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Continued from The shooting

Lying face-down on the surgery table in Dr. John’s clinic, I was still insisting that I’d only been shot by a pellet gun. The room was filled with people I didn’t know – John’s team of first aiders who’d been summoned, mostly out of the bar. There was a hoard of nosy locals clammering outside, trying to get in or catch a glimpse of what was going on. Within a matter of minutes, Shelby the local TV guy arrived, wanting to shoot some film for the news. My alarmed response was an instant no, much to the disappointment of the publicity whore island doctor. I detest being centre of attention, to the point that I’d not show up to my own funeral if I thought I’d get away with it, but I was fast coming to realise that on a small island like this that’s exactly what I was about to be.

Jane arrived around the same time as the police. She’d got the news while closing up at work, but her manager had made it clear she was obliged to stay and pack away the bottles first. The police informed us the gunman had been arrested, took some details and asked some questions. There was a brief panic when they asked for my passport – it was currently in an unknown location off on some dodgy visa renewal – but thankfully just having the number was enough.

Though I think I did fuzzily request painkillers at some point, none were provided. The area around the wound was numbed with lidocaine so that John could operate, and an IV drip attached, but that was the only medication administered. This meant I was conscious throughout the entire intense and surreal process of the next few hours. I could see around me the faces of those I knew – Jane, Magenta, Steve – bound with pity, fear, affection, and was able to respond with good humour and reassurances: I was by far the calmest person in the room, making light conversation about the unfortunate absence of anaesthetic during the Napoleonic Wars and such.

I couldn’t see the faces of the two attendees plugging my wound, but knew their names were Errol and Ryan and that they kept having to swap over because the sight of the blood was making them faint. They were revived from their nausea and fatigue with some stimulatory bumps supplied, of course, by the inimitable Dr. J. Jane, on the other hand, was fascinated by proceedings and gazed on avidly. I was disappointed I couldn’t get a look myself.

I could feel the sensation of John poking about in my back, and after an hour or so the scraping of the bullet being slid out through my flesh. When I saw it I could not believe the size of it; um, not a pellet gun after all – try a .38. “Jesus fuck!” I think was my response. I was equally surprised to learn that it had travelled a full 21cm across my back, entering just below my left shoulder blade and stopping at the other side of my spine. I’d only felt the punching sensation in one spot, where the bullet had crossed my vertebrae.

Getting the bullet out was nowhere near the end of it– the wound had to be cleaned out to avoid infection, and John had to be sure there was no damage to my lungs or spine – if there was it would mean a cataclysmically expensive secondment to hospital on the mainland. John was aware of the fact that my travel insurance had expired and was doing all he could to avoid such an excursion.

After stitching up the tiny incision made to extract the bullet, I was transferred to another room with better light to get the wound cleaned out. The concern was for rust or dirt from the bullet, or cloth fragments from my t-shirt, being left inside the wound and causing infection, easily contracted and not so easily cured in the tropical climate. Due to its meticulous nature, this process actually took about twice as long as the bullet extraction, during which time I began to wane.

Manoeuvring me into a position so as to pull the bloody t-shirt off me, which up until this point had sat around my shoulders, was agonizingly painful. The adrenaline had worn off and I was sore and exhausted. The t-shirt made a thwack as it hit the floor, heavy with blood. My thoughts wondered more and people came to mind that I really, really wished I could see at that moment. For the first time that night tears leaked out of my eyes, and I pressed my face into the pillow to absorb them: seeing me suddenly crying would have been no good for team morale.

Through the course of the night I was filled in with the rest of the shocking details from Steve and Magenta. While I’d been crouched under the bar, shot and unmoving, the Barbecue Man had aimed right at their heads, one then the other. In a moment of amazing superman reaction Steve, the unassuming Welshman, picked up an empty ice box and deflected the shots – one of which still skiffed the top of his head. The crazed German then threw the gun at Steve and, as in some film noir melodrama, said “Kill me”. Killing was the furthest thing from Steve’s mind and he kicked the gun away. The shooter made a lunge to reclaim the weapon, and Steve intercepted him, in the ensuing brief scuffle kneeing the aggressor in the balls in his bid to get the madman out…

When Jane and I were hitch-hiking inCalifornia, we had a safety word if either of us felt we were in a car with a creep – ‘Steve’. We appointed the first Steve we met on the journey Safety Steve. Steve was a lovely bloke but being a stoner, a Deadhead, and a purveyor of LSD, he was not a particularly safety conscious fellow. Now our true Safety Steve had been unmasked!

Continued from The barbecue man

The Barbecue Man burst in through the back door of Cueva holding up this tiny, silver weapon and fired a couple of shots at random. The noise was so dull and the gun so small I honestly thought it was a BB gun. My reaction was still to get down on the floor though, and I crouched down between the bar and the bench. Steve and Magenta were thinking the same as me – they didn’t think the gun was real and just stood where they were behind the bar. He was saying something now but I have no recollection of what, when he aimed the weapon in my direction and fired again. I was hit and let out a shriek, not from pain but from shock, and sudden panic at not knowing what was going to happen next. I still didn’t think it was a real gun – it felt like somebody had punched me in the back really hard, I didn’t even think I was bleeding. But I was stuck inside a tiny bar on the floor with nowhere to run or hide and what was clearly a madman.

I stayed resolutely still, hearing more voices and more shots firing but not seeing what was going on. Magenta came down on the floor beside me to see if I was alright and put her arm around me. I told her he’d hit me but I thought I was ok, and asked her very calmly if I was bleeding. She took her arm away and it was covered in blood, at which point we realised things were perhaps a little more serious.

Sometime around now I looked up and saw Steve holding the gun out at arms length and saying something about cats and dogs. Then the shooter was out the door and Steve ran out in the street shouting for help. Magenta helped me up and began screaming at the man, “What have you done? What have you done to my friend? She’s bleeding! We don’t even know you! She’s bleeding!”

I leant on a post outside – it was starting to hurt a bit more now and I could feel the damp of the blood on my back. People came out from the dive shop across the road but at first no-one would help cause Steve was still absent-mindedly holding the gun and they thought he was the shooter. He flung it on top of a roof and suddenly there were people everywhere, including the Barbecue Man, who was wandering about the road muttering, like nothing was wrong. Somebody put me in a plastic chair and Andrea, a girl who had previously decided she hated me for reasons unapparent, came out and held my hand and got Dr. John on the phone for Magenta.

Now Dr. John requires a bit of an explanation of his own. The first time I saw him was the very first weekend I was out in Utila. It was late on a Saturday night and there was only one bar open – the rapidly deteriorating and soon to close ‘Poco Loco’. There were about five people sitting at the bar, and one on the dancefloor – a tall, shaggy, grey-haired man, shirtless and a pair of red-rimmed sunglasses on, leaping about like a maniac.

“That’s the doctor,” somebody said.

“Doctor of what?”

“Medicine. That’s the island doctor.”

My eyes widened. We were advised against medical emergencies before 1pm.

The first time I actually met Dr. John, though of which I’m sure he has no recollection, was in the back room of the Wednesday-and-Friday late spot, Bar in the Bush. He was sitting in a chair in the dark beside a tarantula, sporting his Che-style beret and some sparkly black nail varnish, completely whacked out, sweating profusely and largely incapable of speech.

Luckily we caught Dr. John on a relatively sane night and he was soon on his way to the scene. There were people all over the place but I was bent over in a chair, by this point dizzy and nauseous, and not able to see much of what was going on. So when suddenly the crowd took a simultaneous run backwards as the German gunman made a reappearance, I freaked out a little. “Where are you going? Don’t leave me!” I screamed, and the only person who didn’t was Archie, local vendor of ill humour and surly nature, who for the first time that anyone had seen showed some human emotion and yelled at the gunman, “What you done? That a woman! You gone shot a woman!”

When it became apparent that the Barbecue Man had not returned with another weapon, the crowd quickly flocked back and were now having to restrain Magenta who was set on beating the living daylights out of him, still wandering calmly back and forth in the street. Without warning, I was suddenly yarked out of the chair from behind. I let out a brief yell of surprise, but quickly deduced that since nobody was running away this time it must be Dr. John. I was bundled into a golfcart and as we drove off towards the clinic I shouted for somebody to get my bag, which I had flung down on the ground beside me…

The whole entire trip of mine and Jane’s was on an ever-escalating scale of ridiculousness – Burning Man was fairly special in itself, then working for Vlad the circus clown, crashing anarchist parties in San Francisco, taking up residence on a drug-riddled island of all manner of lunatics, being attempted-robbed by a trouserless man in the night… It went on and on, but I do believe that the ridiculousness reached its pinnacle in March, when I was shot by a crazed German. The story unfolded as so…

I’d been at work on a Sunday night in Babalu, the bar and restaurant that I worked in on Utila. That place is a story in itself, working for Dado, an old Italian lothario who stalks about the bar like a cat and has the moustachioed face of some 70s dictator, on the run from war crimes charges. He will ‘employ’ (tips only) tourist girls to work in his bar and quickly weed out any who don’t pass his tests: pretty, intelligent, constitution for drug and alcohol abuse. I’ve seen him find excuses to fire girls within a week under the pretence of inability to count or some other misdemeanour, but really it is because they’ve failed on one or more of these three trials. Apparently he has taken a few young, fresh-faced things and turned them out months later, addicts and emotional wrecks. Fortunately for me, I was nowhere near fresh-faced to begin with.

Magenta is another of Dado’s former employees, one who could keep up with his substance abuse challenges better than even I and therefore holds a golden place in his heart. An Amsterdam lass with an English mother and resulting perfect English articulation, Magenta is a true party girl a little older than me, straight out of the rave scene. Her and her man Steve, a jolly Welshman of similar demeanour, make a fantastic couple. They’ll spend Sundays, their only day off, in Babalu, and that night I was walking home with them when they invited me into La Cueva, the bar they were managing, for a wee drink.

Cueva isn’t open Sundays but Steve had the keys. We dropped off a borrowed bicycle then sat at the empty bar where I had my first drink of the evening – Steve’s latest concoction, a sugarcane and ginger-infused rum. We chatted about Utila life, our accents, families, friendships, relationships. Steve was getting agitated being in his work place and wanted to move on. We got our shit together and were about to head when we heard a noise in the alley at the back. The front door was bolted, the back door was not locked but shut – nobody should have been coming in…

The door flew open and a man entered – the barbecue man. Though I didn’t know the barbecue man, he’d been in my head that night because Kim, a friend of mine, had been in Babalu earlier and told me about an incident in Cueva the previous evening.

“The barbecue man spoke,” she said in a weighty tone.

“Who’s the barbecue man?”

“The barbecue man from Evelyn’s. He hasn’t said anything for four years, and last night he spoke!”

Evelyn’s is the restaurant next door to Cueva. Apparently there is some long-running dispute between the two owners, but that local stuff was little concern of Steve and Magenta’s. However, the previous evening the barbecue man, this odd-looking German bloke with a mass of bushy, dirty blonde hair, like some reject from Spinal Tap, who never spoke to anyone, who’d been on the island for years but didn’t have any friends, who just stood all night every night barbecuing meat and fish outside the restaurant, came in and caused a ruckus. He accused Steve and Magenta of trying to poison his dogs, and laughing about it, when in actual fact they were discussing the poisoning of a friend’s dog, and not laughing about it. But he was not to be convinced otherwise. “This is war,” he declared, and stormed off.

Something about the incident had really freaked Kim out – the way he spoke, something unhinged in his eyes – and she told me she hadn’t been able to get it out of her head, she couldn’t sleep for it and when she did she had nightmares. But still, nobody had taken his statement quite so literally as it turned out he did…