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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

("Sailing heart-ships through broken harbors; out on the waves in the night. Still the searcher must ride the dark horse, racing alone in his fright.")…Neil Young


For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc

My inspiration



Chapter Fifty-five



The Bay of Marseille, Saturday, September 3rd, 2005…7:00pm


Jackson Peck squirmed anxiously in the pilot's seat at the helm of the dull white speed boat we'd unceremoniously christened "Jeckle" as in "Heckle & Jeckle," two wisecracking cartoon magpies I watched religiously every Saturday morning when I was a kid. That was my routine, from 6am to 10am I had the downstairs all to myself to enjoy my favorite TV shows while my parents 'slept in' as they put it. Sometimes though my father would come down and watch them with me, proof positive that little boys might grow into men, but men never completely outgrow the little boy, too funny!

I was late and I knew Jack had been waiting impatiently for me to arrive, probably wondering if I'd ignored his warnings and stopped by my stateroom on the way over here. I hadn't of course, I was scared not stupid! But I will confess to making an unscheduled stop at the first bar I came across for a shot of rye just to settle my nerves. Hey, it's not everyday you witnesses an assassination, especially one that could just as easily have been meant for you! I spotted Jack at the same moment he spotted me, just as I was turning the corner to walk into the marina through the small gate barricading the entrance. His body language seemed to relax as soon as he saw me, which I hoped was a sign of relief and not surprise. The fact that things could have gone either way back at the Princess Grace was a little unnerving, but not altogether unexpected. I had come to the realization that Jack had been in charge of our destiny from the very beginning. Let's face it; we didn't call him the professor for nothing!

Why he didn't have Herr Price pop both of us, me and Daddy Dearest, back in the apartment was beyond me? That question really nagged at me. If Jack was cleaning house, and I assumed that he was, it would have been the smart move, am I right? It definitely was the logical move for the hostile take over he'd orchestrated. He was his father's son after all, and you know what they say, the apple never falls from the tree. Yep, that was what he was up to, that had to be it, cleaning house, erasing tracks. That was probably why I hadn't been able to reach Papa on the throw away cell he bought before leaving for the airport. Oh man, if anything's happened to him, or Sandy or Roman for that matter, and I find out Jack's behind it, I'm going to step over the thin line between right and wrong and kill the son of a bitch! But I need to be sure first. I need to eliminate all doubt before I cross over from sanity to insanity. I skirted that scary ledge once before, shortly after my son's death. If not for my wife Monica, my father, and my caring friends, I might have killed Sanford Peck myself way back then.

I quickly forced the thought from my brain. Papa would never approve of such an act of vengeance, even if Jack were responsible. My father was a forgive and forget sorta guy, a real peacenik if you will. He'd seen enough killing during his war, enough death to last a man a lifetime. I knew he knew first hand what it was like to take a life, how it changes a man. He never spoke of the war, but I saw guilt and shame in that far away look he'd get whenever someone or something reminded him of that time. He never said so, but he believed that some things are just meant to stay between you and Almighty God. There are just some secrets are too dark for the light. Why you ask? Because no matter how well intentioned a loved one may be, or how sympathetically empathetic they want to be, once uttered, the words cannot be unheard. You're must then live with visions you cannot possibly understand, visions that cast new light, that alter perspectives, no matter much you may wish they wouldn't.

Papa protected us, me and my Mom, from having to deal with that unpleasantness. Until this moment I didn't understand that. I do now. I've seen too many things that I wish I hadn't. I know he wouldn't want me living my life in the shadow of ghosts, like he did. Some things you never forgive yourself for. That sobering thought alone might be enough to save Jack's life. Although, secretly, down deep, I kind of hope it doesn't. Let's face it, I'm no saint, and there's little chance I'll ever sprout angel wings.

"Enjoy your stroll Pat?" Jack shouted over the engines as he revved them, annoyed by my tardiness. I leaped across the small space between the boat and the dock and shouted up to him, "We need to talk Jack-O!" I hollered, as annoyed with him as he was with me.

Ignoring me he gunned the engines again, drowning out my chatter. The last place I wanted an altercation with him was at sea, but there wasn't much I could do about that now. A very powerful man had just been murdered and I was the last person to be seen with him alive. I needed Jack to get me out of this mess, but I was unsure of his intentions. Under the circumstances how good could they be. But since I was here bickering with him and not back there, stuffed into the same body bag as dear old dad, I was pretty sure he had an offer to make. As bad as that sounded I wanted to hear it, even if it turned out to be a lie.

"Cast off the bow line and hunker down Pat, I'm gonna jet us outta here ahead of the shit storm that's coming. I know a quiet place nearby, we can talk there," Jack shouted back.

"I don't think going into town is such a good idea Jack-O."

"We're not, gimme some credit will ya. I'm sneaking us onto le château d’If, it's not far from here."

That name was familiar, I knew of it for some reason? I thought for a moment and it came to me, a memory from childhood. "You mean the old prison?"

"Yeah, that's it. It's pretty much deserted this time of day."

"Alright, let's go the, I think I hear sirens!"

"Hold on," Jack hollered, as he peeled away from slip, sending an arc of sea water back onto the dock and dowsing a lazy pelican sunning itself on a piling.

We were on the lam now! I held onto the safety rail that surrounded the boat and repeated the name aloud, "le château d’If," I knew this place. My father's an avid reader, always has been, in fact he read to me every night before bed until I reached puberty. We read stories by Mark Twain (my favorite) and The Brothers Grimm (not exactly a favorite, a little too scary) and Edgar Allen Poe (even scarier) and Alexander Dumas (his favorite). In fact, if memory serves, Dumas' novel "The Count of Monte Cristo" actually takes place on le château d’If. That's why it rang a bell when Jack mentioned it. I had no idea it was nearby. The old 15th century fort turned prison was also the setting for the story of "The Man in the Iron Mask." The place was the Euro version of Alcatraz, only with much better weather. Neither rocky island had room for much more than the dank structures that sat upon them. At least from the Isle of If an inmate hell bent to escape had a sporting chance of swimming to freedom without the fear of becoming a shark snack, unlike their American cousins who were probably safer sitting on death row than swimming the cold, shark infested waters of San Francisco Bay.

As soon as we passed the jetty at the mouth of the marina Jack went full throttle and we roared out into the Mediterranean. A couple of minutes later he turned sharply to port and headed toward the island prison. It wasn't much more than a mile off shore and we covered it quickly. He waited until the last possible second then cut the engines, gliding us toward a high vertical face that was the only entrance to the ancient location. I liked this part of any boat ride, when the engines are cut and the bow sinks back into the water, slowing to a speed that gives you the same belly-tingles that I'd get whenever I rode the Big Thunder Mountain roller coaster at Disneyland, so cool.

"HEY PAT! Snap out of it and tie us off at the bow," Jack shouted, startling me back into the moment. I jumped from my perch, bowline in tow, and tied us off on an old cleat that looked like it might not be up to the task of keeping us put.

"DONE!" I hollered.

"Alright, go on up, there's a two story building outside of the fort. I'll meet you there in a few minutes," Jack said, pointing at a steep set of stairs leading up to the old fort. I hesitated a second and was about to offer to wait for him when Jack spoke again, apparently reading my mind.

"Don't worry, if I wanted you dead you already would be," he said calmly, almost smiling.

I waived my silent reply as I hopped onto the cobblestone dock and started walking toward the stone stairway. I looked back over my shoulder I watched Jack disappear below deck. It was probably a mistake not to stand my ground, I should have insisted on waiting for him, but for some reason I felt less threatened all of a sudden. That one remark, that one look he gave me changed everything. There was something was different about him. I had expected him to be more of an asshole, more controlling. I mean he clearly held all the cards. But he wasn't, in fact he seemed somewhat humbled, no, that wasn't it, he seemed remorseful, like a kid caught stealing from the collection plate? This was weird; was I actually feeling sorry for him? A minute ago I was thinking of killing him and now I was wondering if he needed a hug. So confusing, I suddenly had a glimpse of what it must have been like to be Monica. My wife could go from nice to nasty in a nanosecond. No wonder she slept so soundly at night, these kinds of mood swings are exhausting!

The wind picked up as I climbed the stairs, the cool evening breeze keeping me from breaking a sweat under the glare of a summer sun that was still an hour or so from setting. The building Jack mentioned was up ahead, a couple hundred yards in front of me. I covered the distance in less than five minutes and went inside. The air conditioning blasted me as soon as I crossed the threshold. It was a welcome relief and I stood beneath a vent to cool off for a couple of minutes. The place was laid out like most information centers, with glass cases containing all sorts of historical memorabilia. There was a huge blue, white, and red French flag stretching across the stone wall in front of me. Aside from a lone uniformed employee sitting at an old writing desk behind short counter the room was empty. I nodded at the man. He looked up from whatever he was reading and raised an eyebrow in response and then went back to his work. I half expected Herr Price to appear out of nowhere to finish the job he started back on board the cruise ship. A little chuckle escaped my lips as I scolded myself for my paranoia, like Jack said if he wanted me dead I already would be.

"What does that mean?" I asked myself aloud.

"What does what mean?" Jack asked, suddenly appearing.

"Shit! You scared the crap out of me Jack! What? Wait, did you run over here or what?" I said, answering his question with a question.

"I said what does what mean?" he repeated slowly.

"What? Oh you mean just now, never mind, it's not important," I lied.

"If you're wondering why Herr Price didn't kill you it's because I never meant to harm you, or the others for that matter, that was my father's desire Pat, not mine. I wish I could have recruited Herr Price sooner, but I didn't have the means until just now."

"What are you talking about?"

"The man's a merc Pat, a mercenary, a hired gun, a very, very efficient assassin with a very, very loyal crew. He's actually worked for my father for years, but hey, cash is king, right? I knew that buying the man's loyalty was always a possibility, a fact that my normally cagy father uncharacteristically refused to believe where Herr Price was concerned. That was his fatal mistake, everyone has their price Pat, even you; even I. Herr Price's was steep and it took this last score to turn him our way. All thanks to Randy Patel, the poor bastard, clearly a victim of bad timing."

"What do you mean, bad timing?"

I noticed the man sitting behind the counter look up suddenly. If he'd been eavesdropping he'll probably live to regret it. Jack noticed the same thing and walked past me toward the ostentatiously giant French flag hanging across the room. I followed him and we stopped beside one another, our backs to the nosey caretaker while we pretended to study some artifacts in glass case. We remained silent for a moment, strolling from case to case along the wall until we were out of earshot of the nosey uniform.

"How much do you think he heard?" Jack asked in a soft voice.

"I'd say pretty much everything," I replied, feeling a pang of guilt for probablydooming the poor schnook to a two in the head death sentence or at the very least a five across the eyes warning.

"Right, oh well, not to worry," Jack said checking his perfectly manicured nails.

"What do you mean?"

"Not important Pat. Listen, we don't have much time. You wanted to talk, this is your chance," Jack said as he studied an exhibit of deadly looking privateer and pirate weaponry under the glass. There were all sorts of sabers, swords, and cutlasses, as well as some interesting looking primitive but effective firearms on display. I didn't waste any time and jumped right to the point.

"Is my father dead?" Jack hesitated then answered, "I don't know."

"What do you mean you don't know?"

"I mean I don't know. Look, I already told you that I was not in control of Herr Price's actions until after the score today. You were there! Up until that moment my father was calling the shots, literally! If I hadn't stumbled onto Randy's coded back door you'd be where my dad is right now and I'd be staring into the barrel of Herr Price's silenced Sig Sauer."

"So you think my father could still be alive? What about Sandy and Roman?"

"I'm not saying that Pat. I really don't know. All I had time to do was send a prearranged signal as soon as the money started routing its way to the Foundation. That's what saved your bacon. After that I had to hot foot it over to the marina to get Jeckle ready and wait for you. Honestly man, that's all I know right now," Jack explained.

He sounded sincere, that bothered me, and I studied him for a full minute looking for a sign one way or the other. The big problem was that I wanted to believe him; the bigger risk was that I already did. What was his angle? There was nothing to gain by keeping me around; in fact my very presence could only complicate matters for him given the G.A.W.D. Foundation's connection to me as Jean-Luc Rojier. Or maybe because of my connection to the Foundation it made sense to keep me alive, at least until Sanford's murder slipped from front page news to history's back pages. And what about Alma Donnelley, she had to be an issue as well, I had almost forgotten all about her. By now the Princess Grace would be in a lock down scenario with a law enforcement army crawling all over that ship looking for little 'ol me! And yet Jack didn't seem very concerned, not agitated, not anxious, in fact he seemed pretty damn calm for someone on the lam?

Come to think of it, who's to say that anyone other than the three of us, me, Jack, and Herr Price, actually knows about Sanford's murder? I was so relieved not to have been the target that I just automatically did as I was told and got the hell out of Dodge before the cops arrived. I assumed that Herr Price was giving me a head start before calling the authorities. Now I'm not so sure? My imagination was going into overdrive and I could feel myself start to sweat under the pressure of trying to make sense of everything. I looked at Jack, he was cool as a cucumber and I was teetering on the edge of paranoia. He was either calculatingly evil or calmly innocent. My head insisted I be wary; while my heart whispered have faith. Why are angels so frustrating and devils so easy? Stupid question, maybe? An angel's answer to every question is have faith. While Satan answers every question with another question, are you sure? I tossed an imaginary coin before speaking. Satan won the toss…again…

"Call him Jack."

"Who?"

"Herr Price."

"Why?"

"I need to know, that's why."

"Alright, have it your way, but if I can't reach him it's because he has his hands full, fair enough?"

"Fair enough," I replied.

He pulled a cell phone from the pocket of his cargo shorts, the sound of disengaging Velcro echoed noticeably in the empty building, and I quickly glanced over at the clerk behind the counter. Not that he posed a threat or anything; it was just a knee jerk reaction toward someone nearby dressed in a uniform with a shiny gold badge. Jack looked that way as well, turning quickly back to stare me down while he waited for Herr Price to pick up on the other end. It was a lopsided mind reading contest because he had the unfair advantage of knowing what I was thinking. His face revealed nothing to me, there were no signs to read, no odd expression or unusual posture; he was a freaking statue. He stood there watching me watch him, his blank expression mocking me. It was pissing me off, raising my internal body temperature and I felt myself begin to sweat as the heat I was generating looked to escape through my scalp. Before I could hurl a snide remark at him Herr Price answered.

"I need a body count. How many pirates have been silenced," asked Jack, his eyes remaining locked onto mine. I studied his face as if a number would appear on his forehead. Nearly a minute passed before he spoke again, torturing me.

"I see. You're certain? Alright, thanks, I'll contact you when we stop to refuel in Santa Theresa," he said flipping the cell phone shut and disconnecting. His face bore the first readable expression in a quarter hour. It was one of pity and I felt a pang of grief mixed with anger as a spec of bile rose to my throat from my rumbling stomach.

"How do you want this?" Jack asked softly but directly.

"What?"

"Sugar coated or right between the eyes?" he replied.

"Just spit it out fuck nuts!" I answered in a raspy whisper, my anger surpassing my grief as I anticipated the worst case scenario. I glanced back at the uniformed caretaker who was standing now and watching us, his hand resting on the handset of a telephone on the countertop. I smiled at him and waived, trying to look more composed than I was, and he smiled back weakly.

"Alright then, this is the long and the short straight from the jackal's mouth," Jack continued as he walked slowly out of earshot of the nosey clerk. He bade me follow with a nod of his head, and I did, while he kept right on talking in a casual and light tone of voice, calming the concerned uniform enough to allow him to sit back down and mind his own business.

"Bad news first then, Herr Price confirms Wesley and Randy are dead. So is your buddy Pat, I'm sorry," said Jack with a noticeably sincere look of bereavement.

I drew a deep breath and let it out slowly, choosing to remain silent for the moment, wondering what I was going to tell Sandy's wife back in the world. Jack studied me closely for a second or two before continuing.

"François and Roman survived the firefight at JFK thanks to Sandy. He covered their escape by literally taking several for the team, brave man. I admired him even though we bickered and argued all the time."

"Where are they now?" I asked.

"Roman's on a company jet bound for LA as we speak. Brace yourself, your Dad took a round in the firefight and is at Manhattan General recovering from surgery. Don't worry, it wasn't serious, luckily the bullet went clean through his right side without hitting one organ. I guess even high priced assassins miss once in a while," explained Jack. He grinned sheepishly trying to ease the tension in the room. It was working. I was so relieved to know that Papa was still alive I pushed everything and everyone else into the background for a moment.

"I want to talk to him."
"Not right now Pat; maybe in a day or two. Right now we need to scoot. Herr Price will buy us a little time but eventually the authorities will need to be called and by then we need to get you far, far away from here."

"What about you?"

"I need to get back to the ship and play the grieving son, slash heir apparent role. Standard Pharmaceutical is a big company and this kind of news will have a big impact on a lot of people when the stock markets open on Monday. Someone has to be at the helm of the Standard ship, and that someone needs to be named Peck, understand?"

I looked away from him and stared up at the huge French flag hanging on the wall in front of us. My mind was racing trying to absorb everything that I'd heard just now and all that had transpired in the last 24 hours. I was exhausted mentally and emotionally and my thoughts began to wander aimlessly looking for one thing to grab onto. I focused on the flag above me and for some reason I noticed the similarity between their flag and ours, Blue-White-Red versus Red-White-Blue. I considered the colors, royal blue, pure white, and blood red. Interesting? White is at the center of each. The purity of the color made me think of peace and freedom. Blue, a cool and calm color brought words like diplomacy and reason to mind. And Red was deep and ominous and it reminded me of sacrifice, of blood. I pondered the order in which the colors appeared on each flag respectively. Their inverse order puzzled me, was there a reason for it? I've heard it said that great intellect is arrogant and that great courage is brash. Generally speaking, I suspect that if you possess one you'll need the other.

"Hey PAT! Snap out of it man. You okay?" Jack asked again in a harsh whisper.

"Sorry. Yeah I'm fine. Let's get going I want to get wherever we're going so I can call my Dad. What's next?"

"We'll take Jeckle to Santa Teresa in Sardinia and gas up. We should be able to make better than fifty knots as long as these calm seas hold up. Your Dad installed huge reserve tanks so we have quite a range."

"How long will that take?"

"I'd say right around 4 or 5 hours."

"Will we need to use the cloaking rig?"

"No, too risky, besides, it won't do us any good if we're spotted from the air."

"Oh, I see, then what?"

"Then we split up. I'll fly back to Marseilles from Sardinia and you'll make the next leg on your own."

"Where am I going?"

"Sicily, Palermo to be exact."

"How far is it?"

"Another couple hundred miles as the crow flies or the dolphin swims. It'll take a little longer because you'll need to reduce your speed across the Tyrrhenian Sea; maybe 6 hours give or take an hour."

"That's a long boat ride Jack, you sure Jeckle is up to it?"

Jack smiled, "Yeah, she'll do alright, just don't get carried away with the throttle."

"Okay, then what; I mean where do I dock at?"

"Ahhh, that's the tricky part."

"I don't like the sound of that."

"It's not as bad as it sounds. I mean, it won't be a piece of cake but it's doable."

"Explain," I said raising an eyebrow.

"Alright, in a nutshell, I packed Jeckle with enough C4 to…"

"WHOA! You turned the boat into a bomb?"

"Essentially, but don't your panties in a bunch Nancy. C4 is very stable and you will have the only detonator."

"That doesn't help Jack. What's up your sleeve?"

"You're gonna scuttle Jeckle about a mile off the coast and Jean-Luc Rojier the murderer will be blown to bits while Patrick Bouchard swims ashore and undetected."

"Murderer? Undetected? What the fuck Jack! This is one helluva fantasy you got goin here professor!" I lamented throwing up my hands.

"Will you stifle? Come on man, I'll tell the rest on the way back to the boat," Jack said as he turned to leave the building.

I followed reluctantly, more pissed than scared. We passed the nosey uniform who smiled at us insincerely as we walked outside into the cooler night air. Jack moved at a pretty brisk pace and I had to speed up to catch up. He began shouting the rest of the details over his shoulder as we covered the 200 yards to the stone stairway, and I had to concentrate on every word as his instructions were mixed with some labored breathing, not his, mine.

"It's perfect Pat, we make the fictional Jean-Luc the patsy and he takes the fall for my father's murder."

"You ever heard the term habeas corpus?"

"Relax, it's taken care of."

"You mean…?"

"Yeah, there's a stiff in the hold under all the C4, courtesy Herr Price."

"Terrific!" I replied sarcastically.

"We aim to please man. Look, when we get to Santa Teresa we'll pick up some SCUBA gear that I have waiting for us. With all those years spent welding underwater you should be able to make it a mile or so to shore, am I right?"

"Probably, but what I do when I make shore?

"You'll be outfitted like a spear fisherman. Just stroll out of the water and disappear into the summer crowd. In your ditty-bag will be a change of clothes, some cash and a plane ticket for Munich. When you arrive, check into the Anna Hotel on Schuetzenstr, there is room reserved for you under your real name. Wait two days and then call me at this number," Jack explained, turning to hand me a folded piece of lined paper while he continued walking backward.

I hated to admit it but it sounded plausible, but where Jack was concerned that didn't mean it was a lock. He could be snowing me. I was having another angel/devil moment and I wanted to listen to the dark side, but goodie-two- shoes sitting on my right shoulder won out again. I waited until we reached the stairs before asking one last question. I caught up with Jack and grabbed him by his shoulder.

"The body in the hold, is it someone we know?"

"I honestly don't know Pat, but I can call Herr Price if you like. Are you sure that you really want to know?" he replied reaching for his cell phone.

I thought about it for a ten count. "Never mind, let's go," I answered passing him and taking the stairs two at a time. I just wanted this day to be over. Jack and I would settle up soon enough.



Grand Salon, Princess Grace, Saturday, September 3rd, 2005…8:00pm


The shadowy yellow light of the fire flickered, bathing Killeen Peck in a warm glow that made her seem ghost-like, as if an apparition. She sat motionless in the very chair her husband had been murdered in only hours ago. She had it moved to this spot as soon as Sanford had been disposed of. This was the first time she had ever actually sat in it. She didn't particularly cared for it, but it had special significance now, it was her freedom chair now and she planned to enjoy it for years to come. Something that might be mistaken for a smile spread across her face as she watched the flames dance in front of her. Suddenly, Killeen felt his presence before he announced himself.

"Yes, what is it?" she asked without turning in the chair.

"The device madam," answered Herr Price, passing something over her shoulder, a small black electronic key fob, not unlike the sort that any car owner would possess to automatically unlock doors or engage a security system.

"Does my son know that I have this?"

"He does not."

"How much time do I have?"

"A few hours I should think, perhaps four, perhaps five."

"Very well, leave me now, I need to think."

"As you wish madam," replied Herr Price exiting the room.

The fire crackled and popped, swirling glowing red embers up to the flume as they escaped to the night air above. Killeen Peck remained transfixed on the firelight as she pondered the end of the Peck lineage. The faint smile disappeared presently and she settled deeper into her new freedom chair.

"What to do…" she muttered to the fire, "What to do…"



Thursday, June 7, 2012

Today KaSandra would have been 13 years old! In memory of her I'm posting the first couple of chapters of the second KK Undercover book...


KK Undercover Mystery
The Haunted Field trip


For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, Luc
My Inspiration



Chapter One


Home sweet Home, San Diego, California



My name is Cassandra but with a K, and only one S. That’s big K, little a, big S, little a-n-d-r-a, get it? If you live in San Diego and you have a kid at Deer Canyon Elementary School you may have heard of me and my team, Winifred, Claire, and Daniel. We got a small write up in "Echoes" our school newspaper when we solved The Cookie Caper and unmasked the Lunchito Bandito last year. Actually, The Cookie Caper wasn't that newsworthy as the bandito turned out to be Chester the hamster, our class mascot. But hey, it was fun and nobody got hurt. Well, except maybe for poor Daniel who has been teased non-stop for wigging out over a fat, furry, oversized rat.

We didn't make the Union Tribune or get on TV or anything like that, but that's okay, we're supposed to be spies anyways. That's right, I said spies! Me and the team work for S.A.M. which stands for Secret Agents for Moms. It's a government agency that recruits brainy kids like us to sorta keep an eye on things. It's kinda hard to be super secret spies if everyone already knows you're spies, duh. Just because we are spies doesn't mean we're tattle-tales or rat-finks, or anything. It just means that we help keep little problems from becoming big ones. We help kids find their way to the right adult to help them fix whatever's wrong. I guess you could say that we're the eyes all moms claim to have in the back of their heads.

So, to recap, I'm a 5th grader now at dear old Deer Canyon Elementary School in sunny San Diego, California. I live with my Mom, my big sister Kat (short for Katrina) and my little brother Luc. My Daddy died when I was three, I miss him a lot. But he raised us to be strong and I know that I'll see him again in Heaven, Father Nick our parish priest says so! That's all I have to say about that.
Kat is 13 and goes to the Middle School just around the corner from Deer Canyon. She'll be going to High School next year, lucky duck! She's really pretty and way cool, but I still give her a hard time cause that's what younger sisters are supposed to do, right? My brother Luc is 6 going on 2, nuff said. I know he's cute and I really do love him, but he's such a little pill sometimes. All things considered I think that we're a pretty normal family, even with these yucky cancer cells running around my body right now. Don't freak out though, I don't. I'm not alone ya know, I've got people! I've got my family and friends down here, and God and Daddy up there, so I'm not worried, and you needn't be either. That's all I have to say about that too.
Anyway that's my bio so far, short and sweet like me. Uh oh, I need to scoot, I can hear Mommy calling me from downstairs. My mom believes in saving energy. Why should she run up and down the stairs and get all tuckered out when she has a perfectly good set of lungs and a voice that can break glass!
"KASANDRA!" Mommy hollered from the foot of the stairs.
"Coming Mommy," I holler back (like mother, like daughter), stuffing my homework into my backpack.
"Let's go smalls, you're gonna miss the bus," she added.
Kat appeared suddenly at my door and peeked in on me. She grabbed my heavy backpack and handed me my crutches.
"I'll take this down for you slow-poke. Be careful coming down the stairs, okay?"
"Okay, thanks," I said, smiling at her random act of kindness.
By the time I get downstairs Kat is already long gone and Luc is sitting at the table whining about having to wear shoes instead of flip-flops. That meant it was exactly 7:46am because Mommy and my brother had the same battle five days a week during the school year.
"ONE MINUTE LUC!" Mommy yells as she stuffs my brother's lunch into his "Lightening McQueen" backpack and zips it shut.
I hobbled over to the table and picked up the handful of meds Mommy had set out for me. I put them all in my mouth at once and washed them down with a glass of orange juice. My mom watched me out of the corner of her eye like she always does (she thinks I don't notice, but I do). She started to say something but thought better of it; thankfully, I didn't feel like a lecture this morning. I slipped my backpack onto my shoulders and made my way out the front door.
"See ya later Mommy," I said as I walked outside.
"Don't forget I'm picking you up after school today for your appointment with Dr. S, okay," she hollers after me.
"OKAY!" I holler back as I reached the end of the driveway.
I turned right and walked toward the bus stop at the end of our street. I was running late as usual and waddled as fast as I was able. I couldn’t wait to get to school, it's my sanctuary.




Chapter Two


Deer Canyon Bus Stop

It wasn't a long walk really, but when you have only two speeds, slow and slower, it can take a while. I was last to arrive as usual and just as usual, Mr. Beadle our crazy bus driver was waiting for me at the bottom step of the bus. He always waits an extra few minutes for me. He's not supposed to but he does, it's our little secret. Only Cullen Wainwright III ever notices. And unfortunately he never misses the opportunity to point it out to EVERYBODY! One day when I'm better I am gonna give that kid an atomic wedgie!

Mr. Beadle is so cool, wacky, but cool. He always has a funny comment or two to share. He's never mean to us when he needs to get our attention, even when he probably should be! He's pretty old I think, maybe forty or forty-five. And he's not very tall at all. Winnie is taller than he is. Well, to be fair Winnie is tall for her age, but still, he seems pretty short for an adult. He also plays along with my changing wig colors by painting his very bald head or wearing a matching ball cap. I just love him!

"Hustle up Miss Britches, the clock's ticking," Mr. Beadle said as I reached the bus. He tipped his throw-back Denver Broncos ball cap, the Orange Crush version as he sort of smiled at me.

"Sorry, thanks for waiting, again," I replied huffing and puffing.

"Not a problem child, now, hand me those sticks and climb on board," he replied, taking my crutches.

"Hey, you remembered Mango Monday," I said, tapping my orange-ish wig as I reached the top step and turned down the aisle to take my seat next to Claire.

Mr. Beadle hopped back into the driver seat and started the engine. The bus made funny spurting sound at first then roared to life and he checked on us in the mirror before pulling away from the curb.

"Hang on children, we're on the road," he said closing the door and shifting gears.

He waited until I sat down. Claire was already asleep as usual. She rested her head against the window using her balled up sweater for a pillow. Winfred was busy finishing her math homework, as usual as well, and barely looked up when I sat down.

"Hey KK," she said in a monotone.

"Hey Winnie," I replied.

"Word problem?" I asked.

"Yes. I hate em so much," she muttered.

"Me too," I said.

"Me three," chimed in Claire without opening her eyes. Guess she wasn't sleeping after all.

The bus lurched forward as Mr. Beadle drove away from the curb. My street was the last stop so we would get to school in about twenty or thirty minutes give or take twenty minutes depending on the crazy parent traffic, and how many cars were blocking the driveway dropping off kids when we arrived, sheesh!

"Did you bring your permission slip KK?" asked a familiar voice from the seat in front of me.

"What?" I answered, peering over the seat to see who was quizzing me.

"Your permission slip for the field trip silly," Daniel said, popping up like a jack-in-the-box and startling me.

"Don't do that! You scared the bejeezus outta me," I hollered, scolding him and catching my breath.

"YEAH, knock it off Daniel," Claire added stirring against the window.

"EVERYBODY zip it okay, I'm trying to figure out who gets to St Louis first then back here, train A or train B," complained Winnie.

"Sorry," Daniel muttered, popping back around as quickly as he had popped up. We might have hurt his feelings, poor kid, so touchy, boys, go figure!

"We're going horse-back riding at the stables in Carmel Valley tomorrow, remember," he added meekly.

"Duh, you know my mom. Do you think she would let me out of the house before checking off everything on her white board," I answered annoyed.

"Good point," he replied.

"I'll say!" chimed in Winnie, slamming her math book shut.

"Oh yeah, just in case you're wondering, train B got there first," she added, sounding pretty pleased with herself.

"So, did Dr. S or Dr. L say you could ride with us KK?" Winnie asked.

"No, not this time," I answered trying to sound like I didn't care.

"Sorry," she said sincerely.

"Don't be, I'm okay with it. Maybe I'll get to ride this summer, we'll see," I said cheerfully.

"Okay, cool beans," replied Daniel.

"Yeah, way cool," added Claire as she stretched.

She always woke up ten seconds before the bus arrived, weird! Mr. Beadle pulled up to the curb and the bus made its usual squeaking sounds as it jerked to a stop. The doors whooshed open noisily and Mr. Beadle turned in his seat to shout at us.

"Alright munchkins grab your gear and exit here," he bellowed.

"He always says that," Claire said as she put her backpack over her shoulder.

"It's his thing Claire," Winfred answered doing likewise.

"I guess," I added, turning sideways in the seat to let Claire pass.

She always went ahead of me to grab my crutches and wait for me at the curb while Winifred followed me to help me down the steps. Daniel even jumped up to help clear a path; that was nice of him.

"I had a dream about a ghost," he said out of the blue.

"That's weird, so did I," Winnie said as we walked down the aisle.

"Hmmm, that's really weird cause I did too," I added.

"What if Claire did also?" Daniel mumbled.

"If she did, I don't want to know about it," Winnie said shuddering.

"Hmmmm," I said under my breath. "I wonder?"
























































































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