Our Zodiac rounded the end of a long gravel spit. I was relieved. I had not wanted to trudge through another interminable stretch of deep sucking stones. Not with our frail doctor in tow. The bay we entered was flat, round and large. The south end seemed to be the center of development. Above some scattered industrial plants, surrounded by the usual dockside junk of derricks and containers, stood an imposing Victorian building. White, with blue accents, it rose majestically over everything else visible on the island. As our speed slowed, I looked back at Don, perched across from Marlys, both sunk into the large rubber tubes of the Zodiac hull. His eyes flicked down to Marlys’ ankle, and back up to me. His recognition grew broader. I understood. The anklet was not an exact copy of the original. It was the original. Don had taken it from my drawer when he’d been in my cabin. I had been in the bathroom getting ready. So much for the vaunted privacy of everyone’s belongings, I groused.

My thoughts went even further. He could not have missed the gold nuggets, yet he’d said nothing. I wondered if the nuggets were still there. I breathed in and out deeply, trying to accommodate everything. The complexity of things occurring on and around the ship was almost too overwhelming to grasp. Everything was running together, then apart, then back together with a bizarre illogic. I, of course, now prepared myself to make believe I was a real doctor again. The sum total of my training consisted of working in Peace Corps clinics across the underdeveloped world. Mostly, I had worked for service. I would come in almost dead, get healed, stitched and medicated, then work off the ‘fee.’

I noticed the way in which light struck the Russian Orthodox Church. Russian Orthodoxy dominated all of the island religions. It had come with the whaling trade, which was now non-existent, except for a few native tribesmen who brought in a couple of Baleen’s every year. Native harvesting, they called it. People still came north from the lower states to protest even those few kills. If they stayed long enough and sailed the Bering at all, their misconceptions about a limited whale population went away.

The Bering Sea ran amuck with whales. They were so prevalent that cruise lines only stopped to let passengers view them on the first day out. Otherwise, the ships would heave to all the time. The view was so beautiful I wished I had been able to keep my Leica. It was the Agency’s Leica, really. But it would have been mine after the mission.

My practice was to steal any and all equipment left over after a mission. It was included in my ‘personal field agent benefit package.’ Instead, Maxwell had commandeered it. So, I’d left the Lido deck empty-handed. Maybe it would turn up, I mused, but then dismissed the notion. The Immigration ‘field agent’s benefits package’ was the more likely repository of that expensive device.

There were no other Zodiacs at the quayside when we tied up. How long Kessler would entertain the agents was anybody’s guess. Someone had called them in. They would not leave without anything to show for their effort. Not easily, anyway.

I climbed onto the dock from the bow, before helping Don. Marlys was chilly of hand, but her clasp was warm, however, when compared to the icy glare of her look. All three of us assisted the doctor. I took his bag, which seemed heavy enough this time to actually have real instruments and medications within. Filipe backed up the Zodiac and was off in seconds.

“Does anybody ever get breakfast or lunch on the ship?” I posed the question to make conversation, but also because it seemed a valid concern.

I calculated I had been losing about a pound a day. Even my watch was getting loose on my wrist. Every morning I was pounded out of bed, and then raced about until dinner.

A contingent of locals arrived in a big yellow school bus. They didn’t get off. The driver opened the door and motioned us in. I was the last aboard. My eyes flicked down to the end of the wharf where a big white and red helicopter sat in isolation.

“Why was the Coast Guard providing service to the Department of Immigration?” I puzzled. It was uncommon and a curiosity. They didn’t normally care much for one another.

“Now, I’ll give you the tour, as we head across the island,” our driver said, in a jaunty, stilted voice. I stood at the front of the bus.

There were eight or ten people already aboard, spaced out, each taking a full double seat. Nobody sat together. They were all Caucasians, while the driver was a local woman.

“The victim is on the other side of the island at the fish production facility,” she advised while popping the clutch and taking off up the muddy dirt road.

Trident Crab Plant St Paul

Trident processing plant St Paul Island

“Hello, can everyone hear me?” she said. She was holding a little microphone in her hand. Her voice radiated out through speakers in the ceiling of the bus. She leaned down and turned up the volume as we churned up the road toward the church. “Now what you see here is the abandoned Russian Orthodox church. It was built in the early eighteen hundreds…” she droned, occasionally switching the microphone to her other hand. I saw several people walking out of the church. “Of course,” she said through the microphone, “the church isn’t really abandoned anymore…” My eyes rolled. Of course, the abandoned church was not abandoned. The universe I was in was not really a universe at all. It was actually a parallel galaxy.

The island was mainly flat, with a few hills, here and there. We went over a hill, the driver droning on, and ran down along a beached cove covered in seals. They were all over.

“This is the protected St. Paul seal rookery of the South Shore,” the speaker announced. “They are protected, except for the harvesting we do once a year.”

Of course, what else? I thought. A metal building loomed up beyond the rookery. We headed up a small incline to it, along a winding muddy trail. I got comfortable next to Don, in the very front seat. The bus churned, and the Yupik woman would not shut up.

Seal Rookerie St Paul

Fur seals at Vostotchni rookery at the northeast point of St. Paul Island. Photo: John Skinner.

“Indy,” he said, nodding, watching the short green tundra grass, laden with strange yellow and red flowers, go slowly by.

“Botany Bay,” I reprised, and then went on, “we ever getting to Russia? I mean ever? We haven’t followed the itinerary for one single day.”

Don tittered. “You’ve been to Russia. In fact, I think you single-handedly burned down one of their islands. A Russian island. You’re in a state of war with Russia, but neither of you knows you are active belligerents, yet. As to that other thing? We never follow the itinerary. The weather dictates everything on the Bering Sea. We just follow along.”

We pulled up to the building. An industrial door noisily shot up on the long side of the white and gray structure. Our driver finally stopped talking. The door of the bus opened. Through it we could hear the sounds of groaning and deep pain coming from within the building. A bunch of people rushed through the big building’s door. They fanned out to sit on stools and chairs in the sun. They were a mix of locals. The people aboard our bus filed off ahead of us to join them, lighting up along the way. Nobody talked to us.

“You’ve got your work cut out for you,” Don said. “I’ll stay out here and see what this woman knows about fauna and flora, maybe get some anthropology for your lecture later this afternoon.”

Marlys then stepped by me, her anklet gleaming briefly against her lovely exposed skin. She did not acknowledge me. I helped the doctor down, and the three of us made for the cavernous entrance. The sound of such deep agonizing pain made me uncomfortable, but it didn’t seem to bother anyone else.

A man lay on the concrete floor, a canvas under him. His right thigh was wrapped tightly in some sort of toweling. The towel was red with blood, as was much of the canvas. I led the doctor to the man’s side. Marlys’ wandered to the far side of the building.

“So much for Yemaya the nurse,” I apprised the doctor.

“Say what?” he responded, cupping his left ear. “I don’t have any idea. Unwrap that leg and let’s have a look. See what we can see. Fix em up.”

I realized that the pressure was no longer about helping the doctor’s skills. We both knelt down. I took the doctor’s bag and opened it. He unwrapped the man’s thigh, which had a huge lump protruding from it.

The man screamed so loud it made my ears ring. The doctor proceeded while I reached into his bag for a bottle of Morphine Sulfate. There was only one syringe, which I filled with ten milligrams of the yellow liquid. I bared the man’s struggling arm. His fevered eyes stared into space. I showed him the syringe. He nodded back, fighting off another scream, as the doctor bared a specialized hatchet handle sticking out of the man’s thigh. I aspirated the syringe, stuck it into his bicep, and then plunged the whole load into his arm. I did not bother to back pull, to make sure I hadn’t hit a vein. His need was critical.

I reached over and pulled my own canvas sack to me. I re-filled the first syringe, and then prepared a second, just in case. Ten milligrams of morphine sulfate suppressed pain, but not necessarily in a big man. It could take twenty or thirty, yet the latter might kill him. Twenty would put most men out cold. I took out my Mont Blanc and wrote on the man’s arm: “Ten Milligrams Morphine.” I also marked the time. Next, I set the other two syringes near him on the canvas. The doctor stood up.

“Stuff’s in there. I need some air,” he explained, prior to walking out of the open door.

Marlys leaned with her back against the far wall, her arms crossed, and the anklet occasionally twinkling. A 300-pound man in a plaid shirt and jeans came out of an undersized office attached to the wall near where Marlys stood. He approached me with nostrils flared.

“’Bout time you got here. You sure took long enough. What a mess. He missed the God blessed fish, he did, and now this,” he gestured down. His eyes got large, and he turned white as he looked down.

“Jesus Christ,” he breathed, staring at the hatchet inserted into the man’s leg. He whirled and went straight back to his office.

“Just you an’ me” I comforted my patient, who had calmed down. His eyes were half-lidded from the drug.

I saw a water hose coiled against the far wall. I dragged it over, then went back to the tap and turned it on until I saw a very small stream coming from the nozzle. I went into the supervisor’s office, or at least that’s what the sign on the door said. The big man was bent over, tossing into his wastebasket.

“Got some booze?” I asked him, between heaves.

He pointed at a file cabinet drawer. I opened it and pulled out a half-filled bottle of Jameson’s Irish Whiskey.

“What is it with you guys? Nobody drinks rot gut out here?” I took the bottle.

The doctor’s bag was well supplied. I plucked out small plastic bags with Three-O and Five-O pre-needled stitching kits. I’d need the former for the deep tissue stitches, or the wound would not hold together. Trauma was my only medical specialty. I eased the hatchet back and forth in the wound. My patient groaned but seemed well enough anesthetized. I pulled the object right out.

The wound bled freely, but not in an arterial spurting manner. I took the hose and placed it at the upper end of the wound. I began irrigating until it ran clear. I breathed a sigh of relief when I found a stitching hemostat inside the doctor’s bag. Without these little pliers, interior stitching was almost impossible. Curved needles could not be manipulated with fingers. I began throwing surgeon’s stitch after surgeon’s stitch, doubles, and triples. When I was done with the interior, I poured most of the whiskey into the wound. Then I closed with the Five-O.

When I was done I did the card dealer’s double hand flare, then clapped twice. The doctor reappeared at my side, then Marlys walked over to examine my handiwork, and the supervisor again stepped from his office. I was about to instruct him about the patient’s care when he bellowed.

“You!” He pointed one big finger at the real doctor.

“Me?” the old man said, pointing an index finger at his own chest.

“Yeah, you. You are a thieving cur.” The man’s voice had risen to nearly a scream. I stood erect.

“What the hell?” I began, but he cut me off.

“This son-of-a-bitch came in her last year and ripped us all off. I’ll show you.” He ran back to his office, returning with a ragged fur in his hands.

“Here!” He threw the skin into the doctor’s face. “This thief said he bought the fur from my wife in town. Then he comes up here and says it was defective. All the fur was coming off. I tried to explain that it was a winter Reindeer fur. Of course, the fur comes off, when it gets warm, like in summer. It’s the pelt that’s valuable, not the fur!”

I groped for understanding.

The big man continued: “So, I say, after trying to get him to understand, ‘to hell with it’ and give him his six hundred back. He takes off. And now I’m gonna take him apart. That’s what we do with thieves here.”

He moved toward the scrunched down doctor. I stepped in front of him, blocking the way.

“So you gave him his money back?” I took the ratty fur from the doctor’s hands. “Here’s your fur. The affair’s settled.”

The man only glowered at me.

“The son-of-a-bitch never paid my wife for it!” he yelled.

My heart sank. I had not brought my roll of hundreds. There was no buying my way out of this one, I belatedly realized.

I tossed the pelt, then turned to present my left side to the man. I brought my hands in close to my body, but left them ready, dangling by my sides.

“You can’t take him apart. He’s our ship’s doctor. I just saved your man’s life. You owe us.”

The man sneered at me, then at the doctor. Reason had left his eyes. Then he moved.

I caught his wrist starting upward. It was the size of the thick end of a baseball bat. I redirected his energy to the outside and then leaned into his chest. He should have been pushed back, at least a few feet. It would have been all I needed, but I didn’t get it. Instead, he stood like a planted oak, reached his other arm around and literally threw me over his back. I landed in a heap, but vaulted up, shaken but unhurt.

Aikido teaches hand-to-hand combat, and how to fall. The falling I could do with this hard-bitten Alaskan giant, but I didn’t think I could take him in unarmed combat, Aikido or no. After his shoulders went back, he screamed and grabbed at his backside. He then brought his arms around in front of him, each holding a spent syringe.

“You bitch,” he shrieked, staring behind him.

He went to one knee. Then both. I helped him fall to the floor, turning him so his back was down.

“That woman is a bitch,” he whispered to me, his hands still clutching the morphine syringes, and his eyes closing.

I looked up at Marlys in question. She simply shrugged.

“He was in pain,” she eventually declared.

I would have laughed, but I didn’t think she meant it as a joke. I removed the syringes from the unconscious man’s hands, put them in the bag, and then hustled the doctor to the bus.

“We’ve got a medical emergency here,” I announced to the crowd of smokers, on my way back from the bus. “We need to transport two men to the wharf right now.” Five men came forward and volunteered to carry the wounded men. I assisted them in getting the unconscious men laid out in the school bus aisle.

“What happened to Charlie, our supervisor?” one man asked.

“I don’t know,” I said, “might be something cardiovascular.

The local seemed sympathetic. “He’s pretty stressed. Hope he makes it.”

Don had to run to catch the bus before we took off.

“What the devil?” he asked, “and what’s the rush?” I smiled.

He laughed out loud, “Why am I even asking?” he exclaimed.

The four of us rode in the front of the bus, standing, while the Yupik woman worked the rough muddy roads back to the port.

“The heliport,” I instructed. Two Coast Guardsmen stood next to their chopper. I jumped down, once the bus stopped and the door retracted.

“Good afternoon sir,” I offered, sticking out my right hand. Both were wearing bug-eye dark glasses, One took my hand.

“How can we help you?” he asked.

“You got commo with Immigration on the ship?” I shot back, pointing out to sea, hoping against hope that the agents were still out there.

“No joy in that valley,” the Guardsman said. “They’re Immigration. They got radios but we don’t use those frequencies.”

I nodded rapidly and then spoke.

“We have a medical emergency here. Two men down. One critical trauma and the other probably heart attack. Maxwell said to come back once you clear these guys to the nearest main side hospital. They’ll find quarters on the island for the night.”

The Guardsmen seemed unsure until the doctor spoke.

“I’m the doctor here. These men need immediate evacuation. All else can wait. Let’s move it.” The Guardsmen hustled.

We helped them load the two men securely onto makeshift gurneys in the back of the chopper. We all watched the big bird get into the air. I saluted, puckishly. Maxwell might have gotten a Leica, but he wasn’t going anywhere for a while. He would play hell trying to get the locals to put up hated Immigration Officers for the night. We walked to the wharf where Filipe sat stoically. He and I exchanged the usual pleasantry.

“Immigration?” I asked when we were aboard.

“On the way in now,”Felipe replied.

“Will they come back out?” I queried, curious if Filipe might have caught on to what we had pulled.

“My people will not bring them back. Not this time.”

I smiled. We passed the Zodiac carrying the agents, as we came to the end of the gravel spit. They waved mightily at us. We waved back. Innocently, I turned to Marlys, her head again cloaked.

“Will you come to my cabin tonight. I owe you. And thank you,” I said to her, but she uttered nothing in return.

She didn’t even pull her hood back so I could see her face. Across from us, Don enjoyed the scene. I spotted the Mickey Mouse Pirate flag flying from the World Discoverer’s masts as we approached. Captain Kessler awaited us, and I wondered if he had seen the flag. I’d missed breakfast once again. Lunch now looked like a long shot.

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