Miles Sutherland, Lucas, Jerri, Tommi, Gideon Sterling and Sandra Pierce
Midday 27th January, Rapatoka Island
Miles took a deep breath as he stepped into the sunshine. This was his first real dose of fresh air since being kidnapped by Jerri and Tommi two days ago. His plea that he needed to get some exercise had provoked a surprising response. Caroline had waved him outside, saying she could get some sleep after her disturbed night, then sent Lucas off on an errand.
He wasn’t going to be left to roam on his own though. His brawny captors grinned sheepishly and shuffled their huge bare feet in the white sand.
“Hey, Doc.” Miles turned to Lucas, whose brown face was split by a wide grin showing off all his teeth. “Missa Caroline said to give you this.” The boy’s ability to speak English stunned Miles for a second and, it was only instinct and years of practice, that allowed him to automatically catch what was thrown at him. He clutched the rugby ball to his stomach and stared after Lucas’ retreating figure as the boy ran back into the hospital.
From the quiet way he just sat there when he and Caroline were speaking, Miles had suspected the young man could follow their conversations, but this was the first time he’d actually spoken. Perhaps his time at the resort had taught him more than how to suck cocks.
Miles turned the ball over in his hands, reading the signatures. It looked as if it had never been used. He recognised a few of the names: Christian Cullen, Carlos Spencer, Jonah Lomu… Shit, the 1999 All Blacks team; the thing was probably worth a fortune on eBay.
“You play rugby?” Tommi asked almost reverently, pointing at the ball.
“Yeah.” Miles shook his head in bemusement. Seemed like Lucas wasn’t the only one who had picked up a smattering of English from frequenting the resort. “Bit hard to play here. Not much flat land.”
“Come. Come.” Jerri gave him a huge grin and set off up the hill at the back of the hospital.
After leaving the small village, they worked their way through a battered taro plantation. Now that they’d made their homes habitable again, islanders were clearing cyclone damage away from the crops, moving fallen branches and trimming off broken leaves with wicked looking machetes. On hearing Jerri’s repeated cries of: “Doc plays Rugby” and gesturing at him and the ball, many left their work and ran along beside them, chattering excitedly.
At the top of the hill, the land flattened out. The soil here was rich and volcanic, not sandy at all. Parts were filled with what looked like sago palms, but a long skinny rectangular area had been kept clear. After a quick discussion, the crowd split into two, and it was on for young and old.
Miles had played tip rugby at school, but nothing approached the speed and skill of the islanders as they ran full bore at each other, doing quick flick passes when an opponent lined them up for a touch tackle. They needed to realize though that “touch” didn’t mean seeing who could jolt him off his feet when he didn’t pass the ball quickly enough. If they succeeded, they offered a helping hand up and a grin. He’d probably be covered in bruises tomorrow.
After a few runs, some decent passes and kissing the dirt a few times, Miles walked up and down the sidelines to regain his breath. At the end of the field, he stopped and looked around. This whole area seemed unnaturally flat, as if someone had come along and graded the top off the hill. Miles recalled that the island had looked like a sphinx from the distance. The flat section which constituted the “back” extended past the edge of the playing field, but the remainder was covered with different kinds of crops. A steep hill, the “head” rose up in the distance about a kilometre away.
Back at the half way line, Miles found a spot in the shade of one of the few trees that hadn’t lost all its leaves and just enjoyed the spectacle. The locals seemed to step up a gear as soon as he stopped, delighting in the chance to show off their expertise to a stranger. Even Tommi and Jerri could run faster than he could. All the time they didn’t stop chattering and laughing. Any one of these guys would have no trouble playing professionally for a club in Australia or New Zealand. How come none of the talent scouts had found them? Or was the island just that remote?
Miles clambered to his feet. Lucas was out of breath by the time he arrived. His face had lost its habitual cheeky grin.
“Men, guns.” He pointed wildly towards the beach area.
Miles headed at a quick jog down the path leading through the taro plantation. Lucas skipped along at his side, weaving his way around the low growing broad leaved plants when the path grew too narrow for them to run together. “Shit.” Miles’ stomach dropped when he recognised Sandra Pierce. She was accompanied by two armed men.
Suddenly, Lucas was elbowed out of the way and Miles found himself flanked by his own two burly bodyguards who muttered at each other in Rapatokan over the top of his head. At times like this, he realised how big they actually were–two metres at least and easily one hundred and fifty kilos. They made him almost feel small.
The Eidolon representative approached confidently towards them as if she owned this island as well. The two men walking beside her, turned their heads constantly, trying to keep an eye on all the locals.
Some of the Rapatokan women were standing near the bures, restraining their children whose natural instinct was to run and touch any strangers. A few of the older men who hadn’t come up to watch the impromptu match were standing in the darkened doorways of their huts. Were they waiting to see if they’d be needed? Shit. No matter how big or sharp a machete was, it still wouldn’t be a match for the rifles the two men were carrying. Miles had seen enough unequal confrontations in his time to know that.
Jerri said something to Lucas who turned to run away. “No! Come back,” Miles called after him. He couldn’t speak the lingo, but he’d bet his bottom dollar that Lucas had just been given instructions to fetch a weapon of some kind. Who knew what those two had tucked away in their bures? Lucas glanced briefly at Jerri then slid in next to Miles, tucking himself under his arm; he was quivering like a leaf.
Miles eyed the two men beside Pierce. Crap. The guys had the whole body armor shit going, helmet, flak jacket, the lot. Blast the woman. By the looks of things, she’d come expecting trouble. Why did these idiots keep on insisting that guns would solve everything?
The one with his visor up was a stranger; the other had Gideon’s build, but with the visor down he couldn’t be sure. Both were silent, their gazes not ceasing from their constant surveillance.
For what seemed like minutes, but was probably only a few seconds, the two groups stood silently facing each other. Stand off at the O.K. Corral. “Ms Pierce.” Miles didn’t extend his hand in greeting. She seemed surprised to see him.
“Doctor Sutherland. So this is where you disappeared to.” The familiar fake smile crossed her lips, but he could tell she was more than surprised to see him, she was annoyed, not quite angry, but peeved, as if this was a development she hadn’t bargained on.
“Just making some house calls.”
Miles whispered in Lucas’ ear. “Go tell Caroline, everything’s okay. I know these people.” He squeezed the boy’s shoulder reassuringly and gave him a quick nudge in the direction of the hospital.
“Please explain,” Pierce said as he scampered off.
Miles grinned at her inadvertent use of the phrase that would always remind him of the annoying Australian politician, Pauline Hanson. In as few words as possible, he outlined his reason for being on the island, giving the nature of the nurse’s injury and the impression that his presence here was purely voluntary.
She just grunted when he finished. “It would have been helpful if you had consulted someone before flitting off by yourself. We’ve expended considerable resources looking for you.”
Miles smirked. He’d been gone nearly two days and the other island could be checked in a few hours; they hadn’t exactly tried too hard. “My apologies, Ms. Pierce, but seeing I was whisked away on a disaster relief mission, I thought actually doing some might be a good thing. That is what we came for, isn’t it?”
She looked startled for a second as if she’d actually forgotten. Miles prompted her: “The stretchers, the medical equipment?”
“When is the seaplane coming back? We need to transfer Caroline to a proper hospital. I’ve splinted the wound as best I could, but it may need a plate and pins.”
She grimaced slightly and wiped her hands. “I’m afraid we can’t do that.” She seemed to be searching for words. “The weather… approaching storm.” She waved her hands around vaguely as if that explained everything. Miles glanced up at the sky. There were a few dark clouds on the horizon, but the sun was shining.
“The plane’s been delayed anyway,” said a familiar voice.
Miles turned to face the speaker; it had been Gideon behind the closed visor. Pierce seemed startled.
“Well, the hospital here isn’t equipped to deal with her injury; it’s barely got the basics.”
“There’s bad weather back at Eidolon HQ,” Gideon offered. “They’ve closed the airstrip and the storm is heading this way. I imagine we won’t see the plane for a couple of days.”
Miles couldn’t stop the anger from creeping into his voice. Bloody typical. He took a deep breath. “Look, you had enough gear unloaded from the seaplane when we arrived. How about ferrying some of that across at least. I need a wheelchair, drugs….”
“Dr Sutherland.” Pierce glanced around, “Clearly the damage here isn’t as bad as we first thought. I’m sure we can spare a few things, but our own supplies are limited. We can’t just duck down to the corner store to replenish our stock when we run out. No way can we give these people everything they want.”
Fuck the corner store. Miles bit back the crude rejoinder. How dare she preach to him about resources in isolated areas. She knew his background. She knew that was what he had to deal with all the time.
“You surely don’t expect the locals to buy the things from you.” He waved his hand around. “These people have nothing. Can’t you see that?”
Pierce smoothed down the pleats of her skirt. “They certainly can’t treat everything we have as theirs.” She glanced briefly at the two armed men before addressing him again. “Dr Sutherland, tell them the island is off limits from now on. Anyone caught trespassing will be severely dealt with.”
Severly dealt with? Miles shook his head and lifted his hands in a gesture of defeat. “Why tell me? I don’t speak the lingo.” He shrugged and turned to Jerri who just giggled slightly. Tommi shuffled his feet but remained silent.
Pierce’s voice grew more strident if that was possible. She was one of those people who thought saying something louder would miraculously overcome language barriers. “I’m serious, Dr Sutherland, if any of these natives are caught on Mystery Island, the men have orders to shoot.”
Miles became aware of muttering behind his back. He turned slightly and was surprised to find all his rugby playing opponents had joined him. From the expressions on their faces, they’d got the message even if they couldn’t understand her actual words. A few of them clutched the machetes they’d been using in the fields.
The bodyguard on Pierce’s left stole a quick glance at Gideon and then after noting a quick shake of the head, relaxed his stance. His hold on his own weapon eased a little too. Miles smiled to himself. Pierce was unaware of the silent communication between the men standing half a pace behind her. These two mightn’t shoot, but others might. No way could he afford that risk especially as he didn’t know who or what was on the other island now. He turned to face his former rugby playing partners. “No one to visit Mata Api Kisiwa without permission.”
The muttering increased, hopefully whatever he said was being translated by those who understood English. No-one objected. A sudden beeping noise cut through their voices.
Gideon glanced down and grabbed at the radio attached to his vest near the shoulder, speaking softly into it as he walked off out of earshot. As soon as the man was gone, Miles turned his attention back to the Eidolon representative. “Ms Pierce, do you have any concept of how poor these islanders are? They’ve got next to nothing here. They’re only just coping.”
Pierce bristled. “They’ve been living on Rapatoka for centuries without anyone else’ help.”
“But the cyclone wiped out a lot of their crops.”
“I’ll tell the next plane to bring in some extra bags of rice.”
Miles shook his head in frustration. Some things never changed. According to Caroline, before selling the island to Aaron Lightfoot, they’d learnt to survive on the bare minimum, keeping their population down, growing everything they needed and watching their resources. In a way, the resort had made them lazy. “There must be some things Eidolon can provide. Work at least?”
“We have our own employees, thank you very much. We don’t need anyone from Rapatoka.”
“But they need some way to make money, especially if you’re going to insist on them paying for whatever you bring in. They used to sell fish to the last owner, surely you’ll continue with that practice…” Miles could tell he wasn’t getting anywhere with the bitch. She seemed more concerned with what was going on with her men. Gideon had motioned for the stranger to join him, had taken him aside and was whispering in his ear. The man took off for the boat at a quick sprint, launched it and sped off. Gideon walked resignedly back toward them.
“What is it, Mr. Sterling? Where is that man going?” The venom in her voice as she addressed Gideon was unmistakable. Someone was in her bad books, Miles snorted under his breath, wondering what had got her knickers in a twist. Probably the disappearance of her way off the island.
Gideon took his time about answering. “Ms. Pierce, I have just had a call. My men have found the paramedic, Gillespie. Apparently he needs urgent medical attention.” Gideon turned to face Miles. “I’ve sent Clarke back for him. Bjornson has no idea of the full extent of Gillespie’s injuries, and we can’t fly him out, so right now…” he fixed Miles with an implacable glare. “You’re all he’s got.”