Chapter 15: Silas
The 6th day of the fifth month.
It had been five days since Major Travas was hospitalized.
The hospital—and his medical charts—knew him as Charlie Nyman, a pseudonym he invented on the spot. It was a common name indeed in the Republic of Raputoa.
Neither the doctors nor nurses nor the other staff asked him anything unless it had to do with his treatment, or unless he spoke to them first. The VIP ward seemed to guarantee absolute confidentiality for all its patients.
Still, Major Travas remained wary of showing his face to the other patients in the ward. He almost never left his room unless it was absolutely necessary for his treatment.
A TV and a radio were brought into his room at his request. The staff also brought him the newspaper every day.
Major Travas even took pains to discreetly listen to Western broadcasts and scour old newspapers, but there was no word about an aeroplane crash in the Lutoni area.
His meals and snacks were unbelievably luxurious, and of course, delicious. Major Travas ate diligently so his injuries would heal and his body would recover.
He moved around as much as he was able. When he asked a nurse for bicycle tubes, she brought them to him with a curious look.
Major Travas fixed the tubes to the sides of his bed and did training exercises to build back his arm muscles.
Once his right thigh had healed, he even practiced walking on crutches. When the nurse was away, he also practiced rifle and handgun marksmanship postures on his crutches or on one leg.
Naturally, he contacted no one during that time.
He was being targeted for assassination. He could not let anyone know he was alive, lest he let harm come to the hospital and its staff and patients.
At the same time, Major Travas pondered the identity of his sponsor. But he would have no way of discerning who he was until they met in person.
“Who could it be?”
In the end, knowing the identity of neither his attempted killer nor his rescuer, he simply spent his days focusing on recovery.
* * *
The same day.
Search efforts were drawing to a close in Sou Be-Il’s Iltoa Mountain Range.
Several surveillance crafts had been deployed in the jagged landscape in search of the twin-engine craft whose communications had been cut off while transporting an officer.
The soldiers sent to the scene were driven to find their missing comrades at first, but nine days since the craft had gone missing—with the crew’s chances of survival growing slimmer by the second—they were simply becoming fatigued.
One of the surveillance crafts had even been forced into an emergency landing while flying low in the dangerous mountainscape, injuring two crew members. If not for the regulation that mandated surveillance crafts to fly in pairs, the search party might have had to deal with another lost aeroplane.
And on the ninth day, they received new information.
‘It has been deemed likely that the missing aircraft never made it to the Iltoa Mountain Range.’
“Dammit! Figure that stuff out before we waste nine days on a wild goose chase!”
With the search in the mountains ended, more than a few soldiers threw their hats to the ground in frustration.
* * *
Three days later. The 9th day of the fifth month.
The discovery of a corpse was reported to the Raputoan police.
Raputoan fishermen who had been working on the Lutoni with official permits had pulled it from the riverbank.
Scavenging animals had already gotten to the body, leaving only parts remaining intact.
The fishermen stopped their work to contact the police, and the police soon retrieved the unidentified corpse.
They performed an autopsy.
The corpse was in a terrible state. Its face was crushed, and the body was decayed and partially eaten.
But the police managed to figure out that it was wearing a custom suit from the Capital District. They tracked down the owner of the suit by the size and material of the suit, and compared him to their list of persons reported missing.
The police had received a detailed report about the missing Sou Be-Il military aircraft two days earlier.
The body was identified as one of its passengers.
* * *
The 17th of the fifth month.
It had been 16 days since Major Travas was hospitalized under the name of Charlie Nyman.
“Impressive, Mr. Nyman! Most patients lose their appetites during recovery and grow weaker.”
Indeed, Major Travas was almost back in top form.
His right thigh had healed to the point that the stitches had been taken out.
His left ankle was still in a cast, but he could now travel long distances—albeit slowly—on crutches. Major Travas was focusing hard on his rehabilitation, practicing to walk again.
“But that doesn’t give you a license to run off on us. We’ll get in trouble with your sponsor,” Marx advised.
Major Travas did as he was asked. Even if he were to run off, he had no clothes or money to sustain him. He had nowhere to go.
He could not contact the Sou Be-Il military or the embassy, either, as he had no idea who his enemies were.
There was one country, however, that could assist him.
And he wanted to avoid taking risks until he could contact the country and they sent for him.
“We are giving regular reports on your recovery to your sponsor. We still have no idea who he is, but he sent you a message: ‘I’ll come get you once you’re ready to be discharged’.”
Once Doctor Marx was gone, Major Travas looked out the window.
The morning sun shone brightly over the concrete jungle of Raputoa City. Beyond was the verdant green horizon he had known for years as a young man.
He looked down. The streets had become more packed than a decade ago. Cars were lined bumper-to-bumper in the busy morning traffic.
Suddenly, he spotted a police car zoom in between the cars. A siren began to wail.
The car was clearly headed for the hospital. It forcibly cut off traffic and pulled into the roundabout at the hospital entrance.
Major Travas’s expression darkened.
His worries were proven correct when, several minutes later, Doctor Marx rushed into the room with several nurses.
“Back in bed, Mr. Nyman! We’re giving you an intravenous drip.”
One of the nurses prepared the drip, which was no longer necessary for his recover. Another nurse began wrapping his head with unnecessary gauze and bandages.
“The police?” Major Travas asked.
“Sharp, Mr. Nyman. A pair of police detectives from the Raputoa Police Force are downstairs. They’re going to be here any minute,” Marx replied, administering the needle into Major Travas’s left arm. “This is a simple nutritional supplement. It won’t put you to sleep, but I hope it does.”
Major Travas understood the implication of Marx’s remark as he got into bed. “I suppose I’ll be too heavily injured to even speak.”
“Indeed. We take confidentiality very seriously, Mr. Nyman. But we can’t refuse the police entry if they have a search warrant. It looks like we had a leak on the paramedics’ side. No sense of professionalism, those people.”
“I see,” Major Travas muttered. Doctor Marx grinned obliviously.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous what these detectives are claiming. Your Roxchean is perfect—you even know Raputoan slang, which obviously means you’re not the Westerner they’re looking for.”
“Misunderstandings can be terrifying sometimes,” Major Travas replied without missing a beat. “Then I suppose I’ll take a quick nap.”
Soon, Nyman—Major Travas—was transformed into a patient in critical condition, his head and face wrapped up in bandages and an intravenous drip feeding into his arm.
“Don’t say a word, Mr. Nyman. Leave everything to us.”
Doctor Marx left the room, leaving only one nurse behind.
Major Travas could not see the detectives, as he was pretending to be asleep. But he could tell from the footsteps that there were two of them following the familiar gait of Doctor Marx.
“Please do try to keep your voices down. This is the man—is he the one you’re looking for?” Marx asked quietly. The detectives stopped next to the bed and said nothing for a time. They could not simply declare if Major Travas was the man they were after.
Finally, one of the detectives—a veteran, from the sound of his voice—spoke.
“We can’t get a look at his face like this. Can you unwrap the bandages?”
“I’m afraid not, detective. This patient has recently had a skin graft.”
“Do you have a photo of him from before the operation?”
“Of course. Here you are.”
Major Travas could hear Marx pull out a photograph from the file.
“Ugh…” The second—likely younger—detective groaned in disgust.
“How unfortunate. Will he ever have his face back?”
“He’ll have to live with the scars for some time, but our doctors are skilled. Eventually he’ll be able to go out in public without drawing attention. Of course, he’ll need three more skin grafts before that,” Marx explained, almost as if he had treated such a patient in the past.
“How did he sustain these injuries?”
“I’m sure you know already, detective, but—”
“This information will remain confidential, doctor.”
“Thank you. It was an industrial accident. This patient was injured at work. But the company cares so much about appearances that they sent him here, asking for full confidentiality. Which is why the insurance company isn’t covering his treatment and stay.”
“Then ‘Charlie Nyman’ is a pseudonym?”
“We’re not sure, but perhaps. I suppose it must be, from the way the company officials were acting.”
“Does this man, by any chance, speak in Bezelese?”
“Bezelese. The language they use cross-river.”
“No, sir. He speaks perfect Roxchean, naturally,” Marx replied, confused.
“…I trust you don’t need any lessons on confidentiality from me,” the detective threatened.
“N-no, sir,” Marx replied, a little cowed.
“We have been ordered to track down a Westerner. An atrocious criminal with multiple counts of murder on his record. We’ve been informed by the Sou Be-Ill embassy that the man stole an aeroplane from cross-river to escape, and crashed into the buffer zone. He is likely heavily injured.”
“There’s no guarantee that a savage criminal like him wouldn’t kill if he’s cornered. He may very well murder anyone who stands in his way out of the hospital.”
Major Travas could practically feel Marx’s trepidation.
The information was clearly fake, but it would make it difficult for the hospital to continue treating Major Travas in secret.
“The Raputoa Police Force is on the case for the time being, but the Confederation Police may soon take over. And you don’t want to cross them. In any case, I applaud the hospital for its dedication to confidentiality. I’d like to stay here myself if I were ever injured.”
“And you are very welcome here, so long as you can afford it.”
“Not on the people’s tax money, I suppose. Excuse me. I should get going now.”
Major Travas could hear the detective turn. But the sound suddenly stopped.
“That wristwatch on the shelf. Does it belong to the patient?”
Internally, Major Travas kicked himself.
He had been holding on to Second Lieutenant Klee’s watch to give his family. But it was lying on the shelf by the bed, just as the detective remarked.
Doctor Marx said nothing.
“I suppose it must be. Who else could it belong to? Nurse, please bring me the watch. I’d like to have a close look at it.”
Major Travas could feel the nurse hesitate, but she could not refuse. She picked it up and went around the bed.
“Here you are,” she said feebly, handing over the watch.
Could he take down two men, Major Travas wondered. And he quickly concluded that he could not. He could possibly take the nearest detective by surprise and knock him out. But he could not subdue the other, when he could barely even walk properly. And once he took such a drastic course of action, he would be arrested regardless of his identity.
Nothing on Klee’s watch suggested that it was from Sou Be-Il. There was no manufacturer listed on the face or the back.
All Major Travas could do was pretend to be asleep and pray that the detective did not know much about watches.
“Nice watch. Look at this intricate work on the face. I could never afford one of these on my lousy paycheck,” the detective mused. “I don’t see a manufacturer listed here. So it’s a cheap, no-name brand? But it’s a little too well-made. Although I suppose I don’t know enough about watches to say for sure.”
It was clear from his voice that the detective was carefully examining the watch.
“Do you know which company made this model?” the detective asked his younger partner.
The younger detective scrutinized the watch and replied, “I’m not sure, sir. Maybe we can have it checked out back at the station.”
“Excellent idea. Would you mind, doctor?”
“I certainly would, detective!”
“I don’t see why you’re making such a fuss. It’s only a wristwatch.”
“Detective, I will not stand for—”
“Then I suppose I’ll leave the watch. But let us wait downstairs and call in someone from forensics who knows about these things. How’s that for a compromise?”
“I-I suppose,” Marx replied, defeated. Major Travas listened carefully and planned out an escape route.
The police probably had men stationed at every door into and out of the hospital. But if he fled through the balcony this early in the morning, he would be spotted for certain. Even if he stole a doctor’s coat to disguise himself, his injury would give him away.
And as if having read his mind—
“Enough of this farce, Mr. Nyman. It’s time to wake up,” said the wizened veteran detective. “Do you really want to get more innocents involved? The police are not villains, you know,” he said, drawing closer to the bed.
Major Travas could almost feel the detective lean in towards his face.
The hospital room had all the cheer of a sinking ship when the door slammed open.
“Hey there, folks! I’m here!”
An energetic voice trumpeted throughout the room.
Major Travas could hear the detective turn back in surprise, the nurses screaming, and Doctor Marx flinch.
“Wh-who are you?!” the younger detective demanded.
“Who do you think? I’m a friend of the patient! Who are you supposed to be? Who gave you permission to be in here?”
“We’re from the Raputoa Police Force!”
“Cops, eh? Well, good day to you. You here for me? I don’t remember any recent parking violations. I don’t even have a car! And you can’t honestly apply parking laws for cars to motorcycles, right?”
The voice sounded familiar, yet not.
Major Travas was lost.
The laid-back voice seemed to have no care for the detective, who was probably glaring at Major Travas.
“Now,” said the mystery man, “where can I find Doctor John Marx? Is that you, in the white coat? Or the old guy in the tacky suit?”
The nurses burst into laughter.
“I am Marx. And may I ask who you are? Unauthorized persons are strictly forbidden from entry.”
“Oh, like our two cops here?”
The nurses burst into laughter again.
Major Travas continued to pretend to sleep as he prayed that the mystery man was an ally.
“We are in the middle of an investigation,” said the older detective. “Who are you?”
“Like I said, I’m the patient’s friend. So an authorized person, if you will. I came to see how my buddy was healing up, and imagine my surprise when I saw him here, surrounded by cops! Has this man done anything wrong? Other than maybe a minor parking violation?”
“We have our reasons. The police are bound to pursue people hospitalized under aliases.”
“Well, by the gods! So pseudonyms are no good, eh? I should have figured…”
“…If you really are a friend of this patient, do let us in on the details. Tell us who he is and where he is from. Then we’ll finally be able to clear him of suspicion and get to work on addressing your parking violations.”
“Sure, but before that,” the man said, pausing dramatically, “…I trust you don’t need any lessons on confidentiality from me.”
The nurses burst out laughing again.
The younger detective was almost ready to lash out.
“Of course. Now tell us who this ‘Charlie Nyman’ really is,” the older detective replied.
“All right,” said the mystery man.
Major Travas had no idea what to expect. Helpless, he simply lay in bed and waited for the man to speak.
A moment later, he was hit by the second biggest shock of his life.
“This guy’s name is Wil. Wilhelm Schultz.”
The bombshell knocked the wind out of him.
He began coughing, loudly.
“Gah! Koff! Koff!”
It was not an act; he almost began to choke.
“Are you all right?!”
The nurses rushed to his side, also not putting on an act.
They put a glass bottle to Major Travas’s lips.
Major Travas calmed himself down and opened his eyes.
Between the bandages, he could see the beautiful nurses.
Then the ceiling.
Then, he looked to his left.
A middle-aged detective, the very picture of hardened experience.
And a bearded man wearing a sweater.
A man with a smile on his face.
A familiar face.
A former classmate.
A boy who traveled with him to Ikstova.
A friend of many years.
The image became blurry in his vision.
The bearded man spoke.
“Finally awake, eh Wil? I was worried sick! How are you?”
Tears streaming down his bandaged face, Wil managed to reply.
“Couldn’t be better! Matthew Silas Epstein, you really pulled through for me here!”
Silas grinned. “I knew you’d say that.”