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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

("So I'll keep on tryin'. I'm through with lyin'. Just like the sun above. I'll come shinin' through")…Timothy B. Schmit

(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 Seventeen

LA General Hospital, Board Room…Friday, March 25th…9am

Lizzie fidgeted in the chair as she sat outside the board room waiting to be summarily reprimanded by Linda Bradley and the band of geezers that pulled the strings around here. Why it had taken so long to get around to punishing her she didn't understand, but then as they say, no good deed goes unpunished. Lizzie was more mad than worried though, miffed that a gaggle of MBAs sitting around a large ostentatious conference table were going to chastise her for being a human being. She wasn’t stupid; she knew the rules, she knew that she’d screwed up professionally by shooting her mouth off in front of the freaking Hospital Director, upstaging her in front of God and Country, and in her own office no less! Okay, so politically she may not have done the right thing but as far as she was concerned it was absolutely the RIGHT THING TO DO. Whatever she thought, she was young; she could probably get another job, just not in LA or anywhere in Ms. Bradley's sphere of influence. NOT, this Bradley chick had lots of clout, Lizzie was screwed and she knew it!

So, she woke up this morning prepared for the worst. What the hell she thought, it wasn’t like they could yank her license or anything; she might be able to find work in the Congo or Outer Mongolia? One thing that she wasn't looking forward to was breaking the news to her Dad after they'd fired her. Maybe she could ask her Uncle Ethan to it? Nah, replied her conscience, that wasn’t an option for several reasons. Number one, her Uncle would probably take Dad’s side given they were cut from the same Irish cloth. Number two, Uncle Ethan was a Minister as well as a former Priest, so that brought God into the picture, which was an added pressure she didn’t need. Number three, cutting and running wasn’t in her DNA, being cut from that same Irish fabric that is! The door opened and startled her. She quickly sat up straight and took her hand away from her mouth. She didn't realize she'd had been biting her nails all this time.

“Dr. Andrews, the Board will see you now,” announced a rather stern looking woman. She was tall and perfect, not a hair, out of place, not even an eyelash, Lizzie decided that she hated her.

“Um, thanks,” Lizzie replied getting up.

Straightening her lab coat she got up and gave her hair a quick comb with both hands before walking through the door. Entering the cavernous room she immediately felt small. It was paneled on three walls in rich, dark mahogany, real wood and not veneered, with the fourth wall being floor to ceiling plate glass sporting a magnificent view of downtown Los Angeles. It provided an illusion of sophistication that LA did not yet possess, let's face, it wasn't the Big Apple now was it? Seated around the large oval table in expensive leather chairs were Linda Bradley, four elderly gentlemen, and a stenographer. Knowing her words were going to be recorded made Lizzie a little nervous, but she suspected that was how she they wanted her to feel. In any event, she decided that she would play it cool and try to keep her answers short, sweet and expletive free.

“Hello Dr. Andrews, please take a seat,” said an impeccably dressed man in a tweed suit that somehow just seemed out of place here in La-La land. He looked to be about sixty-five or so, but she wasn’t sure. She was a poor judge of age anyway. Smiling, Lizzie took a seat across from the Hospital Director, the company stenographer was seated to her right.

“Would you like some coffee my dear?” the same gentleman asked politely.

“No thank you,” she replied, as she settled into a comfy chair near the far end of the table. Secretly she was glad nobody noticed her feet didn’t reach the floor.

Lacing her fingers together she folded her hands in front of her and placed them gently into her lap as she waited for the show to start. It wasn’t a long wait.

“Miss Andrews,” Linda Bradley began, acknowledging her.

“Ma’am,” replied Lizzie respectfully.

“Good morning. Thank you for being prompt,” Linda continued, smiling at the young woman’s unexpected courtesy.

“No worries,” Lizzie added, immediately wishing she'd been less cavalier.

“Yes, well, Dr. Andrews we asked to see you this morning to get better acquainted and to possibly better explain this hospital’s policies and the rationale behind them," Linda began studying Lizzie's posture.

"I've taken the liberty to brief the Board on the details of our meeting with the Tate family the other day, but would like to give you an opportunity to express yourself in your own words," she added, catching Lizzie by surprise.

"It would be unfair to present my perspective alone, don’t you agree?” she asked.

Lizzie scanned the room, pausing to make eye with everyone before replying. She hadn’t expected a chance to speak on her own behalf. She had prepared herself for anything from a nickel lecture to termination. This fair play angle from the hatchet lady had caught her off guard. She held Linda’s gaze with equal intensity, keeping her bad attitude in check for the moment.

“I appreciate that ma’am. Has the Board interviewed anyone else?” Lizzie asked.

“Only Dr. Reynolds and he had been quite supportive of you,” Linda replied. Lizzie paused before continuing, curious if she detected a slight twinkle in the woman’s eye. What was up with that she wondered?

“Okay, well, if it’s a blow by blow recap you're looking for, here’s how I remember it. First of all I apologize if I offended you in any way. I'm a passionate person by nature and I meant no harm personally,” Lizzie began.

“None taken,” replied Linda.

“I wasn’t mad at you, I was mad at the situation. I understand that you have a job to do, but a hospital's mission is to help those who are suffering, isn’t it?” Lizzie asked, looking from face to face for a reaction, there wasn’t any. Frowning she continued.

“I'm a physician, this hospital is a collection of some of the best doctors I the Country. How could even consider send a sick kid home to die when we have untried options. It seems unfair that…”

“Dr. Andrews, there's a reason that rules are written in ink, if they could be easily erased or ignored then why rules at all?" Linda Bradley said, cutting Lizzie off before she could get on her soapbox.

"And administering them is a most difficult responsibility,” interrupted the man in the tweed suit. Lizzie's eyes narrowed as she looked him over.

“And you are?” she asked curtly.

“Forgive me, I should have introduced everyone before we started, my apologies,” she said defusing the ticking bomb that was Elizabeth Andrews.

“Doctor, may I start with Mr. Hartstein, our company’s CFO,” she began.

The man in the tweed suit nodded and waited patiently to continue with his train of thought. He wasn't what you'd expect from a Chief Financial Officer, he wasn't all numbers and bottom lines, and he had taken an instant liking to Lizzie, she had spunk, he liked spunk! Bill Hartstein winked at Dr. Andrews and politely waited for Linda to finish introducing the others.

“To his right is Mr. Palmer, Deacon of Our Lady of Grace, beside Mr. Palmer is Mr. Gold, VP of Sales and Marketing, and across from Mr. Gold, on my right is our President and CEO, Mr. Sanford Peck,” Linda finished, smiling at the group.

Elizabeth was grateful that Linda had butted in when she did. Given the caliber of the audience seated around the table she had dodged a bullet! It suddenly occurred to her that Linda had come to her rescue, buy why? Lizzie figured that she brought her here to barbeque her and send her packing. Could she have misread the dragon lady as she was known amongst the rank and file?

“Gentlemen,” Lizzie said, smiling and acknowledging them all politely. All but one smiled back, the dissenter being Mr. Peck. And that made her start to sweat.

“As I was saying, administering this Hospital’s policies is a difficult and entirely necessary responsibility. And Ms. Bradley here is extremely proficient at it, and appreciatively so from this Board’s perspective. We searched a long time for someone her caliber,” explained the CFO.

“Yes sir, I can appreciate that,” Lizzie replied sheepishly.

“That being said young lady; we are not prone to tossing the baby out with the bath water. A certain amount of exuberance is expected, even welcomed, we want to acknowledge that as a group to you,” continued Bill Hartstein.

“Yes sir.”

“So, with regard to your emotional response to our decision in the Tate case, it is the Board’s decision to look the other way with the condition that you review and honor the signed terms of your employment, specifically, to adhere to all policies and regulations without exception. Are we clear doctor?” concluded the CFO.

Lizzie bit at her cheeks to hold her initial instincts in check. Suddenly her initial resolve to bag it and move on wasn't appealing to her. She was impressed that all the brass had taken the time to attend this paddling; even the top dog himself was here. She was even more impressed if not down right perplexed that Linda Bradley seemed to be in here corner and had gone out of her way to keep her from putting her foot in her mouth. Lizzie had to know why, and getting herself fired wouldn't answer any of those questions. It was time to eat a little humble pie. She looked directly at the man and answered as if she were ten years-old in the Principle's office.

“Yes sir,” she replied.

There was an uncomfortable silence until the tap, tap tapping of the stenographer’s machine stopped. She felt all eyes on her as the Board studied her facial expression and her body language. Elizabeth no longer felt small, she felt naked, and she could feel her cheeks begin to flush. When she could hear herself breathing the quiet became unbearable and she spoke.

“Would you still like to hear my side now?” she asked.

“No,” answered Sanford Peck immediately. Lizzie looked over at the CEO, startled by his quick reply and by the power in the sound of his voice. It was more than his position, it was him!

“That won’t be necessary doctor for two reasons. One, it’s not germane to this discussion as your perspective is not relevant. And two, as Bill stated, we are not prone to acting rashly, we think before we speak or act. I hope that lesson is not lost on you," the CEO said cooly.

“I see,” Lizzie replied with equal coolness, feeling her Irish coming on.

“I hope that you do young lady. You must understand Dr. Andrews that these patients are your responsibility as long as they remain patients at this hospital. We admire your dedication, we expect that from you, and we encourage you to excel at that," Sanford Peck continued. He paused a moment, seemingly to let his words sink in.
However he was more interested in how this youngster reacted to being pushed. After a moment of staring at one another he continued.

"So, as a physician at this Hospital, you decide what treatments are required and how best to administer them. That is your job. Our job is to decide what is best for the Hospital, this company. This is a business after all. When those objectives collide as they will on occasion, make no mistake, the survivability of this company will receive priority consideration. In those situations doctor, you'll save yourself and the rest of us a lot of grief if you accept the Board's decision and move on. Is that clear Dr. Andrews?” he asked with finality in his tone.

“Crystal,” Lizzie answered, her fear turning to anger.

“What Mr. Peck is trying to say Elizabeth is…” Linda began, interrupted abruptly by the CEO.

“I think Dr. Andrews understands Ms. Bradley, you needn’t spell it out for her,” Sanford Peck said never taking his eyes of Lizzie. The room seemed smaller all of the sudden.

“Well, I think that we’re finished here. If you’ll excuse us Dr. Andrews the Board has other business to conduct. Thank you in advance for your cooperation, good day,” Sanford Peck said as he put on his spectacles and opened the planner in front of him.

Lizzie looked over at Linda Bradley as she stood to leave. The Director gave her a quick nod, dismissing her and Lizzie turned to walk toward the door. She stopped halfway and look back over her shoulder. She was tempted to turn and give that tight assed tool a piece of her mind but thought better of it when she made eye contact with Linda. Was she crazy or were those tears in the dragon lady’s eyes? Lizzie continued on out of the room, deciding to go home and think this over before she returned later for the graveyard shift. There was a lot to digest and she decided to prescribe herself a couple pints of Hagen Das to help her put things into perspective.

"Who doesn't think better with ice cream?" she mutterd as she disappeared down the long hall.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

("To dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe, to bear with unbearable sorrow, to go where the brave dare not go")…Darien/Leigh

(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 Sixteen

LA General Hospital & Trauma Center…Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The rain had been unexpected, at least by those gullible enough to plan their day based on network weather reports, and everyone knows how reliable those can be! Linda Bradley hadn't been fooled though, she'd felt the weather change coming for days. She was talented that way, with a sixth sense she acquired from her rural upbringing. It wasn’t a spectacular gift, not by any stretch of the imagination, but then again she never had to redo her hair on account of a sudden downpour either. Linda spun around in her chair to face the large bay window behind her and watched the rain pelt the glass with fat drops. The water ran down the building in torrents washing away the filth that had accumulated since the last rainfall. She leaned back and closed her eyes, enjoying the soothing sound and steady rapping of the spring downpour. It was different from the sounds she listened to as a child. When she was a kid the raindrops fell onto the corrugated tin roof of the barn on her Grandparents farm in southern Illinois. Her mom and dad sent her to spend summers with them to get her out of the craziness of the city in Southside Chicago.

As far as Linda was concerned there was something universally wonderful about rainfall. If she were to describe it in a single word she supposed that word would be life, because without the rain there would be no life. The world would just be dry and barren. At any rate, the rainfall was working its magic on her, pushing the rigors, the headaches, and the heartaches of the day to a less sensitive part of her brain. For right now she'd enjoy a couple more minutes of bliss before putting the phone back on the hook and make herself available for the rest of the day’s craziness.

This morning little break lasted longer than most, a full ten minutes by the clock on the wall until it was interrupted by a loud rap on the heavy wooden door insulating her from the chaos permeating a major trauma facility. Break time was over, and the door swung open quickly as her executive assistant, Derek Frost barged in. He was tall, a couple inches over six feet at least, and attractive as well if you went for that Wall Street Preppie look. Mercifully he only looked the part and didn't come with the annoying attitude that most twenty-something over achievers were infected with. He was good at his job though, his knowledge of the overall operation made him invaluable to Linda, especially in the early days of her transition. She suspected he had eyes on her job as well, which was okay with her, every smart executive needed a succession plan. The two of them hit it off right away, a purely professional relationship from the get go. Of course that was pretty easy given she lacked the testosterone required to attract any amorous attention from him anyway. They worked well together, enjoyed each other’s company and respected each other’s role, it was perfect!

“Excuse Ms. Bradley, but the Tate’s are here. I know, they’re early, but I didn’t think that you'd want them waiting in the lobby under the circumstances,” Derek said tapping on his ever present palm pilot with the stylus.

“Thanks Derek, give me two minutes and then send them in,” Linda replied turning to quickly straighten her desk, setting the Tate file down in front of her.

She'd been dreading this meeting; she dreaded all of these kinds of meetings. It's never easy to deliver bad news, especially when it was so personal. It made her feel low, it made her feel ashamed. She knew it was prudent, that it was fiscally justified, and she understood the logic. Hadn't she recited the mantra over and over in her head, sometimes one must do wrong things for the right reasons. The words were losing their power though, and lately she'd had to force herself to accept them before subjecting nice people like the Tate’s to the realities of a business model and the grief that came with accepting the rules associated with them. This was the hardest part of her job and she loathed it. She'd been raised by a family that taught her that when faced with choosing between being right and doing right, the choice should be easy for the righteous soul. The door opened after a short knock and Derek Frost escorted Wallace and Anita Tate into her office. They were a nice middle aged couple, maybe late thirties, a mixed marriage, Caucasian and Hispanic. Linda picked up the Tate file and got up. She walked around from behind her desk to meet them in the middle of the room, extending her hand to first Mrs. Tate then to Mr. Tate and inviting them to be seated and get comfortable.

“Thank you so much for coming, please sit down,” she said sweetly, gesturing to the chairs at the small round conference table beside them.

Mr. Tate shook her hand and led his nervous wife to the closest seat. Wallace pulled out the chair for Anita, sliding it under her gently as she sat down, and then quickly took the seat next to her on the right. Linda circled past them and took a seat directly across from the two them, subconsciously putting a barrier between them, a safe zone if you will. At times like these she had wished she had a long rectangular table to meet at, but her experience was that people took bad news better in intimate settings, face to face. Linda set the manila folder in front of her and folded her hands on top of it as she settled into her seat. Discretely she wet her lips with her tongue as she cleared her throat.

“Would either of you like some coffee or tea?” Derek asked standing at the door.

The couple shook their heads and indicated that they did not and Linda dismissed her assistant with a knowing look who then left the room, leaving the door slightly ajar. Mr. Tate was quick to start the conversation, anxious for news, about their daughter Katie's condition, and more importantly the HMO's position regarding her prognosis and continued treatment.

“Are those Katie’s test results?” he asked, pointing at the file in front of her.

“Yes they are, but if you don’t mind I'd like to wait for Dr. Reynolds before we discuss them,” Linda replied.

“Is he on his way? Can't you just get it over with? We know what you're going to say so just get it on with it! ” snapped Anita, suddenly less passive.

“Please, Mrs. Tate, just a moment longer, he should be along any minute. I’m afraid you were a little early and you know how crazy doctor’s schedules are,” Linda said stalling.

She was about to get up and ask Derek to go and fetch him when Dr. Ryan Reynolds entered the room with one other person. Linda recognized the younger woman as Dr. Elizabeth Andrews, a relatively new addition to the LA General family, although she had not actually made her actual acquaintance officially. The two physicians crossed the room and sat down quickly at the table, addressing the normal greeting formalities. The Tate’s smiled weakly at Dr. Reynolds and Anita Tate surprised Linda when she reached across the table to gently squeeze Dr. Andrews’ hand. Apparently the two had met, a fact that Linda was in the dark about.

“It appears as though everyone knows one another, although I must confess I'm at a disadvantage where you are concerned doctor?” Linda said, trying to read Elizabeth Andrews' nametag.

“I'm sorry, please forgive me, where are my manners anyway? Linda Bradley, Dr. Elizabeth Andrews,” replied Dr. Reynolds apologetically, and introducing the two women.

Lizzie, please,” the young doctor pleaded politely.

“I just assumed that you two must have met previously. Dr. Andrews has taken quite an interest in young Katie’s treatment and has been a welcome source of moral support for the child and her family. I'm certain that the Tate’s will attest to that,” added Ryan Reynolds, trying to explain away the social fumble.

“Oh yes, she’s been wonderful,” Anita Tate added quickly.

“Awwww, that’s so sweet,” Lizzie said, smiling and squeezing the woman’s hand just a little tighter.

“Well, I’m happy to know that you’re all so well acquainted. Now, maybe we should talk about these test results,” Linda said patting the folder gently.

The mood shifted gears quickly from light and friendly to tense and suspicious as she slid the folder over to Dr. Reynolds. Linda rubbed her nose to hide the deep breath she drew and waited for the elder statesman of the Oncology Department to break the ice. The ranking physician at the table fished for his spectacles inside the pocket of his lab coat and then placed them low on the bridge of his nose. He paused to look over the file contents as if he were reading it for the first time, fooling nobody as he composed himself.

“Ahem,” he began, clearing his throat.

“I’m afraid that these aren’t the results we were hoping for,” he continued.

Anita Tate whimpered softly. Her husband rubbed her shoulders while Lizzie continued to hold the woman’s hand. Linda could see why Dr. Reynolds had brought the young lady along and she was grateful for his foresight. The elder doctor was struggling uncharacteristically struggling with his composure and it was getting on Linda's nerves. She didn't want to have to take the lead on this but that is exactly what she would have to do if he didn't get on with it soon.

“This last chemo regiment should have yielded a more positive white count. But as you can see by this chart here, the numbers fall considerably short of the range we talked about. I’m afraid that we’re looking at yet another round of chemo, possibly full body radiation as well," continued Dr. Reynolds finally. Both the Tate's began to softly sob, even Lizzie was tearing up. Linda bit chewed on her cheeks behind lips that were drawn into a tight, benign expression.

"Of course that will have to wait until her body has recovered significantly before we start anything. Right now would be too risky," he continued.

"As for the possibility of a bone marrow transplant, the fact that Katie is an only child works against her. Marrow from either of you would only be half a match at best, and I'm afraid that there isn't time to consider creating a sibling donor at this late date," finished Dr. Reynolds.

The meeting deteriorated to a series of sniffles and whimpers, the air in the room thick with emotion and helplessness. Linda swallowed some blood from where she bit off a small chunk of her cheek and cleared her throat. She looked over at Ryan Reynolds asking with her eyes if he were finished.

"Ahem, I afraid I must defer to Linda regarding the possibility of these options,” the elder physician explained, turning to Linda and yielding the floor.

Linda flinched when she heard her name mentioned out loud, show-time she thought. This wasn't her first rodeo and she composed herself quickly, after all she’d been expecting this moment, and was fairly confident that she could get through this without a big scene. She put a compassionate smile on her face and took her cue.

“Yes, well, Dr. Reynolds is quite right, we must discuss these options. Specifically, the availability of these options,” she began.

It was Wallace Tate’s turn to flinch this time, and he didn’t try to hide it. Linda looked directly at Mr. Tate making eye contact before she went on. She was a firm believer in being direct, if not down right blunt, especially when delivering bad news. Linda convinced herself that it was the best approach 99% of the time. She was wrong though and she knew it. That tactic only made her feel better, but selfishly it was her defense mechanism and it allowed her to sleep at night. Doing right versus being right was still only a theory for her. She still suffered from the delusion that sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind, another myth that cowards often use when they choose to ease their own conscience by breaking someone else's heart.

“As COO of this Hospital it's my responsibility to take situations like Katie’s before the Board, brief them on the prognosis details, and make recommendations on a case by case basis,” she said, reading the Tate’s initial reactions.

Wallace Tate looked positively catatonic, his eyes were sad and red and she hadn't seen him blink in half an hour, it was a little scary. Anita continued to whimper softly, staring at the tabletop. They knew what was coming next, it was obvious. However how they would actually react was still a crap shoot. You never know, ya know? That part of the process always made Linda a little nervous.
“We want to do what's right, but as you've heard the prognosis is rather bleak. The odds are just not in her favor, you understand that don't you?" Linda asked setting the Tate's up for the big finish. They didn't reply they weren't even looking at her.

"If there were any chance that further treatment would do more than buy Katie just a little more time we wouldn't hesitate going forward. However, at the end of the day this is a business and I have a fiduciary responsibility to the shareholders of Peck International. The Board must adhere to strict set of policies regarding protracted and costly treatments and procedures,” Linda continued. The Tate’s remained silent, which frankly made Linda a little nervous. She had done this sort of thing a hundred times or better, you’d think she'd have been desensitized by now, but she wasn’t.
“So, what does that mean for Katie? Let me assure you that her situation was studied very carefully, and was given every consideration. Dr. Reynolds passionately presented her case personally. However, under the circumstances, given the latest test results, and Katie’s prognosis, the Board could not support investing more time and resources on a terminally ill patient. Regrettably we're recommending Hospice as the next course of action. You must admit, she's been through so much already; do you really want to subject her little body to another harsh round of expensive chemo and radiation? Frankly, even your insurance carrier is balking at continuing to fund what they see as a losing effort. I’m sorry; it's time to consider quality of life now. Take your child home while she is still well enough to enjoy what’s left of her life and make your plans for the end,” Linda explained as gently.

She had tried to soften the sharp terms and jagged message with a soothing empathetic voice. But she knew it would be received like a knife in the heart or more truthfully like a stab in the back. She hated making life and death decisions on the basis of the bottom line. She was ashamed of herself. Wallace Tate’s physical reaction did not match the look in his eyes. He remained calm; he remained in control of his emotions while he digested the poison pill Linda had just fed him. He sat across from her, chewed every syllable and swallowed her message one word at a time. Anita had run out of tears and looked to her husband for their next move. Wallace sighed deeply, took both of her hands in his and smiled weakly at her, he looked relieved to Linda. She wasn't surprised, surrender tended to bring peace after a long fight.

“So that’s it?”

“I’m afraid so Mr. Tate, we’ve done all that we can do,” Linda said softly.

“I see,” he replied scooting away from the table and starting to get up.

WAIT A MINUTE, are you kidding me,” Lizzie Andrews shouted!

“There’s still lots we can do, Dr. Reynolds just spelled it out for you! You’re not going to take this lying down are you,” she pleaded, looking from Linda to the Tate’s and then back again.

“Come on, let me talk to the Board, I’ll get through to them. Who gives them the right to play God anyways,” Lizzie shouted.

Dr. Andrews, you are way out of line here, please get control of yourself and sit down!” Linda demanded, scolding the young doctor.

Lizzie sat down on reflex, instantly furious with herself for doing as she was told like a frightened eight year-old. Respecting authority had always been a challenge for her, especially when given an ultimatum. She started to get back up but was held in her seat by Dr. Reynolds. He stood beside her, keeping her in her seat with gentle but firm pressure on her shoulders. Lizzie yielded reluctantly, deciding to wait and see what the senior physician had to say, poised to leap up and continue her protests should he show any sign of weakness.

“Let’s just all calm down, shall we,” he said.

“Look, what Ms. Bradley says is true, further treatment will be expensive and positive results are not guaranteed. In fact, they're not likely. That being said, let me state for the record that as a physician I am trained and duty bound to do everything in my power to preserve life.”

“That’s right, you tell em!” spat out Lizzie, speaking before thinking, as she usually did when her Irish was up.

“Elizabeth please, you're not helping!” pleaded Dr. Reynolds.

“Sorry,” Lizzie replied meekly.
“As I was saying, as a physician I want to recommend treatment, I want to fight. However, as a human being, I'm inclined to say enough is enough.” he explained, looking directly at Wallace Tate.

“I've have no children of my own but I've treated thousands during the course of my career. What I'm about to say I can't say, so you didn't it. But if Katie were my child I would take her home, and create as many smiles as humanly possible before the inevitable,” he said sitting back down.

Lizzie was half way out of her chair when Wallace Tate rose. He gestured for her to sit back down with a feeble waive of his hand and the expression on his face. She capitulated and sat down, turning in her seat to glare at Linda Bradley.

Ahh, I um, understand what Ms. Bradley said about the business of running a hospital, I’m a businessman myself,” he began.

“And I understand Dr. Reynolds’ words and am grateful for his council and compassion,” he added, looking to Lizzie next.

“But I’m inclined to agree with Dr. Andrews here, if there is a chance, if there is the slightest ray of hope, then we ought to pursue it, it would be wrong not to!”

“If it’s just about the money, then give me a little time to come up with it and I’ll cover whatever the insurance company won’t, is that possible Ms. Bradley, can I do that?” he asked, directing his attention to Linda. She leaned back in her chair, crossing her arms defensively.

“Mr. Tate, we’re talking about a great deal of money, several hundred thousand dollars, probably much more. Those are real dollars that you would have to come up with immediately,” Linda explained, trying to discourage him with facts.

“I see, well, can you give me a number and wait until the end of the week for me to raise the money,” he asked?

“Sir, please be reasonable. We’ve already taken into consideration every reasonable and actionable possibility before arriving at this decision, including the possibility of you paying for this all on your own. Truthfully sir, even if you did raise the money, which would require a miracle, I am inclined to agree with Dr. Reynolds, perhaps this is one of those times where enough is enough,” Linda said softly and compassionately.

“How can you say that? It’s his daughter’s life, it’s his decision to make, let him try for Christ’s sake,” Lizzie shouted, unable to hold her tongue.

“Elizabeth, that is quite enough! You’re excused from this meeting, please leave, we’ll discuss this later,” Linda said harshly.

“I apologize Mr. Tate, please forgive Dr. Andrews’ outburst,” she added.

“No, it’s okay. Actually I appreciate her enthusiasm; it’s helped me find my backbone,” Wallace Tate said, looking at Lizzie and smiling.

“Seriously, Ms. Bradley, let me at least try to raise the money, give me to the end of the week. I promise if I can’t do it, we’ll pack up and leave quietly. Please, let me try,” Wallace Tate pleaded.

All eyes were on Linda, the room holding its breath, waiting for her reply. She picked up the Tate folder and held it closely like a child holds a teddy bear. Linda felt as if she'd been ambushed and she didn't like it. These meetings weren’t supposed to turn out like this. She was supposed to be the rock. She was supposed to be in control, invulnerable to tears and sad puppy dog expressions. She was angry with Lizzie Andrews’ intervention, and at the same time she applauded it. She was tired of always being the heavy and she envied Lizzie's Joan of Arc performance, the hero of the day. Most of all she was upset with herself for getting involved. Nobody knew that she had been looking in on Katie Tate. She'd broken her cardinal rule, and she knew it. She still had to do her job, but in the Tate’s case she decided to do right instead of be right this one time. She would allow them the dignity of at least trying to challenge the company’s harsh and inflexible policy of “if you can’t pay, you can’t stay.” Linda set the file back on the table and clasped her hands in front of her as if about to pray.

“Alright Mr. Tate, I’ll take your proposition to the Board. But it’s already Wednesday sir, that doesn’t give you much time. So I'll do you one better and give you until next Friday to do what you can to raise a million dollars. You asked for a figure, that's a conservative estimate. Frankly I don’t see how you’re going to get from here to there, but I wish you luck,” Linda said, looked from face to face, pausing an extra second on Lizzie’s, delivering a silent message.

Wallace Tate leaned back in his chair and stared back at her. He folded his arms in front of him defensively, as if he were about to declare war before he answering her. Anita looked at her husband proudly and smiled for the first time in a long while. It didn't make sense, but all of a sudden she felt hopeful.

"How am I going to do it?" he asked rhetorically.

“Prayer,” he said confidently, his mood changing suddenly, as he grinned and winked at the Hospital COO.

“Prayer, really?" replied Linda Bradley.

"That's right, prayer," he replied confidently.

Linda smiled at him and gave him a best of luck nod. Suddenly she was smiling involuntarily, she felt good, really good. She felt like the Tin Man when the Wizard gave him a heart. She felt human again. It does feel better to do right then be right. It really does…

Thursday, April 21, 2011

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

(Anh yêu em Tuyet...Tôi yêu con gái KaSandra... Semper Fi Jordan)

Gabriel's Promise
a novel by nicholas sheridan stanton

Chapter Fifteen

Long Beach, California…Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Monica went about her evening routine as usual. It was nearly six o’clock and she expected me to walk in any minute. At least that had been my routine before hatching this rotten egg of a plan, home by six every night. My wife was positively anal about family suppers. She had grown up in a single parent home after her parents divorce and didn't want her child to miss out on what she missed out on. I’d been keeping strange hours lately as we prepared for the next try. Monica wasn't part of any this, we kept her in the dark, we kept all of our significant others in the dark, opting to protect them from our insanity. I know that was wrong, I know she should be a part of everything I do, but somehow I'd convinced myself, we all convinced ourselves that secrecy was a more noble option. What can I say, we're men, we do stupid stuff sometimes. Women are smarter, and actually mature with age. Men, well we never let go of the little boy in us. If you doubt that watch how a grown man acts when he is sick and has a temperature, we turn into babies, the whole lot of us, no exception. Any woman can attest to that, just ask one.

So, as far as Monica knew I was just horsing around with Sandy, Roman like I used to before the whole Gabriel mess. She was actually glad about that as I seemed to be more like my old self since the guys had started hanging around. Even it cut into her alone time with me she was grateful for a return to normalcy. Monica really missed our life before Gabriel’s illness, so the commotion that accompanied the constant presence of those two weasels was a small price to pay for peace of mind. Oh, she could have done without the steady stream of “f” bombs from Sandy’s sailor mouth as well as Roman’s clockwork flatulence, but what could you do; boys will be boys, right?

She smiled thinking about how men were always just a crude joke away from acting like children, and how she could set her watch by Roman's toots, 10 2 and 4 just like it says on the Dr. Pepper pop bottles! Her smiles weren't fooling me though, something was up with her, things were different between us and it was my fault. I didn't realize that I had dragged her along with me through my deep depression. That was unfair. Secretly I was worried that the cancer wasn't through with us. It had our son, my sanity, and now I feared it was about to take our marriage as well.

Monica opened the fridge and stared at the contents for a few moments waiting for a spark of inspiration on what to make for supper. The only thing that caught her eye was the stack of Styrofoam containers from local restaurants. We eat a lot of take out in front of the TV since Gabby passed, Monica didn't like eating at the table anymore, too many empty chairs she'd say. Nothing seemed to catch her eye, but there was this recipe she had wanted to try that she'd seen on the Rachael Ray’s show, but darn it if she could remember where she had put those notes! Too bad she thought, because it was a really cool twist on macaroni & cheese, my absolute favorite. Monica raised a hand to pursed lips to hold in a whimper, remembering how mac & cheese had been Gabby’s favorite too. Like father like son she thought, removing her hand and letting the whimper turn into a smile. She closed the refrigerator door, turned on her heels and walked over to the ceramic tiled counter to grab her car keys hanging from a wooden peg attached to the mail caddie that was mounted on the side of the pantry.

Bag it, these boys are going to have to just settle for KFC,” she muttered, as she retrieved her purse from the back of the kitchen chair. She paused for a second then reached into her purse, pulling out a small envelope. She tapped her forehead with it then tossed it onto the chopping table in the center of the kitchen. A second later she was out the back door and on her way.

San Pedro, California…Tuesday, March 15, 2005…6:20pm

“So, what do you know about this guy anyways?” Sandy asked as he drove.

“Not much, but Randy says he’s a genius, Jack something” I answered matter-of-factly.

I was enjoying the cool wind hitting my face from the open window on the passenger side of Sandy’s pick up. I’d always been a bit of a puppy when it came to riding in a car. I liked riding with my arm hanging outside the window while the wind, hot or cold, pummeled me square in the face. Sometimes I would flatten out my hand and let the draft catch my outstretched palm allowing me to surf the breeze, riding the updraft like a small jet.

“Are you enjoying yourself child of three?” Sandy asked, rolling his eyes.

“Am I that boring?” he added sarcastically.

“Sorry man, I was just thinking,” I replied, keeping my eyes trained on my palm aerobatics.

“What about?”

“What do you think I’m thinking about, the plan man, the plan!”

“Ah, we don’t have a plan yet Pat old buddy. The one we had went up in green smoke, remember,” Sandy said with a smirk.

“I KNOW THAT, that’s what I’m thinking about, duh!”

We drove in silence for a little while as Sandy merged from the 110 freeway to the 405 south, toward Long Beach. We’d be home soon and I was looking forward to hugging my wife, maybe more after the meeting with my little gang of would be Robin Hoods. I was in a rare good mood and I hummed along with the radio as it played an old Elton John tune from "Goodbye Yellow-brick Road."" Monica and I loved 70’s music, and "Harmony" was one of our songs. Call me sentimental or a hopeless romantic, but it just put me in the mood.

“Harmony, gee I really love ya and I want to love you forever…and dream of never, never leaving Harmony…” What a beautiful song I thought, hoping Sandy would let it finish before launching into his go-to Black Sabbath CD and ruin my melancholy mood with "War Pigs." Rats, too late!

”Generals gather in their masses, just like witches at black masses…”

“Every party has a pooper,” I muttered under my breath.

“Dude, where are your nads? I can’t believe you listen to that namby-pamby bullshit,” Sandy ranted, physically twisting his finger in his ear as if he were trying to extract every rancid note from his pea brain.

“You can’t fool me I know you were secretly singing along,” I replied teasing him.

“Hey, take the Palo Verde exit, I want to stop at the market and get some beer for the meeting, maybe even a cheap bottle of wine for Monica and I to share after you animals beat it on home,” I shouted quickly.

“Roger that!” Sandy replied saluting me crisply and knifing across traffic dangerously.

“Who else is coming tonight beside Randy and what's his name?” he asked quickly, scratching his nose.

“The usual suspects,” I answered.

Sandy exited the freeway at Palo Verde and slowed to stop at the light. He looked my way frowning. “Jack something,” he said shaking his head slowly.
“Is that all you know about this guy?”

“What if he’s a cop man, what if he’s under cover dude?” Sandy asked alarmed.

“You watch too much television Sandy. None of us are criminals, none of us are worth that kind of attention,” I replied sarcastically.

“YET,” Sandy answered back quickly, turning left onto Palo Verde at the bottom of the ramp...

Long Beach, California…Tuesday, March 15, 2005…7pm

They'd been waiting outside for half an hour already. Randy Patel checked his watch for the umpteenth time and grinned back at Jack apologetically. Shrugging his shoulders, Randy looked up and down the street searching for oncoming headlights.

“I have no idea what’s keeping them, they’re usually on time,” he said scratching his head.

“Let’s give them a couple more minutes,” he added nervously. Jack was a guy that Randy respected and he was embarrassed by our tardiness. His guest wriggled in his seat and gave him a reassuring smile, as he stretched his legs.

“I’m sure they’ll be along shortly,” he said, yawning.

“Tell me some more about this plan of yours to hack into this cruise line’s computer system,” Jack asked. Jack studied the neighborhood as Randy filled him in on the details. The suburbs were foreign to him and he was fascinated by the simplicity of them. He was equally fascinated by the simplicity of Randy’s plan; listening to the young man run it down for him layer by layer.

Jack looked up suddenly; an elderly couple was walking toward them. They were being led by an old bulldog that seemed to be in a tug of war with his master. Neither one appeared to be giving an inch which explained their pace, slow and methodic. The old guy’s wife was giving him an earful and Jack suspected that the dog would pay for that in the end, poor little guy. He waved as the couple strolled past the parked car. The old man gave the leash a hard yank and stopped abruptly, forcing a yelp out of the midget pup.

“Heel Winston, you little bastard,” he hollered at the dog, quickly turning his attention to Randy and Jack.

“You fellas waiting for somebody,” he asked gruffly.

“Ah, yes sir. We’re just waiting for Pat and Monica to get home. They live right there,” Randy said, nervously pointing past Jack at the house that they were parked in front of.

“I know who they are dummy, I live right next door!” the old man spat out.

“Ralph, don’t get excited, your heart remember,” nagged the old woman.

“Will you stifle yourself Madge, we don’t know these guys, they could be killers,” the old guy replied, scolding his better half. The old woman responded with a string of muffled profanity and stormed across the lawn toward their house. She stopped half way to turn and flip her husband the bird. Jack and Randy swallowed their chuckles and gave the old fella a sincere look of male solidarity.

“Women, can’t live with em, can’t shoot em,” Jack said with a grin.

“You got that right buster,” the old man said.

“Listen, you guys ain’t killers are ya?” he asked tiredly.

“No sir, we’re not, I swear,” Randy answered with a toothy smile.

“Well, just so ya know I got my eye on you, the both of ya” the old man said, taking the time to point at each of them.

“I’m sure that your neighbors appreciate your diligence sir,” Jack added, giving the old gentleman a two fingered Cub Scout salute.

“Don’t get smart with me young fella, I’m a veteran for Christ’s sake!”

“Come on Winston, mother's holding supper for us,” he growled, dragging the poor old dog along.

Sandy turned onto my street in time to catch my neighbor dragging his squealing mutt across my driveway toward his house. Sandy was cracking up at the sight but I couldn’t help but feel sorry for poor little Winston. Gabriel loved that dog. If there is a God he’ll reverse those roles in Heaven. Of course that was assuming that the old fart made there in the first place. Sandy pulled into my driveway and we hopped out of the truck. I met Randy and his buddy on the grass parkway as they got out of his car.

“Pat, this is Jack O’Shea from Cal Tech,” Randy said introducing us.

“A pleasure sir,” Jack said in a thick Irish brogue.

That wasn't a much of a stretch for Jack thought, being Irish on his mother's side. His mom, Killeen Katherine Gateway had raised him in both languages, English for the States and Gaelic for his heritage. His Great-Granddad had done the same for her and he insisted that she did likewise for Jack. Just as well, as he needed to keep himself in character, lest these guys make the connection between him and their mark. The last thing he wanted to do was alert them to the connection between the target of their mutual revenge and him. Jack shook my hand forcefully. I was impressed by the grip yet cautious of the enthusiasm. Sandy pushed me aside and stepped up to do likewise.

“Good to meet you Jack,” I replied.

“You're an Aussie too?” Sandy asked, butting in to introduce himself.

“Ya know we got one on this crew already,” he added, sizing up the new guy.

Australian, me, God no, I’m Irish you frick-a-lick, no relation,” Jack answered, smirking, looking like he might be ready for a donnybrook.

“But, tanks for not calling me a Brit, we’d have bloodied knuckles over that,” he added with a smile, easing the tension.

“I like this guy, he’s a smart ass, just what the team needs,” Sandy said.

“Right, well on that note why don't we take this inside and see what my wife has on the table for supper, I’m starving,” I said, leading the way to the front door.

Entering the house I knew right away that Monica was out. She always left the porch light on when she was home, she was anal about that. The 11 o’clock newscasts had reported some home invasion stories lately and she was convinced that we could be next. As a result, you would be hard pressed to find an open window or darkened room anywhere in our home. So, when I had to flip on the porch light as well as the living room lamp, I knew we'd entered an empty house.

Huh, I don’t know where she could be, the market maybe?” I said looking around.

“I’ll check the fridge for a note. Why don’t you guys grab a seat and I’ll be right back,” I said, leaving the three of them behind as I walked quickly to the kitchen.

There wasn’t any note on the refrigerator, but there wasn’t anything on the stove either. I turned and leaned against the kitchen counter and surveyed the room. Everything looked normal, nothing out of place. I was beginning to get annoyed, what the hell, where was she I wondered? I started to turn back to the fridge when I saw it, a plain white envelope on the butcher block cutting table. I took a step toward the table and picked it up. It was the size of a small thank you card that you'd expect to receive from a grateful so and so. I recognized Monica's perfect handwriting in lavender ink, her favorite color. I read it; twice, "I'm sorry" was all it said. I didn't want to look inside, I couldn't afford the distraction, there was too much at stake now. Composing myself and ignoring my basic instinct to panic, I grabbed four bottles of Heineken from the fridge and returned to the living room, two in each hand. As I slid open the pocket-door separating the two rooms I checked my watch, it was 7:30pm, March 15th. Rolling my eyes, I rejoined the group muttering a quote from Shakespeare I knew by heart.

"Of course," I said. "Beware the ides of March."

"You say something Pat?" asked Randy.

“Um, yeah, looks like the little woman's out running errands, so these will have to hold us until she gets back,” I announced, entering the room.

“Ahh, mother’s milk,” Sandy said smiling.

“You and I are going to get along famously mate,” Jack said, clinking his green bottle with Sandy's.

“Alright, now that we’re all such good friends, how much has Randy told you,” I asked Jack, plopping down into the comfy chair directly across from him?

Jack smiled back at me knowingly, which instantly made me uncomfortable, so much so that it almost took my mind off my run-away bride. There was something about this guy that I couldn’t explain? Whatever it was, it was dark and it was electric. I actually felt it when we shook hands? Randy had mentioned that Jack O'Shea was an abnormally brilliant engineer, and that he had a solution to our problem of getting out to and back from each underway vessel, which was the Achilles heel of the whole scheme. I was alright with the brilliant part of his description; it was the abnormal part that made me nervous! Anyway, I decided to hear him out, no harm in listening, right?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

("There, there is a changing word. There is an honored promise. Justice if you're still there. I will have my fair share")…Seals & Crofts

(Anh yêu em Tuyet...Tôi yêu con gái KaSandra... Semper Fi Jordan)

Gabriel's Promise
a novel by nicholas sheridan stanton

Chapter Fourteen

The Colony, Pacific Palisades, California…Feburary 18, 2005...8am

Morning was Jack’s favorite time of day, especially surfside at his small bungalow in one of Southern California’s more exclusive beach front locales. The great and the near great hid out in this community of convenient anonymity seeking to be noticed and unnoticed simultaneously. If that seems odd it's only because it is, but such is the lifestyle afforded celebrities. If you were to stroll through this neighborhood and wade through the gaggle of bodyguards, nannies, paparazzi, and publicists you might actually catch a glimpse of someone famous or at least noteworthy. Jackson Peck was one of the noteworthy residents related to someone famous.

The only child of Killeen and Sanford Peck, California’s wealthiest couple to date, had chosen a more bohemian lifestyle over the limelight that his parents enjoyed as they jet around the world from home to home with the changing seasons. He was in fact a brilliant engineer, actually quite well known in his field of expertise, electronic circuit design, specializing in defensive countermeasures for the United States Navy. He'd been recruited before graduation from MIT by Hughes Telecommunications and Space, but jumped ship early and settled with General Dynamics to help redesign the Navy, preparing them for 21st century warfare. It was quite an accomplishment for the twenty year-old genius but was completely unimpressive in the eyes of his father, Sanford, who could not forgive him for refusing his birthright as heir apparent to the family firm. Succession was expected of him, but Jack was a rebel, it was in his blood courtesy his Granddad, Grover and Sanford despised him for that. The feeling was mutual.

The flagship of the Peck family fortune was "Standard Pharmaceutical," and with its sister company "Citizen's Insurance" Sanford Peck had built an empire conservatively estimated at 450 billion dollars. Now, with their latest investment, a string of HMOs stretching coast to coast, that figure was poised to increase exponentially on the diminishing health of a nation full of aging baby-boomers. Initially Peck's empire had been bankrolled by old money from Killeen’s family. Sanford had married well; his statuesque bride being the former Killeen Gateway, sole heiress to publishing legend Grover Gateway of San Francisco.

Not since Randolph Hearst had anyone controlled so much of the flow of information in the world. Even Rupert Murdoch paled in comparison. The Gateway Empire stretched around the globe in every form of print as well as electronically via his popular search engine, WeeGee. You've heard the tune I'm sure, it's as recognizable as yaaaaahoooo! Their slogans on the airwaves via radio, and television, and even on those annoying little commercial trailers that run before every motion picture these days, you flat out could not escape being exposed to it, "Can't find it? WeeGee it!"

Grover Alexander Gateway was old school, a man’s man, a true maverick, quintessentially self made by any standard. And in true old school fashion he'd been a staunch eight days a week workaholic his entire career, letting his ambitions take precedent over every aspect of his life including his family, a condition actually that all males suffer from instinctively. Escaping that mold requires a level of sensitivity that we're taught to ignore as weakness when growing up. Those who learn to suppress those weak tendencies best are typically the over achievers like Gateway. And as a result they tend to confuse providence for love. They learn too late that because of its nonnegotiable limits, the most valuable commodity in life is time. And the harsh reality that no one is guaranteed a tomorrow is hidden until it hits them where they live. By then it's too late to retrieve once in a lifetime moments, like your child's first step, first homerun, first kiss, or first heartbreak. They've wasted precious time accumulating things and disregarding priceless wealth, the family they've set aside for loftier goals. It's a matter of priorities really. Grover Gateway was ashamed that his great success had come at so high a cost.

His Granddaughter Killeen's parents had been killed tragically in a plane crash when she was but two years of age. Her mother Eileen, Grover's only child had married late in life. Against his strong urgings she had married a younger man whose only ambition seemed to be thrill seeking, his addiction to that folly taking both of their lives. He had a passion for aviation and fancied himself a pioneer of sorts. A trained pilot he'd taken Eileen for a joy ride one afternoon testing an experimental turboprop that he'd invested a fair amount of her money in. In an instant they were gone and Grover was faced with assuming responsibility for Killeen's care and future. It was an opportunity he welcomed.

It was a decision he never regretted, in fact, if asked he'd declare it divine intervention. Divinity was a new concept for him, his new faith inspired a few years back by a gifted little girl from Central California, but that's another story entirely. Killeen came into his life at exactly the right moment. And in the years that followed the two became peas in a pod. He was the only parent she could remember, and she was his second chance at fatherhood, a chance to make up for the sins of his youth. He resolved to make peace with his daughter's memory through his granddaughter's life. He would love Killeen the way he should have loved Eileen. Love was a concept that didn't come naturally to him. His wife Sara, God rest her soul, was the loving type, sweet, sensitive and genuine. But she died in childbirth and left Grover with a child he was unprepared to care for.

So, he raised her the only way he knew how to, with the same iron fisted will that his father had raised him with. In the end it only taught her to be mean, vindictive, and shallow. Once, Eileen brought home a young man who seemed to understand this love thing, but Grover insisted she turn him away. He saw his sensitive nature as weakness. And in that single act he poisoned the well for her, setting in motion the circumstances that would inspire her to choose someone more like himself. That had been a colossal error in judgment and it cost Eileen a chance at real happiness and consequently her life. He vowed that would never happen to his granddaughter.

When Killeen announced out of the clear blue sky that she'd fallen in love and was marrying Sanford Peck, an ambitious man of some means, Grover expressed his reservations. He knew that her fiancé would eventually capitalize on his affection for his granddaughter. And once they were married Grover allowed her to bankroll his business ventures, after all he could refuse her nothing. But Sanford Peck surprised him, turning out to be a clever, shrewd and talented businessman, even brilliant to a point. So Grover put aside his early reservations as he knew that Killeen was too smart to be taken advantage of for very long. Besides, if the bastard ever posed a real threat, well, being a man of the world Grover knew there were always solutions for unpleasant occurrences. He set his mind and conscience at ease and adopted a page from Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac, pledging himself to "be a happy pessimist and risk only pleasant surprise."

This was Jackson Peck's gene pool, rife with intelligence, over-drive, over-confidence, and over-indulgence. He'd grown up in an environment of privilege and high expectations. He may never have wanted for anything, but everything he was given came with conditions. There was no such thing as a free ride in the Peck family. “Money doesn’t grow on trees young man…Do you know how lucky you are Jackson…Guns and butter my boy, remember there's a difference between what you need and what you want…” All of those euphemisms and metaphors molded Jack into the social misfit and malcontent that he was. He suffered from terminal intellect, and a raging case of social conscience which put him at odds with his opportunistic father from the time he resolved to think for himself and distinguish between right and wrong by his own definition and not dad's policy of shades of gray.

Theirs was a tumultuous relationship at best, and his mother had done little to intercede. She was busy helping her husband to build his empire, busy being a proper wife and socialite rather than a proper mother. How Jack coveted the simple soccer moms who raised his normal friends. He was bitter about never learning to catch, throw, or hit a baseball. He was bitter that Mom and Dad had so little time for him. They were terrific providers, they just sucked as parents. He'd been left in the care of a cavalcade of nannies and governesses.

Only Great Grandfather Gateway seemed to make time for him, and those were good times, Jack wished there had been more of them. But for reasons unknown his parents were uncomfortable sharing him with the grand old man. Of course living in New York City at the time may have had something to do with it as well. It wasn't worth pondering though, what's done is done. And contrary to what his analyst believed, as far as Jack was concerned, stirring up the past only made the analyst feel better. When it came to choosing between being right and doing right, he aimed for the high road most of the time.

Jack poured himself another cup of coffee and walked out onto the deck off the small master bedroom. He settled into a white Adirondack chair near the glass wind breaker and let the stiff ocean breeze massage his face while the sound of the crashing surf cleared his mind. This was where he did his best thinking. He sipped at his coffee and reached for a brown accordion folder on the short wooden table beside him. He unfastened the elastic band and removed the contents. There were four items inside, a two page hand written letter, a 5X7 black and white photograph, a colorful cruise line brochure that Jack recognized, and the latest edition of Jane’s Fighting Ships. He looked at the photograph first, studying it carefully. He'd read the letter once already, but read it again to get a better understanding of the relationship between the words and the photograph.

Jack stared intensely at the family in the photo, the two young parents and the happy little boy playing in the sand at their feet. It was obviously happier times considering what he'd read earlier. He wondered for a moment what it must be like to be a parent. It wasn't as if he had a great set of role models to draw from. He had no memory of ever being as happy as the kid in the photo seemed to be. Jack stuffed the photo between the pages of the thick Jane’s book and started to read the letter again. It was from a kid that he had tutored at Cal Tech a few years ago while working on his Doctorate on General Dynamic's nickel. The kid was a computer geek named Randy Patel who actually rivaled his own intellect which was why Jack hadn't pitched the folder when he found it on the hood of his Jaguar convertible.

Jack paused for a moment and smiled, recalling the circumstances that had brought the two of them together. It was a harmless campus intrigue, blown way out of proportion by a hyper sensitive administration embarrassed by their shameful lack of cyber security. Someone (Randy) had hacked into the school’s computer system and infected the University’s Admin database with a mild virus involving a rather tasteless photo, obviously doctored, that appeared on the screen of every computer station at the school. Jack was asked to lead the search for the culprit(s) responsible for Dean Harrell’s humiliation. Actually, Jack didn’t think the picture was all that bad, it fact, it could have been considered rather flattering if you thought about it. But whoever spread the photo of a fully aroused Dean Harrell standing beside a well known actress during the National Anthem at a pep rally had to be found and had to be punished, no matter how funny it was!

Jack located the lone perpetrator easily enough, having traced the origin of the virus to a computer station in the IT lab assigned to Randolph Pinter Patel. The dumbass had been smart enough to hack into the school’s computer system, but either too stupid or too arrogant to coverer his tracks. Just proves the old adage that great intelligence is often times devoid of common sense. In any event, Jack busted the nerd early on a Monday while he slept through a Poly-Sci lecture. The school insisted on making an example of the hapless prankster and so Jack had the campus police escort Randy Patel from class in cuffs. It was an over-kill but then that was the point. However, by then the kid had become somewhat of a campus celebrity and so to avoid trouble the school softened their position, they had no desire to create a martyr. Actually, Jack suggested that the faculty/student council take advantage of the kid's obvious skills and offer him a job in the IT Department, maybe as the assistant chief of security, sort of give him a chance to use his genius for good instead of evil. He was kidding of course, and was flabbergasted when he found out later that they had actually taken him seriously and hired the Patel kid, incredible!

Jack picked up the letter one more time and re-read the part describing the circumstances surrounding the death of the child in the photograph, his name was Gabriel. He zeroed in on the name of the HMO facility where he died, reading it aloud, LA General Hospital & Trauma Center, a division of Peck International. His lips moved methodically as he read each syllable while his fingers traced each word. A wicked grin spread across his face. Of course he would help these people, why not. This was a golden opportunity. Taking his shit bird father down a notch would be sweet, and the notion excited him. This was personal on two levels, theirs and his. Both parties were motivated by vengeance, and both parties considered themselves righteous in the right light. That's how Jackson Peck chose to see it anyway. Pulling his cell phone from his pocket he dialed the number at the bottom of the second handwritten page. He wondered what Randy and his friends had in mind. It didn't matter; whatever it was he was in!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Love isn't a prize to win or something to fight for. It's a gift to give and receive. It never fails if you have the courage to hold on to it

(Anh yêu em Tuyet...Tôi yêu con gái KaSandra... Semper Fi Jordan)

Gabriel's Promise
a novel by nicholas sheridan stanton

Chapter Thirteen

LA Trauma Center, Los Angeles, California…Feb 18, 2005…8am

Lizzie arrived early for rounds as had become her practice the past couple of weeks, ever since she met the Tate child, Katie. The two of them had become fast friends in spite of Lizzie’s better judgment. Technically she was breaking strict hospital policy by poking her nose in where it didn’t belong. Not to mention unprofessionally involving herself in a colleague’s open case, also a sin professionally speaking, especially when that case involves a terminally ill patient. Good advise when you can take it. However, where Katie was concerned Lizzie just couldn't. She stopped by the nurse’s station to pay her respects to the duty staff, making the usual small talk before they looked the other way and turned a blind eye at her little indiscretion. Everybody knew why she was there, it wasn’t exactly a secret. Actually, Katie’s physician was only too happy to have Lizzie around to help distract the child during her last stand against the cancer that was killing her.

Ryan Reynolds had been a doctor longer than Lizzie had been alive. Actually, he'd been a doctor longer than Lizzie and Katie’s combined years. His star rose early, beginning his residency in 1964 at the famed Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland before migrating west to practice medicine in an urban war zone in Oakland, California from 1968 to 1974. He thought that he had seen all the suffering there was to see, stitching up cops, mugging victims, rape victims, and whatnot. But he hadn't, not by a long shot. Courtesy Uncle Sam and an early collegiate mistake in judgment, goddamn ROTC, he wound up spending 1975 through 1980 in Southeast Asia, working along the Cambodian / Vietnamese border caring for refugees fleeing the killing fields of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge. Having witnessed first hand the limitless bounds of man's cruelty to his fellow man, you'd have thought his education in misery was complete. But it wasn't. Arriving home to San Francisco in December of 1980 Doc Reynolds ran into to more shocks, number one was that Ronald Reagan, the actor, had been elected President of the United States? And number two was discovering a new passion/nemesis, albeit his calling in life, pediatric oncology.

For the next twenty-five years as he specialized in the care and treatment of children dealing with unconscionable challenges, many times futile in nature, he discovered that man’s cruelty to his fellow man was no match for the hell that Mother Nature could subject a human body to. Now and again he would wonder what led him to choose such a hopeless field. What indeed, he never had to wonder for very long. It was true that most chose this field of study on the heels of personal involvement, having either lost someone close, or witnessing someone close suffer the indignities of a condition that maliciously eats away at the very marrow of one’s existence. It's a horrible experience at best, one where death is welcomed begrudgingly, if not actually prayed for by family, friends, and clergy. Ryan Reynolds was no exception having shared with his mother and two sisters the burden and agony of his father's slow death from a rare form of bone cancer, the very same cancer that was now draining the life from the precious little girl befriended by young Dr. Andrews.

Katie turned her head toward the noise at the door to her room. She thought it might be Carl, her favorite nurse with her night time snack, the one he brought every night before lights out. But it couldn’t be him, it was too early. She pulled the covers close around her with one hand and reached for the buzzer with the other.

Hello, Carl is that you,” she asked timidly?

“Nope, just your friendly neighborhood froggie,” replied a cheery voice accompanying the bright green Kermit the Frog puppet peeking through the small opening in her doorway. Katie giggled, recognizing the frog's voice.

“LIZZIE,” she squealed. Elizabeth Andrews jumped into the room quickly.

“TA-DA,” she shouted!

“How’s my favorite sicko today anyways?”

“Pretty good I guess. I just want to go home already,” Katie replied with a pout.

“I know you do honey, pretty soon though, I read your chart, pretty soon,” Lizzie lied reassuringly. Lizzie hated fibbing to the kid but she also knew that hope was a powerful additive for any long term treatment; and nothing hastened the end like the lack of it.

“Really?” the child replied suspiciously.

“Really,” Lizzie lied again, biting her cheek afterward to punish herself.

“Okay, enough doctor talk. What did you color for me today?” Lizzie asked.

Katie fished around on the tray next to her and pulled out a "Dora the Explorer" coloring book. She leafed through it quickly and the turned it around to show Lizzie a picture of Dora and Boots (Dora’s little monkey) walking through a forest that were raining nuts down onto them. Katie had used most of the colors in her box of sixty-four crayons, obviously taking great care to stay within the lines. She had followed the color scheme shown on the cover, adding a few enhancements of her own to suit her mood. She had given Dora some gold and silver highlights to her jet black hair and had changed Boot’s usual red boots to a rainbow motif. It showed real originality and must have taken a couple of hours to do at the very least. No small feat given the day that Katie must have had. Lizzie knew that she had been through radiation treatment the day before, as well as a booster dose of the current poison-cocktail the pharmacy had concocted. She smiled and took the book from Katie’s hand.

WOW, this is so cool, thanks sweetie!” Lizzie raved.

“Why don't you sign it for me and I'll take it home to hang on my fridge?”

“Sure, will you really put it on your fridge?” Katie asked.

“Of course I will kiddo, Scout's honor!”

“I'll look at it every time I go to get a snack or a cold drink," she added.

“Wow, you must eat a lot,” Katie replied, her eyes opening wide in awe.

“Well, I would if there was anything actually in my fridge besides leftovers and science experiments,” Lizzie answered teasing.

“You’re funny,” giggled Katie.

“Yeah, I get that a lot.”

The two of them turned simultaneously toward the sound of a knock at the door. A tall, lanky, twenty-something African American man stood in the doorway. It was Carl the RN assigned to Katie. Carl worked the graveyard shift but always stayed over to bring Katie a breakfast treat. He was carrying a small tray with two oatmeal raisin cookies and a glass of milk. It was just a little mutiny as technically breakfast had been served over an hour ago, but Carl was soft hearted and resourceful. It was their ritual, his and Katie's, adopted shortly after she had been admitted for her treatment. Of course she couldn't actually eat the snack as it wasn't on her approved menu, so Carl would have to eat the cookies and drink the milk for her. Katie enjoyed his company and looked forward to his visits.

“Did somebody order cookies straight from heaven,” Carl asked, pointing at the tray with a big toothy smile?

“Oh, hello Dr. Andrews, I didn’t know you were here,” Carl said apologetically.

“No worries Carl, I was just leaving. I need to get to rounds anyway. Besides, I want to put this pretty picture in my locker before it gets wrecked,” Lizzie replied, holding up the Dora picture for Carl to see.

“My, that is a treasure!” he said.

“I’ll see you later little one,” Lizzie said as she passed by Carl to leave.

“BYE,” Katie hollered after her.

She left the two of friends to bond in private as she walked toward the stairway to submerge to the ground floor and the ER. Pushing through the door, she took the steps two at a time descending quickly, in a hurry to start her shift. She covered the three floors in less than a minute and shoved open the heavy door at the foot of the landing, almost braining me as I walked far too close to the wall, having ignored the caution signs overhead and the bright yellow words at my feet. I stopped just short of a broken nose, putting my hands up at the last second and blocking the door from hitting me square in the face.

OH MY GOSH, are you alright?” asked a very surprised Elizabeth Andrews.

“No harm done, just a near miss” I replied sheepishly.

“I’m so sorry, I’m in a hurry as usual,” Lizzie offered up defensively.

“Hey, it’s my fault I should have been on the other side of the yellow line anyways,” I replied granting her absolution.

“Okay, it’s a tie, we’re both guilty,” Lizzie said smiling up at me.

“Are we good?” she asked.

“We’re good. Have a nice day,” I said, patting her shoulder as we walked past one another. I stopped suddenly and turned back toward her when I heard her voice call out, “Hey, do I know you?” she asked. I looked at her for a moment before answering.

“No, I don’t think so, “I replied, lying.

“Oh? I'm sorry, you just remind me of someone,” she said, blushing slightly.

“I see, well, good night again,” I replied, turning to continue down the hall toward the exit. I felt her eyes on me, watching me walk away, and imagined her tapping her forehead with an index finger trying to unlock a memory. I picked up the pace before she had a revelation and safely rounded the corner out of eyesight.

“That was close,” I muttered.

Of course I remembered Dr. Elizabeth Andrews. She was one of the doctors who had treated Gabriel during his last stand here. To be fair, she was the ER doctor who admitted Gabriel shortly before his death. Monica and I had brought him in suffering from convulsions due to very a high fever. One minute he'd been sitting in my lap, quietly watching television, and the next he was seizing in my arms, his eyes rolled back as if he were looking for something inside of his head, and his little arms and legs flailing wildly. It had scared the crap outta me! When we arrived at the emergency room we were rushed quickly inside, there wasn't any need to fill out forms, and they had all our information already. Besides, Gabriel's file was pretty thick by that time and he was well known among most of the staff on all shifts. Someone took Gabby from me and put him onto a bed, sliding the curtain shut. The bed next to him had some guy screaming bloody murder over his compound fractured leg. It looked painful too, both the tibia and fibula sticking out through his torn flesh. The sight of it was only a momentary distraction though, as we focused on Gabby and waited for the doctor to arrive.

Dr. Andrews arrived quickly, quite suddenly actually, like a genie out of a bottle. I swear she came out of nowhere! She immediately ordered an alcohol suit and ice bath to lower his temperature. I remember that night vividly. Our son looked like the day's catch from a deep sea fishing trip, pale, weak, wet, and ready to accept the inevitable filleting. I would have lost it if not for this woman’s kind and reassuring nature. She calmed Monica and I with her genuine compassion, slowly and thoroughly explaining what was happening at every stage of the end that was approaching fast. By the way, it doesn't matter how well you prepare yourself for the inevitable, when it arrives you just aren't ready! Her honesty was comforting, her explanations knowledgeable and sure, never giving us time for wild imaginings.

She kept us totally informed, every step of his final journey. The truly amazing part was how quickly they bonded, it was love at first sight, and I'd never seen that before, it was pretty cool. Monica appreciated how attentive she was, but seemed a little put off by it at the same time. I wrote it off as a minor case of jealousy and teased her about it later. The two of them had grown very close in those final days; it was a beautiful thing to see. I imagined her to be Heaven's gatekeeper. And then he was gone. I never saw her again, until now, and this couldn't happen again, she could spoil everything. I needed to be more careful. Where she was concerned I needed to be a ghost, just like Gabby!

I'm grateful that she came into what was left of his life. She brought smiles to his every day and inspired courage beyond his years. When he passed it was more like farewell then goodbye. We couldn't stop the tears from flowing but at the same time all the fears were gone, we had peace to look forward to now. Maybe I’m remembering more than there was to remember, I don’t know. It almost inspired me to forgiveness, and re-think this scheme of mine…almost.

Friday, April 15, 2011

("In a New York minute Everything can change In a New York minute Things can get a little strange")…The Eagles…Hell Freezes Over 1994

(Anh yêu em Tuyet...Tôi yêu con gái KaSandra... Semper Fi Jordan)

Gabriel's Promise
a novel by nicholas sheridan stanton

Chapter Twelve

Norm’s Restaurant, Torrance, California January 30, 2005…5am

It was a cluster fuck from the get-go! That's the only way to describe this fiasco. Whatever could go wrong, did go wrong. You could have changed all our names to Murphy because the luck of the Irish was on us like white on rice. All of the intelligence that we'd gathered and I mean all of it, turned out to be totally inaccurate. The schematics we had obtained fit the make and model of the vessel alright, BEFORE all the freaking renovations that ass-wipe Deleponte incorporated in the whole year and a half he owned the damn thing! The most significant of which being the fact that the vault had been upgraded to an air-tight configuration, apparently to accommodate the expensive furs his trophy wife Vivian had accumulated in their year and a half marriage. Ahhhh, true love! I wonder how one went about turning furs into cash anyhow?

Alright, this wasn’t exactly the most important issue to ponder right now, but it was bugging me. I sat here mulling over the litany of errors we committed and getting more agitated with every box I checked. In the end it was my fault, even if I wanted to share the blame with one and all. That wasn't important though; not if we were ever going to settle up with these guys for cheating Gabby out of precious days, weeks, and months.

Picking up my cup I took a big sip of coffee to fuel the mental gymnastics I was using to analyze the foul ups. From over the brim of the thick, white ceramic mug I watched my team of rag tag nehr-do-wells push food around their plates, and share an occasional acknowledging grunt with one another. Nobody was very talkative, well, nobody but Sandy of course, who dealt with all issues by consuming mass quantities of food noisily, a habit that irritated Roman to no end.

“You gonna eat your sausage dude?” Sandy asked Roman, stabbing at the links before he even finished his sentence.

“Knock it off Holmes, what’s wrong with you man,” Roman hissed, pulling his plate out of Sandy’s reach. The two of them eyed one another for a second then looked my way expecting me to intervene. I did not, but Papa was quick to respond on behalf of the adults at the table.

“Settle down, both of you,” he scolded.

“We just dodged one bullet; don’t invite another with your childish antics!”

I smiled at the waitress who had stopped by with a fresh pot to refill our cups. “Thank you,” I said, mouthing the same words to my father as she turned to leave. He rolled his eyes and went about doctoring his coffee with two sugars and two creams. Refocusing, I continued with the mental autopsy of the job we'd just bungled. The air tight room proved to be the biggest miscalculation. Getting into that vault was the lynch pin to our plan. However as Wesley’s roadmap proved to be absolutely useless, he ended up wandering about aimlessly in search of a non-existent point of entry. But the mother of all miscalculations was discovering that the crew of five we were expecting was in fact a crew of eight. We were out numbered by three or four if you take into consideration what a pussy Randy Patel turned out to be in a crisis. It was a nightmare; we would have all been pinched by the Port Authority if Papa hadn’t shown up like the cavalry with his SUV and a couple of smoke grenades. Where he got his hands on those babies I had no idea, but they proved to be the key to our escape.

When the shooting started Roman had to stuff a rag into Randy’s mouth, and sling him over his shoulder like a fireman carries someone from a burning building to get his frozen ass off of the boat. Sandy and I followed with the ship’s crew coughing and stumbling behind us in a haze of thick red smoke. We piled hurriedly into the waiting vehicle and sped off, running into Wesley a couple hundred yards from all the confusion. Apparently he had found his way to the aft engine hatch and deduced by the gunfire that our plan was buster, duh! He was soaking wet and pissed when he appeared in the headlights, but was awfully glad to see us just the same. Once back at the gathering point we split up, jumping into our own cars, and lighting out for the safety of the 110 freeway. Papa led the way, exiting quickly at Sepulveda to avoid running into any CHPs that might be in the area. We'd figured we had about ten minutes before the ship’s crew could compose themselves and call for help.

Norm’s Restaurant was a 24 hour joint that Papa frequented often during his days at the Long Beach Naval Shipyards. It was a little far, but back then journeymen with seniority were accustomed to straying from the yard on 2 hour lunch breaks. A luxury possible courtesy the Union and on the strong backs and weak minds of apprentices who handled all the grunt work. Finishing my second cup of coffee I decided it was time for the leader of this bunch to speak up. Bunch of what was questionable.

“Alright, I know what you’re all thinking,” I began.

“Oh, I don’t think you do Pat old buddy,” Sandy replied sarcastically.

“Okay, I deserved that.”

“Doesn’t change anything though, we had the right idea we just did a poor job of planning, that’s all.”

“You mean you did a poor job of planning, they were shooting at us man, real bullets, shit!” Randy ranted, the straw from the double thick milkshake in front of him hanging from his mouth and splattering ice cream all over the table.

“Thanks for pointing that out Nancy,” I replied, chiding Randy for his lack of nads during our escape. That brought a smirk to Sandy’s face and nearly caused Roman to blow coffee out of his nose as he cracked up.

“Look, clearly we’ve got more homework to do. One thing I know for sure is next time we're going in armed. Nothing lethal, mace and Tasers maybe, possibly some chloroform to subdue crew members or nosey passengers. The next time we go out, and it'll be soon, we're not leaving empty handed!”

"I'm not risking my life for a few thousand dollars Pat, that's just plain nuts!" Randy lamented, starting to get up to leave.

"Tonight wasn't the real goal Randy, sit down and hear me out," I said coolly, staring him down until he settled back into the booth.

"The ultimate goal is to hit him where it hurts most, where his heart is, his billfold. If we're gonna make him feel the kind of loss that Monica and I did, then we have to go after what he loves most in life. Fortunately that's his wealth. The question was where and how. I have an idea," I began to explain when Randy cut me off.

“You're right, I think we're thinking the same thing,” Randy said sitting up straight.

“What were you thinking egghead,” Sandy asked sarcastically?

“I was thinking just what Pat said. We need to aim higher, find out where Sanford Peck’s empire is most vulnerable, where his personal money trail leads,” Randy replied.

“Yeah,” I said enthusiastically, charged up by Randy's sudden enthusiasm.

“Papa, you were reading about that rat bastard in Forbes a while back. What was it they were saying about his vast financial empire?”

“Uh that was a little while ago son, but I seem to remember reading that he was pretty diversified. The HMOs he controls support his interests in the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. He also funnels a fair amount of his wealth into a few private universities and several publications world wide, both periodical and news print.”

“Peri…what,” Roman asked, confused?

“Magazines my friend,” answered my father.

“Gottcha, thanks,” Roman replied with a wink.

“The guy is pretty well connected ain’t he,” Sandy said, trying to add to the conversation.

“I’ll say mate, he’s no Rupert Murdoch but he’s close,” Wesley said, chiming in.

“So how do we tap into any of those cash cows?” Sandy asked impatiently.

“Good point, they’re not exactly banks or armored cars that we can hold up,” I said, watching their faces.

“And they don’t have piles of cash laying around that we can get our hands on either,” Papa added.

“Exactly, so, we’ll have to get in through a back door so to speak,” Randy said his eyes fixated on our reflection in the restaurants window. He unconsciously tapped his fingers to the tune that was playing overhead. You could visibly see his mind working, the wheels turning behind his gaze.

“Back door, I don’t get it,” Sandy said, breaking Randy’s concentration.

“Uh, back door, yeah, that’s a programming term, you know computers,” he explained.

“And it applies how?” I asked.

“Simple, if we’re going to make a dent in this man’s financial armor, we’ll have to do it electronically. And, we’ll to have to do it in such a way that he never knows he’s been ripped off, at least not until we’re long gone and our trail is literally erased.”

“What’s on your mind Randy,” Papa asked.

“I’m thinking we have to figure out which of his ventures is vulnerable to an end-around by a clever hacker, like me for instance,” he replied, thinking out loud.

“We’d have to stay clear of the businesses that are publicly traded. And taking money from the Universities would just be wrong. I don’t know much about the publishing business, but I seriously doubt there are many opportunities there. Too bad he doesn’t own a casino or two in Las Vegas or Atlantic City,” Randy said, brainstorming.

I don't think so skippy! That'll get us in Dutch with the mob!” Sandy cautioned.

“You seen too many gangster movies dude, Vegas is owned by real bandits, namely Corporate America,” retorted the young computer whiz sarcastically.

“Oh yeah man, didn’t you see Casino?” Roman chimed in rhetorically.

“Shut up beaner,” Sandy shot back.

“No, he’s right, that was in the article as well,” Papa said suddenly.

“Interestingly enough it went on to say that Peck owns a couple of Cruise Lines,” he said grinning at Randy and I while he waited for the others to catch up. After a couple of minutes of listening to the crickets gather around the table my father lost his patience and slowly explained what Randy and I already knew.

Alright boys, what does every ocean liner offer on these vacation cruises to titillate the rubes, I mean passengers,” Papa asked, coaching the others with gestures as if he were playing charades with eight year-olds.

A moment later that lights came on around the table. We all leaned forward toward the center of our corner booth and whispered in unison, “gambling...”

Thursday, April 14, 2011

("Levon, Levon likes his money. He makes a lot they say. Spend his days counting. In a garage by the motorway")…Elton John, 1971

(Semper Fi Jordan...Tôi yêu con gái KaSandra...Anh yêu em Tuyet)

Gabriel's Promise
a novel by nicholas sheridan stanton

Chapter Eleven

San Pedro, California, January 29, 2005…midnight

It's always cold at night along the California coastline, up north, down south, or anywhere in between it doesn’t matter, its freezing! Of course Pedro isn’t near as cold as Frisco, but it was cold enough as far as Roman was concerned, he was more of a warm weather kinda guy, better suited to the tropics having grown up in the southern part of Mexico, closer to Central America than North America. Roman put the collar up on his P-coat and pulled it tighter around himself, pushing the second row of buttons through the eyelets. He stamped his feet a couple of times on the concrete beneath him, and stuffed both of his hands deep into the pockets of the heavy wool jacket.

Roman frowned, mentally scolding himself for forgetting to bring along a pair of gloves tonight, he should have known better, this wasn’t his first time here. But in his own defense it had been a quite a few years since he worked these docks with Sandy and me, and he'd gotten a little soft since he hung up his torch and fins. He pulled out his hands, clasped them together then raised them to his mouth and gave them a quick puff of warm breath as he checked the time on his wrist watch. It was already midnight, and the boys were officially late. He stuffed his hands back into his coat and cursed, “Damn it!”

“Hey man, you kiss your mother with that mouth?” teased one of his tardy buddies, appearing suddenly from the shadows. Sandy walked up along side of Roman and handed him a hot cup of coffee.

“Don’t say I never done nothin for ya,” Sandy chided.

“Gee, thanks,” Roman replied sarcastically.

“Couldn’t we have met indoors someplace, like Denny’s maybe?”

“Sorry, wasn’t my idea, this is Pat’s party dude,” Sandy answered, pulling out a stick of chewing gum and popping it into his mouth.

“Where is that madicon anyways?” asked Roman, sipping his coffee.

“He’s bringing up the rear with the rest of the crew."

“What crew?”

“I'm not sure, I guess we'll meet them together, all very hush hush ya know.”

“The only guy I know we know is Pat’s old man,” Sandy added.

“You’re shittin me, Pat’s got his dad mixed up in this too,” Roman asked surprised.

“I guess so, you know how it is man, the family that gripes together swipes together,” Sandy chuckled.

Roman took a long sip of his coffee and looked past Sandy, trying to catch a glimpse of Patrick and the rest of his team. It was a moonless night and too dark in the poor lighting of the San Perdo waterfront. Not the safest place to be late at night, even if you were armed to the teeth, which they were not. Roman reviewed what he knew of Pat’s agenda in his head while he and Sandy waited around. According to Pat’s war plans they were going to break into some corporate bigwig’s yacht and help themselves to whatever cash and valuables were in the safe located below decks in the engine room. Tonight was supposed to be a test run, a rehearsal sort of before Pat hatched a much larger operation. Whatever loot they grabbed would finance the next operation. After that, as the jobs got bigger and more lucrative, the spoils would be routed to a newly formed non-profit corporation fronted by an anonymous silent partner of considerable means, according to Pat.

They'd scouted this yacht for weeks and had the ship’s company's routine down pretty well. The 100 foot vessel maintained a full time crew of five on board. Four of them would be sleeping by the time they boarded. The plan was to incapacitate the lone crewmember on watch and then do their business quickly and quietly. The entire raid should take only twenty minutes by Pat’s calculations, and they had walked through every step a hundred times in the mock up we constructed in Pat's dad's backyard.

“Duck soup, riiiiight,” Roman murmured, doubting the plan out loud.

“What'd you say?” asked Sandy.

“Nothin man, I’m just gettin a little nervous is all. Too many ways to get caught Holmes. Whose gonna run the restaurant while I'm in the joint, huh?”

“Keep your diapers dry you big baby!” Sandy scolded.

“Fuck you Sandy! You better watch yourself homeboy, I can still kick your pasty white ass!” replied Roman acidly.

Sandy pretended to shiver as he scooted out of range of Roman’s anticipated retaliation, a classic drop-kick maneuver which his signature move when riled. Roman chased after his much smaller and quicker friend for a couple of strides before surrendering to age and his better judgment. They didn't need to cause a commotion and attract attention to their position. He decided to forego the usual string of profanity as well, a wise move. I watched my two friends acting like ten year-olds as we approached from the south side of the dock near berth number 41, which was currently occupied by a freighter out of Singapore christened 'Bad Joss' and nodded at the two recent recruits walking beside me, and smiled reassuringly.

“Don’t worry, they’re more capable than they look,” I said, hoping that I wouldn't have to eat those words later.

“No worries mate, you’re the boss-man, if they become troublesome just say the word and I’ll take care of them, no extra charge,” joked recruit number one in a thick Aussie accent.

Wesley Allendale winked at me, his blue eyes twinkling even on this moonless night. He was a miniature fella, thin as a rail with strong sinewy limbs, his body wound tight like a tough piece of rope. He stood five feet three inches on his tiptoes, and weighed all of 90 pounds soaking wet. That earned him the very important role in our plan as the tunnel rat. Wesley’s job was to gain access to the secure areas of the vessel via the air shafts. It wasn’t a new concept for Wesley, he had crawled through many a tunnel during two tours in Vietnam back in sixty-seven and sixty-eight. At least this time there wouldn’t be anybody lurking in darkness with an AK47.

I know what you’re thinking, where do you meet someone like this? Well, truth is I didn’t meet him anywhere. Wesley was one of my Dad’s acquaintances, which made me nervous about the company dad kept. Actually, Wesley’s father had served with Papa in the Second World War. He was a demolitions expert assigned to the European theater of operations from the Royal Australian Navy. It was Wesley’s dad who had pulled my father to safety the day his legs were nearly blown off by a cannon round fired from a bunker defending the German positions along the coast of Normandy, directly above Utah Beach to be exact, June 6th, 1944. My dad was piloting an LST when the round hit dead center on his landing craft. The blast had killed everyone but Papa and Robert Allendale, and a radio operator whose name Papa never could remember. The three of them had ended up in the drink after the explosion. Wesley’s dad and the unknown radio operator were relatively unscathed compared to Papa's serious shrapnel injuries.

The two men teamed up to pull my dad ashore, dragging him and his mangled legs, under fire, onto the beach where they hunkered down behind a burning half-track. The radio operator immediately disappeared into the chaos while Wesley’s dad stayed with Papa, tending to his wounds until a corpsman arrived to take over. The last memory my father had of that day before the morphine took control was of is hero running off with a small group of Marines toward the cliffs, where all the shooting was coming from. Papa had made a few unsuccessful attempts to contact Wesley’s dad after the war through channels, namely the Office of Naval Operations and the War Department to no avail, and eventually assumed that Robert Allendale had not made it home alive. But some years later, at a gathering of WWII veterans in Normandy marking the 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, the two of them were reunited. They've remained close ever since. Through that fateful friendship I met Robert’s number one son Wesley, presently a willing volunteer in my quest for justice, small world isn't it?

“Let’s hope that won’t be necessary,” I replied, checking my watch and looking over my shoulder for the final member of my strike team.

Pulling up the rear was our IT wizard, Randy Patel. Young Patel was all of twenty-three years old but already finalizing his dissertation for his second PhD, this one in Electrical Engineering. His paper was on a new subject for me, nano-technology and its application to artificial intelligence. I'd been teasing Sandy about asking randy if he had any he could spare ever since we recruited this kid.

We had met Randy at work when he took a side job for extra cash consulting on the implementation of our company’s new computer system. He liked to hang around the dock in the morning while we prepped for whatever job we were on. Randy was fascinated by all the diving gear and loved to listen to Sandy tell his tall tales of 'dangerous' operations, he could lay it on pretty thick! Anyway, we had sort of adopted the little genius and let him into our click at work and at home. It wasn’t hard to recruit him for this team as he'd gotten pretty close to Gabriel the last year of his life. This was almost as personal for him as it was for us, Papa, Sandy, Roman, and me. Randy's role on this dry run was to neutralize any electronic security issues or roadblocks. In the actual operations he'd play a much more important role.

“Come kid, shake a leg, clock’s ticking,” I said in a raspy whisper, pointing at my watch, emphasizing the point.

“Sorry Pat, my bad, I couldn't find the volt meter in my bag-o-tricks,” he said in his cartoon like, over-the-top East Indian accent which he laid on pretty thick whenever he was nervous or irritated.

“Cut the crap Randy, we’re behind schedule!” I snapped.

“Wesley, grab Heckle and Jeckle over there so we can get on with this,” I said, pointing at Roman and Sandy who were still playing grab ass near the bow line of the big freighter.

“Right you are boss; I’ll be back straight away with both those goonie birds!”

Wesley shot me a salute in fun which I returned likewise, as I pulled my notes from my coat pocket. I scanned the yacht’s schematic for the hundredth time, closing my eyes to imagine the successful execution of our first actual operation together. The butterflies were beginning fly around in my stomach when Wesley returned with the two bickering magpies. They both quieted down when I gave them the look, and the five of us took a knee, huddling together to go over the plan once more. Operation ‘Gabby's Ghost’ was officially underway.

The mark was a hundred foot yacht, the 'Easy Money' owned by one of Sanford Peck’s cronies at his medical foundation, one J. Robert Deleponte, CEO of Standard Pharmaceuticals. Peck's Empire was a marriage made in hell, joining his pharmaceutical giant, Standard, with his nation-wide string of HMO's. It was a proverbial "fox guarding the hen house" arrangement, and Sanford Peck profited exponentially as his string of HMO's pitched orders underhand for Standard Pharmaceutical to hit out of the park. There were a lot of sick people out there and he made sure that he supplied whatever they needed, and they needed whatever he decided they did. Well, his doctors did, and they which side their bread was buttered on.

The plan was relatively simple; we'd board the vessel and disable the surveillance system; that was Randy’s job. Then we'd disable the crew, that job belonged to Roman and Sandy. Once on board, Wesley would gain access to the vault below decks through a crawlspace in the ventilation system. Meanwhile, Randy and I would stand watch on the bridge, guarding the disabled crewmember while monitoring the radio. Next, Wesley and the two magpies would empty the vault of whatever wasn’t nailed down. When they were through, we'd exit with our bags of loot and high-tail it in five different directions. Wesley would take the bags to our base of operations, a storage facility in south Orange County, where we'd meet up a week later to see how we did cash wise. The whole operation was supposed to take less than thirty minutes. It all seemed doable, even for a bunch of amateurs.

“You're sure you’ve got the right codes?” I asked Randy for the tenth time.

“Yeah, yeah, I got the make and model of the system from the broker who sold Deleponte the boat originally. He was only too eager to help when I dropped Sanford Peck’s name,” Randy answered.

“The actual codes will be a snap once I get within twenty yards of the yacht,” he added patting his bag-o-tricks with a grin.

“Let’s hope so hot shot, cause it’s your ass if I hear any sirens and see any flashing lights, comprendo muchacho?” Sandy quipped.

“Cool it,” I said before Randy could fire back a retort.

“You got what you need Wesley?”

“Natch, ready and steady Admiral,” the Aussie replied flashing a thumbs-up sign.
“Good! Okay Roman, how bout you dude,” I asked, looking over at my nervous friend.

“Let’s kick this pig Holmes!” he replied with a wicked little grin.

“Alright, it’s quarter to one. Let’s be on board by one and off by one-thirty, okay?”

Heads nodded all around our little huddle as we stared at one another. It was time to see if we'd thought of everything. I stood up and pulled the black ski mask over my face and waited a couple of seconds as everyone did likewise.

“Move out…”

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