Anh yêu em Tuyet...
Tôi yêu con gái KaSandra & Katrina...
Tôi thương con trai của bố Luc…
a novel by nicholas sheridan stanton
Pink's Famous Hot Dogs, Los Angeles, Friday, August 29th, 2005…8PM
Lizzie had lucked out and quickly maneuvered her little Honda Civic into a really choice parking space just two doors down from Pink's on LaBrea. She'd been dreaming of their world famous chili cheese dogs all freaking day. The poor girl was famished having worked through both breakfast and lunch on an ultra-busy Friday from hell at LA General. A ten car pile up on the Hollywood Freeway during the wee hours had left several trauma patients stacked like cord wood in the ER. When she arrived at work at 6am it was as if she'd walked into a Stephan King novel. Her day started with a compound fracture of the right femur of a nine year-old girl who was writhing in pain right next to her mother who'd suffered a fractured pelvis and severe facial lacerations after her air bag failed to deploy.
As she tended to the child's wounds Lizzie remembered thinking "now there's a lawsuit" and wondered if she'd be subpoenaed in the case. She decided that she probably would and surrendered to that inevitability. Freaking lawyers left few stones unturned when they were on a money trail. Well, with the possible exception of the rock they personally crawled out from under. Actually that was unfair, and she regretted thinking it as soon as the thought faded from consciousness to unconsciousness. After all, her Aunt Brenda and her cousins Jace and Noah were all lawyers and they were pretty cool. She loved them, so she forgave them for their poor career choices. Lizzie wasn't exactly sure when her negative opinion of the profession started but she knew exactly where it stemmed from. It came from dear old dad. Sean Andrews was a well known barrister hater, and never missed an opportunity to take pot shots at an attorney and bash their good name.
The root cause of daddy's anger was no big secret. His overbearing father, Liam Thomas Andrews, Esq. had been an attorney at law as had his father and his father before him. So keeping with tradition, Grandfather Liam had tried earnestly but unsuccessfully to encourage his only child to follow in the family business. By the way, encouragement in an Irish household took many shapes, from gentle coaxing to stern cuffing to what amounted technically to assault and battery! But her dad was stubborn as the day was long and head strong to a fault. If you wanted a guarantee that he would not do something just tell him he had to! Where that trait was concerned the apple hadn't fallen far from the tree either as Lizzie was very much like her dad in that respect. Fortunately for Lizzie her black and white tendencies were governed by a soft and compassionate heart courtesy her mother Carla, who taught her that the world was mercifully moderated by shades of gray.
Lizzie hopped out of her car and secured it with her clicker, with the machine dutifully beeping an acknowledgement that she was good to go. She was so late! She was supposed to have met her cousins, Jace and Noah Kelly for her make-up birthday bash over an hour ago. The place was packed too, typical for a Friday night, the crowd moving forward at a snail's pace in a long winding, switchback line resembling a human GI tract working in reverse. Lizzie spotted Jace right away. He was about 20 bodies back from the order counter. His posture and the look on his face betrayed the fact that he had been standing toe to snout with a heady variety of chili dog fans from neighborhood locals to drive-by diners heading to or from the clubs along the Sunset Strip, to the camera flashing tourists hoping to score a celebrity sighting, which wasn't an altogether impossible wish at this place.
"Hey! Sorry I'm late, traffic sucked," Lizzie hollered over the chattering masses and traffic noise from the street as she pushed her way through the less than cooperative crowd to reach her cousin. Ignoring the grumbles and unflattering references to her family tree she kissed Jace on the cheek, hugging him tightly and seeking sanctuary in his six foot two inch frame. She felt safe there for the moment but secretly down deep hoped his twin brother Noah wasn't too far away just in case.
"Where's your other half anyways?" Lizzie asked scanning the crowd for Noah.
"Where you do think? He's sitting in the car texting the old ball and chain, what a chump! I warned him about the…" Jace answered, abruptly interrupted by Lizzie when she reached up and squeezed his lips shut.
"Uh uh uh, that's not fair and you know it! Leave Noah alone, he's happy. So she's not exactly your dream girl. That doesn't give you the right to judge buddy boy!" scolded Lizzie, removing her fingers before Jace bit them off.
"Come on Elizabeth, you've met her. She's just using him. The girl is never satisfied with anything for very long. She's always looking for more. As soon as Noah can't deliver she'll dump him like a bad habit!" Jace spat out in frustration, partly from his brother's situation and partly because of the slow moving line.
"Happy birthday by the way, again," he added patting his tiny cousin on the top of her pointed little head.
"Thanks," Lizzie replied, hugging him again.
The line suddenly began to move as a large group of teens filed past them with their trays of chili dogs, chili fries, and chili burgers, the All American meal. The stuff looked disgusting, painted in ghastly shades of baby shit brown with patches of yellow, green and white courtesy the mustard, relish, and onions. As bad as it looked, it smelled soooo good, and Lizzie was starving. She swooned and swayed while she followed the group with her nose as they made their way to an empty table and laid out their yummy meal of heartburn inducing cholesterol bombs. Lucky ducks!
"Easy Lizzie, I just got this shirt. If you drool on this Club Monaco I'll have to burn it!" Jace said, teasing her. Lizzie socked him in the arm protesting, "Come on, that's gross Jace, I'm not drooling," she insisted, swiping at the corners of her mouth with her thumb and forefinger just in case.
She was about to sock him again to wipe that shit eating grin off of his piggish face when Noah appeared suddenly, his presence announced by more jeers from the impatient crowd he'd just cut through. Noah turned to face the 30 or 40 people he just passed and bowed like a bad actor on a curtain call. His gesture was immediately met with more jeers, one or two veiled threats, and a proposal of marriage from some hippie chick near the end of the line. Not surprising really, the Kelly twins were pretty darn cute for half breeds, the progeny of an Irish father and an Asian mother. Noah turned back and grinned at Lizzie and Jace.
"Kinda crowded, huh," Noah said stating the obvious.
"No shit Sherlock," replied Jace.
"All done kowtowing to the Queen bee I see," Jace said sarcastically.
"Sticks and stones my brother, sticks and stones. You're just jealous," Noah answered, turning his attention to Lizzie.
"What kept you this time cuz?" Noah asked, giving Lizzie a little hug.
"The usual, blood, guts and mayhem," replied Lizzie.
"I see. Hey before I forget here's the skinny on the French guy from G.A.W.D. the one you asked me to check out," Noah said handing her a thin manila folder.
"Thanks, what you find out?" Lizzie asked, opening the folder and skimming through the pages inside. She held up two sheets of paper and shook them in front of Noah's face.
"Is this all there is?" she asked disappointed.
"I'm afraid so, and I even called a friend who works for the FBI," Noah answered, shrugging his shoulders.
"Really?" Lizzie asked.
"Yeah, really," replied Noah.
"You know what that means, right?" interjected Jace.
"No what?" asked Lizzie.
"In the Corporate World a blind alley usually means alias, or in other words a false front protecting a hidden agenda. If this is all there is on Jean-Luc Rojier it's because he didn't exist prior to January, 2005. Whoever he is, he covered his tracks very well," Jace explained.
"Not necessarily," Lizzie said thinking out loud.
"What do you mean?" asked Noah.
Lizzie chewed on pursed lips as she thought about how to answer him. She'd read the two pages of information all about the generous Frenchman who was responsible for so many kids getting second and third chances at life, no matter the cost. And while the words hadn't shed much light, the photos were brilliant as the sun. Lizzie knew that face, absolutely knew it. She vividly remembered the Bouchard's, Gabriel, Monica, and Patrick, apparently a.k.a. Jean-Luc Rojier. She was certain of that now.
"I recognize this guy," she said to nobody in particular as she tapped a picture of Patrick Bouchard standing outside Gabriel's room, watching him sleep through the window.
"His son was one of the first kids I ever treated after transferring to Hem/Onc from the ER a couple of years ago," she added.
"Hem/Onc?" asked Noah puzzled.
"Hematology/Oncology," Lizzie answered.
"Oh," Noah replied.
"So what's got your panties in a bunch? So the guy wants to do good deeds in the shadows, big deal, Batman does it everyday," Jace said sarcastically.
Lizzie ignored his comment. She held Patrick's picture up to her face and spoke to it, "Why is this bothering me? So what if you're pretending to be someone else. That someone else is a wonderful man. I just want to know what you're up to, maybe I can help. I know who you are now, and I've got a pretty good idea why you're doing this," muttered Lizzie as they reached the counter.
"You think too much Elizabeth. Look, sometimes good people do bad things for good reasons, simple as that. Come on now, let's eat, I'm starving!" Jace said anxiously looking over the menu board that he'd already memorized.
Without any discussion he ordered them each two chili dogs with the works and a large helping of chili-cheese fries for them to share. He topped it all off with three Dr. Peppers to help them wash it all down and they watched as the Pink's crew went to work whipping up their meal, finishing in less than three minutes. It was quite an operation, fast, simple, efficient, and profitable, a textbook example of a successful business model. Give the public what they want. Give it to them fast and give it to them cheap, then sit back and reap the rewards. If shear volume was an accurate KPI, or key performance indicator, then Mr. Pink had to be rolling in piles of green! Jace, visibly impressed was thinking franchise opportunities, while Noah busily answered the latest text from the Queen bee, and Lizzie continued to chew on the facts. All she had to do now was decipher the code that hid the link between Jean-Luc Rojier and Patrick Bouchard. She was as stubborn and determined as her old man when she got her Irish up. She'd figure all of this out sooner than later. She just didn't know what if anything she'd do afterward. Lizzie decided to cross that bridge when she came to it.
Jace and Noah grabbed two trays piled high with food and drink while Lizzie stopped to gather some utensils and a boatload of napkins. The three cousins went around back and opted to eat outside versus inside so they could hear themselves think. The inside dining area was loud with old music from the 1950's and table chatter from a pretty rowdy crowd. Noah dealt the food like he was dealing a hand of poker while Jace opened the pop bottles. Lizzie placed a plastic fork and knife on top of a stack of cheap paper napkins in front of each of them, then devoured her first chili dog before either of the boys and taken a second bite. You wouldn't know it to look at her, but this girl could flat out EAT!
"Slow down honey you're gonna lose a finger!" exclaimed Noah in awe.
"Thorry," said Lizzie, lisping a reply with a mouthful of food.
"Nice manners Elizabeth, no wonder you're still single dude," Jace said rolling his eyes. Lizzie flipped him off with a smile, stuffing a handful of chili-cheese fries into her face.
"Hey, I almost forgot. Do you remember our Aunt Alma?" Noah asked out of the clear blue sky.
"No," she mumbled as chewed.
"She's not our real Aunt, but we've known her like forever," explained Jace.
"Like your mom's not my real Aunt but I've always known her as such, something like that," replied Lizzie.
"Yeah, like that. Well Aunt Alma wants you to call her right away about something. She said it was important," Noah mumbled, uncharacteristically speaking with his mouthful.
"About what?" asked Lizzie.
"I dunno kiddo, you'll have to call her and find out," answered Noah, shrugging as he finished off his first chili dog.
"Alright, gimme the number," she said holding out her hand for Noah to either hand over a note or scribble the telephone number onto the palm of her hand.
"Here ya go," he replied, fishing a crumbled piece from his pants pocket.
"Thanks," Lizzie said, unraveling the crumpled piece paper.
She quickly read the note a couple of times;
I doubt that you remember me as you were but a small child when last I saw you. Be that as it may, I must speak with you right away about one of your patients, Katherine Tate. Please call me the moment you receive this letter regardless of the time. I am currently travelling in Europe doing business for the Foundation with Jean-Luc, but I will stop whatever I am doing in order to speak with you. This is quite urgent so please do not delay with your reply. I will await your call.
Lizzie stuffed the note into her pants pocket and worked on the last couple of bites of chili dog number two. She sat silently and processed Alma's note and Noah's research on Jean-Luc Rojier as she chewed. Alma Donnelly and Jean-Luc Rojier, what was the connection there and how did Patrick Bouchard factor into all of this? This was almost as good as a Sue Grafton novel, Lizzie's favorite author. What would Kinsey Millhone do she wondered. What indeed?