Rescued and Remembered - Chap. 1

MedAir Series #2

439 pgs

Available in paperback and eBook

Prologue

Ibrahim Jancic paced, experiencing an anxiety unfamiliar to him. Tonight, he would add to his “treason,” but this time, his action could cost him his life.

He completed a light meal and returned to the front room of his austere apartment where he unfurled his sajada, his prayer rug. His father had given him this rug and despite its daily use, its image of the Ka’aba in Mecca seemed as vivid to him as on the first day praying next to his father. The room was clean, which was Islam’s only requirement for a place to pray, but he had not always had that convenience.

His use of the rug had become habit. Yet, instead of performing wudu before the maghrib, the twilight prayer, he rejoiced that he no longer needed the ritualistic washings before prayer. To his family and old friends, he was now murtid, an apostate. There were those in his extended family who would demand honor and his death. Certainly, his former employer, Darko Komarcic, would use that within their community to justify killing him. Yet, he no longer feared death because he was now washed clean by the blood of Jesus, not by washing his face, rinsing his mouth and irrigating his nostrils, or the rest of the ablution required of wudu, along with the hollow, repetitious prayers toward Mecca.

Danijela had shown him the fallacies of Islam – the violence, the monotonous ritual, the required works that made him a slave to Allah – and the truth and freedom of Christianity. God, not Allah, had opened his eyes and allowed him to see that he had value as a human. Like the Apostle Paul, scales fell from his eyes and the world he now saw was different. No longer did he seek to gain paradise through his futile, unworthy actions. The grace of God alone, through faith in His Son, would grant him eternal life. Grace was a gift he could not turn down.

He kneeled facing east. Some habits were hard to break. As he folded his hands in prayer, he first thought of Danijela. He had been assigned as security to drive the councilman, her “employer,” whenever he wished to take Danijela out-on-the-town. “Arm candy” was a term he’d heard used about her. Yes, arm candy, with bruises and welts where no one else would see them. And a radiant smile but dead eyes, eyes that betrayed the slow death her soul endured.

Then, one day he saw new life in those eyes and he knew deep inside that he had to know why. Nothing seemed to have changed, but it had, for her. He needed to know what that change was, because he, too, was dying. His cries to Allah had gone unheard.

He found his opportunity one evening when he was to pick her up first and take her to meet the councilman. He had faked car trouble and used that time to approach her. She had been wary of him at first and he had been appalled to learn that she had become a Christian, murtid. Why? How? When? Over time, he learned the answers to those questions, and more.

Ultimately, he rescued Danijela from the life of a harlot. She remained tucked away in his cabin, safe from those he now sought to bring down. It would not be easy, and tonight would reveal how serious he was, and how dangerous his former employer could be.

Danijela’s rescue had been simple. When next assigned to drive her, they simply disappeared. The result, however, was that he no longer had the element of full surprise in his favor. Still, his former employer could not know which of his dozens of girls might be next, nor exactly when.

Danijela had insisted that Tatjana be next. Ibrahim saw that request as reasonable, for Tatjana was also “arm candy” and frequently escorted her “employer” to social functions. Although she would have a driver, who also acted as her guard, as Ibrahim had been to Danijela, he knew them all, and they knew him. He knew their weaknesses. To them, he had none. He knew their protocols, their behaviors. They knew him to act often outside the box. They were predictable. He was not. He felt confident that a “simple” snatch & go would gain Tatjana freedom as well.

It was time.

Ibrahim drove a rental car, secured with false ID, to Town and Country, an upper class suburb of St. Louis, and slowly cruised past the lawyer’s home. The large two-story colonial sat at the back end of a five-acre lot on a road that looped back onto itself. Only one way in and out. The point where the road divided sat far enough from the main highway that nothing there could be seen by passersby. The homes nearby, too, were far enough off the road to pose no threat of observation.

His ex-boss’ security crew would see that as the most vulnerable location, just as Ibrahim had. The driver would be most alert there. However, they would also anticipate him to avoid the location because he would know they’d be most alert and prepared for him there. So, using a bit of reverse logic, that’s exactly where he prepared to stop the car and take Tatjana.

Parked nearby, he watched the car and driver enter the lane and take the branch toward the lawyer’s home. There would be no delay. Tatjana would be waiting. The driver would show her to the car and they would leave to pick up the lawyer at his office.

Ibrahim jumped out of the car and pulled out a homemade net of chain and three inch spikes. While spikes alone would stop a typical car, much like a police stinger or spike strip, they would not stop the run-flat tires on these cars. Instead, the spikes would embed themselves in the rubber, pull the “net” up to wrap around the axle, and stop the car.

Five minutes later, the net worked as planned and the car rattled to an abrupt stop. The driver jumped out, armed, but Ibrahim was prepared and tasered the man before he could turn toward the back of the vehicle where Ibrahim stood. Ibrahim ran toward the back door and yanked it open. Tatjana sat there, bound, her face bloodied, duct tape over her mouth and fear flooding her eyes. A movement in the shadow just beyond her caught Ibrahim’s attention and he pulled back just as a handgun spit its projectile. He recognized the gun and its suppressor at the same time he felt the burn in his upper arm.

Risto! He held no hope of taking Tatjana now. To move into the open doorway would mean death. They had been expecting him.

He fled to his car and sped off as two more shots bore into the hood and door of the car. How? How had they known he’d be coming for her and not one of the others? Determining the timing of the rescue took no advanced mathematics. Each of the girls had certain routines, schedules they followed. Again, they were predictable. Ibrahim could have chosen one of three dozen women to rescue. How had they known it would be Tatjana?

Then he remembered. Danijela and Tatjana came from the same town. They had been friends. Danijela’s insistence should have been his first clue to stay clear of Tatjana until later.

As he passed the driveway to the home nearest the highway, he saw it. A black pickup truck, partially obscured by evergreen shrubs and virtually unseen by anyone coming into the lane. They had been watching. Risto had been there, acting on the knowledge Ibrahim had forgotten. The car picked him up on the way in and Ibrahim would not have been able to see it. The seclusion of his attack point had worked both ways.

He had been over-confident. He’d neglected to do his research, to find that line of attack that lies outside the box. And now … Tatjana would pay the ultimate price. Her blood was on his hands.

 Chapter One

As the 206L-4 LongRanger IV helicopter circled the farm field a second time, the MedAir-12 crew knew they had a bad one waiting. In direct radio contact with the paramedic team on the ground, they surveyed the scene below and wished they were somewhere else. Amy Gibbs, the flight nurse, had had enough of the “bad ones.” Her run-in with the “LA Rapist” three months earlier had shown her what she thought was the worst of what one person could do to another. She didn’t want this case, or any case, to prove that wrong.
“They’re setting up the LZ now,” said Sanders, their new pilot on loan from MedAir-24, into the com system. Lyle Henderson, the crew’s regular pilot, remained benched from the bilateral femur fractures suffered during the helicopter crash they’d experienced during that earlier, traumatizing case.
Amy gazed at the fallow field below. The remnants of an earlier light snow framed the fencerows where the wind could blow it no further, and that day’s sun had not melted it. In the dimming light of dusk, she could see a wide figure-eight etched into the dirt. At one end, the lights of the sheriff’s cruisers and EMS
vehicles lit up the field. Not far from them, she saw the first flare ignite. Within two minutes, all four flares illuminated the makeshift landing zone and Sanders touched down with the typical finesse of a MedAir pilot.

Not. The jolt of landing almost knocked Amy from her seat.

“Sorry. The long shadows threw me off.” Sanders powered down the bird as Amy and Reid McCormick, their paramedic, unbuckled and gathered their bags.
Upon entering the aurora of the headlights, Amy noticed that tire ruts formed the figure-eight in the rich, partially thawed topsoil of the Cuivre River floodplain. She saw the county paramedics working on the victim and hesitated. She saw no person there, just a mangled form. Images from three months earlier flooded her mind. She had to focus. The young woman needed her care, but nothing visually told Amy that this victim was female. She took a deep breath and fought the fear rising within. Her shrink had told her she was returning to work too soon after her ordeal. Until now, she’d thought Doctor Lange was the crazy one.

She had a job to do and rushed toward the scene.

“Hey, Amy. As we radioed, young female here. Can’t tell her age. Feet were bound and it appears she was dragged behind a truck for who knows how many laps around this field. Farmer was moving some equipment and saw headlights in his field. Thought it was joy-riders. Found her when he came to investigate. Saw a dark pickup leaving.”

“We got here within five minutes of the call. Blood pressure was forty systolic. Pulse barely discernible. Shallow breathing. Found one arm vein for an 18-guage line. Had to do an I.O. into the marrow on the opposite side’s tibia. We’ve squeezed in two liters of saline so far. Third and fourth are running. Blood pressure, maybe sixty now. Difficult reading it. Intubation was tough. Blood filled her throat every time we managed to clear it. But, Jazz there managed to snake in a seven. She’s circling the drain and needs to get out of here STAT if we have any chance of saving her.”

“Thanks, Paulie. Injuries?” A quick glance showed her that fluids were running easily into the cephalic vein of the woman’s arm, as well as into the intraosseous line, the catheter going into the bone marrow of her tibia.

“Haven’t had time to really inventory them. I mean, just take a look. What isn’t torn up?”

Amy saw the form of a young woman but little else to identify the gender. Her hair had been shorn. Face, scalp, and exposed extremities appeared like ground beef, not human flesh. The generic jeans and t-shirt were as mangled as the flesh. Right femur appeared broken and angulated, as did the left upper arm. The wrists revealed wounds consistent with coarse bindings of some sort. Amy saw little oozing from the wounds, a good indication of the low blood pressure … and of a body shutting down. Amy held little hope that this girl would even survive to the trauma center.

“Quick, let’s get these extremities splinted. Reid, get the …” She stopped when she saw that Sanders had brought their stretcher to them and was preparing it for their patient. “Get the ventilator and hook her up.”

Amy took her penlight and lifted the girl’s eyelids. She gasped. The globes were flaccid, the corneas gone. She returned her focus to starting her initial assessment while the others immobilized the girl. The airway was good, but the lungs sounded full of fluid. Heart sounds were muffled. Tamponade? Her condition made the usual clinical signs of fluid collecting in the sac around the heart unlikely. Amy had little choice but to put a needle into the pericardial sac and check. To miss a tamponade would guarantee the girl’s death while relieving one could prove the turning point in her resuscitation.

She grabbed an 18-guage needle and pulled open the tattered shirt. Again, she startled. A large incision in the right upper quadrant of her abdomen gaped open, its sutures torn amidst the battered flesh. What had this girl gone through?

Amy’s pulse quickened and her breathing seemed labored. Focusing on the patient became harder. Reid brought her back by swabbing the area just below the woman’s breastbone with antiseptic. He’d read her mind. Amy unsheathed the needle, inserted it just below the xiphoid, the lower bone of the sternum, and angled it at roughly forty degrees toward the heart. She felt the needle puncture the pericardial sac and immediately saw a return of fluid. With a large syringe, she removed fifty milliliters of serous fluid.
“Pulse?”

Reid was already on it. “Seems stronger. Good call.” He checked her blood pressure. “Up to eighty systolic.”

Amy felt mixed emotions. Were they going to save this girl to a life of disability? Blind and who knew what else. She slipped the plastic catheter off the needle and left it in the pericardial sac, burying the hub in a wad of sterile 4×4’s to absorb further drainage in route.
She grabbed the antiseptic, doused the abdominal wound, and placed a bulky dressing over it as well. Then a sickening thought hit her.
“Guys, did you inspect her back?”

Both paramedics shook their heads. “Didn’t get to it yet,” answered Paulie. “Higher priorities.”

With the victim’s extremities splinted and her neck immobilized, the team gently rolled the girl to her side. The ripped shirt fell away from her body except in the areas where it had been ground into her skin. Amy gagged at the site of two more gaping incisions, also torn apart by the trauma of being dragged behind the truck, the frayed ends of their sutures barely visible above the macerated skin.

Amy jumped up and ran, fighting the bile rising into her throat. Tears welled up and cascaded down her cheeks. As she neared the helicopter, she bent over and began to puke. She couldn’t take it. She emptied her stomach, but the retching continued. Why? What had this poor girl done to deserve this? She kneeled, sobbing. What? The question would go unanswered.
“Amy!”

She turned to see Reid and the others loading their patient onto the bird. Sanders had started the engine. She knew she had to join them, do her job, but she couldn’t move. Reid came, pulled her up, and helped her inside. By habit, she strapped in and donned the headset, but the tears continued as Reid managed the patient.

“W-we’re not going to save her, Reid. She’s not going to survive the flight.”

Reid looked at her, questioning.

“She’s been har … harvested, Reid. Corneas, liver, kidneys. Who knows what else! All taken.” She bowed her head. They’d even taken her hair, a woman’s crown of glory.