Moving Forward

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Chapter 3, #7 Avoiding Panic

“We have to discover which organ failed,” Elaine stated, convinced that the key to the mystery lay there.  Until they located the point of attack they stood little chance of determining the agent responsible.  She suggested examining the bodies anew.  Perhaps going back to the village and bringing in new bodies, perhaps using a different examiner.

Dr. Escaverra agreed, but he was not hopeful.  The medical examiner assigned to the case was the best they had.  “I’ve also faxed these reports to the United States,” he added.  That too was common practice when dealing with troublesome cases.  The reports would be at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta by morning, and they would get quick attention.  Dr. Escaverra changed the subject.  “You look tired.”

Dr. Riorden smiled weakly.

“Time to call it a day,” Escaverra decided.  “Do you have a place to stay?”

“My apartment,” Elaine answered without enthusiasm.  She had closed it for the time she expected to be on the river.  The beds were stripped, the phone disconnected, and there was no food.

“Spend the night at my place?” Escaverra quietly insisted.  “We have room.  I’ll call my wife.”

Elaine gratefully accepted.  As they prepared to leave, she voiced one last concern.  “What are you planning to do with the Piakuna village?”

“Right now we’ve cordoned off the entire area keeping it as you found it so we can go back for samples as we need them.  Later we’ll burn everything, the bodies included.”

“And the neighboring tribes?” Dr. Riorden inquired.

“We’ll monitor them closely.  If the area remains safe, we’ll bring some of them in to look around the Piakuna village.  Maybe they’ll see something we missed.  In any event, they’ll see we were not responsible.”

“You hope.”

He did, because he understood if the neighboring tribes were not convinced, then the trust his department had established with the river people over the years would be shattered, and his whole program of preventative medicine along the river undermined. 

“Will you release our findings?”

Dr. Escaverra shook his head.  “Not yet, not until we have a better idea what happened.  Announcing it now would only scare people unnecessarily.  People might panic.”

“Perhaps they have reason,” Dr. Riorden speculated.

“Perhaps,” Dr. Escaverra said, “but I don’t think so.  No one appears to be in any danger at the moment.”

Chapter 3, #6 Reviewing Options

Dr. Escaverra repeated his objection:  The autopsies had not indicated gas poisoning.

“The autopsies do not indicate anything,” Dr. Riorden complained, “yet these people died.  Something killed them.”  She too was frustrated.  Other than determining that the man guarding the goats, the one she and Manuel had found near the corral with his head on the rock, had died before making contact with the ground, the reports were useless.

Dr. Escaverra had a suggestion.  “Let’s go through the possible causes of death one by one and eliminate those we can.”

“We’ve done that already,” Dr. Riorden protested.

“Then let’s do it again.  Bacteria first,” Dr. Escaverra began.  “Any signs of pneumonia?”

Dr. Riorden was nearing exhaustion, but she responded.  “No inflammation of lungs detected.”

“Septicemia?”

“No evidence of it in the blood clots.”

“Bacterial endocarditis?”

“The heart valves were fine.”

“Typhoid?”

“No spots found on the abdomens; no intestinal malfunctions uncovered.”

“Cholera?”

“No evidence of it in the water and food samples; none of the deceased showed any signs of dehydration.”

“Bubonic plague?”

“All glands appeared normal.”

“Anthrax?”

“No spores uncovered.”

“Then how about a virus?  Yellow fever, for example?”

“No jaundice evident in any of the bodies and no mass vomiting in the village.”

“Some,” Escaverra reminded her.  He found the picture he wanted and handed it to her.

“Manuel,” Dr. Riorden declared.

Dr. Escaverra nodded in understanding. “Malaria?”

“No such parasites uncovered.”

“Rabies?”

Dr. Riorden viewed her superior with disbelief.  “Okay,” he conceded, taking the hint, “encephalitis then?”

“Would not kill so completely.”

“How about a toxin?  Botulism perhaps?”

“No nerve damage indicated.”

“A poison?”

“No residues in the stomach or intestines.”

They continued at it for another twenty minutes or so, he suggesting possible causes and she rejecting each one based on what they had, or more to the point, what they did not have, until it was obvious they were not getting anywhere.

Chapter 3, #5 Silent Death

“Salvador, I am not disputing the fact that something dangerous was in the cove.  The men were there, they were armed, and they did attack although apparently they missed their mark.  I grant you all of that.  And with most of the men down by the river, it’s only natural the others would focus their attention there too.  But whatever was in the cove was not responsible for the deaths.  Whatever brought those men to the cove—my guess is an animal or a pack if you prefer—could be seen and could be attacked.  But it, or they, did not annihilate the village.  There was no battle here, no injuries, no anything.”

“Some wedding, eh?”  Dr. Escaverra said, seemingly changing the subject. 

“What?”

“We showed these pictures to a professor at the University,” Dr. Escaverra explained.  “Someone we’ve used before, an expert on Indian affairs.  Completely reliable.  He says there are unmistakable signs of a wedding preparation.” 

Escaverra pointed to a hut in one of the pictures with cups and dishes stacked outside.  “This is most likely the home of the bride.  So we know for certain the Piakunas were not anticipating trouble, but it came nonetheless.  The questions are what or who and how?”

Dr. Riorden had made some conclustions.  “Whatever destroyed the village had to be silent, quick, probably invisible, absolutely devastating, and after looking at these autopsy reports, something that kills in a very mysterious way.”

Dr. Escaverra slumped into his chair.  “Like what?”

“A gas.”

“Not likely.”  With his elbows planted on the armrests of his chair, Escaverra covered his left fist with the fingers of his right hand.  “Where would it come from?  There’s not a manufacturing plant or laboratory facility within three hundred kilometers of the village, and the nearest pipe line is over a hundred and fifty kilometers away.”

“Why not from the air?”

“Aircraft?”

She nodded.

“It would take one heck of a lot of gas to affect this much destruction, Elaine. Besides, it doesn’t explain why the men were armed and down by the cove.  Furthermore, why would anyone want to kill the Piakunas?  I mean, how many people even know they exist?  And it still misses the point: the autopsies do not support gas poisoning.”

Dr. Riorden agreed.  A gas attack from the air would be premeditated, yet no one would have the slightest interest in the Piakunas except perhaps a rival tribe, and as far as she knew there were none.  Even if there were, none of the tribes along the river had the capability of attacking from aircraft, with gas no less.  Attack from above seemed remote.  What about from below?  Could there have been a natural leak from the earth’s interior?  That could explain the local effect and the mass destruction.

Chapter 3, #4 Reviewing Photos

Elaine leafed through the stack, nearly a hundred in all.  The sizes varied with a few being blowups of smaller ones, and as a whole they represented the scene at the village quite well.  One group showed the village itself, with both exterior and interior shots, including close-ups of one woman with her face in a bowl of soup.  The second woman was missing since she had been removed for an autopsy, but a painted outline showed where she had been.  There was another close-up of the nine year old girl with the opening in her stomach clearly visible.  A second group of pictures showed the scene at the cove where the majority of men were discovered. 

“Now look at these,” Dr. Escaverra instructed as he handed her two photographs of the cluster of spears the cook had found in the cove.  “It clearly indicates the men were attacking something, and the fact that there are so many men together, all armed, suggests they were expecting hostilities.”

“No argument there,” Dr. Riorden conceded.  “My guess would be an animal of some sort.”

“Not an attack?”

Dr. Riorden did not think so.

“With all those men?” Dr. Escaverra persisted, again pointing to the photographs.

“Perhaps a pack of animals, then.”

“How about a pack of men?”

“This was not a battle, Salvatore. Whatever killed the men did not return to destroy the village.  Not one hut was destroyed, no blood anywhere, no wounds and no spears thrown at the village, nothing disturbed in the least.  The village was not attacked.”  

Dr. Escaverra objected.  “People do not go down to the river, attack something and get themselves killed the next second, without there being a connection.  It’s just not logical.”

“Logic?  You want logic?  There’s not a single thread of logic to this whole incident.  The only thing we seem to know is that whatever killed the people in the village also killed the men by the cove.  The symptoms are identical.”

“Other than the fact that all are dead, there are no symptoms,” Dr. Escaverra reminded her.

Dr. Riorden shrugged her shoulders.  “Nonetheless, identical with no evidence to support an attack.”

Dr. Escaverra handed her another picture, this one an aerial view of the entire village.  “Note the position of the people.  Most are in the center facing the river.  They were all aware of something from that direction.  And don’t ask me about the three people eating when they died.  There are idiots in every society.”

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