The interruption helped; Marissa was in better control of her emotions when they returned with the trays. “I’m having some trouble at the CDC,” she confessed. She told Ralph about Dubchek’s behavior in Los Angeles and the incident in the hotel room. “From then on things have been difficult. Maybe I didn’t handle things as well as I could have, but I don’t think it was all my responsibility. After all, it was a type of sexual harassment.”
“That doesn’t sound like Dubchek,” said Ralph with a frown.
“You do believe me, don’t you?” asked Marissa.
“Absolutely,” Ralph assured her. “But I’m still not sure you can blame all your problems on that unfortunate episode. You have to remember that the CDC is a government agency even if people try to ignore the fact.” Ralph paused to take a bite of his sandwich. Then he said, “Let me ask you a question.”
“Certainly,” said Marissa.
“Do you believe that I am your friend and have your best interests at heart?”
Marissa nodded, wondering what was coming.
“Then I can speak frankly,” said Ralph. “I have heard through the grapevine that certain people at the CDC are not happy with you because you’ve not been ‘toeing the official line.’ I know you’re not asking my advice, but I’m giving it anyway. In a bureaucratic system, you have to keep your own opinions to yourself until the right time.
To put it baldly, you have to learn to shut up. I know, because I spent some time in the military.”
“Obviously you are referring to my stand on Ebola,” said Marissa defensively. Even though she knew Ralph was right, what he’d just said hurt. She’d thought that in general she’d been doing a good job.
“Your stand on Ebola is only part of the problem. You simply haven’t been acting as a team player.”
“Who told you this?” asked Marissa challengingly.
“Telling you isn’t going to solve anything,” Ralph said.
“Nor is my staying silent. I cannot accept the CDC’s position on Ebola. There are too many inconsistencies and unanswered questions, one of which I learned only last night during my unauthorized visit to the maximum containment lab.”
“And what was that?”
“It’s known that Ebola mutates constantly. Yet we are faced with the fact that the three U.S. strains are identical, and more astounding, they are the same as the strain in an outbreak in Zaire, in 1976. To me, it doesn’t sound as if the disease is spreading naturally.”
“You may be right,” said Ralph. “But you are in a political situation and you have to act accordingly. And even if there is another outbreak, which I hope there won’t be, I have full confidence that the CDC will be capable of controlling it.”
“That is a big question mark,” said Marissa. “The statistics from Phoenix were not encouraging. Do you realize there were three hundred forty-seven deaths and only thirteen Survivors?”
“I know the stats,” said Ralph. “But with eighty-four initial cases, I think you people did a superb job.”
“I’m not sure you’d think it was so superb if the outbreak had been in your hospital,” said Marissa.
“I suppose you’re right,” said Ralph. “The idea of further Ebola outbreaks terrifies me. Maybe that’s why I want to believe in the official position myself. If it’s correct, the threat may be over.”
“Damn,” said Marissa with sudden vehemence. “I’ve been so concerned about myself, I completely forgot about Tad. Dubchek must know it was Tad who took me into the maximum containment lab. I’d better get back and check on him.”
“I’ll let you go on one condition,” said Ralph. “Tomorrow’s Saturday. Let me take you to dinner.”
“You are a dear. Dinner tomorrow night would be a treat.” Marissa leaned forward and kissed Ralph’s forehead. He was so kind. She wished she found him more attractive.
As Marissa drove back to the CDC she realized her anger at Dubchek had been replaced by fear for her job and guilt about her behavior. Ralph was undoubtedly correct: She’d not been acting as a team player.
She found Tad in the virology lab, back at work on a new AIDS project. AIDS was still the Center’s highest priority. When he caught sight of Marissa he shielded his face with his arms in mock defensiveness.