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Sunday, July 15, 2012

("My hands are tied. My body bruised, she's got me with nothing to win and nothing left to lose…")…U2


For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
My Inspiration

Chapter Fifty-six



The Mediterranean Sea, Sunday, September 4th, 2005…6:00am

A steady stream of warm ocean spray flew furiously over the bow of our speeding cigarette boat, hitting me with the force of a thousand tiny needles. It felt like I was getting my face tattooed. I crouched down behind the windscreen protecting the wheelhouse and zipped my rain slicker up over my chin. Luckily we were still in the midst of the long Mediterranean summer; because if it was the dead of winter this run would have been freaking miserable. I shouldn't complain though, I mean so far everything had gone exactly as Jack had planned. We'd gotten underway quickly after leaving the ancient prison on the Isle of If, and were well beyond the harbor jetties now, out on the open sea.

The weather forecast had been spot on for a change and allowed us to run "Jeckle's" powerful twin inboards at full throttle and take advantage of waters as smooth as glass. If we maintained this pace we'd be into the shipping lanes at least an hour ahead of schedule. And if our luck continued we'd be to Santa Theresa on the tip of the island of Sardinia in the wee hours before dawn, maybe sooner. At that hour the narrow straight separating Corsica and Sardinia would be all but deserted.

According to Jack the scuba gear he arranged for was stashed at a boathouse near the ferry. The plan was to dock quietly at a pre-paid slip, gas up, fetch the gear and then part company. He had one of Standard Pharm's executive jets sitting on the tarmac at the Alghero Airport, fueled and waiting to take him back to Marseilles while I continued on my pleasure cruise, almost making it to Sicily! The smallest of the three airports on the island, Alghero, was perfect for our purposes as they were, to be perfectly honest, quite accommodating to anyone with an attaché case full of cash and a suspiciously discrete flight plan subject to abrupt changes. Be they politicians, gangsters, or women in general, in the "what have you done for me lately," world, cash is always king. I'd be lying if I said that this part of the plan didn't make me nervous. To be honest I was scared shitless!

A mile or so swim on the surface isn't so hard but covering that distance twenty or thirty feet below is a totally different experience. For one thing it's slow going and for another it's dark and scary. I'd spent fifteen years underwater in all sorts of weather and under all kinds of dicey circumstances, and to this day I still feel claustrophobic in the deep blue sea. I can't explain it, but I always feel as though I'm being watched, like I'm on the menu or something. Weird, I know, but when visibility is only 10 or 15 feet in any direction, north, south, east, west, up or down, you can feel pretty small and insignificant. Nevertheless, I was going to have to take that swim soon, whether I was ready for it or not.

"Take the wheel will ya Pat, I need to go below for a sec," Jack shouted over the rumbling engines.

"What's up?"

"Gotta drain the main vain man, too many cervezas," replied Jack, grabbing hold of the lid and shooting down through the hole to the cabin below.

"What's the heading?" I shouted as he disappeared.

His muffled reply followed quickly but I couldn't make it out. He either said "follow the horizon" or "figure it out Einstein" in any event I was on my own until he resurfaced. I hated steering this freaking thing, it was too damn fast and too damn powerful, and I was pretty sure I'd capsize us for sure given enough time to fuck up. I'm not exactly sure how many beers Jack had, I hadn't been watching him that closely, but hopefully it was less than a six-pack! Settling into the pilot's seat I got as comfortable as I could, burrowing my ass into the cushioned seat and leaning back against the lumbar wedge. The shear power of the craft rose up through the deck and I felt it surge through my body as soon as I took the wheel. Yet, as nervous as I was I felt strangely in control. I guess the pirate life we'd been living was influencing more than the G.A.W.D. coffers.

"Feels pretty awesome don't it," shouted Jack as he popped up out of the hold with another beer in his hand. He slid into the seat beside me and chugged a bottle of Corona, draining it half empty in couple of swallows.

"Ahhhhh, nectar of the Gods," he said admiring the bottle as if it were the Hope diamond.

"How many of those have you had man?"

"Does it matter?"

I shrugged, "I guess not."

"GOOD! Don't get preachy with me Pat old buddy. I had enough of that shit from my old man, enough to last me a lifetime. Specifically HIS lifetime that is…hahaha…" chuckled Jack, finishing off the rest of his beer. He pulled a small steno pad and a pen from his shirt pocket and scribbled something quickly. He tore the page out and showed it to me, laughing out loud. I glanced at it with one eye while I kept the other on the horizon in front of me. It was a short note that sounded more like Sandy than Jack, and it made me smile that Jack was channeling his spirit:

"catch me if you can mother fuckers…luv ya, the jack-o-broken hearts…"

Jack rolled it up and stuffed it into the empty Corona bottle then tossed it over the side. The message in the bottle disappeared in the blink of an eye and I fantasized about it washing up on the beach in Marseilles during an Interpol company picnic or something. I half expected Jack to either go below to fetch another beer or to take the helm, but he did neither. He just sat there in silence staring at the horizon that was rushing toward us as fast as it was running away of us. He was deep in thought about something, and I sensed it was personal so I left him be. Men are all the same, we stuff deep feelings, unlike women who let them out to whoever will listen. In the long run they're healthier because of that instinct and smarter because they pay attention to it. The two of us just sat next to one another in silent contemplation, killing time.



West Hollywood, California…Saturday, September 3rd, 2005…10pm

Linda Bradley lay on her side with her left arm tucked under the pillow that her head rested on. She watched Niko as he slept soundly beside her and marveled at how unpredictable life could be. If anyone had told her six months ago that this moment was even remotely possible she'd have told them they were crazy. Back then she and Niko were so over! She'd written him off and had "moved on" with her life, burying herself in her career, and even setting out to replace him just to prove to herself that she could be happy again. She was dog-gone determined and her mind was MADE UP! The thing was, her heart never got that message, and so subsequently never got with the program. Yet, right, wrong or whatever, here she was, beside the love of her life once again and learning a lesson straight from the heart. That lesson being that the mind functions only by virtue of the heart. That we exist only so long as the heart does; it's at the core of our very existence. It's a physiological axiom as well as the central theme of almost all the religions throughout human history. Linda now believed that the path to happiness in life, at least her path, was by way of the heart, her heart. She was so tired of her hyper active brain confusing her and talking her out of her passions, passions that emanated from her heart, passions that she believed were likely placed there by divine will.

Her epiphany had changed everything. She was able to forgive not only Niko but herself as well. It was true, his lies had damaged their relationship terribly, and that they had fueled all of her reactions, her anger, her retaliation, her clinical approach to resolution. She had checked every box in the "moving on" handbook. Over and over she had told herself that she was the victim, eagerly placing the blame for her sensible reactions at the feet of the man responsible, the man she loved so much. What a rat he was for doing that to her, how dare he! Why did he? It made no sense to her and for these reasons her heart hardened and mind closed. And why not? Hadn't he earned her wrath, wasn't she entitled, she was in the right after all. And there it was. The answer, the key that opened the vault where she'd locked her love away, a one word epiphany…right.

In a moment of lucidity Linda realized just how much her whole life had revolved around that word…right. At least it had until very recently, until little Katie Tate, her family, and Lizzie Andrews came into her life. Now she had a new understanding of the word. Before they appeared, right was right, that was it. It was something that was what it was, black and white, just like in the Webster's Dictionary. And Linda Bradley was all about being right. If she was right, well then goddamn it she was right! Being right was the be all and end all, justifying any and all actions. It was an unarguable defense to any position or policy, it was bullet proof. Enter Katie Tate and Dr. Elizabeth Andrews and suddenly she was not so sure. The old Linda would wrestle with that statement. Not anymore, she was going be happy wherever her heart led her from now on. Funny she thought, a mind and a heart are the same in one respect, just like parachutes, they only work when they're open.

Linda jumped as soon as her cell phone rang, the commotion having zero effect on her snoozing partner. Rolling over she grabbed the phone and her glasses, pulling the charger out of the wall in her haste.

"Hello?" she said, combing out her pillow hair with her fingers.

"Hey, sorry to wake you on your day off, but I need your advice," replied Lizzie Andrews on the other end of the line. Speak of the devil thought Linda.

"Don't you have a family you can quiz Elizabeth," Linda said not even trying to hide her annoyance.

"Yeah, yeah, I do but this is a me and you problem."

"Really, how so?"

"Two things. One, my cousin Noah called last night and ID'd the 'Jack-o-Broken Hearts' character whose been sending you all those letters," Lizzie explained, her words coming thru the line in a machine gun like staccato.

"Take a breath Lizzie, who's Noah?"

"MY COUSIN, the attorney/stock broker, I told you about him, he has a twin, Jace, remember?"

"Vaguely, cut to the chase."

"Right, well hold onto your hat. Does the name Gabriel Bouchard ring a bell?"

Linda exhaled deeply, frustrated with Lizzie's trip around the proverbial bush, "Again, vaguely. Is there a point coming soon Elizabeth?"

"Yes, give me a little credit here will ya. Look, about 2 years ago I was a new hire at LA Memorial and you weren't much more senior than I was even if you were my superior. Anyway, Gabriel Bouchard was the first cancer kid I ever lost, and if memory serves he was your first since arriving at the hospital as well, am I right?"

Linda sat up straighter on the edge of her bed, a memory surfacing as she put a face with the name. Yes, she did remember that poor child, cute little fella with dark curly hair and the prettiest hazel eyes she'd ever seen. He'd come into the ER with a severe nose bleed that turned out to be leukemia. He didn't survive long, eleven months or so after his prognosis went terminal and the family's insurance reduced the amount they would cover. Just like Katie Tate she'd had to send him home for hospice as was company policy under those circumstances. The action was right of course, totally justified and condoned by company regulations and hospital policy. She shielded herself from guilt by dressing herself in the letter of the law. Right was right, right? She wasn't so sure anymore, she had a new view, a new emerging case of social conscience. Linda suddenly had a stomach ache that started in her chest.

"Yes, I remember the little boy."

"Do you happen to remember his father, Patrick?"

"Not really."

"Well you should, you've been getting letters from him regularly. He's the 'jack-o-broken hearts' guy."

"Seriously, why? To what end?"

"That's not the half of it. We figured that out too. Noah's twin did some digging, Jace is a big shot bank exec on Wall Street and he made an interesting discovery," Lizzie said, pausing a moment for effect.

"What? Come on Lizzie don't tease me!"

"Okay, okay. It's like this. About a year after you, I'm sorry, I mean the company, cut his kid loose and sent him home to die, his mom, Monica Bouchard was killed in car accident. She drove off of an overpass on the northbound 405 not far from their home in Long Beach. While in route to LA General she was diverted because the Bouchard's insurance had lapsed, you know the drill, Standard Pharmaceutical policy. Anyway, that twenty minute detour to MLK (Martin Luther King) Hospital likely cost her life as she was DOA. Her husband, who according to family and friends had just crawled out of a deep depression brought on by Gabriel's death, went nuts! Anyway, Patrick suddenly just disappears, quits his job and poof he's gone."

There was a pause while Lizzie took a breath and Linda waited for more. She hardly remembered the Bouchard family, at least the parents. The little boy was hard to forget though. He was such a sweet kid and Linda recalled having to force herself to distance herself from him given his situation. She didn't know that his mother had died as well, and the fact that her hospital may have played a role in hastening her death repulsed her. Linda felt her stomach turn. She had no recollection of the father Patrick, and she couldn't even imagine his pain. She searched her memory banks, trying to place a face with the name when Lizzie continued.

"Too weird huh? Well you want to know what's weirder? Not long after Patrick disappears two new players arrive on the scene. The first is your pen-pal the 'jack-o-broken hearts' and the second is that French hottie from G.A.W.D. Jean Luc Rojier."

"GET OUT!" Linda shouted, slapping the mattress with her hand. Niko stirred and she shushed herself, getting out of bed quietly and tiptoeing toward the hall. She looked around for her robe to cover up her nakedness and settled for Niko's shirt draped over the footboard. Make up sex was always the best but she wished she'd been more prepared for that inevitability. She whispered just a sec to Lizzie as she fumbled into his shirt and closed the door behind her. She was pretty sure the 12 year-old neighbor kid across the street was peeping at her but she didn't care, she was pretty sure he was enjoying the free show. She finished buttoning up Niko's dress shirt and rejoined the conversation.

"Are you saying that Patrick Bouchard is both?" she asked in disbelief.

"Yeppers, that's exactly what I'm saying," Lizzie replied.

"Incredible! I can hardly believe it. How did you put this all together?"

"It was simple as soon as we created a timeline, like they do on 'Criminal Minds'," Lizzie said, chuckling into the receiver.

"What?" Linda asked, confused.

"Don't you watch TV? Criminal Minds is a show where some FBI geeks chase serial killers all around the country. We just applied their techniques to a serial thief. It wasn't too hard really."

"Explain."

"Easy peasy. So Patrick is pissed. He blames Standard Pharm for his loss. But how do you get even with a conglomerate? It's not like you have any one person to blame or shoot. He could go postal and shoot up the Board of Directors but what does that get you? They'll just be replaced with a new set of MBA snakes and the company goes on and on, continuing to play God with who lives and who dies based on actuary tables and profit margins. So, instead of a quick death Patrick opts for a slow one, and comes up with a plan to starve the company to death by stealing its life blood, CASH!" Lizzie explained.

"Oh my freaking God, I'm starting to see where you're going," replied Linda, gasping.

"You do?"

"Yes I do. So, Pat figures out a way to rip off the company and creates this alter ego, the 'jack-o-broken hearts' who by the way has been bleeding the company's shipping interests dry, namely Sanford Peck's prize procession, his cruise lines. We've had several heated Board meetings where he's been positively livid over that fact. But I don't see the connection to Jean Luc Rojier and G.A.W.D." Linda speculated, sounding puzzled.

"Think about it. Pat's not stealing the money for himself. I remember the man; he was a really good father and a really good person. So, what does a good man do with all that loot? A good man who couldn't keep his promises made to a dying child?" Lizzie asked, taking back the lead in the discussion.

"Oh my Lord," whispered Linda, silently putting two and two together.

"Exactly! Oh my LORD. So, now enter Jean Luc Rojier and can you believe the irony, the G.A.W.D. Foundation, it's just too cool for school," bubbled Lizzie, her grin almost coming through the phone line.

"It's obvious me now, the 'good man' you describe is paying the way for the kids that we've turned away. He's keeping his promises the only way he can now. And this 'good man' is using Standard's money to foot all the bills. Don't you see, his 'jack-o-broken hearts' alias is ciphering hundreds of millions of dollars from our high seas operations and routing it to the G.A.W.D. Foundation where his 'Jean Luc Rojier' alias gives it right back to the company by way of the treatment and care we provide to the same children we sent elsewhere or home to hospice, to die. It's brilliant! It's so freaking simple, I can't believe that Standard Pharm's Security team hasn't figured it all out by now," Linda said, a grin of her own passing back through the airwaves to Lizzie on the other end.

There was a pregnant pause while Linda allowed the facts to gel in her mind. She listened to Lizzie breathing on the other end and sensed there was a 'but' coming. Elizabeth Andrews may be a terrific young physician but she was still a kid at heart and Linda could hear in her silence a hesitation that usually meant bad news was coming. She waited a couple of seconds more before speaking.

"What is it Lizzie?"

"What?"

"Come on Lizzie, what aren't you telling me?" Linda asked calmly.

"It's probably nothing. I got something in the mail from that rich old lady, the one that works with Jean Luc, I mean Patrick, at the G.A.W.D. Foundation," replied Lizzie.

"So, what was it?"

"She sent me a letter and asked me to call her. I did and we chatted for a bit about this and that until she started going on about some hocus pocus faith healing crap, which I dismissed until she mentioned my Uncle Ethan. He's a no nonsense kind of guy, he used to be a priest for Christ sake."

"I'm not following you," Linda replied.

"Sorry, I guess I'm still mulling it over. Anyway she told me to speak to him about the things she mentioned, that he'd explain."

"And?"

"And I did call him and he told me a story, an unbelievable story."

"What does this have to do with Standard Pharm and Patrick Bouchard?"

"Tell me the story."

"It's too long and too complicated. As for Patrick Bouchard, I wish I had heard this story way back when, before Gabriel's passing. As for Standard Pharm, it's a story that just might put them out of business one day."

"None of this makes sense Lizzie."

"I know, sorry. Look, I wanted to clue you in on the whole Pat Bouchard and G.A.W.D. Foundation thing. Now I need to ask you a big favor."

"What?"

"I want you to hold off taking any of this to the Board of Directors. I know you Linda, you play by the rules. Just give me a few days before you blow the lid off of this can of worms. I want to go talk to Jean Luc and Alma Donnelley. They're in Europe on a fund raising tour. She sent me airfare to Marseilles but I need to leave tonight on a red-eye from LAX," Lizzie pleaded.

"I dunno Elizabeth? I mean I sympathize with the man's motives but we're talking about piracy on the high seas here, and probably a dozen more RICO infractions. We're talking about the FBI, probably INTERPOL as well. This is way past my pay grade!"

"Three days Linda, all I'm asking for is three days. Think of it as a long weekend. So far we're the only ones who've figured it all out, and besides we're not talking about murder or anything like that. Come on, what's the harm?"

Linda bit at her lip and peeked in on Niko who was still sawing logs. She closed the door and whispered into the receiver, "Alright Elizabeth, three days. But I'm spilling the beans at Thursday's Board meeting so prepare yourself for that. I don't know what you hope to accomplish with this trip and it's probably better I don't. Oh, and send me a nice long email on your flight all about this story your Uncle Ethan told you. I want to know ALL about it, okay?"

"Sweet! No worries Linda, I'll tell you the whole story, and while you're reading it think Katie Tate, you'll totally understand the inspiration for this trip. By the way, if things go the way I hope they will you may change your mind about Thursday as well. See ya, wish me luck!"

Lizzie Andrews hung up before Linda could reply, leaving LA General's Director of Hospital Operations listening to dead air. Linda walked into the living room and plopped down onto her overstuffed sofa. Placing the wireless phone down on the coffee table in front of her, she folded her arms, scrunched down into the soft cushions and put her feet up on the table. Sighing, she gazed out at the night time skyline of Los Angeles looming large out in the distance like steel and glass corn stalks. Linda got onto her mental track and started running laps around her brain analyzing and over analyzing the details Lizzie had just shared with her. Linda knew the law and by not coming forward she and Dr. Elizabeth Andrews had become unwitting accomplices after the fact to a whole slew of career ending actions by way of the 'jack-o-broken hearts', oh brother! All she could hope for now was that she didn't wind up a jack-ass in the end.

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