It was a beautiful spring afternoon and the sun warmed my face as I drove home from work. When I reached my place, I noticed that my daughter, Stephanie's, car was parked in the driveway. That meant that she must have come home from college for the weekend. I always enjoyed listening to her stories about her friends, classes, and sports activities.
She had me blocked out of my side of the garage, so I parked behind her car and walked up the driveway. I saw a hair comb on the pavement. I knew it had to belong to either Steph or my wife, Karen, so I bent to pick it up.
I awoke with a splitting headache. I tried to open my eyes, but I couldn't. I tried to speak, but I couldn't. I thought I could hear murmuring but it sounded miles away. I awoke again. Everything was quiet. I tried to focus, to concentrate on my surroundings.
I awoke again. I heard voices, subdued voices, but I was able to make out the words. They only created more confusion in my mind. What was stable? Who lost blood? Why couldn't I speak?
I woke up and heard my wife, Karen, talking. She sounded close. After several attempts, I managed to open my eyes. The bright lights forced me to close them immediately. I waited a few seconds and tried again. This time I was able to adjust and keep my eyes open, although I did have to blink several times to clear the images.
"Kurt!" exclaimed Karen. "Nurse! He's awake!"
Karen made that sound like a good thing. I realized that I must have been asleep. Why was she telling a nurse? Was she hurt? What was going on?
"Kurt, Darling!" Karen whispered into my ear as she clutched my hand. "You'll be okay! All your vital signs are good. Don't worry!"
Now I was worried. Why would she say that to me? Why would my vital signs be anything but good? I was in good shape. I exercised. I spent most of my spare time outdoors. I'd put my vital signs up against those of any man my age, and most men ten years younger.
Next thing I knew, a nurse was leaning over me, looking in my eyes and adjusting some tubes. I knew that couldn't be good. I fell back asleep.
I opened my eyes and looked around. I could see Karen asleep in a chair in the corner. I tried to turn my head and I must have groaned.
"Dad! It's Steph, Dad," a voice practically yelled into my ear. "Mom, Dad's awake! He looks way better."
"Better than what?" I asked in a voice so low I was barely able to hear it. "What's going on, Steph? What the hell happened?"
"You were shot, Dad. Somebody shot you when you were walking up the driveway. The bullet entered your back and came out the top of your chest, but you're going to be okay," she assured me.
"Sweetheart, I'm right here. We won't leave you alone, so rest easy, Darling," cried Karen. "You'll make a full recovery and be home in no time."
Then she bawled as she held her face against my forehead. I felt the tears dropping onto my cheek. I had no idea exactly what all had happened, but it was obvious that Karen had been under tremendous stress. Had I almost died? I hadn't seen Karen cry like that since her father had passed away suddenly from a massive heart attack. I fell back asleep with Karen crying all over me.
It took a while, but I gradually slept less and stayed alert longer. The story was remarkably simple. It appeared someone had shot me from a parked car across the street from our house, and then sped away. The car had been reported stolen and was found a few miles away in a field. That seemed to be the extent of the known facts.
I had dropped like a bag of rocks when I was hit. Stephanie had been watching through a window as I walked toward the house. She had gone to the door to greet me, and just as she opened it, a gunshot boomed across the neighborhood and I went down. She screamed and ran to my side.
Karen had been making dinner when she heard the window break, followed immediately by the percussion of the shot. She reached me seconds after Stephanie. It was Karen that pulled Steph's cell phone off her belt and dialed 911. Then she rushed back inside for blankets and a pillow while Steph held me and cried. My blood soaked her shirt and jeans, and ran down the driveway.
It was touch and go that night. The bullet had just nicked a lung and pretty well mangled a rib, and had punched a huge hole in my upper chest as it exited. The blood loss was the primary concern.
The cops showed up as soon as I was able to talk and asked me all kinds of questions. I know they had a job to do, but a lot of their questions seemed asinine to me. Did I know anyone that wanted me dead? I couldn't help but think that if I did, I would have shot him first! I couldn't tell that to the police, but I swore to myself I'd gut shoot the bastard if I ever found who it was.
Once I was out of danger, Steph went back to college. Karen stayed with me until my sister finally made her go home and get some sleep and clean up. I guess Karen was neglecting her health and personal hygiene during her vigil. She was only gone about seven hours, but she looked more like the old Karen when she came back, except her eyes had bags under them and she looked thin. I realized that acts of violence have more victims than just those actually struck by the bullets.
The cops came by several times, asking questions. I found out later that they had grilled the neighbors, my coworkers, and my family. No one seemed to be able to shed any light on the incident.
I lost track of time while I was in the hospital. It had no meaning for me until the day I was released and came home. Karen drove into the garage and closed the garage door behind us. I didn't say anything, but I was relieved that she did it that way. What if the shooter came back? I was scared about that.
I didn't say anything to Karen, but I knew she was worried, too. Hell, she and Steph were in danger as much as I was. Who knew what the shooter had in mind or who he wanted dead? The police had assured us that they would patrol the area, but I had no doubt that a determined person would have no trouble getting to us.
I walked hunched over and very slowly, but I was walking. Steph jumped out of the back seat and opened the door to the kitchen from the garage. As soon as I stepped into the kitchen, I saw a hole in the wall not far from the clock.
Karen noticed my raised eyebrows and quickly answered my unasked question. I inspected the hole as she explained it.
"The police dug the bullet out of the wall there, Kurt. It went through you, broke the front window and wound up in the wall. I had a man replace the glass in the window and I hired a man to repair the wall but he hasn't come yet," she revealed. "I wanted that hole fixed and I'm sorry it's still there."
"Shit! What the hell kind of gun did the guy use?" I wondered aloud. "It must have been a high powered rifle, at the very least. You or Stephanie could have been killed!"
"Dad, I think you're the one we need to worry about for the foreseeable future," responded Stephanie. "Mom and I are fine."
I had been pissed before, but now I was in a seething rage. The bastard didn't just take a pop at me. He came very close to killing my wife, or daughter, or both. I felt my hands shake as I contemplated life without either of them. I knew I'd never feel safe until the shooter was caught.
I went into the den and unlocked my gun cabinet. I loaded a shotgun and looked around. I carefully dropped to my knees and slid it under the sofa. Then I loaded my .38 and tucked it under my belt.
"Kurt, hasn't there been enough shooting?" asked Karen. "It isn't safe to keep a loaded gun hidden under the couch. Do you think you're going to carry that handgun every place you go?"
"I'll say this once and I want both you and Steph, to listen real close," I replied calmly. "That shotgun will not be moved unless one of you feels you need it for protection. I want it loaded and ready. This gun will go with me as much as possible. There will be no discussion or complaints about this."
Karen and Stephanie looked at each other and then back to me. Neither of them questioned my decree, however. They could tell that it was not negotiable.
"Until this nut is locked away, we'll be prepared for anything," I stated. "Tomorrow, I'll show you both how to use every gun in the house. If I feel the need, I'll get more guns. I know you've both been shown how to safely handle a gun, but I want you to both know how to shoot them. The shotgun does not need to be aimed. Just point it and pull the trigger. There is nothing more effective at close range."
I knew I was scaring them, but I'd rather have them too cautious than careless and in danger. I suddenly felt exhausted. I gingerly sat down on the couch. I felt a burning jolt in my back and grimaced when I came in contact with the back of the sofa.
"Kurt, you're in pain," worried Karen. "I'll get you a pill for that."
I hated to take those pills because I felt I needed my wits about me. I could ill afford to be high on some shit if somebody made a try for me. On the other hand, I wouldn't be worth a fuck if I was in so much pain, I couldn't move. I took the pill.
Things settled into a bit of a routine. Stephanie went back to school. I was worried about her, but logic dictated that if she had been the target, the shooter would have had numerous chances to get her. Somehow, I knew the guy, if it was a guy, was after me. Other people were only in danger when they were near me. That was why I insisted Karen go back to work as soon as I was able to get around enough to take care of myself.
Fear does strange things to a man. I carried my .38 everywhere in the house with me. I didn't turn on the TV because I was worried I wouldn't hear anyone trying to get in. I watched out the windows all the time, but never stood close to them. I never turned a light on in the room unless the curtains were drawn tightly. I don't know how many times I checked the shotgun to be sure it was loaded. I jumped a foot very time the phone rang. When the guy next door turned off his lawn mower and it backfired, I almost shit a brick!
I gradually regained my strength, and some of my nerve. I knew my behavior was a strain on Karen, but I noticed that she stayed away from windows, too. I may have seemed paranoid for a while, but she seemed to share my fear. After all, she had seen me lying in Stephanie's arms with my blood gushing onto the pavement.
I never got to the point where I wasn't at least a little nervous, but I eventually returned the .38 to the gun cabinet. Every now and then I'd get it out and clean it. I always kept the shells where I could get to them fast.
I finally went back to work half way through the summer. Everyone was great to me and I was pretty much given easy jobs for the first few weeks. I'm an electrician and the work isn't easy if your back hurts. I didn't do much but change a lot of bulbs and wire some outlets the first month back.
I began to feel that I going to be able to put it all behind me, but I was worried about Karen. She had lost weight and never gained it back. She seldom laughed. She waited on me hand and foot when we were together. It became embarrassing and annoying.
"Karen, you have to let me do things for myself," I finally told her one day when she saw me putting my sneakers on and quickly kneeled down to tie them for me. "It's embarrassing to have a wife fawn over me like this. I'm a man and I need my pride, okay? I should be doing things for you. That's the way it's supposed to be."
She just burst into tears and gently wrapped her arms around me and cried on my healing chest. The first few times we made love were bad. I couldn't really thrust very well, so Karen climbed on me and slid my cock inside her. I thought things were going fairly well until I noticed her fingers touching the scar in my chest. Pretty soon I felt the tears dropping on me. This happened a few times until I began to wear shirts to bed, just to keep her from seeing my old bullet wound and becoming upset.
Karen began doing things for me that she seldom had done in our previous 22 years of marriage. She'd get me hard with her mouth all the time. She's offer herself to me any position, any time I indicated that I would like to make love. She wanted to please me too much, odd as that sounds.
I never thought I'd see the day where I would complain that my wife was too anxious to please me sexually. I didn't want her to treat me like I was going to die any second. I wanted her to be passionate and loving, but not fawning and stilted. I kept telling her I was doing fine and she didn't have to feel like she had to try to please me every second. I tried to explain that I'd be happier if we could just be lovers, equal in giving and receiving pleasure and love. I didn't seem to be able to get it across to her.
We didn't argue about anything, and any married man can tell you that's a strong indication of problems. Karen's will seemed to have slipped away. More than a few nights, I woke with her curled against me, crying like a baby. I was at a loss as to what to do.
Then, after not hearing anything from the police for months, they started coming around again. Detective Sarah Henderson had just been promoted, and my shooting was one of the cases she had been assigned. Her obvious desire to solve the case and enhance her career encouraged me. Her actual questions didn't seem any smarter or more insightful than the other cops', but her attitude was a lot better.
"Did you know a Ralph Williams, Mr. Lent?" she asked one day.
"Ralph Williams?" I repeated. "No, not that I can recall. I'd remember a guy with two first names. Why do you ask?"
Detective Henderson ignored my question as she turned to Karen. I swung around to listen to Karen's response. I instantly knew that she was familiar with the name. She fidgeted with her hands and looked down. She was nervous!
"He worked in the same building as me for a year or so. I haven't seen him in a long time," she replied meekly.
"Do you know if he ever met your husband, Mrs. Lent?" asked the detective. "Were they ever in the same social setting, ballgame, party, anything at all?"
"Yes, he was at a company picnic that Kurt and I attended last spring, but Kurt never actually met him," answered Karen. "He was an odd sort of man and didn't have many friends. I didn't speak to him and neither did Kurt."
Now how the hell could Karen remember that picnic so well? She even remembered who was there and who we spoke to, and who we didn't. I thought that Detective Henderson had to wonder about it, too. Surprisingly, she changed direction and asked questions about my work. Karen was flushed and beads of sweat dotted her brow. It didn't require a trained interrogator to see she was agitated at the mention of this Williams guy. I filed that information away for later.
Detective Henderson asked a few more questions, but I was hardly paying attention. Karen's behavior had set alarms off in my head. I decided to keep my eyes open and ask a few questions of my own. If this guy had anything to do with me taking lead, I wanted to know about it.
Two days later I stopped for a coffee and doughnut at a local café. I saw Jack Burns sitting on a stool and sat next to him. He wasn't in the same department as Karen, but he worked in the same building. I made small talk for a few minutes. Then I broached the subject of Ralph Williams.
"Jack, do you remember a guy named Ralph Williams?" I asked. "He used to work for your company a year or so ago?"
"Yeah, I remember him. I was glad to see him leave, too," Jack replied. "He was always real friendly to your face, but he was a back stabbing prick when you weren't looking. Tim Shaw, one of the quietest, nicest guys you'll ever meet, knocked him on his ass one day at work. Tim wouldn't tell anyone why, but rumor was that he caught Ralphie-boy sniffing around his wife. She worked in the claims department."
"Was he a lady's man, then? Did he like to chase the skirts?" I quizzed.
"Well, he always seemed to be trying. The thing was he had this weird look about him, like Charles Manson or something. I don't think any women ever returned his interest, but it didn't stop him from trying. When Tim got out of the hospital, he was looking for Ralph pretty hard, as I recall," volunteered Jack.
"Why was Tim Shaw in the hospital? I don't remember anything about that. When and why was he in the hospital?" I quizzed.
"He was in a car crash a few days after he decked Williams. Tim insisted he was deliberately forced off the road and into Stevens Creek one night while he was driving home. He had a badly broken arm and a bunch of cuts and contusions from the accident," revealed Jack. "That was sometime in early May. Tim claimed it had to be Williams that did it, though he never saw the other driver and couldn't describe the car."
That was something to think about. This guy was trouble, or so it appeared. Maybe I would talk to Tim Shaw before too long.
"Tim swore he'd kill the bastard if he ever caught him. Williams quit his job and left town before Tim got out of the hospital. He told me that he'd only need one good arm for Williams, and I don't think anyone doubted it," chuckled Jack. "Probably Karen can tell you more about him than I can. She and Tim's wife always used to eat lunch together.
"Used to?" I asked. "They don't eat together any more? Why is that?"
"Well, right after Tim got out of the hospital, he accepted a job offer in Texas or someplace and they moved within a few weeks. Karen was probably busy taking care of you at that time. It was around the same time you were plugged in the back."
I thanked Jack, threw some money on the counter, and walked into the morning sun. My gut was in a knot. I needed to ask more questions and wondered how I'd like the answers.
All That day, I kicked the information around that Jack gave me. It could be just coincidence that the cops were asking questions about some crazy bastard, that the questions made Karen nervous, and she was in a position to know more about the guy than she admitted. I had never put any faith in coincidences.
I dialed Detective Henderson's number with my cell phone. I felt like she owed me an explanation about why she was asking about Williams. She answered on the third ring.
"Hello, Detective Henderson? Kurt Lent here. I was wondering if you've made any headway in finding out who shot me." I stated bluntly.
"Mr. Lent, I was going to call you. We think we're getting close. We have a suspect, or as we like to call them, "a person of interest." His last known address was Middletown, New York. The Police down there are trying to locate him as we speak," she confided. "We're still working on motive and the timing."