A Perfect World
Copyright© 2004 by Al Steiner
Sex Story: Chapter 1 - While on a routine call, police helicopter pilot Ken Frazier encounters a man on the ground who will change his life forever and send him on a trip to a world vastly different than the one he lives in.
San Jose, California
August 10, 2003
The blue and white police helicopter swooped in from the north, flying at a relatively low 800 feet above ground level. It came in almost silently, without the distinctive clattering sound that was associated with rotary wing aircraft. The San Jose Police Department's eye in the sky was quite state of the art. It had no tail rotor, utilizing instead a powerful blast of air to prevent torque. As such the only sound it produced in flight was the whine of the turbine engines and the rush of the air that kept it aloft. It was called the stealth helicopter by cops and citizens alike. Though it really was not all that quiet if you were standing next to it, at patrol altitude people often did not realize that it was hovering over the top of them until they just happened to look up.
Ken Frazier was the pilot of Air One - as the stealth helicopter was known - on this afternoon. He handled the multi-million-dollar machine with his usual precision and steadiness as he bled off speed and brought it into a tight circle around the intersection of Covington Avenue and Worth Street, the scene of a traffic collision. Ken had been a San Jose Police officer for eight years and had been flying for the air detail for three although his experience behind the controls of helicopters went back considerably further. He had learned to fly in the army where he logged more than three thousand hours in Apache attack helicopters, including 25 combat missions in the Persian Gulf War. Eventually however, the low pay and the inevitable future transfer to a desk job had driven him from his country's service and into the arms of California's third largest city.
"Well well," said Janet Wilmington, his observer, or left-seater as the terminology went. She was a ten year veteran of the department with all of the cynicism that working on an urban police force entitled her to. She was looking down at the street below them, surveying the scene. She didn't seem particularly impressed by what she saw down there. "It looks like we got a couple of our fine, upstanding citizens that are having problems relating to each other."
Ken spared a quick glance at the accident before putting his eyes back on the business of keeping the helicopter in the air. One glance was all he needed. Two cars had collided in the middle of the intersection. Though the accident itself did not seem to be all that serious, the two occupants of the vehicles were handling the situation in a manner that was fairly typical in the crime-ridden south San Jose ghetto. They were rolling around on the asphalt in the middle of the street trying desperately to land punches upon each other. A crowd of onlookers stood on the curb near them, obviously cheering them on. "Fuckin' animals," Ken said sourly, shaking his head in disgust. "There's no hope for humanity, you know that? Absolutely no hope."
"Shit, I've known that for years," Janet told him. "It's the first thing you learn in this job."
"Ain't that the truth," he mumbled, silently thanking god for perhaps the ten thousandth time in the last three years that he had been liberated from the ranks of uniformed patrol. He had joined the SJPD to fly the helicopter, not to play encounter therapist to the deranged criminals and dirtbags that called the Silicon Valley home. Though he still wore a uniform every day, it was now a flight jumpsuit instead of the traditional blue suit and heavy Kevlar vest. And though he still carried a gun it was kept in a shoulder harness and was only there because of department regulations; there was little chance it would ever be needed in this assignment. Ken was exactly where he wanted to be in his professional career: a thousand feet above the slime of the streets and making sixty thousand dollars a year for being there.
"Air One," Janet said into her keyed headset, her voice being transmitted to the ground units that were responding to the disturbance. "We're overhead at Covington and Worth. The intersection is blocked by a collision between an early eighties Monte Carlo and a late seventies Cadillac. There is a black male adult and a Hispanic male adult on the ground next to the vehicles fighting. No weapons visible."
Ken continued to circle the scene in a counter clockwise direction, allowing Janet to keep an eye on the proceedings below. The two combatants completely ignored their presence above them and continued their scuffle. As the events progressed Janet gave him a running commentary on the status of the fight, speaking like a politically incorrect sportscaster.
"This is one hell of a grudge match we got going here today fight fans," she intoned. "This will certainly settle the issue of who ran into whom. As you can see, both of our fighters are literally in the fucking gutter. Look at that, Hector manages to land a few body punches - crude but effective in the long run. But these body blows seem to have enraged our friend Tyrone. A well-placed knee to the kidney has dislodged Hector from his position on top of the fracas. And look at this now! Tyrone scores a shot to the face but is unable to take advantage of the situation and get on top of poor Hector, who counters with a few slaps to the side of Tyrone's face."
"Slaps?" Ken said, shaking his head in mock disgust. "Hector, you're a fuckin' pussy."
"And here come the referees," she said next as two black and white units, their red and blue lights flashing, rolled into the scene. The two cops that manned them got out of their car and walked over to the fight, batons in hand.
"I guess the fun's over," Ken said, chuckling a little.
"It would seem so," Janet said. "But wait. Hector is taking the oppurtunity for one last furious attack upon his opponent. Two good shots to the face. Tyrone seems to be dazed, folks!"
Ken spared another quick look at the scene below them. He saw that the two patrol officers, like any cops worth their salt, were not doing anything stupid like trying to physically separate the two men. Cops got hurt doing things like that. Instead they stood back and tried ordering them to break it up. When that didn't work they took out their pepper spray and doused both of them. That brought the fight to a quick end as both combatants immediately lost interest in each other and began clawing at their own eyes. In less than a minute they were both neatly handcuffed and sitting on the curb.
"Another job well done," Janet said as one of the cops on the ground waved up at them. She keyed her headset once again. "Air One," she told the dispatcher, "the situation is under control. Two in custody. We'll be clearing."
"Copy that, Air One," was the reply. "I have nothing else pending for you at the moment."
"Too cool," Ken said, turning the helicopter to the north and putting on some speed. "Let's head over to Bayview and make a flyby of the residential neighborhoods. Maybe we'll see some naked women swimming in their pools."
Janet, who was a butch lesbian and proud of it, grinned. "I like the way you think, partner," she told him.
"Anything to help stamp out crime in this fair city."
"Your dedication brings tears to my eyes sometimes," she said, adjusting her helmet a little on her head.
They flew onward, moving at a sedate eighty nautical miles per hour. The scenery below them changed from low rent public housing projects to working class neighborhoods that got steadily nicer the closer to San Francisco Bay they went. They could see the staple of the south bay transportation system, the freeways, stretching out beneath them like an intricate spider's web. At this hour of the day, with the morning rush over with and the afternoon rush yet to begin, the traffic was moving along quite nicely. Ken made a check of his fuel gauge and quickly calculated that they still had two more hours of flight time before they would need to head back in to top off their tanks.
"So how's Annie doing?" Janet asked as she dialed through their frequency band, adding a few stations to her scanning list. "Is she on maternity leave yet?"
"Two more weeks," he replied, his demeanor automatically lightening as it always did when he thought of his wife. Annie was an elementary school teacher he had met two years before during a public relations demonstration of the helicopter. She had been there with her class of third graders and, as cliché as it sometimes seemed, it had truly been a case of love at first sight. Before she had climbed back onto the school bus that day he had talked her out of her phone number. Before another month had gone by, they were engaged to be married. A month after that, their union became official in a small South Lake Tahoe ceremony. They now owned a house in nearby Pleasanton and their first child was less than four weeks from his scheduled emergence from her womb. "The little guy's in there kicking up a storm," he told Janet. "I think he's gonna be a soccer player."
"Or a dancer," she said teasingly.
"As long as he's not a dirtbag," Ken said sincerely, "I don't care if he sucks every dick north of Bakersfield."
They spent the next few minutes discussing the problems of late pregnancy, both from a female and a male perspective. Janet, though a lesbian, did have some experience with childbirth. She had a thirteen-year-old daughter - conceived when she was nineteen and still confused about her sexuality - that lived with her and her long-time lover. "Annie's probably having to pee about every two minutes or so, right?" she asked.
"Oh, you know it," he assured her. "That's one of the main reasons she wanted to go out on maternity leave early. She can't make it through a classroom period without having to go hit the head two or three times. Apparently leaving a roomful of eight year olds alone in a classroom is a recipe for disaster."
"I can imagine," Janet said. "How about you? Did the doc make the playground off-limits for you yet?"
"No, not officially," he said. "He tells us its safe as long as her cervix is still closed. The problem is she just doesn't want to do it very much. She feels all bloated and sore all the time." He shook his head a little, keeping an eye on a news helicopter that was hovering about a mile to the west of them. "I really miss the second trimester of this pregnancy thing. Talk about horny. She wanted it two, sometimes three times a day."
"Yeah, those hormones do some crazy shit when a girl's knocked up."
"You're tellin' me," he said, returning his attention forward. "Hell, I was turning it down sometimes, she wanted it that often. Actually turning it down. Me. Can you believe it?"
"Bet you wish you could have all those ones you turned down now, don't you?"
"If only life worked that way," he agreed with a sigh.
"Amen to that," she agreed wholeheartedly.
They made a few passes over the exclusive Bayview area of the city, flying over houses that were valued at more than 700 thousand dollars apiece. To their disappointment they saw no attractive women in the process of sunbathing and/or swimming in the nude. There was in fact hardly anyone outside at all. Perhaps the breeze coming off of the bay had something to do with it.
"Let's try the hills," Janet suggested. "It's usually a little warmer up there. They're a little richer too. Richer means crazier."
"Sounds like a plan," he said, banking to the left.
"Can you believe that they pay us to do this shit?" she asked him, smiling at the thought. "And to think, they say that being a cop is the most stressful job on earth. Do you feel stressed?"
"Not since the day they gave me these wings," he told her, referring to the gold pin above his badge. " God I hated working patrol though. I hated dealing with those scumbags day after day, listening to their petty problems, mediating their petty disputes, walking into their disgusting houses. All I want to do is fly. If they hadn't of finally let me into the detail when they did I might not have made it another year. I was that burned out."
"I know the feeling," she said. "I mean, patrol was fun at first but it got old real quick. Especially over on the south side. Remember the morning watch out there?"
"How could I forget?" he replied, frowning a little at the thought. It was traditional for every rookie San Jose police officer to be assigned to the worst part of town on the graveyard shift. It was kind of a trial by fire. "Nothing like fourteen calls a shift to give you a nice big welcome to the profession. By the time I was done with my year in hell, I thought I'd been raped."
"That's the whole idea," she said. "Breaks you in. I learned a lot out there though."
"Me too," he said. "The most important thing was that I didn't want to be there. I don't think those scumbags are even the same species as we are, you know what I mean?"
"I know what you mean," she said. "That's why it's so nice to be up here. You don't have to talk to them, see them, smell them, do anything with them but look at them from afar. I'm never gonna take the sergeant's test. If they promote me, they'll put me right back on the streets supervising the morning watch. Fuck that shit. I'd rather stay in this chopper until I die."
"Until I die," Ken echoed, not having the slightest inkling how prophetic that statement was about to become.
Before they could get to the hills of San Jose their computer terminal, which was mounted between the two seats, began to beep, indicating an incoming call.
"What kind of fun and games do they got for us this time?" Ken asked.
"A man with a gun call," Janet said, reading from the text on the screen. "Over in district 3. 2800 block of 73rd."
"Nice neighborhood," he commented, quite sarcastically, as he turned the helicopter and began heading that way. The east side, which district 3 encompassed, was another crime-ridden ghetto full of a mixture of various racial groups; good old white trash chief among them.
"I was thinking of moving there myself," she said, continuing to read the text. "It says an early thirties white male was acting strangely and threatening neighbors with a hunting rifle. The neighbors seem to think... get this... that he's on drugs."
"I find that very hard to believe," Ken said, again with heavy sarcasm. "Should take us about five."
"Right," she said, keying her headset. "Air One responding to 78th," she told the dispatcher and the ground units. "ETA five."
"Copy, Air One," the dispatcher returned brightly. "Neighbors report that the suspect pointed the rifle at them and then went into the backyard of the address, still carrying it."
"That's not a real neighborly thing to do," Janet said.
"I don't know," Ken replied. "When I snort a bunch of crank and get all tweaked out, that's usually what I do. My neighbors never complain about it."
"I guess the neighborhood makes all the difference," she answered, smiling.
They passed over the downtown area, skirting the high-rises. Navigation from a thousand feet up, where street signs could not be read, was accomplished mostly by area familiarity. Ken located a landmark below them that he knew, from his patrol days, was on 72nd Street. Once this main street was identified, he began to follow it east, dropping down 200 feet in altitude and slowing his airspeed. He located another landmark at 72nd Street and 24th Avenue and then simply counted over two avenues and six streets, pinning down the block where the call was. Now the trick was to locate the exact house.
"The number they gave us is 2612," Janet told him. "The numbers increase by twos here, don't they?"
"I do believe so," Ken agreed.
"That makes it the sixth house on the east side of the street," she concluded.
"Yep," Ken said, nodding. He bled off more speed, dropped a little more in altitude, and made a quick pass over the location. "Is that where the call came from or where our friend is supposed to be?"
"That's where he's supposed to be at," she said, peering out her window, her eyes looking the house over. It was a single story, wooden frame that had been built when the Korean War had been raging. She could see a small backyard with a dilapidated patio and a storage shed. A few motorcycle frames in the process of being torn down sat on the patio.
"See anything?" he asked.
"Not a damn thing," she replied. "Let's make another pass. Bring us in from the west."
"Right," he agreed, banking around in a broad circle, turning, as always, to the left.
"Air One," Janet updated into the radio, "we're on scene. Nothing is visible outside the residence at this time. We're gonna make another pass."
"Copy that, Air One," was the reply.
Ken circled around and approached from the west, allowing them a good look at the rear of the house.
"There's an open window next to the patio," Janet said, picking up a pair of binoculars and putting them to her face. "Don't see anything in it."
Ken saw the window to which she was referring. Moving at fifty knots he brought them in a little closer, trying to let her see inside the house so she could update the ground units. He was not worried about the suspect inside of the house shooting at them. He figured that the gunman probably did not even know they were there yet, that's how quiet the helicopter was. And even if he did know they were there, they were 600 feet in the air and more than 400 yards away. It would take an expert marksman indeed to hit a moving target at that range.
Unfortunately, from the air, fine details of the suspect's house and belongings could not be seen. Had they been able to see the whole picture, Ken might have been a little more cautious about approaching so close. Though they could see an old Ford pickup truck parked in the driveway, they could not see the NRA stickers on both windows or the gun rack mounted in the cab. Though they could see the front door of the house and the partially opened garage door, they could not see that more than ten hunting trophies ranging from ten point buck racks to an entire head of a moose were hanging inside. And though they could see the kitchen window was open they could not see that 33 year old Samuel Redding - who had been bingeing on methamphetamine for the past three days and was locked in the grips of a drug induced psychosis - was crouched down behind the dining room table, taking careful aim through a scoped .30-06 rifle. Sam Redding, despite his drug addiction, despite his current state of delusion, was an expert marksman, the equal, or perhaps even the better, of the SJPD's SWAT team sniper. And Sam had no annoying rules of engagement to hinder him.
In his scope, the helicopter - which he believed belonged to a government agency that was bent upon persecuting him - was coming almost directly at him, with just a hint of right to left drift. He tried to keep his crosshairs centered just to the right of the windshield, which would allow just enough lead to compensate for the lateral motion. He knew he only had a few seconds to make his shot before the helicopter veered away and circled back around. Though he was jittery and his nerve endings were all on edge, he felt the calm that came when taking a shot overtake him. As his daddy had taught him years ago when he was but a lad of ten years old, he took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. The view in his scope steadied up and the timing seemed perfect. Slowly, deliberately, without the least bit of jerk, he squeezed the trigger and the powerful rifle bucked in his hands, exploding a round out of the barrel at supersonic speed.
Ken saw the flash from within the kitchen window and knew instantly what it meant. He had seen such flashes before while flying over the Iraqi desert shooting Hellfire missiles at tracked vehicles and radar sites. Someone had shot at him. And while such ground fire was nothing more than an annoyance in a heavily armored Apache, the McDonnell-Douglas civilian helicopter he was sitting in now was protected by nothing more than a thin sheet of aluminum and some plastic. Instinctively he tried to jerk the chopper to the left. But his reactions, which were human after all, were simply not fast enough to outjink a speeding bullet.
There was a slight thunk from the front of the helicopter and a portion of the instrument panel exploded in a spray of plastic, obliterating the engine heat indicator. At the same time Ken suddenly felt as if he had been punched in the stomach. The breath flew out of his lungs and he began to gasp, trying to refill them as adrenaline flooded his body. The master warning alarm began to blare in his headset, bespeaking a potential mechanical calamity.
"Holy fucking shit!" Janet yelled in terror.
Ken's arms and legs, still acting on instinct, continued the actions of jinking the helicopter. It banked severely to the left, the engine crying in protest. While still in the middle of the turn, and still trying to refill his lungs, he began to feel dizzy.
"What the fuck happened?" Janet screamed, near panic. "Ken! Can you... oh my god!" She got a good look at him. "Jesus, Ken, you're hit! Pull us out of this turn!"
His mouth was dry and his heart was hammering alarmingly fast in his chest. A deep burning pain, centered on his right side, was slowly spreading throughout his torso. The feeling was leaving his hands, like a rat deserting a sinking ship. The helicopter continued to tilt, causing his harness to tighten against him. In a moment the tilt would simply be too much and they would spin out of control, crashing to the ground in a fiery explosion.
"Ken!" Janet screamed at him again, shaking him by the shoulder. "Oh my god!"
He grappled with himself for a moment, fighting the waves of dizziness and numbness that were sweeping over him. He needed to get the helicopter under control. Forcing himself, his every movement a struggle, he manipulated the collective and the torque pedals, straightening out the bank until the artificial horizon was once more showing level.
"Oh god, oh Jesus, Ken," Janet said, partially in horror, partially in relief. "How bad are you? Can you get us down?"
He looked down at himself, afraid of what he would see. He knew he had been shot, but how bad was it? What he saw was even worse that he had imagined. The front of his blue jumpsuit was drenched in blood, turning the material to a damp looking black. The stain seemed to be centered just below the bottom of his ribcage on the right side of his chest. He had seen many such gunshot wounds during his patrol days. People died from wounds like that all the time. All the fucking time!
"Ken!" Janet yelled, her hand on his shoulder again, this time helping to hold him up. Tears were running down her face. "Can you get us down on the ground? You need to land this thing so we can get you some help!"
His breathing was becoming harder and harder to accomplish. The dizziness continued to worsen. His hands struggled to keep a grip on the controls. He began to suspect he was going to die. He felt no fear at this thought, only determination. If he was going to die, he certainly was not going to take his partner with him. She did not know how to fly the helicopter. He needed to get her down. "Find..." he gasped, "find me a spot to land. Hurry."
"Ken," she said, "are you..."
"Find me a spot to land!" he yelled, using up almost all of his energy reserves.
She began to look around frantically, her eyes considering everything that looked large enough to accommodate a helicopter. She saw the perfect location after less than a second. "The elementary school!" she yelled. "It's a quarter mile to the east! Turn right, Ken, turn right!"
"Right," he breathed, forcing his limbs to go through the motions of turning. He saw the scenery pass before him through the windshield, spinning by in a blur of gray and brown houses and streets. Then he saw what she was talking about. A collection of old school buildings and newer portable classrooms surrounded by a few acres of playgrounds and sports fields. Thankfully it was summer and school was not in session at the moment. Nothing would have made him try to land in a crowded schoolyard, not even the potential death of his partner. But only a few figures could be seen lurking around the play equipment at the moment. The athletic field was completely empty. "Okay," he panted, straightening the aircraft out and heading that way. "The school. I'll land at the school."
"Hang in there, Ken," she pleaded. "Hang in there and we'll get you some help."
He nodded, not speaking as he concentrated all of his energies upon landing the helicopter. He bled off speed and began to descend, ignoring the blaring alarm that was still emitting a shrill shriek in his headphones. For the first time since flight school more than twelve years before, he had to think about each movement, each correction of the collective and the torque. "I can do it," he muttered, picking a spot roughly near the center of the field. "I can do it."
"Air One," Janet yelled into the headset, "we've taken fire from the suspect's house! My partner is hit! We're trying to land in the elementary school a half mile east of the address. Get fire and EMS out there! He's hit bad!"
Ken didn't even hear the reply to Janet's plea, so intent was he upon getting them to the ground in one piece. He focused every bit of his attention on the athletic field before him, ignoring the dizziness and nausea that was trying to overtake him, watching as his target grew bigger in his view. "Read the altimeter to me," he panted to Janet. "Read it out loud."
"Oh god," she said helplessly before searching the panel before her and locating the clock dial altimeter. She began to count down for him. "Six hundred," she said. "Five-fifty, five hundred... you're going down a little fast, Ken!"
He nodded, unable to acknowledge her but pulling up a tad, bringing the nose up a little. Thankfully, this part of San Jose was only ten feet above sea level. This saved him the trouble of trying to remember an altimeter setting.
"Four-fifty," she told him, "much better, you're getting us there. Coming up... four hundred. Nice and easy, there you go."
The field continued to grow before him. Dust filled the air, stirred up by the violent downdraft of the rotor, obscuring his view a little. When Janet called out fifty feet he pulled back even more, bleeding off the remaining speed. The dust cloud increased to a fury for a moment and then there was a satisfying thump from beneath them as the skids met mother earth. They were down.
"Thank god," Janet expelled, letting her head fall forward for a moment.
"Amen," Ken agreed, feeling a large glut of blood running from his mouth with the words. He sensed he didn't have much time left. The dizziness and the shortness of breath were worsening with each intake of air. And the pain! God, he had never felt pain like this before. It felt like a fire was burning in his chest. He had always heard that gunshot wounds were painless. What moron had told him that?
Letting his instincts take over, he reached up and engaged the engine clutch, releasing the rotor from its power supply. The turbine engine whine increased in pitch once its load was removed from it. He pushed the throttle to the stop position and performed an emergency shutdown of the engine by closing the fuel supply switches. Instantly the engine wound down and died, leaving only silence in the cockpit. Above his head, the rotor blades continued to spin around, slowing rapidly. For the first time he noticed the sharp odor of jet fuel in the cabin. The bullet must have passed through him and his seat and punctured the fuel tank. So that was why the master alarm had activated.
"Get out," he told Janet, his voice barely audible. "This thing could start burning any second."
She was busy unstrapping herself from her harness. She yanked her headset cord out of the panel and then began reaching for the release straps on his harness.
"Get out," he repeated, trying feebly to push her hands away. "I'm done for. Save yourself."
"You're not done for," she told him, grabbing his buckles. "And I'm not going to leave you in here."
He stopped protesting at that point, no longer having the energy. The pain began to fade a little and he knew that he was dying. He knew it. It wasn't an intellectual conclusion. He did not know because he had surmised that a rifle bullet had passed through his torso and exited out the other side with enough force to permeate the fuel tank. He just knew. It was an emotional feeling, a feeling of acceptance. He was going to die.
"My wife," he said, her face seeming to float before his eyes. He felt sorrow for her. She was going to be a widow at the age of thirty. His son was never going to know his father.
"You'll see her in a little bit," Janet said, grabbing him by the shoulders. She began to pull him towards her door. He did not protest.
"Make sure they take care of her," he pleaded with Janet as she dragged him out the left side of the helicopter.
"You'll be the one to take care of her," she told him. "You're gonna be all right, Ken. You're gonna be all right."
She was lying to him. He could see it in her face, could feel it in the tears that dropped from her eyes onto his face. She knew as well as he did that it was over for him. "Make sure," he told her again, finding the strength to say it forcefully. "Make sure."
His body thumped to the grassy field and she dragged him across the lawn, holding him by the armpits until she was about a hundred feet away from the leaking helicopter. She let go of him then, her face leaning down towards his, her tears falling faster now. He could hear sirens in the distance. A lot of them. "Make sure," he repeated once more. "And tell her that I love her. Tell her... he paused to breathe, "tell her that we'll... we'll meet again someday. Tell her that for me."
Her face was miserable above his, a mask of despair, of pain. "I will, Ken," she promised. "I'll tell her that you love her, that you'll meet her again."
"Thank you," he said, feeling almost at peace as everything started to fade away. The sound of the sirens began to deepen, to become less distinct. The sound of Janet's sobs did the same. A moment later, everything went black.
He had one more brief period of semi-clarity. He could not say later just how long the period lasted, but he knew that it was not a dream, not an illusion. There was too much detail for it to be anything but the truth.
He was in a hospital bed, in a sterile white room. He heard the constant beeping of an EKG machine from somewhere above him, the beeps very slow; too slow. He let his eyes open and saw an IV pole next to him. Two plastic bags of clear fluid and one of blood were attached to it, the tubing running downward through a system of pumps and into his arm. He tried to reach upward and found that his wrists were tied with restraints. He tried to say something and realized that a tube was down his throat, snaking into his lungs and breathing for him. He was on a ventilator. A machine was breathing for him. That was not generally a good sign.
He let his eyes move to the right a bit and he saw Annie sitting in a chair next to him, her stomach bulging outward beneath a misbuttoned flannel shirt. She was crying, tears running down her pretty face. Chaplain Williams from the police department was sitting next to her, holding her hand, mumbling words he could not understand to her. He was saying something about a liver.
"They're looking for a donor now," she sniffed, her words sounding like they were coming from the end of a tunnel. "If they find one, they might be able..." she couldn't finish.
The chaplain responded to her, saying something about faith in God.
"This is such a... such a mess," she sobbed.
The chaplain held her for a moment, his arms around her shoulders, comforting her. After a moment she broke his embrace and her eyes turned to Ken's face. She saw that he was looking at her and hope blossomed.
"Ken?" she said, leaning towards him.
"Annie," the chaplain said soothingly, "I don't think that he's really awake. They gave him a lot of drugs and..."
"He's awake," she insisted, taking his right hand in hers. "I know my husband, Chaplain. He's awake! Ken, can you hear me?"
He tried to talk to her but couldn't. He felt himself becoming agitated.
"It's okay, honey," she soothed, more tears running down her cheeks. "If you can hear me, just squeeze my hand."
He gripped her as hard as he could. It was feeble, but it was noticeable. "He squeezed," she said, delighted. "He can hear me. I told you."
He wanted to talk to her, to tell her how much he loved her. But he couldn't. All he could do was grasp at her touch. But that was enough for Annie.
"They fixed all the blood vessels that were hit by the bullet," she told him, her free hand stroking his hair. "They saved you, Ken, they saved you."
He gave her another squeeze. He didn't feel very saved, but he didn't want Annie to know that.
She swallowed and took a few deep breaths. "You liver," she said. "Well... it was pretty damaged by the bullet."
"Annie," the chaplain interrupted. "Perhaps this isn't the best time to..."
"Shut up," she barked with uncharacteristic harshness, particularly in light of who she was talking to. "He has a right to know."
The chaplain shut up, his face conveying that he was somewhat taken aback by her words. She turned back to him. "The bullet..." she said softly, "well... it... they couldn't fix your liver. They couldn't fix it."
His liver. That brought a vague feeling of dread to him. A man couldn't live without a liver, could he? He wasn't a doctor, just a pilot, but he was pretty sure that somewhere in his life, someone had told him that.
"But they're trying to get you a new one, Ken," Annie went on, the tears falling faster now. "They've put you at the very top of the list for a transplant. All they need to do..." she broke down, sobbing. "All you need..."
She seemed unable to continue. The chaplain put his arm around her once again, pulling her to him, patting her shoulder, whispering soothing words in her ear.
"They're trying, Ken," Annie sobbed. "They're trying. You just need to hang in there for us. Just hang in there. A new liver and you'll be good as new. Good as new."
He felt his consciousness waning again, saw everything starting to get fuzzy. A new liver, Annie had told him. He needed a new liver. How long could a man live without a liver? How long?
As he faded out, as his loving wife's face began to grow indistinct before him, she leaned down once again, her lips kissing his cheek, her breath in his ear.
"I'm not going to let you die, Ken," she told him. "No matter what happens, no matter what it takes, I'm not going to let you die."
Her words followed him down as the blackness engulfed him once more. His last emotion during this dark period was a sense of sorrowful love.