“I won’t be kissing you good-bye…”
“Maddy, sweetheart, comeback. Wake up, darlin’.”
My mind was slowly entering back into whatever space I was in. I could only hear the sound of silence being interrupted by a familiar voice, and beeping. Steady beeping. No matter how hard I tried, my eyes refused to open.
“Where am I?”
I didn’t even recognize the sound of my own voice. It sounded broken, and torn. I cleared my throat, coughing lightly.
“Where am I?” I asked again.
“You’re at the hospital in Santa Barbara, sweetheart.”
“How am I here?” I asked.
“We got to you, sweetheart.”
“How? What about the fire?” I said through raspy vocals.
“The blaze was pretty heavy, but you made it outside the house and we got to you.”
I began to cry as images of Jack loomed over me like a storm cloud and struck my heart like lightning. The tears forced my eyes open, and Charles sat at the foot of the hospital bed. He inched forward and held me in his arms.
“It’s alright, girl. We got you, you’re safe. We even had time to grab some of your things.”
I sobbed uncontrollably, and I heard the door to my room open.
“Sir, you’re going to have to step out for a moment,” an unfamiliar voice spoke.
“No. He’s staying in here. Charles don’t leave,” I pleaded.
“I won’t, sweetheart,” he replied.
A male doctor stepped in behind the nurse. Charles stood up from the bed, but continued holding my hand.
“Hello. I’m Doctor Rain. How are you feeling?” he asked.
I really didn’t know how to answer that question.
“I don’t know… What day is it?” I asked.
“It’s Sunday, ma’am,” one of the nurses spoke.
“You’ve been out for a day,” Doctor Rain said. “You came in with a gunshot wound to the left thigh. The bullet was removed and just missed your bone. You had heavy smoke inhalation to the lungs which would explain if you are experiencing any pain in your throat. You have heavy lacerations to both sides of your face, but only needed two stitches on the right side. They should heal up in a few weeks’ time. I need to ask you some very personal questions, ma’am. It’s up to you who you want in this room.”
I looked around at the nurses and then at Charles.
“He can stay,” I said, pointing to Charles, and the nurses exited the room.
Doctor Rain pulled up a stool by my bedside and sat next to me.
“Miss Amore, these questions are not easy to answer, nor are they easy for me to ask. You had some very severe blunt force trauma to the right side of your abdomen. We have been monitoring it every hour, on the hour, due to the internal bleeding. So far, you are pulling through. To lawfully protect the hospital, we could not give you a blood transfusion due to the power of attorney card you had in your wallet. This has actually worked out okay because the bleeding seems to have stopped,” he informed. I could tell he was informing me of my injuries to get at a set of questions.
“There can be bad side effects and horrible recovery times with a transfusion. Also anemia. So again, this worked out for you,” he repeated, and took a deep breath. I could tell he was stalling. “We need to know… was anything else done to you?”
I cut him off. “I know what you are getting at, Doctor, and I swear to you, I was not raped. I was hit in the face three or four times and punched in the stomach one time,” I informed, and then couldn’t help crying. “The police that did this said that I would never have children after he hit me.”
The doctor tried to maintain his professionalism, but I could see the instant disgust at what I told him.
“They tied my hands and hung me to a door,” I said, looking at Charles.
“Why did they say they were there?” the doctor asked.
I looked at the doctor and then back to Charles.
“Hey, you can tell him the truth, sweetheart. Everything is exposed now. There are no more secrets,” Charles informed me.
“They said they were sent there by Officer Tommy Schmidt. Officer Tellar told that to the others he was with. I think one of the other police was named Ross. He’s the one whose arm I broke.”
Doctor Rain looked floored, and I could tell what I was telling him was hard to process.
“I’m going to stop you right there. What you are telling me are things that need to be told to the detectives outside of your room. What I need to know are of any medical issues,” he said, rubbing his head and widening his eyes. “I am aware of what I have heard from the news so far, but I don’t need to know these details. Is it okay if I call in the detectives after the nurses have taken your vitals?”
I looked at Charles for any kind of answer he might have.
“That’s up to you, Madalyn,” he said.
“That’s fine, send them in,” I told the Doctor.
Shortly after the nurses had taken my vitals and asked me some medical questions, three police stepped in. They all stood at the foot of my bed. Two men and one woman.
“Hello, ma’am. We just want to start off by saying that you are not in any kind of trouble that we know of. We do, however, have to read you your rights,” the woman said. I cut her off so she didn’t have to go through them.
“I already know my rights, so you do not have to read them,” I said.
“Okay, very well. I’m Miranda Miller with the FBI, this is Corey Thompson with the California Special Victims Unit, and this is Detective Dusty Smith. We are going to ask you a series of questions. Is it okay that we do that?” she very politely asked.
“That’s fine,” I said. “But can you guys find some chairs? I feel crowded with you standing over me. Also, Charles stays with me, please.”
They sort of laughed. “That’s all fine, we’ll grab some chairs.”
They sat around me and got out their notebooks.
“Ma’am, if there is anything you are uncomfortable talking about in front of everyone, you can stop and ask to speak to just one of us,” Corey Thompson said.
“Thank you,” I replied. I knew what he was implying.
“So can you start from the top? Tell us what happened on Friday morning. Where were you?” Officer Miller asked.
“You want me to start from the top so that this all makes sense? Charles, you said you grabbed a few of my things from the house, right?”
“Yes I did. Actually, I grabbed your luggage,” he replied.
“Bring it to me, please.”
Charles stepped over to a tall cabinet, pulling out my suitcase.
“Open it up, and on the bottom is a thick, dark blue book. Can you bring me that?” I asked.
He walked over to me, handing me the book.
“You want me to start from the top…” I said, closing my eyes, clenching my journal. My life up to that point flashed through my mind in five seconds. I was starting with my father, who I loved very much. I began speaking before my eyes opened. “I loved my father… I had just turned thirteen, and my father had just died in a plane crash…” I told the officers, opening my journal.
By the time I had gotten to the events of the past two days, all three were leaning on my hospital bed, and Officer Thompson was holding my hand. Miranda Miller’s eyes were flooded. “So now we are here,” I said. “After Charles was called to the casino, I went to sleep. I was woken up by the front door being smashed in by Santa Barbara police. I heard one of them mention that Tommy told them I was there. And it makes sense, he was the only other person who knew I was staying at your house.”
“Wait a moment,” the detective interrupted. “Officer Tommy Schmidt?”
“Yes. Are you familiar with him?” I asked.
“Without saying too much, he has been under investigation for corruption for a few months now. Along with most of the officers in the Santa Barbara precinct. If that’s true about Officer Schmidt, that links Santa Ynez Police as well,” he told us.
“Without saying too much, my ass. Did you hear what she just told you? And I have been feeding information to Tommy for months now, and he’s been selling me out. You guys need to go after him now. You make the call or I’m going to.” Charles fumed.
“Mr. Rider, please calm down,” Officer Miller said.
“The first officer in the room was a cop named Ross. I broke his arm, and then was punched or kicked in the head -I am unsure I blacked out. They tied me to the top of the door, and Officer Tellar struck me several times in the face and once in the stomach,” I couldn’t help but cry again as I recounted the terror. Detective Thompson brushed my knuckles back and forth with his thumb in an attempt to comfort me.
“Can you go back a moment? You said you broke one of the officer’s arms? How did you do that?” the detective asked.
“He knocked me to the ground when the bedroom door was kicked open. When he ran up to grab me, I put him in an arm-bar. He tried to slam me to the floor, so I let go and pulled on his ankles. When he was on his back I jumped on him. I wasn’t sure where he got his police training, but it wasn’t good. I’ve also been in Jiu-Jitsu for quite a few years now,” I answered.
Thompson looked to the others in the room, his eyes wide as he chuckled in amazement.
“Well, that came in handy it sounds like,” Miranda said, smiling.
I shrugged my shoulders. “It was useful, but in this situation, it didn’t really change the outcome. I needed rescuing. Without Jack, I would have probably been dead. He showed up and killed all of them. Unfortunately though, he let one live and only incapacitated him. We ran downstairs together and we both were shot by a female officer we didn’t know was in the house. Jack killed her,” I said reluctantly. “We were then surrounded by many men, so he killed all the lights in the house. After their many failed attempts of getting inside, they set the house on fire.”
Detective Thompson chimed in, “If I may interrupt for a moment. How were they failing to get inside?”
“My Jack… he killed everyone who entered.”
The Officer’s exchanged glances, adjusting their posture, making their apparent discomfort known as I shared with them the truth of that fatal dawn.
I felt my chest tighten as I approached the part I dreaded to speak of. As I began, I fought my emotions through every word, stopping occasionally to compose myself. My cheeks felt dry and chapped from wiping the tears. My bruises and cuts stung from crying.
“Jack pulled me back into the room where the police originally had me, and the one he let live shot him three times. Twice on the right side of his chest, and once in the head. I tried to keep him awake, but he was fading. He told me good-bye…” I stopped, unable to speak from the grief weighing on my chest like gravity. “What he said to me is mine. I don’t wish to share it with you.”
Miranda Miller wiped her cheeks at the same time she rubbed my back, comforting me.
“Madalyn,” Charles spoke. “I have to believe my grandson is alive still. We did not find his body in the house. He was not there.”
“It’s true,” Miranda chimed in. “No one at that crime scene has been identified as Achak Rider.”
“That is just not possible. I held him in my arms. I watched him die. I thought I was dying. The last thing I remember was lying next to him in the guest room.” I cried.
“The only people in that guest room were dead police,” Miranda added.
“How did you make it out of the house, sweetheart?”
“I didn’t. I don’t remember,” I replied, frustrated.
The police could feel tension building between us.
“We will get to the bottom of it soon, but regardless of all that, we have your statement, and now we have to move you,” Miranda said.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“There is a much larger picture here than what you all know. But all of these unfortunate happenings over the past two to three years stretch from the Mexican gulf, to South Carolina and up the West Coast and Miami. All of this corruption is tied to the organized drug family, Los Zetas. Those men that Achak Rider saw the police kill when his family died, were most likely from a rival drug cartel. Believe me when I say, this shit will follow you forever unless we act. Having said that, we are putting you and your mother in witness protection.”
I fell back on my pillow in disbelief. I didn’t know what to think.
“I’ll be dead before I leave Santa Ynez,” Charles protested.
“That is your choice as well as Madalyn’s. But your mother already agreed to this. And you are meeting her at a private location regardless. Believe me when I say, this is only going to get worse. It seems that the move played by Achak Rider to call out the police worked. They got jumpy and came to Chief Rider’s house, making a huge mess. We can assume the Zetas are well aware. We have backed a pit-bull into a corner. I assume a lot of people are going to start dying,” Miranda spoke.
“A lot of people have already died,” I cried.
A police officer entered the room and signaled for Miranda to speak with him in the hallway. His face looked grave and the tone in his voice sounded dire.
“Miss Amore, the hospital is working on getting you checked out, and a nurse will be traveling with you,” Officer Thompson informed.
Miranda Miller walked back into the room, along with the police officer. “Miss Amore, we have to move you immediately. Chief Rider, it looks like we won’t be doing anything with Tommy Schmidt except getting an autopsy report. He was just found outside his home with a single arrow in his heart. Never even made it out of his squad car,” she said.
My hands instinctively made their way around my mouth as I gasped. Charles jumped to his feet.
“Jack,” he muttered.
“We aren’t jumping to any conclusions, or taking any chances,” Miranda replied as two nurses stepped in to help me out of bed.
The Officer in the room was a member of the state police. He stepped by the door as his radio went off.
“Go ahead,” he said into the radio up by his shoulder as he stepped out of the room once more. He was only out for twenty seconds before he stepped back in.
“Miller,” he said, expecting her to step out with him.
“Go ahead,” she replied.
“Three more, all the same. One was making a traffic stop… killed in his car. The other entering his car in front of the Santa Barbara Precinct.”
“Charles, if your grandson is still alive and he’s doing this, he is going to end up being killed by the good guys. If you know something, you had better tell us,” Miranda warned.
“Hey, I know nothin’. But I’ll tell ya, that it is most likely Achak. And if the good guys know what’s good for ’em, they better stay out of his way,” Charles yelled back.
The Officer stepped back out of the room as his radio went off only to step back in fifteen seconds later. He said nothing, only grabbing the TV remote and changing the channels as fast as he could.
I brought my hands to my face in shock and awe. The title at the bottom of the news story: Santa Ynez Police Department and Public Works building on fire.
The building was engulfed. Fire trucks and ambulance surrounded every block.
“Witnesses say they saw a man around the building as the fire started but police still say they have no suspects. This is but a series of crimes taking place over the past twenty four hours. We have yet to confirm how, and if they are related.”
“I have no remorse,” Charles spoke. “They have reaped what they have surely sown. I know you officers are trying to do your job and help, but this is the justice they deserve,” he continued, raising his voice and pointing at the officers in the room. “And if you are concerned at all about self-preservation, you will stay out of Achak’s way.”
Miranda stepped toward Charles and began to speak only to be interrupted by a nurse that knocked on the door as she opened it.
“Miss Amore?” she asked, a puzzled look across her face.
“Yes, that’s me,” I answered.
“A boy just dropped this envelope off for you.”
“For me?” I questioned as I took it.
I frantically ripped open the envelope, pulling out a small piece of paper that was burned on one side.
Do not look for my star. It will find you.
My emotions could not be contained, nor did I want them to. I kissed what had been written in ash, holding it to my lips for a brief moment, taking in the burning scent that held new meaning for me. Charles grabbed the note from my hand.
“Do not find my star… It will find you,” he read aloud. “Madalyn? What…sweetheart, what does this mean?”
“The legend is true,” I whispered.
The nurses moved me at the FBI’s request. I had gotten dressed, and one of the officer’s carried my luggage out to a large black suburban. Charles followed me outside. I turned to him, feeling frantic and terrified of the uncertainty. I fell upon Charles’ neck and cried.
“It will be alright,” he whispered. “You have my number and know how to get a hold of me. As soon as I find Jack, I’ll send him to you. I’m not going anywhere.”
One of the officer’s pulled on my arm. I didn’t turn to see who it was when I jerked my arm away. “Just give us a minute, dammit,” I cried.
“I’m so sorry for everything that happened to you, sweetheart. I should have never left you alone,” Charles told me, holding my face.
I grabbed Charles’ head and kissed his old face. I wiped the tears I had left on his cheek as I pulled away.
“Thank you, for everything. Whatever happens, I’ll never forget you… Do you hear me? I’ll never forget you.” I sobbed.
The old man’s expression crushed me as I was pulled into the vehicle.
“Good-bye, Grandpa,” I spoke before the suburban’s door closed. I saw a brief smile cross his face.
As we sped away I held onto one miraculous thought: after Achak Wave Rider had died in my arms, he somehow managed to save my life, one last time…