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Authors: Jackie McCallister

Angel of Mercy

BOOK: Angel of Mercy
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Angel of Mercy

(An Angels in the Sand Novel)

 

By

 

Jackie McCallister

 

 

Copyright © 2013 RascalHearts.com

 

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

 

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

 

For questions and comments about this book, please contact us at [email protected]

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

 

The Boeing C-17 Globemaster shuddered a bit as it encountered turbulence over the North Atlantic. This wasn’t an unusual occurrence and the passengers on the military transport plane shifted a bit and then settled back to sleep. The flight would skirt the southern tip of Greenland and the northern tip of Iceland before making European landfall above Sweden. Then, a couple of hours in Russian air space before landing at the flight’s destination. All in all, Philadelphia to Kabul, the flight would last just over 14 hours.

It already seemed lon
ger than that to Chelsea Bannister. She was used to flights that included wine service and extra pillows. The Globemaster wasn’t a comfortable airliner. It was built to move soldiers from one place to another, and do it as cheaply as possible. Chelsea shifted uncomfortably and put her long chestnut hair up in the back and fastened it with a rhinestone clip. This was an act that she had done, and then undone, at least 20 times since the flight had left Philly.

As she stared out of the tiny window and into the clouds that obscured the ocean from view, she pondered the circumstances that had brought her to this point. Chelsea Elizabeth Bannister was born in Pennsylvania hospital in west Philadelphia on April 10, 1980. Her father, George, had been a prominent attorney and Chelsea’s mother, Linda, was a socialite on Philadelphia’s stylish Main Line. The Bannister family included Chelsea, the firstborn, as well as Thomas and Nathan, three and six years younger respectively.

Chelsea had been raised in Gladwyne, PA, which is known for its rolling hills and its stature as being the seventh wealthiest ZIP Code in the United States. Some of Chelsea’s friends were from Villanova, which is the next town west of Gladwyne. Of course Villanova was listed as just the 20
th
wealthiest ZIP Code in the country. When Chelsea was younger she had considered that a sign of poor birth luck for her friends.

Chelsea had gone to prep school at Episcopal Academy in preparation for following her mother’s footsteps to tony Bryn Mawr. Her debutante year had concluded with the traditional debutante ball on her 17
th
birthday, and between Chelsea’s junior and senior year she and some friends had jetted to Paris for a week of fun and frolic on the North Bank of the Seine River. There seemed to be little that could stand in the way of Chelsea following a veritable rose petal-lined path into adulthood and the company of ladies who luncheon as well as any ladies in the world. All of that changed when Chelsea was 18 years old.

George Bannister was a talented partner/litigator in the law firm of Sedgewick, Bannister, and LeChengier. Known for his oratorical style in the courtroom and deft deal making in the back office, George had amassed over a million dollars in billable hours eight years running. All while living a life hidden from view.

It is said in legal circles that you can screw as many women as you like as long as you’re screwing your opponent in court. George had dallied with his share, or maybe a couple more than his share, of women on the side. Linda Bannister, while not approving of her husband’s behavior, tacitly accepted it as the price of doing business in that level of society. She had a couple of boyfriends of her own (including a torrid time with the Bannister’s pool man who turned out to be all of 17 years old,) and gradually moved her personal cocktail hour up from 5 o’clock to 4 o’clock to 2 o’clock to whenever-the-hell-she-felt-like-it-o’clock.

So while George kept his extracurricular assignations relatively discreet, he wasn’t so fortunate with his gambling. While the Bannister money market account always showed a handsome balance, George fell further into the red in accounts that only he had accessed. Football bets begat horse bets, which soon became a gambler’s rush that didn’t pay off fast enough. George switched to cards and eventually to dice. Finally, realizing that his finances were hanging by a precarious balance, George turned to high stakes poker. As a poker player George turned out to be a pretty good lawyer.

From there it was the tried and true story of the person in debt over his head. George tried to cover one loss with a loan and that loan with a bigger bet. He hit a long losing streak and never recovered. At the end of the line, and the end of the family fortune, George took one last trip to the bright lights of Atlantic City. Fittingly enough, he went back to his gambling roots; bet $250,000 on the Eagles against the Cowboys at + 2 ½ points…only to see Philadelphia lose 17-14 on a last second 54 yard field goal.

George Henry Bannister was brought before the Superior Court for the State of Pennsylvania, County of Camden, and City of Philadelphia on charges of embezzlement from the law firm and Interstate Transfer of Stolen Property. Barely escaping a racketeering charge George was sent to prison for 12-15 years.

Linda Bannister was shocked when the story of George’s secret life came out. She, who had believed an alien invasion more likely than having to take a job herself, struggled to gain a foothold on the new reality. She set out to sell the Gladwyne home only to discover that, while the home was valued at $1.75 million, there were mortgages against it totaling almost $3.5 million. The housing decline, and George’s previous good credit, dashed Linda’s hopes for a new beginning.

As distraught as Linda was, no one was more humiliated than Chelsea. Actually she was both humiliated, and unprepared for a future that didn’t include the perks of extraordinary wealth. Always an indifferent student, young Ms. Bannister had nothing to fall back on once the money was gone. Her friends vanished like snowballs in a 450 degree oven when she was no longer “one of them.” Eventually, shunned by girls whom she had air-kissed not long before, Chelsea seldom left the house until the house was gone. Then she quietly left town with her mother and two brothers.

After several desperate months filled with anger, tears, recriminations, and a bankruptcy, Linda found employment in a law office in downtown Philadelphia. The irony of the situation did not escape her, but she honed secretarial skills that she had learned long ago at Bryn Mawr, and made a living for her family. Thomas and Nathan handled the family down-sizing fairly well, falling into a newer, less lavish routine than they had enjoyed before. They discovered that living in a vibrant city like Philadelphia had its own appeal.

Little about her new life appealed to Chelsea Bannister. She graduated from William W. Bodine High School with an unspectacular 2.69 G.P.A. and very few friends. Having moved into the new school district in the middle of her senior year there was little time to form any bonds, nor was Chelsea inclined to do so. Bodine High, while a fine learning institution, had none of the accoutrements that Chelsea had grown to expect. Without a swimming pool, dedicated yoga salon or staff masseuse Bodine was, to Chelsea, just another sign of how far her life had fallen.

The summer after graduation should have been a time when plans were being made for the future. Eventually, when Chelsea showed little interest in taking steps toward her future, Linda sat down with her daughter for a little heart to heart,

“Girl, we need to talk! It’s July. What do you want to do in the fall? Are you going to go on to school? Are you going to get a job? Tell me what you’re thinking!”

Chelsea rolled her eyes. What she really wanted to do was to go back to bed and take a nap. She had avoided this particular conversation, not because she thought that it didn’t need to take place, but because she had no real answers to give her worry-faced mother.

“Mama, I don’t know. I want to go back to the way things were...”

That was as far as she got before Linda interrupted. “Things will never be that way again, honey. You and I both know that. Your Dad ruined us, but it doesn’t mean that we have to stay ruined! I would love to be rich again, but it’s not going to be, and you know what? I’m okay with that. I like my job. I like our little place and you and the boys are all that I need. You have to pull yourself together and make some plans. You’re a smart and beautiful young lady. Tell me what you want to do! Tell me what you would like to be doing in five years, 10 years, and the rest of your years. Dream with me, Chelsea, and let’s work toward it! For your sake!”

Chelsea’s eyes filled with tears. Her Mom had never talked like this to her before. Linda Bannister had always been serving on one volunteer committee or another. Either that or getting ready for the next Garden Club soiree’ in Gladwyn. Chelsea took a fresh look at her Mom. She saw before her a lady that had suffered a blow, but beat it back had and made for herself, a good life. The gray wisps of hair that framed her face would have been swiftly hidden by Linda’s personal salon artist during the time that the Bannister’s had lived on the Main Line. But now the gray hairs were left alone and, as far as Chelsea could tell, her mother was none the less beautiful for them. A new note of admiration crept into Chelsea’s voice when she answered her Mom.

“You’re right. I can’t just lay around wishing for how things were. They aren’t like that now, but look at you! You’re doing great!”

Linda smiled. Lines beside her mouth that would have been Botoxed away not so long ago etched a face full of encouragement for her eldest child. “Oh, I don’t know about that,” she answered with a laugh. “Sometimes I wish that my makeup mirror wasn’t quite as accurate as it is. But…,” she said with mock sternness, “Don’t think you can distract me with idle compliments, young lady. What about you? What about this fall? What about your life?”

Chelsea walked to the counter and poured a cup of coffee from the Mr. Coffee tucked into the corner. Gone was the heft and “Pffssshhh” sound of the Cuisinart Espresso Chef that had been sold off as part of the bankruptcy. Suddenly Chelsea realized that a cup of good coffee could be had even if one didn’t grind his own Arabica beans from the hillsides of Costa Rica.
It’s funny what you can get by without,
she thought.

She turned back to Linda and said, “I think I would like to try to be a nurse.”

Linda nodded and sipped her own coffee. Chelsea hadn’t shown much specialized aptitude in school. That said, Science and Biology were two areas that had held her interest. Linda remembered that when she was quite young, Chelsea had always wanted to listen to her own heartbeat when she was taken to the doctor. After a while, the nurses from William Penn Clinic had started the exam by letting Chelsea listen to her heart with the stethoscope.

The exams had gone much more quickly that way. Some of them went so far as to let the precocious little girl listen to their heart as well. She always pronounced them fit, except one time that she had told the nurse that she was, in fact, dead. Remembering these things made Linda believe that there might be some wisdom in what Chelsea had in mind.

“Okay. We need to get you in school and on your way. We can look for some scholarships and a grant for this year but it’s probably too late and your grades weren’t high enough for most of them anyway.”

Chelsea looked chagrined at the matter-of-fact way that her mother had stated those facts, but Linda was on a roll.

“Never mind all that. What’s done is done. Maybe you can take some classes at a junior college to get started. Make sure that you really want to do this. Then we will see what can be done.”

Chelsea enrolled in Bucks County Community College for two quarters before transferring to Keystone College’s nursing program. While at Keystone’s bucolic La Plume, Pennsylvania campus, Chelsea’s transformation from Main Line debutante to serious nursing student became complete.

Her first year course load had almost nothing to do with nursing. Keystone’s stated motto of “an education for the whole student” meant that Chelsea was required to take a Social Science class, a fine arts class, and a public speaking class in addition to the Science that she thought would be in her future. For fine arts, Chelsea chose sculpture and mosaics. She found that it was both relaxing and invigorating to feel a piece of clay come to life under her hands.

In public speaking course work, Chelsea found her voice in impassioned speeches in favor of music and art programs in the public schools. Until Chelsea had been forced by circumstance into a Philadelphia public school she hadn’t known how much difference there was in the breadth and quality of education between public and private education. After several classes in a public speaking discipline Chelsea was a polished communicator.

Chelsea began her education in nursing school proper upon returning to Keystone for her second year. Where she had worked diligently on her course work during her freshman year, Chelsea had no idea the time and effort that would be expected of her in nursing school. The lectures, clinic work, pharmacology and ethics classes all required hours of intensive study. Chelsea found a new reservoir of strength and ability as she changed the work load from daunting into done.

BOOK: Angel of Mercy
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