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For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, & Luc
JFK Airport, New York, Saturday, September 3rd, 2005…6pm
Sandy Lucci paced back and forth in front of Gate 31, glaring intensely at an American Airlines reservations attendant and clearly intimidating her. The poor young woman had just changed the departure time of Flight 2025 for the third time and Sandy wasn't taking the new development very well. He'd already been cooling his heels better than six hours since arriving from Paris and now here she was tacking on two more. Flying into the past had already put his compatriots, Roman and François into a jetlag induced coma, the two of them fast asleep stretched out on the floor beneath a large window overlooking the tarmac. Sandy however was wide awake in spite of being up for 28 straight hours. The trio was on the lam and had put as many miles as possible between themselves and the Standard Pharmaceutical 'assassin squad' a term Sandy liked to use when referencing the company's potentially lethal security team. Hopefully nearly four thousand miles would prove to be a reasonable barrier between imminent danger and relative peace of mind.
He paced one more lap and then stopped in mid stride directly in front of the clearly frightened attendant as she prepared to make her announcement. A little gasp escaped her lips and her voice cracked as she spoke, "Attention please, American Airlines Non-stop Flight 1124 from New York to Los Angeles is now scheduled for departure at 8:15pm due to current weather conditions. We apologize for the continued delay."
The young lady set down the telephone handset and mouthed a silent apology to Sandy, managing to look sincere enough to ward off one of Sandy's legendary tantrums. He was by no means patient man. He was however a pushover when it came to crying females and this one looked like she may be on the brink. The big freeze outside wasn't her fault, and Sandy uncharacteristically took pity on her, smiling at her weakly. The effect on her disposition was immediate and she gratefully smiled back pantomiming a universal "whew" sign as she swiped at her forehead. Sandy guffawed and waived her off as he walked over to where his buddies were still snoozing peacefully, oblivious to the latest development. He kicked the bottom of Roman's big feet and startled him awake.
"What the fu…!"
"Rise and shine porcupine," Sandy said irritably, taking an empty seat across from François and out of Roman's reach.
"What's the matter ese, you see someone man?" Roman asked, propping himself up on an elbow and scanning the area as best he could from his awkward position.
"Nah, there's nobody around dude. I'm just tired of talking to myself. Come on, sit up and keep me company for awhile. We're gonna be here another couple of hours according to the cutie behind the counter," Sandy answered, nodding his head toward a petite brunette gate attendant trying to calm down a group of frustrated travelers.
"Ai chingaso, I hate this fucking snow shit man!" Roman lamented as he sat up. He leaned back against the wall beneath the window he'd been sleeping under and started to reach over to nudge François.
"Hey, don't wake up Papa Smurf, okay? Just leave him be," pleaded Sandy.
"Cause the old man doesn't dig me man, he never has, and I don't want to put up with any crap from him right now, that's why."
"Whatever Holmes, I don't know why you and Pat's old man don't along, but hey, it's none of my business," Roman replied as he sat back against the wall.
"So what do you want to talk about while we sit here and wait?" asked Roman through a yawn.
"I hate being benched man. I don't know understand why the professor's new plan didn't include us. Doesn't that seem weird to you?"
"I don't know either man, but he's the brains of the outfit, and we're just the muscle dude. I guess for this run they needed more brains than brawn?"
"You think? Nah, I don't think so man. I'll tell you what I think. Jack wanted us outta the way, that's what I think. He's up to something and it ain't good, I feel it in my bones man!"
"So why didn't you say something back in Marseilles?"
"Because I let Pat and his old man convince me they had it all under control, that they were onto Jack and that Pat had a plan to keep the rat bastard in check."
"They wouldn't say. François said even he didn't know all the details. Pat wanted it that way in case Peck's goons grabbed us in Paris. We can't tell them anything if we don't know anything."
"Why didn't you clue me in man, that's fucked up! What if those chingasos did grab us back there? We'd have wound up like Wesley, chopped up and fed to the fishes!" exclaimed Roman as he stood and scanned the gate area more earnestly.
"Because we knew you'd freak out just like you're doing now. Sit down man, we're back in the States, we're safe here," Sandy replied calmly as he watched a new attendant replace the cute little brunette at the counter. Her replacement was taller and older and reminded Sandy of his third grade teacher, Mrs. Dietz, not a fond memory exactly, she was such a bitch! Sandy dismissed her with a glance, returning his attention to Roman. The older gate attendant smiled as she handed a boarding pass to a customer and looked quickly toward Sandy and the boys. It wasn't more than a sideways glance, unnoticed by either Roman or Sandy, but it didn't escape François' purview. He had been feigning sleep ever since Sandy had rousted Roman, listening to their conversation halfheartedly. He was fully awake now as he watched the older woman work the counter. She wasn't right, François sensed it. She was trying too hard not to look their way, he could see her face twitch as she strained to get a peripheral view of the three of them. She was watching them and she probably wasn't alone. They were in trouble!
The Princess Grace, Saturday, September 3rd, 2005…12:30pm
"Where the fuck is Randy," Jack muttered as he waited at the gangplank for his protégé.
He checked his Rolex again. The little shit was ten minutes late, that wasn't a good sign. There were a lot of plausible reasons for him to be tardy, but Jack knew there was only one probable one. That notion pissed him off. He and the old man had an agreement, a gentleman's agreement perhaps, but it was an agreement nonetheless. He spit on the boardwalk, an uncharacteristic action given his rearing, but it was probably more symbolic than reflex. He was so close to closing out the era of the tyrant he called father that he could almost taste the sweetness of it. The last thing he needed was a hiccup that he hadn't previously arranged for. It made no sense for his father to renege on their arrangement. He was handing him exactly what e asked for, the "Jack of Broken Heart's" head on a stick along with his band of merry nitwits.
Before the day was out there would be three new toe tags issued in Queens, New York by way of JFK. And there would be two others put on ice on board this rust bucket waiting for the French authorities to take position of and responsibility for. Not a bad day's work if he did say so himself. Of course the old man may have figured out that the two bodies planned for the Princess Grace morgue weren't exactly who Jack had led him to believe they were. That was possible, but wasn't probable, Sanford Peck would never give his pampered son credit for that kind of ruthlessness. He was of the mind that that level of evil was something acquired and honed over many years of misdeeds. He would be wrong of course, that level of evil is something you're born with, it's in the DNA, sins of the father and all the rot. Jack looked back toward the pavilion once more there was no sign of Randy Patel. What a shame he thought, he genuinely liked the guy. He should have survived this day, Jack had plans for his brilliance. He spit once more and turned to walk up the gangplank. He hoped that Randy didn't suffer long like Wesley had, but Jack knew better. No time to dwell on that now, he needed to get a hold of Jean-Luc ASAP, and discretely, they had some fast thinking to do. Jack had all the codes but he was going to need. Whatever they came up with it would have to be quick. Jack's original plans would start whether they were ready of not. They had about two hours.
"Shit Dad, you meddling ass-wipe!" Jack muttered as he reached the top of the long stairway.
He was met by a pleasant young man in an Ensign's uniform, probably the ship's purser, "Good afternoon sir, may I see your boarding pass and passport please?"
Jack handed the young officer his documents and smiled unconvincingly. The purser opened the passport first and immediately recognized name and made the connection. Clearing his throat he quickly handed Jack back his docs and gave him an apologetic salute, "Please excuse the inconvenience Herr Peck, I did not know that you were coming, I was not informed," stammered the purser anxiously.
"That's alright, it was my fault, I wanted to surprise my parents," Jack replied winking at the Ensign and patting him on the shoulder as he passed by.
"Would you like to send word ahead of your arrival?" asked the Ensign.
"No, it's a surprise, remember?" Jack said with a genuine smile, pressing an index finger to his lips. It was going to be a surprise alright his smile quickly fading into nothingness as disappeared down the main corridor.
Donnelly Stateroom, Saturday, September 3rd, 2005…12:55pm
I stared at a brass colored peephole on Alma Donnelley's stateroom door and debated whether or not ring the bell again, I didn't want to give the impression that I was in a rush even if it were true. She is a sweet woman and I know she means well, but I had no time for chit-chat, not today of al days. I needed to make sure that Randy and Jack made it aboard as scheduled, the plans we made left little margin for error or surprise. I puffed out my cheeks and sighed, rapping on the door with my knuckles this rather than trust a soft melodic tone to get the attention of the elderly matron.
"Doesn't sound like anyone's at home," said a familiar voice.
My heart literally skipped a beat and I had to summon all of my composure to keep from shrieking like a little girl, "Must you always make these little entrances Jack, really, it is this fun for you!" I said in a calm but icy tone.
"Actually it is fun, but you're an easy target Jean-Luc, your mind is always juggling more than the task at hand," Jack replied as he reached over my shoulder and rapped really had on Alma's door. BAM BAM BAM…
"There, see, nobody home," he said, taking my arm and leading me away from Alma's room and down the corridor.
"Where are we going?"
"To the galley, we don't have much time and that's one room that doesn't have eyes or ears if you catch my drift."
"Alright, what's the rush though? Where's Randy?"
"That's what we're gonna talk about partner, as soon as I'm sure we aren't being tailed," replied Jack, violently yanking on my arm and veering us through a door marked 'utility'.
On the other side of the door was a watertight bulkhead that led below decks to a refrigerated storage room servicing the ship's galley. We traversed the steep rungs down the two ladder ways and stopped next to the cold storage lockers. Jack looked through the window at the top of each thickly insulated door just make sure that we were alone. When he was satisfied that we were, he pressed the release button on the console nearest him and waited for the indicator to turn green telling him the door seal had been released. We went inside and the cold hit me like a slap in the face, guess that's where that old saying comes from? Jack closed and resealed the door behind us and then waited for the air compressor to start up before he spoke. We stared at each other for an uncomfortable ten count until then. The compressor switched on noisily and instantly frosted air began to billow slowly from the overhead behind Jack.
"We'll have about ten minutes in this cold, so listen closely and save your questions for the end, understood?" Jack said without blinking. I nodded an affirmative reply.
"Randy's a no show, we both know what probably means," he began. I nodded again.
"That puts me on the computers system and you are going to have to run interference with my father. Do you think that you can you keep him occupied for sixty minutes?" asked Jack.
"Randy said that the download and transfer would only take 30 minutes?"
"I'm not Randy ace, now let me finish," quipped Jack, his teeth beginning to chatter uncontrollably. I wasn't nearly as affected by the cold as he was as I'd spent my entire adult life earning my living underwater in the Pacific.
"By now he knows I'm on board, but he may not know why just yet. So for safety sake let's assume that they broke Randy before they killed him."
"That would mean they know everything then, no?"
"Not necessarily, Randy only knew the codes, he didn't know anything else, only you and I knew where and when, those were our checks and balances security wise. We would be the least likely to be pinched by the goon squad because of our high profile lifestyle, and our absence would cause waves," Jack reasoned.
"Expect the unexpected from my father. Keep him talking about himself. Give tiny clues that you may be anxious about something. He won't be able to help himself if he smells blood in the water. Fear is like catnip to the old man. "
"Alright, the shifts change at 4:30pm across the board on a ship this size. You need to keep my father occupied until at least 5:15pm, think you can do that?
"Actually I have a cribbage date with your Pop at 4pm in his stateroom."
"Cribbage…really? I didn't know he played. Doesn't matter, just let him win. He cheats you know, so pretend not to notice, he'll platy longer if he thinks he's getting away with something."
"You don't know the half of it."
"Where do I meet you after I leave your father?"
"Just sit tight, I'll come to you before six."
"That wasn't the plan Jack."
"I know, but the plan was to get three off this tub. It's just us girls now Jean-Luc, we'll have to improvise. Trust me."
Those two words never sounded so empty. Truth was I had no other choice, and call me stupid if you like, but I was picking up vibes of sincerity from the professor. I can't explain it? Maybe it's that sixth sense we all experience from time to time. Mine has saved my bacon a few times over the years but only when I followed it without question. Perhaps those were times the man upstairs was testing my faith, who's to say? It's not like we have been on speaking terms these days anyway. Still, lately I've been feeling his presence as well. That usually means I have arrived at a crossroads. I wish Monica were here so we could talk this out, she was always my best sounding board. I know I should let go of her but I can't, we were connected at the soul. Jack was shivering now and I was beginning to feel the effects of the deep freeze myself. We'd been in here all of ten minutes and that was nine minutes too long.
"Alright Jackson, I'm all in. Let's get the flock outta here before we both get frostbite."
"Sweet! When we get out, let me go first just in case we were tailed. You follow wait five minutes then head on back to your room and hang out until your cribbage date."
"I need to stop by and see Alma first; she wanted to chat about something that she said was important."
"Don't bother, she's not there."
"What do you mean she's not there? How would you know?"
"I know Pat, I know. Suffice to say she made onto my father's short list."
No further explanation was required, although I really would like to know what sort of threat that sweet old lady was to a powerful man like Sanford Peck? I shuddered to think that I and my schemes had anything to do with whatever had happened to her. But it was true. My blind rage had already cost the lives of two people that I cared about and the one person whom I loved more than life itself. Now here was another innocent life to throw onto the tracks of the train wreck that is my life. I suddenly felt sick to my stomach. Jack opened the heavy door and we walked out of the locker in a cloud of freezing air. He resealed the door and then held up his wrist to show me his Rolex. It was just after one o'clock, 1:15 to be precise. He showed me four fingers, reminding me of my appointment with daddy dearest and then disappeared back up the ladder-way.
"Good luck," I said to the empty room.