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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?”

“Yes.”

“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?

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