I found this laying around. I put some of it together during the Dan Brown craze. May revisit. Probably not. Just some Chippin’ around.
The footfalls echoed through the corridors, the man was making no pretext of stealth, and his footsteps were measured and sounded somewhat like a cadence. The lush tapestries and renaissance masterpieces in heavily ornamented frames would be enough to cause a casual visitor’s heart to skip a beat. However, Denis Acklin had been here before. Many times he had walked these halls as a halberdier, now Feldwebel Acklin was checking up on the third watch.
Being the highest ranking noncommissioned officer allowed Denis certain liberties, short of the commandant, he was held in regard even more so than the lieutenants and other staff officers. He preferred the third watch because he could wear the black BDUs so common of paramilitary organizations around the world. World-wise and jaded when he entered the Guard, Denis hated the purple and yellow that the public identified not only with the Guard, but also with Michelangelo for some reason. “Fairy suits,” he spat derisively to anyone who would listen. His dislike of the uniform was not an indicator to his morale though. He was a fiery devout Catholic, and like the rest of the world he became enthralled by the last Bishop of Rome who sat upon the Throne of Peter for the first twenty years of his service with the Guard. Denis entered the guard at the age of thirty, and he had served for 24 years. At the age of fifty four, he was at the top of his field. He will retire next year, and travel the world on his pension.
He had made his way through the Secret Archives, and all was well. Five privates, or halberdiers, and their corporal reported in. So far, so good, another blessedly quiet night in the Vatican, these had been few and far between. Denis became agitated at the memory. It was never dangerous, just irritating. Locals and tourists alike would try to hide in the city after shut-down. Some would try to scale the walls, some brazen enough to try to overcome the guardsmen on duty. Because of some crazy American everyone thought that the Vatican was the center of world intrigue. Heresy fiction had become a legitimate genre thanks to this guys work. Angels and Davinci or some thrice damned thing. Denis had tried to read the drivel, but thought it was so poorly written his five year old niece could have done better. Opus Dei? He chuckled to himself. They were as harmless as the Jesuits. Everyone thought that things that went on within these walls are so unique, or very different from what went on without.
Drawing up just short of the command post he adjusted his equipment belt. No halberd, not even the standard issue Hechler and Koch MP5 for him. The toys were for the boys he thought. His main weapon now was his authority. Not that he ever used it. In all of his service there were only two incidents that he would categorize as dangerous or exciting. A young Turk attempted to assassinate the Pope in broad daylight during a motorcade, and the other was not known beyond the walls. Fifteen years prior a group of well trained and well equipped men, numbering ten, made their way into the city. They got as far as the Papal apartments even. Twenty guardsmen had died in the silence of that night, but the guard had stopped them. A sharp running fight erupted as the intruders were spotted leaving St. Peter’s heading into the apartments. The first encounter left two hostiles and five Swiss dead. The first response had been disastrous, twenty guardsmen blundering into the square in file, not knowing what the threat was. Ten of them fell before they could react. Denis was a corporal then, and scared. Once aware of the seriousness of the threat, the fear of the guard gave way to their training. More fully aware of what was going on the Guard moved into action as one, though five more would enter the gates that night, they neutralized the intruders in efficient fashion. Eight were dead, two were captured. Eastern European was all they ever found out. The two went to prison, and are still there as far as he remembers. They have yet to utter a word at all. They’re ghosts, no names, no record of their identities. The group was assumed to be Spetznatz, Soviet Special Forces sent to silence the most outspoken opponent of Communism. Walking through the Square at nights, Acklin would sometimes think he heard the odd pop of silencers. The commandant tried to prevent the Pope from finding out about the threat, but that was impossible. The Pope sang funeral Mass for the fallen guards and intruders that morning, and prayed for the repose of their souls.
Entering the CP he was met with a curt salute and a boisterous “Good Evening Herr Feldwebel!”
“Salutes are for officers Heinrich,” he quipped, “How passes the night?”
“All is well, electronic surveillance is normal, cameras, and motion detectors, infrared, all quiet. I’ve just brewed a pot of real devil piss, want some?”
The kid, that’s all Denis could think to call him 19 years old and idealistic, indicated the coffeepot in the corner. Grunting his thanks, Denis poured a cup of the sludge into a cleanish mug. Walking back to the console he slumped into a chair next to the young soldier and looked at the monitors. The old routine had finally become exactly that, routine. He looked at the young man wondering when all of this will get old for him. He was still diligent, alert, and ready for anything. Denis while still diligent and alert, for the most part, thought that nothing was the most that could happen. He had left a job with Interpol because he thought it wasn’t exciting. A station agent in Prague for five years, but he believed he could do more. He returned home entered the militia and then tried out for the Guards. The vaunted Swiss Guard. He yawned, and then choked down his coffee. The regular radio reports were called in with typical efficiency the young corporal handling them equally effectively. The last call came in a few minutes late.
Denis snapped up, suddenly alert. “Who was that?”
The young corporal flipped through a stack of duty assignments, “Schaat, Sir. He’s in the Basilica.”
There are only one hundred and thirty seven Swiss Guards assigned to the Vatican. Denis prided himself on knowing them all, not only by face, but also being able to recognize their voices. Bertran Schaat hailed from a southern canton, and spoke with a hint of French accent. The voice that radioed in did not sound like him.
“That’s not Schaat.”
“Why would you say that Felwebel?”
“It wasn’t his voice.”
“He radioed in earlier, said he was coming down with a cold. He mentioned that he may need to go to sick call tomorrow.”
“Call him up.”
Heinrich did as requested. No answer. He repeated the call a few seconds later. The voice responded and sounded somewhat winded. Denis grabbed the handset.
“David, how passes the night?”
The Sergeant-Major’s normal greeting was lost on the man, he responded, “Quite well.” The coffee cup crashed to the floor as Denis bounded up from his chair.
“Corporal, isolate that radio from all further communications. Ring up the Commandant, the Major and the rest of the staff. We have an intruder and at least one guard down. Actually put all radios in and around the Basilica on silence. Is there anyone in the ready room?”
The corporal, though young and inexperienced was exceedingly well trained, he slipped into automatic seeing to all of Denis’ demands while finding the duty rosters.
“Craig, Snelling, Krouskop, Model, and Freiburg.”
“Open a channel to the ready room.”
“Ready room? Acklin. Come in.”
“Ready room. Model, over.”
“Who’s with you Model?”
“Freiburg, Snelling, and Craig. All coming off duty sir.”
“Not tonight. Re-arm, load for bear. We have intruders. Meet me at the command post with an extra rifle. I’ll brief the commandant either here if he makes it in time, or by radio. Move.”
“Shit.” Acklin glanced at Heinrich. Hoping that he is wrong he asks, “Where is Krouskop tonight?”
“Basilica sir, east wing. His shift ended ten minutes ago.”
He grabbed the handset and keyed the mic, knowing that he did not have to ask if the Basilica radios were taken off line.
“Model, Model. Double quick, bypass CP, I’ll meet you in the….where the hell are you?”
“Approaching the motor pool sir.”
“Right, I’ll meet you outside of the motor pool. Acklin out.”
“I don’t have a radio, but have the Commandant radio Model to reach me. I’ll link up with him in less than five. Alert the Guard to converge here, maintain the perimeter, as a matter of fact double the perimeter. They managed to penetrate somewhere, I want to know where and I want to know now. Roland is going to spit fire and piss bullets when he finds out what’s happening, so tell him everything you know when he gets here.”
Denis realized he spoke too familiarly of the Commandant in front of a subordinate, but at the time it did not matter. He ran out of the door checking his automatic and chambering a round as he ran towards the motor pool. He racked his brain, but could not think of any suspects let alone a motive. With the exception of George Bush’s Sandbox, the world was relatively at peace. No Soviets, though Putin has been pounding his chest lately, no real material threat that he could think of. Roland will kill me if I’m overreacting. What if Schaat just didn’t hear me on the radio, what if he has a cold. Krouskop could have just gone back to barracks. Unlikely, all of it was.
He reached the motor pool, having run the whole way, yet not winded. The Guard ensured everyone was in prime health, from the commandant on down. The four guardsmen approached him, a tall blond sergeant casually tossing him an AR-15 and bandolier of magazines. They did not rely on words, but hand signals, each informing the other the way they had passed was all clear. Knowing that they were the first responders while the rest of the Guard mobilized, they turned and trotted down the hallway toward the Basilica as quickly and as quietly as possible.
Roland Pfyffer hailed from Luzerne. He was short, for a guardsman, he was 5’9” tall the minimum requirement. He was broad shouldered and barrel chested, he was known for his booming voice and his quick temper. He came from a proud line; six of his ancestors had been commandants for almost the whole of the 18th century and fully half of the 19th. His family had once been considered royal. They were barons, but Roland’s great grandfather had sold the title to pay the debts his ancestors had accrued. He was not accustomed to being awoken shortly after 3 a.m., but if Sergeant-Major Acklin had deemed it necessary, something was afoot. He barked orders as he was marching down the hallway, his officers and staff following behind. He was not aware of what was going on but he ordering a complete lockdown of the 109 acres that are part of the Vatican as standard procedure. He sent thirty five of his men to stand guard in the Papal Apartments, guarding the irascible Pontiff. The way he figured, the speech at Regensburg was finally being paid due. With that notion, he sent an additional twenty men to guard the Pope. The breach had to be minor, otherwise claxons and alarms would be sounding throughout the city. Entering the Command Post, he took a seat and listened as a corporal whose name he forgot rattled off the details. Possibly two guardsmen down, maybe more, intrusion in the Basilica with his Sergeant-Major responding with a five man squad. Everything seemed in hand. He radioed Sergeant Model, who was with the squad. Ensuring that everything was set, he got their position and was able to find the small team on the closed circuit camera system. He scanned the nave. Empty. He watched the interior of the Basilica for a couple of minutes.
Swearing an oath, he realized he had seen no motion at all. Reviewing the tapes, he saw that the last time a guard had been seen on camera was thirty minutes prior to his being called.
Looking to his major, he asked, “How many men in the Basilica this morning?”
“Six on each watch third and first.”
He barked out, “Twelve guards and not a one of them appear on any of the cameras for thirty minutes?” The volume of this question caused those in the room to start.
“Get the names, and do a head count, I want a report from each of those men. Now!”
“No one has checked in sir, I can’t raise them on the radio either. The barracks are empty too.”
Reaching for the radio he keyed the handset. “Acklin? Pfyffer, come in. Hold your position. Hold at the entrance to the Center Basilica, I’m sending two squads over.”
“Copy that. Any idea what is going on?”
“I’m getting reports right now. Hold.” His two lieutenants were tripping over themselves to speak. Finally after silencing one so he could here the other he got the whole story.
“Not good. Damn it. Perimeter is reestablished. Four guards found down at one section of the wall, twelve guards from the Basilica are unaccounted for, as are eight others. At first blush, our reinforced company is down by one quarter of its strength almost, the only thing we have going for us is that it cannot be a large incursion, or they would have set off the alarms by now. Reinforcements are on the way. Out.”
With that he dispatched two squads of ten equipped with night-vision goggles and submachine guns. No sooner had he done so than the corporal…what was his name, called out.
“I’ve got movement in the Square!”
“Those are our troops,” Roland snapped.
“Negative, sir. Our Troops are just now crossing the square; I’ve got several heat signatures in the colonnades.”
“How many are there?” This can’t be, Roland thought. But if it was the Iranians coming for the Pope, there is no telling what they would do. “Damn it Heinrich!” He shouted not realizing when he remembered the young man’s name. “How many?”
The young guardsman was starting to get rattled. He adjusted his monitor and swore under his breath. “I don’t know! The heat signature is barely recognizable; it’s as if they are shielded somehow.”
The shadows moved along the columns. They did not know that these pillars that they crept behind were designed 300 years ago by an artist named Bernini. They would not have cared if they had known. They were not being paid to be tourists. They were here for the soul purpose of legerdemain. They were to stop any Vatican security forces from interfering with what was going on in the Basilica. The men did not know each other, but they were all highly compensated for their line of work. Colin had been assured of the capability of the men placed under his command by the man that hired him. He knew his men were better equipped than the Guards entering the square, he also knew he must maintain the upper hand in order to overcome them. He saw the telltale green light of the starlight scopes the Swiss Guard were wearing. The mercenary group was equipped with headsets, and with heat signature dampening combat suits.
Colin uttered into the headset, “Flash grenades.”
As the Guards entered the Square the radio of the Guard lieutenant’s radio crackled. The Guards slowed their pace, but they were already in the Square. Colin thought to himself, “I thought they were Special Forces.” He signaled his men and several small objects that resembled hockey pucks rolled out into the Square. The Guards froze and fell into a five by five cover formation at the sound of the devices rolling toward them.
“All too easy,” Colin thought, “this fight is over before it starts.”
With a loud crack, the grenades go off sending white hot magnesium out into the air. The result was a flash which the naked eye could withstand, but the Guards were blinded instantly by the night vision goggles. The monitor in the Command Post registered the flash, temporarily covering the image with static.
“Damnation. What was that Heinrich? What’s going on out there?” Roland roared.
“Disruption device of some type. The picture is coming back now sir. I’ve got it up on CCTV now.”
Roland watched the picture as it came into focus. He saw muzzle flashes from behind Bernini’s Columns, and watched in horror as his men were caught out in the open. In the Square gunfire erupted from the Columns, the Swiss were caught in a crossfire, and their return fire spattered mostly against the columns as they were cut to pieces. The Guardsmen did not recover from the initial contact and all were down within a minute. Caught in the open they stood no chance.
Roland was issuing orders to bring the rest of the Guard into the fight. They had been slaughtered to a man defending the Pope in the 1600s, and it seemed like they would have to do so again. Forty four men were out of the fight. He watched the monitor as a single shadow emerged into the Square. Methodically the figure walked from man to man pausing to fire a single round from an automatic pistol into each Guardsman that was still moving. He issued final orders to the men guarding the Pontiff. Ensure he reaches Castel Gandolfo, and notify the Italian civil authorities in Rome. Finally he contacted Acklin in the Basilica.
“Denis? Come in. This is Roland. No help coming old friend. We have a situation in the Square outside.”
“I heard that racket Roland. Are you mopping up out there?”
“No. All friendlies lost. I’m throwing those not with His Holiness into the Square. You’ve got the inside. Good Luck.”
Roland told Heinrich to watch matters here and keep him posted. He was leading forty Guardsmen into the Square to eliminate this rogue group in one fatal strike. By now all the Guards had been into the armory and were equipped in body armor and with assault rifles. This time he would not be caught unprepared.
Colin was throwing up violently in the middle of the Square. After finishing off the last of the survivors he was taken with nausea. It was normal for him. He did not mind the killing. He was quite good at it actually. It was just the crash after the adrenaline rush of a fire fight. He issued orders into his headset. Five men stay here as a rear guard. The rest were going into the Basilica to ensure the safety of the target. With a wave of his hand the ten men with him sprinted up the Square and through Maderno’s Portico. Denis heard the rushing footsteps, and led his small band deeper into the massive church. They advanced up the nave in two by two with Denis leading the way. He noticed something beyond the baldachino movement. This was unusual. The only thing in the apse was the ‘Throne of St. Peter.” This wasn’t the chair of legend, but a priceless work of art by Bernini who designed the killing field outside.
As he tried to figure out the event unfolding in the apse, he heard the hurried approach of the hostiles behind him. With Roland leading the equivalent of a small army in through the Piazza there was nowhere for the intruders to escape, except through the dome. Acklin weighed his options and decided he for one would not allow a gun battle to break out in the Basilica of St. Peter. He signaled his men and they made for the gallery, and from there up to the roof. Once they were there, they searched for any foes. They found some rappelling gear on the apse. They intended to escape through the Vatican grounds. More than likely through the audience hall built by Paul VI. Acklin stationed his men so they could cover the door that led to the dome, and still have a clear field of fire to the grappling gear on the apse. Within five minutes he heard a large number of men coming up the stairwell to the door. Fifteen men clad in black set foot out on the roof. Acklin signaled for his men to hold their fire. He wanted to make sure no more came out. These men fanned out and took to their knees as two more men came out under the cover of the others. These men held a bundle between them. This couldn’t just be an art heist. Denis did not know what was going on. He was distracted by the sudden sound of assault rifle fire in the Piazza, when he looked back he heard the sound of helicopter rotors. Swearing at himself for being so foolish he signaled his men to fire on the men with the package. Five rifles opened on the two men simultaneously, and they were cut to ribbons. Acklin shifted fire to those closest to his position as the training of the men automatically took over, each did the same. A violent roaring sound was the first clue Acklin had that the inbound chopper might actually be armed. Snelling and Freiburg went down chewed up by the large caliber bullets. Acklin, Model and Craig dove for cover, Craig was almost cut in half by the next burst from the chopper. When Denis looked over at Model who was whispering something. Leaning in closer he could hear that the sergeant was saying the rosary while he was reloading his rifle. Glancing over the parapet he saw that the helicopter had lowered rope ladders for the surviving intruders to take climb up on. Seven men climbed the ropes one hugging an awkwardly wrapped package as the helicopter climbed away. Acklin and Model checked for wounded, but they knew that their friends could not have survived the chain gun that caught them off guard. Three of the intruders were wounded, and Acklin bound them with nylon cord.
More footsteps rushing out onto the roof heralded the arrival of one very angry Commandant of the Guard. “We sent a handful of them to Judgment by God, did the others escape?” Denis nodded at the Commandants question. “Damn it. We need to find out what they were here for. They did not make any effort to capture His Holiness at all. This was way too much for an art heist, especially since you could not sell anything stolen from here on the black market let alone anywhere else.”
Cursing himself for a fool, Denis rushed to the stairs shouting, “The apse! They were doing something over by the Throne of Peter!” With an oath he bounded down the stairs, the first thought in his mind that they would have planted explosives. He stood agape looking under the Throne of Peter. A panel had been removed, and a device was left in its place counting down from ten minutes. Tracing the wiring from under the Throne, he saw that every supporting column in the Basilica had an explosive charge attached to it that was wired to the unit under the Throne. Roland had come into the apse and Denis jumped at the sound of the Commandant.
“Bomb squad to the apse ASAP.” He roared. Within two minutes three Guardsmen who had received demolitions training ran into the apse. The device was not complex, and they disarmed it in five minutes. They then began to carefully dismantle all of the explosives found throughout the Basilica. The Commandant ordered an immediate roll call and that the dead be gathered together for identification. Forty seven of their members were killed that night, only four were wounded. The next day they would all wear the red uniform of a commandant marking them as survivors.
The heat was unbearable. The weather was behaving oddly as well. It felt as hot as the sun, but it looked like a fierce storm was brewing. Dark clouds were gathering, and lightening was striking off in the distance, but it did not feel like a storm where they were. He would never understand this place. The lorica hamata he wore was beginning to chafe. Why he had been assigned to this detachment he never knew. No one else from his cohort was here, why was he? What kind of name is Golgotha anyway. This whole land was miserable. The heat, the stink. Nothing grew here, and nothing good would ever come from here. Why couldn’t I be in Britanica, or Germanica. Why here? Egypt would be better. Savage people lived here. Savage people in a savage land. Their God and their Temple. Unmerciful, both were. He never would understand them.
And today, this execution. Two thieves and a blasphemer. He didn’t even know what a blasphemer was, let alone why he should die like this. He did know that the procurator had put a sign over the cross piece of this man.
“King of the Jews.” He read, only these savages would commit regicide. Well, them and the Senate maybe. Caesar was the only ruler he acknowledged. His authority he recognized through the ranks of the legions. The Centurion came by, equally miserable in the heat, but bearing up under it as an officer should.
“One of the thieves has died. Break the other’s legs to hurry him along.”
Holding the rank of Decurion, he was grateful he did not have to carry out the order, but to delegate it. He ordered it done, and with the sickening sound of cracking bones, and the screaming of the wretch; he knew it had been done.
“What about this one?” He glanced at the Centurion and indicated the battered creature with the curious inscription above his head.
“The Jew King?” The Centurion cackled, “Let’s give him something to drink.” Taking a sponge and soaking it in vinegar, the Centurion threw the sponge to his subordinate. “Put that on your spear and hold it up to his mouth.”
The Decurion flinched as the sponge sailed towards him. Catching it, he rammed his spear point into it and raised it up to the suffering man. The man drank some of the vinegar off of the sponge.
The storm drew closer, the Centurion looked up at the sun. “It is nearly the third hour.” Leering up at the two corpses and the almost corpse he sneered, “Sometimes I wonder who suffers worse. Us or them.”
“It is finished.”
“What was that?” The Centurion looked at his Decurion awaiting an answer.
“It wasn’t I.” They both looked up at the cross. The last prisoner had died, or lost consciousness, it was hard to tell. As the storm drew closer, the Romans waited a few minutes more.
Finally the Centurion looked to his Decurion. “We’ve waited long enough. Cut the others down, and make sure the Jewish King is dead. I want to be back in Jerusalem before this storm hits Longinius!”
Looking up at the battered body of the man, a soldier near by was whispering to another. Longinius removed the sponge from his spear, and prepared to drive it into the side of the unfortunate prisoner. The two soldiers turned away quickly.
“What is the meaning of this?” Longinius berated the soldiers. “What? You do not approve?” He glared at his men.
“It’s just that…” one of the soldiers trailed off.
“It’s what some say.” The other soldier finished.
“What is it they say?”
“They say he is the Son of God.”
“Others say he is God.”
“Rubbish,” Longinius glanced up at the cross. “It’s not as they say is it?” He asked himself under his breath. He didn’t look like a king, let alone a god. He stabbed with the spear. He could feel ribs break as the point pierced the side, and then he felt no resistance as he shoved the spear home. Water flowed out of the wound, followed by blood. Both rained down on Longinius, who began to weep uncontrollably. Falling to his knees the Decurion was wracked by intense feelings of guilt and sorrow. The soldiers stood by quietly wondering what had happened to their officer. The guilt lifted, and he heard a voice say, “It was not your fault alone.” The sorrow remained, and would follow the soldier for the rest of his days. The ground began to shake violently, at the same time the storm broke overhead. The deluge was so strong it was hard to see.
The ground was still shaking, but it appeared to be worse in the city. Buildings collapsed and people streamed out of the city. The rain poured and did not seem to abate at all, the clouds had not moved at all. The storm appeared to be stalled over the city. Longinius was still on his knees, gazing up at the body on the cross, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” The Centurion was able to gather the execution detail together, and with Longinius began to ride back into the city. Fire had broken out in several regions of the city due to lightening strikes, and some of the buildings on the Temple Mount sustained considerable damage from the quakes. The auxiliaries and the regulars were called out to provide aid wherever they were needed.
Denis Acklin retired from the Swiss Guard over a year ago. He returned to Geneva, but found life there was not what he enjoyed. His pension covered his living expenses, and he received one from the Swiss Army, and another from the Vatican for his service in the Swiss Guard. He moved back to Rome, and rented apartments that were within walking distance of the Vatican City. He would sit on the patio overlooking the piazza drinking espresso and watching the crowds. He attended daily Mass at one of the other Basilicas if St. Peter’s was too crowded. He enjoyed the ritual, the incense, the call and response. He felt a part of something. He did not attend any services other than the small private Mass held for the Swiss Guard. He had forgotten that not all liturgies are as austere as those he grew accustomed to. He visited the museums around the city regularly, it was something he had fallen in love with as Guard recruit, and visited them on every leave he was awarded.