Vital Signs dmb-2, page 21part #2 of Dr. Marissa Blumenthal Series
"Ixt's have lunch."
After inquiring at the circulation desk, Marissa and Wendy walked over to a cafeteria-style lunchroom and bought sandwiches.
Taking them outside, they sat on a bench beneath a beautiful flowering tree of a species neither one recognized.
"Do you think it's really worth the effort to try to find this Williams character?" Wendy asked between bites.
"After all, he might not even appreciate our seeking him out. Sounds like this episode with his one and only paper was his undoing."
"I suppose my interest is mere curiosity at this point," Marissa admitted, "Maybe we should try one more thing. Let's try calling the Royal College of Pathology and ask them about him. If they don't know anything or if they tell us he's in some distant place like Perth, we'll give up. This already is beginning to feel like a wild-goose chase."
"And then we'll let ourselves have some fun!" Wendy said.
"Right," Marissa said.
Once they finished eating, they returned to the library and consulted the Royal College of Pathology's publication for the society's address and phone number. Using a public phone in the library, Marissa made her call. The phone was answered by a cheerful operator who connected Marissa to an administrator named Shirley McGovern once Marissa told her why she was calling.
"I'm terribly sorry," Mrs. McGovern said after Marissa repeated her question.
"It is the College's rule not to give out information on its members."
"I understand," Marissa said.
"But perhaps you can tell me if he is a member of your organization."
There was a pause on the line.
"I've come all the way from America," Marissa added.
"We're old friends..
"Well.. Mrs. McGovern said, "I suppose it is all right to tell you that he is no longer a member of the College. But beyond that, I cannot tell you more."
Marissa hung up the phone and told Wendy what little she'd learned.
"Although she certainly implied that he had been a member in the past," Marissa added.
"I suppose that further corroborates Mr. Lester's story," Wendy said.
"Let's give up on the bastard. The more I think about him publishing a fictitious paper, the less I want to talk to him. Let's go diving."
"I'll make you a deal," Marissa said.
"As long as we're on the medical school campus, let's find the alumni office and see if he happened to go to school here. If this alumni office is anything like ours, they'd be sure to have the man's latest address to hit him up for money. If they don't know of him, then we'll give up."
"You've got yourself a deal," Wendy said.
The alumni office was in the main administration building on the second floor. It was a small operation with only a three person staff. The director, a Mr. Alex Hammersmith, was cordial and eager to help.
"The name's not familiar," he said in response to their inquiry, "but let me have a go at our master list."
He had a computer terminal on his desk and he typed in Tristan Williams' name.
"How do you know this bloke?" he asked, keying the computer to start its search.
"Old friend," Marissa said evasively.
"We came to Australia on the spur of the moment and decided to try to look him up to say hello."
"Bloody friendly of you," Mr. Hammersmith said as he glanced over at his screen.
"Here we go. Yes, Mr. Tristan Williams was a graduate here, class of 1979."
"Do you have his current address?" Marissa asked. This was the first encouraging lead they'd had all day.
"Only his work address," Mr. Hammersmith said.
"Would you care to have that?"
"Very much so," Marissa said, motioning Wendy to give her a piece of paper. Wendy handed her another sheet of graph paper from her purse.
"Mr. Williams is close by," Mr. Hammersmith said.
"Only a few blocks away at the Female Care Australia clinic. It's near enough to walk."
Marissa sighed. She handed the graph paper back to Wendy along with the pen.
"We've already been there," she said.
"They told us he'd left two years ago."
"Oh, dear!" Mr. Hammersmith said.
"Terribly sorry about that. We try to keep our files up to date, but we're not always successful."
"Thank you for your help," Marissa said, getting to her feet.
"I suppose Tristan and I were destined never to meet again.
"Bloody awful," Mr. Hammersmith said.
"But hold on. Let me try something else here." He went back to his computer screen and began typing on the keyboard.
"There we have it!" Mr. Hammersmith said with a smile.
"I've chocked the faculty roster with the 1979 year of graduation. We have three people from that year on staff My advice is to ask them about Tristan Williams. I'm sure one of them will know where he is." He wrote down the faculty names and their respective departments and handed the sheet to Marissa.
I'd try the bloke on top of the list first," Mr. Hammersmith said.
"For a while he was acting as the class secretary for the alumni journal. He works in the Anatomy Department, which is in the building directly across from this one. If after talking with him and the others you still haven't turned old Williams up, come back. I have a few other ideas that might be worth trying. I could contact the Health Insurance Commission in Canberra for one.
If he's doing any outpatient billing, they'd have to have an address for him. And of course there is the Australian Medical Association. I think they keep a data bank on physicians whether they are members or not. Beyond that, there's the State Licensing Board. There are actually a lot of ways we might track him down."
"You've been most kind," Marissa said.
"Good luck," Mr. Hammersmith said.
"We Australians love to see friends from abroad. It would be a shame if you two missed each other after you've come all this way."
After leaving the alumni office, Marissa stopped Wendy in the stairwell.
"You don't mind if we follow up on this, do you?" she asked.
"This is a step beyond our deal."
"We're here," Wendy said.
"Let's give it a shot."
Marissa and Wendy had no trouble finding the Anatomy Department, where they went and asked for Dr. Lawrence Spenser.
"Third floor," a secretary told them.
"Gross anatomy. He's usually in the lab in the afternoon."
Climbing the stairs, Wendy said, "The smell alone here is starting to awaken bad memories. How well I remember it from my med school days. Did you like gross anatomy first year?"
"It wasn't bad," Marissa said.
"I hated it," Wendy said.
"That smell. I couldn't get it out of my hair for the entire three months."
The door to the gross anatomy room was ajar. The women peeked inside. There were about twenty shrouded tables. Toward the rear was a lone individual wearing an apron and rubber gloves. His back was to them.
"Excuse me!" Marissa called.
"We're looking for Lawrence Spenser."
The man turned around. He had dark curly hair. Compared to the people Marissa and Wendy had been seeing, he seemed pale.
"You've found him," the man said with a smile.
"What can I do for you?"
"We'd like to ask you a few questions," Marissa called.
"Well, it's a little hard to converse across the room," Spenser said.
"Come on in."
Marissa and Wendy entered and weaved their way among the many shrouded tables. Both women were aware that the plastic sheets were covering corpses. Wendy tried to breathe through her mouth so as not to smell the formalin.
"Welcome to gross anatomy," Spenser said.
"I'm afraid I don't get many visitors."
Wendy recoiled from the sight of what he had been working on. It was the torso of a cadaver, sawed off at the umbilicus. The eyes were half open, the mouth p
Following Wendy's line of sight, Spenser said, "Sorry about Archibald here. He's been under the weather lately."
"We've just come from the alumni office," Marissa told him.
"Excuse me," Wendy said, interrupting her.
"I think I'll wait outside." She turned and started for the hall.
"Are you okay?" Marissa called after her.
"I'll be fine," Wendy said with a wave.
"Take your time. I'll be outside."
Turning back to Spenser, Marissa explained, "Anatomy wasn't her favorite subject."
"Sorry about that," Spenser said.
"When you do this every day, you forget its effect on others."
"Getting back to what I was saying," Marissa continued.
"We were over at the alumni office and Mr. Hammersmith gave us your name. We're doctors from the States. We're looking for Tristan Williams. Mr. Hammersmith said you might know of him since you two graduated together."
"Sure, I know Tris," Spenser said.
"In fact, I spoke to him about six months ago. Why are you looking for him?"
"Just old friends," Marissa said.
"We happened to be in Brisbane and wanted to say hello, but he'd left the FCA."
"And not under the best of circumstances," Spenser said.
"Poor Tris has been going through some hard times, but things seem better now. In fact, I think he's quite happy where he is."
"Is he still in the Brisbane area?" Marissa asked.
"Hell, no!" Spenser said.
"He's out in Never Never."
"Never Never?" Marissa questioned.
"Is that a town?"
Spenser laughed heartily.
"Not quite," he said.
"It's an Aussie expression, like the Back of Bourke or the Back of Beyond. It refers to the outback, the Australian bush. Tris is working as a general practitioner with the Royal Flying Doctor Service out of Charleville."
"Is that far from here?" Marissa asked.
"Everything is far in Australia," Spenser said.
"It's a big country and most of it is like a desert. Charleville is about four hundred miles from Brisbane, out at the edge of the channel country. From there Tris flies out to Betoota Hotel, Windorah, Cunnamulla, godforsaken places like that, to visit isolated cattle stations. As I understand it, he stays out for weeks at a time. It takes a special man for that kind of work. I admire him. I couldn't do it, not after living around here."
"is it difficult to get out there?" Marissa. asked.
"It's not hard to get to Charleville," Spenser said.
"There's a bitumen road all the way. You can even fly there. But beyond Charleville, I think the road deteriorates to dirt and bull dust I don't recommend it for a holiday," "Thanks for taking the time to talk to me," Marissa said.
"I appreciate your help." In truth, she was depressed by his information.
It seemed as if the closer she got to finding out about Tristan Williams, the further he slipped away.
"Happy to be of service," Spenser said.
"If I were you, I'd forget about the outback and Tris. I'd head down to the Gold Coast and beach it, Aussie-style. You don't know what desolate means until you've seen some areas of the Australian outback."
After exchanging goodbyes, Marissa left and went back out side. She found Wendy sitting on the front steps of the building.
"You okay?" Marissa asked, sitting down beside her friend.
"Oh, I'm fine now," Wendy said.
"Sorry to abandon you in there. You'd think I could stomach that stuff by now."
"I'm glad you had sense enough to walk out," Marissa said.
"I'm sorry to have put you through it. But we found Tristan Williams."
"Eureka!" Wendy said.
"Is he close?"
"Everything is relative," Marissa said.
"He's not in Perth, but he's someplace out in the Australian outback. Apparently he's abandoned pathology, or pathology has abandoned him. He's working as a GP flying around to isolated locations like cattle ranches."
"Sounds like a romantic do-gooder job for someone who falsified data for a journal article."
"His home base is a town called Charleville, which is about four hundred miles from here. But he's away for weeks at a time. I think it would be pretty tough to track him down. What do you think?"
"Sounds like a lot of effort for a questionable payoff. But let's think about it. Meanwhile, we deserve a break from all this effort.
Let's go diving. After that maybe we'll have more enthusiasm."
"Okay," Marissa said, getting to her feet.
"You've been patient.
Let's go see how great this Barrier Reef really is!"
They caught a cab at the administration building and returned to their hotel. There they picked up their traveler's checks and walked over to the travel agent Wendy had visited the day before.
There was no problem arranging for jet transportation for the following day even though it was the weekend. They were able to reserve a room at the Hamilton Island Resort. The agent even called to be sure to get them a seaside room.
"What's the best way to arrange for a day's diving?" Wendy asked when the agent had finished the call.
"You can allow the hotel to make the arrangements," the agent said.
"That certainly is the easiest. But to tell you the truth, if I were you I'd wait until I got there and find your own charter.
It's a good-sized marina, there are a lot of dive and fishing boats.
It's their slow time and you'll be able to bargain. You'd find a much better deal."
Wendy picked up the tickets and brochures.
"That sounds terrific. We'll follow your suggestion," she said.
"Thanks for your help."
"Glad to be of service," the agent said.
"But there is something I should warn you about."
Marissa felt her heart skip a beat. She was already concerned about diving in exotic depths.
"What?" Wendy asked.
"The sun," the agent said.
"Make sure you use a lot of block."
"Thanks for the tip," Wendy said. She grabbed Marissa's arm and headed for the door.
"Can I help you?" the agent asked, turning to her next customer.
He was a leathery Australian man. The agent guessed he was from the outback. He'd been browsing through a rack of European tour brochures to the right of the agent's desk while the American women made their plans. When they'd first arrived, the agent had thought all three were together.
"As a matter of fact, you can," the man said.
"I need two return air tickets for Hamilton Island. The names are Edmund Stewart and Willy Tong."
"Will you be needing accommodations?" the agent asked.
"No, thanks," Ned said.
"We'll take care of that when we get there.
Pressing her nose against the window of the Ansett jet, Marissa could see the broad expanse of ocean thousands of feet below. From the moment they'd taken off at 12:40 P.m." they'd been over water. At first the ocean had been a dark, sapphire blue. But as they traveled on, the color changed. It had become a brilliant turquoise. Already they could see a patchwork of underwater coral. Their journey was taking them over a tapestry of shoals, atolls, coral cays, and true continental islands.
Wendy was beside herself with anticipation. She had bought a travel guide at the airport and was reading sections to Marissa.
Marissa didn't have the heart to tell her that she couldn't concentrate.
Marissa was wondering what the hell she was doing flying off the coast of Australia.
Having made no progress whatsoever in their quest for information th
Marissa began to seriously question the rationale for the trip.
Perhaps she should have stayed at home and tried to get her life back in order. She wondered what Robert was doing, and how her leaving affected his behavior. If he were having an affair with Donna, leaving like she did would only give him carte blanche to carry on. If she'd been wrong, she wondered if her abrupt departure would push him into Donna's arms.
"Australia's Great Barrier Reef has taken twenty-five million years to form," Wendy read, "and there are at least three hundred and fifty different species of coral, as well as fifteen hundred species of tropical fish."
"Wendy," Marissa said at last, "maybe it would be better for you to read to yourself. Statistics like that 4on't register in my mind unless I read them."
"Hold on!" Wendy said, not taking the hint.
"Here's one you can relate to. The visibility of water can be up to sixty meters."
Wendy looked at Marissa.
"That's unbelievable. That's about two hundred feet. Isn't that astounding? Can you wait?"
Marissa merely nodded.
Undaunted, Wendy read on. Marissa turned back to the window and looked out at the limitless Pacific Ocean. Again she thought of Robert, nearly half a world away.
Mercifully, Marissa's thoughts and Wendy's reading were interrupted by an announcement. The captain said they were nearing
Hamilton Island and would be landing momentarily. In another few minutes their plane touched down.
The island was a tropical paradise. Although Marissa and Wendy were surprised when they saw several high-rise buildings which looked starkly out of place, the rest of the island was in keeping with their expectations. The vegetation was a lush bright green, highlighted by dazzling flowers. The beaches were a sparkling white sand, the water an inviting aqua.
The check-in at the hotel went smoothly. Their seaside room was ready for them. The resort's lagoon-shaped pool tempted Marissa, but Wendy was not to be denied. She wanted to go directly to the marina to arrange for the next day's diving. She offered to go by herself, but Marissa felt obligated to go with her.
As the travel agent had said, the marina was large. Several hundred boats of all sizes and descriptions were docked there, with room for more. Advertisements for excursions for both fishing and diving abounded. The large bulletin board on the front wall of the ship chandler's store was filled. But Wendy wasn't satisfied with the information they contained. Instead she insisted they wander out on the commercial pier to examine the boats themselves.
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