Pope Kellan enters his office surrounded by the Vatican’s security team. The Head of Vatican City Security, Anthony Russo, is first to speak. “Your Holiness, we checked all of the floors, as well as the roof and the underground levels. There is no sign of the young nun, or any breach of security. All windows and doors are locked as usual. Security cameras pick up her image as she walks towards you from the stairwell. However, she is not on the cameras in the stairwells. Her entrance is still a mystery.
“I also checked with the personnel office. None of the nun nurses were scheduled to be on-site this morning. No one who has seen the video recognizes the young lady. A missing nurse’s uniform was found by the Vatican security in a trash can one block away. We’ve put security on Code Red, meaning more guards and tighter vetting of visitors and staff. I do have good news regarding the envelope: it’s clean. There are no toxins or trackers involved. My job includes reading any suspicious papers delivered for you. I have read the letter inside of this one and believe it needs your immediate attention.” Officer Russo hands the envelope to the Pope.
“Thank you, Anthony. Please do not increase the vetting today. The Religion Roundtable happens in a few hours, and I have the American Ambassador and Master Cohen visiting soon. I do not want to create an atmosphere of alarm. I’ll know more when I read the contents of this envelope, but for now let’s just make it business as usual.”
The security team leaves with a wave of a hand from their director. Only the Pope’s three most trusted advisors remain in the room. “Lazarus, please read this aloud. I fear the contents will be of grave concern. We should hear it together.”
After Lazarus finishes reading the draft of Anna’s address, Pope Kellan covers his eyes with his hands and slowly slides them down the sides of his face. He drops them into his lap and takes a deep breath. He stands and walks to the shaded bullet-proof window that separates him from the visitors in St. Peter’s Square. As he stares out the window, his advisors wait for him to speak.
“My dear confidants, what do I do with this information? I have been deceived. I stood before the ambassadors of the world and backed these Thirteen Mandates. How do I reverse this grave lapse of judgement?”
Lazarus speaks up. “Holy Father, you must first confirm the source of this document. Master Cohen is due here at 10:00 a.m. Allow her to share her reasoning. We can proceed with a plan of action once you have her explanation. I implore you to not act in haste.”
“Thank you, Lazarus. Your advice is wise and correct. What is the morning schedule?”
“Master Anna Cohen will be in your presence from 10:00-10:20 a.m. Ambassador Jagger and her assistant, Benjamin Hume, will be in your presence from 10:30-10:50 a.m. The Religion Roundtable begins in the conference room on Level One at 11:00 a.m.”
“Thank you. That is all. I wish to be alone until Master Cohen arrives.”
Lazarus disagrees. “Your Holiness, I strongly advise against this. There was a security breach just within the last hour. With all due respect, I do not believe you should be left alone for the remainder of the day.”
“While that may be advisable, and I see that you are being faithful to my well-being, I will not adhere to the advice. Please leave me for fifteen minutes. I must sort out my thoughts.”
After fifteen minutes of privacy, filled with prayer and pacing, Pope Kellan’s door opens. His final assistant is standing in front of him with her announcement. “Master Anna Cohen has arrived. She requests admittance to your presence.”
“Invite her in.” Anna Cohen enters Pope Kellan’s office followed by two members of his security team. “I request to meet with my guest alone. Thank you.” The security team exits the office and closes the door.
“Greetings, Master Cohen. I pray your travel was pleasant.”
“Greetings, Pope. It was indeed pleasant. May I venture a guess you’re upset by something?”
“Please, have a seat.” Anna chooses the largest chair in the room with a view of the courtyard and the room’s fireplace. Pope Kellen chooses the smaller chair in front of her. “Earlier this hour, the Vatican had a security breach. A woman dressed as a nun nurse met me in a hallway and handed me this envelope. It contains a copy of a speech written for delivery to the U.N. General Assembly next month. It’s entitled, The Intent and Implementation of the Thirteen Mandates for a United World. The speaker is said to be you. I need to know if these words are indeed yours.”
Anna reaches for the clipped papers and scans them. She lifts her head high. “I do not know the identity of the deliverer, but the words are mine.”
The Pope stands and begins to pace again. “How could you have deceived me this way?”
“Did I deceive you, or did you see only what you wanted to see? The words of the Mandates remain unchanged. Only the intent has been clarified.”
“Anna, you know these mandates were presented to me with a much different purpose when you asked for my support. What is it you’re trying to accomplish here? More importantly, who are you serving?”
Anna stands and approaches the Pope. “Who I serve is none of your concern. The speech will be delivered as written and you will stand with me in unity.”
“I will not deceive the ambassadors. I must expose you and the harm these mandates will do to the governments of the world. I will not stand by idly as you enslave the people of this planet.”
Anna drops her head slightly to lock eye contact with the Pope. “Oh, I don’t think that will happen, Kellan. You’re dealing with me now, and I’m much more powerful than you know.”
Anna continues to address the Pope in a casual manner he considers completely inappropriate. “Do you remember a priest by the name of Nathaniel Romano? Of course, you do. He was your best friend when the two of you were cardinals.” Anna continues to move around the Pope’s office, picking up and examining his personal property and showing a complete disregard for protocol. “Do you remember when Cardinal Romano confided in you that he had been molesting two young altar boys—the Sheen brothers?” The Pope goes weak in the knees and sits down in his armchair.
Anna continues her accusation. “You must remember. You were the one who covered up the crimes of your friend. It appears you attempted to cleanse his records as well as his soul. Do you remember what ultimately closed this account? The brothers jumped to their death, hand-in-hand, off a jagged cliff in the Puglia region. The end of their young lives was a tragedy for their families, but a relief for you and Cardinal Romano. And yet, the files you hid did not contain the most incriminating piece of evidence.” Anna reaches into her bag and retrieves a piece of paper and hands it to the Pope. “This is a copy of the boy’s suicide note, Kellan.”
“Where did you get this?” The Pope’s voice sounds strained.
“Oh, I have my sources. I also have the entire files of the brothers retrieved from your personal safe. You must start choosing codes that aren’t so predictable. At least give my people a challenge when they come to take things from you. I must hand it to the Catholic Church for its exhaustive and exquisite record-taking. I’m not sure if its habit of keeping incriminating evidence is extremely responsible or just plain stupid.
“Nevertheless, this suicide letter tells quite a story. Mostly, it tells of the wine parties the brothers were forced to attend in Cardinal Romano’s apartment. It will cause quite the uproar with the Press when it is released. There is one especially interesting tale of a visitor who happened into one of the wine parties totally by chance. The boys hoped the discovery would save them. Much to their dismay, the visitor saw what was happening and simply left. He did not rescue them. Do you know who this might have been?”
The Pope leans over in his chair and holds his head and begins to sob. Anna continues to drive in the knife. “The brothers described your rank, your hometown, and even spelled your name correctly. What a Press scoop this will be! While the Americans have been picking off the little Catholic fish, I have caught the Pontific whale.”
“What are you going to do?” Pope Kellan asks with a trembling voice.
“It’s really not about what I am going to do, Kellan—It’s about what you are going to do.” Anna walks behind the Pope’s chair and leans to whisper in his ear. “You are going to stand on the stage at the United Nations with me next month and give your full support to the Thirteen Mandates. You are going to finish what you started. You are also going to get yourself together and handle the Religion Roundtable in an hour, in the manner we discussed.
“You have sixty seconds to give me your word. Should you not, this story will hit the World Press Corps by sunup tomorrow. The world is already watching this place for news from the Roundtable. The liberal Press is waiting for a ripe tidbit they can beat to death for the sole purpose of discrediting this event. I can’t imagine a better story for their purpose, can you?” Anna walks to her chair and picks up her Italian handbag. She stands belligerent in front of the Pope.
“I’ll do as you asked.” As she walks to the door, the Pope calls after her. “Anna, do not destroy the Catholic Church for my cowardly actions twenty years ago. I beg of you.”
Anna smirks. “It’s been great doing business with you, Kellan. I’ll see you at the Roundtable.” Anna walks out of the Pope’s office without closing the door. She demands a member of the Pope’s security team escort her to the meeting room for the Religion Roundtable.