Book II: Chapter 28
Miriam bowed her head, while Alan sputtered – still unable to accept the possibility there might be a secret vault beneath St. Peter’s Basilica that he knew nothing about, “I don’t believe it!”
“It’s true.” Miriam agreed. “La Papessa had the vault built specifically to house my letter. The construction was completed by a craftsman who was in the employ of the Bishop of Hostia – her son. As it turns out that contractor was an illiterate mute – making him an ideal choice for such a covert job. As far as I know, outside of the craftsman, Pope Joanna, and her son, the only other person that knew about the vault was me.”
“Does anyone have access to that depository now?” Alan asked.
“Three people.” Miriam advised. “The current pope –for among the many articles that come with the Papal Throne, a cryptic message about La Papessa’s vault was included in Pope Francis’ personal artifact collection. However, if we surmise that only those popes who have contacted me about it have actually read the letter, then the number of popes who knew about the vault has been very small indeed.”
“How many?” Alan asked.
“None.” Miriam smiled winsomely, before explaining further, “I doubt that any of the popes have ever looked at La Papessa’s message or spent any time trying to decipher its Bible Code. After all, didn’t we just say that Joanna’s reign was discredited? Thus which pope in his right mind would want to be caught meddling with her affairs? Certainly not the millennial-appeasing Francis. Ah, don’t you see the beautiful tapestry of God’s work — even though Pope Joan suffered, it was not for nothing – for she protected this knowledge from prying eyes, even until this very day!”
“I’d like to believe that, but we can’t be sure.” Alan surmised. “Yet you spoke of THREE people — who are the other two?”
“I believe one could be the Confuto Penitentiary.” Miriam speculated. “He is the keeper of the most secret items of the Papal Artifacts collection.”
(Dammit, she’s on to something. And when Miriam gets a whiff, she’s like a bloodhound that won’t stop).
“You mean the Major Penitentiary.” Alan corrected.
“No. I mean what I said. The Confuto – Supreme – Penitentiary.”
“I love seeing you two argue.” I interrupted, taking another swig of my drink, having now lost count of how many Modelo’s I’d swilled in the last hour. (They sure do go down easy when you’re having fun). “You sound just like an old married couple.”
Both Alan and Miriam blushed red at that comment, and Alan stuttered, “Miriam, there hasn’t been a Confuto Penitentiary for over two centuries.”
(Ah, but there will be soon, buddy – and I couldn’t help thinking about the mysterious Cardinalate Marrollo’s recent request to Benedict – could Marrollo know about The Sacra Crypta and the secrets it housed?)
“No Confuto in office is a good thing!” Miriam advised. “For that’s one less person we have to worry about. But that still leaves one man left who is all the more important to us. He’s never contacted me about the letter but he still worries me.”
“Benedict.” Alan filled in the blank.
“Benedict.” Miriam agreed.
“We must see him.”
“We must know which side he is really on.”
“Well, that settles it then. We three shall go to Benedict.”
“When do we leave?”
“I guess that’s up to John.” Alan looked over at me in anticipation.
I took another long pull on my beer, wiped my mouth with the back of my hand, and then leaned back in my chair to make it a recliner, “You two are welcome to get on up out of here whenever you like. And the sooner the better. But as for me, I’m just fine where I am.”
“John, how can you say that?” Miriam asked.
I didn’t reply.
“You know we all must go together,” Alan chimed in.
Still I was steadfast in my silence.
“Ma’bus already has my Nail.” Alan reminded. “Yours and Miriam’s are the weapons we need to defeat him. We can’t afford to let Ma’bus get them too. If he does, he’ll be able to perform The Armageddon Rite!”
Another taste of my drink, and I licked my lips, “Ah, that’s good. Mr. Modelo sure does brew a good beer, don’t he?”
“Jesus needs you.” Miriam ignored by charades. “I know you are still hurting, but The Lord will restore you again, John — and you will praise Him for it. Don’t you care anymore?”
At that, I jumped out of my chair, sending beer cans flying, “HE doesn’t care about me, so why should I care about him?” Hobbling over to my bookcase, I pulled out the chest that held my Nail, and threw it at them. “If you want that damn thing so bad, you can have it. Go! Do whatever you two want to. Go to Benedict – see how far that gets you. Visit Ma’bus, if you like. I don’t care; just leave me alone to die!”
And with that, I forced Alan and Miriam out of my house – slamming the door shut on them.
Miriam tried banging on the door to get back in, “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath, John — it leads only to evil.”
“Shut up, Mary!” I screamed at her through the door. “When will you understand — that which is twisted cannot be straightened, that which is lacking, cannot be counted. I am no more than a man forgotten and I just want to be left alone!”
And so they left – off again to pursue their great Commission.
As for me, I was alone at last.
Finally I was ready get to back to work — for The Opus Magnum beckoned. And this time I vowed to continue that rite until the very end… and hopefully die trying!