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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

("We can live lifetimes, in a single day. No matter what you do I love you anyway. You say you feel lost inside, well I get lonely too. Even in the worst of times, I give my best to you.")…Sheryl Crow

Chapter Forty-seven

Mandelieu Marina, Napoule France, Wednesday, August 31st, 2005…5am

François Bouchard relaxed in the pilot's chair topside aboard Jeckle, the team's lead assault boat. The black sky was beginning to brighten with the first signs of the coming dawn. Faint colors of bright hues emerged low on the horizon as the Earth rotated steadily toward the sun in the eastern sky. He stared out to sea from over the rim of a mug of hot coffee. Steam rose from the brew and mixed with the cold pre-dawn air, combining to make its own weather system, creating a mini fog bank at eye level. He blew gently across the top of the mug, dissipating the small weather system and smiled at the view as he silently recited an old sea chantey he learned in childhood:

"…red sky at morning, sailor take warning…red sky at night, sailor delight…"

My father loved the sea. He had been either near it or on it his entire life. The south of France was his France. He wasn't a Parisian like his beloved Giselle, he was a country boy. Not in the American sense either, but in the European sense. The two perspectives are as different as they are the same. In the US a country boy is usually stereotyped as a cowboy, a hick, a backwoodsman, lonesome mountain man or a sod-busting farmer, scratching out a living by the sweat of his brow. While in Europe however, there are basically three distinctions, peasant, villager, or squire, in other words working class, middle class, and the filthy rich.

Papa began his life on the bottom rung of the European social ladder, the only child of peasant parents who managed to rise to the middle before the war. Sadly, the German Luftwaffe made sure that they'd get no higher when a1940 air raid claimed the family home as well as his father and mother, Jean Luc Bouchard and his wife Kat (short for Katrina) ,the grandparents I knew only from pictures. Angry, scared, and alone Papa joined the French Navy days afterward, eventually becoming a member of ship's company aboard the French destroyer Terrible, where he spent the next five years at sea seeking revenge and getting a crash course in diesel engineering by a crusty but knowledgeable Premier-maître, basically the equivalent of a Master Chief in the US Navy. The ancient mariner's Christian name was Henri St, Claire, a dogmatic, no nonsense sort that was quite probably a pirate in another life. Be that as it may, the old veteran was a skilled journeyman and Papa was an eager student. The Terrible spent the early days of the war engaging British supply vessels and their escorts until they went over to the Allies after Operation Torch off the coast of French West Africa. In 1943 the vessel underwent a refit and modernization in the US, spending a fair amount of time in dry dock in Boston harbor. This was where my Dad got his first taste of America and its promise of a better life. He decided then that after the war he would find a way to come back and start a new life.

The Terrible returned with two new radars, new anti-aircraft firepower and ASDIC or anti submarine sonar equipment just in time to participate in the Allied invasion of Italy in December of 1943. Early the following year they supported the invasion of the south of France during Operation Dragoon. It was an experience that brought Papa some closure, avenging his parent's murder by driving the occupying German Army out of his homeland forever. Later in the same year the Terrible was heavily damaged in a collision in December of 1944 leaving him to ride out the rest of the war in dry dock as the vessel underwent extensive repairs. Shortly afterward the war in Europe ended and he found himself adrift on land, winding up in Paris of all places where he would meet Giselle and begin a journey that would take him back to the USA and then, as fate would have it, right back here, to Marseilles, where he started so many years ago. How ironic he thought, at war with the German's once again, on a smaller scale of course, but at war nonetheless. He sipped at his coffee, silently resolving that the bastards would meet the same fate in this engagement as well.

A loud rap on the cabin hatch startled Papa as the dawn broke and he spilled a small amount of his drink. "MERE!" he shouted, bellowing out a French expletive. Sandy Lucci made his standard entrance, loudly, and underdressed as usual in a pair of cargo pants and nothing else. "Whoa, sorry frenchie, I didn't know you were up here all by your lonesome," he said apologetically as he made his way topside.

"I forgot you were a morning person too. Nothing like filing your lungs with cool fresh air, makes you feel alive, don't ya think?" Sandy added inhaling deeply and letting out a long sigh.

As annoying as the man could be, Papa had to agree with him, sunrises were special. They meant for dreamers and optimists, a moment in time when everything is still possible. Where sunsets on the other were meant for reflection, to ponder what transpired or failed to transpire before retiring to give thanks for what went right and to dream of what a new day may bring.

"Yes, mornings are quite invigorating," replied Papa, setting down his mug and getting up to stretch. He let his head roll around on his shoulders and listened to his neck pop as he reached as high as he could with his hands, joined together at the knuckles by his laced fingers, essentially giving himself a poor man's chiropractic adjustment. Cracking one's bones into alignment is almost as satisfying as scratching at a nagging itch. Sandy watched my dad with a little envy. He would have liked to do likewise, but years of abusing his body had left him stiff and slightly arthritic so his satisfaction would have to come vicariously.

"Jack-o said he and Randy will be here later this afternoon," Sandy said dumping the last swallow of coffee mixed with grounds over the side.

"You spoke with him? When? " Papa replied surprised.

"Yeah, just a few minutes ago. Well, we didn't actually talk, he sent me a text."

"I see; where are they then?"

"They're at the nerd-shack he and Randy share near the airport."

"When did they get in?"

"Last night he said, around midnight."

"Really, they had no troubles then?"

"He didn't mention any."

"Interesting?"

"Well anyway, when they get here Jack wants to take the skiffs out on a shake down cruise."

"Why? We're supposed lay low profile until Jean-Luc arrives on Friday, that's the plan, he can't alter them just like that."

"Plan's changed, and according to the professor Pat's okay with that. He said Pat would call soon to confirm," explained Sandy.

Before Papa could protest in earnest the cell phone in his pocket began to vibrate. It was me and I was going to have my hands full trying to keep my cautious and practical father off of the ceiling when I brought him up to speed on what Jack and I discussed earlier, during the wee hours.

"See, that's probably Pat right now," Sandy said snapping his fingers. He was right. Sandy might be loud and brutish but his instincts are keen as they come.
Papa rolled his eyes and swallowed a snide remark, then dug into his pants pocket to fish out his cell phone, flipping it open to answer the call.

"Oui?"

"Hi Papa, it's me," I said in English.

"Luc? Where are…," my father started ask.

"I'm still in Monte Carlo at the Chateau, but I'll be leaving later this afternoon for Marseilles," I answered quickly, cutting him off unintentionally.

"What's wrong, something's not right; I hear it in your voice?"

Now, when it came to intuition my father was like a piano virtuoso who played better by ear than by sight. Just playing the notes written on the page might make your piece correct, but the essence of the music, the soul, comes out when eyes close and the mind lets the heart take over. You cannot feel things with your brain, you can only recognize data. It's sort of like what faith is all about, no matter what religion you claim. My father has magical ears like these that always lead him to the truth. It's pretty hard to lie to someone like that, believe me, I tried many times growing up. At this point in my life, and by the way, I'm still growing up; I've learned to trust that he will love me no matter what I have to share. I believe that people feel the urge to lie whenever they're afraid of hurting or losing someone or themselves.

Frank Herbert, the brilliant author of the "Dune" series and my favorite science fiction writer, wrote that "fear is the mind killer." I think of that whenever I'm tempted to lie or to stretch the truth. I usually follow that up with "love conquers all," a phrase of unknown origin and universal appeal. I was thinking of both now as I resolved to give Papa all the facts that Jack shared instead of cherry picking them. It was the right thing to do even though I feared his reaction. Besides, withholding the truth is the same as telling an outright lie, sadly, another lesson learned late in my life.

"Sandy told you about Jack's shake down request, right?"

"Yes he did just a moment ago. Why the last minute change in plan?"

I sighed audibly before speaking, "Hear me out Papa before you say anything, alright?" He remained silent letting me know that I had his attention and that his radar was on full alert, so I continued.

"Jack's dad is aware of our intentions and he knows more about our operation than we thought. He doesn't have details but is taking some pretty formidable countermeasures," I said pausing for a response. Papa remained silent and waited for me to finish. We've had these kinds of discussions before and he always allows my conscience ample time to help me make the right choice, which was of course to come clean.

"And so, while we're not exactly sure how much information they got from Wesley, God rest his soul, we have to make some assumptions."

"Such as," Papa asked finally speaking in a slow measured tone.

"For one we have to assume that they know about the cloaking devices and the speed boats, which means they know what to be on the look out for."

"I see, go on."

"It's also a safe assumption that they know who all the players are. Jack says that they likely have dossiers on each of us."

"My God, on everyone, Jack as well? Are you saying that Sanford Peck knows his own son is involved?"

I hesitated before answering, suppressing an instant urge to lie, "Yes, Jack's certain that they know he's one of us. He said it's a game now between him and his dad. As for me, they have a file on Patrick Bouchard but not Jean-Luc Rojier. Jack tested those waters and he's sure they haven't made the connection."

I heard Papa's response before he spoke a single word. His thoughts were accentuated with the deep breath he drew in and let it out slowly. It was officially lecture time and I kept silent. Nothing I might say next would be heard anyway, at least not until he had said his piece. That was our way, and to be honest, it worked for us, it was open and respectful and at the end of the debate there were no losers. Both sides win when you respect each other enough to open the vault so to speak. No matter what the outcome would be, it would be one you arrived at together. I wish I had had the same relationship with Monica. I shuddered suddenly feeling a cold chill. That was weird, maybe her spirit was nearby thinking the very same thing?

"Alright Patrick, before you start telling me how Jack has this all figured out, explain to me why you would risk all of our lives or futures at the very least, under these circumstances? You and I only have ourselves to worry about, but the others? For Christ's sake Patrick, Sandy and Roman have wives and families! Come on son, this is too much, we've taken this thing as far as we can, surely you can see that?"

He had a point, actually he had several points, all of them good ones too, but there was no way I was giving up now. There was just too much at stake as far as I was concerned, there were too many people counting on the foundation now, there were too many Gabriel's in the world and I felt connected to every one of them. Papa and I stared each other down for several seconds before I finally replied, honestly. I could sense that he already knew what was coming so there wasn't any reason to stall.

"You're right Papa, on all counts. That's why Jack suggested the shake down run. If all goes well like we expect it to, we're cutting you, Sandy and Roman loose. We did alter the plan, Jack and Randy will pilot Jeckle, alone. We're going ahead with one boat. Yours truly will already be onboard the Princess Grace as Jean-Luc Rojier along with Alma Donnelley. Can you believe it, we're guests of Sanford and Killeen Peck." I explained, chuckling at the irony of the Peck's invitation. Papa wasn't amused and was quick to reply.

"You can't be serious? No way am I leaving you to this alone! In fact I'm tempted to turn us all into the authorities right now just to save you from yourself and us from you! We'd have a better chance of survival with the law then with Sanford Peck and his henchmen anyway. Do you really believe Jack? Do you really think his father is that dense? He has to have made the connection between you and Jean-Luc. It's too convenient that he has not. It's just too good to be true. I don't trust Jack son, that's no secret, there's an element to him that disturbs me. He's brilliant, yes, but he's dangerous, I feel it in my bones. How I don't know, but he is nonetheless."

Everything Papa said made sense, it was sound advice, and was probably all true. Pity I could not accept it. I was committed and had already resolved to take my chances. I had to rely on my own instincts now. I shared the same misgivings about Jack and did not kid myself where he was concerned. I was also privy of the fact that Sanford Peck knew that Patrick and Jean-Luc were one in the same. He had said as much the other night at the Casino in Monte Carlo. He actually taunted me with innuendo expecting me to crack. This really was a cat and mouse game for him. I could see why Jack hated him so. But in my heart of hearts I knew that I had to see this through. I may have abandoned God to pursue this path, but He never abandoned me. My faith remained in tack in spite of my denial of it. Whatever was to happen would happen, the only part I was in control of was who it happened to. It was time for the moment of truth, literally.

"Papa, you know I love you, you know that, right? I don't say it often enough but I do. Right now though I need you to love me back and leave me be, let me finish what I started dad, okay? I'm not crazy or naïve and I'm no fool. Of course Jack is lying, he's lied to us from the very beginning, that's his sin to be forgiven for. But we needed him to get this far and we need him now to keep this going. So, we lied to him in turn, and let him believe that we're dumb as mud fences and blind as bats. We've used him all along too, that'll our sin to be forgiven for. Please trust me to be the man you raised me to be. I really did pay attention all these years," I said, appealing to his soft heart.

He was quiet for a moment. "So, what's your plan?" he asked.

"We need to convince Peck that we got wind of his Intel and decided to fold up shop, cut and run. That's why we need for you and the others to fly home. We want you to take three different routes from three different airports. The goons already think Randy split when he didn't show up in Madrid where they were waiting for him. They don't know that Jack went to fetch him in Paris. They'll never expect Jack and me to come at them alone."

"And how could you? You really think the three of you can catch and board that vessel without us? It's a five man job, no exceptions! There are no margins for error here son. You do know that, right?" Papa exclaimed, scolding me more than asking me.

"We're not hitting it at sea Papa, we've got a new plan for this job," I replied.
I could hear the wheels turning in my father's head as I waited for his reply, sensing he was relieved, intrigued, and pissed off all at once.

"I don't understand what've you got in mind?"

"Alright, this is the beautiful part. The Princess Grace has a port call in Antibes on the way to Cannes. Jack and Randy will pilot Jeckle there after the shakedown run today and dock it in the marina. No assault required now. Jack will simply walk on board like he owns the place, which in a way he does. Nobody will be expecting any of us to just walk in the front door.

"What about Randy? Where does he come in?"

"Right, well he's actually Jack excuse for being there at all. He plans to pass Randy off as a corporate accountant who's there to check the books for an unannounced but routine audit, pretty clever huh?"

"Sounds pretty fishy, why would the company order such an audit at sea?"

"It's unusual I grant you, but not unheard of as Sanford Peck is known for working outside of the box. He likes to keep his underlings guessing, it keeps them from getting too comfortable and discourages complacency or pilfering. Look nobody wants to be around an auditor for fear of being implicated in something, so Randy should be left alone to do his business, monkey business of course."

"Then what, you just stroll down the gangplank like any tourist and disappear into the crowded marketplace? Do you think it will be that easy?"

"Actually that's almost exactly what we'll do. I mean we won't walk off together holding hands or anything like that. But there's no reason to hurry, everything will appear normal and we'll take our time to exit. Jean-Luc will excuse himself to tend to an urgent G.A.W.D. matter. Randy will walk off the ship as easily as he walked on. While Jack remains behind to keep his father occupied while we make the short run from Antibes to Corsica on Jeckle where we'll wait for Jack to show in a day or two with the catamaran.

"What catamaran?"

"That's the other change, Jack chartered a 48 foot cat to sail from Corsica to Sicily and then from Palermo to Taranto, Italy through the Messina Strait and across the Ionian Sea. By the time Peck is informed that he's been ripped off we'll be five days at sea and essentially invisible, cloaked by the passing of time."

My father sighed deeply into his cell phone causing me to involuntarily hold my own phone away from my ear. This was the pivotal moment in the conversation. This was where I'd find out if the truth will have served me and my cause or if I should I have just lied and kept Papa in the dark while the three of us went off line with the plan on our own. It wasn't a test of the virtue itself. It was more a test of our father / son relationship. It was time to see if he practiced what he preached. Did he trust me enough leave me to what I had to do? I would know in a moment.

"Do what you must son," he said quietly but firmly.

"Thank you Papa," I replied respectfully.

"I won't lie to you Patrick, my brain is screaming at me to go to the authorities, every instinct I have as your father says that is the right thing to do."

"Why don't you then?"

"Because my heart is calmly telling me to let go, because every instinct I have as a man says that you must finish this your way, a promise is a promise, no mater what the cost," he replied.

"Thank you Papa," I said softly.

"God's speed son," he replied as he hung up.

"We'll see," I said to no one as I did likewise.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

("I went down to the crossroads, fell down upon my knees. Asked the Lord above for mercy, save me if you please")…Eric Clapton

Gabriel's Promise
a novel by nicholas sheridan stanton

Chapter Forty-six

Charles De Gaulle Airport, Paris, France…Sunday, August 28th, 2005…7pm

A rare summer downpour fell heavily on the city of lights, pelting the airport's huge paned windows with big, fat raindrops. As the water raced down the glass distorting the view of the runway and the long line of assorted aircraft awaiting their turn to scream down the tarmac and take to the skies headed for God knows where, the sun began to sink into dusk. Randy Patel sat cross legged in an uncomfortable chair facing the window, his back to the steady stream of hurried travelers racing to catch their flights and join the long line outside. It was a pretty vulnerable position to be in but he was too tired to care. Everything, even fear loses its power over you after you've wallowed in it for long enough. Randy was flat out tired of being scared. As far as he was concerned Peck's goons could come get him anytime, he was through running, through hiding. He'd read somewhere that cowards die a thousand deaths. That wasn't going to be him anymore. He was going out on his terms.

"Penny for your thoughts Tovarich," whispered a familiar voice huskily.

Randy let out a tiny gasp. Clearly he wasn't as resolved to meet his doom as he thought he was. He turned his head slightly just to satisfy his hunch and then let Jack have it with both barrels, "Goddamnit Jack, why do you always have to make an entrance?" he bellowed, admittedly much louder than he had meant to.

Jack guffawed as he took the seat beside him answering as he tried to suppress the giggles, "Take it easy slick, I just couldn't resist, you looked all serious and glum. Hey, what'd you think of my Russian, pretty good huh?" he asked, referring to the Russian word for comrade, Tovarich.

"Clever, but I thought the bad guys were all Germans," Randy replied.

"They are, but Tovarich sounded more like spy talk than mein freund. Anyway, I should have stuck with English and called you dumb-ass! What were you thinking man? You've put the whole operation at risk," Jack said, scolding his partner.

"Take it easy Jack-o, I had a bad feeling so I decided to stay put and think about what do next. My mom always said to stay put whenever I got lost and that she would find me. Good advice if you ask me, as you can see it works, here you are," Randy snapped back.

"Chalk one up for Pat's old man I guess, he called it," Jack replied.

"What are you talking about?"

"He figured you for a momma's boy. He suspected you'd be here."

"Funny! So what do we do now Jack? You know those Krauts are just waiting for us to make our move. This operation has disaster written all over it. You're smarter than all of us put together man, you've gotta know that. Are you ready to risk all of our lives just to get even with daddy dearest?"

"Careful nad-less, former teacher's pets only get so many free passes. We all swore to keep Gabriel's promise remember? That's the bottom line isn't it? Like it or not, you're the key factor in this heist. You've memorized all the codes and hyperlinks and it's too late to alter the plan. Look, we get you in and out safely, you do your IT hocus-pocus and badda-bing, jillions transferred into the G.A.W.D. coffers, and we help a boatload of needy people. So nut-up and get us through this operation! After next weekend you can shrink back into your Hare-Krishna life back in Geek-land and chase after Vishnu while we find another Poindexter to take your place, preferably one who owns a pair," replied Jack, warning his skittish compatriot.

"Nice Jack, why don't you just say something bad about my mother!"

"Good point. Your momma's so fat she …"

"ALRIGHT, ENOUGH ALREADY, I get it, I get it."

"Pick up your back pack preppie, we're outta here," Jack said, standing to survey the terminal.

There was no one out there to see, Jack knew that, but Randy didn't and that's how he wanted to keep it until Saturday. He'd waited too long for this moment to let a scared shitless egghead fuck things up. Saturday Jack would take care of all the family business. Debts would be paid, slates would be wiped clean, and promises would be kept. It would be a day of finality and rebirth and it was going to be grand! The two men stepped out into the main corridor and merged with the crowd on their way to the private charter and a swift return to Marseilles. Jack watched Randy out of the corner of his eye. The pencil neck's eyes were darting all around looking for an ambush, expecting someone to jump out of the shadows at any minute to slay them both. What a maroon, Jack thought, suppressing a smile. Randy reminded him of Deputy Barney Fife from the Andy Griffith Show. He was dating himself with the reference but damn, that was a good character analogy! Jack wasn't much for sentiment, but he liked this kid and for a nanosecond regretted that his fate was tied to the others. Pragmatic to the bitter end Jack shook off the moment of weakness as the heavy door slammed shut behind them.


LA General, Los Angeles, California…Monday, August 29th, 2005…5pm

Jace Kelly waited patiently for his cousin in the lobby. Lizzie had told him to come on up, but he knew that she'd only drag her feet and they would end up later than they already were. Elizabeth Andrews was a well known workaholic and the worst time manager on the planet but she was also had the heart as big as the whole outdoors so it was hard to be annoyed for very long. Jace and his brother Noah had come down to LA from San Fran earlier in the day. They had some interesting news for Lizzie and wanted to see her face when they told her. She'd asked them to poke around and see what they could find out about the foundation bankrolling a growing list of previously denied candidates for long term and very expensive treatments and clinical trials. It seemed as if G.A.W.D. had appeared out of nowhere with pockets deep as a celestial black hole. They had been funding lost cases not only at LA General but at centers of excellence around the globe. They were almost too good to be true and that bothered Lizzie.

It shouldn't, but it did. Lord knows they were helping people, who were helpless without them, but she was curious to a fault, it was her nature. Truth be told, it wasn't the organization that fueled her curiosity, it was the chairman, Jean-Luc Rojier. She was convinced she knew him as Patrick Bouchard, that the two men were one in the same. It was a puzzle to be solved and she couldn't help herself, she had to know. The Bouchard's had lost their son Gabriel to cancer, right here at LA General. Lizzie was there for it, the little boy was the first child she lost to the disease as an attending. They say you never forget your first. Whoever they are, they're right. She remembered the family and especially the boy. He was so precocious and sweet, he didn't have one mean bone in his body. He always had a smile on his face, even in the darkest of hours. He even had a smile on his precious little face when he passed on, like an infant with gas.

She remembered that night. It was a crisp late winter night a few days after St. Patrick's Day. Gabriel's body had begun the death march earlier in the day and just before midnight he took his last breath with only his parents and his grandfather in the room with him. Lizzie was there as well but remained just outside the door to give the family their privacy. The ward has a special feel to it whenever someone is about to lose their fight, especially when it is a child. There is a reverence that permeates the halls and everyone wears the same expression. It is not pity or sadness or grief, all of that comes afterward. Up until that moment the overwhelming feeling that rules the atmosphere in the area is one of respect. That is the right word, respect. There is a presence that walks the halls in those moments, something that transcends the moment, which brings peace that one cannot explain, even if only for a moment before grief overwhelms you. There are many explanations, most of them pointing to God by whatever name, by whatever religion. The world has argued for ages which are accurate. Perhaps they're all right, that seems the best explanation.

"Elizabeth, over here," Jace called as he set the Times down on the table in front of him and got to his feet.

Lizzie Andrews waived to him from the back of the elevator and waited for a mother pushing her daughter in a wheel chair, one hand on the chair and one hand on the IV tree. She offered to help but the mother declined cheerfully, clearly she wasn't a rookie. Elizabeth recognized them and waived good-bye to them as they rolled down the hall. She knew where they were going. They went to the gift shop everyday around this time when the little girl was up to it. The mom and dad had probably bought one of everything in that small gift shop. The child waived back as they rolled along. Any day you could smile was a good day and a good reason to hit the gift shop as far as Lizzie was concerned. She met Jace half way and hugged her cousin, kissing him on the cheek.

"So what was important enough to bring you and Noah down from the Bay Area to LA? I thought you No-Cal guys hated this place?" Lizzie said teasing.

"We don't hate LA, we just don't want to risk getting tan and losing our San Fran vampire pallor," Jace replied, teasing her back.

"I see? Well, be that as it may where's your smarter brother?"

"He's over at Casey's waiting for us."

"Cool, I love Irish food and a good pint, keeps me from getting homesick," Lizzie said smiling as Jace led her out of the hospital onto the street.

They walked to eight blocks to Casey's Irish Pub over on Grand, it was one of Lizzie's favorite hang outs whenever she had some free time or there was a game to catch on television. It was better than watching at home alone. When they reached the stairs leading down to the cellar establishment ala "Cheers" fame, Lizzie took the steps two at a time. With Jace close on her heels the cousins pushed their way through the crowd and toward Noah who was waiving to them from a prized corner booth. He was noshing on some Irish nachos and nursing a glass of white wine. Jace sat across from his brother while Lizzie nudged Noah over with a swing of her hips as she climbed in beside him.

"Scoot over dude, don't hog the whole booth! Hey, are you drinking Chardonnay in an Irish pub? You're not in Frisco cuz, if your da could see ya know he'd take a shillelagh to ya," Lizzie said teasing Noah relentlessly.

"It's a Pinot and I'm only half Irish. My Da will have to get by my Chinese mother first and I think we know who wins that dog fall," Noah replied, high fiving his brother across from him.

Jace laughed as the barmaid arrived, "you shouldn't pick on Dad like that just because he loves Mom so much," he said to Noah as he winked at young lady who came to take their order. She looked barely old enough to have the job and sported two piercings that Jace could see and he suspected there were others.

"What can I get ya?" she asked.

"Two pints of Guinness and another Kool-Aid for my brother," answered Jace.
The girl scribbled down their order in a small spiral notebook and winked back. "Twins huh? Cute," she said as she turned and headed back to the bar to fetch their drinks.

"I don't see the resemblance," Noah said flippantly.

"What are you talking about, you're identical twins," Lizzie replied.

"No we're not, I'm way better looking than him," answered Jace and Noah simultaneously.

Lizzie laughed, "Alright, whatever you boys say. So what's the big news anyway, why are you here treating me when it's not even my birthday?"

Noah reached into his coat pocket and pulled out some newspaper clippings and laid them on the table. He turned them so that Lizzie could read them and lined them up linearly across the table top. He waited for a moment for her to skim over them and then answered her question before she could it.

"These are stories from newspapers in Mexico, Jamaica, St. Croix, Madrid, Gibraltar, and Sicily. Look at the dates, they line up chronologically from the Pacific to the Mediterranean," explained Noah.

Lizzie touched each clipping before answering, "So what," she said puzzled.

"Doesn't that make you curious? Look Elizabeth, I've known you all my life, you go bananas over puzzles like this. Let me save some time here, all of these are stories about robberies on the high seas by some Robin Hood wannabe calling himself 'the jack of broken hearts' sound familiar?" Noah asked as he watched Lizzie's expression change.

Lizzie shoved her cousin with all her might, "GET OUT!" she exclaimed, picking up the first article from a Mexico City newspaper. She tried to read the story with her High School Spanish vocabulary. Noah watched her struggle for as long as he could, which amounted to about a 10 count and took the article from her.
"Here, let my help you senorita. Basically it says that a cruise ship was pirated by the bandito known as the 'jack of broken hearts'. All of these articles say basically the same thing. Want to know what else?" Noah explained, teasing her with a rhetorical question.

"All of these robberies involved ocean liners belonging to Peck International, the very same company that owns Standard Pharmaceutical, which by the way owns LA General. Are you beginning to get the picture here?" Noah asked searching Lizzie's face for an "ah ha" expression. Nothing!

"Alright, here's the last corner piece of the puzzle Elizabeth. You should be able to fill it all in after this. Courtesy brother Jace and his buddies at the Department of State we obtained a deposit history for the G.A.W.D. Foundation. Guess what, thirty days to the day after each of these heists the Rojier/Gateway non-profit organization made very significant deposits, cash deposits."

"I still don't get it, so they deposited cash, what's the difference?" whined Lizzie.

"The difference is that you cannot trace cash deposits, cash is cash, it's fluid and it is invisible. Come on Elizabeth, didn't you ever see The Godfather? Cash deposits are also how organized crime 'launders money' from ill-gotten gains," Noah said trying to help Lizzie mentally lace the boot.

The light began to flicker in Lizzie's eyes as she completed the 2 + 2 calculations in her head. "Oh my God, are you saying G.A.W.D. is somehow involved with these robberies?" she asked.

"Sure looks that way to us. And Jean-Luc Rojier is our pick for the ring leader," answered Jace.

"That's right, it was Coronel Mustard in the Ballroom with the candlestick," teased Noah, relieved that Lizzie was finally seeing the light.

Lizzie picked up the Mexican article again and stared at the date. She couldn't believe it. The date was exactly one year to the day of the death of Gabriel Bouchard. Jean-Luc Rojier and Patrick Bouchard was in fact the same person. But if he was getting even by stealing Sanford Peck's money why was he giving it back to the hospital by way of charitable donations? It didn't make sense at first and then Lizzie had that delayed "ah ha" moment.

"Oh my gosh, I think know what's happening now," she said more to herself than anyone else.

"What are you talking about?" asked Noah.

"His kid was denied treatment because he didn't meet the hospital's investment criteria," she said in knowing and sad voice.

"Whose kid?" asked Jace.

"Patrick Bouchard, a.k.a. Jean-Luc Rojier, and apparently also known as the jack of broken hearts," Lizzie answered.

"Well I'll be damned," replied Noah.

"Ditto," said Jace chiming in.

"So what do we do now?" asked Noah.

"That depends, does anyone else know about what you just told me?" asked Elizabeth.

"No, just you," replied Noah.

Lizzie scooped up all of the newspaper clippings and wadded them into a tight little ball. "Then we do nothing," she said.

"Nothing? We dug up all this dirt for nothing? Come on Lizzie, there's probably a pretty hefty reward out there. Don't you feel any loyalty to your boss?" Noah said sounding just little disappointed.

"Not really, Sanford Peck is an asshole. Besides, any man who keeps a promise to this extreme deserves my whole hearted support. What's the harm anyway?"

"It's against the law Elizabeth, in all the countries. In some places in the world they still hang pirates. You sure you want to look the other way?" Noah asked trying to be the voice of reason.

Lizzie thought about it for a minute as the Guinness arrived with Noah's Pinot. The server set the drinks on the table and Jace handed her a credit card asking her to run a tab and bring a menu. As she walked away again Noah picked up his glass of wine and clinked the pint glasses in front of his brother and his cousin.

"Alright then, cheers," Noah said raising his glass.

"To justice," added Lizzie as she tipped her pint.

"Up the rebels," Jace added, quoting one her father's favorite Irish chants, as he did likewise.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

"She has the power to go where no one else can find me. And to silently remind me of the happiness and good times that I've known..." James Taylor

Anh yêu em Tuyet...
Tôi yêu con gái KaSandra & Katrina...
Tôi thương con trai của bố Luc…



Tonight I'm polishing chapter 46 in Gabriel's Promise and will post it in a day or two. Until then this is what's been on my heart...

I'M NOT CRAZY, not really...;)

Okay, I admit it, I live with a ghost. That's right, I said ghost! She's not Casper but she's just as friendly and that's pretty nice. For the last 20 months she's been the angel on my shoulder, the monkey in my wrench, my conscience, advisor, cheerleader, and inspiration. The last 9 months she's been my constant companion, my guardian against all odds, from outside and from within. She constantly reminds me that I am better than what anyone may say or think, that I am better than I even give myself credit for, which isn't saying much these days.

She loves me unconditionally, just like she does everyone, and encourages me to do likewise. And she helps me to understand why that's so important with the warm feeling that envelopes me like a bear hug whenever I do just that. She quotes me scripture that I never knew she knew? She whispers in my ear to let GOD be in charge, that He has plans for me, and then jokes with me not to let it go to my head because He has plans for everyone.

She calmly tells me to listen when all I want to do is shout. She tells me that there is peace in silence and wisdom in patience. She tells me that there really is power in love, and that bitterness is just a greater love in progress. "Stay tuned," she says to me. She tickles me when I need to laugh and she fills my head with memories when I need a hug. She tells me that even when I am lonely that I am never alone. She tells me that she will always be with me because my heart is one of her many homes now.

She is there when I open my eyes each morning and there when I close them each night. I am so lucky, I am so blessed. So are you…
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