14 I GO FOR A SWIM
July 2, Tuesday – It is late, and the camp lies still and quiet, blanketed by the darkness save for my one small light. Today’s events have left me troubled and confused, making sleep hard to come by. I can’t help wondering if we have made the right decisions, or have events overtaken us so quickly that we are heading toward some kind of calamity, a calamity that could be avoided if we just had more time to think things out. Maybe recording what happened today will help ease my mind, or at least enough to get some sleep. Who knows what will happen next, so I had better get rest when I can.
Starting the day with my normal routine by waking up before daylight, and exercising my knee thoroughly, I completed all my flexibility exercises. Then, with the first light of day I proceeded to jog several laps around the clearing. On about the third or fourth lap, I suddenly spotted a figure gliding through the morning shadows to intersect my path. My heart gave a leap as I recognized the graceful lines of a young woman. Because of the early hour, my first thought was that it must be Ann. To my surprise though, Whitney emerged out of the gloom, clad in an extremely thin clinging robe.
“Whitney,” I cried, “what in the world are you doing up at this hour?”
“Quiet, Brad,” she whispered, throwing a glance back at the sleeping camp, “I came out here to see you, of course.” Moving close, she put her arms around me pressing her body next to mine. “I had to talk to you, Brad. I want to know what’s the matter?”
“What do you mean?” I asked abruptly.
“You know what I mean. Why have you been so cold? It’s almost as if you’ve been avoiding me. Every time I turn around you’re huddled up with that drabby secretary of Daddy’s. I can hardly believe you’d be interested in a goody-two-shoes simpleton like her.”
I have to be honest, to myself at least, that having such a beautiful girl like Whit pressing close against me was extremely intoxicating, no matter how I felt about her anymore. But calling Ann names like that cleared my head instantly, and placing my hands firmly on her shoulders, I stepped back from her embrace. “Look, Whitney, if we’re going to talk about relationships, exactly what’s between you and Selby?”
Her eyes blazed with anger, but I never heard her reply, because in that instant it dawned on me what the sound was that I had been hearing for the last few seconds. “Quiet!” I ordered sharply, placing my hand over her mouth, “Listen.”
In the still morning air, there was no mistaking the deep rummm sound of one of our motorboats. “What the heck is Mr. Lumbard doing with the boats this early?” I wondered aloud.
Jerking my hand away, Whitney said, “That’s not Mr. Lumbard.”
“How do you know?” I asked quickly.
“Because, when I passed by his tent just now, I heard him snoring, and nobody snores like Fred Lumbard.”
A chill of warning crept up my spine. Nobody, besides Mr. Lumbard and me, ever messed around those boats. “Go wake up your dad,” I told Whitney, “and Mr. Lumbard, too. I’ll run down to the landing and see what’s going on. And put some clothes on.”
Although a lot of work has been done to make the trail down to the river smooth and free of obstacles, it is still quite steep in places and winds through heavy foliage. Nevertheless, I covered the two hundred yards down to the river in record time. I could hear the sound of the motor continually growing fainter as I raced down the path, so it came as no surprise to find one of the boats missing when I arrived. Peering down stream, I spied the boat churning rapidly down river, already too distant to recognize the driver, except for a flash of yellow from a wide brimmed floppy hat.
Immediately, I leaped into the other boat, but from the strong smell of gasoline, my heart sank even before I tried the engine, and sure enough, the fuel gage registered bone dry. Vaulting out of the boat, I hit the bank running. Sprinting down the trail was treacherous because of the slope, but racing full speed up that grade was pure torture on the lungs and legs. Gasping for breath, I dashed into the clearing. Right away, I saw Ken hurrying toward the path. Raising my hand for him to stop, I gasped out, “wait—go back—get gas—take it—to the—boat.”
“A gas can? Oh, O.K.” Turning back, he scampered over to the fuel drums.
Evidently the alarm had spread through the camp, as almost everyone was standing around in various stages of undress. The Professor was in pajamas and his field boots; Lumbard had his pants and boots on, but no shirt.
“What’s happening, Brad?” the Professor shouted. “Was that one of our boats I heard?”
“It was that darn Burmese spy,” I panted. As I paused for a second to catch my breath, I saw the immediate alarm register on the faces around me. “He took one of the boats and he’s heading down river.”
“You stupid fool!” screamed Dean, “What are you doing up here? Why didn’t you take the other boat and go after him?”
Ignoring the little squirt, I turned to Mr. Lumbard. “I don’t know if he just drained the tank or cut a fuel line. But you can smell the fumes, and the tank’s empty. I just told Ken to fill a gas can and get down there. You’d better go see what needs to be done.”
Mr. Lumbard simply nodded his head and trotted off toward the river path with the Professor and Han close behind him.
Whitney moved over beside me and asked, “Is there any chance to catch him?”
“If Yellow-hat knows his business, and I’ll bet he does, he’ll have fixed it so that it’ll take a good while before Lumbard can get the other boat running.”
Then Ann asked quietly, “How long ago did he leave?”
“Oh—not more than five minutes,” I replied.
“How long does it take to get around the bend in the river and get to that spot over there?” She asked, pointing to the riverbank on the opposite side of camp.
Considering for a moment, I answered, “Probably ten, maybe twelve minutes”. It suddenly dawned on me what she was thinking.
The riverbank on the opposite side of camp was no farther away, but the path was little used and much rougher, because we didn’t land the boats on that side. “I’m not sure what we can do to stop him, but if we hurry, we can at least wave to him as he goes by. Let me grab my gun and we’ll get down there.”
Realizing what we were up to, Whitney ordered Dean to get his gun and exclaimed that they were coming along. It didn’t take more than three or four minutes to get to the riverbank, but we could already discern the distant sound of a motor as soon as we arrived. Presently, the motorboat swung into view as it rounded a bend in the river about a quarter mile up stream. At once, Dean raised his rifle to his shoulder.
“What do you think you’re doing?” I asked quickly.
“I’ll see if a few shots over his head will scare him into stopping.”
“All right,” I said, “but watch where you’re aiming. Hold your ears, girls.”
Dean fired three shots. The boom from the heavy gun reverberated off the hills, scattering a large flock of waterfowl on the other side of the river. As I expected though, the only effect on the boat was that it swerved closer to the opposite bank. Where we stood, the river was somewhat less than three hundred yards across. I wasn’t sure how close Yellow-hat could approach the other bank because of a wide expanse of shallow water with a lot of flooded undergrowth beneath the surface. On our side of the river, however, the main channel ran close to the bank. From where we stood the bank dropped sharply six or seven feet down to the surface of the river, with the turbid water quickly attaining a depth of ten feet or more. Clearly Yellow-hat was determined to risk steering wide of the main channel to stay as far away from us as possible.
“It’s no good, Dean.” I said. “He’s smart enough to know we can’t do anything to stop him, aside from shooting him, and he knows we’re not dumb enough to do that.”
“Why not shoot him?” Whitney cried. “He’s stealing our boat.”
“He may be stealing our boat, but he very likely works for the Myanmar government and there’s no way we want to get mixed up in a deal like that.”
“Nonsense, they’ll never know anything about it, if we hide the body.”
“Whitney, no!” Ann cried.
“Now you’re being ridiculous, Whit. This isn’t worth killing somebody over.”
“We don’t have time to argue about it.” Whitney cried hotly. “Go ahead, Dean, shoot him.”
Dean looked doubtfully at Whitney, but started to raise his rifle, so I put an iron grip on his gun and lowered it back down. He struggled, but I simply said, “Nope”, and shook my head. Whitney angrily stamped her foot and exclaimed, “Oh, I wish I could shoot one of those things. I’d shoot him.”
I believe she would, too.
“Quick, Dean,” she exclaimed, “go get David. He’ll know what to do.”
I certainly didn’t know what she thought Junior could do, but I released my hold on the gun anyway so Dean could take it with him.
He quickly dashed up the trail, while Yellow-hat in the motorboat moved close to the point directly opposite where we stood, no more than a hundred and fifty yards away. Grinning broadly, the cocky Burmese openly gave us a big windmill wave.
“He’s going too close to the other side.” I remarked. “The water’s too shallow there.” Abruptly, while I was still talking, there was a loud thump, the engine quit, Yellow-hat was flung across the wheel, and the boat jerked to a stop.
“Well, that takes care of that,” I laughed. “You don’t have to shoot him after all, Whit.”
“What happened?” asked Ann.
“He steered too close to the other bank and hit something under the water. It was probably a tree stump the way it stopped him cold that way. When you slam against something hard with the propeller assembly, it shears off a pin that disengages the prop and cuts the engine. It’s designed that way to protect the prop from battering itself to bits.”
“Can he fix it?” asked Whitney sharply.
“Sure, if he knows how, and if he knows where the extra pins and tools are, and doesn’t mind working underwater, and has a couple of hours to do it. In any case, Mr. Lumbard will be here with the other boat long before that.”
We watched as Yellow-hat scraped himself off the front of the boat and then fished around in the back compartment, pulling out one of the oars.
“What’s he doing now?” asked Whitney.
“He’s going to free the prop from whatever it hit, and then I imagine he’ll start rowing down stream. He won’t get far though. There’s not much current here and it takes a powerful engine to drive one of those boats; they’re too heavy to row well at all. But what the devil is he doing?”
Yellow-hat had been kneeling at the back of the boat, poking down with the oar, when suddenly he leaped to his feet staggering backward, swinging the oar wildly to keep his balance. Then with a shout, he struck the side gunwale and flipped backward head over heels into the river. It was hilarious to see, and the three of us burst out laughing.
However, the humor of the situation evaporated instantly, as the little Burmese was obviously in trouble. Rather than stroking the short distance back to the boat as I expected, he thrashed around wildly, occasionally sinking below the surface.
“Brad, I don’t think he can swim.” Ann said apprehensively. “What can we do? I think he’s drowning!”
“Oh, let the little fool drown,” asserted Whitney. “That’ll solve everything.”
Ignoring Whitney’s comment, I said to Ann, “I’m afraid you’re right, I’d better go in after him.”
Tossing my rifle down, I began untying my shoes. Fortunately, I was still clad in my running shorts and light net shirt and needed only to remove my shoes to be ready to swim.
“Hurry! He’s going down!” Ann screamed.
Kicking off my running shoes, I hurtled over the edge of the bank in one long stride and was sliding down the steep grassy slope to the river about six feet below. Diving into the water, I began swimming, trying to keep in sight the place where Yellow-hat went down. It is more difficult to locate objects in the water from surface level with water splashing in your eyes than it is from several feet up on the riverbank. So, I just swam hard for the boat and on getting close I pulled up and started looking around. Glancing back, I hoped the girls could direct me to where he was, but they were useless, appearing to be having hysterics, wildly waving their arms, and screaming.
Actually, that big floppy hat enabled me to find him. Noticing it floating about twenty feet to my right, I swam that way and at once saw a hand splash out of the water a few feet further on. I have never had lifeguard training, but I knew enough to get behind the guy so he couldn’t grab on to me as I clutched his hair and wrenched him to the surface. Hooking my right arm underneath his right shoulder, I could use my right hand to keep his face out of the water as I sidestroked for the shore.
Suddenly, after just a couple of strokes, Yellow-hat’s body jerked back hard, so hard in fact, that because of my firm grip on him I was yanked back under the water. Spluttering to the surface, I glanced back to see what could have possibly pulled us under.
I have heard people describe a certain event as their worst nightmare, but what I saw next far exceeded any nightmare I have ever had. The powerful jaws of a huge crocodile were clamped fast onto the leg of poor Yellow-hat; its cruel teeth sinking deep into his flesh, staining the churning river a dark red. The little Burmese uttered a weak gurgling scream as I managed to lift his head clear of the water, but immediately another mighty jerk plunged us below the surface again. It was obvious I couldn’t win a tug of war with the crocodile, and even more obvious Yellow-hat wouldn’t survive it anyhow. We were in big trouble. Thrashing back to the surface, I saw that the viciously tapering snout was protruding a few inches above the water. At that instant, I heard a sharp twang sound followed by a deep boom. Suddenly a bloody gash appeared on the side of the ugly snout, and the massive jaws parted releasing their grip. Then in a swirl of blood stained water, the croc’s head disappeared beneath the surface.
Immediately, I began stroking for shore. Ann Cobey stood at the edge of the riverbank, with the big gun pressed against her shoulder. I desperately hoped that she remembered everything I had taught her about that rifle, especially how to aim it. I stroked hard, but before we had covered more than a few feet, a movement caught my eye, and my blood ran cold as only twenty feet away another wicked snout protruded from the water. Cutting a V in the muddy river, it swam directly toward me; its jaws parted displaying about a million evil looking jagged teeth. Another boom echoed across the water, and the monstrous crocodile visibly jerked sideways with the impact of the heavy slug. It thrust its head and tail up out of the water twisting itself into a U, while the mighty jaws snapped at the empty air. With the blood gushing from a gaping wound in its side, the croc thrashed and whirled into a boiling swirl of crimson water.
If they ever add the hundred and fifty-yard swim while hauling a limp body to the Olympics, they will be hard pressed to ever beat my record back to shore. I was already a strong swimmer, but with the last few months of therapy flutter kicking in the pool, I don’t think Tarzan could have kept up with me today.
Pulling Yellow-hat to the foot of the bank, I heard male voices, but from where I was situated, I could only see Ann standing at the brink of the steep slope, looking pale and shaken. I yelled for help, but only Ann assisted me in sliding his limp body up and over the lip of the bank. With some difficulty, I scrambled over the muddy bank and flopped down beside Yellow-hat panting and exhausted. Both Junior and Dean were a short distance off, ignoring or not hearing my call for help as they were evidently trying to calm Whitney who was having some kind of hysterics. I didn’t have time to fool with them, though, as the little Burmese was in real trouble. He had some wiggle left in him so I knew he was still alive, but he wouldn’t be for long if I didn’t get some of that water out of him soon. Turning his head to the side, I placed my hand just below his diaphragm and shoved hard upward and brown water came rushing out of his mouth and nose. Immediately he began spluttering and coughing up more water, so I knew then that at least he wasn’t going to drown.
While I was squeezing the water out of him, Ann plucked a knife from Yellow-hat’s belt and cut away the muddy and torn clothing from his injured leg. Ann looked so pale as she bent over examining his bloody leg, I was afraid she might faint. Instead, she looked up quickly. “I need a couple of sticks, Brad, about a foot long and strong enough not to break too easily.”
With all the brush and trees around, it was easy finding the sticks. Next though, she frowned, looking around uneasily. “Where did the others go?” Junior, Dean, and Whitney were nowhere to be seen.
“I guess so much blood was too much for Whitney.” I answered. “Apparently, she fainted and Dean and Junior must have carried her back to camp.”
“I need something to tie this up. Oh well,” she said glancing at me, “You’re too wet and muddy.” So, ripping off her own blouse, she handed it to me with the knife. “Cut this into strips. I’ve got to make a tourniquet before he bleeds to death.”
Working quickly, Ann looped the cloth strips around the mangled leg above the torn flesh. Then hooking the stick into the loop, she cranked the tourniquet tight. After a moment, she said softly, “I think the bleeding’s stopped, or at least slowed down, but we’ve got to get him to a doctor. I’m pretty sure he’s in shock.”
Yellow-hat lay still, moaning occasionally, but apparently unconscious. “They can radio for the Selby chopper to rush out a doctor from Rangoon, and he should make it in a couple of hours.”
Just then, I heard distant voices coming from up the trail toward camp. Tugging off my shirt, I handed it to Ann. “It’s wet and muddy,” I said, “but it’ll cover you O.K.”
Startled, she glanced questioningly at me for a moment. Then looking down, she turned a deep red and quickly put on my shirt. Amazingly, she had been so intent on saving Yellow-hat that she had forgotten about ripping up her own blouse. I considered briefly trying to ease her embarrassment by pointing out that I had seen girl’s bathing suits that were considerably more revealing than her bra. But with Ann, I figured it wouldn’t really help.
Paul and Han arrived then, followed shortly by the Professor and several Burmese with a litter to carry Yellow-hat back up to camp. Ann walked along side the litter, making sure he didn’t get jostled around too much and start bleeding again.
I stayed by the river, because Mr. Lumbard soon arrived in the other boat. He took me aboard so I could help him haul the other boat to a place where we could replace the broken pin. Fortunately, he had a spare shirt for me in the boat; otherwise, by the time we finished, I would have been badly sunburned. I stood guard with my rifle while Lumbard did the repair work, and to my relief, we didn’t see anything more threatening than a few little frogs.
A few hours later when we were bringing the boats back, we did see an awesome sight. About a half a mile upstream from where all this occurred, a long narrow island splits the river channel. As we were passing the island, Lumbard sounded his horn and pointed with his cigar. “There’s your swimming buddy.”
Steering over for a closer look, I saw the carcass of a huge crocodile. Belly up, and a gaping wound in its side, it was indeed the second crocodile, and Ann had killed it. The monster was a good fifteen feet long, although it had seemed a lot bigger when I was in the water staring down into its open jaws. Still, it was big enough.
Earlier while Mr. Lumbard was fixing the boat, I heard the Selby helicopter moving up the river valley, and then saw it land over at our campsite, bringing the doctor from Rangoon. By the time we had docked the two boats and had secured them to our landing, I heard the thump, thump, thump, of the helicopter once more. It slowly lifted into the air above camp, speeding back to Rangoon.
Returning to camp, I quickly showered and dressed. By then it was nearly eleven o’clock and having missed breakfast, I hurried over to the eating pavilion for an early lunch. Finding Paul sitting at one of the tables eating a sandwich, I rushed over to inquire what all had happened.
“Well, David radioed his people as soon as we got Yellow-hat up here. Although, for a second I thought he might refuse—I suppose because of what the Burmese is likely to tell the authorities. But Han put his big paw on David’s shoulder and asked, ‘You vant me to help you call for de doctor?’ So,” Paul laughed, “he radioed, and the chopper picked up a doctor directly from a hospital and was here in a couple of hours.”
“What did he say about Yellow-hat?” I asked.
“His condition is extremely serious, requiring an immediate transfusion, but the doctor is reasonably confident that he will fully recover. One thing the doctor did say though, if that tourniquet hadn’t been applied so quickly and effectively, Yellow-hat would have never made it. He said he wouldn’t have survived another ten minutes; much less the two hours it took him to get here. That Ann’s quite a girl.”
“I’ll say she is.” I exclaimed. “I thought for all the world that she was going to faint, seeing his leg half-bitten off like that and all that blood. Whitney sure checked out in a hurry,” I chuckled, “but Ann just sucked it up, and did what had to be done.”
“Well, she certainly saved his life, and so did you for that matter.”
I just shrugged my shoulders and asked, “So what happens now?”
“I don’t know,” Paul answered, taking another bite of his sandwich. “Jim and David are talking it over, and I suppose they’ll call a meeting this afternoon and we’ll find out what’s next.”
Shortly after lunch, we received word from Rangoon that Yellow-hat arrived at the hospital and was doing O.K. Despite everything, Yellow-hat really wasn’t a bad guy. I had been mad at him for fooling me the way he did, but I still couldn’t help liking the little guy. He was always cheerful, even after we discovered what he was up to, and he was by far the best Burmese worker in camp. For my part, I am glad he is all right and I hope he recovers O.K.