Cale walked into the hospital carrying a bag of personal affects from Victoria’s house and went to the counter, “You have a patient here, an officer Victoria Short?”
Yes, she’s recovering in room 420. Can I tell her your name before I admit you?”
“Cale Dixon.” He showed his identification. “I have some clothes and a book for her.” He raised the bag and showed the nurse.
“Are you family?”
“No I’m a fellow police officer.”
“Give me a minute.” The receptionist picked up the phone to the 4th floor nurse on duty, “Hi Elana, I have a Cale Dixon for Victoria Short in room 420. Can you check with her if it’s okay to send him up? Thanks.” She hung up, “Have a seat, it’ll be a minute.”
Cale moved to the square cushioned small couch and sat down scanning over the magazines spread out on a corner table. He picked up a destination magazine and flipped through it looking for the main articles and not the frill ads. An article caught his attention titled, ‘The Ao Tonsai Vortex’. The article went on to explain a small community of international climbers gathering year after year on a beach called Ao Tonsai in Thailand. The article spoke of monkeys howling and hooting at sunrise as the light breaks on the limestone monolith rock formations where there are over 1,000 rock-climbing routes and climbing books on the area available. Climbers try to arrange their day climbing only in the shade and away from the relentless sun as the tide rises and falls at the base of many of the cliffs. Blue water over takes the mudflats and the sun shimmers off the ripples on the sea. Long boats dot the shoreline as their captain’s yell, ‘Ao Nang! Ao Nang!’ or ‘Railay! Railay!’ Climbers carry rope, harness, chalk and webbing strap loaded with essentials for limestone climbing.
The author bought a longboat ticket for Tonsai from Ao Nang. Rounding limestone cliffs erupting out of the sea and slaloming through islands capped with jungle foliage the boat makes its way to Tonsai and a seemingly forgotten section of the world. The tide was out as the boat approached the shore down a narrow channel of water until the hull struck the mud. The mud felt silty and forgiving under foot except for the bits of shell and broken coral stems scattered about. The sea breeze died off and became searing heat and humidity. A concrete slab road headed up into the jungle valley and a row of bungalow signs posed for attention in between the palm trees and lush undergrowth. Spider webs spanned over the road and in the loosely organized power lines with three inch long black spiders perched in the center. The Andaman Nature Resort came into view, a pleasantly familiar site.
Cale read on as the author grabbed a pair of swim goggles to keep an eye out for jellyfish and took a short walk down the rest of the road back to the beach. The road was described as a loosely designed horseshoe. The walk was about two kilometers around the shoreline of limestone cliffs dissolving into the beach and sea. The beach is made of coral sand and tickles the soles of your feet. To one side of the beach rock climbers belay their partners as they conquer everything from overhangs to sheer wall. The boulders are pockmarked and jagged due to mollusk harvesting by Thai grandmothers with their grand daughters and sons in tow. Once on the other side to the next beach the water runs deep changing from blue-brown to illuminant shades of light turquoise to deep blue water. The salt water was surprisingly buoyant. Fish scatter as the author’s shadow looms over their heads. The sea floor shows a cemetery of dead coral fragments. Fish cling to the submerged outcrops and the darkness they support. Further out to sea, beyond the reach of a long boat prop stems, coral returns en mass and color supporting a plethora of life.
Looking down Tonsai beach there is a string of restaurants and bars with beach decks and tree shade. People can be seen laid out with a book in hand, chatting amongst new and old friends, or practicing their slack line skills. Body fat is non-existent exposing stone core six pack abdomens and sinew limbs as they balance on narrow webbing a few feet off the ground performing various levels of balance. Overhead, base jumpers dive off the tops of the cliffs, open their shoots and glide down amongst those on the beach with cameras in hand watching the base jumper’s every move.
The sun was setting over the ocean and the surrounding cliffs turned red and orange as climbers repelled down or were lowered by their partners as the darkness grew.
“Mr. Dixon, Miss Short will see you now.”
Cale closed the magazine and tossed it back on to the group of magazines on the corner table and got up and moved passed the receptionist who stood pointing down the hall to the elevators. As Cale walked, he thought about Victoria and the position he put her in. The elevator opened and Cale stepped in and leaned back against the back wall. Victoria had come to his aid and he had to do the same even if their relationship had come to an end at the moment. Cale needed to clear his name and knew where he had to go to do it.
Cale’s mind drifted back to a happier time picturing Paula standing at the foot of their bed on the top floor of a Mandalay hotel with a large private balcony. Her skin glowed tan against her green eyes, gold earrings and her white smile. She wore a burgundy linen singlet and army green drawstring pants. Her ever-present anklet chimed in the background of the Mandalay night sky. A small pack of dogs howled in the distance like music. Cale slipped his hands under Paula’s singlet and raised it over her head and let it fall to the floor. She kissed him as he pulled her close. She traced his buttons down spreading his collar over his shoulders and pulling one sleeve off at a time. Balcony lights silhouette Paula’s bare chest as she simply tugged at her drawstring letting her pants fall loosely around her ankles. As she lifted her foot out of her pants her anklet chimed quietly in the night. Paula pulled seductively on Cale’s belt releasing it. She moved slowly and confidently as she pushed Cale’s pants and boxers off. Cale envisioned them standing together in the dark while a slow moving fan cut through the humidity. Cale realized he was re-enacting their last night together as she ran her hands over his chest and arms.
The elevator door opened and the reception nurse looked startled to see Cale standing in the elevator and asked, “Have you been in to see Miss Short?”
“No. I forgot to push the floor button.”
The receptionist pushed floor 4 and 6 and stood to one side of the elevator in silence.
Cale got out on the 4th floor and walked to the left looking for a room number.
“Go to the right and straight on down the hall on your left.” The receptionist stuck her head out of the elevator and watched Cale change directions and cross in front of the elevator. The receptionist began to disappear behind closing doors wearing a gravity jowl scowl and knit brow. Her red blonde hair seemed to ignite under the elevator lights.
Cale listened as the elevator ascended and his steps echoed down the empty hall until he reached room 420. Cale knocked softly and opened the door slowly. The raised television silently flickered colored light across the room and over Victoria’s headboard console behind her pillow. Victoria lay in a shallow position bent at the waist with one leg higher than the other. Her olive blanket and white sheet came up to her arms over the covers with her fingers laced together across her midsection. A pulse clip was attached to one of her fingers wiring her to her vitals monitor off the far side of her bed.
Cale walked over to Victoria and put his hand on her hands.
Victoria opened her eyes and looked at Cale. She smiled weakly. “Did you get him?”
“No. We didn’t get him but they’re still looking.” Cale pulled his hand away and placed Victoria’s bag on the desk to his left.
Victoria confidently announced, “He’s gone. It’s like everything else in this case of yours, with people like this, if the trail goes cold for fifteen minutes, they’re gone.”
“He may be gone but we have his DNA from my knife toss.”
Victoria thought about it, “What about that, when did you learn how to throw a knife?”
Cale smiled and admitted, “Pure luck. I don’t know how to throw knives but I’m interested now.”
Victoria said, “I’m sure he’s from Europe, he had an accent but that’s hard to prove. I think he’s one of Bower’s men. I don’t think he killed Paula Henderson.”
Cale added, “Yeah, you said that. And the DNA also can tell us that he’s not related to the Stell family. Like you said, ‘Private Ryan Clause’. I’ve been mulling the Stell’s over in my mind. One brother stays home to later crash a plane, no bodies recovered, it could be that the Stell’s faked a crash, parachuting to a boat pick up and alive and kicking under an assumed name or names.”
Victoria asked, “Do you have your photo chip?”
“Yeah I have it. I haven’t had a lot of time yet to check it out. I had to go to the precinct as a civilian and give a description of the guy that shot you. I said he had an Eastern European accent. They’re coming to take your statement tomorrow if you’re up for it.
Cale asked, “How are you holding up?”
Becoming more awake Victoria replied, “The doctor and the surgeon both said you may have saved my life with that bandage you put on me. They explained that I was shot very close to the femoral artery and that I could have bled out in minutes. Your bandage slowed the flow enough for them to work on me. I’d like to thank you for saving my life and apologize for smacking you.”
Cale made light of it, “Ah, no apologies or thanks necessary, just doing my job ma’am.” Cale thought this was going to be the last time he’d ever see Victoria smile. “So are you done with all the surgeries or where are you in this process?”
“I think we’re done but they’re watching for infection and heavy bruising meaning the artery might spring a leak or the possibility of an undiscovered secondary wound revealing itself. I’ve got a few more days here it looks like.”
“Okay. I did manage to bring a change of clothes from your house, your personals from your car, and a book.”
“Oh, a book?”
“I had a choice of two I found in your bedroom and decided George Orwell, 1984 would be a good choice. The other book I found was something like ‘Wild Orchid’. I don’t think the doctors would understand a sudden rise in erratic heart palpitations throughout the day or what the nurses might think picking up your book and reading it while you slept and she monitoring your heart palpitations while she’s having them herself.”
Victoria was still smiling, “Good choice, thank you. I read 1984 in high school and someone recently mentioned it so I picked it up. Thanks.”
Still playing in small talk Cale asked, “How long have you owned the other book? The corners look a bit worn.”
“Along time.” Victoria thought for a moment, “Also since high school, it was my friends and my sex-education book. We’d have sleep overs and read chapters.”
“Great. Now you’ve got 7 to 10 hormone induced teenage girls all wound-up. You’re the kind of girls that threw boys in the bushes or lead them outback behind the wood shed.”
“Yeah, it got crazy. I still know all of the girls though and we’re still friends, we even meet up periodically and catch up.”
“It sounds like a collection of dirty little secrets. That could be the title of a book that you could put together, maybe a compilation of your friend’s stories and sell them to a publisher under a pseudonym of course. This would give the next generation a more contemporary volume of sex education. I’m sure it would be a blockbuster. I’d read it.”
Victoria remarked, “You’d be in it.”
“Then maybe it’s not such a good idea.”
“No, think about it. You and I and our recent involvement, love, sex, deceit, and all wrapped up in a murder case. Of course you’d be in it. Two days ago, Cale, when I dropped you off at your flat I was the happiest woman on the planet and cloud 9. The events following that moment tore all the happiness out of my heart and left me in a quagmire of emotions. I realize it’s too early for all the answers but I need to find the missing pieces and put them in place.”
Cale stepped back and sat on the desk looking the length of the room and confessed, “Paula and I met in Rangoon. Neither of us was seeing anybody at the time and we had an affair. I left the next day for Mandalay and she headed for Pagan. I saw her again at the end of my time in Mandalay and we spent the night together. I left in the morning. I liked her, but part of the attraction was the spontaneity. I’ve thought of her time to time, wondering where she was headed but I never intended to make contact. Paula took it upon herself to seek me out and now we all know why except you. Paula was pregnant.” Cale looked at Victoria.
Victoria looked at Cale with growing awareness and pain, “Oh god, no. With your child?” Victoria put a hand over her mouth and tears welled up and spilled out of her eyes. She looked blurrily at her plain olive blanket for solace. Her emotions consumed her with weight and darkness and managed to murmur, “Can you please go now?”
“Of course. Victoria, I’m sorry about all of this.” Cale turned and pulled the book out of the bag and placed it next to Victoria’s bed and walked to the door. As Cale held the doorknob he paused without turning towards Victoria and announced, “I’m heading to Seoul tonight. I’m going after them.”
Victoria didn’t say anything as everything emotionally gave way.
Cale looked at his own silhouette on the door before him as the television silently splashed colors around the room while Victoria sobbed for Paula and her baby and the innocence stolen off the face of the earth by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Cale opened the door and walked out of Victoria’s life.