The sun shone brightly, a typical spring afternoon on the southwest coast of British Columbia. Thick clouds stuck to the mountain ridges, covering the many large glaciers that lived between the peaks.
Dr. Brian Joseph Doyle was polishing Rain-X onto the windshield of his De-Havilland Beaver, a 1953 bush plane that years ago he and his father had rebuilt from the ground up using the latest modifications. The airplane flew better today than when she was new. The interior of the cabin looked like a well-equipped ambulance. An aluminum-framed gurney snapped into place on top of well-marked removable cabinets made of lightweight high-impact plastic panels neatly buckled together. The cabinets were full of medical and surgical supplies; it was a flying emergency room. "Joe," as his friends knew him, spent many weekends flying his air ambulance throughout British Columbia. These weekends allowed Joe to combine his two loves, flying and medicine. He had no idea how many lives he had saved with this floatplane.
Every flight was different, the biggest challenge being weather, and today would be no exception. The last half hour of the trip would be the most difficult, 50 miles through the Inside Passage, a seaway that snaked through a group of rugged islands scattered along the British Columbia coast, presently hidden in fog. The weather forecast was for the fog to lift; Joe was counting on it.
The telephone in his earpiece alerted him to an incoming call. "Answer that," he whispered. The voice-activated phone connected him immediately. "Joe speaking."
"It’s me," said Dr. Jerry Chang, Joe’s closest friend. The two young doctors had known each other since grade school. They worked together on a cardiovascular team at Vancouver General Hospital. When Joe was flying, Jerry would cover for him at the hospital. "I have good news and bad news. What do you want first?"
"Give me the bad news."
"Your passenger is not happy. She’s been waiting for almost an hour downtown at the airplane dock."
"She? I thought our new doctor was a he," Joe said, surprised. "What’s up, Jerry?" He laughed. He and Jerry had flown together many times and they always departed from his rented hanger at Vancouver International Airport. He gave the float he was standing on a puzzled look.
"That’s because she uses the name Alex, short for Alexandra. Wait until you see this woman!" Jerry was speaking rapidly, not giving Joe time to respond. "I interviewed her yesterday and she is the most amazing person I’ve ever met. She’s Russian, speaks perfect English, 34 years old with a body to die for. The government fast tracked her, an immigration program to get more doctors working in the north." Jerry’s tone changed from enthusiasm to dread. "Only one problem, for most of the interview all she talked about was Dr. Brian Doyle and how she looked forward to working with you and on and on. She made you sound like a rock star. If she went to your hanger with all your pictures and awards on the walls, she’d know that you’re Brian Doyle. I think it’s a good idea that she doesn’t know who you are... just for a while. What do you think?"
Joe laughed. "I think if she’s breathing she’s your kind of woman. Tell me your kidding?"
"It’s not like that. She and I have a lot in common. She wants to be a vascular surgeon. I’d be good for her. I think she likes me, but she’s already got an image of you in her head. I’d like to at least have a chance."
"Let me see if I’ve got this right. You want me to lie to a doctor that I’m going to be working with!" Joe shook his head. He would do almost anything for Jerry, who needed all the help he could get when it came to women, but he didn’t like lying for any reason.
"It’s not really a lie. She doesn’t know that you’re Brian Doyle. She thinks you’re a pilot, Joe Pilot…the paramedic who’s picking her up, and you’re late. All you have to do is let her think that a while longer. That’s all I’m asking. And think of this; by not coming right out and saying who you are, you have the opportunity to find out what she’s really like. You always say it’s so hard to know what a person’s like. Think of this as a positive opportunity."
"Joe Pilot, a paramedic. Jerry, this isn’t a good idea." The last thing Joe wanted to be called was ’Joe Pilot,’ a sarcastic name reserved for an unprofessional pilot.
"It’s a great idea. And you don’t have to lie. Just don’t volunteer any information. It won’t be for long, just the weekend. Give her feelings for me a chance to solidify."
"Her feelings to solidify." Joe sighed. He knew it was futile to argue with Jerry. "You’re right about one thing, this will give me a chance to find out what she’s really like as a doctor. For that reason I’ll play along, for now. But Jerry, when it’s important that she knows who I am, I’m going to tell her. Understand? And for the record, I think you’ve lost your mind."
"When she finds out I’ll say it’s a misunderstanding, that I thought she knew you were Brian Doyle."
"Oh yeah, that’ll work. Why didn’t I think of that?" Joe asked sarcastically. "Enough, I said I’d do it. Call her and tell her my ETA is 30 minutes. By the way, you owe me big, I mean a really big."
"Anything. You name it, it’s yours."
"Yeah right, goodbye."
Joe shook his head in disbelief and jumped off the float and turned his attention to his Border Collie, who was looking handsome in his custom-made body harness, waiting for instructions. "Harley, you don’t want to miss this one. Get in." Harley immediately bounced off the large float, leapt through the door, and took his place in the co-pilot seat.
A short four years ago, as Joe was riding his Harley-Davidson in the countryside that surrounded Vancouver, he came upon a young girl selling Border Collie pups on the side of the road. When he pulled up to have a look, all but one of the pups ran for cover from the noisy motorcycle. After parking the bike he picked up the brave little puppy, who was so excited he peed on Joe. The young girl selling the puppies said, "That dog loves you." Joe paid her for the dog and took him home inside his leather jacket with only his head peeking out. Except for when he was working at the hospital, Harley was his constant companion. Weekends were as important to Harley as they were to Joe.
Following Harley’s lead, Joe made his way into the cockpit and attached their seatbelts. After completing the preflight checklist, he placed his finger on the starter button and the Pratt & Whitney coughed to life. Joe taxied the Beaver to a holding area to do his run up. When he finished he radioed ground for taxi clearance.
"Vancouver Tower this is Beaver C-FYRR, with ATIS-Mike, request taxi clearance for the active, VFR North."
"Yankee Romeo Romeo, taxi to runway 08, your number one for departure, tower is 116.9 when ready." With hardly a pause the controller continued. "Air Canada 108 is cleared taxi runway 08, you’ll be number two behind the Beaver, tower 116.9."
Joe was clear for an immediate takeoff. He pushed the throttle all the way forward, smiling when he heard thunder from the nine-cylinder radial engine as it climbed to full power. This Beaver was a part of Canadian history, having flown more than 15,000 hours in the rugged north since its birth. When the airspeed indicator passed through 50 knots Joe pulled back on the control column. The Beaver purred as it effortlessly clawed itself into the cool air. In less than five minutes he leveled her at 2500 feet, his cruising altitude for the short flight to Vancouver Harbor.
The afternoon had brightened up. The flight to Vancouver Air Harbor took them over the West End of Vancouver. Skyscrapers dominated the downtown area leading to Stanley Park. After passing the park, Joe turned right and flew over the Lions Gate Bridge. Once he’d crossed the bridge he descended to 1000 feet and received his landing clearance from Sky Harbor tower.
He landed smoothly and taxied the airplane alongside the wharf. He saw a woman with a small suitcase approaching the airplane as it slowed to a stop. Joe exited the airplane, grabbed the docking line that was attached to the front of the float, and jumped onto the wharf. With the rope in his left hand he pushed his right-hand forward. "Hi, I’m Joe."
While they shook hands he took a good look at her and remembered what Jerry had said. Now he understood what he was talking about. She was beautiful. In fact, her beauty took his breath away, but only for a moment. Her long blond hair blew lightly in the wind. Her lips were full and rose-colored, and her skin was as smooth and white as porcelain. She wore large, dark-framed Clark Kent-style glasses, but behind them her eyes were clear and blue.
"My name is Dr. Chernov," she said without humor as she examined Joe. "Have we met?"
There was something familiar, but nothing particular came to his mind. "I think I would remember. How long have you been in Canada?"
"This is my second week."
"Then we definitely haven’t met." Even as the words left his mouth he started to doubt them. There was something about her. Unable to place her, he changed the subject. "Did Dr. Chang tell you to meet me here?"
"Dr. Chang first said we would be leaving from the International Airport, but after he learned that I was living downtown, we agreed this would be better. Is there a problem?"
"I prefer taking off from the airport. It’s easier on the airplane, but it’s not a problem this time. What else did Dr. Chang tell you?"
"Dr. Chang said he taught you personally, that you were way past a normal ambulance driver."
Laughing, Joe exclaimed, "Ambulance driver who he taught personally! This is getting better by the minute. Did he tell you anything else?"
"Yes, he said you’re a bit of a redneck."
"A redneck. Jerry told you I’m a redneck?" Laughing even louder, he asked, "Did he tell you what a redneck is?"
Dr. Chernov grinned. "Yes he did. He said a redneck is a man who drinks too much beer, watches too much TV, listens to country and western music, has a motorcycle, drives a pickup truck with his dog and eats poorly and farts a lot."
"Wow!" Joe laughed, "Jerry told you that?"
"Almost, I added the ’eats poorly and farts a lot’ from personal experience," she said.
Shaking his head Joe pointed to the door. "You’ll need to climb in through my side. If you can persuade my redneck dog to sit in the back, you can have his seat. He won’t bite, at least I don’t think he’ll bite. His name is Harley. Ask him nicely." Joe didn’t believe for a minute that Harley would give up his seat to a stranger without some protest.
Alex stepped onto the float and stuck her head inside the plane and met Harley face-to-face. She bowed her head to show the dog she wasn’t threatening and spoke softly. "Hello, Harley." She slowly pushed her hand forward for him to inspect. With her other hand she massaged the back of his neck. He lowered his head, enjoying her touch. She carefully released the buckle that held his harness and asked, "Would you mind sitting in the back? I get motion sickness if I’m not in the front. Will you do that for me, Harley? Please." Without hesitation the dog jumped between the seats to the padded platform that was his sleeping area. Smiling proudly, Alex climbed into the right seat and buckled in.
Joe picked up her small suitcase and opened the middle door. To his amazement, there was Harley, sitting on his pad wagging his tail and devoting all his attention to Alex. Shaking his head, Joe attached his harness to a lanyard that would allow Harley enough room to poke his head between the two front seats.
With the back door shut and the rope released, Joe entered the airplane, buckled in and prepared for takeoff. There was a wind, which helped, but the heavy waves from the many boats that used the harbor irritated him. The takeoff roll was rougher than what Joe liked to put his plane through, and the disgusted look on his face as they pounded through the waves gave away his feelings. Dr. Chernov watched him closely throughout the takeoff run. Once the airplane had pounded its way into the air she said, "That was nasty. I can see why you prefer taking off from the airport."
Looking at her brought a smile to his face. He remembered his conversation with Jerry and chuckled. Being an optimist by nature, Joe started to think this might be fun. After all, what could go wrong?
He engaged the autopilot and turned back to Alex. "So, what do you think of Dr. Chang?"
"Nice man. You two must be good friends for him to help you out so much."
"Yeah, Jerry’s something special." Joe paused before changing the subject. "Where did you learn to speak English?"
"My mother is a doctor trained in the U.S. She knew that to get the best education I would need to know English. I have been in English schools since I was three. Many of my instructors were from Canada. They raved about this place." She looked out the window then turned back to Joe. "Now I see why. It’s beautiful."
Joe looked out the window too. He realized that because he flew over this coast so often he took the beauty for granted. "What does your father do in Russia?"
"My father’s a pilot, he flies a Boeing 777 Aeroflot." With a sarcastic smirk she continued. "He’s a real pilot."
"Oh, a real pilot… not like me?"
"Well… Yeah." Alex turned toward the window. But Joe could see her expression reflected there. She was smiling, satisfied with herself. He waited a couple of minutes and then asked, "Where did you get your medical degree?"
"Harvard. You know it?"
Joe had lectured at Harvard three times. It was rated the number one school of medicine in the United States. Jeffrey Dryden, the Dean of medicine, was a friend of his. He made a mental note to phone his friend to find out more about Alex. But for now he would continue the game. "Harvard, Harvard…?” He scratched his head. "Is that in Europe?"
Alex shook her head sympathetically. "No Joe, it’s in the eastern United States… It’s okay, I don’t expect you to know where Harvard is."
Joe knew that the time would soon come when she would find out he was Dr. Brian Doyle, and at that time she might not think his bantering was so funny. The less he said about himself, he decided, the better.
"Tell me about Dr. Chernov."
She answered with a puzzled look on her face. "What do you what to know?"
"Are you married?"
"Wow, you don’t waste any time. I’ve known you for less than an hour and you want to know about my personal life. Who do you think you are?" She spoke bluntly with a disgusted tone. "All you need to know about me is that I’m the doctor. I don’t discuss my person life with strangers. Especially you!"
"Especially me. Does this mean you don’t like rednecks?" Joe had a big smile on his face, like a happy school kid. He couldn’t help himself.
"That’s right, I don’t like rednecks." She was not enjoying his humor. "Sorry to have to break it to you, but I have no time for a man in my life, any man. Relationships are nothing but time-consuming trouble."
Alex turned and looked out the window. She had set things straight, which was just fine with Joe. Since losing his wife five years earlier, he had found working on a professional level with women much easier when there weren’t emotions involved.
The flight to Bella Bella would take just over three hours. From Vancouver they would fly north to Port Hardy, the most northerly community on Vancouver Island and one that had an exceptional emergency facility. After Port Hardy they would continue north over the open Pacific for 50 miles, the roughest part of the trip, before entering the Northwest Passage.
When Alex finally did speak again she went on about how genuinely disappointed she was that Dr. Doyle wasn’t traveling with them. When she talked about Doyle her voice picked up and she smiled lovingly. Joe turned to Harley and mumbled, "Sounds to me like Dr. Doyle is very special." The rumble from the radial engine drowned out his words.
They had flown for over two hours before reaching a wall of impenetrable cloud that had descended on the ocean. Only 50 miles from Bella Bella but this was as far as they would be going until the clouds lifted. Joe picked a small sheltered bay that he knew, Fury Cove, and landed the floatplane. It was almost five thirty but because it was late June in the north, there would be daylight for at least another five hours.
"We’ll wait here for the clouds to lift. It shouldn’t be long." He taxied the floatplane onto a sandy beach and tied up to a large dead tree resting on the beach. Joe used his satellite phone to call air traffic control, cancelled his flight plan and advised them of his location.
He opened the back door and released Harley from his harness. The Border Collie quickly jumped from the plane and ran off to examine the beach. Joe brought out a cooler and a plastic bag from under the gurney and placed them on a log. Inside the plastic bag was a two-sided container with dog food and water for Harley. Joe opened it and immediately Harley returned and dug into his dinner. Inside the cooler was dinner, two foot-long Subway sandwiches, one tuna the other roast beef, both loaded with vegetables on whole-wheat buns. There was bottled water, a Tupperware container full of green grapes, and on the bottom of the cooler mixed with the ice, six bottles of his favorite beer. Alex joined him at the cooler and without asking took half of the tuna and began to eat.
They ate in silence. Joe was finishing his roast beef sandwich when the clouds starting rolling over the trees down upon them. They were thick, cold and full of moisture. He punched in some numbers on his satellite phone, calling the Vancouver weather office. "Can I get the latest weather for 50 miles South of Bella Bella?" He listened intently then asked, "When is that expected to change?" He listened for little longer, then, with a disgusted look he pressed the off button on the phone. In that short time the clouds had filled the bay. The temperature drop was amazing.
"Bad news?" Alex asked as she buttoned up her light jacket.
"Yeah, it’s bad. An Arctic front is pushing this cold moist air south. The forecast for the next eight hours is for the fog to stay the same or get worse. Looks like we’re stuck here for now. If it doesn’t lift we’ll have to stay the night."
"Seriously, I don’t want to stay here overnight. Let’s get in the airplane and fly to the nearest airport!" Dr. Chernov was scowling.
"Not in this fog. The temperature is just above freezing. The moisture will turn to ice on the leading edge of the wings and the propeller. Without de-icing equipment, we don’t go. Worst case, we camp here overnight."
Alex couldn’t hold her frustration. "You call yourself a pilot? Well, Mr. Joe Pilot, I’m not impressed. My second week in Canada and I get to sleep on a cold beach in an old airplane. I’m not stupid; I know you did this on purpose." Grabbing the satellite phone from Joe she jumped to her feet and began talking to herself loudly in Russian as she walked away. Joe didn’t understand Russian but he was fairly certain it was all about him. He laughed.
Alex and her newest best friend Harley walked quickly along the beach until she was sure they were far enough away that Joe wouldn’t hear. She brought up the menu on the phone and pressed connect beside Jerry’s number.
Jerry saw the caller ID and thought it was Joe. After three rings he answered. "Joe, is everything OK?"
"Not even a little bit OK," Alex snapped. "Your friend Joe Pilot parked the plane on a beach in the middle of nowhere and now he wants to camp out overnight here. Dr. Chang, I don’t trust this man. This isn’t what I signed up for."
Jerry hesitated a moment, uncertain how to answer. Then he sighed. "Dr. Chernov, trust me. I have flown with Joe many times and we have been stuck on beaches at least a dozen times (twice, really) waiting for weather to clear. It’s very normal. You can trust this man. He would never harm you or let harm come to you." Jerry was panicking. He had hoped that Joe and Alex wouldn’t become friendly but this was too much. He spoke quickly, not giving her a chance to interrupt. "Don’t worry if you have to spend the night. You can trust Joe. He’s not like what you might be thinking. He would never touch you. He’s not like that."
"What do you mean, he’s not like that?" Her tone had changed. "Is he gay?"
"Let me put it this way. In the last five years he has never been with a woman. Other than that, I really don’t know." It wasn’t a lie. Since Joe’s wife had died he had not so much as been out on a dinner date.
Relief swept over Alex’s face. In Boston she was well known in the gay community. Her best male friends were gay. "So, this is normal?"
"Oh yes," Jerry said, doing his best to sound calm, "Very normal."
Alex took a deep breath and gave a sigh of relief, her biggest fear evaporating. "Sorry to have bothered you, Dr. Chang. Goodbye."
"Bye," Jerry said, relieved that the conversation was over.
Dr. Chernov and Harley made their way back to the floatplane. Joe was turning the plane around so the front of the floats was facing the incoming waves and the back part of the floats was on the sand, making it easy to enter the airplane without getting wet. Alex arrived smiling and with a totally different attitude.
Joe was prepared for almost anything. He pulled out two large down-filled winter jackets from the back of the plane. He put one on and then jumped off the float and brought the other one to Alex, who was already shivering from the cold.
The latest forecaster was correct; the weather did not improve. Over the next three hours it got worse. The clouds became darker and colder. When total darkness had set in he knew there was no possibility of them leaving that night. Joe lit a really large fire using the limitless dry driftwood that lay in rows upon the beach as fuel. He thought about the many times when he and his father had talked about taking fishing trips in the plane to just such a spot.
The flames from the fire rose high into the air, illuminating the area around the airplane.
Alex was busy throwing a piece of driftwood for Harley’s entertainment. It didn’t matter where or how far she threw the stick, he would find it, bring it back and place it at her feet. Then he would crouch and look into her eyes, his way of commanding her to throw it again.
With a beer in one hand Joe pulled a fishing rod from the back of the Beaver with the other. With any luck, he could land a salmon.
Over the last few hours Alex had come to think of Joe as a protector, a redneck, yes, but someone who would ensure no harm came to her. She gave the stick of wood one last throw. Then she sat down on the end of the float and tried to explain to Harley that she didn’t want to throw the stick anymore. He was having no part of it and kept bugging her by picking the stick up and dropping it on her feet. After a while she pretended not to notice.
When she finally spoke to Joe, she asked with a pleasant tone, "How well do you know Dr. Doyle?"
Joe turned to look at her. He was puzzled by her change in attitude. She looked at ease. Even her facial expression was different. He started to feel guilty about the game they were playing. Now would be a good time to tell her the truth.
"Very well. I fly with him all the time." He smiled. His answer hadn’t been a lie at least.
"I’ve read quite a bit about him. I know he’s an amazing surgeon, but what is he really like, as a person? Is he married? Does he have kids?"
Joe looked into the fire, his expression suddenly sad. He had kissed his wife the morning she’d left on a mercy flight to a nearby island. He kissed her every morning, but somehow he could remember that last kiss very clearly. Her plane had crashed into the water on approach. Her body was never found. Joe spent over a month in his floatplane searching the surrounding villages and beaches in the never-ending hope that she was still alive. It seemed like a long time since he had thought about her. He felt guilty; the more time that passed the less he thought about her.
The intense look of sadness on Joe’s face had Alex worried. Had her questions sent Joe to a bad place? "Are you okay?" she asked.
Her questions had set him off. He answered bluntly. "What’s up with you? Whenever you talk about him you light up like a Christmas tree. You’re infatuated with a man you don’t even know."
"You’re so wrong. I know a lot about him," she answered defensively. "He lectured at Harvard three years ago, and I had a front row seat."
Joe’s memory immediately flashed back to a lecture he’d given on… he drew a blank, but now he did remember her. Not in the seldom-used pull down front row seats, but in a second row isle seat, he remembered. Back then he had longer hair and a mustache. His voice softening he said, "A front row seat at a lecture doesn’t really qualify as getting to know someone. Mark my words, when you meet him, you won’t like him. He’s just like me, a real redneck. No wife, no kids, and like you, no time for a relationship. When you meet him, you’re going to think he’s a real smart ass." Joe was preparing her for the inevitable meeting with Dr. Brian Doyle.
Alex was confused by what she had just heard, but before she could ask what he was talking about, his rod bent over and the reel screamed. He had hooked a fish. It took almost ten minutes to land the large salmon. With pride he pulled it from the water by the gills, released the hook and turned to Alex with a big smile on his face. "Wow, look at that. It must be twenty pounds." He lowered the fish back into the water and sent it on its way.
"Why did you put it back? I love salmon!" Alex exclaimed.
"Normally I would keep it but with so many bears around, it’s not a good idea. They can smell a salmon from miles away."
Her face tightened. "Really, there’s bears around here?" She took a quick look around.
"Don’t worry, Harley loves to chase them. He’ll keep them away."
She reached over to the dog and pulled him close for a hug. "Good dog."
Joe finished another beer before putting the cooler, Harley’s dinner dish and his fishing rod back in the plane. It was time to sleep. Harley jumped into the airplane and curled up on his bed waiting for Joe. Alex removed her winter jacket and climbed into the airplane and onto the gurney. She used her jacket as a blanket. Joe pulled out a large down comforter then asked her politely, "Could you please move over a little bit? There’s lots of room for both of us."
"Are you kidding me? There’s no way we’re sleeping together!"
"Where am I supposed to sleep?"
"You can sleep in the pilot seat. I’m the doctor. I need a good night’s sleep and that won’t happen with you beside me."
"But this is my plane, and there’s no way I’m going to sleep in the seat when there’s lots of room for two on the gurney. Besides, I’ve only got one blanket, my blanket, and you’ll freeze without it." He laughed.
Her feet were already feeling the effects of the cold damp air; she was shivering. Now that she believed Joe was gay the logic of them sharing the only blanket was too much. "Under one condition, we sleep back to back."
"Of course," he answered as he closed the doors to the airplane and climbed up on the gurney beside her, throwing the large blanket over the both of them. "Good night."
Alex was still shivering. She pushed her body nearer to Joe, seeking his body heat. Finally, feeling safe and somewhat warmer, she said, "Good night."
It wasn’t long before they both fell asleep to the sound of the waves as they rolled up against the floats. The cool fresh air combined with the plane’s gentle rocking carried them both to dream-induced states. Without consent, their bodies were giving off hormones. By morning their bodies had melted together…like lovers.
Half awake but still dreaming, with her eyes closed, she shuffled against Joe, enjoying the feeling of her dream lover holding her tight. Although still asleep, feeling her gyration sent Joe’s hormones raging; involuntarily his body started to move.
Feeling him moving brought her out of her dream. She felt Joe’s erection rocking gently against her derrière. The pleasure of his movement was replaced with panic when she remembered where she was and who she was with. Her body exploded in protest. Like a cat she turned, pushing Joe off the gurney, yelling, "Get away from me, you pig!"
Joe was lucky to land on his feet, half awake standing in his shorts with his erection tenting. Startled, he looked around asking, "What, what happened?"
"You were spooning me, with that." She pointed to his erection.
He looked down, somewhat surprised. "That was involuntary. I was asleep, and that…" he pointed to his erection, "…is a morning woody. It has nothing to do with you. I was dreaming." He turned away from her, opened the rear door and stepped out on the float. Harley was one step ahead of him bouncing off the float onto the beach.
Alex knew he was right. After all, he was gay.
Just as he finished relieving himself he felt the back of the door hit him from behind. Alex had pushed it with her feet in an attempt to get onto the float feet first. Because Joe was off-balance it didn’t take much to push him off the float. He took a deep breath just before hitting the cold water.
He remembered the many times as a young boy that he had jumped into the frigid waters for pleasure. He moved quickly in the cold water, pushing his boxers off. With the boxers gone he pushed himself deeper, sliding out of his T-shirt. Now he could swim. Holding his underwear at his side, he headed to the surface smiling at the thought going through his head. After popping out of the water like a naked cork Joe started thrashing about yelling to Alex, "Help me, Alex, I can’t swim!”
Fear enveloped her. With Joe bobbing up and down, thrashing one arm in the frigid water, she found the wood paddle attached to the float. Pulling it free she threw it towards Joe. The end of the paddle landed on his head with a whack. He grabbed it. Alex pulled him to the float. Climbing up on the float he laughed when he realized he was now totally nude and shivering slightly, his morning woody long gone. He dropped his wet clothing on the float as Alex reached into the plane and grabbed the blanket and moved quickly to Joe. She wrapped the blanket around the both of them, hugging him tight, sharing her body heat, saying over and over again, "I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry." Her hands moved over his body in an attempt to stimulate his circulation. But there was nothing wrong with Joe’s circulation.
As much as he wanted to continue the hug it was having the same effect as the last time he hugged her. He lifted her in his arms and spun her around so now she was at the front of the float, allowing him access to the back of the plane. He left her with the blanket, reached inside the plane and pulled out a two-gallon water jug. He splashed water all over his body. With the salt rinsed off he used a large beach towel to quickly dry himself.
Joe was six feet tall, 185 pounds, and in shape. His blue eyes were lit up by the morning sun. Alex didn’t miss a thing. She didn’t take her eyes off him until he had covered his birthday suit with a dry jumpsuit. Finally she turned away, hoping to stop the erotic thoughts going through her head. After all, he was gay.
As the sun rose it became obvious that the weather had broken. Joe used the satellite phone to confirm the weather was good and filed a flight plan for the short trip to Bella Bella. After stowing the sat phone in his jumpsuit he brought out breakfast: garlic pickled eggs, cheese-buns and orange juice.
Warming the engine to minimum temperature took about ten minutes in the Beaver. Joe was patiently making lazy eights inside the protected bay, waiting for the oil temperature gauge to reach the green arc. With the preflight complete he pointed the nose into the wind and applied full power.
Leveling off at 1000 feet Joe engaged the autopilot, and after a thorough check of the engine gauges he sat back and relaxed. He looked over at Alex. She had replaced her Clark Kent glasses with a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses. He caught himself staring and had to look away. Her beauty was intoxicating.
Within minutes it was time to set up for the landing. Joe smoothly put the Beaver down on the calm water in front of the Bella Bella. When the airplane slowed he lowered the hydraulically-operated landing gear into position then taxied the airplane up the ramp coming to a stop meters from R.W. Large Memorial Hospital’s emergency entrance.
Chapter 2 - R.W.Large Memorial Hospital
After deplaning Harley was off investigating the shoreline. The action there would keep him busy for hours. Joe and Alex were greeted at the ER door by Dr. Joan Swift, a woman in her early forties whose pragmatic ponytail bounced when she walked. Joan worked with Joe at Vancouver General Hospital. Years ago she had been recruited by him to work in these remote areas, part time. Yesterday she had flown from Vancouver on a commercial flight, relieving the resident doctor for two weeks.
"You’re late!" Joan cried smiling. "And you wonder why I don’t fly with you anymore!" Before Joe could say anything she turned her attention to Alex. "You must be Dr. Chernov. I’m Dr. Joan Swift. I read your file, very impressive.”
Joan turned to Joe and said, "Rooms five and six are empty. You can use the shower there."
"I’m good,” he said. His gaze slid toward Alex and he couldn’t help smiling as he added, "I had a bath this morning."
Nothing about Joe ever surprised Joan. Shaking her head she brought them up to speed. "We have a 16-year-old boy in room one. He crashed his BMX bike while performing flips off a jump, landed on his left side. His blood pressure is way too high. The resident doctor thinks the high blood pressure is caused by a concussion. But I’m not so sure. I need a second opinion."
"I’ll have a look." Joe said happily. He had known Joan for a long time, and as far as he could remember she had never been wrong in diagnosing a patient. Joe pulled a stethoscope from a nearby cupboard and headed off to room one.
"Rough night? Come with me. I’ll show you the doctors’ lounge where you can freshen up," Joan said to Alex. Along the way she explained, "We have six acute beds, seven continuing care beds and a three-bed emergency department open 24/7. There is one resident doctor here at all times, three RNs and four practical nurses. We also have a laboratory and the latest diagnostic imaging equipment. Within the hospital is a medical clinic, pharmacy and air and land ambulance service is dispatched from here as well."
Alex was quite impressed with the facility, but the question on her mind was why did Joan ask Joe for his opinion about a patient? After all, he was just an ambulance driver. Keeping her thoughts to herself she entered the doctors’ lounge.
Danny smiled when he saw Joe enter the room. Joe smiled back. Two months ago he had put a cast on Danny’s left leg after a high-speed biking accident, and that wasn’t the first time Joe had patched him up. He was almost a regular customer. "Danny, I wasn’t expecting to see you so soon. What happened?"
"I don’t know. All I remember is riding my bike towards the new jump. Then I woke up here. My brother said I went over the jump and missed the landing but I don’t remember anything. I’m fine now, but they won’t let me out of here." Danny was pleading with Joe. "Get me out of here, please. The food is terrible! I think they’re trying to kill me!"
"They’re not trying to kill you." Joe laughed, knowing Danny was serious. "Let me have a look. Then we can discuss food."
Dr. Doyle took his time examining Danny. After checking his blood pressure history on the monitor that took his pressure every fifteen minutes, he too was convinced there was more to this than a concussion. Using his stethoscope he started listening to Danny’s chest. Then he moved down to his abdomen. The more he listened the more serious the look on his face became. "Danny, I need you to breathe through your mouth and stay as still as you can. Can you do that for me?"
"Why?" Danny asked.
"I think I’m hearing something in your abdomen, but to be certain I need you to be quiet because the sound is very faint."
Danny immediately froze, breathing quietly through his mouth. When Joe placed the stethoscope back onto his abdomen he could clearly hear a bruit, a sound caused by turbulence as blood rushes past an aneurysm. He continued with the stethoscope, listening until he was sure this was the only spot, then he turned his attention back to Danny’s chart. Halfway down the first page he found what he was looking for. Danny’s brother Paul had described the accident to the first responder, saying, ""He hit the jump going way too fast, tumbling in the air. He came down on top of the bike on his left side."
"Yep, that’ll do it." Joe’s head bobbed up and down slightly as he spoke. He turned to face Danny, speaking seriously, "Don’t move, I’ll be right back."
Before Danny could say anything Joe was gone and then almost as quickly he appeared again, pushing a cart with an ultrasound unit on top. He spread cold lubricant onto Danny’s stomach then pushed the transducer over the area where he had heard the bruit. There it was, an aneurysm on the renal artery. Joe went over the area from every different direction including using the transducer on Danny’s back. He estimated it was the size of his fist. The good news was, it didn’t appear to be leaking. Not wanting to scare Danny with the seriousness of the situation Joe pointed to the image on the ultrasound’s screen. "See this dark spot?"
"Yeah, what is it?"
"That’s an artery. Think of it like the tube on your bike with a bulge. What I do is cut it out." Using his finger on the screen Joe made an imaginary line at each end of the aneurysm. "Then I stitch the two ends back together, and that’s it. I fix these things all the time."
"Good thing it’s nothing serious," Danny said, relieved.
Joe smiled; a relaxed positive attitude was going to be very important. The truth would scare him and worsen the situation by raising his blood pleasure higher than it already was, causing the aneurysm to leak or possibly break. If it were to break outside of a well-staffed operating room, chances of survival would be slim. "The bad news is that we have to keep you on a restricted diet until we fix this. Then, you can have what ever you want."
Unconcerned about the aneurysm but serious about his stomach he pleaded, "I thought you were my friend, Joe?"
"I am your friend, Danny, and to prove it, as soon as you’re better I’ll take you for ride in my floatplane."
"Wow, are you serious, Joe?"
"Absolutely, and if you’re nice to the nurses and doctors, we’ll go to my secret spot where I guarantee you’ll catch a salmon."
"I promise," Danny said getting excited as his imagination took over.
Seeing Danny’s reaction Joe mumbled, “That backfired.” The last thing Joe wanted was for him to get fired up. He opened an alcohol swab pack and rubbed it on Danny’s arm then pulled a well hidden syringe from under a small towel on the ultrasound cart. "I’m going to give you a sedative to bring your blood pressure down," he said as he pushed the needle into Danny’s arm, filling the muscles with a healthy dose of morphine.
Within seconds Danny was asleep. His blood pressure had dropped from 190/105 when Joe first entered the room down to 116/72. He was safe, for now.
The overhead speaker came alive. It was Joan’s voice. "Joe, there’s a phone call you need to take now." That was her way of telling him he had an emergency without alerting the other patients. This was a common occurrence because Bella Bella was the base for telehealth service for all the surrounding area. He quickly headed to the nursing station to take the call.
Picking up the phone he announced, "Dr. Doyle speaking, please state your emergency."
"Joe, it’s Ron Beck." Ron was a paramedic serving the tiny community of Ocean Falls. In spite of the fact that you could only reach Ocean Falls by boat or floatplane, it had once been a thriving locale with a permanent population of about 5000 people, most of whom worked at the paper mill. When the mill closed down in 1973 the people began to leave. Now there were only 50 full-time residents, and Ron was all they had in the way of medical personal. Joe had flown to Ocean Falls many times and knew Ron well. "I have a young man 30 years old who cut his left hand almost completely off with a table saw. He’s lost a lot of blood. Joe, he’s conscious but lethargic. Without immediate surgery he’ll loose the hand."
"Have you stopped the bleeding?"
"Yes, I’ve stopped the bleeding." The fear in Ron’s voice was palatable.
"Ron, I’ll be there in 20 minutes. Ice the hand and start him on oxygen and keep him warm. How long ago did this happen?"
"Approximately 30 minutes ago."
"That’s good, elevate his legs. Pull his records and find out his blood type. Then find three people who have the same blood type and get them down to the clinic and start IVs. Have someone meet me at the dock. I’m on my way."
Because of Ocean Falls’ remote location the Ministry of Health kept impeccable records, including blood type, just for such an emergency. After placing the phone in its receptacle Joe turned to Joan, who had been listening in on the call. "Walk with me to the plane, please."
The two doctors moved quickly through the door towards the airplane. "Danny has a renal aneurysm on his left side. I gave him 10mg of morphine, brought his BP way down. I didn’t see any hemorrhaging on the ultrasound, but to be safe can you have Dr. Chernov do a CT scan on his entire body. He hit hard; there could be more trauma. Keep him sedated and he’ll be fine. Call for a Lear Jet. I’ll give Jerry a heads-up on the way to Ocean Falls."
Dr. Swift understood the seriousness of Danny’s condition. "Will do. What else?" she asked, keeping the conversation short.
Joe jumped onto the float and into the plane. As he fastened his seatbelt he gave his final instructions to Joan. "Keep an eye on Alex. I haven’t read her file. I don’t know anything about her."
"I have, trust me, she’ll be fine. Go!"
Joan turned and quickly moved a safe distance in front of the plane. Holding both hands forward she gave Joe a double thumbs up. Seeing the all-clear signal he engaged the starter. Then, after two revolutions, he switched the mags to both and the engine roared to life.
Joe spun the plane around and headed down the ramp into the salt water. As soon as the wheels were retracted into the floats he applied full power. In less than a minute he was airborne. Joe kept the nose low and the power high. He knew that a few minutes could make the difference between life and death. During the 10-minute flight to Ocean Falls he made a mental list of what he would need from the back of the plane.
After a smooth landing Joe lowered the wheels, then taxied the plane up a ramp to the tie down area in front of the marina. He recognized Robert Alder, the mayor of Ocean Falls, who started tying the plane to ground anchors before the propeller had even stopped. With the airplane secured Joe quickly went through a few of the cabinets in the back and emerged with two cases. Then he and the mayor moved rapidly to a Chevy pickup that doubled as an ambulance for the short ride to the hospital.
Ocean Falls Hospital had opened in 1916, when the population was at its peak. It was only a one-bed facility, occupying a small building on Front Street, but it had a decent emergency room. The word that one of their own needed blood had spread quickly. There were at least ten volunteers waiting outside when Joe arrived. He moved past them hurriedly and entered.
One look at the patient confirmed that he had lost a lot of blood. Joe was pleased to see that Ron had IVs running wide open, collecting blood from three volenteers. Joe checked the patient’s legs. They were purple with a faint pulse. He gave a sigh of relief, believing the young man would at the very least live. The challenge Joe faced was not just re-attaching the hand but making it functional. Working in remote places like Ocean Falls necessitated being ready for everything.
After two units of warm blood the young man’s color returned. "What’s your name?" Joe asked.
It took a minute for the young man to answer. "Andrew Johnson. Am I going to be okay?"
"Well, Andrew Johnson, today is your lucky day. My name is Dr. Brian Doyle and I’m a vascular surgeon. If you give me permission I will put your hand back on and make it work," Joe said confidently. Experience had taught him that getting a patient’s permission had a relaxing effect on them.
"You have my permission," Andrew said groggily. Joe had already administered a sedative, which was starting to take effect.
"Do your friends call you Andy
"Yeah, they call me Andy, but I prefer Andrew." His speech was slowing. "My wife calls me…" He was asleep before he could finish.
Joe went to work re-attaching the hand. Ron, under Joe’s guidance, acted as anesthetist. Four hours later Joe was satisfied that there was nothing more to be done. Andrew’s left hand was bandaged and he was still heavily sedated.
Joe took his first real break. After devouring sandwiches and homemade soup brought in by one of the locals, he used the sat phone to call Jeffery Dryden in Boston.
After two rings Jeffery answered. "Dr. Dryden."
"Jeff, it’s Joe from Vancouver. How’s the Far East?"
"Very funny. How’s the rain forest?"
"You still haven’t got over your last trip," Joe quipped. On his last visit to Vancouver Jeff made the trip in Joe’s airplane to Bella Bella with the promise of catching fish. The weather was terrible; it was rainy and windy, the turbulence so bad that Jeff was air sick in both directions. Worst part is they didn’t catch any salmon. "This is the dry season. It only rains once a day. Listen, I’m calling about Dr. Alexandra Chernov. What can you tell me about her?"
"I was wondering when you’d call. To answer your question; she’s the best I’ve seen in a long time. When she finished her residence as a vascular surgeon the hospital offered her the moon to stay. She declined, said she wanted to work with Dr. Brian Doyle. Quote unquote."
"What am I suppose to make of that?" Joe asked shocked.
"It’s not a sexual thing, more like a little overly enthusiastic about learning. She thinks you’re one of the best surgeons in the world, and for her to become the best she needs experience from the best. Her words not mine. You’re lucky to have her. She’s a little strange, but good. Once you get over her looks and treat her like a doctor, you’ll be fine."
Joe thought of Jerry and laughed. "I know exactly what you mean. I’m good, but I’m not so sure about Jerry."
"Tell Jerry not to waste his time. She was here for seven years and the men I saw her with were from the gay community. Outside of the medical department they were the only people she associated with. She might be gay or just a lone wolf, I don’t really know. What I do know is that this woman is an amazing surgeon. You’re going to be impressed. I’d love to talk more but now’s not a good time, 17th hole and I’m up."
"Thanks Jeff. Stay in touch." Without waiting for his reply Joe disconnected the satellite phone. He felt relieved. If she was gay, she was safe. He pressed the call button beside Jerry’s name on the phone.
He answered immediately. "Doctor Chang speaking."
"Jerry, I’ve got good news and bad news. Which do you want first?" Joe laughed, it had been almost 24 hours since Jerry had said the exact same thing to him.
"Give me the bad news."
"She’s not interested in you or me. I just got off the phone with Jeff Dryden, the dean of medicine at Harvard… Dr. Chernov’s mentor. He tells me she’s not interested in men, she told me herself that she’s not interested in any man, those were her exact words." Joe left out the part where she referred to him as the man she wasn’t interested in. "Now we don’t have to play any more games."
"What’s the good news?" Jerry asked, sounding disappointed.
"She was top of her class. Jeff said he’s never seen anyone this naturally talented. He thinks we’re lucky to have her. That’s good, right?" Jerry didn’t reply, he was like that. "Oh, I’m sending a 16-year-old male with a renal aneurysm your way. Let’s fit him in on Monday and schedule Alex for the surgery; this’ll be a good test."
"Any other good news?"
"No. That’s it." Joe set the phone down and thought about Dr. Chernov. Nothing good would come from continuing the charade. It was time to tell her the truth.
It had been two hours since Joe finished the surgery. Andrew was awake but far too groggy from the anesthetic to walk on his own. It took four of the larger volunteers plus Joe and Ron to get Andrew from the hospital and into the plane.
They got lucky; the air was smooth on the short trip to Bella Bella. With less than 5 miles to the hospital, Joe pulled the power back and started his approach. For the second time that day he landing on the smooth water then lowered the wheels and taxied up the ramp, stopping beside the hospital. As soon as the propeller stopped Joe was out of the airplane. He pushed a set of stairs that pivoted on two large wheels up to the door of the plane then hustled up to assist Andrew, who was now slightly less groggy, down.
At the bottom of the stairs they were meet by Dr. Chernov, who had brought a wheelchair, and Harley, wagging his tail franticly. Joe introduced Andrew to them. As Alex pushed the young man into the hospital she asked Joe, "What took you so long? You were gone almost seven hours."
Joe thought for a few seconds before answering. "Well, first I had to get him blood. Once he was stabilized I connected the ulner artery; lucky for him that was the only major artery severed. Once I had blood flow I connected the major veins, and you know how long that can take. Then I had to put the alna back together with a plate and two screws; he cut it clean through. That took a lot of time to get the bones together and straight." Joe smiled, like a proud schoolboy. "I attached both tendons, but what really took a lot of time were the nerves, and I think I got lucky, because he can move his fingers."
Alex looked into his blue eyes, and wearing a sarcastic smile, said, "Yeah right." Other than getting the young man blood she didn’t believe a word.
Joe shrugged and went to the cafeteria where he loaded two bowls with beef stew before returning to his plane. It was dinnertime; Harley was waiting for him.
Alex, meanwhile, wheeled the young man into radiology where she personally supervised his CT scan. When the high definition pictures came up on the computer screen a completely different look appeared on her face. "Unbelievable," she muttered. The pictures showed the ulna, the smaller of the two bones in the forearm, with a plate and two screws holding the bone aligned and tight. The scan also showed the arteries. She could see that blood was flowing freely and the repairs weren’t leaking. Her mind was racing. She turned to the young man and asked nicely, "The doctor who operated on your hand, did he tell you his name?"
"Yes, yes he did... ah... Dr. Brian... I don’t remember his last name."
"Dr. Brian Doyle?" Alex asked casually.
"Yeah, that’s it. Dr. Brian Doyle."