Authors: Linda K. Rodante
The medics glared at them. A string of Indonesian words followed. They still needed to transport one last person from the plane to the ambulance.
“It can’t be as bad in America.”
Julie threw him a look of skepticism. “Why don’t you find out when you get back? But right now…” She waved her hand toward the plane. “Right now, you’re doing what you can for these.”
He looked at her, the pit in his stomach tightening. “I need to do more.”
She nodded. “We all feel that way, but we can only do what we can do.”
Lynn’s news about Maria and her interview with the detectives overshadowed Sharee’s scare from the previous night. Lynn paced up and down as Sharee dialed Pastor Alan’s number and talked with Daneen.
Sharee put down the phone a few minutes later. “Pastor Alan and Daneen are foster parents. Did you forget? I wanted to see if they can help with Lily, but they’re already on it. I should have known.”
Lynn stopped pacing. “I hadn’t thought about that. Lily has to stay with someone until Maria is better.”
Sharee paused and studied Lynn. “You look upset.”
“Oh, no. I like having friends of mine knifed.”
Lynn flopped onto the couch. “Sorry. The whole thing’s a disaster.” She looked away from Sharee’s gaze. “The only good thing is that they expect Maria to make it.”
Sharee sat in a seat across from her. “Why did they want your fingerprints?”
“Detective Carpenter said it was standard procedure—to eliminate mine from others.”
“That sounds right.”
made it sound like I was the killer.”
“He couldn’t possibly think that.”
“Oh, no? You should have heard him.”
“Lynn, these men are professionals. They would know you had no reason to kill anyone. Besides, when they do try to match your fingerprints and DNA, they’re not going to find anything.”
Lynn looked away from her again. Sharee studied her a moment, “Right?”
“Yeah, sure, right.”
“I’ve never been in Maria’s tent. Never touched her stuff that I know of, except…”
“Have you forgotten?”
“The bag, Sharee. The bag containing Victoria’s stuff.”
“The bag?” Sharee’s eyes widened. “You mean the one Maria gave you for me? That was a day or two before the banquet, and then John was leaving. I did forget. Completely.”
Lynn twirled her long hair, pulled it up, and secured it with a clip. “Well, I bet when we hand it in, we’ll both be thrown in jail for harboring evidence or something.”
“That’s ridiculous. We just let them know we forgot. We did. It didn’t seem important.”
“Sure. We’ll do just that. I hope it works with Detective Richards.”
Rich looked at the woman in the hospital bed. She seemed smaller and younger than when Lynn had introduced them. The beep of the machines, the attached IVs, the bruises on her face looked like sentinels of defeat. Yet, the doctor’s prognosis sounded better than he’d hoped. When he phoned Keith with the news, the man didn’t try to cover his relief. They’d both seen too many homicides.
He raised his eyes to the girl. Lily Sanchez. Lynn’s pastor’s wife sat beside her now. Daneen Nichols, he reminded himself, recalling the name.
Other information filtered through his thinking. Pedro Gonzalez now lived in the motor home on the church property. From homeless to a job with housing in less than twenty-four hours seemed quite convenient. Why?
He caught Daneen Nichols’ eye. She nodded and smiled. “Good to see you again…Detective Richards.”
She’d stumbled over his name, but that was to be expected. He nodded at her. “The same, Mrs. Nichols. How’s Pastor Alan?”
“We’re both doing well. You know when God moved on us to become foster parents, we didn’t realize how our involvement with the homeless would work right into that.”
“You’ve taken a bigger role in helping the homeless these days?”
“Oh, yes. With Sharee, and now John, leading the way, we had no choice; and it’s been a blessing.”
He nodded. “I need to talk to Lily.”
The girl’s head rose, her eyes meeting his before sliding away.
“I just have a few questions.” He said, forcing a lightness he didn’t feel. He’d come to the hospital after the attack, probing her about what happened but careful in what he asked. She’d seemed fragile at the time. He understood that. However, some things needed to be revisited.
The girl’s gaze met his again, before jumping to Daneen. Daneen nodded and smiled. “Your mom’s still asleep. We can step into the hall.”
Rich backed through the door. “Would you like to go to the waiting room?” When the girl shook her head, he said, “Okay. We’ll just stay here. How’s your mom doing?”
“I…I don’t know. The doctor said the surgery went well.”
“Have you had a chance to talk with her?”
“Only once. She’s been sleeping most of the day.”
Daneen’s arm went around the girl. “She’s drugged up, too—to keep her quiet and out of pain. But the doctor is quite positive.”
“I’m glad to hear that.” His gaze dropped to Lily again. “You were upset yesterday. I would have been, too, if that were my mom. How are you doing today?”
She glanced down. “I’m doing…all right.”
“It’s been hard for her,” Daneen said.
Rich frowned. He needed the girl to answer her own questions. She hadn’t said much yesterday. He needed something today. Her information on the attacker could prove vital.
“Lily, describe what happened.”
“I told you already.” He’d heard that pouty voice yesterday and was as bothered by it then as he was today.
“Let’s go over it again.”
“Why?” Her voice rose.
“Yesterday, you were concerned about your mom and upset. That’s natural. Today, you might remember something else if we go back over it. We’re going to need your help to find the guy who did this.” When she said nothing, he asked, “You want us to find him, don’t you?”
“Of course, she does,” Daneen said.
Rich’s eyes rose. He met her look with a stare, and then dropped his gaze back to Lily. “Don’t you?”
“Yes, but… I don’t know anything. It was dark.”
Rich waited a moment. “Okay. It was dark, but you said he pulled you from your cot. Was he big? My height or smaller like Mrs. Nichols here?”
“I don’t know. Medium maybe.”
“Could you see if he was black or white? Hispanic?”
“No, it was dark.”
“He told you to get up and be quiet, right? Did he have an accent?”
“I…I don’t remember.”
The girl turned toward Daneen. “Mrs. Nichols, I’ve told him everything.”
Daneen squeezed her then glanced his way. She frowned and lifted an eyebrow in his direction. Ah. She was more astute than he’d thought. Something was not right here.
“You said your mom jumped him. Is that correct?”
“Yes. If I’d gone with him, she’d be okay. It’s my fault. I should have gone with him.”
“Lily,” Daneen’s arm came around the girl again. “This is not your fault. You can’t blame yourself for what some…some madman did.”
“It is my fault. I know it.” The girl’s voice broke.
Rich touched Daneen’s arm. She looked at him and drew back. He waited another minute, “Mrs. Nichols is right,” he said. “This is not your fault. This man would have harmed you like he did your mom.”
From inside the room, moaning came. Lily spun toward the door and dived into the room.
John stared at the tossed fuel drums. Gas had spilled from them like waves on the beach. The imprint in the sand and weeds around them spoke volumes.
When he’d landed the Cessna turboprop on the grassy airfield hours ago, they’d been mobbed by islanders. Refueling had dropped to the bottom of a list of what seemed vital. Handing out water, food and medical supplies to desperate arms had driven the idea to the back of his mind. They had accompanied the men back to the village where more needy arms waited, and a large aftershock hit while they were there.
Worried about the plane, he and Bob had hiked the short distance back by themselves. The villagers—those left after the tsunami, mostly men—were fighting to survive and to build shelters out of the wreckage of their small town.
John stared again at the overturned drums. This small airfield was one of only a handful that kept extra fuel. They’d used it the last time they’d come. But today…
He clenched his fists. He’d worried about the plane, not the fuel. But not fueling up immediately had been an oversight—a serious oversight.
He glanced at Bob, going over the man’s question in his head. “Based on the winds we experienced when we landed, we should be able to reach the mainland. It’ll be close, but unless something unforeseen happens, I think we can do it.”
Bob inclined his head, his eyes still on the overturned drums. “The aftershock a while ago was bad. Another one could destroy the plane. Then we’d be stranded for sure—and no help to anyone. “
John said nothing, but memories of the other crash hovered at the edge of his mind.
Better stranded than ditching in the sea.
He didn’t say anything.
They should have enough fuel. It would be close, but they could do it.
Bob raked his hand through his hair. “We can radio once we’re in the air, can’t we? Just in case.”
John gave a one-sided smile. “Yes. We’ll let them know we’re coming.”
“Okay. It’s in God’s hands, anyway.”
John believed that, believed God could perform a miracle if they needed it, but memories were hard to overcome.
The earth shuttered under their feet, and John shot a glance at the Cessna. The asphalt underneath it undulated, and the plane’s wings tipped. Alarm flashed through him, but a moment later, the ground stilled.
Bob’s gaze met his. “We’ll lose her for sure if we wait much longer.”
“You’re right.” He started forward. “Let’s clear the runway of any rocks or debris and get out of here.”
An hour later, John narrowed his eyes against the sun’s glare. He could make out trees and buildings on the mainland. The muscles across his shoulders pulled tight as strung catgut. Once they’d left the island and were in the air, the presence of unexpected headwinds had slowed them down. He’d been watching the gauge for a while.
He swallowed and forced back the memories. “We’ve got trouble.”
Bob shifted in his seat. “What?”
“The winds are against us. The fuel is dropping too fast.” They flew in silence for a few more minutes. He glanced at the gauge again.
They weren’t going to make it
. He shoved down the emotions and looked at Bob. “Call in a mayday.”
Bob’s head shot his way. “You’re sure?’
“Unless God does a miracle.” He rehearsed what he needed to do. The landing gear was up; the “lock light” on. As they came in, he’d need to keep it level. Nose down, and they’d flip for sure. But nose up would cause the tail to hit first. That had happened before—with deadly results. This time would be different. It had to be.
Lord, I told Sharee I’d be back. That’s one promise I need to keep, and I’m not ready to leave her. You’ve got more for us to do. I know it. Give us a miracle. Take over these controls and our landing. Send someone to pick us up, and keep us safe.
He cleared his throat. “Make the call. Let them know where we are so they can send someone to look for us.”
A moment later, Bob was on the radio, and the lead weight in John’s stomach had become a rock. A picture of Sharee as she’d looked right before he’d walked down the gangway filled his mind—the uncertainty in her eyes. His heart squeezed.
He took a deep breath and threw another prayer upward.
The engine quit.
What was the problem? Sharee groaned as the cramping started again. She’d left work early, the pain in her back increasing throughout the morning, and now the pain in her abdomen kept coming and going. What had she eaten that would give her such cramps? She’d started the day with her usual breakfast of scrambled omelet with veggies and cheese. Couldn’t be that.
Last night? Dinner with Lynn at a favorite restaurant. She should call Lynn and see if she was sick, too.
And then she felt the wetness. She ran to the bathroom. Blood, a lot of blood.
No, she couldn’t think about that, but she couldn’t pray either. Fear froze her.
After a while, she made her way back to the couch and lay down. Soon, she was sitting up again, groaning. She fought the nausea.
Cooper stretched his nose to her knee. “Sorry, boy, I can’t take you for a walk.” But his head rested on her knee, and his bright eyes stared up at her.
She managed a prayer.
Lord, what is going on?
She rose, stumbled to her purse, and pulled out her phone. Lynn didn’t answer. She texted and waited. Her whole body trembled, and she was sweating. She felt faint and sat down, then tried lying down.
Her phone beeped, and she glanced down.
In a meeting. You're sick? I’m fine. Something you ate 2 day?
A moan escaped her lips. She stood up only to have nausea sweep over her again. Her stomach cramped, and she ran for the bathroom once more. Her whole body trembled when she returned to the couch. She groaned, and the dog whined and curled on the carpet below her.
When her phone rang, she grabbed it. “Lynn?”
“No. It’s Zeke. Zeke Richmond.”
“Oh.” Air rushed from her in disappointment.
“Well, that’s a great hello. I take it you were waiting for Lynn’s call.”
“I, well, yes…I…I’m sorry. I came home sick. I didn’t mean to be rude.”
He laughed. “Don’t worry about it. That’s why I called. Your receptionist said you’d gone home sick, and being part of the medical profession, I just thought I’d call and see how you were doing.”
“Oh. I …do you always call friends who are sick?” Sharee tried to make her voice upbeat.
“No, only special ones.”
“Oh.” Quiet stretched over the line.
“Well, tell me your symptoms.”
“I…it’s probably just something I ate.”
“What did you eat and when?” She told him. “And last night your friend Lynn ate the same thing, and she’s not sick?”
“Yes, I mean no. No, she’s not sick.”
“So you think you might have food poisoning? Do you have any other symptoms?”
She gave him the information—about the back pain, the nausea, and the cramping.
Not the blood, Lord, no…
“Hmmm. Could be food poisoning, but doesn’t make sense if your friend’s not sick. You’re not pregnant by any chance?”
Stillness. All movement stopped. Heart froze. Why had he asked?
“Are you pregnant?”
“I…I…yes, I am.” Disappointment rushed through her. How could she tell him when John didn’t know yet?
“You are?” His voice went up a notch. “Are you bleeding, spotting, anything like that?”
“Bleeding? I, uh,…”
“Vaginally? Tell me.”
Stomach sinking, her hand tightened on the phone. “Yes, I am.”
“Where’s your husband?”
“In…where?” His voice notched higher. “Indonesia?”
“Yes, he went over because of the earthquake and the tsunami over there. He…he flies…” She panted and bent over, stifling a moan.
“Are you cramping again?”
“You have anyone else nearby? Mother? Sister?”
“No. I’ll be fine. I’ll call Lynn after her meeting.” Her breath caught in short, shallow gasps. She tried to contain the pain.
“Give me your address.”
“Give me your address. You need to get to the hospital. I’ll call an ambulance.”
“No. I…no. Please don’t do that.”
“Listen. Your husband’s overseas. You don’t have any relatives nearby. I’ll call an ambulance and meet you at the hospital.”
“But I’m not sure what’s happening.”
“I hate to say this to you, but if you’re miscarrying, you need to get to a hospital, not be at home alone. Give me your address.”
“Pack an outfit just in case. Grab your purse and your insurance card. Sharee, I can call your work and get it from them if I have to.”
“I don’t want anyone to know.”
“Except me. I already know.”
“Okay.” She gave him her address and shut off the phone. As the cramping started again, she dropped, sobbing, to the floor. This couldn’t be happening.
John’s eyes locked on the water. The sun’s rays bounced off its aqua expanse, and the memory of Janice’s voice rang through his mind. “What’s wrong, John? What’s wrong?” And higher, “Do something! Do something!” How many days and nights had he lived with those words? He’d lost someone he loved. Why was this happening again?
The clenching of his teeth made his jaws hurt
Keep the plane level, he told himself. Keep it level
Then, we need a miracle.
Lord, we need a miracle.
The plane dropped, and the ocean shot up at them.
Bob’s voice broke in, “John?”
“Can you swim?” The words reached his own ears, stiff and tense.
“Good. Get ready for impact.”
As Bob’s voice rose in prayer, John braced himself and pulled back on the yoke, leveling the plane. The Cessna hit the water, belly-flopped, shrieking, jumping, yanking the controls from his hands. The impact slammed him against his harness. Spray and sound sheared past. The plane bucked and skipped and spun, listing sideways as it came to a stop.
Then silence. They didn’t move.
He shot a look at Bob. The other man’s eyes were wide, but a smile started on his face. The plane shuttered.
“Get out!” John said and released his harness belt and shoved the door open. Adrenalin surged through him. “Get out. Get away from the plane. Now!”
Saltwater rushed in around his feet. He thrust himself through the door. The plane trembled again as he jumped free, and the ocean engulfed him, a thousand bubbles shooting past his open eyes. He kicked to the surface, caught sight of the plane on his left and took quick strokes away from it.
The sudden suck and drag grabbed him as the plane dropped beneath the waves, and water closed over his head a second time. A minute later, the drag ceased, and rising bubbles showed him the way up.
When his head broke clear, he gulped air like a starving man does food. He glanced right and left. No one. He spun in the water, searching for Bob. He spun around again.
No, Lord, not this time.
He took a deep breath and dove beneath the surface. Something crashed against his shoulder. He jerked back and surfaced. Next to him, Bob shot up and gasped for breath.
“Sorry… Had to… get you… out of the way. Needed… air.” Bob’s words wheezed past him.
Light-headed relief filled John’s heart, and he clapped Bob on the shoulder, grinned, and spit water from his mouth. He twirled around once more, looking for the shore. The tan and green of the mainland seemed farther away than when he’d seen it from the air. He drew in long breaths and sent a quick, but deep-felt thank-you upward.
“Well, let me rephrase the question,” he said as Bob tread water beside him. “Just how
a swimmer are you?”
Sharee curled into a fetal position, pulling a blanket around her. The hospital visit and procedure had taken only five hours. Somehow, that made the emptiness worse. Her heart ached from losing the baby and from not having John by her side. She needed his strength.
The phone rang. She drew a deep breath. She hadn’t answered it the other times and didn’t answer it now. She heard the beep of a text, sighed and lifted it from the table.
If you don’t answer my calls, I’m coming over.
Sharee swallowed and texted Lynn back.
I’m ok. In bed. Call tomorrow
Sharee groaned and put the phone next to her pillow. She wasn’t rising if she didn’t have to. She pulled her pillow around and hugged it to her body. She felt so empty inside—and so alone. The tears pooled, and her throat burned. Fear kept her from sobbing, but her chest ached from the unshed tears.
Cooper slept on the floor next to the bed. Every once in a while, he moved and brought his head above the mattress. The big brown eyes watched her for a minute or two before he lay back down. She had let him out by himself and only risen from the bed to let him inside again.
She grabbed the phone.
. No, she couldn’t call. What he was doing was more important. Maybe she’d never tell him; maybe he’d never have to know and feel the loss she did.
She should call her mom. She’d come, drive the few hours from Orlando. Dad would come, too. They’d both be with her. But she hadn’t said anything about the pregnancy to them either. What a shock…their first grandchild.
The dog whined, his head coming over the mattress again, eyes watching her. “Oh, Cooper.” The cry wrenched from her. “Why isn’t John here? Why did God allow this?”
She hadn’t said it before, had pushed it away, but now she cried out, “Where are you? Don’t we deserve a child? It took nearly nine months… and now…this…”
She couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. The sobs shook her and the bed. She held her pillow tight against her abdomen. The dog pushed its nose across the mattress until it touched her. She reached out an arm, curled it around his head and soaked John’s pillow with her tears.