The washroom door swung open. Felipe stepped through the entrance, dropped a pile of dry clothes on the floor, and then looked at my nakedness. I had nothing cover myself with. He stared for a few seconds, looking openly at the roadmap of my career, scars so intricately detailed as to resemble an AAA road map. His eyes met mine for the briefest instant before he was gone. The door gently clicked behind him. I sorted through the pile. A full set of green scrubs lay on the floor, booties, hat and all. A heavy ski jacket in dark black, with the name Dr. Murphy, off to one side. I dressed, held the Wellingtons up to the electric hand dryer for a bit, and then put them on. I wrapped the wrinkled wet clothes in my old coat and headed for the door, but it opened before I got there. Don strode in.
“Doctor’s stuff,” he pointed his big chin at the pile unnecessarily.
I merely nodded.
“You gotta go into the hall and watch the dances. Later today, back on board, we’ll have to do a five-minute summation of the day. You can leave off the part where you went for a swim.” He grinned gleefully at his own joke. “The real doctor is already here. He heard about your accident. Maybe he’ll see you later”.
I had already shifted from denial to resignation, hoping that the accident had not colored anyone’s opinion of my ability.
“There’s also a little girl who needs your services.” Don’s ready smile was gone, replaced by a worried frown that flitted across his face.
“My services?” I asked, hesitantly.
Don steadied himself and then pointed at the doctor’s name stenciled on the coat. “I’m not the doctor,” I told him, pointedly.
“I’m supposed to be the physician’s assistant.” At that, Don’s big smile returned.
He reached down and grabbed the green surgeon’s cap. “Better put it on. It’s expected of you.” He tossed the scrap of material.
“I’m not gonna play doctor here,” I responded, catching the cap.
“Would you rather that the real doctor saw the poor kid?” He emphasized the word doctor when he spoke the words. My resistance crumbled and I then put on the close fitting cap, feeling like a complete idiot for the second time in under an hour.
“I’ll get your stuff,” he promised, again with an excess of glee, and he swept the clothing bundle from my grasp.
“I just knew you’d do fine,” he reassured me as we made our way toward the only large building, “and I also saw what nobody else seemed to.” I walked in front of him to the base of the stairs.
“And what was it that you saw?” I inquired, climbing.
“I saw you save that woman,” he replied. “If you hadn’t acted, then she’d have gone under the boat. And that would have been it, for her, for us and the rest of the cruise.” We finished the three-story climb with Don breathing much harder than I.
“I’d appreciate it, Botany Bay, if you just forgot about that,” I said. He seemed to agree, holding a door open for me, almost bowing in his obvious solicitation. More Don Quixote, I thought to myself.
“C’mon, I’ll take you to the girl. She’s in back.” Don muttered.
We walked behind the assembled passengers and other crew staff. They all sat on a basketball court in folding chairs. Native players sang and danced in front of them. Along the back wall card tables were set up, covered with what appeared to be ivory carvings. The real doctor was among the tables, handling first one carving, then another. He never noticed Don and I walk by.
The girl was the only attractive human on the whole island, the Inuit are not known for terrific good looks. She sat on a cot off the main court, in what must have been a locker room, but one without lockers. I walked over to her, wearing the hat. I offered her my hand. She looked up into my eyes hopefully, yet rejected my hand.
Immediately, I saw red lines radiating down from above her left eyebrow, going around her eye all the way to her jaw. I placed my proffered right hand against the side of her head, slowly examining her scalp. As I had suspected upon seeing the lines, her hair concealed a laceration. “She’s infected. She needs a tetanus shot, a shot of antibiotic and maybe some salve.” Don translated. A small group of natives in western attire counseled behind her.
“They said okay,” Don noted.
“Okay?” I asked, “Where the hell am I going to get supplies?”
Don pointed back at the door we had come through. I walked over. We both looked out to see the doctor still examining ivory carvings. On the floor next to him was a black valise-type bag. Don went for the bag.
The doctor was oblivious when Don’s absconded with it. Inside, it was empty except for some injectors, needles, a vial of antibiotic and some tubes of 1% Hydrocortisone cream. No tetanus anti-toxin. Giving the injection was quick and easy, with a bit of alcohol. The girl neither changed expression nor made a sound. “Tell them to shave around the cut, wash it with soap twice a day and put the salve on three times a day.”
I returned the used syringe to the bag, bowed to the assemblage and headed back to the real doctor. I put his bag back where it was. Next, I locked onto Marlys’ eyes. She was staring at me to the point that I had to look away. I feigned taking in the native spectacle still going on when I saw her get up. She began to move directly towards me. My breathing grew shallow. I swiped off the ridiculous green surgical cap. She walked right up to me, looking radiant.
“I want to talk to you,” she stated without emotion, her eyes never leaving mine and never blinking. I was hypnotically frozen. I said nothing, though I did swallow, once. “Not here,” she went on, “later in Cabin 27. I’ll come that far.” I breathed normally, wondering about her strange English diction. I laid it off to her Dutch accent.
“I’ll not be taking my clothes off,” she assured me, again as flatly as she had delivered everything else. I flexed my neck, repeatedly. Then she whispered something almost too quiet for me to hear, “Not unless you tell me to.” She turned and went back to her chair as Don walked up.
“You look like you’ve been hit by a bus,” he laughed. “What’d she say to you?” We both faced the dancing natives.
“Nothing,” I said, my head whirling, “not a damn thing.”
Don just laughed, “And where is the trouble you’re supposed to get me into? Why do I have the feeling that she just walked away?”
I ignored Don and headed back to the boat landing. I’d seen enough, and done enough for one day. Don stayed behind. Down on the landing, from atop the rough rocks, I noted Felipe circling his boat a hundred meters out, or so, from the breaking surf. He saw me, and then unexpectedly headed the boat in. When the Zodiac was jammed into the ‘V’ between the two angled stones, where I had almost died, I jumped aboard. I thought we would wait for the others, but Felipe backed us out into the waves, swinging around violently. He proceeded to the ship at full speed. The spray from our departure bit deep into me and the icy coldness returned to my center. By the time we got to the “Lindy” (M/S World Discoverer) I was shivering violently.
I hopped off the boat and headed for my cabin. My hands were shaking so badly that I almost could not get the key into the lock. Without even closing the door I stripped completely and stepped into my small corner shower. The water heated up fast. I stood under the deluge for a full half hour, marveling at just how great a benefit the shower was. Don had been right. My shower curtain was pulled back. Benito stood there, with her hand holding the curtain aside.
“Are you done?” she asked in her commanding tone. I twisted the handles to off but did not step out of the stall. I was naked, with nothing to cover myself. “Get the hell out of there and get dried off,” she ordered, in disgust, while handing me a towel. “You think yours is the first male body I’ve ever seen? And the Filipino’s right, you are one scarred-up mess.” Not knowing what else to do, I followed her instructions. “You screwed that whole landing up. I knew you were trouble. A smart-assed, know-it-all professor. Like we needed one more! Here, eat this.” From somewhere she brought out a stick of butter wrapped in paper. It was a full quarter pound.
“What?” I exclaimed, dropping my towel, getting kind of used to everyone in the world seeing me naked.
“Your core temperature is down. Old Eskimo trick. Eat it.” She jammed it at me. I mused to myself that things could really not get much stranger. I carefully peeled the stick and ate the butter with some difficulty, but less than I had imagined.
As soon as the butter hit my stomach I began to radiate heat. It was like I had some sort of electric unit in my center. It felt great. I sat down naked on the bunk, Benito towering above me.
“Don’t get your ass too comfortable. We got trouble. You gotta go save your ex-bunkmate from the natives.” I looked up, still trying to lick the greasy butter from my mouth. I mumbled back to her.
“Don’s in trouble?” My mind flashed to the supposed note he had received from his own Fatima child. “What trouble?”
“Seems that Professor Donald is accused of stealing a bunch of the native’s carvings,” she responded. “They want to know what he did with ‘em or they won’t let him go. So I figured the best way to handle this situation was for you doctors to stick together. Go get his ass and be back here in an hour. We sail then, with or without you two.” She went to the open door. I was surprised that the whole ship had not filed in to see me naked. “Your broken body isn’t so bad.” With that faint praise, she left.
I threw a set of clothes on, my Wellingtons and the doctor’s coat. Then I went into Don’s bag, pulled out my shaving kit. I removed the items inside. The bottom of the kit was false. I pulled it out. From a thick stack of hundred dollar bills, I peeled off forty. Then I ran for the boat deck. Felipe waited, orbiting, as usual. He pulled in quickly as if he knew that I was on a rescue mission. Passengers were all over the place and we had to avoid the returning boats. The real doctor waved from the bow of one of them. I reciprocated.
We hit the landing hard, and I almost revisited the water. I jumped and ran over the rocks. I could not afford to miss the sailing of the ship. The higher mission depended upon it. I had to resolve the problem, and quickly, or I was done before I had really even started. I vaulted the stairs to the main hall and threw open the door. I looked back to make sure that Felipe was orbiting, which he was. Don sat on one of the folding chairs looking like a bad grade school child. A giant one. His head hung down. Four native males stood around him, obviously guarding him. An older woman stood in front of him. She turned at my entry. I ignored her and spoke to Don.
“What the hell happened?” I asked.
“Don’t know,” he responded miserably. “They’re missing a whole slew of carvings and they saw me at the table last. They want to know where I hid them, but I didn’t take them.” He started to speak to the woman, but I stopped him.
“Don, I want you to listen to me closely here.” I stared hard into his eyes. He paid attention.
“I want you to translate for me, but nothing more. Not one more word of your own. Got it?” He nodded again.
“But I didn’t do it,” he whispered furiously, shaking his head.
“Are you done?” I said, impatiently. He next got to his feet. The four natives backed up but acted threateningly.
“Alright, ask her this. How many carvings were taken?” Don looked at me quizzically, but then spoke in the native language.
“Nine,” he said.
“Okay, Don.” “Now tell her that I took them.” Don’s eyes got large and round. “Tell her,” I hissed. He spoke again. The four men and women began to talk heatedly at that point.
“Ask her how much they cost.” Don interpreted again, over the hubbub. The natives became silent. The woman looked at me closely, and then squinted her eyes. She spoke.
“They’re four hundred apiece,” he said, and then sniffed. “That’s a hell of a lot more than they were asking,” he informed me in English, out of the side of his mouth. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the roll of hundreds. I counted out thirty-six of them, then put them on the chair Don had vacated.
“Ask her if there’ll be anything else.” Don translated and the woman picked up the hundreds.
She counted slowly. Then she held up three fingers
“Shit,” Don said. I punched him in the chest, hard, prior to counting out three more hundred, without asking for a translation of anything. Some sign language was the same in most all cultures.
“C’mon, Benito may not hold the boat for us.” I ran to the door.
“What?” Don cried, then got moving as well. Felipe was nudging the Zodiac back into the cleft when we arrived. On the trip back Don spoke through cupped hands.
“Who stole the carvings?” he asked. I shrugged while leaning closer to him.
“The only guy with a case to carry them away in.” We were on the ship by the time Don figured out who I might be talking about.