Saturday, 23 August 2008 23:19

Petra 1: Rock and a Hard Place (Part 2)

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Petra 1: Rock and a Hard Place - Part 2

By Renae

[Note the author does not speak Italian, or any other languages, so apart from a few words here and there all dialog will be in English. You may however presume that it is what ever language you feel comfortable with. Special thanks to Warren for providing taxi ride experiences in Italy, and a bunch of other insanity. (Yes some of it really is his fault! :) And Maggie for help with Saul.]

When the door opened on the next level we waited for the painting to be rolled out before exiting onto the third floor. The air the filled the elevator was a mix of oily odors and what was assuredly turpentine and varnish. The odd mixture of smells provoked a sneeze from me that echoed down the corridor; eliciting a mixed chorus of ‘bless you, gesundheit, salute, santeho’ and other salutations wishing me good health.

“Thank you!” I called cheerfully, once my head stopped spinning from the odd rush of translations from the ring.

“Are you ok?” he asked as I took a briefly unsteady step.

I rolled my eyes with a sigh, “I am just a bit tired, and it maybe the fumes are a bit much.” As an aside to Chaddy I added, ‘Not to mention the disorientation from translating all the well wishes.’

‘No kidding,’ Chaddy agreed, ‘this place stinks.’

“I know what you mean; I come here once a week to play chess during my lunch hour with Father Trovatelli.” He stopped just short of the door and whispered to me, “I’ll warn you now he is a bit of a chess shark.”

Thinking briefly to all the chess trophies I had at one time owned, I grinned back at him. “I think I remember how the pieces move,” I replied with my own whisper.

There was a loud ‘Harumph!’ from inside the office then a rolling bass voice announced, “Conner it is rude to call me a ‘Chess Shark.’ I am an aficionado of the game, nothing more, nothing less.”

‘Shark, shark! Everyone out of the water!’ cheerfully caroled Chaddy causing me to wince slightly.

I suppressed a soft groan, and put on a bland expression, “Knock, knock?” I semi-asked as ‘Connor’ lead us in the office.

“Come in, come in, I don’t stand much on formality,” said the person who evidently was Father Trovatelli.  To my eyes he was a slightly chubby version of Bill Crosby, with less hair and a foot shorter though that may have been his stool. He was wearing the priestly blacks, with paint spotted leather apron over it, and he wore a visor that had a magnifier raised up on it, evidently for detail work.

I was also a bit distracted as there was no logical way we could possibly be related cover-story wise. One I was very Caucasian, and second he was a known orphan, not exactly the making for a very solid cover-story. As my mind slowly slotted through the various and odd possibilities of things being very pear-shaped or something.

Once the two had concluded their mutual admiration and congratulatory greetings I took a breath and said, “I am really hoping you know Father Peter Darcy, Father, otherwise things are weirder than I think they are.”

Father Trovatelli blinked at me owlishly and smiled with a glance towards Connor, “Who is this charming young lady?”

 “Miss Petra Donnor, supposedly she is your niece…” Connor gave me a dubious glance as he looked at Father Trovatelli then me slowly.

There was a soft ding of a bell and Father Trovatelli made a beeline to his desk where a computer sat, “Just a moment, I need to check a bid on Ebay.” He smiled and tapped the mouse excitedly, “I am bidding on a signed print of Snoopy, its up to one thousand American Dollars, and there are only a few minutes left.”

I glanced around the office where many figurines and pictures of old comics were mixed with religious images. “Snoopy, cool. I prefer anime myself, oh and Garfield is cool too.”

“Yes, yes, now let’s see, I think I may have to add ten more ‘Dollars’ to clinch the bid,” said Father Trovatelli as he tapped at his keyboard.

“We may have to wait for the bidding war to complete before we can get a sensible answer from him,” said Connor with an amused shrug as he took up a chair that sat before a chess set.

 “Ah, well with luck he may have a clue as to what is going on,” I gave Connor a weary look, “I am beginning to get this annoyed feeling in the worried part of my toes.”

“I will admit to some confusion as well,” he gave the board a distinct frown and he seemed to be trying to work out moves with his fingers.

I gave the board a quick study, he evidently was playing black and losing in five moves. “White to mate in five?” I asked looking up from the board.

Connor gave me a sour looking sigh, “That soon?”

“Well,” I paused to run through a few variations in my head, “it is better than mate in three, which is what you might also get if you…” I stopped short as he held up a hand.

“Please no kibitzing, I like to suffer through the game as it plays,” Connor chuckled and then said, “I’m still learning the game.”

“Oh, well in that case enjoy,” I said with a smile, “there is a way to win but it is risky.”

“Ah then there is hope for me yet,” Connor said as he studied the board with renewed interest.

“Yes,” I said diplomatically as I walked over to stare out the window.

I lost track of minutes as I watched the sun slowly fade away, something was assuredly up, wrong or just plain screwed on many levels. I ignored the small celebratory sounds from Father Trovatelli, and the murmurs of congratulations that followed it. Turning slowly I walked over to his desk and took a hopeful breath.

“Yes?” Father Trovatelli asked as he leaned back in his chair, “You have a question?”

“Several. Do you know Father Peter Darcy or Arturo Cursor?” I asked carefully.

He blinked a few times and them drummed his fingers on a very stained blotter that resided on his desk, “Do they play chess?”

“I have no idea,” I said truthfully and watched him for a moment longer as he seemed to lose interest.

“No, then I suppose I don’t know them,” Father Trovatelli waved to indicate the building, “I am afraid I don’t know everyone here at the Vatican.”

 I suppressed a worried sigh and then asked cautiously, “I don’t suppose a group called the ‘Knights of the Church’ might ring any bells?”

The odd glance he gave me and the odd shrug from Connor did nothing to settle the sinking sensation I was feeling. He paused and then tapped his blotter with a thoughtful expression, “I can’t say that it does, should it?”

The odd lurch in my stomach was accompanied by a strong scent of ozone, and I took a breath to calm my frazzled nerves before I blasted his computer. “I need to go outside I think, before I fry something important,” and then I fled the room at a run.

 

As I sat in the small park, it seemed as if night had fallen as I stared blankly off into space. I was vaguely aware of Connor’s presence as I thought furiously as to the various possible implications which might account for no one knowing of the Knights. I was certain that I was not insane, well more insane that is. I knew from the brand on my arm and the ring on my finger that the Knights were real, that much was unchanged.

I unbuttoned my sleeve and rolled the shirt up to look at the tattoo and brand there, I froze at the slight whistle of dismay from beside me. Looking over, I saw Connor frowning at my arm, “That’s a nasty burn you had.”

Pausing I looked at it then at him, “Tell me, can you see the rose and thorns there?”

He pursed his lips and then shook his head, “All I see is a swatch of scarred skin.” As my shoulders fell he shook his head, “Should I see something else?”

Sighing I looked at him, “Something, everything, it depends on who you are I suppose.”

“If you say so, you seem to be a mystery though,” he admitted with a odd rumble of discontent. “You don’t seem to belong here, yet you have an ID card that places you here, well at least in the Vatican computer systems.”

“Well that is a small comfort,” I muttered with an annoyed groan.

“Let us examine the situation for a moment, shall we?” he asked as he crossed his arms.

“Ok, I arrive at the airport, I get hassled by the MCO, my luggage gets ruined,” I took a breath and said, “I am seemingly abandoned at the airport; and then I get a screwy tour, thanks to your security people.”

“You are welcome,” he said nonchalantly, “then?”

“Then I get misdirected off the Vatican grounds, in an evident kidnapping or recruitment plot.” I rolled my eyes and added sarcastically, “Of which garners me my first car chase and brings me back to you.”

“Yes, and then we meet someone who is supposed to know you or to know of this ‘Knights… thing.’” He seemed to suppress a yawn, “Of which makes me wonder a great many things.”

I gave him a dubious look, “The next thing you will say is that according to Occam’s Razor this all makes sense?”

“Elementary my dear Watson, elementary,” he shook his head and then added, “something is afoot, and it affects people but not computers.”

“Either that or I am completely crazy,” I said sourly, “though I suppose we can rule out the normal laws of physics.”

“So something that violates the natural order of things, I doubt it is a devise, which leaves magick.” He smile and added, “Or something like it.”

“I don’t suppose you know anyone around here that could tell us if it is a magickal event?” I asked as I looked at my ring.

“One or two, though I suppose we should check in with the office, just in case something else odd is going on as well.” He stood up and walked to his car, “Come on, let’s check what the boys in the shop say.”

“I suppose,” I stood up and followed him over to the car, “though if they have no idea who you are when we get there, I may scream.”

 

When we got back to his office in Spook HQ AKA Vatican Security, the good news was that people still knew who he was. However no one knew me from Adam; which might be a good thing as Adam was likely not as ‘well equipped’ as I was. Which could have really confused people when it came time to write the Bible.

Connor Betancourt, whose last name I gleaned from the name plate on his desk, kept a fairly tidy office in that everything seemed to be in its proper place. It vaguely reminded me of the anal retentive office manager that was in the ‘Incredibles,’ as even the pencils and pens were laid out according to size. As I sat in a chair opposite of his own I debated in moving his pencils just to see if it would cause him a nervous twitch or three.

Do it,’ suggested Chaddy and I felt him lift my hand to make it happen.

Later! Annoy the spook later!’ I countered and force my hands back into my lap.

Chaddy scoffed, ‘Spoil sport!

“Problems?’ asked Connor as he looked at me.

“My evil subconscious wants me to move your pencils to see if you twitch,” I said with a mischievous smile.

He chuckled briefly and then shook a finger at me in warning, “Please no, I like my neurosis to remain dormant.”

“Good luck with that,” I said with a sigh, “really.”

He nodded and sat for a moment, “So we have a mystery.”

“Well a few,” I said as I held up fingers one at a time. “Where is Father Darcy or Arturo Cursor? What made Father Trovatelli not remember his part in relation to myself, much less Father Darcy, presuming of course the two worked on my insertion cover… and thirdly.” I paused to take a breath and gather my thoughts, “If it is a plot to remove the Knights from action, why am I still in the computer?”

“Fourthly,” he added with his own finger tick, “why are you the only one that seems to even know of this ‘Knights of the Church’ group.”

I immediately thought of Sara, but I was not going to bring her name up in discussion, much less her marks. After a moment I thought of something, “Maybe it was all the time I was kept away from the Vatican due to the MCO and tails. Something may have happened or was caused to happen during that time frame.”

We still need to call her,’ Chaddy prompted after a moment.

Yeah, but I want to do it when I know I don’t need for her to come rescue us or the knights,’ at Chaddy’s odd squirm I added, ‘Paige needs her there, not here holding our hands.

“That is an awful lot of time to narrow things down in, but let us say you are right.” He clicked on his mouse and I edged back from the desk slightly as I felt the urge to dive into it rise up strongly. He glanced at me with a odd smile, “Don’t tell me you are a techno-phobe?”

“No, I love technology, it just dislikes me when I am upset,” I suppressed the urge to make my fingers spark, barely.

“Ah, yes, well in that case I’ll let you judge where you want to sit,” he rolled his eyes, “not like I couldn’t use a new computer, but we have work to do.”

“Ok, I am fairly sure Father Darcy talked with his superiors on Thursday, to arrange the flight to Rome and so on.” I tried to remember what time it was roughly that he called, “I think it was about nine a.m. in the Eastern Time, from the Medawihla Reservation in New Hampshire.”

“Well that bit of information should help us establish if there are ‘Knights of the Church.’ Would you happen to know the number he called from?” Connor asked as he picked up a pen and a stack of post-it-notes.

I dutifully rattled off the number and then added, “I should probably call them and let them know that there has been a snag.”

He reached over and tapped in a prefix, “To this number?”

“Yeah, Father Darcy called his boss from there, but I think his bosses number is secure,” at least I was fairly certain it was.  

“Well if it was routed in the Vatican I am sure we can puzzle it out,” he motioned to the phone and I walked over and tapped in the country code and Eloise’s number.

After what a few odd clicks and what sounded like additional connections the phone finally rung. After the third ring I was greeted by Eloise’s voice, “Medawihla Tribal Nation, this is Eloise Donner, may I help you?”

I reached over and hit the speaker phone button as the worst I could picture happening was mushy stuff from Eloise or Ben. “Hi Eli it’s me Petra.”

“Petra! Hey Ben it’s Petra calling,” I heard her shout, “kiddo we have been a bit worried about you, weren’t you supposed to call when you got to Rome?” 

“It’s been a day, with a capital d. We’re on speaker phone here at Vatican Security,” I rolled my eyes briefly, “I am fine, no wars etcetera, but we’ve hit a bit of a snag.”

“Oh dear, all ready?” she asked and I could picture her shaking her head.

“Yes, you might say that, Mrs. Donner this is assistant deputy director Connor Betancourt of Vatican Security speaking.” He shrugged and then said, “I’ve been handled an odd puzzle, namely what to do with Petra.”

“What?  Isn’t Father Pete there to show her around?” Eli asked and then I heard her yell for Ben to ‘pick up!’

After a moment I heard a click then Ben’s voice, “How’s life in the Holy Cee kiddo?”

“Perplexing, aggravating, confusing, and worrying,” I took a breath and calmed slightly, “we seem to have misplaced the Knights of the Church.”  

“That’s a pretty big trick,” Ben said after a moment.

“Are you in any danger?” asked Eli, and I could hear her doing something with papers.

“Should we call Father Rico?” asked Ben, “Considering he is a Knight too?”

I felt my jaw drop as I realized he should be free of whatever it was, if it was a local event. “Ben! You are a genius! I’d offer to have your children if Eli would not scalp me!” Connor’s eyes nearly bugged out as I said that and then he just shook his head muttering something about kids.

Ben laughed and I could hear Eli’s scowl in her voice, “He better not try it!” Her voice softened after a moments ‘family squabble,’ “Do you need to come home Petra or for one of us to come out there?”

“No I should be ok, so far, I think once we get a hold of Father Rico we should be on track to sorting this out.” At least that was my hope, “I will call and give ‘everyone’ the run down once we sort things out.”

“Don’t forget to call Sara and you sisters they are unhappy you are so far away you know,” said Ben in a chiding tone. “You know how those three can get. So call them before they show up on your doorstep.”

I blinked and then nodded unseen to Ben, “Oh yeah, well we are not that deep in it,” I hoped.

“Petra is in safe hands, Mister and Misses Donner, “If we can’t sort things out I’ll send her safe back to you.”

Ben’s chuckle sounded a bit bearish, “I would expect if Petra and the other Knights can’t sort it out, it’d be pretty serious.”

Eli not quite stepped on Ben’s voice as she added, “Petra Lynn Donner, if you get yourself hurt I’ll tan your hide.”

I rolled my eyes at Conner as he suppressed a smile, “Yes mom, anything you say mom.”

As Eli sputtered into the phone, Ben guffawed in loud laughter, “Oh you are in trouble kiddo, just wait till she get a hold of you later.”

“I’ll remember. Look Eli, Ben, we have a quandary on our hands so we need to un-quadra-fy it,” I smiled and then I added, “I’ll try and call before I get to bed.”

“We may not have been family long Petra, but don’t think I won’t spank you if you deserve it,” warned Eli vigorously before she sighed. “Seriously kiddo stay safe.”

“That is the idea,” I said and then I looked at Connor expectantly but when he shook his head I simply said, “bye folks gotta go, worlds to save and all of that.” I let them chorus their goodbyes before I pushed the button to hang up the phone.  

“So, Father Rico?” asked Connor as he looked at me expectantly.

“He’s the Parish Priest in Dunwich, not far from Whateley,” I replied, and it seemed he was at least familiar with those names.

“Odd place for a Knight of the Church, isn’t it?” he asked as he started typing things into his computer.

“Well no, not really, considering there are daemons, monsters, and ARC in that region,” I said in a dead pan while I watched his expression.

He barely blinked an eye at the mention at monsters, much less daemons, but he distinctly frown at the mention of ARC. “ARC, didn’t they lose a prisoner recently.”

“Nope, but one nearly got out,” I smiled at them memory of seeing Sara, Nikki and their friends kicking ass.

“Rather slipshod of them,” he muttered aloud as he typed.

“Hardly, it was an inside job, the staff there is pretty much competent,” I said in a slightly defensive mood.

“And you would know this how?” he asked as he barely glanced from the computer to me.

I didn’t want to tell him I was once sort of an inmate there, so I simply smiled and said, “A girl has to keep a few secrets.”

Eww gross, you just had to go there, just gross!’ said Chaddy and I blinked at his train of thought.

I’m really trying not to go there Chaddy, it’s a cover! Really!’ I twitted back at him.

“So you say. Ok I do have Father Rico Aguilar listed in Dunwhich, and you say he is a Knight?” he asked as he started dialing.

“Very much so,” I said with a sigh as Conner seemed not entirely sure if I was making it up or not… yet.

     We both waited a moment as the phone processed his dialing, “So they are your family?”

“Adopted family, mom and dad died in a car crash,” I paused and then added from the ‘official’ cover story, “Eli and Ben were friends of the family, add the will…” I stopped as he nodded, “Then add a very odd and unique calling,” I stopped and tapped by wrist where the brand sat, “mostly a bunch of mystical spiritual crap, and I suddenly find myself in the Knighthood.”

“I see,” he said as the phone on the other end picked up.

“You have reached Saint George’s Parish in Dunwhich, how may I direct you call?” asked a voice which I recognized as Father Rico’s.

“Father Rico, this is Petra, we have a problem,” I paused and motioned at Connor.

“This is assistant deputy director Connor Betancourt of Vatican Security speaking,” Connor said with the familiar roll of his eyes.

“Connor you still have not replied to my last chess move,” Father Rico said warmly, “or did you forget?”

Connor looked at me oddly and then looked at the phone suspiciously, “I don’t think we’ve met…”

“Not met?” Father Rico sounded a bit worried and puzzled, “Petra has Connor been hit in the head recently?”

“Not by me nor by anyone in the past twenty-four hours, I think,” I paused and looked at Connor. “Are you all right?”

I watched as he looked at his email in disbelief, “No but I think something is definitely afoot.” He pointed at his email, “I don’t know a Father Rico, I think, but I have a slew of chess moves from him.”

“We were roommates for a few years while I was in Rome, surely you remember that?” asked Father Rico quickly.

“No, I am afraid I do not,” admitted Connor with a pensive frown.

“That’s just another tip of the iceberg, I am afraid,” I said as Chaddy took inventory of all the things that should have been right but were not. “No one here has any idea who the Knights are, while I can believe you all are good at secrecy, surely someone would know who the Knights are?”

“Connor should know…” Father Rico coughed once and reluctantly seemed to add, “as he sets up the occasional team for support for us.”

“Ok, I also seem to have misplaced Father Pete as well or he misplaced me… Not to mention my contact is was clueless about the Knights as Connor here is.” I took a worried breath and let it out slowly, “So we have a bit of a problem here.”

“Also we nearly had a kidnapping attempt or so we think on Petra, today as well.” Connor looked at me uneasily and said, “I am more than a bit concerned that Petra is the only one here that seems to know of this ‘Knights of the Church’ group.”

“Well that is a relief, though I suppose if she did not know of them we would have more of a problem.” Father Rico paused briefly, “Though I think she might have an extra bit of protection that might account for her being exempted from events.”

“Yeah that crossed my mind, I don’t fit the ‘mold’ they are working on,” I said with a pained smile.

“Yes, and you say Father Pete is misplaced?” At my acknowledgement of that fact, he sounded grumpy and distinctly unhappy as he continued, “Which likely means there is a proximity effect, so my rushing back there would be futile and likely add in one more possible missing person.”

“Yeah, I was worried about that a bit, is there someplace I can likely get help from or find a useful item or three?” I asked carefully.

Father Rico recited an address, which Connor jotted down, “I am not sure if it will help Petra, you may just find a building empty of people.”

“Well an empty building might hold clues,” said Connor with a sigh, “evidently the only thing that is unaffected by this mess is computers.”

“Ah yes, odd that.” There was a amused laugh from Father Rico, “Well you seem to be the Knight on the spot Petra, I know you can trust Connor, and he’s not likely to blab about your gifts.”

“Gifts?” Connor said as he looked at me expectantly.

“I have a knack for computers,” I said with a shrug, “it’s something I don’t want to advertise.”

“With good cause,” said Father Rico from the phone, “one other unpleasant bit you may have to consider is a conversation with someone who is inherently interested in ‘The Balance.’” 

“Who would that be? The Pope?” asked Connor jokingly.

My stomach dropped and twisted, “Oh wonderful, yeah he might have an idea.”

“I feel your pain,” said Father Rico, “I have faith you will find someone to heal if it comes to that. Just don’t shoot Connor, he owes me two pizzas and tickets to a soccer match.”

“Ha! Now I can believe we might be friends,” he looked at me as I am sure I had a ‘what the?’ expression on my face and said, “I only will bet food or tickets, never money.”

“He’s too dignified to bet money,” Father Rico seemed to be quoting as he said that bit.

“Exactly,” said Connor as he studied his computer thoughtfully.

--------

After we arrived at the location that Father Rico had given us I felt more than a bit perplexed. To one side of the of the parking lot was the Vatican Library, to the other side was a large and seemingly vacant building. Both buildings seemed to be of the same design and era, yet one was illuminated while the other was not. I looked at the signs and the dark one matched the building numbers Father Rico had given me.

I also boggled at a smaller sign on the library directing people to the ‘Vatican Secret Archives.’ As I did so Chaddy put my twist of mind into words, “Secret Archives, isn’t that an oxymoron?”

Connor laughed for a second and then he nodded, “Kind of, the only way you can read a document in there is to have special permission or know what book you want a head of time. But you have to know the book exists in it first.”

“Ok, pardon me for saying this,” I stopped for a moment and then said, “that’s either very sneaky or just plain stupid.”

“Yes,” said Connor with a smile and then he got out of the car.

I got out myself and waited for him to lock the car, “Ok a non-descript building, its dark outside, the lights are off… Someone cue the creepy music.”

He looked at me with a smirk and asked, “Do you want a Scooby-snack first.”

“Runt-uh two!” chimed Chaddy quickly.

“Sorry I am all out and broke,” said Connor as he grinned.

“Right sure, and you expect me to go first?” I said as I looked at the keypad that glowed dimly by the door.

“Well if you would,” he shrugged and motioned to the keypad.

I walked up to the door and took my ID out of my purse and swiped it through the reader. There was a soft beep and the lights on the pad changed from red to green and the door clicked as a relay unlocked the door. Looking at him briefly I pulled the door open, “Well I evidently have access.”

“So it would seem,” he edged around me and I could hear him feeling around on the wall, “ah here it is.” There was a soft click and the lights in the entryway lit up as he evidently found the lights.

“Similar lay out?” I asked as I glanced around the hallway that was covered with paintings of what I assumed were militant saints and angels.

“More or less, by looking at the artwork I would expect we are in the right building.” He indicated the paintings with a bland smile, “Though we have a similar décor where I work.”

I walked over to a painting that was a simple vase filled with Gethsemane Roses, I pointed at it with a smile, “Yes we are definitely in the right building.”

“And you know this how?” he asked as he walked over to stand beside me.

“Well that particular rose in this painting, is special to the members of the order,” I refrained from tracing its petals with my fingers and looked at him. “If this building has a similar layout to others, where would that put the most important offices?”

“A rose by any other name would still smell like a rose,” he said as he butchered the quote. “Well if it an order based on secrecy and such it likely is not on the top floor and would be located in an inner office. It would be harder to spy on, and more defensible.”

He led the way to the elevator, and while we walked there I could hear the echo of my shoes clacking on the tile. “This definitely ranks up there on the spooky chart. I think there is supposed to be someone here on duty around the clock, guards, staff, and such.”

“Why, what is it that the Knights do?” As we reached the elevator he pressed the button to summon it, and then he regarded me as if inviting an answer.

“Well I’m not exactly a good source of information on that; I’ve only been a Knight a few months, technically.” I gave him a bland smile, “The youngest one ever, but that’s a moot point.”

“Oh, well just give me the big picture then,” he said as the doors opened.

“From what Father Pete and a few others have told me; we fight evil, protect the Church and its members from threats that go beyond the norm.”  At his odd expression I added, “Daemons, monsters, things that go bump in the night; that sort of thing.”

“I see,” he said in a tone of voice the said he really had a hard time believing me.

I used my ID as a keycard and let him select the fourth floor of the six above ground floors. “Well would you say that this sort of ‘weirdness’ would fall into your normal job description?”

“Missing persons and security yes, not knowing people and groups I should, due to nefarious means, no.” He shook his head as the elevator door opened, stepping out he then said, “It’s dark here too, well apart from the emergency exit lights. Yeah, it makes me think everyone just left as if to make the place seem like it was closed down for the day. Rather an insidious bit of manipulation.”

“Nefarious and insidious, words of the day?” I joked as he felt around for a light switch.

“How else would you describe an event like this?” he asked in turn and suddenly my eyes watered as the lights turned on.

I paused as a phone rang stridently, “I think I want to find that phone.”

“Why?” he asked as I skirted around him moving in that direction.

“It’s likely a Knight calling to check in, and freaking,” I shouted back as I jogged.

“Ah sensible I suppose,” he said as the phone stopped ringing just as I stopped short of a door.

“Drat,” I muttered and quickly swiped my ID again at the door, once inside I let Connor find the lights. As he did so a phone rang again from deeper inside, “Ok that way,” I said as I pointed to a door which read, ‘Watch Commander.’

“Evidently so,” he replied as he opened it just barely ahead of me sliding in to grab the phone before I could. “This is Vatican Security, Assistant Deputy Director Betancourt speaking, who is calling?”

I mashed the button for speaker phone to hear a confused and irritated man growl, “…  I don’t think you are authorized to be on this line.”

“Excuse me,” I quickly said, “we have a problem here Knight, and a big one.”

“And who might you be?” asked the voice cautiously asked in Spanish.

“Petra Donner, I’m a Knight with ‘ring and rose’,” I said specifically accenting those two words after the ring guided me through the translation.

He then said a few words in a language that made the ring react and my head spin a few times as the translation unfolded in my head and I giggled. Evidently what he asked was, ‘What… is the air speed of an unladen swallow?’

I didn’t quite fall on my ass in laughter, though I somehow managed to respond in that same language, ”What do you mean? An African or European swallow?”

In Spanish he replied, “Ha! You will do, fortunately there is no bridge around here.”

“Ah and who might you be, and can you speak Italian? Connor here is looking at us funny.” I took a hurried breath adding, “We’ve got problems here.”

“I am a bit rusty, but I can,” he said after a moment, “I am Bishop Aldridge, and I suspect your problems may be larger than mine.”

“Yes Bishop,” I sat down in the chair behind the desk, “I think they are.”

“Well Petra, tell me your troubles and I will tell you mine and we shall compare,” his voice was a soothing calming baritone that seemed to negate my worries.

After a moment’s thought I said, “Well Bishop Aldridge, there are no Knights here in the Vatican City or the Headquarters and any save myself, which have entered Rome, have gone missing.”

“Saints preserve us,” muttered the Bishop, “I think that is slightly more troubling than a rogue vampire.”

“You think?” asked Connor aloud with a look of disbelief as he sat on the corner of the desk.

“I have been in contact with Father Rico in Dunwhich, he seems to think the event or whatever is local to the Vatican or Rome itself.” I said as I tried to sort of pertinent facts, “Oh and there was an abduction attempt on me, we think.”

“It may not be related,” said Connor as he also said, “someone from the DeVille Academy we believe.”

“Hmmm, how did you know Knights went missing in proximity to Rome?” the Bishop asked quietly.

“Well, Father Peter Darcy came with me on the flight from Berlin in New Hampshire, America. We landed and separated so I could establish a paper trail and part of my cover.”  Pausing for a breath I concluded, “After I wasted four hours with the MCO, I tried to find him but no one has seen him or knows of him at the Vatican.”

“I see and why might you be unaffected?” he asked after a brief moment.

“I have a daemon mark, and well…” I looked at Connor disbelieving face for a moment and then said, “also I am Satan’s messenger or delivery girl for the order… It’s a ‘Balance’ thing.”

“It’s a what thing?” asked Connor and I tried to hush him.

There was a sour sounding bark of laughter from Bishop Aldridge, “I can see how the two things might give you a bit of difference and protection, though I worry for your soul.” 

“I think my soul is safe, my wits on the other hand, those may be in jeopardy,” I rolled my eyes at Connor.

“So you say,” the Bishop chuckled sourly, “there are contingency plans for such things, but since you are there you may have to be the one stuck on phone watch for a while.”

“As in I might be the only one who can speak our lingo?” I asked with a sigh.

“Precisely, I think at last count we had over twenty knights in the field, though you may have to rummage about in the Knight Marshal’s desk or files to know for certain.” He paused as if to think, “Though that may not be too productive as the pertinent files are likely in a safe.”

“Well that would be a place to start, what do I tell the Knights as they call in?” I asked as I envisioned a very long time doing nothing but waiting by the phone.

“I would suggest telling them the situation, ask for advice and to have them avoid Rome for the moment,” the Bishop advised.

“Just to be nosey,” interrupted Connor quickly, “is anyone from your order watching over the His Holiness in Turkey this coming visit?”

“We do have someone in that region, though usually one of us travels in the retinue…” the Bishop seemed to curse then quickly turned it into a cough as he then added, “I think I am suddenly worried.”

“You are just now getting worried?” I asked quickly.

Connor frowned darkly, “No kidding.”

“The Order will endure,” the Bishop chided, “keeping the Pope intact is a bit more problematic.”

“Ok, so how do we cover that hole?” asked Connor quickly as he pulled over a pad of paper and picked up a pen.

“Well I have to stake a vampire before I can get free to travel, it seems to have a fondness for children.” The Bishop then sighed, “I will try and reach a few of the Knights I keep in touch with and explain the situation. Should anyone call and give you a hard time, tell them ‘Rome is burning.’”

“Ok, and that means?” I asked with a frown as Connor jotted it down.

“Basically that everything has gone to hell in a hand-basket,” the Bishop said with a wry laugh, “it more or less tells them they are on their own and to avoid Rome for a bit, due to a major threat there.”

“Wonderful,” I muttered sourly, “so I can’t count on anyone for more than morale support?”

“At the moment yes, stay put, answer phones, relay the facts and try not to end up missing.” He seemed to sigh as he then added, “You’ve not been fully trained Petra and since there is no one there to guide you in the ‘Secrets of the Order’ you will have to muddle along until we can sort things out.”

“Peachy,” I gave Connor a roll of my eyes. “Father Rico suggested I have a talk with the Devil, considering this no doubt screws up the Balance somewhere.”

Connor gave me an odd look and there was an exasperated sigh from the Bishop, “I don’t envy you task, but he may likely be correct.”

“Trust me I would rather avoid it if I can,” I barely suppressed the wave of revulsion from Chaddy as we momentarily relived that experience.

“I have no doubt,” stated the Bishop in evident sympathy, “if no answers come up in the next day or from the Knights a Field, you may not have a choice.”

“So basically, stay put, answer phones and try not to freak?” I asked quickly to confirm things.

“Well I am sure a bit of prayer cannot hurt things,” he said with a smile in his voice.

“I am sure,” I said with a slump of my shoulders.

“I will be in touch every six hours or so, and I suspect if you check in a closet you should find a cot and blankets.” The Bishop sighed, “Try to rest between calls; it may be a long night.”

“I suppose so,” I said with a look to Connor.

“I will try and keep her intact,” Connor quickly said with a grin, “though I am not sure what my boss will make of this situation.”

“Please do so, God watch over you both,” said the Bishop before he evidently hung up.

“Not one for goodbyes is he?” asked Connor as he walked over to the closet and rummaged in it.

I took a page from the pad and wrote down his name, “I suspect he’s not telling the whole truth about his vampire situation in order to not have me stressed about it as well.”

“Ah, well he was right about the cot and blanket,” said Connor as he pulled it out and went about setting it up.

“Yeah, maybe.” I admitted and started shuffling about in the desk to see if there was anything useful in it.

He whistled softly from inside the closet, “There is a small armory in here, can you handle a shotgun?”

“Yes, though I would prefer a pistol,” I said as I got up to look inside.

“Can you hit things with a pistol?” he asked seriously.

“I can hit a man sized target at fifty meters, if that qualifies me,” I said with a smile.

He nodded and selected a pistol from the rack, “I doubt you will need it but…” he turned and passed me the pistol after check to see it was clear.

“Browning nine millimeter, that should work,” I rechecked to make sure it was clear and on safe before I held out my hand for the clips.

“Ok, you know a thing or two,” he said with a smile as he passed them over.

“Yeah,” I said with a bitter smile, “my father and uncle were gun nuts.”

And just plain nuts!’ opined Chaddy.

I loaded a clip into the pistol and then walked back to the desk to put them in the center drawer. “Ok, I am armed, I have a task, and a place to rest, not to mention I know I am not crazy.”

“In that these Knights exist?” he asked in a joking tone of voice.

“Exactly, so now what?” I asked as he walked over and made a point of writing down the phone number of the phone on the desk.

“Well I have to go file a report, make sure my boss knows that there may be a possible plot against His Holiness and to add more support for the trip to Turkey.” He sighed and then said, “Not to mention we have a people missing that no one seems to recall or remember.”

“All part of the job,” I said with a bland expression.

“Will you be safe here?” he asked after a long pause.

“Well I am likely the only one with a key,” I said with a rueful grin, “well anyone that would know what to do with it.”

“Ok I will go then and do my bit,” he stopped and wrote on my paper a trio of numbers, “my cell, my office and my home number.” He stopped and chuckled as my unhappy face, “I’ll bring back some food, drink and a cot for myself.”

 “And if you forget about me?” I asked seriously.

“I’ll write myself a note and you can remind me,” he said with a roll of his eyes.

“Peachy, well at least I am armed now.” I stopped and looked at the phone and then the computer on it, “I can see many games of Solitaire ahead of me.”

And some serious snooping,’ suggested Chaddy with an inner smile.

“I should be back in three to four hours,” Connor said apologetically, “it may be less if I can easily convince my superiors of the problem.”

“I’ll be fine, I’ll snoop and try to piece things here as well,” I said with a relaxed smile.

“Ok but stay reasonably close to the phone,” he suggested with a grin.

I grinned and then said, “Yeah I will be fine and at least I can order pizza if need be.”

“True, I’ll be back,” he promised with a deepening of his voice.

 

Monday, 27 November 2006

Vatican City Rome, Knights of the Church Headquarters

Connor did in fact return, though I had to literally call and remind him that I and the Knights existed. Though, while he was in the building, I still had the dubious joy of answering the phone every time it rang. That in of itself made for a fitful nights rest, which of course made putting in my concealing contacts a bitch. Of which I was putting off for a time, as I was really wishing for a way to put them in without poking myself in the eye a few times.

As the phone rang yet again, I gave it a blurry look of disgust and then answered it in that obscenely difficult tongue. “You’ve reached The Order, ‘Rome is burning,’ how may I help you?”

“Hello Petra, it’s Father Rico,” said Father Rico cheerfully.

“Oh hi, how is life in Dunwhich?” I asked around a yawn.

“Quieter than what you are undergoing,” he said with a sigh, “wish I was in a place to help. Any developments?”

“Well the effect is persistent, I nearly misplaced Connor as he seemed on the verge of completely forgetting me,” I gave a worried listen down the hallway where snores were resounding from.

“Not good, have you started making any contingency plans?” he asked carefully.

I took a look at my notepad that was mostly a list of names and comments about things to try. “Yeah from the Knights that have checked in, they’ve had a few ideas.”

“Do you have contact numbers for any of them? No scratch that ‘Rome is Burning.’” He gave an annoyed groan, “They would not give you that information just in case the offices get invaded.”

“Yeah, I’ve got a ‘to do list’ involving the possible use of C-4 and pyrotechnics in case things get really dire.” I shook my head and said, “I am so screwed if that happens.”

“I am sure you can make your way out of Rome,” he paused and then added, “we’ve a few safe houses I’d be able to tell you about once you were out of Rome.”

“I need to get a answering machine, I can’t just sit here and do nothing but answer the phone,” I said as I changed the topic.

“Now don’t do anything hasty Petra,” he chided even as he made understanding type noises.

“Hasty? So far all I am doing is sitting on my ass, I would like to do something meaningful and productive, a recording could do what I am doing!” I protested in my frustration.

“Yes, it could,” Father Rico with a sigh, ”however you have your instructions do you not?”

“I am not one to just sit still and wait for the world to fall in on me,” I said in disgust, “unless one of you charming gentlemen is going to take the hit and talk with Satan about the issue?”

“It has been discussed,” he admitted slowly, “we are trying to avoid that necessity. We have our teams moving to cover the Pope in Turkey, that is our priority, sorting out the Order’s status in Rome is secondary to that.”

“Ok, I’ve not heard anything back from Bishop Aldridge,” I paused and then said, “he said he had a vampire problem and he is overdue to call me back.” 

There was a longish pause and he groaned, “Right I will make some calls, that is why we need you there Petra.”

“Well if I can get a way to get a mobile phone and can figure out how to forward the calls to it…” I trailed off and said, “I can do that job and do some looking around here.”

“That may not be a good idea, but if you can make it work, maybe it will help,” he admitted with a sigh I suspected was directed at my mood.

“Well it would be nice to be able to take a piss without having to sprint back to the phone.” I had done that once or twice last night, it was annoying. I made a point of not admitting that cell phones were not exactly secure as I continued, “There has to be something in or around here causing this.”

“Yes but we’ve other priorities,” he insisted quickly, “and speaking of priorities, have you spoke with Sara?”

“Yes, we had a long discussion about how ate up things were.” I rolled my eyes and added, “She’s got her people around Rome looking into things, but they are not exactly the cloak and dagger type, well they are, but they tend to get told things in bed… rather than looking for them.”

“I am not sure I wanted to know that,” Father Rico said in a pained tone of voice.

“What? Jesus hung around prostitutes supposedly, you don’t think he ignored them?” I asked sarcastically.

“I see…” he said with a long suffering sigh, “try to stay near a phone, if not that phone.”

“That is the plan,” I said reluctantly, “until I can come up with a better plan.”

 

I looked up as Connor wandered in looking more than a bit confused so I quickly asked, “Hi Connor did you sleep well?”

“Ah, yes I think so.” He frowned as he looked around the office, “I am a bit puzzled though.”

“About?” I asked as a feeling of unease dropped into my stomach like a hammer.

“Well I can’t for the life of me remember why I am here, much less who you are,” he admitted with a baffled look at me.

“I’m Petra,” I said with a sigh, “do you remember taking me to visit a Father Trovatelli yesterday?”

“No, no I can’t say I do,” he looked at me oddly and then frowned, “should I?”

I let out a tired groan of annoyance, “Yes, and the possible threat against the Pope, do you remember that?”

Startled he slowly sat down in a chair, “No, is there one?”

I looked up at the ceiling and then nodded at him slowly, “Yes there may be.”

He opened his jacket and took out a familiar notepad and opened it, he frowned as he evidently read it. “Odd, I have your name in here, and something about the ‘Knights of the Church’ missing.”

Feeling like I was Adam Sandler’s character in ‘Fifty First Dates’, I began to fill in Connor about the prior’s days activities. It took a while. A very long while.

 

After two plus hours of interrogation and review by Connor, he mostly seemed to be remembering things. This time I made sure he had copious notes, I just hoped he would be able to remember that he had them once he got to his office to make a report, again. Personally I was half betting on him completely forgetting, given how the spell, effect or whatever was blanking things out.

Once he had left I took time to do a fast search and siphon of the computers in the adjacent offices. Of which resulted in my finding nothing useful, though I did note that there was a program that automatically wiped the hard drives of files and ‘cleaned’ them. Naturally it had run, leaving me nil in the way of clues there, which was par for the course it seemed.

Further poking about revealed a working answering machine, of which I quickly co-opted and took back the to office I was working from. Setting it up and recording a message for the Knights was simple enough, and since my stomach was starting to rumble loudly again, I had almost no real choice but to go with my plan; namely get food, get a cell phone, and do some digging. But first I called Father Rico and informed him of the latest quirks.

“So he forgot you, while he was sleeping in the same building?” he asked as he seemed to take notes.

“Completely, it was like someone snuck in and erased most of yesterday’s events from his mind,” unseen I leaned back in my chair and glared at the ceiling, “he interrogated me pretty heavily too. Then as he interrogated me he seemed like he was impatient and ‘had’ to get to his office, kind of weird.”

“I’ll bet, though it could be he needed to check in,” he said with a laugh, “it’s all a part of his job.”

“Yeah I guess. Any word from Bishop Aldridge?” I asked quickly as I glanced down at my list of those who called in recently.

“No, but I know a team is enroute to his domicile, so we should hear something soon,” he sounded a bit worried as he added, “for better or worse.”

“Hopefully for the better, the timing of things worries me,” I said as I looked around the vacant office.
 

“Yes, it is troubling, I’ve made a call to a friend outside of the Order who can come and watch the Parish for me a week.” He seemed to hesitate as he quickly added, “Once he is here I am heading to Turkey.”

“Going there as another body to watch over the Pope?” I asked feeling a frown form.

“Precisely,” he paused and gave me his cell phone number, “I will be calling to check up on you if I do not hear from you first.”

“Ok, I’ve got the answering machine set up, with a message saying I will be back in about four hours or less.” I sat up slowly as my stomach all but roared, “It should not take me that long to find somewhere to buy a phone from and get food.”

“Right, try not to get kidnapped or dead,” he added seriously.

“Hell if someone tried to kidnap me it would at least possibly give me a clue, if not someone to vent my annoyance on,” I said with mock enthusiasm.

“Right take your gun with you,” he advised and then sighed, “try not to use it, if you get arrested the police may forget you exist.”

“Well that would be either annoying or helpful,” I muttered in agreement.

“Possibly, take care Petra,” he said and then hung up quickly.

I gave the phone a dirty look at it buzzed at me and then hung up. “Gee Petra, you are on your own.”

‘Not alone,’ reminded Chaddy, ‘just under appreciated.’

“You noticed that did you?” I asked Chaddy and stood up placing the purse with gun in it on my shoulder as I did so.  

‘Ok Double-Oh-Two-and-a-Half, your mission should you care to accept it is lunch, saving the world is scheduled for after desert,’ said Chaddy with an amused giggle.

“I accept your mission, let’s just hope the disavowing parts will not come into play,” I said as I walked down the oh so empty hallways.

‘More than they are already?’ he asked as he reviewed how everyone seems so distant or forgetful.

“Yeah.”

 

My brunch took place in a few places, mostly due to the fact that I was watching for possible tails and trying not to be too obvious. There was a long row of small cafés and pastry type shops along the roads leading into the Vatican. Evidently there was a thriving business involved with the feeding of the masses that visited the Vatican, and the Vatican’s personnel. I suspect business was often sporadically dull and or hectic, though given that the Pope was evidently on his way to Turkey; I suspected dull was the order of the day.

Let’s hear it for dull,’ opined Chaddy has he glanced about though my eyes.

No kidding,’ I thought back and then added, ‘we need a phone a laptop, a few games, a wireless set up, clothes.’

Do we gotta do clothes?’ he asked in an annoyed tone.

 ‘Black jeans, black tennis shoes, black t-shirts, think recon gear Chaddy,’ I suggested as we found a bus stop and looked for a bus heading away from the Vatican and to a mall.

That’s good for nighttime use, but we need to blend in and school is in session or should be,’ he pointed out.

Which means Catholic school girl chic,’ I pointed out in return, ‘we should look up a school names etcetera, and blend in.’

No, go touristy stuff, if a truant officer buts in you can splutter in English then broken Italian, guide book handy?’ he asked.

Now you are thinking,’ I returned with a smile as I made a show of pulling it out of the purse and glomming through it as a bus arrived to take us away.

As the bus stopped a few feet further down that I was standing, Chaddy broke in again, ‘Over pay,’ he suggested, ‘then look flustered.

Touristy not stupid,’ I muttered in my head back at him.

It took a bit of play acting but I managed to seem convincing that I was a tourist. I also managed to get a citywide bus route map that was in several languages including English. I did my best to not snicker rudely as I walked to the back of the bus, its bad form to be a spy and snicker, James Bond never did it so I should not either.

Yeah but he had ‘Q’, we don’t even have an ‘X’ or ‘Y’,’ Chaddy sourly pointed out.

So we improvise, adapt and overcome,’ I replied with a smile.

We watch too many movies,’ he said with an inner shrug as we watched the streets roll past.

Ah yeah, we should get a laptop that has DVD video,’ I smiled and added, ‘and some movies too.

GEO!’ was his firm suggestion.

I rolled my eyes and wished that the contacts I had in were not so annoying, ‘Addict.

Like you can talk.

 

As the bus toured its way along the roads I took a moment to memorize the map and to watch the varied peoples as them went their way. Chaddy pointed out that there was a lot of unpaved roads all over the place as he people watched. Unpaved as in no asphalt, that is. He also took a moment to make pointed comments about our girly-girl shoes; so when we found a street that had both a dedicated Nike and Adidas store I found myself kidnapped by him.

It’s a sign from god!’ he said as he all but dragged me off the bus.

That’s rude,’ I pointed out with a frown us I found myself unwittingly pulled through the process of stopping the bus and getting off.

Hey they are my feet too!’ he said as I found myself being aimed at the Nike store.

Ok, ok shoes first,’ I mumbled back at him, though secretly I was agreeing with him in that dress shoes sucked.

So black or white?’ he asked as we not quite jogged to the store.

Black duh, semi dressy pair maximum traction,’ I forced our pace to a crawl when we got by the shop windows, ‘any familiar faces?

Both of us briefly studied the faces and the cars around us as they went past. ‘Green sports car?’ he asked after a moment causing me to focus on it.

Visible old man driver,’ I pointed out critically, ‘no girly gloves.’

Right, call me paranoid,’ he said cheerfully.

I hummed and looked around a bit longer, ‘Paranoia is healthy if everyone is out to get us.

That’s for sure, shoes?’ he asked.

And a backpack, maybe a better purse,’ I thought after a moment.

Gak! A purse! No way!’ he protested adding gagging sounds as I stood there.

Ours is a thin strap purse, too easy to snatch… not to be a downer or anything but if our purse, with the ID, and gun get stolen we are so hosed.’ He seemed slightly mollified as I added, ‘We can get a PSP too.’ Ok so it was bribery, sort of.

Ok…’ he reluctantly agreed with the hints of a grin on our face.

 

Shopping for clothes also meant shopping for a rolling suitcase, my second in as many days. Though finding tailored stuff was problematic until I called Sara from a pay phone. She gave the number for the Boutique in Dunwhich, as a place to call for recommendations. A second call with some minor extortion tossed in and Mrs. Rodgers was set make a new set of stuff and ship it to me once I had a solid place to send it to.

She also gave me the address for someone who was decent, and tolerant of people like me. ‘The genetically and “life style” challenged.’ Which was a funny way of saying they dealt with ‘cocks in frocks’ on a semi-regular basis. She also warned me that Michelle D’aubigne acted like a bit of an airhead at times, even if she was not one.

The shop I was directed to was not on the beaten path, by any stretch of the imagination but I did manage to find it, with the help of a taxi. Le Galbe’ Boutique, read the sign above a vivid purple door, it was lettered in a variety of colors, of which made me wonder which side of the rainbow I had fallen into. Frowning I eased to the side of the shop and peered into the window making sure it was indeed a clothing shop, and then I checked to make sure I was not being followed.  

Summoning up a bit of determination, I opened the door and walked into the shop. A glance around the shop showed that the insides of the shop matched the view from the window, which I considered a good thing. I took a breath, breathing in the scents of fabric, some sort of flowery incense or perfume and spent cordite.

To be continued

 
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