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Saturday, August 25, 2012

(”nobody told me there’d be days like these”…John Lennon)

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration

Prologue

Los Angeles, California, 2009

What you are about to read is a testament to the proposition that life is chock full of second chances. Believe me, I should know, as I’ve personally racked up way more than my fair share of these little Godsends, "do over’s" as my little brother Chuck calls ‘em. They’re not free mind you, as there tends to be a fair amount of pain associated with any new opportunity. But, the man upstairs can be a bit of a softie sometimes, especially if your ears are on and you’re open to a little friendly advice.

Richard Wallace Roode, that’s my name, technically anyway, but most people just call me Whitey, if they know what’s good for them that is! I picked up that nickname on account of the blonde mop on the top of my pointed little head. Actually I was only toe headed as a child but the name kind of stuck with me throughout the years. Besides, when I was growing up the short version of Richard was Dick. Why you ask, good question, and one I asked many times of mom and dad for which they never gave an actual answer, unless of course you count my dad’s standard “kids should be seen and not heard” response. So Dick was a name that I dodged all thru childhood. Dick Roode, I don’t know, sounds more like a statement than a name, don’t ya think? For cripes sake, my poor knuckles were scraped raw by the fourth grade defending my good name each and every recess on blacktops and playgrounds spread over five different states (we moved around a lot on account of my Dad was a Navy Chaplin).

I was sort of a runt as a kid, and with a name like Dick, well, let’s just say you had to toughen up PDQ (pretty darn quick)! There weren’t too many choices with a name like mine; you either went with Dick and all of its less than flattering rudiments, like for instance, Dickey the squid, Dick Dick wanna lick, Dickenstein, and my personal favorite, Count Dickula. Or, you went by Richard and got tagged as a momma’s boy for life. I would have been doomed to live my life as a perennial nerd had it not been for one of the perpetual battles with little brother Chucky. Mom had dropped us at the Encino Theater one Saturday afternoon while she and dad “went shopping” (parents must think kids are stupid), and during a double feature of “Bandelero” (the requisite weekend western) and “Bullet” (who doesn’t love Steve McQueen) my Dick days ended. Chuck and I had snagged two of the coveted seats, center screen and 10 rows back. As usual, we were arguing over who would hold the large coke we shared and who got to hold the popcorn, when someone behind us hollered,

“HEY WHITEY, MOVE YOUR FAT NOGGIN YOU TOE HEADED FREAK!”

And there it was, handed to me on a silver platter, a name that every kid in town had just heard me christened with, nice! From that day forward I would be known simply as Whitey and just like that my Dick days were over! Maybe not the most prestigious of circumstances, but it was a good alternative to reform school, which is where I was headed with all the fist fighting at school. Whoever that anonymous voice was he ended my long streak of playground shiners. Just in time as far as I was concerned as it was getting pretty old holding a beef steak to my eye once a week. Not to mention monopolizing an unfair portion of the weekly grocery budget, a fact that my father shared often. So, from fifth grade on I never again used my given name, except of course when dealing with Uncle Sam’s fiscal terrorist cell, the I-R-fucking-S, assholes!

My mother thinks I’m handsome, sometimes. I’m not too tall, not too short, and heavy enough to knock most people on their butts if they came asking for it! I’m a relatively healthy, fifty-something, regular Joe in Los Angeles, California, the city of angels. It's been home for me for most of my adult life, and where still I earn a decent living as a private investigator. That’s right, a private dick, I guess nothing really changes. It’s sometimes dangerous work, but mostly routine and usually pretty honest work. It pays the bills, and it beats punching a clock in some factory, or bagging groceries at the market. The Alexandria Hotel, over near 5th and Spring St., a seen-better-days fleabag of a flophouse is where I hang my hat daily. It’s not the Ritz, but it’s close to the action and the price is right, translation, it’s CHEAP!

I was a damn good cop for better than twenty-two years in this city, a detective first grade for the last twelve. I had a gold shield and everything, no fooling! I'd earned myself a solid reputation on the streets, and paid my dues in sweat and blood, as well a broken marriage. I just enjoyed the rush that came with a job well done, and appreciated the respect of peers and superiors. Man, life was good, aces actually, right up until the day that my wife, the lovely Rhonda Roode informed me that she was changing teams. What do I mean? Well let’s just say that the monthly alimony check is made out to Ronald Roode now, nuff said! That little revelation inspired me to book a two year vacation package to God knows where via ‘AIR BOOZE’. Needless to say the department wasn’t exactly supportive in my choice of therapies. So after a long string of missed counseling sessions the LAPD and Whitey Roode divorced as well.

Now, as an educated man, I actually do have an advanced degree in criminology, you'd have thought that I'd have been able to avoid such an obvious pitfall, right? Well you’d have been wrong! What the hell, I was hurt, pissed, and feeling sorry for myself, you know the drill. My mom used to say, “don’t cry over spilled milk!” It turns out that she was right, and eventually things changed, for the better sort of. I used to beat myself up over that dark period of my life, but you know what, fuck ‘em, sometimes you just need a good cry!

So, after being encouraged to leave the employ of the LAPD, two years shy of a full pension mind you, I found myself sitting at my mother’s kitchen table late one Sunday evening. We were sipping cheap scotch together, eating fish and chips reminiscing about the good old days as she called them. When, out of the blue, she smacks me with a healthy dose of Irish wisdom in her thick Gaelic brogue. It was typical of the sort of thing you would expect to hear from anyone in my family, and it went something like this, “…sonny…life’s a bitch, and then you die…” Frankly, I decided to take it as sign that things could only get better. Good words to start over on, don’t ya think? Anyways, I’m hoping it was more than just the whiskey talking; but then again my mother has always been a bit of a drama queen!

What’s this mean to all of you? Nothing I guess, I'm just setting the mood for what you’re about to read. OK, now we’re properly introduced so let’s get to the good stuff. This case is actually pretty interesting, and it all started like this…




(”tell me why, why, why, why you cried…and why you lied, lied, lied to me”…Lennon & McCartney)




Chapter One


Little Tokyo, Los Angeles California, Monday, Feb 16, 2009…12:30pm

Her name was Sally November. At least that’s what the mailbox said. Truth be told her given name was Mei Li Teng, that’s what the INS downtown said when I checked her out on the way over here this morning. Such a beautiful name I thought, almost lyrical. You know, I’ve lived around the Asian community in this city for better than twenty years, and the practice of choosing English names for their children has always perplexed me, I don’t get it. I suppose it’s one way to fit into the neighborhood, who knows? It was a shame though; Mei Li probably fit this girl much better. Actually, this whole thing was going to be a double shame, because now I had to go back and tell her Uncle Lu that I had found his missing niece. It was going to crush him, I knew that for a fact; as I have listened to him go on and on about her for years, ever since she was a tyke.

Lu Rong, his life partner Jai Lai, and I go way back. All the way back, to when I carried a gold shield as one of LA’s finest. They were more friends than associates, I mean really, how useful are snitches named Rong and Lai anyway (pronounced ‘wrong’ and ‘lie’)? Think about it, it’ll come to you. They are a pleasant little homo couple though. They run a Jewish Delicatessen, yes, I said Jewish, in the financial district on Wilshire, you know the white collar side of town. It had a catchy little name too, “SHO-M-U-LYKE-M.”
I know what you’re thinking, cops and queers, strange bedfellows, right? Well don’t be too quick to judge. Go shake your own family tree first, you may be surprised!

Anyway, Lou had asked me to see what I could see after his niece was a no-show at LAX a while back. She was supposed to be a passenger on an inbound Boeing 747 from Taiwan, and in fact the manifest confirmed that she had boarded the plane in Taipei. But when Uncles Lu and Jay arrived to pick her up, guess what, no Mei Li? Lu and Jay had bankrolled her trip to the States where she was supposed to attend USC majoring in business administration with a minor in finance. That was six months ago and now here she was, at the Biltmore Hotel, a run down bastion of yesteryear, quite literally across the street and down the block from my own digs at the Hotel Alexandria. That doesn’t put my skills as an investigator in a very good light, but in my defense all I had was an old photograph and unconfirmed starting place to work with. For all I knew she never actually got on that plane in Taiwan. Nevertheless, here she was, and she was dead. Mondays always suck!

From the looks of things she had traded USC for the school of hard knocks, and decided to go into business for herself using her tuition money as venture capital, courtesy good old Uncle Lu. As businesses go, her choice proved to be an ominous one that included some pretty serious risks, and I’m not talking about the fiscal kind. Sally was young, twenty-five years old, or so her dossier read, and she had big dreams according to Uncle Lu. He said that she had come to the US from Taipei to pursue a career in advertising. Well, she was advertising all right, and her clientele was apparently on the dangerous side.

Her skin was olive colored, smooth and flawless, a veritable walking billboard for the cosmetics industry, the make me beautiful people. She was runway model beautiful. I shook my head with a tsk tsk tsk look on my face as I stared at her corpse. She was dressed in pair of pink silk jammies, well, the bottom part anyway. Her shoulder length hair was pulled back stylishly into a ponytail that started high on her scalp and arched downward, just skimming the nape of her neck. She was drop dead gorgeous, no pun intended, a real China doll, with a look of childlike innocence that immediately squelched any impure thoughts I might have associated with her chosen ‘profession.’ I could feel tears welling up as I studied her with the eyes of a father, an uncle, or a brother. Except for the long silk tie wrapped tightly around her neck, she appeared to be only napping, as if she’d wake up startled by my presence at any moment. But of course, she wasn’t sleeping, she was dead, and that turned my heart to mush, like it would anyone witnessing a mess like this.

“What are you doing here Whitey?” asked the uniformed officer entering the living room from the kitchen. I knelt down beside the body, ignoring him, and fussed with the pink silk tie, careful not to touch anything, using my fountain pen as a sterile probe.

“Hey! Roode! That's right, I’m talking to you jack!” the officer hissed in a low anxious tone.

I put the pen back into coat my pocket, blew the Sally a kiss and stood up.

“No need to get testy Copper, I hear you loud and clear.” I replied.

“Come on man, Lt. Celaya will be here any second!” the agitated officer pleaded.

I looked at him knowingly and gave him wink, tipping the old and weathered Fedora I always wore high up onto my forehead. I folded my arms and added, “I guess that explains the whispering,” I whispered back. I ran my tongue over my teeth to remove the remnants of breakfast, my usual Pantry special, ham and eggs with an English muffin and coffee.

“It would probably be bad if he caught me here, might look like I’m one upping him.” I said with a grin.

“You’re not on the job anymore Whitey, you can’t just barge into a crime scene like you own the place! Besides, as we all know, Celaya hates your guts! So save me a lot of paperwork and beat it before he finds you here and makes me arrest your ass…again!” I nodded, fitting my hat back into its proper place on my skull, and started to leave. Officer Cooper interjected quickly.

“Not that way Whitey, go out the back, why take chances, right?”

“Natch, thanks paley,” I replied, tapping my temple with my pointing finger.

I did an about face and passed my friend in the blue uniform on the way to the kitchen, where I would make my Batman like exit via an open window out onto the fire escape. Copper’s partner, Patrolman Lewis tapped me on the arm as I went by. “Wait a sec, what do you know about this?” he asked, knowing that I always did my homework.

“What do you know?” I replied, stopping to face him. Lewis looked at me suspiciously and then answered.

“The neighbor says she’s a working girl.”

“Tell me something I don’t know.” I replied sarcastically.

“Well, the skinny is that she had some interesting playmates.”

“Do tell.” I said smugly

“Yep, more than interesting, if this fella isn’t bullshitting us that is.”

“The neighbor huh, the one next door?”

“Yeah, that’s the one, right next door. Stay clear of him, if you know what’s good for you Whitey,” advised young Officer Lewis.

“Probably good advice, thanks,” I said, turning to walk away.

“Hey man, it’s your turn, tit for tat ass-wipe, what about you, what’ve you got,” shouted the irritated patrolman. I stopped in the doorway and answered without looking back?

“Oh yeah, her name’s not Sally.” I said, walking through the kitchen quickly and out the window, onto the sunlit fire escape.

I paused there for a just second or two to get a lay of the land. I glanced over at the empty fire escape next door, and made a mental note. Sooner or later I would be worming my way into that nosey neighbor’s life as soon as the LAPD was finished with him, definitely sooner, depending on how lucky later tonight. That would have to wait until I finished telling my good friend the sad news. That part of the job is always the worst. Bringing a mean dose of reality to someone, especially a friend always sucks. I hopped down from the fire escape ladder and hit the pavement at a trot. I would stop by the Alexandria Hotel Bar for a short one before I walked the six blocks to Lu and Jai’s deli. Delivering bad news is always easier when sauced.


Sunday, August 12, 2012

(”Before you go to sleep, say a little prayer. Every day in every way it's getting better and better. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful boy. ")…John Lennon

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra, and Luc
my inspiration


Epilogue


La Maddalena, Sardinia, Monday, September 5th, 2005…9pm GMT


I felt myself beginning to doze off, which would have made perfect sense after listening to a five hour dissertation, if it weren't for the fact that it was me doing all the talking. Well, at least I wasn't alone; 'Chicken Little' and 'Chumley' (the two dullards who were supposed to be keeping an eye on me) were already snoozing at their post near the door. Not surprising given their limited command of the English language not to mention the absolute absence of any Italian skills on my part. Captain Gianetto on the other hand appeared fascinated sitting across from me with a look of astonishment on his chiseled face. He scratched at his five o'clock shadow and studied me for a few moments, while I did my best to avoid eye contact letting my eyes dart around the room indiscriminately to avoid his probing gaze. It proved to be a futile attempt though as his loud boisterous laugh drew me in anyway.

"So! Patrick or Jean-Luc as the case may be, am I to assume that the 'jack of broken hearts' rests for eternity at the bottom of the Mediterranean?" asked the amused policeman, clapping his hands together and leaning forward onto the tabletop with his elbows, closing the gap between us considerably. That was just the pick me up I needed to keep me from nodding off like the two chuckleheads by the door. I leaned forward onto the table as well and met him in the middle.

"You know, if it were up to me, Jean-Luc Rojier would walk outta here a free man and continue his work," I answered trying to read the face of my captor.

"That would be the more interesting of the two possibilities," he replied, his expression changing ever so slightly. His face was still smiling but his eyes weren't. He was thinking hard. I went on the offensive sensing an opportunity.

"Two possibilities?" I said raising an eyebrow.

Captain Gianetto pushed away from the table and stood abruptly. Wagging a finger at me as he circled the table like a shark he explained himself, his voice rising and falling with the rapid pace in which he spoke, a common phenomenon among the Italian people, fast talking and animated. In spite of the pain I was in I couldn't help smiling as I watched and listened.

"Si, si, two possibilities Signori. On the one hand I am compelled by the law to hand you over to the authorities. That is my duty, my responsibility. And I should tell you it is also my good fortune since the American company Standard Pharmaceutical has offered a handsome reward for your head on a stick," explained Captain Gianetto, wagging an index finger to accentuate that last point.

He paced another lap around the table keeping time with the rhythmic snoring of his two deputies asleep on the job. He stopped behind me and I felt him place his hands onto my shoulders. He was more powerful than he looked and I winced a little when he clamped down on my collar bones, the same move my Dad used whenever he wanted to get my attention and drive home a point he was trying to make. I made a weak attempt to wiggle free of his grasp but he just squeezed harder and I abandoned the effort.

"Of course there is always the other hand, no?" continued my captor or perhaps my benefactor, at the moment I had the sense that it could go either way.

"I see. Shall I assume that you won't be turning me loose out of the goodness of your big heart?" I replied sarcastically, sensing what was coming next. Greed has a stench of its own, like evil and hate, they're characteristics cut from the same filthy cloth. The good captain had something up his sleeve and I could feel the weight of the dollars signs dripping from the tone of his voice.

"Very amusing Signori," the police captain replied, his face near enough to mine for me to enjoy his wife's cooking through his garlic breath. He increased the pressure on my shoulders and I swallowed a yelp.

"No Signori, I'm afraid that my heart is not that big, however the needs of my family are. You know how wives and children are Signori, never satisfied long, always longing for more. The American company's reward is attractive but limited. I suspect that as a free man you could do much better. Why settle for a liter of milk when I could own the cow, no?"

And there it was, greed trumping ethics once again. Well, that was certainly one way of looking at it. Another would be divine intervention. Perhaps the Almighty was using Captain Gianetto's weakness to perpetuate a greater good. Letting me rot in prison wasn't going to help anymore children escape hospice and get another chance at life. Let the world think Patrick Bouchard perished at sea with his pirate band as well as his alter ego the 'jack-o-broken hearts', what did I care, my life was over anyway.

Gabriel and Michelle were gone; my father was likely gone as well. As Patrick I'd be alone, left with only bitter sweet memories. However as Jean-Luc there was a purpose larger than myself; I could dedicate myself to their memory, make them proud every time G.A.W.D. spared a family the agony of losing a child too soon. If that sounds sappy and overly noble it's only because it is. I'm exhausted and grabbing at straws here. I don't want to spend even one minute in prison much less twenty or thirty years, or whatever the going rate was for piracy in this part of the civilized world.

"Do I bore you Signori?" asked an agitated Captain Gianetto.

"No, not at all, it's just a little late to be crunching numbers and I've got a splitting headache. And kneading my shoulders like they were so much pizza dough isn't helping either," I replied with an attitude of my own.

He released his grip and returned to the seat across from me, "my apologies," he said sitting back down, "better?" he asked.

I rocked my neck side to side and listened to the cracking sounds, enjoying the relief that it brought, "yeah, much…thanks," I said making eye contact with the man.

"So, what are your thoughts Signori Bouchard? Or shall it be Messier Rojier?"

I stared back at him for a full silent minute before answering, "call me Jean-Luc," I said, coyly indicating that we had a deal, whatever it would be, so long as it did not include any jail time, I'd already had all I cared for cooped up for the last ten or twelve hours here on Sardinia. Captain Gianetto laced his fingers together and smiled, "excellent," he said, retrieving a cell phone from his pocket. I watched him read a text and waited for whatever was to come next. He typed three keystrokes which I assumed to be 'yes' and flipped the device shut.

"You have visitors," he said turning to shout at his sleeping deputies.

Il mio Dio, imbecilli! (my God, imbeciles)," he shouted.

The sleeping deputies awoke startled but not surprised. Apparently this wasn't the first time they'd been caught napping. They sort of snapped to attention, rubbing their eyes and pulling at various other body parts. Captain Gianetto waved them off with instructions to fetch my visitors, whoever they might be. I expected it to 'Johnny Law' by way of Interpol or the Feds or possibly Herr Price and his death squad from Standard Pharmaceutical. Boy was I way off!

I wish that I could have seen my own face when much to my surprise Killeen Peck walked into the little room with a young woman whose face was familiar but whose name my tired brain could not recall. They walked over to Captain Gianetto and exchanged pleasantries. While they shook hands and introduced themselves I studied this new development, trying to makes heads or tails of it. Why was Killeen Peck here? Possibly to accuse me of murdering her husband Sanford? But that didn't make sense as the last thing Jack had said to me was to seek her out; that she was on board?

As for the young woman, I remembered her name now. She'd been one of Gabbie's doctors, his favorite doctor actually, the doctor he'd cry for whenever he hurt the most. Andrews was her name, Elizabeth Andrews. She was looking at me now, a strange smirk on her face. Not quite a smile but almost. It was a mixture of pity, curiosity and something else, I don't know what. The two women came over to the table I sat at while Captain Gianetto left the room with his two sleepy deputies. We were alone. Killeen Peck was impeccably dressed in a very stylish mid length skirt, a white chiffon blouse and off white blazer, something you'd expect from a woman of her wealth and station. Her jewelry, make-up and accessories were modest given her means yet she had an air of sophistication about her. The woman was demur and confident, she was in charge and she knew it. Dr. Andrews on the other hand was the flipside to Killeen Peck. The young lady was dressed as casually as you could be and appeared as though she had slept in the clothes she was wearing. When I couldn't hide my amusement, she blushed and gave me the stink-eye.

"Excuse me ladies," I said staying in character as Jean-Luc Rojier.

"I would stand but as you can see my movements are somewhat limited," I added indicating the stainless steel handcuffs shackling me to my chair.

Killeen Peck removed a kerchief from her handbag and dusted off the seat across from me. She sat and folded her hands neatly in front of her on the table between us. She looked at me for several seconds before speaking and then in a soft and even voice said what she came to say. "There's no need for deception Mr. Bouchard, I know who you are. I believe that my son told you that I was on board, or something to that effect," she said, never taking her eyes off of me. That made me a little uncomfortable.

"How did you know that?" I asked, as if it mattered…stupid Pat!

"Herr Price planted a listening device on your boat, we monitored everything," she replied still staring at me.

"In that case I apologize for the colorful language," I said trying to lighten the air.

"Yes, well I assure you I've suffered worse. May I come straight to the point sir?" she asked politely.

"Please do," I answered.

"As you know, my husband and my son are both dead. So, that leaves me as the CEO of Standard Pharmaceutical now. Sanford was not a nice man, and was an awful husband and father as well. Suffice to say he had his demons, everyone does, I do Mr. Bouchard, and so do you."

I didn't know what to say and had no idea where she was headed so I just nodded like I did when my mother would lecture me as a child. Killeen Peck continued to stare at me. I glanced at Dr. Andrews; she looked as uncomfortable as I did.

"Dr. Andrews and I had the opportunity to speak openly on the flight here. I believe that you know Alma Donnelley, isn't that so Mr. Bouchard?"

"Yes, I do. She's on the G.A.W.D. Foundation's Board of Directors," I replied.

"Yes she was," said Mrs. Peck.

"Was?"

"Yes, the poor dear passed away recently while my guest on The Princess Grace. You're familiar with the vessel aren't you?"

"If you're on board like Jack said then you know that I am," I replied, annoyed with how long she was taking to get right to the point.

"Touché. Well the three of us in this room have Alma in common but under very different circumstances. You were her partner, Elizabeth was her last confidant, and after my own mother died I became the child she could never have on her own."

"What does that have to do with the price of tea in China?" I replied flippantly.

"It means Mr. Bouchard that I am in a forgiving mood. It was never my intention that you survive, that was Jackson's request. We've both lost a son and a spouse; we have that in common as well."

"I didn't kill mine," I said icily, my snide remark having no impact. Now I knew what it must be like to talk to a sociopath.

"Captain Gianetto is arranging for your release as we speak Jean-Luc. Jackson and Sanford were disintegrated in the blast that you survived. The body he had brought with him was his father's," Killeen said, still not blinking, that had be some sort of a record. Note to self, contact the Guinness people.

"You're sure taking the long way around the block for someone who wanted to get right to the point. What exactly do you want from me Mrs. Peck?"

"I want you to keep your promise Jean-Luc," she said softly with a resonance of sincerity that was impossible to ignore. I didn't know how to respond.

"I'm not the monster that I must appear to be to you. I'm a good person really, I've a good heart. It's just been calloused over after so many years of abuse and disappointment. I've done some terrible things Jean-Luc, but I have suffered much worse. Alma and Arthur Donnelley and were saints, I envied their goodness. You have many of Arthur's qualities, and young Elizabeth here has many of Alma's. I want the two of you to keep G.A.W.D. alive.

I'll pledge my support for as long as the Board allows me to chair it. But I caution you, I do not know how long that will last. Until then the company will fund the foundation outright and make new policies directed at maximum care versus maximum profits for each of its HMOs. You should know that this will not be received well on mahogany row, which means that the gravy train won't last for long. And when I am eventually removed and replaced, well, you'll just have to revert to the skills you've acquired over the last couple of years and deal with that inevitability. Won't you Captain Jack?" Killeen said, her eyes actually twinkling as she allowed herself to smile, something she probably hadn't done in a very long time.

Leaning back I sat up as straight as I could given my restraints and looked over at Dr. Andrews, trying to read her expression. "What do you think?" I asked, studying her. She glanced down at her shoes and then to Killeen and back at me. "I don't know," was all she managed with her voice, but her eyes revealed much more. I smiled at her and looked back across the table to Killeen Peck, her hand was extended. I covered it gently with both of my own.

"Alright Killeen, Jean-Luc Rojier is on board," I said softly. She smiled back.

"What about Captain Ginaetto, he could be a problem," I asked suddenly.

"Don't worry about the good captain, Herr Price will explain our arrangement," she answered coolly, her eyes shifting from bright to dull and back to bright again in an uncomfortable nanosecond. It sent a chill up and down my spine.

Note to self………watch your ass Jean-Luc!



Sunday, August 5, 2012

("The days are bright and filled with pain. Enclose me in your gentle rain. The time you ran was too insane. We'll meet again, we'll meet again…")…The Doors

For Tuyet, Katrina, KaSandra and Luc
my inspiration


Chapter Fifty-seven

The Mediterranean Sea, Sunday, September 4th, 2005…5:00pm


The setting sun painted a beautiful orange-red seascape as it dipped low on the horizon. Sundown was coming earlier and earlier now as the seasons were about to change and the fall grew near. To be perfectly honest, as spectacular as these moments were to behold, I was sort of hoping for Indian summer tonight. At least that would provide a few more hours of daylight as we sped toward the island of Sardinia. You'd think I'd be more at home on the waters than I am given the many years I'd spent at sea or more specifically under it, but I'm not. It's just that oceans, seas, lakes, for that matter any large body of water, makes me feel puny and vulnerable, especially so at night. Now it looked like the Almanac wouldn't be cooperating, so like it or not, darkness would be upon us soon. I'm not ashamed to admit that I've been frightened of total darkness since childhood, and that hasn't changed much over the years! You can call me a coward if you want to, I don't care! FACT, most bad things happen in the dark; check it out; you'll see I'm right.

In any event we were still hours from our destination and my butt was numb from the vibrations this cushioned seat was being subjected to. Smooth as glass my ass! If Jack weren't below taking a beauty nap (translation…sleeping off a case of beer) I'd punch him out, freaking egghead! Reaching to my left I gently tapped the fuel gauge as if that would make the reading more believable then cursed my stupidity, realizing that the goddamn thing was a digital and not an analog device. Meaning that there wasn't a mechanical needle to get stuck or frozen, just some bright green LCD numbers staring back at me which according to the chart directly above the gauge were well within the range of normal operation. Still, I was amazed at how efficiently we were consuming fuel given our speed and the distance we'd already covered. Sandy and my Dad had done one helluva job converting this vessel. Those two guys were true craftsmen. Suddenly, a loud belch and the unmistakable aroma of beer announced the arrival of Jackson Peck; recently back from the sleep of the dead.

"What's the heading sport?" he asked as he poured himself into the chair beside me and slouched.

"That-a-way," I answered sarcastically, pointing at the setting sun.

"Brilliant, you're a better first mate then I gave you credit for," he replied, taking a cold beer from the cooler under the passenger seat.

"Hair of the dog I presume," I said sarcastically.

"Just what the doctor ordered," he replied, guzzling half the beer.

Jack twisted his left arm rolling his wrist toward him and glanced at his Rolex. He grunted and downed the rest of his beer, flippantly tossing the empty bottle over the side. He stood and belched once more, then tapped me roughly on the shoulder, "Alright sport, shift change, I'll take it from here. Why don't you go below and grab some sack time," he said, continuing to tap me until I got out of the pilot's chair. I got up reluctantly, not sure how safe it was to give the con to someone still half in the bag so to speak. I decided to keep the faith as it had gotten us this far and it just seemed prudent to stay the course and see if fate led us to providence or peril. Honestly, I was prepared for either, so long as it was on dry land! I was halfway down the ladder to the cabin below when I heard Jack open another long neck and guzzle the first few swallows. I waited for his usual "ahhhh" and then disappeared below. The sooner I closed my eyes the better I'd be.



LAX, Los Angeles California…Saturday, September 3rd, 2005…11:30pm



Generally speaking red eye flights suck! But they are cheaper. Lizzie might be a doctor and all, but she was only a second year resident which means she was a poor doctor. So, smart girl that she was she traded the first class ticket Alma Donnelley had sent her for a Coach seat and pocketed the variance. Nice little windfall if did say so herself, she wasn't embarrassed a bit either, who'd know anyway? She squirmed in her seat at the gate and made herself as comfortable as possible while she waited to board her 12:30 flight. Lizzie pulled both feet up onto the seat, hugged her legs and rested her head gently on her knees, deciding a little catnap would be the best way to pass the time. She had no idea what to expect when she got to Marseilles but she was eager to find out for a couple of reasons. One, she had a new admiration for Patrick Bouchard and admittedly a school girl crush on Jean Luc Rojier. Yeah, they were the same fella, but that's what made it so irresistibly cool. And two, if what Alma and Uncle Ethan told her was true, and Alma could prove it, then maybe there was hope for little Katie Tate. That would be even cooler. How many people can say they witnessed an honest to goodness miracle? Not many she expected. Not many. She found herself praying that she could be one who could say she had at least once in her life.


The Princess Grace, Sunday, September 4th, 2005…8:00pm



Killeen smoothed out the sheets and blankets that covered her on the large queen sized bed in her private stateroom. Earlier in the day she had moved out of the apartment that she and Sanford had shared. It still had an aura of death within it, his death. It wasn't the stench of a corpse or anything morbid like that which made her uncomfortable. It was the feeling of satisfaction that she felt that repulsed her. She was NOT like her late husband and did not like the familiarity of that satifactory feeling, or the disconnection from her humanness that came with it. That was exactly how Sanford would have felt and she loathed herself for recognizing it so easily. The new stateroom had nothing in it remotely associated with him and she was hoping that would help her to absolve herself of her great sin against God and his commandments. She needed a clear head now. She needed to put everything in perspective, everything and everyone in her life as she wrestled with what was to be done next…or not…she was yet undecided. Killeen picked up the cell phone resting on the mattress beside her and flipped it open. She pressed the number one on the keypad, speed dialing Herr Price. He answered on the first ring as always.

"Madame," he said coolly.

"You are tracking them now?" she asked, quietly inspecting her manicure.

"We are Madame."

"And?"

"They are approximately eight hours from Sardinia."

"I see. When must I give the order, if I choose to give it?"

"Beyond Sardinia the device will be out of range. After that you would need to consider alternative methodologies."

"Very well then Herr Price. I will rest now. Kindly ring me before that time."

"As you wish Madame," replied Herr Price, disconnecting instantly.

Killeen Peck closed her cell phone and place it beside her again. Reclining she pulled the sleep mask over her eyes and rested her head snuggly in the folds of two goose down pillows. Her eyes closed under the cool satin mask and she allowed herself to drift off to sleep. She had a lot to dream about.



The Mediterranean Sea, Sunday, September 4th, 2005…11:00pm



The rack below decks was really quite comfortable yet even in the lap of luxury I tossed and turned as I tried to sleep. I was having a nightmare where I was being confronted by the spirits of Michelle and Gabriel and they were not at all pleased with the decisions I'd made or the direction in which my life and my soul were headed. I tried to argue my point of view, to explain to them why I did what I did, but trying to convince anyone, even yourself, that somehow wrong is right, no matter the circumstances, is never a solid platform upon which to stand. At the end of the day the best you can hope for is forgiveness. God always forgives, people don't.

Unconsciously, I was suddenly aware that the soft red glow I had fallen asleep to and changed hue. The backdrop to my dreamscape had changed from soft red rose petals to a Kelly green Irish glen. How weird? My mind's eye enjoyed the soft shift in coloring for a moment and then my eyes opened abruptly. I lay on my side and stared into a bright green bank of LEDs directly in my line of sight on a piece of Jack's equipment mounted in the rack on the galley countertop. They weren't any different than all of the other lights on the row of gadgets that comprised Jack and Randy's cloaking system. I had seen them before, I thought. Why did these look different to me? Why was I concerned with them? Why did they wake me from a deep sleep? I sat up abruptly. "HEY JACK!" I shouted

Jack's head appeared in the hatch above me, "What is it sleeping beauty?"

I pointed at the line of green lights on the bottom black box in the rack of electronic devices, "I thought the cloaking lights stayed red until they were engaged?" I asked curiously, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. Jack slid down the rails to the cabin, skipping all the steps and scurried over to the galley counter. He squatted and studied the piece of equipment for a moment then fished out a small electronic device from the front pocket of his cargo pants. It looked like the small garage door opener that Michelle and I had back at our home in Long Beach. He held it beside the block box on the counter; both devices were backlit by green light emitting diodes (LEDs).

"FUCK ME!" hissed Jack under his breath. I stood up quickly and looked over his shoulder.

"What?" I asked suddenly wide awake.

"That's not the cloaking device Pat," Jack replied, scratching at the five o'clock shadow covering his face.

"What is it then?" I asked inching closer to the galley.

"It's the detonator for the fireworks you're supposed to set off when you get to Sicily," he answered.

"What?"

"The C-4 numb nuts," Jack added, opening the doors below the counter revealing stacks and stacks of dull gray bricks of plastic explosive, each marked in bold as C-4.

"So what's the problem? You have the only trigger device in your hand right there, right?"

Jack sighed, clearly annoyed with my stupid questions. I instinctively knew something was wrong but like most humans when faced with bad news I tried asking questions that might lead to a happier ending. It rarely works by the way.

"Apparently not Pat, and let me answer your next question before you ask it. No, I did not accidentally engage the system while I was drinking all those beers. And no, it cannot engage itself," he said quietly as he tried to think in spite of me.

"So, what are we looking at here?" I asked calmly.

"Big trouble Jean Luc," he answered flippantly pointing at a digital clock above the bright green lights. I hadn't noticed it before but there it was, running backward to zero from 03:05:41.

"Does that mean what I think it does?"

"Yep, it means that three hours, five minutes and 41 seconds from now…BOOM!"

"Well, if you didn't arm this thing and it didn't arm itself, who did?"

"Herr Price comes to mind first. But, he's not like that, he's not an independent type, he needs to follow orders, he's a good soldier. No, not Herr Price," answered Jack tapping at his chin as he pondered my question.

"Who then, what are you thinking Jack?"

Jack stood and turned to face me, "I think I killed one parent too few, that's what I think," he replied folding his arms and leaning back against the counter.



West Hollywood, California…Sunday, September 4th, 2005…1:00am



Linda leaned back on the sofa and closed her laptop quietly, not wanting to risk waking Niko who was sleeping peacefully in the other room. She couldn't believe the email she'd just read, in fact she did not believe it, not at all. Actually, she was pissed at herself for allowing Elizabeth Andrews to talk her into such a fantasy. How was she going to explain all of this to the Board of Directors? Faith healing indeed! She was going to lose her job, her brilliant career thrown away and for what? She'd let her emotions get the better of her. She'd let the Tate girl get under her skin. She knew better than that. This wasn't the way an executive acted, this wasn't right! There was that word again?

Linda caught herself before she started analyzing everything over again. She caught herself before she unraveled all of the changes she had just made in her life. She caught herself before she talked herself out of doing the right thing in favor of being right. This new skin of hers was still a little itchy and she decided to just scratch it gently instead of peel it all off. Linda raised the screen of her laptop again, the soft light to illuminating her face. She opened Lizzie's email and read it again, this time with a faith in what she did not know or understand, instead of the narrow bandwidth of what she knew to be true. Linda had never seen a miracle, she didn't believe in them. But she wanted to.



The Mediterranean Sea, Monday, September 5th, 2005…1:00am



The digital clock read 01:01:24, and seemed to be picking up speed as it ran. The island of Sardinia was directly ahead of us, getting larger and larger as we approached. I tried to keep my mind on piloting 'Jeckle' toward the straight but my mind was below decks with Jack trying to disarm the IED he'd created to cover our tracks. By the number of F-bombs I counted over the last hour or so things weren't going all that well. I was tempted to turn this tub around, drag Jack topside and abandon ship before the inevitable KA-BOOM, but stubbornly stayed the course as instructed. I don't think I was destined to come this far only to be blown to smithereens with a silver spooned egghead.

My methods may have been questionable but nobody could tell me we hadn't helped a lot of people along the way. If not for G.A.W.D. hundreds of kids would have been taken from their families and this life. We were doing good things for good people in the face of the bad policies of a greedy corporation and its leadership. We may not be right but we were doing right. At least that was how I chose to look at it. If that was wrong then I was ready and willing to pay the price for it. My regret was that I had underestimated the costs. Friends were dead, my friends, good people each of them. I had no right to draft them into my insanity, Wesley, Randy, and my best friend Sandy. The amazing thing was that I didn't draft any of them, they enlisted, and they were heroes in my book. I would not let their sacrifice be in vain. Stay the course Pat I said to myself, we're in good hands I added. Even if those hands belonged to Jackson Peck.

Jack appeared in the hatch from below deck and shouted over the engines, "Throttle back a little Pat. Reduce speed to 10 knots, okay?" I looked his way and replied, "10 knots, gottcha. Why, did you figure it all out?" I replied.

"You could say that," he answered disappearing below deck again.



The Princess Grace, Monday, September 5th, 2005…1:30am



The cell phone beside Killeen Peck began to wail and vibrate. She awoke without a start; she wasn't sleeping deeply and had been expecting the device's interruption. Killeen turned to face the noisy alarm and turned it off. She remained on her side and waited for the phone to ring, Herr Price was nothing if not punctual. Ten seconds later the cell phone rang with a favorite Braham's concerto, her ringtone of choice this month. Killeen flipped the phone open and laid it gently on her ear, "prompt as usual Herr Price, thank you," she said softly.

"Yes Madame, it is my responsibility to be so," he replied.

"So, there is still time?" Killeen asked, staring at the bureau across the room.

There were several family pictures arranged in no apparent pattern which in itself was a pattern. She focused on a photograph of her son that she especially fancied. Jackson was ten years old in the picture. He was eating an ice cream sundae and had some whipped cream on his nose. She remembered that day like it was yesterday. It was her birthday, November the 16th, and Sanford had been uncharacteristically attentive to both her and Jackson that day. It was one of those days where she fantasized about forgiving him and that maybe all could be right with the world. Later that day, after she had put her son to bed and he had been asleep for an hour or so, Sanford reverted back to himself, beating her soundly after raping her repeatedly. A single tear rolled down Killeen's cheek as she recalled that humiliation. She stared at her son's image in the photo and came to her decision.

She loved Jackson so dearly and wished him no harm. But he was a male after all, and he was his father's son, and sooner or later Sanford would show himself in Jackson's own actions. The apple never falls far from the tree does it? Killeen closed her eyes and wept silently. She didn't want that life for him, not if could be prevented. Herr Price's soft voice came over the telephone line, "Madame?" he said, asking his question with the tone of his voice. Killeen opened her red and swollen eyes, "carry on Herr Price," she said, ending the call.



The Mediterranean Sea, Monday, September 5th, 2005…1:48:36am


We were getting close to Sardinia, even at this speed we'd covered a lot of ground, well, not ground, but water. In any event we were close enough to see lights on the island and large ships ahead of us in the distance. Whatever Jack was going to do he'd better do it soon or we were going to attract a lot of attention when this candle got lit. If I could have seen the digital read out below it would have displayed 00:11:24. What the fuck was Jack up to? He'd been too quiet for too long. I hadn't heard one expletive in half an hour; that could be good or bad. Either he'd figured out how to disarm the IED or he'd given up. I couldn't wait any longer. I powered down and reduced the speed to 5 knots and went below. I should have been ready for what I saw but I wasn't. Jack was sitting on the bed drinking a beer. He had a nine millimeter Glock beside him.

"What took you?" he asked cool as a cucumber.

"Everything okay?" I asked knowing that it wasn't by the glare of the green LED's on the galley counter.

"It will be," he answered, setting the beer down at his feet and picking up the handgun. He gestured with it for me to climb back up the ladder.

"Topside mate," he said, calmly pointing the weapon in my general direction.

I backed up the ladder careful not to take my eyes off of the gun in my face. He followed me up at a safe distance and we stood together on the bridge. The air was cool at this hour and I felt a chill. I looked over my shoulder at the island in front of us, trying to guess the distance. Jack read my mind, "looks like about three miles, think you can make it?" he asked. I looked over my shoulder again.

"Maybe," I replied.

Jack spun the pilot's chair toward the stern and sat facing me, still pointing the gun at me. He reached behind him and throttled down further to where the engines sounded as if they were idling. I had to work at steadying myself as we slowed abruptly. Jack scratched his nose with the barrel of the Glock, not a very smart move if you ask me, and then gestured toward the stern with it. I knew what he wanted me to do and I didn't want to do it. Not because of the swim, I could do that in my sleep. I suddenly realized what he was up to. He was going to turn back to sea and scuttle the vessel. He was going to sacrifice himself for the cause. He was going to make sure Jean Luc and G.A.W.D. did not disappear from existence. He was showing me his true colors. I had been wrong about him all along. We all had. I felt sick to my stomach because he was doing the right thing and teaching me a lesson I'd never forget.

"You don't have to do this," I said.

"Of course I do," he replied.

"It's not far we can make it, I could help you, I'm a strong swimmer man," I said pleading for him to be reasonable.

"Not the point Pat and you know it. We started this for good reasons. Don't let it all go for naught. You're the catalyst. You have to carry the ball now or everyone died for nothing man!"

"There's gotta be a better way."

"There isn't and there's no time to think of one. Contact my mother when you surface as Jean Luc again. She's a good person who's had to make some hard decisions. This is one of them. I figured that out below," Jack explained.

"How did you do that?"

"I called her."

"She knows then?"

"She knows it all Pat, and she's on board. Don't let me down man. Trust me, this is for the best."

"I don't understand."

"I know you don't. You can't. I don't want to become my father. When I killed him I guaranteed that I would do just that. Mother knew that. She's ending that nightmare, for both of us."

"Yeah but…"

"No buts Jean Luc, over the side or I'll put a hole in one of your flippers," Jack said getting out of the chair and putting a round in the chamber.

I started to say something but there was nothing to say really. Time had run out and he was right. Carrying on wasn't right, but it was the right thing to do. I turned, dove into the warm water and swam a few yards away from the boat. I heard Jack go full throttle and watched him spin 'Jeckle' to starboard and jet away in a wake of foam. I should have turned and swam toward Sardinia but I just tread water where I was and watched as he sped away. The sound of the engines got fainter and fainter as the foamy trail dissipated back into the sea. He was a mile or so away when 'Jeckle' exploded in a brilliant fireball that lit up the dark moonless sky just like Jack had said it would. I felt the concussion wave a couple of seconds later and a few more seconds later the debris stated hailing down around me.

As I turned and started swimming for shore something creased my skull. It felt like I'd been hit with a rock and it hurt like hell. I recognized the familiar feeling of my own warm blood running down my scalp behind my right ear and fought the urge to stop and investigate. Whatever the damage was I would just have to live with it. Three miles by Jack's estimate was a pretty good challenge for me even at 100% power, and I was going to have to cover that distance with half that. I'd do it too, because I had to. Patrick Henry Bouchard was dead now, blown to bits with a friend he never knew he had. It was up to Jean Luc now to keep a father's promise to a son. It'll be done, I swear. Why? Why indeed, because it's the right thing to do.

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