Princess Grace, the flagship of Sanford Peck's Mediterranean Fleet Thursday, September 1st, 2005…10pm
Alma Donnelley sat at a quaint little writing desk in her suite. It was a beautiful and delicate piece of furniture that she was pretty sure had cost a small fortune, at least by her standards. Alma might be wealthy but she would always be a simple Midwestern farm girl. Opulence was a word that she did not relate to, heck, se have had trouble spelling it. If she had learned nothing else over the past few days in the company of Killeen Peck and her braggart husband Sanford, it was that this couple never did anything half way. It was all in or pass as far as they were concerned.
Alma liked Killeen Peck. She was a lovely woman who handled her wealth and station with poise and grace, probably because she had been born to it, she knew no other life. Alma admired and appreciated her for that. But Killeen was a troubled soul and Alma sensed straight away that her husband Sanford was at the center of those dark issues in her life, whatever they may be. That man was a lout. He had no idea how a true man of position and power should behave. He carried himself with a brutish air that left her uncomfortable in his presence. He was too eager to impress and too slow to appreciate the good fortune that God Almighty had bestowed upon him, misguidedly if you asked her. He didn't seem to deserve it and she didn't like him at all.
Actually that wasn't totally true. She felt sorry for the man. He had probably started life on the same side of the tracks that she had; a life of modest beginnings. She sensed that he had worked hard to get where he was, even if he did take a short cut by marrying well. It was none of her business to speculate so, but she did it anyway, it's a feminine right to want to know everything, a character flaw handed down through the ages by Eve herself. How sad though, she could see that he had made the journey from rags to riches alone. That was the difference between them. Alma had reached her station in life working side by side with the man she pledged her life and love to. She and her Arthur were a team, come what may, for better or worse. They met every obstacle together, even if one or the other was the obstacle. That's an axiom in marriage. You take turns being either the obstacle or the voice of reason. No matter how cross you are with a situation you never lose sight of the fact that you love one another and that God Almighty loves you both. It's your personal Holy Trinity, you, your mate, and the Lord. That was a nice way to see the world, at least from Alma's perspective.
Sanford Peck wasn't a God fearing man. And he and Killeen were as far apart as two people together could be. So he made his way alone and it left him bitter and mean. Shame on them both for that thought Alma. And shame on herself for judging them like she was. She had no right and she knew it. Sadly, for some people marriage and the vows that come with it are just words on paper. Such a pity she thought. Alma put them out of her mind for now, it was unfair to speculate further and a waste of time to boot. She would be home soon and not likely to see either of them for quite some time, even with the G.A.W.D. Foundation connection. Best to keep business impersonal, that's a lesson Grover Gateway had tried teaching Arthur over the years. Bless his soul, Arthur never got the hang of it, he was just plain folk until his dying day.
She reached for the stack of messages arranged neatly for her by the Purser in the center of the small desk. Alma enjoyed reading the mail. Getting a letter had always been a treat growing up, even if it was just an advertisement or a catalog. She loved handwritten letters best, but those were going by way of the dodo bird, nearly extinct. Nowadays everyone had cell phones that did everything but make you breakfast! Alma wasn't a 21st century kind of gal, not by a long shot, and never would be thank God. She'd never get the hang of texting anyway. Who could understand that entire crazy shortcut lingo? There were three sealed envelopes for her to open. She opened the first one. It was an invitation to the Captain's Table for tomorrow night. Another reason to dress up, my goodness, Alma was looking forward to getting home and back into a pair of jeans or a sensible skirt and unpretentious blouse. Still, it was an honor to be invited and she'd have a chance to catch up on some foundations business with Jean-Luc. She smiled involuntarily. Envelope number two was a complimentary pass for the health spa from Killeen. How nice she thought, she'd use that in the morning. She'd enjoy a little pampering, who wouldn't? What a nice gesture on Killeen's part she thought. She'd send a handwritten thank you in the morning.
The third envelope was from her personal assistant, Lela, back at the ranch. She helped her run the household as well as the day to day affairs with her husband, Big John. They were a delightful couple who had been with her and Arthur ever since the Lopez family had returned to Mexico after the tragic event at Alma's 50th birthday party in 74'. That was better than thirty years ago. Where had the time gone she wondered as she opened the envelope and retrieved the message inside. There were just a few lines informing her that all was well and that John would pick her up at the airport in Los Angeles next week. The last item Lela mentioned was that Dr. Elizabeth Andrews had called and left her phone number. Lela wanted to know if she should reply on her behalf.
Alma smiled to herself, of course she would reply, personally and right now. She had been hoping that Elizabeth Andrews would call her and not write her off as a kook. It was a bitter sweet revelation as it meant that the Tate child had either passed or was knocking at the door. She checked her wrist watch. It was half past 10pm on this side of the world which meant is around half past 2pm on other side of the world. No time like the present she thought and she picked up the phone on the desk and dialed the long string of international numbers. The phone on the other end of the line rang only twice and a garbled voice mumbled a hello in her ear.
"Yeah…cough, cough…Andrews here," said Lizzie Andrews, choking out a hello. "Excuse me? We seem to have a bad connection. I'm trying to reach Doctor Elizabeth Andrews," Alma replied.
"Cough…Sorry, I'm Dr. Andrews. I was just eating a late lunch at my desk while I caught up on some paperwork. Guess I took too big a bite!" Lizzie said, apologizing with a little giggle.
"I see. Well if you are sure you're alright do you have a minute to chat?" "I'm fine. Actually I'm really right in the middle of something. Maybe you can call back a little later on. I'm sorry, who am I speaking with anyways, I didn't catch your name?" answered Lizzie.
"This is Alma Donnelley Dr. Andrews, and a little later I will be sound asleep as I am half way around the world from you. Are you sure you can't spare a moment. I'm actually returning your call," Alma replied.
"Oh geez, I'm sorry, I didn’t realize. You're the Alma Donnelley from the G.A.W.D. Foundation right?"
"Yes dear. We haven't formally met yet, but I did send you a letter a while back asking if we could chat sometime. I assume that was why you called my home. My assistant Lela contacted me here in the Mediterranean."
"Yes of course. I appreciate you returning my call but you could have waited until you were back in the States. I was just calling to inform you that Katherine Tate was released to hospice last week. I'm afraid there was just nothing else we could do for her, I'm sorry. Your foundation was an enormous help to her and gave her a fighting chance that she would not have had without your support. You gave that family a precious gift, more time together then she would have had, they are very grateful, you should know that," Lizzie explained not even trying to mask the pain in her voice. Alma paused before replying. She wanted to make sure that she chose her words wisely. Quick to listen and slow to speak, that's what the scriptures say she thought to herself. She let another few seconds pass.
"Mrs. Donnelley? Are you alright?" asked Lizzie. "I'm sorry to hear that, truly I am. Forgive me for asking, please don't take this wrong, but how much time does the child have?"
Alma could feel the lump in Lizzie's throat through the air waves, and waited for the young doctor to compose herself. She could feel Lizzie's compassion and instantly took a liking to her. Lizzie coughed and replied, "that's not an easy answer, but not long I expect, a month, maybe two, no more than three," she said, the last part coming out as only a whisper.
It wasn't what Alma wanted to hear, but it was what she expected to hear. She decided to just cut to the chase. It was getting late and her bursitis was acting up again. "Dr. Andrews, may I call you Elizabeth?"
"Sure, why not."
"Good, Elizabeth then. You know, we've actually met once before, along time ago, you were only a child, perhaps two or three," Alma said, breaking the ice.
"Really?" replied Lizzie.
"Yes, you and your parents came to our ranch with your Uncle Ethan and his family to attend my birthday celebration." "You know my folks?" "Not really. My husband Arthur and I are acquainted your Uncle Ethan Kelly."
"I see. How do you know him? Do you go to his church or something?"
"Not exactly, but something like that. May I ask do you also know the Wong family?"
"Uncle Kenny and Aunt Carolyn, sure I know them. Why do you ask?"
"That's actually a long and complicated explanation. But it is why I wrote to you in the first place."
"I don't understand. I thought that you wrote to offer your help to Katie Tate and her family?"
"I did, and I am."
"I'm not following you Mrs. Donnelley."
"My letter and my association with your Uncle Ethan and Uncle Kenny are related. It's too involved for a telephone conversation and it's too late for an old woman like me to be up gabbing anyway. If you don't mind I would like to come to Los Angeles and chat with you in person. Would that be alright?" Alma asked suppressing a yawn.
"I guess so, but I'm confused about what Katie Tate and my Uncles have to do with one another?"
"Patience dear, I will explain everything when I return next week. I will have Lela make the arrangements and she will be in touch with the details. In the mean time I suggest that you call your Uncle Ethan. Tell him that I sent you to him. Tell him about the Tate child. He will know what you need to know and will tell you what you need to hear."
"Alright? I won't pretend to understand but I'll call him. He's going to think that I'm bonkers though!"
"No he won't dear. But he may think that I am."
Lizzie giggle at that, "Okay Mrs. Donnelley, I better let you go," she replied. "Oh wait! Can I ask you a question?" Lizzie said quickly.
"Alright, what is it?" "You're on the Board at the G.A.W.D. Foundation right?"
"Do you know Jean-Luc Rojier very well?"
"Yes of course."
"Do think you could introduce me?"
"I think that we may have met before but I'm not sure."
"And what makes you think that?"
"I dunno, he just reminds me so much of someone I knew here at the hospital."
"Was it another doctor perhaps?"
"No, it was the father of a kid I knew, Gabriel. He was a lot like Katie Tate and he was the first kid I ever lost to cancer. Jean-Luc Rojier reminds me of that guy."
"YES! How could you know that?" "They are the same person dear."
"I KNEW IT! Why is he pretending to someone else then?"
"He has his reasons Elizabeth, he has his reasons. I can tell you about them when I see you next week. I really must go to bed know, its way past the witching hour for me."
"WAIT! Does he know that you know?"
"No, but he will very soon my dear, very soon indeed. Good night Elizabeth," Alma answered as she disconnected.
"Oh brother!" Lizzie murmured out loud to nobody in particular.