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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.

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