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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

("Often secrets are not revealed in words, they lie concealed in the silence between the words or in the depth of what is unsayable between two people")…John O'Donohue

(…the only thing that counts is faith, expressing itself through love…Galatians 5:6)

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, & Luc
My inspiration…


Chapter Fifty-one

The Princess Grace, Saturday, September 3rd, 2005…9am


            I was having one of those weird awkward moments that all people have when the mind wanders to where the heart wants to be. Standing at the sink I stared at my reflection in a huge mirror that was framed in cherry wood. A thin strip of 24 carat gold piping separated the beautiful wood from the thick beveled glass. It made me feel odd, like a painting looking back at itself in a gallery showcase. My thoughts meandered from my present surroundings to my life before all of this nonsense. For some reason I noticed how the bathroom in this stateroom was bigger than the living room of our home back in Long Beach, California. I smirked then, realizing that I continued to think as if Monica and I were still together. Once a couple, always a couple I suppose, at least in the theater of my mind. She's been gone about a year now, and I can still hardly believe it. Healthy or not, I just can't let go of her, she was the love of my life in spite of our differences. Sure, we could argue and bicker about Heaven and Hell and everything in between, but at the end of the day, to my mind, we never lost sight of the fact that we loved one another. Well, at least that's the way I remember us. My heart wants to believe it was mutual. I truly believed that no obstacle was too great if we faced it together. I really tested that theory when I lost my mind after Gabriel's death, and to her credit she stood by me when everyone else, including me, had written me off to lunacy. My wife may have seemed shallow and self centered at times, she was a "more" person after all, "what's wrong with wanting more" she'd wonder, but when it came to us, when it came to our family, she was a rock. God above, I miss that woman.  They say that time heals all wounds. We'll see.
            The mirror fogged up as hot water flowed from a golden faucet into a basin of fine Italian marble. I wondered if it was real gold as I turned off the water and picked up my straight razor. Probably not, but it was a titillating thought nonetheless. I dipped the blade into the half full sink and started shaving away the bristly five o'clock shadow from my face. I allowed myself one last memory of Monica and imagined her standing beside in her underwear. She had a fluffy white towel wrapped around her wet hair that reminded me of a Sultan's turban as she brushed her teeth, and she turned to flash me an all too familiar foamy smile. If I had a dollar for every day I was late to work because of that smile I wouldn't need to be stealing Sanford Peck blind, I would already be a zillionaire! An involuntary sigh escaped my lips and I nicked my chin with the sharp blade.
"Son of a…!" I exclaimed.
            A small red dot appeared on my chin and I watched it grow into a bubble that quickly became a blob heavy enough to drip into the water below. The soft plunk it made on impact was amplified enough in my wandering mind to snap me out of my little daydream and I watched Monica's image slowly fade away. Damn it! These little fantasies helped me to share the smile that I kept locked away in my heart with the rest of the world, instead of the pensive, sorrowful expression I usually wore on my face these days. I hope this isn't a bad omen, tonight's the night we empty Sanford Peck's piggy bank. If all went as planned last night, Jack and Randy would be here after lunch. I had to assume that Papa, Sandy and Roman made their flight back to the US, which would put them in New York right about now. I had an urge to contact them but we had planned for my weakness and made sure they ditched anything that might lead someone back to us, like cell phones and such. They should be alright, Papa was practical, Sandy was capable and Roman was reliable. Oddly enough he was the voice of reason whenever Papa and Sandy clashed. Secretly down deep I was relieved that they wouldn't be involved with this job, I had a queer feeling about it.  
            I put a little pressure on the toilet tissue covering my small wound and finished shaving. I needed to be dressed and out the door in 30 minutes to meet Alma Donnelley for breakfast on the Lido Deck. She had asked me to join her for, as she put it, a pleasant morning meal and a little chat. I had no idea what that meant, but that just added to my queer feeling, sort of like the way you felt as a kid before a big exam in school. No matter how well prepared you were you couldn't keep the butterflies from flying around in your middle. The plush towel felt good against my skin as I dried my face. The tissue had done its job quickly and there was nary a trace of the nick on my chin. I winced as I splashed on a little aftershave and then took a minute to admire my chiseled form in the mirror. Without Monica to fatten me up I had trimmed down noticeably. Not hard to imagine though, all I did was work and run and I pretty much lived on coffee and soup, the older I get the more I like soup, I'm turning into my father, God help me! I dismissed myself with a wave and went into the walk-in closet to dress. The countdown had begun; it was time to put on my game face. The "Jack of Broken Hearts" had his biggest challenge to date in front of him. Everything had to go right today, shaving mishap not withstanding!


The Lido Deck, Saturday, September 3rd, 2005…10am


            Alma Donnelley checked the watch on her wrist as she stirred her coffee. Two sugars and lots of cream, that's how she took it. She had developed a taste for coffee at an early age thanks to her mother's habit of pouring some into her milk at breakfast. So as far as Alma was concerned coffee wasn't coffee unless it was sweet and creamy. Jean-Luc was late, which was unusual, he had always been quite punctual. She pondered what could be keeping him for a moment as she took a sip from her cup. From over the rim she saw Sanford and Killeen Peck walking toward her. Her swallow hid her frown and she set down her cup and forced a smile to greet her unexpected guests.
Sanford pulled out a chair and seated his wife as he eyed Alma knowingly. Alma didn't like how he looked her, like he knew something he shouldn't or something she wished he didn't. "You don't mind if we join you, do you Alma? We can't let an important guest like you dine all alone," Sanford said, grinning like the Cheshire cat from "Through the Looking Glass."
"Of course not, I enjoy your company dear," Alma replied, smiling at Killeen and ignoring her arrogant husband.
"Splendid!" replied Sanford as he sat beside his wife, oblivious to Alma's snub.
"Actually I'm expecting Jean-Luc, he should be along shortly," Alma said as she gestured toward her cup. "Killeen dear would you like some coffee?"
"Oh my yes, I could smell the Hawaiian Hazelnut all the way over here," answered Mrs. Peck quickly.
Sanford signaled for the server who was already hot-footing it over to the table to take care of the boss. Sanford Peck's reputation for zero tolerance for unresponsiveness was legendary, especially if someone were unresponsive to his own personal whims and fancies. An obviously nervous young man in his early twenties arrived at the table quickly, a small bead of sweat visible at his prematurely receding hairline. Sanford smiled at the lad's attempt to impress him, but was really more pleased with himself and the affect that he had on the rank and file.
"Yes sir, how may I serve you?" asked the nervous young man.
"What's your name son?" asked the high and mighty overlord.
"Rolf sir," replied the server.
"I see. Rolf, is that German or Alsatian?" Sanford asked, inquiring about the kid's nationality in an attempt to intimidate the boy and impress Alma.
"I am Bavarian Mein Herr," Rolf replied, as the bead of perspiration rolled down his cheek, and was quickly replaced by two others.
"I see. Well, I appreciate young people who take their job seriously. I will remember you to Captain Nordquist," Sanford replied, uncharacteristically praising the boy and setting him at ease.
"Danke Mein Herr," Rolf said, bowing respectfully, trying unsuccessfully to hide a beaming smile breaking out across his face.
"Yes, well, Rolf from Bavaria, see what you can do about bringing us some coffee and let Chef know that we would like a brunch cart brought out to the table as well. We're expecting one more so if you would be so kind as to prepare for that too I would consider it a personal favor," Sanford said, laying it on thick for Alma's attention.
"Very well, I will see to it at once!" Rolf replied, turning on his heels quickly to cary out his assignment.
"You were uncharacteristically kind to that young man dear, is he someone you know?" Killeen Peck asked her husband with a raised brow.
Sanford allowed a wry grin to appear on his face, "no dear, I'm merely looking forward to a better than average day," he answered without looking at her.
            The Pecks seemed a little off this morning noticed Alma. She suspected they had had words earlier. Not that it was any of her business, all couples have those moments, but Sanford was a bully and she involuntarily studied Killeen, looking for telltale signs of abuse. Alma saw nothing obvious but she sensed otherwise. She was about to speak when I entered the room.
"Oh, here's Jean-Luc now," she said waiving at me as I approached the table.
"Hello Alma," I said as I arrived, walking around the table to kiss her cheek lightly and acknowledge the Pecks with a smile and a nod.
"Mr. and Mrs. Peck, so glad to see you this morning, I trust you will join us for brunch?"
"Of course sir, have a seat, I've already made arrangements, please, be seated," Sanford said without getting up.
"Merci," I replied, seating myself beside Alma and across from Killeen Peck.
"I'm surprised to see you Jean-Luc. I thought that you had urgent business to attend to back in Monte Carlo? I must have misunderstood," Sanford inquired without actually asking a question.
"Yes of course, I did have something important to see to, but plans changed and the situation seemed to have handled itself well enough without me. Those are the perks of having a well trained staff. But I do not have to tell you that," I answered pleasantly. I could see that he wasn't convinced and I quickly turned my attention to Alma and Killeen to avoid further questions or observations.
"So ladies, what is on the agenda you today? I know that Alma and I have some Foundation business to take care of after brunch, but that shouldn't take long. Perhaps we could meet back here this afternoon for a game of Bridge, what do you think?" I asked as the server arrived with a coffee and tea tray. The young man set the tray beside the table and prepared to serve only to be cut off abruptly by Herr Peck.
"That won't be necessary Rolf, we will serve ourselves thank you," Sanford said dismissively.
"Oh no sir, It is my pleasure to serve you," Rolf replied cheerfully, a critical mistake in judgment. Sanford Peck rose from his chair slowly and placed his hands, palms down on the table in front of him. He waited for Rolf to notice him.
"I am not accustomed to repeating myself young man. I have given you an order and I expect you to obey without question. Do you understand my meaning?" he said in a slow icy tone.
            The young crew member was visibly shaken but did his best to comply without making a spectacle of himself. He set the carafe back onto the silver tray and bowed respectfully before backing away. "My apologies Herr Peck, I did not understand. If you will excuse me," he said as he turned to leave. Sanford watched him walk away and waited until he disappeared into the kitchen before he sat back down.
"Insolent little bas…" he started to mutter.
"What was that dear?" Killeen asked, clearly embarrassed by her husband's behavior.
"Nothing Killeen, it's nothing, not another word," he replied quickly and bitterly.
            The moment passed as quickly as it had appeared and our host got up to serve the table coffee and tea. "Where are my manners? Here let me take care of this. Forgive young Rolf, he is new and has much to learn. This was a good lesson for him," Sanford said rhetorically as he filled the cups and placed them in front of us. I noticed Killeen flinch when he gently squeezed her shoulder as he sat back down beside her. Alma noticed it as well and I swear we had a simultaneous thought. There was more than tension going on across the table from us, there was hate.
"You're right about a well trained staff Jean-Luc, I demand that of my people, and I get it too. Young Rolf will learn," Sanford said staring at me from over the rim of his cup. He drank slowly without blowing on the hot liquid, the man wasn't human! He continued before I could think of a clever reply.
"I'm afraid that Killeen and I will not be available for Bridge this afternoon, I am sorry. She hasn't been feeling well of late and has an appointment with the ship's physician. Perhaps you and I could play some Cribbage instead and get to know one another seeing as we will be working more closely with G.A.W.D. since poor Grover's passing. What do you say?"
            I had to think fast, the last thing I wanted to do was let this man pick my brain only hours before we planned to pick his pocket. He kept staring at me and it was making my skin crawl. The guy wasn't physically imposing, not by any means, but he was uncommon evil, I could see that in his eyes, black and empty, expressionless, emotionless, nothingness. The only tack here was to agree and back out later. I didn't want to debate with him here, I had things to do before Jack and Randy arrived. The devil is always in the details, a thought that made me smirk as I was probably staring back at the devil himself as he sat directly across the table from me.
"I am sorry to hear that you are not well Mrs. Peck. Perhaps if you are better this evening we can all have dinner together, no?" I replied.
"I would like that Jean-Luc, we'll see," Killeen answered with a small smile.
"So, how does a friendly game of cards, some fine scotch and a cigar or two later in the Grand Salon sound to you?" Sanford asked as he refilled his cup with more steaming coffee.
"It will be my pleasure sir; as soon as Mrs. Donnelley and I finish our business I will meet you there. Shall we say four o'clock?" I answered.
"Splendid, I'll look forward to it," Sanford said clapping his hands.
            Several crew members arrived with a table on wheels littered with assorted pastries, pate, cheese, fruit, and breads. A smaller cooking cart trailed behind it and a chef garbed in white began to prep a skillet to prepare whatever we desired. Sanford continued to stare at me while I tried my best to remain nonplussed by his attention. More was going down at four o'clock than cards and booze, I could sense that. I was beginning to feel like the field mouse flipping off the hawk that was swooping down on it with talons flexed, ready to rip it to shreds. If your fate is to be your enemy's meal than do what you can to assure that it is his last!
"Me too messier, me too," I said defiantly. I picked up my cup to take a sip and looked across to Killeen Peck.
            She wasn't crying, but her eyes were moist as if she could at any moment. She looked away as soon as we made eye contact. She was scared. Not for herself. She was scared for me. I slowly turned and looked over my shoulder. Sanford's head of security, Mister Price was sitting at a table nearby. I didn't remember passing him when I came in but there he was, only a few strides from where we sat. The man was stealth; I had to give him that. He did not acknowledge me but I knew he was watching me with an assassin's eye. When I turned my attention back to our table Sanford was staring my way.
"Are you alright Jean-Luc?"
"Yes, of course, why do you ask?"
"No reason. What would you like? Crepes with fruit, perhaps eggs Benedict?"
"I am famished, I'll have both I think," I replied with a toothy grin.
"I like a confident man, bon appétit messier, bon appétit," Sanford said, his eyes signaling someone behind me. I held my breath as a hand suddenly reached over my shoulder, and I locked eyes with Sanford Peck. If this were going to be my last moment on Earth I'll be damned if it'll be spent as a coward!
"More coffee messier?" asked Rolf rhetorically as he filled my cup.
"Merci," I replied, masking as best as I could the feeling of relief that was rushing through me.  A chair skidded across the floor behind me and I listened as Mr. Price got up and walked away. Sanford Peck and I continued to stare each other down and I watched his henchman's image fade away in the abyss of his cold black eyes.

3 comments:

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