فصل 12

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فصل 12

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CHAPTER TWELVE

A nasty open wound

‘Oh, come on,’ Jane said to Pete after they had they pulled up outside the main entrance to Pilton Hospital, a large, heavy, unattractive building on the northern edge of the town, ‘You might as well come in now you’re here.’

They waited at the reception desk inside while the receptionist tried to find Mervin, both agreeing that they hated hospitals, and especially their smell. Apparently, Mervin was in an observation ward. They took the lift to the top floor and went through swing doors into a ward used for patients whose illnesses were still being investigated. Tonight there were only a few occupants and Pete and Jane passed several empty bays of half a dozen beds each as they walked down the silent corridor. Some way beyond the nurses’ desk, a young uniformed policewoman was reading a newspaper in a space just off the corridor.

‘Mr Peck?’ Jane asked.

‘In there.’ The WPC pointed to a door. Jane opened the door to the single room and looked in. Mervin Peck seemed to be asleep. A long tube was attached to his good arm and the other was resting on the bedclothes, heavily bandaged. Jane closed the door again quietly.

From the other end of the corridor a young man in a white coat appeared, the sound of his shoes on the polished floors exaggerated by the silence. ‘Hello, I’m Dr Fahid. Can I help you?’

‘What’s the matter with him?’ Pete enquired, nodding his head towards Mervin Peck’s door.

‘We’re not sure yet,’ replied the doctor. ‘He has a nasty open wound on his arm. He told us a bee stung him originally and the wound never healed. It simply got worse and worse. We’re a bit concerned that he might have blood poisoning. He’s running a high fever.’

‘No wonder he looked a bit sick earlier,’ Jane remarked.

‘Yes, it’s a long time since I’ve seen a wound quite like this,’ Dr Fahid went on. ‘The last time was when I was in West Africa just after I qualified as a doctor and I got caught up in the middle of a war. My own opinion is that he might have gas gangrene.’

‘What’s that?’ asked Jane.

‘Well, gangrene basically means that part of the body dies,’ Dr Fahid explained. ‘First there is pain and then the part of the body turns black and there’s often a bad smell. In the case of gas gangrene, it’s caused by a particular type of bacteria. Quite nasty.’

‘Oh,’ Jane said, surprised. ‘So what’s the cure?’

‘Well, usually you have to treat the affected part by cutting it off, which means he might lose his arm. I’m afraid Mr Peck was rather upset when we told him about that. Anyway,’ Dr Fahid went on, ‘we’ve done some blood tests. We’ll have the results in a day or two. Meanwhile, hopefully we can keep him stable.’

On their way out of the hospital, Jane and Pete were met by a familiar figure.

‘Good evening, Inspector,’ Jack Peck smiled stiffly, ‘I hear you’re holding my brother. Where is he, please? I’d like to see him.’

‘Chief Inspector, actually,’ Jane responded. ‘I’m afraid that’s not possible, Mr Peck. We still need to question him. And at present he’s too ill to see anyone anyway.’

Jack Peck looked thoughtful. After a moment, he said, ‘Well, as his brother, surely I have a right to enquire about his health? Who should I talk to?’

‘He’s in the care of Dr Fahid. Ask at reception. They should be able to find him for you,’ Jane told him.

Jane spent Friday dealing with routine matters at the station, and completing her plans and briefing the CID department for Operation Wasp. The other departments involved would be informed of the plans on Monday so that the operation could begin the following week. As far as Mervin was concerned, they could do nothing more until he recovered and could be charged, so she put the case to lie back of her mind and went home for the weekend.

On Saturday the weather was grey and wet - a good day to do some decorating. She put on her oldest jeans in order to do some serious cleaning and painting. Together with cooking, this was one of the few ways in which she was able to relax. Later, she would go to the supermarket and buy the ingredients for one of her favourite meals, Thai spinach soup followed by a hot prawn curry.

She stood by her sitting room window, looking out across the river. The gently flowing water reflected the iron grey of the clouds above it, and its smooth surface was broken by small splashes of rain. The swans had long gone, probably guarding their nests somewhere, Jane thought. Instead, seagulls floated and dived, their sad cries echoing in the damp air as they fought over pieces of rubbish on the water.

The evening was one of those times that Jane treasured. She was happy with her own company and, alone, was able to arrange her time as she wanted. She put some music on, prepared her food and settled down on the sofa with Julian the cat for a Saturday evening’s TV entertainment. She didn’t often watch TV. Tonight, however, she felt like simply sitting and looking at whatever was on, whatever would take her into a different world from the one in which she spent most of her waking hours.

As it happened, the first programme she saw was a game show in which young men and women had to answer questions and were rewarded with the holiday of their dreams. After that, there was a popular detective series. This she could not bear - it was too much like work, and anyway the TV writers never got everyday life in a police station exactly right. So she changed channels and found herself looking at a serious documentary programme about sudden outbreaks of previously unknown diseases. The screen showed pictures of an unnamed country somewhere in the developing world. There were scenes typical of remote places in Africa: women making flour and small, fascinated children staring up at the cameras. ‘In 1976,’ the voice told her, ‘Ebola Fever suddenly appeared in the Sudan and in Zaire. This disease is a killer, having a death rate of around eighty per cent. The victim suffers from headaches, fever and internal bleeding and usually dies after about eight days.’

The picture changed to a close-up of a mosquito injecting its long needle-like tongue into human skin. ‘Rift Valley Fever,’ the voice cheerfully continued, ‘is another unpleasant disease, which causes bleeding and brain fever. It is carried by mosquitoes. At one time it was found in areas around the Sahara desert and was mainly limited to domestic animals such as cattle, sheep and goats. But, in 1977, 600 people died of this disease in Egypt. It seems Iikely that there is now a new variety of the original disease which affects humans and which threatens to spread to other areas in the Middle East, and even beyond.’

The voice went on and Jane found herself becoming sleepy. She reached for the TV remote control. ‘Bed-time,’ she told Julian. She looked again at the screen briefly. Now the film showed scientists in white coats examining tubes of liquid.

‘We don’t know how or why these diseases suddenly appear with such fatal consequences,’ one of the scientists was explaining. ‘But at present there are no-one hundred per cent effective cures.’

Then came loud music and pictures of war planes.

‘For this reason,’ the scientist went on, ‘these illnesses are ideally suited for biological warfare…’

Jane pressed the remote control. She had enough to think about without worrying about the possible destruction of the world by biological warfare. She would leave that to someone else to deal with.

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