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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

("You say,I only hear what I want to. You say, I talk so all the time…so.") Lisa Loeb

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 Forty-two

Monte Carlo, Principality of Monaco…Saturday, August 27th, 2005…8PM

If you've never seen an ocean liner up close you're missing one of the true wonders of human ingenuity, really, quite an extraordinary feat of engineering. Maybe you remember the first time that you saw a plane flying overhead and wondered what kept it from falling out of the sky. Or maybe you've stood at the base of a skyscraper looking straight up the steep face getting dizzy as you wondered what kept it from tipping over in a strong wind. Randy Patel sipped on a cup of tea at a small café with a harbor view admiring The Princess Grace in much the same way, wondering what kept the gigantic heap of iron and steel afloat. The majestic vessel was a sight to behold, all lit up like a Christmas tree as it waited on passengers enjoying a weekend port of call in the casinos and marketplaces of the fabled city. In two days The Princess Grace would set sail headed for Cannes and then Gibraltar. One hundred and seventy-two hours from now the Jack o' Broken Hearts would be waiting for her in the shipping lanes between those two dots in the Mediterranean.

The conversions were complete on both Heckle and Jeckle and they were good to go as far as he was concerned. Of course Jack and François had the final say, but Jack seemed pleased with the way the cloaking devices had integrated with Randy's electronic countermeasures. They'd run two separate shake down qualification tests without incident, sneaking up on two slow moving freighters on a quarter moon night, neither one of the sluggish albatross' saw them coming or going, Randy's countermeasures had shielded the speed boats from the freighter's radar sweeps by absorbing the probing radio wave and breaking it into dozens of return waves causing the operator to write them off as a pod of porpoise or school of tuna, which, when coupled with the cloaking devices rendered them virtually invisible. Their only Achilles' heel would be a deep sonar probe or a pair of really sharp eyes on a dead man's watch in the cruise ship's crow's nest. Neither was likely.

"Excuse me sir, would you like more tea?" asked a very young girl waiting on tables. She couldn't have been much older that 13 or 14 thought Randy, probably the owner's daughter he surmised.

"No thank you," Randy answered with a smile.

The girl hugged a menu close to her, clearly bored, "Are you a passenger?" she asked pointing at The Princess Grace.

Randy blushed, embarrassed that his interest in the cruise ship had been so obvious, "No, I'm just amazed that something so big can sit on the water like that," he replied.

"Oui, it's a wonder, no." she said nodding in agreement.

"You are American, yes?"

"Yeah, what gave me away?"

The girl pointed at the large gold lance class ring with the ruby red stone in the center that he wore. "CAL TECH," she said reading the lettering slowly.

"Where is that?"

"California," Randy replied getting up to leave before he got drawn in any further into the idle chit chat.

"You are leaving Messier?" the girl asked looking genuinely disappointed.

"I'm afraid so, thank you for the tea," he answered leaving a ten Euro coin on the table, five for the tea and five for the child.

She smiled and picked up the coin, "Merci Messier," she said cheerfully.

Randy smiled back and walked away from the café toward the scooter he had parked across the street. He didn't see him at first but as soon as he did he stopped where he stood. Jack stepped out from behind the trunk of a good sized Cypress tree. Randy had no idea how long he had been there but judging by the smirk on his face it was long enough to catch his little exchange with the child labor. Preparing himself for a smart remark he continued on across the street to his ride.

"Did you get her number Casanova?" Jack asked, teasing his former student.

"Don't be an ass!" Randy retorted snidely as he climbed on his scooter and donned his helmet.

Jack stood on the curb with his back to Randy. He knew that they were being watched but decided to pretend that he didn't know. No use making it easy for them, those being Standard Pharmaceutical's security goons. They were going to be pretty busy tonight trying to cover all the bases. They'll be spread pretty thin trying to shadow Pat at the G.A.W.D. event, the boats in the marina, Randy, himself, and Pat's dad, François. Jack doubted that they knew about Roman arriving tonight from California, he was replacing Wesley, the poor bastard. But even if they did that would just make their net even thinner, which suited Jack just fine. He had some work to do outside the box with regard to the game plan. Jack had a plan within the plan, his own plan per-se. Jack had been planning this event for a long time in his mind. Once Pat and his crew have emptied his father's piggybank, Jack would take what was left, his life, payback for a lifetime abuse and neglect. He wished he could share his plans with his mother, but alas, she was still under the old man's thumb. But that would be changing soon.

"Don't go back to the apartment right away, don't do anything routine. Just hop around in public places and then meet François at McCarthy's over on Rue du Portier. You know where to find it?" instructed Jack quietly without looking back, referring to Monaco's one and only Irish bar. Funny how every city seems to have at least one.

"Yeah, sure I do, when, and what time?" Randy asked, starting up the scooter.

"In two hours, don't be late. Remember, hide in plain sight. These guys are pros, don't make it easy for them," Jack replied, stepping off the curb to cross the street.

Randy pushed back the kickstand and revved the small engine, "Where are you going?" he asked checking traffic.

"To pick up Roman, he's taking Chumley's place, remember?" answered Jack as he disappeared into a small crowd walking past the café.

"That's cold blooded Jack, you really are an asshole, ya know that," Randy hollered as he sped away, disgusted with Jack's disrespectful poke at Wesley Allendale, who, as Jack explained had likely ended up as chum (bloody bait) on some unsuspecting tourist's shark hunting adventure.

Pulcinella restaurant, Monte Carlo…Saturday, August 27th, 2005…8PM

François Bouchard sat in wonderment as he watched Sandy devour
plate after plate of spinach, beef, and then cheese raviolis. Drenched in a tangy tomato sauce that was more vegetable base than marinara, the dishes looked positively scrumptious and given the grunts and groans from across the table François was sure he was probably right about that. Sandy was a man on a mission, apparently determined to eat his way through the menu. He and François had stumbled upon this place a couple of days ago on a tip from Pat's company driver, Gary, and they had eaten every meal there since then. Well, except for breakfast of course, but not lack of trying as Sandy had tried to convince the owners to open at the crack of dawn to satisfy his early 'bird gets the worm' feeding.

"Oh man, Franco, have you ever tasted sauce like this?" Sandy asked with his mouthful.

"Can't say as I have my friend, can't say as I have. By the way, you've got a glob of said sauce on your chin," replied François pointing back at his glutinous fellow miscreant.

Sandy wiped away the sauce on his mug with a slice of crusty bread and proceeded to consume said bread, waste not want not was a creed he lived by. He winked at François and emptied his glass of vino, "Thanks Franco. So, where did the professor say to meet up with him and his offspring, the Geek Crusader?" Sandy asked, referring to Jack and Randy.

"At McCarthy's in about an hour or so, and how many times do I have to tell you to stop calling me Franco?"

"Sorry pops, I mean François," replied Sandy with a shit eating grin.

"No you're not. Finish your meal so we can get out of here, McCarthy's is clear on the other side of town."

"Don't rush me, we have time. Besides, this sauce is to die for! All this time I thought my old granny had been making me real Italian marinara. Now I taste this slice of heaven. If she were here now I'd punch her right in the face," Sandy said half joking.

"You're a class act Lucci, a real class act. Come on, let's get going," François said sarcastically, pushing away from the table and standing to leave.

"Alright grandpa, have it your way. I could go for a pint of Guinness with a Jameson chaser anyway," Sandy replied, standing to follow François out of the restaurant.

Sandy reached into his shirt pocket to settle the bill, tossing more Euros than the bill actually called for onto the table, always the big tipper, then broke into a trot to catch up with François who was already outside. The night air had a bit of a bite to it as the unseasonably cooling trend drove the temperature down a couple ticks to a chilly fifty-one degrees with the sea breeze. François was better prepared than his glutinous comrade having brought along a fleece lined windbreaker, while Sandy physically shivered in his tank-top and cargo shorts. The two men turned toward the marina and began walking the six blocks to McCarthy's to wait for the others. François smiled, snickering under his breath as Sandy beat at his bare sunburned arms while they walked to ward away the cold.

"What time does Roman's plane get in?" Sandy asked rubbing his bare arms.

"Right about now, Jackson is picking him," answered François.

"Did Pat tell him about Wesley?"

"Yes, he did, I was in the room when they spoke."

"He told him everything then?"

"He left out the gory details, but everything else."

"Well you can count on Jack-o filling him in on the way over," Sandy said.

"Probably," replied François with a frown.

As the two men rounded the corner onto Rue du Portier with McCarthy's green façade visible just ahead, Sandy stopped suddenly. Grabbing François' arm he nodded toward a car parked at the curb about twenty meters away. A long plume of smoke coming from the passenger side had caught his eye. A quick surveillance of the area had drawn his attention to several butts on the curb beside the car. Whoever was puffing away inside the automobile had been there for a while, like a cop on a stakeout or worse. Sandy's spider sense told him to assume the worst causing him to instinctively consider fight or flight.

"What is it?" asked François.

"I don't know yet. See that little Renault up ahead at the curb?"

"What about it?"

They stood there and studied the little smoking sedan together for a ten count, surveying the entire block with a heightened awareness and two pairs of darting eyes. François turned slowly to survey the 180 degrees behind them while Sandy kept his attention on the car ahead. There was an electrical element added to the tension of the moment, Sandy could feel the hair rising on his neck and forearms. The sedan ahead stopped smoking and they could feel eyes on them, whoever was in there had been waiting for them. François felt his heart beating in his chest and he could hear Sandy's slow and deliberate breath. They were both cocked and ready to fire.

"New plan Franco, McCarthy's is buster, time to boogie. You intercept Jack and Roman. Take them to the safe house. I'll get Pat and meet you there," Sandy softly, almost in a whisper.

"Okay, what about Randy?"

"He'll know what to do. If he's not dead already that is."

"Split up when we reach the café," Sandy said taking a short step backward.

The doors opened on the little Renault parked ahead. Sandy and François didn't hesitate, or wait for an invitation. They didn't need confirmation that whoever was getting out of that car was trouble. Survival is the most basic instinct in all forms of life and right now the alarms were going off.

"Run." Sandy said in a monotone.

François sprinted straight ahead without looking back while Sandy turned and darted across the street like he was shot out of a cannon. He turned up the street then right down an alley between a confectioners and small produce shop. Neither looked back knowing that doing so would only slow them down. They had one chance to escape fate and their advantage that they already knew where they were going. They were well prepared and had a plan. Jackson Peck may be a son-of-a-bitch, but he'd briefed the team well on what to be on the look out for and had schooled them equally as well on what to do if they encountered any of tem. The routes they took weren't random. There weren't any blind alleys to worry about or dead ends to deal with. If they kept to the script there was a good chance they would survive, better than 50/50 odds.

Sandy had put a lot of distance between his pursuer(s) although he didn't know that. He was flat out hauling ass and following the plan, not looking back! He'd ducked into the back of a Greek restaurant, walking through the kitchen and then dining area like he owned the place. He grabbed a copy of Le Monde from an empty table and walked out onto the street like any other tourist full from a big meal. He held the paper open in front of him and surveyed the neighborhood while he feigned reading. He repeated in his mind, no looking back and continued to up the street. He'd run all the way to the center of Carré d'Or Square which said a lot about both his stamina and the level of his terror. There was a taxi stand outside the Hotel Novotel. It was only a block ahead of him. If he made it that far he'd hail one of the cabs and ride in relative peace to the safe house. He wondered if François was doing as well, but shook off the thought, he'd worry about him once he was in the clear.

McCarthy's Pub, 2 Rue Du Portier…Saturday, August 27th, 2005…10PM

The house band was playing a favorite Irish rebel song, James Connolly chronicling the execution of one of the leaders of the Easter Rebellion of 1916. The crowd was in full cheer by this time and ready to sing a Saturday night into the wee hours. The boisterous crowd of Euros, all Irish by proxy for the evening sang with passion:

He went to his death like a true son of Ireland,
The firing party he bravely did face.
Then the order rang out: ‘Present arms, Fire!’
James Connolly fell into a ready made grave…


Randy Patel listened from a booth in the far corner of the crowded bar as the party goers carried on. He was sandwiched between two casually dressed men whose profession he didn't have to guess at. He was scared shitless and wasn't too proud to show it. Across the table from him was another man, more conservatively dressed in a charcoal gray Armani suit, white button down shirt and periwinkle silk tie. He was clearly in charge and was staring right through him. He wasn't physically impressive like the two guys flanking Randy but he was a whole lot scarier. It was his eyes. They were dull and lifeless, like a doll's eyes and he had been looking at him for better than thirty minutes and hadn't blinked once. That wasn't right! That was just freaking creepy! The only words spoken were after they appeared beside him from out of the crowd. The two casual boys stood on either side of him and "escorted" him from where he was standing to where he was now sitting, trapped like a rat. The suit trailed behind them and addressed him only after Randy had been wedged into the booth between Mr. A and Mr. B.

"May I join you Mr. Patel?" the suit man asked in a frightening monotone. His accent was subtle but it was definitely Germanic.

"It your party pal," Randy replied, trying to appear cool, calm and collected, which is pretty hard to do when your knees are knocking together.

"Danke," Mr. Suit said as he sat across from him in one fluid motion.

Yep, German, Randy thought as he pondered his situation. There was no way he was getting past the two goons crowding him, that was a given. He started to sweat as he pictured himself winding up shark bait like Wesley Allendale. This wasn't how his life was supposed to go, what a fucked up mess! Mr. Suit was beginning to bug him with his constant stare and Randy contemplated a futile act of rebellion and reaching across the table and giving the jack-hole five across the eyes! But of course, he didn't have balls big enough to do something like that. Too bad Sandy Lucci wasn't here with him. They might still wind up chum but at least he would have wiped that smug look off of Mr. Suit's face.

"WHAT?" Randy hollered in frustration, hoping that maybe someone would see what a pickle he was in and call a cop or something. Mr. Suit's expression didn't change and he still didn't blink.

"You will please keep quiet Mr. Patel," he said shifting his gaze for a nano-second to Mr. A on Randy's left.

In the blink of an eye the large man beside Randy silenced him with a well placed jab to his rib cage. Randy winced but didn't cry out for fear of a second punishment. He sucked in his cheeks and bit down on them to keep himself quiet and transfer the pain from his broken rib. If there were ever any doubt that this was going to end badly it had been erased. Randy breathed shallowly through his nose to keep the pain at a manageable level. He stared back into Mr. Suit's dark shark's eyes and waited for whatever was coming next. He didn't have to wait long. Mr. Suit reached into his coat and Randy closed his eyes, convinced he was about to be shot where he sat, executed while he sat in a chair, just like the Irish rebel James Connolly that the crowd was signing about.

He opened his eyes a couple of seconds later after the fatal shot he was expecting didn't materialize. Mr. Suit was on a cell phone, listening to someone giving instructions. The bastard was still staring at Randy only this time Randy thought he detected an odd expression on his face, like a child who'd just been told no. Mr. Suit listened for a couple of seconds more and then replied.

"As you wish," he said, signing off and returning the cell to his inside coat pocket.

"Your friends will not be coming Mr. Patel and so I am to leave you here relatively unharmed. Those are my instructions, my apologies for the inconvenience and the slight discomfort. We'll be leaving now," explained Mr. Suit as he got up to leave.

Mr. A and Mr. B gently helped Randy to his feet as they all exited the booth. They stood beside him until he was able to stand unassisted, handling him as if he were a child, almost compassionately, it was too weird? Randy watched them disappear into the hard partying crowd, exhaling deeply as soon as they were out of sight. He had no business being alive. He knew without question that was his mother's prayers being answered. He stared at the crowd and decided to avoid further injury by trying to wade through them with a broken short rib. Behind him was a rear exit into the back alley. The way was clear for the moment and he went for it. As soon as he got outside he drew in a deep breath of cool fresh air in spite of the pain. The question now was what to do with his good fortune. Did he count his blessings and beat it back to the States and put this all behind him or did he follow the plan and head for the safe house? Randy knew what the smart thing to do was, it wasn't exactly rocket science.

"Oh fuck me…I should be sterilized," he muttered as he walked out to the street and headed toward the agreed upon meeting place.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

("Life is just what happens to you, while you're busy making other plans…")…Beautiful Boy…John Lennon

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 Forty-one

Le Grand Casino, Monte Carlo…Saturday, August 30th, 2005…8PM

As dusk waned and night approached the warm Mediterranean summer began to cool unseasonably, turning a shirtsleeve afternoon into a jacket and sweater evening. To be honest, that didn't bother me one bit as I've always been more at home in the cold than the heat. Sweating in a monkey suit never appealed to me. Simple logic really, look, no matter how cold it gets you can always throw on another layer of clothing. But when it gets hot, really hot, you can only get so naked, am I right? A voice suddenly squawked over the intercom, it was the limo driver, Gary, announcing that we had arrived at our destination.

"Excuse me Sir, but we're here. Looks like a good crowd," said the driver politely.

I looked out the tinted window and studied the landscape. Gary was right, there were a ton of people milling about, taking their sweet time entering the casino for the big G.A.W.D. shindig. This was my first time to Monaco and I was more than a little impressed with it. The romance of the place wasn't lost on me either and I allowed myself to daydream a moment and think of how wonderful it would have been to be here with Monica in happier times. The south of France had been on her "bucket list" as she called it, a ragged little spiral notebook loaded with all the things she wanted to do before she left the planet. Wait a minute; no that I think of it I'm pretty sure she'd added leaving the planet to the list too, right after reading a Yahoo blurb about Virgin Atlantic's plans to privatize space travel. My wife was nothing if not creative when it came to planning, even when planning the improbable if not the down right impossible. My God, I miss that girl so much! Sometimes I think that I can actually feel my heartache!

"Are you alright sir?" Gary asked, watching me from the rear view mirror.

"Oui naturellement, excusez-moi s'il vous plaît," I answered in character.

"Pardon me sir," replied the Yankee driver provided by Sanford Peck.

"Forgive me, I am fine young man," I said keeping my French accent noticeable but not over the top.

"No worries. Shall we continue to wait for your party sir?" he asked referring to Alma Donnelly who clearly intended on being fashionably late.

"Let's give Mrs. Donnelly a few more minutes if of course that doesn't interfere with the security measures," I said nodding toward the five man squad of escorts standing by at parade rest beside the limo.

One of them was busy speaking into his wrist while the others stared seemingly straight ahead. Not likely though, these guys were trained observers, but it was impossible to tell who was watching what through the dark glasses hiding their eyes. The five men were all dressed alike, the same dark blue suit, white button down collared dress shirt, matching blue ties, the black wing-tipped Oxfords with special soles, and the flesh colored wires that ran from inside their right ears to somewhere beneath their suit coats. These guys were anything but undercover. There was no question as to who they were and what they were all about. I watched them watch me for a few moments until a vintage white Bentley arrived, pulling up along side of us. The five man squad immediately sprang into action and surrounded the car on all sides, the wrist talker opening the door behind the driver. Sanford Peck appeared first, followed by his wife Killeen and then Alma Donnelly. Taking his cue Gary got out and opened my door, extending a helping hand which I took advantage of gladly as my legs had fallen asleep sitting in the back of the limo. Man o' man, I really hate that pins and needle feeling!

"Jean-Luc, Jean-Luc, over here," called Alma like a teenage girl at her High School Prom.

I waived in her direction, brushing a long lock of hair away from my face, blown there by the cool ocean breeze. Sanford Peck studied me as I walked toward them, his gaze made me uncomfortable and I immediately sensed that he knew everything. Nothing obvious, his expression was pleasant and natural at first glance but the eyes as they say are the windows to the soul, and his were sending me a message, not to mention giving me the heebie-jeebies! I wasn't sure whether his silent message was intentional or unintentional, but nevertheless, I was picking up what he was laying down, and it made that pins and needle feeling travel up from my legs to my heart. Alma approached me first, bussing me on each cheek like a true European, taking care not to leave a lipstick smudge.

"I'm so glad you were able to make it Luc," she said releasing me from her embrace.

"Yes of course, I would not have missed such an important event," I said smiling at the three of them.

"Sorry we missed each other earlier today Messier Bouchard," Sanford Peck said shaking my hand with a firm grip.

I resisted the temptation to return the gesture with a steel edged welder's grip and opted instead to stay in character as a soft and wealthy philanthropist and shook his hand daintily. It made me feel like such a puss and I wanted to barf but I smiled as I allowed him to crush my fingers. I caught the gleam in his eye as he did so, and rewarded him with the grimace that he was hoping for instead of the black eye that he was asking for.

"Powerful handshake of a powerful man," I said massaging my fingers after he released my hand.

"Forgive me, it's how men greet each other back in the States," he replied smugly as he motioned toward his wife.

"Where are my manners, Messier Bouchard, may I call you Luc?" he asked rhetorically.

"Luc, may I present my better half, Mrs. Peck," he said introducing us.

"Madame, a pleasure," I said politely, accepting her outstretched hand and kissing it softly.

"Alma speaks quite highly of you Jean-Luc, I can see why," said Killeen Peck sweetly.

"Alma is too kind," I replied releasing her hand.

"Well, shall we go on inside, I think we're supposed to say a few words before the party gets too far along," Sanford said, taking Killeen's arm and leading the way up the stairs of the Le Grand Casino.

The four of us walked up to the entrance flanked by the five escorts with no eyes. As we reached the top of the stairs we were joined by four additional security team members and together we made our grand entrance. The room was packed and the orchestra stopped the waltz they were playing allowing the packed house to erupt in applause. So much for sneaking in, we were in the spotlight now. I felt a little bead of sweat run down the back of my neck and I discreetly adjusted my tie to keep it from running down the length of my back and causing me to shudder. The last thing I wanted was for Peck to see me flinch.

If I had learned anything after 20 years of once a month poker nights with Sandy and his crew of longshoreman it was this, never bluff a bluffer. I had no idea what Peck had in the hole so to speak, but then again he had no idea what I had either. The man was playing chicken and was baiting me, trying to get me to tip my hand. Well, no joy fat-cat, he may have the chip power at the table, but I already knew what the flop, the turn, and the river were going to be. This was my game to lose, and I'm not playing by his rules. He'll have to wait to see the cards I'm holding. But first he has to pay. The pot isn't nearly big enough to suit me or to serve G.A.W.D.s purpose! The ovation seemed to get louder as we approached a makeshift podium erected at the landing beyond the main entrance. Oddly in all that noise I could still pick out the ladies heels as we strolled across the beautiful Italian marble floors. The four of us stopped near the lectern with a small bank of microphones attached haphazardly in a cluster at the center of the stand. Our security escort had fanned out, blending in with the crowd and the smattering of dignitaries and officials nearby as they formed an invisible gauntlet around us. Sanford Peck held up his hand and the crowd began to settle down.

"Thank you friends, thank you so much. I am humbled by your kind reception and honored to be a part of this tribute to a truly great organization and the good work that they do," Sanford said, beginning his introductions. I tapped my coat, reassuringly feeling for my notes tucked inside.

"Sadly our benefactor, Grover Gateway is not here to share in this occasion. As we all know the great man was called home to serve in a much higher calling to be sure. However, we are fortunate to have his close personal friend, Alma Donnelly, as well as his Foundation partner Jean-Luc Rojier, a fellow countryman of most of you here tonight. Without further adieu, may I present the new CEO of the G.A.W.D. Foundation, Messier,Jean-Luc Rojier," continued Sanford as he turned to waive me into the limelight.

Amidst the camera flashes and hot studio lights I walked out of the comfortable shadows afforded a silent partner to assume the reins of the fulfillment of Gabriel's promise. There was no turning back now, worrying about whatever Sanford Peck had up his sleeve would have to wait, this was Gabriel's moment as far as I was concerned. I felt his presence, I heard his little voice in my head, I love you more daddy.


LA General, Los Angeles, California…Friday, August 29th, 2005…6PM

It had been a helluva day as far as Linda Bradley was concerned and not in a good way. It was one of those days where you just hang your head low and shake it slowly. One of those days when you just surrender to the devil in the details, and have faith that tomorrow will be better while you secretly hope it that can't get any worse. She walked past her executive assistant Jordan, closing the door behind her as she entered her office. Jordan opted to leave her be and give her space to uncoil, he'd seen this mood before and none of her messages were worth risking his career or his life! Linda stepped around her desk and stood behind it and gave her chair a whirl was she looked out the window and down to the street below. The sidewalks were packed with pedestrians and the boulevard was thick with slow moving traffic as hundreds of people left work and rushed toward the weekend.

Linda had actually been looking forward to a pretty nice weekend herself. She had finally found the courage to forgive and forget, and swallowing her pride she decided to listen to her heart for once in her life and called Nikko. She half expected him to reject her outright after the way she'd rejected him by forcing a divorce she never really wanted. He should have given her an earful, it's what she would have done, but instead she was met with an open heart that had been cracked but not broken. They started with a two hour texting session around midnight, finally shifting gears around 2am to a three hour chat filled with cleansing tears and laughter. Nikko had a soft voice and a calming patience that always seemed to sooth her savage beast. Linda missed that about him and had forgotten how much she'd come to rely on it to dull her sharp edges. Anyway, this was going to be their big weekend together, the start of their reconciliation and a new beginning. But the memo setting open in the center of her desk had taken a lot of the joy out of Linda's revitalized spirit.

She sat down and picked up brief memorandum written on Standard Pharmaceutical letterhead and read it again without her glasses. She didn't need them; she'd memorized the note written with a poison pen. It was from Sanford Peck, written in his own hand, mean spirited and impersonal. She despised it and felt a pang of guilt as she imagined Nikko opening a very similar letter months earlier from her when she was angry and bitter. The only difference between her and Peck was that she had heart enough to say I'm sorry, where Sanford Peck was heartless. Linda Bradley leaned back in her chair and read the letter aloud.

Ms. Bradley,

I am taking pen in hand and sending this memo to you directly. Please take this personally, it is meant to be. Assume the worst as I am most concerned with your actions of late. Surely you are aware of the policies approved by the Board of Directors with regard to extended care for chronically ill and terminal clients. Given that assumption I am disappointed to learn from CFO Hartstein that LA General continues to provide care to Katherine Tate. How is this possible in light of our policies? Clearly we have much to discuss at the next Board meeting in September. I will be returning from holiday in a couple of weeks. Be prepared to discuss this further prior to that meeting. In the mean time pull the plug on the Take child. I mean that literally and figuratively. I do not want anymore of Standard's capital wasted on a lingering corpse. I expect a reply to the affirmative by COB Friday, September 7th. Fair warning my dear, do not take this directive lightly.

Sanford Peck


Linda tossed the letter back onto her desk and closed her eyes. She sighed deeply and tried to think of how to break this to the Tate's. They would be easy compared to Dr. Elizabeth Kelly. That was going to be ugly. She wasn't looking forward to Lizzie's tirade; she could already hear Dr. Kelly accusing her of being a sell-out and a corporate hack, no better than any Nazi claiming they were only following orders. Linda felt sick to her stomach. She wanted to call Nikko and hear his soft soothing voice. She wanted to be selfish and just think about herself, to just think about their new beginning. But how could she in the shadow of Katie Tate's pending ending. Tears appeared at the corners of her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. She allowed herself to be weak for a moment and wept for the child.

She hated herself and her job at the moment but knew that soon she would put that all aside, get into character and do her job, that's who she was. All of a sudden she questioned if she deserved Nikko and his big heart. Who was the big liar now? She was about to go tell a wonderful family that there was nothing more LA General could do for their baby. That was a bold face lie. The truth was Katie was no longer worth the company's investment of time and resources. Her life was expendable, much like Linda's integrity.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

("Murder by numbers 1-2-3, it's as easy as saying your a-b-c's...") STING

Lest we never forget, let today be a day of rememberance, for today the world remembers with us. We remember those taken from their families and from all of us in an insane instant. We remember the heroes born in that instant, on the scene, and in the moments, days and years to follow. We remember those who answered the call to preserve our freedom. We remember those who made the ultimate sacrafice so that each of us might enjoy that freedom. We remember those who are risking that same sacrafice at this very moment.

We remember that freedom costs, and that it is those who answer that call to serve who are making our payments for us in blood, sweat, and tears. Today, from the comfort of your homes, take a look at those you love and then remember that everyday there are heroes among us, in patrol cars, in fire trucks, in classrooms, in hospitals and in far far far away places who love us enough to serve. God bless them, God bless us all the world over...sempre fi Jordan...


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 Forty

Le Rivage Hotel, Mandelieu La Napoule, Friday, August 29th, 2005…9PM

Looks like its true Wesley thought from inside of his dream, you do see your life pass by just before the end. How queer that he should enjoy these last few moments on Earth in relative peace in spite of what his physical body was experiencing. He wondered if this was the same gift the Christ was granted in his final hour, a few moments of clarity and peace before joining the Father in Paradise. The big hearted Aussie was oblivious to whatever was happening outside of his dream, having left the conscious life behind sometime ago. Let them do what they will these bastards, he was beyond caring now. Whatever good he had done in this life was being rewarded with this complete disconnect from the here and now. Not yet dead but no longer living by mortal understanding, he awaited the light so often mentioned in the prose of near death accountings.

He heard his mother's voice call to him as he raced across the Outback on the video screens that were the lids of his closed eyes. The Sudan grass grew wild and high and was wet with morning dew as he chased his childhood companion Rex, a nine year-old Boarder Collie that his Dad had rescued from an abusive sheep rancher who lived a couple of spreads over from the Allendale's property in north Perth on the far Western end of the Australian continent. Wesley had raised that dog from a pup and had buried him on their birthday, he being 9 and Rex being 63 if you subscribed to the theory that a dog ages at seven times the rate of a human being. It was a tough task for one so young and so attached but is father had insisted that he show his pet the same love in death that he showed him in life, that he might understand the meaning of eternity. There is nothing more powerful than a vivid memory of someone or something that you truly loved. Wesley hung onto that image for a while, the memory of his youth washing over him like a warm summer wave from the Indian Ocean.

"He must be gone Herr Price, the voltage was high enough to wake the dead," said Rolf as he removed the clamps from the battery posts, his hands carefully covered with a thick pair of rubber gloves.

"So it would seem. Apparently we captured the wrong conspirator. This one had courage I did not give him credit for. He must be part German don't you think?" Mr. Price said studying Wesley as he lay on the large conference table in center of the hotel suite.

He pressed his cheek close to the probable dead man's face and hovered for a moment to see if he could detect any sign of life. There was no indication that the man continued to breathe. His chest neither rose nor fell, there was no detectable moisture emanating from his nostrils. His skin was cold and clammy which validated the flat line on the monitor he was connected to. Mr. Allendale was dead now and unfortunately he had revealed nothing useful save the fact the time was near. Mr. Price knew the target had to be The Princess Grace but could not throw caution to the wind and was forced to divide his limited resources between the ocean liner and the next likely target which was to his mind the Peck family villa in Monte Carlo. Both he and Sanford Peck knew that Jackson's hate ran deep and they both knew the reason for it. When and where were the last two pieces of the puzzle, they already knew who, what, and why. He covered the dead man's body with a sheet and turned to leave the room.

"Dispose of this quietly," he said to Rolf as he passed by his aid.

"Ja mien Herr," Rolf replied dutifully.

A cool breeze came from nowhere as Wesley caught up with his pup and scooped him up into his arms. He heard himself giggle like a schoolboy and could feel Rex's wet kisses as the puppy lapped at his face while he held him close. In the distance his mother's voice called out to him. He couldn't make out the words but it sounded like the suppertime invitations he remembered hearing so many, many years ago. Wesley Allendale turned toward that sweet sound and ran into the wind and into the bright sunlight, the light leading to peace and eternity.


Mandelieu Marina…slip#18, Friday, August 29th, 2005…10pm

The fireworks display couldn't have ended soon enough for Randy Patel. Every snap, crackle, pop, and boom made him jump as he imagined one of Peck's goons busting a cap in his ass as it were. Randy was nervous enough even under the best of circumstances, but being a marked man had put him way over the top on the scared shitless scale. Oh, he did his best to mask his fear with humor, but his efforts were pitiful and made him look like Don Knotts in "The Shakiest Gun in the West!" Randy finished his fit check of the countermeasure equipment that Jack had installed earlier. It all looked good. Obviously Jack had no trouble with the schematics that he'd provided. Why should he thought Randy, after all Jack had been his professor during his post grad years at Cal Tech. Still, Randy would have taken pride in even the smallest of questions from his mentor.

"Are you checking up on me kid?" Jack asked appearing over Randy's shoulder suddenly.

"FUCK ME!" Randy shouted nearly jumping out of his skin and cracking his skull on the overhead. He hopped around the cabin clutching his head with both hands trying to rub out the sharp pain.

"Damn damn damn, that was fucked up Jack, what's the matter with you," Randy whined while he tried to rub away the pain with the heel of his hand.

"Nut up Nancy, you're not even bleeding," replied Jack taking a seat on the small fold down sofa. Randy stopped whimpering long enough to notice the 9mm Glock in Jack's hand.

He took a step toward him and pointed at the gun and asked, "What's that for man?"

"What do you think it's for? Different rules now dude. Wesley's missing and probably already fish food. I don't know about you, but I'm not going quietly into the great beyond my friend," Jack answered, brandishing the weapon foolishly.

"Does Pat know about that?" Randy asked.

"Yeah, of course," lied Jack.

Randy watched Jack handle the gun and the thought of a little personal protection actually sounded like a good idea. "Do you have another one of those things?" Randy asked nodding at the gun in Jack's hand.

"Have you ever fired one? Have you ever even held one?" Jack said answering a question with a question.

"I got a marksman badge in Scouts when I was 17, so yeah, I've held and fired a gun before," answered Randy in a snotty tone.

Jack suddenly tossed the weapon to Randy, catching him off guard causing him to juggle and drop the handgun. Squeezing his eyes shut Randy winced and covered both ears expecting a loud retort when the gun went off. Jack roared with laughter and walked over to pick up the gun from the floor. He put the gun butt first up to Randy's face and pointed at the empty chamber in the handle of the weapon.

"See? No magazine in there. I thought you said you fired one of these before, won a badge or something?" Jack asked sarcastically as he returned to his seat on the sofa.

Randy sighed deeply and exhaled. He walked over and sat beside Jack on the sofa. Leaning his head back against the bulkhead he closed his eyes. "You could have just said no," Randy said quietly.

"I suppose but where would the fun be in that?" Jack teased.

"Look, I have another one of these back at the hotel. What do you say I bring it over tomorrow and show you how to use it," Jack offered.

"How did you get them through customs?" Randy wondered out loud.

"I didn't. I bought them here about 2 hours ago. What do you say? Want to get a crash course in hand gun do's and don'ts?" Jack asked.

"Sure, why not, might as be prepared for the worst, am I right?" Randy said surrendering to the reality of their situation.

"Pat doesn't really know about these does he?" Randy asked rhetorically.

"Does it matter?" answered Jack anyway.

"Probably," said Randy.

Randy rolled his head toward Jack, "Got anymore surprises?" Randy asked.
Jack smiled and jammed a full clip into the Glock. "Not as far as you know," he replied getting up to leave. He walked over to the hatch and put a foot on the first rung of the ladder. "Let's go over and check on Jeckle as long as we're both here and wide awake.

Randy nodded and got up to follow him on up to the deck and then over to the adjoining slip where the second boat was berthed. Switching off the cabin lights as he climbed up the ladder he failed to notice a faint red light blinking slowly under the second rung of the short ladder. Jack was waiting for him topside, his hand gripping the gun behind his back tightly. Randy popped out and walked silently past him aft to the dock plank. When no question was asked, Jack relaxed his grip on his weapon. Clearly Randy's mind was elsewhere, and that was okay as far as Jack was concerned, he didn't feel like killing Randy anyway.
He would if he had to, but for now he didn't.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

("Murder by numbers, 1-2-3, it's as easy as saying you’re a-b-c's…")…Sting

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 Forty

Le Rivage Hotel, Mandelieu La Napoule, Friday, August 29th, 2005…9PM

Looks like its true Wesley thought from inside of his dream, you do see your life pass by just before the end. How queer that he should enjoy these last few moments on Earth in relative peace in spite of what his physical body was experiencing. He wondered if this was the same gift the Christ was granted in his final hour, a few moments of clarity and peace before joining the Father in Paradise. The big hearted Aussie was oblivious to whatever was happening outside of his dream, having left the conscious life behind sometime ago. Let them do what they will these bastards, he was beyond caring now. Whatever good he had done in this life was being rewarded with this complete disconnect from the here and now. Not yet dead but no longer living by mortal understanding, he awaited the light so often mentioned in prose of near death accountings.

He heard his mother's voice call to him as he raced across the Outback on the video screens that were the lids of his closed eyes. The Sudan grass grew wild and high and was wet with morning dew as he chased his childhood companion Rex, a nine year-old Boarder Collie that his Dad had rescued from an abusive sheep rancher who lived a couple of spreads over from the Allendale's property in north Perth on the far Western end of the Australian continent. Wesley had raised that dog from a pup and had buried him on their birthday, he being 9 and Rex being 63 if you subscribed to the theory that a dog ages at seven times the rate of a human being. It was a tough task for one so young and so attached but is father had insisted that he show his pet the same love in death that he showed him in life, that he might understand the meaning of eternity. There is nothing more powerful than a vivid memory of someone or something that you truly loved. Wesley hung onto that image for a while, the memory of his youth washing over him like a warm summer wave from the Indian Ocean.

"He must be gone Herr Price, the voltage was high enough to wake the dead," said Rolf as he removed the clamps from the battery posts, his hands carefully covered with a thick pair of rubber gloves.

"So it would seem. Apparently we captured the wrong conspirator. This one had courage I did not give him credit for. He must be part German don't you think?" Mr. Price said studying Wesley as he lay on the large conference table in center of the hotel suite.

He pressed his cheek close to the probable dead man's face and hovered for a moment to see if he could detect any sign of life. There was no indication that the man continued to breathe. His chest neither rose nor fell, there was no detectable moisture emanating from his nostrils. His skin was cold and clammy which validated the flat line on the monitor he was connected to. Mr. Allendale was dead now and unfortunately he had revealed nothing useful save the fact the time was near. Mr. Price knew the target had to be The Princess Grace but could not throw caution to the wind and was forced to divide his limited resources between the ocean liner and the next likely target which was to his mind the Peck family villa in Monte Carlo. Both he and Sanford Peck knew that Jackson's hate ran deep and they both knew the reason for it. When and where were the last two pieces of the puzzle, they already knew who, what, and why. He covered the dead man's body with a sheet and turned to leave the room.

"Dispose of this quietly," he said to Rolf as he passed by his aid.

"Ja mien Herr," Rolf replied dutifully.

A cool breeze came from nowhere as Wesley caught up with his pup and scooped him up into his arms. He heard himself giggle like a schoolboy and could feel Rex's wet kisses as the puppy lapped at his face while he held him close. In the distance his mother's voice called out to him. He couldn't make out the words but it sounded like the suppertime invitations he remembered hearing so many, many years ago. Wesley Allendale turned toward that sweet sound and ran into the wind and into the bright sunlight, the light leading to peace and eternity.


Mandelieu Marina…slip#18, Friday, August 29th, 2005…10pm

The fireworks display couldn't have ended soon enough for Randy Patel. Every snap, crackle, pop, and boom made him jump as he imagined one of Peck's goons busting a cap in his ass as it were. Randy was nervous enough even under the best of circumstances, but being a marked man had put him way over the top on the scared shitless scale. Oh, he did his best to mask his fear with humor, but his efforts were pitiful and made him look like Don Knotts in "The Shakiest Gun in the West!" Randy finished his fit check of the countermeasure equipment that Jack had installed earlier. It all looked good. Obviously Jack had no trouble with the schematics that he'd provided. Why should he thought Randy, after all Jack had been his professor during his post grad years at Cal Tech. Still, Randy would have taken pride in even the smallest of questions from his mentor.

"Are you checking up on me kid?" Jack asked appearing over Randy's shoulder suddenly.

"FUCK ME!" Randy shouted nearly jumping out of his skin and cracking his skull on the overhead. He hopped around the cabin clutching his head with both hands trying to rub out the sharp pain.

"Damn damn damn, that was fucked up Jack, what's the matter with you," Randy whined while he tried to rub away the pain with the heel of his hand.

"Nut up Nancy, you're not even bleeding," replied Jack taking a seat on the small fold down sofa. Randy stopped whimpering long enough to notice the 9mm Glock in Jack's hand.

He took a step toward him and pointed at the gun and asked, "What's that for man?"

"What do you think it's for? Different rules now dude. Wesley's missing and probably already fish food. I don't know about you, but I'm not going quietly into the great beyond my friend," Jack answered, brandishing the weapon foolishly.

"Does Pat know about that?" Randy asked.

"Yeah, of course," lied Jack.

Randy watched Jack handle the gun and the thought of a little personal protection actually sounded like a good idea. "Do you have another one of those things?" Randy asked nodding at the gun in Jack's hand.

"Have you ever fired one? Have you ever even held one?" Jack said answering a question with a question.

"I got a marksman badge in Scouts when I was 17, so yeah, I've held and fired a gun before," answered Randy in a snotty tone.

Jack suddenly tossed the weapon to Randy, catching him off guard causing him to juggle and drop the handgun. Squeezing his eyes shut Randy winced and covered both ears expecting a loud retort when the gun went off. Jack roared with laughter and walked over to pick up the gun from the floor. He put the gun butt first up to Randy's face and pointed at the empty chamber in the handle of the weapon.

"See? No magazine in there. I thought you said you fired one of these before, won a badge or something?" Jack asked sarcastically as he returned to his seat on the sofa.

Randy sighed deeply and exhaled. He walked over and sat beside Jack on the sofa. Leaning his head back against the bulkhead he closed his eyes. "You could have just said no," Randy said quietly.

"I suppose but where would the fun be in that?" Jack teased.

"Look, I have another one of these back at the hotel. What do you say I bring it over tomorrow and show you how to use it," Jack offered.

"How did you get them through customs?" Randy wondered out loud.

"I didn't. I bought them here about 2 hours ago. What do you say? Want to get a crash course in hand gun do's and don'ts?" Jack asked.

"Sure, why not, might as be prepared for the worst, am I right?" Randy said surrendering to the reality of their situation.

"Pat doesn't really know about these does he?" Randy asked rhetorically.

"Does it matter?" answered Jack anyway.

"Probably," said Randy.

Randy rolled his head toward Jack, "Got anymore surprises?" Randy asked.
Jack smiled and jammed a full clip into the Glock. "Not as far as you know," he replied getting up to leave. He walked over to the hatch and put a foot on the first rung of the ladder. "Let's go over and check on Jeckle as long as we're both here and wide awake.

Randy nodded and got up to follow him on up to the deck and then over to the adjoining slip where the second boat was berthed. Switching off the cabin lights as he climbed up the ladder he failed to notice a faint red light blinking slowly under the second rung of the short ladder. Jack was waiting for him topside, his hand gripping the gun behind his back tightly. Randy popped out and walked silently past him aft to the dock plank. When no question was asked, Jack relaxed his grip on his weapon. Clearly Randy's mind was elsewhere, and that was okay as far as Jack was concerned, he didn't feel like killing Randy anyway.
He would if he had to, but for now he didn't.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

("cause I love you more than light...and it will always be this way, as long as I believe in life...") Eric Clapton

"it doesn't matter how well prepared you are for bad news...it always shocks you when it arrives...it always brings a tear..."

Anh yêu em Tuyet...


The Lesson

26 December, Paris, France

One would think that Christmas Eve or especially Christmas Day would be the loneliest for someone so far from home. That’s certainly what Noah used to think, until this morning that is. Actually, his holiday had been jammed with parties and social invitations from friends and colleagues both days, the 24th and the 25th. He had started referring to the holidays by date instead of by name, right after Thanksgiving, in a childish attempt to depersonalize them and thereby minimize thoughts of home and family. It was the old stick your head in the sand approach, and it seemed like a good idea at the time. Actually it worked to some extent given the avalanche of work and study associated with the end of the Fall term.

Noah Nathan Noel (thanks a lot mom and dad!!!) was in his final year at the Sorbonne Academy in Paris France. His flair for style and elegance had led him to the culinary arts after several detours through the more traditional arts, such as literature, sculpture, and music (still a passion). His first two years at Yale he had been an English Literature major. He wrote well and had even been published once or twice, but the process bored him. He shifted gears and spent the next year as a Fine Art major, focusing on sculpture as his medium of expression. He fancied himself the next Michelangelo, possibly. Actually, he sucked, and his professors wasted no time in encouraging him to redirect his efforts. Finally, in his senior year, he discovered a passion and an unknown aptitude for music. It was a whirlwind romance between Noah and the piano. He took to the instrument like an infant takes to the breast. The sounds and melodies that came alive when his fingers roamed the keyboard cradled him in a blanket of emotions from calm and soothing to vibrant and wild. He reveled in the shear ecstasy he experienced with the touch of his hands upon the keys. He loved the joy that came with mastering complex pieces and the freedom of simply being able to play whatever was on his heart, be it light of dark. It was liberating, it was exciting, and it launched a career that he thought he wanted.

At the senior recital, what amounted to his final exam, he managed to impress a visitor from the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. So much so, that he was offered the opportunity to audition straight away. Unheard of! Extrordinary! That just wasn’t how things worked in the real world, but Noah’s path was anything but ordinary. And as fate would have it, he landed a second chair position with the world famous orchestra right out of university, without even pursuing a Masters Degree in music, also unheard off! Within three years he moved from his rookie position to featured soloist, and a very popular one at that, one with an ever growing fan base. The experience was wonderfully alluring for Noah. At least it was at first. But the pressures of constant travel, of performing night after night, matinee after matinee for faces that were scarcely more than blurs in the whirlwind that was his life, he was exhausted already at the tender age of twenty-seven. And then there were the fickle pens of the critics (over educated know-it-alls) who had taken their toll over time, erasing his desire to play for anyone anymore, including himself. So, after five years of carrying that cross, Noah up and quit, cold turkey. He literally ran away from home, leaving behind the music world and the good old US of A for a more bohemian lifestyle in the city of lights, Paris, France.

He spent the first couple of months in country exploring the neighborhood around his flat located on the infamous left bank of the old city. He was determined to assimilate quickly, wanting to blend in and learn to speak the language like a native. He wanted to see what fate had in store for him in this new chapter of his life. He had always made friends easily and he used that talent to establish himself as a regular at the local markets, cafes, and pubs. In no time at all he was exchanging pleasantries with shop owners as he passed by, and often times he was invited in for coffee and a visit. By month three of his stay he was regularly stopped on the street by tourists asking for directions or help with translations. He had the look and air of a true Parisian by now.
On one of his walkabouts he had stopped in at a local brassière, compelled by the amazing aroma of fresh breads and pastries. He remembered ordering coffee and spending an entire hour choosing which delectable treat he wanted to sample. He had decided upon an assortment of pinafores and sat outside to dine al fresco and enjoy his selections. There were no words to describe the flavor of these pastries, although taste explosion immediately came to mind. On top of the remarkable experience for his palate, there was this incredible visual experience associated with the presentation of these delicate delights. This was more than food, more than dessert, this was art! When he finished eating he went back into the shop and watched the baker/chef create masterpiece after masterpiece, no two exactly the same, like snowflakes.

Noah was inspired, a feeling he hadn't had in some time. Perhaps he may have found a new outlet for his artistic expression, one that would please all of the senses simultaneously. He quickly made friends with the shop owner and proceeded to spend the next six months close to the master craftsman’s heels, learning the art form and honing his natural ability to create. He learned fast, totally inspired by the unfamiliar surroundings and the freedom from the pressures of his past life. He experimented and conjured up incredibly delectable pastries of his own design. In no time, almost overnight, he was a neighborhood sensation, drawing crowds every morning as his creations were laid out in display cases and the shop window. Word spread quickly and soon the shop was attracting people from all over the city. The curious and the hungry would line up around the block to see and sample Noah’s handiwork. On one such morning a professor from the Sorbonne Academy stopped in to see what all the local fuss was about. She was instantly smitten with Noah’s untapped talent and his seemingly limitless potential. She insisted that he visit her at the school and look around; perhaps consider pursuing a career in the culinary arts. It was a decision that he agonized over for all of twenty minutes. He was aware of the value of a degree from the prestigious school; it was the same as listing Harvard as a reference on a Wall Street resume. Plus, he was intrigued by the thought of learning from the grand masters. He agreed to accept a scholarship and began his studies forthwith.

That was more than two years ago, and here he was celebrating another holiday alone. Well, not alone exactly, he had plenty of friends around him. But it had been a long while since he had last been home, and today, the day after Christmas, he was missing more familiar surroundings just a wee bit. He awoke early this morning and prepared himself an old fashioned American breakfast consisting of eggs, bacon, hash browned potatoes, French toast (he was in France after all), coffee and orange juice (no pulp), basically the lumberjack breakfast from any diner in the fifty states. He’d taken his sweet time preparing and eating the feast, but still, he ate alone. He left the radio and television off to escape the French language for a little while. But when the walls started closing in around him, he put on his coat and muffler and started walking.
The air was cold and brisk, and he could see his breath as he trod along with no particular destination in mind. He passed the Waldorf Madeleine Hotel and waived at Sophie, the concierge who was standing out in the cold taking a cigarette break, talking on her cell phone. She smiled and waived back as he walked by. Noah picked up the pace slightly in an effort to generate a little heat, man it was cold! As he passed the red post box, he checked traffic before crossing the street to the Metro station. Noah thought that he would head over to Sacré-Coeur and Montmartre. There was a bistro there he fancied that served the best bouf bourgeonne in the city. The small off beat places were always the best, it was like that anywhere in the world, a universal culinary axiom if you will. Sprinting across the busy street he stopped to help up a toddler who had tripped and fallen beside his overburdened mother. She was struggling with a pram holding a little sister and an arm full of groceries. The little boy giggled when Noah mussed his hair, and then waived bye-bye as Noah descended the stairs to the Metro platform.

He found a seat quickly when the doors opened and settled in for the ten minute ride to the old church in the artist district. He enjoyed people watching while he listened to the sound of the wheels on the track, a pastime he had come to appreciate soon after arriving in Paris. Having grown up in a typical US suburb he hadn’t experienced the close-quarter life of a metropolitan city. Oh he had been to New York and Chicago, but they were new and young compared with Paris. They didn’t have the air of wonderment associated with age, experience, and history. He rode in the dark for exactly ten minutes and presently arrived at the Montmartre station. Noah exited the car, and fast walked with the crowd through the winding tunnel leading to the exit. He took the stairs two at a time and drew in a deep breath of cold fresh air as he stepped into daylight. His mind was clearing and the doldrums were disappearing as he walked toward the marketplace. It was a little early for supper and a little late for dinner, but he was hungry and on a mission to enjoy a favorite meal.

Noah turned up his collar as he rounded the corner and entered the courtyard of the famous artist’s colony, walking head on into the freezing wind. He shuddered and picked up the pace a little only to stop just as suddenly. He paused for a moment and listened again for the familiar sound that had caught his attention. Turning toward the sound he looked past his reflection in the shop window at the shape of a young girl sitting at an old upright piano. She couldn’t have been more than nine or ten years-old he reckoned; it was hard to tell these days, kids were in such a hurry to grow up. She was waif-like, with a bobbed hairstyle, short in the back and long in the front, a style popular in the roaring 1920’s. Two long trusses of hair brushed her face as she swayed to the melody she was playing. She was dressed in a Tartan school uniform, a grey and blue skirt with a starched white blouse. A cream colored muffler dangled from around her small neck while a dark blue beret lay beside her on the piano bench.

Noah figured that she must be home from school and practicing her piece while her parents were in the kitchen preparing for the supper crowd. He took a step closer to the window and pretended to read the menu that was taped to the glass. He watched her and listened to her struggle with the piece. It was a Chopin sonata, not a difficult one, but clearly it was new for her and obviously beyond her level. Noah watched and listened for a few minutes, remembering the past, the homesick feeling returning in spades. He cleared his throat and walked away quickly, hoping to outrun the homesick blues on his way to that tasty meal of bouf bourgeonne that was waiting for him up the street. But the faster he walked the louder the music became. He couldn’t escape the noise. An urge to go back and help the poor kid get it right consumed him. He paused halfway up the block, sighed and then turned back. The music stopped just before he arrived.

Noah walked into the small bistro and looked around. The girl was gone, and there was only an elderly couple seated in the back. They were chatting and enjoying coffee or tea, obviously finished with their meal. There were a few empty dishes on the table waiting to be collected by someone. That someone walked in before Noah could wonder who or where they were. It was the little girl. She wore an apron over her uniform now. She walked to the couple’s table and exchanged a few softly spoken words that Noah couldn’t hear. The old woman smiled at her and touched the girl’s cheek as she collected the empty dishes. She said something that made the girl smile and then went back to chatting with her partner as the child walked away.

“One moment messier,” the girl said to Noah as she passed him on the way to the kitchen, catching him off guard.

“Oh, right, ummm, no hurry,” Noah replied sheepishly. He blushed as if he had been caught eavesdropping. Why did she speak to him in English, what gave him away he wondered?

“Have a seat anywhere,” she hollered over her shoulder as she pushed through the swinging doors that separated the kitchen from the small dining area.

“Thanks,” Noah called out, pulling out the chair closest to him and sitting down.

He busied himself nervously, straightening up the table top and rearranging the silverware and the salt & pepper shakers. There wasn’t a menu to look at, but he wasn’t there to eat anyways. He wondered if he hadn’t made a huge mistake, and thought about leaving when the girl reappeared. She handed him a small menu and stood by patiently, waiting for him to choose something. Noah pulled out a pair of reading glasses from his coat and quickly scanned the menu. It was in French but had pictures of each dish next to the words. That was more of a Greek tendency he thought, and he wondered if her family were immigrants? He glanced up and made eye contact with the child. She smiled sweetly and he smiled back.

“Have you decided,” she asked in passable English, with a thick French accent.

“Café-au-lait si vu plait,” he replied.

“Oui,” she answered turning to fetch his coffee with milk.

Noah exhaled and looked around the room. He could smell some kind of fish stew or soup wafting from the kitchen. The aroma was strong, but pleasant, promising a dish that was seasoned just right with fresh vegetables and whatever the fresh catch of the day was, likely some kind of whitefish. He turned to see the elderly couple getting up to leave. The old man helped his partner with her coat and then left a few Euros on the table for the girl to pick up. They ignored Noah as they walked past and left him alone in the room. He looked over at the old piano and studied it from across the room. It was at least thirty years old, a Baldwin according to the nameplate prominently displayed in the center of the instrument. It had been in tune from what Noah had heard earlier, but it needed to be voiced. But it was in decent enough shape to learn on he thought.

Noah got up and slowly walked over to the piano. He saw that the girl had left her beret on the bench. He looked toward the kitchen and waited a moment for someone to walk out before reaching down to lightly touch the keys, choosing middle C as the first ivory key he subconsciously inspected. He let his finger slide across the smooth key, cold to the touch, and then depressed it gently letting the note ring a second or two before removing his hand. He looked up quickly, expecting someone to come running out from the back. Nobody rushed out, the doors remained motionless. He played the single note once more and when no one objected he sat down on the bench. Noah ran both hands across the keys with a gentle touch, enjoying the feel of the cool ivory keys. And after a second pass along the keyboard he played a C chord with each hand, letting the bass and treble tones mix in the empty room. He was surprised by how good that made him feel, the intensity of the sound that rang in his ears, waking memories he had suppressed for the last three years. He closed his eyes and played the same chord again, then moved to an E, then a G, and then back to C. That brief exercise made him smile. When he opened his eyes the girl was standing beside him. She smiled and pointed at his table where she had placed his drink.

“Messier,” she said, pointing at his beverage.

“Merci,” replied Noah.

“Au moment se vu plait,” he added.

“As you wish,” she answered.

“Thank you,” he replied, grateful for the switch back to English.

“Do you play?” Noah asked, pretending not to know.

“I am learning, but it is difficult, no,” she answered.

“It can be at first. At least until you connect with the instrument, make friends with it, make it a part of your own body,” Noah replied, over explaining.

She looked puzzled by his words. He wasn’t sure if she understood his meaning. Noah closed his eyes and played the very piece she had been practicing earlier, the Chopin sonata. His skills had not diminished a bit during his absence from the stage, and Chopin’s beautiful melody rose from the old piano, filling the room with music so sweet that all other sounds ceased. He stopped after a few measures and looked at the girl.

“See, just like that,” he said.

“My goodness, I could never do that,” she said, her eyes glistening. Noah picked up her beret and patted the bench beside him.

“Of course you can,” he said smiling.

The child bit at her lip and looked over her shoulder toward the kitchen. She could see her mother looking through the small window on top of the door. Her mother’s eyes revealed more curiosity than concern and the child sat beside him timidly. Noah looked over at the mother in the window and winked. She pushed open the door slightly and smiled, drying her hands with a colorful dishtowel. The mother nodded at him and walked into the room, taking a seat at a nearby table.

“You teach?” the mother asked.

“I try,” answered Noah sheepishly.

“It’s been a little while though,” he added, more for his benefit than hers.

He looked at the girl again and noticed that she appeared more at ease. She smiled up at him and waited for whatever was coming next. Noah smiled back and then placed his hands onto the keys. He sat motionless for a moment, staring at his hands on the keyboard poised to begin and then saw that the child had placed her hands likewise a register above him, poised to do the same.

“What’s your name?” he asked the girl.

“Giselle,” answered the mother.

Noah chuckled, “Okay Giselle, here we go,” he said. Noah raised his hands slightly above the keys, first his left and then his right, and prepared to begin when he had a sudden notion. He could feel the anticipation emanating from the child beside him. He could really feel it coming from the mother at the table near the kitchen. He turned his head slightly and spoke to the girl. “Put your hands on mine,” he said softly.

“Pardon?” she replied, glancing over at her mother.

“Sit closer and put your hands onto mine. It’s alright; we’re going to play Chopin’s music, together. Don’t be afraid,” Noah explained.

The girl looked at the piano and then at his hands and gradually understood what Noah had in mind. She leaned back to look around Noah at her mother for permission. The woman at the table nodded, withholding a smile for the moment. The child leaned forward and clumsily plopped her little hands onto Noah’s causing a missed chord. Noah laughed and took her hands in his, squeezing them firmly. He relaxed his hold and rubbed them as if to warm them.

“Let’s try again, but gently this time, okay,” he said making eye contact.
“Oui, okay,” she replied smiling sheepishly.

Noah placed his hands back onto the keys, and the child did likewise, her tiny fingers resting gently atop of each of his. Noah watched her stare at the piano and waited for her to relax. When she did, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath then began to play, slowly at first, allowing her get accustomed to the process, and then faster, keeping in time with Chopin’s intended melody and phrasing. The girl looked up at the sheet music in front of them aware that they had played beyond the pages displayed before them. She glanced up at Noah and saw that his eyes were closed. He was playing this difficult piece from memory she was simultaneously impressed and excited. It was like waking up and discovering that you could fly like a bird. She felt free as if she had no boundaries. Taking his cue, she closed her own eyes, totally relaxing, and let him lead her up and down the keyboard, surrendering to his experience and awesome talent.

From the first perfect chord of the prelude, a long string of notes beginning the sonata’s expression of the composer’s innermost thoughts and feelings, the atmosphere in the small restaurant changed. You could feel it physically; the beautifully arranged music filled the room, note after glorious note. Giselle felt herself being swept away. She could literally feel the power of the music rising up through Noah’s hands and into hers. She was frightened at first, but that passed quickly, feeling empowered with each passing measure. Noah went from movement to movement without pause, he himself swept away by memories of past performances. He hadn’t realized how much he missed this, how much he truly loved music, and the absolute joy that it brought to him, that it brought to everyone.

He opened his eyes for the first time in a quarter hour and saw that he and Giselle had drawn a small crowd. There were people at all the tables, as well as several standing in the doorway and peering into the shop window. Nevertheless, he continued unencumbered and unaffected by the impromptu audience, he was in a zone now, a true happy place. He noticed that Giselle was in the zone along him, completely relaxed, her eyes closed, her head resting on his shoulder, her bobbed hair brushing her face as she swayed with the music they were making. Noah looked over at her mother and winked. She understood his meaning and flashed him the smile she’d withheld earlier. Noah smiled back and turned back to face the piano. They were nearing the crescendo of Chopin’s sonata and he let the music's power guide his movements. The change in tempo and the forceful transitions from note to note, chord to chord brought Giselle out of her peaceful trance. She sat up quickly and looked up at Noah, her expression one of puzzlement and panic.

“Don’t worry, the end is near,” he said loudly, reassuring her.

She winked back and then smiled, aware of the crowd for the first time since they had begun the piece. Giselle heart skipped a beat, momentarily hit by a little stage fright. She shut her eyes tightly and scooted closer to Noah, seeking protection from the curious stares from the room. She kept her hands on his in spite of her terror, the joyous music more powerful than judgment of an audience of strangers. Noah started to hum along with the music. He knew where he was going as he had played this piece a hundred times over the years. He gently nudged Giselle and encouraged her to hum along with him. She did as she was asked, softly at first and then louder as she and Noah raced for the end of the sonata. They hummed louder and louder, they hit the keys harder and harder. They both began to giggle as they neared the end, and the people around them who knew the piece began humming right along with them. They began the last couple of measures reaching the crescendo and sat up as straight as they could, shouting out the final notes of the sonata, ending the piece with a heavy hand as they struck the final chords.

Noah sat motionless letting the notes fade into the air and when the sound had disappeared and become a memory he stood and helped Giselle up from the bench. The two of them turned to face the small crowd and the room exploded with applause and cheers. Noah and Giselle bowed together acknowledging their audience’s appreciation. Giselle’s mother dabbed tears from her eyes with her apron while her father watched proudly from the kitchen door. Giselle and Noah bowed a few more times, basking in the moment, and then hugged one another like brother and sister.

She took Noah’s face in her little hands and thanked him, “Merci,” she whispered, “Merci bécu!”

Noah winked at her and helped her down from the piano bench. He mussed her hair and kissed her cheek, then walked toward the exit. He paused, turning back to waive goodbye, and then continued on out into the street. It was December the 26th, the day after Christmas, and he was far from where he had come from, but he was no longer lonely, no longer homesick. He was home, at last. Noah walked up the street towards the bistro he had originally been seeking. He smiled, thinking to himself, how wonderful life can be when you appreciate what you do have instead of worrying over what you don’t. He was pretty sure he'd read that somewhere, he had of course…we all have…
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