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Monday, December 19, 2011

("Runaway train never going back, wrong way on a one way track. Seems like I should be getting somewhere. Somehow I'm neither here nor there….")…Soul Asylum

Chapter Forty-nine

LA General, Los Angeles, California, Thursday, September 1st, 2005…1:30pm

Lizzie sat for several minutes staring at the phone on her desk. She hardly knew where to start reaction-wise. This Alma Donnelley woman had opened Pandora's Box with her revelations and their mysterious connection to one another. Curious, she had absolutely no memory of the woman yet Alma spoke as if she should? Lizzie racked her brain as she concentrated on the silent telephone. If she had Super-Girl's heat vision she'd have melted the darn thing into a molten heap of plastic and copper by now! No matter how hard she thought she came up with bupkis. The woman was a stranger as far as she could tell. But Alma's instance that she call Uncle Ethan was bugging her. Lizzie hoped she didn't wind up like the curious cat, you know what happened to that Tabby! She'd risk it though and call her uncle as soon as she got home, but first she'd call Noah or Jace to see what they knew. Maybe they knew all about Alma Donnelley? Maybe they had a clue about what she wanted to talk about?

Lizzie shook her head and broke free of her trance. She looked around the small office to make sure nobody was watching her, as if anyone could in her fortress of solitude. This so called office was only slightly bigger than her closet at home and there weren't any windows to look into or out of for that matter. She leaned back in her chair and picked up her half eaten pastrami sandwich and wolfed it down in three bites. Waste not, want not, right? She wiped some mustard from the corner of her mouth and then licked her finger clean, using the napkin in her lap to complete the task. Shifting gears she turned her attention to Patrick Bouchard. Or should she say Jean-Luc Rojier? She picked up the pen and steno pad from her desk and started doodling, a habit she had from childhood whenever she mulled things over.

"What's up with you Pat old buddy?" she muttered.

Lizzie printed his name at the top of a clean page and then in her best cursive hand wrote his new identity beside his real name. She traced over each several times until they were a blurred blue blob and then tapped on the margin until a new thought materialized in her brain. Moving down a couple of lines she wrote down everything she knew about each person. She didn't really have time for this. She should be finishing her own work, but this had consumed her now and there wouldn't be any rest until she wrestled the facts to the mat and pinned down an answer that she could live with. It was a puzzle too interesting to resist and Alma's revelations had only made it more so!

PATRICK BOUCHARD:                                                   JEAN-LUC ROJIER:

Wife - Monica; Son - Gabriel                                            Noah says no records prior 2004

Gabriel dies at LA General 2004                                       G.A.W.D. appears 2005

Monica dies from injuries in 2005                                     Runs the G.A.W.D. Foundation

Noah says Patrick quit job 2004                                       Katie Tate receives G.A.W.D. $

Noah says Bouchard home for sale                                   Visited LA General in 2005

Alma Donnelley???                                                           Alma Donnelley???

It wasn't much of a list but there was a clear pattern as far as Lizzie was concerned. Jean-Luc appears on the scene just as Patrick disappears from it. There was a definite connection there, she was certain of that. She smiled to herself as a thought suddenly occurred to her. For whatever reason, she suddenly remembered something that her high school math teacher used to say. "Factoring fractions is like solving a mystery. The surest way to the right answer is to find the common denominator."

Lizzie almost jumped out of her chair, "BRILLIANT! Mr. Baker I could just kiss you!" she shouted to the empty room, shushing herself quickly by clasping her hands over her mouth. She watched the door to her office for a second, half expecting someone to burst in to see if she was okay. When nobody appeared she giggled and ran in place while still sitting in her chair. She took her pen and steno pad and wrote out her fractional equations and started factoring:

                        Patrick  +  Patrick  +  Patrick  +  Patrick   +   Patrick  +  Patrick
                         Gabriel       Monica        LA Gen       Disappear     GAWD       Alma

                    Jean-Luc  + Jean-Luc  + Jean-Luc  +  Jean-Luc  + Jean-Luc  + Jean-Luc
                       Ghost          LA Gen         GAWD            Alma             Katie Tate      Philanthropy

                                       Patrick                    +                   Jean-Luc
                          LA Gen +  GAWD + Alma              LA Gen + GAWD + Alma

                                                           Patrick + Jean-Luc
                                                      LA Gen + GAWD + Alma

And there it was; the answer with a common denominator comprised of three separate yet somehow connected elements. The reasons for Patrick's deception would be in a shared experience or experiences within the boundaries of these three factors in his life. Lizzie could guess the first; that was a no brainer. Patrick Bouchard's only child had been a patient at LA General. She knew that first hand as she had been personally associated with that tragedy. Patrick had been devastated by Gabriel's death and she knew that he had to be bitter about the circumstances. He must have been, because she was herself and it wasn't even her kid! She remembered having the same conversation with the Bouchard's as Linda had had recently with the Tate's. Patrick however was not the soft-spoken compassionate soul that Wallace Tate was. Patrick Bouchard felt betrayed and abandoned by LA General. He did not understand nor could he accept the hospital's blunt and heartless business decision to discharge his son. He must have felt used up and quit on. Why? He paid all the bills? He did everything he could to help with Gabriel's care. He'd committed everything he had, and everything he was to the cause. Why does everything in the world have to come down to money? It isn't fair, it isn't right. Maybe her Sunday school teacher was right. Maybe money really is "the root of all evil."

Lizzie knew in her heart of hearts that this was where Patrick Bouchard's thoughts were at that time. She was certain of it because she remembered asking herself those same questions. She remembered how ashamed she felt for being part and party to the whole matter. It sickened her. Now these feelings had resurfaced as she dealt with the whole Katie Tate mess. You know what, life goes on, or so they say. What a crock! Anyone can "move on" that doesn't require any courage, that's a quitter's way out. Facing your fears and your shortcomings, your sins if you will, and overcoming them, alone if you're alone, or together if you are with someone, that's the true measure of a person. Redemption is the reward for those brave enough to stay the course, to see things through, alone or together.

Lizzie needed to talk this over with someone. Her cousins, Jace and Noah were good sounding boards, but she wanted to talk to someone close to the events, then and now. She knew exactly who she needed to see, but she was a little nervous about it. Linda Bradley was the big cheese at LA General, and frankly she was unsure of her. Linda had become somewhat of a friend of late, but she was still a corporate insider and her boss to boot. Lizzie wasn't sure how much she could share with the woman? The smart money would be on Linda towing the company line. But Lizzie had a hunch about her, she'd seen past Linda's hard shell and into her soft heart. She decided to put her money on the shy girl from the small town in the Midwest that she was, instead of the corporate land shark from the big bad city that she pretended to be.

"I hope you know what you're doing Lizzie girl," she muttered, questioning herself as she picked up the phone and dialed Linda Bradley's extension.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

("I'm no stranger to this place where real life and dreams collide. And even though I fall from grace, I will keep the dream alive….")…Oasis

Chapter Forty-eight

Princess Grace, the flagship of Sanford Peck's Mediterranean Fleet Thursday, September 1st, 2005…10pm

Alma Donnelley sat at a quaint little writing desk in her suite. It was a beautiful and delicate piece of furniture that she was pretty sure had cost a small fortune, at least by her standards. Alma might be wealthy but she would always be a simple Midwestern farm girl. Opulence was a word that she did not relate to, heck, se have had trouble spelling it. If she had learned nothing else over the past few days in the company of Killeen Peck and her braggart husband Sanford, it was that this couple never did anything half way. It was all in or pass as far as they were concerned.

Alma liked Killeen Peck. She was a lovely woman who handled her wealth and station with poise and grace, probably because she had been born to it, she knew no other life. Alma admired and appreciated her for that. But Killeen was a troubled soul and Alma sensed straight away that her husband Sanford was at the center of those dark issues in her life, whatever they may be. That man was a lout. He had no idea how a true man of position and power should behave. He carried himself with a brutish air that left her uncomfortable in his presence. He was too eager to impress and too slow to appreciate the good fortune that God Almighty had bestowed upon him, misguidedly if you asked her. He didn't seem to deserve it and she didn't like him at all.

Actually that wasn't totally true. She felt sorry for the man. He had probably started life on the same side of the tracks that she had; a life of modest beginnings. She sensed that he had worked hard to get where he was, even if he did take a short cut by marrying well. It was none of her business to speculate so, but she did it anyway, it's a feminine right to want to know everything, a character flaw handed down through the ages by Eve herself. How sad though, she could see that he had made the journey from rags to riches alone. That was the difference between them. Alma had reached her station in life working side by side with the man she pledged her life and love to. She and her Arthur were a team, come what may, for better or worse. They met every obstacle together, even if one or the other was the obstacle. That's an axiom in marriage. You take turns being either the obstacle or the voice of reason. No matter how cross you are with a situation you never lose sight of the fact that you love one another and that God Almighty loves you both. It's your personal Holy Trinity, you, your mate, and the Lord. That was a nice way to see the world, at least from Alma's perspective.

Sanford Peck wasn't a God fearing man. And he and Killeen were as far apart as two people together could be. So he made his way alone and it left him bitter and mean. Shame on them both for that thought Alma. And shame on herself for judging them like she was. She had no right and she knew it. Sadly, for some people marriage and the vows that come with it are just words on paper. Such a pity she thought. Alma put them out of her mind for now, it was unfair to speculate further and a waste of time to boot. She would be home soon and not likely to see either of them for quite some time, even with the G.A.W.D. Foundation connection. Best to keep business impersonal, that's a lesson Grover Gateway had tried teaching Arthur over the years. Bless his soul, Arthur never got the hang of it, he was just plain folk until his dying day.

She reached for the stack of messages arranged neatly for her by the Purser in the center of the small desk. Alma enjoyed reading the mail. Getting a letter had always been a treat growing up, even if it was just an advertisement or a catalog. She loved handwritten letters best, but those were going by way of the dodo bird, nearly extinct. Nowadays everyone had cell phones that did everything but make you breakfast! Alma wasn't a 21st century kind of gal, not by a long shot, and never would be thank God. She'd never get the hang of texting anyway. Who could understand that entire crazy shortcut lingo? There were three sealed envelopes for her to open. She opened the first one. It was an invitation to the Captain's Table for tomorrow night. Another reason to dress up, my goodness, Alma was looking forward to getting home and back into a pair of jeans or a sensible skirt and unpretentious blouse. Still, it was an honor to be invited and she'd have a chance to catch up on some foundations business with Jean-Luc. She smiled involuntarily. Envelope number two was a complimentary pass for the health spa from Killeen. How nice she thought, she'd use that in the morning. She'd enjoy a little pampering, who wouldn't? What a nice gesture on Killeen's part she thought. She'd send a handwritten thank you in the morning.

The third envelope was from her personal assistant, Lela, back at the ranch. She helped her run the household as well as the day to day affairs with her husband, Big John. They were a delightful couple who had been with her and Arthur ever since the Lopez family had returned to Mexico after the tragic event at Alma's 50th birthday party in 74'. That was better than thirty years ago. Where had the time gone she wondered as she opened the envelope and retrieved the message inside. There were just a few lines informing her that all was well and that John would pick her up at the airport in Los Angeles next week. The last item Lela mentioned was that Dr. Elizabeth Andrews had called and left her phone number. Lela wanted to know if she should reply on her behalf. 

Alma smiled to herself, of course she would reply, personally and right now. She had been hoping that Elizabeth Andrews would call her and not write her off as a kook. It was a bitter sweet revelation as it meant that the Tate child had either passed or was knocking at the door. She checked her wrist watch. It was half past 10pm on this side of the world which meant is around half past 2pm on other side of the world. No time like the present she thought and she picked up the phone on the desk and dialed the long string of international numbers. The phone on the other end of the line rang only twice and a garbled voice mumbled a hello in her ear.

"Yeahcough, cough…Andrews here," said Lizzie Andrews, choking out a hello. "Excuse me? We seem to have a bad connection. I'm trying to reach Doctor Elizabeth Andrews," Alma replied.

"Cough…Sorry, I'm Dr. Andrews. I was just eating a late lunch at my desk while I caught up on some paperwork. Guess I took too big a bite!" Lizzie said, apologizing with a little giggle.

"I see. Well if you are sure you're alright do you have a minute to chat?" "I'm fine. Actually I'm really right in the middle of something. Maybe you can call back a little later on. I'm sorry, who am I speaking with anyways, I didn't catch your name?" answered Lizzie.

"This is Alma Donnelley Dr. Andrews, and a little later I will be sound asleep as I am half way around the world from you. Are you sure you can't spare a moment. I'm actually returning your call," Alma replied.

"Oh geez, I'm sorry, I didn’t realize. You're the Alma Donnelley from the G.A.W.D. Foundation right?"

"Yes dear. We haven't formally met yet, but I did send you a letter a while back asking if we could chat sometime. I assume that was why you called my home. My assistant Lela contacted me here in the Mediterranean."

"Yes of course. I appreciate you returning my call but you could have waited until you were back in the States. I was just calling to inform you that Katherine Tate was released to hospice last week. I'm afraid there was just nothing else we could do for her, I'm sorry. Your foundation was an enormous help to her and gave her a fighting chance that she would not have had without your support. You gave that family a precious gift, more time together then she would have had, they are very grateful, you should know that," Lizzie explained not even trying to mask the pain in her voice. Alma paused before replying. She wanted to make sure that she chose her words wisely. Quick to listen and slow to speak, that's what the scriptures say she thought to herself. She let another few seconds pass.

"Mrs. Donnelley? Are you alright?" asked Lizzie. "I'm sorry to hear that, truly I am. Forgive me for asking, please don't take this wrong, but how much time does the child have?"

Alma could feel the lump in Lizzie's throat through the air waves, and waited for the young doctor to compose herself. She could feel Lizzie's compassion and instantly took a liking to her. Lizzie coughed and replied, "that's not an easy answer, but not long I expect, a month, maybe two, no more than three," she said, the last part coming out as only a whisper.

It wasn't what Alma wanted to hear, but it was what she expected to hear. She decided to just cut to the chase. It was getting late and her bursitis was acting up again. "Dr. Andrews, may I call you Elizabeth?"

"Sure, why not."

"Good, Elizabeth then. You know, we've actually met once before, along time ago, you were only a child, perhaps two or three," Alma said, breaking the ice.

"Really?" replied Lizzie.

"Yes, you and your parents came to our ranch with your Uncle Ethan and his family to attend my birthday celebration." "You know my folks?" "Not really. My husband Arthur and I are acquainted your Uncle Ethan Kelly."

"I see. How do you know him? Do you go to his church or something?"

"Not exactly, but something like that. May I ask do you also know the Wong family?"

"Uncle Kenny and Aunt Carolyn, sure I know them. Why do you ask?"

"That's actually a long and complicated explanation. But it is why I wrote to you in the first place."

"I don't understand. I thought that you wrote to offer your help to Katie Tate and her family?"

"I did, and I am."

"I'm not following you Mrs. Donnelley."

"My letter and my association with your Uncle Ethan and Uncle Kenny are related. It's too involved for a telephone conversation and it's too late for an old woman like me to be up gabbing anyway. If you don't mind I would like to come to Los Angeles and chat with you in person. Would that be alright?" Alma asked suppressing a yawn.

"I guess so, but I'm confused about what Katie Tate and my Uncles have to do with one another?"

"Patience dear, I will explain everything when I return next week. I will have Lela make the arrangements and she will be in touch with the details. In the mean time I suggest that you call your Uncle Ethan. Tell him that I sent you to him. Tell him about the Tate child. He will know what you need to know and will tell you what you need to hear."

"Uncle Ethan?"


"Alright? I won't pretend to understand but I'll call him. He's going to think that I'm bonkers though!"

"No he won't dear. But he may think that I am."

Lizzie giggle at that, "Okay Mrs. Donnelley, I better let you go," she replied. "Oh wait! Can I ask you a question?" Lizzie said quickly.

"Alright, what is it?" "You're on the Board at the G.A.W.D. Foundation right?"


"Do you know Jean-Luc Rojier very well?"

"Yes of course."

"Do think you could introduce me?"


"I think that we may have met before but I'm not sure."

"And what makes you think that?"

"I dunno, he just reminds me so much of someone I knew here at the hospital."

"Was it another doctor perhaps?"

"No, it was the father of a kid I knew, Gabriel. He was a lot like Katie Tate and he was the first kid I ever lost to cancer. Jean-Luc Rojier reminds me of that guy."

"Patrick Bouchard?"

"YES! How could you know that?" "They are the same person dear."

"I KNEW IT! Why is he pretending to someone else then?"

"He has his reasons Elizabeth, he has his reasons. I can tell you about them when I see you next week. I really must go to bed know, its way past the witching hour for me."

"WAIT! Does he know that you know?"

"No, but he will very soon my dear, very soon indeed. Good night Elizabeth," Alma answered as she disconnected.

"Oh brother!" Lizzie murmured out loud to nobody in particular.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

("We can live lifetimes, in a single day. No matter what you do I love you anyway. You say you feel lost inside, well I get lonely too. Even in the worst of times, I give my best to you.")…Sheryl Crow

Chapter Forty-seven

Mandelieu Marina, Napoule France, Wednesday, August 31st, 2005…5am

François Bouchard relaxed in the pilot's chair topside aboard Jeckle, the team's lead assault boat. The black sky was beginning to brighten with the first signs of the coming dawn. Faint colors of bright hues emerged low on the horizon as the Earth rotated steadily toward the sun in the eastern sky. He stared out to sea from over the rim of a mug of hot coffee. Steam rose from the brew and mixed with the cold pre-dawn air, combining to make its own weather system, creating a mini fog bank at eye level. He blew gently across the top of the mug, dissipating the small weather system and smiled at the view as he silently recited an old sea chantey he learned in childhood:

"…red sky at morning, sailor take warning…red sky at night, sailor delight…"

My father loved the sea. He had been either near it or on it his entire life. The south of France was his France. He wasn't a Parisian like his beloved Giselle, he was a country boy. Not in the American sense either, but in the European sense. The two perspectives are as different as they are the same. In the US a country boy is usually stereotyped as a cowboy, a hick, a backwoodsman, lonesome mountain man or a sod-busting farmer, scratching out a living by the sweat of his brow. While in Europe however, there are basically three distinctions, peasant, villager, or squire, in other words working class, middle class, and the filthy rich.

Papa began his life on the bottom rung of the European social ladder, the only child of peasant parents who managed to rise to the middle before the war. Sadly, the German Luftwaffe made sure that they'd get no higher when a1940 air raid claimed the family home as well as his father and mother, Jean Luc Bouchard and his wife Kat (short for Katrina) ,the grandparents I knew only from pictures. Angry, scared, and alone Papa joined the French Navy days afterward, eventually becoming a member of ship's company aboard the French destroyer Terrible, where he spent the next five years at sea seeking revenge and getting a crash course in diesel engineering by a crusty but knowledgeable Premier-maître, basically the equivalent of a Master Chief in the US Navy. The ancient mariner's Christian name was Henri St, Claire, a dogmatic, no nonsense sort that was quite probably a pirate in another life. Be that as it may, the old veteran was a skilled journeyman and Papa was an eager student. The Terrible spent the early days of the war engaging British supply vessels and their escorts until they went over to the Allies after Operation Torch off the coast of French West Africa. In 1943 the vessel underwent a refit and modernization in the US, spending a fair amount of time in dry dock in Boston harbor. This was where my Dad got his first taste of America and its promise of a better life. He decided then that after the war he would find a way to come back and start a new life.

The Terrible returned with two new radars, new anti-aircraft firepower and ASDIC or anti submarine sonar equipment just in time to participate in the Allied invasion of Italy in December of 1943. Early the following year they supported the invasion of the south of France during Operation Dragoon. It was an experience that brought Papa some closure, avenging his parent's murder by driving the occupying German Army out of his homeland forever. Later in the same year the Terrible was heavily damaged in a collision in December of 1944 leaving him to ride out the rest of the war in dry dock as the vessel underwent extensive repairs. Shortly afterward the war in Europe ended and he found himself adrift on land, winding up in Paris of all places where he would meet Giselle and begin a journey that would take him back to the USA and then, as fate would have it, right back here, to Marseilles, where he started so many years ago. How ironic he thought, at war with the German's once again, on a smaller scale of course, but at war nonetheless. He sipped at his coffee, silently resolving that the bastards would meet the same fate in this engagement as well.

A loud rap on the cabin hatch startled Papa as the dawn broke and he spilled a small amount of his drink. "MERE!" he shouted, bellowing out a French expletive. Sandy Lucci made his standard entrance, loudly, and underdressed as usual in a pair of cargo pants and nothing else. "Whoa, sorry frenchie, I didn't know you were up here all by your lonesome," he said apologetically as he made his way topside.

"I forgot you were a morning person too. Nothing like filing your lungs with cool fresh air, makes you feel alive, don't ya think?" Sandy added inhaling deeply and letting out a long sigh.

As annoying as the man could be, Papa had to agree with him, sunrises were special. They meant for dreamers and optimists, a moment in time when everything is still possible. Where sunsets on the other were meant for reflection, to ponder what transpired or failed to transpire before retiring to give thanks for what went right and to dream of what a new day may bring.

"Yes, mornings are quite invigorating," replied Papa, setting down his mug and getting up to stretch. He let his head roll around on his shoulders and listened to his neck pop as he reached as high as he could with his hands, joined together at the knuckles by his laced fingers, essentially giving himself a poor man's chiropractic adjustment. Cracking one's bones into alignment is almost as satisfying as scratching at a nagging itch. Sandy watched my dad with a little envy. He would have liked to do likewise, but years of abusing his body had left him stiff and slightly arthritic so his satisfaction would have to come vicariously.

"Jack-o said he and Randy will be here later this afternoon," Sandy said dumping the last swallow of coffee mixed with grounds over the side.

"You spoke with him? When? " Papa replied surprised.

"Yeah, just a few minutes ago. Well, we didn't actually talk, he sent me a text."

"I see; where are they then?"

"They're at the nerd-shack he and Randy share near the airport."

"When did they get in?"

"Last night he said, around midnight."

"Really, they had no troubles then?"

"He didn't mention any."


"Well anyway, when they get here Jack wants to take the skiffs out on a shake down cruise."

"Why? We're supposed lay low profile until Jean-Luc arrives on Friday, that's the plan, he can't alter them just like that."

"Plan's changed, and according to the professor Pat's okay with that. He said Pat would call soon to confirm," explained Sandy.

Before Papa could protest in earnest the cell phone in his pocket began to vibrate. It was me and I was going to have my hands full trying to keep my cautious and practical father off of the ceiling when I brought him up to speed on what Jack and I discussed earlier, during the wee hours.

"See, that's probably Pat right now," Sandy said snapping his fingers. He was right. Sandy might be loud and brutish but his instincts are keen as they come.
Papa rolled his eyes and swallowed a snide remark, then dug into his pants pocket to fish out his cell phone, flipping it open to answer the call.


"Hi Papa, it's me," I said in English.

"Luc? Where are…," my father started ask.

"I'm still in Monte Carlo at the Chateau, but I'll be leaving later this afternoon for Marseilles," I answered quickly, cutting him off unintentionally.

"What's wrong, something's not right; I hear it in your voice?"

Now, when it came to intuition my father was like a piano virtuoso who played better by ear than by sight. Just playing the notes written on the page might make your piece correct, but the essence of the music, the soul, comes out when eyes close and the mind lets the heart take over. You cannot feel things with your brain, you can only recognize data. It's sort of like what faith is all about, no matter what religion you claim. My father has magical ears like these that always lead him to the truth. It's pretty hard to lie to someone like that, believe me, I tried many times growing up. At this point in my life, and by the way, I'm still growing up; I've learned to trust that he will love me no matter what I have to share. I believe that people feel the urge to lie whenever they're afraid of hurting or losing someone or themselves.

Frank Herbert, the brilliant author of the "Dune" series and my favorite science fiction writer, wrote that "fear is the mind killer." I think of that whenever I'm tempted to lie or to stretch the truth. I usually follow that up with "love conquers all," a phrase of unknown origin and universal appeal. I was thinking of both now as I resolved to give Papa all the facts that Jack shared instead of cherry picking them. It was the right thing to do even though I feared his reaction. Besides, withholding the truth is the same as telling an outright lie, sadly, another lesson learned late in my life.

"Sandy told you about Jack's shake down request, right?"

"Yes he did just a moment ago. Why the last minute change in plan?"

I sighed audibly before speaking, "Hear me out Papa before you say anything, alright?" He remained silent letting me know that I had his attention and that his radar was on full alert, so I continued.

"Jack's dad is aware of our intentions and he knows more about our operation than we thought. He doesn't have details but is taking some pretty formidable countermeasures," I said pausing for a response. Papa remained silent and waited for me to finish. We've had these kinds of discussions before and he always allows my conscience ample time to help me make the right choice, which was of course to come clean.

"And so, while we're not exactly sure how much information they got from Wesley, God rest his soul, we have to make some assumptions."

"Such as," Papa asked finally speaking in a slow measured tone.

"For one we have to assume that they know about the cloaking devices and the speed boats, which means they know what to be on the look out for."

"I see, go on."

"It's also a safe assumption that they know who all the players are. Jack says that they likely have dossiers on each of us."

"My God, on everyone, Jack as well? Are you saying that Sanford Peck knows his own son is involved?"

I hesitated before answering, suppressing an instant urge to lie, "Yes, Jack's certain that they know he's one of us. He said it's a game now between him and his dad. As for me, they have a file on Patrick Bouchard but not Jean-Luc Rojier. Jack tested those waters and he's sure they haven't made the connection."

I heard Papa's response before he spoke a single word. His thoughts were accentuated with the deep breath he drew in and let it out slowly. It was officially lecture time and I kept silent. Nothing I might say next would be heard anyway, at least not until he had said his piece. That was our way, and to be honest, it worked for us, it was open and respectful and at the end of the debate there were no losers. Both sides win when you respect each other enough to open the vault so to speak. No matter what the outcome would be, it would be one you arrived at together. I wish I had had the same relationship with Monica. I shuddered suddenly feeling a cold chill. That was weird, maybe her spirit was nearby thinking the very same thing?

"Alright Patrick, before you start telling me how Jack has this all figured out, explain to me why you would risk all of our lives or futures at the very least, under these circumstances? You and I only have ourselves to worry about, but the others? For Christ's sake Patrick, Sandy and Roman have wives and families! Come on son, this is too much, we've taken this thing as far as we can, surely you can see that?"

He had a point, actually he had several points, all of them good ones too, but there was no way I was giving up now. There was just too much at stake as far as I was concerned, there were too many people counting on the foundation now, there were too many Gabriel's in the world and I felt connected to every one of them. Papa and I stared each other down for several seconds before I finally replied, honestly. I could sense that he already knew what was coming so there wasn't any reason to stall.

"You're right Papa, on all counts. That's why Jack suggested the shake down run. If all goes well like we expect it to, we're cutting you, Sandy and Roman loose. We did alter the plan, Jack and Randy will pilot Jeckle, alone. We're going ahead with one boat. Yours truly will already be onboard the Princess Grace as Jean-Luc Rojier along with Alma Donnelley. Can you believe it, we're guests of Sanford and Killeen Peck." I explained, chuckling at the irony of the Peck's invitation. Papa wasn't amused and was quick to reply.

"You can't be serious? No way am I leaving you to this alone! In fact I'm tempted to turn us all into the authorities right now just to save you from yourself and us from you! We'd have a better chance of survival with the law then with Sanford Peck and his henchmen anyway. Do you really believe Jack? Do you really think his father is that dense? He has to have made the connection between you and Jean-Luc. It's too convenient that he has not. It's just too good to be true. I don't trust Jack son, that's no secret, there's an element to him that disturbs me. He's brilliant, yes, but he's dangerous, I feel it in my bones. How I don't know, but he is nonetheless."

Everything Papa said made sense, it was sound advice, and was probably all true. Pity I could not accept it. I was committed and had already resolved to take my chances. I had to rely on my own instincts now. I shared the same misgivings about Jack and did not kid myself where he was concerned. I was also privy of the fact that Sanford Peck knew that Patrick and Jean-Luc were one in the same. He had said as much the other night at the Casino in Monte Carlo. He actually taunted me with innuendo expecting me to crack. This really was a cat and mouse game for him. I could see why Jack hated him so. But in my heart of hearts I knew that I had to see this through. I may have abandoned God to pursue this path, but He never abandoned me. My faith remained in tack in spite of my denial of it. Whatever was to happen would happen, the only part I was in control of was who it happened to. It was time for the moment of truth, literally.

"Papa, you know I love you, you know that, right? I don't say it often enough but I do. Right now though I need you to love me back and leave me be, let me finish what I started dad, okay? I'm not crazy or naïve and I'm no fool. Of course Jack is lying, he's lied to us from the very beginning, that's his sin to be forgiven for. But we needed him to get this far and we need him now to keep this going. So, we lied to him in turn, and let him believe that we're dumb as mud fences and blind as bats. We've used him all along too, that'll our sin to be forgiven for. Please trust me to be the man you raised me to be. I really did pay attention all these years," I said, appealing to his soft heart.

He was quiet for a moment. "So, what's your plan?" he asked.

"We need to convince Peck that we got wind of his Intel and decided to fold up shop, cut and run. That's why we need for you and the others to fly home. We want you to take three different routes from three different airports. The goons already think Randy split when he didn't show up in Madrid where they were waiting for him. They don't know that Jack went to fetch him in Paris. They'll never expect Jack and me to come at them alone."

"And how could you? You really think the three of you can catch and board that vessel without us? It's a five man job, no exceptions! There are no margins for error here son. You do know that, right?" Papa exclaimed, scolding me more than asking me.

"We're not hitting it at sea Papa, we've got a new plan for this job," I replied.
I could hear the wheels turning in my father's head as I waited for his reply, sensing he was relieved, intrigued, and pissed off all at once.

"I don't understand what've you got in mind?"

"Alright, this is the beautiful part. The Princess Grace has a port call in Antibes on the way to Cannes. Jack and Randy will pilot Jeckle there after the shakedown run today and dock it in the marina. No assault required now. Jack will simply walk on board like he owns the place, which in a way he does. Nobody will be expecting any of us to just walk in the front door.

"What about Randy? Where does he come in?"

"Right, well he's actually Jack excuse for being there at all. He plans to pass Randy off as a corporate accountant who's there to check the books for an unannounced but routine audit, pretty clever huh?"

"Sounds pretty fishy, why would the company order such an audit at sea?"

"It's unusual I grant you, but not unheard of as Sanford Peck is known for working outside of the box. He likes to keep his underlings guessing, it keeps them from getting too comfortable and discourages complacency or pilfering. Look nobody wants to be around an auditor for fear of being implicated in something, so Randy should be left alone to do his business, monkey business of course."

"Then what, you just stroll down the gangplank like any tourist and disappear into the crowded marketplace? Do you think it will be that easy?"

"Actually that's almost exactly what we'll do. I mean we won't walk off together holding hands or anything like that. But there's no reason to hurry, everything will appear normal and we'll take our time to exit. Jean-Luc will excuse himself to tend to an urgent G.A.W.D. matter. Randy will walk off the ship as easily as he walked on. While Jack remains behind to keep his father occupied while we make the short run from Antibes to Corsica on Jeckle where we'll wait for Jack to show in a day or two with the catamaran.

"What catamaran?"

"That's the other change, Jack chartered a 48 foot cat to sail from Corsica to Sicily and then from Palermo to Taranto, Italy through the Messina Strait and across the Ionian Sea. By the time Peck is informed that he's been ripped off we'll be five days at sea and essentially invisible, cloaked by the passing of time."

My father sighed deeply into his cell phone causing me to involuntarily hold my own phone away from my ear. This was the pivotal moment in the conversation. This was where I'd find out if the truth will have served me and my cause or if I should I have just lied and kept Papa in the dark while the three of us went off line with the plan on our own. It wasn't a test of the virtue itself. It was more a test of our father / son relationship. It was time to see if he practiced what he preached. Did he trust me enough leave me to what I had to do? I would know in a moment.

"Do what you must son," he said quietly but firmly.

"Thank you Papa," I replied respectfully.

"I won't lie to you Patrick, my brain is screaming at me to go to the authorities, every instinct I have as your father says that is the right thing to do."

"Why don't you then?"

"Because my heart is calmly telling me to let go, because every instinct I have as a man says that you must finish this your way, a promise is a promise, no mater what the cost," he replied.

"Thank you Papa," I said softly.

"God's speed son," he replied as he hung up.

"We'll see," I said to no one as I did likewise.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

("I went down to the crossroads, fell down upon my knees. Asked the Lord above for mercy, save me if you please")…Eric Clapton

Gabriel's Promise
a novel by nicholas sheridan stanton

Chapter Forty-six

Charles De Gaulle Airport, Paris, France…Sunday, August 28th, 2005…7pm

A rare summer downpour fell heavily on the city of lights, pelting the airport's huge paned windows with big, fat raindrops. As the water raced down the glass distorting the view of the runway and the long line of assorted aircraft awaiting their turn to scream down the tarmac and take to the skies headed for God knows where, the sun began to sink into dusk. Randy Patel sat cross legged in an uncomfortable chair facing the window, his back to the steady stream of hurried travelers racing to catch their flights and join the long line outside. It was a pretty vulnerable position to be in but he was too tired to care. Everything, even fear loses its power over you after you've wallowed in it for long enough. Randy was flat out tired of being scared. As far as he was concerned Peck's goons could come get him anytime, he was through running, through hiding. He'd read somewhere that cowards die a thousand deaths. That wasn't going to be him anymore. He was going out on his terms.

"Penny for your thoughts Tovarich," whispered a familiar voice huskily.

Randy let out a tiny gasp. Clearly he wasn't as resolved to meet his doom as he thought he was. He turned his head slightly just to satisfy his hunch and then let Jack have it with both barrels, "Goddamnit Jack, why do you always have to make an entrance?" he bellowed, admittedly much louder than he had meant to.

Jack guffawed as he took the seat beside him answering as he tried to suppress the giggles, "Take it easy slick, I just couldn't resist, you looked all serious and glum. Hey, what'd you think of my Russian, pretty good huh?" he asked, referring to the Russian word for comrade, Tovarich.

"Clever, but I thought the bad guys were all Germans," Randy replied.

"They are, but Tovarich sounded more like spy talk than mein freund. Anyway, I should have stuck with English and called you dumb-ass! What were you thinking man? You've put the whole operation at risk," Jack said, scolding his partner.

"Take it easy Jack-o, I had a bad feeling so I decided to stay put and think about what do next. My mom always said to stay put whenever I got lost and that she would find me. Good advice if you ask me, as you can see it works, here you are," Randy snapped back.

"Chalk one up for Pat's old man I guess, he called it," Jack replied.

"What are you talking about?"

"He figured you for a momma's boy. He suspected you'd be here."

"Funny! So what do we do now Jack? You know those Krauts are just waiting for us to make our move. This operation has disaster written all over it. You're smarter than all of us put together man, you've gotta know that. Are you ready to risk all of our lives just to get even with daddy dearest?"

"Careful nad-less, former teacher's pets only get so many free passes. We all swore to keep Gabriel's promise remember? That's the bottom line isn't it? Like it or not, you're the key factor in this heist. You've memorized all the codes and hyperlinks and it's too late to alter the plan. Look, we get you in and out safely, you do your IT hocus-pocus and badda-bing, jillions transferred into the G.A.W.D. coffers, and we help a boatload of needy people. So nut-up and get us through this operation! After next weekend you can shrink back into your Hare-Krishna life back in Geek-land and chase after Vishnu while we find another Poindexter to take your place, preferably one who owns a pair," replied Jack, warning his skittish compatriot.

"Nice Jack, why don't you just say something bad about my mother!"

"Good point. Your momma's so fat she …"

"ALRIGHT, ENOUGH ALREADY, I get it, I get it."

"Pick up your back pack preppie, we're outta here," Jack said, standing to survey the terminal.

There was no one out there to see, Jack knew that, but Randy didn't and that's how he wanted to keep it until Saturday. He'd waited too long for this moment to let a scared shitless egghead fuck things up. Saturday Jack would take care of all the family business. Debts would be paid, slates would be wiped clean, and promises would be kept. It would be a day of finality and rebirth and it was going to be grand! The two men stepped out into the main corridor and merged with the crowd on their way to the private charter and a swift return to Marseilles. Jack watched Randy out of the corner of his eye. The pencil neck's eyes were darting all around looking for an ambush, expecting someone to jump out of the shadows at any minute to slay them both. What a maroon, Jack thought, suppressing a smile. Randy reminded him of Deputy Barney Fife from the Andy Griffith Show. He was dating himself with the reference but damn, that was a good character analogy! Jack wasn't much for sentiment, but he liked this kid and for a nanosecond regretted that his fate was tied to the others. Pragmatic to the bitter end Jack shook off the moment of weakness as the heavy door slammed shut behind them.

LA General, Los Angeles, California…Monday, August 29th, 2005…5pm

Jace Kelly waited patiently for his cousin in the lobby. Lizzie had told him to come on up, but he knew that she'd only drag her feet and they would end up later than they already were. Elizabeth Andrews was a well known workaholic and the worst time manager on the planet but she was also had the heart as big as the whole outdoors so it was hard to be annoyed for very long. Jace and his brother Noah had come down to LA from San Fran earlier in the day. They had some interesting news for Lizzie and wanted to see her face when they told her. She'd asked them to poke around and see what they could find out about the foundation bankrolling a growing list of previously denied candidates for long term and very expensive treatments and clinical trials. It seemed as if G.A.W.D. had appeared out of nowhere with pockets deep as a celestial black hole. They had been funding lost cases not only at LA General but at centers of excellence around the globe. They were almost too good to be true and that bothered Lizzie.

It shouldn't, but it did. Lord knows they were helping people, who were helpless without them, but she was curious to a fault, it was her nature. Truth be told, it wasn't the organization that fueled her curiosity, it was the chairman, Jean-Luc Rojier. She was convinced she knew him as Patrick Bouchard, that the two men were one in the same. It was a puzzle to be solved and she couldn't help herself, she had to know. The Bouchard's had lost their son Gabriel to cancer, right here at LA General. Lizzie was there for it, the little boy was the first child she lost to the disease as an attending. They say you never forget your first. Whoever they are, they're right. She remembered the family and especially the boy. He was so precocious and sweet, he didn't have one mean bone in his body. He always had a smile on his face, even in the darkest of hours. He even had a smile on his precious little face when he passed on, like an infant with gas.

She remembered that night. It was a crisp late winter night a few days after St. Patrick's Day. Gabriel's body had begun the death march earlier in the day and just before midnight he took his last breath with only his parents and his grandfather in the room with him. Lizzie was there as well but remained just outside the door to give the family their privacy. The ward has a special feel to it whenever someone is about to lose their fight, especially when it is a child. There is a reverence that permeates the halls and everyone wears the same expression. It is not pity or sadness or grief, all of that comes afterward. Up until that moment the overwhelming feeling that rules the atmosphere in the area is one of respect. That is the right word, respect. There is a presence that walks the halls in those moments, something that transcends the moment, which brings peace that one cannot explain, even if only for a moment before grief overwhelms you. There are many explanations, most of them pointing to God by whatever name, by whatever religion. The world has argued for ages which are accurate. Perhaps they're all right, that seems the best explanation.

"Elizabeth, over here," Jace called as he set the Times down on the table in front of him and got to his feet.

Lizzie Andrews waived to him from the back of the elevator and waited for a mother pushing her daughter in a wheel chair, one hand on the chair and one hand on the IV tree. She offered to help but the mother declined cheerfully, clearly she wasn't a rookie. Elizabeth recognized them and waived good-bye to them as they rolled down the hall. She knew where they were going. They went to the gift shop everyday around this time when the little girl was up to it. The mom and dad had probably bought one of everything in that small gift shop. The child waived back as they rolled along. Any day you could smile was a good day and a good reason to hit the gift shop as far as Lizzie was concerned. She met Jace half way and hugged her cousin, kissing him on the cheek.

"So what was important enough to bring you and Noah down from the Bay Area to LA? I thought you No-Cal guys hated this place?" Lizzie said teasing.

"We don't hate LA, we just don't want to risk getting tan and losing our San Fran vampire pallor," Jace replied, teasing her back.

"I see? Well, be that as it may where's your smarter brother?"

"He's over at Casey's waiting for us."

"Cool, I love Irish food and a good pint, keeps me from getting homesick," Lizzie said smiling as Jace led her out of the hospital onto the street.

They walked to eight blocks to Casey's Irish Pub over on Grand, it was one of Lizzie's favorite hang outs whenever she had some free time or there was a game to catch on television. It was better than watching at home alone. When they reached the stairs leading down to the cellar establishment ala "Cheers" fame, Lizzie took the steps two at a time. With Jace close on her heels the cousins pushed their way through the crowd and toward Noah who was waiving to them from a prized corner booth. He was noshing on some Irish nachos and nursing a glass of white wine. Jace sat across from his brother while Lizzie nudged Noah over with a swing of her hips as she climbed in beside him.

"Scoot over dude, don't hog the whole booth! Hey, are you drinking Chardonnay in an Irish pub? You're not in Frisco cuz, if your da could see ya know he'd take a shillelagh to ya," Lizzie said teasing Noah relentlessly.

"It's a Pinot and I'm only half Irish. My Da will have to get by my Chinese mother first and I think we know who wins that dog fall," Noah replied, high fiving his brother across from him.

Jace laughed as the barmaid arrived, "you shouldn't pick on Dad like that just because he loves Mom so much," he said to Noah as he winked at young lady who came to take their order. She looked barely old enough to have the job and sported two piercings that Jace could see and he suspected there were others.

"What can I get ya?" she asked.

"Two pints of Guinness and another Kool-Aid for my brother," answered Jace.
The girl scribbled down their order in a small spiral notebook and winked back. "Twins huh? Cute," she said as she turned and headed back to the bar to fetch their drinks.

"I don't see the resemblance," Noah said flippantly.

"What are you talking about, you're identical twins," Lizzie replied.

"No we're not, I'm way better looking than him," answered Jace and Noah simultaneously.

Lizzie laughed, "Alright, whatever you boys say. So what's the big news anyway, why are you here treating me when it's not even my birthday?"

Noah reached into his coat pocket and pulled out some newspaper clippings and laid them on the table. He turned them so that Lizzie could read them and lined them up linearly across the table top. He waited for a moment for her to skim over them and then answered her question before she could it.

"These are stories from newspapers in Mexico, Jamaica, St. Croix, Madrid, Gibraltar, and Sicily. Look at the dates, they line up chronologically from the Pacific to the Mediterranean," explained Noah.

Lizzie touched each clipping before answering, "So what," she said puzzled.

"Doesn't that make you curious? Look Elizabeth, I've known you all my life, you go bananas over puzzles like this. Let me save some time here, all of these are stories about robberies on the high seas by some Robin Hood wannabe calling himself 'the jack of broken hearts' sound familiar?" Noah asked as he watched Lizzie's expression change.

Lizzie shoved her cousin with all her might, "GET OUT!" she exclaimed, picking up the first article from a Mexico City newspaper. She tried to read the story with her High School Spanish vocabulary. Noah watched her struggle for as long as he could, which amounted to about a 10 count and took the article from her.
"Here, let my help you senorita. Basically it says that a cruise ship was pirated by the bandito known as the 'jack of broken hearts'. All of these articles say basically the same thing. Want to know what else?" Noah explained, teasing her with a rhetorical question.

"All of these robberies involved ocean liners belonging to Peck International, the very same company that owns Standard Pharmaceutical, which by the way owns LA General. Are you beginning to get the picture here?" Noah asked searching Lizzie's face for an "ah ha" expression. Nothing!

"Alright, here's the last corner piece of the puzzle Elizabeth. You should be able to fill it all in after this. Courtesy brother Jace and his buddies at the Department of State we obtained a deposit history for the G.A.W.D. Foundation. Guess what, thirty days to the day after each of these heists the Rojier/Gateway non-profit organization made very significant deposits, cash deposits."

"I still don't get it, so they deposited cash, what's the difference?" whined Lizzie.

"The difference is that you cannot trace cash deposits, cash is cash, it's fluid and it is invisible. Come on Elizabeth, didn't you ever see The Godfather? Cash deposits are also how organized crime 'launders money' from ill-gotten gains," Noah said trying to help Lizzie mentally lace the boot.

The light began to flicker in Lizzie's eyes as she completed the 2 + 2 calculations in her head. "Oh my God, are you saying G.A.W.D. is somehow involved with these robberies?" she asked.

"Sure looks that way to us. And Jean-Luc Rojier is our pick for the ring leader," answered Jace.

"That's right, it was Coronel Mustard in the Ballroom with the candlestick," teased Noah, relieved that Lizzie was finally seeing the light.

Lizzie picked up the Mexican article again and stared at the date. She couldn't believe it. The date was exactly one year to the day of the death of Gabriel Bouchard. Jean-Luc Rojier and Patrick Bouchard was in fact the same person. But if he was getting even by stealing Sanford Peck's money why was he giving it back to the hospital by way of charitable donations? It didn't make sense at first and then Lizzie had that delayed "ah ha" moment.

"Oh my gosh, I think know what's happening now," she said more to herself than anyone else.

"What are you talking about?" asked Noah.

"His kid was denied treatment because he didn't meet the hospital's investment criteria," she said in knowing and sad voice.

"Whose kid?" asked Jace.

"Patrick Bouchard, a.k.a. Jean-Luc Rojier, and apparently also known as the jack of broken hearts," Lizzie answered.

"Well I'll be damned," replied Noah.

"Ditto," said Jace chiming in.

"So what do we do now?" asked Noah.

"That depends, does anyone else know about what you just told me?" asked Elizabeth.

"No, just you," replied Noah.

Lizzie scooped up all of the newspaper clippings and wadded them into a tight little ball. "Then we do nothing," she said.

"Nothing? We dug up all this dirt for nothing? Come on Lizzie, there's probably a pretty hefty reward out there. Don't you feel any loyalty to your boss?" Noah said sounding just little disappointed.

"Not really, Sanford Peck is an asshole. Besides, any man who keeps a promise to this extreme deserves my whole hearted support. What's the harm anyway?"

"It's against the law Elizabeth, in all the countries. In some places in the world they still hang pirates. You sure you want to look the other way?" Noah asked trying to be the voice of reason.

Lizzie thought about it for a minute as the Guinness arrived with Noah's Pinot. The server set the drinks on the table and Jace handed her a credit card asking her to run a tab and bring a menu. As she walked away again Noah picked up his glass of wine and clinked the pint glasses in front of his brother and his cousin.

"Alright then, cheers," Noah said raising his glass.

"To justice," added Lizzie as she tipped her pint.

"Up the rebels," Jace added, quoting one her father's favorite Irish chants, as he did likewise.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

"She has the power to go where no one else can find me. And to silently remind me of the happiness and good times that I've known..." James Taylor

Anh yêu em Tuyet...
Tôi yêu con gái KaSandra & Katrina...
Tôi thương con trai của bố Luc…

Tonight I'm polishing chapter 46 in Gabriel's Promise and will post it in a day or two. Until then this is what's been on my heart...

I'M NOT CRAZY, not really...;)

Okay, I admit it, I live with a ghost. That's right, I said ghost! She's not Casper but she's just as friendly and that's pretty nice. For the last 20 months she's been the angel on my shoulder, the monkey in my wrench, my conscience, advisor, cheerleader, and inspiration. The last 9 months she's been my constant companion, my guardian against all odds, from outside and from within. She constantly reminds me that I am better than what anyone may say or think, that I am better than I even give myself credit for, which isn't saying much these days.

She loves me unconditionally, just like she does everyone, and encourages me to do likewise. And she helps me to understand why that's so important with the warm feeling that envelopes me like a bear hug whenever I do just that. She quotes me scripture that I never knew she knew? She whispers in my ear to let GOD be in charge, that He has plans for me, and then jokes with me not to let it go to my head because He has plans for everyone.

She calmly tells me to listen when all I want to do is shout. She tells me that there is peace in silence and wisdom in patience. She tells me that there really is power in love, and that bitterness is just a greater love in progress. "Stay tuned," she says to me. She tickles me when I need to laugh and she fills my head with memories when I need a hug. She tells me that even when I am lonely that I am never alone. She tells me that she will always be with me because my heart is one of her many homes now.

She is there when I open my eyes each morning and there when I close them each night. I am so lucky, I am so blessed. So are you…

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

("I'm just sittin here watchin the wheels go round and round, I really love to watch em roll…")…John Lennon

Anh yêu em Tuyet...
Tôi yêu con gái KaSandra & Katrina...
Tôi thương con trai của bố Luc…


Gabriel's Promise
a novel by nicholas sheridan stanton

Chapter Forty-five

Hwy D42, Marseilles, France…Sunday, August 28th, 2005…6am

As the crow flies Monte Carlo to Marseilles is roughly 100 miles, give or take. But the winding roads linking all of the small hamlets, tiny villages, and big resort towns seem to almost double that figure easily. That's a helluva long time to be trapped in a car with that chatty Cathy, Sandy Lucci. It made you wish for a cone of silence ala Maxwell Smart! At the moment Roman was wishing that the freaking Euro's had embraced the fast food craze a little more than they did. There wasn't a McDonalds anywhere to found on this trip. He kept looking just the same. The sooner he found a drive-thru and filled Sandy's mouth with cheeseburgers to shut him up the better! Roman glanced at François in the back seat, envying his luxury of sleeping through Sandy's nonstop chatter. The lucky bastard wasn't stuck with keeping the mouth that roared company!

The sunrise was just beginning and it was a spectacular sight. Roman had not travelled much outside of California except for his tour of duty in Southeast Asia and an occasional welding gig when he was working with Sandy and Pat. He opened his window to keep himself from dozing off. The chilled air worked its magic instantly. He heard François groaning a protest from the back seat and a wicked grin spread across his face. Fuck him! This was pay back for abandoning him during the night, leaving him to deal with Mouth-zilla all by his lonesome! Unfortunately Roman's sweet revenge was cut short as the cold air seemed to have the opposite effect on Sandy, reviving him. The rat bastard beat on his chest like an ape, inhaling the crisp cold air deeply into his lungs.

"OH MAN! Feel that fresh air. Thanks dude! You know I was getting kinda sleepy there for a minute. You've had that goddamn heater on the whole trip for Pat's old man," exclaimed Sandy, stabbing at the air behind him with a thumb over his shoulder.

Roman rolled his eyes and shook his head slowly. He was angry that he'd spoiled an opportunity for a little peace and quite. He scolded himself under his breath, "mother fuc…," when Sandy suddenly cut him off with a familiar whine.

"Dude, see if you can find a Euro-Coco's or something around here man, maybe we can grab some chow before we get to the marina," he said, looking out all of the windows at once as he scouted the area for a diner.

"I hope you're happy," murmured François from under the cozy cocoon he'd assembled from all of the coats and jackets they'd tossed in the back of the Audi.

"Can it Frenchie, I don't need crap from you too," quipped Roman.

"Alright, but take the next exit and you'll find something that will pass for an American meal for our insatiable friend riding shotgun," François replied from under his warm retreat.

"How would you know man? You've been squirreled away under those coats all night," Roman lamented, dismissing François' suggestion.

"I peeked out the window while you were rolling your eyes. Trust me, take the next exit and you'll run right into the Ibis Marseille Hotel. It's not five star but the restaurant has a large selection of Yankee style favorites including pancakes and waffles, Sandy will love it," replied François.

"Listen to the man home-boy! Let's eat, I'm starving!" chimed in Sandy.

"You're alright Frenchie, I don't care what Roman says about you," he added, patting Roman's shoulder as he settled back into his seat. François sat up and stretched. Rubbing at his eyes he looked out the windows on either side of the Audi and got his bearings. "Take the Alexandre Fleming exit ahead and follow it to the Ibis Hotel," he said yawning.

"Okay, I see the exit, but I don't see no hotel? You said I'd run right into it," Roman said looking past Sandy and out the passenger window.

"Just follow Fleming around and it will turn into François Duparc. The Ibis is on Sakatini. If you get to St. Pierre you went too far," explained François.

"Clear as mud," replied Roman sarcastically as he took the av. Alexandre Fleming exit.

"Don't worry my friend, I will get us there. This is where I grew up, these are my streets," chuckled François.

"Alright Frenchie, you have the con," said Sandy gleefully, grateful that they'd be stopping soon to put on the old feedbag.

A few moments later they were pulling into the drive of the large, square, unimpressive three star hotel. Sandy hopped out before Roman killed the engine and jogged toward the entrance, his warm breath leaving a foggy trail behind him as he put some distance between he and the others. Sandy Lucci wasn't picky when it came to meals. The whole star rating system was wasted on him. As long as the food was hot, the coffee black, the beer cold, and the waitresses young and curvaceous, he was a happy camper. This place would be lucky to bat .500 on the Lucci scorecard, and at this time of the morning hot cakes and coffee would be his preference over suds and sex.

François and Roman entered the lobby a moment after Sandy. A rather round and perturbed looking gentleman behind the desk rolled his eyes toward a hall leading to the dining area where a bellhop was busy cleaning a spill. It looked like someone had run over the poor guy on his way to fill a room service order. You didn't need to be a genius to figure out the culprit in that hit and run. François smiled weakly as they past the desk, picking up the pace to catch up to Sandy before the next calamity.

"HOT CAKES! Come on man, you know, pancakes, flapjacks, buttermilk, blueberry, sourdough, buckwheat, understand-a-vu, HOT CAKES!" Sandy bellowed at a tiny waiter who looked to be about a hundred and ten. What a jerk François thought as he came to the poor fellow's rescue.

"Pardonnez s'il vous plaît à mon ami, il est surmené intellectuellement malade," he said, asking for forgiveness for his mentally ill friend.

"Bien sûr, mais est il dangereux," replied the frightened waiter, forgiving him and asking if Sandy was dangerous.

"Pas si vous le nourrissez vite," replied François with a smile, assuring him that he was not, as long as he was fed quickly.

The little man laughed weakly, excusing himself to process Sandy's order, running off to the kitchen as fast as his little legs would carry him. François turned to give Sandy a piece of his mind only to discover that he'd already wandered over to the buffet table to poor himself a cup of coffee and grab a couple of scones to tide him over until his meal arrived. François decided to leave well enough alone and joined him at the coffee carafe to do likewise. They joined Roman at a booth near a window with a view of the parking lot. He was busy adding an ungodly amount of sugar and cream to his coffee.

"Man, this is the smallest coffee mug I've ever seen. And this coffee tastes like sludge!" Roman lamented, making a sour face.

"Its espresso my friend, it's supposed to taste like that. Nice and strong," explained François.

"For reals? Madre mia, I don't think I'm gonna France so much," Roman replied, emptying five small espresso cups into a soup bowl and adding more milk and sugar.

François shook his head and muttered "païen," referring to his confused compatriot as a heathen. As he sipped at his own drink his cell phone began to vibrate in his pocket. Setting down his cup he stood to retrieve the squawking contraption from his pants pocket and answer it. Who would be calling so early he wondered? The led display answered his question as Jackson Peck's name was displayed in dark black letters against a soft blue background. François' felt tightness in his chest as he answered the phone, he had a bad feeling.

"Hello Mr. Bouchard, it's me Jack. I hope I didn't wake you?"

"No we have only just arrived in Marseilles. We are having breakfast at the Ibis Hotel right now. Are you nearby?"

"Yeah, I arrived last night by charter. I've been trying to reach Randy but no joy. Has he called you?"

François frowned and walked away form the table and out into the lobby to continue the conversation without the commotion of a busy restaurant and out of earshot of Sandy and Roman. "He hasn't called, but he wasn't to arrive here until tomorrow anyway. That was the plan. We would get to the docks today and the two of you would follow in a day or two. What are you worried about anyway, what aren't you telling me?"

"It's probably nothing, Randy was supposed to check in when he arrived in Madrid and that was hours ago. I tried his cell and no answer. He may just be over cautious since his encounter with Mr. Price and his minions. I told him to run silent if he thought he was being followed. Still, you were and then Pat were the contingency plans and neither of you have heard from him."

"You spoke with my son?"

"Yes, I called him after you didn't pick up last night."

"You called me last night?"

"Yeah, around midnight, it just rang, never went to voice mail."

"I must have disabled the damn thing somehow. These machines are just too bloody sophisticated for my generation!"

"I'm hip. Anyway, Pat said we go with or without him."

"That doesn't sound right, are you sure he was clear about that?"


François didn't like how quickly Jack answered his question. He was lying, Pat was not that reckless. Still, confronting him now could be trouble for them all so he played along for the time being. He'd caution the others once they got to the docks. Right now he wanted to concentrate on Randy, the boy had to be somewhere between Madrid and Marseilles. He was supposed be travelling by rail, but if he felt threatened he may have changed up and switched to a bus or an automobile. At any rate he had three days to make a one day trip. The prudent thing for them to do was to wait and see. But suddenly François had a notion. He recalled what Giselle, Patrick's mother used to tell their son when he was a boy and they were out shopping in the mall together, "if we get separated stay where you are, I will find you."

"Jack, when was the last time you saw Randy?"

"In Paris, I watched him board his flight to Spain before I caught my charter, why?"

"You saw him board?"

"Yes, why? What are you thinking?"

"I think Randy is still in Madrid. He's doing what any frightened and smart kid would do. He's staying put and waiting for someone to come find him. That's what I think," François replied.

"You sound pretty sure of yourself."

"I am. The question is where is he waiting?"

"You already answered that Franco, he's at the airport."

"What is the airport in Madrid? We will go and fetch him," François said.

"He's not in Madrid, he's still in Paris, at the Charles De Gaulle airport," replied Jack chuckling.

"But you said you saw him board?"

"I did, but that doesn't mean stayed on board."

"How can you be sure?"

"Because I know how Mr. Price thinks and because I know my father. If Randy had been picked up in Madrid I'd have received a cryptic hint of some kind. My father loves to gloat and play games. He knows that we know he's on to us. It's a cat and mouse game for him now and we are the meal he is playing with. No, Randy's smart, he did the right thing. He stayed put and kept me in the dark about it, clever boy. I'll fly back a fetch him myself," Jack explained.

François could hear the wheels turning in Jack's head in the pregnant pause before he spoke again. He feared for Randy even more now than before. The tone of Jack's voice was cold and calculating, and it gave François the heebie-jeebies. He thought about calling Randy to warn him but he knew that Randy had already tossed the cell as part of the protocol they had set up in Monte Carlo. The same protocol kept him from calling his son as well. Sticking with the plan was the only course of action. The troubling part was that Jack knew the plan as well. In order to stay the course, he would have to trust the devil, there was no other choice. Randy's fate was in the hands of a random element. François fought the urge to deviate, and forced himself to remain disciplined.

"Very well, we'll see you on the dock in two days, as scheduled," he said as normally as possible so as not to give Jack any indication that he was abnormally concerned.

"Right, see you on Monday or Tuesday. If it's safe I'll text you with the all's clear code after I find our little lost lamb," Jack replied.

"Alright, I'll keep an eye out for it," François answered as their call was disconnected.

François frowned as he put the cell phone back into his pants pocket. Jack's code for "all's clear" was 666...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

("Heaven knows no frontiers. And I've seen Heaven in your eyes…")…The Corrs

Anh yêu em Tuyet...
Tôi yêu con gái KaSandra & Katrina...
Tôi thương con trai của bố Luc…

Gabriel's Promise
a novel by nicholas sheridan stanton

Chapter Forty-four

12 Rue de Valore…Monte Carlo, Saturday, August 27th, 2005…1am

As safe houses went I guess this was safe as any other. Actually, I've never had the compulsion or the need to utter those words in the same sentence before, other than to declare my own home a relatively safe place to live. I do recall a time though when my son Gabriel's pre-school teacher sent home an exercise requiring him to meet with his family and map out escape routes in case of a fire or an earthquake. He was so serious about his homework and he kept insisting that Monica and I "pay attention" because he was in charge! He was such a cute little tyrant; we could hardly contain ourselves as he led us from room to room pointing out deficiencies with our home safety program. He probably would have made a great Fireman or Safety Engineer had he survived the cancer. Suddenly my pleasant memory turned into an angry thought and I shut it down before it could cloud my judgment. Now was not the time for reactionary stumbles. I needed a clear head to cipher on what Jack and the others had shared tonight.

Clearly there was no turning back now. We were committed to a man, a fact that I was simultaneously grateful for, proud of and frankly surprised by, given the components of my small pirate crew. Specifically, Randy Patel who after surviving his encounter with the men who were likely responsible for Wesley Allendale's death, had decided to stay on board, and without reservation. Isn't it curious how people will surprise you? As soon as you've labeled someone like Randy as the weak link, bammo, he goes and does something heroic like this. Expect the unexpected they say, I suppose that'll just have to be my new mantra.

Nevertheless, I'm glad he chose to stay the course, and secretly down deep, I'm hoping against hope that I haven't led him and everyone else for that matter down a primrose path to a lengthy incarceration or worse! We all agreed that after this job we'd beat it on back stateside and regroup. Randy's discovery of a cyber path buried many layers deep in the Standard Pharmaceutical mainframe led to a veritable mountain of cash in what had to be a personal slush fund for Sanford Peck himself. That made the decision to lay low for a while a no brainer.

The G.A.W.D. coffers were swelling with our pirate booty as well as mega millions from more legitimate sources. The Foundation had grown legs since Grover Gateway's passing and we could afford to rely on those funds to support our continued Good Samaritan mission. The old man's friends came out of the woodwork to help the cause and he had lots of deep pocket friends, both personally and professionally. Truth be told picking Sanford Peck's pocket was no longer a necessity, it was purely punitive now. It was all mean spiritedness, and revenge on my part. We had kept my promise to Gabriel by building this organization with Standard's seed money and Grover's support and guidance. A little voice inside of me kept telling me that he knew all along who I was and what I was up to. That only made me admire him more. A great man recognizes greatness in others and he recognized Sanford Peck for the bastard that he was.

"We're leaving now son. We'll meet you at the docks on Friday. Watch yourself, I don't trust Jackson," Papa announced appearing suddenly and startling me from my deep thought.

"None of us trust that Richie Rich prick Pat. Do like your Pop says and watch your ass," added Sandy coming from the kitchen with a sandwich in hand that he made for the long drive.

Sandy, Papa and Roman were driving back to Mandelien-La Napoule tonight together in a rented Audi. They'd put the finishing touches on the boats and make sure they were prepped and shipshape for the run at The Princess Grace. Jack and Randy were heading there as well by different means and using a different route to confuse the enemy. They'd get back to the marina by way of Paris first, where they would split up. Randy would continue on to Madrid by air then take the rail to Marseilles, where he'd meet up with Jack again who would have backtracked in a chartered jet. The plan was to keep the Standard security goons guessing right up to the last minute. If that seems convoluted and excessive it's only because it is. We weren't trained spies by any means, the whole Chinese fire drill was right out of the James Bond movies and Robert Ludlum books we'd collectively watched and read respectively. It would have been comical if it hadn't been so serious. I was to leave in a day or two with Jean-Luc being called away on family business in Normandy. Jean-Luc Rojier would leave Monaco and Pat Bouchard (a.k.a. the Jack o Broken Hearts) would arrive in Mandelien-La Napoule in time to lead the assault on the princess.

"Alright buddy, message received," I replied shaking Sandy's hand. Sandy pulled me in close and hugged me like a big brother, slapping me on the back, "No shit Pat, watch yourself. You're alone here now. These guys mean business man, you don't wanna wind up fish bait like Wesley!" he said giving my shoulders a firm squeeze.

"Let's go homeboy, the car's gassed and ready to go," Roman announced, poking his head in the doorway.

"Gotta go dude, see ya on Friday," Sandy said turning to leave.

"See ya," I replied looking over at my father who was staring at me.

Papa looked at me with sad but admiring eyes, studying me, "We've taken this a lot further than we ever planned to, didn't we son?" he said not expecting a reply. We just stared at one another for a long moment.

"Was it worth it?" he asked finally.

I breathed in deeply and sighed a reply, "Yeah, it was to me," I said tiredly.
Papa slapped me on the arm and turned to leave. He stopped at the doorway and asked one more question without turning to face me, "Is it enough?"

I didn't hesitate with my answer, "Not by a long shot!"

The Princess Grace, Donnelly stateroom…Saturday August 27th…1am

Alma Donnelly sat up in the large bed, propping herself up on two huge overstuffed pillows with satin cases. She wasn't used to such luxury and she missed the comfortable queen sized Serta Perfect Sleeper back home, the one she and Arthur shared for the last twenty of their fifty years together. Actually she just missed being home altogether. No place is ever more beautiful than home, if she had on Dorothy's red shoes she'd gladly click the heels twice to whisk herself back to the ranch in California. Alma removed the soft felt sleep mask covering her tired eyes and surveyed the dark room. As her eyes adjusted to the light she noticed her cell phone blinking silently on the nightstand beside her.

"Land sakes, now who could that be?" she wondered aloud.

She leaned over and switched on the lamp and picked up her phone and reading glasses together. Adjusting the spectacles on her face she read the note displayed on the cell phone's screen. "Voice Mail" it read. Alma pressed the highlighted icon and held the phone to her ear.

"Hello Mrs. Donnelly, this is Dr. Elizabeth Andrews over at LA General Hospital in California. I received your letter the other day and am calling to inform you that Katherine Tate was released to Hospice earlier today. Frankly I was reluctant to make this call. But when my Director informed me that you were connected to the G.A.W.D. Foundation I decided that we owed you at least a courtesy call after all that you have done for Katie and her family. I must admit that I am confused by your interest though. If you don't mind my asking, are you acquainted with the Tate family? If you are, don't wait long to contact them, Katie has very little time left. I apologize for being the messenger with sad news. Goodbye…"

Alma set the phone down, resting it on the blankets that covered her. She removed her glasses and rubbed at her eyes for a moment. The poor child, her poor family, her poor mother and poor father she thought. Alma was no stranger to tragedy; Lord knows she'd seen plenty of it in her lifetime. Death and taxes, two things in life that are unavoidable, or so they say. She new little about taxes or high finance and frankly could care less. "Let the government have their pound of flesh," her Arthur would say every year at tax time. But she did know a thing or two about cheating death. Well, not exactly cheating, you couldn't really call it cheating if the method involved a by God miracle, right? Well, that was her opinion anyway, and she had good reason to think that way.

Alma Donnelly had a secret that she kept near and dear. It had been years since she thought of it. Her Arthur took the same secret to his grave as did Grover Gateway. It was after Grover's death when she became aware of Elizabeth Andrews. She had shown Jean-Luc a picture of Katie Tate with members of the Make-A-Wish program granting Katie's wish to meet a popular singer. Luc seemed to recognize Dr. Andrews although he didn't say so. It made Alma curious and when she inquired about the young doctor she discovered an unexpected link to the secret she kept. Dr. Elizabeth Andrews was somehow related to a face from the past. One of the few people intimately involved with the secret she kept. Elizabeth's uncle, formerly Father Ethan Kelly now Reverend Ethan Kelly was witness to the same miracles Alma had been witness to. She would contact him when she returned to California. Perhaps there was time yet to help the Tate child. He would know. Prayerfully he would know.

Alma put the phone back on the nightstand. She turned out the light and covered her eyes with her sleep mask as she slid back under the blankets. She was tired, tomorrow was another day, and morning always brought new hope. Alma drifted off to sleep with that thought…

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

("And the rain will fall, it falls for you. And the clouds will break into tears, you should be here, standing so near, to me..")…Bee Gees

Gabriel's Promise
a novel by nicholas sheridan stanton

Chapter Forty-three

LA General Hospital…Los Angeles, Saturday, August 27th, 2005…7am

A white Honda Odyssey idled noiselessly at the curb several floors below where she observed in silent sadness. Dr. Elizabeth Andrews watched as Wallace Tate maneuvered his beautiful daughter up to the minivan, stopping to set the brakes on her wheel chair before positioning himself to lift her into the family's well travelled vehicle. It was a task he'd mastered by necessity during her lengthy illness, taking her to and from chemo sessions, extended in-patient / out-patient procedures, and various hope inducing counseling sessions with well intentioned professionals and clergy. Katie's mother Anita was busy at the rear of the vehicle stuffing Katie's belongings, acquired gifts, hang-in-there cards, balloons, and whatnot into the cargo area of the van. Both sliding doors were wide open to give Wallace room to settle Katie into her seat comfortably. The chair was reclined to allow her to rest peacefully on the long drive home to San Diego.

Swaddled in her favorite polka-dotted flannel blanket, she held onto a cute rainbow colored teddy bear that her mother had nicknamed lifesaver bear because of its resemblance to Katie's favorite candy. She wore one of the hospital's standard issue blue masks over her mouth and nose while a brightly colored knitted wool cap covered her nearly hairless head. At first glance it might seem odd for someone to be so warmly dressed on such a hot LA summer day. But it wouldn't take long to catch on to what was going on with the child. Months of chemo and radiation had left the once vibrant and precocious little girl a mere shadow of her former self. Those closest to her, family and friends, as well as those who cared for her daily had become accustomed to the sight. Maybe numb would be a more accurate explanation. Not Lizzie though, she was a dreamer at heart and never saw Katie in any light other than the day they first met. Katherine Tate would always be the girl with the smile that could light a city block and a sense of humor that made you laugh until your sides hurt with her silly knock-knock jokes. Lizzie watched Katie's dad pick her up effortlessly and turn to place her into the van. She had her arms around her daddy's neck while lifesaver bear rested in her lap.

Lizzie noticed Mr. Tate saying something to his daughter, probably I love you, and she knew that Katie had replied I love you more as soon as she saw him choking up. That was their routine. Every time Wallace left for work or went on an errand he'd hug her and tell her that he loved her. And every time he did she would hold him until he literally had to pry himself loose while she told him I love you more. It was their routine, it belonged to them alone, it was beautiful, and it always made Lizzie's heart ache. Witnessing love so pure is an awesome thing. If you've never believed in God before you just might be tempted to start in a moment like that. She sniffled and wiped away a tear as the door to Linda Bradley's office opened.

"Dr. Andrews? I'm sorry; did we have a meeting scheduled?" Linda asked, startled by Lizzie's presence as she entered the room.

"No, I just wanted to talk with you. I actually had a whole speech I was going to give. I even wrote it down, but I just don't have the heart anymore," Lizzie replied.

Linda walked over to her desk and set her day planner down. She turned to look out the window that Lizzie stood at. She saw Anita Tate below, pulling on the handle of the side door, activating the mechanism that automatically closed it. The large door slid shut slowly and Linda watched Katie Tate disappear from view. Anita Tate walked around to take the seat behind her husband and beside her daughter. A moment later the van pulled away from the curb and slowly drove away. The two women watched the Tate's drive off the hospital grounds and out into the final stage of their family's journey. There was a look of guilt and relief on Linda Bradley's face, while the look on Elizabeth Andrews face was one of complete sorrow. Life's a stew of perspectives. Even when fed the same dish, one person raves while another rants. Go figure? Must be why there are so many shrinks in the world, there are always more questions than answers. Linda turned and seated herself at her desk.

"So what did you want to talk about?" she asked, preparing herself for a tirade.

Lizzie walked over and stood beside Linda for a moment, making her uncomfortable as the young doctor invaded her personal space. She looked up at Lizzie and their eyes locked, communicating silently with changing expressions. Linda felt the heat of anger, angst, and frustration emanate from the young woman standing over her. But before she could react defensively Lizzie's emotional aura changed, morphing into pity, sorrow, and compassion. In those few seconds the two of them bonded over a reality neither was strong enough to deal with alone. They would get over this, move on eventually, that's life in the big city. Linda had Nikko again and Lizzie had her cousins Jace and Noah to turn to. But here and now they only had each other, polar opposites as women; on different sides of the equation when it came to responsibility and duty. Here and now they were each other's missing piece of the puzzle that was Katie Tate. Lizzie needed Linda's practicality to keep her heart from breaking and Linda needed Lizzie's heart to keep her from pretending she didn't care. Where one is weak the other is strong. Isn't that always the way in any relationship? Our differences are what bring us together. Maybe that was how it was planned from the beginning? Lizzie suddenly knelt beside Linda's chair and put her arms around her boss, hugging her gently. Linda did likewise without really understanding why.

"I'm sorry," whispered Lizzie as she laid her head on Linda's shoulder.

Linda felt warm tears run down the back of her neck as the young doctor sobbed quietly. She stroked Lizzie's hair softly and whispered a reply as her own tears began to flow, "I'm sorry too…"

The Princess Grace, Monte Carlo…Saturday, August 27th, 2005…Midnight

Jackson Peck sat alone in the Grand Salon of the massive ocean liner, trying not to fidget in an overstuffed Queen Anne chair, one of two near the fireplace. He wasn't nervous, just anxious. There were things to be done, double and triple checks to make before they made their play next weekend. The last thing to do while still in Monte Carlo was set the hook. He'd already baited it well by betraying Pat and his merry gang of thieves. He never meant for anyone to be seriously hurt, Wesley Allendale's death was just an unfortunate mistake. Mr. Price and his mercenaries were supposed to be menacing but not lethal. True, Jack gave them leeway to play rough, but poor Wesley didn't know that it his interrogation was only a game. He fought them at every opportunity and never gave up his friends. An admirable but in the long run stupid gesture on his part, as all that his loyalty bought him was a very unhappy ending. In the long run Wesley's death was tragic but inconsequential, as he had been easily replaced by Roman who'd stayed stateside to run errands for Jean-Luc.

Jack picked Roman up at the airport and dropped him at the rendezvous with the others about an hour ago. He stayed long enough to listen to their recounts of narrow escapes from the Standard Pharmaceutical goons and tried to look impressed. The saps didn't know any better than Wesley did that it was all make believe. Jackson smiled, pleased with himself and his masterful planning leading to this moment. When it was all said and done he and Killeen would have justice served their way, the company would have eliminated a pesky pirate nuisance, and Jackson Peck would have the company. Not a bad outcome when you put it all in a nutshell.

"Right on time, I appreciate that son," Said Sanford Peck, suddenly appearing as if materializing out of thin air.

Jackson's heart skipped a beat but he gave no outward indication that he was startled. He rose from the chair leisurely and turned to face his father. He bit at his cheeks which made his face more gaunt than normal. It was a childhood habit, a 'tell' in poker-speak that always tipped his hand where these father son exchanges were concerned. It usually gave his father the upper hand, usually, but not this time.

"Hello Father," he said extending his hand for the customary firm handshake and pat on the back. Sanford Peck obliged his son and gestured for him to sit back down as he occupied the second Queen Anne beside him.

"Mr. Price tells me that all of the rats are huddled together at this very moment," Sanford said, tipping his head back toward the Salon entrance.

The younger Peck twisted slightly in his chair to look behind him. The square jawed, square shouldered German was standing in the doorway with his hands clasped in front of him. Jack couldn't see his eyes but he knew that they were on him. The man made him uncomfortable, even more than he normally was in his father's presence. Jack nodded at the Head of Standard Security, acknowledging him. Mr. Price returned the gesture with a barely noticeable nod of his own. Jack felt a sudden hint of foreboding as he stared at his father's hatchet man, and he wondered if Mr. Price felt the same sensation. He hoped that he did, he knew that he should.

"Yes sir, the team's assembled at a presumed safe house discussing next moves," Jack replied turning back to face his father.

"I do hope we haven't put too big a scare into them. I'd hate for them to scrub their plans and ruin the clever trap that you've prepared," Sanford said with a smirk.

"Not likely Father, they believe they have a just cause. They believe in honor among thieves and all that rot."

"Curious? I would have bet against that. Jean-Luc, errr, Patrick Bouchard seems cleverer than that?"

"He's blinded by his hate for you."

"Interesting, now there's something the two of you have in common."

"To be sure Father. However, Jean-Luc is ruled by his heart and lives by the feud, where I on the other hand am not quite so limited. I'm more practical, I'm more patient, I'm more certain that you'll reap what you've sown, someday. Until then, and make no mistake, that will be a happy day, I'll enjoy the advantages of being the only child of Sanford Peck, captain of industry extraordinaire!"

Sanford studied his progeny for a moment. He sat leisurely in the large chair, legs crossed like a woman, knee over knee, a habit that most men developed as they aged, with his hands laced together in front of him. He massaged his palms with his thumbs, rotating them slowly counterclockwise waiting until he was sure Jackson was finished with his little speech. Such an arrogant child they'd raised, Sanford blamed his mother for that; Killeen had always been too soft on him. Had he been more assertive in Jackson's rearing there would be no way he would have disrespected him the way he had just now.

"I feel like a scotch, care to join me?" Sanford asked his son all of the sudden.

Jack's cool expression changed to one of surprise for a nanosecond before he answered, "Sure, why not."

Sanford raised his hand slightly, "Splendid, it will be just a moment," he said not bothering to look behind him; he knew that Mr. Price would arrange for everything.

"Very well, perhaps you can tell me why you called me here while we wait."

"Yes of course. It was nothing urgent; I wanted to apologize for the mishap with the Australian fellow. That was tragic and completely avoidable. Rest assured the responsible underling has been dealt with appropriately," explained Sanford.

"It's not like you to apologize, for anything. Why now?"

"A man gets older and he begins to see things in a different light. Perhaps I'm just feeling my own mortality."

His father was baiting him; Jack had experienced this tactic more times than he could remember over the years. He knew something and was fishing for confirmation. No doubt Mr. Price had got more out of Wesley than a last gasp. But what, Jack had to be careful here. His dad hadn't asked the probing question yet. That could be in the form of a question or in a statement tossed out for a Jack to react to, either way his dad could give him the answer he was looking for.

"Really Father, sentimentality, please, don't insult my intelligence. Just ask me what you want to know, maybe I'll give you a straight answer," Jack replied, deciding that the best defense would be a strong offense.

Sanford smiled, amused by his son's direct approach. Admittedly he hadn't expected that from him. "Alright sport, we'll skip the dance and get straight to the point. I want to know why you neglected to tell us about these electronic devices that your protégé Randy Patel developed. What do you have to say about that?"

Jack was taken aback, no way did Wesley give that up, he never knew about Randy's radar jamming countermeasures. The only person that could have given that up was randy himself. But Randy was at the safe house when Jack dropped off Roman? When would Mr. Price have made contact with him? Randy didn't mention anything when the team was trading recounts of run-ins with the Standard Security goons. Where, when, and how did his father get this information? Jack knew that he was taking too long to answer and Jack knew his father had noticed it. The only thing he could do now was to downplay the importance of the device without jeopardizing the plan. Since the best place to hide is usually in plain sight, he decided to hide behind the truth.

"I'm impressed, my compliments to Herr Price."

"I'm sure he will be honored by your praise. Please continue."

"The device is an electronic countermeasure similar to what fighter aircraft and submarines use to confound direct attacks," Jack began.

"I am not an engineer Jackson, please, in layman's terms if you don't mind."

"Certainly, in a nutshell his device splits radio waves emitted by radar sweeps into dozens of bounce backs which essentially camouflage an approach."

Sanford Peck chewed on that for a moment before replying. "So, what you're saying is with this device one vessel could sneak up on another vessel with relative ease, right?"

"That's about it," answered Jack confident now that his father had no clue about his cloaking device. Still, it was enough insight to make the assault scheduled for next weekend a lot more risky.

"Does it work?" his father asked.

"Yes, it works quite well," Jack answered truthfully.

"I see. And the plan is to pirate this vessel next week you say, correct?"

"Yes Father."

"And you and Mr. Price have worked out all of the details then for the extermination of these pests, true?"

"Yes Father, we have done that."

"Then this radar jamming device is of no consequence, am I right?"

"You are sir," Jack replied.

"Why then did you withhold this information?"

"It was insignificant in my opinion. Mr. Price and the crew are well trained professionals and they know exactly what to expect. The addition of these devices will only hasten the outcome, trust me," Jack explained, setting the hook with his calm demeanor.

"Very well then, why don't we enjoy a scotch before retiring then, I see Mr. Price has returned with our nightcap," Sanford said as his henchman set a tray with two leaded crystal tumblers on the small table separating the two Queen Anne chairs.

"Thank you Mr. Price, that will be all," Sanford said, dismissing his charge with a smile. Jack saw the two men exchange a quick glance that made him flinch slightly, enough to noticeably slosh the scotch around in his glass. Mr. Price saw it too, Jack was certain of that. Jack was keenly aware now that his father had made a fateful decision, it was written on Mr. Price's face. What will be will be he thought as Mr. Price excused himself and exited the room, leaving the two men alone.

"To your health son," Sanford said smiling, tipping his glass in his direction.

"And yours sir," Jack replied reciprocating. "To yours…"
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