Safe in the Hands of Medicine
"How are you feeling today?" Sebastian Curtis pulled the sheet down to Tuck's knees and lifted the pilot's hospital gown. Tucker flinched when the doctor touched the catheter. "Better," Tuck said. "That thing is itching, though."
"It's healing." The doctor palpated the lymph nodes in Tucker's crotch. His hands were cold and Tuck shivered at the touch. "The infection is subsiding. This happened to you in the plane crash?"
"I fell back on some levers while I was trying to get a passenger out of the plane."
"The hooker?" The doctor didn't look up from his work.
Tuck wanted to throw the sheets over his head and hide. Instead, he said, "I don't suppose it would make a difference if I said I didn't know she was a hooker."
Sebastian Curtis looked up and smiled; his eyes were light gray flecked with orange. With his gray hair and tropical tan, he could have been a re-tired general, Rommel maybe. "I'm not really concerned with what the woman was doing there. What does concern me is that you had been drinking. We can't have that here, Mr. Case. You may have to fly on a moment's notice, so you won't be able to drink or indulge in any other chemical diversions. I assume that won't pose a problem."
"No. None," Tuck said, but he felt like he'd been hit with a bag of sand. He'd been craving a drink since he'd regained consciousness. "By the way, Doc, since we're going to be doing business together, maybe you should call me Tucker."
"Tucker it is," Curtis said. "And you can call me Dr. Curtis." He smiled again.
"Swell. And your wife's name is?"
The doctor finished his examination and pulled the sheet back up to Tuck's waist. "You should be on your feet in a few days. We'll move you to your bungalow this afternoon. I think you'll find everything you need there, but if you do need anything, please let us know."
A gin and tonic, Tuck thought. "I'd like to find out what happened to the guy who was piloting my boat."
"As I told you, the islanders found you and a few pieces of your boat." There was a finality in his voice that made it clear that he didn't want to talk about Kimi or the boat.
Tuck pressed on. Respect for authority had never been his long suit. "I guess I'll ask around when I get out of here. Maybe he washed up on a different part of the island. I remember being hung in a tree with him by an old cannibal."
Tuck saw a frown cross the doctor's face like a fleeting shadow, then the professional smile was back. "Mr. Case, there haven't been any cannibals in these islands for a hundred years. Besides, I will have to ask you to stay inside the compound while you are here. You'll have access to beaches and there's plenty of room to roam, but you won't be having any contact with the islanders."
"Why, I mean if they saved me?"
"The Shark People have a very closed society. We try not to intrude on that any more than is necessary for us to do our work."
"The Shark People? Why the Shark People?"
"I'll explain it all to you when you are feeling better. Right now you need to rest." The doctor took a syringe from a metal drawer by the wall and filled it from a vial of clear fluid, then injected it into Tuck's IV. "When do you think you'll be ready to fly?"
Tuck felt as if a veil of gauze had been thrown over his mind. Everything in the room went soft and fuzzy. "Not real soon if you keep giving me that stuff. Wow, what was that? Hey, you're a doctor. Do you think we taste like Spam?"
He was going to ask another question, but somehow it didn't seem to matter anymore.
The Sorcerer stormed into the Sky Priestess's bungalow, stripped off his lab coat, and threw it into the corner. He went to the open kitchen, ripped open the freezer, pulled out a frosty fifth of Absolut, and poured a triple shot into a water glass that froze and steamed like dry ice in the humidity. "Malink lied," he said. Then he tossed back half the glass and grabbed his temples when the cold hit his brain.
The Sky Priestess looked up from her magazine. "A little stressed, darling?" She was lying out on the lanai, naked except for a wide-brimmed straw hat, her white skin shining in the sun like pearl.
The Sorcerer joined her and fell onto a chaise lounge, a hand still clamped on his temples. "Case says there was another man with him on the island. He said an old cannibal hung them in a tree."
"I heard him," the Sky Priestess said. "He's delirious?"
"I don't think so. I think Malink lied. That they found the boat pilot and didn't tell us."
She moved next to him on the chaise lounge and pried the glass of vodka out of his hand. "So send the ninjas on a search mission. You're paying them. They might as well do something."
"That's not an option and you know it."
"Well, then go yourself. Or call Malink on it. Tell him that you know there was another man and you want him brought here chop-chop."
"I think we're losing them, Beth. Malink wouldn't have dared lie to me a month ago. It's that dream. He dreams that Vincent is sending them a pilot, then you tell him it's not true, then a pilot washes up on the reef."
The Sky Priestess drained the glass of vodka and handed it back to him empty. "Yeah, nothing fucks up a good religion like the intervention of a real god."
"I wish you wouldn't talk that way."
"So what are you going to do, after you get a refill, I mean?"
The Sorcerer looked up at her as if noticing her for the first time. "Beth, what are you doing out here? The Priestess of the Sky does not have a tan."
She reached under the chaise lounge and came up with a plastic bottle of lotion. "SPF 90. Relax, 'Bastian, this stuff would keep me creamy white in a nuclear flare. You want to rub some on me?" She pushed her hat back on her head so he could see the predator seriousness in her eyes.
"Beth, please. I'm on the cusp of a crisis here."
"It's not a crisis. It's obvious why the Shark People are getting restless."
"No one has been chosen in over two months, 'Bastian."
He shook his head. "Case isn't ready to fly."
"Well, get him ready."
Kimi sat under a coconut palm outside of the bachelors' house sulking. His flowered dress was gone and he wore a blue thu, the long saronglike loin-cloth worn by the Shark men. Gone too was his blond wig, his high heels, and his best friend, Roberto, who he had not seen since the cannibal tree. Now it looked as if he had no place to sleep. Sepie had thrown him out.
Sepie came out of the bachelors' house wearing Kimi's floral dress and glared at him. She paused on the coral pathway. "I am not a monkey," she said. Then she picked up a stone from the path and hurled it at him, barely missing his head.
Kimi scuffled to the leeward side of the tree and peeked around. "I didn't say you were a monkey. I said that if you didn't shave your legs, you would soon look like a monkey."
A rock whizzed by his face so close he could feel the wind of it. She was getting more accurate with each throw. "You know nothing," she said. "You are just a girl-man."
Kimi dug a stone from the sand at his feet and hurled it at her, but his heart wasn't in it and it missed her by five feet. In English he said, "You just a poxy oar with a big mouth." He hoped this verbal missile hit closer to home. They were the last words of Malcolme, Kimi's pimp back in Ma-nila. In retrospect, Malcolme's mistake had been one of memory. He had forgotten that the overly made-up little girl standing in front of him with a machete was, in fact, a wiry young man with the anger of hundreds of beatings burning in his memory.
"I no have the pox," Kimi said to Malcolme, whose look of surprise remained fixed even as his head rolled into the corner of the
hotel room, where a rat darted out and gently licked his shortened neck.
"I no have the pox," Sepie said in English, punctuating her statement with a thrown lump of coral.
"I know," Kimi said. "I'm sorry I say that." He skulked off down the beach.
Sepie stood outside the bachelors' house watching him, totally disarmed. No man had ever apologized to her before.
Kimi hadn't meant to hurt her feelings. Sometimes it takes a thick skin to trade beauty tips with a girlfriend. Sepie was naturally pretty, but she didn't understand fashion. Why bother to put on a pretty dress if you're going to have monkey legs and tufts of hair hanging out from under your arms making it look like bats hanging there?
Bats. Kimi missed Roberto.
The Shark men wouldn't talk to him, the women ignored him, except for Sepie, who was angry at him now, and even Tucker had been taken away to the other side of the island. Kimi was lonely. And as he walked down the beach, past the children playing with a trained frigate bird, past the men lounging in the shade of an empty boathouse, his loneliness turned to anger. He turned up the beach and took a path into the village to look for a weapon. It was time to go see the old cannibal.
Outside each of the houses, near the cook sheds, stood an iron spike - a pick head that was driven into the ground and used to husk coconuts. Kimi stopped at one house and yanked on the spike, but it wouldn't budge. He moved between the houses, vacant now in the early morning, the women working in the taro field, the men lounging in various patches of shade. He peeked into a cook shed, and there, by the pot that held the crust of this morning's rice, he found a long chef's knife. He looked around to make sure that no one was watching, then bolted into the shed and snatched the knife, fitting it into his thu so that only the handle protruded at the small of his back.
Ten minutes later he was hiding in a patch of giant ferns, watching the old cannibal roll coconut husk fibers into rope on his leathery old thighs. He sat with his back against a palm tree, his legs straight out in front of him, pulling the fibers that had been soaked and separated out of a basket and measuring by feel the right amount to
add to the coil of cord that was building on the ground beside him. From time to time he stopped and took a drink from a jar of milky liquid that Kimi was sure was alcoholic tuba. Good, he was drunk.
Kimi moved slowly around the house, staying in the undergrowth of ferns and elephant ears, careful not to kick up any of the coral gravel that rang like broken glass if you didn't place your feet carefully.
Once he was behind the old man, he drew the knife from the small of his back and moved forward to kill that man who had eaten his friend.
From the window of his new quarters Tucker Case watched the Japanese guards move through the compound carrying palm fronds and broken branches, detritus of the typhoon, which they piled in an open space at the side of the hangar to dry in the sun. They were dressed like a police SWAT team, in black coveralls with baseball caps and paratrooper boots, and if he squinted, they looked like giant worker ants cleaning out the nest. From time to time one of the guards would look toward his bungalow, then quickly turn away when he saw Tucker standing in the window in his pajamas. He had given up waving to them after the first hour of being ignored.
He'd been in the one-room bungalow for four days now, but this was the first time he'd felt well enough to get up and move around, other than to use the bathroom, which to his surprise, had hot and cold running water, a flush toilet, and a shower stall made of galvanized metal. The walls were tightly woven grass between a sturdy frame of teak and mahogany logs; the floor was unfinished teak, sanded smooth and pink; and the furniture was wicker with brightly colored cushions. A ceiling fan spun languidly above a double bed that was draped with a canopy of mosquito netting. The windows looked out on the compound and hangar on one side and through a grove of palm trees to the ocean on the other. He could see sev-eral bungalows perched near the beach, a small dock, and the cinderblock hospital building, its tin roof arrayed with antennae, solar electric panels, and a massive satellite dish
Tuck backed away from the window and sat down on the wicker couch. A few minutes on his feet and he felt exhausted. He was twenty pounds lighter than when he had left Houston and there wasn't a six-inch patch of skin on his body that didn't have some
kind of bandage on it. The doc had said that between the cuts on his arms, knees, and scalp, he had taken a hundred sutures. The first time he looked in the little mirror in his bathroom, he thought he was looking at a human version of the mangy feral dog he'd seen on Truk. His blue eyes lay like dull ice in sunken brown craters and his cheeks were drawn into his face like a mummified bog man's. His hair had been bleached white by the sun and stuck out in straw-dry tufts between pink patches where the doctor had shaved his scalp to stitch him up. He took small comfort in the fact that there were no women around to see him. No real women, anyway. The doctor's wife, who came several times a day to bring him food or to change his bandages, seemed robotic, like some Stepford/Barbie hybrid with the smooth sexless carriage of a mannequin and a personality pulled out of an Eisenhower-era soap commercial. She made the straight-laced cosmetic reps from his past seem like a tribe of pillbox nympho hose hunters.
There was a tap on the door and Beth Curtis breezed in carrying a wooden serving tray with plates of pancakes and fresh fruit. "Mr. Case, you're up. Feeling better today?"
She set the tray down on the coffee table in front of him and stepped back. Today she was in pleated khaki pants and a white blouse with puffed shoulders. Her hair was tied back with a big white bow at the back of her neck. She might have just walked out of a Stewart Granger safari movie.
"Yes, better," Tuck said, "But I wore myself out just walking to the window."
"Your body is still fighting off the infection. The doctor will be by soon to give you some antibiotics. For now you need to eat." She sat on the chair across from him.
Tuck cut a divot out of the stack of pancakes with a fork and speared it through a piece of papaya. After the first bite, he realized how hungry he really was and began wolfing down the pancakes.
Beth Curtis smiled. "Have you had a chance to look over the manuals for the airplane?"
Tuck nodded, his mouth still full. She'd left the operations manuals on his bed two days ago. He'd leafed through them enough to know that he could fly the thing. He swallowed and said, "I used to fly a Lear 25 for Mary Jean. This one is a little faster and has longer range, but basically it's the same. Shouldn't be a problem."
"Oh, good," she said, sporting one of her plastic smiles. "When will you be able to fly?"
Tucker put down his fork. "Mrs. Curtis, I don't mean to be rude, but what in the hell is going on around here?"
"Regarding what, Mr. Case?"
"Well, first, regarding the man I came to this island with. I was sick, but I wasn't hallucinating. We were strung up in a tree by an old native guy and cut down by a bunch of others. What happened to my friend?"
She shifted in her chair, and the wicker crackled like snapping rat bones. "My husband told you what the islanders told us, Mr. Case. The natives live on the other side of the island. They have their own society, their own chief, their own laws. We try to take care of their medical needs and bring a few souls into the fold, but they are a private people. I'll ask them about your friend. If I find out anything, I'll let you know." She stood and straightened the front of her slacks.
"I'd appreciate that," Tuck said. "I promised him I'd get him back to Yap and I owe him some money. The natives didn't find my backpack, did they? My money was in it."
She shook her head. "Just the clothes you had on. We burned them. Fortunately, you and Sebastian are about the same size. Now, if you'll ex-cuse me, Mr. Case, I have some work to do. Sebastian will be along in a bit with your medicine. I'm glad you're feeling better." She turned and walked out the door into the blinding sunlight.
Tucker stood and watched her walk across the compound. The Japanese guards stopped their work and leered at her. She spun on them and waited, her hands on her hips, until one by one they lost their courage and returned to their work, not embarrassed but afraid, as if meeting her direct gaze might turn them to frost. Tuck sat down to his half-eaten pancakes and shivered, thinking it must be the fever.
A half hour later the doctor entered the bungalow. Tucker was spread out on the couch descending into a nap. They'd been doing this since they'd moved him to the bungalow, tag-teaming him, one showing up at least every hour to check on him, bring him food or medicine, change the sheets, take his temperature, help him to the bathroom, wipe his forehead. It looked like concerned care, but it felt like surveillance.
Sebastian Curtis took a capped syringe from his coat pocket as he crossed the room.
Tuck sighed. "Another one?"
"You must be feeling like a pin cushion by now, Mr. Case. I need you to roll over."
Tuck rolled over and the doctor gave him the injection. "It's either this or the IV. We've got this infection on the run, but we don't want it to get a foothold again."
Tuck rubbed his bottom and sat up. Before he could say anything, the doctor stuck a digital thermometer in his mouth.
"Beth tells me that you're worried about your friend, the one you say came to the island with you?"
"I'll check into it, I promise you. In the meantime, if you're feeling up to it, Beth and I would like you to join us for dinner. Get to know each other a little. Let you know what's expected of you." He pulled the thermometer out of Tuck's mouth and checked it but made no comment. "You up for dinner tonight?"
"Sure," Tuck said. "But..."
"Good. We'll eat at seven. I'll have Beth bring you down some clothes. I'm sorry about the hand-me-downs, but it's the best we can do for now." He started to leave.
Sebastian turned. "Yes."
"You've been out here, what, thirty years?"
The doctor stiffened. "Twenty-eight. Why?"
"Well, Mrs. Curtis doesn't look..."
"Yes, Beth is quite a bit younger than I am. But we can talk about all that at dinner. You should probably rest now and let those antibiotics do their work. I need you healthy, Mr. Case. We have a round of golf to play."
"You do play, don't you?"
Tuck took a second to catch up with the abrupt change of subject, then said, "You play golf here?"
"I am a physician, Mr. Case. Even in the Pacific we have Wednesdays." Then he smiled and left the bungalow.
Revenge: Sweet and Low in Calories
Sarapul twisted the last of the fibers into his rope and drew his knife to trim the ragged end. It was a good knife, made in Germany, with a thin flexible blade that was perfect for filleting fish or cutting microthin slices from coconut stems to keep the tuba running. He'd had the knife for ten years and he kept it honed and polished on a piece of tanned pig hide. The blade flashed blue as he picked it up and he saw the face of vengeance re-flected in the metal.
Without turning, he said, "The young ones are going to kill you."
Kimi stopped, his knife held ready to strike the old man in the neck. "You ate my friend."
Sarapul gripped his knife blade down so he might turn and slash at the same time. There was no quickness in his bones, though. The Filipino would kill him before he got halfway around. "Your friend is with the white Sorcerer and Vincent's bitch. Malink took him away."
"Not that one. Roberto. The bat."
"Bats are taboo. We don't eat bats on Alualu."
Kimi lowered his knife an inch. "You are not supposed to eat people either, but you do."
"Not people I know. Come over here where I can see you. I am old and my neck won't turn that far around."
Kimi walked a crescent around the tree and crouched at ready in front of the old man.
Sarapul said, "You were going to kill me."
"If you ate Roberto."
"I like that. Nobody kills anybody anymore. Oh, the young ones are talking about killing you, but I think Malink will talk them out of it."
Kimi cleared his throat. "Were you going to eat me when they killed me?"
"Someone brought that up at the drinking circle. I don't remember who."
"Then how do I know you did not eat Roberto?"
"Look at me, little one. I am a hundred years old maybe. Sometimes I go to the beach to pee and the tides change before my water comes. How would I catch a bat?"
Kimi sat down on the ground across from the old man and dropped his knife in the gravel. "Something happened to Roberto. He flew off."
"Maybe he found a girl bat," Sarapul said. "Maybe he will come back. You want a drink?" The old cannibal offered his jar of tuba to Kimi, who leaned forward and snatched it before retreating out of knife range.
Kimi took a sip and grimaced. "Why are they going to kill me?"
"They say you are a girl-man and that you make Sepie forget her duties as mispel. And they don't like you. Don't worry, no one kills anyone anymore. It is just drunk talk."
Kimi hung his head. "Sepie sent me away from the bachelors' house. She is mad at me. I have nowhere to go."
Sarapul nodded in sympathy, but said nothing. He'd been exiled for so long that he'd gotten used to the alienation, but he remembered how he had felt when Malink had first banished him.
"You speak our language pretty good," Sarapul said.
"My father was from Satawan. He was a great navigator. He taught me."
"You're a navigator?" In the old days the navigators stood above even the chiefs - and just below the gods. As a boy, Sarapul idolized the two navigators of Alualu. The long-dead dream of his boyhood surfaced and he remembered learning from them, watching them draw star charts in the sand and stand at the beach lecturing on tides and currents and winds. He had wanted to be a navigator, had begun the training, for in the rigid caste system of the Yapese islands it was the one way for a man to distin-guish himself. But one of the navigators had died of a fever and the other was killed in a fight before he could pass on his knowledge. The navigators and warriors were ghosts of the past. If this girl-man was a navigator, then the
bachelors were piss ants to talk of killing him. Sarpul felt infused with an energy he hadn't felt in years.
"I can show you something," Sarapul said. He tried to climb to his feet and fell back into a crouch. Kimi took him by a bony arm and helped him up. "Come," Sarapul said.
The old man led Kimi down the path to the beach and stopped at the water's edge. He began to sing, his voice like dried palm leaves rattling in the wind. He waved his arms in arcs, then threw them wide to the sky so that his chest looked as if it might crack open like a rotten breadfruit. And the wind came up.
He took handfuls of sand and cast them into the wind, then clapped his hands and resumed singing until the palms above them were waving in the wind. Then he stopped.
"Now we wait," he said. He pointed out to sea. "Watch there."
A column of fog rose off the ocean at the horizon and boiled black and silver into a huge thunderhead. Sarapul clapped his hands again and a lightning bolt ripped out of the cloud and across the sky like a jagged white fissure in blue glass. The thunderclap was instant, deafening, and crackled for a full ten seconds.
Sarapul turned to Kimi, who was staring at the thunderhead with his mouth open. "Can you do that?"
Kimi shook off his astonishment with a shiver. "No, I never learned that. My father said he could send the thunder, but I didn't see him do it."
Sarapul grinned. "Ever eat a guy?"
Kimi shook his head. "No."
"Tastes like Spam," Sarapul said.
"I heard that."
"I can teach you to send the thunder. I don't know the stars, though."
"I know the stars," Kimi said.
"Go get your things," Sarapul said.