help. So, we took a pledge: to protect our families with our lives. We organized, we used as our password M.A.F.I.A., which was the first letter of each word in our credo: 'Death to all the French'. We took as our symbol the 'Black Hand' to strike terror in the hearts of our enemy." Gallucci paused again. "Of course," he said sounding like a Hamlet soliloquy, "That was many years ago. Perhaps, we have lost our way, and Heaven is reminding us of our mission: to protect our families." None of the men sitting in the circle had stirred a muscle. Each had listened with heads bowed, hanging nearly to their chest, and hands resting with laced fingers in their laps. The mood in the room was more than silent; it was powerful. Gallucci finally looked at Antonio. "Father Salvi," he addressed him in a way he had never done before, "to carry out Heaven's mission, would your Pope condone murder?" he asked bluntly.

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"He is your Pope also, Uncle," Antonio replied softly. "As for your question, only Pope Francis can answer. But, I can give you my personal opinion, if you wish?" The two Consigliatories looked up at Antonio, their faces crunched into a mask of disbelief at what they were hearing. At the time, Antonio didn't understand Gallucci's implication. "Murder is a harsh word, Padrone," Antonio said returning his uncle's salutation. "If we must choose between good and evil, and a Holy War must be fought to defend our children…" Suddenly, an eerie feeling came over him as he spoke the words that were forming in his mind. "And blood is shed, so be it!" "Well said, nephew. Like a true Sicilian." Antonio felt uneasy as his mind swirled in a continuing state of confusion, fear and exhilaration. "There are those who will oppose this mission, Antonio. They will have to be dealt with." "You mean, within the Brotherhood?" Antonio asked. "At first within, then outside." "I will pray that Heaven is on your side." "You doubt it?" Gallucci asked raising his thick eyebrow. Antonio simply said, "No." CHAPTER 5

WASHINGTON, DC

Michael Brand sat in a darkened room in his Georgetown flat, sipping from a glass of

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bourbon. Barely visible in the dimness, he swished the chocolate colored liquid and stared into it as if it contained some magic cure -- His mind began flooding with memories: He was born Michael Branderos in Bogota, Colombia. His mother was a greeneyed, red-haired, Irish beauty from a wealthy Bostonian family. His father was a medical doctor who traveled from village to field caring for the sick. His parents met while his mother was on vacation in Puerto Rico, and his father was attending a medical convention at the same hotel. Once, his mother described their meeting as if she were telling a fairy tale: a young, romantic girl meets her daring knight and sweeps her off her feet and takes her away to a land of excitement and adventure. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. But she loved him, and his idealism, and she vowed never to leave his side. During the time Michael was growing up there were very few doctors in the countryside, mainly because they were bought off by the ruling Junta to work for the government, or just plain scared off. There were no real hospitals, only a few churches that were converted into crude medical stations, and run by the nuns who did their best to care for the ill and infirmed. Michael's father was the son of one of the wealthiest families in Columbia, their generosity supported, any and all, of the many Juntas that came to power during the 'Banana Republic' era. His father had turned down every offer to work for the ruling Junta, so the local patrols were ordered to merely harass him when he made his weekly treks to the villages. But, as result of his father's refusal, the people in power distrusted him. In spite of the great pressure put on him by the government, and his own family, his father continued to work in the fields and villages with a deep and abiding commitment to tend to their medical needs When it was time for Michael to attend high school he was sent to live with his aunt in New York who had left Boston to work in the fashion industry. Michael never

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really understand why he was sent away, except that he knew his mother feared and hated the armed patrols who terrorized the people, and randomly killed many of the nuns and priests, just to make an example of them in order to keep the peasants in line. He had often heard his mother beg his father to take them away, but he never would, saying, "I have taken an oath to care for the sick". Michael's mother hated living in Columbia, but she loved his father; and that, above all, he remembered. He enjoyed living in New York, moving easily between the world of glamour and the world of the barrio. His aunt had insisted he shorten his name so as not to be discriminated against. Discrimination was something Michael didn't understand; but as he secretly moved between both worlds he understood completely the hypocrisy of both worlds, which he would later use to his own advantage. During the day he attended Colombia University majoring in Political Science, and at night he hung out in the Puerto Rican clubs where Branderos could be free and wild. Leading a double life kept his adrenaline pumping at maximum speed, and Michael Brand, Branderos, loved it! Just before graduation his father died from a massive coronary, dying instantly. At the funeral he found out his father died while caring for a child who was working in the fields in 11O degree heat. He never truly understood his father until that day, when after the funeral, while his mother was packing to return with him to New York she said, "He died because he believed in his mission. I pray you find your mission in life, as he did." Michael never forgot the tears streaming down her face, and the trembling sound in her voice. It was only then that he came to respect his father as a man. Michael Brand was blessed with natural intelligence, and gifted with a photographic memory. He was easily accepted at Harvard and obtained a Masters in Political Science. From there it was a short step to Washington, DC, where he got a job working as one of the aides to a prominent Massachusetts Congressman. It didn't take long for the young, handsome, almost, Bostonian, to be noticed. His mind was agile, full of innovative campaign strategies. Eventually, he was recruited by a major political

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consulting firm. Michael took the job, primarily because they tripled his salary; and Michael Brand loved money. But as a newcomer to the firm, he was assigned to campaigns, which were considered to be losers, which usually meant the campaigns were under-funded, and that meant in political terms, impossible to win. However, his insight into the issues that triggered votes, and more importantly, raised money, was uncanny; and with his nononsense managerial style he was able to win at least eighty percent of the races that had already been written off by the so-called, political pundits. Over the next few years Michael Brand ran Congressional and Senatorial campaigns, and never lost a race. He also managed to find time to get married to one of New York's top fashion models; it was not so much that he loved her, which he did, but more that he felt she fit into his celebrity image. Michael II was born eighteen months later. Brand’s reputation as one of the young, savvy political 'Turks' grew into national prominence, and was often asked for quotes from political 'hacks' that infested the Beltway, which Michael gladly gave. As a result of his fame, he felt compelled to open his own firm. The path to power and money was as open as a six-lane freeway without a car in sight. And Michael Brand loved power. Michael worked hard and played hard, his favorite playground was Mazatlan, which he called 'The land of milk and honey', a place he always went alone. His colleagues went to the Bahamas, but in Mexico he could lead his double life. He loved being close to the people, and his native language, which for the most part he had kept hidden. The warm sun, and the exquisite sunsets dipping into the Sea of Cortez, was magical. His good looks were stunning, not pretty or rugged, but aristocratic, he turned women's heads as he walked by. And he used his looks, like his other skills, to get what he wanted. His reputation as a playboy grew proportionately to his success, and that

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ultimately was the main cause of his divorce after five years of marriage. His wife had tolerated his indiscretions, but it was his reputation as a 'Ladies Man' that was too humiliating for her to take. The divorce was messy, as most of them are when money is involved. He finally settled for more than he would have liked, because his wife played her trump card, his son. The Court had allowed him only one day a week, and with his schedule it was impossible. So, he paid for the privilege of being with his son one weekend a month, and that weekend had become a ritual for the two of them. He loved his son, more than life itself. It was on one of those vacations to Mazatlan, shortly after his divorce, that he met a man that would change his life forever. He had rented a bungalow on the beach just south of town, but every night he would drive to one of the many hotels and sit around the pool bar, sipping Margaritas while Mexican music floated through the air. He was scanning dozens of beautiful women dancing in front of the band when he heard a deeply accented Spanish voice whisper in his ear, "Senor, Branderos." Brand froze for an instant, and then turned slowly, as his heart raced with insipient fear, to a dark, craggy faced man wearing a Panama hat. "I think you have the wrong man," Brand said quietly, belying his own adrenaline. "May I sit, Senor?" he asked taking off his hat and revealing a few strands of hair, which were plastered down across his head. "Well," Brand paused, and studied the man's face while searching his memory. Nothing came. "I was really waiting for someone," he finally said. "It'll just take a minute, Senor Branderos," he said repeating his initial salutation. "I told you, you've got the wrong man." "Senor, my name is Jose Cardona, I am, how do you say...a lobbyist. I believe we have something in common." "What's that?"

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"Money, Senor." "How do you know who I am," Brand asked giving up the pretext. "It is my job, as it is yours, to know people…you know what I mean," he said grinning, and flashed a set of perfect teeth. "You've done your homework, so what?" Brand quipped, and flashed back his own set of perfect teeth. "I do not wish to play games, Senor, but I know you are working on Senator Bingham's campaign in Kansas, and we both know the campaign is in trouble. He's on the wrong side of the farm issue, and you can't raise enough money to wage a proper campaign." "Again, so what?" Brand said evenly, but instantly interested. "I am, as I said, a lobbyist. My client is the Colombian farmer, and the Agricultural Department of my country. Surely, you know about my country, your family is a very powerful member of our society." Michael Brand's heart began to pound. "In Kansas," Cardona continued, "they grow wheat to make bread to fill stomachs. In Columbia we make ‘bread’ to fill pockets. Comprehende?" Brand understood completely. "And for this bread…what do you expect?" "Good. You come right to the point. I like that." "So do you," Brand said trying to calm himself. "The first job of a good lobbyist is to educate on the issues, no? Issues that may be of common concern and interest." Cardona handed Brand a piece of paper. "If you're interested, meet me tomorrow at this address, about two o'clock. We'll have lunch and see if we have common issues." Cardona got up, put on his Panama hat and tipped the brim to Brand. "Asta manana." Brand flicked the paper with his fingers, still slightly rattled but intrigued with the possibilities. He loved the adrenaline rush. After a few minutes he turned his attention to

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more important business, a long-legged blond wrapped in a tight, colorful sarong who had been starring at him throughout his conversation with Cardona. The following day Brand arrived at the address written on the piece of paper that Cardona had given him. It was a palatial Mexican villa set on the hillside over looking a majestic ocean. A host of workmen were feather-edging a many colored and extensive bougainvillea garden. A guard stopped him as his car approached near the villa, and after a brief exchange, he was directed to park along the circular drive in front of the massive house. Brand entered the residence through two wide-open etched crystal doors into a foyer the size of most hotel lobbies. He glanced around the huge room, and surprisingly, no one was there to greet him. Finally, a short, round middle aged Mexican woman wearing a black maids dress and wiping her hands on a white half apron flitted into the room. "I'm sorry, Senor," she said in rapid Spanish and slightly out of breath, “I did not hear the bell. I was helping in the kitchen." "I'm sorry, I didn't ring the bell, the doors were open," Brand said apologetically speaking in Spanish. "If you will follow me, Senor, I will take you to Senor Cardona." Brand followed her through a series of magnificently decorated rooms, each with it's own special flavor. One he noted in particular, the entire room was dedicated to Bull Fighting. Photos and art of both Matador and bull, many in fighting stance, hung around the room. Artifacts of capes, picas, and swords detailing the history of Bull Fighting from Spain to Mexico were displayed in glass cases. Cardona was sitting alone at glass table under a canopy in the center of an immense patio near a kidney shaped pool reading a newspaper. Only one other chair was next to table, obviously intended for him. A bottle of DOS XXs stood on the table like a lone green King in the center of a chessboard. Brand walked over to the table and stood there without saying a word. Thus far, Cardona had ignored his presence. Brand assumed

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he was sending a message. After a few seconds, Cardona folded the newspaper neatly and laid it on the table, "How was the blond?" he asked without looking up. "Like all gringas, no passion." Brand was surprised at the question, and even more surprised at his answer. Cardona smiled. "Spoken like a true Latin, He said looking up. "Sit, Michael. May I take the liberty of calling you Michael?" "Not at all, Jose," Brand retorted and sat down. "Lunch will be served shortly, in the meantime, may I offer you something?" "Cervice with a lime would be fine.' "DOS XXs okay?" Brand nodded and looked out passed the gardens to a blue tranquil ocean. Aside from the women, and being close to his native language, it was the ocean that calmed his mind and body and replenished him from the stress of Washington politics. "This is a meeting that you have obviously planned for." "I have watched, as you say, your meteoric rise to fame." "You said last night that you did not wish to play games, so get to the point. Why me?" Brand said impatiently. "Because you are one of us, a Branderos," he said proudly. "But your name is Cardona?" Brand asked almost stuttering. "Ah, what's in a name, eh, Michael?" he said winking. "You...you are a Branderos?" Michael asked with continuing confusion. "I am your uncle, Michael. Your father was my brother. You were young when you left, your father didn't always agree with the family. And, as you must remember, there was little contact. At that time, it was better that way." For a reason that Michael couldn't understand he was struck once again with fear. It must have shown. "You seem uncomfortable, Michael?"

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"Stunned would be a better word," Brand said trying to cover his emotions, which he was usually a master at never revealing. "We are family, Michael," Cardona said gently. "Family!" the word struck a nerve. "Where were you when my father needed you?" Brand asked, his fear now turning into anger. "My father was a simple doctor concerned only with the villagers that needed medical attention." "Your father was a noble man, but surely you must realize what the times were like then?" "All I know is that my father is dead." "As we would have all been, if we need not cooperate. It was survival, Michael. Survival," Cardona said making a fist. "It was because of our cooperation that they did not kill your father and mother and you as you slept in your bed. It was the family who urged that you be sent to America. The Junta was falling apart, Death Squads were running wild, and there was no telling what they would have done. We also urged your parents to leave, but," Cardona said, shrugging his shoulders, "your father was a stubborn man." Cardona paused. "Colombia is a violent country." "My father was a gentle man," Brand said with a sadness that came from somewhere deep in his memory. Cardona let the words hang for many minutes. "So, Uncle," Brand said snapping away from his thoughts, "I guess I should call you uncle, that is if you really are my uncle," Brand said and narrowed his eyes. "I am Jose Luis Cardona Branderos, your uncle.” And then added, “At your service." "Then why, after all these years, have you, and the family," Brand sneered, "not seen fit to contact me before?" "It was the condition of your mother for you to leave. She did not want us in your life. She said she wanted you to have a new life, as an American."

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"I will ask her." "Tell her we kept our promise, but that now, you need our help." "Help? What kind of help?" "Money." "Haven't you heard, I am El Numero Uno in politics," Brand said exaggerating his Latin pride. "You are nearly broke, your wife took almost everything so that you can be with your son." "I can make more money, but, at least, I have my son." "Since your divorce, in case you haven't heard, your reputation is sagging. Your only two candidates failed in the last election." Michael slouched down just a little in his chair, and peered out at the blue ocean. "To win elections you need money," Cardona said trying to let Michael off the hook from his failures. "I represent, certain people, who are interested in donating money to political candidates -- Anonymously, of course, through PACs. We can make you the greatest fundraiser in your country. Then you can win elections," Cardona said with the sound of satisfaction in his voice. The idea appealed to Brand. "What do they want in return?" "Nothing," Cardona said flatly. "Everybody wants something. Tell me now, or I'll have to pass on lunch." "Either you are playing coy with me, or you are stupid," Cardona said abruptly, "And I don't believe for a second you are a stupid man." The picture was beginning to unfold. "You want to launder drug money?" More a statement than a question. "I said you were not a stupid man," he said smiling. "I don't like drugs," Brand said with contempt. "Come now, Michael, I know you have the cocaine habit. Not seriously, but

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enough." Brand stiffened as if an electric prod had just stunned him. "Our people have been supplying you," Cardona said matter-of-factly. The picture, all of a sudden, came into sharp focus. "Blackmail? Is that what your up to, Uncle," Brand said spitting out the word 'uncle'. "No, no, Michael," Cardona said with a small laugh, "you misunderstand. I don't care about your personal habits, but don't pretend you don't like drugs." "It's just a pastime, on occasion, to relieve my tension, like alcohol," Brand said defensively raising his bottle of beer. "There are millions just like you, relieving their tensions. We provide a necessary service," Cardona said, smiling, amused at his own words. Brand frowned, and then said, "So, how do we do this thing you have proposed?" "We do everything, you do nothing. Just tell me when and where you want the money to go. No paper trail, nothing to connect you to anything." "Why me?" "Because you are family, and we need someone we can trust." "You believe that you can trust me? And you expect me to believe that there will be nothing to connect me, or my candidate, to your money laundering operation?" "Understand, nephew, that most of the money has already been laundered through other legitimate sources; it is what you call a double-blind. Of course, receipts will be kept, for our own security. I'm sure you can understand that." Brand quickly appraised the pros and cons. "Let's do, as we say, a pilot program. If it works, we'll do more business. If not, it's over. That's my condition." "Fair enough," Cardona said slapping his knees. "How much do you need for the Kansas campaign?" "Two million." "You will have it in seven days."

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"Why so long?" Brand said somewhat sarcastically. "You want it now? Or do you want it untraceable? We control hundreds of PACs." The answer was obvious. "Don't expect me to embrace the 'Family', I don't approve of what they are doing." "But still you accept the money?" Brand remained silent. "I must tell you," Cardona said, "that your family is not involved. They still harvest only coffee beans," he said with a chuckle. "No, this is my decision to walk this path. Right or wrong, I am a part of it." Cardona spoke in a way that Brand couldn't distinguish fact from fiction. "Alright," Brand said, "we'll try it." Brand needed the money; he had lost too many campaigns for lack of money. "But, rest assured, I will have you and your PACs checked out, quietly, of course, but nonetheless extensively. And if I find any exposure to me, or my candidate, the money will be refunded, and I will forget we have ever met. Comprehende?" "No problema," Cardona said, grinning wide and flashing his teeth. "We are not amateurs, nor are we stupid. If you find our system has flaws, I would expect nothing less than you excuse yourself. And that will be that," he stated confidently.

Brand parked his car in the Senate Building parking lot. He was oblivious to everything as he walked preoccupied with the meeting that was about to take place; more like a hornet’s nest he thought to himself. After going through security, he made his way up the stairs to the first level of elevators. He presumed that this meeting was going to be the first and the last. Brand walked into Senator Artemis' outer office. A doughty receptionist announced his arrival over an intercom. The door to the Senator's private office opened immediately, the

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Senator greeted him with a hearty handshake. "I'm glad you came," he said genuinely. "We'll see, Senator," Brand remarked skeptically. Alex ushered Brand into the office. Walter Baker and Alex's wife, Marian sat stoically on the couch. "I think you know, or at least, are acquainted with Michael Brand," Alex said feeling uncomfortable. Neither Walter nor Marian made a move toward Brand or said a word; they just stared at the man, who for the most part, they despised. "Michael has decided to join our mission," Alex said as enthusiastically as possible, which was obviously not shared by Walter or Marian. Brand interjected. "That is, if both your wife and your Chief of Staff agree." It was an unexpected response that neither of them was prepared for. "So," Brand continued, addressing Walter and Marian, "before we proceed, I would like to hear from both of you. They both had expected a slick presentation, but Brand's approach, temporarily, had thrown them off. Marian finally said, "What do you think you can add, or more precisely, why do we need you?" "That's a question you must answer," Brand replied politely. "I am a consultant, so, you tell me what you need. The Senator has asked me to become the fundraiser for the campaign…or his mission, if you choose." "Why do you want to be a part of this campaign," Walter said with a great deal of hostility?" "Let me ask you, Mr. Baker," Brand countered, "do you believe this is a true campaign for the Presidency of the United States, or a mission that Alex is committed to? But, I must tell you, your question makes me wonder what's your agenda," Brand said it in a way that there was no mistaking his accusation. Walter fumed. Alex sat down behind his desk and waited as an observer. He had

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agreed that after Walter and Marian listened to Brand that they would have the final say as to whether Brand was in or out. "Let's cut the political bullshit," Marian said aggressively, "We both know about each other's personal loss, so, I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt. Is this just another campaign for you, or are you signing on to Alex's mission?" "I will, if you will," Brand said with a mixture of sincerity and skepticism. Neither Marian nor Walter knew how to respond. Alex finally interjected, "Michael and I have had several talks. My belief is that Michael will join us if he believes what I have promised him -- that this is not a real Presidential campaign, but a forum to bring the Drug Issue to the American public, and the absolute necessity to eliminate it on a worldwide scale. On that basis, Michael has agreed to this meeting providing he’s convinced." Alex, without knowing it, had turned the tables on Marian and Walter. They both looked at each other in utter disbelief. Alex paused and shifted in his chair inching it closer to the couch. "As you know, Michael and I are politically, on opposite sides. He has as much reason to distrust us, as we do him. However, Michael agrees with my mission, and has consented to be our exclusive fundraiser. And, we all know that without money we can't get to first base," Alex said not revealing the full extent of their conversations in the dark, green room at Walter Reed Army Hospital. "I for one, don't like it, " Walter snapped. "Why not?" Brand asked. "Because you're a scum-bag. You found your ethics in a toilet." "Is your mind made up?" Brand asked. Walter looked away without comment. "And you, Mrs. Artemis, is your mind made up?" Alex looked at his wife holding his breath. He had conceded that he would live by

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her decision. "I don't know," she said meeting Brand's eyes straight on. "I admit I have reservations, but Alex seems to believe you are indispensable. I trust his judgment, so, if you choose to join us, I will welcome you," she said managing to force a slim smile. "You love your husband, don't you?" Brand asked. "Yes I do, very much," she said adamantly. "You love and grieve for your daughter?" "Yes, I do," she said, starting to feel as if she were being cross-examined by an expert attorney. "Do you not believe that I love and grieve for my son any less than you?" Marian felt caught. "No, I don't," was her only response. "Then why, Mrs. Artemis, would you question that your husband and I could have the same mission?" "I guess," Marian admitted, "I never thought about it exactly in those terms. "Your husband has nothing to lose; he will get his message out to the world. I, on the other hand, risk my entire reputation. In politics that’s tantamount to suicide. I can tell by your questions that Alex has not told you everything. Ask him, and if you still want me to join your mission, let me know." Brand started for the door. "And if we don't?" Walter asked. "I’ll start my own mission to stop the drug trade that takes the lives of innocent children," Brand blurted out the words not knowing where they came from, certainly not his formidable, logical mind.

Michael Brand left, leaving the room in a profound silence. Walter began to rethink what he had said to Brand, but finally concluded that Brand must have his own agenda, and probably could not be trusted. Marian, on the other hand, felt, as maybe only a woman could, an intuitive feeling

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that Michael Brand had gone through a similar conversion that her husband had gone through. An experience, she readily admitted to herself that she did not understand, but accepted. She decided to go with her intuition, and her husband's belief in Brand. She also knew she had to work on Walter to get his agreement. And, suddenly, for the first time, an unexpected feeling came over her, a feeling that something spiritual was going on. It both excited and scared her "So, do we, or don't we?" Alex asked after a few uncomfortable moments, but feeling more impressed with Brand than ever. "I say no," Walter said, digging his heavy frame deeper into the couch. "Why not?" Marian asked before Alex could ask the same question. "I don't trust him. And besides," Walter said turning toward Alex, "what did he mean you haven't told us everything?" The question jogged Marian. "Yeah, Alex," she said putting her hand on here hip which always meant that Marian was in no mood for bullshit. "I can't tell you," he said softly. Marian was flabbergasted at his answer, and Walter let out a monstrous groan. "What do you mean, you can't tell us?" Marian asked, her emotions inflamed, but was able to take stock of herself, and asked, Alex, calmly, "Would you like Walter to leave the room?" Walter looked over at Alex with expectant horror on his face. "No." "Then Goddamn it, Alex, what is it?" Walter asked about to explode. "Plausible deniability," Alex said quietly. "Plausible deniability! I knew it, that scumbag is going to do something illegal, and you've agreed to it…Why Alex?" Walter’s face flushed with confusion. Marian stared at her husband; she could feel his reticence. "Sweetheart," she said softly, wanting to change the negative energy that was building. She always knew the

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right button to push, but she had to use a soft touch. "I know you believe in what you're trying to do, but we can't help if you keep us in the dark." "You've got to trust me. If something goes wrong, I don't want to put you in a position to have to lie to Congress." "I knew it," Walter said, "It is illegal!" "Not in the strictest sense," Alex said hedging. "It's a covert operation, but it's not sanctioned." Marian looked puzzled. "Alex, what in the world are you up to?" "I'm doing what needs to be done, and I can't do it without Brand," Alex said without equivocation. "What the hell does a covert operation mean?" Walter asked. "For it to be covert, you've got to have help, and I don't mean Brand." Marian perked up. "Can you tell us who you're working with?" "General Radcliff. And that's as much as I'm going to say." "General Radcliff," Walter and Marian said almost in unison. "Radcliff's a good man," Walter conceded. Marian became extremely fearful. "This is dangerous isn't it?" "Not in the sense I think you mean it. But, yes, it could be very dangerous for Brand, and his entire family." Alex had said more than he had wanted to. Marian walked over to her husband and put her arm around him and kissed him on the cheek. "Is this something you have to do, and is it worth the risk, especially to Brand?" "It's Brand's choice, and yes, it's worth the risk. I have to admit, though, that if something goes wrong, not even Radcliff will be able to help him." "Is there anything else you can tell us?" Marian asked, not really sure she wanted to know. "I'm meeting with Pope Francis right after the NATO meeting in Rome. But,"

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Alex emphasized, "no one, and I mean no one, must know! It’s imperative…However, I'll do my best to keep you informed of whatever I can that will not put either of you in any legal jeopardy." Alex stood up and walked over to the couch where Walter was still slouched. "Do we have a campaign to run, or not?" Walter nodded.
"Alright," Alex said as enthusiastically as he could, "let's go to work!"CHAPTER 6

THE VATICAN

Father Antonio shivered, even though it was eighty degrees, as he finished recounting to the Pope his final meeting with Gallucci. Francis paced around his private office, his jaws clenched and unclenched involuntarily. His tall, frail frame seemed to wobble as he unconsciously clutched his rosary. Suddenly, he paused and stared at the window as he heard the cooing of two white doves, which had perched on the outer ledge. "Murder is a harsh word, Antonio," the Pope finally said. "A Holy War is supposed to be a noble defense of good against evil...But, outright murder," the Pope said shaking his head, "is another thing." "What did you expect, Your Holiness?" Antonio asked without judgment. "I was given a mission, and I obeyed," Francis said thoughtfully. But Antonio could see the Pontiff's face grimace from his obvious inner struggle. "If you had witnessed the Angel of Death, as I did, Your Holiness..." Antonio didn't know how to finish the sentence. "Your Eminence, there is no doubt in my mind that if I had not screamed out that you needed Gallucci, the spirit would have ripped his head off." "It must have been terrifying for you," the Pope said, still struggling to understand the mission he had been given.

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"It was not what I expected from Heaven, Your Holiness." "Nor I, Antonio. My vision of Heaven, like yours, is one of Peace." "On the way back from Palermo I read again the passage in the Bible that described the Angel of Death taking the lives of the first-born Egyptians before the Exodus. It was written like it was a natural event, that somehow, felt right, even though death was all around." Antonio spoke as if he were speaking from some distant memory. He retrieved the Papal Ring from his pocket. The Ring vibrated a soft, calming energy. “There are two sides of Heaven, “Antonio said, frightened by his own words. "You have been blessed, Antonio," Francis said, "to see the power of Heaven." "It did not feel like a blessing, Your Holiness. I wish never to experience that fear again." Pope Francis had no response. "Your Holiness," Antonio asked, "is there a difference between Heaven taking lives for its own purpose, and men taking lives for their own purpose?" At first, Francis thought the answer to be obvious, and then thought again, "You're speaking of Gallucci, aren't you?" Antonio nodded. "Heaven will have its way, Antonio. Let us pray that Gallucci does Heaven's bidding." "And what is that, Holy Father?" "I don't know, but I have Faith that Heaven will let us know. And you must have that same Faith." "I will try, Holy Father." "So will I, Antonio. So will I."

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CHAPTER 7

PALERMO, SICILY

Enrico's back room was filled with forty men, dressed in black shirts and suits, standing in a circle. Gallucci, Capo di Capo, Head of all the Families, stood in the center. His rotund body paraded along the inner circle like a General reviewing his troops. Toscana cigar smoke swirled around him in blue streams as he completed his walk. No one spoke; even the sound of Caruso singing softly in the distance could not disturb the profound silence. Gallucci addressed the men in an uncharacteristically, quiet voice, "Is there any man here that does not believe in God? If so, let him leave the circle now, take his family, and never return. No harm will come to him, at least not from me.” He then added, “But, if you remain and betray the mission, your first born will quickly see Heaven." Gallucci waited. No one moved. "I have told you of my experience with the Angel of Death, and the mission that Heaven has given to me. Some, or maybe, all of you, believe that I have lost my senses. But, I tell you, that I have experienced what no man has experienced. Now, I will give you this choice: you may kill me now, if you vote to do so, or you will follow my orders, and I will follow Heaven's orders." Tarantino, considered to be the Head of one of the strongest Families, spoke up, "How do we know it was not the Devil?" Gallucci saw a few smirks flash around the circle.

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"Either you believe I am telling you the truth, or you believe I am crazy,” he answered. “I would rather you kill me, than betray Heaven and let Angelina be taken.” “You believe this?” Tarantino asked. Gallucci saw his fate in Tarantino’s eyes. “You must promise me that Angelina must not be harmed.” “Angelina will not be harmed,” Tarantino assured him. At that moment, five men from different parts of the circle whipped out their Lupos from under their coats and trained them on Gallucci. Gallucci stared at Tarantino and simply said, "Thank you." He closed his eyes and prepared himself for death. Tarantino nodded and the five Lupos took aim. But before they could fire, the blue, hazy cigar smoke erupted into a blinding, purple flash, and a deep roar thundered throughout the room. Instantly, forty frightened men fell to the floor covering their eyes and ears under their arms. The horrific face of Death, which Gallucci had encountered in his library, emerged. Only Gallucci remained standing, calm, transfixed by the sight. To him, death was death, but at least, he knew he had tried his best, and surely Heaven would not take Angelina now. The Angel of Death's grotesque purple and black face circled the room. One of the men rolled over and fired his Lupo into the face of the unearthly presence. The blast passed through it and shattered into the ceiling. The face turned toward the man who had fired, and instantly snapped its jaws around the man's head and lifted him high into the air. His body jerked in great spasms as sharp bolts of lightening pierced through his body, he screeched in pain mixed with terror. The rest of the men, including Tarantino, watched in horror as the face of death finally spit the limp body violently to the floor, broken and dead. The face of death roared like a lion, and circled the room again. Gallucci watched and prayed waiting his turn to die. The rest of the black, suited men remained crumpled

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on the floor in fear, hiding their heads under their arms as the face of death passed over them. The Angel of Death roared once more, and then slowly faded back into the blue smoke, leaving behind the stench of burning flesh. The only man standing was Gallucci; a cautious smile crept across his face as he looked around. The soft sound of Caruso floated through the air. Each man looked at each other, some had lost their bowels, others their courage, and some regained their faith. "That was not Heaven, that was the Devil," Tarantino squealed as he rose from his prone position. One of the men quickly grabbed his Lupo and blasted it point blank into Tarantino, blood and parts of his body splayed across the room. A voice rose, "Luciano is back. Gallucci is Luciano." Gallucci quickly grabbed the man by the throat. "I am not Luciano returned," he said, knowing that the superstitious nature of the Mafioso would bring chaos. "You have witnessed the Angel of Death," he said releasing the choking man, "Any of you who does not do Heaven's bidding shall meet the same fate." Gallucci raised a clenched fist. "We are Family. Heaven has given us a mission to protect our families, our children.” Gallucci looked around as his men struggled to their feet. "You have now witnessed the power of Heaven, as I have." One of the men with some remaining courage spoke up, "Can you assure us that this was Heaven, and not the Devil?" he asked eyeing suspiciously the blue smoke that still hung in the air. "If it were the Devil, "Gallucci said, "do you think he would send us on a mission to stop the selling of drugs, or would he encourage us?" There was no response. "It is the drug dealers who are in league with the devil. We must rid ourselves of this poison that offends Heaven,” Gallucci bellowed.

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"What choice do we have?" another Capo asked resignedly. "We have no choice, "Gallucci said. "We either do what we have pledged since the time of the French: to protect our families, or we suffer the same fate we have just witnessed. Do you now believe that Heaven has given us a mission?" "W have wronged you, Godfather. We pledge to honor your mission." "Our mission, "Gallucci said firmly. "Then it is our mission," the Capo said. "And if any man betrays it, I will kill him with my bare hands." "We are with you, Godfather," voices echoed from around the room. Gallucci walked over to the man who had killed Tarantino. He was kneeling with his face in his hands. Gallucci touched him softly on the shoulder. "Are you all right?" "He was my uncle," he said sadly. "Then why did you kill him?" "I don't know," he said looking up with tears streaming down his face. "I...I felt the hand of God." "How do you know?" Gallucci asked puzzled. "It was the same feeling that I felt when I was an altar boy. As I watched the face of death, I felt no fear, only calmness. I felt a serenity, Godfather." "I will take you into my Family, you will be in my protection, "Gallucci said. "I want to be close to a man who feels the hand of God in the face of Death." Gallucci patted him on the head. From that moment, Gallucci knew that death would be all around. And then shuddered inside as he thought to himself, "If this is God's mission, then the Devil cannot be far behind."

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CHAPTER 8

MAZTLAN, MEXICO

It's beautiful, eh, Michael," Cardona said sucking in the soft breeze that was coming off the ocean as they sat on the veranda of the Fiesta Hotel. "Ah, what a place, the night life is fantastic, the women romantic, the politicians cooperative. What more can we ask for?" "Truly a paradise," Brand responded unenthusiastically, twisting the cap off of a bottle of Jamaican Red Stripe beer between his fingers. "Your tragedy is great," Cardona said, aware of Brand's loss. "You feel it, deeply, like any father." Cardona touched his arm. "But it was not your fault, and life must go on." Cardona had not known about Brand's attempted suicide, and the days he spent at Walter Reed Army Hospital. "You have never lost a son," Brand said sullenly, and stared off into the distant horizon where white, billowy clouds touched the blue ocean. "I have lost loved ones, "Cardona replied thoughtfully. "But time heals all things." Brand told himself he had business to conduct; it was imperative that he shake his mood. "So, what's the entertainment tonight?" "Not so fast, nephew. I need to know something." Brand cocked his head and looked at Cardona. "What do you mean?" "I need to know your state of mind?"

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"My state of mind?” Brand repeated. "The overdose of your son may have clouded your judgment. There's too much on the line for sentimentality," Cardona said, calculated to get a reaction. “It was an accident,” Brand said, knowing that Cardona was baiting him. "The doctors said it was the combination of drugs and bourbon that killed him." Brand was using all of his strength to conceal his anger. "But, you feel responsible, no?" "Wouldn't you?" Brand snapped back, siphoning off some emotion. "Perhaps," Cardona said warily, but accepted Brand's small outburst for the moment, and changed the subject. "Michael, this thing you have proposed makes everyone feel suspicious." "Who is everyone?" Brand glared, his insides began to percolate fire. "See, it's questions like that which cause concern and suspicion." "Look," Brand said, "I don't give a fuck where the money comes from, as long as I get it." “You’re pressing, Michael, that’s not a good sign.” Brand just stared out at the ocean trying to calm his nerves. He knew he had to reign in his emotions. This was too important. After a long minute, Cardona said, "You come to me with a plan that makes no sense. You want five million dollars to fund a powerful Senator's Presidential campaign with drug money! And," Cardona said, raising his voice, "he intends to put us out of business. And you ask us to help him do it. Esta stupido, no?" "On the surface, yes," Brand conceded, his voice more even now. "But two things, Uncle: first, I personally need the money to regain some of my reputation. Second, what better security can you have? If he makes headway in the polls, and if it looks like he'll become a viable candidate, we can always pull the plug…threaten to expose the fact that his campaign has been funded with drug money. One way, or the

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other, we'll own him." "And if he goes public?" "I'm sure you have a few PACs that have run the course of their usefulness. We offer up a few sacrificial lambs, and absolve ourselves of any knowledge. Artemis won't be able to prove anything. Besides, the other candidates, including the Ethics Committee, will be putting so much pressure on him he'll only look more foolish if he tries to point fingers at anyone else. He'll be finished." Brand paused. "Or, and this is where it really gets exciting. What if he wins? You own a President. You offer up a few of your competitors, the President's a hero, and then it's back to business." Cardona ran his fingers over his balding head. "All that you say may be possible. But it doesn't explain how you and the Senator got together. You have been ripping into Democrats for years, and now you join forces with them. It will bring a lot of media attention, and many questions. This is not just any campaign." "It's simple," Brand smirked, "we both have children who died from a drug overdose." "I thought his daughter died in a traffic accident? How do you know it was drugs?" Cardona asked already knowing the answer. He had dug into the rumors, and now he was digging into Brand. "I have contacts, too, Uncle. Besides, when he announces his Candidacy he's going to confess to the world how a grieving father made a mistake and covered up his daughter's accidental drug overdose; but now, he has seen the light, and wants to rid the world of drug dealers." "So why does he pick you?" "Who better? He believes were on the same mission." "And, are you?" "Do you think I would put my life, and that of my family in jeopardy. I know how ruthless you are." And then Brand exploded. "For fifteen years you have never

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questioned me. Now, that I need the money, you turn squeamish." "Michael, Michael, it's not like you to react," Cardona said trying to find the missing piece. "It's exactly like me. I have reacted many times, including, saving your collective asses. Remember the CIA investigation into the connection between Noriega and your Cartel, who got it stopped?" Brand's voice trembled with anger. "We were grateful, but you never told us how you did it." "You never asked." "I ask you, now, nephew." "These are not questions, this is an interrogation," Brand said doing his best to remain calm. He was getting to close to the edge. Cardona appraised where the confrontation was headed and decided to pull back. "Michael, to grant five million dollars, I must have an answer," he said sheepishly, hoping to turn Brand away from his potentially explosive temper. "You don't reveal your sources, and yet you expect me to divulge mine?" "Five million dollars to a candidate, by your own admission, who wants to put us all in jail, demands an answer," Cardona said flatly. "Then forget it, I'll find the money elsewhere. He's a formidable candidate. It'll take a little longer, but I can raise the money through normal channels." Immediately Brand knew he had potentially made a big mistake with his last outburst. Cardona was caught between the obvious and the devious. "Answer me this question, why Artemis?" "I told you I needed to get back into the game. I'm no good to you if I keep losing races. Races I never wanted, but you insisted that I take, remember? Besides, no one will expect Artemis to win, but I’ll be hailed as a great fundraiser." Cardona had to concede to Brand's logic. "Do you think we can control him?" "Can a master matador control an enraged bull?" Brand countered.

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"A good analogy, nephew. It can be done if the peccadilloes are placed correctly." "If necessary, I'm sure we have the peccadilloes." Cardona decided to take one more shot. "So, you won't tell me how you accomplished the impossible with the Noriega deal?" "Do you think, over the years, that I have not recruited many friends in high places? You taught me well, Uncle." "That scares me, Michael." "It has also saved you. Be grateful. Let us keep our secrets, that is, unless you are ready to reveal yours, in that case, we'll share everything, until then..." Brand shrugged. Cardona was in no position to reveal anything. "I'll present it, and we'll see what they say." "I need an answer in three days," Brand said forcefully. "Pressure works only on Gringos, not Latinos. You should know that," Cardona said feeling as if he were playing a chess game, and losing. "The choice is yours," Brand said coolly, and looked out over a soft sea that was caressing a white, sandy shore. "Enough for now," Cardona said wanting to end the conversation. "Tonight we will have women and song. Tomorrow we will talk, seriously." Cardona smiled and held up his bottle of Dos XXs. "Until tomorrow, then, Uncle," Brand said returning the gesture. "Tonight, we party."

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CHAPTER 9

WASHINGTON, D.C. THE PENTAGON

The late summer heat was oppressive. A glaze of clouds frosted the sky gray and magnified the sultry air that was stifling even for the most veteran residents. Alex had never gotten used to the suffocating humidity. His short walk from his car to one of the entrances to the Pentagon building left him soaked. Entering the cool air-conditioned lobby was a blessed relief, which caused him to curse the unseasonable weather all the more. After completing the usual security check, he passed quickly to a bank of elevators. General Radcliff had cleared his schedule for Alex without comment. Alex was always impressed with the power of his position as Senator. But, in this case, it was different; it was the Senator who was going to see the General. The usual fare was for the General to visit the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee; it was his Committee that controlled the purse strings. Radcliff, as Deputy of the Joint Chief ‘s, had become more politician than army. Politics was the way to the top, a lesson that Eisenhower had learned, but Patton and Macarthur never understood, or could care less about, at least that was Alex's take on history.

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As he exited the elevator and walked to Radcliff's office, his clothes felt almost dry. His relationship with Radcliff had been both cordial, and sometimes personal. Alex's key to success with the Pentagon had been his willingness to engage in 'off the record' conversations, which the Joint Chiefs appreciated. The military hierarchy hated testifying before Congress. Seasoned members, and even those who were newly appointed to the committee, asked questions more for C-SPAN's audience than for any real information. What was really important and pertinent was always discussed behind closed doors, and classified. The Joint Chiefs knew that the Public Hearings were always political, and a complete charade. In Alex's opinion, it was only Colin Powell who had mastered the art of political repartee; however, Radcliff was a close second, which made Alex wonder about Radcliff's real ambition. Over the years, Radcliff had been more than affable to him, and that too, had made him suspicious. However, in Radcliff's favor, Alex had found him to be straight forward and up front, as long as it was ‘off the record’. A stiff looking male receptionist, with a colorful array of ribbons, which decorated his chest, greeted him as he entered Radcliff’s outer office. “Go right in, Senator, the General’s waiting.” As he stepped in, Radcliff was already racing to the door with a broad grin and an out-stretched hand, and pumped Alex's hand like he was drawing water from an old well. "How are you, Senator? It's good to see you again. Come in, sit," he said gesturing toward a large leather chair. "I must admit, I was surprised by your call." "Why's that?" Alex asked sincerely. "We'll," Radcliff said searching for words, "Mohammed usually goes to the mountain." "What?" Alex missed the message. "Just an expression, Senator." Radcliff immediately changed tone and direction, "I understand, if the rumors are correct, that you're about to throw your hat into the proverbial ring. And if, off the record," Radcliff said cautiously, "it's true. I want you to

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know that I'd vote for you." "That's nice of you to say, General." Alex wondered if it was genuine or political. He assumed both. "So, Senator, what can I do for you?" "This visit is strictly off the record, so please call me Alex.” "In that case, call me Chuck," Radcliff said crinkling his goateed-face into a smile, as he perched himself on the desk, straddling a sharp-edged pointed corner. Alex considered that a very brave and dangerous position. The last time Alex had attempted such a feat, he slipped from the corner with disastrous results. His balls hurt for a week. He concluded that Radcliff must have a special maneuver in extricating himself, one that Alex was determined to learn. "Strictly off the record," Radcliff continued, "is usually my line. If there's anything I can do for you, Alex, just ask. And, if it's possible," Radcliff qualified," you got it." "Why do you think I want something?" Radcliff eyed the Senator suspiciously. "Well, why else would come here for a meeting that's strictly off the record?" "Actually, I do want something,” Alex said. “Some advice…legal…maybe ethical. Radcliff's face twisted into a puzzled look, a look he had deftly cultivated to avoid a possibly compromising situation. "I know that look, Chuck," Alex said. "It's become a little too transparent." "You're not mincing words, are you?" Radcliff shifted uncomfortably on his precarious perch. "Am I talking to a Senator, or a Presidential candidate?" "You're looking at a man who has some questions." Radcliff relaxed, slightly. "Alright, Alex, shoot."

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"It's true that I'm going to announce my candidacy, but I'm no more interested in becoming President than the man in the moon." "I don't understand," Radcliff said, raising an eyebrow. "I'm not sure I fully understand either." Alex paused and then said, "I'm sure you've heard the rumors about my daughter’s death." Radcliff didn't know how to answer, and was glad he didn't have to as Alex continued. "The rumors are true. Alicia died from drug poisoning, a mixture of cocaine and amphetamines. Someone spiked the punch at her graduation party. It wasn't one of the students; it was one of the guests. I had two choices: go after the culprit, or cover it up. The police said that all the students would have to be investigated, and it was going to get awfully messy, so I choose to cover it up. When I announce, I'm going to confess everything." Radcliff remained silent. “But, that's not why I came to see you." Radcliff felt relieved. "As I said, I need your advice. It seems you may be the only man I can trust." It was now Alex's turn to raise an eyebrow. "Can I trust you, Chuck?" Radcliff thought for a moment. "Whatever we talk about remains between us. You've always been true to your word, I owe you the same," he said starting to feel uncomfortable again. "Let's talk hypothetically." "Okay," Radcliff said watching Alex intently. "Let's say that a Senator is involved in a covert operation designed to take down a major drug cartel. Now, he does this on his own without FBI, CIA, or DEA sanction. What's his exposure?" "Look, Alex," Radcliff said, "let's cut to the chase. Since, we're off the record, you

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don't need any hypotheticals. Just tell me what you're up to?" "I intend to stop the drug trade that is addicting and killing our children. I mean stop it! I want drugs off the face of the earth." "I've known you for a long time, Alex, so let me be frank. I appreciate your grief, but the drug trade can't be stopped, hell, we can't even slow it down for more than ten minutes." "I've engaged some help, a man who knows his way around the drug trade. As a mater of fact, he's been funding political campaigns for years with drug money that has been laundered through PACs." "Alex, first you've got to explain engaged. And, second, you're asking the wrong person." "I don't think so," Alex said. "I was told to talk to you." "By whom?" "Michael Brand." Radcliff went stiff, and then gingerly slipped from his precarious perch, turned his back to Alex, and slowly walked to the window. "What do you know about Brand?" The friendly voice of the politician had changed into the forceful voice of a Four Star General. "Nothing much, at least, nothing that I think is important." Radcliff turned toward Alex, his face contorted menacingly. "Brand is very important," he said deadly quiet. "If you do anything to compromise him, I will take it very personally." "I promise you, Chuck, I haven't said anything to anyone. I came here because Brand asked me to, he said you would advise me." "My advice is to leave Brand alone. You don't know what you're getting into." "You're right, I don't. But Brand does, and he wants to help." "For Christ sakes, he just lost his son, and tried to commit suicide. You're only

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going to help him finish the job. Is that what you want, Senator?” Alex wondered if Radcliff was right. “I believe he wants to make sure that it doesn’t happen to anymore innocent kids." "No! Whatever you're planning must stop, now. Brand is too valuable to lose." All of sudden things fell into place. "He's working undercover. Not for any of the drug agencies, but for Army Intelligence. For you!" The realization hit Alex like a hammer. "This is all off the record, right?" "Of course." "You obviously know very little about Brand." Alex nodded. "Brand came to me fifteen years ago. He didn't trust the FBI, CIA, or DEA. To this day, I really don’t know why he came to me. But he did, and I'm glad he did," Radcliff said, not out of pride, but appreciation. "He's been responsible for the arrest of major drug dealers, and the interdiction of huge shipments of cocaine and heroine. He was also responsible for the information that led to the Panama invasion and the capture of Noriega…We're getting very close to the source of the biggest drug cartel in the world. It's just a matter of time before we bust it wide open." The thought occurred to Alex that maybe it was Brand who had really recruited the General. "That's not Army Intelligence's job. It's FBI or DEA. Why you?" "Because we’ve got Brand. And we feed them only what they need to know. I will not put Brand at risk, especially with a fanatic Senator on a mission." Alex smarted at the word fanatic. Maybe he was over his head, but he wasn't going to stop. "That's why he was at Walter Reed. You're the connection." "Michael Brand is a special human being, he has sacrificed a great deal, and now his own son." Radcliff turned away as he fought back his own emotions. But Alex couldn't miss the crack in his voice. "You really care for him, don't

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you?" "Like a son," Radcliff said without thinking. "I mean, he's like one of my boys, a soldier in the field. I care about all of them." "As you said, I don't know very much about him, except his reputation..." Radcliff cut him off, "His reputation has been skillfully crafted." "What I was about to say: in spite of his reputation, I find him to be an honest and sincere man." "The kind of sincerity you're talking about is going to get him killed...Maybe that's what he wants." His words trailed off, and stared out the window. He wanted to blame himself. If only he had seen it coming…maybe… Alex interrupted his thoughts. "General, I’ve spent a great deal of time with Michael at Walter Reed. He feels responsible for his son’s death. He has to do something, or the guilt he’s feeling is going to kill him.” "Of course he wants to do something,’ Radcliff fired back. “But not this way. Not with amateurs...I'm sorry Senator." "No need to apologize. It's true. I am an amateur. But I'm also an irresistible bait. Don't you get it, Chuck, he has to do something," "He's already doing something, and it's very important." "I've got to ask, Chuck," Alex said not wanting to ask, but knowing that he had to see Radcliff's reaction. "Are you sure you're not using Brand to further your own agenda and ambition?" If Radcliff had a gun he would have shot Alex. It took several minutes before the anger drained and he could look at Alex again. He slowly shook his head from side to side. "I could expect that question from almost anyone, but you. You know, Senator, I could ask you the same question. You're the one running for President." "Fair enough. We're both politicians." "Look, let's stop the bullshit. What is it you want?"

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"I don't really know,” Alex said. “I was hoping you could tell me, being that Michael sent me to talk to you." "Well, tell me what you and Brand have talked about?" "The basic plan is for Brand to fund my campaign with drug money. He says they've committed to the five million that he asked for. I told you I was irresistible bait. They think they're in a no lose situation." "What will that do, except ruin your career.”? "I don't care about my career. I'm only interested in bringing down the Colombian Drug Cartels. I can tie them into illegal campaign contributions, bribery, blackmail, corruption, and anything else I can come up with." "And murder maybe, like Michael's?" "I'm not forcing him to do this. And, I certainly don't want to see him get hurt anymore than you do. I also need someone to know what I'm doing, so when all this comes down, at least, someone will know the truth." "Like me, you mean?" "Brand said you can be trusted, and if I didn't agree, I wouldn't be here. "You don't trust the FBI, CIA, or DEA?" "Michael doesn't." "Does Marian or Walter know what you're doing?" "No." "Good. Keep it that way." Radcliff walked over to Alex. "I hope you know what you're doing." "I don't. That's why I need help." Radcliff scratched his balding head. "I guess I can't talk you out of this? ...No, I didn't think so. I'll talk to Michael, and I'll get back to you. Mind you, no promises." "For the record, I'm announcing next week." "Yeah, well for the record, don't do anything else stupid."

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"Like what?" Alex asked ignoring the snide remark. "Like...wait until I talk to Michael. Okay?" "I'm just announcing my Candidacy. No other plans have been made. Michael is very tight lipped." "Can you blame him?" "Not after talking to you." "These drug dealers are very sophisticated. They've got political moles in places you wouldn't believe," Radcliff said. "I'm sure that Michael has a plan. I understand now, why he sent you to me. I would have ordered him not to get involved." "You own him that much, that you can order him around?" "Unfortunately, I can't. I wish I could, but he's too headstrong, and very smart. But, this time, he may be out-smarting himself." Alex looked at his watch. "I've got a staff meeting." "I wish I could say, thanks for coming, but you just laid a loaded bomb in my lap." "I understand. I wish I could say I was sorry," Alex said sincerely and started toward the door. "Oh, by the way, Doctor Raymond said to say hello to "Ratzo"." Radcliff's face flushed red. "If you ever repeat that to anyone, I'll never vote for you," he said with an embarrassing grin.

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CHAPTER 10

THE PRESS CONFERENCE

"Walter is everything ready? Press Conference, handouts, etcetera?" Alex said as he shoveled papers in a frenzy. "Relax, everything's under control, except you. Alex, I hope you know what you're doing?" Walter added. "If you have any doubts, I'll understand if you want out." "Marian's has doubts, everybody's has doubts, except you," he punctuated. "Alex, I've always bee straight, and you know it. Look, I'm not bailing out, I'll be there right to the end...wherever that is," Walter said rolling his eyes. "I'm sorry, Walter. I'm nervous, I need this Press Conference to go well. I need

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your support." Alex stood in the center of the room looking pitiful. Walter walked over to Alex and encircled his shoulder with a tree trunk of an arm. "Boss, I'm proud of you and what you're trying to accomplish. You know I'm just a worrywart. Even if I do grumble a lot, I'll be with you as long as you want me. And I hope that's for a long time to come." "Thanks, Walter." And then remembered, "Where's Marian?" "She's organizing the media for the Press Conference, and trying to answer the unanswerable." "What's that?" "Why in the hell are you running?" he said, releasing his grip. "Well, if anyone can handle it, Marian can," he said confidently. "She's going all out for you, Alex. Don't let her get lost in the shuffle, you know what I mean?" "I do. Thanks for reminding me," he said, looking kindly at his old friend. Alex took a deep breath, "Alright, let's go get 'em." Alex puffed up his chest trying to summon up all of his courage.

The small, green room in the Senate Building was over crowded with reporters, political analysts, camera people, and a hand full of curious Senators and Congressmen who were shocked at Alex's sudden announcement. Alex entered from the side door next to a small platform, and walked directly to the podium that was laden with dozens of microphones. Alex stood and looked out at the crowd and waited them for them to settle down. Finally, the mild roar came to an abrupt stop as they realized that Alex was standing in front of the room. Before beginning he looked over to Marian and Walter who were standing next to the platform, near the door, wearing perfunctory smiles. “First, I want to thank you all for coming…My decision to run for the Presidency

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is as much a surprise to me as it is to you." Alex took another deep breath. "There are some things in life that just demand action. By way of explanation, I would like to make a public confession, and an apology. Last year our daughter, Alicia," Alex said looking over at his wife, "was taken from us in tragic way. The official story was that she and some of her friends died in an automobile accident after attending a small graduation party. The truth is that someone spiked the punchbowl with a deadly dose of cocaine and amphetamines. She and several of here friends died. However, I want to emphasize that none of the graduating students had anything to do with spiking the punchbowl…I confess that I covered up the facts of that night, believing it would ruin her and the reputation of her friends. I was wrong. The truth needs to be told. I apologize to the other parents, and to every parent who has ever lost a child to drugs." "Drug dealers, and the world wide drug cartels, and so called, distributors who are targeting are children as future customers is the worst kind of evil imaginable. They take our young, and leave us only grief. It may be said, by many of you, that if we had not lost our daughter to drugs, I would not be standing here. That, unfortunately may be true. Nevertheless, this father is committed to do something about it. In short, I running for the Presidency because I believe that parents all over America, and indeed the world, are angry at the their Government's inability to stop the drug trade that is killing our children, or at the very least, ruining their lives." "I pledge to the American people that I will commit the full force of all our resources to the complete and utter eradication of the drug trade in America. And with the concerted effort of our allies, on a worldwide basis. "Alex paused. "No more drugs, no more death. No more tolerance, and no more excuses. The time has come to end this evil once and for all." Alex stopped. Beads of sweat were forming on his brow. "I'll take a few questions, I'm sure you have a lot of them." Loud murmurs rumbled through the audience, as a host of hands waved to be recognized. Alex pointed to a reporter, sitting in the first row, who had been taking

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copious notes. "Robert," Alex said. "I'm sure every parent in America appreciates your comments, Senator, but is this the only issue you intend to run on? The country is rift with other social and economic problems, from unemployment to deep budget cuts that have squeezed most segments of our society into sacrificing major portions of their standard of living." "I appreciate your question, and, I too, share your concerns. In the coming weeks, I'll be issuing specific causal relationships between drugs and every issue you raised that is plaguing this country, especially crime. The money that we as a nation are wasting on drugs can be used for education, social programs, and alternative training for Americans who have been displaced due to a changing economy. We could balance the budget just on the money we're spending on fighting crime, which is almost entirely drug related" Alex pointed to a woman who seemed to be doing a version of jumping jacks. "Senator, how do you intend to fund your campaign?" "The old fashioned way, a dollar at a time." The woman frowned and sat down. It was obviously not an answer that made news. Another question came from a CNN reporter. "As head of the Armed Services Committee, and maybe, future President," he added, "are you willing to commit our troops to an all out drug war?" "Let me say this, 'Just say no' doesn't work. We've tried education in the classroom; we've tried to cajole and scare our young people not to take drugs. We've got eliminate drugs at the source. As for using American troops, I think that decision is premature. I believe we have enough Drug Enforcement Agencies in place to stop the drug trade in America. To do it, however, it must be our number one priority." Alex selected a reporter standing off to the side shouting, "Senator Artemis," above all the rest. "Isn't it true, Senator, that your confession was going to be disclosed by your opponents if you decided to run for re-election? And further, will you be facing any

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criminal charges for what you did?" "As for what I did, sometimes good intentions lead to wrong results. As to your first question, I think that's something you should ask your own sources. To the last part of your question, if any governmental agency chooses to file charges, I'll accept whatever consequences that comes with it." Alex turned back to the full audience. "I'll take a coupe of more questions." A man in a plaid jacket asked, "Your upcoming NATO meeting in Rome may well define our International relationships. Are you in favor of the NATO Alliance breaking up?" "I have personally not passed judgment on that prospect. As for changing International relationships, the last time I checked, the President was still in charge. So, I suggest you ask him." "A quick follow-up, please. Being that this is the President's last term in office, who do you see as your opposition within your own party?" "Anyone who decides to run." Alex said. "Alright, one more question. A youngish, looking blond, male reporter asked, "What about alcohol, Senator? Teenage drinking is on the rise, and if you are successful, won't that just turn more teenagers to alcohol, which is, after all, just a legal form of drugs?" "Let's take one problem at a time. We can't solve everything at once, but we can stop the drug trade, if we make it a national priority policy." Alex waved off the rest of the reporters clamoring to get their face on national television. "You'll have many more opportunities for your questions in the future, but I'd like to conclude by making a final statement: We will always have controversial issues; social, political, and economic problems to solve. And I believe that the solution to the future is through our children. What kind of a world are we willing to let them inherit? A world of drugs that numbs their minds, tortures their souls, and may eventually take their lives. I don't think so. I don't think that's the kind of future we want for our children."

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"Drugs are killing our children by the tens of thousands. The drug issue crosses all religious, ethnic, and social economic strata. We are all vulnerable to this evil, and I intend to stop it!... Thank you for coming," Alex said and walked briskly over to where Marian and Walter were standing; the three of them exited the room as a chorus of banal questions echoed behind them. They walked silently down the long corridor toward Alex's office. "You both seem like you just attended a funeral." Alex said, disappointed at their silence. It was a long minute before Marian spoke, "Isn't there a better way to accomplish what you want?" she asked somberly. "You think the Press Conference went badly?" "I'm not talking about the Press Conference, I'm talking about you, this Brand character, and your obsession. "My mission, Marian," Alex corrected. "Well, it's not my mission. Of course, I would like to see drugs wiped off the face of the earth, and I'm committed to work untiringly to that end, but this is not the way," Marian said, shaking her head. Walter stayed out of it. "You don't think, as the First Lady, you can make a difference?" Alex asked trying to lighten Marian's mood. It only made it worse. After all these years, he still didn’t understand her, and she him. "That's not funny, Alex. I don't want to be First Lady. And you said you didn't want to be President. Has something changed that you haven't told me?" she asked with a bitter anger. "No. But I need this forum. Someone has to carry the banner." "So, you elected yourself," Marian said sarcastically. "Pope Francis did," Alex blurted out. "Pope Francis!" Marian said shocked. Her sense of credulity was being strained to

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the breaking point. "Yes, he gave me a mission to save the children from being enslaved and murdered by drugs." "This is what Father Salvi told you?" "In so many words." "And who gave Pope Francis this mission? And why has he given it to you?" "I suppose Heaven gave it to him. And I don't know why he's given it to me. But, it'll be the first question I ask him when we meet after the NATO Conference." Marian just shook her head. "I'm going to the Ladies' room, I'll meet you in the office." Marian turned down the hallway that led to the restrooms. "Is it really as stupid as it sounds?" Alex asked Walter. "Boss, we're all in shock, especially Marian. Maybe, she's afraid you've flipped again, just in a different way." "Do you think that too, Walter?" "Everything has happened so fast, we just need time to adjust," Walter said, trying to take the sting out of his words. After a minute, "How do you think the Press Conference went?" Alex asked. "It could have been worse." "That good, huh." "Well, we'll all find out in the morning when the papers hit the stand."

The headline in the Washington Post read: "SENATOR ARTEMIS, THE MOST UNLIKELY CANDIDATE, CHOOSES MISSION IMPOSSIBLE IN HIS BID TO BECOME PRESIDENT"

On the Op Ed page of the Washington Times, Bill West wrote: Senator, Alexander Artemis, Chairman of the Armed Services

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Committee promised the complete eradication of drugs and drug dealers from the face of the earth. In twenty-five years in this town, I guess you finally see it all. Rumors have been flying around for months that Senator Artemis has been acting, let’s say, strangely, yesterday he proved it. In the words of a prominent Congressman, who had been mounting his own Senatorial Campaign against Artemis, "Too bad he's not running for reelection, it would have been fun." And, as another Opposition Party Spokesperson said, 'Off the Record', "Sure, the drug problem is a serious issue, but the Senator's approach seemed more like Don Quixote slashing at windmills than a man intent on becoming President." However, on a positive note: They called it Seward's Follies when Secretary Seward bought Alaska; perhaps Senator Artemis will go down in history as Alexander The Great, Conqueror of the Drug Wars. But, that's just my opinion, and I could be wrong.

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CHAPTER 11

GEORGETOWN

A small, dingy hangout that served greasy hamburgers and beer to mostly University students that felt like slumming, and to a few professors who acted more like delinquents than role models was one of the many places that Michael Brand and General Radcliff met. Radcliff sat on a half-torn leather stool and bellied up to the bar. He was dressed in a denim shirt, beige workman type pants, and disguised with a quite realistic salt and pepper beard, and a Washington Redskin cap. Brand entered and sauntered through a saw dust covered floor, and squeezed himself between a group of half-drunk, haranguing students and Radcliff, who was bent

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over a glass of beer as if he were reading tea leaves. Ignoring Radcliff, Brand shouted to the bartender for a beer. An unshaven bartender plopped the beer down, as white sudsy foam sloshed down the side of the glass. "What the fuck do you think you're doing?" Radcliff twanged just audible enough for Brand to hear. "Having a beer," Brand quipped, keeping his eyes forward. "You know, you're a real chicken-shit. You didn't even have the balls to come to me. You had to send Artemis, who is now the laughing stock of the Beltway." "The 'Beltway' is the operative word. His message played well in Peoria. Don't you ever read anything outside of the major rags?" Radcliff hesitated, and then said, "No." "Well, let me put it this way. If the election were tomorrow, he'd win." "You're as crazy as he is." "And you've got your head stuck in the collective Beltway sand. There's a whole country out there, Ratzo," Brand said. Radcliff cringed at the name, but said nothing. "People are scared to death that their children are being seduced by drugs and drug dealers. The inner cities of America are terrified by the violence caused by punks fighting over their, so called, turf. The police just stand by while crack dealers are peddling death on every corner. And the rest of America is afraid their neighborhood is next...Yeah, you ought to start reading the real world." Brand stopped and took a sip of his beer. "Alex hit a major nerve. And these idiot, political analyst are playing right into my hands." "You think you’re really slick with that silver tongue," Radcliff said, still smarting from the Ratzo crack, but kept his head firmly planted over his beer. "So, what's going on beneath that suave exterior of yours? What the hell are you planning?" "At the moment, I'm improvising," Brand said and slipped his hand under the bar

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and grabbed Radcliff's thigh. "But, make no mistake, Artemis' mission is my mission. It's always been that way, and you know it." Brand released his grip. "Alex has provided me with a golden opportunity...Besides, I like the guy." "You're going to get yourself killed, if you pursue this thing," Radcliff said through clenched teeth. "So what. I was dead two weeks ago. So, don't lecture me." "Alright, alright, but you've got to have a plan, and it better include me." "I will, and it does. Haven't all the years of working with me taught you anything?" "Yeah, I know why I've lost all my hair," Radcliff said. "So, what's next?" "Alex is going to Rome, after the NATO Conference he's meeting with Pope Francis. It seems that the Pope has promised to help Alex in any and every way he can." "You mean he's recruited the Pope?" Radcliff asked in disbelief. "No. As I understand it, the Pope recruited him." "What's this, a new twist on the 'Bully Pulpit'?" he asked sarcastically. "Don't put down what you don't understand." A drunken, college student elbowed his way between Radcliff and Brand and started yelling at the bartender for a beer. Brand reached under the bar and grabbed the student's balls and squeezed them into a vice. The young man's eyes rolled back as he sucked in the pain, and Brand whispered into his ear, "Get a waitress." The student pulled back away slowly as Brand released his grip, and then smiled at the quickly sobering student. "Have a fun evening, and don't forget to do your homework." The young man left, grateful that his manhood was still in tact. "You still think you're a bad-ass, don't you?" "You can take the kid out of the Barrio, but you can't take the Barrio out of the kid."

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"Quaint," Radcliff sighed. "I can't stop you, so, I have no choice but to join you. What do you think you're going to need?" Radcliff knew better than to keep arguing, it only made Brand more stubborn. "A miracle," Brand replied. "But short of that, I don't know yet. When Alex gets back from Rome, we'll put a plan together." "Can I be in on the meeting?" Radcliff asked, half-heartedly. Brand turned to Radcliff for the first time, "Are you kidding?" Radcliff thought for a moment. "I want to be involved." "You will. But, you know I can't be seen with you, in any capacity." "I hate this Michael. I got a bad feeling about it." "I always have a bad feeling about these things, that's why I'm still alive." Radcliff slipped off the bar stool, keeping his head and eyes lowered, he then shoved his hands into his pockets, and limped off through the crowd.

CHAPTER 12

ROME, ITALY

The first round of talks with the NATO Delegations went just about the way Alex thought they would: a voiced solidarity with an under current of mistrust and apprehension. The meeting was more for public relation purposes than for any substantial discussion of the myriad issues that were facing the Alliance. The real debate would begin later in the year when the Eastern Block Nations would be pushing hard for full membership into the Alliance, and the Russian's staunch opposition to it, favoring a

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Partnership Alliance instead, with several escape clauses attached. The talk of another Russian revolution was gathering like dark clouds on the horizon. The old KGB and the disgruntled military against the Russian people could amount to another Stalinesque slaughter. The second round, and the end of the talks, ended exactly as Alex had predicted: a lot of hand shaking, false smiles, staged photo opportunities, and platitudes of complete cooperation for a multi-lateral peace. The only dissenting comment came from the British delegate, "We shall always protect our own self interests." The French newspapers played it up as Britain's usual anti-European cooperative stance. "They want all the benefits, but are unwilling to work with their European neighbors in any substantial way."

Walter Baker opened the door to Senator Artemis' suite. "Hello, Mr. Baker," Father Salvi said. "Come in," Walter said without any facial expression, but his body language spoke volumes. Antonio walked in not sure what to expect after Baker's imposing figure made it clear that he disapproved of him being there. Alex entered from one of the bedrooms slipping his coat on, and tugging at the cuffs of his white shirt. Alex spotted Antonio. "Ah, Father, you're early," Alex said. "It's good to see you again," he said, smiling. "The traffic was lighter than I thought it would be." "I'm ready, Father," Alex said, excitedly. Walter maintained his standoffish posture, and said nothing. "I don't when I'll return," Alex said to Walter. "Entertain the British Defense Minister, see if you can't convince him to soften the rhetoric." "Will do," he answered. Don't rush, Senator, our plane doesn't leave until

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midnight," he said with an edge of sarcasm, and shuffled a stack of papers. As Alex and Antonio walked down the hallway to the elevators, Antonio said, "Mt. Baker doesn't approve of what you are doing." "Let's just say, that he hasn't made up his mind yet. But he'll come around, he's a loyal and good friend," Alex replied, reassuringly. "Friendship and loyalty are two of the greatest gifts we can give to one another." Alex reflected on Antonio's words for a minute and then said, "They are also one of the hardest things to maintain, especially when one's actions appear to be extreme and out of character." Antonio nodded his understanding.

When they arrived at the Vatican, the Swiss Guards quickly ushered them into the Pope's private elevator. "I feel nervous," Alex confessed. "I've never met a Pope before." "He's a man, just like you, Senator. A very special man, but still a man." Antonio then added, "He's an American, the two of you should get on well." Alex felt slightly confused by Antonio's remarks. "I thought Popes were supposed to be held in high reverence? Men of exceptional spiritual qualities?" "They are, Senator. But tonight you will meet the human side." "Forgive me for saying, but it seems, somehow, disrespectful." "It does to me, also, but it was Pope Francis' wish that I convey this to you."

Standing in the doorway, Pope Francis watched as the two men approached. Francis held out his hand to greet the Senator, when without warning, Alex grabbed the Pope's hand and dropped to one knee searching to kiss the Ring that was not there. Alex's unexpected action took Francis by surprise, but then immediately clutched him by the shoulders and urged him to rise. "I do not wear the Papal Ring when friends meet on a common journey," Francis said warmly. "But, I appreciate your intention."

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That was not the reason he wasn't wearing the Ring. Alex was equally surprised at his own impulsiveness, and also the lump that was forming in his throat. "Holy Father," Alex said rising to his feet, and feeling embarrassed, "I wanted only to accord you the respect of your position." "We are only men, trying to do God's will." "I've never been a church-goer, so forgive me if my action was inappropriate." Francis smiled heartily. "I've been a church-goer my entire life, and my actions, according to most, are considered to be inappropriate." Alex didn't know how to take the Pope's response. "Let's go in, there is much we have to discuss," Francis said leading the way. Antonio could feel his own apprehension mounting. "Antonio tells me," Francis began, "that you have agreed to take on the mission." "Whole heartedly, Your Holiness." "Please, call me Francis. Saint Francis was a simple man with a mission. I do my best to walk in his footsteps." "I'm sorry, I'm not familiar with the saint," Alex said, feeling embarrassed at his lack of knowledge. "No matter," Francis said. "We all walk through life in another's shoes. As Senator, you walk in the footsteps of many senators who have gone before you." Alex nodded, understanding the obvious, but not the implication. "I must admit...Francis," Alex said, forcing himself to address the Pope informally, "I have felt very nervous about meeting you. Politics is something I understand, but this mission...thing." Alex couldn't find the words. "This mission thing, as you call it, is no different than your political mission. We make a commitment, and then do the best we can. The only difference, in this case, is that we have some unexpected help." Antonio stiffened, and broke out, instantly, into a cold sweat.

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The latter, was probably the most cryptic answer Alex had ever heard. "I'm sorry, I don't understand." "You will," Francis said, and then turned to Antonio. "Antonio would you offer our friend of a glass of Sacristy wine." "Sacristy wine, Your Holiness?" Antonio said sounding shocked at the suggestion. Sacristy wine was to be used solely during the saying of the Holy Mass. "It seems fitting for the occasion, doesn't it, Antonio?" Alex was lost. Antonio reflected for a second, "Of course, it does, Your Eminence." Antonio walked over to an antique cabinet, withdrew a crystal carafe and poured two glasses of wine, and then started to put them on a silver tray. "Pour four glasses," Francis said. Antonio flashed a concerned look. "Pour four glasses, Antonio," Francis repeated. Antonio completed his task, and offered the Senator and the Pope each a glass, and then set the tray down on the desk. Alex waited for Antonio to pick up his glass of wine, but Antonio just stood there. "Antonio, would you please get Angelo." Antonio's stomach immediately twisted into knots. He forced a slight nod and exited through a curtain. A moment later, following Antonio through the red, velvet curtain, a short, rotund man wearing a black suit, and dark glasses emerged. His snowwhite hair glistened, even in the soft lights. Alex presumed he was another priest. He couldn't have been more wrong. "I would like to introduce you to Angelo Gallucci, "Antonio said to Alex, and then in Sicilian to Angelo, "This is the Senator I spoke of, Alexander Artemis." Alex responded by holding out his hand. Angelo grasped it with both of his hands and shook it with great fervor, as he flashed a white smile that matched his hair. Antonio

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then offered Gallucci a glass of wine, and took the remaining one from the tray for himself. "I would like to offer a toast," Gallucci said, holding up his glass. Antonio translated everything that was spoken for the rest of the evening. "A toast to us, we who have been chosen by Heaven to carry out its will." The four men sipped from the crystal glasses that contained the consecrated wine. Alex had no idea as to the real meaning of the toast, and his curiosity wouldn't let it alone. "Your Holy..." Alex caught himself, "Francis, I have made my commitment to this mission for my own personal reasons." Alex then gestured toward Antonio. "With the help of your able Ambassador, I was able to free myself from my anger and depression, and for that I will be eternally grateful. But, there is great opposition about what I am doing from those close to me. I recruited, at your request, a man that my wife, and my staff despised. However, I know much more about him now, and have come to trust and admire him. But, for security reasons, primarily his, I am not at liberty to tell anyone what I have learned about him; so, the opposition continues. Those that I need the most to help me have more questions than answers, and frankly, so do I. I would like...appreciate some answers that I can take back to clarify, at least, for my wife, and those who are putting their careers on the line for me." "What is said in this room must never be repeated to anyone, except, of course, Michael Brand. On that, I must have your sacred promise," Francis said without equivocation. Alex's mind began to spin like a top out of control. "Then I must keep everyone in the dark, my wife, my friends, those whose careers I may be putting in jeopardy for the sake of this mission?" "Do you have doubts about this mission?" Francis asked, softly. Alex's eyes glazed over. He stared off into space, as if trying to connect with some distant memory.

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Antonio held his breath. Finally. "No. I am committed," he said forcefully. "I intend to use my campaign for the Presidency as a means to rally the public to make the eradication of drugs our number one national priority -- for the sake of the children." "Alex..." Francis hesitated, and then looked directly into Alex's eyes. "The Angel of the Lord visited me while I was praying in my chapel, and gave me the names of four men: Antonio, you, Angelo, and Michael Brand. At the time, the names meant nothing to me. I was given no clear direction as to what I should do. But, by the next morning, I had discovered the identity of three of the names in the exact order they were revealed to me. Through you, the fourth name was identified. Why I was given this mission, and why Heaven has selected the four of you? -- Well, only Heaven knows." "Forgive me," Alex said, "but this talk of Heaven is way over my head. When Antonio told me this was a mission given by Heaven, I assumed he meant figuratively. I thought it was my mission, so that my daughter's death would have some meaning. And, of course, the death of Michael's son. What you're telling me is that an "Angel" literally came down from Heaven and gave you this mission. I'm sorry if I appear skeptical, but..." Francis interrupted, "Alex, I think it's time for you to hear the full story." He turned to Antonio and Angelo. "Tell the Senator about the library." Antonio and Angelo retold the events of their experience with the Angel of Death, leaving out Angelo's encounter at Enrico's. As they told their account, Alex could see the horror on their faces as they relived their experience. Alex found a chair and sat down. His mind reeled in disbelief, numbed and dazed by what he had just heard. Then, suddenly, a mysterious sensation began to flow through him, like a liquid energy of electricity, warming his body until he began to perspire profusely. "Are you all right?" Francis asked, concerned. "I told you, I was not a religious man," Alex gasped, as he fumbled to unbutton

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his collar. "A glass of water, Antonio," Francis ordered. Alex gulped it down. "Another?" Antonio asked. "No, I feel better." The flow of the energy that had coursed through his body was now acting on him like a tranquilizer. "There is more," Antonio said. "That is, if you are up to it?" "What can be more shocking that what I have just heard?" "Uncle tell the Senator what happened at Enrico's" Angelo pulled off his dark glasses, revealing two pitch-black pupils set into white-eye sockets. "This is what the Angel of Death did to me. I can never forget," Gallucci said. The ghostly look gave Alex a shiver that ran the length of his body. Angelo then detailed the gruesome scene at Enrico’s, gesturing wildly as he demonstrated the movements of the Angel of Death. When he finished, Antonio said, "Angelo Gallucci is my uncle, but more importantly, he is the Capo di Capo, the head of the worldwide organization known as the MAFIA. The event my uncle described has given him supreme authority over the Mafia Families. They are very superstitious." Alex slumped in his chair, put his hands over eyes, and then massaged his temples, which pounded from the unreality of what he was hearing. "You mean to say, that I'm sitting here with the most important spiritual leader in the world, and the most notorious crime boss in the world; and both of you are working together?" Alex felt as if he had just walked into the Twilight Zone. "Some things are not determined by men, but by Heaven," Gallucci said, putting the dark glasses back on. "I am ready to commit every man and resource to the fulfillment of Heaven's mission."

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Gallucci words echoed in Alex's ears like so many Generals before. Alex just sat, shaking his head between his hands, trying desperately to wake himself from what must surely be a dream -- A bad dream. "Angelo has been chosen by Heaven," Francis said. "As the rest of you have. I cannot tell you why. I can only say that Heaven has made its choice." "Some choice," Alex muttered. "And they say that Politics makes strange bedfellows." The irony was so thick that he was mentally unable to digest it. "Do I have a choice?" Alex asked, looking at Francis like a wounded puppy. "We always have a choice," Francis said. “Throughout history, men have been inspired to combat the spread of evil. Sometimes, it takes a terrible event before their eyes are opened. Remember Pearl Harbor?" "I guess I've had my Pearl Harbor," Alex said, beginning to mentally regain some semblance of sanity. "So, what do we do?" “We fight,” Gallucci roared. “We fight a war that has never been fought.” “What kind of war is that?” Alex asked The voices of Gallucci and Alex faded into the background as Francis walked over to the window, and looked out at a crescent moon that was framed above one of the seven crown jewels of Rome. His mind slipped back to another time – another war. "Joey, put your shoes away. Papa will be home soon, and dinner is almost ready." "Okay, Mom," Joey said, and tucked his tennis shoes behind the sofa. "How was school today?" Joey's mom called out from the kitchen. "I think I'm flunking math," he said automatically, and then instantly wished he had thought before answering. "Don't tell Papa. Okay?" Joey pleaded, as he walked into the kitchen and watched his mother scramble around the room like an expert chef. Stirring pots on the stove, setting the table, and slicing vegetables all in a fluid motion "Sixteen years old, and you still can't add?" she asked annoyed, as she whirled pots and pans around with the deftness of a magician's hand.

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"Sister Mary Katharine is a perfectionist," Joey said, trying to steal a tempting chocolate chip cookie just out of the oven. "Not before dinner," his mother said, rapping him playfully with a wooden spoon on the knuckles. "A perfectionist," she repeated, barely able to say the word through her thick German accent. Joey McCully's father had been a Master Sergeant during World War II. Now, he worked for the Veteran's Administration as a staff supervisor. When his father talked to him, it was like the barking of a drill sergeant, which always made Joey feel as if he were in boot camp. But underneath it all, he knew his father loved him, though he rarely heard the words, except when his father had a couple of stiff Irish whiskies, which then softened him into a big cuddly bear. Joey didn't mind his father's occasional drinking, as a matter of fact, he liked it. It was then that his father would hold him on his lap and regale him with stories about his native Ireland: leprechauns and all. But, the stories that Joey loved hearing the most was how the GIs liberated Germany. Joey's memories of tanks and jeeps with American flags whipping in the wind as they rumbled over the cobble-stoned streets in his German village were as clear as if they were yesterday. At the time, the only English words he knew were GI Joe. He loved hanging out with the American soldiers, and soon began calling himself, Joe, which shortly turned into Joey by the soldiers. His parents had been killed in one of the Death Camps, exactly which one, he never knew. The day the Gestapo came and took his parents away he had been at the market buying a loaf of bread for his mother. An elderly German woman, known around the village as old lady Gustoff, who had been friendly toward his family, saw the whole thing. On his way home she stopped him and quickly brought him into her house, where she hid him for the balance of the war -- both of them living in fear that they would be caught. But the old lady was smart, fear makes you that way, and no one ever found out. As the years went by they thought the

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war would never end. So, when the Americans came, Joey was elated, free to roam the streets again. Considering everything, the town had been relatively undamaged, and therefore, it had become a headquarters' for the American Army. It was there that he met Teddy McCully, a rough and gruff Master Sergeant, but there was something magnetic about his tough manner that Joey was attracted to, and little by little, the tough talking soldier softened. Each day the sergeant would share a can of Spam with him, which to this day was still his favorite. During the year that followed, the two of them had become friends, although, Joey still had difficulty in understanding him, even though he had been taking English lessons, which the sergeant had arranged for. It was then, that Teddy McCully met Alice VanKempen, a young German woman, who worked at the American commissary. At first, Joey had felt left out, but soon, at Alice's insistence, the three of them had become, more or less, like a family. And, on many occasions, they even took old lady Gustoff with them on picnics. Joey had buried his grief for his parents, partly out of fear, because old lady Gustoff had told him never to tell anyone what had happened, but mostly out of pain. His new -- family -- made it easy for him to transfer his pain into some hidden place, at least, until the day that the Master Sergeant told him he had been ordered back to the United States. After the loss of his parents, that was the worst day Joey McCully could ever remember. The thought of losing a family twice was too much for him to take. He felt alone and lost. He loved the old lady, but he needed more, he needed to be part of a real family...a future. Joey didn't wait for McCully's explanation, he just ran and ran, until he found himself deep into a forest near the village. For two days he sat and slept next to a creek, watching the water as if it were his future rapidly flowing away from him. On the morning of the third day, Sergeant McCully found him. "Laddie, you've scared the holy bee-gee bees out of all of us," McCully said in his usual stern voice.

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When Joey looked up into McCully's eyes, he could see the same scared look he had seen in the old lady's eyes the day the Gestapo took his parents. "Alice and old lady Gustoff," McCully said, "are sitting, right this minute, crying their eyes out. In the name of all that's holy, why did you run away?" "Because you said you were leaving," Joey answered, as big tears streaked pathways down his dirty face. "We'd never leave without you Joey." McCully took out a handkerchief and bent down dipping it into the creek and started wiping Joey's face. "You wouldn't?" Joey asked, as he tried sucking back his tears. "No, we wouldn't," McCully said as he gently wiped Joey's tears away. "Alice and I are getting married, and we've arranged to take you with us to America." "Why didn't you tell me?" Joey asked, still sniffling. "We wanted to wait until we were sure we could adopt you. Besides," McCully said, shuffling the dirt with his huge boot, "we were afraid you might not want us to be your new parents." "Why?" "We know how close you are to old lady Gustoff. You might not want to leave her." "Does she know?" Joey asked, concerned. "Yes. She said it would make her remaining years very happy knowing you had a new home in America. A new family." Sergeant McCully reached down and picked up a slick, flat stone and skipped it across the creek. "You know she loves you." Joey started crying and could not stop. The floodgates opened and years of pent up pain and fear swept through him in a torrent of emotion. McCully reached down, and with his big hands, lifted him and held him like a baby, and carried him out of the forest. The huge Irish Master Sergeant held Joey close to his chest, and managed to say through his own choked-up tears, "We love you, Joey."

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Joey McCully, ultimately, became Pope Francis I. Neither of his parents had lived long enough to see it, but Joey McCully knew that somewhere, all four of his parents, were proud of him. And now, Heaven had given him a mission to free all the Joey's of the world. How ironic, he thought, that it would take another war. Francis turned back from the window just as Gallucci began telling Senator Artemis about a different kind of campaign -- the Campaign of War. Alex looked at Gallucci wryly. "So, it seems we work together again." Gallucci's mind stopped like an elevator on the wrong floor. "Without the Mafia’s help we never would have been able to release Mussolini's strangle hold on Italy." The words struck Gallucci like the booming sound of a banging anvil. After a moment, he said, "The Mafia helped for their own personal reasons. This is different." Alex raised an eyebrow. "Evil is evil, and it must be stopped whenever we encounter it," Alex responded. "You believe the Mafia is evil, do you not?" Gallucci asked. Alex was stumped. "It seems you've had a conversion," he finally said with some sincerity. "Because Heaven threatened to take my daughter from me," Gallucci bellowed, "otherwise, I would not be here." Alex could see that he was visibly shaken. After a moment, Gallucci continued in a more even tone. "I am simply saying that even evil can be scared enough to fight against itself." "I see that you've given this much thought," Alex said. "Yes, I have. And I am willing to give my life for this mission. Are you, Senator?" "Mine, yes. My family’s, no." "Then we are in agreement," Gallucci roared, slapping his hands together and

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spreading a wide grin. He then held out his hand to Alex. The two men shook hands. Gallucci pumped the Senator's hand vigorously. Gallucci was pleased with himself. The very thought that the Mafia and the United States of America were on the same side touched his Sicilian pride. "I assume you have a plan then?" Alex asked. "Ah, a plan." Gallucci's eyes narrowed. "A plan is like a battle, an ever changing strategy of move and counter move." Reluctantly, Alex was beginning to become very impressed with Gallucci; and then he realized why the Mafia had been so successful, and had grown even stronger over the years, regardless of what the FBI or the Italian Government said. They were smart, smarter than their enemies. Gallucci continued. "The world drug trade is divided into three parts..." Gallucci reminded Alex of one of his old history professors who began the semester with the words of Julius Caesar, "All Gaul is divided into three parts". "Here, let me show you." Gallucci turned to Antonio and asked for a pen and paper. He then drew a triangle, and wrote three words. On the top, he wrote Europe; on the other corners of the triangle he wrote Asia and Latin America. "In Latin America, I include everything south of the United States." He then wrote three other words: next to Europe he wrote Mafia; next to Asia, Yakuza; and next to Latin America, Colombian Cartels. “I must also include within the Asian market, the Tongs and Triads. But they are minor players, primarily in distribution.” "You're not including the United States?" Alex asked, surprised. Gallucci looked at the Senator with equal surprise. "Let me explain then," he said, tapping the pen on each corner of the triangle, and started to speak to Alex as if he were a student who should have known the answer. "The United States is primarily a consumer. Let me put in your business terms. The Mafia is not a producer. We are like distributors, but powerful distributors. For over a century, we have engineered and controlled a

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worldwide, black-market network. The Asians and the Colombian Cartels are both producers as well as distributors. But, for their businesses to flourish, they need our European, Russian, and US distribution networks. Therefore, we have all formed agreements. We use each other's worldwide networks to distribute to lesser networks; and then to major drug dealers who distribute on down the line to minor dealers, who sell their products to customers, many of which, are forced to deal to support their own addiction. We deal in Heroine, Cocaine, and Hashish...and what you call Marijuana." Alex listened in amazement. Not so much at what Gallucci said, but the way he said it. He spoke like a CEO of anyone of the Fortune 5OO companies explaining their marketing plan. Gallucci continued, "The Colombians and the Asians have employed the finest chemists in the world to refine their products. They use the most advanced technology to produce the purist product. The purer the product, the more it can be cut, and of course, more profit. We share the profits like any multi-national company who has similar agreements to produce, distribute, and sell their products world wide." Gallucci took a breath. "Our agreements and distribution networks are so well thought out and managed that it is not dependent on any one man or group. You can arrest the heads of all the organizations, as well as ten thousand dealers, and you won't even slow it down!" Gallucci laid the pen on the paper that was now filled with lines and circles resembling any corporation's marketing chart. "So how do we stop it?" Alex asked. "We do it subtly...or, perhaps, not so subtly," Gallucci said with a half-smile. "First, I bring all of the Mafia networks under my control. Most of which I have already done; I will have to work on the US networks, they are a rebellious bunch. It will require some work, but it will be done," Gallucci said letting out an ugly sigh. "How?" Alex asked naively. "It's not important, Senator. It is best for you not to know. But, I'm sure it will

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become evident in the near future." "I have some questions,” Alex said. “What percentage of the worldwide narcotic production is sold in the U.S.?” “About seventy-percent,” Gallucci replied. “Whew,” Alex whistled through his teeth. “No wonder we can’t stop it.” “Not in a hundred years.” “What about amphetamines?” Alex asked. “Primarily a U.S. pharmaceutical problem. Easy to make easy to sell.” “How do we stop it?” “Without your resources going to useless interdictions, you can clean it up in two, maybe, three months.” Alex wanted to ask Gallucci if he wanted to be the new U.S. Drug Czar. Instead, “How do we stop this monster with tentacles all over the world?” Gallucci said, "I must convince the Colombians and the Yakuza to give up the drug trade." He said it as casually as dictating a memo. "I know something about the Yakuza, and a lot about the Colombians, and I don't think they're going to agree without a fight." "A war, Senator. Evil against evil." "Doesn't sound like a Holy War to me," Alex said, looking at Francis. Gallucci quickly diverted Alex away from the Pope, "War, my friend, is never Holy. It is necessary. And we will do what is necessary." Gallucci intoned with the firmness of a General readying himself for combat. "There are too many against you to win." "That is true. So, I must convince one of them to join with us against the other." "How do you plan to do that?" "That is something only Heaven can answer...Perhaps, the Angel of Death may have to make one more appearance," Gallucci said and looked up toward the ceiling

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hoping Heaven were listening. "And what if this...Angel of Death doesn't?" Alex asked; his mind boggled by the thought of any kind of Heavenly intervention. "Then," Gallucci said with a shrug of his shoulders, "we all die trying." "You know that I cannot officially condone this so-called war." "You are part of this war, Senator," Gallucci said firmly. "Maybe, unofficially, I can help from my side…Maybe. But, I can't guarantee anything." "I'm sure, Senator, you will do what is necessary," Gallucci said flatly. "I can talk to Brand, I'm sure he'll have some ideas as to how to approach the Colombians." "I doubt it. The Colombians are not swayed by words." "There is someone who shares our concern, and may be willing to help, if... it comes to war." Alex was thinking of Radcliff. "Covertly, of course." "Ah, covertly, of course. That is when your system works best." Alex didn't like the comment, but said nothing. "Do not be offended, Senator. Politics is the art of coversion. And war is the art of aggression," Gallucci said, matter-of-factly.

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CHAPTER 13

WASHINGTON, DC

On the trip back from Rome, Walter had questioned Alex persistently about his visit to the Vatican. Alex felt like it was more like an interrogation, but under the circumstances he couldn't blame Walter; he had only told him that the Pope had concerns about the NATO Alliance. That, obviously, was not satisfactory for Walter.

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It was late when Alex arrived home from the airport. Marian was waiting up for him. Her cool demeanor meant that she was still upset. After his encounter with Gallucci, he questioned whether he should have started this whole mission thing, but he was in too deep now. He had given his word to Pope Francis; and right now, his word was the only thing he had left, even if he didn’t understand this ‘Angel of Death’ stuff. "Hi, honey," he said, throwing his jacket on a chair. He was too tired to have an argument with Marian, but he couldn’t see any way out of it. However, he would try to do his best to avoid one. Marian sat pretending to be busy with a stack of files in front of her. "How'd it go?" she asked without looking up. Alex plopped down next to her. "The same old game of keep-away with the truth." "You know what I mean," she answered, snapping off her glasses, angrily. "Right now, I don't give a good damn about the NATO meeting. I want to know every detail about your meeting with the Pope...If this is going to work, there can't be any secrets between us. Is that clear." "You think I want to keep any secrets from you? Everything is classified, and that means the meeting with the Pope as well. You know how it works. What I need, at least for now," trying to placate her, "Is your trust." "Give me something, Alex," she pleaded, her eyes filling with tears. Alex put his arm around her. "Listen, Marian, this thing is more complicated than anything I could have imagined...and more dangerous. I can tell you this, and only this. General Radcliff is involved and it has to do with national security. I've put Brand's life on the line, and I'm scared shitless." It didn't help. Marian just starred at him. "We used to have a partnership, Alex. I can't help you run this campaign without knowing what's going on." "As far as the campaign is concerned, I can tell you anything."

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"Alright. What's the plan?" "I don't know...yet." Marian just glared at him exasperated. Okay, we'll play it your way, for now." She continued, "We need mega-bucks, and I mean now, or this so-called campaign isn't going to get off the ground." "We'll have five million next week." Alex got up and poured himself a glass of wine. Marian sat stunned. "Where's the money coming from?" "Brand arranged it," he replied, taking a healthy sip of wine. "One thing you know about me, Alex, is that I'm not stupid. So, let me see if I can piece some of this together. Brand has five million dollars to give us. And, I'm sure you're not going to tell me where it’s coming from. Next, Radcliff is involved, which means Military Intelligence, or worse. And, the Pope seems to be leading the parade. Is that about it?" "You forgot to mention the campaign. I'm still running for the Presidency. And we've got a lot of work to do." Marian threw her pen across the room. "You expect me to go on with this...this charade, feeling like I may be a widow at any time?" "A few day ago you were ready to leave me." "You know, you can be a real son-of-a-bitch, Alex," she screamed and started crying again. "Look," he said, apologetically. "If I don't do this, I'm not going to be any good for you or anyone else…Come on let’s go to bed.” Alex walked up the stairs to the bedroom, believing that there was no way he could comfort her. Even if she knew everything, it wouldn't be any better. In fact, it would probably be a whole lot worse. She would have to go along, or not, the choice was hers. As much as he loved her, he was not going to give up. And, right now, that mission was more important than anyone or

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anything else. Alicia’s life had to have some meaning -- His life had to have some meaning.

The next day, Alex made arrangements to meet with Brand. They chose one of the more popular watering holes frequented by the political elite. There was no hiding. It would be the wrong thing to do; their relationship had to be open and obvious to everyone. In such places, however, there was always the perfect table where private deals were made. Brand looked tanned and comfortable. He was the perfect man for any campaign: well dressed, good looking, smart and a reputation that made many hard-nosed campaigners fear. The secret to Brand's genius was not doing the obvious; his opponents never knew where he would strike and hurt them the most "So, how's our mission going?" Brand asked while looking down at the menu. "Before were done with this mission we're all probably going to be killed," Alex stated and waited for Brand's reaction. "Probably," Brand replied, unfazed. "What's up with the Pope?" Alex retold the entire meeting, not leaving anything out. "Whew," was all Brand could manage and closed the menu. He had just lost his appetite. The waiter appeared ready to take their order. Brand just ordered a double bourbon on the rocks. Alex ordered a glass of white wine. "Anything else," the waiter asked. "Maybe later." Alex said waving him off. "Gallucci, head of the Sicilian Mafia, huh! Never heard of him. Not that I'm up on the Mafia." "He's real, alright…and, damn scary. I don't know what we've gotten ourselves into." "It's too late now, eh, Senator." Alex didn’t want to get into it, so he changed the subject and asked, "How'd your

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meeting go with the Colombians?" "About as scary as your meeting. They're suspicious, but willing to go along, at least, for now. We'll have the money in a few days." The waiter brought the drinks, and a basket of French bread. "What's our next move," Brand asked. "Start running the campaign, I guess." And then Alex asked," You know anything about the Yakuza?" "No, but Radcliff does. Why?" "Gallucci says we must convince them to become part of this mission." "Good luck," Brand said, swirling the ice cubes in his drink. "Would Radcliff be willing to set up a meeting?" "No," Brand said, and then sipped on his bourbon. Alex agreed. "I need to talk to Father Salvi then. Maybe, he or the Pope may have an idea... Or Gallucci." The thought made him shiver. Brand just stared into his drink. And finally said, "I hope so, or this is going nowhere." "Do you have doubts about this mission?" "Yeah. A thousand." "You want out?" "Do you?" "No." "Then call the Pope." Brand gulped down the rest of the bourbon. "Call me if you if you find out anything. I'm going to work. We've got a campaign to run. I'm having a meeting with your wife and Walter at three o'clock," Brand said, and left the table. Alex just said, "Hmm," to himself.

Walter and Marion waited patiently in Alex's office. Walter looked at his watch. "You

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know this all crazy." "Yes," Marion said, resignedly. "But, we've got to see this through, or at least, until Alex comes to his senses. He's convinced that the Pope has sent him on a mission. I can tell you this, though, he's scared; and so am I." "You trust this guy, Brand?" "No. But Alex does. So, let's give it our best shot. Maybe, he really can help. He's already gotten commitments for five million dollars. Like it or not, we're on our way." A voice came over the intercom, "Mr. Brand is here." "Send him in," Marion said. Michael Brand walked through the door dressed in a dark blue Armani suit and a burgundy tie. Marion was impressed. Walter just thought he looked over dressed. "Good afternoon," Michael said politely. "Well," Marian said, "let's get started. Walter just nodded toward Brand, but didn't move from the couch. "I'm just here to help. This is your show. I'll add if I can. Do you have a strategy?" Marian began. Walter was not ready yet. "Alex is booked on all the Sunday morning news shows. We're trying to get a feeling for the type of questions he'll be asked. But they're not cooperating." "Can you blame them," Brand remarked. "We're going to have a tough time preparing Alex." "Then don't," Brand said. "Let him talk from his heart. This is not a campaign, at least, in the real sense -- It's Alex’s mission. So, let him connect with the public. Outside the Beltway, middle America is scared as hell about their kids getting involved with drugs. He's a father. Let him tell his story. I thought his announcement for the Presidency was right on. He tied it into all the pertinent social issues: education, the economy, and family values. Any good jockey will tell you, give a horse his head, he'll run." Walter sat upright, "I hate to admit it, but it makes sense. Only Alex knows where

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he's going. So, let him go." Marian nodded. "Okay. But I want him to be informed. Walter get every fact and statistic that relates to how much money the government is spending on these issues and how drugs are impacting on them." "I'm on it," Walter said, starting to feel slightly better. "Maybe, this might just work." Walter left the room. "He doesn't get it, does he?" Brand said flatly. "I'm not sure I do," Marian said, flipping shut a notebook. "Think campaign, and Alex won't get to first base. It'll be over before we start, regardless of the money. He needs a mission statement, not a campaign platform." "You really do understand this thing, don't you?" "Only to the extent that I'm a father whose lost his son. And there are millions out there that have or are afraid they will. My biggest concern is that he may be too successful." "Why? What do you mean?" Marian asked confused. "Alex might really start to believe he can become president, and we'll end up exactly where we started. Nothing will change." "You really believe in this mission thing, don't you?" "That's why I'm here." Marian thought for a minute and then asked, "What's the Pope got to do with all this? Do you know what was said at that meeting?" Marian prodded. "No," Brand said firmly. "I don't believe you." "Believe what Alex tells you." "He hasn't told me a damn thing." Brand just shrugged. "This is hell not being in the loop."

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"I can tell you this. It's going to get worse, before it gets better." "Well, that's encouraging," Marian said sarcastically. Brand looked at his watch. "I need to go. We'll talk again, soon. "You bet we will," Marian said as Brand walked out of the office.

THE VATICAN

Pope Francis sat at his desk, finishing up some overdue Vatican work, when he heard a soft knock on the door. "Come in," he said, speaking in Italian. Father Salvi walked in. "Ah, it's you," speaking now in English. "I'm Glad you're here, Father. I have a feeling that things are going to speed up." "You've received a message from Heaven, Holy Father?" Antonio asked, not knowing whether to be afraid or excited "No, no. Just a feeling," he said, smiling. Antonio was glad to hear it. "I have a question, Your Holiness. My Uncle is a determined man. He will not sit still. He will begin purifying the ranks of his soldiers; who is with him and who is against. It may be a very bloody time. Do you believe Heaven will condone this?" "I don't know, Antonio." Before Francis could continue, the phone rang. "Si," he spoke into the phone. "Put him through." After a pause, "Ah, Senator, you have something for me?" The Pope listened intently. "Hold on, he’s right here. I’ll ask him." Turning to Father Salvi, "Antonio, does your uncle know how to get in touch with the head of the Yakuza?" Antonio almost fainted. "I...I don't know. I guess I can call him." "Can we get back to you Senator?... Fine. I'll do that." Francis replaced the phone in its cradle. "Antonio, do you speak Japanese by any chance?" "Fluently, Your Holiness." Unfortunately, Antonio said to himself. The Pope just smiled. "Call your uncle."

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Father Salvi met Gallucci at the Rome Airport. Pope Francis had arranged for a special chartered plane. "It's a long trip to Japan," Antonio said, stowing his luggage in one of the overhead compartments. As he looked around the plane, he realized that they were the only two passengers. Gallucci was already seated. "We're making a stop on the way. We'll be in New York for a few days first. We have business to take care of." Antonio went stiff. "What kind of business, Uncle?" "We're meeting with the American Capos. They must be brought into line before I meet with the Yakuza." "Does the Pontiff know this?" "Of course. Don't you know we're on a first name basis now." Gallucci laughed at the thought. "Your Pope is praying for our success." "He's your Pope, too," Antonio added. Antonio wondered why Pope Francis had not told him. He must have had his reasons, Antonio concluded. Gallucci fell asleep almost immediately, leaving Antonio with his own thoughts. He reached into his pant pocket and fingered the Pontiff's Holy Ring. Antonio then fumbled for his rosary and prayed the rest of the way to New York.

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PART II

CHAPTER 14

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NEW YORK, THE MEETING

As the chartered plane made it's final descent toward La Guardia Airport, Antonio looked out. The Statue of Liberty came into view, and then the New York City skyline rising up like spires toward Heaven. America, he thought, some day he would like to see it, all of it. The plane finally thudded onto the runway and thumped Gallucci awake. "We're here, Uncle." Gallucci yawned and patted Antonio's leg. “Now, we shall see who's Capo di Capo,” he said, sternly. “Listen to me, Antonio, you will not speak unless spoken to…and then only with my permission. Understood?" Antonio nodded. "This is not going to be a friendly visit, is it?" "Depends, Antonio. Depends," Gallucci said enigmatically. They debarked in a special area of the airport reserved for VIP charters, and were met by a long, black limousine. The chauffeur was already waiting to take their bags, while a huge man dressed in black suit, with dark sunglasses that matched Gallucci's, was approaching. He bowed his head slightly, "Welcome to America, Don Gallucci," the man said in Italian. "You should work on your Italian," Gallucci grunted. The man abruptly turned and walked back to the car as the driver opened the rear door of the limo. Not another word was spoken. They drove for two hours; first through a maze of dense traffic with blaring horns, and then a long quiet stretch of road. It was almost dusk when they arrived at an iron-gated entry with a huge house set back into a grove of Maple trees. The chauffer spoke into an intercom. After a moment, the gates opened and the black limo drove along a winding path and parked in front of what appeared to be a large hunting lodge.

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Several men were standing, like sentries, on the steps. The huge man opened the rear door of the limo; Gallucci and Antonio stepped out. A slightly, built elderly man dressed in a tweed jacket emerged from the house and walked down the steps. "Ah, Don Gallucci," he said with opened arms, "It's good to see you again." Gallucci nodded, and grasped the out-stretched hands. "Mastronini, it has been a long time." Gallucci did not return the customary salutation, which was usually a sign of disrespect, or no respect at all. The old man seemed unfazed. "Come inside, let's make ourselves comfortable. I'm sure it will be a relief after your long journey." Gallucci just nodded as they entered the house. The main room was immense, large wooden beams formed a cathedral ceiling. A massive, stone fireplace held a warm, inviting fire. Mastronini ordered one of the soldiers to bring a bottle of Italian liqueur, and then pointed to a sitting area that was close to the fire. Gallucci walked through the room as if he owned it, and finally sat in a large, soft burgundy chair. The old man sat down opposite him, while Antonio stood next to Gallucci. Several of Mastronini’s soldiers stood about ten feet away in semi-circle with their hands behind their backs. "This is very unusual, Don Gallucci," The old man said, tying to understand. "You come in the Pope's plane, you bring a priest. Why so little notice?" "Time is important now," Gallucci said, firmly. Then remembering Antonio, "This is Father Salvi, Ambassador to the Vatican," he stated proudly. "I had no idea that you and the Vatican were so close," The old man looked at Antonio. "It's my pleasure Father." Antonio just nodded, not forgetting his uncle's admonition. "Please sit." Antonio looked at Gallucci. Gallucci pointed to a chair a few feet away. Antonio sat down. "Did you invite the rest of the Capos, as I asked?" "Ah," Mastronini said, holding out his hands, "These are very busy men. Business

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sometimes comes first." "This is business!" Gallucci slammed his fist on the arm of the chair. The old man just stared at Gallucci, but said nothing. "Have your men leave the room. This is private," Gallucci demanded. Mastronini waved his men to leave. "What of the priest?" "He is my nephew. He stays." Antonio perceived Gallucci’s unwarranted rudeness as some kind of a challenge to establish his authority. The men did not move, "It is okay. We are old friends. Leave us." After the men left, Gallucci leaned forward. "Don Mastronini…" Gallucci now spoke warmly, holding out his hands. "Marco, my old friend, what is about to happen will change all of our lives. It is not only of great importance, but urgent that I meet with all the heads of the Families." Mastronini gripped Gallucci’s out-stretched hands "What is going on, Angelo? We have been like brothers. Tell me what is so important." "My friend, what I have to say, I must say to all of the Capos." Mastronini’s brow furrowed. "Angelo, this is not Italy. I cannot order these men to come. Few of them even know you. There is no code left. The Cosa Nostra has crumbled. There are only a few of us left who have any honor; the rest are no more than common criminals…Disgraziade!" Mastronini said, and spit at the floor. "They don't even speak Italian anymore. They call themselves businessmen. Putanos! That's what they are”, he said disgusted." The old man leaned back into the cushions of his chair. "My friend, in Italy we still respect the Holy Mother, the Church. What of these men?” "These men respect nothing, but their own greed." "When you asked them to come, what was their answer?" "Some said, maybe. Others said they were too busy...I tried, Angelo."

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Gallucci understood, but insisted. "Call them again and tell them that if they are not here by tomorrow night there will be a blood bath, the likes of which they have never known." "Is it that serious?" "More than I can impart to you, my old friend." Gallucci paused and then said, “You know me, Marco, since we were children. You were like an older brother to me. Have you ever known me to afraid of anything?" "Never," he said softly. "So, what now scares you so much?" Gallucci sat back in his chair and contemplated Marco’s question. After a long pause, he decided, "Heaven scares me." "Heaven? What has Heaven to do with this?" Antonio had sat silently observing and listening. He now understood the predicament that his uncle was in. "Everything! I cannot explain now. You must call them again, Marco, and implore them to come. Their lives are at stake; there will be no second chance. But,” Gallucci warned, “do not mention Heaven." "I'm not crazy, my friend." Then added, "But I'm not so sure about you," he said, forcing a smile. "I will do as you ask. Now,” rubbing his hands together, "we shall have a sumptuous dinner."

The next morning Gallucci, the old man, and Antonio sat in the kitchen having breakfast. The soldiers were not in sight. “Did you talk to all of the Capos?” Gallucci asked, through a mouthful of bread. “I did. I relayed exactly what you instructed me to say.” "Good. Will they come?” "Some will. Others. Who knows?” "Did you detect any fear?"

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"No. Just anger." "Do they fear for their lives?" "They believe they are invincible." After a pause, "Do you fear for your life?" "No," Gallucci said flatly. "So, what is so important that makes you insist on this meeting?" Mastronini pressed, wanting to understand what was driving his old friend. "You will know soon enough." Mastronini tried another tact. Turning to Antonio, "And what, Father, do you think of all this?" Antonio looked at his uncle. Gallucci nodded. Antonio was caught off guard. "Don Mastronini...I represent the Holy Mother, the Church, but, I'm here only to translate for Don Gallucci." "He needs a priest for this?" "No. He needs someone he can trust. His words must be translated exactly as he speaks them. There can be no misunderstanding." "What has the Pope to do with all this?" Gallucci ended the conversation, "Later, Marco. Let's finish this wonderful breakfast."

The rest of the day Gallucci and Mastronini walked through the gardens of the compound, reminiscing about the old days when they were together in Palermo. “Do you remember the first time we met?” Marco asked. “How can I forget. I remember it as if it were yesterday.” Marco had lived a few blocks away from Angelo. One Sunday morning, when Angelo was about nine, and on his way home from church, a group of young ruffians began taunting him until finally one of them grabbed him and started shaking him. "Tomorrow, you bring me five Lira or I'll beat your brains out," the young tough said,

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and shoved Angelo hard to the cobblestone. Marco had been watching from the steps of his house, and when Angelo passed, "Come here," he said. Angelo hesitated. "It's okay. Come here and sit next to me,” Marco said, patting a place next to him. Angelo walked over to where Marco was sitting, but would not sit down. "Are you afraid of those guys?" Angelo just shrugged, showing no emotion. "Are you going to give them the money?" Marco asked in a friendly voice. Angelo shrugged again. "I don't want to," he finally said. "I will tell you what to do, if you want?" Angelo nodded. "It will take courage?" "I am not afraid," he answered, trying to hide his real feelings. Marco reached into his pocket and extracted a long thin stiletto. “Tomorrow when they stop you and ask for the money, you pull out this stiletto and grab the big one, who threatened you, by the shirt and put this knife to his throat and say, 'If you bother me again, I will kill you.' You think you can you do that?" Angelo nodded and took the knife. Marco smiled. "Now, when you speak to him, you speak very quietly. It's scarier that way…By the way, what is your name?" "Angelo." "I'm Marco. Show no fear. Now go home." The next day Angelo walked to where several boys stood waiting. The big one said, holding out his hand, "Give me the money!" Instantly, Angelo lunged forward, grabbing him by the shirt and shoving the knife to his throat. "Bother me again and I'll kill you," Angelo said quietly. The boy’s eyes widened

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with fear, and the rest of the boys stepped back. "Now go, or I'll slit you now." The boy backed away and started to run. For good measure, Angelo kicked him in the seat of his pants. Marco watched from his perch on the steps, and started to laugh. Angelo walked over to him, and handed him the knife. "Keep it," Marco said. "You're a natural." "A natural what?" "A natural killer, of course." Marco started laughing again. "You think that was funny?" Angelo asked, not understanding Marco’s reaction. "No. I think they were funny. They had you outnumbered. They could have killed you." In that moment, Angelo understood the basics: act instantly, show no fear, and be scary. That single act, with the help of his new friend Marco, would shape the rest of his life. Angelo Gallucci would never be afraid again. Marco was seven years older than Angelo, but for the next ten years they became inseparable. Angelo watched as the elders in the Mafia constantly tested Marco. The tests were always the same; he was instructed to kill someone who had violated the code. In some cases, it was someone who had merely become disrespectful to one of the Bosses'. "It will be your turn soon," he would taunt Angelo. It wasn’t long before Marco was invited into one of the Family’s. Soon after, he was made one of the under Boss’, and shortly became one of the most feared men throughout Sicily. One day, the Capo of his Family had called him to a secret meeting, and warned him that one of the Family’s were planning to take revenge for his last killing. However, the Capo told him that he had made arrangements for him to go to America. "Marco, you will become part of my cousin's Family in New York,” he said. “No one will know. I will make amends here." Marco found out later that his Boss had sacrificed another soldier to take his place in death.

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It would be five years before Angelo and Marco would see each other again. The occasion would be the Christening of Marco's first-born child. Marco had asked Angelo to become his child’s Godfather; he wanted his child to be baptized in Palermo. Angelo made arrangements for the most elaborate feast that anyone could remember. Over the years, Angelo had risen swiftly into the higher ranks of the Mafia. His ability to act quickly and decisively brought order to a splintering organization. Angelo soon garnered the name, "The Protector". His Family had become the most feared and respected in all of Sicily. If there were a problem with the government, or renegade Family, Gallucci would handle it swiftly. It was just a matter of time before he would be elected Capo di Capo. Gallucci now wondered about his old friend. Had he gone soft? Had age made him grow fearful, or had things gotten too far out of control? But, what concerned him the most was his Goddaughter. Would he be able to bring his old friend, Marco, in line? Antonio had spent most of the day doing his daily duty as a priest, reading his breviary. He thought about phoning the Pope. No. There was nothing to report, at least for now. Then, remembering the Face of Death, and the presumption of it making another appearance scared him. Maybe, his uncle could handle the American Capos. He doubted it. At around 5:00 o'clock, the kitchen had turned into pandemonium. The servants hustled around, banging pot and pans, while preparing the evening meal. Antonio sat off to one corner munching on a piece of crusted bread. Marco walked in. "Make extra, in case our late friends are hungry." Spying Antonio, "Tonight, we eat your uncle's favorite." "And, what is that?" Antonio asked. The old man looked surprised. "Pasta, of course." "Of course," Antonio said, swallowing the last bite of bread. The long dining room table was exquisitely decorated and lit with golden

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candlesticks. At each place setting, gold goblets, and various arrangements of colorful flowers were present. Twelve soldiers sat around the table, plus, Gallucci with Antonio sitting next to him, while Mastronini commanded the head of the table. "We toast," the old man said, lifting his goblet. The rest of the table did the same. "We toast to a time long past. A time when the code was everything, and 'Our Thing' was the only thing." Everyone drank; and then the voices and the rattling of dishes rose to a mild roar. Marco turned to Angelo, "When are you going to take off those black sunglasses?" "When it is time," He answered, digging into the pasta. The meal passed, as most Sicilian dinners, with an organized chaos that no American could fathom; for that matter, not even a good Roman. The first of the American Capos began arriving about seven o'clock. By eight, they had all arrived. Marco had been greeting them, offering wine or whatever they wished to drink, while ushering them into the main room with its warm, blazing fire. Gallucci and Antonio waited in a small room off of the main room. They would make their appearance at the proper time. Marco finally walked in. "They're all here," Marco panted. "All of them?" "All but two." "Who?" Marco gave Angelo the names. "May my, nephew use your phone? He needs to make a call to the Vatican Embassy in New York." "Of course. The phone’s on the table. I'll be back in a few minutes." Antonio's face blanked. "I don't need..." Gallucci cut him off, "Of course not. I need it," he said picking up the phone, and waving Antonio off to the other side of the room. Gallucci spoke quickly and quietly, and then hung up.

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Marco walked in. "They're getting impatient." "Good," Gallucci said. “We are ready.” He and Antonio followed the old man into the main room. Eighteen Capos sat in a huge semi-circle in the middle of the room. Each Capo had brought two of his most respected soldiers, but they were not allowed in the meeting. Mastronini spoke in English. "This is Father Salvi, Ambassador from the Vatican in Rome, and Don Gallucci's nephew, he will translate." Pausing for a second, he then started to introduce Gallucci, "Don Gallucci, as you probably know, is the Capo di Capo in Italy..." One of the Capos interrupted and blurted out, "This is not Italy." Mastronini fired a finger in his direction, "You will show respect in my house," his voice rising to anger as he moved his finger around the semi-circle. Antonio translated quietly. Gallucci gave no facial expression. "As I was saying, I have known Don Gallucci for most of my life. I assure you, he would not call this meeting if it were not of the utmost importance. What you will hear now, I also, will be hearing for the first time.” He turned to Gallucci, “You have the floor." Gallucci walked to the center of the room, and motioned for Antonio to stand next to him. "Antonio, translate every word exactly as I speak them. Understand?" Antonio nodded. "Marco, could you bring the lights up a little? I want to see their faces better." Marco wanted to tell him to take his dark glasses off, but didn't. As the lights brightened the room, Gallucci exclaimed, "Aah, much better. It is good to see your enemies clearly." He turned to Antonio, "Translate." As Antonio did, the room rumbled as each Capo turned to look at one another, and then to Mastronini. The old man almost had a heart attack. "But," Gallucci went on, “I know that we will all be great friends before the evening is done," he stated enthusiastically, holding out his arms. The Capos were stunned, as well as confused, by the words coming from the

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rotund man standing in front of them with dark glasses. Gallucci, then asked, "Do you respect the Pope? He is one of yours." The Capos shifted in their chairs, but said nothing. "Do you still respect the Holy Mother, The Church?" Gallucci asked more forcefully. A few heads nodded. "Ah, some of you still do. That is good...Now, do any of you know the story of the Angel of Death?" "What is this, a joke?" one of the Capos yelled out. I have a business to run. I don't need a lesson in Catechism," he said, rising to leave. "Sit down, Don Ballato, or you may not leave here alive," Gallucci stated calmly. Ballato froze. The rest of the Capos just stared at Gallucci. "How do you now my name?" "I know everyone's name here." Mastronini started to speak, but Gallucci raised his hand for him to stop. Just then, one of Mastronini's soldiers burst through the door and raced to him, and spoke quietly in his ear. The entire group of Capos began squirming in their seats, and wondered where their own soldiers were. Mastronini rose and walked over to Gallucci. "Angelo," he said excitedly, but quietly, "the two Capos who chose not to come have been assassinated, and all their soldiers with them. Their heads were blown off a few minutes ago." Hearing that, Antonio blessed himself. "What is going on, Angelo?" Mastronini quaked as he spoke. "Patience, my old friend. Show your soldier out. Tell him to say nothing to anyone; bolt the door behind him, and then return to me." His friend did not move. "Go, my friend. Be not afraid." Mastronini, however, was afraid, but obeyed.

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Meanwhile, the Capos began grumbling among themselves very loudly. When his friend returned, Gallucci said, "Tell the Capos what has happened." "Are you crazy?" "Tell them, Marco." Gallucci said quietly. Mastronini turned toward the group. "Please sit down," he shouted above the din. "I have some bad news." "What kind of bad news?" one of them asked. "Please, sit. And I will tell you." The old man began shaking. "Steady yourself," Gallucci warned. "Renaldi and Tartelli have just been assassinated, along with their soldiers.” "How?" Ballato asked not believing a word. "Their heads were blown off." "When?" "About fifteen minutes ago." "Impossible! "Ballato screamed. Immediately, the entire group of Capos began scrambling for the door. Gallucci thundered," Sit down! Or you will not leave this room alive." The Ring in Antonio's pocket began to vibrate. "Please," he screeched at the top of his lungs. "For God's sake, please sit down!" Antonio pleaded. The Capos stopped. "What the hell is this?" Ballato yelled. "Sit. And I will tell you," Gallucci replied. Reluctantly, the Capos returned to their seats. "We want answers. Now," Ballato and several of the other Capos demanded. "Calm yourselves," Gallucci said raising and lowering his hands. "Ballato, you seem to be the most powerful of the Capos here." No guns were ever allowed when the Capos met in a private meeting. If Ballato had one he would have killed Gallucci. "I have the biggest and strongest Family," he

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snapped. "And do you speak for the other Capos?" No one spoke up. "I see. So, you are the strongest here.' Gallucci paused for a moment. "May I tell you a story?" "No stories. No bullshit. We want answers." Ballato was now yelling, angrily. The other Capo's heads nodded in agreement. Gallucci ignored the outburst. "Do you know the story of the Angel of Death?" Gallucci went on, not waiting for answer. "When the Egyptians would not let God's people go, Heaven sent the Angel of Death and took their first-born child." "No stories. What has that to do with us?" "Everything! It seems your Pope Francis has been given a mission. And He wants us to be part of it. Heaven wants its children freed from the evils of drugs, and for us to stop selling the poison that enslaves and murders its children. And, if not,” Gallucci shrugged. “Each of your first-born will be taken." "You must be insane." The Capos shouted. "He is not," Antonio replied over the shouting "You...You're, a priest. Does the Pope condone murder?" Voices sprang up from around the room. "No, but Heaven will not allow it's children to be slaughtered any longer.” "And what about killing our children?" Ballato screamed. "That is your choice, Don Ballato." "Then tell us, who killed Renaldi and Tartelli?" "I did," Gallucci stepped in. "Tonight, I was the Angel of Death. In my country, it is called the 'Purification'. We live by a code. We live by honor. If you join with us on our mission, Heaven as promised that first-born will be spared." "How can you come to us with this story, and expect us to believe it?" Ballato

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was now trembling with an uncontrollable anger. Gallucci yanked off his glasses. His coal-black eyes glared out at Ballato. "These eyes come from my encounter with the Angel of Death,” Gallucci roared. At seeing Gallucci’s eyes, he screamed, “You are the Devil.” Ballato overcome with rage, lunged at Gallucci. But, before he could reach him, a dark, purple mist thundered into the room instantly enveloped Ballato. The horrific face of death emerged from the mist and swallowed Ballato's head in it's gapping jaws, shook him violently, and then snapped off his head and spit it to the floor. Fear and the stench of death reeked throughout the room. The rest of the Capos cowered and fell instantly to the floor, hiding their faces, fearful that they would be next. The purple face circled the room and slowly evaporated. After several minutes, the prone Capos looked around and began rising slowly. Only Gallucci and Antonio had remained standing. One of the Capos intoned, "I have never believed in Heaven before. But, this... this appears to be more from Hell than Heaven." "I assure you," Antonio stated, "What you have witnessed was the Angel of Death." He pulled the Ring from his pocket, and held it up for all to see. "This is the Ring of Pope Francis, and it contains the power of Heaven. And Heaven will not be denied its mission." Antonio was surprised at how calm he had felt during the horrific event. He presumed that Gallucci felt the same. The Capos stumbled to their feet. A voice asked. “What does Heaven require of us?" One of the elder Capo's answered, "We must honor the code, and take on Heaven's mission as if it were our own." "It is our mission," Gallucci stated. "Now, go back to your homes. You will be given instructions." Gallucci was sure, now, that his niece and Goddaughter would be

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safe. Mastronini went over and embraced Gallucci, and then kissed Antonio on both of his cheeks, "Bless you," he said, as tears streamed down his face. "Pray," Antonio replied.

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CHAPTER 15

WASHINGTON, DC

General Radcliff insisted on a meeting with Brand and the Senator. They met in the basement of a small winery tasting room in Virginia. Radcliff was beside himself. “My associates, in the FBI, tell me that two of the most powerful Bosses within the Mafia had their heads blown off, and another is missing without a trace. It seems that there was some kind of Mafioso summit in New York. It included all the Head Capos from around the country, except for the ones who were killed, and the one that is missing. Also, the Capo di Capo from Sicily, a man by the name of Gallucci was there. Do either of you know anything about this?” They both looked at each other. Alex shuddered. The war has begun, he said to himself. “Why should we know anything?” Brand asked without showing any outward emotion.” Alex was grateful that Michael was with him. “Why?” Radcliff said angrily. “Because, this Gallucci flew in with a priest on a chartered plane from the Vatican. That’s why! And I want to know what’s going on!” “Honestly, General,” Alex chimed in, “If we knew anything, we would tell you immediately,” he said, hating to lie. “Well, something big is going on, Radcliff said. The Mafia Bosses are all talking from the same script. All of a sudden, they’re a cozy bunch. It’s not natural. In addition, our usually, talkative informants are nowhere to be found…Your sure you don’t know anything?” he reiterated, eyeing them both.

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“Not a thing,” they said in unison. Radcliff finished his wine and started to leave, “Oh, by the way, Alex, how’s the campaign going?” he asked sarcastically. “Great. If the election were tomorrow, I’d be elected President.” “Yeah, right.” Radcliff stomped off. Brand asked for another glass of wine. “You really think this Gallucci got the American Mafia to fall in line?” “After talking to Gallucci in Rome, anything is possible.” “You believe this, Angel of Death stuff?” “I really don’t know. I know that Father Salvi and the Pope does.” “And the Pope’s going along with this Mafia alliance? Or should I say, unholy alliance? This could be the beginning of a Mafia blood bath,” Brand added. “I don’t think so. Not, at least, within the Mafia. Gallucci is very convincing.” “Apparently, so.” “As for the Pope, I think Gallucci is going to keep him out of the loop.” “Don’t bet on it, “Brand said and looked at his watch. “I’ve got a meeting with our Colombian friends. They’re going to want some concessions from you, in writing.” “I’ll do whatever you suggest.” “I wish all my clients were so easy.” “Be careful, my friend,” Alex said, genuinely.

The meeting with Cordona was at the Colombian Embassy. Cardona was a duly registered Lobbyist for the Colombian Department of Agriculture. Brand considered it a safe enough place to meet. The watching eyes of the DEA would surmise that he was meeting for the purpose of the Senator’s concerns over the drug trafficking. Brand was shown into an elegant room, on the second floor. Cardona and three other men were seated comfortably around a gilt, edged coffee table.

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Only Cardona stood up as Brand entered. “Would you like a warm Cognac? It’s nippy out there.” “That would be nice,” he answered, while taking in the three men who had not even looked at him. Cardona handed Brand the warmed Cognac. “Let me introduce you,” he said, gesturing toward the seated men. As Cardona and Brand approached, the men finally rose from their chairs. “These are Senores’ Rodriguez, Gonzales, and Ruiz.” The three men nodded without any expression. “These gentlemen are very concerned about our efforts with the Artemis Campaign. Please sit.” Cardona pointed to an empty chair. “It’s nice to make your acquaintance,” Brand said, respectfully, as he sat down. “Tell me about your concerns, gentlemen.” Gonzales, a short squat man began. “Your Senator is quite articulate,” he said with a thick accent. “He has aroused much debate. There is talk of Congressional Hearings on what your various departments are doing about the drug trafficking,” he said, pointedly. Brand hadn’t heard. “Rumors, Senor,” he said, trying to minimize the importance. “But if true, it was to be expected. After all, he is running for the Presidency. These Hearings, should there be any, are just obligatory support from his Party. As soon as the other candidates get their campaigns going, there will be other Hearings in support of their causes. These Hearings, if there are any,” he emphasized, “will be lost in a myriad of Hearings. The election is more than a year away.” “This does not concern you then?” Ruiz asked. “Not at all. The attention span of Congress, as well as the public…especially, the public, is about three days.” Cardona smiled for the first time. He was right to have called this meeting. Brand was in full command.

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“Are you ashamed of your name…your heritage?” Gonzales asked, taking a different tact. Brand swished the chocolate looking cognac in his glass, and sipped while he thought of an answer. “Gringos are Gringos, they respect only their own kind.” “You’re a Branderos!” Gonzales shouted, pointing a newly lit cigar at him. And you’re a pig, Brand thought to himself, but in full command of his emotions. “I have worked many years for the Cartels causes,” remain a respectful tone. Gonzales was testing him, but he would not take the bait. He had never seen these men before; they must certainly be high up in the chain he considered. It was obvious that Cardona was not in charge of the meeting. “Are there some questions you have about this arrangement?” Senor Gonzales. “I think it stinks,” Gonzales said, adamantly. “Do the Cartels want out, Senor?” Brand assumed Gonzales spoke for some, if not all of them. “Do not be impudent to me,” he warned. “If the Cartels have doubts. I will raise money through different channels, and refund yours.” Brand had played this game for many years. He would remain cool. “I have never trusted you, Senor Branderos. You play both sides, like a game of chess.” “That’s his job,” Cardona interjected. “And you, Cardona, are a fool,” he said disgusted. “This man takes our money and gives us nothing in return.” Ruiz and Rodriguez were content to let Gonzales make his point, or not, as the case may be. Cardona gave Brand a sheepish look, and then turned to Gonzales. “May I remind you, that it is I and Brand that have contributed greatly to the wealth we all now enjoy,” he responded, somewhat, testily, but well within his bounds.

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“You remind me of nothing.” Gonzales spat out the words. With that, Cardona shirked back, and fixed himself another drink. “What is it that you want, Senor Gonzales?” Brand asked. “I want assurances,” he said, pounding the arm of the chair. “What kind, other than those that I have already given?” “I want documents. Evidence. Maybe even photos of your Senator snorting cocaine.” “All of this can be arranged,” Brand said, without hesitation. Gonzales sat silent. He puffed on his cigar sending billowing clouds of dark, blue smoke into the air. “I will give instructions to Cardona. He will tell you what we want. Now, go,” he said, waving his arm, dismissing Brand like a servant.

The next day Cardona and Brand met in a small apartment that Cardona kept in Georgetown. “Some meeting, Uncle,” Brand said, trying to sound perturbed. “What did you expect for five million dollars?” Brand didn’t answer. “We may have some serious problems,” Cardona began thoughtfully. “One of our biggest distributors just canceled all of their orders.” “Who?” Brand asked. “Both the American and the Italian Mafias.” “I thought there was no such thing,” Brand said. Then thinking to himself, “Could Gallucci have brought them all into line so fast? Maybe, there really was something to this Angel of Death thing.” “You know better than that. This could be a major blow to our cash flow.” “Make them pay a penalty. My suppliers make me pay all the time for canceling orders,” Brand said, playing with him. “You make a bad joke, Michael,” Cardona replied, fixing himself a scotch on the

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rocks. “Want a drink?” “No. I’ve got a meeting later.” “This Mafia thing…it makes no sense,” Cardona said, as if talking to himself. “Two of the Bosses’ were assassinated. With shotguns, no less. That’s a powerful statement, even for them.” “Sounds like a territorial dispute. I’m sure when they figure out who’s in charge, it’ll be business as usual.” “Maybe. But the Americans and the Italians do not get along.” “Well, there’s your answer.” “I’m not so sure. This could be the beginning of a bloody feud. That’s not good for business.” “You guys do it all the time.” “That’s different. We have no code. No honor. Only greed.” Cardona paused. “It could be a long time before the pipelines start flowing again.” And then added, “The three men from yesterday want you to find out what the FBI knows.” “You know I’m on their black list.” “They said to have your client find out. They want something for their money.” “I’ll do what I can,” Brand said. “Do it soon. These are not patient men.” “You’re afraid of them, aren’t you?” “You damn right I am. And you should be too,” Cardona said, gulping down his scotch.

Alex, Marian, Walter, and Brand huddled in Alex’s office. “I think things are starting to go well,” Walter said, feeling as if he were in a real campaign. “There’s talk of a Congressional Hearing. It’ll get a lot of attention.” “Not good,” Brand said flatly.

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“Why not?” Marian asked, believing they were making some headway. Alex knew exactly what he meant. Brand had recounted the meeting with the Colombians, and the meeting with Cardona earlier that day. “I mean…we don’t want to peak too soon,” Brand said. “It’s a long road before the primaries. Our message will be lost by then.” “You’re right,” Walter said. “Is there any way to hold them off?” “Maybe, I can talk to the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee,” Alex said. “Explain that the timing isn’t right yet.” “I don’t get it,” Marian interjected. “Alex, this could put your message front and center. It’s a great forum.” “Michael is right. It’s too soon. It’ll have maximum impact when the other candidates commit. We can make it a central theme of debate on the Senate floor then. Right now, I’m a lone voice.” “Kill it if you can, Alex,” Brand said, thinking of the Colombians. “Sometimes, four heads are better than one,” Walter quipped. Marian wasn’t so sure. She would talk to Alex about it later. “Well, we still have a full plate going.” Marian conceded for now. “What’s on the agenda?” Alex asked. “For starters, Walter and I have set up twenty high schools for you to speak at.” “That’s great Marian,” Alex said enthused. “We’ve got to reach the children. “How many more can you set up?” “As many as you’d like…By the way, have you heard from Father Salvi? “Not a word,” Alex answered, wanting to avoid the truth. “Maybe, the Pope has other plans for him,” Walter said relieved. “I’m sure he does,” Alex replied, feeling concerned that he hadn’t heard from Antonio. He had considered calling Pope Francis, but decided against it.

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CHAPTER 16

TOKYO, JAPAN

The Vatican plane swooped down over Tokyo. The glistening, colorful profusion of lights sprawled out like a giant arcade. Gallucci had said little to Antonio about the subsequent events after the meeting in New York. When the time was right, he would tell him. "The Yakuza do not share our beliefs,” Antonio said. “This is going to be a most difficult task.” "Only Heaven knows, Antonio." Gallucci shared Antonio’s feelings. When they landed, Cardinal Moto met them. Pope Francis had made Moto a Cardinal. "Please avail yourself of our hospitality," the Cardinal said, bowing low. "It will not be necessary, but thank you. If you could drop us off at the INA hotel, that would be fine," Gallucci said. "Of course, if you should need anything, please call." "We will," Antonio replied, and bowed in the traditional Japanese style. The INA was a first class hotel. Gallucci had stayed there many times and appreciated the specialized service, and the complete privacy. The bellman ushered them into a plush two-bedroom suite, on the eighteenth floor, with a large sitting room in the center. The bellman pulled back the drapes revealing the glorious city below. Looking out, Gallucci was always amazed at the sight. "They won the war, after all," he muttered. Antonio had called Pope Francis before leaving New York. He described in detail

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the meeting with the American Capos. The Pope responded only with, "Pray, Antonio." When Antonio went into his bedroom, Gallucci picked up the phone and made a call to his most trusted soldier in Japan. Antonio walked back into the room. "What's next, Uncle?" "We wait." Gallucci said." Order room service, I'm hungry." Antonio flipped through the menu, and then ordered something that was palatable to Gallucci. He ordered himself an assortment of sushi and sashimi. When the food arrived, "Fish should be cooked," Gallucci groaned. "You should try it, Uncle." Antonio said as he manipulated the chopsticks, while Gallucci used a knife and fork on his steak. About nine o'clock, the phone rang. Gallucci answered it. "Si," and listened for a moment. "Tomorrow will be fine," he spoke in Italian. After he hung up, he suddenly felt very tired. "I'm going to bed." He would need the rest, and his mind sharp for the delicate negotiations. "Get some sleep, Antonio. We will need all of our wits." The next day, the Italian negotiator, with a Japanese driver, picked them up in a black Mercedes. It was eleven a.m. The negotiator was surprised to see a priest with Gallucci. "I will not be needing you in the meeting, Pietro," Gallucci said." "But...but, Padrone..." Gallucci raised his hand. "Father Salvi will translate. It is better for you not to know what is said." Pietro nodded, but couldn’t understand why a priest would be called in. The huge, black vehicle squirmed its way through the small streets and dense traffic. After an hour’s drive to the outskirts of the city, they arrived at a secluded traditional Japanese house. "Wait for us," Gallucci said to Pietro, as they exited the car. They were greeted by a bowing bevy of servants, as they entered the house. A set of shoji doors, with a set of cranes painted on them, split apart. A powerful looking, Japanese man dressed in black, stepped through. Eyeing the priest first, he frowned, and

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then smiled and bowed to Gallucci. Gallucci returned the smile, but did not miss the look he had given to Antonio. "Where is, Pietro?" the man asked without his usual politeness. "He will not be in our meeting," Antonio answered in perfect Japanese. "I will be doing the translating. My name is Father Salvi. We thank you for your kindness," Antonio said and bowed in the traditional manner. The man was taken aback at first, and then returned the bow. "My name is Kyogi, they call me Ky." Antonio reminded Gallucci to remove his shoes, as he began taking off his. "Ah, right." Gallucci thought the custom was stupid. Ky motioned them into the room he had just come from. The room was small with a low table in the middle, and three cups of sake waiting. Ky settled on a cushion with his legs crossed. Antonio followed suit. Gallucci hated this more than the shoes custom. With Antonio's help he managed to sit down. "I'll never get use to this Ky." Ky just smiled, knowing it made the Mafia boss uncomfortable. "What brings such an important man to Japan?" Ky asked as he raised his cup. Antonio noticed that Ky's little finger had been severed at the knuckle, a symbol of loyalty. After each of them sipped, "Gallucci said, "I would like a meeting with Oshiro." "You know that is impossible," Ky retorted. "It's part of the arrangement we agreed upon." "I know. But this is a matter of life or death." Gallucci was emphatic. "Whose?" "That, I can only tell to Oshiro." "He will not agree." "You haven't even asked him," Gallucci said, impatiently. "It is an insult for me even to ask," matching Gallucci's tone. "Tell him it has nothing to do with our arrangement. I have gift for his first-born."

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Intrigued, Ky said, "I will test the waters." "I will not leave Tokyo without meeting with him," Gallucci said firmly. "Then you may be here a long time," Ky smirked. "I thought you people are supposed to always be polite," Gallucci reminded him, not liking Ky's tone. "It is one of our over-rated customs," he replied. "I'm an old man, I can't wait forever." "So is Oshiro. We'll see who lives longer," Ky laughed.

When they arrived back at the hotel, Antonio asked, "Do you think he will meet with us, Uncle?" "Aah, they love to play games. He'll make us wait." Gallucci spent most of the day making phone calls. His first calls were to Sicily, and then, finally to Mastronini. "How did the Colombians take the news?" "Not well. But that was to be expected. I told them we were reorganizing. They want an answer in two weeks." Gallucci ignored Marco's response. "Any reactions from the Families?" "So far, only cooperation." "We need eyes and ears out there, my old friend. If there is any reaction, I want you to act swiftly." He then told him where to get a hold of him, and hung up the phone. About seven o'clock, they heard a knock on the door. "Careful, Antonio," Gallucci warned. Antonio looked through the peephole. "It's Ky." "Well, let him in." Antonio opened the door. "I have something for Gallucci from Oshiro," Ky said politely, and bowed. Gallucci overheard. "Bring it here, then," Gallucci's voice raised with excitement.

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Ky walked into the room and bowed to Gallucci. He then reached into a small, black pouch, extracting a beautiful, white pearl, and handed it to him. "Oshiro says that you are to study the pearl. I will return, tomorrow, at the same time, and retrieve it." Gallucci was not impressed. "I want to know when we can meet," he stated, impatiently. "Oshiro says, when you are ready." Ky, immediately, turned and left the suite. "Oshiro says. Oshiro says," Gallucci repeated, trying to mimic Ky, but couldn't. "I don't need presents. I need a meeting." "I don't think it's a gift, Uncle. Ky said he will it pick it up tomorrow." "So, what do I do with this?" Gallucci said frustrated, as he ran the pearl through his fingers. "Study it, Uncle."

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CHAPTER 17

WASHINGTON, DC

Artemis and Brand just stared at each other, as they sat in Brand's apartment. "We've got to get Radcliff into the loop before things get completely out of control," Brand said, nursing a bourbon. "And, what do we say to him? Heaven sent us on a mission to eradicate drugs from the planet?" "Something like that," Brand responded, while stirring the ice cubes in his drink with a finger. "Do you believe in this Angel of Death stuff? "I don't know. But, the Pope and Gallucci do." Alex squirmed in his chair. "Look, if Gallucci is as serious as you say he is. We need help. This guy shoots first and asks questions later. He's not afraid of anything...He takes out three of the most powerful Capos in the country. And there's no response? Then the worldwide Mafia cancels all their orders with the Colombians. I know these guys, Alex, and they're not going to sit still,” Brand said, feeling extremely nervous. “And now, you tell me that Gallucci and this priest are in Japan meeting with the Yakuza. Gallucci is either crazy, or he knows something. In either case, there's going to be one hell of a war.” "A Holy War, I hope." Alex just sat, staring up at the ceiling. Brand looked at his watch. "It's three o'clock. If I call Radcliff now, we just might be able to reach him."

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" Okay. Call him." Brand dialed his private number. Radcliff answered. "It's Brand, we need to meet." They decided on a strip bar in a sleazy part of town.

Alex followed Brand into the dimly, lit bar; they were almost blown backwards by the exploding sound of Latin music. Brand, instantly, started gyrating to the music. As they made their way through the darkened club, flashing strobe lights swept across the late afternoon patrons, and a bevy of women, strutting on an elevated runway, in various stages of nakedness. "If only Marian could see me, now," Alex shuddered. After what seemed to be an interminable, and embarrassing walk, at least, for Alex, Brand spotted the man he was looking for. “He’s over there.” Brand pointed to a small, dark man seated at the farthest end of the club. As they approached, Brand announced "Jose, mi amigo." The sound of the music was barely tolerable. The man looked up from what appeared to be a pile of bills strewn across a small table. The man's eyes focused. "Ah, Miguel," he said, rising and shaking Brand's hand profusely. "It's good to see you. It's been awhile. I've missed you." Jose was a Cuban refugee, and owner of the club. "We need a meeting room," Brand said just loud enough to heard. "No problema. Pick out any of the girls you want," he said, gesturing toward the, now, mostly naked women. "No, I mean the other kind of meeting," Brand said, slipping five hundred dollars into his hand. "Si, Miguel, I have just the room." Alex and Brand followed Jose into a narrow hallway. When they reached the end, Jose opened the door into a small, dimly lit room. "Your favorite, Miguel." Jose said, reaching for a knob that shut off the blaring music that was coming from some unseen

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speaker. "Jose," Brand said, "remember the older guy that used to meet me here. "Older guy?" Jose repeated, scratching his head. "The guy with the Washington Redskins cap." "Ah, Si. The man with the limp." "Yeah, that's him. When he arrives, bring him here." Jose nodded and left, closing the door behind him. "You gott'a be kidding. You and Radcliff, here?" Alex started to laugh. "Being undercover has its rewards. That was until my life went to shit," Brand said, as he pulled out a table from one of the corners of the dingy room, and placed three chairs around it. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean..." "It's, okay, Michael." Brand smiled and patted him on the shoulder. "We do what we have to do." The two of them sat across from each other. "You don't have to do this, Michael." "Yes, I do. And you know it." Just then Radcliff popped in. "Well, I'll be damned. If only your colleagues could see you now, Senator." "And, if only the Joint Chief's could see you now," Alex said, returning the dig. "Alright," Radcliff said. "No more jokes. So, what the hell is going on?" Brand spoke first. "We figured it was time we got you into the loop." "You mean the Mafia assassinations. And, the fact that they’ve canceled all their drug orders from the Colombians? -- I've got other informants," Radcliff said, sounding pleased with himself. "You're so far out of the loop, you need binoculars. You don't know shit, General," Brand said. "Okay, Michael," Radcliff said, concerned, knowing how fragile Brand had been.

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"I'm listening. What can I do to help?" he asked, sincerely. "General," Alex interjected, "what we are going to tell you must remain in this room. It was Michael who insisted on you being brought in. I have my doubts." "About what?" "You may feel obligated, duty bound, if you prefer, to relay what we say here." "Michael knows that I would never reveal a confidence," Radcliff said, annoyed at the implication. "We're going to need something to drink," Brand said abruptly, and walked out of the room. "What the hell is going on, Alex?" "I'd rather wait until Brand returns." "You don't trust me?" "I'm sorry. I had to ask...This mission thing is more than I could have imagined. It's putting all of our lives at risk." "What did you expect!" The General said, starting a slow boil. "You take a guy from a hospital bed, and you put him on the front line..." Brand returned with a bottle of bourbon, and three glasses, cutting off any possibility of a rant from Radcliff. "A whole bottle," Radcliff eyes popped. "It's on the house. Besides, you're going to need it, General." Brand said, sounding more even. "Go ahead, Alex. You've seen and heard first hand." Brand prompted. Alex cleared his throat. "When I was in Rome for the NATO Conference, I visited with Pope Francis. I met a man by the name of Gallucci, head of the Sicilian Mafia. And now, it appears that he's also the head of both the American and Italian Mafia. I don't want to get ahead of myself. So, let me back up. " Alex took a large swig of bourbon. "Pope Francis has formed an alliance with Gallucci, or unholy alliance, as the case may

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be, to stop the world's drug trafficking..." "Why would Gallucci agree?" Radcliff asked. "Or, the Pope, for that matter?" Not wanting to get into the Angel of Death thing, "You'd have to ask them. But, I can tell you this. Pope Francis said he was given four names for a mission." "From who?" Radcliff asked. "From Heaven, no less," Brand interjected. "Heaven!" Radcliff said, leaning back in his chair. "I don't believe it." "Believe it. I was there," Alex said. "Who are the four names?" "Gallucci, Michael, myself, and a Father Salvi." "Of course,” Radcliff said, scratching his goatee. “The priest with Gallucci on the Vatican plane...But, what I don't understand is how you all got connected?" "Father Salvi recruited me. I recruited Michael; and I guess the Pope and the priest recruited Gallucci. Father Salvi is Gallucci's nephew." "Even, so. It would take something out of this world to recruit the Head of the Sicilian Mafia." Alex let the observation pass. "Gallucci has taken out three of the most powerful Bosses in this country, and then, somehow was able to bring the rest of them under his control." “Sounds more like a prescription for war,” Radcliff said. "Under normal circumstances there should have been a war -- the Americans against the Sicilians” “What stopped it?” “I don’t know. Perhaps, the Pope had some influence," Alex answered, not knowing what else to say. "Go on," Radcliff urged, unconvinced. “After the meeting in New York, all shipments of narcotics from the Colombians,

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as you already know, were canceled. I suppose the Cartels think that it's some kind of a territorial dispute…" Alex paused. "Is that it?" "No. Gallucci and Father Salvi are now in Japan meeting with the Yakuza." "Are you serious? Wow," was the only thing Radcliff could say. "Is there anymore?" "I'm sure there is. But so far, that's all we know." "So, let me get this straight. Pope Francis gets four names from Heaven. Of course, you and Brand are tailor made for this drug mission. The priest I can, also, understand. But recruiting the Head of the Italian Mafia? No, there's something you're not telling me." "That's all I can tell you, General." "And, what about you, Michael?" Radcliff asked. "You know everything I know." Radcliff shook his head. "No, I know there's more." But, he would leave it alone, for now. "So, what do you expect me to do?" Brand sat up. "Let's speculate for a minute. Let's say that, by some miracle," Brand meant it literally, "Gallucci gets the Yakuza to go along. They join forces, and attack the Cartels in Colombia." "Are you crazy? They can't win a war in those hills. They're bunkered in fortresses, and armed with the best fighting guerrillas, since the Vietnamese. No, they can't win that war. It would be suicide." "That's why we need you," Brand said, coming to the point. "They'll need back up. You can send in ground troops. Maybe, give them an edge." "I couldn't send in a fly without the President, and the Joint Chief's agreement. Not to mention, the FBI, CIA, NSA, and the whole damn Congress." "He could do it under the War Power's Act," Alex said. "I'm still the head of the

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Armed Services Committee. I can give him Congressional cover." "I'll never be able to convince him. You're talking about invading a sovereign country." "I know we can convince him. Besides, we just gave the Colombian government two billion dollars to fight the Cartels. We can send in, so called, Advisors. We've done it a dozen times." "You're talking about our soldiers dying in those hills. Young men who are not much older than the one's you want to save." The enormity of Radcliff's last statement hit Alex and Brand like a sledgehammer. "You're right, of course, General," Alex said devastated at the thought. "We'll have to find another way." Radcliff swallowed a hefty shot of bourbon. "Maybe, not troops. But Intel would certainly help. And I've got a lot of it. If, this speculative war, ever takes place, I can provide the locations to most, if not all, of the command and control headquarters of the Cartels. But, what about the Mexicans, plus, all the rest of Central and South America?" "Colombia is the head. If the head dies, the body will soon follow,” Alex said, forcefully. "If the Cartels are completely annihilated, the rest will be too scared to continue." "Don't count on it," Brand said pessimistically. "We may stop them for awhile, but sooner or later, they'll start up again. These people don't know any other way. It's been their life for too long. Other drug lords will rise up, and in no time, it'll be business as usual. I hate to say it, Alex, but this may be one mission that must be left in other hands." Alex understood completely. "Well, we were just speculating." "We can keep on trying to slow it down," Radcliff said, trying to inject a positive note. It had the complete opposite effect on Brand. "No, we can't, General," suddenly

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exploding into a near rage. "I bought into your bullshit, and in all these years we haven't even made a dent, and you know it.” Tears started to well up in Brand’s eyes. “I lost my son for nothing. I lost him for your mission, General." Michael Brand was right. Radclif started to choke up with tears as well. He felt responsible. He wished he could have done something. He wished he could take Brand’s pain away. Brand’s words erupted inside of Alex. He threw his glass, exploding it against the wall. "I'm responsible for all this!" His face flushed with anguish. "No, my friend," Brand spoke through his tears. "Perhaps, Heaven will find a way out for all of us.

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CHAPTER 18

THE OFFICE OF ALEXANDER ARTEMIS

Marian and Walter were scurrying around, preparing for one of the Sunday morning news programs, in which, the host's aim is to punch holes into the guest's political agenda. "You've got one hour to prepare," Marian said to Alex. Alex stood at the window watching gusty winds scatter leaves in all directions. His emotions were still raw. He couldn't shake the feelings from his meeting with Brand and Radcliff. "Maybe, I've made a mistake. I don't know if I can go through with this," he said, somberly. Marian walked over to him. "What's wrong?" She asked, softly, putting her arm around his shoulder. "I'm just not sure any more." "About what? The campaign...the mission?" "All of it."

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"Let's get through this morning's show. You know the facts; you'll be just fine. After, we'll have a nice long talk," she said rubbing his back. "You're right," Alex answered. He tried sucking back his emotions, and clearing his mind. "I'll be just fine." The drive to the studio was a short one. “I’ll park the car,” Marian said. “See you inside.” The early fall sent a chilled wind through the city. The brisk walk to the studio invigorated him. If he were to quit, this would not be the time. He arranged his mind, as he had done so many times before. The host began the show by greeting him, graciously. "Senator, it's nice to have you on our program this morning. We appreciate you taking the time from your busy schedule." "It's good to be here," Alex said, looking into the camera. "Well, let's get to it then." Nathan Rusk was an old hand. He had been doing these interviews for more than twenty years. He had mastered the art of asking a question that had many implications. "Senator, why do you want to be President?" "Every past, and current, Administration has made only feeble attempts at stopping the drug trade into this country." "My figures show, Senator that we spend billions of dollars in trying to stop the drug trade." "That's exactly the point. We're only throwing money at the problem. We gave the Colombian government two billion dollars last year to help stop the drug incursion into this country, but they just keep flowing in. Drug use among our children is at epidemic proportions." "With all due respect, Senator, there are many different kinds of drugs other than marijuana, cocaine, and heroine: there's designer drugs, amphetamines, not to mention, alcohol."

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"Let's solve one problem at a time." "Alright, Senator, if money is not the answer, what is?" "Education and treatment. This is a national emergency. Drugs are being portrayed in movies and television as recreational, a way to have a good time and forget their problems, so that they don’t have to deal with reality. I would like to hear the arguments in favor of drugs. Show me, and the American public, that drugs make our lives better. Tell the parents who have lost their children how their lives are better." "You make some salient points, Senator." Nathan turned toward the camera. "Right after this break we'll have a guest with an opposing view." During the commercial break, Nathan Rusk shuffled a few papers and made some notes. Alex looked over to Marian who was standing just off the set. She signaled him the 'Okay' sign and smiled. A man was then ushered onto the set and took a seat opposite Alex. They exchanged feeble smiles. Someone spoke into Nathan's headset; he looked up immediately into the camera. "Let me introduce our next guest. His name is Mathew Johnson, he is the head of an organization called Free Access, a proponent for the legalization of drugs." Turning to, Johnson, "Sir, why do you believe that legalizing drugs is an answer? Wouldn't it just make drugs more accessible and create more addicts. "No. I don't think so. As long as drugs are illegal, it is the forbidden fruit that attracts our youth." "Alcohol is legal," Nathan said. "And, I don't see any statistics which show a reduction in its use?" "Alcohol is a disease, and we treat it accordingly. I have to agree with the Senator that education and treatment is the most viable way of curtailing its use. Making it a crime, and incarcerating our youth, is not the answer." "Senator, your response?" Nathan asked. "I'm glad to hear we agree on something. But legalization is not the answer. It will

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open a floodgate that could never be stopped…" The remainder of the interview continued tit for tat, espousing the same rehashed rhetoric that was old and tired. Nathan was disgusted. He was hoping for something new. Something different. Something explosive. The show ended as quietly as it had begun. After the cameras went black, Nathan Rusk said, without looking at either of the guests. "Thank you, Gentlemen. Thank you for nothing." He then got up and left. Rusk was right, Alex, thought to himself as he walked over to Marian. "We accomplished nothing," he said to her. "Well, we didn't make any mistakes. That's always a plus," she replied, trying to pep Alex up. "We'll come up with something. We're just beginning." "I need more facts, Marian. More ammunition.”

Brand sat in the same room within the Colombian Embassy, waiting for Cardona. After a minute, he came in, this time alone. "Ah, Michael, I saw your Senator's performance on the News show yesterday. It was brilliant. He made a fool of himself. I like that," he said, moving to the bar and made a drink for himself. "You know, Michael, this campaign could be a very good thing. Once it's over, I don't think we'll here about this drug thing for a long time." Cardona, also, made Brand a drink. "By the way, has your client found out anything about the Mafia hits?" "The FBI is as stumped as we are." "Something's going on, but what?" He handed Michael his drink. "There's not a word on the street anywhere. Perhaps, you were right. It could just be a matter of reorganization." Brand sipped on his drink. "Why so quiet?" Michael. "Just thinking."

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"About what?" "There's talk that the military would like nothing better than to mount an invasion into Colombia; ala Panama." Brand wanted to see Cardona's reaction. "You know that your President would be helpless in stopping it. After all, he did take two billion dollars; and our military wants it's bang for the buck." "Not to worry about your military. It's the Hearings that will add fuel to the fire." "Artemis believes he can head off the Hearings." "That's good news, Michael," gesturing his drink into the air.

Brand and Alex met for lunch at the Washington Bar and Grill, a swanky eatery for lobbyist and journalists. It was the unwritten code that no one would be bothered unless they wanted to. Brand spread his arms out over the top of the back of the booth. "You know, were pathetic. We're stuck in quick sand, and drowning fast. This campaign…this mission is going nowhere." "So, what did you expect?" "Some action!" "The worldwide Mafia has canceled all of their orders with the Cartels. Gallucci and Father Salvi are in Japan negotiating with Yakuza." "Or getting themselves killed." "I know you don't believe in much, but there's got to be some kind of faith left in you." "I believe in action, and we're not in it." "Patience is not one of your virtues, is it?" "Patience, my ass. Let's get a drink." After ordering a drink and the house special, "Have you heard anything from your priest? It's been four days." "Not a word." "I met with Cardona. His people are satisfied with the way things are going. They

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believe this is just one big stalemate. It'll be business as usual when your campaign runs out of gas. I hope your Pope Francis has something up his sleeve." Alex just shrugged, hoping the same thing.

General Radcliff picked up the phone and punched in some numbers. The meeting from the other night left him feeling guilty and empty inside. Willing, or not, he had signed onto this mission thing. He would not let his friend down, not if he could help it. The phone answered on the other end, "DEA. Dr. Rawling's office." "Put me through to Frank. This is General Radcliff calling." "I'll put you right through, General." "Well, well, it's the General, himself," he answered, smugly. Their relationship was, at best, cool. The sharing of information was not consensual, but procedural. Radcliff wondered how it all began. Perhaps, it was territorial; or just plain mistrust. "I'd like to set up a meeting, Frank. Off the record." "Let me see what my calendar looks like," pretending to be checking. "Cut the shit Rawlings. I need some advice." After collecting himself from Radcliff’s outburst, "You want anyone else in the meeting?" "No." "Alright. How about ten tomorrow morning?" "Fine. I'll see you then." Radcliff got up and walked over to the window. The sun, interspersed between dark, billowing clouds cast intermittent rays of sunshine on the ribbons of traffic below. Radcliff had, impulsively, called Rawlings. He really had no plan. He couldn't tell him what he knew, or thought he knew. His only hope was to see if the DEA knew anything. Eventually, every agency would have to get involved, that is, if Brand and the Senator were right. And, at this moment, he had his doubts. But, deep down, he had to

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admire Michael and the Senator. They had put their lives on the line. He would fulfill his promise to them, but more importantly, he would fulfill the promise he had made to himself. The DEA was a deeply, frustrated department. The more narcotics they interdicted, the more came through. Most of the shipments they uncovered, and the arrests they made, were due mainly to Brand's information. But this only strengthened the Cartels. The information was gladly given to him. Their stock in trade was to eliminate the competition. The major interdictions were front-page news; more a media event than any substantial progress. It was one step forward, and two steps backward.

The next morning, Radcliff entered Rawlings' office. "This must be a first," Rawlings spouted, sarcastically. "The head of Military Intelligence coming to ask for advice." "Look, Frank, I know you feel a lot of animosity toward me, and, probably for good reason. If you can't put it aside, I'll just leave now." "Is this some kind of a sideways apology?" "Take it, however, you like." "You don't make it easy, do you, General?" "I guess, too many years at this job, makes you hard. So, more directly, yes, I am apologizing." "For what?" Rawlings asked, enjoying the moment. "Don't push it, Frank," Radcliff said, flatly. "Okay. I guess I've had enough fun one day. So, what's on your mind?" "It's about this Artemis Campaign." "If Artemis is really running for President, his campaign is a joke." "No matter what you believe, he's starting to make noises in all the right places." "For instance?" "His colleagues are not about to let him just hang out there, he's one of their own.

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They're going to give him as much credibility as they can. Besides, they've been itching to investigate our, so-called, drug policies. They'll pick it apart, even if it means bringing in witnesses from local street corners. If they convene a full-blown investigation, it'll be your ass on the hot seat before all those puffed up Congress people. They're all coming up for re-election. These Hearings will become a media event; and they're going to look for a scapegoat." "You mean me?" Rawling’s face went ashen. "Who better? You're head of DEA." Radcliff paused to let it sink in. "However, if you're willing to cooperate, I just may be able to stop this before it becomes embarrassing for you." "You know, you've got a lot of nerve." "Not as much as those hounds on the Hill. You know they're going make a show of it to impress their own constituents." Rawlings knew he was right. "You said you wanted my advice," wanting to change the subject. "I need your promise that this will be off the record." "Alright, it's off the record. So, give," he said, still smarting from the last exchange. "I'm sure you heard about the three Mafia Bosses that were eliminated." "Happens all the time. So what?" Radcliff ignored the comment. "I'm sure you also heard that the entire worldwide Mafia organization has canceled all of its narcotic shipments with the Colombians." "I've heard only rumors," he said, cagily. No wonder the DEA was always one step behind, Radcliff thought. "Well, it's true. When was the last time the Mafia, and I mean all the Families, spoke with a single voice?" "Never," Rawlings said thoughtfully, and started pacing. "Are you sure? --

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I'm sorry," Rawlings added quickly. "Of course, you are. What do you figure the implications are? -- Reorganization? Consolidation?" "All of the above, I presume." "So, what's the advice you want from me?" Radcliff hesitated and then began. "From here on, I can only speak hypothetically." "Go on," Rawlings said with a puzzled look. "Let's say that the Mafia has a different agenda..." "Like what?' Rawlings interrupted. "Just listen for now. We'll do Q & A later." "Okay," Rawlings conceded. "You want a cigar?" Radcliff offered. "Sure, why not." They both lit up, filling the room with a thick, aromatic cloud. Radcliff continued. "Let's speculate for a minute. For reasons that may be unfathomable, let's assume they want to get out of the drug trade." "That's one hell of a speculation." "Don't interrupt," Radcliff chided, pointing his cigar at him. "Let's further speculate that they're going to form an alliance with another organization. One just as powerful." Rawlings started to say something, but caught himself. He waved his hand for the General to continue. "And, again, for unknown reasons, they both agree on getting out of the drug trade. What do you think they would do?" "With all due respect, General, are you crazy? Or are you writing a fiction novel?" "I'm serious. What do you think they would do?"

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Rawlings puffed hard on his cigar, trying to think of a sane answer. He couldn’t. "I don't know." "Well, how about this. What would the Colombian Cartels do if these two organizations were aligned against them? "Go to war, I guess." "Why?" Radcliff asked. "The Cartels would, probably, assume that they were trying to cut them out as the major supplier of drugs to this country." "And, if it came to a war, what do you think the position of the President, and the other departments involved would be?" "Let them all kill each other, I would presume." "What if, the Mafia and this other organization really wanted out of the drug trade; and, all of a sudden, they became the good guys?" "You've got one hell of an imagination. Or, you know something." "I don't know anything. I just want to know what you think the position of this country would be." "If the President, and the other departments, were convinced...really convinced. I think they would be inclined to help in some limited way."

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CHAPTER 19

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA

The dark, night covered the parade of expensive cars that rolled into, what appeared to be, an abandoned warehouse. Twenty cars lined up along side each other against the wall. Each car contained a territorial drug lord and five of their most trusted soldiers. Over a hundred men stood near their cars, but not a word was spoken between them. The only common denominator, besides drugs, was that they were all Mexicans. Madero, the largest of the territorial drug lords and the most influential, ordered the meeting. He was the one who received most of the drugs coming out of Colombia, and then distributed them to other drug lords, who commanded lesser territories.

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One by one the drug lords filed into an upper room of the warehouse. The soldiers waited next to their cars. Mingling was forbidden. No one trusted anyone. The room was amply decorated with a large rectangular table in the middle. Each of the drug lord's settled into a chair. The lights were low, but adequate. Madero, a well dressed, middle-aged man, stood up from the head of the table. "We have a serious situation," he began. "It is time for the truth." A look of shock, and rumbling, flitted around the table. "Have you ever wondered why?" he asked, "I receive almost all of the drugs, which I generously pass on to you?" "Because you are El Jefe," one of the men spoke up. "It is true. I am the leader, but you are also leaders," he added. "But there are others who are much stronger." "Who is stronger than you?" a different voice asked. "The Colombians for one." The room nodded in agreement. "But the drugs do not come directly from the Colombians. They first go to the Mafia. It is the Mafia who controls the distribution." "How is this Jefe?" Many voices spoke out. "I told you that it was time for the truth." "Why were we not told?" more voices echoed. "Fifteen years ago, when most of you were running around the barrio with wet diapers, I made a deal with the west coast Mafia Families. The only condition was that I never divulge our arrangement." "Then, why now, Jefe?" The rumblings through the group were becoming sharper. They didn't like what they were hearing. "Because, I have been told by the Mafia bosses that there would be no more shipments." A roar of protest began, but Madero's fist slammed hard on the table stopping it

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instantly. "Over the years," he continued, "I discovered the Colombian Cartel's man who is most responsible for the shipments to the Mafia. I have been in touch with this man. He says the shipments will begin again in two weeks. It seems the Mafia are having an internal reorganization. Three of the main Bosses have been terminated." "You give us only a five day supply." "That's all they give me," Madero responded. “So, what the hell are we going to do? Our supplies, for the most part, are all but gone. We thought this meeting was to tell us that our supplies were going to increase. But, this is unacceptable." The man who spoke was well educated, and an attorney." "Ah, Alvarez, I wondered when you would speak up." "With all due respect, Madero," he began. The rest of the group quieted. Alvarez had the seconded next largest territory. Next to Madero, he was the smartest; maybe, even smarter. The group was content to let him speak for them. "Why can't we make our own arrangements with the Colombians; after all, we are all Latinos. The Italians are Gringos." The group shouted with applause. "Alvarez, there is much you do not know." Madero tolerated Alvarez’s challenge. "Then, enlighten us, El Jefe," he said with an underlying tone of disrespect. "I'm surprised at you, Alvarez. You have never been suspicious before." "Wasn't it you who told us to trust no one?" "I will indulge you, Alvarez, because I respect you. Why do you think I have asked for this meeting? Do you not know that I will lose the most money; therefore, I am the most concerned. I have talked to the Colombian; he said we must wait the two weeks. Two weeks will be hard on us, but we will survive." "Who is this Colombian?" "That, I cannot tell you."

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"What are you afraid of?" "My life," Madero shouted. "And all of your lives." He pointed around the room. "The Colombians would have us killed?" Alvarez asked in disbelief. "Not the Colombians. The Mafia! I was told, in no uncertain terms, that if we tried to go around them directly to the Colombians, or even the Yakuza, the Tongs or Triads we would all be killed." “Impossible! They can't take us all out." "If they are willing to take out three of their own, do you think they would not hesitate in taking all of us out?" "We are hundreds, even thousands." "No, Alvarez, we are twenty. Do you want to take the chance? For all we know, they might just have the CIA take us out...You are smart, Alvarez. Think it through." A hush fell over the group like a dark pall. “So, what do you suggest?" Alvarez asked, knowing that Madero was right. "We wait." "And then what?" "In two weeks, back to business." "Our dealers, and the addicts they supply, will go crazy. If the junkies can't get what they need, every pharmacy will be barraged with robberies. Many people may be killed in the process." "I will give you all as much of a supply as I can. Dole it out sparingly. Keep a lid on the troublemakers. If not, the DEA and the NARCO squads will do it for us, and we will all be in jeopardy." "I say we go after the Mafia," one of the men shouted. "Do you know their names" Do you know where they are? They are like ghosts." Even Alvarez thought it was a stupid idea. "No," he said. "Madero is right. We wait for now."

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The meeting was over, and Madero asked Alvarez to stay. After the men left, "You know, I meant no disrespect, Jefe. But there are many hot heads in this group. I was, merely, trying to calm them down," Alvarez said, trying his best to cajole Madero. "I'm glad you did, my friend. Would you like a nice Cuban cigar and a glass of Brandy?" Alvarez began to feel uneasy. Madero could be ruthless. "I'd like that," he said cautiously. "You are smart, even clever. But, you do not have my experience. You are still young, and one day you will become El Jefe. Do not contemplate mistakes. Stay close to me and learn. This drug business, we have chosen, is a very complicated one. The players all play by their own rules. But there is no place for bad judgment. One mistake and you're dead. Comprehende?" Alvarez got the message. "This Mafia thing is of great concern to the Cartels. They are going to test the Mafia's resolve. A shipment is due to arrive within two days. If it gets through, maybe the Colombians will have some leverage in breaking the arrangement." “And if the Mafia refuses?” “They will send a message to the Colombians. First, we will all be killed. Our organizations will fight among themselves for control. The dealers will be easy pickings for the DEA. The addicts will go on a rampage, and the public's outcry will thunder like a bad hurricane." Alvarez's mind went numb. And, then, slowly, "And if the shipment does not get through?" "It'll buy us time. The Colombians will begin to plot ways to find other avenues into the states." "With a limited supply of drugs, what will happen on the East coast? The

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Russians and the Puerto Ricans will not stand still for this." "The Russians will go to war with the Puerto Ricans and Cubans over territory. Stupidly, they have no fear of the Mafia. They believe they are weak. The repercussions will be devastating. It will pit every drug organization against another. There will be a bloody war, the likes of which we cannot even imagine." Alvarez was speechless. "I hope you have saved your money...Brazil may be a safe place," Madero said, as he leaned back puffing on his Cuban cigar.

Alvarez left with his arrogance dragging behind him. Madero, plopped down a full bottle of Brandy in front of him, and rolled his favorite cigar between his fingers, smelling its sweet aroma. One of his men poked his head into the room. "Jefe, we are ready." "I am not. Play cards, or something. I'll let you know when I'm ready to leave," Madero ordered him out with a wave of his cigar. He then poured himself a generous shot of brandy. There was much to think about. Soon his sons would be old enough, and surely they would insist on being in the business -- the business that had become a nightmare for him. He wanted out. No, he would not let his sons become part of the nightmare. They would grow up to be respectable, professional; maybe, even doctors. "But what to do?" That was the question he asked himself over and over. Madero ran the options though his mind. If the Colombians were successful in bringing in the shipment, would the Mafia kill them as promised? About that, he had very little question. And, if the Mafia stopped the shipment, there would be hell to pay. Maybe, even a war with the Colombians. If he tipped off the Mafia, he was also certain that through a process of elimination, the Colombians would eventually figure out that he was the informant. Which was the lesser of two evils? "Dead is dead," he said to himself. Maybe, he could make a deal with the Mafia: trade information for safety. Could he trust

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them? More than the Colombians he concluded. He had told Alvarez that Brazil would be safe; however, he knew he could be traced in no time. No. It would be Spain. Anticipating, five years before that this day would come, he had purchased a small farm outside of Madrid. He had used various aliases through several dummy corporations. If only he could be sure of the Mafia. They hated traitors as much as the Colombians, but they usually left the families alone. The Colombians would butcher his wife and sons just to make a point. The choice was made. Madero picked up the phone and called his contact in Las Vegas. After discussing his family's safety, Madero told him when and where a ton of cocaine was to be delivered. His contact reassured him that his family would be safe, saying, "This favor would not go unrewarded." His plans for leaving had been in place for some time. He would instruct, his wife, Maria, again in every precise detail, and assure her that he would follow as soon as possible. At first, she would cry, but she was strong and committed. For years, she had begged him to leave. She hated drugs, and the thought of her sons involved in such an evil business would give her all of the strength that she would need. Deep down, he believed that he would never see his family again. " A small price," he consoled himself.

Immediately, a string of events began. The Las Vegas Capo, named, Biaggi called Mastronini with every detail about the shipment, as well as, the assurances he had given to Madero. Mastronini then called Gallucci in Japan. "Marco," Gallucci said. "Do exactly as I tell you. I want you to call a man, his name is Alexander Artemis; he is a United States Senator... Marco exploded into the phone, "A U.S. Senator!...Why me Angelo?" "Marco, calm yourself. He is a friend of mine. Now, you will be his friend. Tell him I asked you to call. Give him every detail. He will know what to do,” Gallucci said. “Marco, it is imperative that we stay out of this. Negotiations are not yet complete here.

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The Colombians must not know we are involved." Gallucci hung up the phone and turned to Antonio. "It has begun. The Colombians are stupid." And then smashing his fist into his palm, "I wish Oshiro would stop playing this 'what's in a pearl' game."

CHAPTER 20

WASHINGTON, DC

Marco called the Senator with great trepidation. Alex, merely, said, "Thank you,” and hung up. Alex turned to Brand, and to his amazement found him reading the Bible. He repeated the information to Brand, and without saying a word, he called Radcliff. The General then called Rawlings to set up a meeting. Radcliff decided that it was time for Rawlings to know the men whose lives were at stake. Alex and Brand put up only a brief opposition, after Radcliff had made it clear that if this blew up into a full-scale drug war, Rawlings had to know who to protect. Alex hoped the meeting was not going to be at the seedy strip bar. Instead,

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Radcliff instructed them to rent a small sloop, named Voyager, and go for a lazy ride down the Potomac, and that he and Rawlings would find them around noon. "Thank God, you know how to handle this boat," Alex said, as Brand skillfully maneuvered the sails, always tacking into the wind. "I feel nauseated." Brand handed him some crackers. "It'll make you feel better." Within a few minutes, he was feeling better. Alex watched the waves skirting along the side of the sloop. He wondered if there were any fishing poles on board. The sun reflected off of the dark, blue waters. Suddenly, a gust of wind blew the water into a choppy swirl just as Alex heard a burst of three blares from a horn. He turned and saw a huge yacht approaching. Brand turned the sloop toward the on coming yacht. In minutes they were alongside. Radcliff shouted, "Tie up and come aboard." Once aboard, Alex was grateful for the large and more stable yacht. Brand with Alex followed Radcliff down a set of narrow steps that opened into a massive lower deck where Rawlings was waiting. "It's nice to see you again, Senator," he said shoving his hand out. "But, Michael Brand,” he exclaimed, “I could never have imagined.” "Nor I," Michael retorted, and forced himself to shake Rawlings' hand. Radcliff was in no mood for Rawling’s sarcasm. "Did you cultivate this attitude, or were you just born with an innate arrogance?" Then said, trying to modify his tone, "This is serious, Frank. I'm having this meeting against my better judgment, but it's necessary. So, listen, and you might just become a hero." "Do you guys ever get along at all?" Alex asked, amazed at the hostility. "Only when necessary, and then it's procedural, "Radcliff said, and then turned to Rawlings. "I'm going to betray a trust. But, I have the Senator and Brand's permission." "So, give. What's up?" Rawlings plunked himself down next to a cookie jar. Radcliff was coming unglued. "Frank," he began in a controlled anger. "These

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two men are risking their lives for this country. The Senator is on a mission to stop the drug trade. And, Brand here, has been working undercover for Military Intelligence for the last fifteen years. So, if I don't have your complete cooperation, I'll make sure the President has you cleaning out horse stalls and shoveling manure for the rest of your natural life. Do I make myself clear?" Rawlings took the full brunt of Radcliff’s attack, "I had no idea. Is it too late to apologize?" Radcliff thought he was pathetic. Alex and Brand just felt sorry for him. "General, can't we just start this over? I think Dr. Rawlings gets the point," Alex interjected. Brand was still dumfounded. "Alight," Radcliff sighed. "What I'm going to tell you must be handled with extreme precision.” Radcliff snapped his fingers. "Rawlings, are you with me?" "I'm with you, General." "What the Senator and Brand are doing is of no immediate concern to you. As a matter of fact, this operation has nothing to do with them." The General started pacing. "As you know, the Mafia has halted all drug shipments from the Colombian Cartels. But, the Cartels have decided to test their resolve. The day after tomorrow, they are bringing in a ton of cocaine. The cargo will land at three a.m Pacific time at the San Diego port. The ship is called the Buenos Suerte." "How did we get this information?" he asked, wanting to be on the team. "It originated from the number one drug lord in California. He wants out, and has asked that his family be secured in a place which he has already made arrangements for." "Will this drug lord be there?" "Yes." "How will we know him?" "I don't know. But, what is important is how we handle this operation."

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"The DEA knows how to handle operations like this," Rawlings countered. "Of course, it does. But, this one has some special wrinkles. I expect that there will be at least twenty Colombians aboard guarding the shipment." "Why not the usual, inconspicuous, four or five?" "Because they're expecting the Mafia. The Mafia doesn’t want any drug cargoes coming into the States. This is a test of power." "So, why isn’t the Mafia doing this interdiction?" "Because, it's against the law. Sometimes, I wonder about you, Frank" "So, how do you suggest we handle this?" "I want fifty DEA agents on the scene. I want a contingent of Navy Seals to board the ship and secure it before it lands." "I'll need Naval approval." "Then get it! I want your agents to concentrate on the men waiting on the docks; I want them arrested. Only arrested." "What if they shoot at our agents?" "Then shoot back." Radcliff was beginning to become exhausted. "I want as many arrested as possible, not killed. It is imperative that this Madero is alive and well when this operation is over. Understand!" "No matter what you think of me," Rawlings said, "My men are expert." "Yes, they are," the General conceded.

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CHAPTER 21

SAN DIEGO, CA.

The DEA had informed only the Chief of Police about the interdiction, and was told to have his men stay as far away as possible from the San Diego Port without creating any suspicion. By midnight, Captain Ramirez of the DEA had all of his agents planted in every strategic position. "We wait for the Seals to secure the ship, and then we spring the net, Roberto,” The captain spoke quietly to his second in command. “Shoot only if shot at. Our orders are to arrest." The Captain then looked at his watch. "I hate this waiting." Roberto agreed. By two-thirty a.m. the Seal team was all ready positioned in the water. Moments

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later, two white vans drove to the end of the dock, and a dozen or so men got out. Some milled around smoking and making small talk. The rest peered off into the blackness searching for the ship to arrive. "We can take them now, Captain," Roberto whispered. "Our orders are to wait until after the ship is secured." He hated repeating orders. “There's going to be one hell of a battle on board. Isn't there any way we can help?" "It's not our assignment." Suddenly, a light appeared about three hundred yards out. The men on the dock began to scramble, opening the rear doors of the vans. At about fifty yards out gunfire shattered the night. The ship listed from side to side as the battle raged. It was over in less than five minutes. At the start of the gunfire, the men on the docks made for the vans. Ramirez couldn’t wait any longer. "Now," he ordered. The agents swarmed from their positions. "This is the DEA,” Roberto, his second in command yelled. “Hands on your heads, and hit the deck. Faces down!" Madero dropped instantly, hitting the hard, wooden planks. Two men foolishly drew their guns, and were cut down in a split second. Madero remained motionless. "What the hell is the DEA doing here," he said to himself. "Where is the Mafia?" All but two Colombians were killed on the ship. One Seal took a bullet, but it was not fatal. The Mexicans and the two Colombians were separated into different vehicles, and drove them to the Federal Building where the FBI took control. The men were immediately segregated into separate rooms for interrogation. Ramirez spoke to the FBI agent in charge. "I want custody of a one, Benito Madero." "That's highly unusual," the Agent in charge said, raising an eyebrow.

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Ramirez pulled out a piece of paper. "It says..." "I can read, Captain," the agent said annoyed..."I'm supposed to take these men to a Federal facility in Colorado, and hold them incognito? Well…if Military Intelligence wants it, who am I to argue," he said shrugging his shoulders. "I want Madero, now." Ramirez insisted. "No, problema," the agent said, flippantly, and walked off. A few minutes later, a man dressed in non-descript workman's clothes was delivered to Ramirez. He pulled the man off to one side of the room; his hands were still cuffed behind him. "Are you Benito Madero?" he asked. "I am only a peasant hired to unload some goods,” the man answered without looking up. “I know nothing, Senor." "I don't have time to play games. Either you are Benito Madero, or not?" "And, what if I am?" he asked with his eyes still lowered. "Do you know a man by the name of Biaggi?" Madero's mind began spinning. What the hell, dead is dead, he reminded himself. "Yes, I know the man." Ramirez grabbed Madero by the arm, and yanked him out of the building and into a waiting car. He uncuffed him and said, "We have your family." "My family!" Madero said, his voice filled with terror. "They have done nothing wrong." "Is your wife's name Maria?" "Yes, but..." Ramirez turned to Madero. "It's alright. She and your sons are waiting for you," he said and smiled. "I hope you have a pleasant trip to Spain." "But...how can this be?" "It seems that some very important General wants you alive." Madero's mind did somersaults; and then he just started laughing to himself. The

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Mafia and the U.S. Military. Nothing ever changes, he concluded. For the first time in fifteen years, he sat back and relaxed.

CHAPTER 22

TOKYO

It had been seven days since Ky brought the first white pearl to Gallucci. And, precisely at seven each evening, he returned retrieving the pearl, but leaving another in its place. The only words Ky would say is that Oshiro wanted him to study the next pearl. Gallucci was in the throes of a furious anger. "I hate this place. I hate the waiting." He was unable to partake in any of the pleasures he had enjoyed on previous trips. He was in the presence of a priest; Gallucci was slowly beginning to hate his own nephew. "I am in jail, Antonio," he said with a great sigh. "At least, the shipment from the Colombians was seized," Antonio said, naively. "That was only the beginning, Antonio," Gallucci remarked, as he paced like a

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lion around the room. "For now, the Colombians will not connect us. But it won't take long. We need Oshiro," he said, adamantly. Just then, Gallucci heard a knock on the door. "It must be seven o'clock. So, open it, Antonio," he said, impatiently. Ky entered and bowed low. Antonio returned the custom. Gallucci never bowed. "So, do you bring us another pearl?" Gallucci asked, impertinently. "No. Tomorrow, I take you to see Oshiro." "It's about time." Gallucci grunted. "My car will pick you up at seven a.m. sharp in front of the hotel. Don't be late," Ky said, bowing and leaving the room without further comment "He's impudent," Gallucci howled. "They're all impudent. How can we do business with such people." "Relax, Uncle. We will find a way...Or, maybe, Heaven will." Antonio shuddered at the thought.

The sun was just peeking over the mountains flooding the great city in light as Ky's car pulled up in front of the hotel. "Where are we going?" Gallucci asked, with Antonio translating. "To see the Oyabun." "I thought we were going to meet with Oshiro?" "Oshiro is the Oyabun." "What is this Oyabun?" Gallucci asked Antonio. "He is the leader of the Yakuza. Like you, Uncle, he is Capo di Capo. The Yakuza, like the American and Italian Mafia, are splintered into their own Families. If Oshiro agrees to join our mission, he must do what you have done – bring all the Families under his control." "This is a very complicated venture, Antonio."

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"Yes, Uncle. I give our chances...one in five." "You are a pessimist. Besides, we have Heaven on our side." "It is up to you, Padrone. Heaven can only help. You must be the messenger." "What has your Pope Francis gotten me into?" "What has Heaven gotten us all into," Antonio added. "I pray, then, that Heaven makes its presence known." "I wasn't aware that you prayed, Uncle?" "Right now, I pray for our lives." After an hour ride, the car stopped at what seemed to be a deserted airport, except for a lone twin engine Cessna. "We'll be taking an hour fight," Ky said. "To where?" Gallucci asked. "To a secret valley, deep in the Honshu Province. It is a place known only to a few. You should feel privileged," Ky said. The twin engine Cessna roared as it lifted off the runway. Antonio and Gallucci looked out of the small oval, shaped windows as the plane skirted over the mountains and flew deep into the forest of Honshu. After about an hour, Ky said, "We are almost there." The plane banked into a steep descent. Through the solid green of the forest, Antonio and Gallucci could see a valley nestled below. It was spectacular. Waterfalls cascaded down into the lush forest. A small, dirt runway came into view. In seconds, the plane scudded across the red clay, and skidded to a stop. As they exited the plane, a four-wheel drive Toyota waited. "We'll be driving over some tough terrain for about an hour. So, buckle up," Ky warned. Gallucci winced, not looking forward to the ride. The four-wheel drive bounced along as it drove up the mountain, deeper into the jungle like forest. "No wonder, Oshiro doesn't get out much," Gallucci said, bouncing from side to side.

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Eventually, the 4 x 4 reached a plateau. "We walk from here," Ky announced. After a few minutes of hiking through a shaded trail, they entered into a magnificent clearing. The small group followed a pathway that meandered through an exquisitely, manicured landscape. As they reached the top of a small slope, the path narrowed and snaked around dozens of ponds containing the biggest and most colorful Koi fish Antonio had ever seen. A host of gardeners, dressed in ancient kimonos, diligently, trimmed and shaped bushes of various kinds and sizes. Absorbed with the scene, they hadn't noticed the huge, medieval castle looming in front of them. The castle was fit for a Shogun. Antonio felt as if he were walking into the past. Gallucci just took it all in without saying a word. They mounted seven levels of stairs. When they reached the top, Gallucci was panting. Several servants came over and, after bowing low, asked for their coats and shoes while handing them colorful kimonos and slippers. Ky showed them into the main room, equally magnificent, with garlands of multi-colored flowers surrounding the various Shinto deities. Except for the flowers, it reminded Antonio of Statuary Hall in Washington, DC. "The Oyabun will meet with you after you have rested," Ky said. "Follow the servants, they will show you to your quarters." The rooms were quite austere, as compared to the opulence they had seen. Gallucci flopped onto the bed. "This is some place, uh, Uncle." Antonio said, obviously impressed. "It's not the Vatican...but it's nice," Gallucci replied, unenthused. And then added, "We're in a house of Pagans." "It's a religious place, Uncle." "For God's sake, you're a priest, Antonio," Gallucci said, disbelieving his own ears." "Pope Francis respects all religions."

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"Aah," Gallucci grumbled. "Don't bother me. I'm going to get some rest." And then wondered if they had an Angel of Death of their own. He dismissed the thought.

It was afternoon when Antonio heard a soft knock on the shoji door. He slide it open, Ky was standing there. "The Oyabun will receive you in twenty minutes. I will come for you." He bowed and left. After going through a maze of passageways that spiraled upward toward the top of the castle, they arrived at a room. Ky knocked softly. The shoji slide open, and a servant bowed low. As they entered, Gallucci took in the room. It was large, but sparsely decorated. At the far end, Oshiro sat on an ornate throne, but immediately got up as they entered. In the middle of the room was the traditional low table. Ky made the introductions. The Oyabun, Ito Oshiro stood with his arms crossed and his hands hidden inside the sleeves of his elegant kimono. His face was wrinkled with age, and his body looked frail. Gallucci had not pictured Oshiro, but if he had, he would have pictured him as a warrior. The old man then bent over so low that Gallucci was sure he would topple. Instead, Oshiro bowed with extreme grace and suppleness. Gallucci knew that he had to return the bow. So, with great effort, he did his best. In so doing, it was Gallucci who almost fell over, but Antonio steadied him, as he too bowed. "Come, let us sit down," Oshiro said, and pointed to the table, which Gallucci hated. After a struggle, he finally settled onto a soft cushion. Oshiro motioned to the servants who quickly left the room. One of them returned within seconds, bringing, what appeared to be a large, ceramic teapot and four cups, and then immediately disappeared into another room. Oshiro poured out an equal measure of sake into the cups. He looked at Gallucci. "Do you ever take off your glasses? They say your eyes are the windows to your soul." "When it is time."

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"When it is time," Oshiro repeated. "Until that moment then, we drink the sake as a symbol of friendship and loyalty." After each had sipped, Oshiro said, "I am impressed with your patience, Signore Gallucci. It must have been difficult for a man of your position?" Antonio translated while Gallucci forced a smile. Oshiro had no idea, he thought to himself. "If my mission was not one of life or death, I would have left," Gallucci said. "Then let us not waste time." "First, I have a question. Why the game with the pearls?" "We will talk of the game with the pearls, as you call it, later. Now, please tell me of your mission?" Gallucci searched for the right words to begin, and then thought of his meeting with Antonio. "What do you think of drugs?" "Narcotics are an anathema to the soul. They cloud men's minds." Oshiro answered without having to think. "As the head of the Yakuza, then why do you condone the selling of this substance?" "I do not. But there are many Families in the Yakuza that I have no control over. The tree has many branches. May I ask you the same question?" "Until recently, it has been the same for me. But, now, I control all the worldwide Families. The Mafia will never deal in drug trafficking again." "How have you managed this?" Oshiro asked, with great curiosity. Gallucci thought for a long minute, and decided. "We were given a mission from Heaven...Gallucci stopped and then asked, "Do you believe in Heaven?" "Certainly," Oshiro nodded. “We believe in many heavens.” The answer made no sense to Gallucci, but he continued. "Heaven has commanded us to stop this poison that murders and enslaves our children," he said firmly "An honorable mission. But, tell me, how did Heaven convey this mission to

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you?" "Through the Angel of Death." "I do not understand." "The Angel of Death appeared to us in the form of a great spirit. Those who refused to become part of Heaven’s mission were taken from the face of this earth. I have come across the world so that I may ask for your help in this mission." “And, if I am unable to comply with your request, will your Angel of Death also take us from this world?” “That is not my decision, it is Heaven’s.” "The line between faith and fear is a narrow one. I will think on this, and I will give you my answer after dinner tonight." Gallucci, with great effort and Antonio’s help, rose from the table and left.

When they were alone, Kyogi asked. "How can you even consider his request? Since when do we trust any gaijin?" "When it suits our purpose."

After arriving back at their quarters, they found a tray of food waiting for them. Gallucci was not hungry, he felt a deep sense of despair. "I don't think I communicated our case very well to Oshiro," Gallucci said, admonishing himself. "What do you think, Antonio?" "It is hard to say, Uncle,” Antonio said, picking at the food. “Oshiro has a great sense of purpose; he studies things from all angles. We will have another chance tonight," he replied, trying to comfort his uncle. But, Antonio had his own reservations about Oshiro being able to help. Oshiro was right; he would have a most difficult task in bringing his Families into line. Many of the Yakuza had lost their sense of tradition. They would probably consider Oshiro to be an anachronism -- a man of the past. He would not be able to exert enough fear or

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loyalty, as Gallucci had done. However, Antonio considered Oshiro to be a man of keen perception, but then wondered why Oshiro had so few questions. "Then tonight we shall see, Antonio." Gallucci felt exhausted. He closed his eyes and tried to sleep. Antonio decided to pray; he withdrew his rosary beads and knelt down beside his bed. Then, very subtly, he felt a soft vibration coming from the Ring in his pocket, which quickly calmed him into a meditative state.

One of the servants had delivered a message that dinner would be at eight o’clock. Both showered, and then put on fresh kimonos, which had been laid out for them. Gallucci felt better. Stronger. Tonight, he would not mince words. Oshiro would have to understand the consequences of his decision. The table was set as elegantly as a garden. Garlands of flowers weaved through the table like a river. Servants moved like shadows as they brought in an assortment of delicacies. The four men sat: Gallucci and Antonio on one side, and Oshiro and Kyogi on the other. Antonio considered the dinner a feast, while Gallucci only nibbled at his food. "Our food is not to your taste," Oshiro said, knowing the answer. "I'm not very hungry," Gallucci lied, politely. "Your priest here, finds it most agreeable," Oshiro observed with a noticeable undertone in his voice. At the first meeting, he had ignored Antonio completely. "During the era of the Shoguns,” he said speaking to Antonio, “the Jesuits were considered our friendly enemies. You are Jesuit, are you not?" Oshiro asked, sharply. "I am," Antonio responded. "The Black Robes made agreements with the Shoguns. They bought our silks and goods, and gave us money and greed in return. They controlled the Shoguns with wealth, and would not let the other nations trade with us. Is this not so, Jesuit?" "It was a time of great shame for us. But the Jesuits you speak of were

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Portuguese," Antonio responded," trying to put the past in context. ”It was…” Oshiro cut him off. "Were not all Jesuits under the command of the Black General?" "It is true. But not all Jesuits agreed with the Black General. Unlike your Yakuza, we were bound by a sacred oath of obedience." Antonio's words struck hard. "So, what is different now? Your words still try to beguile." "Our obedience is to the Pope, and only to the Pope. Those days are in the past. I deeply apologize for the actions of my predecessors…would you like me to leave?" Antonio asked, and bowed his head. Oshiro thought for a moment. "No, it is not necessary," he said, believing Antonio’s apology to be sincere. He then shifted his attention to Gallucci who was about to explode in Antonio's defense. "You do not like the accusations I have made?" "This priest is my nephew, but more importantly, I trust him to translate my words accurately." "Kyogi can translate. He is well versed in Italian. Your Pietro has taught him well." "That's good," Gallucci said. "Then there can be no deceit in our conversation." "Our journey's, your Mafia and the Yakuza, have traveled the same path for generations," Oshiro said, changing from his previous tone. "We abide by the same code. Our agreements were as binding and solemn, as the stars in the sky. But, this is a new time, a time of rebellion. I admit, I do not fully understand your ways, but I do understand the character of a man. I do not yet trust your priest, but I trust you. I believe you have come here in all sincerity. But, facts are facts, and I cannot bring the Families into line. Therefore, we cannot participate in your mission, as noble as it might be." This was not what Gallucci wanted to hear. But before he could speak, Oshiro asked, "Would you like to know the exercise of the pearls?" Gallucci couldn't resist, especially after seven days of waiting. "Of course, I

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would like to know." But his mind was preoccupied with Oshiro’s refusal. Oshiro turned to Kyogi, "Give him a pearl." Ky pulled from the black pouch a white pearl, and handed it to Gallucci. Gallucci studied it for a minute. "This is not a real pearl, it is a fake." "On this day," Oshiro said, "you have been granted wisdom. You now know the real from the unreal." Gallucci did not appreciate the lesson. "I will tell you the real from the unreal. Heaven will take your first-born," Gallucci said, pointing his chopstick like a stiletto, "and the first-born of each of the head's of your Families, if the Yakuza do not join in this mission." Oshiro and Kyogi’s eyes widened in disbelief at hearing Gallucci’s threats. Kyogi began to move toward Gallucci, but Oshiro stopped him. “Calm yourself, Kyogi,” Oshiro ordered. And then asked Gallucci, “Do you, or does your Heaven make these threats?” Before Gallucci could answer, Kyogi screamed, “I will kill you for making these threats. You are both full of deceit.” As Kyogi began to rise, Antonio felt the Ring in his pocket begin to vibrate violently. Instantly, a purple mist formed over Kyogi’s head. Oshiro became terrified. Kyogi glared at the two men with hate. “What kind of a trick is this?” The purple mist then formed into a dark, menacing face. With a thundering sound, it's great jaws opened and snatched Kyogi by the head. Kyogi's body shuddered and twisted. Antonio shrieked out, “Heaven needs him.” Immediately the face of death spit him onto the floor. Oshiro began shaking, "Is he alright?" he asked, fear mixed with grief. Unable to stand, he crawled to the prone body of Kyogi. He held him in his arms and wailed, "This is my son!" Oshiro pressed him to his breast and rocked him as tears flooded down his

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face. Antonio checked for a heartbeat. “He will be all right,” he said and touched Oshiro’s shoulder. Several minutes passed as Oshiro held his son. Suddenly, Kyogi moaned. "What has happened?" His eyes began to flutter open. His father, now, cried with joy, until he saw the black orbs of his son looking up at him. "What kind of Heaven is this that would do such an unspeakable act?" Oshiro asked horrified. "The same kinds of unspeakable acts we allow the drugs to do to our children," Gallucci roared. "Look into my eyes," he said, as he pulled off his glasses. "You have had the same experience?" Oshiro asked, his voice flooded with confusion. "Except, that Heaven was not as gentle with me," Gallucci smiled at the still trembling father. “On this day, you have been granted your son’s life. You have witnessed the real and the unreal." "Will he be all right?" "He will be fine. What does not kill you, makes you stronger." Gallucci answered. Antonio felt a deep sadness for Oshiro, the father. After several more minutes, Kyogi began struggling to his feet. "I feel weak, Father, but I am okay." Gallucci and Antonio helped Oshiro and Kyogi back to the table. "Your Heaven has it's demon side," Oshiro said, still shakened. "The Angel of Death is a warrior, not a demon. Heaven is determined to free its children," Antonio said, flatly. "I am an old man. What if I can not do what your Heaven wants?" "Heaven's mission is now your mission...As it is mine," Gallucci said, solemnly. "But it is a Christian Heaven?"

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Antonio responded, "Heaven does not distinguish between religions, it only distinguishes good from evil." "What if the Yakuza Families do not agree with this mission?" "Then the Angel of Death will take their first-born children," Gallucci intoned without any emotion attached to his words. "This is enough for one night. Tomorrow we will speak again," Oshiro said, unable to continue. "There is much to consider." "Wisdom comes in many forms," Gallucci said, as he and Antonio left.

Antonio arose early the next morning, and strolled through the majestic gardens. The Koi fish huddled, and swam like a colorful ballet. A few of them stretched their bodies out of the water, as if trying to reach up to the rising sun. His sleep the night before was once again a nightmare. Images of the face of death haunted his dreams. "Is there no other way, Holy Father?" Antonio prayed as if expecting a response. When he arrived back at their quarters, Gallucci was just beginning to amble around like a man in a stupor. "Are you alright, Uncle?" "I slept like a dead man," he said, trying to focus his eyes. "Where are my pants?" Gallucci scratched his backside, as he looked around the room. "What time is it?" "Almost nine," Antonio replied. "Do you think Oshiro will join our mission?" "I don't know. He has many obstacles in his way. The Tongs and the Triads must also be dealt with. However, there is a solution to that problem. The problem now is to get the entire Yakuza to speak with one voice." "Can Oshiro do that?" "Oshiro, who knows? But, I have come to believe that with Heaven’s help anything can be accomplished."

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"The Angel of Death, you mean?" "If necessary. I don't think that Heaven will leave this mission half finished." Antonio heard a knock on the door, and opened it, as Gallucci went into the bathroom. A servant entered with a tray of breakfast. "The Oyabun will meet with you at noon in the gardens." she said, setting down the tray. The morning passed, slowly. Antonio read the Bible, searching for passages that would help soothe his soul, while Gallucci paced like an anticipating father. A single chime of a bell rang out. Antonio looked at his watch. "It is noon, Uncle." "Good." They both put on their kimonos. Antonio had to help put the obi around his uncle's thick girth. When they arrived at the gardens, Antonio could see Oshiro and Ky sitting around a table that was situated on a corrugated stone circle in the center of a ring of Koi ponds. The mountain behind them cast a shadow that protected them from the sun. As they got closer, Antonio noticed that Oshiro was dressed in full Shogun attire. Each gave a half bow to the other. "You were right," Oshiro began. "Wisdom comes in many forms. I am grateful that your Heaven has sparred my son's life. I would, also, like to apologize to Father Antonio. The shame is on both of our ancestors. As you can see, I am dressed as a warrior. If my family is spared, I will do your Heaven's bidding." "Then let us drink your sake, as a sign of our friendship and loyalty to our given mission," Gallucci said. Antonio was quite impressed with his uncle's graciousness. "It is my pleasure to serve you in any capacity." Antonio said to the Oyabun..."By the way, how do you feel, Ky?" "I feel renewed. It has been many years since I have felt such peace with myself." "My son is a testament to your Heaven. Though it entered as an Angel of Death, it left as an Angel of Peace." Oshiro pondered for a moment, and then asked, "How many

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of your children have been taken?" "None," Gallucci said. "But Five of my men are dead -- two by the Angel of Death, and three by my soldiers." "I wish us the same good fortune," Kyogi said, knowing that he too was now on the same mission. "As I see it," Oshiro began, "We have three problems. First: bring our own Yakuza in line; the second and the third are the Tongs and Triads. They should not be a problem if the Yakuza acts with one purpose." "We think the same," Gallucci said, smiling to himself. "I fear though," Oshiro said, as his brow deepened with apprehension, "that all the Families will not join with us." "Willingly," Gallucci added. Oshiro nodded. "I will set up a meeting of the head’s of all the Families." "Many will not come, Father," Ky addressed him informally." "Then they must not see the sun rise," Gallucci stated as a matter of fact. "You mean the Angel of Death?" Oshiro asked. "No. I mean those that are loyal to you must act swiftly. The heads of the Families must know you are Oyabun, and you will tolerate no disobedience." "What do you think, Kyogi," Oshiro asked. ."What must be done, must be done." Gallucci added, "If it is done swiftly, it will strike fear in their hearts, and save the lives of their children." "Is this the only way?" Oshiro asked, already feeling the weight of the mission. "I know the Families who are loyal to us," Ky said without hesitation. Antonio crossed himself, and silently said, "May Heaven be merciful." Kyogi continued, “If all of the Yakuza Families are to come under your control you must come to this meeting, Father. I will speak for you, if you wish, but they must

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understand the consequences of disobedience to the Oyabun, and the refusal of this mission." "And, if they still do not follow?" Oshiro asked. Gallucci answered, "Then, Heaven will take its course." His words hung in the soft shade of the lush forest.

Oshiro lifted his arm and several servants brought trays of food. It was a welcomed relief from the tension. "I am losing weight on this food," Gallucci said, making a sour face. "You can afford it, Uncle," After the servants cleared away the plates. "Now, for the Tongs and Triads, what do you suggest," Gallucci asked, still feeling hungry. "The Chinese do not like either of the societies; and their position on all forms of drugs is clear. They want them gone," Ky said. "They believe it will give them greater control over their people. But, they will not commit the resources to get rid of the problem. It will take a great deal of money." "How much are you willing to pay the Chinese to stop the Societies that traffic in heroine, opiates, or any other form of narcotics? We will match any amount you come up with," Gallucci said, wishing he had a plate of calzone. Oshiro closed his eyes and went into some deep place in his mind. No one spoke. Only the splashing of Koi and the singing of birds filled the silence. "We will commit ten-billion dollars to the Chinese. We will also make arrangements for more economic trade with Japan." "We will commit the same. We will match your money, and the commitment for more trade from Italy and the United States." "You have such power in America?" Oshiro asked, surprised. "No. I have such friends...Twenty billion, plus billions in trade should do the job."

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"I agree," Kyogi said. "How soon can you set your meeting?" "In three days," Kyogi said, confidently. "One last thing," Gallucci asked, "Would the Yakuza join with the Mafia and go to war with the Colombians, if necessary?" "Once, we are of one mind, the Yakuza will do what is necessary," Oshiro pronounced. "We will be bound by an oath of loyalty and death." "Then bring us sake," Gallucci said. When each cup was filled, Gallucci lifted his cup. "We drink to save our children."

CHAPTER 23

WASHINGTON, D.C.

Gallucci and Antonio landed at Dulles airport in the Vatican’s chartered plane. Alexander Artemis and Michael Brand secretly met them, as they exited in a secluded area reserved for the military. The Senator made quick introductions, and then drove swiftly to a safehouse on the outskirts of D.C. Gallucci had never been to Washington. On the way to the safe house they drove past the White House, Capitol Hill, and the many monuments that dotted the most

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powerful real estate in the world. It reminded him, in some strange way, of what Ancient Rome might have been like. Someday, he would like to visit all of it. Once at the safe house, they settled down to get to know each other; but, more importantly, to devise a plan to stop the Colombians. Brand hadn't met either Antonio or Gallucci. His curiosity about Gallucci was overwhelming. What kind of a man was this Capo di Capo that even the Cartels feared? Alex asked that they take a few minutes to sketch out for Brand their backgrounds. Gallucci didn't like it, but acquiesced. They then caught each other up on what had transpired over the last several days. "It seems the Colombians have kept you in the dark," Gallucci said to Brand. "They don't trust me, or the situation I've gotten them into." "Do they suspect your involvement with the Mafia?" "Not yet, anyway." Alex asked, Gallucci, "Do you believe that the Yakuza will join in the mission?" "We will know in two days." "Alex, I think some brandy is in order," Brand said. Alex moved to the bar. "What turned Oshiro our way?" he asked. "The Angel of Death, of course." Gallucci said with a certain note of satisfaction. "You saw it, too, Father?" Brand asked as Alex brought over the brandy. "Indeed, Mr. Brand." "So, there really is an Angle of Death?" Brand asked still disbelieving. "You doubted?" Gallucci asked. "Seeing is believing." "I hope you never have to see what I have seen," Gallucci said and inhaled the scent of the brandy. "How is Pope Francis," Alex asked, Antonio. "He is praying, Senator. He asks us to do the same."

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There was a long contemplative pause. Brand gulped his drink, and poured himself another. "You are scared, Mr. Brand," Gallucci observed. "Shitless." "That is good. Fear is a necessity when going into war." "You believe that a war is inevitable, then," Alex said, wary of his own words. "There is no other way. The Colombians have already made the first move." "This is getting too complicated." Alex started pacing. "I've got to get the President involved. Hell, I've got to everyone involved." "Do you believe that the President will match the promise I made to Oshiro?" The answer was crucial. "Money will not be the problem. Committing troops to fight a war is the problem." "I did not promise troops, Senator," Gallucci said. “I only asked if they would.” "You can't win this war without help," Brand said, slamming his glass on the table. "You'll all die in those hills." "There is no dishonor in dying, only in not trying." Gallucci remarked. "I must set up a meeting with the President. But, until we hear from the Yakuza, I ask that you and Antonio, please, stay here. And, Michael, you keep with the same routine," Alex ordered, leaving no room for discussion.

Radcliff called Alex. "What the hell is going on, Alex? I've got Rawlings all over me; he wants more information on when the next shipment will be." "Tell him to go fuck himself. I've set up a meeting with the President. He's bringing in the DEA, CIA, NSA, FBI..." “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Radcliff interrupted. “We don’t have enough information to confirm anything.”

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“It’s too late, the meeting’s already set.” "What about me?" "I told the president I was bringing you." "Good," Radcliff said with a sigh of relief. "When?" "Tonight at seven. I'll pick you up."

Artemis and Radcliff entered the Oval Office. The rest of the department heads were already there. Rawlings sat looking smug, as if the meeting were called so that Artemis could congratulate him for a job well done. "It's been a while, Alex," the president said. "Have a seat; you too General. So, tell me why were here, instead of at home with our families." "Mr. President, there are some things that must be made clear before we start." "You've got the floor, Alex." "First, my running for the Presidency is a complete charade. I have no desire to become president, or to hold any other political office, including my own. I am not a political threat, as a matter-of-fact, I will support any candidate you would like. My sole intention is to bring awareness to the American people that drugs must be eliminated for the sake of our children." "I know you've had a tough time with the death of your daughter, but..." Alex almost jumped out of his skin. "Don't patronize, Mr. President..." The president’s chief of staff cut in, "Alex, watch your tone of voice." "Charlie, shut up and sit down!" Radcliff quickly interrupted, believing the meeting was about to be over before it began. "Calm down, Alex, I know this is important." Alex took a deep breath, and tried to collect himself. "Mr. President, and gentlemen, I apologize for my unseemly outburst. I know that most, if not all of you, believe that I have lost my mind," then added, "and maybe for good reason."

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Everyone in the room did believe it, except for Radcliff; but he did believe that this meeting was premature. "Before I start again, this time more civilly, I need the assurance that what I say will not leave this room." "If you feel it necessary, I give you my word," the president said. "So, please, go on." "We have every reason to believe that a major inteernational drug war is about to take place." The department heads just looked at each other in astonishment. "How major, Senator?" the president asked. "We'll know the extent within a week." "General, as head of Military Intelligence, could you shed some light?" the president asked. Alex was grateful for the question. He had filled Radcliff in on as much as he could. "I'd be glad to Mr. President. Alex and I, with a small group from my staff, have been working together for some time," Radcliff lied. "Until, now, we have not had enough information to come forth." "Have any of the departments heard anything about an impending drug war?" Everyone replied, "No, Mr. President." The president looked at Radcliff with a puzzled stare. "Alright, General, for whatever your reasons, you have chosen not to share any information with these gentlemen." "As I was about to say, Mr. President. Our information has just been corroborated. That's why were having this meeting." Radcliff was beginning to become frustrated. "As to the extent of the war, we believe the first wave will begin in Japan, China, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, and eventually, Colombia."

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For the first time, the president and the rest of the department heads leaned forward. "So, what do you expect us to do? And who are your sources?” the president asked, disbelieving, but concerned with what he had just heard. Radcliff, realizing, he had no other corroboration except from Alex, and that came from a Mafia boss, any other conversation would only sound more outlandish. "For the time being, Mr. President, my sources must remain anonymous." Radcliff said. “General, this is a classified meeting.” “I understand, Mr. President, but I can’t afford to have these men compromised in the field. I suggest you have the appropriate departments independently investigate what we have uncovered for themselves, and then we'll meet again." "A good suggestion." Then turning to the rest of the group, "I want Intel in three days. General Radcliff is not only the head of Military Intelligence, but, also, second in command of the Joint Chief's. I've known him for a long time. He doesn't blow smoke, and he sure as hell is not going to put his reputation on the line because of hearsay bullshit. Do I make myself clear!" "Yes, Mr. President." The words echoed around the room. "Thank you, Senator, and General. I'll be getting back to you."

"Well, that went over like a lead balloon," Alex said as they drove back to the safe house. "What did you expect? We went in there without a plan. We sounded like two panicked teenagers. I tried to talk you..." "You were right. Don't rub it in." "How's this Mafia Boss going to react when I walk in?" "I imagine he'll be anxious to hear what suggestions you have." "About a thousand. All bad." "By the way, thanks for saving my ass in there."

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"Someone had to." "Yeah, I guess I got a little overheated." "A little!" he chuckled. "You were about to become toast." "Any other words of wisdom," Alex said sarcastically, as he whipped the car into the underground garage. When they walked into he house, Gallucci an Antonio were playing chess. "How did it go?" Gallucci asked without looking up. Antonio translated. "It was a disaster," Alex said. Gallucci turned and saw the General. He was dressed in full uniform replete with a solid breast of ribbons and medals. Gallucci hated the military, any military. "The circle is getting bigger," Gallucci said, suspiciously. "This is General Radcliff, he was responsible for the Colombian interdiction in San Diego. If we are to get anywhere, the General will be indispensable." "So, why was this meeting a disaster?" Gallucci asked, not taking his eyes off the General. "It was premature. I over reacted. I didn't have a solid plan. I sure as hell couldn't tell them about the Angel of Death," Alex said, and immediately realized his blunder. "The angel of what?" Radcliff exploded. "Are you talking about some kind of hit squad?" "In a way," Gallucci responded, toying with the General. "It's not what you think, Chuck." "If I'm involved, and right now I'm involved up to my ass. There's no turning back for me. I've got to know everything." The room went silent. Antonio decided that he was the best one to explain. "If I might, Senator." Alex agreed. "Father Antonio has been closest to understanding what has been going on."

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Radcliff held his breath afraid of what he was about to hear. "How much do you know, General?" Antonio asked. The General was not yet ready to speak. "I think the General could use a drink," Alex said. The General just nodded, and finally sat down. "Make it a double scotch," he said as if speaking in a trance. His drink came. Radcliff gulped it, and ordered another. "I'm ready...I think." Antonio started from the beginning with his first meeting with Pope Francis. He detailed as much as he could, trying to keep it as simple as possible. But there was nothing simple about it. When Antonio finished, the General was slouched into his chair, his coat opened, his tie a skewed, and was downing his third double scotch. "You, honestly, expect me to believe that some other worldly presence is orchestrating this whole thing?" "Not orchestrating, but helping," Gallucci corrected. "And I'm supposed to believe the head of the Mafia?" "You are to believe it, because it is true," Antonio said. "Would you like a demonstration?" Gallucci asked, not able to resist. "This is not to be taken lightly, Uncle. Maybe, Heaven should give you another demonstration," Antonio said annoyed. The possibility made Gallucci shudder. "A bad joke, General. I apologize." "So, Chuck, do you think we're all crazy?" Alex asked. The alcohol was taking its toll on the General. "I need some sleep." Alex helped him into one of the bedrooms. "We'll talk in the morning." "That's a heavy load all at one sitting," Antonio said as Alex returned. "Let's all get some sleep," Alex said.

The sun blasted through the slivers of slats between the blinds causing Radcliff to roll

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over and bury his face into the pillow trying to avoid the morning. His head thumped from the alcohol the night before. Sleep was now impossible, so he decided to take a cold shower. The icy shards brought him to a reasonable sense of normalcy, and then tried to remember what the priest had said. Impossible he thought. But something nagged in the back of his mind. Radcliff found some clothes in the closet more suitable than his uniform, and walked into the living room. Antonio was fixing breakfast, the smell of bacon, toast and coffee filled him with hunger. "Good morning," Alex said. "How's your head?" "Still thumping." "Here," Alex handed him a glass of orange juice. "Breakfast will be ready soon." "I've got to call my wife," Radcliff said looking around for a phone. "Already did. She's fine," Alex assured him. During breakfast, Radcliff finally spoke about the night before. "You really believe that Heaven has sent an Angel of Death to scare the hell out of people, and not to mention, rip their heads off if they don't join your mission?" "That's about the size of it," Alex said, between mouthfuls of scrambled eggs. "Sounds more like a horror story than Heaven." "A true horror story," Gallucci said, enjoying breakfast for the first time in a while. What had been nagging at Radcliff, suddenly came to the surface. "I've known President Nolan for more than twenty years, and if memory serves, I believe he is a catholic, or was." "That's it! We've got to get Nolan to call Pope Francis," Alex said, excitedly. "Whoa," Radcliff interrupted. "You expect the Pope to confirm that Heaven is sending the Angel of Death around killing people?" "Why not? What do you think, Antonio?" Alex asked.

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"Has he ever met the Pope?" "Yeah, many times," Radcliff said, munching on some bacon. "Chuck, you've got to trust me one more time. Call the president and set up a private meeting. Just the three of us. No chief of staff. Just us. We've got to convince him to call Pope Francis." "The Pope may not be willing to talk," Antonio said concerned. "If he is unwilling, what will that do to any future plans you may present to him?" Radcliff thought about it and started to come around. "I guarantee that the CIA, and the rest of them are going to come up blank. I don't think we've got anything to lose. Besides, I'd like to know if this is real or imaginary," Radcliff said. "No offense, Father, but you are the nephew of the head of the Mafia." "It might be all right," Antonio said, but with grave reservations. Gallucci had nothing to add. He was already committed to act, no matter what. After several minutes, Radcliff finally got through to the president. "I know that last night was a disaster. We've known each other for over twenty years, Mr. President, and I'm asking you to meet with me as a friend. I will give you the proof that you need. The CIA, nor any one else will be able to corroborate what we said last night." "You're in deep shit, Chuck. But, as a friend, I'll meet with you. You'll have ten minutes to put up or shut up. Be here at two." "Fair enough."

They arrived at the Oval Office, sharply, at two. As they entered, the president was sitting in a winged-back chair reading some papers. He looked up and saw Artemis," I said I would meet with you as a friend. No, offense, Senator, but what the hell is he doing here?" the president asked throwing his papers all over the coffee table, feeling betrayed. "Mr. President, it is imperative that Alex be here. Without him, nothing I will say, will make any sense."

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"Alright, sit down. You've got ten minutes." The president glared at Radcliff. "Mr. President, I know you have had several meetings with Pope Francis." "What has that do with anything?" "Everything! I assume you're still a catholic." "Chuck," the president was ready to explode, "What I am is none of your business. Now, get to the point." "That is the point. We need you to call Pope Francis. Alex has met with him, and they have formed an alliance to stop the drug trade on a global scale. I am asking you, against Alex's wishes." Radcliff hated lying to the president. "I'm asking you to call Pope Francis and ask him some questions. If he refuses, you'll never hear from us again." Radcliff didn't know what else to say. "How well do you know the Pope?" Alex asked, fearful of intruding and possibly ending the meeting. "It's none of your business," the president responded vehemently. "I know you were friendly when he was a Cardinal," Radcliff remembered. The president felt trapped and exasperated. "You want me to call Pope Francis, and ask him what?" "May I, Mr. President?" Alex asked. "It seems I have no choice, except to have you both thrown out." An exquisite calmness and courage came over Alex. "Mr. President, if you do not call the Pope, and if a drug war erupts, and it spreads like a fire over the planet, tens of thousand will die, maybe millions before it's over. It will become the legacy that you will take to your grave. I promise you, I will dedicate my life to that proposition." "You're crazy..." "No he's not," Radcliff interrupted. "And if what we believe to be true, I will also dedicate my life to those ends." "Is this blackmail? Threats? What the hell is going on here?"

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"Call the Pope, Mr. President, and ask him if Heaven has sent the Angel of Death to help stop drugs from murdering and enslaving it's children." "I know you're both crazy, now." "It would be a simple matter to prove, if you just call the Pope," Alex urged. "Alright, let's put an end to this insanity...or, whatever it is." The president walked over to his desk, flipped through a few pages of an address book, and punched in some numbers. As the phone rang, the president just glared at the two men. "The Pope must know that I am here sitting with you," Alex said. "Okay, I'll put it on the speaker phone." Finally, Alfredo answered, "Si." "This is John Nolan, is Pope Francis available?" Alex and Radcliff looked at each other stunned. Why had the president introduced himself so informally? Within a minute, the Pope answered, "John, it's so good to hear from you," his voice boomed over the speakerphone. Alex and Radcliff's jaws dropped in amazement at the Pope’s response. "Your Eminence I have a man in my office that has requested I ask you a question." "John, why so formal?" Francis asked. "Do you know a man by the name of Alexander Artemis? We are on a speaker phone; he can hear everything we say." "Alex, can you hear me?" The Pope asked excited. Now, it was the president's turn for his jaw to drop. "Yes, Holy Father. But, I have broken my oath of secrecy to you. The situation is becoming desperate." "I understand. John and I went to prep school together. We have no secrets," the Pope said. "So, What is your question, John?"

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"This may sound absurd," the president began. "I am to ask you if Heaven has sent the Angle of Death to help stop the drug trade?" "It is not an absurd question, and it is true. I could not tell you myself, but I knew, sooner or later, Alex would come to you. I have great faith in Alex. I can tell you this, John, that Heaven gave me four names. Alex was one of them…Alex are you still there?" "Yes, Holy Father." "Then tell John the rest of the names. Tell him what you know. I, also, have great faith in him. Heaven needs him now, more than ever." "I will," Alex said, feeling relief from the bottom of his soul. "Also, tell Antonio and Gallucci that Heaven is pleased with them. And tell Michael not to be afraid." After a slight pause, "John, these men are doing Heaven's will. Help them stop our children from the scourge of drugs." "I will do my best, Holy Father," the president said feeling stunned, confused, and amazed at the Pope’s response. "After this is over,” Francis said, “I look forward to sharing a plate of corn beef and cabbage. May God bless you John. You are always in my prayers." "Thank you, Holy Father," the president said, and snapped off the phone. The president remained silent for what seemed to be an eternity for Radcliff. He wanted to get on with making plans. But, he wasn't about to break the silence. The president had walked over to the window. Voluminous dark clouds swept across a gray sky. He tried looking passed them as if into Heaven. He had always accepted his Faith, but now he had come face to face with the reality of its existence. He remembered the words of Joey McCully before he went into the Seminary: 'Faith is belief put into action.' Why had he not been chosen? One day he would ask his old friend. But, now, it was time for action. The president returned to his desk, slapping his hands on it. "How do we proceed?" "First, you must be told of everything that has happened, and what might

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happen," Alex said. "I would like to apologize for my rudeness...to both of you," the president said as if he were in a confessional. "There are no apologizes needed. I felt the same way when I was told that Heaven was to intercede." Alex then relayed all of the details that had been told to him by Antonio and Gallucci. After the briefing Alex commented, "It seems so strange that such an alliance could be forged: the Pope, the head of the Mafia, and Oshiro of the Yakuza." Alex paused. "We can only wait now for the results of Oshiro's meeting with the Families of the Yakuza." "And, if they do not agree?" the president asked. "I am confident that they will. And when they do, we must be ready to give our full support," Alex said firmly. "I will make it so," the president said. "Will we have to commit troops?" "I don't know of any other way," Radcliff said. "How many?" "Let's cross that bridge when we get to it," Radcliff answered. "The Yakuza must deal with the Chinese first and secure an agreement to quash the Tongs and Triads drug trade. Knowing the Chinese, and their hatred of any secret society, plus the billions they will gain, I feel certain the war can be contained to Colombia. But,” Radcliff frowned, “when the drugs dry up, there will be a rampage in our own streets. The National Guard will most probably have to be called in. The local police, nor the DEA can squelch the barrage of dealers and addicts in search of narcotics." "What about the drugs manufactured in this country?" "When the war is over, and the drug cartels are eliminated. Our concentrated force of money and manpower can clean it up in two, maybe, three months." "You really believe the drug trade can be stopped?" "If we act swiftly and in concert with those who are committed to this mission,

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the answer is absolutely. This is our only chance, Mr. President, and we must not fail." Radcliff paused and thought for a minute. "I know I asked you to have your departments to investigate for themselves. I was wrong. If the Colombians get wind of this, they may act before our plans are in place. Stop the formal investigation, proceed only with deep cover personnel Intel." "And, for now?" the president asked. "For now, we wait until the Yakuza has completed the initial part of their mission,” Radcliff said. “If they are successful within their own ranks, a Chinese agreement will become imperative. Without their help, this war could become a holocaust of death around the world." "When the time is right, I will send Secretary of State Bennett to China. As head of the Armed Services Committee, Alex, I'm counting on you to give the Administration cover." "The General and I can be very persuasive." "Call me when you know something. Right now, I've got a lot of phone calls to make."

Alex and Radcliff shared the information when they returned to the safe house. "This calls for a celebration," Alex said. "Not yet," Gallucci said. "We wait!"

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CHAPTER 24

KOBE, JAPAN

Kyogi had insisted on an immediate Council of the Families by order of the Oyabun, Oshiro. The resistance was intense, but Kyogi had used Gallucci's words, 'This is a matter of life or death'. The meeting was to take place at a large farmhouse belonging to Nagamura, one of Oshiro's staunchest supporters.

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Oshiro and Kyogi arrived the afternoon of the meeting. Nagamura and Oshiro had long held the same feelings about drugs, but the greed for money and power had turned the Yakuza into a fractionalized group. Many disdained the old ways. Oshiro had confided to Nagamura his alliance with the Mafia. Nagamura was skeptical, but accepted Oshiro's decision. "Tell me," Nagamura asked as they shared a cup of sake, "what words could this leader of the Mafia say that would convince you to join with him on such a treacherous journey?" "It was not his words." Oshiro searched for a way to explain the unexplainable. "Nagamura, do you believe in the levels of Heaven?" "Of course. Our ancestors dwell there. But why the question?" "Allow me one more. Do you believe that the Deities of Heaven would send a Spirit of Death to teach us a lesson?" Nagamura thought for a moment. "I suppose if we became too arrogant and refused to honor the path which they have laid down for us to follow. But why do we speak of such things?" Oshiro felt compelled to tell Nagamura of the horrifying events that took place in the upper room of the castle. "Kyogi lay dead in my arms, and then miraculously, Heaven restored him to me. Gallucci called this spirit, 'The Angel of Death', and said if we did not join with Heaven's mission to free all children from the evils of drugs that all of our first born would be taken as Kyogi was almost taken from me." The words chilled Nagamura to the bone. "It is hard to imagine such an event." "It is impossible to believe unless you were there. Look into Kyogi's eyes and then tell me you do not believe." "And the Families who refuse to join in this mission, their first born will be taken by this…Angel of Death?" Nagamura asked incredulously. "It is what I believe."

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"I understand now the importance of this meeting, Oshiro. But you cannot hope that all the Families will follow?" "I promise you this, my friend, the one's that do not show tonight will not see the sun rise.” Oshiro suddenly realized he had to know the one’s who would not come. “The meeting must be postponed until tomorrow morning. By then, they will know what has happened to those who have put themselves above the code of the Yakuza. Fear of death may serve it's own purpose." "And if they choose to war with us instead?" "Then my heart weeps for their families."

Forty of the heads of the fifty Families arrived with a small entourage of soldiers. Immediately, they were informed that the meeting would take place the following morning. The leaders, as expected, did not take the news well, but they had come from great distances and would not be able to leave. Adequate sleeping arrangements were provided in the huge farmhouse for the heads of the Families; quarters for the soldiers were accommodated in various houses around the compound. The next morning, after the leaders were assembled in a large room within the farmhouse, the fate of the ten leaders who had refused Oshiro’s invitation spread with frightening speed...the bushido blade had severed their heads before the sun rose. Not knowing who was responsible, the leaders panicked and tried to leave, but the huge doors were bolted shut. Kyogi informed them that they would be free to leave after the meeting, which would start in fifteen minutes. The entire compounded was surrounded by two hundred of Nagamura and Oshiro's soldiers. A cacophony of furious voices rumbled throughout the room. Kyogi stepped to the front of the group wearing his dark sunglasses. A thunderous sound from an immense gong brought instant silence to the room. Kyogi began, "You were told that this meeting was a matter of life and death. Those that

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did not heed the words of the Oyabun no longer reside in this world.” "We are Yakuza, not some sheep you can corral into a room," a voice yelled out from somewhere in the group. "Yes, you are Yakuza, and you have pledged your obedience and loyalty to the Oyabun, Oshiro. Please sit down, and the Oyabun will address you." Reluctantly, the forty Yakuza leaders sat down and waited for Oshiro. A huge, red drape hanging from the ceiling split apart revealing Oshiro sitting on a throne with pedals of flowers surrounding it. He rose and descended a few steps and walked closer to the men seated in front of him. Oshiro looked out at the grim and angry faces "We are Yakuza, descended from the Samurai and the code of bushido which puts loyalty and honor above life. I have convened this meeting so that we may remember who we are,” Oshiro began. There would no preamble and no discussion -- his message must be forceful and short. “As head of the Yakuza, I have given my word to the Deities of Heaven that we will abandon our ways of trafficking in narcotics. Heaven has given us this mission: it will no longer tolerate the drugs that murder and enslave the children of the world. If you do not agree to join in this mission, Heaven will take your first born child." The room was gripped in an angry silence, until one of the leaders stood up and said, "Then, I will no longer be Yakuza. I will go on my own. The drug trade is too important to my business.” Others nodded in agreement. "That is your choice,” Oshiro said. “I pray for the Families who believe as you do. There will be great sorrow." "Who killed our comrades as they slept?" The renegade shouted. "I did," Oshiro said. “Their disloyalty to me demanded it. But, for you, who have honored my request to come here, have a choice." "How can we believe that Heaven will take our children? This is insane. It is you

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Oshiro who plans such treachery. We will fight you,” the leader yelled out. The rest of the men waited for Oshiro’s response. "My words are like the rising sun, rely on them. You will have until midnight to decide. Heaven will know your decision. I pray that you all choose wisely." The great gong sounded ending the meeting, and leaving the leaders in anger, fear, and confusion.

"Do you believe they will join in this mission?" Nagamura asked. “These men are not used to being told what they can or cannot do. Greed is a powerful narcotic.” "Will you join in this mission, my friend?" "I believe in your words, but they will not. They have witnessed no such event as you described to me." "There is a fine line between faith and fear. Tonight, they will know the answer. And tomorrow, I shall know the answer."

The Angel of Death descended in the darkness of night and spread across the land of the Yakuza. The purple mist invaded the homes of those who had refused, and took their first born as they slept. The hand of Heaven was gentle and sweet, as it carried their souls into another world.

Oshiro sat in Nagamura's garden with his eyes closed and his face lifted toward the rising sun. He heard only the song of the birds, which released his mind into a meditative state. Nagamura and Kyogi approached him. "Father," Kyogi said quietly, "May we disturb you?" "My son and my friend are always welcomed." "We have news, Oshiro," Nagamura said. "We have heard from all the Families. Thirteen of the leader’s first born died as they slept. It was reported to me that they found

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them in their beds with smiles on their faces…the rest of the Families have pledged their loyalty." Oshiro's body and soul trembled with an unabating sorrow. "Heaven has acted as foretold. Now, we must act. The father's of the thirteen are now outcast. Their Families are to be assimilated into the nearest geographic Families." After a moment of silence, Oshiro said, "Kyogi, for the thirteen who were taken, I want you to arrange for the most grand, processional funeral that has ever been witnessed in the whole of Japan." "Yes, Father." "And, Kyogi, get the Prime Minister on the phone for me." "Without delay, Father."

CHAPTER 25

WASHINGTON, DC

Artemis and Radcliff , along with the president, sat in the main house within the confines of Camp David. "Let me understand, "Nolan asked, "the Yakuza has agreed to join with the Mafia in the war against drugs?" "That it is correct," Radcliff answered.

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"But how...why?" the president asked in amazement. "Thirteen of the Yakuza leaders refused to join in the mission. Oshiro reported to Gallucci that the Angel of Death had taken their first born as they slept," Alex said sadly. "My, God," Nolan said, crossing himself as if in unconscious prayer, trying to grasp the enormity of such an event that was beyond any understanding. "After the American branch of the Yakuza heard the reports, they were stricken with fear and have also pledged their loyalty to Oshiro," Alex said. "In addition," Radcliff added. "The Japanese government has made arrangements for Oshiro to meet with a delegation of high Chinese officials in the Japanese Embassy in China." "It's time to send the Secretary of State then," Nolan said. "There's going to be one hell of a bloody massacre, isn't there?" "China has been waiting for an excuse to dismantle the Tongs and Triads," Radcliff said. "You mean destroy, don't you?" "In the same way we would like the Cartels destroyed. It's the only way, Mr. President. And we're in this, like it or not. The Colombian government can't do it; they’re too corrupted. The Cartels have more money and more manpower. Hell, they've got half the Colombian military on their payroll," Radcliff added. Nolan looked at Artemis who seemed to be deep in thought. "You've been very quiet, Alex. What's going on in that mind of yours?" Nolan asked. "I was thinking of Heaven,” he said. “I was never a churchgoer, but I always believed that Heaven was a holy place -- a safe place. I guess there's more to Heaven than the good book says…Sure, I've heard of the Angel of Death, but I always thought it was just a metaphor." "So did I, John,” Nolan agreed. "But it seems that Heaven has another side, a warrior side.”

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"The drugs will be drying up soon, " Radcliff said. "We must act before we have our own internal war in the streets of our cities." The General wanted the focus back on point. "Brand's meeting with the Colombians in Mazatlan. We need to pull him out; he's in too much danger. It won’t take long now before they connect him to us. Mr. President, Brand has given a great deal for this country: his marriage, his son, and now maybe, his life!...I've come to feel about him as if he were my own son." "I understand," the president said. "Do what you have to do." "Brand won't agree, and you know it, Chuck." Alex said. "I know," he said quietly. He tried to shake off his fear by asking, "Have any of our deep cover operatives heard anything." "To my knowledge,” Nolan said, “not a word." Radcliff didn’t know if that was good news or bad.

CHAPTER 26

MAZATLAN, MEXICO

Brand sat next to the pool at Cardona's estate. His face flushed by the warming sun. Brand was unaware of the results from the Yakuza meeting. He was glad; the Colombian's had a way of smelling out lies. In spite, of the fact, that they had eyes and ears everywhere, it would still take some time for the Cartels to put the pieces together.

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"Watch out, the sun will damage that pretty face of yours," Cardona said bringing out two bottles of DOS XXs and sitting down next to him. He looked out over the tranquil Pacific. "Ah, the ocean is so calm today. But soon it will turn into a hurricane." Brand wondered if he was testing him. "Are you expecting a storm?" "There are always storms on the horizon. Especially in our business, eh, Michael." "Storms come, storms go. We always weather them, Uncle." "Your Senator's campaign seems to be in a lull. Only high school kids to talk to." "I told you, right now we don’t want to stand out. When the other candidates commit, he'll be ridiculed on the drug issue. Then you can have your way with him. He will still have plenty of time left in office. The fool will be of great help to us." "Michael, your Senator is spending a lot of time with this General Radcliff." "So, what? It's appropriation time. He still has a job to do." Was Cardona fishing, or did he know something? "We are hearing rumors. We want you to confirm them." "Like what?" "This Mafia thing is bothersome. And now, we hear that Gallucci has been to Japan." "I'm sure he has business there. What's that got to do with me, or the Senator?" "Maybe nothing. Maybe everything." "Goddamn it, Cardona. Come to the point," Brand said tearing off his sunglasses and stared at Cardona. "If you have something to say, say it." "You're so impulsive, Michael," Cardona grinned. "We made a deal. You provide money, and I put the Senator in your back pocket." "But, whose pocket are you in?" "I thought I came here for a meeting, not an interrogation." "There are men inside who have questions."

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"Then let's give them answers, so we can stop this bullshit," Brand said, starting a slow boil. "Calm yourself. Your outbursts will only make them more suspicious." "Of what?" "Let's go find out." Inside, they faced the same trio that Brand had met at the Embassy. "It's nice to see you, again, Branderos," Gonzales said puffing on a fat cigar that was almost too big for his mouth. "My uncle says you have questions," Brand said wanting to get to the point. He had played this game for years. "Let's, as you say, have a chat," Gonzales said, as a cloud of smoke enveloped him. "Cardona fix your nephew a drink. He seems on edge." Brand felt a twinge of fear. Gonzales played the game expertly. He would have to be careful. Think before you speak he cautioned himself. Slouching onto a burgundy leather chair, "Make it bourbon, Uncle," he said crossing his legs. "You are a cool customer. You play your part well," Gonzales said, looking for any weakness to attack. The two other men, Rodriguez and Ruiz, sat more like an audience than participants. "I didn't know I was buying anything," he said parrying with Gonzales. "You play on both sides of the street; you give us useless information, and we give you the same. It all adds up to nothing." "My nephew has given us invaluable information over the years," Cardona interceded. Gonzales ignored Cardona. "What do you know about the Yakuza?" "I have never dealt with them. I know that they can be competitors on occasion." "Why have the Mafia and the Yakuza joined forces?" "I didn't know they had. And if they have, so what?"

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"That is what I want you to find out. Like, the Mafia, it seems the Yakuza are also reorganizing." "What do you think it means?" Brand tossed the question back. "You are a clever man, Branderos. Don't be too clever." "Alright, Senor Gonzales, at least tell me what I should be looking for." "I believe that your Senator is using you. There are too many coincidences. My informants, like you, also have no answers. This is too unusual. I am counting on you to find out something. This General Radcliff has been a thorn in our side for too long; and now your Senator has been seen with him everywhere. " "I know that a shipment of yours was confiscated by the DEA. How did they know?" Brand asked. "We're working on that. I want you to work on it as well. I want to know what Radcliff knows. He works closely with the DEA; have the Senator find out what the General knows. Bring us some useful information, Branderos." "Whatever he knows, you will know," Brand said confidently. The three men stood up. "Finish your bourbon, relax by the pool,” Gonzales said, crushing out his cigar. "But not for too long, my men are becoming impatient." Brand and Cardona sat over looking a deep blue ocean from the hillside villa. "Uncle, we have worked together for many years, do you trust me?" "Trust sometimes can be very fleeting." "Then, you don't trust me," Brand said looking over at Cardona. "Over the years, I have had my doubts. But, yes, basically I trust you. It is Gonzales I do not trust. He acts impetuously." "He treats you like a servant." "He treats everyone that way." Brand decided to open things up. "Let's speculate, Uncle. What if the Mafia and the Yakuza are joining forces, what do you think it means?"

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"It could mean many things. They might want the drug trade to themselves, or maybe, a bigger cut of the trade. However, it doesn't make sense that the Yakuza would enter into such an alliance; they are not that friendly to outsiders." "Unless,” Brand offered, “after they get what they want, they eliminate the Mafia networks." "Do not under estimate the Mafia. Besides, there are too many of us in this business. The venture is too complicated. They would have to contend with the Tongs, Triads, Russians, Puerto Ricans, and Mexicans, not to mention our Cartels. No, there is no common thread," he said shaking his head. "We must concentrate on the Mafia...Aah,” Cardona sighed, “Maybe, we're just old and paranoid. If the shipments continue in a few days, this will all be forgotten like dust in the wind." "And Radcliff's part in all this?" "That is what you must find out." "I have a theory, if in fact, the General is involved." "I'm listening," Cardona said as he opened another bottle of beer. "The Mafia and our government over the years have been involved in many covert escapades together. They plant rumors of mistrust. Perhaps, our government wants something that only the Mafia can provide." "Like what?" "The NATO Alliance is coming up. The Italians are holding out. This could all be a distraction. Like the Cartels, the Mafia controls many high ranking officials in their government." "I don't see how this fits with the Mafia canceling all drug shipments. What is the plan?" "There are many in our government who are not satisfied with the results of the two billion dollars given to the your government to stop the drug trade." "It was stupid for your government to do so."

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"I agree, but they still want results. Perhaps, they have given concessions to the Mafia for temporarily halting the shipments of drugs into the States. It would be a propaganda coup. Our government could claim that the Colombian government is succeeding in stopping the flow of drugs." "A plausible scenario. I will pass it on to Gonzales. Get your Senator to confirm it." "Who in the hell is Gonzales anyway? And, who does he speak for?" "He is my brother-in-law. I married his sister. And he speaks for all the Cartels."

CHAPTER 27

CHINA, THE JAPANESE EMBASSY

In a boardroom type setting, three high level Japanese government officials, Oshiro and Kyogi, plus Secretary of State Bennett and the U.S. Ambassador sat on one side of the table. On the other, three Chinese officials and their top military General. Two translators

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were also present. The meeting was scheduled as an economic one. After the introductions, General Kang was the first to speak. "This is highly unusual. Why have you asked for a military official if this is an economic meeting? And why does the U.S. Secretary of State join us?" "It will become clear to you, General," The head of the Japanese delegation answered. "We have has asked Mr. Oshiro to join us, he will be responsible for most of the presentation." General Kang had no idea who Oshiro was; he assumed him to be a middle ranking official. Oshiro and Kyogi were attired in appropriate suit and tie. Their identities would not be revealed, even to the Secretary of State. The head of the Japanese delegation bowed to Oshiro to begin. "I am liaison between our government and the military. I have permission to speak for both of them. The reason for this meeting is to put an end to a plague that has threatened both of our countries." "And what plague is that?" Kang asked warily and shifted in his chair. "The plague of the secret societies who deal in drugs. Recently, we have had discussions with the Yakuza..." "Kang banged his fist on the table. "You engage in discussions with criminals!" It was obvious now that General Kang was the most influential of the Chinese delegation. "When it suits our needs," Oshiro said politely. "But let me continue. The Yakuza has given its word that they will no longer deal in the poison that corrupts our children and our society." "And you believe the word of criminals?" Kang's eyes flashed anger. "If they do not keep their word, they will be rounded up like vermin, and their heads severed in the public squares of our cities for all our citizens to see," Oshiro said matching the General's tone. "So how does this affect my country?"

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"China has long wanted to rid itself of their own criminals: the Tongs and Triads." "We keep them under control." "Let us not lie to each other, General. You have not had the necessary resources to eliminate these criminals." Before Kang could counter, Oshiro went on. "We and the United States will provide you the resources to dismantle the gangs that deal in death and enslavement. We are willing to provide the country of China with twenty-billion dollars in cash, plus a twenty percent rise in goods traded." "What of Taiwan and Southeast Asia?" "They have agreed to do likewise." "And, what about your country, Mr. Secretary?" "The United States is committed to its share of providing money and economic trade to China." "I must talk with my government. We will get back to you," Kang said, and started to rise from the table. "General," Secretary Bennett said, " The President of the United States will honor this offer for two hours." "The time is not long enough. We need..." "You have two hours, General Kang," the Japanese Ambassador said. "I suggest you get to a phone."

Exactly, two hours passed before the Chinese delegation returned. "Our government will agree to the terms,” Kang said as if he were following orders. “When will the twenty billion be available?" "By tomorrow morning," Secretary Bennett said, "the money will be deposited through the usual channels." "And how will you handle the Colombians? They will send in drugs like honey to ravishing bears."

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"Rest assured General, we will handle the animals," Oshiro said. Kang doubted the U.S. had the stomach it would take to stop the Colombians. "In any case, we most graciously accept your money and commitment of more trade," Kang said and ordered the men with him to leave. "Will we have the trade agreements in writing?" "When you have completed the elimination of the drug production and dealers from your country, it shall be sent to you," Oshiro said, and bowed.

CHAPTER 28

WASHINGTON, DC

Antonio called Pope Francis from the safe-house and updated him. "I sorry that President Nolan had to call you," Antonio said. "It was necessary. What is next?" The Pope asked, his voice sounding weak.

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"We are expecting the Senator. I presume he will have some ideas." "How is Gallucci doing?" the Pope asked. "Better than I had expected. He is smart and wily. It seems Heaven has chosen a true warrior for its mission." The Pope was silent. "Are you all right, Your Holiness?" Antonio asked concerned. "I am fine, Antonio. It is just that my heart is sad for what is to come." "What can you see, Holy Father?" "Death and destruction. The slaughter of thousands." "But this is a Holy War," Antonio protested. "There are no Holy Wars, Antonio. There is only war. Whether it is for good against evil -- the blood will stain our hands and our hearts." "Do you not mean Heaven's, Holy Father?" "I mean, Antonio, that we must fight this war! We must die in the streets and fields. The blood will be ours. Pray, Antonio, that the end comes swiftly." "Holy Father..." "I must say Mass now, please excuse me," the Pope said and hung up the phone. Antonio was perplexed by the words of Francis -- especially, the use of we. As he put down the phone, Gallucci walked into the room and looked around. "This place is like a pig pen," Gallucci said grimacing. "I will clean it up, Uncle." As Antonio started on the dishes that had piled up, the Senator entered the house. Antonio stayed within his own thoughts. Was the Pope having doubts? He would call him again tomorrow. Antonio watched the water in the sink as it swirled into an eddy and flush down into the drain. He could feel his own energy draining into a black hole. "I've just come from a meeting with the president," Alex said with a smile. "The money was transferred to China this morning. Taiwan has also agreed, with a little

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coaxing, of course." "What about Southeast Asia?" Gallucci asked. "When the Chinese start cracking down, we expect the rest of the governments who are dependent on China to follow." The phone rang. Alex answered it. It was Brand. "I'm calling from a phone booth. We're all being watched. They don't know about Gallucci or the priest yet. I'm sending over a small clean up crew," he said hastily. "They'll smuggle you out. They'll take Gallucci and the priest to Camp David. You and I can only meet in your office. I'll meet you there in a couple of hours. I've got to clean up," Brand said and hung up without giving Alex a chance to say anything.

Walter paced around the Senator's office. "Alex is playing some kind of cloak and dagger stuff,” he said to Marian. “He's been lying to us." "I know," she said with her brow furrowed. "Alex will be here soon. I intend to get the bottom of it." Alex walked into the elevator. The ride to his office was interminable, the damn thing stopped at every floor. His mind and stomach were doing somersaults. He knew he had to explain what he could to Marian and Walter; they had been kept in the dark too long. Things were starting to get dangerous. Maybe it was time for Marian and Walter to take a long vacation. Marian and Walter were loaded for bear when Alex entered the office. "We want to know everything, and I mean everything," Marian's eyes glared. "You're right," he answered. "But could I please have some coffee?" Alex hoped the few minutes would give him some time to put the events in some kind of order. "You're stalling." "Only for a minute," Alex said with a jerky smile. Walter sloshed some coffee into a cup and handed it to Alex.

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"Could the two of you sit down? You're making me nervous." "All right, Alex. We'll take it slow and easy," Marian said restraining her emotions. She wanted to scream. "What I'm about to tell you is going to sound a bit absurd. As a matter of fact, it barely makes any sense to me." Alex sipped on his coffee. "God, this awful." "You're stalling, again," Marian said, this time not so friendly. "I know I owe the both of you an explanation," he said sheepishly. "But I just couldn't have told you before. First, because I didn't have enough of the pieces; and, second, you wouldn't believe it. I'm not sure you're going to believe it now." Alex pulled up a chair and sat across from them as they sat on the sofa. "Remember, when I went to the Vatican? We'll, it wasn't for any NATO Alliance talk." "No shit," Walter cut in. "Look, I understand that both of you are pissed, but this hostility isn't going to help. Let me fill you in, and then you can have at me with your questions." "Fair enough," Marian conceded. "At the Vatican, Pope Francis introduced me to an Angelo Gallucci. He's head of the worldwide Mafia organization," Alex winced inside as he listened to his own words. "The Pope and Gallucci formed an alliance to rid the world of drugs." "You expect us to believe this?" Walter asked incredulously. "Why would a Pope consent to be part of this, so called, alliance; and, why in God' s name, would the head of the Mafia agree to such a stupid thing?" "I've asked you to let me finish; then you can ask questions, okay?" Alex sipped on the coffee again, forgetting how terrible it tasted. “ I’ll make this as brief as I can. The Pope received a message from Heaven to save the children from drugs. Gallucci agreed because he was visited by the Angel of Death who threatened to take his first born child if he didn't agree to the mission..." "Bullshit," Walter said.

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"Relax," Marian countered. Alex let out a deep long sigh. "Between Gallucci and the Angel of Death, they brought all the Mafia Families into line. He then went to Japan, and with the same help, convinced the Yakuza to join in the mission. It was about then that General Radcliff and I met with President Nolan. He called Pope Francis and confirmed what I just said. As you know, the Yakuza has deep rooted connections with the Japanese government. Our Secretary of State, Bennett, with some high placed Japanese officials met with the Chinese to get rid of the production and sale of narcotics. Both countries combined and ponied up twenty billion dollars, plus a promise for a major increase in goods bought from China if they completely dismantled the operations of the Tongs and Triads. Taiwan, also, reluctantly agreed with a little coaxing and promises from Nolan. That information was confirmed about an hour ago. The Mafia has stopped all drug trade with Colombia. The Colombians tried to bring in drugs through other routes; the Mafia tipped the DEA and they interdicted a ton of cocaine in San Diego. What you, also, don't know is that Brand has been working undercover for Military Intelligence for the past fifteen years. The Colombians are watching all of us. They suspect a lot, but can't prove anything. If they did, Brand would probably be dead by now." Alex sat back exhausted and tried another sip of the bitter coffee. Marian and Walter were speechless. "You were right," Water said, "this is absurd. You expect us..." Marian abruptly cut Walter off. "No one could make up a story like that, especially not Alex." Walter just slumped deeper into the sofa. "Tell me about this Angel of Death thing?" Marian asked. "Is this some kind of Death Squad?" "No, Marian. I mean the Angel of Death from Heaven. Heaven sent Pope Francis

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a mission and four names -- mine, Father Antonio, Gallucci, and Brand. Don't ask me why we were chosen. The Pope doesn't even know." "You...you mean...like the biblical Angel of Death?" Marian asked as the words stuck in her throat. "One and the same. The Angel of Death has already taken thirteen of the Yakuza’s first born because they refused to join the mission. Marian put her face into her hands. "This can't be happening! Tell me that this is some kind of sick joke?" "I wish I could," Alex said and moved to the sofa putting his arm around his wife. "What I've told you can never be repeated to anyone. "Don't worry," Walter said. "I wouldn't have the guts." "Maybe it's time for you and Walter to take a vacation until this is all over." "This is just beginning," Marian said looking up at Alex with a face full of tears. "They're going to kill you, Alex. You're being sent like a lamb to the slaughter...This isn't your mission, you're a pawn," Marian wretched a scream from the bottom of her soul. "You're right. This is Heaven's mission, but I've signed onto it. Heaven will no longer tolerate the murder and enslavement of its children." Marian just cried. Will this pain never end, she thought to herself. "No matter what, I'm not leaving. Do you understand me, Alex?" she said trembling with emotion. This wasn't the time for Alex to be logical. He just held her in his arms. Alex said quietly to Walter, "I want you to go your office and set up some more of those high school speeches."

Two hours later Brand entered the Senator's office. Marian had gone home, feeling sick from the inside out. Alex jumped up. "Michael, how safe are we?" "The Colombians are not going to kill a U.S. Senator. Me, however, I'm

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expendable, if for no other reason than to send a message. I believe I've bought myself some time though. They wanted to know your connection with Radcliff. Too many meetings they said. So, I gave them half a truth; it's always better than a lie. I told them that the US has made some concessions to the Mafia in exchange for the Italians voting with us on the NATO Alliance. I also told them that the Congress had to save face for the two billion dollar debacle with the Colombian government. The Mafia is holding up drug shipments so that the U.S. can say that the Colombian government has slowed down the drug trafficking. Merely, for PR; then business as usual I said." "How long will the story hold?" "Until the shooting starts. They will discover very soon that the Yakuza and the Mafia are working together." "The Chinese are on board," Alex said. "For twenty billion, plus. Did you think they wouldn't?" Brand said, not surprised. "I assume that Gallucci and Father Antonio are secured." "Like bugs in a rug. But when I talked to one of the 'clean up' men he said Gallucci was racing around like a mad man yelling something about that the waiting was killing him... Got any coffee?" Michael asked. "Yeah, all bad," Alex grimaced. "Too bad." "You want a drink?" "Nay. When you talk to Gallucci tell him the action will start soon enough. There's a meeting of the Cartels going on right now in the heart of Colombia. And I wouldn't be surprised if there wasn't a team of Colombian military there." "In about an hour,” Alex said, “there's going to be a command meeting of all the departments and that includes the Joint Chief’s. The president wants both of us to attend." "I told you we were being watched." Michael nearly exploded. "How soon do you

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want me to die?" "This is really getting to you," Alex said and realized how stupid he sounded. "You damn right it is." "There's got to be a way to get you in. The President needs your input. Radcliff says you’re the best Intel he has." "And damn, Radcliff, too...How are you going to get in?" "I'm going to the Pentagon first. Then from there, I'm going as part of a contingent of secret service men. They can't watch all the exits. They assure me that I can't be followed." Brand thought for a minute. "That sleazy strip bar you hate has a basement with an underground tunnel that empties two streets over. Jose owes me. I arranged to get his family out of Cuba. He'll die first before he talks." Brand looked at his watch. "Have a car waiting for me at Montrose and Fifth in an hour." "Done. Be careful," Alex added. "You have a penchant for the obvious. See you in the war room."

CHAPTER 29

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA

Gonzales and twenty heads of the most powerful Cartels, plus three of Colombia’s top Generals and Cardona, assembled in a plush room deep underground in the center of the city. They sat around a huge table with an assortment of meats, vegetables, and wine.

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Gonzales began, "Let us put our heads together and try to understand what cannot be explained. Our esteemed Minister of Agriculture has a theory as to why the Mafia has decided to stop our shipments. They have not only stopped drug shipments from going into the U.S. but also, the rest of Europe. Cardona, explain your theory to these fine gentlemen." Gonzales said and ripped a turkey leg from a platter in front of him. "It is Brand's theory, not mine. I offer it only as a possibility. There is no proof that it is true," Cardona said not wanting to put himself on the line. "Brand believes that the U.S. has made a deal. In exchange for the Mafia holding up our drug shipments, which will make the U.S. look like their making progress, and delivering some key votes in Italy’s Parliament for support of the NATO Alliance, the U.S. will look the other way on some of their enterprises." "Do you give any credence to this theory?" Gonzales asked through a mouthful of turkey. "Frankly, it has possibilities, but I do not believe his theory is correct." "And what is your theory?" "Before we advance theories, let us look at the facts. Some of which have just come to my attention." Cardona filled his glass with wine for the third time, and gulped it like water. "We know that the Mafia has stopped all cocaine and heroine orders. We also know Gallucci was in Japan and met with Oshiro, head of the Yakuza. We suspect they have made some kind of alliance. For what purpose we're not sure. But, I can tell you this. The Yakuza, as of yesterday, blocked all narcotics going into the States. I have this on absolute authority. I am also told that the American branches of the Yakuza are afraid for their lives." Espinoza, one of heads of the Cartel's spoke. "My informants from Taiwan and Southeast Asia say that there are rumors that the Chinese as well as the Taiwan governments intend to declare war on the Tongs and Triads." "Why now?" Gonzales asked. "There has never been any trouble like this before."

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"There has been a long standing desire on the part of the Chinese to rid itself of the secret societies. They feel they are a threat to their authority. If they are successful, Southeast Asia will be next." "I ask again. Why now?" demanded Gonzales. "You really believe that the Chinese will risk an out right assault? An incursion into Southeast Asia is insanity. There are too many countries. The world will take notice, and how will the Chinese look then? No, they care more about trade than drug dealers." "It will be what they call a quiet war," Espinoza said. "What the hell is a quiet war?” Gonzales slammed his fist on the table. “The Commission on Human Rights, the U.S., the United Nations will not stand idly by. They don't know a Tong from a Bong; all they'll see is that people are being slaughtered." "The action will be against criminals, not political adversaries. The local citizens will back the government’s action. For the most part it will go unreported." "The question," Gonzales said becoming more impatient, "is why these alliances are being formed, and to what end? No one has offered us any alliance! I believe the United States has fashioned these alliances for the express purpose of putting us out of business. It would not surprise me if they are paying billions to destroy our way of life." The leaders of the Cartels remained silent. Gonzales got up and strolled around the huge table, stopping at one of the Colombian Generals. "What do you think, General Martinez? What can you contribute? Can the U.S. be behind this goddamn plot?" "Senor Gonzales, this is out of my area," the General said. "Then what good are you to me?" Gonzales picked up a knife from the table and sliced Martinez's throat with one quick jerk and then yanked back his head as blood spouted in all directions spraying the table and those close by. Gonzales slammed the General's head onto the plate in front of him, and tossed the knife in the center of the table. "Do you think this is an exercise?” Gonzales thundered. “My friends, we are at war. Can you not see it?"

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Everyone in the room went into a shock of terror. Gonzales returned to his chair and grabbed another leg of turkey. "I will tell you what we are going to do…I believe the United States is behind this," he said wiping his hands on an already dirty napkin. "Arguillo," he bellowed. "You have the contacts with the Russian gangs, in the States and in Russia. I want you to put pressure on them to intensify the drug trade. We will double their commissions. They are ruthless. They care only about money. Tell them to kill any one who resists. Have I made myself clear?" "Yes, Jefe," Arguillo responded like a soldier to a senior officer. "And, you, Cardona," he pointed his finger like a dagger, "I want you to kill this Michael Brand. I believe he has been turned since his son died. I want you to do it, personally." Cardona could only nod his head. There would be no argument. Gonzales dismissed everyone, except for three of his most trusted men. “It is time for us to attack before we are attacked. But it will not be we who will be doing the attacking. I want you to contact Ben Ahmed Soule'. Tell him it is time for his Holy Jihad, and we are ready to provide all necessary resources."

CHAPTER 30

THE WAR ROOM

The room was packed. The NSA, DEA, FBI, CIA, the head of the Joint Chief's and Radcliff was present. Alex entered just as the group was settling into their chairs. "Where's Brand," the president asked Alex. "The Secret Service is bringing him. He should be here any time now."

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"We can't wait. Let's get started," Nolan said. "General Radcliff, I want you to report everything you know about the situation." Radcliff explained all that he knew, except for the Angel of Death thing. "When Brand arrives, he can update us on his meeting with the Colombian Cartels." Radcliff looked at his watch just as two Secret Service agents were ushering Brand in. The agents left immediately. "Who would have guessed it," Nolan said, as Brand found an empty seat next to Radcliff. "Fifteen years under cover for Military Intelligence." Radcliff interrupted. "It was Brand's information that led to the Panama invasion and the capture of Noriega." Nolan nodded with a quirky smile. "All right, Mr. Brand, so what are the Colombians up to?" Radcliff turned to Brand, "I've brought them up to date, except for your visit in Mexico." "Damn, I wish we had coordinated this thing," Nolan said to no one in particular. "And, if we did, would you have consented?" Radcliff offered. Nolan was trapped by his own words. "Alright, Mr. Brand, tell us why were about to get into a war that we never asked for?" "Mr. President, I didn't ask for this war either,” Brand said defensively. "Some things are just out of our control,” Brand said not wanting to reveal the Pope's connection. He assumed that Nolan was putting on a show for the same reason. "The Cartels are desperate. They're searching for answers; and with their connections they'll have it figured out in a couple of days." "What do you think they'll do?" "First, they'll pull in those groups who are the most loyal to them. If I were the Colombians, I'd have the Russian gangs press the first wave of the attack, here and abroad."

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The president pointed to Stern, the CIA Director and to Franklin, Director of the FBI, "Get on it. I want Intel by noon tomorrow." They both nodded, and scribbled some notes on a pad. "This could be a holy mess," the Director of the FBI said. "These Russian gangs are ruthless; they don't care who they kill. It's been almost impossible to get a mole into any of the gangs.” He turned to Brand, “Who do you think they'll go after first?" he asked. "My guess would be the Puerto Ricans on the Eastern seaboard -- from New York to Florida. The Russians want control of the territory. Up until now, the Colombian's have kept them under control, but with the Cartel's blessing the Russians will dominate the drug trade. There's going to be a wholesale slaughter of anyone who gets in their way." "Can we stop it?" the President asked. "I want suggestions, gentlemen." "Let the criminals kill it each other," Rawlings said impatiently. Nolan reflected for a minute on how he could have appointed such a buffoon. "Any other words of wisdom?" "I'll tell you this," Franklin said, "the DEA and the FBI together can't stop it." "What if the Mafia and the Yakuza attack the Cartels in Colombia before they get organized," Radcliff pressed. "We could send a few thousand troops in to help." Nolan’s chief of staff spoke up. "And what story will we tell the American people why we're sending our young men to die in another war on foreign soil? Not to mention that our allies are the Mafia and Yakuza. This is too crazy for words," and rubbed his temples as if somehow it would erase away his thoughts. "He's right," Nolan said. "The Republican's will have a field day. The opposition in Congress will be ear shattering. These guys are up for re-election." Alexander Artemis for the most part had been into his own thoughts. Would Heaven intervene? Had we seen the last appearance of the Angel of Death? What if the

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world knew about the Angel of Death? Would there be panic and hysteria across the world that nothing on earth could stop? The questions raced through his mind like a terrible storm. "You've been quiet, Alex," Nolan said. "One way or the other, this is our war, Mr. President. Whether we fight it here or in Colombia, it's our war. We have euphemistically been calling our efforts a war on drugs. The American people have heard those words for so long that they've lost any real meaning. I don't have the answer, Mr. President. But, I'll tell you one thing; if the people in this room don't have the answer – Who does? How soon we forget the children who are enslaved by this poison, and the families whose lives are broken forever" It was true. No one had an answer. After a moment of reflection the president said. "Let's get all the Intel we can." And then added, "Gentlemen, let's not forget our priorities. This is a war against those who deal in death with impunity -- and our careers be damned."

Through a maze of disguises, interchanging cars, and a helicopter ride, Alex and Brand arrived at Camp David. Gallucci was throwing darts at a dartboard, while Antonio was reading his breviary as Alex and Brand entered the small, but adequate, cottage nestled in a grove of maples. Seeing them, Gallucci roared like a lion, "You have penned me up like an animal. I need to get to my men. This war is about to begin -- I feel it in my bones. Without a leader, my men are helpless. I must get to Mastronini, and then to Oshiro. Plans must be made!" "That's impossible, at least, for the moment," Alex stated. "Michael," Gallucci pleaded, "you must understand. The jackals are at the door and we huddle here like children in fear. "

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"I understand. But it is up to those in charge who must decide." "If we wait, there will be a devastation that will be remembered in your history books for all time." "Something will be done. I promise you, Signore Gallucci. The president is working on it," Alex said, but his words carried little comfort. "Have you talked to Pope Francis?" Alex asked Antonio. "I have. He is not feeling well." "No wonder," Gallucci said throwing a dart into the center of the board." "He's not dying?" Brand asked, terrified at the thought. "I don't think so," Antonio said, frowning. "But he did say that this was our war, and we must fight it alone." "You mean, no more Heaven. No more Angel of Death?" Brand asked as scared as Alex felt. "Those were his words." "It's a fine time for Heaven to run out on us now," Brand said. "Heaven gave us this mission. We chose it freely. This is our problem now. We must not let Heaven down," Alex said resigned to whatever fate awaited them. "Get me to Mastronini, and then to Oshiro," Gallucci demanded. "I'll call the president," Alex said. "We came to make sure that both of you were all right." "Well, we're not all right," Gallucci said, sailing another dart into the board.

Alex called the president and insisted that Gallucci be free to do what the security heads of the most powerful country in the world were afraid to do. Go to war! "I sympathize," Nolan said, "but I cannot go to war without expressed provocation from the Colombian Cartels." Alex laughed almost hysterically. "You mean, after talking to Pope Francis, you

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still intend to wait before you're willing to do something?" "In the words of the Greeks, 'Democracy runs best when the streets run red with blood'," Nolan responded. "You're a callous coward and an asshole," Alex shouted through the phone. "You don't understand, Alex. And you probably never will. But I'll make arrangements for Gallucci and the priest to go wherever they choose."

Michael Brand sat in his darkened apartment inhaling the sweet scent of cognac from a snifter. The only light in the room came from the television, which was on the BBC channel. The words, 'A Live Report' flashed on the screen. Brand notched up the volume. A news reporter's face filled the screen. "I'm here in Hong Kong. Rumors are flying furiously that the Chinese government has cracked down on the drug trade. Reports are slowly coming in that Chinese troops have attacked the strongholds of the Tongs and Triads in various parts of the country..." The reporter paused and listened into his headphone. "We now have confirmed reports that over a thousand of the Tongs have been arrested in Hong Kong alone. This is an unprecedented attack by the military. I'll be back with more reports as they are confirmed. This is Jonathan Albee reporting live from Hong Kong." "It's begun," Brand said out loud, and then heard a squeaking sound. He knew it came from a loose plank from the hardwood floor in the hallway. Instinctively, he rolled off the couch and crawled to his desk. He extracted his snub nosed 38, shoved in a full clip, and snapped off the safety. He crouched in the shadow of the couch and waited. Seconds passed; he heard another squeak from a floorboard. This time closer. "It didn't take them long," Brand said to himself. He tried peering into the dark hallway, but saw nothing. Brand could feel his fear soaking his shirt from the inside out. Suddenly, a volley of shots strafed horizontally across the room. Brand aimed at the flashes coming from the

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muzzle of the weapon, and fired twice. He heard a crashing sound as the body fell backwards into the hallway. Brand scurried to another part of the room. He positioned himself in a crouch with a view of the hallway. Minutes passed with only silence. Maybe the intruder was a lone assassin? He doubted it. They always came in twos. His eyes continued to strain into the blackness of the hallway. Then he heard a scraping sound, and instantly another volley of shots. This time they were lower and found their mark. One bullet ripped into Brand's left shoulder, another sliced into his side. The force of the shots and the searing pain slammed Brand flat on his back. He aimed the gun low toward the floor of the hallway where the flashes had come from, and fired the rest of the rounds. He heard the bullets tear into the floor and walls as he swept his gun across the narrow opening of the hallway. Brand tried to reload, but the pain sent his head spinning until he lapsed into blackness.

D.C.’s blue and whites semi-circled the entrance to Brand's apartment. Police roped off the area with yellow tape from onlookers and television cameras. A team of forensics was scurrying around when Radcliff entered. "Who in the hell is in charge here," Radcliff bellowed. "I am," Captain Johnson said as he calmly scribbled in his notebook. "And who are you?" "I'm General Radcliff, head of Military Intelligence," he said panting from running up the stairs. "Was he one of yours?" "What you mean was?" Radcliff asked bordering on hysterical. "He left here barely breathing,” Johnson said. ”Some of the neighbors heard shots and called 911. An ambulance took him to Washington Memorial. He’s lost a lot of blood. I wouldn't hold out much hope." "But he was alive when he ambulance took him?" Radcliff asked.

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Johnson just shrugged. "What happened?' "Looks like a Colombian hit." "How can you tell?" "Your boy left two bodies for us to clean up. He was good. Got one in the heart, and the other in the forehead. Definitely, Colombian." Radcliff called Alex on his cell phone as he raced his car through a maze of traffic. "Meet me at Memorial. Brand's been shot by two Colombian assassins." "Is he all right?" Alex screeched into the phone?" "I don't know. Can't get any information from the hospital. Hurry, Alex, hurry."

Alex and Marian tore into the hospital. "What floor is Michael Brand on? He was shot a couple of hours ago." Alex was shaking impatiently, as the duty nurse flipped slowly through the logs. "Can't you hurry!" "There's been ten shootings tonight," she said non-chalantly. Alex was about to explode. Marian tried to calm him, but to no avail. "He's in ER. Take this corridor, at the end turn left," she said. "You'll find him." Radcliff was pacing when they arrived at the ER. "How is he?" Alex said trembling. "He's still in surgery. I can't get a damn thing out of anyone...All we can do is wait." Marian pulled Alex close to her and embraced him. "He was chosen by Heaven. I'm sure he'll be just fine," she said wiping the tears from her own eyes. "Thanks, Marian." Alex squeezed her tightly.

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CHAPTER 31

NEW YORK

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Gallucci and Antonio had left that morning for Mastronini's lodge. Gallucci paced in front of the huge, stone fireplace. "The U.S. won't do a damn thing to help," Gallucci said. "The president is working on a plan," Antonio said trying to mitigate his uncle's furor. "They're knitting sweaters in that damn Oval Office while the Colombians are preparing for war. Always politics. I hate politics." Gallucci turned to his friend, Marco. "How many soldiers can we count on to fight the Colombians?" "I don't know. Last night we lost five soldiers in a gun battle with the Russians." "How many did we kill?" Gallucci glared. "About twenty." "Good." "But the Puerto Ricans have lost over a hundred men. They were unprepared. We tried to warn them, but…” "I told you the Russians would go after them," Gallucci said exasperated. "They didn't believe us." "Will they fight with us now?" "No. They're too scared. The Russians have threatened their entire families." "And we stand here doing nothing." Gallucci paced like a caged animal. "I've got to get to Oshiro. But I must have the number of our soldiers who are willing to fight." Mastronini agreed, and with Gallucci's help spent most of the day on the phone. "Only two thousand," Gallucci said as he slumped in his chair. "What about your men in Italy?" Marco asked. "They have a job to do in Russia. I've given orders to bomb every major known hideout of the Russian gangs. The bombings will send the Russian police and the old

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KGB crazy. They'll be arresting every Russian gangster in sight.” But Gallucci’s mind was still on the Colombians...”If we can only hold off the Colombians long enough. I've got to get to Oshiro," Gallucci slammed his fist into his palm. "I talked to the Senator before we left Camp David. He said the president has made arrangements for us leave for Japan any time we want." "I bet he's hoping 'good riding's'…" Just then, one of Mastronini's soldiers bolted into the room. "There's an urgent call from the U.S. Senator for don Gallucci." "I'll take it here." Gallucci and Antonio picked up separate phones. "Angelo," Alex said excitedly, "have you heard the news?" "No. I've been too busy preparing for war," he said sarcastically. "It's all over the BBC and CNN. The Chinese are attacking any and all drug installations. They've taken the Tongs and Triads by surprise. They've already arrested over five thousand dealers. Our Secretary of State, Bennett has talked to General Kang. Kang says it's just the beginning." "See what twenty billion will buy you," Gallucci said sardonically. "That's good news," he added. "It will make my job easier with the Yakuza." "There's also some bad news." The hesitation was so long that Gallucci thought they had been disconnected. "Senator?" Antonio spoke loudly into the phone. "I'm hear," came back the response. “Two Colombians tried to assassinate Brand in his apartment last night. He killed both of them, but he took two bullets in the process. He’s in surgery now. It doesn't look good." Antonio immediately said a prayer. "What did you expect, flowers?" Gallucci refused to engage his emotions -- that he would do privately. "He's a friend, I'm sorry. But, I hope your president realizes the urgency."

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"He does, but he says the time is not right." "Then tell him that the Russians have slaughtered over a hundred Puerto Ricans since yesterday. Why is that not on your news?" "I don't know why," Alex said chilled at hearing the news. "Are your men all right?" "We lost five. But soon you will hear news that will shake your government to the bone." "Can you tell me?" "Watch the news, Senator, and learn." "I hope your trip to Japan is successful,” Alex said and hung up. He then thought to himself, “Already so much blood shed for a war that was not even a war.”

The next morning Gallucci and Antonio were on their way to meet with Oshiro.

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PART III

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CHAPTER 32

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA

Ben Ahmed Soule’ was as a wealthy independent terrorist, and he was now on his way to fulfill his destiny. His hate for the Americans and the Israelis had not only become a religion for him, but a commitment to death. His attacks on their military installations had made him an international figure of great respect within the terrorist community. Because of his independence only a casual connection could be traced to any single terrorist State. He was born a Muslim in the holy city of Ur, the birthplace of Abraham. Jews, Muslims, and Christians had worshipped peacefully in their own mosques, synagogues, and churches for centuries . When the Iraqi and Iranian war broke out, he had been in France on business. He had been trained in Baghdad as a geologist, specializing in finding oil. Soule’ was a genius at it. All of the Arab countries and many U.S. oil companies had hired him, and paid him handsomely for his successes. He had accumulated a fortune, which he shared with his family. He had not taken sides during the Iraqi and Iranian war for two simple reasons: he was a Muslim, and his family was living in Iraq. And there was nothing more important to Ben Ahmed Soule' than his family. He had become a wealthy and important asset; so the Iraqis protected his family during the eight-year war. The Iranians, without the Iraqis knowing, had hired him to discover more caches of oil. His only quarrel with the Jews was that they had bombed an Iraqi power plant.

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But Soule’ was, however, a logical man, and to some degree he understood why they had done so. His family was safe, and he had no personal animosities against any Jews. Growing up, he played with many of them as friends. And then the Iraqi war with the Americans loomed on the horizon. He thought Saddam Hussein stupid for invading Kuwait. Iraq did not need the oil wells of Kuwait. He now knew that Hussein was fanatical. If he couldn't defeat Iran, he wanted to control the Arab world and all of its oil resources. He had tried fiercely to talk his family into leaving Iraq, but it was unthinkable to them; Iraq was their home. The war called 'Desert Storm' began with a bang heard and televised around the world. He feared only for the safety of his family. But, as the war took its toll, his mind expanded into the political realm. The U.S. was not just fighting for the preservation of another country, but for the oil it needed. He also understood that the U.S. would protect the Israelis at any cost. It was a strange twist of business and politics intertwined into a war that no one would win. Afraid of being detained by the Saddam’s Red Guard, Soule’ decided to wait out the war in Iran. Then the cable came that rocked his world forever: the Americans had bombed his city of Ur taking out solemn shrines, and with them the innocent lives of many -- including his entire family. Three generations of his family were bombed out of existence. This, he would never forgive. His grief festered into hatred toward the Americans, who had killed his family, and the Jews who they protected. He vowed to himself that they would pay with their lives. He now understood the political savagery of war. Ben Ahmed Soule' had become, in his mind, a political warrior. Any cause against the Americans and the Jews was now his cause. Family had been everything to him. Seeing, what he now considered to be atrocities against the families of the Palestinians inflicted by the Jews, Soule's soul burned with an even greater revenge.

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The Mexicana airliner banked over the lush, rugged hills of Bogota. Soule' wondered how many billions of dollars were growing in the cocoa plants, which he called white oil. Gonzales had arranged for the papers that made him a Mexican citizen, and the accompanying passport with the name of Jorge Matta. As an international businessman, he had mastered several languages. As a terrorist he had mastered the art of disguise. He always traveled alone; it created less suspicion. He could easily loose himself in crowds. The jet finally thumped on the runway and then eased to a slow taxi. After going through customs, he hailed a cab and gave the driver the address that had come with the documents from Gonzales. The car whizzed through the center of the city, speeding toward his destination -- and his destiny. The taxi finally stopped at a small stucco house with a wrought iron gate. He pulled on a chain that hung next to the gate; a set of clanging bells announced his arrival. A short, slightly stooped, elderly man opened the gate and led him through a flowery courtyard, and then into the house where Gonzales and two other men greeted him. "Ah, Senor Matta, I hope your journey was kind to you," Gonzales said shaking his hand. "Take Senor Matta's luggage to our finest guest room," Gonzales ordered the elderly man. "I am used to it. Nothing bothers me anymore," Soule’ replied in perfect Spanish. "You must be hungry. Would you like rest, food or wine?" Gonzales offered. Ruiz and Rodriguez, the other two men, just smiled graciously. "I would like to talk," Soule said firmly. "Fine, fine. We will not waste time. Gonzales led the way to a rear portico. A roof of bougainvillea protected them from the sun. A pretty, dark haired woman brought two carafes of wine and four glasses. "You have your choice, white or red," Gonzales beamed. "My religion forbids me from drinking."

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"Of course. I should have known," Gonzales said, slightly embarrassed. "Consuelo, would you please bring us some grapes?" he asked pleasantly. "She is beautiful, no? The women here do not have to hide their faces." "This is all very kind," Soule' said. "But I have come a long way for this meeting." "And you shall not be disappointed." Consuelo brought in a large basket of grapes. Gonzales grabbed a handful. "You don't mind if I call you, Jorge? It is one of my favorite names." "Any name will do," Soule' responded impatiently. "Tranquillo, amigo. Everything you have dreamed of will be made possible for you. Indulge me Jorge. Some wine for me, and a litle talk before we speak of killing." Soule' relaxed. He had forgotten how different each culture was. "You're right, my apologies." "Let me tell you a story," Gonzales began. He then went through the series of events as he knew them. "Your conclusion?" Soule' asked, not understanding how this all fit in with his destiny. "My conclusion is that the Americans are going to attack us. But we shall attack them first. With our resources, your expertise and dedicated men, we will begin a reign of terror that the Americans have never witnessed. My plan is to bomb twelve of their government's most sacred sites. And of course you can take the credit, or spread it around as you wish. But, these bombings must look like the acts of fanatical terrorists. The Americans will not be able to connect them with any specific country. Therefore, no reprisals." The thought of attacking America's sacred sites intrigued Soule'. But caution and suspicion had kept him alive. "Senor Gonzales, it is your intention then that I take credit for these acts of terrorism?"

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"You are already a hunted man by the Americans. This will only serve to increase your reputation to a status of a god in the Islamic world." Gonzales said, smiling at Soule’. "You want these acts of terrorism to divert the Americans from attacking your profitable business?" "Of course. Why else would we be willing to give you billions of dollars. And the money, I might add, will provide that your efforts continue for many years to come." "Throw in a few Jewish Synagogues, and I will consider it," Soule' said, testing how thoroughly Gonzales had thought out his plan. "No Jewish Synagogues. If you pinch the Israelis too hard, they will react. And you may not be ready for the consequences." Soule' nodded his agreement. "You will have your revenge on the Jews when the time is right." "Your plan has merit. I will think upon it. I need rest now. We will talk later."

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CHAPTER 33

KOBE, JAPAN

Gallucci, Oshiro, Nagamura, Kyogi, and Antonio sat around a stone table amid an array of colorful Koi ponds. The afternoon sun filtered through the trees "Do we still drink the sake together?" Gallucci asked. "Of course," Oshiro said. Nagamura immediately clapped his hands. Gallucci smiled. "The Chinese are doing their part," "Maybe, too well," Antonio said concerned. "The Chinese are taking this opportunity to arrest any and all dissidents." "It was to be expected," Oshiro replied. " But, with pressure from the U.S. government and the world community they will be released," trying to allay Antonio's fear. The sake arrived, and each drank to their continued good will. "The Chinese, however, have been very calculating in their approach," Kyogi added. "They have carefully stayed away from the Buddhists. With world opinion against them on the Tibet issue, they do not want a religious revolution on their hands. With the help of the U.S. State Department, the Japanese and Chinese governments have dispatched a thousand expert men into America. Their mission is to

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eliminate the heads of the Tongs and Triads, and several tiers of leaders under them. All drug trade routes will be dismantled. The DEA and FBI have given assurances that the news of these events will be kept to a minimum." "Many will be slaughtered," Antonio said, and prayed for their souls. "This cannot be helped," Oshiro said. "I believe your Pope would understand the necessity." Gallucci thought to himself that maybe the president had a plan after all. He then said, "The Colombians have made their first move. They have pressed the Russian American gangs to consolidate their territory. They have attacked the Puerto Rican and some of the Cuban gangs. Before it's over, hundreds of families will be killed. The Puerto Ricans are no match for the ruthless Russians." "What of the European Russians?" Oshiro inquired. "I've sent my men in. Within a few days the major Russian strongholds will be bombed. The Russian police and military will be so preoccupied with the bombings that the Russian gangs will go underground...Long enough, I hope," he added. "The government will assume it's territorial gang warfare. They can't afford any bad news leaking into the worldwide press. They'll keep it quiet." "Can they connect the Mafia with the bombings?" Oshiro asked arching an eyebrow. "Not if my men do it right." "Excuse me, Uncle," Antonio interrupted. All the talk of killing was making him sick. "I need to call Senator Artemis and see how Brand is." "Of course," Gallucci said. "If he's alive, tell him I love him." Antonio wasn't sure how to take his uncle's response. He would take it in the best possible way. His uncle was not a callous man. The phone rang several times before it was picked up. "Senator Artemis' office. This is Walter."

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"Walter, this is Father Salvi. How is Michael?" he asked anxiously. "Father, it's good to hear from you. Michael is doing as well as can be expected." "How well is that?" "After two bullets, and six hours of surgery, he's stable but still not out of the woods. He's tough, I think he'll make it." "That's good news -- I think," Antonio replied. "Don't worry, Father, he'll be fine in no time," Walter said optimistically. "My prayers are with him. Give my regards to everyone. I'll call again tomorrow." Antonio decided to call Pope Francis and tell him the bad news. He had wanted to talk to him anyway. A mounting concern for the Pope had been building inside of him since his last call. Antonio asked for the overseas operator and placed a call to the Pope's private number. After several rings, Alfredo answered. "Father Alfredo, this is Father Salvi, is Pope Francis all right?" "The Pope is fine, just the flu," Alfredo replied evenly. "May I speak with His Holiness?" "He's resting at the moment." "Please, Father, it is urgent that I speak with him." Antonio pressed. He felt a dull ache in the pit of his stomach. Was Alfredo protecting Francis? Or was he really just down with the flu? Alfredo hesitated. "I will check for you." After an interminable wait, Pope Francis finally came on the line. "Antonio, how are you?" The Pope sounded tired. "The question is, Your Holiness, are you all right?" "We are fine, Antonio, just a flu bug. The Creator keeps reminding me that I am just a man." "Have you been following the news, Holy Father?" "Maybe, it's not the flu, after all," he said, considering Antonio's question.

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"Maybe, it's the news that makes me so sick." "Michael Brand has been shot by the Colombians." The words just blurted out. "He's in critical condition, Holy Father. Perhaps you can you say some prayers. I feel mine are not strong enough." "Michael Brand will recover. Heaven is not done with him yet." "Are you sure, Holy Father?" "I am sure, Antonio," Pope Francis said, wanting Antonio to feel at peace in mind and spirit. "I am concerned about this mission, Holy Father." "What concerns you, my son?" "There are thousands being slain as we speak. Is this Heaven's will?" "All we know, Antonio, is that Heaven’s mission is to save the children from the enslavement of drugs…and, now it is our mission.” "At what cost, Holy Father?" "At all cost," Pope Francis said and starting coughing. "I'll pray for all of you, and the mission." The Pope coughed again. "I must get some rest, Antonio. Please call me again." The line went silent. Was the Pope really all right? Antonio felt a bitter taste in his mouth; he felt nauseated. Everything was not all right, Antonio concluded.

At dinner, Gallucci asked the crucial question to Oshiro. "Will you send your soldiers with mine and attack the Cartels in Colombia?" "Have we not done enough for your mission?" When will this mission end!" he said. Oshiro’s mind and body felt drained. "When it is finished," Gallucci answered. "When the devils who murder our children are no more." "There will always be drugs," Oshiro said sadly. "One kind or another."

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"That may be true. But we must do everything we can…or Heaven may decide that no one is worth saving." Noticing a small canary, which had just perched on the window, he put his chopsticks down and heard an almost inaudible chirpping. As he listened intently, it sounded more like a wailing than a song. "We will match as many as you can send," Oshiro said soulfully. Gallucci knew four thousand men were not enough. But, it would have to do. "Will we have any U.S. support," Kyogi asked?" "Troops, probably not. But their satellites can look into the ground. They can pin point the labs and the number of men guarding them." "Where will we attack?" Kyogi asked. Gallucci pulled out a map of Colombia. "If the U.S. can get the Colombian government to give us cover, we can go in from the Pacific side here and here." Gallucci pointed to the nearest spots to Cali and Medellin. "We can split our troops. Choose your battle." "It's a suicide mission," Kyogi said after looking at the map. It will take hours to reach the targets. Even assuming we go in at night, we will be spotted in a few hours." "Kyogi, Kyogi.” Gallucci roared with a haughty laugh. “Every battle starts with an impossible mission." Kyogi started to entertain the idea that Gallucci was crazy. "Relax, my young friend. Our plan will be perfect."

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CHAPTER 34

WASHINGTON, DC

Brand forced his eyes open, and tried to focus. The antiseptic, white room and ceiling made it more difficult. The pain in his left shoulder and side stabbed as he tried to move. The needles, attached to his arm and in turn to plastic bags hanging from a chrome perch pinned him to the bed. He turned his head to the right, and through blurry eyes, he saw a woman with her face buried in a handkerchief sitting next to his bed. He knew it was his ex-wife; her face framed by long curls that were almost a perfect match for her tangerine colored Saint John's knit. In mind and body, she was still a model. He reached out his good arm and tried to touch her. The tips of his fingers grazed her leg. Startled, she pulled the handkerchief away and looked at him. He could see her face, puffy and red with streaks of tears; he tried to speak, but his mouth was like cotton. "Michael," she sobbed. "Thank God, you're all right." Brand pointed to an opaque plastic bottle of water with a straw attached. She fumbled for the bottle and held it to his lips. He sipped several times before feeling the water flush away the cobwebs in his throat. "Margo," he groaned. "I'm...here, Michael,” she said haltingly through her tears. "I didn't know..." She didn’t have to finish the sentence; he knew what she meant. "If you did, it

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wouldn't have made a difference." His voice was raspy and sad. "You would have left me that much sooner." Trying to suck back the intermittent sobs, "I've hated you for so long. I'm sorry," she said wiping her eyes. Brand flinched from the pain as he tried to move closer to her. "What I did was not for any noble cause. It was my ego and arrogance. I am responsible for our son's death." His words came out barely audible. "I've talked to the General, I know everything." "You know nothing. Our life could have been different. I chose the charade. It is I who am sorry. You chose the only way out. I should have l left you and Michael far away from my life." His son's face flashed before him, and his grief flooded over him. Brand turned his face away. Marian and Alex walked into room. "I'm sorry, we didn't mean to interrupt," Marian said quietly. "It's okay," Margo said sullenly and got up and walked over to the window and looked out. Ominous gray clouds floated passed, like the dark memories that filled her mind. She loved and hated him. Nothing would be the same. She had lost the only two men she had ever loved, both from the poison of drugs. Alex said to Michael, "It looks like you're going to be all right," trying to feign a smile. "I'll never be all right," he moaned. Marian looked at Margo and touched Alex's arm. "We'll be back, Michael," Marian said. After they exited, Margo returned to her husband's bedside. She could almost feel as well as see his pain. "You hate yourself as much as I've hated you." Margo reached out and held his hand. Michael tried to remove it, but she held it fast. "I'd like to take of you.

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We could grieve together for our son." Michael twisted his hand away. "No! No, Margo," he wailed. He would not be forgiven that easily. His eyes flooded into an avalanche of tears. "Don't shut me out this time," she pleaded. "I need you. We need each other.” "How could you need me after all I've done?" Michael choked out the words. "What about your hate for me?" He looked up into her emerald green eyes, blurred by her own grief. "I couldn't even go to the funeral." Michael reached out for her hand. "I know, Michael. I know. We'll go together. Maybe, in time, we'll find our own peace." They cried holding each other’s hand. Margo bent over and kissed him gently. "We can do this, Michael." She gripped his hand and their grief flowed between them.

Radcliff, Marian, and Alex huddled in the corridor. "How is he?" Radcliff asked, buried beneath the weight of his own grief. Marian clutched his hand. "Margo's the only one who can help him now." Radcliff nodded. "If his guilt will allow him to." "It's their only chance." Marian knew what Margo was feeling. "She's a strong woman." Alex put his arm around his wife and whispered in her ear, "I love you."

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CHAPTER 35

BOGOTA, COLOMBIA

At dinner, Soule, Gonzales, and the other two men feasted on a sumptuous assortment of dishes. Each prepared from differing parts of Mexico and Central America. Over the years Soule’ had acquired a variety of tastes. He thought the chicken especially delicious. Before dinner Soule’ had made several phone calls, each one to his satisfaction. "Tell me, Senor Gonzales." Soule pondered the question he was about to ask. "What sacred sites do you have in mind?" Gonzales took his question as an agreement to proceed. "There are so many," he said, wiping his mouth from a tasty rack of lamb. "You know the U.S., what sites would you like to see demolished?" "The Washington Monument for starters." "Good choice." "Perhaps even the Jefferson Monument." Gonzales steeled his eyes. "When can your men be ready?" "As soon as they receive the documents and passports." Soule spoke without hesitation. "How many will you need?"

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"Fifty." "A good number. I'll have them in their hands tomorrow." Gonzales poured himself a glass of wine. "You must be excited at the prospect of attacking the infidels." "I have waited a long time for this opportunity." Soule's men had been excited when he told them that they were to embark on Allah’s greatest mission. "Aside from arranging for my men to enter the U.S., what resources can you provide?" "Anything that you need. From the sophisticated to the crude: C-4, dynamite, nitro, or any untraceable explosives, plus any weapons that you may need. My laboratories can produce any form of explosive and in any quantity you desire." "How will you get them into the U.S.?" "My labs are already installed in the U.S. We have had them there for years. At first, it was precautionary, but now it is a reality." "You've thought of everything." Soule’ said impressed. "Yes," Gonzales stated proudly. "Just tell me where you want the explosives and what kind. We will also provide safe routes for your men to whatever area you want them to go. After the bombings, we can hide your men in the U.S. for six months or six minutes. As you choose." For the first time since he had arrived, Soule's heart pounded with excitement. Thousands of Americans would die. Their sacred democratic shrines would be blown to rubble. Millions would be panicked. A sly smile crept over his face. "I have arranged for ten American Arabs, who have been in the U.S. for many years and who have no connections to any terrorist groups, to be framed for the bombings. I want the Americans to believe the bombings were conspired by Arabs. It will throw the oil business into complete chaos. They will never know who their true enemies are." "Let us drink then to a new and more terrifying world," Gonzales' voice rose like thunder. "May Allah be praised.” The Israelis are next Soule’ said to himself.

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Consuelo entered the room with Gonzales' untraceable cell phone. "It is urgent, Senor." Gonzales grabbed the phone and frowned, but said nothing to her; Consuelo was one of his best soldiers. The voice on the other end was excited. "Slow down. You're not making any sense." Gonzales listened intently. "It is only a temporary problem. Do not concern yourself." He snapped off the phone. "It seems that our problems are escalating." He spoke calmly not wanting to excite the others, especially, Soule. "What is it Jefe?" Ruiz asked. "It seems that the Chinese and Japanese governments have forged an alliance with the U.S. A thousand leaders within the Tongs and Triads have been murdered in America. All of the drug trade routes have been compromised. We knew of the Asian crackdown. We assumed the Mafia and Yakuza had decided, for reasons unknown, had formed an alliance. But this extends now to governments. And, these murders have been sanctioned by the U.S." Gonzales pondered for a moment. "I see now that this is truly a war, but at a level that could never have been expected." Gonzales put his wine glass down, and his face turned menacing. "The bombings must take place within four days." His eyebrows hooded and glared at Soule. "The retaliation must be swift and complete. " "Four days is not enough time. There are too many sites, it will require a great deal of coordination." Soule protested. Gonzales ignored Soule’s protest. "We must attack before the U.S. attacks us." "It will take at least a week to accomplish these bombings," Soule said adamantly. "We do not have that much time. I will provide your cause with two billion more. But it must be done in four days." Soule saw the panic in Gonzales' eyes. "You are afraid of the Americans?" "When they are committed, nothing can stop their resolve. Only the chaos we have planned can stop them now. It must be immediate." "So shall it be done," Soule said calmly.

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CHAPTER 36

THE OVAL OFFICE

A dark, gray dusk was beginning to settle over D.C. as an unusually cold October wind howled across the grounds of the Capital, ripping branches like twigs in its wake. Macarthur Circle was crammed with motorists, all rushing to get home to spend a warm evening in front of the fireplace; oblivious to a world that was about to explode around them. Alexander Artemis and General Radcliff along with the president sat in stony silence. "This makes me sick," Nolan finally said. "Thousands of people are being slaughtered, and we're helping as if we were a bunch of boy scouts cleaning up a park." Radcliff retorted. "Drug dealers and labs that produce the deadly poison, not to mention, the drug routes that have been dismantled run through those parks where our children play. Mr. President,” Radcliff added, “have we ever really been sincere about this, so-called, war on drugs, or has it just been political rhetoric to appease the public?" The President twisted in his chair and looked out at the illuminated rose garden. "The rhetoric of war is not the same as the reality of war. But this war is not even a war. We are conspiring with criminals and foreign countries to kill thousands for their own agendas."

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"A war by any other name is still a war," Alex said in Radcliff's defense. "And what is our agenda? Besides, have you forgotten so soon your conversation with Pope Francis?" "Nolan spun back. He didn't like the implications. "No. I haven't forgotten, but this is insane." The Oval Office door opened. Stern, Director of the CIA, entered. "Sorry, I'm late." He said as he laid his coat over an empty chair. "Is Franklin here?" Just then, Franklin, Director of the FBI, walked in. "God, it's cold out there," he said shivering and rubbing his hands together. He stripped himself of his muffler and coat and laid it next to Stern's. "All right, gentlemen. Let's get down to it," Nolan said, sounding now more like the Commander in Chief. "Anything new to report?" Stern went first. "Nothing from CIA that you're not all ready informed about. Maybe the FBI or Military Intelligence as some news." "I'll tell you this Mr. President,” Franklin said. “It's been one hell of a job coordinating with the Japanese and Chinese. They're all on their way home, thank God." "Stern nodded his agreement. "For the record, Mr. President,” Franklin added, “I’m against any country operating on our soil." The president's face squeezed into a sour mask. "Well, we sure as hell weren't capable of doing it. They did in two days what we could never do." "I still don't like it." Franklin protested. "Duly noted." "I must confess, though, they were highly efficient." Franklin added sheepishly. "Also, duly noted." Nolan had never been in such a predicament. No president had. There was no precedent to follow. He felt lost, and hoped to God he had chosen the right men to head up his security agencies. "So, what's next General?" Nolan said hoping

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that Radcliff had some special insight. "The Colombians must be feeling that they're being boxed in. All of my sources, however, report that the Colombians are not even trying to get drugs into the country. As a consequence, the Russian gangs are letting up on the Puerto Ricans and Cubans. Without drugs, it makes no sense for them to continue. This is like the lull before the proverbial storm." Radcliff scratched his chin. "The Colombians won't wait long though." Radcliff wished Brand were there. "My guess is that they're going to attack." Nolan thumped his palm on the desk. "Who? What? When? Where? Guesses; speculations; bits and pieces that don't make sense; factions that should be fighting each other are forming alliances. No. It doesn't make sense." "I assure you, Mr. President, that the Colombians will attack." Radcliff persisted. "Maybe they're hunkering down waiting for us to attack." "Maybe. But the Cartels are not defensive by nature. They're aggressive. Besides, they haven't given us one iota of provocation to attack. All they've done so far is to stop bringing drugs into the country!" "A paradox wrapped in a mystery," Alex said calmly. Nolan rolled his eyes back and said to himself why me God? "That's it,” Alex said, as if finding some special hiding place." His voice rose to an eight on the Richter scale. "It makes perfect sense, Mr. President. Let's look at it piece by piece." Nolan slumped further into his chair. "Okay, Alex, let's here it," he said annoyed. "The Colombians are aggressive, but they're not attacking. Their livelihood is selling drugs, but they're not selling..." Nolan raised his hand for Alex to stop. "Let him go on, Mr. President," Radcliff said wanting to understand. "They've got connections to every rogue nation in the world. I'm sure Director Stern would agree."

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Stern nodded. And then, he too, suddenly became interested. "The riddle is: where do you hide an elephant? Answer. In a herd of elephants." "Please, Alex, get to the point," Nolan said on the verge of total exasperation. "The Colombians know that the Mafia and the Yakuza have formed an alliance. By itself, not unusual. But now unfriendly governments are forming alliances to stop the drug trade. The answer, gentlemen, is that the Colombians are doing the same thing. They're forming their own alliances, but with the rogue nations." "You've hit, Alex!" Radcliff jumped up. "They're not going to attack. They're going to have the terrorist countries do the job for them. Just as we've done." "It makes sense, "Stern agreed. Radcliff went on. "It's the perfect plan. It's the perfect diversion. While we're fighting terrorists, we'll forget all about the Colombians. And when it's all over. It's business as usual." "You all agree with this theory?" Nolan asked. All heads nodded. "If this is true, or likely to be, let's have suggestions?" The suggestions came fast and furious: Bring in the Coast Guard. Triple the Border Patrol. Put our elite terrorist forces on full alert. Get any and all Intel from every spy and mole in every country in the world. Stern added. "We've got to get the Mossad involved. Bring in the Brit's MI-6 unit. If there's a whisper out there we'll know soon enough." The president gazed at every face for confirmation. "Make it happen! And, Radcliff, I want a meeting with the Joint Chief's tomorrow morning." The meeting adjourned and Nolan walked to the window. The wind wrapped itself around every tree and bush and shook it violently. Was this the beginning of a terrorist storm? He pondered his own conflicted feelings. Was he crazy? Were they crazy? Or was the whole world crazy? He wished for the first time that he wasn’t the

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president. He yearned to feel the hot Santa Ana winds sweep through the valleys of Southern California, and the blue Pacific ocean he surfed in as a young man. He wished he could hike in the Sierras with his kids. A knot formed in his stomach; his ambition and arrogance had driven him to become president. Now, he was paying the price. Then the words of Pope Francis -- Joey McCully -- reverberated through his mind: “Trust him.”

Radcliff and Alex entered the white, antiseptic hospital room where Michael Brand lied sleeping. Alex prayed that it was a peaceful sleep. The two conversed in hushed tones about the meeting that they had just come from. "That was quite a piece of deduction," Radcliff whispered. “The idea just popped into my mind." Alex wondered if Heaven was guiding him. He hoped so. Brand moaned and fumbled for the plastic water bottle on the tray next to the bed. Alex moved quickly and snatched the bottle as it teetered on the edge, and put the straw to Michael's lips. Michael opened one eye. "Feeling any better?" Alex asked. Michael sucked hard. "There's no water," his voice raspy. It reminded Alex of his visit to Brand at Walter Reed and the same guttural sound. "I'll get you some water." He turned to leave, but Radcliff intercepted him. "I'll get it," he said. Seeing Alex, Brand smiled. "I guess you are feeling better," Alex returned the smile. "I'm sorry I wasn't there to back you up." Brand started to laugh, but coughed instead. Pain surged through his chest and turned his face into an ugly red. He held up his hand. "Wait," he grimaced. Radcliff returned with a fresh bottle of water and helped Brand swallow by lifting his head. "Thanks, Ratzo," Brand muttered.

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Radcliff feigned an ugly smile. "It's a good thing you're in that bed." "Did I get them?" Brand asked. "Yeah, both of them. You could have left one alive so we could question him. But no, Mr. Macho, here had to kill them both of them." "Was one of them Cardona?" he asked impatiently. "No. Two Colombian's with false ID's. No fingerprints anywhere in the database." "Raise the bed," Brand ordered. Alex cranked the bed until Michael sitting upright.. "Gonzales would have sent Cardona to kill me. A sign of loyalty. He couldn't do it. He's probably hiding out somewhere in D.C. You've got to find him before Gonzales does. He's got information that we can use." "Why would he talk?" Alex asked. "That's why you're a Senator instead of a spook. His only chance of surviving is to flip to our side." "Where do we find him?" Radcliff asked. His voice becoming intense. Brand gave it some thought. "You won't. He's not stupid. He's probably burrowed so deep that no one will find him. At least for now," he added. "He's scared. My guess is that he'll try to get in touch with Alex." "Why me?" "Because, you're my client. He's got nowhere else to go. He's got one, maybe, two people he can trust. They'll probably contact you first." "What'll we do then?' Alex asked naively. “Make him an offer he can't refuse." Brand smiled to himself. "He's my uncle. He couldn't do it." "Well he sure in the hell didn't warn you," Radcliff snapped. "I didn't say he was perfect. I said he was my uncle. Besides, Gonzales would have figured he couldn't do it anyway. Blood, in Colombia, is sometimes thicker than

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water." "Being that were speaking in clichés, don't take that one to the bank," Radcliff said without any humor attached. "Don't be surprised Alex if you're contacted by one of your colleagues." Brand's words trailed off. The drip of morphine from the plastic tube inserted at the wrist began to take effect. Brand tried to fight it, but couldn’t, and floated off as he mumbled something. "I wish we had a chance to talk to him about this terrorist thing," Alex said disappointed. "Yeah," Radcliff intoned as they walked out into the cold, gusting wind.

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CHAPTER 37

ADEN, YEMEN

Ahmad Bin Soule had acquired thousands of admirers and followers that stretched all across the Muslim world, but only fifty were allowed into his elite circle. These were men of extreme dedication, courage and intelligence. Each had to have mastered at least seven languages, before even being considered. Their physical and mental endurance was brutally tested. If they could not measure up, they were quietly eliminated. Their bodies buried deep in the desert sands. Soule’s fifty were so highly proficient at tactical terrorism that any one of them could have been a general in any Muslim army in the world. The fifty had been divided into ten cells of five each. No one cell knew where the other cells were holed up; except for one man, Abdul Hakeem. Soule considered him next in line if anything should happen to him. He was patient and fearless; a deadly combination. Soule's first attempt at a terrorist attack was ten years before. The target was a group of Iraqis in Baghdad -- American sympathizers. In his mind, he had planned the assault to perfection; he had recruited four men that he believed to be dedicated, but

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unfortunately not thoroughly trained. In spite of the flaw, he had confidence in his plan. The hated sympathizers met after sundown each Saturday in the basement of a bombed out mosque. There was only one way in. He had watched for several weeks. By his count, there were eight of them. Soule, with his four men, waited in the shadows of the rock-strewn rubble about thirty meters from the entrance to the mosque. They were all equipped with AK-47s. His plan was simple. Ten minutes after the last sympathizer entered, his men would crouch their way down the stone steps to their unholy meeting, and then open fire until ever last one of them was dead. It was time. Soule waved to his men for the assault to begin. He led the way down the darkened, dank steps. His adrenaline and fear was at its peak. Feeling along the stonewalls, they slowly made their way toward the basement. Finally the sound of muffled voices floated up. Ahead, he could see the orange glow of flickering lights illuminating the stone steps. His men followed noiselessly. The voices grew louder. A few more feet around the curved steps and they would start firing. Soule smiled to himself. He could see the basement floor; only three more steps. He raised his arm readying his men for the attack. "Now!" Soule tucked his rifle under his armpit and jumped to the basement floor. He saw the eight men sitting on crates around several lighted candles. His AK-47 spit like thunder shattering the dark. The sympathizers scrambled, but it was too late. He was cutting them in half as they dove for the shadows. The rest of his men fired, saturating the small basement in blood. The ear shattering explosions from the rifles finally came to an end. His men roared with excitement. "It is done," one of his men yelled out. "Allah be praised." Soule’ circled the basement checking on the bodies torn into grotesque forms. Standing near the back of the basement, Soule saw the impossible. Two men with pistols quickly fired at his four comrades. They fell instantly. "Come out of the shadows," one of the assailants yelled.

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Soule fixed his rifle on the two men; but anticipating his reaction, they moved instantly up the stone steps. Soule fired indiscriminately into the black staircase. Within seconds he was out of bullets. The two men jumped back onto the basement floor, before Soule’ could reload. "Throw down your weapon, now," the bigger of the two men shouted. Soule’ could do nothing but comply. His rifle rattled as it bounced across the hard stone floor. "Come out, now. We will not hurt you. Only a few questions." The voice was threatening, but calm. Soule emerged from the shadows with his hands held high. "Good," the big man said. "Now come over here," pointing his pistol toward the still lighted candles. Soule obeyed. He was ready for death. "Who are you?" the huge man asked. "And why do you kill our people?" Soule’ would rather die than talk. How had he misjudged the size of the group? It was now too late for such questions. He knelt down, closed his eyes and prayed out loud, "Allah be praised. The betrayers are dead." Fear soaked him to the bone as he waited for death. But there was only silence. Soule finally opened his eyes. The two men were just sitting on the crates staring at him. "Do you want us to kill you?" the big man asked. Soule remained silent. "You interfered with our fun," his pistol resting on his thigh. "I don't know if I should thank you, or kill you." Soule opened his eyes. He couldn't make out any face hidden beneath dark hoods, but he recognized the clothing. They were the traditional dress of his home in Ur. "Who are you?" he spat out the words. The man ignored his question. "We planned this attack for weeks, but you beat us to it. You are amateurs, but good amateurs. I am sorry about your friends, but we could

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not tell who was who." Soule thought that this was just a rouse for him to talk. "Why do you wait? Just shoot!" "How can I shoot someone who has unwittingly done a job for us?" Soule's curiosity was getting the better of him. "Why do you dress in those clothes?" "Because, they belong to me." "You're from Ur?" "Ah, you recognize them. Come, sit here, next to the light. I want to see you better," he said, now pointing the gun at Soule. "Move slowly, or I will kill you." The voice was not threatening. Soule’ did as he was told. The big man stared at him. Soule's clothes were non-descript Arabic. "I will kill you, if that is what you want. He said quietly. "But, before I do, may I have the pleasure of knowing who I am killing?" Soule’ figured it didn't matter much now. "My name is Ben Ahmad Soule’." The man studied him, and thought for a long moment before he spoke. "I knew your cousin, Akmal." The huge man now knew exactly who Soule’ was. "I'm sorry for the loss of your family. We thought you were still in Iran." The man holstered his gun. "Why did you do this tonight?" "These were American sympathizers. I have dedicated my life to revenge the loss of my family." Soule’ spoke with foolish authority. "Is this your first assault?" Soule’ nodded. "It was good, but only by chance are you alive." The big man removed his hood, and ran his thick hand through his hair. "I know you have made millions finding oil for many countries, including the Americans." His comment was a matter of fact.

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"That was before they killed my family." "So, now you seek revenge. But why do you follow this path alone?" "I didn't know anyone. I couldn't trust anyone. I paid these men much money to help me," Soule said, sounding even foolish to himself. The huge man threw his head back and laughed, revealing an immense set of black eyebrows that covered most of his forehead. "If your revenge is as sincere as your words, we may be inclined to help you." Soule’ was not prepared for such an offer. "Why would you help me?" "You think yours was the only family bombed in this unholy war? A moment ago, you prayed to Allah. Now you pray for revenge. The Americans and the Jews must pay for what they have done. And when we have extracted our revenge, Saddam will pay for his part. But, now is not the time." Soule’ felt the bittersweet taste of success and failure. He weighed the odds. "If you are willing to join with me, I agree to fight for our common cause.” "If we join with you, there is much you must learn first. The road to revenge is a slippery one. One mistake and we are all dead." "How can I trust you?" Soule’ felt conflicted. "Trust in Allah. Trust in your heart. Trust in revenge. And I will trust in you." The big man stood up. "My name is Abdul Hakeem, and this is my friend Salim.” The smaller man had not spoken a word. “Let us leave this place before we make another mistake."

That was ten years ago. Hakeem had taught him well. Over the years Hakeem had given way to Soule's superior intelligence, but would challenge him any time he thought his plan to be unsound.

In the dark upper room in Aden, Hakeem smiled. Soule's plan was perfect. The Mexican papers and passports had been delivered to all the cells. Tomorrow, the fifty most elite

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terrorists in the world would be in Mazatlan, Mexico where they would meet up with Soule’. They would be just tourists going to America for a vacation.

CHAPTER 38

MAZATLAN, MEXICO

Gonzales had taken over Cardona's expansive, hillside villa that over looked the serene Pacific. Cardona had betrayed him, as he had expected. His assassins had been inept, or Brand was that good. It didn’t matter. Brand was in critical condition, and out of action, besides, he knew nothing. If he survived, he would finish the job when the time was right. Gonzales possessed the documents that proved the Senator had taken drug money to fund his campaign, and eventually he would use it to blackmail him. Purposely, he had kept Cardona away from any pertinent information. If he went over to the Americans, he had only conjecture to tell them. But, Gonzales was not a man to take chances. He had a team of men searching D.C. for him. Sooner or later he would surface. Gonzales put his thoughts aside, as he saw the motorcade winding up the steep road to the mansion. He puffed heartily on his huge cigar, watching the smoke swirl upward in the soft afternoon breeze, and complimented himself on his ingenuity. The terrorists were fanatics; they would be the perfect instrument of destruction and

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diversion. Soule’ called out from the house. "My men are arriving." It would be the first time that his men assembled as a single group. Many of them had never met each other. But, this was the Mother of all missions. As the motorcade parked in front of the villa, Gonzales' men helped them with their luggage. Each of the terrorists carried only a single bag. All that they would need was waiting for them in America. Soule’ spotted Hakeem, and rushed over to him. They embraced, slapping each other's back. "It has been too long, my brother," Soule’ said as they separated. "This is the moment we have waited for." "So it seems," Hakeem said quietly. Soule’ studied Hakeem's face. His dark brown eyes reflected concern. "You have doubts about this mission?" "We shall talk, later. In private." Hakeem's face suddenly broke into a smile. "You have lost weight. The food does not agree with you?" Soule’ shrugged, and walked with his friend into the house.

Gonzales had prepared an enormous feast. Food from seven countries was served. The Colombian soldiers were getting drunk on wine, while the Muslims were already drunk with the adrenaline of revenge. "Let us go where we can talk," Gonzales said and ushered his guests into the Matador room. “Sit, make yourselves comfortable.” Gonzales poured himself a cognac. Ruiz and Rodriguez did the same. Soule’ and Hakeem sat next to each other, while Salim sat guarding the entrance to the room. Salim was a quiet, but sly man. His dark face etched with scars. Salim had been raised in the slums of Baghdad. When he was twelve his family was murdered by the Iraqi police, believing they were Muslim collaborators during the eight-year war with

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Iran. The police had apologized for their inadvertent mistake, but from that moment on Salim had to fend for himself. He slept where he could find shelter; food was scarce, so he stole as much as he could whenever the opportunity presented itself. Salim was not tall, but muscular for his age. He was also smart and fearless. He watched as gangs of marauding teenagers terrorized the unfortunate people living in the Muslim areas. These acts infuriated him, and whenever he found one or two of these straggling gang members, he confronted them. They were no match for his hatred; his crescent-bladed knife left them dead in pools of blood. By the time he was fourteen he had killed over twenty, and his scarred face was a testament to his battles. On a hot summer day, Salim wandered the streets aimlessly, until he saw a small a small grocery store with a table of fresh, ripe tomatoes standing alone in front of the store. He casually walked by and snatched one of the tomatoes, palming it in his hand. Suddenly, a huge, strong hand grabbed him around the back of his neck and lifted him into the air. Salim dropped the tomato and tried to reach for his blade. A deep voice spoke quietly into his ear, “If you continue to squirm, I will break your neck. And that will be a pity over a simple tomato.” Salim went limp, and the man released his grip. “Do not try to run, you are not fast enough.” Salim turned and faced the man. He was huge with thick, black menacing eyebrows. “I am hungry,” Salim said as pathetically as he could. “If you are hungry, go into the store and tell the owner that you are willing to work for this tomato.” Salim made a move to extract his blade, but the man was too quick and grabbed his wrist almost breaking it. “You may be hungry, but you are a thief. Shall I cut your hand off with the blade you so desperately want to use?”

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Salim grabbed his wrist that was aching in pain. “I told you I was hungry.” “If you are hungry, then you must work for your food,” the big man with bushy eyebrows said. “That is easy for you to say. You are big, and probably have money to buy what you want. I have nothing, not even a place to sleep. I fight everyday for my survival.” “If what you say is true, I will make a deal with you.” “I’m listening,” Salim said with his wrist still in pain. “Go in and ask the shopkeeper that you would like to work to pay for this tomato, and I will make sure that you never go hungry again.” “And if he says no?” “Then come back and tell me.” Salim entered the store, feeling he had no choice, but was also convinced that the shopkeeper would say no. But, after two hours, Salim emerged from the store with a tomato in his hand. The big man was waiting perched on a small stonewall. “I see you have your tomato,” he said. “Two hours of work was not worth one tomato,” Salim said as sweat dripped down his face. “Two hours ago you were a thief, now you are a worker.” The thought of that much work for a single tomato made Salim feel sick, but then remembered what the big man had said. “So, now, you said if I did what you asked I would never go hungry again? Does that mean I am to work hours for a tomato?” The huge man laughed. “Now, you will become part of my family. When I work, you work.” “You want me as your slave? I would rather die hungry in the streets,” Salim said spitting on the ground. “I said you would become part of my family. Now, come, I will show you to your new home.”

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The big man started walking off in long strides down the street. Salim hurried to catch up. When he had, “My name is Salim,” he said. “My name is Abdul Hakeem. You may call me Hakeem.” Young Salim had found a home. And over time, even though the huge man had been tough on him, he loved him like none other. He would die if necessary for him. Hakeem too had become fond of the young man. Salim had an incessant desire to read books about all the religions in the world. “Why do you read all these books? I thought you were a Muslim,” Hakeem asked him one day. “I am,” Salim said, “But I study these books to understand why my family was killed. I search for an answer that I have not found in the Koran.” “And what have you discovered in these books?” Hakeem asked. “I have found that all religions are the same, and none provide me with an answer,” he said, sounding disappointed. “Allah’s ways are mysterious. You will not find the answer in books. Search your heart for the answers, and if you find none, then accept what has happened. Allah does not make mistakes. He always has a plan for us.” The answer was unacceptable, but his love for Hakeem and his loyalty to him was unwavering. Through Hakeem, he had found a reason to live. Gonzales sipped on his cognac, "Your men look as much like a Latino as I do," Gonzales laughed. "A mistake by Allah." Hakeem spoke softly without any facial expression. Gonzales didn’t like the big, hulking man with extraordinary eyebrows. His manner was crude and abrasive. "I must remember that," Gonzales said, pretending it to be a joke and hiding his true feelings. Soule’ wondered why Hakeem was goading Gonzales. He would ask him later. They were to leave in the morning and much had to be worked out.

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"How was your trip here, Hakeem?" Gonzales asked, trying to engage him in conversation. Hakeem remained silent. "Soule intervened quickly. He was beginning to become annoyed with Hakeem. But decided he must have his reasons. "My men went first to Spain, and then took ten different airlines to here...But enough of this small talk," Soule’ announced pleasant enough. "How do you plan to get us into the States?" "Where do you want to go?" Soule’ handed him a sheet with twelve sites, which extended from California to New York. Gonzales read the list. "Ambitious," he said, liking the sites he read. "I have arranged for a tourist charter to Los Angeles, courtesy of the Ministry of Culture. From there you can make your own arrangements. When your men arrive at their destinations, they will be escorted to where a variety of explosives will be waiting. You will not be disappointed. Tonight, I will make the final arrangements; and in the morning, you will have the names of your contacts." Soule’ nodded. "We are tired." And then looked at Hakeem out of the corner of his eye. His face was stone cold. "Salim," Soule ordered, "have the men bed down." Salim left immediately. Soule and Hakeem nodded toward the Colombians and left the room. They walked in silence until they reached Soule's quarters. Once inside, Hakeem's face turned ugly. "Have you taken leave of the few senses that Allah has blessed you with?" Soule’ was startled at his reaction. "What do you see?" he asked, not angry, but confused. "You have betrayed, Allah!" Hakeem whispered vehemently. Soule’ dropped into the nearest chair. Hakeem had not spoken to him in such a manner since the early days of his training. Soule's stomach knotted in anger, but said

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nothing. "If you were not the great Soule, chosen Servant of Allah, I would have killed you as we entered this room." The big man towered over him. "You are a fool. Your eyes have been clouded by your own ambitious revenge. This is not Allah's mission. It has become yours and this madman Gonzales'. Think! My brother. We do his bidding." Hakeem moved to the farthest chair and sat down. Their eyes locked into an eternal moment of anger. Soule’ knew Hakeem was right, but had not allowed his feelings to come to the surface. He started collapsing inside. "I respect you like none other. I would give my life for you. Speak to me, Hakeem?" "I, also, would give my life for you. But your plan will sacrifice the lives of all of us. And then who will be strong enough to finish Allah's mission?" Soule’ sank deeper into the chair. His mind and body sapped of any strength or pride, "I have been the smartest, but you have always been the wisest. So, tell, this donkey of a man, what we shall do." For a moment, Hakeem felt regret for the words he had spoke. But, he knew he must remain strong. "We must take control of this mission. The Colombians must not know of our plans. They would betray us if it suited them." "Go on." "We send all of our soldiers back to their strongholds in the land of Allah, except for you and my men. The six of us will fly by commercial airline to Los Angeles, and then to Washington, DC. We have contacts there that can furnish us with what we need. If all fifty go, the chances for mistakes are too great. It is not necessary to destroy twelve sites. We will choose three of the American's most sacred shrines. It will cause millions to panic. But, we shall tell Gonzales that we will destroy the computer installations that control the military satellites. Tell him that we cannot not divulge these sites, because we fear that some of his men may be FBI or CIA informants."

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"And if he doesn't agree?" "Then we go home. Or, at least, that is what he'll believe. But if I'm right about this ass of a donkey, he will agree. He is desperate for the Americans not to attack Colombia. His white oil will go up in smoke, like the oil fields of Kuwait." "My brother makes sense. You have returned me to my senses," Soule replied, beginning to feel, once again, the adrenaline rising up from deep within his soul. "I thank, my brother, for his wise council. So shall it be. Praise Allah." The two men embraced. Hakeem whispered, "My sorrow for the words I spoke to you are as deep as the Tears of Allah."

The next morning Gonzales and Soule sat alone in the Matador's room. "I have devised a new plan. The other one is too risky and will not accomplish what we both desire." Gonzales did not like any changes in plans. It made him nervous. "What do you suggest? The arrangements have all been made," he said warily. "Neither of us wants to panic the American people. They will put so much pressure on their Congress to act that we fear they will act impetuously." "I'm listening," Gonzales said, still unsure. He then extracted a Cuban cigar from Cardona's humidor. "So, what is your plan?" "We intend to destroy the computer installations that control the military satellites. It will blind them to your installations, as well as, our training camps in Afghanistan. Moreover, it will panic only the military. They will concentrate their operations against further terrorist attacks, and you will be the last thing on their minds. A diversion and a solution." Contrary to his first feelings, Gonzales liked the plan. "What installations?" he asked excited. "I'm sorry. Our information must remain secret. I'm sure you understand. If it falls into the wrong hands we will all be compromised."

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"You don't trust us?" Gonzales acted hurt. "Trust is a rare commodity and must be traded carefully. You will get the results that you want...Oh, by the way, we'll be sending home most of our men. Even they do not know where the installations are. Information is also a precious commodity. I will take five of my trusted men. The job will be completed on schedule." "What about the two billion?" "The extra money was for your timetable. I expect you to have it deposited in the Bank of Yemen by noon, or we will call off the mission." "This is blackmail," Gonzales bristled. "No, Senor Gonzales. It is what you promised. I know you will keep your word." Soule looked at him with steely eyes. Gonzales was trapped, and they both knew it. "Very well. But I expect it to be done on time," he said waving a finger at Soule’. "You know our history. We are not amateurs." Soule’ looked at his watch. "We would like a flight to Los Angeles in two hours, and a flight for my men in one and a half hours back to Spain. Can you do that, Senor Gonzales?" Gonzales hated being told what to do. But he trusted that the fanatic terrorist hated the Americans more than he did. "I will make the arrangements now."

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CHAPTER 39

WASHINGTON, DC.

Gallucci and Antonio were sequestered back at Camp David. The president, Radcliff and Artemis each sat quietly engaged in their own thoughts. The orange fire licked at the stone fireplace. The trees had transformed into a golden forest. Nolan read the front-page story of the Washington Post: "Russian gangs in Moscow at War!" "Five underground Russian gang headquarters were bombed last night. The five headquarters consisted of warring factions vying for control over the black market. Drugs, the Russian police stated, was probably at the heart of it. Over two hundred dead, and a like number injured. The Russian police have asked the military for help to patrol the streets..." The article ran on with numerous speculations as to the cause. Nolan flipped the newspaper into the fire. "This whole thing is a nightmare. They're going to turn Russia

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back into a police state..." Gallucci interjected, "Sometimes you can't tell the police from the criminals." He smiled to himself, as Antonio translated. His men had done their job well. They would already be back in Sicily. They would have set the timers at least five hours in advance of the explosions. The CIA had once said that the Mafia was the most powerful organization in the world, because their assassins could kill anyone, anywhere in the world. But that title had now been given to the fanatical Muslim terrorist. Nolan gave Gallucci an askance look. "You're having fun with all this aren't you?" He personally liked Gallucci, the man, but hated everything he stood for. And now they were forced partners. He cringed at the thought of how many times the Mafia and the U.S. government had collaborated for opposite purposes. "The Chinese have a saying, Mr. President: Out of crisis two options are possible. Danger and Opportunity." Gallucci parried, and then added. "Danger is constantly with us, but opportunity is rare." Radcliff nodded. "We must seize this opportunity, Mr. President." "And what opportunity is that? We've had foreign governments carrying out covert actions that have killed thousands, and I might add, with our help." "Some people deserve to be killed," Gallucci said, stoned faced, staring into the blazing fire. "It is the way of war." "We've put events in motion that we cannot control," Nolan said disgusted, and scared. "We can't just sit here, and see what happens," Radcliff said agitated. "Like it or not we are in a war. You've got to let us attack the Colombian Cartels." "We're not going to attack anyone without provocation. That's final!" Radcliff put on his coat, and decided to take a long walk before he said something he would regret. The cold crisp air invigorated him as he roamed around the compound. The wind had scattered leaves of red and gold like a mosaic carpet along the path.

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His mind was blending fact and fiction into a twisted scenario. The threat of a terrorist attack was only a speculative option. He had to talk to Brand. He informed the president and left for the hospital. When he got there, Brand was sitting up and shmoozing with the nurses like he was some kind of a celebrity. "Having fun?" Radcliff frowned at the scene. "Hi, Chuck," Michael chirped. The nurses, seeing Radcliff in full uniform, quickly exited. "You take two bullets," Radcliff smirked, "and you think you're outt’a this whole mess? Well, think again? Those two guards in the hallway are there to protect your sorry ass." "Why the attitude?" Chuck, "I'm no threat to anyone now. The Colombians aren't going to come after me. They had their chance. They made their point. Besides, I don't know a damn thing." "You know a lot, buddy boy," Radcliff said and threw his coat on an empty chair. "You're going to be looking over your shoulder for the rest of your life, unless we stop them." "Damn it Chuck! You're not going to rain on my parade." Brand pointed to the window. "See that. The sun's shining and it's warming me all over. Margo and I are back together. I'm not going to fuck this up. We're going to have a life, the life that I promised her. Maybe, we'll start a new family. I'm in love, Chuck. Get it!...Something you probably haven't felt in more years than you can count." His old friend wanted to say he knew what love was. He wanted to tell him that he loved him as if he were his own son. But this was not the time, or the place. "Have you read the papers? Watched the news? Do you even care anymore?" Brand had purposely done none of it. He wanted only to feel normal, like any other human being walking around. Something he had never done. But, deep inside, he knew Radcliff was right. And, right now, he hated him for it. "What do you want to hear,

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General -- I'm gung ho as ever. Let's go get the son-of-a-bitches?" "I want you to come out of the clouds. There's a goddamn war out there. I...we need your help." "I told you I don't know anything..." Just then, Marian walked in. The two men were just glaring at each other. "Wrong time?" Marian said, asking the obvious. The room was thick with tension. "No, no," Radcliff said and found a chair and slumped into it. "You're timing's perfect," Michael said relieved. "How's the campaign going?" "Not much to do right now. The entire country is focused on the drug dealers killing each other. The Russian, Puerto Rican, and Cuban gangs are at war -- the Tongs and Triads… Some of these gangs the public has never even heard of. The country's confused. It doesn't make any sense. Everyone’s scared.” It made perfect sense to Michael Brand. Reality finally set in. "I don't mean to be rude Marian, but the General and I have a lot to talk about." "I understand," she said. "Alex will be by later." She gave Brand a half smile. And then remembered. "Oh, Alex wanted me to tell you that Senator Hutchins, Chairman of the Agricultural Committee, called. Said he had a message from a Branderos. Thought it might mean something to you." "Thanks, Marian." Brand showed no reaction. "Could you do me a favor?" "Sure." "I'd appreciate it if you could give Margo a call. Us getting back together and all...I think she could use a little of your sage advice." "I was going to call her anyway." Marian walked over and kissed Brand on the cheek, and patted his hand. "She's going to be just fine." Brand smiled at her as she hurried from the room. "Cardona needs help. He's playing the only ace he has. Gonzales will find him and kill him." "Why?" Radcliff asked perplexed.

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"Because, he was supposed to kill me. He couldn't do it. Gonzales will skin the flesh from his bones to make an example of him." "Your uncle's got some guts. But why the message from Hutchins?" "Hutchins has been receiving money from Cardona for years. He probably threatened him." "That son-of-a-bitch! Why didn't you tell me?" "It was on a need to know basis. And you didn't need to know. Sound familiar, General." Radcliff bristled, but decided not to pursue it. "Okay. How do we contact Cardona?" "We don't." "Hutchins?" "Not if he values his life." "Are we going to play twenty questions, and make me feel stupid?" "There's an FBI agent by the name of Anthony Garza. He's the best I've ever seen..." Radcliff cut him off. "What makes him so good?" "He keeps his mouth shut." "You mean the Director doesn't know what he's up to?...Is he dirty?" Radcliff scowled. "He's got instincts like an alley cat. He'd inform his superiors if he thought it would help. I've worked with him almost as long as I've worked with you." Radcliff was stunned at Brand's pronouncement, and felt a twinge of betrayal. "I thought you didn't trust the FBI." "I don't. I trust Garza. He's a little rough around the edges when it comes to conforming, but I'd trust him with my life...You think I got all of my information from the Colombians?"

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"So, why didn't you tell me!?" Radcliff was beginning to boil. "Relax, General. You've got a lot to learn about being a spook...His information made you look good in front of your cronies." Radcliff was beginning to feel a little dumb. "You can't trust anyone, can you?" "Chuck," Michael softened. "I trust you. And for the record, I've never betrayed our trust." "Does Garza know about our arrangement?" Brand was dumfounded at the question. "If he didn't know, why would he tell me anything?" "He trusts you." Brand watched as his friend slumped a little lower into his chair. "Cardona has used a lot of people. Hutchins and Garza were only two of many." "Who else?" "Even if I knew, I wouldn't tell you...All we have in this world is trust..." "And, you trust this Garza?" Radcliff asked, feeling a deep sense of loss. Why he felt that way was beyond his own comprehension. "So, what do we do?" "We. We do nothing. You. You get me out of here." Brand was adamant. "You know I can't do that. Besides, you're in no shape," Radcliff said, trying to fend of Brand's command. "You get me out of here, or I'll get myself out. Understand!" "You're one stubborn ass." "Look, it was you who came in here and said get your head out of the clouds, there's a war going on...You think Garza will talk to anyone but me?" Radcliff had trapped himself with his own arrogance. "Get me my clothes." Brand reached for the telephone and punched in a series of numbers. After a few rings, a sweet voice answered," Si." "Get me, Jose. Now."

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Before he left he made one more phone call.

Brand's ribcage was wrapped in bandages like a mummy. His arm was cradled in a sling. Each step brought a piercing pain. One of his ribs had been nicked by the assassin's bullet. He made his way along the dark tunnel that led to Jose's sleazy strip bar. The door from the street had been conveniently left open. Jose was waiting as Brand pulled back the red velvet curtain that led into the dimly lit hallway. "Come this way, amigo. I have just the room." Jose ushered him into a small room with a table and two chairs. "Get me a bottle of bourbon. No ice." "No problema." Jose left and returned in seconds with the bourbon and two glasses. Brand shoved a fistful of money into his hand. "Wait for Tony behind the curtain." "Si, Miguel." Brand immediately poured himself several ounces, and gulped down half of it, hoping it would relieve some of the pain. He felt dizzy; nauseated. Maybe it was the booze, or the painkillers; he didn't know which. Probably both of them he said to himself. He inhaled a deep breath trying to make both go away, but only managed to increase the pain to his ribs. The room smelt of burnt cigar, which didn't help. He looked at his watch. Tony was five minutes late. His head and stomach, however, was beginning to feel slightly better. Another five minutes passed. The pain was easing. Finally, Anthony Garza slipped into the room. He inhaled deeply. "Ah, the smell, the ambiance. I remember..." "Tony, we can talk story later," Brand said, half hunched over the table. Garza could see that his friend was in pain. "You should learn to duck. Bullets are

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a nasty thing." "If you're trying to make me laugh, I'll shoot you with my Beretta...Sit down. What have you learned?" Garza poured some bourbon. His voice turned serious. "There's a lot of shit going on out there By the way, that was a neat trick bringing in the Japanese and Chinese to eliminate the Tongs and Triads. Are you trying to start World War III?" “I had nothing to do with it.” Garza didn’t believe him, but wasn’t going to press the point. "What about Cardona?" Brand was in no mood. "I talked to a contact, who has a contact that will give Cardona the message. He'll get back to me with time and place...You know, you really should be in the hospital. Do you want me to handle Cardona?" "No, we'll do it together. Does he know I'm coming?" "The message, 'I'll meet with you, A.A.' is so stupid, I'll be amazed if he shows...I'm sure he'll be expecting Artemis." Brand nodded. "Good." "Why in the hell did you get Artemis in this thing?" Garza said shaking his head. "Amateurs. They'll get us all killed." "Artemis got a message from Hutchins. He doesn't know anything about the meeting." "It was your message?" Garza laughed. "Only your ingenuity surpasses your good looks," he added, mockingly. "Tony, cut the shit." "I'm sorry, amigo. It's just that you're always so arrogant, and now you sit there looking so pitiful." Garza couldn't resist one last dig. Brand glared. "I promise, no more." Garza said, holding up his hands in a defensive gesture.

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Brand's pain was palpable to Garza; he wished he could take it away. The only way he knew how was to make jokes. It wasn't helping. "So, the drug world is in chaos. That's good news...Most of the major arteries have been severed." "That's what scares me the most. A wounded animal will always attack." "So, what can they do? Attack America? Try their hand at terrorism? They're very smart and ruthless when it comes to bribery, corruption, and intimidation, but at tactical terrorism, they are inept amateurs. They wouldn't even try." "No, but others would. They have contacts throughout the terrorist world. With enough money they could create a Holy Jihad. If we're occupied fighting terrorism, the Colombian Cartels will fall off the radar screen. It's the perfect diversion." Garza thought for a long moment. "If you're right, I'll try to find out before we meet with Cardona. Gonzales has kept him out of the loop, I don't know how much help he can be." "He knows the names of the people that Gonzales would go to." "Alright, my friend. Go back to the hospital. I'll contact you when the meeting is set."

CAMP DAVID

By the time Radcliff returned, Nolan had already departed for the White House. It was time for Gallucci to talk seriously with Radcliff and Artemis. "With all that's been gong on, I haven't been able to tell you about my meeting with Oshiro." "That's right," Radcliff remembered. Both he and Alex came alive. "Your government has certain...how should I say...protocols that prevents them from acting first. It is commendable, but not practical. Oshiro and I have decided to attack the strongholds of the Cartels. We only ask that your government compels the Colombian government to provide a cover story before our attack."

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Radcliff held his head between his hands and screamed," I thought the Mafia was smart. This is suicide. Your plans will be known five minutes after we make the request!" "Then, perhaps Heaven will aid us," Gallucci said. "Or, maybe your government will have a change of heart once the attack begins." "Neither will happen," Radcliff said. "There are things...events...plans in motion that could change everything." Radcliff told them that Brand was meeting with an undercover FBI agent. "It was your message from Hutchins, Senator, that prompted this meeting." Alex became infuriated. "You let this happen, General? Brand's not ready for a walk around the hospital, let alone, some clandestine meeting!" "You think you could have stopped him?" Radcliff countered. "It was your message that drove him to action," he reiterated. "I had no idea. I thought it was something we could discuss." "You're a fool, Senator, and a dangerous one. You put people's lives in jeopardy because you believe you're on a mission from Heaven...What did you expect Brand to do. Just talk about it?" The words ground into Alex's stomach like a sausage machine. "Is he all right?" "I don't know. I'm waiting word from my two men who drove him to the meeting," Radcliff said, and then felt sick at his own stupidity. "It's probably as much my fault as anyone's. I goaded him...He said he wanted out. I said he couldn't walk away." Radcliff's eyes started to well up with tears. He would do anything, if he could, to take those words back. "So, what's next?" Alex asked still churning inside. "My guess is that he's going to set up a meeting with Cardona, and try to talk him in. We'll put him under protective custody in a special room in the Pentagon." Gallucci couldn't contain himself. "You play cloak and dagger, while the enemy is right in front of us!"

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Alex said, "I know you're impatient..." "Impatient!" Gallucci exploded. "You don't know the first thing about impatience. You talk, and then more talk. What will it take? A bomb going off before you stop talking?" "If it's any conciliation," Radcliff said, "I agree with you." "We have four thousand men ready to go," Gallucci said. "In three days, we begin, with or without your help."

CHAPTER 40

LOS ANGELES, CA.

Soule’ and Hakeem sat in first class in the Aero Mexico airliner. The other four men sat alone in various seats throughout the plane. They boarded only after the rest of their men had safely taken off for Spain. There had been much grumbling among his men. But, Soule's word was final. "This is my first visit to America," Hakeem whispered. "Does it concern you?" Soule’ asked softly. "Is it not the same as the dozens of missions we've done together?" Hakeem was a proud and fearless man. "Every mission is an adventure. This is the most adventuresome." "Then let us make the most of it."

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The jet banked into a circle above Los Angeles. The Pacific flowed smoothly to the shore as the plane descended into it's final approach. "It reminds me of Beirut, the jewel of the Mediterranean, before the bombings," Hakeem said. "One day again, it will be the jewel of Allah," Soule said as the plane thudded to stop before taxing the long runway to the terminal. Soule, Hakeem, and the other four each bought separate tickets on different airlines to Dulles Airport, Washington, D.C. Soule had ordered them to meet in the lobby of the Ritz Carlton Hotel at seven a.m. The differing planes would land between five and six a.m. More than enough time to meet. WASHINGTON, DC

The early morning lobby of the Ritz Carlton was spacious and mostly empty, except for travelers trying to check out. Soule was the first to arrive. He had chosen a chair in a side wing of the lobby, but within full view of the entrance. He had ordered each of his men to drape a camera around his neck. They were just tourists on vacation. If accommodations were not available at the hotel, they would find others. As he waited, Soule's mind traveled over his past. As a young man, he was raised to honor all religions, and all people. His father had taught him to respect those who believed differently. Allah was tolerant of all human beings, and he should be no less. His mind was beginning to fill with unwanted thoughts. Up until now, his elite force had attacked only military installations of the Jews and the Americans, who had occupied a land that was not theirs. The suicide bombers and the random attacks on civilians was the work of the Hamas and Hezbollah, radical terrorists who followed blindly the fanatics that led such groups. But this was different. These were not military installations. Many of the people who would be killed did not even support their own government's actions. He wished he could attack the military satellites as he had told Gonzales he would do. But that, he

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knew, was impossible. Soule’ had chosen three sacred American shrines: the Washington Monument, the obelisk that was usurped from the ancient Egyptians; the U.S. Supreme Court, the arbiter of power of the American Constitution; and the Library of Congress, whose records chronicled a nation. These were fitting targets. But, how could he reconcile the killing of innocent people. The bombings would have to be in the early hours before sunrise. Though these edifices could be rebuilt, they would never be the same. The destruction of these American sacred sites would panic a nation. It would force them to reconsider their positions, or it would galvanize them to an action more terrible than he could imagine. He prayed to Allah to steady his course. The Americans had to wake up. Their government had to pay for their part in the killing of thousands in the name of freedom. Soule's thoughts were interrupted as he saw Hakeem lumber into the lobby. His big frame looked so out of place. Hakeem spotted Soule’ and walked over taking a seat next to him. As he plopped into the chair, he grumbled, "If Allah had wanted us to fly, he would have given us wings." "A bad flight?" Hakeem snarled. "Allah reached out his hand and shook the plane like it was a toy...My stomach is still somewhere up there." "A good breakfast, and you will feel better." "Food. Who can think of food? My last meal is stuffed in some white bag under a seat," Hakeem groaned. Soule looked at his watch. It was ten minutes before seven. "The rest should be arriving soon." Within minutes the remainder of the group straggled in. Everyone was dressed in casual, non-descript American clothes. "Salim," Soule said, handing him a piece of paper with an address, "find our

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friends and make the arrangements." Salim nodded. "Where shall we meet?" "At noon, we will meet at the address I've given you." Soule then turned to the other three, handing them the same address. "Each of you choose one of the sites, and observe them carefully. Search for any vulnerable areas. Remember, you are tourist. Take pictures...Oh, and memorize the address and swallow it." The four men left immediately. Hakeem was still slumped in his chair. "We must register," Soule’ said. "You go my brother. I am still having a conversation with Allah." Soule’ wanted to laugh, but thought better of it. "I will register, and reserve a room for you. If there are complications, I will let you know. Otherwise, get some rest, and we will meet at noon." "Where are you going?" Hakeem asked raising a bushy eyebrow. "To find a Mosque." There were only two rooms available. Other than that the registration had gone smoothly. Gonzales had provided them with credit cards, and a California driver's license. It was better that the other four would not be staying in the same hotel. A group, any group could bring suspicion. Ben Ahmad Soule’ walked out of the hotel and into the crisp morning air. He zipped up his windbreaker and strolled among the people who were rushing to get somewhere fast. The insistent clamor of cars and shouts of obscenities from taxi drivers filled the air. A slight drizzle began to fall. "This will be one of their last normal days," Soule’ said to himself.

THE MEETING WITH CARDONA

Gusting winds splashed sporadic buckets of rain against the car's windshield, as Garza

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drove the dark, gray Ford Taurus onto the interstate, leaving the city lights behind. Garza looked over at Brand. "How's the pain?" "The pills are doing their job, but they're making me dizzy." "Rest," Garza said, "we'll be there in two hours or so. When you see Cardona the adrenaline will clear your mind." Their destination was a farmhouse in a rural area of Hagerstown, Maryland. Brand felt every bump, until the repetitive sound of the window wipers lulled him into a sleep. It had been more than a year since Garza had been to the shabby farmhouse, with it's rusted cars and bald tires strewn around as if it were a junkyard. The black, two-lane road was only sparsely lit by an occasional street lamp about every mile or so. He checked the clock on the dash. Almost ten o'clock. It had been more than two hours. Garza searched for the billboard sign with the grotesque, painted picture of a cow and the word 'Moo' coming from its mouth. Up ahead, his bright headlights flashed on the hideous sign. He veered off onto a mud slickened dirt road. The Ford's wheels slipped along the road. Catching a deep pothole, the car bounced into a violent shudder, waking Brand with a piercing pain. "What the hell was that?" Brand asked, trying to orient himself. "Just a bump in the road, buddy. We'll be there in less than a minute. The farmhouse-junkyard came up faster than Garza expected. He slammed on the brakes, skidding the car sideways into the front yard before it came to a stop. The same rusted cars and balding tires looked as if they hadn't moved an inch. He doused the lights. Four shadowy figures were immediately on the car, two on each side. Garza could see the rifles in their hands. One of the men opened Garza's door, and the dome light came on. "Ah, it's you, Senor Garza. Who is your friend?" "Cardona's nephew." One of the other men opened Brand's door. "This man does not look good."

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"Let's get him into the house," Garza ordered. As they entered, there was only a dim light coming from a stained lampshade. Cardona stood in the middle of the room, as two of his men half carried Brand into the house. His head slumped on his chest. "Who is this man? What has happened?" Cardona asked near panic. Even in the dim light, Cardona could see the blood soaked sling that carried the man's arm. "He is your nephew," Garza snarled. Cardona rushed to him, lifting his head. Brand's eyes were closed. Cardona kissed him all over his face. "Ah, Miguel, Miguel," he wailed. Then said sternly, "Lay him on the couch...gently. "He needs new bandages. That damn hole in your ground must have torn the stitches. He has some pills in his pocket, give him two." Garza said, not so politely. "Do as he says, quickly." Cardona bent over his nephew and wiped the wet hair from his forehead. Turning to Garza, "Are you crazy? He should be in a hospital." "He's your nephew." Garza shrugged. "Quickly with those bandages." Cardona's voice was fierce. He paced for moment wringing his hands. "Where's the Senator?" he asked Garza. "For a smart man, you're awfully dumb," Garza said. "I am a desperate man. Will the Senator help?" "After your people tried to kill Brand?" "I tried to warn him, but there was no way," Cardona said as his eyes filled with tears. "Gonzales knew I could not kill my own nephew, so I fled. He has distrusted me for a long time." Cardona watched as his men worked on the wound expertly, stopping the blood flow and applying fresh bandages. "Does he hate me?" "There could be either of two reasons your nephew’s here. To kill you, or to save

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your sorry ass." Garza moved closer to Cardona and whispered, "Or maybe a third. To watch me kill you." He stabbed a hard finger into Cardona's stomach. Cardona's eyes widened with fright, and then said pitifully, "I wouldn't blame either of you." Garza backed away. "He's come to protect you, the way you didn't do for him," Garza said with a disgusted glare. Brand started to moan. The pills were taking effect. He opened his eyes and gazed around the room, stopping when he saw his uncle. "Are you all right, Uncle?" his words barely audible. Cardona fell to his knees next to Brand, and clutched his nephew's hand into his. "Can you forgive this coward of a man?" Brand's lips parted and tried to smile. "You're family." Garza roared impatiently, "Touching. But it's time to go." He ordered Cardona's men to carry Brand into the car. "Lay him on the back seat." He then grabbed Cardona by his jacket and lifted him. "You. You will ride in the trunk." Cardona started to protest, but thought better of it. "Whatever you wish. Where are we going?" "To the Pentagon. General Radcliff has a few thousand questions to ask." "I understand," Cardona said wiping his eyes.

Strong winds and rain lashed at the Taurus, causing it to buck from side to side. Garza wished he had brought the heavy Lincoln. But then remembered Cardona in the trunk, and just smiled. As they reached the security gate at the Pentagon, Garza fumbled for his ID. "Call General Radcliff, and tell him we have a medical emergency. Have him prepare the infirmary." The soldier tried peering in to the back seat.

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"Do it now, soldier, or you'll be in Alaska tomorrow." "Yes, sir." The soldier immediately picked up the phone. "Tell him we're coming in through the back. Have two gurneys ready," Garza barked. "Two, sir?" "Two, soldier! I'm already having visions of the midnight sun." Garza swept the car to the rear entrance. Medical attendants with two gurneys were hurrying down the ramp.

CHAPTER 41

THE PLAN

Soule’ had found an out of the way mosque on the outskirts of DC. The outside looked as if it needed refurbishing. Large pieces of stucco were missing, leaving huge, black jagged patches across the facade. Inside, however, the mosque was clean and well kept. He promised himself that he would send money to fix the outside. For most of the morning he prayed to Allah to soothe his mind and spirit. Was this Allah's will? He asked over and over. Soule’ begged for a sign, perhaps, even a small voice that would guide him. After several hours, he left the mosque still unresolved. He hailed a taxi, and asked the driver to give him a tour of Capitol Hill. As they drove through the crowded streets, he noticed the cab driver's picture and name. He was Iranian. "Have you been in this country long?" Soule’ asked.

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"About twenty years," the Iranian replied, still retaining an accent. "Where are you from?" "California," Soule said without hesitation. "I have cousins in California. What part do you live?" "Los Angeles." "Los Angeles is a big place. My cousins live in Thousand Oaks." Soule’ never heard of the place, but it had a nice sounding name. "I'm from Hollywood." It was the only name that came to him. "Ah, you must see movie stars everyday." "Oh, a few now and then." "It must be exciting to live there. Are you in the movie business?" "No, I'm an oil consultant." Soule’ knew immediately that he had made his first mistake. "Can you do anything about getting these gas prices down. I work twelve hours a day; half of it goes to gas. The other half goes to taxes. My family barely has enough to live on." No matter how good or bag things were, Iranians always complained. "Can I ask you a question?" Soule’ inquired. "Certainly." "What did you think of the Americans attacking Iraq?" His choice of words was his second mistake. "They had it coming. Hussein is a madman. Allah should smote the entire country." Soule’ knew that Iranian was biased against the Iraqis. He tried a different tact. "What about the women and children?" "Casualties of war," the driver shrugged. The two men sat silent, until the taxi driver spoke. "You have an accent. Where

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were you born?" "Mexico," Soule said feeling he was losing control of the conversation. "But you were not raised there. I detect a Middle Eastern accent. It is one of my hobbies," the driver boasted. "I would say...maybe, Iraq. That is why you ask the questions." Soule’ was becoming intensely uneasy. "My father was also in the oil business. We lived in many countries." "Ah, that it explains it." Soule’ wanted no more of this interrogation "We are here. Let me off at the corner." The taxi driver swerved the cab to a stop. "Twenty dollars, please." Soule’ handed him the money, plus a tidy tip, and smiled as he exited the cab. "Have good vacation. Enjoy the sites," the driver said without looking back, and then peeled his cab back into the flow of traffic. Soule’ was shaken. Within a matter of minutes, he had made numerous mistakes. He could be identified. He walked a few more blocks in the misty rain, and then hailed another cab. This time he kept his mouth shut. He directed the driver to a location several blocks away from the meeting place. The neighborhood was filled with crowded and dirty tenements. Kids ran around the streets kicking a half-inflated soccer ball, and the high-pitched voices of women yelling across buildings. It reminded him of the poor areas in Baghdad. People were the same all over the world -- just wanting to survive the day. It was the governments who made their lives miserable, and the military that forced them into war. He arrived at the address. The building was dilapidated. It was a three-story building with a long, steep narrow stairway that led up to the entrance. He grabbed the handrail as he started his climb up the steps. His hand filled with black soot. It was everywhere. As he entered the building, he was confronted with another long stairway.

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The apartment was on the third floor. He made his way up the steep steps avoiding debris along the way, and kids running up and down as if it were a playground. Soule’ finally reached the apartment, the door was slightly ajar. He pushed it completely open and saw a sight he would never forget: Hakeem, a huge giant of a man, was bouncing a toddler up and down on his knee and making strange sounds, as if imitating a horse. The baby giggled in total delight. Soule’ started laughing so loud that it brought his men and half the family rushing into the room. Hakeem stopped immediately. His face blushed. "Such a cute kid," he said, putting the baby into his mother's arm. Hakeem glared at the rest of his men. Their snickering came to an instantaneous halt. Three Muslim families lived in two connecting apartments. Though the apartments were crowded, they were clean and bright. The smell of mutton stewing on the stove, permeated the air making Soule's mouth water. He hadn't eaten since Los Angeles. Hakeem beckoned him into a bedroom that doubled as a parlor. On the table was an assortment of wires and batteries, plus six three-inch long rectangular cubes of C-4. Three men from the family, living there, brought in enough chairs for Soule’ and his men to sit, and then closed the doors, leaving them in private. "We have everything we will need," Salim said. "It will be a bang heard around the world." There were smiles all around, except for Soule’. Hakeem knew Soule’ so well that, at times, he believed he could hear his friend’s thoughts. Hakeem stood up. "Let us take a walk," Hakeem said to Soule’. Soule’ nodded. The two men walked in the misting rain. Ominous gray clouds formed in the sky above them. "I can feel a storm coming, Hakeem -- an unquenchable storm." "Your time in the mosque was not productive then."

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"No." "What troubles you, my brother? We have come a long way." "I met a taxi driver. An Iranian. Twenty years in this country. He loves it. He believes Allah should smote the entire country of Iraq." "What else should he feel after the devastating war between them?" Soule’ ignored Hakeem's response and asked, "What are your feelings about drugs?" "They are an abomination to Allah." "And the ones who make and sell this abomination?" Hakeem knew where this was going. "Do not mix our mission with the Colombians'." "It was you who said we are doing the Colombian's bidding." "Our path is no longer their path. We seek revenge on those who killed our families, and who protect our enemy." "The Iranian said that the innocent who were killed were the casualties of war." "That has always been true. But why do you question it now?" "Hakeem, if we bomb these sites, and create a hysteria -- What will happen to our Muslim brothers who live in this country?" Hakeem had no answer. "What do you suggest?" "Which of the sites offends you the most?" Hakeem thought for a moment. "The ancient Egyptian Obelisk they erected, as their monument to General Washington." "Then let us destroy what is offensive to us, and precious to them." "I do not fully understand your doubts. But the reports from my men confirm that two men could not take out one single site. It would take the six of us. The destruction of the obelisk would satisfy our mission, and send the message that the American way of freedom is not our freedom."

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"So shall it be. We move tonight!" Soule’ was resolved.

CHAPTER 42

THE PENTAGON

Brand rested in the small, white room of the infirmary. One of the doctors approached Radcliff and Garza. "We got him just in time before he went into shock. He'll be fine if he stays in that bed." The doctor walked away. "You almost killed him," Radcliff roared at Garza. "Me! Why didn't you take him to a safe house? Or, at least, protect him in his own damn apartment. You're the one that almost killed him," Garza fired back. Radcliff knew he was right. "Alright. There's enough blame to go around. Let's talk to Cardona." They took the elevator down, deep into the bowels of the Pentagon, to a place that

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was politely referred to as ‘the apartments’. They found Cardona pacing, as they entered the room. His face and clothes were splattered with mud. "Get this man some clean clothes," Radcliff ordered the soldier who had opened the door. "Right away, Sir." "How's my nephew?" Cardona asked, his face beaded in sweat. "With rest, he'll be fine, "Garza said. "This is General Radcliff, a close friend of Michael's." "I know who he is," Cardona said not wanting to look at either of them. "Please, sit down," Radcliff said. "You're making me nervous." "How do you think, I feel?" Cardona flopped onto a blue corduroy sofa. "Why shouldn't we give you to Gonzales?" Radcliff asked, glaring at the pitiful figure of a man. "Do as you wish," Cardona replied sapped of any emotion. "Will you answer my questions?" "If I can," he nodded. "The Colombian Cartels have been strangely silent. No attempts to bring drugs into the country. No attempts at retaliation. Why do you think that is, Mr. Cardona?" "Colombia is a small country. If your military invaded, you would cause considerable damage. You would hurt them, but not destroy them. In two or three years all the networks would be back in place, and the drugs would flow like a river. You are a consumer nation. Your country’s addiction to drugs is too strong. You can stop them only temporarily." "What are they waiting for?" Radcliff asked. "They are not waiting. They are planning." "For what?" Garza interrupted. "A holocaust of destruction!"

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"What can they do?" Radcliff scoffed. "I know Gonzales. I can guess what he will do." "Go on." Radcliff was becoming interested. "The Cartels will do nothing. But they will provide resources, and pay any amount needed to any terrorist group who would be willing to attack this country. Any of which would gladly agree." "We've tripled our protection against any terrorist invasion." Cardona laughed. "Forgive me. But, if I know Gonzales, the terrorists are already here." Radcliff denounced the possibility. But Garza knew Cardona was probably right. Garza asked, "Who would they choose?" "The best of course." "Ben Ahmad Soule’," the words rolled off Garza's lips. "Who else," Cardona said, “Unless they send in a suicide team. But they are too stupid to carry out such a complicated plot. They would be caught in no time, and provide you with targets to retaliate.against. No, it has to be Soule’, his men are like ghosts.” Radcliff took Cardona's words serious. If it were true, then, at least, he had a place to start. Radcliff hesitated, and then asked, "Soule's M.O. has been toward military installations. Which one's would he go after?" "In my opinion, none. A military installation would only panic the military. Gonzales wants to create hysteria among your people. The terrorists would bomb the center of one or more of your major cities. Thousands would be slaughtered. And there would be no way you can trace it to the Cartels. The Colombians would then be the least of your worries. Your attention would all be directed at the fanatical terrorist. You would become as the Israelis; your soldiers would walk the streets with rifles strapped to their backs, trying desperately to calm your citizens. But, Soule’ is a wealthy independent

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terrorist without any direct connections to any terrorist nation. Which one would you bomb, General?” Radcliff stared at Cardona and then at Garza. "What can we do?" he asked, his voice pleading for an answer. "Pray," Cardona said. "The hour is upon us." Radcliff was now almost frozen in fear. He dared not reduce the border protections. He would beef up security around all military installations. But it was hopeless to protect any single major city, let alone, all of them. He turned to Garza. "What do you think?" "I think we're in a shit pot full of trouble." Radcliff reflected on how all this got started. And cursed everyone. "I've got to call the president," he said, and quickly left the room. It was well past one in the morning. The president would probably be pissed. He didn't care. When he called, the president was cordial enough. The meeting was set for nine a.m.

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CHAPTER 43

THE ATTACK

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A relentless, black wind whistled around the Washington Monument, and churned the blistering rain into a torrent. Soule’ looked at his digital watch. The time glowed: ten o'clock. About a hundred yards away from the monument, Soule and his men lie prone in the mud, soaked grass. He and his men were dressed in black, hooded slickers. Each of his men were stationed in a circle around the white, towering obelisk, just out of range of the huge beacon lights that flooded the grounds. They were all equipped with communication devices. Soule’ could talk to one, or all of them. His instructions to his men were to time the intervals of the patrolling D.C. police cars. He had estimated, at least, eight federal security guards in, or near, the monument. The incessant, thundering wind and rain was a blessing from Allah. It would drown out their approach when the time was right. The problem was how to traverse the floodlights without being seen. Hakeem had estimated two hours before they could establish the time of the patrolling police cars. About an hour and a half into their wait, Soule’ spotted two lone security guards leaving the monument. They were either on timed designated rounds, or on their way home. Soule’ would take no chances. He spoke quietly into the radio, "Salim, do you see the men approaching?" "I see them," Salim answered. They are about a hundred feet from me." "Take them out as soon as they enter into the shadows." All of his men carried Berettas equipped with silencers. Salim scrambled closer to the path that the guards were angled toward. The shadows and the sounds of torrential rains and wind would cover any noise he might have made. He lie prone on the ground, and leveled the gun on his arm at the two approaching guards. After they entered into the dark shadows about twenty feet away from the bright lights of the monument, Salim fired. The inaudible spits from his Beretta found their targets. The two guards crumpled

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in silence. Salim spoke calmly into the radio, "I need two men to remove the guards." Within seconds, the men appeared. "Hide them behind the bushes. Make sure they are dead, and return to your positions. Radio me when it is done." Within a minute, a whispered voice came over the radio, "It is done." "Good, " was all Salim said. The wait continued. Soule’ stared at the towering, white marble obelisk, which had stood for more than a hundred years, and pierced into the night sky 555 feet. Even though the sight of it was offensive to him, he could not help but marvel at it. The time was nearing midnight. Hakeem's voice came over the radio. "Two patrolling cars pass every thirty minutes. The next two should be arriving any minute." "After the patrol cars leave, we will make our move," Soule’ said. Within three minutes, the patrol cars circled along the back of the monument, flashing searchlights in all directions. The torrential rain would hide any sign of his men. Satisfied, the patrol cars left. Soule’ spoke into the radio. "Hakeem, have your men carry out Allah's will." Hakeem gave instructions over the radio. "Salim, it is time. Go, one at a time, follow the path of the rain. Plant the C-4 at the base of the four sides of the obelisk. Set the timers for five o'clock. Make sure the explosives are shielded in their rubber pouches from the rain. When it is done return to the van." The van was parked several blocks away, hidden in the shadows of an alley. Soule’ and Hakeem covered their backs, as each man ran erratically, trying to follow the twisting rain. Within five minutes, the C-4 had been planted and the timers set. Another five minutes passed, before they all collected at the van. "Drive," Hakeem exclaimed to the driver who was one of the family members where his men had stayed. "Drive slowly to Dulles airport. Let each of us off at our designated airline."

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The hard wind and rain had softened. The traffic was light. Each of their planes was scheduled to take off between one-thirty and two-thirty a.m.; they were the last scheduled flights of the night. Soule’ looked at his watch. They had no baggage to check. There should be enough time. If not, any one left behind would go back to the tenement, and wait until it was safe to leave. It could be weeks, maybe even months.

Allah was with them. They had all boarded safely. They would be in Los Angeles in six hours. By that time the obelisk would have been destroyed, but all airports would be on full alert. Every person coming from D.C. would be scrutinized intensely, especially the red-eye flights. Soule’ was not concerned. He and his men had passed through more stringent security than any American airport could offer. Soule’ looked at his watch again. It was ten minutes after five, DC time. He smiled. The offensive obelisk would now be in a million pieces. "Praise, Allah," he said to himself.

THE WHITE HOUSE

By six a.m. all of the security agencies were cloistered in the war room. The president looked haggard, as did the rest of the men. "Give me the report," he asked, Franklin, from the FBI. The president’s face twisted in disbelief, as was everyone else's. Franklin flipped opened his notebook. "At exactly five a.m., the Washington Monument was completely destroyed. Only a sixty-foot wide crater and a twisted part of the interior stairs are the only things visible. The wind and rain are hampering any definitive evidence. Windows were blown out up to a quarter of a mile away. The blast, however, was felt, at least, a mile away. Two federal security guards were discovered behind some bushes; they were assassinated -- one bullet each to the throat, and the other to the head. A professional kill. Six security guards inside the monument were also killed

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in the explosion. No reports of any civilians seriously hurt.” When Franklin finished, only a foreboding silence pervaded the room like a black shroud. "I think this is just the first, my guess is that there will be more," Franklin added. "This was not just a terrorist act, it was act of vengeance and hate." "Where would you surmise the next attack," the president asked. "The Statue of Liberty would be my choice. This group is out to destroy our symbols of freedom." No one contradicted him, or offered any other plausible possibility. "However, every airport in the country is on full alert and interrogating every person that left D.C. by ten o'clock last night, especially, all red-eye flights. At the moment, we're concentrating on New York. We've dispatched all available agents to assist. As, I said, Mr. President, I don't think this is an isolated event." "If I might," Stern interrupted. "The CIA monitors all large sums of monies going and coming from foreign countries. We sweep these transfers every twenty- four hours. We picked up a transfer of two billion dollars from Colombia to the Bank of Yemen. We've asked them to hold the transfer, until we can investigate. The preliminary findings are that the transfer was destined to an obscure numbered account. However, we had no problem in tracing it to the Bank of Colombia." Nolan looked at Radcliff. Radcliff stared back at him with a stone face. "Would you conclude," Nolan asked, "that this money was tied to the bombing?" "Without question," Stern replied. "In my opinion, the Colombian Cartels hired a terrorist group; probably a Muslim faction with expertise and a deep hatred for America. Hamas or Hezbollah. Or maybe, it was the independent terrorist, Ben Ahmed Soule’. This attack was only a matter of time. I believe the Colombians gave them funds, opportunity and resources." President Nolan's fist slammed the table. "How in the hell did they get into the

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country?" It was more a rhetorical question than an actual one.” But Franklin answered anyway. “We invite thousands of tourist’s to our country every day. Only a passport or visa is required, which almost anyone can forge without detection.” "What do you suggest, Mr. President?" Radcliff asked, masking his anger. "Prove the Colombians are behind this, and we'll go to war," Nolan stated unequivocally. He turned to Stern and Franklin. "See if you can connect this bombing to any terrorist nation? And, we'll have a few surprises for them too." Radcliff was not ready to reveal Cardona's detention, so he purposely had not offered Ahmad Bin Soule’ as the most probable suspect -- At least, not for now. He wanted more information before every security agency started bumping into each other.

CHAPTER 44

LOS ANGELES

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As Soule’ and his men debarked from their various airlines with hundreds of other passengers, each was immediately escorted into private cubicles for interrogation. Los Angeles was not considered a priority, but nonetheless, they would be thorough. The New York airports were infested with FBI agents. Gonzales had supplied them with names of families in the Los Angeles area. He was certain that their stories would hold up. Soule had instructed his men to meet at the entrance to Disneyland at five p.m. that day.

Gonzales was confused by the change of plans, but, nevertheless, was pleased. Believing, the Americans would now be preoccupied with terrorist activities in their own country, he relaxed on Cardona's veranda, watching the soft blue ocean ripple toward the shore below, as he puffed on his over-sized cigar.

All but Salim managed their way through the airport interrogators. Perhaps, the dogs smelled something. Impossible he thought. He had disposed of his credit card, and his California license. The only documents he carried were Mexican in origin. His Spanish was fluent. He knew his story would hold. So, why was he kept? And, further more, stripped- searched, which he found to be most embarrassing. After finding nothing, he was allowed to dress. The authorities had placed him in a cold, sterile air-conditioned room. He wondered if his comrades were treated the same. A short, balding Mexican looking man entered the room alone, and sat across a plain aluminum table from him. Salim searched his eyes, but he saw nothing that would give him an advantage. The balding man returned Salim’s gaze and asked, "Tell me about your tattoo?"

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The tattoo he referred to was between his thumb and forefinger. Salim was intelligent and well read, and readily adaptable to any improvisation. "My tattoo?" he questioned. "The one on your hand. The tear drop." The investigator pointed to his folded hands on the table. "Ah, this one," he said, looking at the tattoo. "It is the tear of Our Lady of Guadeloupe." "Tell me about Our Lady of Guadeloupe?" the investigator asked in Spanish. Salim told him the story of Juan Diego, and his apron filled with roses and the tearful face of the Lady that was imprinted upon it." The investigator was impressed. "Do you carry a rosary?" "I'm sure you went through my bag. You know that I do." The balding investigator smiled. "You may leave. Enjoy yourself in our City of Angels," he said pleasantly, and ushered him to the door. "Your garment bag is waiting at customs." As he left, Salim felt that Allah was with him. At the last minute he felt an urge to include the rosary, after all, he was going to Mexico. And then Salim remembered Hakeem’s words, “Allah always has a plan for us.”

CHAPTER 45

WASHINGTON, DC

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The nation woke in shock and then panic, as every newspaper, television and radio described the massive destruction of the Washington Monument. News reporters and cameras from every major network in the world were showing the complete devastation. The large crater and the remains of the partial skeleton stairway that was twisted into a grotesque form flashed continuously on television screens all over the world. Chunks of blackened rubble were scattered across the Capitol grounds. The once white Capitol Dome, with the help of the rain, was streaked in long, black dripping lines that resembled a huge spider web. Broken windows of large buildings were covered over with black plastic sheets, making the buildings look like giant checkerboards. A television reporter, standing near the crater, put it best: "In the early morning hours an atrocity was committed on this truly American site. It was our monument to freedom; to a man; to a country that gave its lives for liberty. We take this act of terrorism personally. A piece of our soul has been ripped from us. Our outrage will last. We will never forget these pictures which will be burned into our memories for generations to come."

President Nolan sat in his Oval Office, and snapped off the television. He looked out the window at the devastation. The reporter was right; he would never be able to shut out the hideous scene. His fury was mounting into a volcano, as much toward himself, as the bombing itself. Why had he not listened to Radcliff? But what could he have done? There was no provocation to go to war. But he had plenty now. Stern from the CIA burst into the room. "Please excuse, me, Mr. President for barging in." Nolan waved him in. "What have you got?" "We have confirmation of the two billion dollar transfer to an account registered to the terrorist, Ben Ahmad Soule. The numbered account was an old one he hadn't used

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in years." Stern hesitated. "It's strange, though, Mr. President." "What's strange?" "Soule’ would have known that we monitor these transfers. He knew we would find it. It's as if he wanted us to find it." "He wants to rub our noses in it," Nolan said furiously, and threw a file folder across the room. "Maybe so, Mr. President. But he also wanted us to know who ordered this atrocity. He knew he would never see the money. He has given us orders, as sure as any, to attack the Cartels in Colombia." "While he goes free!" Nolan shouted. "We'll get him, Mr. President.” Stern said confidently. Nolan wasn’t so confident. "Have Maggie find my chief of staff. I want a meeting with all the agencies, especially, the Joint Chief's. One hour!" Nolan now knew he had the country behind him. In fact, if didn't do something, they'd probably impeach him. He, also, knew that no country would object to anything he did -- At least, none that mattered.

CAMP DAVID

Gallucci roared between fury and laughter. "Stupid. Stupid," he kept saying over and over. Antonio sat next to the fireplace watching the television as the grotesque images flashed before him. The networks interspliced reporters from all over the country getting reactions from a people in shock. Shouts of anger to placards reading 'Make our country safe' echoed throughout the nation. In contrast, CNN and the BBC showed thousands of Muslims across the world in jubilant celebration. Their placards read: 'Satan has been humbled. Praise be to Allah'.

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Antonio had tried to call the Pope, but all the lines were tied up. He would try again later. He turned to Gallucci who was still in a fit of fury. "Uncle, what will you and Oshiro do now?" Gallucci paused to think. "We'll go with the Americans when they attack the Colombian Cartels. This war has just begun, and Heaven's mission must be completed." "You still believe in the mission?" Antonio asked, more for his own assurance. "Of course, don't you?" Antonio remained silent, trying to make sense of the senseless. He must talk to Pope Francis; that he was sure of. Senator Artemis walked into the room. "Thank, God, only eight men were killed. They could have exploded the monument at noon, and hundreds, or more, would have been killed." "They did not want to kill your citizens, only the symbol that represented their hate for America." Gallucci said as if talking to a subordinate. "I just got a call from General Radcliff. The president and the Joint Chief's are planning an attack on Colombia." "When?" Gallucci asked. "When they least expect it." "I want my men and Oshiro's to be a part of this war." "That's up to the president, but I doubt that he would allow it." "I am truly sorry for this attack on your Capitol," Gallucci said. "But my country has been bombed, invaded, and all but destroyed for over thousands of years. You are a young and strong country; you have been spared the humiliation of invasion and defeat. It will pass, like all other atrocities." Artemis watched as the soft rain sheeted down in to a smooth slate. "Something's are never forgotten," he said sadly. "True enough, Senator. But remember, that which does not kill us, makes us

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stronger. America will be stronger for this. That, I promise." Alex was in no mood for a lecture. "Radcliff will be joining us tonight. You can ask him to convey your wishes to the president. I'm leaving now to meet with my wife and Margo. We're going to see Michael." "Give him our best," Gallucci said. Antonio added, "Our prayers are with him, and your country."

THE WHITE HOUSE

The war room was jammed. President Nolan’s stomach churned with anger, but did his best to appear calm. "What's your plan?" he asked General Randall, head of the Joint Chief's. "General Radcliff is more familiar with the Cartels in Colombia. He has a plan to present." Nolan knew what Radcliff was thinking. Apologies would have to come later. Radcliff addressed the room. "There are six major Cartels in Colombia, plus a number of smaller ones. We start by sending in our F-15s, and wiping out their installations. That will soften them up. Then we send in twenty-five thousand ground troops, and finish the job. I expect the incursion to last five days with a minimum of casualties to our soldiers." "What about the population? Those who are not part of the Cartels?" The president asked. "We hope to keep the bombing to a minimum, and our troops restricted to the target zones. But, as you know, there are always innocent people who are unfortunate casualties of war." "How many casualties, General?" Nolan punctuated his question. "Could be several thousand, I'm afraid,” Radcliff said. “The Cartels, like many of

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our enemies, hide behind innocent people." "Unacceptable!" Nolan roared, disgusted at the thought of so many innocent lives sacrificed. "We lost a monument and eight men. Does this justify the killing of so many, who were not even involved?" "If there is a better plan, I'd like to hear it," Radcliff responded. Nolan didn't have one. "When do you plan the invasion to begin?" "Three days, Mr. President." "All suggestions are on the table," Nolan said and looked around the room. Some heads were lowered, and some just nodded in agreement. "If the Joint Chiefs agree. Then three days it is." “This meeting is over. Let’s get to work.” Nolan then asked Franklin and Stern to remain. The three men sat alone. "You agree with this strategy?" Nolan asked. "Unfortunately, I don't see any alternative," Stern responded. Franklin conceded, "I hate this as much as you do, Mr. President. The thought of innocent people being killed makes my skin crawl." And then added, "There's over two hundred and fifty million Americans that demand that something be done." "What about this, Soule? We’ve got find him. Won’t this bombing just encourage more terrorists to try?" "Working in this area for more than twenty years," Stern answered, "I believe the Muslim terrorists will be satisfied for now. They have a victory. They don't want to incur our wrath anymore than it is. If the Statue of Liberty was also a target, they won’t be able to get close to it.” "So, this Soule, goes home a hero if, in fact, he is the man responsible for this abomination?" "We will hunt him, until we bring him to justice," Stern said without hesitation. "Besides, what country would we attack? And, how many more innocent lives

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sacrificed?" "Conscience is a terrible thing -- A virtue and a curse," Nolan said as his mind reeled in confusion.

CAMP DAVID

Antonio's call to Pope Francis finally went through. Francis' voice was steady and firm. "You are saddened at what has happened, and what is about to occur?" "Yes, Holy Father...Is it Heaven's wish that this happens?" "Heaven is always at war with evil," Francis replied softly. "What about the innocent ones?" "None of us are truly innocent, Antonio. We are all sinners. But God has a plan for each of us...Heaven's mission will be accomplished. Have faith, Antonio. It is all we have left.” "You have no words of comfort, Holy Father?" "Have faith in Heaven's mission. Pray that the end comes swiftly.” And then added, “Pray for me, Antonio." The line went silent. Why would the Pope ask him to pray for His Holiness? Since his first meeting with the Pope, Antonio had felt fearful, and now, more than ever. In spite of everything though, he promised himself, he would hold fast to his faith.

THE PENTAGON INFIRMARY

Brand's sallow complexion had returned to near normal. He was sitting up in bed when Alex, Marian, and Margo entered. He smiled briefly through his pain. Margo went to him and kissed him. "My darling, will you ever come to your senses?" "Only when I'm with you."

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"Then, I shall never leave your side," she said, and kissed him again as her eyes filled with tears. Holding Margo's hand, he asked Alex, "How's my, uncle?" Alex responded, "He's fine. Radcliff found him a nice room in the basement. He is safer than any of us," thinking about any more terrorist bombings. "Such a tragedy," Brand said. "I expect we will be attacking the Cartels soon." Alex nodded. "But, of course, you know it was not the Cartels who did the bombing." "But, they hired the terrorists. If I was not bound to this bed, Garza and I could find them. They're still in this country. There could be more bombings." Margo slapped him on his good hand. "You think you're Superman. Well, your not; you're my husband. And we're going to live a normal life." Even Alex knew that it was impossible for them to have a normal life. Brand would always have to be in the center of some kind of intrigue. It was who he was. But, for now, he would be safely out of the action. Marian pressed as close as she could to Alex, and held him tight with a firm arm around his waist.

ARTEMIS' OFFICE

The phone rang and Walter picked it up. "Senator Artemis' office, may I help you?" "This is Andrew Farmer. May I, please, speak to the Senator, if he's available?" The voice was old and halting, but Walter recognized the name immediately. Andrew Farmer was the richest man in the country. "He's in a meeting at the moment., Mr. Farmer. But, I assure you, he will get your message as soon as possible." "I can be reached at home," Farmer said politely, and hung up. Though, Andrew Farmer was the wealthiest man in the country and wielded

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immense power, he had always remained neutral when it came to politics. Walter was excited by the call, but he would not disturb Alex at the infirmary. Why would Farmer call? It must have something to do with the tragic bombing, he concluded. Alex and Marian returned to the office about an hour later. Walter, anxiously, handed him the message from Farmer. "It's probably about the bombing." "I'll call him later," Alex said, still thinking about Brand. Would he do something, stupid? Alex shook the thought from his mind. "Darling," Marian said, "I think you should call Andrew Farmer. It may be important." Alex resisted the idea, but then gave in. Walter had the number ready. Alex dialed. The phone rang, and was finally answered. "The Farmer residence." "Mr. Farmer, please. This Alexander Artemis returning his call." After a long few moments, a raspy voice came on the line. ”Senator, would it be possible for you to come over?" "It's a bit hectic right now." Alex said apologetically. "I understand. But this cannot wait. It is important to your mission."

If Farmer hadn't said the word 'mission', Alex would never have agreed. He pulled his car up to the wrought iron gate, and spoke into the speaker, “Senator Artemis to see Andrew Farmer." Alex could see the Georgian-style mansion through a small forest of pines. The mansion was located on the outskirts of Georgetown. With the heavy traffic, he had made the ride in an hour. Which, ordinarily, was only twenty-minutes. The large gates separated, and Alex drove up the long drive over leaves and branches, which had fallen from the heavy rains. The rain had stopped, but the sky remained an ominous, dark gray. The butler was waiting for him as he climbed the steps up to the huge double

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doors of the entrance. The butler took his coat. "This way, Senator. Mr. Farmer is waiting.” They climbed a circular staircase to the second floor and entered a room. It looked like a hospital room. Andrew Farmer was lying in bed with plastic tubes inserted in both arms. "Thank you for coming on such short notice. I would shake your hand...but, as you see..." Before finishing the sentence, Farmer started coughing. He pointed to a chair next to the bed. A nurse immediately wiped up the saliva that had dribbled from his mouth. "I didn't know you were so sick," Alex said stating the obvious. "It happens to all of us." He tried to smile, but couldn't. "I only have a few minutes before the sedatives begin taking effect. I've asked my attorney to join us." Alex looked around. A well, dressed elderly man sat in a chair tucked away in a corner of the room. A yellow, legal tablet rested on his lap. The attorney made no gesture toward him. He was there for business, not socializing, Alex concluded. "This tragic event is one of the most profane in my lifetime. But that is not why I have asked you to come.” Farmer paused and inhaled from a plastic mask. As you know, I have always stayed away from any political issue, but I am a student of politics and history, and a keen observer of the men who run our country. I can size up the character of a man if he speaks only a few sentences; or even by the way he walks..." Farmer coughed again, but this time only mildly. "I watched as you tried to explain your position, and your feelings about the drug problem. It was obvious that you were not running for the Presidency..." Alex couldn't hold his tongue any longer. "Excuse me for interrupting, but you mentioned the word mission. What did you mean by that?" "I was touched by the story of your daughter. I have lost two grandchildren to the poison of drugs. It seems, by some miracle, that we may see the end of drug trafficking, as we know it. But, the victims and the families will need all of our help."

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Alex nodded. "My fortune is immense. I plan to give it all to the people of this country...with many conditions attached, of course." "Of course." "What will you do after politics? "Help in any way I can, I suppose. As you said, there will many who'll need our help coping with the addiction of drugs, especially our children." "I have a proposition for you, Senator. I will dedicate five billion dollars for the treatment and rehabilitation of any drug victim. Anonymously of course." Farmer said trying to lift his finger. It barely moved. "Providing, that is, you agree to take complete, and I mean complete charge of this mission. It would be your life's campaign. Can you agree to that condition?" "I have already made it my mission." "Good. The money will be at your disposal. Do with it as you see fit. I trust in your character." Alex started to protest. "My mind is made up. My only regret is that I will not live to see it." Alex said somberly, "I wish I had had the pleasure of knowing you." "You know me well enough, Senator." Alex put his hand on the old man's shoulder, and forced a smiled. "It is your mission now." "One last thing before you leave. I am making arrangements for the money to rebuild the Washington Monument, anonymously, of course. My condition, however, is that it must be a true patriotic monument of our historic freedom. You will have final approval over any design, before it is built." Artemis started to protest again, but Andrew Farmer's voice began trailing off as his eyes fluttered closed. "I trust in you, Senator."

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CHAPTER 46

LOS ANGELES

Soule’ watched as the late afternoon sun began descending into the gray smog. Despite the tragic event in the early morning hours, Disneyland was still crowded with visitors waiting to get in. Long lines of parents and children waited patiently, in anticipation, to enjoy a world of fantasy. Perhaps, it was the American's way of not wanting to deal with the tragic enormity of what had happened. Soule’ looked around, and felt sad. Maybe, they just didn't care. The television coverage painted a different picture. It showed the anger and fear of its citizens. It was the American news machines that portrayed the propaganda of a nation in mourning. Soule’ had to admit to himself that he would never understand Americans. But he understood, completely, the U.S. military. Their response would be measured, but effective. Gonzales, unwittingly, had sent the money along a trail that even a donkey could follow. The U.S. would attack the Colombian Cartels as soon as the Cartels felt safe. He estimated three days. He had purposely led the Americans to his numbered bank account. But, they could never really be sure if it was he, or some other terrorist group. The Muslim nations would be safe from attack, and his reputation would be enhanced in the eyes of all terrorists.

Soule's men arrived one at a time. They were each masters of disguises. Their clothes,

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baseball caps, and hanging cameras melded them into obscure tourists on vacation. He quickly moved them into a restaurant next to the entrance of this American fantasyland. He chose a noisy table in the center of the restaurant, so they could easily talk without being overheard. Several television sets around the room flashed a continuing flow of images of the total devastating remains of the once white, gleaming Washington Monument. As he surveyed the room, only a handful of people watched. Soule shook his head in complete disbelief. "We should have taken out the entire Capitol Building, maybe then they would be taking it more serious," Soule’ said quietly to himself, and then shifted his mind. “Any problems at the airport?” he asked. Nothing serious he assumed, his men were all there. But any piece of information could be crucial. Salim reported the tense moments of his interrogation concerning his tattoo. The rest of the men said that everything went routine. Soule was satisfied. If his men were followed, all six of them would have been arrested by now. “I’m starving,” Hakeem said, as his bushy eyebrows brushed against the brim of his baseball cap. Soule’ motioned to a pleasant looking waitress to come over. “If you’re hungry,” She said pointing to a long table filled with a lush assortment of foods. “I suggest the buffet. It’s ‘all you can eat’ night.” Soule’s men had never heard of such a thing. “That’ll be fine,” Soule’ said, and smiled at her. His men ate every conceivable combination of salads until they’re bellies Were bloated. Hakeem burped, ”That was good.” “How long do we stay?” Salim asked, Soule’. “Two more days. It should be safe then. We return to Mexico for unfinished business.” Hakeem knew what he meant. “And if he’s not there?”

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“We fly to Spain, and then home as heroes…but, now you must find accommodations. Find a small motel. Do not stay in your rooms for long periods, it may cause suspicion. Go out to the local restaurants. Walk around the shopping malls. Take pictures of the sights. You are tourists on vacation,” he said. “In three days, at five p.m., we meet in the lobby of the Melia Hotel in Mazatlan.” For the next two days, Soule’ did as he instructed his men to do. He watched the news on television, and listened to the commentators lament the fact that there were no leads as to the whereabouts of the terrorists. They suspected a Muslim group, but had no hard evidence. Even, if they did, they wouldn’t say, Soule’ thought to himself. He walked through the malls buying trinkets like any tourist He wandered into a movie theater, and left disgusted. “The Americans have no morals. So much violence,” he said to himself.

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CHAPTER 47

THE PENTAGON

“We’ve got a thousand eyes and ears in New York,” Franklin, Director of the FBI said as he paced in Radcliff’s office. “Not a lead anywhere…Shit, we’ve even hassled every Muslim community across the country. We’re at a dead end.” “We’ve got to take Gonzales alive, that’s are only chance of knowing for sure,” Radcliff said, feeling Franklin’s frustration. “Fat chance. We’re going to bomb the hell out of every Colombian Cartel stronghold. If he survives, it’ll be a miracle.” “I think I know where he’ll be hiding,” Radcliff said. “Where? How do you know?” “I’ve got an inside informant stashed, right here in the basement.” Radcliff made it sound like it was one of his operatives. “What’s his name?” “Cardona. He flipped when Brand got shot and came in. He had warned us of an attack, but didn’t know where. I begged the president to…Aah, what’s the use, it’s water under the bridge now. The president’s hands were tied anyway.” “So, where’s this Gonzales hiding out?” “Cardona says he has a small villa in the center of Bogota. If we get our men in quick enough, we can seal the city. We have his description. If he’s anywhere in Bogota we’ll find him.” “And, if it was Soule’, who do we attack?”

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Radcliff had no answer. “I’ve got a meeting with the Joint Chief’s,” he said, shoveling some papers into a briefcase.

The war room was subdued. No one wanted to talk, or for that matter, even think about what was going to happen in twelve hours. Radcliff handed them his proposed assault on the drug Cartels. As they read it in silence, his mind drifted off. None of this made any sense: a mission from Heaven; the Angel of Death; the Mafia and Yakuza forming an alliance to stop a lucrative part of their criminal empire; the Cartels hiring a terrorist group to bomb the Washington Monument. No, it made no sense at all. But the reality that thousands of people would be slaughtered twelve hours from now had a profound effect on him. Would anything ever be the same again, or was this the beginning of a new and terrible kind of world? After his plan was read, it was altered to accommodate certain egos. At the moment, he cared less. The attack was inevitable…He wondered how Brand was feeling. He hoped he really could lead a, so-called, normal life. He doubted it.

The president had conceded that one hundred men from the Mafia and the Yakuza could be part of the ground troop invasion. They would comprise a special unit, and would be classified until the end of time. That was only after Artemis had threatened him with an oblique kind of blackmail. Nolan considered calling Pope Francis, but then thought better of it. There was no place to turn – he felt alone. As Truman had said, ‘The buck stops here’. He wished again he were fishing in some mountain stream. He was glad his term in office was almost over. He pitied the next president. He looked at his watch; twelve hours until the slaughter begins. He felt nauseated. He wanted to throw up, but couldn’t. The Colombia Cartels would be virtually defenseless. Dozens of low flying attack

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aircraft would strafe every Cartel stronghold in Colombia. The attack would be brutal, and most times indiscriminate. The ground troops would be in position. When the bombing was finished, thousands of American troops would flood into the drug mecca of the world. Network television cameras would fly overhead and chronicle the devastation of a country. Teams of journalists, with cameramen, would run behind American soldiers and televise the horror of what we would call a war. But, it would not really be a war at all. The enemy was helpless. The bombing of the Washington Monument, even with the eight dead security guards, would pale in comparison to the vengeance of the American onslaught. Someone had to pay, guilty or innocent, it didn’t matter. There was no warning to the Colombian government of the impending attack. The Joint Chiefs felt they could not be trusted. There would be apologies of course, and reparations for the devastation we caused. The impulsive, violent nature of our country was about to be unleashed. From Mexico to Chile, fear would rage that they might be next. Drugs were the endemic plague that had proliferated a continent.

CAMP DAVID

Alexander Artemis, with Father Antonio Salvi, called Pope Francis as soon as they heard of the impending attack from Radcliff. “We have twelve hours before the invasion,” Artemis screamed into the phone. “You must do something. There must be a better way. Heaven cannot condone the slaughter of thousands of innocent people.” Antonio listened on an extension. “Holy Father,” he broke in, “Can you not plea to Heaven to stop this?” Pope Francis had seen, in his visions, the terrible devastation that was about to take place. “Heaven has given us this terrible mission.” His voice was filled with sadness.

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“The Angel of Death made it possible to form the alliances that would help us to save our children from the scourge of drugs. But, even, Heaven cannot stop the evil of people whose hearts are determined.” “But,” Alex said frantically, “This started out as a mission of good versus evil, now it’s become a tangled web of inhumanity. Who are the good guys? Who are the bad guys? – Does Heaven even know?” “Heaven always knows. It is for each individual to determine for themselves,” Francis said softly. “Is there nothing that can be done, Holy Father?” Antonio asked in utter despair. “Pray, Antonio. You too, Alex. Have faith. Heaven does not make mistakes…I must go now.” Francis hung up the phone, abruptly The Pope’s words were of little consolation. Alex said, ”What can we do, Antonio?” “I don’t know, Senator. It is out of our hands now.”

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CHAPTER 48

MAZATLAN, MEXICO

Soule’ and his men rendezvoused in the lobby of the Melia Hotel. It was just after five p.m. The hotel guests swarmed in various states of undress, going or coming from the pool. Others were dressed for an early dinner. Soule’ and his men strolled through the throngs of tourists, making their way to the crowded pool area, and luckily found an empty table. The mariachi band began to play, as the late blue, surf rippled toward the shore. “We wait until dark,” Soule’ said. “Salim rent a 4x4 that will accommodate us.” And then to Maher, “Find our friends. We will need Uzis, and black clothes.” The two men left, immediately. “We will be spotted if we drive up the steep road,” one of Hakeem’s men said. “The compound is lighted sufficiently for us to scale the slope,” Hakeem said. “If Gonzales is still there, he will be celebrating his apparent victory. I estimate about twenty soldiers will be guarding the compound. The first few we take out by hand. After that, we will survey the situation.” “He feels safe,” Soule’ said. “The Americans have not yet attacked the many strongholds of the Cartels in Colombia.” “Then why would he stay?” the man asked. “Because he is cautious. I’m counting on that,” Soule’ grinned.

The sun crept into the ocean, and the last of the burnt, orange sky faded into a dismal gray. Salim was ready with a 4x4 Jeep Cherokee. The guns and clothes were loaded in

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the rear. Salim rounded the Jeep Cherokee along the curved road that led to the mansion. The night was now black, and filled with stars. Soule’ pondered whether the Americans would attack the Cartels at all. Were they that stupid as to miss the trail of money he had left? Ultimately, he decided, it made no difference. Gonzales had to be taken out. He was the only man who could confirm what the Americans only suspected. Besides, he was a worm of a man, and his life would end tonight. Soule’ smiled at the thought, as the 4x4 rushed to its destination. “Stop here,” Soule’ ordered. They were about a quarter of a mile away from the hillside estate. One more curve and the lights from the Jeep might be seen. Salim slid the Jeep off the road into a clump of bushes. The men scrambled to the rear, and donned black pants and black hooded sweatshirts. They each selected an Uzi, and a curved bladed knife, and made their way by the light of a crescent moon toward the compound. Hakeem thought the moon to be a sign from Allah. As they reached the bottom of the steep slope, they could see the glow of floodlights about three hundred feet up the hill. The six men, separated by twenty feet, scaled up the hill. Gripping the deep, rooted shrubs made the climb easy. As they neared the top, Hakeem could see four soldiers back-lit by the lights from the pool area. Two were standing near the bluff in conversation. Another was lighting a cigarette. The fourth seemed to wobble as he patrolled along the edge of the cliff. Too much wine, Hakeem thought to himself. He motioned to four of his men. With their curved-bladed knifes clenched between their teeth, they reached the top of the hill. They could hear the sounds of voices and loud music coming from the house. Crouching low, they approached the soldiers from behind. With quick, silent moves they yanked the soldiers’ heads back and sliced through their exposed throats severing the vocal chords. The soldiers slipped silently to the ground. Hakeem’s men then donned the soldiers’ hats and jackets, replacing them as Gonzales’ guards. Salim’s eyes searched the grounds for any other soldiers; he found none. After

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studying the house, and the various possible entry points, he signaled to Soule’ and Hakeem. The two men climbed to the top, and hid in the shadows, just out of range of the floodlights. Salim casually strolled over to where they were hiding. “About twenty men in the Matador room,” Salim whispered. “There appears to be a side door, if it’s not locked. By the sounds, I would say that most of them are drunk.” “Check the side door as if you were one of the guards, and report back,” Hakeem ordered. Salim skirted the perimeter until he reached the door. With his back half-turned away from the room, he twisted the knob on the glass door. It was open. He returned to the shadows where Soule’ and Hakeem waited. “It is open.” “Good,” Soule’ said. “I want you to come with us, but before you do, tell your men to wait until they see us reach the side door, and then have them enter through the main entrance of the house. If we hear gunfire before they reach the Matador room, we will attack. Make sure your men are not in the crossfire. Triangulate your attack.” After Salim instructed the men, he returned and the three of them made their way along the shadows to the glass door. Salim stood with his back toward the room, as if standing guard. Hakeem and Soule’ watched from the bushes just steps from the doors. The other three men walked casually into the house with their heads lowered, but watchful. They reached the Matador room without incident. One of he drunken soldiers, lying on a couch, motioned for them to come in, “Have a drink, the party’s just beginning.” The three men swung their Uzis around and separated as they began firing, angling their attack from three different positions. At the same time, the glass door on the opposite side of the room burst open with an equal barrage of gunfire, slicing bodies in half amid torrid screams of pain. Within twenty seconds it was done. Only a few bullets from the soldiers’ weapons penetrated the ceiling as they fell lifeless. Soule’ hurried around the room looking for Gonzales. “He’s not here,” he

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screamed. “Let’s check the bedrooms,” Hakeem said. “Salim, make sure all of the soldiers are dead. Slice the throat of anyone still alive.” Soule’ led as he and Hakeem walked cautiously down the long hallway. If Gonzales were there, he would be hiding in one of the bedrooms. Soule’, also, assumed that he would not be alone, and definitely armed. They opened each door along the way, making sure to stay out the way of a direct line of gunfire. At the end of the hallway was a set of double doors; it had to be the master bedroom. If Gonzales were in the house, he would be there. They stood ten feet from the doors. Hakeem grabbed Soule’s arm and pulled him to the floor. He aimed his weapon at the double doors. Soule’ followed his lead. “Fire,” Hakeem whispered. The explosions from the Uzis splintered the doors until they burst open. The two men remained motionless on the floor. Waiting. Neither could see nor hear any movement in the bedroom. No fire had been returned. “I can feel they are in there,” Hakeem said. The many shadowy assaults had heightened his senses to an extraordinary level. It was something that Soule’ was not able to understand, but trusted it with his life. Hakeem crept on his belly like a snake toward the entrance to the bedroom; Soule’ followed. From his vantage, Hakeem could see the headboard of the bed. He aimed at the headboard, and fired. Instantly, gunfire was returned, a volley of bullets exploded back toward them, but spiraled harmlessly over their heads, and ripping into the hallway. Hakeem let out a terrible scream, as if hit. He saw a shadow of a figure cross the room. “This was not going to be easy,” he said to himself, and wished he had a hand grenade. Hakeem and Soule’ remained motionless. Soon the enemy would have to reveal himself. Five minutes passed. Nothing! Finally, a burst of bullets zipped over their heads and tore into the walls. For a split second, Hakeem saw a weapon and a bare arm, and instantly fired his Uzi horizontally across the door. Immediately they heard a high-

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pitched scream and a crashing sound. It could be the same tactical trick he had used moments before. But as he stared at the half-opened door, he saw a slim rivulet of blood slowly sliding down the edge of the splintered door. The enemy was hurt, but the bare arm told him it was not Gonzales. He knew the next move was his, as it had been for his enemy. Hakeem inched toward the splintered doors with Soule’ right behind. It took two minutes for him to reach the bedroom. With his chin resting on the floor, he peered into the bedroom, and then saw something that froze him – the remains of an arm severed from the elbow lay on the carpet. Hakeem haunched his body up a little further into the bedroom, and saw the body of a naked woman cradled in the midst of a broken vanity. Blood from the stump of her arm pumped onto the carpet; but she was still breathing. He surveyed the room. It was empty. A set of mirrored, sliding doors was cracked opened. He sensed that Gonzales, the coward, was hiding in the closet. Silently he entered the room and picked up a straight-backed wooden chair and hurled it at the mirrored closet, and instantly dropped behind the safety of the bed. Immediately, shots sprayed out from between the crack in the doors, flying wildly into the walls “Come out,” Hakeem demanded, “or your life will end now.” After a moment, the closet doors slide open and a naked Gonzales crawled out with one hand in the air, showing he had no gun. “Get up donkey,” Hakeem said as Soule’ joined him. Gonzales got up, and looked in horror at the naked woman. He watched as the last drops of blood drained Consuelo’s life. “She was my soldier, my woman,” he squeaked as tears filled his eyes. “You came into this world naked, and you shall leave it the same way, “Hakeem said, as if he were pronouncing something from the Koran. “Do you want the pleasure, my brother, of sending this man to his hell?” Soule’ raised his gun, and emptied it into Gonzales. His fat, stubby body crashed

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backwards into the closet doors, sending shards of mirror mixed with flesh and blood in all directions. “It is done,” Soule’ said with satisfaction. “Now, no one will ever know.” They walked back to the Matador room. Salim had sliced eight throats. “We fly to Spain, and then home,” Soule’ proclaimed.

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CHAPTER 49

THE TRIP TO BOGOTA

Pope Francis’ Papal plane was already taxing for takeoff when he phoned President Enriquez of Colombia. Without any pleasantries or dramatics, the Pope said, “The Americans are planning a military invasion of your country. It will take place in eleven hours. They intend to assault the strongholds of all the drug Cartels.” Enriquez was horrified. “This cannot be. Thousands of innocent people will be killed in the process.” “I know,” The Pontiff said. “I will be in your country within six hours.” “Bless you, Holy Father. What arrangements can I make?” “Broadcast to the world that I am on my way. I will personally call the President of the United States and let him know.” “I will arrange a procession though the city of Bogota. There will be tens of thousands to greet you.” “Let everyone know that I bring a message from Heaven,” Pope Francis said, feeling the weight of his mission. “I will, Holy Father.” Enriquez hung up the phone, and frantically assembled his Generals and top aides. “I have just received word from Pope Francis that the Americans are planning an attack on the drug Cartels. The Pope is on his way to ward off what will surely be a catastrophe for our people and the country.” President Enriquez instructed them to broadcast the Pope’s arrival on every radio and television station, and to make preparations for a procession from the airport to the

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soccer stadium. “The Pope will speak at seven tonight. Have the military guard the Pope closely.”

One of the Generals went directly to his office and made a phone call.

WASHINGTON, D.C.

President Nolan picked up the phone. It was Pope Francis. “I was just about to call you,” Nolan lied. “No you weren’t, John,” Francis retorted. “I…I…” Francis cut him off. “I’m on the Papal plane; I’ll be in Colombia in a few hours, you’ll have to abort your attack for the time being. I have a message for the Colombian people that must be delivered in person.” “How did you know about the attack?” “It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I deliver the message.” “If it’s that important, of course,” Nolan replied. He knew he didn’t have a choice. A couple of days wouldn’t matter. “Did you tell Enriquez about the attack?” he asked anxiously. “No.” It was the Pope’s turn to lie, and he immediately prayed for God’s forgiveness. “Will you have a chance to stop for a visit?” Nolan asked, not knowing what else to say. “First things first, John—My prayers are with you and your people. I can imagine their deep sorrow and anger over the devastating bombing.” “It is imperative that I do something, Holy Father,” Nolan said, feeling the incessant ache in the pit of his stomach.

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“I understand,” the Pope said sympathetically, and hung up.

President Nolan made all the necessary phone calls. No one was happy about the decision, but they knew there was nothing that could be done. He then dialed the cottage at Camp David. Alex answered. “You had to call the Pope, didn’t you?” Nolan accused him angrily. “Some one had to stop this insanity,” Alex fired back. “There’s got to be a better way.” “I’m open to suggestions,” Nolan said sarcastically. “I don’t have any. But I know that killing thousands of innocent people is not the answer.” “Aah…I hate this whole damn thing.” “We’ll figure a way out then...Maybe, the Pope has a plan,” Alex said, trying to inject a little hope. “Our Pope is flying to Colombia even as we speak.” “What!” Alex said flabbergasted. “He didn’t tell you?” “Not a word. If he’s going to Colombia, he must have a plan.” “He better have a miracle.”

Alex told Gallucci and Antonio that the Pope was on his way to Colombia, and that the president was putting off the attack for now. Antonio was pleased. Gallucci hated it. “Maybe, the Holy Father, will find a way,” Antonio said, feeling slightly relieved. “I doubt it,” Gallucci groaned. “As you said, Antonio, Heaven started this mission, but it’s up to us to finish it.”

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CHAPTER 50

COLOMBIA

Bishop Diaz met the Pontiff at the airport, and drove with him in the motorcade to the soccer stadium. The streets were lined with tens of thousands of men, women, and children waving bouquets of flowers as they passed. Pope Francis thought it looked like a river of rainbows. Bishop Diaz was excited at the Pope’s arrival, but at the same time felt flustered at not being able to make all the proper arrangements he would have liked. “This was such short notice, Your Eminence,” He said, sounding apologetic. “Do not fret. You have done well. We are very pleased,” Pope Francis said as he waved to the people from the car window. “President Enriquez will meet us at the soccer stadium. He has personally taken charge of everything. When I talked to him, he spoke so fast that I barley understood him. I am pleased about his response of your coming, but very confused. The president is not one of your greatest admirers.” “Tonight, we have a common goal…But, let us enjoy the smiling faces of the people who honor the Vicar of Christ,” Francis said, patting Bishop Diaz’s hand. The sun was settling into the horizon, and the approaching night began casting long shadows, as the motorcade wound its way through the densely populated city. Military soldiers were posted all along the route. When they arrived at the stadium, the Pope’s vehicle entered directly into the stadium field, and followed a roped off pathway through throngs of waving people. The vehicle stopped at the end of the field beneath a make shift platform that stood about twenty feet high above the grassy field. The platform was decorated with flowers, candles, a regal red velvet chair, and a bank of

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microphones. The reporters and cameramen pushed in together against the ropes that cordoned off the platform as the Pope ascended the steps. A long line of priests greeted him at the top of the stairs. He paused, dutifully, as each knelt and ritually kissed an imitation ring. Francis told himself that, after all, it was the thought that counted. At the end of the line, President Enriquez greeted the Pope and also knelt and kissed the ring. “There is no need for that,” Francis said, in fluent Spanish, and urged the president to his feet. “On the contrary, if not for my benefit, for the people,” he whispered. “And, I might add, I am thoroughly confused as to why you informed me of the American’s plan, and especially, your, almost instantaneous, visit.” And then added, “I didn’t know the Church was so compassionate toward the drug Cartels.” “The Church is not. But, We are most concerned about the innocent loss of life. We are exceedingly grateful for the arrangements that you have provided,” Francis said, and smiled. President Enriquez intertwined his arms around the Pope’s and walked him to the red, velvet chair, and then sat down behind him next to the long line of priests’ and Bishop Diaz. To the left of Pope Francis, sat three Generals and a lesser ranking line of full-dressed military officers, who barely acknowledged his presence. Pope Francis, the First, sat and looked out over the assembled crowd, and prayed to his Father in Heaven, “May Heaven’s mission be fulfilled.” A musical chorus of the ‘Ave Maria’ wafted throughout the stadium, as the night sky began turning to black. Thousands of candles began to flicker on, like a Christmas tree, throughout the stadium. Suddenly, harsh lights began to flood the stadium. The Pope immediately turned to Diaz and asked him to shut them off. Only, a single beam of light remained, which narrowly lit the bank of microphones. Thousands of people overflowed the grassy field and the stadium, and waited

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patiently for Pope Francis to speak. Candles continued to sprout in the darkness like fireflies, casting an eerie glow on the multitude of faces, as if they were they were the eyes’ of Heaven watching him. As the ‘Ave Maria’ faded into a barely audible refrain, he heard and felt the solicitous sounds of prayers coming from the stadium intoning upon him in waves of ecstasy, which washed over him like a soft, ocean surf. Pope Francis’ body and soul was saturated in a calmness he had never felt. It was time, he told himself, and walked the few paces to the bank of microphones. He peered deep into the candlelit assembly, and spoke, as if addressing a star-studded sky. “I have come to deliver a message from Heaven -- Do you believe in Heaven?” he asked, his voice echoed throughout the stadium. In a loud voice, the crowd resounded, “Si, Papa.” “Do you believe that my words are the words of our Father in Heaven?” “Si, Papa,” the crowd responded in unison. “Do you believe that drugs are the work of the Devil?” Without hesitation, their voices rose in answer, ”Si, Papa,” as if they were responding to Heaven, itself. “Then, for the sake of the children, these devils must be stopped.” Instantly, five snipers situated on the top rungs of the stadium fired. The bullets clapped like thunder, as they exploded into Pope Francis’ chest, twisting and smashing him backwards into President Enriquez. Enriquez shrieked in terror as the Pope’s body and blood covered him like a red shroud. Several priests scrambled to the Pope, covering him with their bodies. Enriquez screamed, “Get him off me!” The priests and Bishop Diaz rolled the Pope off of Enriquez. They saw a smile on Pope Francis’ lips as they stared in horror at the Pope soaked in blood, and then heard him say, ”My mission is finished.” Pope Francis, the First, closed his eyes, and his body

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and soul drifted into the darkness of his own night. The stadium had erupted into a screaming panic causing people to fall to the ground and into the bleachers. Bishop Diaz grabbed a microphone and pleaded for calm, but it was useless. The crowd had turned into a hysterical mob, pushing and shoving its way to any exit. The wailing and shrieks of terror pierced into a coal-black sky. Suddenly, a deafening roar boomed above the stadium as if a volcano had exploded, sending an iridescent, plume of purple dust high into the night sky. The mist stretched across the sky like a glowing, crimson blanket, and then exploded again into millions of pieces of glowing, purple lights that stretched as far as the eye could see. As the people watched in fear and amazement, a strong wind began twisting through the stadium, and swirled the lights into thousands of streaking, purple ribbons that circled in and around the crowd. The people fell terrified to their knees and began to pray. And then, just as suddenly, the streaming ribbons rose high above the stadium, forming and reforming into a kaleidoscope of purple patterns. A soft, angelic chorus of rhythmic chanting joined with the quiet sounds of prayers filling the people with a profound feeling of peace. The angelic chanting drifted up into the night sky, and joined with the glowing, purple ribbons of light, and danced together in a pulsating rhythm of beauty. As the crowd watched in reverence, the purple lights coalesced into a glorious, angelic face that illuminated the sky. The majestic, mystical face in the heavens smiled, as waves of rapture washed over them. After a timeless moment, it slowly began to disappear, revealing a star-studded night sky. The assassination of the Pope, and the vision in the sky, which had been recorded and witnessed around the planet, terrorized, inspired, and inflamed a world to complete Heaven’s mission. It had fueled a revolution. Hundreds of million’s of people revolted against the

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evil of drugs and the devils who supplied them. Within twenty-four hours, every cocoa, marijuana, and poppy field was in flames. Every drug dealer, Cartel, or installation that refined or produced any form of illicit drugs was either arrested or destroyed. CHAPTER 51

WASHINGTON, D.C., CAMP DAVID

Gallucci and Antonio strolled along the paths’ of the compound. The autumn leaves padded their way on a carpet of gold and red. The entire grounds looked as if it were painted by an artist’s brush. Their jackets sheltered them from a soft, cool breeze. “Well, Uncle, it is over,” Antonio said, feeling the intimate loss of Pope Francis. “The Pope sacrificed his life for Heaven’s mission.” “As we would have done,” Gallucci replied. “For now, anyway,” Gallucci replied. “Do you believe the evil of drugs is gone, or do you think it is temporary, Uncle?” Gallucci shrugged. “Who can tell, Antonio. There are many evils in this world.” Antonio agreed silently. “So, what will you do now, Uncle?” Antonio asked and put his arm around Gallucci as they walked. “As of now, I am retired. The Mafia will find another Capo…And, what about you?” “A nice, quiet parish near my family sounds good to me.” “And what about the next Pope?” “Only Heaven knows,” Antonio said and smiled.

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President Nolan, Artemis, and Brand sat with their wives’ around the stone fireplace as it warmed the room. “I never believed such a thing was possible,” Marian said. “In the end it was the Pope’s assassination that completed the mission.” “I never thought I’d become a religious man,” Artemis said, and exchanged a warm smile with his wife. “Miracles do happen,” Margo said, putting her arm around her husband. “I can attest to that.” Nolan shifted in his chair. “I was a believer, but never truly believed.” “Reports from the scientist’s said it was the result of a massive solar flare, causing the Aurora Borealis to be seen around the world,” the president’s wife said. Nolan just patted her hand. Alex laughed to himself. Marian elbowed him, knowing instinctively what he was thinking. “Do you believe this is it over?” Alex asked Nolan. Nolan pondered the question, but had no real answer. “The Mexican police found Gonzales and his men in Cardona’s estate. All of them dead…Maybe, it was the terrorist, Soule’. But we have no evidence to connect him to anything. The Washington Monument will be rebuilt…And, I understand,” Nolan smirked, ”that you have the final architectural approval…As for the rest of the world, it looks like the people agreed, no more drugs. The fields are still burning, and all the drug labs are destroyed. The police around the country, the National Guard, and the DEA are cleaning up the mess. Thousands are being arrested. I don’t know where we’re going to put them?” “You’re going to put them in our treatment and rehabilitation centers, as soon as they’re built,” Alex said. “And, what about you Brand?” the president asked. “We’re going to try and have a normal life,” he said, smiling at Margo and holding her hand.

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“After what’s happened. I don’t think anything will ever be normal again,” the president said.

ADEN, YEMEN

Soule’ and Hakeem, with their four men, nestled in an upper room over a small grocery store. Their attack had been successful, but their mission was overshadowed by the inexplicable events in Colombia, which had caused a worldwide revolution, including across the whole of the Middle East. “Do you feel your revenge is satisfied?” Hakeem asked Soule’. “My revenge is unquenchable…For the time being it is sated, but my heart is troubled.” “You refer to the display in the heaven’s?” Hakeem asked. Soule’ paused before answering. “Perhaps, the God of Abraham is One, after all. The poisonous drug trade, at least, for now is a thing of the past. The abomination of the U.S. obelisk is gone forever.” His voice turned somber. “These events are confusing. The world is tilted for now, but it shall return.” “That God you speak of is also the God of the Israelis,” Hakeem said, thoughtfully. “Who can know the future and Allah’s will?”

JAPAN

Oshiro and his son, Kyogi, sat amid the Koi ponds beneath the shadow of the hillside trees. Oshiro listened to the song of the canaries that flitted about. “What do you make of all that has happened, Kyogi?” “We are not in control, as we thought, Father. There is a higher power we must all

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answer to.” Oshiro nodded, as he smiled to himself, and returned to the music of the canaries.

CHAPTER 52

THE VATICAN

Cardinals from every nation had flooded into the Vatican to elect a new Pope – a new Vicar of Christ. It seemed as if every person in the world, Christian or not, had watched the televised funeral procession of Pope Francis, the First. His assassination had galvanized a world. The College of Cardinals was sequestered away, and the doors locked, as they pondered and prayed who would be next to wear the ‘Shoes of the Fisherman’. After three days, the white plume of smoke signaled that a new a Pope had been chosen. Throngs of thousands stood like sentinels in the gray, misty morning in St. Peter’s Square, waiting for the new Pope to make his appearance. Cardinal Berini, as he had done for Pope Francis, announced the selection of the new Vicar of Christ. “In accordance with our Doctrine of Faith, and the unbroken line of successors from St. Peter, we have elected the new Bishop of Rome, Pope John Francis, the First.” The new Pontiff stood, waiting behind the red curtain, until Cardinal Berini was finished, and then stepped out onto the balcony. The entire Square hushed into an absolute silence, as they looked in amazement at the new Pope. He was a towering figure of a man with stature and presence. As he began to

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speak, a sliver of sunshine pierced through the gray, clouded morning, and glistened on his bright, strong black face. The boy from the slums of Nigeria had risen to the Apostolic head of the Catholic Church.

Pope John Francis’ day had been one of exuberance and consternation. His mind and body fatigued from praise, controversy, and the deepest sense of humility, entered the private chapel adjoining his room, and knelt before the Tabernacle on the ancient altar. The horror of the assassination of Pope Francis, the seemingly, miraculous apparition that appeared around the world, and the last three days of intense pray had drained his mind, heart, and soul. He yearned for the solitude that would join him with his Father in Heaven. The humility he felt at being elected guardian of the Catholic Church washed over him in waves of unworthiness. He fingered the rosary that had been given to him by his parish priest when he was a child. The familiar, pitted beads quieted his mind and soothed his soul. He closed his eyes and began the rhythmic chanting of the Five Holy Mysteries of the Rosary, and immediately felt the sublime nature of God. Suddenly, an intrusive light interrupted his prayers; he opened his eyes and saw a white and purple mist emanating from the Tabernacle. The mist formed into an angelic face, and moved toward him.

THE END


				
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