Monday, July 13, 2015

Powder (Part 4)

     Three weeks later is when I thought I would die, and welcomed it.  A Monday afternoon.  Bekka had no performance to do at all that day, so she'd stayed home.  I'd gone up to Inana and wrestled with paperwork.  We were between full releases and were just knocking out loops.  It was shaping up to be a dull week.

     I got back to Olivehurst around five.  Pulled into my space and was curious as to why the front door was standing open.  Whatever, Bekka must have made a trip to the dumpster and had her hands full.  I stepped in the townhouse.
     I smelled the blood before I saw it.  I was aware of a wheezing sound, like an emphysema sufferer clawing for breath.  Then I saw Bekka....
     She was in a fetal position between the coffee table and the love seat.  She'd been beaten blue, with both eyes swollen shut.  Protruding from her ribs on her right side was a hunting knife, soaked with blood.  So was the rug underneath her.  I checked her pulse and found it there, but barely.  I jumped to the phone and dialed 911.
     "Yes, I need an ambulance, my wife has been stabbed."
     The operator wanted to play Twenty Questions with me.  "Are you alone, sir?"
     "It's just her and me.  Hurry, please, her pulse is faint!"
     "Your name sir?"
     "Lenny Schneider.  Look, are you sending them?  My wife may die, if I gotta drive her to Scripps Encinitas myself I will.  What's the story?"
     "They should be there in just a couple minutes, sir.  Why are you sure your wife has been stabbed?"
     "It has a lot to do with the fucking knife sticking out of her ribs.  You said they're on the way?  I have to open the security gates for them...."
     "They'll be able to get in, sir.  How much time has passed since your wife was stabbed?"
     "I have no idea.  I know there's blood everywhere and I'm afraid between the blood loss and her having taken the knife to the lung she won't be around much longer if you don't get the fucking ambulance here now."
     He ignored this, asking, "What is your wife's name, sir?"
     And by miracle of miracles I hear a siren pull up out front.  I run outside and head for the gates....
    .... To find PD has beaten the ambulance.  I hit the code to open the rolling gate and the cop shoots in.  I don't follow him, preferring to wait at the gate for the ambulance.  He approaches me, asking if I called 911.  My state of shock is deepening, and I simply say, "Yes."
     "You said your wife was stabbed?" the cop asks.
     "Yes.  I'm waiting for the ambulance so I can buzz them in.  I don't want her to die and they're taking too long and we have our blood type in common so if they need they can give her a transfusion from me right here...." I babbled.
     "Sir, I'm going to ask you to show me your wife."
     "But I have to watch for the ambulance!"
     "They can get in just fine, you don't need to wait for them.  Please show me your wife."
     I led him into the townhouse and walked around to where Bekka lay.  I knelt down in the blood and caressed her back gingerly.  It was obvious that it had gushed out when she was first stabbed, but was now down to a trickle.  She would die without blood.
     The ambulance finally arrived.  The EMT and driver got Bekka onto the gurney, leaving the knife where it was.  I followed them to the ambulance, hoping for a ride to the ER.  They told me this was impossible, but they would need my presence at the hospital --- paperwork --- so if I felt up for it, me tagging along would be a good thing.
     Buddies of the cops were showing up.  Two more black and whites and an unmarked station wagon.  They invited themselves into the townhouse and all began talking at once.  My presence seemed to be superfluous.  I asked the original cop if it was all right if I jumped in my car and headed for the hospital.  This was rejected out of hand: "Sir, you need to answer some questions for us, then you can catch up with your wife."
     "Ask away," I said.
     The cop waved the plainclothesman over.  "He's ready to answer questions," the cop said.
     The plainclothesman introduced himself as Lieutenant Donner and had male pattern baldness so bad I was afraid it was contagious.  After introducing himself, the first thing out of his mouth to me was, "So why did you stab your wife?"
     I told him, "First, I didn't.  And second, fuck you, officer."
     "You just came home and found her like that?"
     "That's right."
     "What was your reaction?"
     "To call 911 and force myself to not panic.  I'm pretty deep in shock right now, so if I seem a little robotic, that's why."
     Donner asked, "Did you make any other calls since you got home?"
     "What time did you get home?"
     I thought about that.  "A little under a half hour ago.  You can check with 911 and see what time my call is logged for, then add fifteen seconds.  That's when I got home.  Can I go to the hospital yet?"
     Donner smiled and said, "What are you in such a hurry for?"
     I raised my voice to this prick.  "Because my goddamn wife nearly died here, and I want to be close to her no matter what happens.  Can you dig that?"
     "You don't mind leaving a bunch of strangers alone in your house?"
     "I'd like to think the fact that you're all cops counts for something.  My home is now a crime scene, so I don't expect to get much rest here anyway.  I figure I'll move into the Best Western until you guys are done or my wife is out of the hospital, whichever comes first.  So can I go?"
     "Yeah, just let me know what kind of car you drive and the plate number.  In case we need to find you at the hospital."
     I gave him the information on both the Acura and the Falcon, explaining that I would be driving the Falcon that day.  Superstition.  I had already prayed, hoping that Bekka's god responded to Unitarians.
     Before I left I grabbed a few grand in cash and a roll of quarters.  The quarters were so I could call Angel and let him know what happened.  The cash was nothing more than green grease, there to ease the way in any problems I ran into.  Then I got in the Falcon and took off for Scripps Hospital.

     I pulled into an "Emergency Room Only" space and headed for the entrance.  The waiting area was mercifully empty; I launched myself at the triage nurse and demanded information.  She told me Bekka was in surgery even as we spoke.  Talking of Bekka, she put on a brave smile which she hoped was contagious.  I took it as a sign that people around there didn't hold out a lot of hope for her.  I decided to head for the chapel.  It was the only constructive thing I could think of doing.
     I found the pay phones and called Angel.
     Angel was enraged.
     "Lenny, so help me, we're gonna find the person responsible.  He'd better hope the cops find him first.  Do you have any ideas?"
     I leaned against the wall of the booth and said, "I haven't given it any thought.  I've been too busy worrying about Bekka, hoping she'll live, to think about suspects.  You have any ideas?"
     "Lenny, you'd know your enemies better than I would."
     I told him, "There were two people who hate me that much.  One is Rick, who is in prison.  The other is Todd, who's dead.  Beyond that, I have no clue.  It'll give me something to think about while I'm here."
     I heard my name being called over the PA system, instructing me to pick up the nearest courtesy phone.  I began to say my goodbyes when Angel said, "Angela wants to speak to you for a minute."
     Angela, Angel's wife, picked up the phone.  "Lenny, I am coming down there.  I wish to be there for the both of you.  Will you be at the hospital?"  (In the background I could hear Angel exclaiming, "Whaaat?")
     "Yeah, I'll be here.  I'm not sure where I'll be, so have 'em page me from the ER if you can't find me.  And there's no way I'm spending the night in my townhouse --- I want to get it cleaned and get the smell of cops out first --- so I'll be staying at the local Best Western.  Is that okay?  Do you want me to get you a room too?"
     Angela said  that would be perfect, and she'd see me in a couple hours.  If I was outside, watch for her black Volvo.  She just needed to throw a few things in a bag and she'd be down.  In the meantime, I had to call the hospital operator for instructions.

     The operator sent me up to the surgery center on the second floor.  At that hour the waiting room was empty.  I waited outside the doors, hoping for good news, fearing the worst.  I was ravenous for a cigarette.
     The doors swung open and a sharp little guy wearing slightly blood-spattered scrubs came out and introduced himself as Doctor Sharpe, trauma surgeon.  He wasn't smiling, but they rarely do.
     "Your wife will live," he told me.  My legs decided they'd heard enough and folded up for the night.  I dropped to my knees in front of him and began weeping.  It was the first time I'd allowed myself that luxury since I'd found Bekka.  He put a comforting hand on my shoulder and continued.
     "She took eleven units of blood.  When she came in, she was essentially running dry.  Between that and the damage to her right lung things were real dicey for a while.  She's going to need a break of at least four weeks from wherever she works.  Her lung was fairly well shredded, but I don't think there will be permanent damage.  I hope she didn't plan on a career in modeling, though."
     I queried, "Is the scarring going to be that bad?  She already, um, has a job as a model."
     The doctor said, "Well, plastic surgeons never cease to amaze me.  The two of you can wait until she's healed up and go from there."
     "When can I see her?"
     "Let me check...."  He went back through the doors and returned with a clipboard.  "Okay, she'll be in room 2106-B, and I'm recommending that she remain here for at least three days.  If her oxygen absorption rate doesn't show improvement, she'll need to stay longer.  But I'm confident we got her lung put back the way it should be, so she should be fine.  Did you have any questions?"
     I  couldn't think of any.  The doctor exited through the doors again, and I went down to the Falcon for a cigarette.  I considered things a bit and got behind the wheel, headed for the Best Western and paid for three nights on two rooms.  Then I returned home and loaded up my travel bag with three days worth of stuff: t shirts, socks, fresh pants, and --- just in case --- my Beretta and shoulder holster.  That and my toiletries bag, and I was set.
     It was still nearly an hour before I was expecting Angela to show up, so I went to the cafeteria and pretended microwave vending machine food would make a dinner.  I sat with my burritos and pondered the TV for a while.  After a while a couple surgical nurses came in and had a seat a couple tables over.  One was saying how it was a miracle that young lady survived.
     I piped up with, "Took eleven pints of blood, right?"
     They scowled over at me and said, yes, and how did I know that?
     "I'm the young lady's husband.  Dr. Sharpe gave me a briefing.  And thank you for helping to save her life."
     "Our pleasure sir."  They pointedly turned back towards each other.
     About fifty minutes later I was outside having a smoke when a late-model black Volvo pulled in the drive.  I trotted down to meet Angela, who greeted me with a hug and a kiss on the cheek....  The second being a gesture she would never do in front of her husband.  Angel could be quite the jealous man.
     We walked towards the ER entrance.  "I'm not sure how we're gonna finagle this," I said.  "Technically visiting hours ended about a half hour ago, so they might be resistant to letting us up there.  I'm prepared to to beg, bully, or bribe my way past security and up to Bekka."
     "Not a problem," said Angela.  "I'll just start crying."
     She smiled.  "It's an acting trick, being able to cry on command.  Between your bullying and my tears, we'll get up there.  Which room is it?"
     "2106-B.  It shouldn't be too hard to find."
     Our worries were unfounded.  The security guard knew who Bekka was and that her husband was there, and let Angela and I up without a worry, even giving us instructions at to how to get to the room.
     We found Bekka in her bed and dead to the world.  Between the trauma, the lack of blood, and the anesthesia, there was no shifting her.  Angela and I pulled chairs together and talked.  Both of us wanted to be there when Bekka was conscious again.
     I learned Angela was herself a former performer in porn, that being how her and Angel met.  She had pursued him, not as a gold digger, but out of genuine attraction.  Fifteen years on and they were still very much in love.  She felt conflicted about leaving the industry when she got married, but Angel had insisted.
     I explained my own history in the business.  How I was originally nothing more than the drug connection for Inana, becoming the un-pedigreed still photographer, then being promoted to my current position after Rick went insane.  "I'm a regular Horatio Alger," I told her, "if Horatio Alger was obsessed with naked women."
     After ninety minutes Lieutenant Donner walked in.  "She still unconscious?" he asked.
     "Yes she is, and who are you?" asked Angela.
     "Good evening, I'm Lieutenant Donner."
     "Thank you.  I am Angela Morelli, a close friend of Bekka's.  I wanted to be here for her, so I drove down from LA."
     "So you'll be around for a couple days?" he asked.
     "I don't see why not."
     "Well, nothing here that can't wait until morning.  I'll talk to you tomorrow."  Donner made his exit.
     "What a grating little man," said Angela.
     "He wants to be Colombo when he grows up," I suggested.  "I can do my damndest to keep him from stressing out Bekka, but I've gotta eat and sleep sometime.  Asking her questions is one thing, but I don't want him grilling her.  He as good as accused me of stabbing Bekka myself when we first met.  So yeah, he is a grating little man.  But you don't get to be a lieutenant in any police force if you're an idiot, so I'm assuming he's sharp, way smarter than he lets on."
     The word came from neither me or Angela.  We looked at each other, then up at Bekka.  Her eyes were halfway open and she rubbed at her nose with her left hand, fortunately not her right: that was the one the IV was installed in.  She croaked, "Hey," at me and Angela, and was rewarded by the two of us trying to hug her at the same time.
     "Where am I?" she asked.
     "You're in the ICU ward of Scripps hospital.  Do you know why you're here?"
     "Someone....  All in black....  Came in the townhouse....  Attacked me....  It's all blurry.  What happened to me?"
     I told her, "You were stabbed in the lung and you nearly bled out.  You took eleven units of blood.  You take it easy, we'll take care of anything you need."
     "I'm really thirsty."
     I went to the nurses' station and let them know their patient in 2106-B was awake and talking, and was also very thirsty, and could I get some water please?
     "We'll be there in just a minute.  Are you related to the patient?" I was asked.
     "I'm her husband.  Is there anything I can do to help with her comfort?"
     They assured me Bekka would be treated well, and she would have intravenous pain killers available as needed.  I supposed that was as good as I could hope for, at least until Bekka came home.
     Home.  I made a mental note to call Crime Scene Cleaners and have them take care of the living room as soon as the cops said it was okay.  Odds are I'd just be re-carpeting the whole room.  Hopefully the cops had taken all the photos and fingerprints they intended to, so I could go back to thinking of our townhouse as home.  Unless, of course, the idea of returning there was more than Bekka could handle.  That remained to be seen.
     A nurse came in the room and made comforting noises at Bekka, providing a cup full of ice chips for her thirst.  "From what I understand, you're this week's miracle," said the nurse.
     "Is that so?" asked Bekka.
     "From what I understand, the only blood in your body was there because of gravity.  You were almost literally out of blood.  How you managed to survive is anyone's guess."
     "Sicilian stubbornness," I suggested.
     Bekka smiled at me and said, "You may be right."


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