San Francisco and Los Altos Hills, California
It was a day and many unanswered questions later as I sat in a quiet corner of the Fairmont Hotel with Sean’s siblings, Aidan and Genevieve.
Sean’s older brother and baby sister had bloodshot eyes. A combination, I guessed, from crying and taking the red-eye flight from Kentucky.
Feeling numb and shocked, I’d made my way into the city to meet for the scheduled call from the hospital to get updates and set up a family visit.
Aidan connected a Jabra speakerphone to his laptop, and we made our introductions with the bedside nurse, Janice Lee. “I’m Sean’s significant other,” I announced as if married to him.
Genevieve added, “She even wears our late mother’s diamond necklace!”
“Can I visit him?” I asked. They had moved Sean into the Stanford ICU.
“The ‘family only’ visitation rules have stopped, so that’s not an issue,” Nurse Lee responded. “Yet it’s best if nobody visits until he’s stabilized.”
Oh, dear Lord. My heart lurched in my chest.
“How… how can we get updates about his condition?” Aidan’s hand trembles as he taps the speakerphone to turn up the volume.
There was a slight hesitation. “I can contact you when there’s any change or if your brother needs procedures. Is this the number to reach you?” the nurse asked.
Aidan sucked in a deep breath. “Yes, thanks.”
“You’re welcome, Mr. Coleman.”
“Aidan. Please, call me Aidan.”
“No problem, Aidan.”
My mind raced to a vision of Sean isolated from humanity and surrounded by machines. Nobody’s holding his hand, telling him he’ll make it through this.
In a soothing tone, the nurse said, “We have dedicated around-the-clock staff taking care of him and he’s making progress. You may be able to come in sometime this weekend.”
The only news clipping so far was a curt headline: “Attempted Murder of Los Altos Hills Millionaire.” Sean’s name was not in the column. But to me, it sounded like a dehumanizing, monetizing advertisement for an action-packed movie.
We still had questions. Genevieve stood, pacing, “Who’s part of Sean’s medical team?”
“I’m his dedicated ICU nurse and have an assistant. We have ten over professionals assigned. The Attending physician, Dr. Jung, is among the best in the nation. We have a Stanford Fellow who graduated at the top of his class, a Resident, Intern, APP, Case Manager, and others including a consultant. Sean is getting excellent care.”
Aidan tapped his pen on his notepad. “I guess he’s in good hands.”
“Yes. The ICU team is doing everything we can to speed up his recovery.”
A much nicer word than ’survival.’ “What recuperation time should we expect?” I asked.
The line went dead. Did we lose our connection? “Hello?” We asked in unison.
The nurse’s cautious voice came back over the line. “I’m sorry. Too many variables exist for me to answer the question. I’d be happy to have Dr. Jung call you with an update when available.”
Too many variables. I realized we knew no details. The only news so far was blunt. I also realized this nurse was being patient with us. But was she holding back details?
I wanted to say, but he’s my soulmate! I want to be his wife. I’d have his kids if I wasn’t too old for childbirth!
What I needed most was to hear Sean’s voice. “Can any of us call him? Or relay a message?”
This time, the nurse was silent for too long. My stomach turned, and I thought I’d throw up from nerves. There was a crackling sound causing Aidan to move the speakerphone closer to his phone, check connections, and press buttons. “What the… hello?” He shouted at the speaker as if it were a petulant child.
Nurse Lee’s voice came back, direct but sympathetic “I’m sorry to have kept you waiting. I’m sorrier to tell you this latest update: Mr. Coleman slipped into a coma a few minutes ago—”
“What? Oh my God. You said he’s making progress!” Genevieve thrust both arms in the air.
The nurse was silent a moment. “He has made progress. We hadn’t expected him to pull through when he was first admitted. He had lost a lot of blood and was in shock. But Mr. Coleman is a survivor.”
A survivor, yes. Sean has survived working the coal mines as a kid, childhood poverty, being shot on a business trip to China. I wondered about the connection with the overseas incident.
“I love him,” I blurted out for whatever reason. Perhaps so she’d offer us the grim details I both craved and feared.
“I can tell. Your loyalty is admirable. Mr. Coleman’s a lucky man. Although he was shot three times, it penetrated no vital organs. The prognosis is strong for recovery—it’s the timing that’s unknown. It could be days, weeks, or months. But he’s a fit, strong man, a fighter.”
Shot three times! The scary details were coming at us whether we wanted them or not. Genevieve asked what I most feared. “Was he shot in the head?”
We hear the sounds of a keyboard from the speakerphone. The nurse’s soft voice returned, “A bullet skimmed along the side of his head but there’s no damage to his skull or brain. The other two shots hit him in the arm and torso. Mr. Coleman underwent a blood transfusion in the operating room because his ABL—allowable blood loss— was greater than what’s deemed safe. But we believe he’ll pull through.”
“We appreciate you being so forthcoming with information. Sometimes, not knowing is the worst thing,” Aidan said. “Sean’s my kid brother.”
“I understand,” Nurse Lee said in a compassionate tone. “Somebody shot my brother in East Palo Alto when I was a teen. Nobody told me anything and it was the hardest part.”
“One more question. How can we help?” Genevieve asked.
“When you come in, even if he’s still in a coma, talk to him. Many patients in a coma can hear their loved ones speaking. It gives them hope.”
What to do next? Not bothering to go home for any clothes or toiletries, I run to my Prius, hit the brake pedal and press the power button, double-checking to be sure I had Sean’s house key.
The traffic on I-280 was light, and I made it to Los Altos Hills in an hour. Time enough to ponder the craziness of me driving to Sean’s house, the scene of attempted murder. But something pulled me, and I had to follow my instinct. Whoever attempted to kill Sean is still out there. They don’t even have a suspect.
Oddly, I was fearless, on a mission. For what, I’m not sure, other than to fill the tense space of waiting.
As I pull off Exit 16 for Los Altos, my phone rings and I press the button on my Bluetooth speaker clip to answer the call from Anna.
“Tell me you’re not driving to Sean’s,” she says.
One hand flew off the steering wheel, flapping in frustration. “I need to be somewhere closer to him, what do you think? I’m actually in Los Altos—”
“Has it occurred to you that you might not get near the house? It’s probably swarming with police, crime scene tape, and investigators hungry to find clues!” Anna’s voice went to an exhilarated pitch. “Not to mention your safety!”
“Calm down, girl!” I realized she’s right, but it didn’t matter. I’ll take a chance on my hunch that I’d find something. The unspoken words that I blamed myself for Sean getting hurt remained a silent clutch at my soul.
I told him I’d break off our relationship if he doesn’t pull out of Pentagon-related funding.
After closing the call, I made my way up La Paloma Road the name of which reminds me of Anna’s Picasso dove painting. I park on the street where I can walk in from around the back of the house. I figured if anyone was investigating, they’d park in front near Sean’s garage.
Anna was wrong about his place being packed with police. Maybe since Sean’s house is a mini-mansion, they’re crawling around a corner unseen. I struggle with the key and let myself in, disarming the alarm before it announced my presence.
I’ve always considered Sean’s home too over-the-top opulent for my environmentally inclined mind. But as I walk through his great room with its panoramic view of the valley and vineyard, I appreciate Sean’s personal touch. I feel his presence.
Photos of his family hang on walls, with clerestory windows and skylights adding ambient light to a neutral palette. Windows remained open, reminding me Sean had been rushed by ambulance to the ER. It sent chills down my spine.
Sean was shot here. Where? There were no signs of struggle. no blood, no cops, nothing.
I pass the cozy study and the open, airy kitchen with its bright, happy tones of orange and pops of yellow. Into the master bedroom—our room. I sit on the bed rummaging through the drawers for a change of clothes, toiletries, and makeup. Sean had advised me to leave some of my stuff here. I never imagined I’d be waiting out his recovery from gunshot wounds.
I need to find a place to stay nearby. In the morning, I’m going to the ICU—no matter what the hospital says.
I move to leave the room, stuffing my things into one of Sean’s backpacks, when I see his cell phone. I pick it up then press and hold the power button. My heart melts as I unlock Sean’s screen, a reminder of the trust we’d built between us.
Sean had texted me two hours before I got the call from the Santa Clara County police informing me that he was shot. That’s when he’d said he was stressed-out and going to relax in the hot tub.
I swipe my finger and see our messages. But something else: A string of text messages between Sean and some guy stamped Nov. 4, between 4:45 and 5:30 PM, Last night, before the shooting.
I scrolled through the messages, which offered a picture of the man’s face:
C: Coleman, you’re crazy. This will put us over the edge, from millionaires to billionaires
S: Fucking bloody-jawed wolves! I won’t use my hard-earned startup for repression and killing
C: We need your software for mapping out targets. There’s no technology like it! It’s Google Maps, only better!
S: I won’t be a war billionaire. It ends here for me
C: You’re right Coleman. This is where it ends for you. You’re done
My hands shaking, I drop Sean’s phone into my purse. My God, I have evidence!
Rushing through the house I hear voices out on the terrace. Sneaking a peek through the blinds, I freeze.
Cops. Crime tape. Without thinking, I step onto the terrace and stride confidently toward the pool area.
“Excuse me, Ma’am! This is a crime scene area; you can’t be here!” bellowed one policeman.
I put my hands up in front of me, “I’m… I’m Sean Coleman’s girlfriend.”
A cop gives me a suspicious eye. “What’s your name?”
Feeling exposed, I answer, “Julie Taylor.”
“Ms. Taylor, where were you last night between the hours of 6 and 8 PM?”
My heart beats so strongly I feel it in my throat. Is this when I’m supposed to remain silent? Have my rights read? “I was in my apartment in Sausalito.”
“Do you have an alibi?”
The emboldened haze wore off as I realize with dread the police now have their first suspect. Show them the text messages! I thought.
But something stops me, not knowing what Sean was getting into—or trying to get away from. What if I only made it worse?
A glance to my right overshadows any concern about me being suspected of attempted murder. A sudden wave of nausea hits me like a punch in the stomach. My knees buckle and bile rises in my throat. I swallow hard. Why hadn’t I noticed this on the way out?
The spa area was in disarray, chairs were strewn about, bistro tables overturned. A pool of blood surrounded the hot tub. The water inside the jacuzzi sparkled crimson, and a white towel soaked in blood hung ominously from the poolside bar.
My whole body shakes violently as the image of blood squirting out of Sean’s head pounds through my mind. My hands cover my face, and I scream, “Oh Sean!”
There was a muffled buzz, as though the policeman was speaking through a wall. I vaguely understood he was asking me to come to the station for questioning.