Vital signs dmb 2, p.39

Vital Signs dmb-2, page 39

 part  #2 of  Dr. Marissa Blumenthal Series


Vital Signs dmb-2

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  Within seconds they heard the low-pitched concussion of the patrol boat's cannon, followed by a high-pitched whistle.

  "Are they firing at us?" Marissa demanded.

  "They must be firing at the cigarette boat," Tristan said.

  "Otherwise we'd probably already be in the drink."

  The roar of the patrol boat's engine grew louder as it bore down on the junk, but then it went by with a swoosh. The junk rocked again as the departing patrol boat's wake hit the side.

  "I never expected to be saved by the Chinese Communists," Tristan said.

  The wooden door to the deck crashed open again. One of the crewmen stood at the door. He stepped inside and yelled something.

  "What now?" Tristan asked.

  "He's telling us all to get on deck on the double," Bentley said.

  "All of us, even the two refugees."

  As Marissa reached the deck again, she could see the patrol boat heading southeast. Far in front of it the cigarette boat was speeding away.

  The captain bellowed out another order. Bentley blanched.

  Even the refugees were upset. Chiang Lam began speaking to the captain. He seemed quite frantic.

  "What's the matter now, mate?" Tristan asked.

  "The captain has just ordered us to jump overboard," Bentley said.

  "What!" Marissa gasped.


  "Because he knows the PRC will be back and when they do, he doesn't want to be caught with any contraband."

  Chiang was still addressing the captain. He'd grown hysterical and was yelling at the top of his lungs.

  "What's with the monk?" Tristan asked.

  "He's telling the captain that he cannot swim," Bentley said.

  The captain glared down at Chiang and pointed toward the shore. When Chiang continued his harangue, the captain pulled the AK47 off his shoulder and, without a moment's hesitation, riddled the monk with bullets. The monk's body smashed back against the railing before falling to the deck.

  Marissa turned away. Tristan looked up at the captain in disbelief. Bentley climbed over the railing.

  The captain yelled at one of his crew and the man rushed to the dead monk. Lifting the body from the deck, he tossed the corpse into the water.

  Hastily, Tristan helped Marissa climb over the railing. Bentley went in first. Marissa and Tristan jumped together. Tse Wah was the last to leap.

  As soon as Marissa was able to stop her downward plunge in the surprisingly icy water, she stroked to the surface. Turning around, she looked up at the junk. It was already moving, heading north, away from the direction of the PRC patrol boat.

  "Take your shoes off," Tristan suggested.

  "But don't let go of them. Hold them in your hands. It'll be much easier to swim."


  April 20, 1990 8:05 A.M.

  Between the weight of her wet clothes and the shoes she held in her hands, Marissa found swimming an effort. Although she had been at it for some minutes, she hardly seemed to have moved closer to the shore. Bentley and Tse had swum ahead, but Tristan stayed alongside Marissa.

  "Just stay calm, luv," Tristan said.

  "Maybe you should give me your shoes."

  Marissa gladly handed them over. Tristan had tied his laces together and had strung his shoes around his neck, Taking Marissa's, he jammed them into his pockets. Without the shoes, Marissa's swimming improved.

  The shock of the shooting and the panicked jump into the water had totally occupied Marissa's consciousness, but as she swam and thought about the fact that she was in the ocean, she began to think about Wendy's death. In her mind's eye she started to see the hungry gray monsters cruising silently beneath the surface. Knowing that there was a bleeding body in the water made the fear that much more poignant.

  "Do you think there are sharks around here?" Marissa managed to ask between strokes. She was hoping for reassurance.

  "Let's worry about one problem at a time," Tristan said.

  "Of course there are sharks," Bentley called back to them.

  "Thanks, mate," Tristan yelled ahead.

  "That's just what we wanted to hear!"

  Marissa tried not to dwell on it. Yet with each stroke, she half expected to be yanked from below. If Tristan had not been next to her, she knew she would have panicked.

  "Just keep your eyes on the land," Tristan advised.

  "We'll be there soon enough."

  It took a long time, but gradually the trees seemed closer. Up ahead, Marissa saw that Bentley had stopped swimming. He was standing waist-deep in water. From there he walked to shore.

  By the time Marissa and Tristan arrived at the same depth, Bentley and Tse were already wringing out their clothes.

  "Welcome to the PRC," Tristan said as he took Marissa's hand for the last twenty feet.

  The beach was sickle shaped, extending about three hundred yards between rocky promontories. Behind the beach were lush, semitropical trees bordering a swampy marsh. Seabirds and marsh birds were everywhere. Their din was constant.

  Facing back to sea, Marissa gazed out over the emerald expanse dotted with tiny offshore islands. It was a peaceful, picture postcard view. Sea gulls lazily circled above. There wasn't a trace of the junk, the cigarette boat, or the patrol boat.

  The group relaxed on the beach, soaking up the warm sun after having been so chilled by the cold water. Tristan took their passports out of his money belt and opened them to the sun to dry. He did the same with his Hong Kong currency, weighing down the bills with seashells.

  "I don't believe the captain could kill the monk like that," Marissa said with a shudder.

  "He didn't hesitate for a second."

  "Life is cheap in this part of the world," Tristan said.

  "I wonder if I'll ever recover from all this," she said.

  "First Wendy's death, then Robert's, now this shooting. And all for nothing!"

  Tristan reached out and gripped her hand.

  "No one can ever say we didn't try," he said.

  After the group had been resting for a half hour, they were disturbed by a distant droning noise that rapidly escalated. Having been sensitized by their recent ordeal, everyone looked at each other in puzzled consternation. The sound not only got louder, but it developed a peculiar concussive, pulsating quality.

  Finally Tristan recognized it.

  "It's a helicopter," Tristan cried.

  "Get under the trees!"

  They had barely darted beneath the branches when a large military helicopter thundered overhead, heading directly out to sea in the direction that the patrol boat had disappeared.

  Emerging from the foliage, they stared at the aircraft, which was already a mere pinprick against the pale blue sky.

  "Do you think they saw us?" Marissa asked.

  "Nah!" Tristan said.

  "But I'm surprised they didn't see all this Hong Kong money spread out on the sand."

  When everyone felt rested from the cold swim, they started across the marshlands. Assuming Tse knew where he was going, the other three fell in behind him. At first an they had to do was traverse swampy grass, but eventually they had to ford some deeper streams.

  "Any crocs around this part of the world?" Tristan asked nervously when he was up to his waist, holding his partially dried money belt over his head.

  "No crocodiles," Bentley said.

  "But we do have snakes."

  "What next?" Marissa asked sarcastically.

  But they didn't see any snakes. They did encounter more than a few insects. As they approached the heavily wooded higher ground, the mosquitoes came in swarms. For Marissa, this was a new fear. She asked Tse about malaria and dengue fever.

  "There is always some malaria," Tse said.

  "But dengue fever 19m not familiar with."

  "Never mind," Marissa said. There were just so many things she could worry about at once.

  "I suppose I should look on the bright side of things. We were lucky to get off the junk. Thank God for
the Communist patrol boat."

  "That's the attitude," Tristan said.

  "And at least we still have our watches," Marissa added.

  Tristan laughed, happy to hear that in spite of all that had happened, Marissa was capable of humor.

  "Did you recognize the Caucasian man in the front of the powerboat?" Marissa. asked Tristan.

  "He was the other man throwing chum overboard when Wendy died."

  "I'd vaguely recognized him," Tristan said.

  "From back when I worked for FCA."

  Reaching the edge of the marsh, they next climbed up through thick vegetation. Vines hung down from the branches of the trees. It was slow going. It took some effort just to go a hundred yards. Then the trees suddenly ended at the edge of a rice paddy.

  "I recognize where we are," Tse said.

  "There is a small farming village ahead. Perhaps we should go there and get some food."

  "How will we get food?" Tristan asked.

  "Will they take credit cards?"

  We'll use your money," Tse said.

  "They'll take Hong Kong dollars?" Tristan questioned.

  "Absolutely," Tse said.

  "There is a black market for Hong Kong dollars throughout the Guangdong Province."

  "Do we have to worry about the authorities in this village?"

  Tristan asked.

  "No," Tse said.

  "There will be no police. Only in Shigi will there be police."

  Turning to Bentley, Tristan asked: "What do you see as our major problem being in the PRO. After all, we have visas."

  "Only two things," Bentley said.

  "You have no entry stamp and no entry documents. Everyone must have a Baggage Declaration form. That is the form you must surrender when you leave the PRC."

  "But no one will hassle us while we're here?" Tristan asked.

  "I thought the first walloper we came across would nab us."

  Everyone looked at Tristan curiously.

  "What's the matter?" he asked.

  "What's a walloper?" Marissa asked.

  "A policeman," Tristan said.

  "Am I the only one who speaks English around here?"

  Ignoring Tristan, Marissa addressed Bentley.

  "So we only have to be concerned about leaving the PRC?" she asked.

  "I believe so," Bentley said.

  "Foreign travel has become reasonably commonplace in China, especially in Guangdong Province.

  So no one should bother you. But without some help, you probably will not be able to cross back into Hong Kong or Macao. Without a Baggage Declaration and also without the usual things a tourist carries, like a camera, you'll be considered smugglers and put in jail."

  "At least we'll be safe," Tristan joked.

  "Since we don't have anything to worry about currently, let's go to that village and get some tucker."

  "Food!" Marissa translated for the others.

  Tse had been right. The villagers were eager to obtain the Hong Kong dollars. For what Tristan thought was a piddling amount, he treated all four to dry clothes and a hearty meal.

  Except for the rice, Marissa and Tristan did not recognize the food.

  During the meal Marissa was reminded of Wendy's comment that people in the PRC liked to stare. While they ate, it seemed as if everyone in the entire village came to gawk at the four strangers eating in the village common room.

  When they had finished their meal, Tristan turned to Tse.

  "Do you have any suggestions for us as to how to get out of the PRO.

  Maybe you know how we could get a couple of these Baggage Declaration forms?"

  "I have never seen such a form," Tse said.

  "And if you do not have one, I'm afraid it will be a problem for you. Our government requires forms for everything, and our officials are of a suspicious nature. But I don't think you should go to the border. I think it would be best for you to go to Guangzhou. I know there is an American consulate. I've visited it in an effort to get medical books."

  "That sounds like good advice to me," Marissa said.

  Tristan nodded.

  "I wonder if there is an Aussie consulate as well."

  "If not, I'm sure we can talk the American consul into helping you too," Marissa said.

  "How do we go about getting to Guangzhou?" Tristan asked.

  "I suppose it is a long walk from here."

  Tse flashed a smile.

  "A very long walk," he agreed.

  "But it is not such a long walk to the next town, which is larger than this village. Chiang and I stayed one night in the town, and I know they have a medical dispensary similar to the one where I work.

  I imagine they have transportation to Shigi, where the district hospital is located. From there we can go to Forshan, which is a big city."

  "That sounds good to me," Tristan said.

  "What do you think, Marissa?"

  "Sounds almost too good to be true," Marissa said.

  "I like the idea of having a U.S. official deal with the Communist bureaucracy.

  As Tse says, it's a much better idea than going to the border and trying our luck. With everything that has happened, I don't feel very lucky."

  "What about you, Bentley?" Tristan asked.

  "I think I will go back via Macao," Bentley said.

  "I have a hui shen jing, which entitles me multiple visa-free entries into the PRC. I shouldn't have much trouble. Maybe a short delay; but I'll go with you as far as Forshan."

  The walk from the tiny village to the next town took only about an hour. First they passed by small plots of vegetables, then through rice paddies being worked by peasants with water buffalo. Whenever any peasants spotted them, they stopped and stared until the strange group passed from view. Marissa imagined they made for a curious sight: two gwedos and all four dressed in ill fitting clothing.

  Entering the town, Tse conversed briefly with a man pushing a wheelbarrow. During the entire conversation, the peasant didn't take his eyes off Marissa.

  "He says the dispensary is just a little way ahead," Tse reported.

  Most of the buildings in the town were either wood or brick, but the health clinic was a concrete whitewashed structure with a roof made of sunbaked tile. They entered through a low door.

  Both Tristan and Bentley had to duck to get in.

  The first room was a waiting room. It was filled mainly with older women, a few accompanied by young children. One middleaged man had a cast on his leg.

  "Please," Tse said.

  "If you would wait here I will introduce myself to the doctor."

  There was no space on the crude wooden benches that circled the room's periphery, so Marissa, Tristan, and Bentley stood.

  None of those waiting uttered a single word. They merely gawked at the trio as if they were extraterrestrial beings. The children were especially curious.

  "Now I know how cinema stars feel," Tristan said.

  Tse reappeared, escorted by a tall, gaunt Chinese man dressed in a short-sleeved Western-style shirt.

  "This is Dr. Chen Chi-Li," Tse said. He then introduced ChiLi to Marissa, Tristan, and Bentley.

  Chi-Li bowed. Then he smiled, revealing large, yellow teeth.

  He spoke quickly in guttural Cantonese.

  "He welcomes you to his clinic," Tse said.

  "He thinks it is an honor to have an American and an Australian doctor visit. He asks if you would care to see his facility."

  "What about the transportation?" Tristan asked.

  "The clinic has a van," Tse said.

  "The van will take us to Shigi.

  From Shigi he said that we can take a bus to Forshan, then a train to Guangzhou."

  "How much will he charge for the van?" Tristan asked.

  "There will be no charge," Tse said.

  "We will go with several patients being sent to the district hospital."

  "Fine," Tristan said.

  "Let's see the bugger's clinic."

  With Chi-Li
and Tse leading, the group toured the clinic. The rooms were essentially bare except for crude furniture here and there. The procedure room was especially stark, with a rusted steel table, a porcelain sink, and one ancient glass cabinet full of instruments.

  Seeing that Marissa seemed interested in the instrument cabinet,

  Chi-Li went over and opened the door for her.

  Marissa winced when she looked into a tin of non disposable needles that had become dull from overuse. It made her realize how much she took for granted in her office and at the Boston Memorial. As her eyes wandered to the upper shelf, she saw packages of vaccines, including a cholera vaccine made in the United States. Then she noticed some vials of BCG. She remembered

  Tse's having mentioned their use in tuberculosis inoculations.

  Marissa was curious about BCG, particularly since it had never been proven to be effective in the United States. She reached into the cabinet and lifted one of the vials. Reading the label, she discovered it had been made in France.

  "Ask Chi-Li if he sees much tuberculosis," Marissa asked as she replaced the BCG vial. She glanced at the other contents of the cabinet while Tse spoke with the man.

  "He sees about the same as I," Tse reported.

  Marissa closed the cabinet door.

  "Ask him if he ever sees TB as a female problem," she asked. She watched Chi-Li's face as Tse translated. There was always the chance she could hit on something unexpected. But Chi-Li's expression reflected a negative response to the question. Tse translated that Chi-Li had seen nothing of the kind.

  Leaving the procedure room, they walked into an examining room. A female patient was sitting on a chair in the corner. She stood and bowed as the group entered.

  Marissa bowed back, sorry to have intruded. Suddenly Marissa stopped. In the center of the room was a relatively modern examining table, complete with stainless steel stirrups.

  Seeing the table brought back all the unpleasant procedures she'd endured over the last year in the course of her fertility treatments. She was surprised to see such a modern piece of equipment at the clinic; nearly everything else she'd seen was quite dated and rudimentary.

  Stepping over to the table, Marissa absently fingered one of the stirrups.

  "How did this examining table get here?" she asked.

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