Salvation in the Sargasso Sea Ch. 04byDual_Triode©
~ In The Chapel ~
Dust particles drifted lazily through the filtered light from the stained glass window. The image of the descending white dove, olive sprig clenched in its beak, held the promise of peace and absolution. That hopefulness, however, had yet to reach the far corner of the chapel. The lone patron listened to the recorded pipe organ, weeping and praying for comfort.
"Saint Jude, Thaddeus, faithful servant and friend of Jesus, pray for me who am so miserable. Come to my assistance in this great need, that I may receive the consolations and succor of heaven in all my necessities, tribulations and sufferings. I promise thee, O blessed Saint Jude, to be ever mindful of this great favor, and I will never cease to honor thee as my special and powerful patron. Amen."
Pulling a handkerchief from his vest pocket, the old man dabbed the tears from his eyes. After reciting the orthodox prayer, his voice crackled as he spoke.
"Dear God, forgive me. Forgive my shame, my ignorance, and my intolerance. I should have been there for her, when she needed me most. I could have helped her, but instead I pushed her away. And now, so many years later, it comes to this. I've missed so much of her life, I hardly know her. Please God, guide her, protect her, and comfort her."
Footsteps echoed off the brick walls as someone approached. Stopping beside him, the minister lowered a hand to his shoulder.
"We're ready when you are, Mr. Zildjian. It's time."
~ Good Samaritan Hospital ~
This time, no goose bumps adorned her nakedness. Clutching the hospital gown to her bosom did nothing to ease the pain, nor enhance it. She felt numb, sensing only a tug as the doctor removed shards of broken glass from her back and arm. Marla glanced up at the clock in the emergency room suite: it was three-thirty a.m.
"Almost done," the resident doctor said. "Just a few small pieces left. I'll need to place sutures to close some of these cuts."
Tears streamed down her face, mixing with blood, leaving crimson tracks. She nodded silently.
"I'm going to use a subcutaneous suture on your shoulder," he continued. "Joann, I need a fifty milliliter vial of lidocaine hydrochloride, zero-point-five percent, a pack of Steristrips, and both 5-O and 6-O sutures."
The emergency room nurse left to retrieve the requested supplies. Doctor Trung Lee rolled his stool to the head of the table, peeking into Marla's bloodied face. His happy smile provided some relief from her fright.
"I want to preserve your lovely tattoo. The snake will have only a small scar. You can probably have the artist repair the damage in a few weeks. You're very lucky, Ms. Zildjian, you have only minor cuts and bruises. The bullet missed you completely."
Marla sniffled and wiped away her tears. From the corner of her eye, she noticed a tribal spider inked on the inside of his forearm. She considered the significance of her own scarred tattoo as a metaphor for this horrific attack. What knowledge and wisdom the serpent had gained? Repairing the damage seemed improbable.
"Do you have any information about Jon? Is he going to be OK?" she asked.
"Mr. Albright was airlifted to OHSU in Portland. They're a level one trauma center. He should be in surgery by now. I'll try to find out his condition for you."
As he stood to leave, the nurse entered the room with the surgical supplies. He took her by the elbow and led her back into the hallway.
"Joann, can you call OHSU for an update on the GSW victim?" he whispered.
Marla discovered her bruised ribs when she tried to pull the sweater over her head. Wincing with pain, she carefully worked the bloody garment over her bandaged shoulder and arm. Neither the sweater nor the skirt would ever be the same.
"Ms. Zildjian?" Doctor Lee asked, poking his head into the suite. "There is someone here to see you: a police officer. Is now a good time?"
"Yeah, it's OK," Marla replied, drying her face and tossing the towel into the sink.
A tall man followed the doctor into the room. Dressed in a sport coat and a pressed shirt, he didn't look like someone who had just gotten out of bed. He moved slowly and spoke softly.
"Good morning, ma'am. I'm detective William Greer from the Corvallis police department. Let me say how glad I am to see you on your feet and in good condition. When I got the call from the dispatcher, I feared the worst. I can't tell you how relieved I am."
"I'm not sure what happened," she said, sitting down on a chair.
"I'd like to ask you a few questions about tonight, if you're feeling up to it. Is there something I can get you?"
"Actually, I'd like some coffee."
"I'll go," the doctor said. "Joann is busy with another patient. Cream and sugar?"
"Yes, thank you," Marla replied. Her hands shook when she tried to comb her hair with her fingers.
"I know this is difficult, but you can be a tremendous help to us in catching the sniper," the detective said, sitting in a chair across from her. "The more information we have, the faster we can track them down."
Marla nodded her approval.
"OK. Can you give me your full name and date of birth?"
"Marla Filor Zildjian. December tenth, nineteen-sixty-seven."
"Do you reside at the premises?"
"Uh, no. I have an apartment on Walnut Boulevard."
"Could I have your address, please?"
"It's forty-four hundred Walnut Boulevard, apartment twenty-two."
"Thank you, ma'am. Can you tell me your relationship to Mr. Albright?"
"You can call me Marla, detective. Jon and I are good friends." Her voice trailed off.
He made the entry in his notebook, but held his pen to the paper. The inflection in her voice left something unsaid.
"And lovers," she finally added.
"Thank you for your honesty. My friends call me Willy. Marla, can you tell me what happened tonight?"
"Well, Jon and I went to his friend's house for a dinner party. His name is Andy Troumbly and his wife's name is Carol. They live out in Philomath, but I can't remember their address. We had dinner and a couple of drinks. We left their house around eleven, I think. Jon only had a beer or two, he wasn't drunk."
"I'm not investigating a traffic violation," Willy chuckled. "Was there anything about the Troumblys that concerned you?"
"Andy and Carol? No, not really. Carol got pretty drunk and said some stupid things. Stupid enough to embarrass Andy. Andy and Jon have been friends for a long time, since before Jon was married."
"Married? Is he divorced now?"
"A widower. His wife died in a traffic accident about four years ago. It was a DUI. The drunk driver is in prison now for killing her," Marla said, looking at the floor. "Jon is still recovering from the loss."
"That's just tragic. Thank you for sharing that, it could be significant."
"It's too early in the investigation to say for sure. Big events can often echo throughout one's life, and that is as big as an event can get." Willy leaned back into the chair.
"I don't know if this is important, but Carol told me I should marry Jon because he's rich. I asked him about it on the way home, and he confirmed the story. I knew he had some money, but I didn't know how much. I'm really not a gold digger. Could money be a motive?"
"Absolutely. How much money are we talking about?"
"He said he's a millionaire; seven to be exact," Marla said. "He said he has a portfolio, not all cash. I can't believe someone would kill him for his money, he's so generous."
"We'll definitely investigate the financial situation. What happened when you returned to the premises?"
"Well, we parked in the garage and went into the kitchen. It was midnight and we were going to have a nightcap before, um, before bedtime."
"Did you notice anything unusual around the house?" Willy asked. "Were there any signs of forced entry, or tampering with the windows and doors?"
"Not that I noticed. He has a security alarm system protecting the house. I accidentally set it off one morning while he was out biking. It took me a few minutes to remember how to reset the damned thing. The security company was ready to call out the National Guard."
"I've done that, too. What happened after you went into the kitchen?"
"Jon went in before me; I had to use the bathroom. When I went in, he was sitting at the table. He had poured a couple of drinks. I went over to the table and he stood up to hug me. We were kissing when it hit. The patio door exploded and I heard a horrible splat sound in my right ear. Jon fell into me and I lost my footing and fell down. He landed right on top of me." Marla's voice quavered.
"Jon was screaming in pain, but I couldn't move with him on me. I finally managed to roll him off and saw the blood and glass all over the floor. I don't even remember cutting myself. When I saw the blood on his shirt, I knew he was shot. I crawled over to the doorway and shut off the lights. Then I drug him behind a counter and called 911."
"Why did you turn off the lights?" he asked.
"I didn't want to give the fucker another shot. Excuse my language. I lived in New York City long enough to learn some urban survival skills."
"No apology is necessary." Willy smiled. "I appreciate eloquent profanity, and in my book, you have earned the right to use that word. Could you see where the shot came from?"
"No, it was too dark and the outside lights were off," Marla replied. "I was trying to stop the bleeding and keep him from passing out."
"Do you have any idea who the shooter might be?"
"I have no idea. Really, I don't know enough about Jon's past to know his enemies."
"Detective?" A uniformed female officer interrupted the interview.
"Yes, come in," Willy said. "What have you got?"
"I have a preliminary forensic report from our site search. Twenty-five yards behind the patio door, we found a splintered bird feeder lying in the grass. The hanger mechanism was still in the tree. At one hundred twenty yards there was a knoll in the forest. On that knoll we found a weapon: a Winchester Model Seventy Sporter, with a twenty-four inch barrel. It was chambered for a thirty-ought-six Springfield, and had a Leupold Rifleman seven by thirty-three millimeter hunting scope. The weapon's magazine was empty and there was a single spent casing on the ground. The markings on the ground indicate the shooter was in the prone position. We found a single set of boot prints leading to and from a logging road. Tire tracks on the road are consistent with a light truck or SUV."
"Thank you, Kristy. I assume you've sent the weapon to the lab?"
"Yes sir. And there's more: the rifle scope had traces of blood on the eyepiece. We've alerted the network for suspicious vehicles and for someone seeking medical treatment for an eye wound."
"Excellent work." He turned back to speak with Marla.
"What does all that mean?" she asked.
"It means that we found a high-powered hunting rifle behind the house. The sniper tried to kill Mr. Albright with a single shot; no second round was found in the gun. The blood on the scope indicates an eye socket wound from the gun's recoil. It seems that our sniper was inexperienced."
"An inexperienced sniper?" she scoffed. "Who would do such a thing?"
"I don't know, ma'am, but we're sure as hell going to find out." Willy put his chocolate-colored hand on hers.
"Ms. Zildjian, detective," Doctor Lee said, thrusting his happy face into the room again. "Mr. Albright is out of surgery and is in the SICU. His condition is being listed as serious, but stable. He's going to be OK."
Marla leaned forward into detective Greer's shoulder and cried tears of relief and exhaustion.
~ Oregon Health & Science University Hospital ~
The eighty mile trip to Portland should have taken only ninety minutes, but it was Friday afternoon. An accident on Interstate 5, just north of Salem, had slowed traffic to a crawl. It was already six o'clock and Marla was getting fidgety.
"Can't you turn on your siren or something?" she asked, scrutinizing the dashboard from the passenger seat. "Here, what does this do?"
"That's the police radio, ma'am," detective Greer replied. "Detectives don't get sirens. I have a small light, but I would get in trouble for interfering with the Oregon State Police."
"Relax, dear," Leslie said, reaching forward from the back seat to caress her arm. "Visiting hours are until eight. We'll get there in time."
"This is official police business," he added. "They'll let us see him whenever we get there."
Upon arrival at the surgical ICU, they were greeted by the charge nurse: Diane Frost, APN-CNS.
"Detective Greer," she said, extending her hand. "Thank you for calling ahead this morning. Mr. Albright is conscious and alert, but tires easily."
"We shouldn't be long," he replied, shaking her hand. "Ms. Frost, this is Marla Albright and her friend Leslie."
"SICU rules allow only immediate family members in the rooms. Mrs. Albright can accompany you, but her friend will have to remain in the waiting room."
"It's OK, dear," Leslie offered. "I'll wait here. Go to him."
Marla raised an eyebrow at detective Greer as they followed Nurse Frost through the double doors. He acknowledged her quizzical look with a nod of his head and a finger against his lips.
Jon was in room 914, connected to a dizzying array of intravenous tubes and electronic monitors. His left shoulder was bandaged and his arm was in a sling across his chest. His face brightened when Marla entered the room.
"Oh Jon," she exclaimed, running to the bed, throwing herself onto him.
"Ow," he exhaled, wincing in pain. "Babe, I'm so glad you're OK."
He pulled her into his chest, hugging her with his good right arm. He felt her hot tears of joy dripping on his breast. Detective Greer waited silently in the doorway. This reunion was far more important than his investigation.
"Look at you," Marla wailed, pulling back. "You're all tore up. What's this all about?"
"Mr. Albright?" Willy asked, approaching the bed. "I'm detective Greer from the Corvallis police department. I'm investigating your shooting."
Jon released her and motioned for them to sit down.
"They've got me high on some kind of pain killer, but I can try to answer some questions."
"Well, maybe I can start by answering some of your questions. Quite a lot has happened over the last thirty-six hours. How are you feeling?"
"Dazed and confused. I'm not really sure what's going on."
"As you are painfully aware, you were shot in the back on Wednesday night," Willy said. "Marla acted bravely, shutting off the lights and calling for help. She received only minor cuts and bruises."
"Cuts and bruises? That's all?" Jon looked at her, relief written all over his face.
"You fell on top of me," she said. "The cuts were from the patio door glass."
"We found the weapon right away; it was in the woods behind your house. The sniper had been stalking you," Willy continued. "Early this morning, we apprehended a suspect. The person's name is Pamela Meredith. Do you recognize this name?"
Jon's brow furrowed as he searched his memory. Marla watched him anxiously.
"I remember the name David Meredith. He's the man who drove drunk and killed my wife, Lisa. He's in prison now, so who the hell is Pamela?"
"Pamela is David's mother."
Detective Greer waited for the words to sink in.
"Are you saying that David's mother hunted me down and shot me?" Jon asked, visibly upset.
"Are you serious?" Marla added. "That makes no fucking sense."
"Senseless as it is, that seems to be the situation," Willy continued. "Pamela is now in custody and the preliminary interview revealed that she was upset over David's parole request being denied. We executed a search warrant this morning and uncovered newspaper articles about David, Lisa, and yourself. She was keeping a scrapbook. This is a pretty clear-cut case of attempted first degree murder. The district attorney will probably charge her with two counts."
"Two counts?" Jon barked, coughing up some blood and mucus.
"In the interview she indicated that she intended to kill both you and Lisa with one shot."
"Lisa? That bitch thought I was Lisa? Is she crazy?" Marla blurted in total disbelief.
"She'll have to undergo a court-ordered psychological evaluation," Willy continued. "Her state of mind will be a key factor at the trial."
Jon and Marla searched each other's face, neither quite comprehending the story being told. They didn't notice the man in a white coat enter the room.
"Detective Greer? My name is Devika Subramanian, attending physician at OHSU Hospital. I am responsible for the well-being of Mr. Albright. I am telling you now that his condition has improved."
"Doctor, thank you for joining us," Willy replied. "How bad is the injury?"
"Of course. I can tell you that the entry wound was on the left side and punctured the scapula. The track was not ballistic and there was no exit wound. There were lacerations to the trapezius and infraspinatus muscles, a fractured clavicle, a small perforation of the lung, and damage to subclavian artery. The bullet and all of the fragments were recovered and sent to the state crime laboratory. The patient required two units each of plasma and PRBC. The surgeon removed bone fragments and repaired the tissues and arteries. The left rotator cuff and humerus appeared intact on the x-ray. The fractured collar bone will heal, although the scapula may require reconstructive surgery. The prognosis with physical therapy is for eighty to ninety percent recovery of shoulder motion and strength."
Doctor Subramanian finished his dissertation and closed the medical chart. Detective Greer finished making notations in his book.
"Thank you, doctor," he said, turning back to speak with Jon.
"You're a lucky man, sir."
"I don't feel very damned lucky, that bitch tried to kill me!" Jon's voice was filled with anger.
"You're lucky she failed, she's not an experienced hunter," Willy said, leaning back in his chair. "She was most likely aiming for your heart, but she flinched when she jabbed at the trigger. The gun pulled up and the scope injured her eye socket. The shot went high and left. The bird feeder and patio door glass dissipated some of the energy and the bullet was tumbling when it hit you. You're both lucky to be alive."
Marla rose from her chair and returned to Jon's bedside. He wrapped his right arm around her shoulder.
"I can't believe this is happening. Babe, I don't know what to say," he said.
"Don't say anything," she whispered. "Just sleep now and heal yourself. We'll figure this out."
~ Ketchikan ~
It was early afternoon when they finally stumbled out of their stateroom. Marla had no interest in salmon fishing, so there was no reason to get up early. At almost two thousand dollars, their mini-suite aboard the Sapphire Princess was a cozy sanctuary, one that Jon intended to fully enjoy. Neither of them had ever been to Alaska. A midsummer inner-passage cruise was just what they needed to recharge their batteries and nourish their souls.
With the sun at its peak and the temperature a pleasant sixty-five degrees, they disembarked and strolled south on Water Street. On their right, the busy channel was filled with fishing boats and ferries. On their left, framed by misty mountain peaks, the quaint city of Ketchikan beckoned.
"Do you want to go shopping?" Jon asked.
"No, let's just walk around a while."
They made it about five blocks before stopping at the Kingfisher Bar. Like every other joint on the waterfront, this place was designed to trap tourists. They found two seats next to a woman reading a book.
"Excuse me," Marla said. "Are these taken?"
The woman looked up from her book, scanned them quickly, and shook her head no.