Anh yêu em Tuyet...
Tôi yêu con gái KaSandra & Katrina...
Tôi thương con trai của bố Luc…
a novel by nicholas sheridan stanton
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.
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.
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.