(This story is part of a continuing series, An Assault in Venice. Part 1 starts here.)

The wires clamping Jeanette’s jaw shut were finally removed but it took weeks for her to get her teeth apart to any distance approximating normal. The art of chewing came slowly, and her upper lip remained numb. I watched her unconsciously touch her face, trace the new grooves and divots, and pinch areas that still had no sensation. If she was distraught about how she looked with half her face caved in, she certainly didn’t let on to me—and I would have thought I’d be one of the few she’d tell.

In May, two months after the assault, she was scheduled for her first big reconstructive surgery in Santa Barbara. Gretchen, the woman who worked in Dr. Keller’s office had arranged for us to stay with a friend of hers. Jeanette and I shared a room in a beautiful sprawling ranch home with Saltillo tiles that stretched out toward vibrant, pink bougainvillea at the base of the surrounding mountains. Fresh flowers were expertly arranged in vases in nearly every room. The place was brimming with light and color. It was a true oasis.

The waiting room in Dr. Keller’s office was more like a spa with comfortable chairs and cucumber water and bowls of fresh fruit. But still, it was hour after endless hour of flipping through mindless magazines and scrapbook-like binders detailing every cosmetic option available: otoplasty, rhinoplasty, blepharoplasty, rhytidectomy and liposuction among them.

Dr. Keller and Dr. Lacombe cut through Jeanette’s gum line, lifted the skin from her face and inserted a silicone implant to build up her right cheek adding cadaver tissue on top of it to replace the flesh. I suddenly appreciated all those people who’d given their bodies to science because one of them was restoring Jeanette’s smile.

When she finally emerged from the long surgery, her entire head was wrapped in gauze and ace bandages that left holes for her to see and breathe. We spent a couple days letting the lazy Santa Barbara breeze mix with the painkillers before she felt well enough to make the drive back. She insisted on stopping for Mexican food on the promenade in Santa Monica. All bandaged up like a human tennis ball, she sat in the outdoor patio watching the people walk by, many of whom stared. We talked and ate and laughed as if we hadn’t just been through the worst trauma of our lives. There we were, coming out the other side.

Jeanette had boldly decided to stay with me post-surgery, and I was so happy to have her in my home again. We were both ever aware of what had happened on the other side of the wall but only I knew that there was a guy named Rodney out there too, and I was relying on Cagney with every passing moment to capture him and put him away. I had loosened the reins. There wasn’t anything else I could do. We had our guy; we just had to get our guy. And only Cagney could do it.

Weeks were going by, and Cagney and I were no longer talking so regularly. In some ways, life was getting back to normal. Jeanette endured five facial surgeries and, homeless, decided to move back to DC. I hated the thought of her leaving because it wasn’t really her choice: she’d been driven from Los Angeles.

For the better part of the year, I had friends meet me outside my house late at night to walk me inside. And I never again ventured into the backyard by myself after dark.

A tall, muscular man named Chris moved into the back house with his two Boxers. He knew what had happened there; he was a friend of Rob and Amy’s. Chris and I shared coffee nearly every morning. It was an odd sensation sitting in the room with him and having flashbacks at times. But life just kept marching on.

Meanwhile, I kept waiting for Cagney to call with the final cap on the story. She didn’t. I would see her sometimes, often having dinner at a Mexican restaurant down the street. And I stopped by the police station at least once a year just to say hello. She was always warm and welcoming—until the last time I saw her. That last time, she was sitting in the corner booth of the Mexican restaurant. I caught her eye and rushed over to say hello. It was the first time she wasn’t so friendly. But then, at the time, I had no idea she was dying.

…go to Part 19