Read An Unexpected Grace Online

Authors: Kristin von Kreisler

An Unexpected Grace (3 page)

“Yuri, what are you doing? Don't
shoot!
” She stood, the better to plead.
He shouted words she didn't understand.
“Please . . . Please, don't . . . Please, oh, please.”
Just as Lila lunged behind her office chair, fire seared a path through her chest. The force sent her reeling against the file cabinet. As she collapsed, her head hit metal and she bit her tongue. Her hand swept across the desk and sent the posters of Grace through the air. Lila crashed to the floor and gasped for breath.
A shot crackled in the hall.
Please, don't let me die.
Her left side felt like she was being burned alive. As her eyes sagged closed, her mind fogged. She retreated to an ice floe, roiling and bobbing in a dark, distant territory.
2
W
hen Lila woke, her world was a thick, furry gray. She couldn't tell how long she rode up and down on a seesaw of awareness, but eventually she rose toward the light and opened her eyes to slits. Her eyelids felt as if a pebble had been tied to each lash. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn't will away the grogginess.
On her back, she couldn't move because her right arm was strapped down, and a needle connected to an intravenous tube was stuck into the back of her right hand and taped to her skin. Her left arm was in a plaster cast, and something pressed on her chest. When she shifted her shoulder's position just half an inch, adhesive tape tugged her skin.
She glanced around at bare white walls and a blank TV screen. Through the mini-blinds, the fading sun shone in soft stripes across her blanket. A curtain was drawn, like a partial cocoon, around one side and the foot of her bed. She heard rubber soles squeak softly on linoleum, and she smelled bleach and bruised flower petals.
What happened? How did I get here?
Suddenly, she remembered getting shot.
Shot,
for God's sake.
Shot!
One minute she'd been sitting at her desk, and the next, she was sprawled on the floor about to die in a pool of her own blood.
But she wasn't dead. She was in a hospital. She was alive.
Still, maybe she could die or be permanently disfigured.
As Lila cringed, her pain medication jumped in and bound her brain with golden cords that restrained her fear. Her world faded again to gray and furry.
 
Lila woke to moonlight on her blanket. A low-wattage fluorescent light had been turned on above her head. Her mind had cleared enough to stop the feeling that she was groping, blindfolded, through a forest, but shock, confusion, and medication still muddled her brain.
Her roommate's TV screen flickered and blurred on the other side of the privacy curtain as an anchorman with a deep voice described a flood in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
“There was another tragedy today,” he said. “Here's our own Sasha Pinsky to tell us about a shooting at the Crockett Building on Post Street.”
Desperate to hear what Sasha Pinsky would say, Lila strained to listen and searched the fuzzy TV colors on her curtain for hints of images that might tell her what had happened.
“Yes, Mike,” said Sasha. “Behind me on the fifth floor is Weatherby and Associates, one of San Francisco's oldest and best-known public relations firms. This morning a man went on a rampage here. He shot and killed seven employees and wounded three others.”
Lila gasped. Her lungs felt like they'd collapsed. As she worked to breathe, her teeth began to chatter.
“The three wounded are at San Francisco General,” Sasha Pinsky said. “Two are in satisfactory condition. One is critical.”
Am I in critical condition? Oh, God, who is dead?
As if Sasha Pinsky had read Lila's mind, she added, “So far the police haven't released any of the victims' names.”
“Does anyone have an idea how this happened?” Mike asked.
“Not yet. Yuri Makov, the alleged gunman, shot and killed himself before the police arrived. They're only saying he was a Russian immigrant who'd worked as a janitor for the firm the last eight months.”
Lila's body shook. Her brain roared. Tears slid from the corners of her eyes onto her hair, fanned out on the pillow.
Seven dead, three wounded.
It wouldn't sink in. She couldn't grasp the magnitude of the tragedy. It was too much to take in at one time.
Till a nurse gave her a sedative that knocked her out again, Lila mentally replayed Yuri Makov aiming his gun at her and pulling the trigger. Again and again she heard the blast and smelled the smoke. She saw his contorted face, as real as if he were standing close enough for her to feel his heartbeat. And on her neck she felt the turpentiney breath of terror.
 
The next morning Dr. Lovell, the head of Lila's medical team, must have sensed that psychologically she was dragging a ball and chain through tar. When he pulled up a chair to her bed and studied her face, his expression hardened like he thought she'd inspired Edvard Munch's
The Scream
. He sat next to her and looked into her eyes, whose navy blue seemed black against her pale cheeks. He asked, “So how's it going? Are we feeling okay?”
“I've felt better.”
“Not surprising.” A strapping man with an incongruously soft mustache, like an Easter duckling's down, Dr. Lovell crossed one leg over the other so his pants' pleat protruded, as sharp and clean as a knife blade. “Well, I've got good news for you. The killer used a .38-caliber gun. He shot you at an angle so the bullet traveled through your breast and lodged in your arm.”
“That's good news?”
“You bet. If he'd shot you head-on with something like a Terminator magnum, the bullet could have ripped through your heart or lung or ricocheted off a rib and landed God knows where. Somebody was watching out for you. You should thank your lucky stars.”
“Oh.” Lila shivered.
“All you've got is flesh wounds, a fractured humerus, and some muscle and nerve damage. We'll have to wait and see how the nerves heal.”
Alarmed, Lila sat up straighter even though it hurt to move. “It's all got to heal. I have to get back to work and save money. I want to do my art.”
“You will if you don't have complications.”
Complications?
“You think I will?”
“Let's hope not.” When Dr. Lovell clasped his hands over his clipboard, his starched white coat crackled.
Hoping for no complications was far from reassuring. Lila wanted guarantees. She was about to ask what complications she should be looking for—and whether she'd go through life with half a breast—when Dr. Lovell flicked a speck of lint off his immaculate trousers and asked, “Has anybody talked with you about going for counseling?”
“No.”
“I'm not an expert, but you're a candidate for post-traumatic stress. You know that, don't you? You seem edgy and depressed.”
“I just got shot,” she reminded him. She'd earned her edge and depression.
“Granted, but some people handle it easier than others,” Dr. Lovell said. “Have you had any flashbacks?”
“I can't get what happened out of my mind.”
“A psychologist could help.”
Lila didn't think so, not when terror seemed embedded in her. She pressed her head deeper into her pillow. “I appreciate your suggestion, but I'd like to work things out myself.”
“It's up to you.” Dr. Lovell checked his watch.
Before Lila could ask questions, he got up and headed for the door.
Wait! What about the complications? And my breast? What happens next?
She was too weak to call after him.
With courtesy that her mother had instilled in her, Lila said “thank you” to the back of his head.
3
E
very day Cristina came to visit. When Lila's hospital roommate left, Cristina took over the room. She set get-well cards on the windowsills and tables and dragged chairs from the hall to hold the flowers, stuffed animals, and boxes of candy that kind people had sent. She tied balloons to the doorknobs and bed rails and went to Lila's apartment for toiletries, books, and clothes, which she laid on the empty bed.
From friends in the Crockett Building, Cristina also brought news of Weatherby employees who'd died. She told Lila about the bullet that had torn through the St. Christopher medal Emily had worn around her neck, and the futile emergency C-section to save the baby of Madeline, the head copywriter. Cristina described the marks Edmond, the vice president of marketing, had clawed into Yuri's neck after jumping him from behind, and the raincoat that Max, a graphic designer, was still wearing when a bullet killed him.
Lila lay in bed and pondered these details as if she were trying to decipher the Rosetta stone. Though in her mind she could not seem to process the tragedy, she longed for information about what had happened. Since she'd cancelled her smartphone in order to save money, she couldn't surf the web. So every few minutes she flicked on the TV and searched the channels for news.
One morning she came to a broadcast of a woman reporter holding a red-and-white umbrella outside the Crockett Building. As pedestrians with coat collars turned up against the rain passed behind her, she said, “The police have just released a photo of Yuri Makov, the alleged gunman.” When Yuri's picture appeared on the screen, Lila, though sore and feverish, bolted up in bed.
The very sight of him made her queasy, yet she couldn't take her eyes off him. He appeared ten years younger—perhaps in his late twenties—and his shining eyes and plump cheeks made him look almost cherubic, like Cupid after growing up and putting his archery and nudist days behind him. His hair curled at his shirt collar, and a dapper white handkerchief peeped out of his sports coat pocket. In his agreeable expression, there was not the slightest trace of a capacity for violence. What had changed him into a killer?
The reporter pushed a wayward strand of hair behind her ear and said, “I've talked to every policeman I can find this morning. They're still trying to figure out why anyone would commit such a heinous act, but so far they've come up with nothing.”
An anchorman wearing an eggplant-colored tie that clashed with his auburn hair broke in: “Maria, do they have any theories ?”
“Not yet. They're still questioning people, but so far no one's been willing to speculate on what could have driven him to a shooting spree.”
“Maybe we can get some insight here,” the anchorman said. “I've got Dr. Alan Leibowitz, a Cal psychology professor, with me in the studio. He's a stress-and-violence-prevention consultant with the U.S. Postal Service, where this kind of tragedy has occurred before. ‘Going postal,' some people call it?”
“Yes.” Dr. Leibowitz's eyes looked like raisins pressed into his doughy face. He fidgeted and glanced shyly at the camera.
“What causes going postal? Does anybody know?” the anchorman asked.
Like a dog, Lila pricked her ears to listen.
“One main cause can be pressure on the job. If you've got someone with emotional problems, and you make him work overtime too much, or you pass him up for promotion, or you downsize people around him so he feels insecure . . .”
“Then that can set him off?” the anchorman interrupted.
“Possibly.”
Yet our office was a friendly, easy place to be,
Lila thought. No overtime or downsizing, and to what job would Yuri Makov have hoped to be promoted?
“Working with a dysfunctional boss can set off someone too,” Dr. Leibowitz said. “If somebody resents a my-way-orthe-highway supervisor, it can be like putting a match to gasoline. A trivial thing can make some frustrated person explode in a rage.”
It crossed Lila's mind that she and Yuri had shared Agnes Spitzmeier, the office manager, as their boss. She was no gentle lamb, but she wasn't a tyrant. She couldn't have caused him to shoot people.
“So what about a PR firm? Can you imagine something going on there that could create that kind of emotional explosion ?” the anchorman asked.
Lila held her breath for Dr. Leibowitz's opinion.
“I don't know any specifics about that place where all those people got shot five days ago, but the killer probably had some grievance. He must have been angry about something.”
What about our anger at him? You don't just smile and forgive someone who tried to kill you.
Lila turned off the TV and scrunched down in bed. With her face turned to the wall, she brooded about Yuri Makov's possible grievance till her anger tasted like Tabasco sauce.
How could something so bad happen to decent people like all of us at Weatherby?
she wondered. How could she not have seen it coming? Lila was usually a reasonable judge of character, and Yuri had not seemed like a crazed and murderous fiend. How could her perception of him have been so far off?
And why had he shot everybody?
Why?
More than anything else, that's what Lila wanted to know. She needed to make sense of what had happened. Aside from the horror of the shootings, the hardest part was not understanding what had prompted Yuri's violence.
Cristina had said Lila would never understand. “Asking why is pointless. Just leave it! He was nuts. No sane person would shoot a bunch of people.”
“It can't be that simple. There has to be more to it,” Lila said.
With impatience, Cristina swept her hand through the air. “Forget it. He was cuckoo. That's all you need to know.”
But Lila couldn't settle for such a general explanation. Yuri Makov's motive had to have specifics—
what
had made him nuts or turned him into a killer. Everything that happened had to have a reason, no matter how small.
In high school, Mr. Hamilton, Lila's physics teacher, was telling her class one day about the butterfly effect. He dangled a leg over the edge of his desk and tossed a marker pen back and forth between his hands. “Sometimes the tiniest difference at the start of something can lead to enormous differences in the end,” he said. “Take some butterfly. If he's flapping his wings in Brazil when weather conditions are right, he can cause a hurricane in Florida.”
At her desk Lila imagined all the desperate people in Fort Lauderdale, hammering plywood over windows, screaming at their kids to get in the car, and driving west as fast as they could go. Surely none of them would be thinking, “That beastly monarch going at it down there in a mahogany tree outside São Paolo. What a vicious little twit he was.” And yet he might have been the cause of all their troubles.
That was how life worked. Sometimes just a whisper of a force could have huge consequences. Even if you couldn't see why something had happened, somehow, somewhere, there had to be an explanation.
Lila pulled the covers over her ears and told herself that after a disaster, you couldn't just sit there and spend the rest of your life traumatized. You had to go on, and you had to
do
something—and she was going to figure out why Yuri had shot everybody. If she didn't, she'd always feel like she was living in a no-man's land where everything was crazy, violence happened for no good reason, and nobody had ever heard of cause and effect. In a place like that, she'd never heal or have peace; she wouldn't be able to get herself out of bed in the mornings. Anybody terrorized by someone could understand that.
She wriggled out from under the covers and went through the TV channels again with hope for something that would help her understand Yuri Makov. But all she found were sports and soaps—and
Why?
kept nagging her. She promised herself that she'd keep up the search until she found an answer so she could get control of her life again. With her good hand, she rubbed determined circles in her forehead.

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