The Hand of God - Chapter Eleven
The Hand of God - Chapter Eleven
Rome was alive with the news of Damian Miller’s disappearance and mysterious return. If he had had a reception when he was first here for his concert, he had an even more excited crowd following him now. He had been in the news all over Italy and the U.S., since he disappeared, and Rosa Giovanni had been asked every possible question by every talk show host and reporter as to what she thought had happened. Rosa had never given up hope that he would return alive...nor had Vanucci, who regularly followed her remarks. Vanucci knew before the rest of the world that Damian was alive and on his way to Rome. His spy network had seen to that. And he also knew that Damian could only have returned to Rome before going home to New York for one very obvious reason, to steal Vanucci’s opportunity of returning the necklace to the Church. Vanucci would not have much time to work.
Damian noticed a car following his limousine. At first, he thought it was the press and paid them no mind, but later, at a momentary stop, he saw that they were not dressed as reporters. He was beginning to feel that these men were up to no good when he noticed that his limousine was not heading in the direction of the Vatican, but away from it. Alarmed, Damian told the driver that he was going the wrong way, but the driver continued on as if he had not heard a thing. Soon, Damian was yelling at the driver to stop the car, which also had no effect. Damian understood now.
Damian began to control his breathing, as Shi T’ien Chun had taught him at Shaolin, and at a certain moment, he reached forward, touched the driver on the side of the neck and put him to sleep. That certain moment had been at the red light of a busy district. Damian got out of the car and, trying to be inconspicuous, looked for a cab. But the men in the car, who were now running toward him, had other plans. It was too busy an intersection for the use of guns, even Damian had assessed that. They outnumbered him, though, and would be able to drag him quickly into their car. They had been instructed not to kill him until after Vanucci got to personally pay Damian a visit. Vanucci had planned ever since he barely escaped China what he was going to do when he finally got his hands on Damian, and no one, no one, would deprive him of that pleasure!
The four men came on to Damian with the confidence of professional killers, but Damian was just standing there...breathing. He felt as if Shi T’ien Chun were standing there beside him. He was calm. Suddenly, Damian felt a surge of adrenaline and came alive with moves that resembled a white crane in flight. Leaping, spinning, kicking, striking...it was as if Shi T’ien Chun were working out, going through the forms Damian had first seen him do, but it was not Shi T’ien Chun doing the forms now, it was Damian. The men could not comprehend what he was doing. It was strange, because they had never seen Kung Fu before, especially this style. And while they were unable to figure out what he was doing, he had no trouble with them. It was child’s play as he put the four men away.
The crowd on the streets had formed an arena of sorts, and by the end of the fight, cheered the winner. It had taken place so quickly, and with fear of the Red Brigade, a terrorist group notorious for kidnappings and murders, no one had gotten involved. Once the onlookers saw what Damian was doing to his attackers, however, everyone saw that he needed no help, and with their hatred of terrorists and kidnappers ever with them, they were ready to carry Damian on their shoulders in praise. But Damian had a need to move on. He could not dwell in the limelight, and it would not do for someone to suddenly recognize him. Spotting a cab, he dashed up to it, opened the door and jumped in. There was a startled lady sitting in the back seat, but Damian immediately put her at ease when he told her he needed to share her cab only as far as the Vatican, and he would pay her fare as well as his own.
When they arrived at the Vatican, the driver walked around to Damian’s door to open it for him. Damian thought it odd at first, such service for a taxi, but the cab driver told him it was an honor to have him as a customer, that he had recognized who Damian was from the first moment he had entered his cab. He didn’t fail, however, to ask Damian for an autograph before allowing him to leave. He said he wanted to be able to prove to his friends that Damian Miller had really ridden in his cab.
Damian was awed by the majestic beauty of the interior of the Vatican. It was breathtakingly huge and powerfully quiet, like the Grand Canyon, he thought. When Damian had first explained to the person at the door that he something to return to the Church, he was told to take it to his priest at his local parish, but when Damian explained that it was a relic of historical significance, he was taken without further question deeper into this holy shrine. Past priceless paintings and astounding statues, unique art carvings, marble pillars of tremendous size and unusual shape, down long hallways and endless marble steps they went. Damian could hear Gregorian chant coming from somewhere deep in this cavern of hushed wealth, yet there was still an awesome silence about the place. At long last, they came to a room into which he was led and told to wait. He was assured that someone would soon come to see him.
Damian was planning what he would tell this person who was so close to the Pope. He would tell him everything about how the necklace had been placed around his neck years ago by his father the night he died. He would tell him about his travels and how one of their priests, Antellio Vanucci, had tried to kill him for it, and then he would go to the police about Vanucci being the man who killed his father and mother. After this was done, Damian was going to return to America. It would be good, at long last, to finally see home again. Damian was thinking on these things when the door opened, and he turned to look into the face of the monster, himself...Vanucci!
Vanucci closed the door behind him and approached Damian. They stood, at first, and just stared at each other. No thoughts could fathom the vast depths of this meeting.
“You’re sick!” Damian spat out with utter disgust.
Edging closer, Vanucci bargained, “Give me the necklace, and you can go free. You will never have to see me again,” all the while wearing a pained and awkward smile.
“Not after all that you’ve done!” Damian shot back. “I know you killed my parents. You tried to kill me, and I want you brought to justice.”
Fighting the desire to kill Vanucci himself, Damian had managed to circle past Vanucci in this momentary lapse of Vanucci’s ability to think fast enough, or his total frustration, to completely master this situation, and Damian was now near to the door ready to leave. He would go to the police, Vanucci knew that, but before he had taken two steps out the door, Vanucci regained his overwhelming need for the necklace and lunged after him. Vanucci was now insane, a man possessed by his own demise. He grabbed Damian, but Damian suddenly became Shi T’ien Chun, and with a strange and fluid turning motion, a blur sent Vanucci hurtling through the air. Their eyes met briefly, Damian yanked instantly back to becoming just Damian, Vanmucci becoming a lost priest aware of himself as never before, much to the unalterable horror of them both...for Vanucci was now falling to his death. Damian had unthinkingly thrown Vanucci free of himself, and in so doing, had hurled him up and over the railing of the balcony on which they stood. Three stories below was the chapel floor. Vanucci went to his death clutching the object of his insane obsession. There was a loud thud as the black-robed body hit the floor, a thud that echoed, yet all the way down, Vanucci never screamed. There had only been that look on his face of utter surprise. Damian would never forget it for as long as he would live.
In all of God’s planning and judgment, one often wonders at the ends of His means, at the fates He often plans for those on Earth. As the Pope was returning from prayers, he was about to cross the very floor to which Vanucci had fallen to his death. So it was that, when Vanucci died, the Pope was the first to reach his side. There before the Pope lay the priest he had known as a zealot for the Church, an ambitious priest who was now dead before his time. Visibly stunned, the Pope kneeled beside the body of Vanucci, whose outstretched hands made him appear as if he had been nailed to a cross. The Pope began last rites, as other priests in his entourage reverently joined in. A glint of sparkling light caught the Pope’s eyes, and he turned at that moment to focus on the source of that intense beam of light. There draped around Vanucci’s outstretched lifeless hand was a gold chain that led to a magnificent crystal which was sitting squarely in his palm. The Pope stopped praying abruptly. He was stunned into silence, because he knew exactly what he was seeing. With reverence and grace, His Holiness placed the crystal containing the sacred piece of wood into his own hand and brought, thusly, an end to centuries of search and a fulfillment of God’s justice. With a voice of sorrow, yet amazement, the Pope stared at the priceless relic, for a moment speechless, then uttered his profound thought, “The Necklace of God!”