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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

("For anyone who knows…For anyone who's been…Forever in my heart…I'll see you in my dreams ")…Liam Gallagher

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 Twenty-four

Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico…Tuesday, June 21st, 2005…7pm

Dusk in Baja California is incredible; backlit against the ever present cloud cover it radiates hues of brilliant orange, yellow, and red. It's the celestial equivalent of a tequila sunrise, yummy! However, as beautiful as they are, tonight's cloud cover had Wesley’s complete attention. Checking his watch for the umpteenth time he noted the time against the schedule. In four hours they'd need a clear sky with the full moon. The billowing cumulonimbus clouds needed to either pass on by or rain themselves empty before 2300 hours or the operation would have to be aborted.

Wesley turned and looked back up the beach toward a small makeshift marina where Jack O'Shea was busy prepping the boats. The van they'd driven down in from San Diego was parked nearby and they would need to start unloading the mirrors soon. They probably should have skipped supper in Old Town earlier, but nobody got between Sandy and a free meal. As it turned out they were on the road by 4pm, crossed the border by 5pm (incredibly lucky) and covered the 100 miles or so in a ninety minute hell-ride courtesy Mad-Jack O'Shea the certifiably crazy egghead! Now that he thought about it the cloud cover actually worked in their favor. A little foul weather and some rain would keep the tourists and the locals off of the beach while they stowed the gear and shoved off. Jack and Papa, would install the cloaking mirrors on Pixie and Dixie respectively once they were under way.

It was beginning to drizzle now and Wesley covered his head with the hood of is navy blue sweatshirt. He made his way back to the slips, checking the time once more. It was now exactly three hours and fifty-five minutes until they needed to cast off. The breeze had stiffened a bit and it was noticeably colder. Wesley picked up the pace, subtlety reciting the plan as he walked, careful not to look like a lunatic and draw any unwanted attention. It was simple I kept telling him, piracy by the numbers. Wesley reminded me that they still hung pirates in some parts of the globe!

Step One, stage and prep the boats. This was Wesley and Jack’s job.
Step Two, the boarding party arrives, me, Papa, Sandy, Randy, and Roman.
Step Three, intercept the Riviera, a Cabo San Lucas bound ocean liner, fifty nautical miles offshore south-southwest from La Bufadora in international waters.
Step Four, engage cloaking devices start run at ramming speed.
Step Five, catch and board amidships, Pixie portside and Dixie starboard.
Step Six, loot and scoot.
Step Seven, jet to the professor's Seawind 1000, a 41 foot catamaran moored near La Bufadora (apparently egghead engineers banked good coin) and off-load the cloaking equipment, then scuttle the speed boats.
Step Eight, sail back to San Diego on Jack's cat and scatter.

The details for when and where to meet for the post-op debriefing would be buried in Friday's Union Tribune classified section, right next to an ad for Speedy Printing. Wesley thought that was a bit of over the top cloak and dagger drama but it wasn't rocket science and wouldn't be too hard to follow. That was Randy's brain child, an avid Jason Bourne fan. He'd place an ad for a garage sale at a fictitious address with a false phone number. The telephone number contained the time, hours, minutes, and seconds, the last number indicating am or pm, specifically 0 for am and 9 for pm. The address was coded to a set list of meeting places. For instance 1234 Elm Street was really the Americana restaurant in Del Mar and 4321 Oak Street was really the Studio Diner on Ruffin Street in San Diego. There were others but you get the idea.

Wesley nodded in my direction as he past the short pier where I was sitting doing my own last minute calculations. I rubbed the two day beard on my scruffy face, acknowledging him, and continued to look out to sea as if he weren't there. I'd been on the small pier staring out at the sea for better than thirty minutes. The breeze was steady and cool and it blew my shaggy hair every which way. I didn't care, I liked the way it felt, the way it made me feel, free and unencumbered. Still, Pat Bouchard may not have needed a haircut but Jean Luc Rojier would need a decent trim before the G.A.W.D. fundraiser next week in San Francisco at the Gateway Building.

I pushed my sandy brown mop away from my face and fished my wallet out of my jeans. I'm not exactly sure why I held onto Monica's note, but I know why I never read it, I didn't want to face what was inside. I was even more confused why I carried it around like a photograph tucked inside my wallet. Maybe it was for the same reason I wore this colorful beaded bracelet that Gabriel and I made together in the hospital during happier times before he passed, back when we were still hopeful. The little bauble had become a part of me because it was a part of him, because it was a part of us. It kept his spirit alive in my everyday. I might be angry enough with God to stray from the straight and narrow, but I still believe in Him, and I want to believe that even this detour from grace will be forgiven in the end. Opening my wallet I removed the small envelope containing her last message for me. Turning it over and over I studied it closely. Inside were answers to questions that I didn't want to ask. Inside was closure if I wanted it. I didn't. Even so, maybe I needed it more than I cared to admit. Slipping my pinky finger under the flap I started to unseal the envelope.

"Are you sure you want to do that son?" Papa asked, startling me.

"How long have you been standing there?" I replied, answering a question with a question, stuffing the envelope under my leg like a ten year-old hiding his report card.

"Long enough," he replied, sitting beside me on the bench.

"What does that mean?" I asked curtly. I didn't mean to be mean, but I wanted to finish this moment and get just passed it.

"You don't have to hide the note Patrick, I saw it," Papa said, patting my thigh gently. I was embarrassed and managed to blush even in the cold ocean breeze.

"It's no big deal Papa. It's just time I knew it all, ya know?" I replied avoiding his eyes and staring out to sea.

"I see," he said, getting up to lean on the wooden rail and stare at the horizon with me. We remained silent for a moment.

"Monica was a wonderful woman Patrick, I liked her very much. She was a good person, a good mother, a good daughter, and a good wife I think," Papa said without turning to face me. I didn't reply.

"I know how much you loved her, she was the love of your life, I saw that in your eyes when you looked at her. It was in your voice when you spoke to her, in your face when you held her. It was a beautiful thing to see son," he continued, pausing to give me a chance to reply. I couldn't, my heart had already moved up into my throat, choking off my voice for the moment.

"Before you open that envelope consider this. As wonderful as Monica was, there were things under the surface she struggled with. She was a more person. More of this and more of that, more was what she was all about, even if she denied it."

"What are you driving at?"

Papa turned to face me and studied my face for a moment. "Do you know what happens when you stand with one foot in the past and with one foot in the future?" he asked.

I sighed deeply, leaned back and put both feet up on the wooden rail. "No Papa, what happens?" I replied tiredly.

"You end up pissing on the present!" he said smiling.

I snorted a chuckle and replied, "What are you talking about old man?"

He turned back around to face the sea. "Monica was like that Pat. Your wife never stood still long enough to enjoy where she was. She yearned for whatever was next; she planned for it, as if one could predict the future. And she held onto the past, demons I suspect. I'm sure she shared a thing or two with you during pillow talk moments, am I right?"

I couldn't help grinning at that statement. I must have heard Monica utter those words a thousand times in daily conversations, am I right. She always ended at least one sentence with that rhetorical question whenever she was on a rant about something, either about work or a family issue. My father just ignored my queer expression and continued, "And I noticed that she had no patience for those, you for one, who weren't as anxious as she was in her pursuit of more. She had little patience for those around her that didn't see the world the way that she did," he added. I didn't reply as I chewed on his words.

"Monica loved you son, you and Gabriel both, more than life itself, more than her own life. You need to always believe that. But I'm afraid that if you read that note in your hand you may not be able to," Papa said into the breeze.

I looked at him suspiciously, "You know what's in here don't you Papa? Was the wreck an accident?" I asked hoping he'd say no but preparing myself for an affirmative.

"Yes," he replied. "As for her accident, well does it really matter son? She's gone," he added.

Oh man, there it was, my heart sank. "If you were me wouldn't you want to know?" I asked, getting up to stand beside him. He looked at me and the note in my hand. He tapped it with his finger. "If I were you I'd tear that up in a million pieces and give it to the sea," he answered, looking at me with watery eyes.

"If I were you son, I'd protect her memory. I'd carry only her goodness in my heart the rest of my life. I'd want to smile every time I thought of her, every time her face appeared before me in a daydream. That's what I'd do son, that's what I'd do," he said, slapping my shoulder and walking away. I kept staring at the horizon as he walked off. He stopped and called back to me after a moment from the end of the pier.

"Shake it off son! We need to shove off in a few minutes!"

I didn't answer and he didn't repeat himself. The breeze turned into a cold harsh wind and I felt my cheeks changing color. A single tear rolled down my face, possibly from the wind hitting me square in the face, but probably not. Without taking my eyes off of the sea I tore the envelope into tiny bits and tossed them over the rail.

"I love you honey," is all I could manage as I turned and walked away. It may not have been the closure I thought I wanted, but Papa was right, when you have a chance to choose between joy and pain, choose joy…

Monday, May 30, 2011

(Honoring American heroes past, present, and future...with love)

May 5, 2011

Dear Nicholas:

Thank you for writing me. Every day, we are humbled by the legacy of our men and women in uniform who sacrificed their lives for our country.

I have heard from many families and friends of our fallen Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, and Coast Guardsmen who are concerned about both ongoing and former conflicts. They have made invaluable contributions to honoring our fallen heroes, and I take very seriously their views and concerns. Thank you for sharing your perspective with me.

As we work to secure a safer, freer world, I appreciate your commitment to addressing the pressing issues we face at home and abroad. Sir, your nephew Cpl. Jordan Robert Stanton, and all our fallen heroes, will forever be in my thoughts and prayers.


Barack Obama

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

("Every time it rains, it rains pennies from Heaven. Don't you know each cloud contains pennies from Heaven")…Johnny Burke

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 Twenty-three

LA General Hospital, Los Angeles California…Monday, June 27th, 2005…5pm

Lizzie stopped before entering the chemo lounge. What a dumb term to use for the room she thought. Nobody inside there was doing much lounging around that was for sure. She could see Katie Tate sitting in an ugly green semi-comfortable vinyl chair. You know the type, the kind that squeaks every time you twist or turn in it, how annoying! She was so small in the large piece of furniture. She looked like Goldilocks sitting on Papa Bear's lap. Beside her was a med-tree where the clear color coded bags hung, dripping poison at various intervals into the pick line that protruded from her little chest. Katie sat very still to keep from disturbing the needle inside the pick.

A wrong move on her part could accidently dislodge the needle which would require a nurse to reinsert it, a very painful procedure, especially if you got the wrong nurse! Katie sat with her head back and her eyes closed, breathing slowly and evenly, relaxing as she listened to her mother read to her. Lizzie couldn’t hear Anita Tate through the thick glass but she could see the book. Anita was reading Charlotte’s Web, one of Lizzie’s favorites from childhood. She decided to leave mother and daughter alone with their quiet moment and backtracked to the nurse’s station.

“Hi Phyllis, can I see the Tate girl's chart?” she asked politely.

The nurse looked up from her work and frowned. Phyllis Newman was a stocky woman in her late forties, an ER veteran who had only recently been assigned to the cancer wing of the hospital. It was a change of pace that she sorely needed but she was having difficulty adjusting to the slower pace. Twenty five years of sirens and drama had taken its toll on her personality. She'd developed the usual emotional callousness that came with seeing it all so to speak, and did not believe in greener pastures as a concept. That was just a myth she'd be happy to tell you.

Still, she had to deal with the drama that comes with human tragedy minus the gore and the sirens, although, she would have preferred them to the sadness that came with terrible loss after long battles. At least with accidents and murders there was someone or something to blame. With cancer the only one to blame was God, and He was blameless to the faithful and non-existent to those who did not believe. At least in here there was time to say goodbye, to exchange knowing looks and to wail or whisper I love you one last time. Removing her glasses Phyllis swiveled in her chair to retrieve the metal clipboard containing Katherine Tate’s chart from the wall caddie. The chart was color coded with a green stripe affixed to the manila folder. It was a pretty simple system, sort of like a traffic signal. Green was good, it meant there was hope. Yellow was not so good, it meant that things weren’t going so well, and red was bad, it meant your days were numbered. She spun back around and handed the chart to Lizzie.

“Here you go Doctor Andrews,” she said without looking up.

“Um, thanks Phyllis. No reds on the wall tonight, that’s a good sign,” Lizzie said trying to coax a smile out of the duty nurse.

“The night is young doctor,” Phyllis said flatly.

Lizzie winced, “Ouch! Not exactly Sally Sunshine today are we Phyllis?” she replied, turning to head for the lounge area to study Katie’s chart.

“No time for fairy tales missy,” Phyllis muttered as Lizzie walked away.

She beat it over to the lounge area at a fast walk and was happy to find that it was empty for a change, a rare luxury. Everyone must have dashed down to the cafeteria for lunch. It was Monday that meant tortilla soup day, the specialty of the house. But Lizzie was more tired than hungry so she sat in one of the soft leather chairs set around an oval shaped coffee table covered in old magazines and settled in to catch up on Katie's progress, and if possible, take a ten minute catnap, as long as her cell phone stayed silent of course.

Flipping open Katie’s chart she scribbled the date and time on the log-in page. She verified that the correct drugs and dosages being administered. She noted Katie’s vitals, nothing out of the ordinary all things considered. It was still early in the regiment so the child was a few days from the real suffering. Lizzie felt her abdomen tighten empathetically as she imagined the next few weeks for the little girl. She had come to understand that the old adage "the cure will probably kill you" was more prophesy then witty saying. She looked up at the clock and yawned, it was only 5pm but she'd been on since 6am. Exhausted, Lizzie decided the time was right for a little snooze and she let the chart settle into her lap.

Scrunching down in the chair she propped her feet up on the table when she noticed the California section of the LA Times in front of her. The headline read “G.A.W.D. Almighty.” That jolted her wide awake! She sat up quickly and scooped up the newspaper. Katie’s chart fell to the floor as she shook the paper open to read the whole article. Below the bold print of the headline was a photograph of the Tate’s with their benefactor, Grover Gateway, the famous publishing billionaire and another man whose name she didn’t recognize, but whose face was very familiar. They were standing in the lobby of the chic, luxurious Bonaventure Hotel, downtown. Lizzie knew the place as that was where her parents always stayed whenever they visited to check up on her. It was her father’s style, top cabin all the way he always said.

As she read the article she kept turning back to the photo. The man the paper identified as Jean Luc Rojier had a face that was on the tip of her memory. It frustrated her that she couldn't place him. She knew this guy from somewhere? She read on, apparently Gateway and Rojier were associated through this G.A.W.D. Foundation, although the story didn't exactly make clear the nature of their relationship. She bit at her lip as she continued reading. Gateway Associates Worldwide Donations was making quite a splash internationally with their "Hope for Children" campaign.

Lizzie had to admit, she was impressed if not down right inspired by their mission statement, "deny no child the right to fight." Actually, she witnessed the power of that statement with Katie Tate. Without G.A.W.D. Katie wouldn't have lived to see her next birthday. And while she may not see another, at least now she had some hope to cling to. Hope, and the comfort that came with knowing she wouldn't be abandoned, that her life was important, that she was worth fighting for, that she was worth the investment. Lizzie finished reading the article, then folded up the paper and took another look at the headline. She giggled connecting the dots as she made the connection between G.A.W.D. and GOD. She stared at the photo again, her smile fading as she studied the face of Jean Luc Rojier.

“NUTS, who is that guy?”Lizzie wondered aloud.

“Dr. Andrews?”

Lizzie jumped, startled by the sudden appearance of Anita Tate. She snorted a hello and tossed the paper back onto the table, picking up Katie’s chart from the floor in front of her and leafing through it quickly.

“Sorry Anita, I didn’t hear you come in. How’s Katie doing?”

Anita Tate pulled her sweater tighter around her and folded her arms, her eyes betraying the nervous smile on her face. Lizzie could see that Mrs. Tate was tired and she looked frightened. People conveyed terror in one of two ways typically. They either looked at you with a pleading expression and nervous smile. Or, they avoided making eye contact and tried to change the subject when they were pressed to explain what was wrong.

“Oh, she’s her cheerful self; you’d never know that she was as sick as she is,” answered Anita.

“That’s comforting isn’t it?” Lizzie asked rhetorically.

“Not really. Come on doctor, we both know what she’s in store for. Don't you see her smile fading, her eyes sad while she suffers in silence, just like the last time,” Anita said curtly.

Lizzie bit at her lip, apologizing with her expression, and wishing that she hadn’t been so glib with her reply. Mrs. Tate saw that she had touched a raw nerve in Lizzie, and apologized.

“I’m sorry Elizabeth. I didn’t mean that to snap at you. I’m just preparing myself for what’s next. You understand don’t you?”

“Yes…I do.”

Anita glanced past Lizzie and pointed at the newspaper. “Did you read the article?” she asked.

“Yeah, just before you walked in,” Lizzie answered.

“Pretty amazing isn’t it? I mean the newspaper is usually filled with so much crap, it’s nice to read something positive for a change,” Anita said with a weak smile.

“Oh yeah, I totally agree,” Lizzie replied with a puny smile of her own.

G.A.W.D, can you believe it?”

“Yeah, that made me smile too.”

“Katie's asking for you, can you stop by?” Anita asked in a cheerier tone.

“Of course,” Lizzie answered, grabbing the newspaper as they walked out of the waiting lounge together.

“Who are you,” she muttered glancing at the photo one more time. She made a mental note to find out.

Friday, May 20, 2011

("It's hard to know, how far or if at all I could go, I've waited far too long for somethin I forgot was wrong") Gin Blossoms

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 Twenty-two

Oldtown San Diego, California, Friday, June 24th, 2005…3:00pm

The strolling mariachis were beginning to get on Sandy’s nerves. He was already two bowls of chips with salsa and four cervezas into a Friday afternoon and his crew was late. That didn’t really surprise him though, I was always late. In my defense though I did have to stop and pick up that little egghead Randy and his smartass buddy Jacko on the way. Randy Patel was even less punctual than me, a factoid that really worried Sandy given what we had planned. He sighed audibly as the waitress approached his table.

“Another beer Senor?” she asked.

“Why not, uno mas,” Sandy replied, frowning at his wristwatch.

The girl collected two empty Corona bottles and signaled for a busboy to bring another round of chips and salsa for the gringo. She smiled at Sandy who winked back and then walked away. He was about to check the time again when he caught sight of me and the boys entering the outdoor seating area of the small restaurant. Sandy leaned way back in his chair, rocking it back on two flimsy legs and shook his head.

Well, well, well, look what the cat dragged in!”

“Alright, alright, we’re late, I get it!” I replied, removing my shades and taking a seat across from him. The others did likewise, Randy, Jack, and Papa.

“Where are the others?” Sandy asked.

“Roman and Wesley are at the marina keeping an eye on things, “I answered, helping myself to a couple of salty homemade tortilla chips.

“So, we’re still a go, right,” Sandy inquired?

“Just like we planned,” I answered.

The Riviera set sail about two hours ago and should be in Mexican waters very soon," said Papa. He and Sandy glanced at their wrist watches simultaneously.

“That gives us about four hours then,” noted Sandy.

“More like five, those vessels are pretty slow and they reduce speed at night,” interjected Jack.

Sandy shot him a sideways glance, “Perfect, then we got time to eat first,” he said sarcastically. Sandy still hadn’t warmed up to Jack, actually nobody had, myself included. He just wasn’t an easy guy to like? He kept to himself mostly, except when he had a chance to push Sandy’s buttons, and he did that often. The waitress returned with a busboy to deliver another bowl of chips and Sandy’s beer, “What can I bring the rest of you?” she asked.

“Coronas all around girlie, and bring a couple menus too,” Sandy barked, answering for the table.

“Okay, I’ll be back in a sec.”

Sandy watched her walk away, “Nice ass,” he said appreciatively. I waited a moment for her to put some distance between us and then spoke to the group.

“Let’s run through this once more. Jack will skipper Pixie and Sandy has Dixie on this run. The whole mission begins and ends with Jack's cloaking device. That means that there and back we take orders from Jack, understood,” I asked, looking from face to face.


“What!" Sandy shouted, drawing a few sideways glances from a neighboring table.

"Yeah I got it, the egghead’s in charge at sea,” he added in a quieter tone.

"Good! Look, we were lucky on the Prince Vigo run, damn lucky! Too many mistakes were made on the approach, and if not for a sleepy radar operator on the bridge of the cruise ship we would have been met on board by the freaking Coast Guard!" snapped Jack, staring icily at Sandy.

"Careful professor, you're not as tough as you are smart," replied Sandy coolly.

"That's enough you two. He's right Sandy; you fucked up. You veered from the plan and could have ruined everything. We've got to be in complete lockstep this time. We can't afford not to be, understand?" I said, jumping in between the two chuckleheads before things got out of hand.

"Ail I did was zig instead of zag, it was no big deal, we got on board alright," Sandy said defending himself, his tone bitter and icy.

"That's not altogether true bub," Jack replied, accepting the beer that our waitress had just arrived with.

Jack pushed the little wedge of lime into the long neck bottle and stared at Sandy, daring him to say something stupid. I held my breath waiting for whatever was going to happen next. Jack had stepped over the line this time and nothing I could do would stop the beat down that he'd earned with his arrogant attitude. But to my surprise all Sandy did was smile and sip his beer. He leaned forward onto his elbows and pointed the long neck Corona at Jack and smiled.

"Alright slick, tell us what I did that's got your panties in a bunch," Sandy said calmly.

Jack looked around the table and then turned his paper placemat over. He reached into the small metal pail in the center of the table that held an assortment of crayons for the kiddies and proceeded to storyboard the Prince Vigo assault. He drew a like an engineer, neat and precise, and after a minute he spun the placemat around for us all to look at. He tapped the two smaller oval shapes labeled "P" for Pixie and "D" for Dixie. They were a couple of inches in front of the larger oval shape labeled "V" for Vigo.

"This is where the rudder meets the wave so to speak," he started, looking only at Sandy.

"It's all about timing gentlemen. There isn't any room for improvisation. If think you can't meet your mark in the script then pull the red handle and signal buster, it's as simple as that," he continued, never taking his eyes off of Sandy. I was starting to get worried again as Sandy was holding Jack's stare, neither of them blinked even once.

"The sky was clouding up dude, and you said we needed the full moon to operate the cloaking devices. You were taking too long so I decided to gun and run, I figured you'd follow my lead, which you did. So what's the problem?" Sandy said defensively.

"The problem Gilligan is that your hasty maneuver separated us giving the ship's radar operator two blips to track. One pod of porpoise wouldn't attract attention but two moving in different directions might have sent a spotter forward to see what was what. You could've tipped our hand and we would have boarded the Vigo met by half the ship's company. That would've been no bueno dude, no bueno!" replied Jack.

"Yeah well that didn't happen Jacko so quit you're bitchin," Sandy snapped, taking a long pull on his beer.

"That's only because the Vigo's scope dope was even less competent than you!"

I took the opportunity to intercede during a pregnant pause in their debate while Sandy was likely deciding exactly which of Jack's favorite bones he was going to break. I got up and leaned over the table to look at the diagram Jack had drawn. Grabbing one red crayon and one blue crayon from the pail I drew two lines from "P" & "D" simultaneously to "V" emphasizing the need to work together. I drew a red "x" portside and a blue "x" starboard and dropped the crayons for effect.

"Jack's right, we stick to the script, no exceptions," I said, tapping a finger on the table.

"Are we all on board with that?" I asked.

My question was met with scattered nods and grunts which I took as an affirmative. Sitting back down I grabbed my beer and a fistful of tortilla chips and noshed on the snack for a minute while the table remained silent, waiting out the tension. I washed down the last chip and continued the meeting.

“Alright then, Sandy you’re in charge of the strike team. Once we’re on board the cruise ship you and Roman get Randy and Papa to the Communications Room as quickly and as quietly as possible. Once you're in and have neutralized the technician on station, post yourselves outside and keep watch while they do their thing. Meanwhile, me and Wesley will secure the bridge. Remember, once we board we’ve got exactly 30 minutes to get in and out, no more, no less. After that we beat it back to Pixie and Dixie and jet off back to the slips in San Felipe where we'll stash the boats and split up, any questions?”

“Yeah, I have a couple,” Jack said, pausing when our waitress stopped by the table to check up on us. He took the menus and thanked her, asking for a few more minutes to decide. She smiled and moved on.

“We know Sandy, nice ass,” I said, speaking for the table. He snorted and gave me the finger.

“Alright Jack, what’s on your mind?”

Jack stared at Sandy while he spoke, “I just want to make two points. One, everyone needs to remember to stay below deck until we’re along side the vessel. Any shadows topside will fuck up the effect of the spinning mirrors and give us away. Two, We're leaving PRECISELY 30 minutes after you board the cruise ship, NO EXCEPTIONS!”

Sandy glared back at Jack and replied, “We got it Jacko, we ain’t kids on a field trip asswipe!” Sandy quipped.

Jack smiled, “So long as you know, 30 minutes exactly, remember, timing is everything.”

“He said we got it Jack, don’t push it man,” Roman added icily.

“Right, well if you boys are through figuring out whose got the bigger dick can we let Patrick finish,” Papa said tiredly. The table grumbled an affirmative and waited for me.

“Like I said, once you reach the Com Room Sandy pops the tear gas canister, then Randy and Papa will chloroform the techs inside. Your gas masks will shield your faces from the cameras. Remember, in and out, 15 minutes total once inside. Papa, you black out the camera while Randy routes the ship’s bank to our numbered account in the Caymans. Five minutes, alright guys?” The two of them nodded a reply, Randy snorting and Papa rolling his eyes.

The waitress reappeared suddenly, her order pad in hand. “OK boys, have you decided yet?” she asked. Roman ordered for us in Spanish while the rest of us sipped on our beers quietly.

“Corn or flour tortillas?” the girl asked as she finished taking our order.

“Surprise us,” Sandy said flirting. He tipped his baseball cap back with the business end of his longneck Corona. The waitress smiled and walked away.

“Classy,” Jack said sarcastically. Sandy started to reply but I cut him off by pushing the chips in front him.

“Let it go Sandy,” I said. Capitulating he bit into a chip as if he were tearing off a piece of jerky.

“The biggest unknown is the bridge crew. There’s five on duty at that time of night, and if our G-2 is accurate we’ll be boarding right after the change of watch, which means there will be at least 60 minutes before the XO makes his rounds. Is that about right Randy?” I asked our IT super-geek.

“Like clockwork on each of the five cruises your dad and I tagged along on,” he replied, Papa nodding in agreement.

“Still, that’s cutting it pretty close. Alright, last chance to abort, speak now or it's a go,” I said not expecting any answer.

The table was silent for a couple of minutes before Jack spoke. “I just want to say once more, for the record, that I think it’s a mistake going in unarmed. I mean what if something goes wrong?”

“Then we scurry like roaches, exiting stage left, like Snagglepuss!” Sandy answered curtly.

“I see,” Jack replied. “Well roaches get stepped on all the time ace, that’s all I’m saying.”

NO guns Jack, that’s the end of it! We’re not terrorists or gangsters, just idealists with a grudge. The only blood we’re after is old man Peck’s, and only his green corporate blood. And we’re taking that drop by freaking drop,” I said, cutting into their exchange before it could escalate.

Mercifully the food arrived in time to keep me off of my soapbox. We took turns making eye contact, a veritable ocular circle jerk as our waitress set several hot plates around the table. Months of preparation had culminated with the assault on Prince Vigo, which in spite of the rocky start had proven to be a huge success. The initial take filled the Cayman kitty handsomely, and the framework for the foundation was now in the capable hands of Grover Gateway. The implementation phase was already in motion. I held back a smile as I contemplated the arrogance of my break with God and the pride I was feeling for what we were doing and for how we were doing it. The G.A.W.D. foundation had already reached out to its first recipient and I wished I could have been there to witness it. But from now on Patrick Bouchard the blue collar welder would be taking a back seat to Jean-Luc Rojier the philanthropist, while the law chased after the Jack-o-Broken Hearts, the 21st Century Robin Hood.

The team busied themselves with their meals while I looked out the window at a clear blue sky. The moon would be full and high in the sky tonight, perfect conditions for Jack’s cloaking device. I stared at a single cloud forming on the horizon, and imagined Gabriel watching over us.

“Wish us luck little buddy, and hug mommy for me, even if she doesn't want one from me,” I muttered.

“We’ll need it!” my father added, winking at me from across the table.

LA General Hospital, Friday, June 24th…3:30pm

Linda Bradley was happy that little Katie Tate was returning to LA General to continue treatment, clinical trial or not. But she was suspicious about how the Tate’s had raised so much money. The sum they had prepaid the hospital (a deciding factor in reopening this case according to the board) was astronomical to say the least and possibly criminal to say the most. Did they rob a bank or what? She looked again at the copy of the cashier’s check and then again at the statement indicating that the check had cleared.

Amazing she thought. What was the Tate’s connection to Grover Gateway she wondered, and what about this new foundation? She studied the imprint on the check, Gateway Associates Worldwide Donations, curious? She chuckled recalling the day Elizabeth Andrews had burst into her office unannounced with Mrs. Tate in tow. They were both beyond excited, they were positively euphoric!

“Miss Bradley, you’re not going to believe this,” Anita Tate had shouted! She pulled an envelope from her purse and waived it frantically in front of Linda’s nose. Anita and Elizabeth Andrews squealed like two school girls, jumping up and down in the middle of her office.

“What's this?” Linda had asked loudly over the noise.

“It’s a gift from God, manna from Heaven Linda,” Lizzie had answered, handing over the envelope. Inside was the very cashier’s check that she was now staring at. It was a check from God alright, a huge check from G.A.W.D.

“Gateway Associates Worldwide Donations,” Linda read aloud. The irony made her smile.

Mysterious ways, I guess that old saying's true,” she mumbled, closing the file.

“Mysterious ways indeed,” she muttered as she turned in her chair to look out the window at a beautiful day.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

("A little bit wild but his style is really gentle and kind. He ain't so bad, right to the end he's a friend about the best you can find") Bread

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 Twenty-one

The Gateway Building, San Francisco California…June 26, 2005

The building looked every bit its age, rather impressive at first glance, but you didn’t have to look too closely before realizing that it had lost its luster decades ago. Actually, it was very much a reflection its owner, Grover Alexander Gateway, the old fossil! The man was a legend. A no-nonsense, self made billionaire, who had made his journalistic bones during the great crash, Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929, with his first publishing venture, a modest neighborhood circular he simply called The Bulletin. He broke into the print journalism business by taking advantage of the country’s desperate desire for blue skied hope and its yearning for distraction, any distraction. The Bulletin ran feel good stories about sports about the theater & cinema, about the famous, near famous and wanna be famous. They ran feel good pieces about the fireman who rescued your Aunt Biddy’s pussycat from the Chinese Elm over on Maple Street, stuff that made you smile and say awwww. It's a well known fact that in hard times people want to read about other people’s problems, especially if they are far far away, like in Europe for example. It made them feel lucky to be here instead of there. Does that make sense?

The old man started his first newspaper in the basement of a dilapidated three story walk up, not unlike this building, in NYC’s Hell’s Kitchen. To be honest, using the term newspaper was a bit of a stretch, as it was more of a neighborhood flyer. Grover wore all the hats, writer, editor, typesetter, printer, and delivery boy, a sole proprietor in every sense of the term. It was an eighteen hour a day job, seven days a week that net him a whopping twenty-five bucks a week after expenses. Not exactly a fortune and it wouldn’t make him rich, but by the standards of the day he was way ahead of most. In fact, within five years of that modest beginning Grover’s modest flyer would morph into a legitimate newspaper, growing out of the basement to include the first and second floors of that three story walk-up. The third floor was set aside as his personal residence, a ten room palace. It was a far cry from the single cot tucked into the corner behind his desk that he slept on in those early years, that is whenever he found time to sleep. Hard work, determination, intelligence, and a profoundly persistent nature (pest) were the cornerstones of his success.

One could argue that Grover Gateway invented the term networking, long before it was fashionable, and he used that talent to reach out, raise and revitalize a neighborhood, a community, and eventually an entire State. One experienced his passion through his words; felt his sincerity in his handshake, and believed in his visions of the future through his stories of hope. In five short years he had taken a single page flyer to a twenty page weekly with real plans for a full fledged daily newspaper with a circulation in the tens of thousands. He put people to work when there was no work; he invented jobs if he had to. Everyone had a right to earn a living he believed, and it was the responsibility of the fortunate to share with those less so. He may not have been able to offer much in compensation at first, but if you were willing to work hard he made sure you had a roof over your head and food in your belly. Grover believed in himself and in the human spirit. And he was convinced in the power of prayer which he practiced faithfully throughout his life.

Ten years after the crash Grover Gateway realized his dream launching The New York Sentinel on December the 7th, 1939. That date would become infamous a couple of years later, but at that moment in time it was a cause for celebration. The newspaper almost instantly generated a circulation of fifty thousand loyal New Yorkers and employed almost five hundred people. Grover personally hired every beat writer and very personally edited every edition. It was quite an operation and it was only the beginning. The contacts and friends he had made during the Great Depression as well as his service in World War Two had laid the foundation for the personal fortune he would amass in twenty short years, a fortune that made him a millionaire many times over. Shortly after the Korean Conflict he sold the Sentinel lock stock and barrel and starting a new chapter in his life, moving to San Francisco California to start his most ambitious endeavor to date, the San Francisco Globe on June 7th, 1954.

I stared up at the old brownstone on Mission Street from the front steps. It was several stories taller than the three story walk up that Grover had started his career in, twelve more steps to be exact. I found it strangely ironic that it looked like it was decaying brick by brick, much like its famous owner, who coincidentally was also decaying, cell by cell with bone cancer. That fact was a closely guarded secret, at least it was until my guy Randy Patel stumbled upon it on one of his phishing trips through The Globe's cyber back door, which brings me to the point of this Bay Area visit.

While planning our Robin-Hood-like scheme of robbing the rich and helping the poor we had come up with a jewel of an idea. Actually it was Papa who thought of it originally after a couple bottles of cheap Merlot, two-buck-Chuck specifically. Essentially, we needed a way to redistribute the loot we planned to acquire without drawing unwanted attention to ourselves by way of the FBI, SEC, or any other three letter law enforcement acronym. We decided a non-profit foundation would be a good cover, but how do five broke average Joes do that without raising a few eyebrows? How indeed?

Enter the great Grover Gateway and his philanthropic reputation. Perhaps a certain charismatic foreigner, me for instance, could approach him with an idea for starting a fund to provide the necessary funds for terminally ill children unable to afford the steep bills associated with care and treatments? So, enter a new player, Jean-Luc Rojier (his friends simply call him Luc), a relatively unknown microbiologist from an old money family in search for a cure for leukemia, and by the way my new alter ego. Good thing my parents had brought me up bi-lingual and I could manage a believable French accent. But how does an unknown foreigner get in to see someone like the great Grover Gateway? Well, perhaps with a little leverage, like knowledge of a little Gateway secret that needs to remain a secret (thanks Randy, our hired cyber-gun). And viola, today’s meeting with the media giant.

I walked up the fifteen concrete stairs (one for each floor I reckoned) and entered the old building. The inside was the complete opposite of the outside. The interior was modern and posh. I had expected to be confronted with a cacophony of floor to ceiling mahogany with cherry wainscoting. I also expected the furniture to be Victorian and the staff to be old school and proper. I couldn’t have been more wrong! Before the door closed behind me I was decked by a tidal wave of pure San Fran Nuevo-eclectic modernism. The reception desk was all glass, which explained why the woman behind it was wearing slacks. There was a digital message board above her head bidding welcome to all of the scheduled visitors, myself included. I paused a moment to watch red dots race by my eyes, spelling out my name and alter ego. “OK Jean Luc, you’re on,” I muttered as I walked up to check in with the receptionist.

“Bon jour. Messier Gateway s'il vous plait,” I said, laying the accent on a little thick. Note to self, cool it Luc!

The receptionist, a young girl in her twenties I’d say, looked up from the flat screen she was gazing at and smiled. “May I help you,” she asked in a voice huskier than I expected. The sound didn’t seem to fit the source. I mean she had a voice that had to have been altered by a mixture of late nights, cigarettes and whiskey. It was the husky voice of a woman twice her age, someone who’d been around. It didn’t matter, hell, she was cute! I answered her, careful to throttle back on the accent this time.

“Luc Rojier for Messier Gateway, I believe I am expected,” I said politely.

“Of course, let me ring his office for you, just a sec,” she replied. I smiled, glancing down at the name on her desk moniker. “Merci, Miss Chang.”

She smiled back, touched the keyboard in front off her and spoke softly into the headset that she was wearing. I didn’t have to hear the conversation to know that she was sharing her first impression of me with whoever was on the other end of the line. While she waited for instructions I took the opportunity to notice every little thing about her. She was stylishly dressed in gray Armani slacks and a charcoal cashmere sweater. I let my eyes drop and peeked through the glass desktop, her shoes were Italian and easily the most expensive part of her outfit. What is it with women and shoes anyways? She crossed her legs and I looked up in time to be met with a come hither stare that made Patrick Bouchard uncomfortable and Jean Luc Rojier hot to trot, God forgive me!

“See something you like Messier?” she asked coyly.

Pardon me please, this is my first experience with see-through furniture,” I replied without flinching.

“You’re cute,” she said with a grin, pointing over her shoulder at the row of elevators behind her.

“Just take the lift to the fifteenth floor executive offices. Mr. Gateway’s private secretary will meet you and escort you to your meeting. Have a nice day,” she said dismissing me, returning to whatever it was that she was doing before I had arrived. I wasn’t sure whether or not I’d just been shut down, so I didn’t bother with a snappy reply and walked off to ride the lift to meet with the man.

San Francisco Globe, Office of the President and CEO

Gateway’s personal and private secretary met me as soon as the doors opened. He wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. By that I mean he wasn’t a her. Nevertheless, I smiled and extended my hand and was met with a firm handshake and a cordial hello. He introduced himself as Jerome Longfellow, and bid me a business-like welcome, motioning for me to follow him. We walked briskly toward a set of double doors made of thick glass etched with the paper’s moniker in a New Times Roman font. Mr. Longfellow’s desk was immediately visible once inside. Directly behind his desk was a huge glass wall through which I could see Grover Gateway working at his desk. The old man was obviously someone comfortable living in the light. That said a lot about him as a man. Such self confidence and would tend to make most visitors defensive meeting inside so open an environment.

These were my first thoughts as I approached the man we needed to recruit as a willing partner in our proposed foundation, as well as an unwitting accomplice in our overall scheme. Such a man did not get where he was by being a pushover. Suddenly I was very nervous and I had about ten seconds to snap out of it as Mr. Longfellow tapped on the glass to announce my arrival. The door opened automatically indicating that Grover was in control of who entered and exited. I made a mental note of that, and swallowed the tiny bit of bile that had worked its way from my stomach to my throat. So that’s where that old saying came from, the one about “your heart jumping into your throat.”

“Excuse me sir, Messier Rojier is here for your one o’clock,” announced Mr. Longfellow.

“Come in, come in,” Grover said smiling, removing his specs, gesturing me toward a seat in front of his desk.

I left Jerome Longfellow at the door and walked up confidently to introduce myself to the great man…Showtime! Reaching Grover’s desk in three confident strides I extended my hand. He stood and reached across his desk rather than come around to meet me halfway. That was interesting and I took note of it, the second note in less than a minute. It told me that he was more private than the open environment insinuated. Of course he would be, all powerful men, and women for that matter, had secrets that needed to remain secrets in order to remain powerful. This was definitely going to be harder than I had imagined.

“Messier Rojier, a pleasure to meet you sir,” Gateway began, pointing at a pair of soft leather chairs for me to choose from.

“Merci, the pleasure is mine I assure you,” I replied, choosing the chair on my right and his left. We sat down simultaneously and settled into our chairs and our individual meeting postures respectively. Grover leaned back and laced his fingers together, holding them in front of his chest, gently tapping his thumbs together. I did likewise except I left my hands in my lap, a classic opening move in the chess match that was face to face negotiations.

“Well, what can I do for you sir?” Grover asked, getting right to the point.

I paused before answering in an attempt to set my own pace. I reached into my inside coat pocket and retrieved a white envelope and a pair of reading glasses. I didn’t need the glasses, I just thought that they made me look more like the successful philanthropic business executive I was pretending to be. I did however need the envelope containing the introduction and the bona fides that would make the story I was about to spin believable.

“You’re a busy man Mr. Gateway so I’ll get straight to the point,” I began.

“Thank you,” he replied.

“A mutual friend suggested that I introduce myself and my plans for a non-profit foundation dedicated to providing funds for children listed as terminal and denied treatment because of limited insurance coverage or lack thereof,” I explained, placing the envelope onto his desk top.

Grover cleared his throat and reached for the envelope. I could not tell by the look on his face whether he was irritated or just cautious, so I just smiled, mentally crossing my fingers as I waited for his response. He put his specs back on and opened the envelope. I watched his eyes move from left to right as he read the words on the page. I thought I saw a twinkle in his eye and a faint smile appear then disappear on his face as he read. He held onto the letter long enough to read it two or three times and finally set it back down onto his desk. He looked at me for a minute and then cleared his throat again.

“Are you a drinking man Messier?” he asked reaching for his telephone.

“Pardon?” I replied, caught off guard.

“I’m offering you a drink Jean-Luc, would you like a drink?”

“Luc, please call me Luc, and yes, a scotch would be nice.”

“Good man, I don't trust a man who doesn't drink, it's not natural,” he said, ordering the refreshments from Mr. Longfellow on the other end of the telephone line. He hung up and leaned forward, folding his arms and resting his elbows on the glass desk in front of him.

“Tell me, what is your relationship with Alma Donnelly, and how did you happen to meet?” he asked, his expression and body language wary.

This was the first test, where the intelligence rubber met the operational road if you will. Thank God for good planning. More specifically, thank God for our cyber savant teammate Randy Patel. He had hacked and surfed his way through the Internet labyrinth and uncovered a boatload of inside information on Grover Gateway, more than enough to support a believable cover as Jean-Luc Rojier. The key bit of intelligence turned out to be Grover’s connection to a Catholic priest who had been murdered back in the 1970’s in central California. Father William Willet had been gunned down along with a County Sheriff named Cardwell at a party celebrating the 50th wedding anniversary of wealthy well to do ranchers Arthur and Alma Donnelly, near Fresno California.

Gateway and the priest had been long time friends, having met in the mid 1950s, his newspaper being a large contributor to Father Willet missionary causes in Southeast Asia. The two men were simpatico from the get go according to Randy’s sources, and, they had a mutual friend in Arthur Donnelly. The California rancher and his wife Alma were also key contributors to Father Willet’s causes. The curious trio’s mutual friendship grew over the years at social occasions and fund raisers in and around San Francisco Bay area.

Arthur and William Willet (Father Billy) had been boyhood friends, growing up in the same NYC neighborhood, the two of them separated by life’s circumstances shortly after high school. The connection with Grover Gateway came years later after fate brought them all together by way of the Korean War, Arthur fighting it, Grover covering it, and Father Willet protesting it. As individuals they couldn’t have been more different, and yet they shared one overwhelming characteristic, compassion. During our research, when we were connecting the dots we suspected their compassionate tendencies were at the center of whatever had led them to that fateful night. Whatever the circumstances, the two surviving friends had remained mum on the subject.

All Randy could ferret out about that night was that a mentally disturbed kid had crashed the party and started shooting. There had been some talk about a girl, identity unknown, that was a curious angle; possibly it had been a botched murder suicide attempt, who knows? Whoever she was she just up and disappeared, while a houseful of witnesses suffered mass amnesia. As a result the angle was never pursued. The priest and the sheriff had been shot trying to intervene, proof that no good deed ever goes unpunished. Nevertheless, as far as I was concerned, compassion was my angle for pitching Gateway, and Alma Donnelley was the invitation into his inner circle.

Grover had outlived his buddy Arthur in spite of being fifteen years his senior, and he and Alma had remained close friends after Arthur’s death. Knowing that, we arranged for Jean Luc Rojier to bump into Alma Donnelly at a fund raiser for the Make a Wish foundation in San Francisco a couple of weeks back. There I made a highly visible donation of considerable size (spoils of the maiden run on the Prince Vigo, score one for the good guys), putting me on the “A” list for the event. I was invited to sit at the host’s table at dinner, my alter ego’s coming out, and I took the opportunity to turn on the charm. Monica always said I was a piece of work, oh man how I miss her! Be that as it may, I used that opportunity to gain her trust by dropping Grover Gateway’s name. She was only too anxious to offer an introduction after hearing my pitch about my plans for a non-profit organization supporting those who could not afford a chance to out-live the death sentences handed down by the greed driven medical mega-businesses known as health management organizations or HMOs.

Apparently Alma had some experiences with these operations; having supported protests by indigent farm laborers denied coverage due to their immigration status. Sure, these people were here illegally, but they were working, they were spending in the community and they paid their bills, what was the harm of providing a policy to someone willing and able to pay for it? They may not be on the tax rolls, they may be flying under the radar, but they weren’t exactly making a fortune doing work most Americans didn't want anyway. Collecting their pennies in taxes by forcing a green card onto them would not offset the billions lost in the bureaucratic quagmire that is the California government. Why the haves worry so much about the have-nots has always bewildered me.

I understand the burden that the wave of illegal immigrants place on our social systems (schools, hospitals, welfare), and I pray for a compromise that might reduce that burden by helping people to comply willingly. Fear is a great motivator, the dark part of every black hole, and the root cause of every misguided policy. Nobody wants to lose what they’ve worked hard for and everyone wants a chance to succeed. Surely there's a way, maybe that will be my next cause, but only after I keep my promise to Gabby and Monica. No more suffering children, no more!

“I only recently met Mrs. Donnelley, at a benefit for the Make a Wish Foundation, where I had the pleasure of joining her and several of her well to do friends at dinner, a delightful woman, and quite passionate about her causes as you well know. I was quite impressed by her desire to share her good fortune with others,” I answered.

“I see, well you seem to have made quite an impression on her as well, and Alma isn’t one to gush over a stranger! Apparently she has become a fan of yours,” Grover said with a smirk. He leaned back in his chair and bellowed.

“JEROME, where’s the goddamn scotch!”

The door swished open and Jerome Longfellow strode in quickly but gracefully. He silently placed a tray holding a crystal decanter, two heavy old-fashion tumblers, and a small bucket of ice on the desk in front of his boss.
“Will there be anything else sir?” he asked.

“No, that’ll be all, thank you,” Gateway answered without making eye contact.

“Very good sir,” replied Jerome, turning to leave.

“Sorry for bellowing, no offense,” Grover added, reaching for the decanter.

“None taken,” Jerome said as he walked out of the room.

“How do you take your poison, water, ice or neat,” Gateway asked?

“Neat,” I replied.

“Neat it is, here you go,” he said, handing me a tumbler with two fingers of thirty year-old scotch.

“As I was saying, Alma Donnelley isn’t a woman who is easily impressed. Frankly that makes me suspicious of you Luc,” Grover said, sipping his drink.

“It makes me wonder what’s really up your sleeve.”

“I beg your pardon?” I replied.

“Come now, we’re men of the world, what are you trying to finagle here?”

“I appreciate your cut to the chase methods messier Gateway. I am much the same way, it saves a lot of time, no?”

“It does, and so?”

“And so, what I shared with Alma was my desire to create an organization that provided hope for the hopeless. Something more than granting wishes, a group that could provide real help, instead of trips to amusement parks to ride roller coasters or superficial meetings with celebrities pretending to care.”

“I’m not following you?”

“Mr. Gateway, may I call you Grover?”

“I’ll let you know after I hear the rest.”

“Fair enough, rest assured that I am not here soliciting donations, I don’t need your money. On the contrary, I am quite wealthy in my own right. To be honest, I’m bored, and I’ve reached a point in life where I realize that life is short and that the true measure of a man is the legacy he leaves behind. After all, in Heaven or Hell all we’ll have is who we were and who we are. People like you and I don’t have to worry about money; our wealth is old and immortal, money works for us, not the other way around. I on the other hand am quite mortal, and quite ill as well I’m afraid.”

“I’m sorry to hear that messier,” Grover said sincerely.

Waiving him off I continued, “Please, save your pity, that‘s not why I’m here.”

“No offense,” Grover added.

“None taken,” I answered.

“I came here to meet a honest man. Someone I can trust with my vision, someone who could carry on after I’m gone.”

“I’m not following you?”

“I believe you to be such a man Grover. I've studied your life and your tremendous accomplishments. I admire the way you have lived your life. And most importantly, I am impressed with the people you have surrounded yourself with. The family that you have cared for, loved, nurtured, and passed your values onto. That is the bedrock upon which I would like to build my foundation. Like Peter in scripture, I would like you to be my rock.”

I studied Grover’s face while he contemplated what I had said. His eyes betrayed his stone-faced expression. He may have been staring directly at me but his mind was a million miles away processing data, forming an impression of my pitch and of me. His manner mimicked scripture. He was quick to listen and slow to speak. We maintained eye contact for a long time, two or three minutes easily before he even twitched. He reached for the decanter and refilled his glass. He looked my way and silently asked with his expression if I cared for another drink. I frowned and shook my head, indicating that I did not. He returned the thick stopper to the top of the crystal decanter and slowly sipped his drink.

“So, you think you’ve found an honest man do you?” he asked with a wry grin.

“Haven’t I?”

“Honest is a word I place in the same category as always and never, dangerous terms that should be used at one’s own risk. It’s been my experience messier that nobody is ever completely honest, myself included!”

“Granted, and that confession only strengthens my opinion of you.”

“I see, well, that being said may I continue?” asked Grover.

“Of course,” I replied.

“This foundation you spoke to Alma about, it's a non-profit organization correct?”


“And you are advocating its primary function would be to allocate your wealth to seriously ill children who cannot afford treatment, correct?”

“Yes, essentially, my wealth and anyone else who wishes to join me in the cause,” I explained.

“Like me for instance?”

“If you wish, but it’s not a prerequisite to your participation.”

“What about Alma Donnelley?”

“What about her?”

“What are you expecting from her?”

“Nothing messier, she is free to do as she pleases.”

“So what do you need me for?”

“I wish to remain anonymous. I don’t want my life or death to be a public event. You see I prefer that the foundation be the story, not the man who founded it.”

“I see, and you’re asking me to be a focal point?”

“Yes, you’re already a public figure of some celebrity, with a media armada that can shield me from the limelight, a skill which you have some recent experience with, no?”

"What are you insinuating?" he asked.

"The Angel of the Valley of course," I replied, playing the ace in the hole that Randy's phishing trip had provided.

Grover stared at me with a blank expression that betrayed him. He was too smart to pursue the issue without finding out everything I knew and how I came to know it. We spared in silence, studying each other as we looked for a weakness. We were both too good to trip up. His strength came from his vast experience and mine coming from superior preparation and a singular purpose, to keep my promises. We declared a silent truce with our eyes and he continued.

“So what exactly would be your involvement?”

“I will provide the money, simple as that. We create the foundation, something that is associated with you, and we set up an organization that sees to the needs of these children. It seems simple enough, no?”

“Nothing's ever simple! For instance, how would the children be chosen, how would the money be dispersed, what are the ramifications of setting up a global enterprise like this?”

“I’m afraid I do not know all the answers messier. What I do know is that you are more than capable to carry this out, and, that after meeting you I can say honestly that I trust you, completely.”

"There's that word again," Grover said with a sly grin.

"Touché," I replied.

“There is a great deal to consider Luc. I hope you don’t think me rude if I ask for some time to consider your proposition?”

“Of course, please take your time.”

“How can I reach you?”

I reached into my coat and retrieved a small business card. “Call this number anytime,” I answered.

Grover took the card and studied it, glancing at me as he did so. He set the card on his desk and stood, indicating that the meeting was over. I took his hand in both of mine, giving it a firm and hearty shake.

“It was a great pleasure meeting you messier. Please convey to Mrs. Donnelley my gratitude for arranging this.”

“Enjoyed meeting you myself Luc, and I will send your regards to Alma when I see her next.”

I released his hand and turned to let myself out, stopping slowly when he called out to me once more. His tone was authoritative, almost stern, as if he were about to lecture me or worse. I prepared myself for the worse.
“I hope you don’t turn out to be too good to be true Jean-Luc,” he said, studying me with a furrowed brow.

“I’m certain that you’ll be satisfied after your investigation Messier Gateway. Au revoir!” I replied confidently.

Grover Gateway sat down behind his desk and pushed my business card around with his fountain pen. He picked it up and read the two lines over again, just a name and telephone number. Not a lot to go on he thought, but his security group was pretty resourceful, they would shine plenty of light on this young fella. He turned the card over and stared at the blank backside. In a sudden inspiration he uncapped his pen and scribbled something on the back. He picked it up and smiled at what he wrote. In his shaky handwriting he had already decided on a name for the foundation, Gateway Associates Worldwide Donations, G.A.W.D. He put the card in his shirt pocket, chuckling at the play on words and admiring his wit. Maybe this could work? Besides, who could resist playing God anyway?

Monday, May 16, 2011

("People don't know the difference no more between right and wrong. Gonna to be a cold dark night when the creeper comes along")Molly Hatchet

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 Twenty

Cabrillo Marina, San Pedro California…Saturday, April 16, 2005…1am

Jack waived to Sandy from the helm of assault boat number one, affectionately dubbed Pixie as he piloted half the team back into the marina. Sandy gave him a two fingered salute from the helm of Dixie, also known as assault boat number two. The practice run could not have gone any smoother! It was 180 degrees of the previous try that almost got us busted or worse. Everything went according to plan, even Jack's cloaking device, which was a pleasant surprise to all of us, let me tell you! Randy, Wesley, and Roman had arrived exactly on time with the mirrors with my Pop in tow. We off loaded the equipment in less than 30 minutes allowing us to put to sea on time as the sun sank into the ocean.

The only element we were not in control of was the weather, but lo and behold, the clouds parted as if following a script and the full moon started its rise. Five miles off sore on calm seas we reduced our speed to 2 knots while the mirrors were installed and positioned. Jack supervised the Pixie and Papa manned the installation on board Dixie. By 2100 hours we were ready to take Jack's brainchild from the drawing board to the proving ground, skipping the qualification phase and going straight to implementation. Each team went below decks while Jack and Sandy remained at the helm of each craft respectively. Pixie went first, increasing speed steadily, leaving Dixie behind in its wake heading due east until it was a dot on the horizon. Jack's voice squawked over the radio letting us know that he was starting his run.

The plan was to run hot straight and normal just like a torpedo right at Dixie with the device engaged, going all stop and running silent at some point before reaching us. If everything worked as planned they would glide right by us unseen and unheard. Sandy remained topside with a powerful pair of binoculars while Papa and I stayed below deck to scan the surface for Pixie's arrival, my dad on the port side and me starboard. In the simulations Jack explained how the spinning mirrors would use the moonlight to reflect the ocean surface onto the benign coloring of each assault boat so that in theory at a reduced speed and on a silent run all anyone would see is water, and even if the sonar picked up their approach they would pass for a pod of porpoises or a whale swimming by the larger ocean liner. That was the theory and it looked good on Jack's Apple laptop but would it work? Even I was skeptical, hopeful, but skeptical.

Papa and I each had stop watches and we had started them on Jack's mark, estimating his speed and distance to his expected arrival. We knew relatively how far he had ventured, roughly a mile and a half. We had to guess at his speed though, that was the random element. We figured he'd cut the engines about three hundred yards before reaching us. The rules of engagement were that he had to come straight at us and then drift by one side or the other. If we saw him then the mission would be buster and we'd go back to the drawing board. If he somehow snuck by us then the mission was a go and we'd cruise out to the shipping lanes to play tag you're it with one of Peck's smaller vessels, the Princess Margret steaming toward Ensenada. I looked across the salon at Papa and pointed at the stopwatch in my hand. He nodded and held up two fingers. By his calculations Pixie should be on us in two minutes, give or take a couple of seconds. We both placed our binoculars up to our eyes and scanned the surface for signs of its approach. Part of me wanted to catch the arrogant little shit, it's a guy thing I guess, we're all born competitive. But most of me was hoping for nothing but dark through the lenses.

"Hey, you guys see anything yet?" Sandy hollered from topside.

"Shut up dumb ass! Just keep your eyes straight ahead, he should be on us in a minute or so," I shouted in a harsh whisper.

I counted down the seconds silently as the one minute mark came. Sixty seconds give or take I thought, straining my eyes as I scanned the surface for any evidence of a passing vessel. Thirty seconds now, and my eyes were aching from the pressure I was placing on them as I pushed the binoculars further into my head. At ten seconds I started an audible count down, ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one…nothing? Papa started a negative countdown right after, minus 1, minus 2, minus 3, minus 4, minus 5, minus 6, minus 7, minus 8, minus 9, minus 10…still nothing? We looked at each other then raced up the steps topside.

"What did you see Sandy?" I asked spinning 360 degrees in the cool night air looking for a sign of Pixie.

"I didn't see nothin and I didn't hear nothin. Maybe he broke down?" Sandy replied.

I was about to say something sarcastic when the silence was broken abruptly by the revving of Pixie's twin Mercs. It rushed at us from about 100 yards aft of our position and pulled up along our starboard side. Jack had a shit eating grin going from ear to ear. Hell, so did Randy, Wesley and Roman for that matter as they tossed us a line to tie off beside us. The Dixie crew stood speechless while the Pixie team whooped and hollered. The damn thing worked beyond anyone's expectations, even Jack seemed surprised at how well his invention performed. He looked like a six year-old winning a blue ribbon at the school science fair.

"Can you believe it?" he asked rhetorically.

"Are we ready for the main event then?" I asked everyone at once.

"Let's kick this pig!" shouted Sandy.

The run on the Princess Margret was as successful as Pixie's maiden run at Dixie. We took positions at three nautical miles ahead of the large ocean liner and waited for Jack's signal. Pixie was on point with Dixie 100 yards astern. At exactly 11pm we started our run reaching 45 mph on the choppy surface, and engaged the cloaking devices two nautical miles from the target. At 500 yards we cut the engines and split up, Pixie taking the starboard side and Dixie taking the port side. As the vessel approached we started the engines, pulled along side and tagged each side of Peck's ocean liner with a volley of paintballs and then disappeared into the ships wake. They never saw us coming, they never saw us leave.

The run was perfect! The plan was no longer plausible it was now possible. A few more practice runs and we'd be ready to take on the Prince Vigo. It was time for phase two, setting up the ghost organization that all of the loot would flow through to those who needed it most. For the first time I allowed myself to breathe. For the first time I felt confident that I could keep my promise to my family. That felt good, I hadn't felt good in a long time.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

("There is someone you ought to meet, it's me Mr. Incomplete. For it's due to the lack of you that I'm now only half of two.")…Bread…1973

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 Nineteen

Cabrillo Marina, San Pedro California…Friday, April 15, 2005

At first glance the two cigarette boats moored at slips 27 & 29 were nothing special, that is to say they weren’t flashy beyond the obvious display of raw power by way of the twin 550HP MerCrusier 575 SCI stern drive engines. Their chrome superchargers glistened in the sunlight, temporarily exposed by the open compartment where Sandy had been wrenching away on them for most of the morning. They were an awesome sight even to an untrained eye. Each craft was painted a dull and boring off-white color with nary a marking save the registration number stenciled aft on the starboard side of the vessel The bland paint job was important for two reasons, one, it didn't draw unwanted attention from passersby, and two, it's what the professor (Jack O'Shea) ordered. The dull coloring combined with spinning mirrors and a full moon were the key components to his cloaking concept. It was pretty simple really and we'd all received a layman's education on stealth technology courtesy Professor Jack.

Perched on the aft running board of the boat in slip 27 was a rather peckish looking pelican taking a break from its lunch hunt? The grand sea bird was colored as plainly as the boat it was trespassing on. Spotted in unimpressive shades of grays and browns it was virtually invisible to its prey below the surface, an interesting testament to God's sense of purpose and His prowess as the ultimate engineer of all things great and small. The poor thing seemed content to wait its turn before stretching its huge wings and taking flight again. Once airborne it would circle the water slowly until it locked onto an unsuspecting mackerel or corbina, and then drop out of the sky like a dive bomber to scoop up its meal, swallowing it whole before returning to its perch.

Sandy popped up from behind the starboard engine, groaning audibly, his aching knees creaking from the stress of bearing all of his weight while he installed the new fuel lines to the twin inboards. He reckoned that the silly looking beast had been there long enough. As far as Sandy was concerned the freeloader had worn out its welcome, and it was time to check out! He picked up the beach towel that he'd been kneeling on beside the engine bay, gave it a twist and snapped at the lazy fowl. It squawked loudly, appearing more annoyed then scared and flew off to find a new resting place.

“Good riddance bitch!” Sandy hollered, grabbing the long neck Budweiser next to his tool box and chugging the last few swallows.

“Ahhhhhh, waste not, want not I always say,” he muttered, belching loudly.

“You’re a class act sailorman,” quipped Jack O’Shea, stealthily arriving late.

“It’s about time egghead, you're late, again! I’ve been tweaking these motors all by my lonesome for better than three hours by my Timex,” Sandy bellowed, belching once more for Jack’s benefit.

He was just wasting his breath because Jack never paid any attention to him anyway. As far as that egghead was concerned Sandy was just another tool in the box on this operation, and a rusty one at that. The arrogant brainiac jumped down from the dock onto the deck and started walking back toward the open engine compartment. He paused suddenly, changing direction a millisecond later and headed for the bridge instead to check out the mounting fixture that Papa had installed earlier in the week. The mirrors were the lynchpins for the entire operation and their placement was critical. They were what made cloaking possible. Jack had left very detailed instructions as to the installation of the mounting plates and fixtures. He and my dad spoke the same language, master technician to brilliant engineer, and had come to respect one another, professionally anyway. Personally Papa was still a softhearted idealist while Jack O'Shea was still an arrogant son-of-a-bitch! Jack twisted his wrist to check the time. He was one of those backward types who wore his wristwatch facedown.

Apparently he'd fallen for the old "pardon me but do you have the time" joke more than once as a kid. You know that old joke where some smart ass waits until you have a cup of something in your hand and then asks for the time. If you wore your watch face up like most people do you'd wind up with a shirt full of whatever it was you were drinking. If you were smart, or had learned your lesson after getting burned a few times like Jack, you reversed your watch and wore it facedown so that the next time some little shit asked the time, they would be the ones getting doused instead. Don't believe me? Next time you're at a Best Buy check out how the Geek Squad wears their wrist watches.

Anyway, Jack turned to show Sandy his watch, pointing at the time and then giving him the finger in response to the "you're late" comment. It was almost four o’clock; there were still a couple hours before dusk. Randy Patel and the Aussie, his name escaped Jack for the moment, were binging the mirrors at six thirty. That gave them just enough time to offload the equipment and slip out of the harbor after sunset and install the mirrors offshore and out of sight. The trial run was scheduled for moonrise. You'd never know it to look at him, but Jack pretty was excited about the possibilities. The team had been working hard for weeks just for this moment. Papa had taken the lead while I dealt with the details of Monica's death, but tonight I'd catch up and get back on board with my crew.

Jack had actually thought the whole operation would fold after the cops showed up at my doorstep. Truth be told the thought had crossed my mind more than once as well in the days afterward. This time however I had someplace to channel the shock and anger, and this latest development in the train wreck that had become my life had only strengthened our resolve. Why? Because once again, LA General's clueless board of directors had allowed policy and procedure to take precedence over mercy and kindness, once again opting to be right instead of do right. On that fateful night, while the cops were rushing me to where they thought my wife was being treated, the geniuses at LA General were busy rerouting Monica to a different hospital, one that accepted our insurance coverage, one twenty-nine miles further north in the San Fernando Valley.

It seems that our "Citizen's Insurance" policy had been decimated after Gabriel's death and we had exceeded the coverage limits. Since this was an emergency situation Hospital Admissions was directed to default to Medi-Cal and reroute Monica accordingly. She coded in route, arriving DOA at Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys at the same time I was arriving at LA General. That night I parted company with the love of my life as well as God Almighty. From now on I was on my own, reborn, recommitted, and resolved to keep my promises to Gabby, to Monica, and to myself.

Tonight’s test run would be the tale of the tape. If Jack’s contraption worked like he said it would, we'd do a dry run in Mexican waters in a few weeks. That's where we planned to intercept and board one of Peck's ocean liners under way from San Diego, tag the bridge, then get off and back without being detected. We'd do that several times over the next few weeks before making the virgin run in June on Peck's west coast flagship the Prince Vigo in route to Cabo San Lucas. We'd need a perfect score before I gave the green light this time. Short of tattooing it on everyone we were going to live by the old adage, practice makes perfect.

“Hey, Jackson, don’t accidently on purpose turn that ignition switch while I’m wrenching on these engines, capise, melon brain!” Sandy hollered.

Jack looked over his shoulder and scowled back at Sandy, nodding a half-hearted acknowledgement. He returned his attention to the mounting fixtures and muttered, "Looks good, looks real good."

LA General Hospital, Los Angeles California... Monday, April 18, 2005…8am

Linda Bradley hung up the phone and returned to the file she had been reviewing for the last half hour. Setting the file aside she reached for her mail. She always went through the mail before her first meeting of the day. It was the usual stack of this and that and she plowed through it routinely. The last envelope to open was a little unusual though, it was hand written without a return address. Hand written items were rare these days she thought? She checked the postal stamp; it was foreign, from Mazatlan, Mexico. Curious she thought? Derek was usually pretty efficient about weeding out the spam from her morning mail, so this wasn't likely to be a travel brochure? And as far as she knew neither she nor the hospital had any business from that part of the world? She hesitated for a moment before picking up the letter opener, pausing to turn the curious envelope around several times, inspecting it closely. You can never be too careful these days. She held it in the palm of her hand and tried to guess the weight. She even sniffed it to see if she could detect anything out of the ordinary. Finally, convinced that it wasn’t going to explode, she zipped it open with a slender letter opener. Linda pulled out a single sheet of college ruled notebook paper and unfolded it. She leaned back in her chair and softly read it aloud:

Greetings and salutations rat bastards! Fair warning, you’re about to answer for your sins. Consider this class action pay back for every death sentence you’ve handed down in the name of good business and gross margins. There'll be no blood spilled, but trust me, you will bleed, in fact, you'll hemorrhage. So, thanks in advance you jackals.

The Jack-o-Broken Hearts.

Linda read it again, in fact she read it several times and then opened the envelope wide to check inside again. Sure enough, there was a red Bicycle playing card she had missed the first time. It was the Jack of Hearts with a dark jagged line dividing the ruby red heart into two halves. She picked up the envelope and studied it again, no name, just the hospital's address. Linda snorted a nervous chuckle and started to toss it into the circular file, dismissing it as a prank. But something made her stop, maybe it was curiosity, maybe it was common sense, whatever it was she decided to hang onto it. She'd hand it over to Ray Evans in security after lunch, let him decide if it's worth worrying about, that's his job, right? Anyway, what's was the rush? For now she’d just file it under C for “crazy.” Linda switched off the green librarian's lamp on her desk as the morning sun brightened the room. She opened her Franklin Planner and reviewed her schedule. It was almost nine o'clock and Derek would be barging in any minute with her first cup of coffee of the day.

"Takes all kinds I guess,” she muttered, adjusting her glasses and turning the page to peek ahead at tomorrow.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Happy Mother's Day-Anh yêu em Tuyet........Tôi yêu con gái KaSandra & Katrina -Tôi thương con trai của bố Luc

Okay, I'm taking a wee break from Gabriel's Promise today. Honestly, I meant to post chapter 19 this evening, and I was nearly complete with it until I got sidetracked while at this rabbit hole (Starbucks) where I write every night. Usually I tune everyone out when I'm working but there was this little girl who sat across from me with her parents who kept trying to get my attention. I just smiled politely and kept right on working. Eventually she walked up to me and asked me about the bracelet on my wrist. I told her that it was a gift from someone special in my life. She said oh, and seemed satisfied for the moment, returning to her seat.

A couple of minutes later she walked over again and asked if I wanted to hear the song she was practicing for her recital this weekend. I took off my glasses and said sure, smiling at her parents. She went back to her chair and pulled a tape recorder from her backpack and then returned to stand in front of me. She pushed the button and the music started, it sounded familiar. Then she started to sing:

"I'm a big big girl in a big big world..."

I started to cry, I couldn't help myself and I couldn't stop. I got up and went outside to compose myself. After about 10 minutes the family came out and asked if I was alright. I told them I was and apologized for my behavior and assured them it had nothing to do with their daughter. I told them that the song had a special meaning for me. We shook hands and they started to leave and I started to go back inside. Before I took two steps the little girl ran up to me and tugged at my shirt. She told me her name was Dana and asked if I needed a hug. Her parents were smiling and nodding their approval. I knelt down and let the child hug me. In my ear she asked, "is this how she used to hug you?" I choked out a reply, "yes."

"Good! That's from her," she said with a smile.

She turned, ran back to her parents and a moment later they were gone. After that I really couldn't concentrate on chapter 19 anymore, my mind was wandering for several reasons. Overhead the coffee shop was playing a David Gates tune, Aubrey, and my brain went to work rewriting the lyric to his beautiful melody. I hope he'll foregive me for this, so here's how I closed out the evening:

KaSandra was her name
A not so very ordinary girl or name
No one's to blame
For the life that never bloomed
For the heart that left us way too soon
How she loved her melodies, I'd smile when she would sing
Practicing her tunes each night I loved to watch her dream…

KaSandra was her name
She laughed and joked and carried on so just the same
Spirit so strong
No she never made a sound
If she did there was no one around
Maybe I was absent or was standing in the hall
When we were together all she showed me was her love…

But God I miss the girl
And I'd go a thousand times around the world just to be
Closer to her than to me…

KaSandra was her name
I hardly knew her but I loved her just the same
I loved her name
Wish that I could find a way
Of trading places and to make her stay
Now I have to lead a life apart from all the rest
Separated from my loves I'll do without the best…

But how I miss the girl
And I'd go a million times around the world just to hear
Her say in my ear, love you more

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

("Dear lady, can you hear the wind blow and did you know. Your stairway lies upon the whispering wind?")…Led Zeppelin…Stairway to Heaven

(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 Eighteen

Casa Bouchard, Long Beach California…Friday, March 25, 2005…8pm

I glanced at my watch while Sandy passed out the last of the beer. Monica should have come home days ago. She'd run home to mother a couple of times in our marriage, once when she thought I was romancing the skipper's secretary, Dana Walters, which of course I wasn't. We both had a big laugh over that one when the "romance" she was worried about turned out to be a "bro-mance." I'd been hanging out with Dana alright, Dana Webber the company dive master. He and I had caught football fever in August of 2001, and were spending more time together then we probably should have managing our team in the fantasy league we had joined. It was the first time for both of us and it turns out those darn things are freaking complicated! The other time was right after she miscarried and we lost the baby. That time wasn't so funny.

Both times however she packed light and left a runaway note just like this time, but she always surfaced after a week or so. This time was different. This note was different. Before, even when she was gone I could still feel her presence around the house, like she was my shadow. Before, each note she left was written with love. This time the house felt empty and all I felt was alone. This time her note was lifeless, cold as the grave. That just wasn't like her; that went against her grain, against the loving woman I knew her to be. That wasn't the woman I had trusted with my heart, who I pledged my love to.

This time, uncharacteristically, I tried to check up on her, but her mother wasn't answering the phone and when I went by nobody was home. That wasn't unusual, her parents liked to take weekend getaways and go exploring in their Winnebago. They'd just throw a dart at the map of California and head 100 or 200 miles in whatever direction it landed. Monica could just be on a junket with mom and dad. Still, I was officially worried; and it was beginning to affect my ability to concentrate on the tasks at hand.

With one ear I listened to Jack O'Shea, the wiz-bang engineer that Randy had brought on board, explain how breaking into the shipboard computer system of one of Peck International’s cruise lines and siphoning off the casino’s bank was going to be the easy part of the plan. His job was getting us there and back with some surface cloaking gadget he'd been working on in his spare genius time unbeknownst to his company's management. It was all above my head but the computer simulation that he showed us made it look possible. With my other ear I listened for Monica’s car to pull up into the drive.

“Believe me, hacking into the ship’s system and wire transferring the money to a numbered account in Switzerland will be child's play compared to catching and boarding, a moving vessel. Not to mention accessing the COM ROOM without alerting security, or any nosey passengers,” said Jack, counting off each obstacle by opening his fist one finger at a time.

“No shit Sherlock. Tell me something I don't know! You're supposed to be the big brain on this gig, tell us, how are we supposed to sneak up on a vessel that size in the middle of the ocean with all their sophisticated equipment and whatnot,” Sandy asked rhetorically.

“Look man, me, Pat and Roman spent a lot of time at sea, and let me tell ya, you can’t sneak into a house with hardwood floors wearing tap shoes!”

“No, I expect not, but think of it this way. Fleas hop on us all the time, they come in under the radar, and they aren’t noticed until after they bite you. Think like a flea man, shouldn't be too hard for you, flea brain,” Jack said sarcastically, smiling at Sandy and egging him on.

Their escalating exchange got all of my attention and I looked over at Sandy who seemed ready to jump out of his seat to punch out Randy’s smart ass friend and I quickly jumped into the debate, hoping to defuse the situation before the two of them got into it and wrecked my living-room.

“Alright tough guys, calm down, I don’t need any blood spilled on the furniture, I don't want to get divorced over you two jack-holes!" I snapped.

That seemed to do the trick as they both looked at me instead of each other, although for a second there I wondered if they'd decided to kick my ass as a preliminary before the main event. Roman came to the rescue before either option became a reality when he suddenly raised himself a couple inches off the sofa and farted like a bull elephant on steady diet of chili beans and cabbage. It was just the tension buster that the situation needed and drove us all out side in the fresh air to clear our heads.

"Jesus H. Christ dude, what the hell is wrong with you!" Sandy shouted gasping for breath. He was doubled over like he had just run a dozen wind sprints and sucking in air like it they were his last breaths on earth.

Roman just smiled and lit a Corona-Corona cigar, puffing deeply, generating a nice cherry red ash that glowed brightly in the early evening darkness. Tempers cooled as we all began to recover and I took the opportunity to keep everyone's mind on business instead of each other.

"I think I’m starting to get the gist of this,” I said quickly, holding out my hand to signal my hot-headed friend to stay cooled out. He raised up from his crouch, drew in a deep breath and gave me the stink-eye.

“No really, I wanna hear more about Jack's flea theory,” I continued, turning my attention to Jack.

“So, what's your plan to get on board without being noticed?” I asked.

The team sipped their beers and watched Jack doubtfully. Randy was looking rather proud, like the kid who'd brought the best show-and-tell gadget to class. Sandy still looked agitated and ready to pounce on Jack if his plan was as stupid as he expected it to be. Papa and Wesley remained quiet, the more mature parts of our team, while Roman just puffed away, rubbing his stomach as if he were hungry or something, which made me wonder about Monica again. Where the hell was she?

“Alright fellas, here’s what I have in mind. Any of you ever heard of the term cloaking before?” asked Jack, not expecting a real answer.

“Oh yeah Holmes, you mean like the Romulans on Star Trek, right?” Roman asked, suddenly interested in the conversation.

“Actually yes, sort of like that,” Jack answered chuckling.

“Okay, dig it, the Romulan chingasos could sneak up on Kirk cause they could make their spaceship invisible. But when they wanted to shoot at the Federation dudes with their photon torpedoes ese, then they had to, what do you call it, un-cloak themselves to shoot their load. That’s usually when Kirk blasted the shit out of em man, it was beautiful man!” Roman explained enthusiastically.

“Thanks for the trekkie tidbits Mr. Spock, now let the man finish,” Sandy quipped. Roman puffed out a smoke ring from his cigar and gave Sandy the finger as he folded his heavy forearms and made the Virgin Mary dance while he flexed his eighteen inch biceps. Sandy wasn't impressed, but Randy seemed amused giggling like a six year-old.

“Actually he was pretty close,” Jack said finally, giving Roman quick wink.

“That's basically what cloaking does. It is a method of blending in so well with your surroundings that you become for all intents and purposes invisible. And that’s how we’ll turn ourselves into fleas and jump on the fat floating dog’s back. We sneak up on the liner in two small speed boats equipped with an array of spinning mirrors utilizing reflected moonlight to camouflage us and blend right in with the choppy ocean surface,” Jack explained, watching us for our reactions.

“Is anyone picturing this?” he asked no one in particular. Everyone but Sandy nodded, he had actually stopped listening after Roman’s contribution.

“So where do we get these spinning mirrors?” I asked.

“Forget the mirrors, where do we get the boats,” interrupted Sandy, suddenly part of the conversation again.

“Well, you just let me worry about the boats; I have a few connections in that area. And as for the mirrors, those we’ll have to build. Their not exactly off the shelf items,” Jack replied.

“Is that so, you can just snap your fingers and come up with two speed boats just like that?” Sandy asked suspiciously.

“Not quite that easy, but trust me, I can get what we’ll need. The question is, are you really ready to take this plan to the next level? We’re not talking about penny-ante stuff anymore. We’re talking about Grand larceny and armed robbery. And if we get caught we’ll all do hard time. Are you boy scouts ready for that?” Jack asked, his facial expression changing from light and casual to dark and intense.

Nobody spoke for several minutes while we chewed on what he had served up. Jack watched us and waited patiently for a reply. He looked smug and impatient all of a sudden to me, and was making wonder what his motives really were for being part of this. My spider-sense was beginning to tingle and I looked over at Randy as if I might read an answer to my unasked questions on his face. I was about to put them both on the spot when two bright headlights lit up my front yard as a Long Beach patrol car pulled into my driveway.

“What the hell?” I said aloud, turning toward the drive. I almost choked; it was the cops and all I could think was we were busted before we even started.

Two uniformed Long Beach City cops got out of the car and walked up the drive toward my front porch. Unconsciously I sized them up checking them out from the shiny brim of their caps to the spit-shine on their heavy soled leather shoes. Beat cops always looked so official, with their side arms prominently displayed on their hip accentuating their advantage in one on one confrontation. I wondered why they were here, and prayed my expression didn’t give them any reason to be suspicious.

“Evening Officers, is there a problem,” I asked?

“We're looking for Patrick Bouchard?” the closest cop asked, is name tag read Stephens.

“Yes sir, I’m Pat Bouchard,” I replied cautiously, suddenly thinking of Monica.

“Mr. Bouchard do you own a white 2005 Honda Odyssey, license EWP333?" asked the other cop, Officer Hundley. I blinked a few times processing the question as if he asked me to compute the value of pi. They waited patiently for my reply.

"Ah, yes, yes, that's our car. Why, what happened. Where's Monica?" I replied out of sorts.

"Sir, your vehicle was found a couple of days ago near LA at a stretch of the 110 freeway where they are adding a couple of lanes. The van had crashed over a construction barrier and landed in a storage lot where it caught fire and burned out. The driver, a female Jane Doe was admitted into LA General. Monica, is that your wife Mr. Bouchard?” Officer Stephens asked, staring at me sympathetically. It took a couple of minutes for me to process the information and a couple more for the words to form in my brain.

“Sir, maybe you should come with us. It was a pretty bad scene, and well, you probably want to hurry is all I’m saying,” he added plainly, snapping me out of my trance.

“Of course,” I replied weakly.

“What hospital?” I asked.

“LA General Hospital,” he replied. My face must have lost all color because both officers moved in to catch me, fearful I was about to faint. “Not again,” I muttered.

“Papa, can you and Sandy lock up here? I'll see you guys over at the Hospital when you get there,” I asked my dad as I went off with the two cops. Officer Stephens backed out of the drive carefully and started down the street.

“Can we speed it up fellas?” I asked anxiously.

“Sure, we’ll hit the lights and siren after we get out of the neighborhood. You have a beef with LA General?” asked Officer Stephens.

“No, why do you ask?” I replied without looking at him.

“No reason, you just seemed shocked when I mentioned the place? You have a bad experience there or something?”

“We’re not gonna have any problems are we mack?” asked Officer Hundley, pissing me off. I waited a minute before answering, counting the telephone poles as we passed them until we turned out of my neighborhood and onto Bellflower.

“Nah, I’m good,” I replied without turning from the window.

“Just hurry, okay.” I added, ignoring their probing stares.

As promised, Officer Stephens hit the lights and siren and off we went silently praying that the old saying was true about lightening never striking in the same place twice!

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