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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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