a novel by nicholas sheridan stanton
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.