Crime Suppression Unit Part 17
Rick and his group came to a clearing in the dense jungle and were surprised to see five or six hundred people.
They were obviously natives but from where? They had put up makeshift tents out of old blue plastic, bamboo and dried foliage.
Women cooked over open fires, some had cast iron pots while others barbecued small bits of meat on sticks. Children scrambled, playing soccer with a ball of rags tied together. The camp was filled with families and people of all ages. Some had the distinctive woven clothing of hill tribe people while many wore old shirts and rags. Many of the kids were naked or just in shorts.
No one looked delighted to see Rick's group and many put their heads down or hurried into their shelters as they moved among the crowd. We can't be a reassuring sight carrying all of these weapons Rick thought.
They walked in the direction of what looked like two large canvas tents in the distance.
'Sonia, who are these people? Can we get something to eat? I'm starving.'
'They are Burmese. We're in a refugee camp in Thailand. Of course they will feed us. These people are among the most hospitable people on earth. They will gladly share what little they have with us.'
Rick was stunned again by another surprising sight. A white man was walking towards them. He wore a blue oxford button down shirt and a maroon paisley tie underneath a long white cotton jacket-like a lab coat. He was a good looking man, about thirty-five years old with brown hair combed to the side and he wore wire-rimmed eyeglasses.
'Good evening. You are just in time for dinner. Would you care to join us?'
'Yes, thank you,' Andrew replied and introduced everyone as if it were a common occurrence to find an elegantly dressed foreigner in the middle of the jungle.
Sonia could not wait, 'Who are you?' She exclaimed. 'Also my real name is Soopies not Sonia.
Sonia is my stage name in Bangkok. I'm in the entertainment business. I really prefer Soopies.'
'Euphemistically speaking,' Rick said.
'What did you say?'
' Never mind Soopies, I just meant a mild understatement- that you're a diplomat.'
'You know better than to get smart with me Ricky.'
'Permit me to introduce myself. I am Doctor Meier. Please come this way. I'll ask my wife Nahlee to set a few more plates.'
They followed the doctor to another smaller green canvas tent next to the two larger ones. There was a low table set up outside with bowls and spoons. There were a some folding canvas chairs and the doctor pulled a trunk and a few boxes from the tent to sit on. An attractive woman with her long hair pulled back brought more bowls. Nahlee, as gracious as her husband, ladled stew and rice into the bowls. She was obviously Cambodian with wide full lips and the charming features of the aspara dancing girls carved on the walls of Angkor.
'It's only rice and vegetables, I'm afraid. We live simply here. Excuse me, I want to make my rounds and check on my patients.'
As the doctor moved towards the larger tent, Andrew stepped in behind him. 'Doctor, please allow us the pleasure of accompanying you.'
'My first name is Hans, that may be easier to use than doctor all of the time.'
Rick knew what Andrew was thinking. The good doctor looked nice enough but it was not time to relax just yet. Rick tucked a pistol in his belt and whispered to Andrew, 'Hans? Could be, the guy looks like Han Solo or is it Napoleon Solo or more likely Illya Kuryakin.'
'Jeeze, Rick what have you been doing watching TV all this time?'
'I'm just saying he doesn't look like a guy that I would be anxious to mess with. Let's be careful.'
Doctor Meier brushed past the ten flaps with Rick and Andrew close behind. The tent was a large one, about twenty by fifty feet. There were about sixty people lying side by side on bamboo mats on the floor. Hans stopped and spoke to every person if they were conscious or not. Rick and Andrew exchanged glances. Most of the patients looked as if they had been in a train wreck or torn apart by wild animals. Some were missing an arm or legs. Many of the bandages were blood soaked. This was no ordinary hospital. Rick and Andrew left the doctor to his patients and went back to the table. They had seen enough.
After a half-hour, Doctor Meier sat down to join the dinner in progress. His white jacket was stained with blood and he looked as if he had the weight of the world on his shoulders as he wearily pushed up his sleeves and slowly reached for a spoon.
'What are you doing here? What's this all about?' Andrew said.
'I am treating my patients. I am the only doctor within miles and miles and there is much to do. I am vaccinating the children and Nahlee teaches hygiene besides helping me in the clinic. Of course there is never enough medicine to go around.
We belong to the organization Medicines sans Frontieres – doctors without borders. There are many people that desperately need our help, next week we will have to move to another refugee camp. We are trying to see as many people as possible.
I examine hundreds of people a day for one illness or another. We are supported partly by the United Nations but mostly by charitable organizations. We are not paid of course. We donate our time. I met Nahlee last year when I worked in Cambodia and next month they are sending us to Nigeria. It's a mess down there now.'
'Doctor,' Rick said quietly, 'What happened to the people in there? They are not merely sick.'
Hans's head was down over his plate and he paused a bit before raising his eyes. 'No Rick, they are not merely sick.
These poor people had the misfortune to be shelled two nights ago, right here in our camp. We buried thirty-three of them.'
'Why? Shelled by who?' Soopies said with concern.
Hans stopped eating and put his spoon down. 'It was the Burmese Army or pro-Rangoon forces, possibly the United Wa State Army. It's difficult to know. Eight mortar shells fell directly on the refugee center in the middle of the night. There was pandemonium, people screaming and dying all around us as we tried to help the wounded. Frankly I'm exhausted, I haven't slept more than a few hours in days.'
Soopies had stopped eating also. 'I don't understand. Why would they do that; kill innocent people?'
'They believe that the anti-government guerillas use the camps for harbor. The Myanmar Government wants the camps to be very far from the border or for the people to come back so they can be used as forced labor. The word is that next time we are shelled, armed troops will invade the camp and kill everyone. It's not unlikely that Nahlee and I will be murdered if we are not fast enough to flee into the jungle with the villagers, but that would mean leaving my patients.
We are seen as interlopers who do not belong here.'
As Rick continued to eat, he marveled at the courage of this generous couple. Here he was trying to get the hell out and the doctor and his wife were risking their lives by staying and living under the same conditions as the refugees.
Hans, let me ask you a few questions. 'Exactly where are we and how can we leave here? Do you have a car or truck?'
'We are thirty miles from the town of Pai. From there it's only a few hundred miles to Chang Rai. It's a long slow journey down hill to Pai but once to get there you should be able to hire transportation to take you to your destination. We traded our truck for rice for the refugees. We have no transportation; we depend on supply trucks that come once every two weeks.
We must take the next one out ourselves unfortunately and leave these poor people to fend for themselves.
They have been evicted from their homeland and are not citizens here. The Myanmar Government is reclaiming their land.
It has a great deal to do with drugs.'
Now may I ask you something? Where have you come from and what are you doing here or shouldn't I ask?'
Hans said, glancing at the pile of weapons that were stacked next to the table.
'Not at all Doctor,' Andrew produced his badge. 'I am from the United States Drug Enforcement Agency and we are investigating the drug trafficking in the area.'
'You won't have to look too far. It's very dangerous here with all of the different armed factions. I suppose that's why you have all of these weapons- for your own protection. But you didn't come from Myanmar did you?
You came into our camp from the west, didn't you?'
'No Hans, we did not come from Myanmar. We were just scouting around and our jeep broke an axle. We had to abandon it.
Now, when does the supply truck come? We need to hitch a ride out.'
'Not for another week. You can all bunk in the infirmary as our guests. There are a few empty mats there.'
It was dark by the time that they finished dinner, found a few empty cots in the tent and crawled under the mosquito netting that surrounded each bunk. Rick immediately fell asleep.
He was startled awake by a loud explosion and the sound of a hundred bees buzzing through the tent.
Rick sat up. He could see stars through the holes in the canvas. Flying shrapnel had shredded the tent. There were screams and rustling sounds as people rushed by, running past the tent, stampeding into the woods.
Two more explosions shattered the night as Rick and Andrew stepped into their paints and hurriedly put on their shoes.
Hans ran in with a gas lantern. 'They are dropping motor shells again. You must leave immediately. We're being attacked and this time they will kill all of us.'
'How many soldiers will come?' Rick asked angrily.
'I don't know. We always run. It's the only thing to do. The entire camp runs for the woods.'
'Where do they come from?'
'Myanmar, exactly the way you entered our camp. We've got to move now.'
Rick looked at Andrew. 'Not this time,' he said.
Frank does it again!