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Changing Masks/2

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The old bishop regarded his nephew for a moment, keeping his hands clasped on the young man's shoulders. His expression was distant, if not a little aloof. Casting a sidwards glance to examine the overall stature of Angelo and then again into his eyes, Carlo at last let go and walked into the room, his black cassocks shifting around him almost elegantly. Despite his age, he walked with pride and power.

His black eyebrows furrowed in thought and he said finally, "I have many enemies, Angelo. I hope you understand."

--Laveaux 20:20, 9 December 2005 (CST)


"I have many enemies, Angelo. I hope you understand."

Angelo Antonelli, fledgling entertainer and entrepreneur, knew little of the level of politics at which the Carlo Abruzzis of the world operated. He had too long been exposed to his father�s venomous words about that side of the family and had easily assumed the role of �wronged relative�.

However, that one statement changed his entire outlook. It brought the world of Vatican politics down to the scale of Angelo�s knowledge of street survival. Enemies. In many situations it was wise to let one�s connections go unnoticed in order to better ascertain the relative hostility or openness of an environment. Weak connections or relatives could be used against one: exploited as a weakness or recruited into a betrayal.

The distance imposed by Angelo�s uncle had been necessary to ensure the safety of both the bishop and his young nephew. Understanding shone on the younger man�s face as plain as if a light bulb had been suddenly switched on. His posture changed to one of proud acknowledgement of his relationship to the elder man.

Still, he was cautious. �Of course,� he bowed slightly to show respect before continuing, �I am honored that you take the time to see me personally. Forgive me if I am slow in unlearning the prejudices that my father taught me. It has been many years...�

�How shall I address you once others are present?�

--Angel Antonelli


The silver-haired, black-eyebrowed man allowed a smile to come aboard his face, although his eyes did not reflect the emotion. He walked into the room, examining the quarters with disinterested obligation.

"In a short time a Cardinal-Deacon will come to see you. I serve him in the Curia. It is best if this man believes only that you are my protige. . . not my nephew. I have taken some liberties with your past and it is in my interest that you don't speak much of it. You shall know me only as Bishop. This is very special work, Angelo. Very special. If, at any time you wish to retire your duties, I shall not hinder you at all."

Business over, he faced his nephew.

"It is good to see you again, young man."

--Laveaux 20:20, 9 December 2005 (CST)


"It is good to see you also, now that I am out from under the cloud of my father's influence. I love him, but I do not share his priorities. I hope I will be able to do justice to the honor you give me, this special work. My mother sends her love and hopes that you will keep her and my siblings in your prayers as they travel to new lands."

"But tell me, Uncle, what have you told this Cardinal-Deacon about me? What manner of protige? And what manner of work?"


--Angel Antonelli


"He believes you are simply a dedicated devotee willing to get your hands dirty. I've told him that we've corresponded via mail for the past five years and you have helped me with many errands in Europe and the United States. You are expected to not know much but be eager to learn.

"Most importantly, he believes you can be trusted. That you will not speak to anyone about the work you do with me or anyone else."

Cold eyes turned even colder as he added, "The Cardinal-Deacon is correct in that belief, is he not?"

--Laveaux 20:20, 9 December 2005 (CST)


Angelo was very quiet for a moment. He carefully digested what was being asked of him. There was something unspoken as well. Clearly this was business. To ask for clarification was not something that would stand him in good stead.

He spoke very calmly and with true conviction, looking his uncle straight in the eye. "I can be trusted."

His hand wandered unconsciously to the cool metal of the medallion beneath his shirt.

--Angel Antonelli


His dark eyebrows softened ever slightly and he put a firm hand on Angelo's shoulder.

"Very good. Come with me, the Cardinal-Deacon is outside. Gather your things."

He waited for the young man to get ready and as he did he explained casually, "I am sorry for the cloak and dagger aspect of this meeting. It would probably be easier had we met in the Vatican, but the business we are doing must not fall on the wrong ears. This is one of the Cardinal-Deacon's safe houses. I hope you understand."

--Laveaux 20:20, 9 December 2005 (CST)


Angelo had not anticipated staying for long, so the process of readying himself to leave took little time. After sorting his suit and briefly checking his hair and grooming the young man was ready.

"No need to explain, Your Excellency."

He allowed the briefest of smiles to cross his face before assuming the mask of "serious business".

�Ready.�

--Angel Antonelli


From the Villa di Allegra, the silver-haired priest returned to the black sedan accompanied by someone that looked no more papal then a common shopkeep. They quietly entered the stretched sedan, opposite the Cardinal-Deacon and a Jesuit priest.

The sedan began its aimless journey throughout Rome, driving slowly and doing nothing but allowing time for the meeting to take place. The driver was a non-descript man wearing a nicely tailored suit and bowler cap. His young black hair was the only feature that could be obtained from the back.

The Cardinal-Deacon puffed quietly on his pipe while he waited for the others to make acquaintances.

--Laveaux 20:27, 9 December 2005 (CST)


Jordan had expected another priest or religious to join the enclave, but a young man was escorted in by the inegmatic Carlo. Good looking, strongly built Italian. Time to try to break a little ice. His eminence would explain his plans in God's good time.

"Buon giorno, signore. I'm Father Shepard."

Jordan reached a hand out to shake.

--Shepard


Angelo found himself at a loss. Within the confines of a car was no place to make formal acquaintances. Still, he inclined his upper body respectfully to the Cardinal-Deacon. �Your Eminence.�

The other man had the look of a foreigner and did not seem to carry any particular rank that the young Italian could see. �Buon giorno, Padre.� He returned the handshake with a firm, strong, businesslike grip.

He then sat quietly, waiting for a cue from the older men.

--Angelo Antonelli


"We were discussing theology just now," the Cardinal said, and paused trying to recollect the newcomer's name.

Carlo leaned forward and said, "Angelo".

"Yes, Angelo. Undoubtedly you will be hearing a great deal about theology in the near future. Do not feel obligated to participate or even to understand what we speak of. You are here as a mechanic, if you will. You are a supporter for your new mentor and superior Father Shepard. This task is given to you without ordainment, for you will be asked to do things a priest would not.

"All in the service of Christ. Of course."

He puffed his pipe a little before proceeding.

"The Bishop speaks highly of you Angel, so you shall be given freedoms other devotees would not. In the end, Father Shepard will be the one to decide how to execute your duties.

"And what duties will you two be sharing? Well, that is the real question, isn't it?"

He stopped the conversation to peer out the window.

--Laveaux 20:27, 9 December 2005 (CST)


Shepard sat back a moment and blinked.

Oh, Lord, what kind of mischief are You up to? Mentor and superior? I know I wasn't around when You developed the divine plan, but a hint or two would be welcome. Amen

Shepard took a careful look at the young man, Angelo. If he was completely out of his teens, Shepard would eat his breviary. A couple of inches shorter than Jordan, but in much better shape...gymnast's muscles, he thought. That was a firm handshake for someone of his build.

Jordan reflected also that the Cardinal-Deacon was having a good time with all this mystification. But, as a priest under orders, he would wait the Cardinal's good pleasure.

--Shepard


The Cardinal-Deacon's silence went for an uncomfortable amount of time, before he at last glanced and nodded to Bishop Carlo Abruzzi. The silver-haired man cleared his throat before speaking as the Cardinal continued to watch outside the window with a curious and distant expression.

"Seventeen years ago I was given the honorable duty of leading the Papal Knights of St Alexander of Jerusalem. You have not heard of this order because according to the rest of the world they don't exist.

"As I am sure you understand, after you leave this car, they will continue to not exist."

His next pause was severe, black eyebrows studying the two.

"Today we will be reviewing your qualifications on being inducted into the order. This is your chance to prove your worth to Christ and to the Church. It is a job interview, so to speak. If you do not make the grade, there will be no prejudice. You will simply continue with your life. If you are inducted, your life will completely and totally change.

"The order invites only the willing. You must tell me know if you are interested in pursuing service to God in this way."

--Angelo Antonelli


Jordan had never met the bishop, and the mystification continued to be puzzling. A seventeen-year old secret order within the Church? There was little doubt that there were countless secrets within Church history, but this was the here and now.

Jordan answered the Bishop.

"Your Excellency, I am willing to take on any burden that the Church sees fit. But your Excellency has not elaborated on the mission of the order. Thus far, we have only established that it concerns catalyzing change within the Church. But what is the nature of that change, Excellency, and how does it impact the flock that Christ has entrusted to us?"

--Shepard


Angelo sat stoically awaiting further explanation. He gave a respectful nod to acknowledge that he had heard the Cardinal-Deacon�s words, but he showed no other outward reaction. Business. And a game of some sort if I am not mistaken. He let the silence grow, used to such a theatrical set-up for something bigger to follow.

When Carlo finally spoke (and he was surprised that it was not the Cardinal), the young man listened intently. His brows knit together showing some confusion. Secret orders? Papal Knights of Jerusalem? What it was called mattered little to Angelo, only that it was a Duty, a way for him to serve God and show his devotion. And one that his uncle obviously thought him capable of fulfilling - else he would not risk embarrassment.

The American�s question seemed a bit impertinent to the young Italian. Or to be more accurate, the fact that he would question such a calling seemed impertinent, for Angelo could make neither heads nor tails of the question itself.

His own response was a single sentence spoken with grave conviction. �I am willing to serve in any duty for which you find me worthy, Your Excellency.�

--Angelo Antonelli


Carlo impatiently waited for Jordan to finish his question. Allowing his eyes to drift elsewhere, he only focused when the priest was finished, but before he did, he threw a knowing glance to the Cardinal.

"You warned me of this," he said.

Then back to business, "I have not elaborated on the mission of the order, because it is too soon to disclose. I can say this, it will be our duty to determine whether or not change is permitted to take place and to ensure that this decision is executed to the fullest of its intent. This alone affects all followers of Christ. It ensures stability in the system that they confide in. It keeps the institution afloat."

He nodded and smiled to his nephew, "Very good, Angelo."

--Laveaux 20:27, 9 December 2005 (CST)


Jordan reflected on the bishop's answer for a moment. Then he made a decision.

"Very well, your Excellency. When we lack information, we as Christians make do with faith. My faith is in Christ and his Church. Give me your orders, Excellency. I am at your service...and God's."

--Shepard


Still watching Rome go by around him, the Cardinal-Deacon remained quietly listening. The sun revealed its orange-glow face over the ancient Roman skyline. They had been driving for some time so it was difficult to gather the direction, until the Colleseium grew from the horizon as they crested an ancient stone street. They were heading toward the center of the ancient Roman world.

The Bishop pulled a file folder from a bin in the side of the sedan and handed it to Jordan.

"150 million Lira is donated to the Vatican every year from a man in Sicily, one Piero Scardino. The Cardinal-Deacon is interested in why these donations are being made and who in the Vatican this money is influencing. Should these influences remian or shall Signore Scardino should put his money into a different venture."

--Laveaux 20:27, 9 December 2005 (CST)


Jordan reflected. Obviously, the Cardinal and the Bishop believed that there might be some selling of influence.

"Your Excellency, I believe that the problem will have to be addressed in a two-tine strategy. On the one hand, we will need ears on the Roman streets, to gain some intelligence on the donor. Additionally, we will need to follow the donation and find the terminus. Will we be able to ask the cooperation of the Congregation for the Works of Religion?* This is, after all, a hidden order and we will not wish to show our hand."

*Known colloquially as the Vatican Bank.


--Shepard


Angelo held his tongue and let the others talk. He alternated between tracking their progress through the window and observing the interaction of the three men of God.

I first would question where this Scardino is getting such funds. Probably at the expense of honest working men and families. His father had only rarely allowed the family�s path to venture to the little island. True, the scenery there was beautiful. But the streets were dangerous for traveling merchants of any type.

A thin smile crept onto the young Italian�s face at the thought of this foreign priest attempting to be �ears� on the streets. Then he realized that such a task was probably the reason they had included Angelo in these plans.

�How does the money come to the Vatican?� It was a moment before he realized he�s spoken the question aloud. he stiffened and drew back a bit. It was not his place to ask questions but to follow the orders that the priest would give him. His eyes glanced furtively up at the Padre�s, looking for signs of disapproval.

--Angelo Antonelli


The Bishop immediately answered, "You will have all the powers and influence of the Curia with the appropriate paperwork. No one will ask for more information and certainly not the nature of your business nor what order you represent. If they do inquire, direct them to my office and they will not inquire again.

"Devotees of Christ know better than to question the authority of the institution . . . even if it is necessary to do so."

Angelos subsequent outburst was badly timed. The Bishop passed a severe look to his nephew and said only, "That shall be one item on your agenda, I suppose."

He handed Jordan an sealed A4 envelope.

"Your papers and bank account information. You are limited to the funds therein."

The Cardinal-Deacon at last moved his attention from the streets of Rome and the oncoming Collesium.

"Father, I leave it to you to organize this affair from here."

The sedan stopped in front of a city bank that locals know has only very wealthy accounts, the Prima Banca dell'Romagna. It's classical architecture was humbling, even though it was one of the more unremarkable buildings of the area. Just blocks away was Capitoline Hill.

"Shall we expect a meeting in the morning?"

--Laveaux 20:27, 9 December 2005 (CST)


Angelo silently reprimanded himself as he waited to see Padre Shepard�s reaction. Only the slightest of tremors betrayed the sting of the Bishop�s reproachful look.

He decided not to speak again unless instructed - allowing his new �boss� to take the lead.

"Of course, excellency." responded Jordan.

The Curia has always been majesticious, but Jordan felt that an investigation was helped by alternative points of view. Imposing disciplined silence would be of little aid..

"We will go to the banks, first, I think, excellency. Then to the Congregation for the Works of Religion. We will need to follow the money in two directions...from the source and to the destination."

Jordan exited the car after making his obedience to the Cardinal and the Bishop. He stood waiting for Angelo. They needed to talk.

--Shepard


Angelo bowed to the senior clergymen and then exited the car. His gaze traveled quickly up and down the block from corner to corner, across the street, and at the buildings nearby. Only after he had scanned the area for potential threats or observers did he turn his attention to Padre Shepard for instruction. I might not understand this �Congregational World Religious Bank�, but I do know the dangers of the streets. And with our secret mission those dangers are only increased: he should have waited until I checked the surroundings before leaving the car.

His eyes were alert, his stance, attentive to his new �boss�.

--Angelo Antonelli


The stretch sedan pulled away into the morning and no more words were spoken. The men had their mission and in only a few hours they were privy to some of the most well-kept secrets of one of the world's most influential organizations.

Orders and materials in hand, the two stood outside the bank. It had only just opened and bank employees prepared for the day inside, busily organizing papers, setting up their desks, and checking the prior night's records. Most of the bankers were men above thirty years, but a few women took charge as assistants or secretaries.

There were few pedestrians on the walk, although a local group of tourists walked eagerly toward the Colosseum.

--Laveaux 20:27, 9 December 2005 (CST)


Jordan thought carefully.

"Signore, we are now in what is potentially a dangerous, double-handed card game. As we operate, please remember my limits. I am an American in Rome, in many ways an outsider. I have no real street contacts, and we may need them. On the other hand, I can move comfortably...more or less...within the church bureaucracy."

"To accomplish what we need to do, we must follow the flow of the money we suspect is tainted. But one of my concerns is for our physical security...we may be walking into danger. Where there is great money, there is great danger.

I will ask you as they ask in Consistory: How does this seem to you? Then we will enter the bank and begin our searches. And remember, as far as anyone knows, I am just a functionary of the Curia...we don't mention the order."

--Shepard


Angelo kept a stoic expression as he listened to the priest�s words. What he said, at least the part that Angelo could understand, made sense. �Yes, Padre. I keep an eye out. To steer you away from... dangerous streets. The money flow will tell us where from it comes. I think the bank will lead to the streets and then we see...�

The question made little sense. Consistoria? How should it seem. As it is. �I watch you back. Do not worry.�

Why does he mention the order if he does not want it mentioned? The Italian nodded in agreement with his new superior�s statement and stood ready to follow his lead.

--Angelo Antonelli


The bank was a converted church. Gothic architecture resigned under classical influence as steeples were supported by pillars and vaulted ceilings were bordered by arches. Inside, bronze speckled black tile was immaculately cleaned and white marble partitions provided safety for bankers and visual appeal for customers. Oak tables were situated for meetings and elaborate offices could be spotted deep inside the cavernous classical chambers.

An impressive chandelier illuminated the mostly windowless bank floor with inappropriate brilliance. A marble staircase put an end to the black tile and led up to more offices on the second and third floors, visible through an atrium at the center of the lobby. Italian police guarded strategic corners of the building and tellers were positioned at the marble partitions on either side of the black-tiled bank floor.

In the morning hours, the bank was still yawning, gathering its things and starting the day.

--Laveaux 20:27, 9 December 2005 (CST)

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