(Anh yêu em Tuyet...Tôi yêu con gái KaSandra... Semper Fi Jordan)
a novel by nicholas sheridan stanton
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 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?