Chapter 5


Shipment arrived.  Me and  Drew drove into Dakha.  It rained.  Not real hard, but enough that it made it a long ass trip.  I checked Deb's supply stuff before we left.  Pregnancy tests are in there.  She ordered 50, got 20.  That's about standard around here.  Never gets everything she ordered--sometimes whole lots of stuff are missing.  Especially the painkillers.  Must sell 'em to the highest bidder on the way here.

"What're you gonna do if she is?"  Drew asks me.  Most of the day she's been quiet, which is real nice of her.  I can get into going back and forth with her sometimes, but not today.  She knows it, too.  Swear to God, if she started in on me, I was gonna bite her head right off.  Maybe worse.

"Beats the hell outta me."  I don't tell her I told Byers, who by now must've told Grand Poobah.  He's probably thinking, what a couple of fucking idiots.  No thanks, I don't need to hear that one.  I already heard it from Deb.  I told her to shut up, we both did it, if she is, maybe it was meant to be.  She didn't seem like she quite believed me.

Biggest problem I'm having right now is that I'm scared half to death.  Plus I didn't get anything from Frohike yesterday and when I tried today, I got a bounce.  Dammit.  What the fuck's going on?  And where the hell is Jimmy?  At least Drew lets me be miserable in silence.  She did get us a whole bunch of 7-up and Coke.  She promised not to drink the last one.

"So let me know as soon as you find out."

"Don't sweat it.  News travels faster in this village than on the fucking Net."


Deb and Sampong are stitching someone back together--another jute harvesting injury.  It's murder out there.  Sandy's nearby but scoots out for a minute when I get back.

"Did you get the tests?"  Sandy asks.

"Not the full order, but I don't think she's gonna need 20 of 'em."  Any chance that we could keep this quiet is nonexistent.  Nobody else is waiting for the doc to be in.  Maybe after they finish cleaning up the latest work-related casualty she can do the test.  I got every intention of tossing Sandy and Sampong out.

"They're almost done.  It's been a slow day, thank God."  Her face turns serious and kind of sad.  "You know, if Deborah's pregnant, she has to leave.  DWB can't deal with that kind of liability."

I don't want to go there.  We take all these crappy meds to keep us from getting malaria, we're surrounded by people who get sick, and even with Drew's new and improved version, sanitation's close to medieval levels.  If Deb's pregnant, this could be one messed up kid.

"And that's a shame.  People are doing a lot better since she got here.  And they love her.  Deborah's kind of an acquired taste, but once I got used to her, I realized what a great person she is, and she's the best boss I've ever had.  So, for my own selfish reasons, I hope her test is negative, even though I love babies.  And she'd be a great mom."

Yeah, she would.  The problem is, the dad isn't such great shakes.


Sandy and Sampong occasionally know when they're not wanted and they leave us alone once they've cleaned up after the last victim.  OSHA may be ineffective in the US, but it's better than what people have here.  I wanna go home so bad I can taste it.

"You ready?"  I ask her.  I'm starting to hyperventilate.

"No.  But I've gotta pee anyway."  She heads outside and comes back a couple minutes later.  Stick's got a cap on it.

"I think it's about time to see what's behind door number one,"  she says, trying to take it easy, but she looks scared out of her mind.  "White means negative, blue means positive."

"Okay, let's get it over with." Might as well know.

She pulls the cap off--the thing looks like a magic marker--and I close my eyes as she does it, opening them just a slit.

I don't need to open them the rest of the way to see that it's bright, screaming blue.

Deb sinks into the papa-san chair.  "I had a feeling it was going to go this way."

"Apparently so did everyone else around here."

She shakes her head.  "No privacy in this place, that's for sure."  This fact is reinforced by one of the ladies who lives nearby coming up the steps and bringing in a kettle of something that smells...kind of rank, actually.

She sets it down and tells Deb, good for the baby.

Lucky for us, she doesn't stay.  I open the lid.  I think there's eels in there. Poor Deb is so green.  She starts to cry a little.  Man, she's been doing that a lot lately.  Does this come with being pregnant?  If it does, it's gonna be a real long 9 months. I do not do crying women well.  With Deb, I don’t really get that much practice, either.  She’s not the weepy type.  Usually.

“Ringo, please throw that out, or I’m really going to be sick.”

Okay, that I can handle.  It’s everything else that I’m totally clueless about.

I get rid of the evil soup—we’ve got some dogs hanging out that aren’t that picky, but then again, they’re dogs.  Dogs eat trash, especially the ones here.

Deb’s lying on the bed when I come in.  She still looks green and tired.

I sit down next to her.

“We’re gonna have to leave, babe,”  I tell her, taking her hand.  Probably so I can support myself even more than her.  “Sandy says DWB doesn’t allow pregnant ladies in the field.”

“How are they going to know?  It’s not exactly like I’m showing yet.”  Nope, in fact, she looks thinner than ever.  Way too thin.  Her parents would kill me.

Her parents.  Yeah, sometimes it’s good to be half a world away.

“No one’s going to know unless someone blabs,”  Deb says, closing her eyes.

“Uh…little late for that, babe.”

She jolts right up.  “Ringo, if you told anyone at the offices in Dakha, I’ll kill you.”

“Hey, I just get the orders there!”


“But…I kinda did tell Byers what’s up.”


“I…was worried, I told Byers you might, you know, be having to get outta here.”

Uh-oh.  Screwed up already.

“I can’t believe you did that!  Before we even knew for sure!”

“Babe, you looked at this place?  Hell doesn’t look this bad, least not the way Dante describes it!”  Yes, I have read a book on occasion.  I don’t limit myself to Gamer’s World (although it’s a pretty good rag).

“There’ve been plenty of pregnant people around here, in case you haven’t noticed!”

“Yeah, I noticed!  And how many of ‘em are a mess?  How many didn’t make it?”  We had three babies born dead.  I know it upset her a lot, even though she didn’t say much about it.  It killed her to lose those kids, even though there probably wasn’t a fucking thing she could do—two of ‘em, she said, were dead before they came out and the third died on the way.

“Most of them have done fine!”

“Yeah, that’s because of you and Sandy!  Who’s gonna take care of you?”

“Sandy, as you just pointed out, is very capable!”

“Yeah, but—shit, the water’s still sucky here, the food’s disgusting, we’re ass-deep in mud all the time, it’s hotter than the middle of the fucking sun, we got germs and bacteria and all these nasty diseases running around!”

“The only thing I’ve caught so far is pregnancy!”

“And you’re sick as a dog!  You look like hell.”

Oh damn.  Open mouth, insert foot again.  I’m so good at that.  I need to develop other talents.

If looks could kill, I’d be on about my third death right now.  “Thank you, Ringo, for being so helpful.  Now get out!”


I grab a beer and head outside.  Y’know, it never happens like this in the movies.

Yeah, only in real life.

Real life sucks sometimes.

Sampong and Sandy share the hut next to ours (and no, they are not doing the nasty.  Believe me, everyone in the village would know before they did if they were).

“What’s the news?”  Sandy asks.

“Yes.”  I should sound a lot happier, shouldn’t I?

Sandy smiles.  “I’m happy for her, but I’m bummed because now she’ll have to take off.  I’m going to miss her.”

“Is good news and bad news,”  says Sampong, shaking my hand.  I’m afraid I didn’t put much life into it.

“Yeah, well, right now, I’m definitely on her shit list.”  Sampong knows what a shit list is now, and he and Sandy laugh.

Drew comes barging in, she must’ve seen me exit the clinic.  “So?”  She asks me.

“Yep.  It’s a kid.”

“Told you.”  She gloats, stares at my beer.  “You didn’t bring one for me, did you?”

“Why would I?  I was trying to get away from you.”

“Ringo on Deborah’s shit list,”  Sampong tells Drew.  Sounds like ‘sheet least’ when he says it.

“And that would be different from any other day in what way?”  Drew is always taunting me.  The others laugh.

“Just more so today.”  I’m tired.  I sound tired.  Shit, if I look in the mirror, I bet I even look tired.  Fortunately, we have a serious mirror shortage around here.

“So when are you gonna get her out of this miserable shithole?”  Drew asks me.

“Well, that’s kind of the problem.”

“What, she WANTS to stay here?”

“Says she wants to finish what she started.”  Well, that’s Deb.  She’s already bummed she had to bail on her fellowship.

That gives Drew a howl.  “Finish?  Around here?  Not when you’re dead!  She’s lost her mind!  Nothing gets finished around here!”

We hear some approaching footsteps.

“I have NOT lost my mind!”  Deb announces from the doorway.

Drew keeps laughing.  “Honey, you lost it when you fell for him.”  She jabs a finger in my direction.  I jab a slightly different finger in her direction.

“Oh, I think you already did that to Deborah.”

Deb sits down by me. “Drew, reduce noise pollution and shut up.”  That gets another laugh out of Drew, but even she can show a little decency and she manages to shut her yap for the time being.

“You okay?”  I whisper to her.  I don’t care that privacy’s an alien concept here in the hinterlands.  I still like it.

“I’m fine.” She’s lying, of course, but she’s Deb.  And there’s people around.

“Congratulations, girl,”  Sandy offers her a big smile.

“Thanks.”  Deb tries to smile a little.  “I think.”

“You know you can’t keep working out here.”  Sandy’s voice sounds sad.

“Probably not, especially since Ringo can’t keep his mouth shut to his friends.”  Okay, so she’s still mad at me.  “I’m sure Byers is all over Muladharma about this, and he’s no doubt pulling his strings by now.”

“I didn’t say it was for sure.”  Really.  I just said I thought.  And besides, I was trying to take care of her!  She’s so frickin stubborn sometimes.  Never much bought into astrology, but Deb’s a Taurus, and man, she is bullheaded.

“Look,” she says to all of us, real soft.  “I really wanted to do some good here.”

“You have,”  Sandy tells her, and Sampong confirms that.  Even Drew doesn’t come up with one of her mouthy remarks.

“To tell the truth, I don’t feel all that good.  It’s hard to work like this.  I just don’t know where the hell we’re gonna go.”

“Go home,”  Drew suggests.

You see, we didn’t tell anyone the REAL reason we’re here.  Figured that was best kept to ourselves.  Yes, I can keep my mouth shut sometimes.

“We can’t,”  I say, and it looks like it’s time to play Truth or Dare.

They all stare at us like we’re from Mars.

“It’s true,”  Deb confirms.  “We can’t go back to the US.  Not right now.”

“Rape, robbery or murder?”  Drew stares in my direction.  I give her another finger.  “Ringo, that’s so unoriginal.  You really need to expand your repertoire.”

“Let’s just say it’s complicated and it’d be better if we didn’t go into it, okay?”  I say.  I really do not want this business discussed.

“And, for the record, we committed no crimes,”  Deb shoots off at Drew.

Drew starts pacing.  “Lemme get this straight.  You guys didn’t do anything wrong but you’re running around like this is a bad rendition of ‘The Fugitive.’”

“Other people’s crimes,”  I say, not being specific.  “I’m a journalist.  Me and my two best buds.  And we found something out that we weren’t supposed to.”

“Okay, wrong movie.  A bad remake of ‘Serpico’,”  Drew decides.

“Serpico had it easy,”  I remind her.

“Well, if you were looking for a great hiding place, you found it here.  Nobody comes here willingly,”  Drew asserts.

“Then why did you come here?”  Sandy fires back at her.

Drew sits there, thinking.  A long think.  “Maybe I was hoping to find a little bit of the idealist left in me.”

“I dunno,”  I shake my head.  “My idealism works better with air conditioning and decent food.”  But, I realize, it ain’t dead yet.  Not by a long shot.

“You said you’re a journalist,”  Sandy’s trying to keep it even here.  “Who do you work for?”

“Self-employed.  Three of us run this paper called ‘The Lone Gunman.’”

“Never heard of it.”  That’s Drew.

“We do stories nobody else wants to do, or is afraid to do.”

“And you were working on a story when all this went down.”


“What kind of story?”  Sandy’s getting nosy.  She’s trying to just be nice, I know, but this isn’t something she should know about.

“Let’s not go there,”  Deb shoots her a warning glance, and since Deb’s her boss, she’ll listen up.

“Lessee.  You uncovered some major government scandal that makes Iran-Contra look like a kiddie party.”  If Drew was hoping to find the idealist in her out here, all I can say is, she didn’t exactly get to her destination.

Sampong’s been quiet.  “You have to take care of your baby,”  he tells Deb.  Which is what I’ve been trying to tell her.  “Here, very hard, very bad.”

Deb shakes her head.  “It really sucks here.  But you know something?  I kind of get a charge out of doing it.  I studied trauma and critical care.  I did it because I felt like I could do something, make a difference.  And I love the rush.”

That makes Drew laugh again.  “Honey, you’ll never have a shortage of customers no matter where you are.  You could get your rush in a hell of a lot better place.”

“It’s different here.”

“Yeah, it’s different, all right.  Minimal sanitation, lousy chow, shitty weather, no supplies.”

“I wanted to see if I could do it.  And I bombed.”

Oh man, I wish she’d get off that already.  That’s so classic Deb, and it makes me nuts.

Drew studies all of us.  “No, you didn’t bomb.  You know why?”

“No,” Sandy shakes her head.

“You guys didn’t bomb because you never quit believing you can make things better, all evidence to the contrary.  And you know something?  I’m starting to believe it.  If that’s the only thing I take away from here, maybe it was all worth it.”

Deb puts her hand on my arm.  “Ringo, I’m tired.  Let’s go back.”

“We’re outta here, guys.”

Deb’s still bummed when we get back.  “I really screwed this one up.”

“Oh, fuck that!  You didn’t screw it up!  Life fucking screwed us!  We just worked with what we had!”

“I didn’t plan on going and getting pregnant at this time.”

“Yeah, well, neither did I, but we’re there.  We’re gonna do it again, Deb.  We’re gonna work with what we have.”

“What do we have, Ringo?”


And I damn better get to the computer and fill ‘em in.

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