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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

("I'm just sittin here watchin the wheels go round and round, I really love to watch em roll…")…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-five

Hwy D42, Marseilles, France…Sunday, August 28th, 2005…6am

As the crow flies Monte Carlo to Marseilles is roughly 100 miles, give or take. But the winding roads linking all of the small hamlets, tiny villages, and big resort towns seem to almost double that figure easily. That's a helluva long time to be trapped in a car with that chatty Cathy, Sandy Lucci. It made you wish for a cone of silence ala Maxwell Smart! At the moment Roman was wishing that the freaking Euro's had embraced the fast food craze a little more than they did. There wasn't a McDonalds anywhere to found on this trip. He kept looking just the same. The sooner he found a drive-thru and filled Sandy's mouth with cheeseburgers to shut him up the better! Roman glanced at François in the back seat, envying his luxury of sleeping through Sandy's nonstop chatter. The lucky bastard wasn't stuck with keeping the mouth that roared company!

The sunrise was just beginning and it was a spectacular sight. Roman had not travelled much outside of California except for his tour of duty in Southeast Asia and an occasional welding gig when he was working with Sandy and Pat. He opened his window to keep himself from dozing off. The chilled air worked its magic instantly. He heard François groaning a protest from the back seat and a wicked grin spread across his face. Fuck him! This was pay back for abandoning him during the night, leaving him to deal with Mouth-zilla all by his lonesome! Unfortunately Roman's sweet revenge was cut short as the cold air seemed to have the opposite effect on Sandy, reviving him. The rat bastard beat on his chest like an ape, inhaling the crisp cold air deeply into his lungs.

"OH MAN! Feel that fresh air. Thanks dude! You know I was getting kinda sleepy there for a minute. You've had that goddamn heater on the whole trip for Pat's old man," exclaimed Sandy, stabbing at the air behind him with a thumb over his shoulder.

Roman rolled his eyes and shook his head slowly. He was angry that he'd spoiled an opportunity for a little peace and quite. He scolded himself under his breath, "mother fuc…," when Sandy suddenly cut him off with a familiar whine.

"Dude, see if you can find a Euro-Coco's or something around here man, maybe we can grab some chow before we get to the marina," he said, looking out all of the windows at once as he scouted the area for a diner.

"I hope you're happy," murmured François from under the cozy cocoon he'd assembled from all of the coats and jackets they'd tossed in the back of the Audi.

"Can it Frenchie, I don't need crap from you too," quipped Roman.

"Alright, but take the next exit and you'll find something that will pass for an American meal for our insatiable friend riding shotgun," François replied from under his warm retreat.

"How would you know man? You've been squirreled away under those coats all night," Roman lamented, dismissing François' suggestion.

"I peeked out the window while you were rolling your eyes. Trust me, take the next exit and you'll run right into the Ibis Marseille Hotel. It's not five star but the restaurant has a large selection of Yankee style favorites including pancakes and waffles, Sandy will love it," replied François.

"Listen to the man home-boy! Let's eat, I'm starving!" chimed in Sandy.

"You're alright Frenchie, I don't care what Roman says about you," he added, patting Roman's shoulder as he settled back into his seat. François sat up and stretched. Rubbing at his eyes he looked out the windows on either side of the Audi and got his bearings. "Take the Alexandre Fleming exit ahead and follow it to the Ibis Hotel," he said yawning.

"Okay, I see the exit, but I don't see no hotel? You said I'd run right into it," Roman said looking past Sandy and out the passenger window.

"Just follow Fleming around and it will turn into François Duparc. The Ibis is on Sakatini. If you get to St. Pierre you went too far," explained François.

"Clear as mud," replied Roman sarcastically as he took the av. Alexandre Fleming exit.

"Don't worry my friend, I will get us there. This is where I grew up, these are my streets," chuckled François.

"Alright Frenchie, you have the con," said Sandy gleefully, grateful that they'd be stopping soon to put on the old feedbag.

A few moments later they were pulling into the drive of the large, square, unimpressive three star hotel. Sandy hopped out before Roman killed the engine and jogged toward the entrance, his warm breath leaving a foggy trail behind him as he put some distance between he and the others. Sandy Lucci wasn't picky when it came to meals. The whole star rating system was wasted on him. As long as the food was hot, the coffee black, the beer cold, and the waitresses young and curvaceous, he was a happy camper. This place would be lucky to bat .500 on the Lucci scorecard, and at this time of the morning hot cakes and coffee would be his preference over suds and sex.

François and Roman entered the lobby a moment after Sandy. A rather round and perturbed looking gentleman behind the desk rolled his eyes toward a hall leading to the dining area where a bellhop was busy cleaning a spill. It looked like someone had run over the poor guy on his way to fill a room service order. You didn't need to be a genius to figure out the culprit in that hit and run. François smiled weakly as they past the desk, picking up the pace to catch up to Sandy before the next calamity.

"HOT CAKES! Come on man, you know, pancakes, flapjacks, buttermilk, blueberry, sourdough, buckwheat, understand-a-vu, HOT CAKES!" Sandy bellowed at a tiny waiter who looked to be about a hundred and ten. What a jerk François thought as he came to the poor fellow's rescue.

"Pardonnez s'il vous plaît à mon ami, il est surmené intellectuellement malade," he said, asking for forgiveness for his mentally ill friend.

"Bien sûr, mais est il dangereux," replied the frightened waiter, forgiving him and asking if Sandy was dangerous.

"Pas si vous le nourrissez vite," replied François with a smile, assuring him that he was not, as long as he was fed quickly.

The little man laughed weakly, excusing himself to process Sandy's order, running off to the kitchen as fast as his little legs would carry him. François turned to give Sandy a piece of his mind only to discover that he'd already wandered over to the buffet table to poor himself a cup of coffee and grab a couple of scones to tide him over until his meal arrived. François decided to leave well enough alone and joined him at the coffee carafe to do likewise. They joined Roman at a booth near a window with a view of the parking lot. He was busy adding an ungodly amount of sugar and cream to his coffee.

"Man, this is the smallest coffee mug I've ever seen. And this coffee tastes like sludge!" Roman lamented, making a sour face.

"Its espresso my friend, it's supposed to taste like that. Nice and strong," explained François.

"For reals? Madre mia, I don't think I'm gonna France so much," Roman replied, emptying five small espresso cups into a soup bowl and adding more milk and sugar.

François shook his head and muttered "païen," referring to his confused compatriot as a heathen. As he sipped at his own drink his cell phone began to vibrate in his pocket. Setting down his cup he stood to retrieve the squawking contraption from his pants pocket and answer it. Who would be calling so early he wondered? The led display answered his question as Jackson Peck's name was displayed in dark black letters against a soft blue background. François' felt tightness in his chest as he answered the phone, he had a bad feeling.

"Hello Mr. Bouchard, it's me Jack. I hope I didn't wake you?"

"No we have only just arrived in Marseilles. We are having breakfast at the Ibis Hotel right now. Are you nearby?"

"Yeah, I arrived last night by charter. I've been trying to reach Randy but no joy. Has he called you?"

François frowned and walked away form the table and out into the lobby to continue the conversation without the commotion of a busy restaurant and out of earshot of Sandy and Roman. "He hasn't called, but he wasn't to arrive here until tomorrow anyway. That was the plan. We would get to the docks today and the two of you would follow in a day or two. What are you worried about anyway, what aren't you telling me?"

"It's probably nothing, Randy was supposed to check in when he arrived in Madrid and that was hours ago. I tried his cell and no answer. He may just be over cautious since his encounter with Mr. Price and his minions. I told him to run silent if he thought he was being followed. Still, you were and then Pat were the contingency plans and neither of you have heard from him."

"You spoke with my son?"

"Yes, I called him after you didn't pick up last night."

"You called me last night?"

"Yeah, around midnight, it just rang, never went to voice mail."

"I must have disabled the damn thing somehow. These machines are just too bloody sophisticated for my generation!"

"I'm hip. Anyway, Pat said we go with or without him."

"That doesn't sound right, are you sure he was clear about that?"


François didn't like how quickly Jack answered his question. He was lying, Pat was not that reckless. Still, confronting him now could be trouble for them all so he played along for the time being. He'd caution the others once they got to the docks. Right now he wanted to concentrate on Randy, the boy had to be somewhere between Madrid and Marseilles. He was supposed be travelling by rail, but if he felt threatened he may have changed up and switched to a bus or an automobile. At any rate he had three days to make a one day trip. The prudent thing for them to do was to wait and see. But suddenly François had a notion. He recalled what Giselle, Patrick's mother used to tell their son when he was a boy and they were out shopping in the mall together, "if we get separated stay where you are, I will find you."

"Jack, when was the last time you saw Randy?"

"In Paris, I watched him board his flight to Spain before I caught my charter, why?"

"You saw him board?"

"Yes, why? What are you thinking?"

"I think Randy is still in Madrid. He's doing what any frightened and smart kid would do. He's staying put and waiting for someone to come find him. That's what I think," François replied.

"You sound pretty sure of yourself."

"I am. The question is where is he waiting?"

"You already answered that Franco, he's at the airport."

"What is the airport in Madrid? We will go and fetch him," François said.

"He's not in Madrid, he's still in Paris, at the Charles De Gaulle airport," replied Jack chuckling.

"But you said you saw him board?"

"I did, but that doesn't mean stayed on board."

"How can you be sure?"

"Because I know how Mr. Price thinks and because I know my father. If Randy had been picked up in Madrid I'd have received a cryptic hint of some kind. My father loves to gloat and play games. He knows that we know he's on to us. It's a cat and mouse game for him now and we are the meal he is playing with. No, Randy's smart, he did the right thing. He stayed put and kept me in the dark about it, clever boy. I'll fly back a fetch him myself," Jack explained.

François could hear the wheels turning in Jack's head in the pregnant pause before he spoke again. He feared for Randy even more now than before. The tone of Jack's voice was cold and calculating, and it gave François the heebie-jeebies. He thought about calling Randy to warn him but he knew that Randy had already tossed the cell as part of the protocol they had set up in Monte Carlo. The same protocol kept him from calling his son as well. Sticking with the plan was the only course of action. The troubling part was that Jack knew the plan as well. In order to stay the course, he would have to trust the devil, there was no other choice. Randy's fate was in the hands of a random element. François fought the urge to deviate, and forced himself to remain disciplined.

"Very well, we'll see you on the dock in two days, as scheduled," he said as normally as possible so as not to give Jack any indication that he was abnormally concerned.

"Right, see you on Monday or Tuesday. If it's safe I'll text you with the all's clear code after I find our little lost lamb," Jack replied.

"Alright, I'll keep an eye out for it," François answered as their call was disconnected.

François frowned as he put the cell phone back into his pants pocket. Jack's code for "all's clear" was 666...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

("Heaven knows no frontiers. And I've seen Heaven in your eyes…")…The Corrs

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-four

12 Rue de Valore…Monte Carlo, Saturday, August 27th, 2005…1am

As safe houses went I guess this was safe as any other. Actually, I've never had the compulsion or the need to utter those words in the same sentence before, other than to declare my own home a relatively safe place to live. I do recall a time though when my son Gabriel's pre-school teacher sent home an exercise requiring him to meet with his family and map out escape routes in case of a fire or an earthquake. He was so serious about his homework and he kept insisting that Monica and I "pay attention" because he was in charge! He was such a cute little tyrant; we could hardly contain ourselves as he led us from room to room pointing out deficiencies with our home safety program. He probably would have made a great Fireman or Safety Engineer had he survived the cancer. Suddenly my pleasant memory turned into an angry thought and I shut it down before it could cloud my judgment. Now was not the time for reactionary stumbles. I needed a clear head to cipher on what Jack and the others had shared tonight.

Clearly there was no turning back now. We were committed to a man, a fact that I was simultaneously grateful for, proud of and frankly surprised by, given the components of my small pirate crew. Specifically, Randy Patel who after surviving his encounter with the men who were likely responsible for Wesley Allendale's death, had decided to stay on board, and without reservation. Isn't it curious how people will surprise you? As soon as you've labeled someone like Randy as the weak link, bammo, he goes and does something heroic like this. Expect the unexpected they say, I suppose that'll just have to be my new mantra.

Nevertheless, I'm glad he chose to stay the course, and secretly down deep, I'm hoping against hope that I haven't led him and everyone else for that matter down a primrose path to a lengthy incarceration or worse! We all agreed that after this job we'd beat it on back stateside and regroup. Randy's discovery of a cyber path buried many layers deep in the Standard Pharmaceutical mainframe led to a veritable mountain of cash in what had to be a personal slush fund for Sanford Peck himself. That made the decision to lay low for a while a no brainer.

The G.A.W.D. coffers were swelling with our pirate booty as well as mega millions from more legitimate sources. The Foundation had grown legs since Grover Gateway's passing and we could afford to rely on those funds to support our continued Good Samaritan mission. The old man's friends came out of the woodwork to help the cause and he had lots of deep pocket friends, both personally and professionally. Truth be told picking Sanford Peck's pocket was no longer a necessity, it was purely punitive now. It was all mean spiritedness, and revenge on my part. We had kept my promise to Gabriel by building this organization with Standard's seed money and Grover's support and guidance. A little voice inside of me kept telling me that he knew all along who I was and what I was up to. That only made me admire him more. A great man recognizes greatness in others and he recognized Sanford Peck for the bastard that he was.

"We're leaving now son. We'll meet you at the docks on Friday. Watch yourself, I don't trust Jackson," Papa announced appearing suddenly and startling me from my deep thought.

"None of us trust that Richie Rich prick Pat. Do like your Pop says and watch your ass," added Sandy coming from the kitchen with a sandwich in hand that he made for the long drive.

Sandy, Papa and Roman were driving back to Mandelien-La Napoule tonight together in a rented Audi. They'd put the finishing touches on the boats and make sure they were prepped and shipshape for the run at The Princess Grace. Jack and Randy were heading there as well by different means and using a different route to confuse the enemy. They'd get back to the marina by way of Paris first, where they would split up. Randy would continue on to Madrid by air then take the rail to Marseilles, where he'd meet up with Jack again who would have backtracked in a chartered jet. The plan was to keep the Standard security goons guessing right up to the last minute. If that seems convoluted and excessive it's only because it is. We weren't trained spies by any means, the whole Chinese fire drill was right out of the James Bond movies and Robert Ludlum books we'd collectively watched and read respectively. It would have been comical if it hadn't been so serious. I was to leave in a day or two with Jean-Luc being called away on family business in Normandy. Jean-Luc Rojier would leave Monaco and Pat Bouchard (a.k.a. the Jack o Broken Hearts) would arrive in Mandelien-La Napoule in time to lead the assault on the princess.

"Alright buddy, message received," I replied shaking Sandy's hand. Sandy pulled me in close and hugged me like a big brother, slapping me on the back, "No shit Pat, watch yourself. You're alone here now. These guys mean business man, you don't wanna wind up fish bait like Wesley!" he said giving my shoulders a firm squeeze.

"Let's go homeboy, the car's gassed and ready to go," Roman announced, poking his head in the doorway.

"Gotta go dude, see ya on Friday," Sandy said turning to leave.

"See ya," I replied looking over at my father who was staring at me.

Papa looked at me with sad but admiring eyes, studying me, "We've taken this a lot further than we ever planned to, didn't we son?" he said not expecting a reply. We just stared at one another for a long moment.

"Was it worth it?" he asked finally.

I breathed in deeply and sighed a reply, "Yeah, it was to me," I said tiredly.
Papa slapped me on the arm and turned to leave. He stopped at the doorway and asked one more question without turning to face me, "Is it enough?"

I didn't hesitate with my answer, "Not by a long shot!"

The Princess Grace, Donnelly stateroom…Saturday August 27th…1am

Alma Donnelly sat up in the large bed, propping herself up on two huge overstuffed pillows with satin cases. She wasn't used to such luxury and she missed the comfortable queen sized Serta Perfect Sleeper back home, the one she and Arthur shared for the last twenty of their fifty years together. Actually she just missed being home altogether. No place is ever more beautiful than home, if she had on Dorothy's red shoes she'd gladly click the heels twice to whisk herself back to the ranch in California. Alma removed the soft felt sleep mask covering her tired eyes and surveyed the dark room. As her eyes adjusted to the light she noticed her cell phone blinking silently on the nightstand beside her.

"Land sakes, now who could that be?" she wondered aloud.

She leaned over and switched on the lamp and picked up her phone and reading glasses together. Adjusting the spectacles on her face she read the note displayed on the cell phone's screen. "Voice Mail" it read. Alma pressed the highlighted icon and held the phone to her ear.

"Hello Mrs. Donnelly, this is Dr. Elizabeth Andrews over at LA General Hospital in California. I received your letter the other day and am calling to inform you that Katherine Tate was released to Hospice earlier today. Frankly I was reluctant to make this call. But when my Director informed me that you were connected to the G.A.W.D. Foundation I decided that we owed you at least a courtesy call after all that you have done for Katie and her family. I must admit that I am confused by your interest though. If you don't mind my asking, are you acquainted with the Tate family? If you are, don't wait long to contact them, Katie has very little time left. I apologize for being the messenger with sad news. Goodbye…"

Alma set the phone down, resting it on the blankets that covered her. She removed her glasses and rubbed at her eyes for a moment. The poor child, her poor family, her poor mother and poor father she thought. Alma was no stranger to tragedy; Lord knows she'd seen plenty of it in her lifetime. Death and taxes, two things in life that are unavoidable, or so they say. She new little about taxes or high finance and frankly could care less. "Let the government have their pound of flesh," her Arthur would say every year at tax time. But she did know a thing or two about cheating death. Well, not exactly cheating, you couldn't really call it cheating if the method involved a by God miracle, right? Well, that was her opinion anyway, and she had good reason to think that way.

Alma Donnelly had a secret that she kept near and dear. It had been years since she thought of it. Her Arthur took the same secret to his grave as did Grover Gateway. It was after Grover's death when she became aware of Elizabeth Andrews. She had shown Jean-Luc a picture of Katie Tate with members of the Make-A-Wish program granting Katie's wish to meet a popular singer. Luc seemed to recognize Dr. Andrews although he didn't say so. It made Alma curious and when she inquired about the young doctor she discovered an unexpected link to the secret she kept. Dr. Elizabeth Andrews was somehow related to a face from the past. One of the few people intimately involved with the secret she kept. Elizabeth's uncle, formerly Father Ethan Kelly now Reverend Ethan Kelly was witness to the same miracles Alma had been witness to. She would contact him when she returned to California. Perhaps there was time yet to help the Tate child. He would know. Prayerfully he would know.

Alma put the phone back on the nightstand. She turned out the light and covered her eyes with her sleep mask as she slid back under the blankets. She was tired, tomorrow was another day, and morning always brought new hope. Alma drifted off to sleep with that thought…

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

("And the rain will fall, it falls for you. And the clouds will break into tears, you should be here, standing so near, to me..")…Bee Gees

Gabriel's Promise
a novel by nicholas sheridan stanton

Chapter Forty-three

LA General Hospital…Los Angeles, Saturday, August 27th, 2005…7am

A white Honda Odyssey idled noiselessly at the curb several floors below where she observed in silent sadness. Dr. Elizabeth Andrews watched as Wallace Tate maneuvered his beautiful daughter up to the minivan, stopping to set the brakes on her wheel chair before positioning himself to lift her into the family's well travelled vehicle. It was a task he'd mastered by necessity during her lengthy illness, taking her to and from chemo sessions, extended in-patient / out-patient procedures, and various hope inducing counseling sessions with well intentioned professionals and clergy. Katie's mother Anita was busy at the rear of the vehicle stuffing Katie's belongings, acquired gifts, hang-in-there cards, balloons, and whatnot into the cargo area of the van. Both sliding doors were wide open to give Wallace room to settle Katie into her seat comfortably. The chair was reclined to allow her to rest peacefully on the long drive home to San Diego.

Swaddled in her favorite polka-dotted flannel blanket, she held onto a cute rainbow colored teddy bear that her mother had nicknamed lifesaver bear because of its resemblance to Katie's favorite candy. She wore one of the hospital's standard issue blue masks over her mouth and nose while a brightly colored knitted wool cap covered her nearly hairless head. At first glance it might seem odd for someone to be so warmly dressed on such a hot LA summer day. But it wouldn't take long to catch on to what was going on with the child. Months of chemo and radiation had left the once vibrant and precocious little girl a mere shadow of her former self. Those closest to her, family and friends, as well as those who cared for her daily had become accustomed to the sight. Maybe numb would be a more accurate explanation. Not Lizzie though, she was a dreamer at heart and never saw Katie in any light other than the day they first met. Katherine Tate would always be the girl with the smile that could light a city block and a sense of humor that made you laugh until your sides hurt with her silly knock-knock jokes. Lizzie watched Katie's dad pick her up effortlessly and turn to place her into the van. She had her arms around her daddy's neck while lifesaver bear rested in her lap.

Lizzie noticed Mr. Tate saying something to his daughter, probably I love you, and she knew that Katie had replied I love you more as soon as she saw him choking up. That was their routine. Every time Wallace left for work or went on an errand he'd hug her and tell her that he loved her. And every time he did she would hold him until he literally had to pry himself loose while she told him I love you more. It was their routine, it belonged to them alone, it was beautiful, and it always made Lizzie's heart ache. Witnessing love so pure is an awesome thing. If you've never believed in God before you just might be tempted to start in a moment like that. She sniffled and wiped away a tear as the door to Linda Bradley's office opened.

"Dr. Andrews? I'm sorry; did we have a meeting scheduled?" Linda asked, startled by Lizzie's presence as she entered the room.

"No, I just wanted to talk with you. I actually had a whole speech I was going to give. I even wrote it down, but I just don't have the heart anymore," Lizzie replied.

Linda walked over to her desk and set her day planner down. She turned to look out the window that Lizzie stood at. She saw Anita Tate below, pulling on the handle of the side door, activating the mechanism that automatically closed it. The large door slid shut slowly and Linda watched Katie Tate disappear from view. Anita Tate walked around to take the seat behind her husband and beside her daughter. A moment later the van pulled away from the curb and slowly drove away. The two women watched the Tate's drive off the hospital grounds and out into the final stage of their family's journey. There was a look of guilt and relief on Linda Bradley's face, while the look on Elizabeth Andrews face was one of complete sorrow. Life's a stew of perspectives. Even when fed the same dish, one person raves while another rants. Go figure? Must be why there are so many shrinks in the world, there are always more questions than answers. Linda turned and seated herself at her desk.

"So what did you want to talk about?" she asked, preparing herself for a tirade.

Lizzie walked over and stood beside Linda for a moment, making her uncomfortable as the young doctor invaded her personal space. She looked up at Lizzie and their eyes locked, communicating silently with changing expressions. Linda felt the heat of anger, angst, and frustration emanate from the young woman standing over her. But before she could react defensively Lizzie's emotional aura changed, morphing into pity, sorrow, and compassion. In those few seconds the two of them bonded over a reality neither was strong enough to deal with alone. They would get over this, move on eventually, that's life in the big city. Linda had Nikko again and Lizzie had her cousins Jace and Noah to turn to. But here and now they only had each other, polar opposites as women; on different sides of the equation when it came to responsibility and duty. Here and now they were each other's missing piece of the puzzle that was Katie Tate. Lizzie needed Linda's practicality to keep her heart from breaking and Linda needed Lizzie's heart to keep her from pretending she didn't care. Where one is weak the other is strong. Isn't that always the way in any relationship? Our differences are what bring us together. Maybe that was how it was planned from the beginning? Lizzie suddenly knelt beside Linda's chair and put her arms around her boss, hugging her gently. Linda did likewise without really understanding why.

"I'm sorry," whispered Lizzie as she laid her head on Linda's shoulder.

Linda felt warm tears run down the back of her neck as the young doctor sobbed quietly. She stroked Lizzie's hair softly and whispered a reply as her own tears began to flow, "I'm sorry too…"

The Princess Grace, Monte Carlo…Saturday, August 27th, 2005…Midnight

Jackson Peck sat alone in the Grand Salon of the massive ocean liner, trying not to fidget in an overstuffed Queen Anne chair, one of two near the fireplace. He wasn't nervous, just anxious. There were things to be done, double and triple checks to make before they made their play next weekend. The last thing to do while still in Monte Carlo was set the hook. He'd already baited it well by betraying Pat and his merry gang of thieves. He never meant for anyone to be seriously hurt, Wesley Allendale's death was just an unfortunate mistake. Mr. Price and his mercenaries were supposed to be menacing but not lethal. True, Jack gave them leeway to play rough, but poor Wesley didn't know that it his interrogation was only a game. He fought them at every opportunity and never gave up his friends. An admirable but in the long run stupid gesture on his part, as all that his loyalty bought him was a very unhappy ending. In the long run Wesley's death was tragic but inconsequential, as he had been easily replaced by Roman who'd stayed stateside to run errands for Jean-Luc.

Jack picked Roman up at the airport and dropped him at the rendezvous with the others about an hour ago. He stayed long enough to listen to their recounts of narrow escapes from the Standard Pharmaceutical goons and tried to look impressed. The saps didn't know any better than Wesley did that it was all make believe. Jackson smiled, pleased with himself and his masterful planning leading to this moment. When it was all said and done he and Killeen would have justice served their way, the company would have eliminated a pesky pirate nuisance, and Jackson Peck would have the company. Not a bad outcome when you put it all in a nutshell.

"Right on time, I appreciate that son," Said Sanford Peck, suddenly appearing as if materializing out of thin air.

Jackson's heart skipped a beat but he gave no outward indication that he was startled. He rose from the chair leisurely and turned to face his father. He bit at his cheeks which made his face more gaunt than normal. It was a childhood habit, a 'tell' in poker-speak that always tipped his hand where these father son exchanges were concerned. It usually gave his father the upper hand, usually, but not this time.

"Hello Father," he said extending his hand for the customary firm handshake and pat on the back. Sanford Peck obliged his son and gestured for him to sit back down as he occupied the second Queen Anne beside him.

"Mr. Price tells me that all of the rats are huddled together at this very moment," Sanford said, tipping his head back toward the Salon entrance.

The younger Peck twisted slightly in his chair to look behind him. The square jawed, square shouldered German was standing in the doorway with his hands clasped in front of him. Jack couldn't see his eyes but he knew that they were on him. The man made him uncomfortable, even more than he normally was in his father's presence. Jack nodded at the Head of Standard Security, acknowledging him. Mr. Price returned the gesture with a barely noticeable nod of his own. Jack felt a sudden hint of foreboding as he stared at his father's hatchet man, and he wondered if Mr. Price felt the same sensation. He hoped that he did, he knew that he should.

"Yes sir, the team's assembled at a presumed safe house discussing next moves," Jack replied turning back to face his father.

"I do hope we haven't put too big a scare into them. I'd hate for them to scrub their plans and ruin the clever trap that you've prepared," Sanford said with a smirk.

"Not likely Father, they believe they have a just cause. They believe in honor among thieves and all that rot."

"Curious? I would have bet against that. Jean-Luc, errr, Patrick Bouchard seems cleverer than that?"

"He's blinded by his hate for you."

"Interesting, now there's something the two of you have in common."

"To be sure Father. However, Jean-Luc is ruled by his heart and lives by the feud, where I on the other hand am not quite so limited. I'm more practical, I'm more patient, I'm more certain that you'll reap what you've sown, someday. Until then, and make no mistake, that will be a happy day, I'll enjoy the advantages of being the only child of Sanford Peck, captain of industry extraordinaire!"

Sanford studied his progeny for a moment. He sat leisurely in the large chair, legs crossed like a woman, knee over knee, a habit that most men developed as they aged, with his hands laced together in front of him. He massaged his palms with his thumbs, rotating them slowly counterclockwise waiting until he was sure Jackson was finished with his little speech. Such an arrogant child they'd raised, Sanford blamed his mother for that; Killeen had always been too soft on him. Had he been more assertive in Jackson's rearing there would be no way he would have disrespected him the way he had just now.

"I feel like a scotch, care to join me?" Sanford asked his son all of the sudden.

Jack's cool expression changed to one of surprise for a nanosecond before he answered, "Sure, why not."

Sanford raised his hand slightly, "Splendid, it will be just a moment," he said not bothering to look behind him; he knew that Mr. Price would arrange for everything.

"Very well, perhaps you can tell me why you called me here while we wait."

"Yes of course. It was nothing urgent; I wanted to apologize for the mishap with the Australian fellow. That was tragic and completely avoidable. Rest assured the responsible underling has been dealt with appropriately," explained Sanford.

"It's not like you to apologize, for anything. Why now?"

"A man gets older and he begins to see things in a different light. Perhaps I'm just feeling my own mortality."

His father was baiting him; Jack had experienced this tactic more times than he could remember over the years. He knew something and was fishing for confirmation. No doubt Mr. Price had got more out of Wesley than a last gasp. But what, Jack had to be careful here. His dad hadn't asked the probing question yet. That could be in the form of a question or in a statement tossed out for a Jack to react to, either way his dad could give him the answer he was looking for.

"Really Father, sentimentality, please, don't insult my intelligence. Just ask me what you want to know, maybe I'll give you a straight answer," Jack replied, deciding that the best defense would be a strong offense.

Sanford smiled, amused by his son's direct approach. Admittedly he hadn't expected that from him. "Alright sport, we'll skip the dance and get straight to the point. I want to know why you neglected to tell us about these electronic devices that your protégé Randy Patel developed. What do you have to say about that?"

Jack was taken aback, no way did Wesley give that up, he never knew about Randy's radar jamming countermeasures. The only person that could have given that up was randy himself. But Randy was at the safe house when Jack dropped off Roman? When would Mr. Price have made contact with him? Randy didn't mention anything when the team was trading recounts of run-ins with the Standard Security goons. Where, when, and how did his father get this information? Jack knew that he was taking too long to answer and Jack knew his father had noticed it. The only thing he could do now was to downplay the importance of the device without jeopardizing the plan. Since the best place to hide is usually in plain sight, he decided to hide behind the truth.

"I'm impressed, my compliments to Herr Price."

"I'm sure he will be honored by your praise. Please continue."

"The device is an electronic countermeasure similar to what fighter aircraft and submarines use to confound direct attacks," Jack began.

"I am not an engineer Jackson, please, in layman's terms if you don't mind."

"Certainly, in a nutshell his device splits radio waves emitted by radar sweeps into dozens of bounce backs which essentially camouflage an approach."

Sanford Peck chewed on that for a moment before replying. "So, what you're saying is with this device one vessel could sneak up on another vessel with relative ease, right?"

"That's about it," answered Jack confident now that his father had no clue about his cloaking device. Still, it was enough insight to make the assault scheduled for next weekend a lot more risky.

"Does it work?" his father asked.

"Yes, it works quite well," Jack answered truthfully.

"I see. And the plan is to pirate this vessel next week you say, correct?"

"Yes Father."

"And you and Mr. Price have worked out all of the details then for the extermination of these pests, true?"

"Yes Father, we have done that."

"Then this radar jamming device is of no consequence, am I right?"

"You are sir," Jack replied.

"Why then did you withhold this information?"

"It was insignificant in my opinion. Mr. Price and the crew are well trained professionals and they know exactly what to expect. The addition of these devices will only hasten the outcome, trust me," Jack explained, setting the hook with his calm demeanor.

"Very well then, why don't we enjoy a scotch before retiring then, I see Mr. Price has returned with our nightcap," Sanford said as his henchman set a tray with two leaded crystal tumblers on the small table separating the two Queen Anne chairs.

"Thank you Mr. Price, that will be all," Sanford said, dismissing his charge with a smile. Jack saw the two men exchange a quick glance that made him flinch slightly, enough to noticeably slosh the scotch around in his glass. Mr. Price saw it too, Jack was certain of that. Jack was keenly aware now that his father had made a fateful decision, it was written on Mr. Price's face. What will be will be he thought as Mr. Price excused himself and exited the room, leaving the two men alone.

"To your health son," Sanford said smiling, tipping his glass in his direction.

"And yours sir," Jack replied reciprocating. "To yours…"

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