Each time I tried to open my eyes all I saw was a gray-green haze with light behind it, no shape, no focus.Of course I didn’t have my glasses on but even with a hangover I’m not usually this blurry, and I didn’t have a hangover.
I felt like I’d been hit by a truck, dead center in the chest and every part of me felt immovable, leaden.
I thought there must be an explanation – so I thought, I’ll ask, call out or something, anything to call attention to my plight.As I tried to open my mouth to speak nothing moved. As I opened my mouth a crack I felt something strange. As drool leaked out the right side of my mouth, I realized something was taped to my lip, and there were tubes down my throat.
The room felt heavy with odor.Cold? No, but very cool, antiseptic.Sterile.
I had no sense of where I was.Or what day it was.Was it day?Or night?
Just then, I heard a familiar female voice.I could hear words, but not clearly; a voice came through as garbled, but discernible.It wasn’t her speaking, it was my ears – and my brain that weren’t working right.She said, “Rachel, do you know where you are?Do you remember what happened to you?” I later learned it was nurse Sandra Ballantine standing over me in the recovery room at High PointRegionalHospital.I tried to mumble a response of “NO”, but it came out like a wounded seal trying to bark. If only I could flop around like a seal!
Nurse Ballantine realized I was conscious. She explained that I had been shot – twice, in the chest and one shot that grazed my scull on the left side – and that I was lucky to be alive. One bullet passed right through leaving little damage, but the other one punctured my left lung – narrowly missing my heart – and that was about it, but I’d lost a lot of blood. They had transfused me.She went on to say it was really fortunate that Detective Killey shared my blood type, AB-negative, otherwise I might have perished before they could get some from the blood bank in Baltimore.
Shit.Not being saved, but being saved by Lydia – dammit, I have her blood in me. Now I have to live my life in gratitude to the woman who had an affair with her partner – my husband – maybe the reason he got killed.Here I am, now, punctured twice and grazed in the head.
By now it was becoming clear to me what had happened. I’d been shot, taken to hospital, operated upon and the anesthetic was wearing off.Great.I felt little discomfort beyond the blunt pain in my chest.Obviously I was drugged heavily for pain. I was fading in and then fading out again.
I didn’t open my eyes, but I could feel my bed moving.I heard nurse Ballantine say, “bye-bye now and good luck” as someone – an orderly I presume – wheeled that contraption, complete with hoses, tubes and IVs hung like Christmas tree ornaments.
Hospital staff settled me in my room on the surgical recovery unit, Nurse Liz Heinsen attended to me.She explained the tubes had been removed and I could start having sips of water but that my throat would be sore for a few days, so I should avoid talking, or trying to.
She added, “One other thing Rachel, the doctors think you might have Aphasia – a condition caused by the gunshot to your head.It isn’t likely permanent, but for a while you may have trouble speaking coherently. Dr. Gelman, the neuro-surgeon who examined you in the operating room, is arranging for a speech therapist to assess and treat you for temporary Aphasia.”
I was fading fast by then.I don’t remember much.There was commotion of nurses and lab techs coming and going, drawing blood, testing and charting – but other than that blur, I don’t remember any of it.
When I woke, I could see the dark of night through the window blinds.I tried to move but my body wasn’t cooperating.I needed to move, but I felt completely like dead weight.
I tried to use my left hand, to push down on the bed, so I could move my body.That didn’t work.All those IVs and monitors seemed to be hooked to my left arm in some way.Then I tried to use my right.I thought, what the hell is going on. I tried to move my right arm, but all I could see or hear was the clanging of handcuffs on the bed rail. I was cuffed. Seriously, I was cuffed.I tried to call out to a nurse but my “What the fuck is going on here?” was muffled and inaudible.All I could do was pull and tug at it – which generated some noise.Noise brings staff.
Two orderlies, James and Tyrone held me steady while a nurse Heinsen injected some mystery liquid into my IV.Then I couldn’t move again. I slept, or passed out, but when I woke again the first thing I looked for, and tugged on to verify, were those handcuffs.Confirming they were still there, not a figment of my groggy imagination, I could see Jonas Kemp sitting by the window. As he saw me wake, he pulled himself up and came over to the bed.
“How are you doing Rachel?You had us really scared. When we found you on that factory floor under Anthony Baglio we thought you were dead for sure.But these doctors, they did quiet a job on you and saved you.”
At that point I managed a raspy, “Jonas, what the fuck is going on here?Why the cuffs?One minute I was trying to clear a crime scene and the next I’m in here – with two holes in me.”
Jonas stood close, touched my shoulder and said, “Rachel, given your connection to the other victim, the task force is holding you as a suspect – or at least as a material witness, until we can sort all this out.”
I tried to talk, but marble-mouth sounds were all I could manage – and they were out of sequence.Fuck!Am I destined to never mouth my thoughts in sequence again?
I slept. It must have been 18 hours, or maybe longer.When I woke my chest hurt like hell. I grabbed the nurse-call button.Speech Therapist Jesse Pender came to my rescue. He showed me how to work the morphine pump they had set up overnight and soon I was feeling little pain again.
I liked him. He didn’t have attitude shoved up his ass like most of the hospital staff.He had a funny accent.It sounded more Canadian than anything else – but he said he was from Alaska.
Jesse spent a long session with me that morning – explaining that he had been assigned to my case because he had speech therapy training, specializing in dealing with patients suffering from Aphasia.
Jesse left me a pad and pen. He encouraged me to make a list of questions, and told me he would be back to see me again on Monday because he was off all weekend.
A few minutes after Jesse left, I had another visitor.Lydia Killey came skulking in.She wasn’t really skulking – just trying to be quiet I guess in case I was sleeping.
I opened my eyes and managed an acknowledging expression.Lydia asked, “How are you feeling?”
“wqwrjmpf” was all I could manage to say.I wrote – I’m feeling better, thanks to morphine and a therapist named Jesse who says my Aphasia will pass.
Lydia took out a handcuff key, and set me free. She explained that Jonas had met with Chief Healy, that Healy had brought Jonas up to speed on the under-cover work I’d been on.It was coming back to me now, the fire, the shooting and being confronted by my scumbag ex-husband’s cousin.The only good thing about that was that Anthony Baglio was dead.
I spent a long time that day, visiting with Lydia – each not knowing what to say at first, and slowed by my requirement to write what I wanted to say.I was still so very hurt by her affair with Ralph, but how can I stay mad at someone who helped save me from bleeding out in that warehouse.We both missed Ralph: we’d both lost something with someone incredibly special.We hugged, as well as I could hug in my condition, and made our peace that day.
Visits from Jonas and Lydia declined to zero – they were working the case toward trial and felt I wouldn’t be needed to testify.Not that I was likely to return to undercover work, there was no need to blow my cover if they could get the case completed without it.
And, therapy sessions with Jesse grew more frequent.
While I wasn’t ready to start running marathons, I was well enough to be discharged after three weeks.My body was better.My speech was returning.Time with Jesse was grueling. He really put me through my paces.
Over the six weeks that followed, I regained my sense of equilibrium in walking, my hair grew back to cover the part of my head that was shaved at the hospital – and time off on disability gave me lots of time to get my new place in order. After Ralph’s death I couldn’t stay in the house on Sycamore Point Trail.First, it was just too big for one person. And there were too many memories there. I bought a condominium in a new project on Tarrant Trace Circle. I’m no Martha Stewart, but I liked creating a sense of place – my place, my cute little townhouse.
And Jesse began coming over on Friday nights.And Saturday nights, and often stayed for Sunday breakfasts.
He wasn’t like any guy I’d ever dated – and he was worlds apart from Ralph.The more we got to know each other, as we grew closer, I talked more about Ralph.I’m sure it was hard for Jesse to hear me explain how passionate my relationship with Ralph was, or how angry I was being betrayed by him, by his affair with Lydia. Maybe it was incentive for Jesse, because sex with him went from slow simmer to robust athleticism and didn’t let up.
Jesse’s story wasn’t full of holes – but seemed to have some gaps. Not gaps really, but more like lamely explained reasons for moving from place to place.I was feeling really good about him – and who questions a lovely lover who shows up in your life just when you need that kind of feeling?
Still, I couldn’t shake my suspicious nature – things couldn’t be this good, could they?I set aside a juice glass one morning, Jesse’s, and took it to the lab so I could run his prints.Nothing came back. No hits in the system. I felt relieved in the moment, but still felt unsure about Jesse’s story.Maybe I’d been around cops, trusting cops – only to find out I couldn’t trust them, too long. I couldn’t seem to shake it.
He was born and raised in Skagway, Alaska – moved to Whitehorse in the Yukon where he honed his skills as a cook, and then moved to Winnipeg where he worked for a while as Sous-Chef at the Fort Garry Hotel.He said that he enrolled in the Culinary Arts at AssiniboineCollege in Brandon but explained that he moved on from there because he didn’t like the program.
I didn’t buy that, but I didn’t challenge him either.He then moved to Wisconsin where he enrolled in the Speech Therapy program at the University of Wisconsin which the led to graduate studies at Johns-Hopkins in Baltimore. He didn’t finish his masters, opting instead to take a job as speech therapist at High Point Regional.
Sunday mornings with Jesse were so good, more so when we were at Jesse’s apartment because he seemed so much more comfortable cooking there. He made me cheese and egg soufflé to die for.
My wounds had healed and it was time to get back to work. I started going in mornings only, sitting in with Jonas and the task force group meetings to get up to speed on current cases.It was looking to me like Jonas and Chief Healy were arranging for me to sit behind a desk for the rest of my career.Liaison with other agencies had been my job before – fully, not just as a cover of some sort but it was looking more and more like I would not be going back that way.
I was becoming increasingly despondent at work.The force shrink, Dr. Melofsky, spent some time with me. He was concerned I was not stable enough yet for full active duty given the shooting, grieving Ralph’s death and dealing with the Aphasia.
I was mulling the notion of taking early retirement – taking a lump sum payout on my pension. That, together with savings and the proceeds from Ralph’s life insurance policy gave me enough to retire. OK, maybe not retire, but enough to buy a place in Florida and get a part-time job to cover the cost of groceries.
I talked about with Jesse – not as a firm plan, but just to try out the idea on him.He freaked out . . .
“What, you want to move to Florida?” Jesse shrieked.“What about me, what about us – I thought we meant something to each other.And now you are going to just pick up and leave?”
I tried to calm him down, “Listen, Jesse, I didn’t say ‘tomorrow’, and I didn’t say I wanted to go alone – I was just saying, it is something I have been thinking about?”
But it didn’t help.Jesse was hurt – feeling disconnected from me I suppose, and he stormed out.
I didn’t sleep well.My mind was wandering – thinking about Florida, thinking about Jesse’s passion – remembering Ralph’s tender touch – and remembering the night he died in an ambush. I knew about that ambush – I knew there was going to be trouble that night Ralph died.It was Anthony Baglio’s crew.He used to run with my ex, his cousin Sal Baglio.We had been coordinating with the FBI on an investigation of their entire crime family – and I was working undercover.And I was working for Anthony – part of the set up, a dirty cop on his payroll.That’s what I was supposed to do, earn his trust as an informant.I liked the tension, the risk and the rewards.I had still had a bank account in St. Petersburg under R. Baglio from my first marriage days that I’d been steadily stuffing with cash during the two year investigation.I reported about half the money Anthony paid me.
I thought about that a lot, all night.I needed to make a break from the force, leave High Point and begin a new life.I liked Jesse a lot, but I can’t say I love him.Not like I loved Ralph. Not like I loved Sal when we were young and foolish.
But Jesse was in love with me.How could I run off with him and explain a lifestyle I couldn’t justify.Maybe I should just live a low key life and keep the money stuffed in a safe place. Could Jesse live that way?Could Jesse understand, or forgive my criminality?
I dragged myself to the office, sleep deprived and feeling low.
“Hi Jonas, who’s your friend?” I said as I wheeled round the corner into my office to find the two of them sitting there.
“Good morning Rachel; please say hello to Sgt. Eric Nelson of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police” as they both stood up, and the plain-clothes Mountie stretched out his hand to shake mine.
“How do you do ma’am”, he said with an accent that strangely resembled Jesse’s.
I shook his hand, asked him to have a seat as I took off my coat, parked my briefcase and settled into my chair.
“Rachel, do you remember that glass you had the lab run a print on a few weeks ago?”
I nodded in the affirmative.
Jonas explained, “Well, it seems the print belongs to somebody interesting – a Jesse MacGruder, wanted by the RCMP in connection with a cold case in Whitehorse concerning the death of a restaurant owner up there. When your print didn’t get a hit, it was routinely put in a queue to be run through Homeland Security, Interpol and the RCMP.Once the RCMP computer got a hit, Sgt. Nelson here got the alert and contacted me.”
Sgt. Nelson added, “From this old photo I had, Jonas ran it through a face recognition program – and found a North Carolina driver’s license match to a Jesse Pender who lives here.He’s a speech therapist at the regional hospital. You might have met him when you were in the hospital.”
“Jonas – my goodness. I have been seeing Jesse Pender socially for a few months now. We met at the hospital. He was my speech therapist, to help me with the Aphasia after I got shot. I had a suspicion – that his story didn’t quite fit. That’s why I ran the print, but when it didn’t turn up anything, I relaxed about it – and figured he was just not telling me the whole story of his past.”
“Good then”, said Jonas, “we’re on our way over to the hospital to pick him up for questioning pending an extradition hearing to send him back to Canada.”
I called Dr. Melofsky’s office to make an appointment.
I called personnel to inquire about getting the forms for an early retirement application.
I called Compass Travel, spoke to a gal named Coreen. I booked a flight to St. Pete for the weekend.
I called a real estate agent in Tierra Verde, Carolyn Klein, and made arrangements to see beachfront houses on Saturday.
Soon, I would see the gray-green haze of pre-dawn as I walk the beach, alone it would seem.
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