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