Okay, it's time to get back on the horse so to speak. With the one year anniversary of KaSandra's passing just around the corner I wanted to share my novel, Gabriel's Promise with one and all. Originally planned for release in 2008, it has been rewritten to incorporate insights and emotions gained and experienced, respectively, during KK's eleven month battle with cancer, from April 2009 through March of 2010.
That was a time when I learned about true love, what that really means, what that really requires. What it means is beyond words but can be recognized in various forms like in the innocent eyes of a child, in the beaming gaze of a mother upon her newborn, or in the tears of that same mother saying goodbye to her child far too soon. What it requires is humility, humility enough to understand the power of the words, humility enough to recognize that you are forever changed when you receive it and when you give it.
Gabriel's Promise is the story of a father pushed beyond his limits in the face of unbearable loss and unfair circumstance. It tracks the emotional spectrum from cool blue to white hot. Devastated by the death of his five year-old son, Patrick Bouchard reinvents himself, dedicating his life to finding a way to keep his promise to his only child, Gabriel. From the coastline of Southern California to Gibraltar and the Mediterranean, Patrick takes you on an adventure of retribution that could be in the fantasy closet of anyone that has been affected by injustice.
a novel by nicholas sheridan stanton
(”Trust in the Lord and do good......and he will give you the desires of your heart")…Psalm 37
Messina, Sicily, July 27, 2005
We'd been so close to the escape route. The Messina Strait was dead ahead, close enough to see without field glasses. We had good weather and the seas of Mediterranean were relatively calm last night. It would have been smooth sailing through the narrow strait into the deep waters of the Ionian Sea and then onto the Gulf where we would have put in at Taranto, at the arch of Italy's famous geography. It really should have been easy, but it wasn't. Do you know when you ought to be the most uneasy? When you think you've thought of everything!
Beads of sweat dripped steadily onto the old wooden table where I sat uncomfortably shackled to one of two splintered benches arranged on either side. My head hung low, my posture was poor, I was exhausted, weary and defeated, waiting for whatever fate had in store. The rivers of perspiration that ran the length of my forearms dripped steadily through the gaps on the tabletop. Cradling my aching skull in my two callused hands, I let it sink to the rough planks below me and lay there motionless as I composed myself. Sighing audibly I rose up enough to survey the room. Cold sweat stung me as it seeped into the corners of my eyes while I panned the room slowly, taking inventory of every voice, every door, and every window, searching for a way out of this mess. It may have been an act of desperation but what the hell, I was desperate. A frustrating moment later I closed my eyes, lowering my head and surrendering to the fact that I was caught, that the jig was up. There weren't any escape routes; at least there were none that wouldn’t require far more strength than I had left in me. I was played out, physically, mentally, and emotionally. I knew it, and so did my captors.
I’d been in this stinking cellar for hours now with the hot July sun beating down on me from a lone window perched high above. Squinting, I rolled my eyes away from the harsh glare and admired my profile in shadow on the wall across from me. For no apparent reason I considered the simplicity of shadows. They reveal so few details and yet there is no mistaking their origin. The shadow you cast is yours and yours alone. It begins and ends with you. I read somewhere that in some cultures the shadow is thought to be a glimpse of the Holy Spirit, who knows, maybe so? I lifted my head slowly and pushed myself up from the hard surface of the table, and reached high toward the ceiling with both arms, as I stretched my aching back. That turned out to be a mistake because as soon as I moved two men in wrinkled un-pressed uniforms burst through the iron door and rushed to where I stood; taking up positions on either side me. One of them jabbed at my ribcage sharply with a black baton, hard enough to force me to gasp audibly. The harsh blow broke one of my short ribs and I doubled over, quickly lowering an arm to shield myself from further attack.
“Penso che voglia dire qualcosa, (I think he wants to say something),” said the smaller of the two men, snickering at the unarmed man whom he had just struck.
He sneered wickedly at his partner and pointed at me, painfully struggling to compose myself. The other guy, a whole head taller than the little shit with the nightstick, leaned forward and studied me. His breath reeked of whatever fish he had just eaten, and he chuckled gleefully at my predicament.
“Non so Carlo, somiglia a egli piangerebbe piuttosto (I don’t know Carlo, he looks like he would rather cry like a child),” the larger jailer replied, laughing boisterously, revealing a face full of rotting teeth. Thoroughly pissed at this point, I straightened up and looked over at the open door, ignoring their insults and provocations.
“Vous sont les singes par jouer? (Are you monkeys through playing around),” I asked sarcastically, replying in French out of habit. The smaller jailer placed the baton under my chin. He pulled it up slowly but firmly, letting me know who was in charge. I looked up, careful not to antagonize the little bully.
“Non la capisco. Che lei ha detto? (I don’t understand you. What did you say?),” the small man asked me dryly.
I raised my hand, intending only to wipe away a small trickle of blood that oozed from my nose. The larger jailer reacted swiftly, and came up behind me, yanking my arms roughly behind my back. I writhed in pain, my broken rib stretched beyond its limit to flex. Drawing in several short, shallow breaths I tried to relax as best as I could. I needed to convince these two bastards that I had no intention of trying anything stupid.
“Hey, hey, wait a minute, wait a minute!” I shouted, switching to English. Neither responded; they just stared at me with blank expressions, no surprise.
“OK, OK, do either of you guys speak any English,” I asked hopefully.
The bigger jailer removed his knee my back and relaxed his hold on me a little. He looked over at his buddy and frowned, and then nodded in my direction, as if to say 'well, what do you know’. The smaller jailer pulled the baton out from under my chin, easing the tension for a moment while he contemplated this new development, allowing me to relax.
“Yeah, I pretty good speak English. What your name is, huh?” he asked, staring at me smugly.
“Patrick...my name is Patrick Bouchard,” I answered, deciding that hiding my identity was useless, especially since I had already been betrayed, which by the way was how I ended up here in the first place.
But I’m getting ahead of myself; suffice to say that avoiding the long arm of the law had proved to be way harder in this new age of forensic sciences then we had bargained for. With the advances in fields like DNA and spectrographic whosie-whats-it shit and whatnot, we could only stay on the run for so long. Getting caught was inevitable, we knew that going in. It's just that we were still way ahead of the law dogs. We were only caught because I fucked up! Like I said earlier, just when you think you have it all figured out, right?
“You are French, no?” the small guy asked impatiently.
“No, I only speak French, I’m an American,” I replied quietly, thankful for the break.
“Your papers, where they are?” he demanded suddenly, swatting my arm with the baton, hard enough to raise a welt (so much for the break in the action).
“You little shit! They’re under water man, maybe a thousand meters, at the bottom of the freaking Mediterranean!” I shouted, trying to rub away the pain from my bruised bicep! I really wanted punch this little prick’s lights out.
“You not fisherman,” the small man observed, sneering at me as he admired my Ralph Lauren polo shirt. He felt the soft fabric, questioning my manhood with his smug expression.
I stared up at the man; “Did I say I was a fisherman Guido?” I snarled as sarcastically as I could. The little jailer stared back at me blankly, tapping his chin with the end on the baton.
“Your boat, it sinks, no?” he asked, pressing for details.
“What do you think Einstein,” I replied sarcastically.
The room became silent for an uncomfortable moment. The small jailer seemed to be thinking hard about what to do next, and looked agitated. He stepped toward me, raising his baton, as if preparing to strike me good and hard.
“Fermata! (Stop)!” shouted a loud voice from just behind the little bastard. The small jailer tripped over his own feet as he halted in mid-swing, his momentum nearly causing him to tip over.
“Ahh, il capitano spiacente, non l'ho sentito entra! (Sorry captain, I didn’t hear you enter),” the little man said, stammering a quick apology, quickly doffing his cap toward his superior.
“Lasciare andare di lui stupido! (Let go of him stupid),” the captain shouted harshly at the larger jailer.
The big man reluctantly released his hold on me, kicking at the chair as he did so. I watched my tormentor walk slowly across the room to stand beside his partner, glaring back at his boss the whole way. The police captain wasn’t in uniform like the other two. He was in fact, dressed rather stylishly in a finely tailored suit, purchased perhaps in Rome or Milan, from any number of fine haberdasheries. Fashion is a passion in Italy. I shifted my eyes to the slender, well-dressed newcomer as he walked over to where I was shackled. The man stopped beside me and dropped a manila file onto the table, then walked around to seat himself across from me. He studied me intensely for a moment before speaking.
“I am Captain Gianetto,” he said, sniffing loudly with an overt air of self-importance.
“You are a very popular man Mr. Bouchard,” he said in perfect English, his native accent softly in the background but still noticeable.
“A lot of important people are anxious to meet you in person Senori, according to Interpol that is,” he continued, studying my face for a weakness or tell as my poker playing buddies would say. I allowed myself to relax somewhat, and stared back at my new pal.
“Is that right,” I replied, clearing my throat audibly.
He spoke to the two jailers without turning toward them, “Do you know who we have here my friends,” he asked, standing and waving his arms dramatically in my direction?
“Look at him!” he ordered gruffly.
“Do you not recognize such a celebrity?” he continued, shaking his head and snickering.
The two buffoons stepped a little closer and looked at me curiously, as if they were buying livestock. They shook their heads and shrugged, looking back at their captain with blank expressions.
“Il mio Dio, sono circondato dagli imbecilli! (My God, I am surrounded by imbeciles),” the captain lamented, dramatically looking to the heavens above. He walked briskly out of the room and returned just as quickly with a small poster clutched in his fist. He unrolled it on the table in front of me.
“It is you, no?” the captain asked, holding the poster close to my face. I leaned back as much as my broken rib would allow, inhaling deeply and painfully.
“Could be? Looks a little like me, I suppose,” I muttered.
“Please, don’t be modest!” Captain Gianetto pleaded sarcastically.
“The Jack of Broken Hearts!” he loudly announced to the small room, his words bouncing off of the stone walls surrounding us with an unexpected volume.
“Oh, si, Senori, si!” the small jailer exclaimed, excitedly pantomiming as if he were dealing a deck of cards.
The two jailers smiled stupidly at one another then looked back at Capitano Gianetto. Their superior smiled broadly, revealing two freakishly large gold incisors, the kind that would have made Count Dracula himself jealous. He gestured toward me, stamping his left foot hard on the ground.
“You see what I must put up with Senori, do you see?” lamented the police captain apologetically as he sat back down across from me.
“Forgive us, we are, how do you Americans say, star struck, no,” he explained with just a trace of sarcasm. I nodded, and remained silent, looking down at the tabletop trying to think.
“Oh dear me, my manners, you are uncomfortable, yes?” asked Captain Gianetto, genuinely concerned.
“Mama Mia! Such hosts we are!”
“Carlo, bring Senori Bouchard some water at once!” he shouted to the small jailer, motioning with a snap of his fingers for the man to make haste.
“Bring a towel as well Carlo, the poor man is sweating like a pig,” Captain Gianetto added, shouting over his shoulder as he continued to study me. His tone and his demeanor had changed, and I had to fight the urge to relax. For all I knew the 'bad cop' would walk in any minute and pummel me.
“You are not what I expected,” he said, leaning in close, his chin perched on his folded hands.
“You’re not exactly catching me at my best,” I replied looking up and holding the man’s stare.
“Touché, I appreciate the humor in that statement,” he replied, leaning back quickly and gently placing his hands to his lips as if in prayer.
“The playing cards, I must ask you. Why do you leave one behind at each of your, forgive me, crimes?” he asked genuinely curious. I remained silent.
“The Jack of Hearts, with a jagged line through the heart at the corners, what does it mean?” he persisted, watching me struggle with whether or not to answer.
He seemed to be good, and I don’t mean good as in skilled interrogator good, but good, as in a good man. I sensed it right away, and the good angel on my shoulder kept whispering in my ear that I could trust him. I studied him for what seemed like a long time. I could feel the tears welling. Anyone who's been on the run for as long as I have will tell you that there are nights you dream about the sweet relief of confession. Captain Gianetto watched me study him. I had the impression that he was trying his hand at mind reading.
“A woman perhaps?” he asked.
I looked directly into his brown eyes, they were amber colored actually, and I wiped at a tear before it fell onto my cheek, hoping that it went un-noticed, but of course it didn't.
“No, not a woman, not exactly,” I replied.
“Well then, what does it mean?” he implored.
“Please, Senori, enlighten us, there is plenty of time before the authorities arrive, I assure you.”
“Until then you are my guest. No harm will come to you, I swear to you on the Madonna. Come now, confession is good for the soul is it not?”
“There really isn’t much to tell,” I muttered, stalling to consider my options.
“Don't be modest Senori Bouchard, I'm certain that is not true! The Jack of Broken Hearts is a legend in the Mediterranean! My own children pretend to be you when they play with their friends in the streets.”
“Please, please, indulge me,” he pleaded!
“Oh, but wait, you must be starving, let me arrange for some food while we talk, like old friends, no?”
I shrugged, what did I have to lose, the time for secrecy had passed. My only hope for protecting the good things accomplished with all of this piracy rested in shielding myself with the truth. It was time to come clean, repent, and rely on God’s grace to help them see things as I did.
“It’s a long story Captain, are you sure you want to sit through it?”
Carlo returned just as he was about to reply.
“Here it is, the water il Capitano,” he announced, gently setting the pitcher and glass on the table. He tossed a fresh dry towel to me; actually he threw it at me and then quickly looked back at his Captain to see if he noticed.
“Grazie Carlo, grazie,” Captain Gianetto replied, smiling reassuringly.
“Ah, and now the food!” he exclaimed.
“Roberto, go and see my wife. Tell her to send over my supper, and make sure that she sends enough for everyone.”
“Go on now, velocemente (quickly)!” he said excitedly, shooing the man off with a nonchalant wave of his hand.
“Si Senori! Andiamo Carlo, andiamo (let’s go),” Roberto replied, dragging his small partner along as he rushed out of the room.
I watched the two comedians exit, and stifled a laugh. I took one more look around the room an contemplated for a split second overpowering my new fan, but the thought passed quickly. It was time to live in the light again.
“Ah, what the hell,” I muttered.
“Perdonarme (pardon me)?” Captain Gianetto asked.
“Sorry, it was nothing,” I replied apologetically.
“Where would you like me to begin?”
“At the beginning, of course!” he replied, smiling broadly, his gold teeth glistening in the beam of sunlight coming from the window above us.
"At the beginning…"