THE VATICAN CONSPIRACY
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
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
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’
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
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
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
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
“No, no. Just personal,” he said, shaking his head.
“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.”
“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
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.
“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
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
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
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
After the customary knock, Father Alfredo walked, exuberantly, into the room.
“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?”
“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
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
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
“...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.
“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
“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.
“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
“You will say you are learning to be a politician. We cannot let your studies go in
“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.”
“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.
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
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
"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!"
"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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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."
"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."
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,
"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
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
"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
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
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
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.
“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.”
“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
“You still haven’t told me how you came to this remarkable revelation,” she said
“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
“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
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
“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
Marian responded with her whole body, and held him tightly. “I’ve cried, I’ve
prayed for this, Alex.”
“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
“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.”
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
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,
“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
“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
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
“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
“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.
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
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
“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
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
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
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
“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
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
Alex stepped in. “No, his message was simply that he was ready to support me in
“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
“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
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
“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.
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
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
“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
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
“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?”
“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
“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.”
“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
“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
“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
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
“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,
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.
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
"Michael...Michael Brand?" Alex asked softly.
"Go away." The words were barely audible.
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,"
"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
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 wire-
meshed, 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.
"Who in the hell did you say you were?" Brand asked trying to focus his eyes.
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
had been caught off guard by Brand's seeming wittiness, which he used, expertly, like a
"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
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
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
"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
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."
"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."
"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."
"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
"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
"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?"
"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?"
"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?" 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
Brand stroked his chin, which had a two-day growth of beard, "Might work. But
"Then...Then, I don't know," Alex said and started pacing around the small dimly
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
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
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.
"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
"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."
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
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."
"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
"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
"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
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,
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
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
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
"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.
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
"Papa," Antonio said sympathetically, "there's a question I need to ask him."
"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.
"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
"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
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
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?"
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
"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
"About your Mama?"
"Your father, then?"
"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
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
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
"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
"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.
"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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
"Careful, Antonio. I think my body is about to break, and you're not helping
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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,
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
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.
"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
"There are those who will oppose this mission, Antonio. They will have to be
"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."
Michael Brand sat in a darkened room in his Georgetown flat, sipping from a glass of
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
He was born Michael Branderos in Bogota, Colombia. His mother was a green-
eyed, 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
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
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
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 no-
nonsense 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
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
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
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."
"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
"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
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
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
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?"
"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
"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
"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."
"I will ask her."
"Tell her we kept our promise, but that now, you need our help."
"Help? What kind of help?"
"Haven't you heard, I am El Numero Uno in politics," Brand said exaggerating his
"You are nearly broke, your wife took almost everything so that you can be with
"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
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."
"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
"You will have it in seven days."
"Why so long?" Brand said somewhat sarcastically.
"You want it now? Or do you want it untraceable? We control hundreds of
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.
"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
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
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
"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
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
"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
"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
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.
"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
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
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
"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
"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
"I'm meeting with Pope Francis right after the NATO meeting in Rome. But,"
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?"
"Alright," Alex said as enthusiastically as he could, "let's go to work!"CHAPTER 6
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
"It must have been terrifying for you," the Pope said, still struggling to understand
the mission he had been given.
"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
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?"
"Heaven will have its way, Antonio. Let us pray that Gallucci does Heaven's
"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."
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.
"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
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
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
"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.
"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."
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?"
"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
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
"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
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
"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.
"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
"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
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
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.
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
"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
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
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
"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
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."
"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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
"I don't think so," Alex said. "I was told to talk to you."
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
"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
"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
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
"This is all off the record, right?"
"You obviously know very little about Brand."
"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
"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
"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
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?"
"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?"
"Does Marian or Walter know what you're doing?"
"Good. Keep it that way." Radcliff walked over to Alex. "I hope you know what
"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."
"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
"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.
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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."
"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
"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
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
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
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 re-
election, 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.
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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.
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
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
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
"Come in," Walter said without any facial expression, but his body language
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
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."
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.
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 snow-
white 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
then offered Gallucci a glass of wine, and took the remaining one from the tray for
"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
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.
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
"Are you all right?" Francis asked, concerned.
"I told you, I was not a religious man," Alex gasped, as he fumbled to unbutton
"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,"
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."
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.
"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
war would never end. So, when the Americans came, Joey was elated, free to roam the
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
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.
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."
"We know how close you are to old lady Gustoff. You might not want to leave
"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."
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
"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,
"Mine, yes. My family’s, no."
"Then we are in agreement," Gallucci roared, slapping his hands together and
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"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.
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.
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
"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."
"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
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
"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
anything else. Alicia’s life had to have some meaning -- His life had to have some
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
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
"He's real, alright…and, damn scary. I don't know what we've gotten ourselves
"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
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
"Do you have doubts about this mission?"
"Yeah. A thousand."
"You want out?"
"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
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
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
"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."
"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.
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."
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.
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
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.
Antonio looked at Gallucci. Gallucci pointed to a chair a few feet away. Antonio
"Did you invite the rest of the Capos, as I asked?"
"Ah," Mastronini said, holding out his hands, "These are very busy men. Business
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
"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."
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
"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
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?"
"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
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,
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.
"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?"
"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?"
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
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,"
"All of them?"
"All but two."
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.
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?"
"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
The Capos were stunned, as well as confused, by the words coming from the
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
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
"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
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.
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."
"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
"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
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
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
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
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.
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
“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.
“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.”
“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.
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
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.
“Are you ashamed of your name…your heritage?” Gonzales asked, taking a
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?”
“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
“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.
“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
“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
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
“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
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.
“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.
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
"The Yakuza do not share our beliefs,” Antonio said. “This is going to be a most
"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
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."
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
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
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
"I know. But this is a matter of life or death." Gallucci was emphatic.
"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."
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,
"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,"
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.
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,
"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
"Study it, Uncle."
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."
" Okay. Call him."
Brand dialed his private number. Radcliff answered. "It's Brand, we need to
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
"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.
"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."
"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
"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
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
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
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
“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,
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
"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
"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
Armed Services Committee. I can give him Congressional cover."
"I'll never be able to convince him. You're talking about invading a sovereign
"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
"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
Alex understood completely. "Well, we were just speculating."
"We can keep on trying to slow it down," Radcliff said, trying to inject a positive
It had the complete opposite effect on Brand. "No, we can't, General," suddenly
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
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.
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
"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
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."
"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
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
"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
"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
"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,
"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
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
"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
Brand sipped on his drink.
"Why so quiet?" Michael.
"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?"
"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
"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
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
"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
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
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
"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."
"His colleagues are not about to let him just hang out there, he's one of their own.
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
"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
"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
"Never," Rawlings said thoughtfully, and started pacing. "Are you sure? --
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
"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
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
"I'm serious. What do you think they would do?"
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."
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.
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
A roar of protest began, but Madero's fist slammed hard on the table stopping it
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."
"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.
"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."
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
Alvarez began to feel uneasy. Madero could be ruthless. "I'd like that," he said
"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
Alvarez's mind went numb. And, then, slowly, "And if the shipment does not get
"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
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
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
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.
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."
Marco called the Senator with great trepidation. Alex, merely, said, "Thank you,” and
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,
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
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
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
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?"
"How will we know him?"
"I don't know. But, what is important is how we handle this operation."
"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.
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
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."
By two-thirty a.m. the Seal team was all ready positioned in the water. Moments
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
"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
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
"That's highly unusual," the Agent in charge said, raising an eyebrow.
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
"Is your wife's name Maria?"
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
Mafia and the U.S. Military. Nothing ever changes, he concluded. For the first time in
fifteen years, he sat back and relaxed.
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
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."
"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
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
"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
"Pope Francis respects all religions."
"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
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
"When it is time."
"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
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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
"Kyogi can translate. He is well versed in Italian. Your Pietro has taught him
"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
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
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
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
Antonio checked for a heartbeat. “He will be all right,” he said and touched
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
"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
"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?"
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."
"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."
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,
"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
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
understand the consequences of disobedience to the Oyabun, and the refusal of this
"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."
"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."
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 safe-
house 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
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."
There was a long contemplative pause. Brand gulped his drink, and poured
"You are scared, Mr. Brand," Gallucci observed.
"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
"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.”
“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."
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
"We have every reason to believe that a major inteernational drug war is about to
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
Alex was grateful for the question. He had filled Radcliff in on as much as he
"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
"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."
For the first time, the president and the rest of the department heads leaned
"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."
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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?"
"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
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.
"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."
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."
"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."
"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?"
"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
"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
"I understand. John and I went to prep school together. We have no secrets," the
Pope said. "So, What is your question, John?"
"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
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.
"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,
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
"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
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!"
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.
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
"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
"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."
"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
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
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
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
them in their beds with smiles on their faces…the rest of the Families have pledged their
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."
"And, Kyogi, get the Prime Minister on the phone for me."
"Without delay, Father."
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.
"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
"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,"
"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
"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.
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.
"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,
"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."
"This Mafia thing is bothersome. And now, we hear that Gallucci has been to
"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."
"Then let's give them answers, so we can stop this bullshit," Brand said, starting a
"Calm yourself. Your outbursts will only make them more suspicious."
"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
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?"
"That is what I want you to find out. Like, the Mafia, it seems the Yakuza are also
"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?"
"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
"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."
"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
"I don't see how this fits with the Mafia canceling all drug shipments. What is the
"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."
"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
"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."
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
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
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?"
"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
"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
"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.
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.
"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."
"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
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.
"Only for a minute," Alex said with a jerky smile.
Walter sloshed some coffee into a cup and handed it to Alex.
"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.
"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
"No, Marian. I mean the Angel of Death from Heaven. Heaven sent Pope Francis
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
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.
"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
"I told you we were being watched." Michael nearly exploded. "How soon do you
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."
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.
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
"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."
"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?"
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,
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."
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."
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
"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. "
"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
"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
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
"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
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
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
"I am," Captain Johnson said as he calmly scribbled in his notebook. "And who
"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.
Johnson just shrugged.
"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
"He's still in surgery. I can't get a damn thing out of anyone...All we can do is
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.
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
"The president is working on a plan," Antonio said trying to mitigate his uncle's
"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.
"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
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
"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
"We lost five. But soon you will hear news that will shake your government to the
"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.
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
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.
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.
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
"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."
"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
"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,
"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
"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
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?"
"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
"You want these acts of terrorism to divert the Americans from attacking your
"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."
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
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
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
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
"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."
"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.
"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
"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
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."
"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
"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."
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
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
"I'll never be all right," he moaned.
Marian looked at Margo and touched Alex's arm. "We'll be back, Michael,"
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.
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
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
Alex put his arm around his wife and whispered in her ear, "I love you."
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."
"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
"How many will you need?"
"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.
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.
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
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
"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
"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.
"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
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
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."
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
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
"Thanks, Ratzo," Brand muttered.
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."
"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
"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
"I wish we had a chance to talk to him about this terrorist thing," Alex said
"Yeah," Radcliff intoned as they walked out into the cold, gusting wind.
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. T