Vital signs dmb 2, p.38

Vital Signs dmb-2, page 38

 part  #2 of  Dr. Marissa Blumenthal Series


Vital Signs dmb-2

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  "Can we talk to those blokes we picked up?" Tristan asked.

  "I'll ask the captain," Bentley said. He went back to the poop.

  "Sorry about this, luv," Tristan said.

  "I didn't know this was to be an all-night affair."

  Marissa shrugged.

  "It could be a lot worse," she said Bentley came back quickly.

  "Captain says you can talk all you want, just not too loudly."

  As the crew reefed the sail, Marissa, Tristan, and Bentley went. forward and sat down across from the two PRC refugees.

  "First, let's all introduce ourselves," Tristan said to Bentley.

  Marissa looked more closely at the two men as Bentley began speaking. Although it was difficult to judge, Marissa guessed that they were both approximately her age. Both wore their hair cut

  K short. Both were clearly tense and edgy. Their eyes darted from person to person in the half-light.

  "This is Chiang Lam," Bentley said, pointing to the man with the slighter build. He bowed as Bentley said his name. ""And this is Tse Wah."

  After the introductions, Tristan told Bentley that they wanted to know where the men were from and what they did for a living.

  He wanted Bentley to ask them why they were being smuggled out of the PRC.

  While Bentley spoke to the Chinese, Marissa and Tristan conferred to try to organize their further questions. In the background the crew was preparing for a late meal. They were also preparing to bed down for the night.

  When Bentley was finished speaking with the men, he turned to Marissa and Tristan and told them that both men had come from small towns in Guangdong Province. Chiang Lam was a monk from a Buddhist order that had managed to survive the Communist era. Tse Wah was a rural doctor, a contemporary version of the "barefoot doctor" of the Cultural Revolution.

  Bentley went on to say that the reason they had left the PRC was because they had been promised a lot of money. Both fully intended to return. However, neither one could say why he had been offered this opportunity.

  "How did they happen to, be chosen?" Marissa questioned.

  Bentley asked the men, then said: "Chiang says that he was chosen because of his ability in martial arts. He says that there was a competition in his monastery. Tse says he was chosen because he is a doctor. He says that there was no competition, that people just came to him and made an offer he couldn't resist.

  Tse has a family, a wife and a child, as well as parents and in laws

  Marissa glanced at Tristan.

  "I have a feeling the key lies with the doctor," she said. Tristan nodded.

  "Ask the doctor if he knows anything about infertility treatments,"

  Tristan said.

  "Particularly in-vitro fertilization techniques."

  "I speak some English," Tse said suddenly, surprising everyone.

  "Chiang doesn't, but I do. I have been studying English over the years from medical books from Guangzhou, where I was trained."

  "That's encouraging," Tristan said.

  "It sounds as if you've been studying well."

  "Thank you," Tse said.

  "Unfortunately, I read English better than I speak."

  "Do you understand the term 'in-vitro fertilization?" Tristan asked.

  "I do," Tse said.

  "But I know very, little. Only some mention,in the books I have read."

  "Are you interested in in-vitro fertilization?" Marissa asked.

  In spite of nervousness, Tse laughed.

  "It would be of little help to me. In China we have too many people and too many babies."

  "What about tuberculosis?" Marissa asked.

  "Is that a problem in the PRO Have you seen much of it?"

  "Not recently," Tse said.

  "China has a national vaccination policy with BCG vaccine. Before 1949 tuberculosis was widespread, particularly here in the south of China. But the BCG has changed that."

  "What about heroin?" Tristan asked.

  "We don't have any heroin," Tse said.

  "Drugs are not a problem in China."

  "What about venereal disease?" Marissa asked.

  "Very little venereal disease in the People's Republic," Tse said.

  "The Communists got rid of venereal disease as well as opium, and launched a program of health care that emphasized prevention over cure. There wasn't the money or the facilities for Western-style cure."

  "What about your practice?" Tristan asked.

  "What did it involve?"

  "I have a typical country practice," Tse said.

  "I have a small dispensary which is responsible for health education, immunizations, and birth control for nearly four thousand rural people.

  We treat minor illnesses and minor accidents and refer to the district hospital when necessary."

  "Do you use traditional Chinese medicine?" Marissa asked.

  "We use it if the patient requests it," Tse said.

  "We have access to herbalists and acupuncturists. But I was trained in modern medicine in Guangzhou although I have little modern equipment to use."

  Marissa looked at Tristan.

  "I'm running out of questions," she said.

  "Me too," Tristan said. He shifted his position. They were all sitting cross-legged on the deck. Readdressing Tse, he said:

  "Who was it that recruited you?"

  "The White Lotus Triad," Tse said.

  "There are triads in the PRCT' Marissa asked.

  "Very much so," Bentley inteijected.

  "After all, it was from mainland China that they originated."

  "Ask the monk why it is important that he know Chmiese martial arts," Tristan said.

  "I can answer," Tse said.

  "Chiang has been tasked to protect me.

  "Why do you need protection?" Tristan asked.

  "That I do not know," Tse admitted.

  "Have either of you been out of the PRC before?" Tristan asked.

  "Never," Tse said.

  "And you have no baggage with you?"


  "Are you carrying anything on your person?"


  "Do you have any drugs with you?"


  "And you are doing this for money?"

  Tse nodded.

  "We have been promised many years' wages. I was already given one year's wages before I left."

  "How long are you supposed to be away?" Tristan asked.

  "I am unsure," Tse said.

  "One year, maybe two at the most."

  Tristan ran a hand through his hair. He shook his head and cast a dismayed look at Marissa.

  "I'm afraid I don't have anything else to ask. I'm baffled."

  All of a sudden the group realized they weren't alone. Looking up, they saw that the captain had come forward. Once he had gotten their attention, he spoke.

  Bentley translated: "The captain wants to know if we want to eat. His wife has prepared a meal for all of us."

  "Why not?" Tristan said, getting to his feet.

  "We should get something for my bloody three thousand five hundred Hong Kong dollars."

  Several hours later, Marissa and Tristan were lying together on bamboo mats on the poop deck. It was the only place they could be alone. Except for an occasional mosquito and the cool, damp breeze, they were comfortable.

  Marissa had not eaten anything. Instead she'd drunk most of the water they'd brought on board. Her nausea and vomiting earlier had left her dehydrated.

  "I'll have to apologize again, luv," Tristan said.

  "I was so sure that coming here and talking to these blokes would solve everything.

  As it is we're no better off than before we'd come to Hong Kong. It appears as if we've risked our lives and made you bloody sick for nothing."

  "I thought this would give us answers, too," Marissa said.

  "It's strange. I don't understand what we could be missing. There just doesn't seem to be any explanation why Female Care Australia is mak
ing this elaborate illegal effort to bring in Chinese nationals."

  "I still think it has to involve drugs in some way," Tristan said.

  "It's got to be the heroin from the Golden Triangle.

  "But these men are carrying nothing," Marissa reminded him.

  "But it's the only way I can think to justify FCA's level of expense," Tristan said.

  "Not to mention the extent to which they are willing to go to protect whatever it is they're doing. They thought it was important enough to gun us down in public. It's gotta be drugs; don't you think?"

  "I don't know what to think," Marissa said.

  "What you say makes some sense, but only to a point. And we still haven't figured where the TB salpingitis comes in. And if it is drugs, how does it involve a country doctor and a Buddhist monk?"

  "I don't have a clue to any of those questions," Tristan said.

  "I'm at a loss. At one point I had an idea that this scheme might somehow involve Hong Kong being given back to the Chinese in 1997. But even that wild idea has nothing to recommend it. I'm afraid we're at a dead end."

  Marissa wished he hadn't used that expression. She closed her eyes. With all that had happened, she didn't expect to sleep. But despite her physical discomfort and her emotional pain, exhaustion prevailed. Almost instantly she dozed off.

  But once asleep, she started to dream. In her dream Robert was sinking into quicksand and she couldn't reach him. She was holding on to a branch, reaching for his hand. Then the branch broke and she fell… An hour after falling asleep, Marissa sat bolt upright, half expecting to be in quicksand. But she was on a hard bamboo mat with Tristan sleeping next to her. Around her head was a swarm of mosquitoes and on her forehead were beads of cold perspiration.

  Marissa became aware of sandaled feet moving about the deck and she opened her eyes. It was before dawn, yet the misty world had become brighter. They were enveloped in a dense morning fog that completely shrouded the nearby island. The sound of birds could be heard but nothing of the shoreline could be seen.

  Sitting up, Marissa noticed that the crew was already preparing to pull up anchor. The sail was unfurled and ready to be hoisted. Below she heard a baby cry for a moment.

  Getting up, Marissa stretched her cramped muscles. She was surprised that she'd slept at all, especially after waking up from the nightmare she'd had about Robert.

  Once she was limber, she walked over to the railing. After making sure all those on deck were preoccupied, she swallowed what pride she had left and relieved herself over the side of the boat. When she was finished, she was comforted that no one had taken the slightest notice.

  Tristan was still fast asleep. Rather than wake him, Marissa climbed down the ladder and went below. Water was boiling on the pressure stove. With the help of the wife of the captain, Marissa made herself some tea and carried it up to the poop deck.

  By then Tristan had awakened.

  "G'day, luv," he said with his usual good humor.

  Marissa shared her tea with him as the huge sail went up. Then they felt the engines start.

  "Our man must be eager to get back," Tristan said.

  "He's going to sail and motor at the same time."

  As it turned out, the captain merely used the engines to move the junk from the lagoon. Once they were clear of the land, the engines were switched off and the sheets connected to the boom were pulled in taut and cleated.

  Sailing along on the light morning breeze, they began to move south, approaching a point of he mainland. As the mist rose they saw fishing boats putting out from shore. It was quite peaceful until from somewhere in the distance they began to hear the distant roar of a motorized boat.

  The captain responded to the sound by barking out orders to the crew. The sail came down with a whoosh and the diesels were started. Slowly the junk came around.

  Bentley walked back to Marissa and Tristan to explain that the captain was heading toward shore.

  "What's happening?" Tristan questioned. He could tell the crew was agitated.

  "We're heading into one of those little bays along the shore," Bentley said.

  "It's for protection. The captain is afraid that sound we hear might be a PRC patrol boat. He said it couldn't be a motorized sampan or junk; the engines are too big. He said if it weren't a PRC boat then it could be pirates."

  "Oh, God!" Marissa said.

  They were able to get within a hundred yards of shore before the source of the roar appeared. It was a cigarette boat. It seemed to be coming right toward them. Since most of the mist had evaporated, they could see the boat clearly.

  The captain barked another order and both of the crewmen disappeared below. When they reappeared they were brandishing AK47 assault rifles with bandoliers looped over their forearms.

  "I don't like this," Marissa said.

  "I don't like this at all."

  The captain turned to them and yelled. Bentley translated by telling them that the captain had ordered everyone below except his deckhands.

  Everyone rushed to obey. Bentley closed the wooden door that led to the foredeck, then joined Marissa and Tristan, who were standing next to the junk's entrance port. The shore was clearly visible in the early morning light.

  "Is it a PRC patrol boat?" Tristan asked Bentley. From where they were standing, they could plainly hear the captain and his men conversing as the boat approached the starboard side of the junk.

  "They still don't know," Bentley said nervously.

  They heard the cigarette boat pull up beside the junk. Its powerful engine rumbled menacingly. Then they heard the captain shout loudly.

  "He's telling them to stand clear," Bentley translated.

  A shouting match developed between the captain and the people on the cigarette boat. Each sounded angry. The apparent dispute went on for some time, and as it did so, Marissa noticed that Bentley became progressively more agitated.

  "What are they talking about?" Marissa asked nervously.

  "This is very strange," Bentley said.

  "The people in the powerboat say they have come for the white devils."

  "What are white devils?" Marissa asked.

  "I'm afraid they are talking about you and Tristan," Bentley said.

  "But the captain is furious that they have come out here and jeopardized him."

  Marissa grabbed Tristan's arm. The argument on deck heated up. They watched Bentley's face, but couldn't read his expression.

  "What's happening?" Marissa finally asked.

  "It doesn't sound good," Bentley admitted.

  "The captain has ordered the powerboat to leave, but the boat refuses to go unless you are given to them or-" "Or what?" Marissa demanded.

  "Or you are shot!" Bentley said.

  "It is the Wing Sin."

  "Anything you can do?" Tristan gulped.

  Bentley shook his head.

  "Not much at this point," he said.

  "I can't fight the Wing Sin. Besides, the captain took my gun last night. He said he didn't allow people on his boat to be armed without his say-so."

  "Oh, God!" Marissa repeated.

  Tristan glanced at the shore about a hundred yards away. He wondered if they could swim for it. But just as the thought flashed through his mind, the wooden door to the foredeck was kicked open with a resounding thud. In the doorway stood one of the captain's men. He spoke rapidly, motioning with his gun.

  "I'm afraid he insists you two go on deck," Bentley said.

  "My apologies."

  Tristan turned to Bentley.

  "Since your bodyguard skills are a bit limited at the moment," he said, "perhaps you can still provide us with your interpreting skills. Would you mind accompanying us?"

  "If the captain permits," Bentley said.

  "Come on, luv," Tristan said.

  "This is Hong Kong, where everything is for sale. Let's see if we can't do some business with the captain."

  Feeling more terrified than she had at any time in her life, Marissa let
Tristan lead her past the man with the assault rifle and out into the morning light. It was turning into a pretty day now that the sun had burned off most of the haze. The water, which had been gray, had now assumed its usual emerald green.

  Marissa could hear the sound of songbirds coming from the nearby shore over the muffled roar of the cigarette-boat engine.

  The powerboat was slowly pulling up to the junk to grapple to its side.

  The captain was on the poop deck. He looked down on his Caucasian passengers morosely.

  Tristan spoke quickly with Bentley, who shouted up to the captain in Tanka: "The white devil offers to pay fifty thousand Hong Kong dollars for you to get him and his wife safely back to Aberdeen."

  The captain's expression changed. He stroked his goatee, then glanced at the approaching cigarette boat.

  Marissa recognized the two men in the front of the boat as the two who'd been throwing the chum overboard the day Wendy died.

  "The white devil has just raised his offer to one hundred thousand

  Hong Kong dollars," Bentley yelled in Tanka.

  The captain started to speak to Bentley, but then he stopped mid-sentence. His eyes were riveted to the cigarette boat. Finally he shook his head.

  "I cannot fight the Wing Sin," he said.

  Bentley faced Tristan and told him what the captain had said.

  "Tell him we'll double it to two hundred thousand," Tristan said.

  Before Bentley could yell out this new offer, they heard a second engine's roar. All eyes were drawn to a small offshore island about a quarter mile to the east. The roar grew louder as a large, gun-metal-gray ship with a two-inch cannon mounted on its bow rounded the tip of the island.

  The captain shouted to one of his crew on the main deck. The man tossed him his AK47. The captain grabbed the gun and fired a burst from the rifle over the heads of the men in the approaching cigarette boat and yelled something at the top of his lungs.

  The other crewman herded Marissa and Tristan back into the hold and slammed the door on them.

  "What's happening?" Tristan demanded.

  "It's the PRC," Bentley said.

  "It's a naval patrol boat."

  "What did the captain yell when he fired his weapon?" Tristan asked.

  "He yelled "Thieves," Bentley said.

  From the hold they heard the cigarette boat take off with a roar of its powerful engine. The junk rocked when the boat's wake hit the side.

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