a novel by nicholas sheridan stanton
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?"
"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…"