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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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