By Mark Cunningham
Cardinal William Donal walked down the steps of the Apolostic Palace, the residence of The Pope in Vatican City. The Cardinal’s assistants walked respectfully behind him. Having just left an audience with the Holy Father, they assumed he had received Papal Instructions and was pre-occupied. They were right on both counts but could scarcely have imagined the orders that resulted from that meeting. A member of Donal’s Swiss Guard security team, dressed in priestly robes to blend in, took up a position in the rear, his partner walking well in front them. As a prince of the church, Cardinal Donal always rated extra attention, but the nature of his service was such that security was taken to an even higher level.
William Donal had taken the vows of a priest later in life, when he was thirty. In the intervening twenty five years, he had risen rapidly through the ranks of the church. To all outward appearances a Jesuit Scholar who had written extensively on a number of subjects, though music and history were recurring themes, Donal was in reality a soldier in the complex battle against Evil that the church had fought for millennia. Cardinal Donal was a soldier that sometimes needed to get his hands dirty.
It was afternoon and the sun was bright and warming on the cardinal’s face as he walked down into St. Peter’s Square, his hands idly touching the envelope tucked inside his scarlet vestments. It contained airplane tickets to the United States. There was a folder in his briefcase. He had time for a quick lunch and then would need to head directly to the airport. There was no point in delay.
Donal had a light meal back at his apartment where his secretary complained about the appointments that would have to be rescheduled to accommodate the Cardinal’s sudden departure. Donal listened politely for a time, and then silenced the Priest Secretary with a wave of his hand.
“Tell my sister that it could not be avoided. Please also make sure that her family is treated well.” Donal’s sister was due to arrive from Scotland in the morning, an arrival that had been scheduled for several months.
“Your Eminence. If I may be so bold as to inquire…” The Secretary trailed off diplomatically, his head tilted slightly.
Donal was again lost in thought and ignored the opening. The secretary was a priest from an old Catholic family in Naples with a thinly concealed desire for the Scarlet of a Cardinal’s robe for himself.
He misread Donal’s silence as an invitation to continue. “Is there not some way for you to delay your departure? At least until you have had the opportunity to greet your sister and her family. It’s been years since you have seen them, has it not?”
“Papal Instructions must take precedence Father Gargaro, though I appreciate your concern.” Donal answered absentmindedly.
Gargaro hesitated. He looked down at the Cardinal who was had just finished a bowl of soup. “Perhaps if his Holiness knew of your situation. Perhaps your mission could be delayed.” He paused, blinking and nervously licking his lips. “Perhaps another could be found…”
Donal took a last bite of a crust of bread. Though a Cardinal, he had disciplined himself to habits of austerity. The simplicity of his lifestyle allowed him both a demeanor that often bordered on serenity and the ability to derive immense satisfaction and appreciation for what he considered to be the little extras of life. Whether a particularly pleasant breeze on an afternoon walk or the way the bow had drawn his hand across a cello when last he played a Dvorak concerto in a manner surpassing his expectations, or the last bite of a warm loaf recently baked, the Cardinal let wonders unfold as they would.
After chewing contentedly, he favored Father Gargaro with a steady gaze. “In your concern you forget yourself my son. The Church endures in this time of great troubles only as long as faith and obedience in its authority endure to support it.”
His message was not lost on Father Gargaro who immediately knelt down before the Cardinal in supplication. “Forgive me your Eminence. I meant no disrespect. I just could not imagine what matter in America could be so pressing that it would prevent a reunion so long in the making.”
“Then speak no more of it” Donal held out his ring and Garfaro kissed it, head still bowed, then stood , silently awaiting further orders. The Cardinal gave what few instructions there were, and then dismissed Gargaro. After a silent prayer, he wiped his mouth slowly with a napkin, then rose.
What matter in America indeed? He thought to himself wryly as he put on his coat and walked out the door. His Swiss Guards were waiting at the car. As he settled into the backseat, he finally considered the position he was in.
“How bad is it?” Donal had known it was bad. He had feared the answer to that question as soon as he had received word of the Papal Audience just after receiving word that something had gone wrong in France.
“They have disappeared. The entire group has vanished, Cardinal Donal.” Cardinal Umagwe spoke Italian deliberately out of habit. His accent was still entirely wrong, but his deliberation was a boon to those who hoped to understand him. His English was even worse. “We lost contact with them in Arles. There is no longer a trace.”
Ummagwe was the Pope’s Secretary. He had met Donal in the sitting area of the Popes Chambers before the audience.
“All of them?” Cardinal Donal asked, the enormity of it filled him with quiet sadness. “Is there no hope then?”
“Hope?” Umagwe shook his head slowly. “There is no longer a trace. We must hope they are at peace. We must pray that their souls have found release.” Cardinal Donal shuddered involuntarily before crossing himself and offering a silent prayer.
“What now then?” Cardinal Donal asked when he had finished.
“We must now reconsider our mission Cardinal Donal.” Umagwe was sitting behind an immense oak desk. He poured two small glasses from a cut decanter. “Glendronach. Thirty three years old.” He said passing Donal one of the glasses. Donal knew that Umagwe had decanters filled with every beverage imaginable, but also knew that when the Cardinal drank for himself, it was whiskey.
Donal took the glass and nodded. He looked into the glass and swirled its amber contents before taking a slow sip. The taste filled his mouth with home, the smell conjuring memories of his childhood. The smell of peat and warm air in the morning. The smell of his fathers. He allowed himself the quiet moments that Umagwe’s gesture allowed.
Then he looked up to study the African’s face. He found Umagwe was already studying his own.
Donal knew that Umagwe had risen to his current position by taking the time to connect the dots. Umagwe had a keen understanding of human nature and how events shaped new events. Using his difficulty in communication to his advantage, he assumed the demeanor of quiet and simple efficiency, always willing to help, always willing to do the things that needed to be done, no matter how arduous or even distasteful. Donal had recognized early, the brain beneath the beaming smile and ingratiating laugh. Many others who dismissed Umagwe found themselves with less influence than once they had. This hadn’t happened overnight. Umagwe had been patient.
“His Holiness is most anxious that we do not despair.” Umagwe eyes betrayed no hint of irony.
“No.” Donal agreed, allowing himself to take another small sip before setting down the glass of whiskey on Umagwe’s desk. He had seen what the taste and smell of home could do. He had looked into the eyes of those who had poisoned their souls with the amber fire in that glass. It was his practice to never finish his own. “We must not despair.”
“Your Jesuit brothers have long fought alone in the war against darkness Father Donal.” Umagwe took a long sip of scotch and nodded in appreciation. “It’s time we reconsider our strategy. There are those that can help us. You must go to them. They are in America.”
“America?” Donal was surprised. The implications were disturbing.
Umagwe smiled, slowly shaking his head. “Not the American Government. I know of your reservations. I share them of course, as does His Holiness. I speak of a…private enterprise. A group that has made the same discovery that we have . They have drawn some of the same conclusions as well.”
Donal picked up on that. “Some you say?”
“They are a powerful lay organization.”
“Which one?” A creeping feeling of dread began to dance along Donal’s spine. He saw that Umagwe had diverted his question.
“They are perhaps on the fringe of the…” Umagwe hesitated here. “…The fringe of the mainstream church, but they practice no heresy. There is nothing overtly wrong with their interpretation of scripture…”
“The Everto Quaero.”
“Of course.” Cardinal Donal let out a sigh of resignation.
“Would you prefer the American Government then?” Umagwe asked, an even tone to his voice.
Cardinal Donal was silent. He looked at the glass of single malt that was still on the desk with a good swallow left in it and for the first time in a very long time he thought about the joy of it. He thought about the joy that came from the mad freedom that lay at the bottom of an empty bottle of whiskey. It seemed a saner choice then working with the Everto Quaero.
The Everto Quaero was a poor Latin approximation of Search and Destroy. The Everto Quaero was an organization of Lay Catholics that had a reputation for being very well financed and for being fanatical in the pursuit of their mission, the utter destruction of Satan and the works of Darkness. On the surface their efforts were devoted to lobbying and orchestrating publicity for their causes which were outwardly very much in line with those of the mainstream American Catholic Church. This was merely a front for their real purpose, which was to seek out and eradicate all traces of the supernatural and paranormal. On this subject, their wide eyed passion was both distasteful and disturbing to Cardinal Donal.
Secret societies and militias were no stranger to the Catholic Church, they were almost as old as the Church itself. The Everto Quaero was different though. They were a secret society for the 21st century. They used information technology and fund raising to become more powerful than the average American could even imagine. They were also, in Donal’s opinion, brash and loud and entirely lacking in subtlety; in short, so American. Finally, they were dangerous, of that there could be no doubt. Donal had seen fanaticism in all stripes on his path to the scarlet robe. In his mind, the subjugation of reason by anything was a fool’s compromise, but replacing reason with worship of fanaticism, was that of a madman’s. Any kind of deal that was made with the Everto Quaero would not end well.
He saw that Umagwe was waiting for him to answer his question. He took a final look at the glass on the table and allowed himself an instant of imagining smooth fire.
“No Cardinal Umagwe. I would not prefer the American Government.”
Donal knew one thing beyond any certainty and that was that no government, especially the Americans could be allowed to find out about the dark curse. The Everto Quaero, despite their predilection to fanaticism, would see vampirism for what it actually was, a great spiritual evil that threatened the very salvation of the world.
Secular Governments would have an entirely different attitude. He knew they would see it as a virus and would quickly focus on Military applications. From there it would be a matter of synthesizing the process. The world would not lightly turn its back on immortality. The potential for power and profit was beyond any appetite. It was Donal’s solemn conviction that the revelation of the existence of vampires would signal the start of a march down the road to Hell on earth. It was to be avoided at all cost.
“Well then, there is nothing left for us to discuss.” Umagwe said, rising out of his chair and extending his hand. The hand held a folder and an Envelope with plane tickets.
You will be met in New York. Listen to what they have to say. You have full papal authority to negotiate and bestow favors.” Umagwe raised an index finger and shook it slowly. “Just remember that favors are expensive. His Holiness will see you now.”
The audience was brief. The man who now stood in Peter’s shoes had not been Donal’s first choice for the office of Pope, but he had been a safe choice. Umagwe and others had been able to use safety as the anchor for the election and had prevailed.
“Be strong my son.” The Pope said to Cardinal Donal. “There is more than evil in this world. You will know that when you need to most.” He held out his ring and Donal kissed it.
Donal looked up into the kindly face of the old man and not for the first time wondered just how much they told him. He wondered what would happen if he said, ‘I will be strong. I will go to America and kill vampires for the Church’. He said nothing. After receiving a benediction, he left.