Black Opal by Jimmy Brook - HTML preview
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The following week went by without incident. Rory had driven down
to Pakanbaru, and reported the incident to the police station. He stressed the attempted murder angle. Again the police captain seemed indifferent. They worked a long way up in the mountains, away from the coast, he said. It was one of the risks they should be prepared for. Rory saw a doctor, who poked and prodded, and said there was nothing broken.
They worked the dredge, together. It was long hours, and the humidity was unbearable, even at that altitude. They kept a rifle handy, but no trouble presented itself. Rory had decided, after his contract expired, to go back to Sydney, and have a holiday. He'd been up here for three years, moving around. It wasn't an easy life. Hard work, and difficult locals. The labourers needed constant supervision, and anything not tied down, walked. That's why the current dredge on the Kampar River, only employed locals when the tin was to be stacked and loaded on to the truck. The actual dredging. could be handled by three people. The money was good, but that was not why he was here.
Four years ago, whilst at Mt. Isa in far western Queensland, his wife, was killed. He was devastated. She was driving down to nearby Cloncurry to see her sister. The police said she hit a kangaroo and lost control. She skidded into a tree and died instantly. Part of him also died, that day. Rory finally decided, after two months, it was too painful to stay.
He flew to Brisbane, and signed up with Oceanic Mining, to work on river dredging in Borneo and Sumatra. The pay was good, and the conditions were rugged. Fist fights, both on and off the job, were common, as were the use of knives. He had had his nose broken; his fingers broken, and was stabbed in the arm. But he stayed on. The pain of going back, had not yet subsided.
The old Malay, who brought the vegetables and fruit, each week, was a variation in their routine. He arrived, driving an old two wheel cart, the ox pulling it, long passed it's used by date. It saved buying in town, and it was fresh.
About ten days after the attempt on the generator, after they had finished the day's work, the squeaking of wheels on the dirt track, winding through the palms and lush foliage, was audible.
What was different this time, was the girl sitting up front.
There was no sign of the old man. She pulled up. Not so young, thought Rory, as he could now see. More like 20 or so. The short stature, often did that.
Matt, who spoke a reasonable Malay, asked where was the other man, and relayed to Rory and Spikey, that he was sick. She was his niece.
She unloaded the provisions, and Rory left her in the kitchen. Matt did a cursory check that no weapons were in the baskets, then retired to the brick quarters.
Rory was finishing the daily journal, at the small desk they had in the equipment store. A bit of dust on the desk top, blew up, and he turned around, to see her standing at the doorway, hands together. He thought she had gone.
"What do you...," then stopped, as he realised she didn't speak English. He searched his mind for some Malay words.
"You want?" she said, in a lilting but accented voice.
He just looked at her, not comprehending her question, at first.
Then in one graceful move, her arms went up, and with it the sarong she wore, fell to the side. She had nothing else on. The light from the other room, streamed through, highlighting her young body.
He had stood up, and faced her, still not saying anything. He felt himself being enchanted, with what he saw. An aching, so long denied, since his wife had gone, was taking over his body. He pulled his T-shirt over his head, as she walked towards him, hands locked behind her, a delicate smile on the girl's lips.
As he reached out his hands to touch her body, she brought her hands around to the front. He was mesmerised. The touch of her left hand ecstatic. He saw her right hand, too late. A long thin blade, streaked forward. He started to twist, but it had already entered his stomach. Even before the pain had registered, he was pushing her away in one big effort. A warm trickle on his belly, and dizziness engulfing him, only accentuated the terrible sharp, searing pain, below.
He had a vision of her, bringing her hand forward again, then a loud explosion. The knife seemed to wilt, then she fell forward, knocking him back. His last vision, was a figure at the door with a gun, smoke curling up. Then he was on his back, the smell of vanilla, strong to his nostrils, then blackness.
Rory woke up, and wished he hadn't. The nausea and pain in his stomach, almost too much to bear. He was being thrown from side to side, as the truck lurched at a very fast speed, along the rutted road. Each roll, caused more pain. He dry retched. A smelly towel, was wiped across his face.
He focused his eyes, as best he could, and saw, the smiling countenance of Matt. Someone else was driving, but he couldn't see. The pain in his belly was sharp, and when he coughed, he felt like. He didn't know what he felt like.
"Easy there, fella," said Matt, "don't move none." He quickly pinned Rory's shoulders, as a bump lifted him and everything else in the truck, into a weightless position, then just as quick, turned the gravity back on.
Rory felt the blood seeping through onto his trousers. He was somewhat relieved that Matt was there. Matt was always turning up when things got a little rough. His first week at the dredge could have been his last. A bucket shackle came undone, just as Rory was climbing out of it, after inspecting some timber caught in the top. As he toppled out, he grabbed a line, more by instinct, than planning. Then he felt himself being pulled sideways, as the swinging bucket, pendulumed back. He would have probably died from the collision, if he hadn't been moved. It was Matt who had seen what was happening, and grabbed the line.
Then there was that time when Spikey stayed to mind the site, and Matt and he went in to pick up some needed food and extra reagents. Two muggers jumped him, as he went to get into the truck, they had left in a side lane. Then Matt came around the corner, and charged like a buffalo on heat. One of the assailants, went down with Matt's first punch. The other fled.
Then the truck skidded to a halt. They had reached the river crossing. Up to a year ago, there was a precarious one lane wooden bridge, that just managed to support the truck, it's groaning and creaking, giving everyone a worry. Then the monsoon came, and the rain never stopped. The frail structure ended up somewhere down the coast. A new one was being thought of, but in the meantime, a small barge covered at the top, and just big enough to take a vehicle, was used. A local ferryman manually pulled the craft and any cargo, across, using a fixed rope.
Three months ago, the rope broke, and the truck plus Spikey and five locals, ended up 200 metres down stream. It took 4 hours to winch the vehicle up the bank and make it's way along to the road.
"How is he?" It was Spikey.
"Still with us, but he's still bleeding. You go back. I'll get one of the boys from the village to ride with him.”
Matt pushed the mattress, which was covering a motor cycle, around Rory.
"If you recon' you'll be OK." Spikey sounded unsure.
"Yep. Get back up there, before they try something. And take the rifle." He pulled it out from the back, and Matt yanked the 125cc Yamaha off the tray, down the plank Spikey had just laid. "Go.”
Spikey roared away, back along the twisting dirt track, and was lost to sight in the thick vegetation, and approaching twilight. Matt took one look at the prone person, laying in the back, and jumped in, revving the engine, and frightening some birds nearby.
He wasn't going anywhere, as the barge was still not across. But it gave him confidence, that something was happening. It would be a little while before he reached Pakanbaru, and he only hoped, Rory would still be with him. One of the company rules, was that no matter what, one person had to remain on site. Whether this incident justified breaking the rule, Matt and Spikey weren't sure.
As soon as the two planks were put into position, Matt had the truck on them and on top. He was out and pulling on the rope, much to the surprise of the old villager, the planks left floating on the dark water. On the other side, he drove into the village, and waving a small bank note in his hand, yelled in the local language, for a volunteer. Most people melted away, but a
lanky teenager, took the money and jumped in the back. He sat next to Rory, and Matt roared off. Tall people were unusual, so a little European blood was obviously in the family. This also helped in defying whatever local taboo had been put in place, against the miners.
It was almost dark now, and Matt was thankful that the worst section, was over. Still a country road, this stretch saw more use. He only hoped some water buffalo wasn't standing on the road. at this speed and in the dark, the truck wasn't going to come off lightly, in a collision. Two or three times he skidded on the loose gravel, and grazed a palm tree when he hit a water crossing and the front wheels left the ground.
The forest closed around them, the shadows like long hands, trying to grab the truck. Then a break, and the glint of moonlight on water, as rice paddies, some terraced up the side of hills, were passed. The shapes of houses, and a few lights, as they passed kampongs. Then the rain started. Soon it was pelting down, forcing Matt to slow. Already water was starting to cover the road, covering holes and gutters. Matt cursed. In the back, the boy was holding Rory, as best he could.
The tar started less than 3 kilometres from town, and was so full of pot holes, Matt drove on the side verge. He had to slow down in town. It had been market day, and despite the darkness, was still thronged with people, cars, and bicycles. He dodged them all except for a cart loaded with bamboo poles, and being pulled by a not so quick Indonesian. It tipped, and there was much yelling. There was no time to stop.
All local colour for a tourist, but not to the locals. Everyone was there for a purpose. Matt's purpose was to get through the throng and hope the doctor was at the medical centre.
Medical centre may have been an euphemism. A converted house, with a dedicated Chinese doctor, and little else. The usual long queue were sitting on the veranda, and inside, even at this hour, but Matt ignored them and rushed straight into the surgery.
Kevin Lim looked up in surprise, as did his assisting nurse. They were bandaging a young child's arm.
"I need a hand. Rory's outside, and he's bleeding everywhere.”
The doctor, an ethnic Chinese aged about 30, said something to the nurse, and then stood up and followed Matt outside. When he saw the patient, he yelled to two teenagers, passing at that moment, and the four of them, carried Rory inside, and onto a table, in the back room.
"What happened?", but as he pulled away the crude bandages, the young doctor knew the answer. He's seen many such injuries, since his return to south east Asia, from medical school in Australia.
He could have had an appointment to the largest hospital in Singapore, but instead, chose rural areas. The noble spirit of helping the less privileged, still burned strong. Money had not yet apparently swayed his ideals.
"A woman came onto the site," said Matt, "and before he realised it, had knifed him. Would have finished him off, but I arrived just in the nick of time.”
"He needs surgery. Nothing major was cut, by the look of things, but I doubt if I can stop the bleeding all together." The doctor finished putting on some bandages, and peeled off his gloves.
"The nearest decent hospital is Singapore. Not long in a plane.
Your problem is finding a plane, and encouraging the pilot to fly at night. Must be tonight." The Chinese had blood over his shirt and trousers, but he seemed oblivious to it.
Matt looked bewildered. "Help me here, Doc. The company will pay, but it takes time to get money and an aircraft.”
The doctor looked outside at the waiting line, and shut the door.
"There's a Cessna on the strip now. He's flying out at daylight with something or other down to Padang. You hear things in a town this size. I'll try ringing him. Otherwise you need to get something from Singapore. Not ideal for your friend here.”
Matt sat down, and went to light a cigarette, but thought better of it. Kevin Lim went outside. He was back inside three minutes.
"Got him. He was waiting on a call. Inconvenience to his charter, tomorrow; against rules taking off at night, and leaving the country without clearance. Bottom line is $2,000 American, cash up front.”
"Bloody hell. Where can I get that, this time of night?”
"Cheque book?" asked the doctor. Matt nodded.
"Give me a company cheque, now, for $2,500 US. I can get your money in 15 minutes.”
Matt didn't even query the amount. He had been in this part of the world, too long, and realised everything had a price. His friend and work mate weren't negotiable.
Whilst they were waiting, they carried Rory out to the truck, and laid him in the back. The local boy from the river village, was still around. Matt liked the doctor. Part of the fabric of this town, he was still independent of it. From his visits to the local watering holes, here in town, Matt knew that the young doctor, had a thing going with one of the local Indonesian girls.
She started out as his domestic help, but soon after, just moved in. Who could blame him. On his own. But it did have it's price.
The small local Chinese community were offended, that one of theirs had taken up with an Indonesian. The fact that he was the only doctor in town, helped to keep their disapproval at a low level. The reverse also applied to the girl. Sometimes she was ignored, sometimes spat at by older people in town. The younger ones, however, didn't care. Then an old woman arrived, carrying a shopping basket. When she left, Kevin Lim came out and gave Matt a bag, with a bandage sticking out the top.
"Some food and bandages. You'll need them for the patient." Then in a lower voice, "expensive bandages, like everything else.
Drive south, to the rice co-op, then turn behind it. It links up with the airstrip road, but should confuse prying eyes. My young friend here," pointing to a teenage girl, who appeared on the veranda, "will fly with your friend. I suggest you head back to the mine. Your other friend probably could do with some company.”
"Thanks. What about the police?", asked Matt.
"What about them? You won't get much support in that direction.
Probably be blamed for assault on a local. What happened to the girl, by the way?"
"A .45 between the shoulder blades. No option, considering she was about to have another go.”
The doctor took a deep breath. "Well, my advice is, find a very deep hole, or you may find yourself facing a firing squad. When the Dutch left, so did European justice.”
"As a local, why are you being, so un local?”
The young fellow put his hands in his belt loops. "The term local may apply to the Malays and Islamic followers, but being Chinese in Indonesia, is no picnic. Trust me on this.”
Matt stuck out his hand, and they shook. Then he was in the truck, with his passengers, and on their way.
The rain had stopped. Matt wondered about why all this trouble at the site. Up to three months ago, it was fairly peaceful. Almost idyllic, if you excluded the hard work and primitive conditions. Then the stealing and small problems started. A local company had tendered for the claim, but lost out. Still, that was two years ago. However, an attempt on their lives, was serious business. He thought it had to be political, but how far up the tree, did it Originate?
He reached the air strip, suddenly concerned that the rain may make it too heavy, for the plane to use. It was too dark to see. A light outside the shed, that served as an office, was on, otherwise the few other buildings were in darkness. The plane was not in sight. Matt's heart had a sinking feeling. He stopped outside the office, and could see another light inside, then the door opened. A man in open necked shirt and slacks, with a cigarette dangling out the corner of his mouth, came out. Matt shut off the engine and lights, and hopped out.
"You expecting me?", he asked. Then without waiting for a reply, checked the back, to see how Rory was doing. He was awake.
Rory gave a weak smile.
"Hang in there, mate," said Matt. Then he turned to the pilot.
"Are you ready?”
"If you are from the doctor's place, and have the $3,000, I'm ready.”
Matt was taken back. "The deal is $2,000." Then he remembered the bag, Kevin had given him. He grabbed it from the seat, and looked under the bandages. There was a package. "Bloody hell", he said aloud. Whatever was in the package, he didn't want to know. "Plus merchandise.”
The pilot coughed. "$2,000 plus merchandise will do. Let's go. If any one turns up, we are history." Hidden behind the shed was a small aircraft. He opened the door of the plane and, coming back to Matt, said "need a hand?"
They stood Rory up, and walked him to the plane and helped get him in and strapped up. The engine turned over, and came to life. Matt stood back as the door shut and the plane moved forward, in to the darkness. Then it roared away, and he heard it climb. An amazing feat, without lights, he thought. He hoped it would arrive just as safely, and in time.
When the only noise heard, was frogs, he walked back to the truck. The boy from the village, was sitting behind the wheel, but slid over. "Now, it's back home. And to see how Spikey was getting on.”
"You need a hand, mister? I can help out. Cook. Clean. Dig.”
Matt got a surprise. This was the first time the lad had spoken.
He could use some help, at least until a replacement came. But there was a risk. Could be plant by, whoever.
"Maybe. Have to check with my partner. What's your name?”
Matt was taken back. "Where in God's name, did you get that name?”
"Don't know. Probably the orphan's home in Jakarta. Always had it. Government man wanted me to change it, but I didn't. Probably why they sent me to Sumatra. My mother, that's the lady they gave me to, lived in Padang, but we had to get out. Don't know why. Some people were after her. She has some sort of uncle at Ubangta.”
"Ubangta?", said Matt, "where's that?”
"Where I live. You go through there all the time."
Matt never knew that the village had a name. Just a collection of small houses and a rice storage shed. The government paid the village council, a pittance, for pulling the punt across. To the people, it wouldn't be a pittance, however. But they'd lose it, if the bridge was rebuilt. He had a thought that without the dredge, the use of the crossing would diminish. No, forget it. "Thanks for helping. If we decide, we'll come down." They drove
back, skirting the town as best they could. Then back up river. Time to talk to the young doctor, later. For now, Spikey was the next concern.
At the crossing, at Ubangta, the village was in darkness. Alfred came across, so he could return the punt. Matt drove off the boat, and into the darkness of a forbidding forest.
About two kilometres before the site, the headlights picked up an object lying on the track. Matt knew what it was, even before he had stopped. It was the Yamaha. There was no sign of Spikey.