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       Retribution, p.5

           Jilliane Hoffman
 

  Pain, intense and biting, rolling in waves over her body.

  ‘Jesus Christ. Poor girl. Does anyone know her name?’

  ‘Her friend outside says that it’s Chloe. Chloe Larson. She’s a law student at St John’s.’

  The voices faded away and the blackness folded in on her.

  12

  Chloe slowly opened her eyes and was immediately blinded by the bright light. For a moment she thought that perhaps she had died and was in heaven, just moments from meeting her maker.

  ‘Follow the light, please.’ The penlight tracked across her face. She smelled the overpowering smell of disinfectant and bleach and knew that she was in a hospital.

  ‘Chloe? Chloe?’ The young doctor in a white lab coat flashed his penlight again in her eyes. ‘I’m glad to see you’re waking up. How are you feeling?’ Chloe read his tag: Lawrence broder, M.D.

  It seemed like a really stupid question to Chloe. She tried to answer, but her tongue was thick and dry. She could manage only a whisper. ‘Not good.’

  Everything hurt. She looked at her arms, both of which were wrapped in heavy white gauze bandages, and saw tubes connected everywhere. Her abdomen throbbed in the most excruciating pain, which was growing more intense.

  Michael sat in a chair in the corner of the room. His body hunched forward, hands folded under his chin, elbows on his lap. He looked worried. Outside the window in the room the sky was tinged pink and orange and light was fading. It looked like sunset.

  Another man in green scrubs stood silently by the door. Chloe assumed he was a doctor, too.

  ‘You’re in the hospital, Chloe. You have experienced quite a trauma.’ Dr Broder paused and looked around the room. The three men exchanged awkward glances. ‘Do you know why you’re here, Chloe? Do you remember what happened to you?’

  Chloe’s eyes welled up, and tears rolled out. She nodded slowly. The Clown’s face flashed into her mind.

  ‘You were assaulted last night. Sexually assaulted. Your friend found you this morning and the paramedics brought you here, to Jamaica Hospital in Queens.’ He hesitated and shifted his feet, obviously uncomfortable. He spoke fast. ‘You suffered some severe injuries. Your uterus was badly torn and you were hemorrhaging. You had lost a great deal of blood. Unfortunately Dr Reubens, here, was forced to do an emergency hysterectomy to stop the bleeding.’ He motioned to the green scrub doctor, who held his position by the door, his head down, his eyes purposefully avoiding Chloe’s. ‘That was the greatest injury, though, and that’s all the really bad news. You do have some cuts and wounds on your body for which we called in a plastic surgeon to do the stitching and minimize any scarring. These other injuries, though, are not life threatening, and the good news is that we expect you will be fine and make a full recovery.’

  That’s all the really bad news. That’s it. That’s all, folks. She looked around at the three men in the room. All three, including Michael, avoided her stare, their eyes darting among each other and to obscure objects on the floor.

  Her voice was barely a whisper. ‘A hysterectomy?’ The words even hurt as they escaped her throat. ‘Does that mean I can’t have a baby?’

  Lawrence Broder, M.D., shifted to the other foot and frowned. ‘I’m afraid that you will be unable to carry a fetus, that is correct.’ She could tell Dr Broder wanted this conversation to end. Now.

  He quickly continued, twisting his flashlight pen back and forth like a baton in his right-hand fingers. ‘A hysterectomy is major surgery, though, so you will be in the hospital for at least the next couple of days. The recovery period for something like this is usually six to eight weeks. We’ll start you on some limited physical therapy tomorrow and progress slowly. Are you having pain in your abdomen now?’

  Chloe winced and nodded.

  Dr Broder beckoned the sullen Dr Reubens over. Then he closed the curtain around the bed, blocking Michael out, and lifted the hospital sheets back. Chloe could see white bandages wrapping her stomach, her breasts. Dr Reubens gently palpated her abdomen, sending fireballs of pain through her body.

  He nodded, not at Chloe, but at Dr Broder. ‘The swelling is normal. The stitches look good,’ Dr Reubens said.

  Dr Broder nodded back and then smiled at Chloe. ‘I’ll have the nurse up the morphine dosage in your IV. That should make it better.’ He replaced the sheets and again shifted feet. ‘There are some detectives outside who would like to speak with you. Are you feeling up to it?’

  Chloe hesitated, then nodded.

  ‘I’ll send them in.’ He pulled the curtain back. Obviously relieved to end the conversation, Dr Broder and Dr Reubens, his eyes still cast downward at the floor, then moved quickly toward the door. Dr Broder pulled open the door handle and paused. ‘You have been through a terrible ordeal, Chloe. We are all pulling for you.’ Then he smiled softly and walked out.

  The victim of a sexual assault A hysterectomy. No kids. The nightmare had been real. The words were coming too fast at her, there was too much information to absorb. Images of the Clown’s twisted smile, his naked body, the jagged blade, all flashed in her head. He knew all about her. He knew her nickname. He knew her favorite restaurant. He knew she had missed the gym. He said he was always watching her.

  Don’t you worry, Chloe. I’ll always be close by. Watching. Waiting.

  She closed her eyes and remembered the knife, remembered the pain that had engulfed her body when she had first felt him cut her. Michael came up beside her now and held her hand.

  ‘It’s going to be okay, Chloe. I’m here with you.’ He spoke softly. She opened her eyes and noticed that he didn’t look directly at her, but somehow past her, as if focused on some spot on the wall. ‘I spoke with your mom, your parents are on their way now. They’ll be here tonight.’ His voice was choked, and he let out a slow, deep breath. ‘I just wish you had let me stay with you last night. I just wish I had stayed. I would have killed this sick fuck. I would have… ‘ He bit down on his lip, and his eyes scanned over the outline of her body under the crisp white hospital sheets. ‘My God, just look what he’s done… this mother-fucking pervert…’ His words trailed off and he balled his hands into fists and turned away toward the window.

  I just wish you had let me stay with you last night.

  A faint knock interrupted them, and the door slowly opened. The hall was bustling with activity. It must be visiting hours. A short woman with frizzy red hair and an outdated red-and-black pantsuit walked into the room.She wore no makeup, except for white under-eye concealer to help hide the dark circles, and her face bore too many lines for her age, which Chloe guessed to be about thirty-five. She was followed into the room by an older man in a cheap blue suit who towered over her by at least a foot. He looked near to retirement, with gray, thinning hair combed over his bald spot. He smelled of stale cigarette smoke. They both looked tired, and together, they made an odd-looking pair, like a hot dog and hamburger.

  ‘Hi, Chloe. I’m Detective Amy Harrison. I’m with the Queens County Special Victims’ Unit. This is my partner, Detective Benny Sears. I know this is a tough time for you, but we need to ask you a few questions about what happened to you last night while everything is still fresh in your mind.’

  Detective Harrison looked over at Michael, still standing by the window. There was a waiting pause.

  Michael walked over and extended his hand. ‘I’m Mike Decker. I’m Chloe’s boyfriend.’

  Detective Harrison took his hand and nodded. She addressed Chloe. ‘Chloe, if it will make it easier on you, Mike can stay with you during this, but only if you want him to.’

  ‘Of course I’m staying with her.’ Michael’s voice had a sharp edge.

  Chloe nodded slowly.

  Detective Sears smiled at her and nodded in Michael’s direction, acknowledging him, then he sniffled, cracked his gum, and pulled out a notepad and a Bic pen. He stood at the foot of the bed while Detective Harrison pulled up a chair next to Chloe’s bedside, which now made him tower a full two fe
et over his partner.

  Detective Harrison began. ‘Let’s start with this. Do you know the person who did this to you?’

  Chloe shook her head.

  ‘Was it one person or more than one?’

  ‘Slowly, ‘Just one.’

  ‘Do you think you would be able to recognize him again if you saw him? I’ll bring in a police sketch artist to work with you…’

  Tears flowed down Chloe’s cheeks. She shook her head, her voice barely audible, ‘No. He had on a mask.’

  Michael made a noise that sounded like a snort. Under his breath, ‘Mother-fucking bastard…’

  ‘Please, Mr Decker… ‘ Detective Harrison’s voice was cutting.

  Detective Sears’s face was stone. ‘What kind of mask?’

  ‘He wore a rubber clown mask. I couldn’t see his face.’

  Detective Harrison continued gently. ‘That’s okay, Chloe. Just tell us what you remember. Take your time.’

  She couldn’t stop the tears now, and they streamed down her face. Her body started to tremble, slightly at first and then uncontrollably more violent. ‘I was sleeping. There was this voice in my dream, I think he called me Beany. I tried to wake up, I tried.’

  She raised her hands to her face and saw the gauze-wrapped wrists. Then she remembered the rope and cringed. ‘But he grabbed my hands and then he tied me up and I couldn’t… I couldn’t move. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t scream… he had something in my mouth.’ She touched her fingers to her lips, still tasting the dry, soft silk, heavy on her tongue. She could feel herself gagging, and it was hard to breathe again.

  ‘He put something in my mouth, then he had my arms and my feet and I just couldn’t move anywhere. I couldn’t move…’ She looked away from Detective Harrison and reached for Michael’s hand, to steady the shaking, but he had turned back toward the window, hands fisted.

  I just wish you had let me stay with you last night

  Detective Harrison glanced in Michael’s direction, reached over and touched Chloe’s arm. ‘A lot of rape victims blame themselves, Chloe. But you need to know that it is not your fault. Nothing that you did or didn’t do could have prevented this.’

  ‘He knew things. He knew where my candles were, there, in the drawer. He lit my candles, and, I… I just couldn’t move!’

  ‘Did he say anything to you, Chloe? Can you remember what he said?’

  ‘Oh my God. Yes, yes, yes, that was the worst thing. He kept talking to me like he knew me.’ She could not stop shaking, and sobbing wracked her shoulders. ‘He knew everything, everything. He said he was always watching me and said he would always be near me. Always. He knew about my vacation to Mexico last year, he knew Michael’d been over on Tuesday, he knew my mother’s name, my favorite restaurant, he knew I missed my gym class on Wednesday. He knew everything!’ Pain ripped through her breasts, and she now remembered why.

  ‘He had a knife, he just cut off my pajamas and then he… he cut me. I could feel him slice my skin open and I couldn’t move. Then he was on top of me and…

  ‘Michael, please, I couldn’t move! I kept trying, but I just could not move. I couldn’t get him off of me!’ She screamed it until her voice went completely hoarse.

  Detective Harrison sighed and slowly stroked Chloe’s arm, repeating herself that Chloe was not to blame. Detective Sears exhaled a deep breath and shook his head. Then he flipped to the next page in his notebook.

  Chloe, sobbing, looked over for Michael, but he was still turned away toward the window, with his fists clenched and his back to her.

  13

  It was pouring rain on the Tuesday afternoon when Chloe was finally released from Jamaica Hospital. Just five days after she’d been wheeled in unconscious on a stretcher, Dr Broder came in her flower-filled room and announced with a broad smile that Chloe was now ‘fine’ and was being discharged that afternoon. The news had frightened her – she’d had the shakes all day, and her heart raced as the time of her discharge approached.

  Her mother had finally heeded her advice and ignored the real estate section of the New York Times and instead had focused on the paper’s obituary section. Within two days she had found Chloe a one-bedroom apartment on the eighteenth floor of the North Shore Towers, a high-rise building in Lake Success, just over the Queens-Nassau county line. It had belonged to a ninety-year-old widow and her seventeen-year-old cat, Tibby. Unfortunately for Tibby, the widow had passed on before he did. Chloe, with the help of two new Ben Franklins, was able to have it right away. Her mom said she thought it was nice, for a New York apartment.

  Chloe never wanted to return to Apartment 1B, Rocky Hill Road. Never. She never wanted to see Bayside again. Except for Pete the Parakeet, she never wanted to see anything from her apartment again, and especially anything from the bedroom. From her hospital bed, she told her parents to sell it all, burn it all, give it all away. She just did not care, as long as nothing and no one, including Michael or her parents, made the trip directly from her old apartment to her new one.

  She knew that Michael thought she was being more than a little paranoid. The idea of her rapist waiting, watching, and following people to find out where Chloe would be moving to seemed, to him, far-fetched. He agreed that she should move out of Bayside, but he could not understand why she did not just move in with him. And he simply refused to give up his Manhattan apartment.

  ‘Chloe, do you know how hard it is to get a rent-controlled apartment in the eighties?’ he had asked. ‘I had to search for eighteen months before I found this one.’

  Explaining her reasoning to him was almost demeaning. ‘Michael, he knows everything. He knows all about me and he knows all about you. He’s probably followed me from your place or he’s followed you home. Maybe he was your neighbor, and he followed me from your apartment. And maybe you are willing to take a chance for a stupid “rent-controlled apartment in the eighties”, but I’m not. And I am not going there again. Ever. I just can’t believe that you can’t see any of this!’

  The conversation had been heated. Too heated. She had started to cry, he had sighed too loudly. To stop her tears, he promised to ‘see what he could do’, but it would just be impossible for him to move right away. Then he suggested that they instead work on finding her a new apartment out of Bayside. He had stepped outside the room to make a quick phone call and after about ten minutes, returned and announced that he had to go back to his office. A bouquet of flowers had arrived two hours later with a note that simply said, ‘With love, Michael.’ That was Friday. He then worked all weekend.

  So Chloe’s mom had found her the apartment at the North Shore Towers, its windows high above the ground. It offered a single woman in the city the best of amenities: a doorman; double-bolted doors; an alarm system with motion detectors; and, a deluxe intercom system. By Sunday her parents had moved in her television, her kitchen table and chairs, and Pete. Everything else they picked up new at Sears. On Monday the Salvation Army arrived at Rocky Hill Road with their big red van. Two muscled male workers pushed past what remained of the yellow crime scene tape left dangling from the doorjamb of Apartment 1B, and gratefully hauled away the rest of what remained of Chloe’s life’s belongings. They left a receipt on the empty living room floor. And on a rainy, gray Monday afternoon, as a few curious neighbors looked on, her life in Bayside, Queens, quietly ended. Her father told her that Marvin, her neighbor upstairs, sent his regards.

  Her parents, of course, had tried to convince her to move back to California. Anywhere in California would do. Anywhere out west, in fact. Anywhere but New York City. Chloe had raised the subject with Michael, but he had just as quickly dismissed the idea. His career, her firm, his family, their life together – everyone and everything was in New York. So she had lied and told her parents that they were both toying with the idea, but she needed to take the New York Bar first and start at her new firm, where she’d already made a commitment. Then she made an all-important-sounding speech about how she wasn’t going to
let this maniac ruin her life or run her out of town. Blah, blah, blah. Chloe hoped she actually meant what she said.

  In truth, she did not know what she wanted anymore. What had seemed so important only five short days ago now seemed utterly trivial. The bar exam, a new job, an engagement. She jealously watched television from her hospital bed as the world went on as normal, as if nothing at all had happened. People fighting the usual rush-hour traffic in the morning, and then fighting it back home again at night, just struggling to commute. And on TV, the news anchors, busily reporting the world’s comings and goings, as if these were major newsworthy events.

  If you’re headed to the Island, avoid construction on the LIE and delays on the Grand Central Parkway. Tom Cruise is appearing at a star-studded Hollywood premiere in Los Angeles. Another boatload of Cuban refugees is found off the coast of Key West, Florida. Please help the starving children of the world. Unfortunately, folks, the weekend weather calls for continued thunderstorms. Sorry, boaters, better luck next weekend when drier air looks like it’ll move on in.

  It made her want to scream.

  The police guard who had stood by her room for the first two days was now gone and, she assumed, had been reassigned to protect yet another victim. Detective Sears had told Chloe that the guard was taken off her room because she was no longer considered in ‘imminent danger’. And although the police were ‘actively hunting the perpetrator’ and ‘following up on all possible leads’, by Monday, Detective Harrison had stopped her daily visits to Chloe’s hospital room, choosing instead to call in once a day to see how she was doing. Chloe suspected that within a few days, the phone calls, too, would trickle off, as her case was shuffled aside to make room for the new arrivals.

  Her hospital room overflowed with the many baskets of fragrant flowers that had been sent by well-meaning friends, acquaintances, and associates, but still she couldn’t bring herself even to say hello to anyone on the telephone. Other than Marie, Chloe did not want to see friends. She didn’t want anyone to see her bandages, and then wonder about all the horrible things that must have happened to her to warrant so many of them. She didn’t want to talk about that night, but she also didn’t want to make idle chitchat with the curious. After that, she realized, there really was not much to say. She wanted to go back in time, to simply be Chloe again, with all the normal problems and tedious chores that seemed to plague her on any given day, but she knew that that was no longer possible. She hated him for that most of all. He had taken her life, and she did not know how to get it back.

 
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