The Thousand Words

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Chapter 44

I came to lying face down in the grass halfway between my office and my home. My shoulder was still hurting immensely, but the sharp pain had turned to a low dull pain which had spread across my entire upper torso. My body still felt cold, but regardless, I was calm knowing Kelsey was out of danger.

“Let’s roll him over so he can sit up and be careful of the shoulder,” I heard someone say. The pressure on my shoulder went away and the sharp pain came back. Suddenly, a number of hands grabbed my body and quickly flipped me over and sat me up. There were a couple of paramedics treating me. I had an I.V. in my right arm and my shirt was cut open on the top where gauze was wrapped around my shoulder.

“Welcome back,” a familiar voice said. I glanced up to see the paramedic Mara, who had treated me earlier, looking down at me. She waved a couple of people over. “You have lost some blood, but you are stabilized and will be fine.”

Bruno walked over and stood above me with a content and satisfied look on his face. Kelsey, on the other hand, knelt down and attempted to give me an awkward hug, instead settling for holding my right hand. She was crying but still looked like an angel. All of the tape had been removed and she was covered in a blanket.

“How is he doing?” Kelsey asked.

“I expect him to make a full recovery,” Mara answered. “The bullet didn’t do much damage. It possibly hit something first or ricocheted to slow it down. There might be some muscle damage and most likely a broken scapula, the shoulder bone. He will have surgery today or at the latest tomorrow. Alex will spend a day or two in the hospital, then some physical therapy. A month from now he will be just like new.”

“It was a small caliber gun,” Bruno added. “Not a lot of punching power. Feels like being shot with a BB gun.”

“I beg to differ,” I countered, completely disagreeing with his assessment. “This hurts like hell.”

“Was getting a severe concussion being kicked in the head while you ran down an escaping criminal not good enough for you?” Mara asked. “You had to go get yourself shot saving a beautiful woman? She’s a lucky girl.” Kelsey gave her a look of thanks for helping save me as well as the compliment.

“I’m the lucky one,” I said staring into Kelsey’s eyes. “I just hope she will forgive me for all of this and still wants to be with me.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Kelsey responded, squeezing my hand.

Bruno knelt down next to me, getting closer to me so not everyone could hear what he was about to say. “You have been cleared of any wrongdoing and the charges against you dropped. The twins have even agreed. They said you were free to go after learning Jane had been kidnapped. In reality, they are pissed you ran, but with what happened, they are not willing to go against the grain and attempt to charge you with a crime.”

“My criminal predicament was the least of my concerns, but the news is fantastic,” I said. “I bet the twins are fuming.” I started to laugh but it hurt too damn much. “What happened up at the house?”

“The two people who grabbed Jane and Kelsey were waiting,” Bruno said. “They were expecting you and not me, so I had the element of surprise. I shot one entering the house when he pointed his weapon. He is in bad shape, unlike you, but is expected to make it. The other one surrendered when he realized the only option was being shot himself. He is on the way to the precinct already spilling the beans on what happened. One interesting note, your notebook on the search for Sarah Jacobs was in their car. One of them must have stolen it from your vehicle at the crime scene. Any doubt on what you were really doing as part of the investigation can be answered by them having the notes.”

“Brunello,” Kelsey started. “If anyone was questioning Alex’s integrity or motivation, you can send them to me to deal with.” Kelsey was taking charge now. Bruno and I exchanged a quick glance. Mara started laughing and mouthed Brunello? to me. I shook my head from side to side to leave it alone.

“What the heck do you see in Alex anyway?” Bruno asked Kelsey. “You know you can do much better. I have a nephew who is single if you are interested. He’s an insurance agent. Steady job and income, much more stable and reliable.”

“Sorry, Alex here saved my life,” Kelsey said winking at Bruno. “So I can’t break up with him for at least another week. I’ll let you know.”

“Being shot adds a week,” Mara added with a smile. “That brings you up to at least two weeks.”

I instantly felt better. When the three people who are surrounding you after being shot are all giving you grief, you are probably going to make it. Not wanting to encourage them anymore, I tried changing the subject.

“Bruno, who took down Tony Kirchoff?” I asked.

“A SWAT team sniper. When you called, you had given them the address of the house which makes sense. It’s where they arrived in force first. It’s hard to know with this weird lot that the garage is part of the property. When they showed up, I was walking the suspect I didn’t shoot out in handcuffs. The team swarmed in behind me to check the rest of the house. The commander quickly got a sniper ready when I told him the main suspect was in the office building down the hill and you were there as well.

“The sightlines were perfect to take him out with the office building being lower than the house. We saw him pointing the gun at Kelsey, but she was directly behind him so they didn’t have a clean shot. We needed to get her out of the way, but it was very obvious we didn’t have time to make it over there. We could see you as well off to the side. I remembered your dad used to flash the lights as a signal to get you to either come up to the house or to stop doing something you shouldn’t be doing. I took a chance and started turning them on and off quickly. You must have seen it because the next thing I know the sniper fired and the team signaled the suspect was down. He obviously got off a shot. Everyone is very happy Tony didn’t shoot Kelsey.”

Kelsey smiled but knew me well enough to step in and help out. “Are we all going to just ignore the fact Alex’s office is currently burning down to the ground? I am assuming fire trucks are on the way.”

Bruno stepped aside allowing all a better view. The top floor was currently ablaze with fire and smoke pouring out of the windows and through newly burned holes in the roof. It was quickly working its way down to the first floor. The building and contents were going to be a total loss. All of the cameras, lenses, computers, various equipment, and paperwork. All of it gone.

All three of them turned to look at me, waiting for me to say something. My whole business was gone along with the majority of my equipment. Thankfully, I had two things going in my favor. Both of which would provide the means for a speedy work recovery.

“All photography is digital these days, no negatives you have to protect. Fortunately, I have a dedicated backup server in the basement of the house which has copies of everything in case of a disaster. This should definitely qualify. All of the important data is protected and I can recreate the business. I did lose some limited edition prints but those can be remade. Also, the nephew that Bruno mentioned gave me a really good deal on insurance. The building, business, and equipment are all fully covered. I get to go shopping soon for some new toys.”

Kelsey squeezed my hand knowing it was not a total loss and letting me know she would have been there with me even if it was. A couple of other paramedics rolled a gurney over and collapsed it next to me.

“I hate to break up the fun, but we really need to get Alex to the hospital,” Mara said. “He needs to have the bullet removed and the wound closed. This time I am going to make sure you actually stay at the hospital and get treatment.”

They helped me up on the stretcher and started to wheel me over to the waiting ambulance. Bruno waved his goodbye, giving me a thumbs up in the process as well as a reassuring smile. This was the most significant goodbye he had ever given me, a definite sign Bruno was pleased with my actions. He walked over to the main house ready for a long day ahead of questions and paperwork.

Kelsey stayed with me holding my hand along the way. When we got to the rear of the vehicle, she let go so the paramedics could load me in the ambulance.

“Can I ride with you to the hospital?” Kelsey asked Mara.

“Definitely,” she said back. “Besides we should make some plans for a girls night out in a couple of weeks when you break up with Alex.”

“I’d love to go out,” Kelsey said back happily while giving Mara a quick hug of thanks for everything she was doing. Her face was lit up with happiness for a moment before a look of concern washed over her.

“Wait,” Kelsey said worriedly. “Does his office burning down add yet another week?” Her face slowly turned into a wry smile.

“Nope. He said he had insurance. Besides you can’t let him pity you into anything more.”

“Perfect,” Kelsey said glowingly. She paused for a second and looked down at me. Her smile was back. The one involving her whole body and that made me melt. There was no better sight in all the world.

I closed my eyes to relax, listening to the two of them continue to chat back and forth. Kelsey and I talked frequently about how hard it was to make new friends at our age. Both of our jobs didn’t lend themselves to meet people we would want to interact with outside of work. Leave it to Kelsey to make an instant friend after being kidnapped and being held hostage at gunpoint. One day I would like to meet someone who wouldn’t enjoy giving me grief, but today was obviously not going to be it.

The three people who were murdered because of some misguided revenge against me sat heavy on my heart. They didn’t deserve what happened to them. Two had employed me and the third never know of my existence. Even though my actions had nothing to do with their deaths, I still felt responsible. Their memories would be something I would have to deal with.

Regardless, I felt at ease. Happy for my future and living every day. My chosen family was all safe and unharmed and the true love of my life was right by my side. Who could really ask for anything more? Why dwell in a dire and depressing past when the future held such wondrous possibilities?

The crystal clear sky was starting to glow in the east. The first dawning sign of a new day. An indication the past was dark, but my future remained bright. The day was going to be fantastic however you looked at it. Even having been shot earlier by a psychotic drug dealer out for some misguided revenge on my life wouldn’t dampen my mood.

Life was finally wonderful again.

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