Shawn began a lap around the hotel’s pool. He wore shorts, sandals, a tank top, and a white lab coat with the name Dr. Kemann stitched underneath the hotel’s name and logo.
This was one of his favorite parts of his most excellent life in Ecuador. He had spotted a nubile young blonde on the other side of the pool. She was sunning herself and was a scant few centimeters of fabric shy of getting an all-over tan. Kemann would go over to her, introduce himself, caution her to take care in the sun, offer to apply more medically thorough sunscreen, and — if history repeated itself — end up in her bed that evening.
The beautiful young woman, and more than a hundred others before her, was why he had become a hotel doctor in the tropics.
As he approached her, the pager in his lab coat pocket chirped at him. He frowned; this was no time for some guest to have indigestion. Still, such interruptions ensured his continued employment.
The little screen said merely “Urgente.”
That was a new one. In his two years with the hotel, Shawn hadn’t seen it. Previously, his pager merely called him back to his office with “Enfermo,” usually meaning someone had some minor discomfort. Urgente gave Shawn cold prickles of dread. He took off at a fast trot toward his office.
He could hear the hotel’s manager, Señor Barrera, trying to calm someone down. “I have summoned the doctor. He will be right here.”
“I’m here,” Shawn announced. “What’s the problem?”
Señor Barrera pointed to the girl on the little examination couch. Shawn could see she was barely breathing; her face had swollen hideously. He realized he had seen her in the lobby two days ago when the family checked in. They were from Ohio.
“She’s allergic to peanuts,” the mother said through her tears. “There must have been some in the dessert.”
Shawn stood close to the girl, his stomach knotting tightly.
“Back home,” the father said, “when this happened once before, the emergency room doctor gave her some epineph… epineph-something. Cured her pretty quick.”
“Epinephrine,” Shawn said. He looked frantically at the shelves and the scant medical supplies he had bothered to purchase. He turned to his boss. “Call for an ambulance immediately.”
Señor Barrera went to the phone on Shawn’s desk and got an outside line. Even as he spoke, he kept a curious eye on the doctor he had hired.
Then Shawn spotted the little box of emergency epinephrine injectors. They had sounded good to him one day when Señor Barrera asked what he needed. He tore the box open and uncapped one of the pen-shaped devices.
He blanched at the little needle he had uncovered, realizing he was about to stab it into a living person. Then he wondered if there was a difference in the proper dose for an adult and for a child. He looked at the barrel of the injector. It said it contained 0.3 mg epinephrine. Was that a lot? Was that a little?
“What are you waiting for?” the girl’s father yelled.
Shawn mustered his courage and plunged the needle into the girl’s arm, averting his eyes from the injection point.
The girl’s breathing stopped.
Shawn looked at her swollen mouth; there would be no using artificial respiration on her. He gingerly pulled the needle from her arm and recapped it.
“I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “There wasn’t time to help her.”
Moments later, the ambulance crew arrived and took the girl’s lifeless body to the hospital. Señor Barrera called for a car to take her parents there, as well. He escorted them out, offering his profound condolences and assurances of whatever assistance they required.
Then he went back to the hotel doctor’s office.
Shawn was still in the corner he had fled to when the paramedics arrived. He was looking sullenly at the injector.
“Such a young girl,” Señor Barrera said. “What a tragedy to lose her life over peanuts in a dessert.”
Shawn found his voice. “It’s not uncommon. But yes, a tragedy. She must have been terribly allergic.” He looked up and spread his hands helplessly. “There simply wasn’t time for me to do anything.” He tossed the injector onto his desk; it rolled and fell to the floor. “Thankfully, such things are rare here.”
“Yes,” Señor Barrera agreed. “We are indeed very fortunate that we have had no previous medical emergencies.” He stood in the doorway, contemplating Shawn. “The girl’s parents might cause trouble for us. I’ll have Felipe take you to a place in the country where you cannot be found easily.”
“OK, whatever you think, boss.”
In moments, Shawn was being driven through the streets of the resort town. He looked down between his feet rather than at the people and sights he was passing.
After half an hour, Felipe stopped the car, and he and Shawn got out.
“Where are we?” Shawn asked.
Felipe leveled a large pistol at Shawn’s head.
“Señor Barrera tells me that you were so distraught over your inability to save the little girl’s life that you drove into the country and killed yourself.”
Shawn opened his mouth to protest, to offer some mitigating testimony, but the hard look on Felipe’s face told him it would be useless.
Oh, God, I shouldn’t have faked those medical credentials in the first pl—.