Never Say Never
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Intemperance VII, Copyright © 2024 by Alan G. Steiner. All Rights Reserved.
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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Printed in the United States of America
First Printing: January 2024
I Caught a Fleeting Glimpse
October 15, 2000
It was getting harder and harder for Jake Kingsley to breathe. His mouth had blood in it, smearing all over his tongue, and with every exhalation he took, a little more would bubble up from his trachea. He coughed when a particularly large amount came up, spraying blood in front of him. Every breath hurt, especially the inhalation part, and it did not feel like those inhalations were providing enough oxygen to his body. He wanted to pant. And every time he took a breath in, a little blurb of blood and air would bubble out of the hole in his chest, the gunshot wound just above and to the right of his right nipple.
That fucking bitch shot me, he thought in numb wonder. Fucking shot me! With a gun!
That fucking bitch was Jenny Johansen, a crazy stalker who had been obsessed with Jake for well over ten years. She apparently still believed that she and Jake were meant to be together and viewed any woman Jake was involved with as a threat to be dealt with by using lethal force. There was a permanent restraining order against her in place, an order that forbid her from being within one hundred yards of Jake or any member of his family, but, as could plainly be seen by what just happened, a restraining order was nothing but a piece of paper when you came down to it.
Johansen had not been trying to shoot Jake, she had been trying to shoot Laura, his wife, but Jake had forced himself between Laura and the gun at the critical moment. And now he had a hole in his chest and was having trouble breathing and was starting to feel kind of dizzy and numb. The gunshot wound itself did not hurt much. It was just a minor throb in his chest, no worse than muscle strain from hitting the weights a little too much the day before, but there was this foreboding sense of impending doom about him, a strong, insistent sensation that he was not going to survive this. Am I going to die? he wondered, unsure how to feel about that. Am I living out the last few minutes of my life here? That seemed a very distinct possibility.
He was sitting on the floor of the feminine hygiene aisle of the Oceano Alpha Beta store. Laura was sitting next to him, her arms around him, holding his body in that position, keeping him from slumping over. She was crying and kept telling him to hang in there, that he was going to be all right. She had tears running down her face and blood stains on her pretty white blouse. It was not her blood, she had already reassured him, but his. The bullet that Johansen had fired, though it had passed all the way through his body and out the other side as evidenced by the hole in his right upper back (he could just see it by craning his head to the right and looking over his shoulder) had not struck Laura. He found satisfaction in that. He had done what he meant to do when he stepped between Johansen and his wife. He had kept her safe. Even if he died (and his mind insisted that dying was the most likely thing that was about to happen) Laura was uninjured. She would live and she would be able to raise Caydee without him. She would certainly not be lacking for money or support.
A groan came from across the aisle. It was Jenny Johansen, the crazy stalker that had shot him. She was crumpled on the floor, face down, blood running onto the fake wood tiles from a large cut on the left side of her scalp. That cut had been put there by Laura, who had brained her two times with a can of feminine hygiene spray she had picked up from one of the shelves.
“She’s waking up, Jake!” Laura said, her body tensing up even more than it already was. “Should I hit her again?”
Jake looked to his left for a moment. The gun that Johansen had shot him with was about thirty feet down the aisle toward the back of the store, sitting on the tile. Jake had kicked it there after it had dropped from Johansen’s hand after Laura had struck her for the second time. It was a ways away from the crazy bitch, but in plain sight, nonetheless.
“If… if… she… starts to… get up,” he panted, “keep her… from doing… it. Hit her… kick her in… the head… but don’t let… her get up… and don’t… try to fight her… she’s… really… strong.”
“Who the fuck is she?” Laura asked. “She was trying to shoot me! What the fuck did I ever do to her?”
“She’s… Jenny Johansen,” Jake said.
“Who the fuck is Jenny Johansen?” Laura knew the story about Johansen but did not recognize the face or the name. As far as she knew, this was just some random woman who decided to try to kill her.
“The one who… tried to kidnap… my ex-girlfriend… Helen,” Jake explained.
Laura’s eyes got wide, even wider than they already had been. “Holy fucking shit,” she whispered.
“Yeah,” Jake said with a little nod. “Apparently… still a bit… obsessed.”
“Fuck me,” Laura whispered.
Johansen continued to moan and groan. She began to roll back and forth a little. Her hand went to the wound on her scalp and touched it, bloodying her fingers. Her eyes creaked open and she raised her head up. She began to look around, gazing from place to place. Her eyes tracked over Jake and Laura but did not lock on. There did not seem to be much comprehension in them.
“I… think… still down… for count,” Jake muttered.
There was no one else in the aisle except for the three of them. Other people were crowded at both ends of it, staring at the three of them—one of them that manager chick who always put Jake’s nerves on edge—but none dared to venture in to help. Their eyes were scared but intensely curious at the same time. Jake knew that if Johansen rose and tried to resume her attack, they were on their own. And he was in no condition to perform any more interventions. Laura would have to handle the situation by herself until the cops got here.
And how long would that be? Jake felt like it had been an hour since the gun had gone off and Laura had brained the fucking psycho. Why was it taking so long for the cops to get here? He could hear their sirens approaching, getting louder by the second, but what was the fucking holdup here? Did they want to finish their fucking coffee first? Maybe take a nice shit before they rolled in? He would have been very surprised and possibly disbelieving had he been told that only four minutes had passed since the sound of the gunshot had blasted through the store and only three and a half minutes since 911 had been called.
Johansen was just starting to try to struggle to her feet and Laura was just about to let go of Jake and stand so she could kick her in the head a few times with her right Nike cross-trainer when there was a bustle from the crowd at the front end of the aisle. They parted almost reluctantly and finally a uniformed sheriff’s deputy appeared. Jake recognized him. It was Jeff Grimley, one of the regulars at Jake’s guitar and sing sessions at the Pine Cove, the local cop bar. Jake had been there with Laura just nine days ago and Grimley had been one of the off-duty deputies in attendance. He had requested that Jake sing Patience by G&R and Jake had obliged him. Grimley’s pistol was in his hand and being held against his right leg, his finger on the trigger guard. His eyes took in the scene and got wide as he saw Jake Kingsley sitting there with blood on his shirt and a pale face. Another deputy, an early forties woman that Jake did not recognize, came in just behind him, her gun in her hand as well.
“Hey… Jeff,” Jake panted. “Thanks… for… coming.”
“Are you shot, Jake?” Grimley asked, still trying to make sense of what was going on here. “This went out as a shooting.”
“He’s shot in the chest,” Laura told him. She pointed at Jenny Johansen, who was groaning and still trying to get up to her knees but not really coordinated enough to do it just yet. “She’s the one that did it!”
“Where’s the gun?” the female deputy asked, now pointing her gun at Johansen, her finger still outside the trigger guard.
“Over there,” Laura said, pointing down the aisle. “Jake kicked it over there.”
Both cops looked over at the gun in the aisle and then back at Johansen. “What happened to her?” Grimley asked.
“I hit her with a can of cootchie spray,” Laura said.
“Cootchie spray?” Grimley asked. “What the hell is that?”
“Just what it sounds like,” the female deputy said. She then looked at Laura. “Did you hit her before or after she shot the gun?”
“After,” Laura said. “Trust me. That crazy bitch did not shoot Jake in self-defense. She was trying to shoot me.”
“How come?” the female deputy asked.
“Because she’s a crazy fucking bitch!” Laura barked. “Are you going to fucking arrest her or what?”
“Just trying to figure out what’s going on here,” the deputy said.
“She’s… Jenny… Johansen,” Jake told the deputies. “The woman that tried…” He couldn’t quite spit the whole sentence out.
“The crazy bitch that tried to kidnap and kill his last girlfriend,” Laura said. “She’s obsessed with Jake. She stalked us into this store and tried to shoot me. Jake stepped between me and the bullet. That’s how he got shot. After she shot him, I hit her on the head with the can of cootchie spray because that’s the only thing I had available in this aisle. Now, can we get some fucking medics in here before my husband dies right in front of me?”
“All right,” Grimley said. “I think I’ve heard enough for now. Callahan, cuff her up. I’ll cover.”
“Right,” the female deputy, now identified as Callahan, replied. She holstered her pistol and then stepped forward, careful to stay out of her partner’s line of fire. She used her foot to push Jenny Johansen back to the tile and then she kneeled down so her knee was in the center of Johansen’s back.
“Whu you doing?” Johansen protested.
“Detaining you for the moment,” Callahan told her, grabbing for her left hand. She twisted it up behind Johansen’s back, holding it firmly in place, and then pulled a set of handcuffs from her belt.
“Whu I do?” Johansen asked, puzzled, as the first bracelet was snapped on her wrist.
“That’s what we’re trying to figure out here,” Callahan said, now holding the cuffed wrist in place by the free cuff and the chain. She grabbed the other hand and brought it back behind Johansen’s back as well. A moment later, she was securely handcuffed.
“My head hurts!” Johansen complained.
“I’m sure it does,” Callahan told her, standing up for a moment and then bending over at the waist, so she was leaning over Johansen’s prone body. She quickly patted down the back of her waistline and the back of her legs. Once done with that, she grasped her by the bend of her elbow and rolled her up onto her side. Holding her there, she patted down the front, starting with the waistband and them moving to the pockets of her jeans, all the way down the front of her legs to her shoes, and then up her stomach and over her breasts. “Nothing else on her,” she told Grimley. “Just some keys in her front left pocket.”
“Copy,” Grimley said, lowering his pistol.
Callahan rolled Johansen back onto her stomach. “Stay there,” she told her. “We’ll get some medics in here to look you over.”
Grimley keyed up his radio mic. “Twenty-seven Bravo,” he said into it, “scene secure. One suspect detained, one victim with a GSW to the chest, awake and conscious currently. The suspect has a head injury. Send in EMS from the staging area.”
The dispatcher repeated back what he had said. Grimley holstered his weapon and then kneeled down next to Jake and Laura. “How you doing, Jake?” he asked.
“I’ve… been… better,” Jake replied.
That feeling that he was about to die really started to overwhelm Jake by the time the fire crew and the paramedic crew got to him. In addition, it was getting increasingly hard to breathe. The first thing the medics did when they came in was separate Laura from him and then lay him down on a plastic backboard. The EMT of the crew—a cute female of maybe twenty-five or so—used a pair of trauma scissors to cut his shirt away from his body, leaving him naked from the waist up.
“Get some occlusive dressings on those wounds,” the paramedic—he was a late thirties, overweight male whose name badge identified him as TROWER—ordered.
One of the firefighters started rummaging in one of the bags.
“Julie,” Trower said to the cute EMT, “get some oxygen on him. High-flow.”
“Right,” she said.
“This is Jake Kingsley,” Grimley told the paramedic.
Trower looked over at him for a moment and then back down at Jake. Recognition flared in his eyes. “Holy shit,” he whispered.
“Good… to… meet you,” Jake said. “Feel like… I’m dying.”
“Not on my watch, Jake,” Grimley said, though his eyes told a different story. He then looked up at the fireman who was holding the clipboard. “Get us a helicopter. He’s gonna need to go to Cottage.”
“Right,” said the firefighter.
“What’s cottage?” asked Laura, who was now standing next to Grimley.
“Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital,” Trower told her, pulling a stethoscope off his neck and putting it to his ears. “It’s the nearest trauma center to SLO.”
“Santa Barbara?” Laura asked, appalled. “That’s eighty-one air miles away!”
Trower looked up at her for a moment, obviously wondering how she knew the exact air miles between Oceano and Santa Barbara off the top of her head while her husband was lying there shot. “That’s right,” he said, “but it’s the nearest place they can fix him. Cottage is a level two trauma center. The hospitals here aren’t equipped or staffed to deal with this, not even the ones in Santa Maria. The chopper can get him there in less than an hour.”
“Can I go with him?” she asked.
“No,” Julie the EMT told her. “Sorry. There’s not enough room in the helicopter for both of you and the crew.”
Laura began to cry again, tears running down her face.
“Let them do their jobs, Laura,” Grimley told her. “He’s in the best hands right now. I’ve worked with these two many times before. They know what they’re doing.”
Trower went back to work. He listened to Jake’s lungs with the stethoscope and frowned at what he was hearing. He then took his gloved hands and felt along the right side of Jake’s neck for a moment. After that, he felt and looked at the front of Jake’s neck. “No lung sounds on the right,” he said. “Distended neck veins and the trachea is deviated to the left.” He then looked down at Jake’s face. “You’ve got a tension pneumothorax, Jake. That means there’s a hole in your right lung and the air is leaking out into your chest cavity and making the lung collapse around your heart and the vessels leading out of it. I need to decompress it.”
“Oh… okay,” Jake grunted. Ever since being laid flat his breathing difficulty had increased considerably.
“I need to put a needle in your chest and let the air out.”
A needle in my chest, Jake thought. That seemed a counterintuitive thought for this situation, but this was one of those situations where you kind of had to let the experts do their job. “Okay,” he muttered. “Do… it.”
“Get me a blood pressure and get him on the monitor,” Trower told Julie and the fire crew. “And someone start spiking a line for me. I want to get two large bores in him before the chopper gets here.”
Everyone went to work. Jake just laid there, concentrating on getting each breath in and out. One of the firefighters put a hissing oxygen mask on his face. This did not make it feel like it was easier to breathe but it seemed that each breath was now giving him a little more bang for his buck. Julie put a blood pressure cuff around his right arm and started to inflate it while listening to the crook of his elbow with a stethoscope. She let the pressure out and then barked out her reading for everyone to hear. “One-oh-two over fifty-eight. Pulse is trucking along at a hundred and sixteen.”
Trower, who was opening up a plastic bag that contained a bunch of medical looking stuff, was obviously concerned about this finding. “As soon as I get his chest popped, I need to start dumping some fluid in him,” he told everyone.
More cops arrived, more than Jake had thought even worked the area. He recognized about half of them from the Pine Cove visits. Absurdly, each one who knew him felt the need to greet him and ask him how he was doing before going about their assigned duties. Two of them knelt down next to Johansen, who was more awake by the moment and starting to yell about how Laura had to die. Others started talking to the crowd on either side of the aisle, asking if anyone had seen the incident go down. One of them found the manager chick and started asking her about security cameras.
“Yes,” Jake heard the manager chick say (it was amazing how many details his mind was focusing on at this moment—maybe because he was dying?), “the entire store is covered.”
“We’ll be needing those tapes,” the deputy told her. “Make sure nothing happens to them.”
“Right,” the manager said, “I’ll go check them as soon as…”
“Go secure them right now,” the deputy said firmly. “Don’t look at them yourself, just make sure no one can screw with them. I’ll have one of the deputies go with you.”
“Oh… well… okay,” the manager said slowly. “But don’t you need me to…”
“No,” the deputy told her. He looked up at another deputy. “Statler, take her to the office and make sure that footage is preserved.”
“Right,” Statler said.
Trower was now scrubbing the front of his chest, just above his nipple area, with a brown liquid. One of the fireman was putting an IV bag together. Another paramedic crew had entered and were now working on Johansen, who was still screaming about how “that fucking temptress” had to die. Two of the cops had to help hold her in position while they worked on cleaning and bandaging her head. At one point, Johansen looked over and saw Jake being worked on. “I’m sorry, my true love!” she yelled over at him. “I almost had her! Why did you get in the way? Does she have that much of a hold on you?”
Jake did not answer her.
Trower held up the largest needle Jake had ever seen in his life. The business end of it was about two inches long and the bore was large enough in diameter that one could probably look through it from one end to another and be able see through it. He was holding it with the gloved thumb and index fingers of his right hand. He was using the fingers of his left hand to probe the front of Jake’s chest, searching for a landmark. “Okay, Jake,” he said. “Here we go. I’m gonna put this right between your third and fourth rib. It’s gonna hurt.”
Jake, who did not think that he could speak loud enough to be heard over the oxygen mask on his face, only nodded. Trower put the tip of the needle right where the fingertip of his left index finger was resting. He removed the right hand and then pushed forward, driving the needle through the flesh. He was right, it hurt quite badly. As he continued to push it in, however, Jake felt the sensation of a pop from beneath his chest wall.
“All right, it’s in,” Trower said. “I’m pulling the needle out. Julie, get ready with the Heimlich valve.”
“I’m ready,” she said.
Trower pulled the needle out, leaving a large plastic catheter behind, which he then pushed down all the way to the hub. As soon as the needle was free, there was a large hissing of air that blasted out from the end of the catheter. Some blood sprayed out with it. Jake instantly began to feel less pressure in his chest. It suddenly became easier to breathe.
“That’s it!” Trower barked. “Get the valve on it!”
Julie connected a length of tubing to the end of the catheter (which was still secured only by Trower’s fingers) and screwed it into place. The valve was connected to a length of tubing that fed into a small canister.
“Does that feel better, Jake?” Trower asked.
“Yeah,” he said, nodding his head. “Can breathe now.”
“That’s good,” Trower said. “I got most of the air out of your chest cavity. The thoracentesis needle will let the air you inhale that leaks from the lung out of your body so it won’t collapse your lung down. When you breathe in, the Heimlich valve and the occlusive dressings on the wounds will keep air from entering the chest cavity that way. That’ll keep you breathing until we can get you to the trauma center.”
“What about bleeding?” Laura asked.
“Well… there’s not much we can do about that until you get to surgery. We’ll dump fluid into you to keep your pressure up, but we’ll just have to hope that any bleeding is not bad enough to kill you before you get there. The fact that you’re still conscious and talking to me is a good sign though. Usually if someone is going to bleed out due to a gunshot wound, they do it fast.”
Laura nodded but said no further on the subject.
Over the next ten minutes, Trower started two IVs on him, one in each arm. A firefighter held up the two IV bags so they could drain into his veins by gravity feed. Julie and Trower then secured him to the backboard with straps, cinching them down tightly. Jake was constantly asked how he was doing.
“Okay,” he replied each time. And this was true. That impending doom sensation was still there, but it had faded considerably since Trower had stabbed him in the chest with that needle. Soon, he heard the distinctive sound of a helicopter in flight. The sound grew louder and louder until the actual windows of the store began to shake a little. It would be the Life-Flight helicopter. Jake was familiar with it as it was based out of San Luis Obispo Regional Airport, the same airport Jake’s Avanti 180 was based out of, and he had seen it there many times, usually just sitting on its dedicated pad, but occasionally leaving on or returning from a mission. It was a Eurocopter EC135, one of the latest and greatest twin-engine utility helicopters that had come out in the last decade.
The sound of the engines wound down outside and about two minutes later, two flight nurses wearing bright blue jumpsuits, both of them short, petite and probably weighing about the same as Laura, were allowed into the aisle where Jake was strapped to the backboard. By this point, both ends of the aisle were being guarded by deputies to keep any unauthorized people out of it. Someone had placed a cone over the gun that Johansen had used. Another cone had been placed over the broken can of cootchie spray. Johansen herself had been helped to her feet and taken out of the aisle while Trower had been starting his IV lines. She had been shouting how much she loved Jake as she was led away.
Trower gave a report to the flight nurses, starting with the fact that he was Jake Kingsley (both sets of eye widened when they recognized him) and then working his way through the mechanism of injury, his findings, and what he had done to stabilize the patient the best he could. Only then did the lead nurse of the crew introduce herself to him. Her name was Mindy, which did not make Jake feel better.
“I know you fly out of our airport, Jake,” Mindy said, “but have you ever flown on a helicopter before?”
“Yeah,” he told her over the noise of the oxygen mask. “A few times.”
“It’ll be about a forty minute flight to Cottage in Santa Barbara,” Mindy said. “Are you claustrophobic at all?”
“No,” Jake said, wondering why she was asking that.
“Are you sure?” she asked. “I can give you a little valium in your IV if you need it.”
“Not claustrophobic,” Jake insisted. “And not afraid to fly. Let’s do this.”
They did it. Trower and one of the firefighters picked up the backboard he was on and put it on their gurney. They strapped him to that. Laura leaned down and kissed him on the side of his face.
“I’ll be there as soon as I can, sweetie,” she told him, tears still running down her face. “I love you. Don’t you dare fucking die on me.”
“I’ll do the best I can,” he promised. “I love you.”
They wheeled him out of the aisle. By this point, the deputies had dispersed all of the crowd that had been gawking at the scene. They were all gathered over in a corner of the store now, well away from the doors, and three deputies were talking to them, trying to see if anyone had seen the actual shooting go down. Jake didn’t think that any of them had. He distinctly remembered being alone in the aisle with Laura and Johansen when the gun went off.
They wheeled him out the door of the Alpha Beta. Jake saw at least ten patrol cars, two ambulances, and two fire engines out there, all of them with their emergency lights flashing and their engines running. Crime scene tape had been strung up around the entire perimeter of the lot. There were two deputies and a few firefighters inside the perimeter, but no one else. Outside the tape, a large crowd had gathered to watch the show. Jake looked to his right as they bumped and bounced over the poorly maintained pavement and got a glimpse of his BMW. Something occurred to him.
“Hey!” he said. “Hold up a second.”
“We have to get you in the air, Jake,” said Mindy, who was walking next to the gurney.
Jake reached down with his right hand and put it in the pocket of his jeans. His keyring was in there. He pulled them out after a bit of a struggle and then held them up. “My keys!” he said. “Somebody give them to my wife.”
Trower took them from him. “I’ll make sure she gets them, Jake,” he said.
“Thanks,” Jake said. “And thanks for saving my ass too.”
Trower nodded. “It’s what we do, my friend,” he told him.
They wheeled him across the street to a small park. Another fire engine was parked here and the helicopter, its rotors still turning at idle, its pilot standing near the tail rotor to keep anyone from blundering into it, was sitting on the grass of the soccer field. All of the soccer players and their parents had been pushed back a considerable distance by a couple of highway patrol officers and a San Luis Obispo police officer. Several other SLO PD cops were helping the firefighters keep the landing zone secure on the other side. There were even a few state park rangers on the other side.
Christ, Jake thought in wonder. Every on-duty cop in the county is here. I hope nothing’s going down anywhere else.
He was loaded into the helicopter by sliding the backboard he was on through an access door in the rear of the aircraft, just under the tail. The smell of burning jet fuel was very strong and the noise of the engines made conversation almost impossible. They slid him in feet first and he quickly found out why they had asked him about claustrophobia. The helicopter looked much larger from the outside than it did from the inside. They space he had to travel in was very small. The foot end of the backboard was nestled up against the right side cockpit seat. The ceiling of the aircraft was only about a foot above his nose. The two flight nurses climbed into the spot on his left where two side-facing seats were crammed together. The rear door was closed, sealing them in together. There was nowhere Jake could see out a window or get any sort of outside reference. Not even looking forward provided any information. All he could see were the two cockpit seats and a narrow band on the top of the windscreen.
The nurses strapped him in and then hung his two IV bags as high as they could hang them. They hooked him up to an automatic blood pressure cuff and put a pulse oximeter probe on his right index finger. They put a cardiac monitor on his chest. Once this was all done, they put headsets on. The pilot, meanwhile, was now sitting in the left hand seat and preparing for takeoff.
A few minutes later, the engine noise wound up making it flat out impossible for Jake to talk to the nurses or for them to hear him. He felt a shudder as they lifted into the sky, felt the sensation of the aircraft rotating to the left as they rose. And then they began to move forward, continuing to climb. After perhaps five minutes, he sensed they were in straight and level flight. Was that high enough? How many feet per minute did this thing climb?
You have to climb to at least forty-five hundred to make it over the Santa Ynez Mountains, Jake wanted to tell the pilot. After all, he flew this route every time he made the commute to LA and was very familiar with the minimums on this stretch. He was forced to assume that the pilot knew this and hope that he did not have the Kid Rock or the Beastie Boys version of helicopter pilot flying him on this mission.
The oxygen mask stayed on his face and the blood pressure cuff tightened up on his arm every five minutes during the journey. His breathing continued to be quite painful, but he did not feel hypoxic as he had before his chest was popped. He could see the two nurses talking to each other through their headsets, but could not hear what they were saying. This reminded him of one of the chorus lines from the Pink Floyd song Comfortably Numb, though Jake was far from comfortable or numb. He sang the line out a few times, smiling as he did so. The nurses looked at his lips moving but could not hear what he was saying either. That feeling of impending doom stayed in the back of his brain. He still had no idea if he was going to die from this or not. He rated his chances at about fifty-fifty at this moment.
In Jake’s plane, it took about twelve minutes from takeoff to pass over the Santa Ynez Mountains and be over Santa Barbara. In the helicopter, it took considerably longer. He felt them bouncing around a bit in unstable air about thirty minutes into the flight. He then felt the unmistakable sensation of descent. The engine noise remained the same since helicopters did not descend by reducing power but by changing the angle of attack of the main rotor. He felt them slowing down and then banking and turning. Finally, just as he was starting to feel a little bit nauseous, they eased down and he felt the thump of the skids touching down. Now the engine noise decreased as the pilot reduced power and began the shutdown sequence.
I guess he knew about the minimums, Jake thought gratefully.
The engines powered down and the back door opened. The nurses took off their headsets, disconnected the IV bags from his IV catheters (all the fluid had gone in, a full two liters), disconnected all their monitoring equipment, and then climbed out. Jake craned his head backwards and saw there was a hospital gurney and several people in scrubs out there. His backboard, with him on it, was pulled out onto the gurney. He looked around and saw they were on the roof of a building, presumably the Cottage Hospital of Santa Barbara.
Well, I made it this far, he thought, adjusting his odds to around seventy-thirty in favor of living.
The next twenty minutes went by in a blur of confusion, pain, and sensory overload. They went down in an elevator and he was wheeled through a hallway, through a set of double doors, down another hallway, and then through another set of doors into a large, brightly lit room full of people in scrubs wearing protective gowns, masks on their faces, and face shields. His backboard was deposited on a table and people fell all over him.
“I’m Doctor Owens,” a large man introduced. “The trauma surgeon.”
“Hey, doc,” Jake returned.
“Airway open and patent!” Owens barked out. Someone across the room repeated what he said.
“Do you know where you are, Jake?” Owens asked.
“Santa Barbara, in the trauma hospital.”
“And what month is it right now?”
“Do you know what happened to you?”
“Some crazy bitch was trying to shoot my wife and shot me instead.”
“Alert and oriented times four!” Owens yelled out. This was repeated by the same person.
Meanwhile, other people had pulled off his shoes and socks. Now they were unbuckling his belt and unbuttoning his jeans. They yanked them and his underwear down his legs without ceremony, leaving him completely naked in front of at least eight people.
“You could have bought me a drink first,” Jake said.
Owens ignored this. He lifted up the petroleum jelly soaked dressing on Jake’s chest and looked at the wound. “One penetrating wound to the right anterior chest,” he announced. “Third intercostal at the mid-clavicular line.” The person whose job it apparently was to repeat everything he said did it again.
Owens ran his gloved hands up and down the entire front of Jake’s body from head to toe. He pushed and palpated all four quadrants of Jake’s belly. When he got to the schlong, he grabbed hold of it and his testicles, squeezing them, lifting them, looking at everything. “Genitalia, male, grossly normal,” he announced.
“Genitalia, male, grossly normal,” replied the repeater.
Good to know, Jake thought sourly.
After the legs and feet were examined—they too were grossly normal—they unsnapped him from the backboard and someone grabbed him by the head, someone else by the right shoulder and hip, and someone else by the knees. At a count of three, they worked together to logroll him on onto his left side. Owens then examined the back of his head, pronouncing it grossly normal. He then pulled up the other petroleum dressing.
“Penetrating wound to right upper back,” he announced. “At the right scapular margin, four centimeters medial to the humeral line.”
After this announcement was repeated, Owens continued moving down the line. He pushed and palpated Jake’s spine all the way down to his butt. He then moved down the back of both legs, pronouncing them grossly normal. And then there was a pause. The holders kept him on his side. Jake heard the sound of another glove being applied to Owens’ hand but did not think much of it. And then Owen said something that Jake did not care much for.
“I’m going to put a finger up your bottom, Jake,” he said.
“You’re going to what?” Jake replied. “What for?”
Owens did not explain himself. He just did it. Jake felt an intruding fingers go slamming up his anus. It did not feel like a small finger.
“Jesus fucking Christ!” Jake barked.
The finger felt around in there for what seemed like an hour and then was withdrawn. “Good sphincter tone,” Owens announced. “No frank blood.”
“Good sphincter tone,” the repeater repeated. “No frank blood.”
Owens’ double-gloved index finger had a smear of Jake’s feces on it. One of the other scrub-suited masked people, this one a female based on the hair and the curves of the body, opened up a little yellow cardboard card that was about one by two inches in size while closed. Owens rubbed the feces on his finger on a little round part of the card, smearing it around. The card holder then closed the card, flipped it over, and put a few drops from a little eye-drop sized dispenser on a little window. Owen stared at that little window for a few moments. “Guaiac test is negative for blood,” he announced.
They rolled him back onto his back. Owens announced it was time for the imaging to be done. Another person in scrubs came over and adjusted a long x-ray arm that was mounted to the ceiling until the laser cross hairs were centered directly between Jake’s nipples. “X-ray!” he barked out and everyone backed away at least six feet, including the man operating the machine. There was a buzzing noise and then everyone except Owens moved back in. Owens was examining an image on a screen about six feet away.
“Significant right hemothorax,” Owens announced after thirty seconds or so. “Slight pneumothorax but not tension pneumothorax at this time. Large pocket of blood outside the right pleural space at the level of the fourth, fifth, and sixth ribs. Number three rib is fractured. Heart and major vessels appear intact.”
The repeater repeated all of that.
“Am I gonna live, doc?” Jake asked.
“Probably,” Owens said. “We need to get you to the OR right away and get the bleeding stopped and get a chest tube in. Do you consent to the surgery?”
“Uh… yeah,” Jake said. “If that’s what you think you need to do.”
“That’s what I think I need to do,” Owens said.
“Any more imaging, Dr. Owens?” the guy who had shot the x-ray asked.
“Not right now,” Owens said. “I suspect the bullet might have exited through the bottom of the right scapula, but confirmation of that can wait. Let’s get our labs drawn, get a type and screen, and get him to the OR as quick as we can. Janie, what’s his blood pressure and heart rate?”
“One-twelve over fifty-eight,” a female voice responded. “Heart rate one-oh-six and regular. O2 sat is ninety-five percent on fifteen liters per minute by non-rebreather.”
Owens nodded. “Give him five milligrams of morphine, IV,” he ordered.
“Five milligrams of morphine, IV,” Janie responded.
“I don’t need morphine, doc,” Jake said.
“Doesn’t this hurt?” Owens asked him.
“Yeah,” Jake said. “A fuck of a lot, to tell you the truth.”
“Then take the morphine,” the doctor told him. “That’s what it’s for.”
Jake decided not to argue. A minute later, while one person was sucking blood out of the IV in his right arm, Janie the nurse injected something into the IV in his left arm. A moment later, his head began to swim. Nausea started rippling through him. “I’m… I’m gonna throw up,” he announced.
Instantly, someone was there with a little green bag for him to barf in. He barfed in it violently, causing intense pain to hammer into his chest where the bullet hole was.
“Four milligrams of Zofran, right away,” Owens said calmly.
A minute later, another injection was put into his left IV. A minute after that, the nausea faded away. His head was still swimming in an uncomfortable way, however. Why in the fuck do people like this morphine shit? he wondered. It’s fucking miserable! He did have to admit, however, that now that he wasn’t throwing up, the pain in his chest had faded to a dull, unimportant ache.
Less than five minutes later, he and the gurney he was on were being wheeled out of the room. Someone had at least had the decency to cover him with a white hospital sheet so everyone in the hall did not get a gander at his business. They got back into the elevator and went up one floor. They wheeled through a few more halls and then came to another group of healthcare workers, all of them in green scrubs and with blue hairnets on their heads.
He was wheeled into the operating room. It was as cold as a refrigerator in there and he almost immediately began to shiver. A tall, thin female with a pretty face was the first one to introduce herself to him.
“I’m Dr. Valkonova,” she said, her accent distinctly Russian. “I’ll be the anesthesiologist for your surgery. Confirm you name and date of birth for me.”
“Jake Kingsley,” he said. “March 7, 1960.”
“Very good,” she said. “Any major medical problems?”
“Other than being shot in the chest, no,” he said.
“Any allergies to any medications?”
“Have you ever had surgery before?”
“Never,” he assured her.
“Have you ever had general anesthesia before?”
“No,” he said. “They did one of those conscious sedation things to me once when I broke my hand though.”
“No reaction to that anesthesia?”
“No, other than the expected one.”
“Very good,” she said. “Now open your mouth wide for me so I can look at your throat.”
He did so, wondering why she needed to look at his throat but not questioning her. He was just kind of along for the ride at this point.
They moved him to the operating table. A few minutes later, Owens, now dressed in surgical garb, entered the room. “Is my blood here?” he asked.
“Type and screen is still in progress,” someone answered, “but I have two units of uncrossed O-negative ready to go if we need it.”
“Very good,” Owens said.
“I am O-negative, doc,” Jake told him.
“We kind of like to confirm these things ourselves,” Owens said, “but even if you’re not, anyone can have O-negative blood transfused into them in an emergency. That’s why we like it so much.”
“You’re the doc, doc,” Jake replied.
“Jake,” said Dr. Valkonova, “I’m going to put some Versed in your IV line. It’s going to make you sleepy.”
“Okay,” he said. The swimming sensation in his head from the morphine was starting to feel a little less unpleasant now.
The anesthesiologist injected a syringe full of liquid into his IV. He did indeed begin to feel sleepy. And though it was another fifteen minutes before they actually put him under anesthesia, intubated him, and hooked him up to a ventilator with anesthetic gases running, he would remember none of it. Versed was a potent amnesiac drug that prevented the brain from recording memories at therapeutic level. Unpleasant things might happen to the conscious recipient while under its influence, but the recipient would not remember them later.
Jake Kingsley’s life was now in the hands of the surgeon and his team.
It was almost another hour after the helicopter took off carrying her husband to Santa Barbara before Laura was able to get in the BMW and start heading there herself. The deputies would not let her go right away. They insisted that she stay until the lead detective in the case had a chance to get her preliminary interview done. This waiting was an agony for Laura. Jake had been shot in the chest and might very well die. He might be dead already! She might have said the last words she was ever going to say to him, kissed him for the last time, told him she loved him for the last time.
Please don’t die, sweetie, she kept thinking. Please don’t die.
They had her sit in security office of the grocery store with one of the uniformed deputies. It was a female deputy, about the same age as Laura herself, one that had never been to the guitar and sing sessions at the Pine Cove on any night that Laura had been there. Her name was Alice Tumble and she was kind and sympathetic to Laura’s situation, but not very helpful in providing any information.
“What happened to the bitch that shot Jake?” Laura asked her at one point.
“She was taken to the hospital in an ambulance,” Alice told her.
“There’s one of you guarding her though, right?”
“I’m sure there is,” Alice assured her.
“She’ll be going to jail after that, right?”
“I’m not part of the investigation, Laura,” Alice said. “I don’t know much for sure, but if she really did shoot Jake, yes, she’ll go to jail.”
“If she really did? I saw her do it. She was trying to shoot me but Jake jumped between us. He saved my life.”
“We’ve already grabbed all the security camera tapes,” Alice said. “I do know that much. If it happened like you say it did, it’s a pretty open and shut case.”
“How can I find out how Jake is doing?” Laura asked next.
“I don’t know, Laura. I’m sorry.”
Laura cried a little bit more and then got herself under control. She sipped from a bottle of water that Alice had gotten for her. And then her cell phone, which was in her purse, began to ring. She looked over at Alice. “Can I answer it?”
“Yes,” Alice said.
She dug it out and looked at the screen. The number was Meghan’s cell phone. She realized they were now well past the point where they should have returned home by now. She pushed the button and put the phone to her ear. “Meghan?”
“Laura!” Meghan’s excited voice said. “Oh my god! Are you okay?”
It was obvious that Meghan had some idea that something unusual had occurred. Her tone was not the why-are-you-late-coming-home-from-the-store tone, but the I-just-heard-some-serious-shit-has-gone-down tone. “I’m okay,” Laura told her. “Physically anyway.”
“How is Jake?” Meghan asked. “They’re saying he got shot!”
“Who is saying that?”
“It’s all over Channel 6,” Meghan said. “They have a news crew in front of the grocery store right now! They broke into the regular programming to go live and report that Jake had been shot. They showed a helicopter lifting off and said he was in it! Is that true, Laura?”
Laura sighed. Channel 6 was the only local network affiliate based out of San Luis Obispo—the others were based out of Santa Maria. The people who ran their local news program were not Jake Kingsley fans and enjoyed making him look bad to the locals who watched their newscasts. They had done multiple “special reports” on the Kingsleys since they had moved to the area, stories about Jake’s noisy airplane (heavily implying that Jake’s fame and money had swayed the FAA investigation into the many complaints about it), about the Kingsley’s known disregard for environmental issues (they had gleefully reported about the hippies launching diapers onto the Kingsley property, making it out to be a fine, harmless prank), about possibly shady connections between Kingsley and real estate developer Andre Heliodorus (they were not fans of Andre either), and about how Jake only donated money to local causes for tax purposes (heavily implying that he was cheating on his taxes in some way by doing so).
“It’s true,” Laura told the nanny. “The crazy bitch who tried to kidnap Jake’s previous girlfriend showed up here at the store with a gun. She tried to shoot me but Jake jumped in front of me and she shot him instead.”
“Jesus Christ!” Meghan barked. “Is he okay?”
“I don’t know,” Laura said, starting to cry again. “He was shot in the chest. The paramedic had to put a needle in his chest because his lung was collapsing. They flew him out of here twenty minutes ago to take him to Santa Barbara. I don’t know if he’s alive or dead.”
“My God, I’m so sorry, Laura. Are you going to Santa Barbara?”
“As soon as I can,” she said. “The detective wants to interview me first.”
“I’ll watch Caydee as long as I need to,” Meghan promised. “What… uh… what do you want me to tell her?”
Jesus Christ, Laura thought, shaking her head. I hadn’t even thought about that. What do we tell her? “Uh… well… I guess you tell her that Daddy is sick and had to go to the hospital for now,” she said. “And that Mommy is going to go make sure he gets the care he needs. Try not to let her watch the news shows. And can you let Elsa know what’s going on?”
“Will do,” Meghan promised.
Alice was waving her hand, trying to get her attention. She looked up at her. “What?” she asked.
“If you got someone who can drive over here, you might have them bring you a fresh top and maybe a fresh bra too,” the deputy said.
Laura looked down at herself. Her white top was liberally stained with Jake’s blood, a little on the front, but a lot on the left side where her body had been in contact with his when she had been holding him up in the aisle. “Oh… right, good idea,” she said.
Alice nodded. “The CSI people are going to want that blouse anyway,” she said.
“Right,” Laura said. She put the phone back to her mouth. “Meg, when you talk to Elsa, will you see if she can drive over here with a fresh blouse and a fresh bra for me?”
“Uh… yeah,” Meghan said, “I’m sure she’ll do it, but who should she give it to? I can see on the live shot that they have the whole parking lot roped off.”
Laura asked this question to Alice. “Have her just pull up near where the group of cops is hanging out and bring them over to them. I’ll radio down there that she’ll be bringing them. What does she look like?”
“Dark-skinned African-American,” Laura said. “Sixty-one years old. British accent. She drives a Toyota 4-Runner.”
“They’ll be on the lookout for her,” Alice promised.
“How long until they let you leave?” Meghan asked.
“Hopefully soon,” Laura replied.
“Do you want me to tell anyone else what’s going on?”
“No,” Laura said, shaking her head. “I’ll start making phone calls while I’m driving to Santa Barbara.”
Detective Jason Falck was dressed in a suit and tie. He was a good looking, fit man in his late thirties. He introduced himself as the on-duty detective with the department’s Major Crimes division. Apparently San Luis Obispo County did not have enough homicides per year to dedicate an entire detective division to the problem. Major Crimes handled all the felony assault cases, the robberies, and any crime that involved the discharge of a firearm. That was what brought the Jake Kingsley case under his umbrella.
Falck gave her as much of an update as he could. The suspected shooter, identified positively now as Jennifer Johansen of Los Angeles, had been formally arrested for assault with a deadly weapon. That charge would likely be upgraded to attempted murder once all the evidence was reviewed. He did not say that if Jake died (which was still quite high on the list of possibilities) she would be charged with first-degree murder, but he did not have to. Laura could read between the lines. Johansen was currently in Baptist Hospital under guard by two deputies. Once she was medically clear, she would be transported to the San Luis Obispo County sheriff’s office in downtown SLO (not far from the Pine Cove, as a matter of fact) and Falck and another detective would interview her and get her version of events (assuming, of course, that she did not invoke her right to remain silent, as she had after being arrested on Helen’s property). From there, she would be booked into the SLO County Jail facility and likely be arraigned Tuesday or Wednesday. As for Jake himself, another detective was already on the way to Cottage Hospital in Santa Barbara to interview Jake when (and if) he was capable of providing such an interview. Falck had no update on Jake’s condition otherwise.
“Okay,” Laura said. “Thank you for the information.”
Falck then asked her a series of questions regarding Jenny Johansen and the events that had taken place today. Laura related that she had heard the story about Johansen and Helen from Jake on several occasions during their relationship, had probably even been told the name of the psycho, but had not known what Johansen looked like and her name had not rung a bell even when Jake told it to her until he explained who she was. No, she had never seen Johansen before today, had not noticed anyone resembling her stalking or creeping around.
“How about her car?” Falck asked next. “It’s a brown, 1985 Chevy El Camino. A very distinctive looking vehicle. Old, looks like a cross between a truck and a car, peeling paint, pretty battered. It’s out in the parking lot right now. The license plate is registered to Johansen.”
Laura’s eyes got wide. “That’s the car that drove up to our gate yesterday!” she told him.
“You saw it drive up to your gate?” Falck asked.
“I saw it on the security camera,” she said. “Jake looked at the footage this morning too. We didn’t think anything about it. We always have stoners or people wanting to have car sex driving up our road. And then they see the signs and turn around just before the gate. The security camera always catches them and Jake reviews the footage.”
“Do you still have that footage?” Falck asked her.
“Yes,” she said. “We always keep the turnaround footage in case it happens more than once.”
“Is the license plate visible in the footage?” he asked next.
“There was no front plate on the car,” she said, “but when it turned around and drove off, we got a good shot of the rear plate. Jake even wrote the number down.”
Falck was plainly excited by this news. “I need that footage,” he told her. “Is it stored on video tape?”
“Yes,” Laura said. “The way I understand the storage is that there is a main tape that is on a constant loop that starts taping over the previous footage after six hours of recording time. It only records when the motion detector catches something or when we manually tell it to record. There is also a secondary tape where things we tell the system to save are recorded permanently. The whole thing is controlled by a computer.”
“Can I send a deputy to your house to collect those tapes?”
“Both of them?”
He nodded. “Both of them. The footage is date and time stamped, correct?”
“Correct,” she said. “And yes, I can have Elsa give the tapes to you if you think they’ll be helpful.”
“They will help prove premeditation,” Falck said. “If we have footage of Johansen’s car showing up at your property the day before she tried to shoot you, it will be kind of hard for her to claim she just happened across you while doing her shopping and decided to act on impulse. Premeditation gets her a much longer prison sentence.” Particularly, he did not say, if the victim dies. That footage would help prove first degree murder as opposed to second degree, impulsive murder.
“I’ll call Elsa when I’m on the way to the hospital and let her know someone will come by to pick up the tapes,” Laura promised. She then shuddered a little. “It kind of creeps me out that she tried to drive up to our house. Do you think she was planning to knock on the door and just bust her way in and shoot me there?”
“I think that is a very likely possibility,” Falck allowed.
“Damn,” she whispered. “Thank God for all of our security measures. I used to think it was a bit over the top, but… now I understand why Jake paid so much money for them.”
Falck then began to question her about the events that led up to the actual shooting. He started way back in time, with how she and Jake had met each other in the first place, how long they had been together, how long they had been married, how long they had lived on the cliff outside Oceano. He did not ask anything about lesbian groupies, transexual sex-slaves, drug and sex orgies, Satanism, or the paternal genes of Cadence Kingsley. He did ask, however, about domestic violence, explaining it was a question that had to be asked because Johansen’s attorney would likely bring it up at some point considering Jake’s reputation.
“Jake has never laid a hand on me in anger,” she assured him. “Not a single time in our entire relationship. And I have never done that to him either. We don’t even really argue or bicker much. We love each other very much and we get along quite well.”
“Fair enough,” Falck said, giving no indication whether or not he believed her.
He wrapped up his interview and told her that once things settled down there would be a more formal interview down at the sheriff’s department. He then had a female CSI come into the room. She was carrying her camera, a folded green blouse, and a large plastic evidence bag. Falck told Laura she was free to leave when the CSI was done and then thanked her for her cooperation. He then left Laura alone with the CSI and Alice the deputy.
“I’d like to take a few pictures of you wearing the blouse you have now,” the CSI told her. “And then I’ll have you take it and the bra off and put them in this bag for evidence.”
“Okay,” Laura said shyly. She was not a fan of undressing in front of people she did not know well. At least Falck had left though. She would have refused to take off her blouse and bra in front of a man.
The CSI snapped about fifteen shots of Laura in the blood-stained blouse. Some from the front, some from the side, two from the back, and then closeups of each individual bloodstain. Laura then removed the blouse and dropped it into the evidence bag. Her white bra was stained with blood on the left side cup and the left strap. There was also some dried blood on the side of her chest. She unsnapped the bra and dropped it in the bag as well.
“That’s a bathroom right there if you want to go clean up before you put your fresh clothes on,” Alice said, pointing to a closed door.
“I’ll do that,” Laura said. She walked topless into the small, dirty bathroom and used water and paper towels to clean the blood off of her chest and hands. She then decided she had better pee. She had a long drive in front of her. After finishing up this business she came back out, her bare breasts still on display. The two women made an effort not to stare at her.
She put the bra on and then the blouse, buttoning it up. “Okay then,” she said to Alice. “I’m good to go now?”
“You’re good to go,” Alice told her. “Check in with one of the deputies down there and they’ll help you get your car out of here.”
Laura found herself starting to cry again. Impulsively, she stepped forward and put her arms around the female deputy. Alice, unperturbed, hugged her back. “Thank you for everything,” Laura told her. “You kept me sane this last hour.”
“I’m glad to help,” Alice told her. “Good luck to you.”
“Thanks,” she said.
She took a moment to compose herself and then left the room, going downstairs and back into the main part of the store. All of the customers and staff were now gone but the place was far from empty. There were at least ten uniformed deputies and six or so with CSI uniforms on. Falck and three other suit wearing cops were standing at the head of the feminine hygiene aisle, watching the CSI people take pictures and measure things. One of the deputies, a sergeant she knew from the Pine Cove sessions—his name was Jack—walked over to her.
“Are you leaving now, Laura?” he asked her politely.
“Yes,” she told him. “I need to get to Santa Barbara.”
“It’s a zoo out there,” he told her. “There’s a whole gaggle of reporters and there is even a news helicopter circling now.”
“Our nanny told me on the phone that they know it was Jake who was shot in here. How did they find that out? You haven’t released Jake’s name, have you?”
“It wasn’t us,” Jack assured her. “They showed up here initially just because they monitor the scanners and heard there was a shooting. Shootings in Oceano are pretty rare, so they came to see what they could see. And then, I’m guessing, once the customers and staff who were in the store when it went down came out, it was they who told the reporters Jake was the victim.”
She nodded. “That makes sense,” she said with a sigh.
“I’ll have one of my cops escort you to your car and then we’ll clear a path for you to get out to the street,” Jake said.
“Thank you,” she said. “Uh… I don’t suppose you know where Cottage Hospital is in Santa Barbara?”
“Yeah, I do,” he said. “Do you want me to write directions down for you?”
“That would be incredible of you,” she said.
He pulled out his notebook and began to write on a blank page. It took him several minutes before he tore it off and handed it to her. “See if you can read my writing and the directions make sense,” he said.
She looked at the sheet of paper.
101 S to 154 E
Get back on 101 S in SB
Mission St exit turn L
L on Castillo
R on W Pueblo
Will see the hospital here
Follow signs to ER
“I don’t take the 101 all the way to Santa Barbara?” she asked.
“You can,” he said, “but it’s the winding part along the coast and the traffic backs up in every little seafront town you pass through. It’ll take you about thirty minutes or so longer to go that way. It’s much better to take Highway 154 over the mountains and drop into Santa Barbara from that side.”
“Okay,” she said, “I guess that makes sense. Thank you.”
“Glad to help,” he said. “I hope Jake is all right.”
“Me too,” she said.
“Riggins!” Jack barked at one of the deputies who was standing around. “Take Mrs. Kingsley to her car.”
“Right, Sarge,” Riggins said.
“God bless you, Laura,” Jack told him.
She stepped forward and gave him a hug. “I hope so,” she replied.
Deputy Riggins led her out the front doors of the grocery store and into the parking lot. All of the cars were now gone except for the emergency vehicles, Jake’s BMW, and the tattered brown car that she had seen on the video turning around on their road. She shuddered a little as she saw it and, for the first time (but certainly not the last) she chastised herself for not calling Sergeant Stivick as soon as the event had happened. Granted, calling him every time a vehicle turned around was not their normal practice, but still, shouldn’t something about that car have triggered her instincts? Shouldn’t she have guessed that the driver of the vehicle was up to no good?
The media people on the other side of the crime scene tape spotted her immediately. Video cameras swung over and pointed at her. Still cameras began to click away. Reporters began to shout at her.
“We’re hearing that Jake died on the way to the hospital, Laura! Is that true?”
“Who shot him, Laura?”
“Was it a drug dealer? We’re hearing this was a drug deal gone bad!”
“We’re hearing that this was a cartel hit! Can you comment on that?”
Laura answered no questions, did not even make eye contact with them. She pushed the button on the key fob and stepped into the car. “Thank you,” she told Deputy Riggins.
“No problem,” he said. “Just drive out through the main exit from the parking lot. We’ll lift the crime scene tape up for you and keep the crowd back.”
“Will do,” she said.
“Good luck to you, Mrs. Kingsley. I’m sorry this happened.”
She gave him a little smile and then closed the door. She started the engine and then spent a few moments adjusting the seat, the steering wheel, and the mirrors from how Jake had them to how a shorter person like herself needed them. She then buckled up and backed out of the spot. She took her written directions out of her blouse pocket and set them on the passenger seat.
She drove out under the crime scene tape that two deputies held up high for her. Reporters continued to shout questions at her but she could not even hear them anymore. A minute later, she was heading for Highway 1, which would take her to Highway 101 South. As soon as she made it to the 101, she pulled her cell phone out of her purse again and, keeping about a quarter of her attention on the road, called Elsa’s number. She did not answer it, so she called the house. Meghan answered.
“I’m on my way to Santa Barbara now,” she told the nanny. “No further updates on Jake.”
“We just saw you leave on the TV,” Meghan told her. “We can still see you. The helicopter is following you.”
“Wonderful,” she grunted. “Is Elsa there?”
“Yeah, just a second.”
She talked to Elsa, thanking her for bringing the clothes for her. She assured her that she was physically unharmed, though quite anxious and upset. She then told her that a deputy would be coming by the house at some point today to collect the video tapes from the security system and that she should hand them over.
“I will do so,” Elsa promised. “Is there something relevant to the investigation in that footage?”
“Yes,” Laura said. “The brown car that did the turnaround yesterday is the car that is registered to Jenny Johansen, the woman who shot Jake.”
“Good lord,” Elsa whispered. She, after all, remembered the previous Jenny Johansen incident quite well.
“I’ll call back when I know something,” Laura promised. “I gotta go. More phone calls to make.”
She called Jake’s parents next. They too had already heard the news. By this point, the fact that Jake Kingsley had been shot and taken by helicopter to a hospital was nationwide news being reported on every major network. No one knew who had shot him and there was not even official confirmation that Jake had been the victim. Some reports were saying that he had died en route to the hospital.
“The cops I talked to had no information of that sort,” Laura assured Mary Kingsley.
“How bad was it?” Mary asked. “They all seem to think he was shot in the chest.”
“He was,” Laura said. “The paramedic had to put a needle in his chest to let the air out. He seemed like he was doing better after that.”
“Who did this to him?” Mary sobbed. “Who shot my baby?”
“Jenny Johansen,” Laura said. “The woman who tried to kidnap and kill Helen, Jake’s last girlfriend.”
“My God,” Mary cried. “Her?”
“Her,” Laura confirmed. “She was trying to shoot me. Jake stepped in front of the bullet. He… he saved my life.”
“Is she under arrest?”
“She is under arrest,” Laura told her. “Listen, I’ll keep you updated as soon as I hear anything. If any reporters show up at your house, don’t talk to them. Especially not about Jenny Johansen. Let everything settle first.”
“Okay,” Mary said. “I love you, Laura. And tell Jake I love him too.”
“I will, Mom,” she promised. “And I love you too.”
She called Pauline next and went through pretty much the same conversation. Pauline asked if she should head to Santa Barbara.
“No, stay put for now,” Laura told her. “We’re going to have to issue a statement at some point and you’re the one who needs to do it.”
“My phone is already ringing off the hook,” Pauline said. “I haven’t talked to any of them yet, not even to say no comment.”
“Keep doing that for now. I’ll let you know the moment I hear anything.”
“Keep the faith, sis,” Pauline told her.
“I’m doing the best I can,” she said.
By now, she was flying along at 75 miles per hour down the 101, faster than she ever drove anywhere. She debated with herself for a moment whether or not to make the next call, but finally decided she had to. She paged through her contacts with her thumb (her car drifting out of its lane and causing another driver to honk at her and angrily give her the finger) until she got to Celia’s number. She pushed the little phone icon button. The first ring did not even finish before Celia’s frantic voice was in her ear.
“Teach!” she said. “Madre de Dios! Is all that they’re saying true?”
“It’s true,” Laura told her. “Jake has been shot.”
“Some of the reports are saying he died!” Celia said, her voice tremoring.
“They flew him by helicopter to Santa Barbara. I haven’t heard anything since, including that he died. I would think the cops I was just with would have been told if he was dead.”
“How bad was it?” she asked.
She explained about the gunshot wound to the chest and then about the paramedic putting a needle in Jake’s chest. And then she explained who had done this to Jake.
“That loco bitch?” Celia said. “Madre de Dios. I remember when she went after Helen. Why the hell did she shoot Jake? Jake is the one she’s obsessed with.”
“She wasn’t trying to shoot Jake,” Laura told her. “She was trying to shoot me. Jake stepped in front of the bullet.”
“Sweet lord,” Celia said. “Are you okay?”
“Physically, yes,” she said. “Mentally, not so good right now. I’ve still got an hour and fifteen minutes or so before I even get to the hospital.”
“I can see your car on the TV,” Celia told her. “A news helicopter is following you.”
“That’s what I hear,” she said sourly.
“Listen… Teach, uh…”
“What?” Laura asked.
“Can I meet you at the hospital? Be with you? Help you through this?”
“You don’t need to do that, Celia,” Laura told her.
“I want to,” Celia said. “I won’t come if you don’t want me to, but I would really like to be there, for you and for Jake.”
A few more tears ran down Laura’s face. “I think I can use a friend about now,” she told her.
“I’m on my way,” Celia told her. “I’ll probably get there at about the same time as you.”
A Matter of Timing and Incompetence
Santa Barbara, California
October 18, 2000
Three days after being shot in the chest by Jenny Johansen and rushed into emergency surgery, Jake was moved from the Trauma ICU to the Progressive Care Unit on the fifth floor of Cottage Hospital of Santa Barbara. The PCU was what was called a step-down unit, meaning it was a step down from intensive care for patients that were no longer considered critical but not quite non-critical enough to be cared for on the regular post-surgical unit or telemetry unit. He now had his own private room with a door that actually closed instead of being one of twenty patients in a large open ward.
He was in a considerable amount of pain and discomfort, much more so than he had been in immediately after being shot. Dr. Owens and his team had saved Jake’s ass (after Trower, the paramedic, had saved it first) but they had hacked and broken his body doing so. They had cut open his chest on the right side, just under his armpit, and apparently used a mechanical tool to spread the ribs apart so they could get in and repair the vascular and lung damage done by the bullet. Now, his ribs had been released without breaking any of them (other than the one that had been shattered by the bullet) but the muscles that moved those ribs had been stretched and damaged during the procedure and every breath he took, every cough (and he had to cough a lot) was an exercise in pain. The skin itself was closed with stitches but he still had a five inch laceration running from his armpit down to his nipple line that produced another kind of constant pain. In addition, he had a chest tube in his right side that was attached by a half-inch plastic hose to a clear plastic box that was hung near the floor at the foot of his bed and was attached to the suction on the wall behind him. Any movement of the torso caused that insult to flare with pain as well. And then there was the lung itself. Dr. Owens had not had to remove any of the upper lobe of his right lung since the bullet had passed straight through, but there were a lot of nerves in the lung lining it would seem. This caused yet another type of pain with each breath, an underlying burning pain that felt like something was stretching to its limit. And, as if that was not enough, his third rib was fractured where the bullet passed through it and every breath, every movement caused sharp pain there as well. And then there was his scapula. The bullet had passed through the bottom of the right shoulder blade on its way out, knocking a chunk out of it. This one did not hurt more when he breathed, it just hurt—a dull throb that just sat there all the time. At least they had taken the fucking urinary catheter out on the second day. They had wanted to keep it in for a full seventy-two hours post-op, but Jake had demanded that it go and they had finally acquiesced to those demands. It did still hurt when he pissed though.
It was 7:05 AM and Jake had been awake for three hours now, ever since the cute lab girl had come in to poke his arm and draw his morning labs so the doctors taking care of him could review them before they made their morning rounds. He was not typically awake during this part of the day unless he was working, but his sleep schedule had been severely disrupted since the bullet had passed through him and he had ended up here. He went through cycles of pain that ebbed and flowed in relationship to the pain medications they gave him. At first he had tried to refuse the opioids they offered due to his fear of becoming addicted to them like Darren had and then heading down Darren’s road once he was finally released from this place (and he was now pretty certain he was going to be released from this place eventually, and not taken down to the refrigerated room in the basement instead). He had made it less than six hours after awakening in the Trauma ICU before agreeing to take the stuff. He had been in agony and, more significantly, he had been unable to take anything resembling a proper breath due to the pain. His oxygen saturation kept dropping and he was warned that he would develop pneumonia if he could not expand his lungs a bit. And so, they had given him some Dilaudid in one of his many IVs (he had one in his neck and one in each arm) and that pain had faded down to a tolerable level. For the next twenty-four hours, they had given him more Dilaudid every four hours. Once they moved him to the PCU, they changed up the pain management routine to a smaller dose of Dilaudid every six hours augmented by a Norco-10 taken by mouth.
Though the opioids did a good job of controlling the pain, Jake did not like the way they made him feel. He was mystified as to why Darren, Coop, and every other narcotic addict even liked the shit. It made his head feel swimmy and imparted an unpleasant underlying nausea. He could not think straight while under their influence, could not concentrate on anything. If he tried to read, he would not be able to remember the paragraph he had just completed, could not hold anything in his memory long enough to process it. The same thing happened when he tried to watch TV. He would not be able to follow the plot of whatever he was watching. Most of the time when he was under the initial influence, he would just lay there in bed in a state somewhere between sleep and lucidity. He would hear what was going on around him but his brain would go into a strange dream-like state where strange images and thoughts would constantly cycle through.
The moment I don’t need this shit anymore, it’s gone from my life, he often thought, looking forward to that almost as much as he looked forward to going home.
Jake was near the end of his pain cycle when Joe, the Filipino day shift nurse who had just come on duty for the day, came into his room. He was short, maybe five-feet five inches, kind of chubby, and dressed in dark blue scrubs. He was hard to understand at times—English was most definitely not his first language—but an excellent nurse. He carried a basin full of stuff in his hands. “Good morning, Mr. Kingsley,” he told Jake in his thick accent. “Time for first of morning medications.”
“Good morning, Joe,” Jake returned. “And please, call me Jake.” This was at least the third time that Jake had asked him this.
“Jake… yes,” he said doubtfully. Jake was sure that Joe knew who he was but so far he had made no mention of it, not even when Celia was in the room with him. “How are you feeling this morning?”
“Like a bundle of pain and misery,” Jake replied honestly.
Joe nodded sympathetically. He was pretty good at the compassion bit—or at least he faked it well. “I will give you pain shot first,” he said. “After it kick in, we get you over to chair for your antibiotics.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Jake agreed. They made him sit in the chair at least four hours a day (not all at one time) to promote healing. It had been extremely uncomfortable at first but was starting to get more tolerable, particularly if they gave him the Dilaudid before making the transition.
“I see you have urine for me,” Joe said, seeing the half-full urinal sitting on a stand next to the bed. He pronounced it ‘your-ine’.
“Yeah,” Jake said. “That’s the four o’clock piss and the six-forty-five piss there.”
“Very good,” the nurse said. He quickly put on a pair of gloves and picked up the urinal. He peered at it carefully, looking at the measuring marks. “Five hundred twenty milliliters,” he said. “Very good. Normal output.”
“I try,” Jake said. The nurses, for whatever reason, were very interested in how much urine he produced, measuring and charting for the record each milliliter he squeaked out. They also kept track of how much water he drank, how much food he ate, and were always asking if he was passing gas or not.
The first thing Joe did after emptying the urinal in the toilet and washing his hands was perform a complete assessment on Jake. He looked under all of his bandages, examined his sutures and the incision they held closed, examined the site of the drain tubes and the chest tube itself. He emptied the drainage containers and charted how much had been in them.
“Very little drainage this morning,” Joe told him. “Maybe drains come out today.”
“That would be nice,” Jake said. “Does it hurt when they take them out?”
“Yes,” Joe said simply.
Jake sighed. “Something to look forward to, I guess.”
After listening to Jake’s lungs with a stethoscope, Joe pulled the covers down to the foot of the bed. Jake was wearing a hospital gown and a pair of black sweat pants that Laura had bought for him at a nearby Target store. Beneath the sweats he had on a pair of dark blue boxer briefs she had also bought. Joe pulled the sweats and the underwear down past Jake’s knees, baring all there was to bare. He then told Jake to roll up on his left side. Once Jake did this (and it was quite painful to do so) he began examining his bare ass, occasionally poking and prodding in places.
“What exactly are you looking for back there?” Jake asked him. “I was shot in the chest. Nothing happened to my ass.”
“Make sure you get no bedsores,” Joe told him. “When laying in bed as much as you do, they can start, especially on top of butt. Very hard to get rid of once there. That is why we make you roll up to left or right every few hours.”
“A bedsore at forty years old, huh?” Jake said, shuddering a little. “How’s it looking back there?”
“Look good,” Joe assured him. “No non-blanchable erythema, no chafing.”
“Good to know,” Jake said.
He was allowed to roll back to center and pull up his underwear and sweats. Joe then took off his yellow non-slip hospital socks, examined Jake’s feet and heels for a few moments, and then replaced the socks with a fresh pair. “All right,” Joe told him. “Look good, Mr. Jake. Maybe be out of here in few more days.”
“I can’t wait,” Jake said.
Joe next went through a ritual of asking Jake his full name, his date of birth, and if he had any allergies to medication. Jake had been annoyed with this ritual at first but now simply cooperated. One of the other nurses had made the analogy that the ritual was like the checklist that Jake went through before taking off in his airplane, it’s purpose to avoid mistakenly giving a patient the wrong medication or giving the patient some other patient’s medication.
“Okay,” Joe said when the checklist was complete. “I give you Dilaudid now.”
“Bring it,” Jake told him.
He injected the narcotic into the IV line in Jake’s neck, the one where the maintenance fluid was running at fifty milliliters per hour. Jake immediately felt the unpleasant head rush that came along with the initial blast of the medication hitting the opioid receptors. He rode it out and it faded some. At the same time, so did the pain. It did not go away, but became less important, a mere annoyance instead of a constantly nagging thing.
After that, he gave Jake his ten milligram Norco and a single Tylenol pill. Jake swallowed them down using the room temperature water from his little pitcher. Now it was time to get out of bed and into the chair next to it. Carefully, being mindful of the IV tubing and the chest tube hose, he rocked until he could get into a sitting position. He then slowly got to his feet, Joe keeping a hand on his arm the entire time, ready to catch him if he started to fall. Jake did not fall. He took a few steps forward, turned, and then carefully lowered his butt into the seat of the chair. He took a few deep breaths once this was accomplished, amazed and concerned about how much that simple act had taken out of him.
“When tubes come out, we get you walking,” Joe said. “You start to get strength back then. Shouldn’t take long. You look in good shape.”
“Yeah,” Jake agreed. “I run five miles at least three times a week. And before that, I spent five months jumping around on a stage for two and a half hours night after night.”
Joe nodded. “I see your concert show when you play in Los Angeles,” Joe told him. “My wife and I enjoy very much.”
“Thanks,” Jake said, pleased. “I’m glad you liked the show.”
“Tickets very expensive though,” Joe pointed out.
“But you were willing to pay the price, right?”
Joe nodded. “Yes,” he said. “Wife very big fan. She want to go as soon as she hear about you playing in Forum.”
“And so, you pulled out the old credit card and bought the tickets,” Jake told him. “And I got paid. Capitalism works, huh?”
Joe had no argument against this position. He started the first of three antibiotic infusions that Jake would receive that day, plugging it into the neck line and hooking it up to a pump. It would run for the next hour.
Breakfast was terrible. It consisted of a square egg patty, a stale bagel with low-fat cream cheese, a syrupy sweet fruit cup, a tiny hard granola bar, a carton of orange juice, a carton of low fat milk, and a cup of lukewarm instant coffee. Jake, still sitting in the chair, ate and drank everything on the platter, even the milk and the coffee. There was little to look forward to in a hospital so meals were greatly anticipated events, even if they sucked (the only thing remotely appetizing he had had so far had been the beef tips and noodles they had served him for dinner the night before). Soon after Joe took the meal tray away (after charting how much Jake had eaten and drank) there was a little knock at the door.
“Is your little amigo stowed away?” a female voice asked.
Jake smiled. It was Celia out there. When she and Laura showed up yesterday morning they had just walked in without knocking and caught him in the act of pissing into the urinal. Jake had not been terribly embarrassed by this—after all, both women had seen his little amigo many times—but it had been a bit awkward.
“He’s safe and sound at the moment,” Jake called back. “Come on in.”
The door opened and Celia came in, followed by Laura. The two of them were staying at the Ritz-Carlton of Santa Barbara, which had just opened for business two months before, sharing a suite on the top floor. They showed up each morning at the start of visiting hours at 8:00 AM. Celia, who came in her own car, usually left some time after lunch. Laura stayed until the close of visiting hours at 8:00 PM, eating her lunch and dinner in the cafeteria. Laura had told him that she and the beautiful Venezuelan singer who had been their lover for three years had renewed their friendship quite easily, but not the physical relationship. They slept in separate beds and the only affection they showed each other was the occasional hug. A pity. Jake had hoped that perhaps his wounding would maybe bring them back together in that special way.
“Good morning, sweetie,” Laura greeted cheerfully. She was always in a good mood these days since she found out her husband was likely not going to die.
“Hey, hon,” he greeted. “It’s okay to hug and kiss me. The nurse gave me a sponge bath last night and I brushed my teeth once they got me in the chair.”
“Fair enough,” she said. She came over and leaned down. She put her arms around him and hugged him as tight as she dared before kissing him soundly on the mouth. Jake quite enjoyed the feel of her in his arms and the smell of her freshly showered body.
“Good morning, Rev,” Celia greeted next. She too came over and hugged him and then kissed him on the cheek—a brief, sisterly peck. Nevertheless, he was thrilled at feeling her body against his. She also smelled quite appealing.
“Is the circus still out there?” he asked, referring to the crowd of media people, paparazzi, videographers, and just plain curious who gathered at the entrance to the hospital every morning just before the start of visiting hours and usually stayed until sunset. It was now known that Jake Kingsley had indeed been shot, that he was not dead, was in guarded condition currently, and that Jenny Johansen, an obsessed fan—the same obsessed fan who had allegedly tried to kidnap his former girlfriend back in 1989—had been arrested for the shooting and was currently being held at the San Luis Obispo County jail.
“They’re still there,” Laura confirmed. “I think we managed to slip by them today, right C?”
“I’m pretty sure we did,” Celia agreed. “No one shoved a camera or a microphone in my face, no one shouted a question at me. If they saw us, they didn’t catch up to us in time.”
They had caught up to the two of them the day before. A whole gaggle had accosted them as they made their way to the main entrance of the hospital, shouting out their questions, demanding to know why Celia was here, trying to ask about Jake’s condition, wanting to know if Jake had been having an affair with Johansen (that was the most asinine suggestion of them all—after all, Johansen’s mugshot was now public record and had been published far and wide). Laura and Celia had ‘no comment’ed their way into the building, giving no information whatsoever. That had not stopped their visit from being nationwide news, broadcast on every channel throughout the rest of the day.
Celia sat down on the edge of his bed and Laura sat in the chair next to him. They talked a little about how he was doing.
“I still hurt everywhere when the pain medicine wears off,” he told her. “And the hospital doc, that Indian guy…” he could not remember his name. The narcotics were at work on him.
Laura did, however. “Dr. Singh,” she reminded.
“Right, Singh,” Jake said, shaking his head a little. “I should remember that. I’m a fuckin’ singer, after all. Anyway, he told me last night that all my labs look good. Hemoglobin is back to almost normal after the blood they gave me and my own body making more.”
“That’s good to hear,” Laura said. They had had to give Jake two units of crossmatched O-negative blood after his surgery to replace the estimated two units he had lost due to the internal bleeding and the surgery itself. Jake was now grateful he had donated blood after Celia’s ectopic pregnancy. He didn’t feel like a mooch on the system now.
“He also says I can’t leave until I poop,” Jake added sourly. “He was very firm on that fact.”
“Still no movement?” Celia asked.
“Not a crumble,” Jake said. “It feels like I have to, but every time I try—and it is rather undignified sitting on that portable commode next to the bed knowing there is a nurse out there waiting to see how it goes—nothing happens. They say it’s the trauma, the surgery, and the pain medications that are causing it. They’ve been giving me those stool softener things with each round of pills, but no results yet.”