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Outbreak by Robin Cook. Part six

He had a broad, masculine face with a well-trimmed mustache and sad eyes, as if he’d seen more of life than he cared to know. He looked down at Marissa with a smile. It was obvious from his expression that he had no idea who she was.

“May I speak to you in private?” asked Marissa.

Tieman glanced at his assistant, who was just approaching. “I’ll see you in the OR,” Tieman said, leading Marissa away.

He took her to one of the dictation cubicles separated from the lounge by two swinging doors. There was one chair, and Dr. Tieman turned it around, gesturing for Marissa to sit. He leaned against a counter, holding his coffee in his right hand.

Acutely conscious of her short stature and its psychological handicap, Marissa pushed the chair back to him, insisting that he sit since he’d been standing in surgery since early that morning.

“Okay, okay,” he said with a short laugh. “I’m sitting. Now what can I do for you?”

“I’m surprised you don’t recognize my name,” said Marissa, watching the man’s eyes. They were still questioning, still friendly.

“I’m sorry,” said Dr. Tieman. He laughed again, but with a tinge of embarrassment. He was studying Marissa’s face. “I do meet a lot of people . .

“Hasn’t Dr. Jack Krause called you about me?” asked Marissa.

“I’m not even sure I know a Dr. Krause,” said Dr. Tieman, directing his attention to his coffee.

The first lie, thought Marissa. Taking a deep breath, she told the doctor exactly what she’d told Krause. From the moment she mentioned the L.A. Ebola outbreak, he never lifted his eyes. She could tell that he was nervous. The surface of the coffee shook slightly in the cup in his hand, and Marissa was suddenly glad she was not the man’s next patient.

“I haven’t the slightest idea why you are telling me this,” said Dr. Tieman, starting to rise. “And unfortunately I have another case.”

With uncharacteristic forwardness, Marissa gently touched his chest, forcing him back in his seat. “I’m not finished,” she said, “and whether you realize it or not, you are intimately involved. I have evidence that Ebola is being deliberately spread by the Physicians’ Action Congress. You are their treasurer, and I’m shocked that a man of your reputation could be connected to such a sordid affair.”

“You’re shocked,” countered Dr. Tieman, finally rising to his feet and towering over her. “I’m amazed that you have the nerve to make such irresponsible allegations.”

“Save your breath,” said Marissa. “It’s public knowledge that you are an officer of PAC as well as a limited partner in one of the only labs in the country equipped to handle viruses like Ebola.”

“I hope you have plenty of insurance,” warned Dr. Tieman, his voice rising. “You’ll be hearing from my lawyer.”

“Good,” said Marissa, ignoring the threat. “Maybe he will persuade you that your best course is to cooperate with the authorities.” She stepped back and looked directly up at his face. “Having met you, I cannot believe you approved the idea of spreading a deadly disease. It will be a double tragedy for you to lose everything you’ve worked for because of someone else’s poor judgment. Think about it, Dr. Tieman. You don’t have a lot of time.”

Pushing through the swinging doors, Marissa left a stunned doctor desperately heading for the phone. She realized she had forgotten to tell Tieman that she was planning to visit the other PAC officers, but she decided it didn’t matter. The man was terrified enough.

“There’s the girl!” yelled Al, slapping Jake on the shoulder. They were parked across the street from the main entrance to the hospital. George waited behind them in the second car. When Al turned to look at him, George gave a thumbs-up sign, meaning that he’d also seen Marissa.

“She won’t get away today,” said Al.

Jake started the car and, as Marissa got into a cab, he pulled out into the street, heading back into town. Al watched as Marissa’s cab

pulled out behind them, followed neatly by George. Now things were working as they should.

“She must have seen Tieman if she’s leaving,” said Jake.

“Who cares?” said Al. “We got her now.” Then he added, “It would make things easier if she’d go back to her hotel.”

Marissa’s cab went by them with George in pursuit. Jake began to speed up. Ahead he saw George overtake Marissa. They would continue leapfrogging until Marissa reached her destination.

About fifteen minutes later, Marissa’s taxi stopped behind a line of cars waiting to pull up to the Fairmont. “Looks like your prayers have been answered,” said Jake, stopping across the street from the hotel.

“I’ll handle the car,” said Al. “You get your ass in there and find out what room she’s in.”

Jake got out as Al slid behind the wheel. Dodging the midmorning traffic, Jake reached the front of the hotel before Marissa had even gotten out of her cab. In the lobby, he picked up a newspaper and, folding it commuter style, positioned himself so that he could see everyone coming into the hotel.

Marissa walked directly to the front desk. He quickly moved behind her, expecting her to ask for her room key. But she didn’t. Instead she asked to use her safe-deposit box.

While the receptionist opened a gate allowing Marissa into the office behind the front desk, Jake wandered toward the board announcing the various convention meetings. Presently Marissa reappeared, busily closing her shoulder purse. Then, to Jake’s consternation, she came directly toward him.

In a frantic moment of confusion, Jake thought she’d recognized him, but she passed right by, heading down a hail lined with gift shops.

Jake took off after her, passing her in a corridor lined with old photos of the San Francisco earthquake. Guessing she was headed to the elevators, he made sure he beat her there, mingling with the crowd already waiting.

An elevator arrived, which Jake boarded before Marissa, making certain there was plenty of room. He stepped in front of the self-service buttons. Holding his newspaper as if he were reading, he watched as Marissa pressed eleven. As more passengers got on, Marissa was pushed farther back into the car.

As the elevator rose, stopping occasionally, Jake continued to keep his nose in the newspaper. When the car stopped at the eleventh floor, he strolled off, still absorbed in his paper, allowing Marissa and another guest to pass him. When she stopped in front of room 1127,

Jake kept walking. He didn’t turn and go back to the elevators until he’d heard her door close.

Back on the street, Jake crossed over to Al’s car.

“Well?” said Al, momentarily worried something had gone wrong.

“Room 1127,” said Jake with a self-satisfied smile.

“You’d better be right,” said Al, getting out of the car. “Wait here. This shouldn’t take long at all.” He smiled so broadly that Jake noticed for the first time Al’s gums had receded almost to the roots of his front teeth.

Al walked over to George’s car and leaned on the window. “I want you to drive around and cover the back entrance. Just in case.”

Feeling better than he had in several days, Al crossed the street to the posh, red-and-black lobby.

He went over to the front desk and eyed the mailbox for 1127. There was an extra set of keys, but there wasn’t enough of a crowd for him to chance the receptionist’s turning them over without asking questions. Instead, he headed for the elevators.

On the eleventh floor, he searched for the housekeeping cart. He found it outside of a suite, with its usual complement of clean sheets, towels and cleaning materials. Taking one of the hand towels, he carefully folded it on the diagonal, creating a stout rope. Gripping an end in each hand, he entered the open suite where the maid presumably was working.

The living room was empty. There was a vacuum cleaner in the middle of the bedroom and a pile of linens on the floor, but he still didn’t see anyone. Advancing to the dressing room, he heard running water.

The maid was on her knees in front of the bathtub, scrubbing its interior. A can of Comet was on the floor by her knees.

Without a moment’s hesitation, Al stepped behind the woman and, using the folded towel as a garrote, strangled her. She made some muffled noises but they were covered by the sound of the bath water. Her face turned red, then purple. When Al let up the tension on the ends of the towel, she slumped to the floor like a limp rag doll.

Al found the passkeys in her pocket on a brass ring the size of a bracelet. Back in the hall, he hung a Do Not Disturb sign on the knob and closed the door to the suite. Then he pushed the housekeeping cart out of sight into the stairwell. Flexing his fingers like a pianist preparing for a recital, he started for room 1127.

17

May 24

MARISSA PEELED THE LAST of the breakfast fruit with the wooden-handled paring knife, leaving the knife and rinds on her night table. She was on the phone to Northwest Airlines trying to make a reservation to Minneapolis. She had decided PAC and company would figure she’d probably go to LA next, so Minneapolis seemed as good a bet as any.

The agent finally confirmed her on an afternoon flight. Flopping back on the bed, she began to debate how she should spend the next hour or so, but while she was thinking, exhaustion overtook her and she fell asleep.

She was awakened by a metallic click. It sounded like the door, but she knew she’d left up the Do Not Disturb sign. Then she saw the knob silently begin to turn.

She remembered being caught in the hotel room in Chicago by the man with the vaccination gun. Panic danced through her like an electrical current. Pulling herself together, she reached for the phone.

Before Marissa could lift the receiver, the door burst open, splintering part of the jamb as the screws holding the chain lock plate were yanked out of the molding. A man slammed the door shut then hurled himself onto Marissa. He grabbed her by the neck with both hands and shook her like a mad dog in a frenzy. Then he pulled her ashen face close to his. “Remember me?” he snarled furiously.

Marissa remembered him. It was the blond man with the Julius Caesar haircut.

“You have ten seconds to produce the vaccination gun,” hissed Al, loosening the death grip he had on Marissa’s throat. “If you don’t, I’ll snap your neck.” To emphasize his point, he gave her head a violent jolt, sending a flash of pain down her spine.

Barely able to breathe, Marissa fruitlessly clawed at the man’s powerful wrists. He shook her again, hitting her head against the wall. By reflex Marissa’s hands extended behind her to cushion her body.

The lamp fell off the bedside table and crashed to the floor. The room swam as her brain cried for oxygen.

“This is your last chance,” shouted Al. “What did you do with that vaccinator?”

Marissa’s hand touched the paring knife. Her fingers wrapped around the tiny haft. Holding it in her fist, she hammered it up into the man’s abdomen as hard as she could. She had no idea if she’d penetrated anything, but Al stopped speaking in midsentence, let go of Marissa and rocked back on his haunches. His face registered surprise and disbelief. She switched the tiny knife to her right hand, keeping it pointed at Al, who seemed confused when he saw the blood staining his shirt.

She hoped to back up to the door and run, but before she reached it he leaped at her like an enraged animal, sending her racing to the bathroom. It seemed as if only hours before she’d been in the same predicament in Chicago.

Al got his hand around the door before it shut. Marissa hacked blindly, feeling the tip of her knife strike bone. Al screamed and yanked his hand away, leaving a smear of blood on the panel. The door slammed shut, and Marissa hastily locked it.

She was about to dial the bathroom phone when there was a loud crash and the entire bathroom door crashed inward. Al forced Marissa to drop the phone, but she hung on to the knife, still stabbing at him wildly. She hit his abdomen several times, but if it had any effect, it wasn’t apparent.

Ignoring the knife, Al grabbed Marissa by her hair and flung her against the sink. She tried to stab him again, but he grabbed her wrist and bashed it against the wall until her grip loosened and the weapon clattered to the floor.

He bent down to pick it up, and as he straightened, Marissa grabbed the phone that was swinging on its cord and hit him as hard as she could with the receiver. For a brief instant, she wasn’t sure who

was hurt more. The blow had sent a bolt of pain right up to her shoulder.

For a moment Al stood as if he were frozen. Then his blue eyes rolled upward, and he seemed to fall in slow motion into the bathtub, striking his head on the faucets.

As Marissa watched, half expecting Al to get up and come at her again, a beeping noise snapped her into action. She reached over and hung up the receiver. Glancing back into the tub, she was torn between fear and her medical training. The man had a sizable gash over the bridge of his nose, and the front of his shirt was covered with blood stains. But terror won out, and Marissa grabbed her purse and ran from the room. Remembering the man had not been alone in New York, she knew she had to get away from the hotel as soon as possible.

Descending to the ground floor, Marissa avoided the front entrance. Instead, she went down a flight of stairs and followed arrows to a rear exit. Standing just inside the door, she waited until a cable car came into view. Timing her exit to give herself the least exposure, she ran out of the hotel and jumped onto the trolley.

Marissa forced her way through the crowd to the rear. She looked back at the hotel as the car began to move. No one came out.

George blinked in disbelief. It was the girl. Quickly he dialed Jake’s car.

“She just came out of the hotel,” said George, “and jumped on a cable car.”

“Is Al with her?” asked Jake.

“No,” said George. “She’s by herself. It looked like she was limping a little.”

“Something is weird.”

“You follow her,” said George. “The cable car is just starting. I’ll go into the hotel and check on Al.”

“Right on,” said Jake. He was more than happy to let George deal with Al. When Al found out the girl had flown, he was going to be madder than shit.

Marissa looked back at the hotel for any sign of being followed. No one came out of the door, but as the cable car began to move, she saw a man get out of an auto and run for the hotel’s rear entrance. The timing was suggestive, but as the man didn’t even look in her direction, she dismissed it as a coincidence. She continued to watch until the cable car turned a corner and she could no longer see the Fairmont. She’d made it.

She relaxed until a loud clang almost made her jump out of her skin. She started for the door before she realized it was just the overhead bell that the conductor rang as he collected fares.

A man got off, and Marissa quickly took his seat. She was shaking and suddenly scared she might have blood stains on her clothes. The last thing she wanted was to call attention to herself.

As her fear abated, she became more aware of the pain where her hip had hit the sink, and her neck was exquisitely tender and probably turning black and blue.

“Fare please,” said the conductor.

Without lifting her eyes, Marissa fished around in her purse for some change. That was when she saw the blood caked on the back of her right hand. Quickly, she changed the way she was holding her purse and used her left hand to give the money to the man.

When he moved off, Marissa tried to figure out how they had found her. She’d been so careful . . . Suddenly it dawned on her. They must have been guarding Tieman. It was the only possible explanation.

Her confidence shattered, Marissa began to have second thoughts about having fled the hotel. Perhaps she would have been safer if she had stayed and faced the police. Yet fleeing had become an instinct of late. She felt like a fugitive, and it made her act like one. And to think she’d thought she would be able to outwit her pursuers. Ralph had been right. She never should have gone to New York, let alone San Francisco. He had said she was in serious trouble before she’d visited both cities. Well, it was a lot worse now-for all she knew she’d killed two men. It was all too much. She wasn’t going to Minneapolis. She would go home and turn everything that she knew, such as it was, and everything that she suspected, over to the attorney.

The cable car slowed again. Marissa looked around. She was someplace in Chinatown. The car stopped, and just as it was starting again, Marissa stood up and swung off. As she ran to the sidewalk, she saw the conductor shaking his head in disgust. But no one got off after her.

Marissa took a deep breath and rubbed her neck. Glancing around, she was pleased to see that both sides of the street were crowded. There were pushcart vendors, trucks making deliveries and a variety of stores with much of their merchandise displayed on the sidewalk. All the signs were written in Chinese. She felt as if the short cable-car ride had mysteriously transported her to the Orient. Even the smells were different: a mixture of fish and spices.

She passed a Chinese restaurant and, after hesitating a second, went inside. A woman dressed in a Mandarin-collared, red silk dress slit to the knee came out and said the restaurant was not yet open for lunch. “Half hour,” she added.

“Would you mind if I used your restroom and your phone?” asked Marissa.

The woman studied Marissa for a moment, decided she meant no harm and led her to the rear of the restaurant. She opened a door and stepped aside.

Marissa was in a small room with a sink on one side and a pay phone on the other. There were two doors in the back with Ladies stenciled on one, and Gents on the other. The walls were covered with years of accumulated graffiti.

Marissa used the phone first. She called the Fairmont and reported to the operator that there was a man in room 1127 who needed an ambulance. The operator told her to hold on, but Marissa hung up. Then she paused, debating whether she should call the police and explain everything to them. No, she thought, it was too complicated. Besides, she’d already fled the scene. It would be better to go back to Atlanta and see the attorney.

Washing her hands, Marissa glanced at herself in the mirror. She was a mess. Taking out her comb, she untangled her hair and braided a few strands to keep it off her face. She’d lost her barrette when the blond man had yanked her by the hair. When she was finished, she straightened her blazer and the collar of her blouse. That was about all she could do.

Jake dialed George’s car for the hundredth time. Mostly the phone went unanswered, but occasionally he’d get a recording telling him that the party he was calling was not presently available.

He could not figure out what was going on. Al and George should have been back in the car long ago. Jake had followed the girl, practically running her over when she’d leaped unexpectedly from the cable car, and had watched her go into a restaurant called Peking Cuisine. At least he hadn’t lost her.

He scrunched down in the driver’s seat. The girl had just come out of the restaurant and was flagging a cab.

An hour later, Jake watched helplessly as Marissa handed over her ticket and boarded a Delta nonstop to Atlanta. He had thought about buying a ticket himself, but scrapped the idea without Al’s okay.

She’d spent the last half hour closeted in the ladies’ room, giving Jake ample time to try the mobile phone at least ten more times, hoping for some instructions. But still no one answered.

As soon as the plane taxied down the runway, Jake hurried back to his car. There was a parking ticket under the windshield wiper, but Jake didn’t give a shit. He was just glad the car hadn’t been towed away. Climbing in, he thought he’d drive back to the Fairmont and see if he could find the others. Maybe the whole thing had been called off, and he’d find both of them in the bar, laughing their asses off while he ran all over the city.

Back on the freeway, he decided to try calling the other mobile phone one last time. To his astonishment, George answered.

“Where the hell have you been?” Jake demanded. “I’ve been calling you all goddamn morning.”

“There’s been a problem,” said George, subdued.

“Well, I hope to hell there’s been something,” said Jake. “The girl is on a plane to Atlanta. I was going crazy. I didn’t know what the hell to do.”

“Al was knifed, I guess by the girl. He’s at San Francisco General, having surgery. I can’t get near him.”

“Christ!” said Jake incredulously, unable to imagine that the pint-sized broad could have knifed Al and gotten away.

“He’s not supposed to be hurt that bad,” continued George. “What’s worse is that apparently Al wasted a maid. He had the woman’s passkeys in his pocket. He’s being charged with murder.”

“Shit,” said Jake. Things were going from bad to worse.

“Where are you now?” asked George.

“Just on the freeway, leaving the airport,” said Jake.

“Go back,” said George. “Book us on the next flight to Atlanta. I think we owe Al a bit of revenge.”

18

May 24

“READING MATERIAL?” asked the smiling cabin attendant.

Marissa nodded. She needed something to keep her from thinking about the horrible scene in the hotel.

“Magazine or newspaper?” asked the attendant.

“Newspaper, I guess,” said Marissa.

“San Francisco Examiner or New York Times?”

Marissa was in no mood to make decisions. “New York Times,” she said finally.

The big jet leveled off, and the seat-belt sign went out. Marissa glanced through the window at rugged mountains stretching off into dry desert. It was a relief to have gotten onto the plane finally. At the airport, she had been so scared of either being attacked by one of the blond man’s friends or being arrested, she had simply hidden in a toilet in the ladies’ room.

Unfolding the newspaper, Marissa glanced at the table of contents. Continuing coverage of the Ebola outbreaks in Philadelphia and New York was listed on page 4. Marissa turned to it.

The article reported that the Philadelphia death toll was up to fifty eight and New York was at forty-nine, but that many more cases had been reported there. Marissa was not surprised since the index case was an ear, nose and throat specialist. She also noted that the Rosenberg Clinic had already filed for bankruptcy.

On the same page as the Ebola article was a photograph of Dr.

Ahmed Fakkry, head of epidemiology for the World Health Organization. The article next to the picture said that he was visiting the CDC to investigate the Ebola outbreaks because World Health was fearful that the virus would soon cross the Atlantic.

Maybe Dr. Fakkry could help her, thought Marissa. Perhaps the lawyer Ralph was lining up for her would be able to arrange for her to speak with him.

Ralph was catching up on his journals when the doorbell rang at 9:30 P.M. Glancing at his watch, he wondered who could possibly be visiting at that hour. He looked out of the glass panel on the side of the door and was shocked to find himself staring directly into Manssa’s face.

“Marissa!” he said in disbelief, pulling open the door. Behind her, he could see a yellow cab descending his long, curved driveway.

Marissa saw him hold out his arms and ran into them, bursting into tears.

“I thought you were in California,” said Ralph. “Why didn’t you call and let me know you were coming? I would have met you at the airport.”

Marissa just held onto him, crying. It was so wonderful to feel safe. “What happened to you?” he asked, but was only greeted by louder sobs.

“At least let’s sit down,” he said, helping her to the couch. For a few minutes, he just let her cry, patting her gently on the back. “It’s okay,” he said for lack of anything else. He eyed the phone, willing it to ring. He had to make a call, and at this rate she was never going to let him get up. “Perhaps you’d like something to drink?” he asked. “How about some of that special cognac? Maybe it will make you feel better.”

Manissa shook her head.

“Wine? I have a nice bottle of Chardonnay open in the refrigerator.” Ralph was running out of ideas.

Marissa just held him tighter, but her sobs were lessening, her breathing becoming more regular.

Five minutes went by. Ralph sighed. “Where is your luggage?”

Marissa didn’t answer, but did fish a tissue out of her pocket and wipe her face.

“I’ve got some cold chicken in the kitchen.”

At last Marissa sat up. “Maybe in a little bit. Just stay with me a little longer. I’ve been so scared.”

“Then why didn’t you call me from the airport? And what happened to your car? Didn’t you leave it there?”

“It’s a long story,” said Marissa. “But I was afraid that someone might be watching it. I didn’t want anybody to know I was back in Atlanta.”

Ralph raised his eyebrows. “Does that mean you’d like to spend the night?”

“If you don’t mind,” said Marissa. “Nothing like inviting myself, but you’ve been such a good friend.”

“Would you like me to drive you over to your house to get some things?” asked Ralph.

“Thanks, but I don’t want to show up there for the same reason I was afraid to go to my car. If I were to drive anyplace tonight, I’d run over to the CDC and get a package that I hope Tad put away for me. But to tell you the truth, I think it all can wait until morning. Even that criminal lawyer, who I hope will be able to keep me out of jail.”

“Good grief,” said Ralph. “I hope you’re not serious. Don’t you think it’s time you told me what’s going on?”

Marissa picked up Ralph’s hand. “I will. I promise. Let me just calm down a little more. Maybe I should eat something.”

“I’ll fix you some chicken,” he said.

“That’s all right. I know where the kitchen is. Maybe I’ll just scramble some eggs.”

“I’ll join you in a minute. I have to make a call.”

Marissa dragged herself through the house. In the kitchen, she glanced around at all the appliances and space and thought it was a waste just to be making eggs. But that was what sounded best. She got them out of the refrigerator, along with some bread for toast. Then she realized she hadn’t asked Ralph if he wanted some too. She was about to call out but decided he wouldn’t hear her.

Putting the eggs down, she went over to the intercom and began pushing the buttons on the console to see if she could figure out how it worked. “Hello, hello,” she said as she held down different combinations. Stumbling onto the correct sequence, she suddenly heard Ralph’s voice.

“She’s not in San Francisco,” he was saying. “She’s here at my house.”

Pause.

“Jackson, I don’t know what happened. She’s hysterical. All she said was that she has a package waiting for her at the CDC. Listen, I can’t talk now. I’ve got to get back to her.”

Pause.

“I’ll keep her here, don’t worry. But get over here as soon as you can.”

Pause.

“No, no one knows she’s here. I’m sure of that. ‘Bye.”

Marissa clutched the counter top, afraid she was going to faint. All this time Ralph-the one person she’d trusted-had been one of “them.” And Jackson! It had to be the same Jackson she’d met at Ralph’s dinner party. The head of PAC, and he was on his way over. Oh, God!

Knowing Ralph was on his way to the kitchen, Marissa forced herself to go on with her cooking. But when she tried to break an egg on the side of the skillet, she smashed it shell and all into the pan. She had the other egg in her hand when Ralph appeared with some drinks. She broke the second egg a bit more deftly, mixing it all together, including the first egg’s shell.

“Smells good,” he said brightly. He put down her glass and touched her lightly on the back. Marissa jumped.

“Wow, you really are uptight. How are we going to get you to relax?”

Marissa didn’t say anything. Although she was no longer the slightest bit hungry, she went through the motions of cooking the eggs, buttering the toast and putting out jam. Looking at Ralph’s expensive silk shirt, the heavy gold cuff links, the tasseled Gucci loafers, everything about him suddenly seemed a ridiculous affectation, as did the whole elaborately furnished house. It all represented the conspicuous consumption of a wealthy doctor, now fearful of the new medical competition, of changing times, of medicine no longer being a seller’s market.

Obviously, Ralph was a member of PAC. Of course he was a supporter of Markham. And it was Ralph, not Tad, who had always known where she was. Serving the eggs, Marissa thought that even if she could escape there was no one to go to. She certainly couldn’t use a lawyer Ralph recommended. In fact, now that she knew Ralph was implicated, she remembered why the name of the law firm he’d suggested had sounded familiar: Cooper, Hodges, McQuinllin and Hanks had been listed as the service agent of PAC.

Marissa felt trapped. The men pursuing her had powerful connections. She had no idea how deeply they had penetrated the CDC. Certainly the conspiracy involved the congressman who exerted control over the CDC budget.

Marissa’s mind reeled. She was terrified no one would believe her, and she was acutely aware that the only piece of hard evidence she

had-the vaccination gun-was resting somewhere in the maximum containment lab, to which she knew from painful experience her pursuers had access. The only thing that was crystal clear was that she had to get away from Ralph before Jackson and maybe more thugs arrived.

Picking up her fork, she had a sudden vision of the blond man hurling himself through the bathroom door in San Francisco. She dropped the fork, again afraid she was about to faint.

Ralph grabbed her elbow and helped her to the kitchen table. He put the food on a plate and placed it in front of her and urged her to eat.

“You were doing so well a minute ago,” he said. “You’ll feel better if you get something in your stomach.” He picked up the fork she’d dropped and tossed it into the sink, then got another from the silver drawer.

Marissa dropped her head into her hands. She had to get herself under control. Valuable time was ticking away.

“Not hungry after all?” asked Ralph.

“Not very,” admitted Marissa. The very smell of the eggs was enough to make her sick. She shuddered.

“Maybe you should take a tranquilizer. I’ve got some upstairs. What do you think?”

“Okay,” said Marissa.

“Be right back,” said Ralph, squeezing her shoulder.

This was the chance she had prayed for. As soon as he was out of the room, Marissa was on her feet, snatching the phone off its hook. But there was no dial tone. Ralph must have disconnected it somehow! So much for the police. Replacing the phone, she rushed around the kitchen searching for Ralph’s car keys. Nothing. Next she tried the adjoining family room. There was a tiny marble urn on the room divider with a few keys, but none for a car. Going back through the kitchen, Marissa went to the small foyer by the back door. There was a cork bulletin board, an antique school desk and an old bureau. There was also a door that led to the bathroom.

Trying the desk first, she lifted its cover and rummaged through its contents. There were some odd-shaped house keys, but that was all. Turning to the small bureau, she began opening drawers, finding a jumble of gloves, scarves and rain gear.

“What do you need?” asked Ralph, suddenly appearing behind her. Guiltily she straightened up, searching for an alibi. Ralph waited, looking at her expectantly. His right hand was closed. His left hand held a glass of water.

“I thought maybe I could find a sweater,” said Marissa.

Ralph eyed her curiously. If anything, the house was too warm. After all, it was almost June.

“I’ll turn the heat on in the kitchen,” he said, guiding her back to her chair. He extended his right hand. “Here, take this.” He dropped a capsule into Marissa’s palm. It was red and ivory in color.

“Dalmane?” questioned Marissa. “I thought you were getting me a tranquilizer.”

“It will relax you and give you a good night’s sleep,” explained Ralph.

Shaking her head and handing the capsule back to Ralph, Marissa said, “I’d prefer a tranquilizer.”

“What about Valium?”

“Fine,” said Marissa.

As soon as she heard him climbing the back stairs, Marissa ran to the front foyer. There were no keys on the elaborate marble half-table or in the one central drawer. Opening the closet, Marissa rapidly patted jacket pockets. Nothing.

She was back in the kitchen just in time to hear Ralph start down the back stairs.

“There you go,” he said, dropping a blue tablet into Marissa’s hand.

“What dose is this?”

“Ten milligrams.”

“Don’t you think that’s a little much?”

“You’re so upset. It won’t affect you as it would normally,” said Ralph, handing her a glass of water. She took it from him, then pretended to take the Valium, but dropped it into the pocket of her jacket instead.

“Now let’s try the food again,” said Ralph.

Marissa forced herself to eat a little as she tried to figure out a way to escape before Jackson arrived. The food tasted awful, and she put down her fork after a few bites.

“Still not hungry?” said Ralph.

Marissa shook her head.

“Well, let’s go into the living room.”

She was glad to leave the cooking smells, but the moment they were seated, Ralph urged her to have a fresh drink.

“I don’t think I should after the Valium.”

“A little won’t hurt.”

“Are you sure you’re not trying to get me drunk?” said Marissa. She forced a laugh. “Maybe you’d better let me fix the drinks.”

“Fine by me,” said Ralph, lifting his feet to the coffee table. “Make mine scotch.”

Marissa went directly to the bar and poured Ralph a good four fingers of scotch. Then, checking to see that he was absorbed, she took out the Valium tablet, broke it in half and dropped the pieces into the alcohol. Unfortunately, they did not dissolve. Fishing the pieces out, she pulverized them with the scotch bottle and swept the powder into the drink.

“You need any help?” called Ralph.

“No,” she said, pouring a little brandy into her own glass. “Here you go.”

Ralph took his drink and settled back on the couch.

Sitting down beside him, Marissa racked her brains to figure out where he might have put his car keys. She wondered what he would say if she suddenly demanded them, but decided it was too great a risk. If he realized she knew about him, he might forcibly restrain her. This way, she still had a chance, if she could just find the keys.

A horrible thought occurred to her: he probably had just put them in his pants pocket. As distasteful as it was, Marissa forced herself to snuggle against him. Provocatively, she placed her hand on his hip. Sure enough, she could feel the keys through the light gabardine. Now, how on earth was she going to get them?

Gritting her teeth, she tilted her face to his, encouraging him to kiss her. As his arms circled her waist, she let her fingers slide into his pocket. Scarcely breathing she felt the edge of the ring and pulled. The keys jangled a little and she began frantically kissing him. Sensing his response she decided she had to take the chance. Please God, please God, she prayed and pulled out the keys and hid them in her own pocket.

Ralph had obviously forgotten Jackson was coming, or he’d decided sex was the best way to keep Marissa quiet. In any case, it was time to stop him.

“Darling,” she said. “I hate to do this to you, but that pill is getting to me. I think I’m going to have to go to sleep.”

“Just rest here. I’ll hold you.”

“I’d love to, but then you’d have to carry me upstairs.” She pulled herself out of his embrace, and he solicitously helped her up the stairs to the guest bedroom.

“Don’t you want me to stay with you?” he asked.

“I’m sorry, Ralph. I’m about to pass out. Just let me sleep.” She forced a smile. “We can always continue when the Valium wears off.” As if to end any further conversation, she lay on the bed fully clothed.

“Don’t you want to borrow pajamas?” he asked hopefully.

“No, no. I can’t keep my eyes open.”

“Well, call if you need anything. I’ll just be downstairs.”

The moment he closed the door, she tiptoed over and listened to him go down the front stairs. Then she went to the window and opened it. The balcony outside was just as she remembered. As quietly as possible, she slipped out into the warm spring night. Above was an inverted bowl of stars. The trees were just dark silhouettes. There was no wind. In the distance, a dog barked. Then Marissa heard a car.

Quickly she surveyed her position. She was about fifteen feet above the asphalt drive. There was no possibility of jumping. The balcony was surrounded by a low balustrade, separating it from the sloped roof of the porch. To the left the porch roof abutted the tower and to the right it swept around the corner of the building.

Climbing over the balustrade, Marissa inched her way to the corner. The porch roof ended about twenty feet away. The fire escape descended from the third floor, but it was out of reach. Turning, she started back for the balcony. She was halfway there when the car she’d heard earlier turned into Ralph’s drive.

Marissa lay still on the sloped roof. She knew that she was in full view of anybody coming up the driveway if they happened to look up. The car’s lights played against the trees, then swept across the front of the house, bathing her in light before it pulled up to the front steps. She heard the doors open and several voices. They were not excited; apparently no one had seen her sprawled on the roof. Ralph answered the door. There was more conversation, and then the voices disappeared inside.

Marissa scampered along the roof and climbed back over the balustrade to the balcony. She ducked into the guest room and eased open the door to the hallway. Stepping into the hail, she could hear Ralph’s voice though she could not make out what he was saying. As quietly as possible, she started toward the back stairs.

The light from the vestibule did not penetrate beyond the second turn in the hallway, and Marissa had to make her way by running her hands along the walls. She passed a number of dark bedrooms before

she rounded a final corner and saw the kitchen light shining below. At the head of the stairs, she hesitated. The sounds in the old house were confusing her. She still heard voices, but she also heard footsteps. The problem was, she couldn’t tell where they were coming from. At that moment she caught sight of a hand on the newel post below.

Changing direction, Marissa went up the stairs and was halfway to the third floor in seconds. One of the treads squeaked under her foot, and she hesitated, heart pounding, listening to the relentless approach of the figure below. When he reached the second floor and turned down the hall toward the front of the house, she let out her breath.

Marissa continued up the stairs, wincing at every sound. The door to the servants’ apartment at the top was closed but not locked.

As quietly as possible, she made her way across the dark living room and into the bedroom that she guessed looked out on the fire escape.

After struggling to raise the window, she climbed out onto the flimsy metal grate. Never fond of heights, it took all her courage to stand upright. Hesitantly, she started down, one step at a time, leading with her right foot. By the time she reached the second story, she heard excited voices inside the house and the sound of doors opening and slamming shut. Lights began going on in the darkened rooms. They had already realized that she had fled.

Forcing herself to hurry, Marissa rounded the second-story platform and was stopped by what seemed to be a large jumble of metal. Feeling with her hands, she realized that the last flight of stairs had been drawn up to protect the house from burglars. Desperately, she tried to figure out how to lower them. There didn’t seem to be any release mechanism. Then she noticed a large counterweight behind her.

Gingerly, she put her foot on the first step. There was a loud squeak of metal. Knowing she had no choice, Marissa shifted her full weight to the step. With a nerve-shattering crash, the stairs shot to the ground and she ran down them.

As soon as her feet touched the grass, she ran for the garage, arms swinging wildly. There was no way the men inside the house could not have heard the fire escape’s descent. In seconds they would be looking for her.

She ran to a side door to the garage, praying to heaven that it was not locked. It wasn’t. As she raced inside, she heard the back door of the house open. Desperately, she stepped into the dark interior, puffing the door shut behind her. Turning, she moved forward, colliding almost immediately with Ralph’s 300SDL sedan. Feeling for the car door, she opened it and slipped behind the wheel. She fumbled with the key until it slid into the ignition, and turned it. Several indicator lights flashed on, but the car didn’t start. Then she remembered Ralph explaining how you had to wait for the orange light to go

out because the engine was a diesel. She switched the ignition back off, then turned the key part way. The orange light went on, and Marissa waited. She heard someone raise the garage door; frantically, she hit the button locking all four doors of the car.

“Come on!” she urged through clenched teeth. The orange light went out. She turned the key, and the car roared to life as she stomped on the gas. There was a series of loud thumps as someone pounded her window. She shifted to reverse and floored the accelerator. There was a second’s delay before the big car leaped backward with such force that she was flung against the wheel. She braced herself as the car shot out the door, sending two men diving sideways for safety.

The car careened wildly down the drive. Marissa jammed on the brakes as the car screeched around the front of the house, but it was too late. She rammed Jackson’s car with the back of hers. Shifting to forward, Marissa thought she was free, until one of the men, taking advantage of her momentary halt, flung himself across the hood. Marissa accelerated. The tires spun, but the car did not move. She was caught on the car behind. Putting the Mercedes into reverse, then into drive, she rocked the car as if she were stuck in snow. There was a scraping sound of metal; then she shot forward, dislodging her attacker as she careened down the drive.

“Forget it,” said Jake, crawling out from under Jackson’s car, wiping grease from his hands. “She busted your radiator,” he told the doctor. “There’s no coolant, so even if it started, you couldn’t drive it.”

“Damn,” said Jackson, getting out. “That woman lives a charmed life.” He looked furiously at Heberling. “This probably wouldn’t have happened if I’d come here directly instead of waiting for your goons to get in from the airport.”

“Yeah?” said Heberling. “And what would you have done? Reasoned with her? You needed Jake and George.”

“You can use my 450 SL,” offered Ralph. “But it’s only a two-seater.”

“She got too big a head start,” said George. “We’d never catch her.”

“I don’t know how she escaped,” said Ralph apologetically. “I’d just left her to sleep. She’s had ten milligrams of Valium, for Chrissake.” He noticed he felt a little dizzy himself.

“Any idea where she might go?” asked Jackson.

“I don’t think she’ll go to the police,” said Ralph. “She’s terrified of

everyone, especially now. She might try the CDC. She said something about a package being there.”

Jackson looked at Heberling. They had the same thought: the vaccination gun.

“We may as well send Jake and George,” said Heberling. “We’re pretty sure she won’t go home, and after what she did to Al, the boys are most eager for revenge.”

Fifteen minutes from the house, Marissa began to calm down enough to worry about where she was. She had made so many random turns in case she was being pursued, she had lost all sense of direction. For all she knew, she could have driven in a full circle.

Ahead, she saw street lights and a gas station. Marissa pulled over, lowering her window. A young man came out wearing an Atlanta Braves baseball hat.

“Could you tell me where I am?” asked Marissa.

“This here’s a Shell station,” said the young man, eyeing the damage to Ralph’s car. “Did you know that both your taillights is busted?”

“I’m not surprised,” said Marissa. “How about Emory University. Could you tell me how to get there?”

“Lady, you look like you’ve been in a demolition derby,” he said, shaking his head in dismay.

Marissa repeated her question, and finally the man gave her some vague directions.

Ten minutes later Marissa cruised past the CDC. The building seemed quiet and deserted, but she still wasn’t sure what she should do or who she could trust. She would have preferred going to a good lawyer, but she had no idea how to choose one. Certainly McQuinllin was out of the question.

The only person she could envision approaching was Dr. Fakkry, from the World Health Organization. He certainly was above the conspiracy, and, conveniently, he was staying at the Peachtree Plaza. The problem was, would he believe her or would he just call Dubchek or someone else at the CDC, putting her back into the hands of her pursuers?

Fear forced her to do what she felt was her only logical choice. She had to get the vaccination gun. It was her only piece of hard evidence. Without it she doubted anyone would take her seriously. She still had Tad’s access card, and if he was not involved with PAC, the card might still be usable. Of course there was always the chance that security wouldn’t allow her into the building.

Boldly, Marissa turned into the driveway and pulled up just past

the entrance to the CDC. She wanted the car handy in case anyone tried to stop her.

Looking in the front door, she saw the guard sitting at the desk, bent over a paperback novel. When he heard her come in, he looked up, his face expressionless.

Rolling her lower lip into her mouth and biting on it, Marissa walked deliberately, trying to hide her fear. She picked up the pen and scrawled her name in the sign-in book. Then she looked up, expecting some comment, but the man just stared impassively.

“What are you reading?” asked Marissa, nerves making her chatter.

“Camus.”

Well, she wasn’t about to ask if it was The Plague. She started for the main elevators, conscious of the man’s eyes on her back. She pushed the button to her floor, turned and looked at him. He was still watching her.

The moment the doors shut, he snatched up the phone and dialed. As soon as someone answered, he said, “Dr. Blumenthal just signed in. She went up in the elevator.”

“Wonderful, Jerome,” said Dubchek. His voice was hoarse, as if he were tired or sick. “We’ll be right there. Don’t let anyone else in.”

“Whatever you say, Dr. Dubchek.”

Marissa got off the elevator and stood for a few minutes, watching the floor indicators. Both elevators stayed where they were. The building was silent. Convinced that she wasn’t being followed, she went to the stairs and ran down a flight, then out into the catwalk. Inside the virology building, she hurried down the long cluttered hall, rounded the corner and confronted the steel security door. Holding her breath, she inserted Tad’s access card and tapped out his number.

There was a pause. For a moment she was afraid an alarm might sound. But all she heard was the sound of the latch releasing. The heavy door opened, and she was inside.

After flipping the circuit breakers, she twisted the wheel on the airtight door, climbed into the first room and, instead of donning a scrub suit, went directly into the next chamber. As she struggled into a plastic suit, she wondered where Tad might have hidden the contaminated vaccination gun.

Dubchek drove recklessly, braking for curves only when absolutely necessary, and running red lights. Two men had joined him; John, in the front seat, braced himself against the door; Mark, in the

back, had more trouble avoiding being thrown from side to side. The expressions on all three faces were grim. They were afraid they would be too late.

“There it is,” said George, pointing at the sign that said Centers for Disease Control.

“And there’s Ralph’s car!” he added, pointing at the Mercedes in the semicircular driveway. “Looks like luck is finally on our side.” Making up his mind, he pulled into the Sheraton Motor Inn lot across the street.

George drew his S & W .356 Magnum, checking to see that all the chambers were filled. He opened the door and stepped out, holding the gun down along his hip. Light gleamed off the stainless-steel barrel.

“You sure you want to use that cannon?” asked Jake. “It makes so goddamn much noise.”

“I wish I had had this thing when she was driving around with you on the hood,” George snapped. “Come on!”

Jake shrugged and got out of the car. Patting the small of his back, he felt the butt of his own Beretta automatic. It was a much neater weapon.

Air line in hand, Marissa hastily climbed through the final door to the maximum containment lab. She plugged into the central manifold and looked around. The mess she’d helped create on that other fateful night had all been cleared away, but the memory of that episode flooded back with horrifying clarity. Marissa was shaking. All she wanted was to find her parcel and get the hell out. But that was easier said than done. As in any lab, there was a profusion of places where a package that size could be hidden.

Marissa started on the right, working her way back, opening cabinet doors and pulling out drawers. She got about halfway down the room, when she straightened up. There had to be a better way. At the central island, she went to the containment hood that Tad considered his own. In the cupboards below, she found bottles of reagents, paper towels, plastic garbage bags, boxes of new glassware and an abundance of other supplies. But there was no package resembling hers. She was about to move on when she looked through the glass of the containment hood itself. Behind Tad’s equipment, she could just barely make out the dark green of a plastic garbage bag.

Turning on the fan over the hood, Marissa pulled up the glass front. Then, careful not to touch Tad’s setup, she lifted out the bag. Inside was the Federal Express package. To be sure, she checked the label. It was addressed to Tad in her handwriting.

Marissa put the package in a new garbage bag, sealing it carefully. Then she put the used bag back inside the containment hood and pulled the glass front into place. At the central manifold, she hurriedly detached her air hose, then headed for the door. It was time to find Dr. Fakkry or someone else in authority she could trust.

Standing under the shower of phenolic disinfectant, Marissa tried to be patient. There was an automated timing device, so she had to wait for the process to finish before she could open the door. Once in the next room, she struggled out of her plastic suit, pulling frantically each time the zipper stuck. When she finally got it off, her street clothes were drenched with sweat.

Dubchek came to a screeching halt directly in front of the CDC entrance. The three men piled out of the car. Jerome was already holding open one of the glass doors.

Dubchek didn’t wait to ask questions, certain that the guard would tell them if Marissa had left. He ran into the waiting elevator with the other two men on his heels, and pressed the button for the third floor.

Marissa had just started across the catwalk when the door to the main building opened and three men burst out. Spinning around, she ran back into virology.

“Stop, Marissa,” someone yelled. It sounded like Dubchek. Oh, God, was he chasing her too?

She latched the door behind her and looked about for a place to hide. To her right was an elevator, to her left, a stairwell. There was no time to debate.

By the time Dubchek forced open the door, all he could see was the elevator light pointing down. Marissa was already on the lobby level as the three men began pounding down the stairs.

Knowing Dubchek was close behind, Marissa knew she had no time to slow down to avoid alerting the security guard when she’d reached the main building. His head popped up from his book, just in time to catch her streaking past. He stood up but that was all, and she was already gone when he decided that Dr. Dubchek might have wanted her stopped by force.

Outside, she fumbled for the keys to Ralph’s car, switching her parcel to her left hand. She heard shouts and then the doors to the CDC crash open. Wrestling the car door open, she started to slide behind the wheel. She was so programmed for flight that it took a

minute for her to realize that the passenger seat was occupied. There was also someone in the back. But worse was the sight of an enormous revolver pointing at her.

Marissa tried to reverse her direction, but it was as if she were caught in a heavy, viscous fluid. Her body wouldn’t respond. She saw the gun coming up at her, but she could do nothing. She saw a face in the half-light, and she heard someone start to say “good-bye.” But the gun went off with a fearful concussion, and time stopped.

When Marissa regained consciousness, she was lying on something soft. Someone was calling her name. Slowly opening her eyes, she realized that she’d been carried back inside to the couch in the CDC lobby.

Flashing red and blue lights washed the room like a tawdry, punk discotheque. There seemed to be many people coming in and out of the room. It was too confusing. She closed her eyes again and wondered what had happened to the men with the guns.

“Marissa, are you all right?”

Her lids fluttered open, and she saw Dubchek bending over her, his dark eyes almost black with fear.

“Marissa,” he said again. “Are you all right? I’ve been so worried. When you finally made us realize what was going on, we were afraid they’d try to kill you. But you never stayed still long enough for us to find you.”

Marissa was still too shocked to speak.

“Please say something,” Dubchek pleaded. “Did they hurt you?”

“I thought you were part of it. Part of the conspiracy,” was all she could manage to utter.

“I was afraid of that,” groaned Dubchek. “Not that I didn’t deserve it. I was so busy protecting the CDC, I just dismissed your theories. But believe me, I had nothing to do with any of it.”

Marissa reached for his hand. “I guess I never gave you much chance to explain, either. I was so busy breaking all the rules.”

An ambulance attendant came up to them. “Does the lady want to go to the hospital?”

“Do you, Marissa?” asked Dubchek.

“I guess so, but I think I’m okay.”

As another attendant came up to help lift her onto a stretcher, she said, “When I heard the first bang, I thought I’d been shot.”

“No, one of the FBI men I’d alerted shot your would-be killer instead.”

Marissa shuddered. Dubchek walked beside the stretcher as they took her to the ambulance. She reached out and took his hand.

Epilogue

MARISSA WAS UNPACKING FROM a two-week vacation, taken at Dr. Carbonara’s insistence, when the doorbell rang. She had just returned from Virginia, where her family had done everything they could to spoil her, even giving her a new puppy that she’d immediately named Taffy Two.

As she walked downstairs, she couldn’t imagine who might be at the door. She hadn’t told anyone the exact date of her return. When she opened the door, she was surprised to see Cyril Dubchek and a stranger.

“I hope you don’t mind our turning up like this, but Dr. Carbonara said you might be home, and Dr. Fakkry from World Health wanted to meet you. This is his last day in America. Tonight he is flying back to Geneva.”

The stranger stepped forward and dipped his head. Then he looked directly at Marissa. His eyes reminded her of Dubchek’s: dark and liquid.

“I am deeply honored,” said Dr. Fakkry, with a crisp, English accent. “I wanted to thank you personally for your brilliant detective work.”

“And with no help from us,” admitted Dubchek.

“I’m flattered,” said Marissa, at a loss for words.

Dubchek cleared his throat. Marissa found his new lack of confidence appealing. When he wasn’t making her furious, she could admit that he was actually very handsome.

“We thought you’d like to know what’s been happening,” he said. “The press has been given as little detail as possible, but even the police agree you are entitled to the truth.”

“I’d love to hear everything,” said Marissa. “But please come in and sit down. Can I get you something to drink?”

When they were settled, Dr. Fakkry said, “Thanks to you, almost everyone connected to the Ebola conspiracy has been arrested. The man you stabbed in San Francisco implicated Dr. Heberling the minute he recovered from surgery.”

“The police think he wanted to be sent to jail so you couldn’t find him again,” said Dubchek, with a hint of his old sardonic grin.

Marissa shivered, remembering the terrible episode of stabbing the man in the bathroom at the Fairmont. For a moment the image of his ice-blue eyes froze her. Then, puffing herself together, she asked what had happened to Heberling.

“He’ll be going before a grand jury on multiple counts of murder with intent,” said Dubchek. “The judge refused to set bail, no matter how high, saying that he was as dangerous to society as the Nazi war criminals.”

“And the man I hit with the vaccination gun?” Marissa had been afraid to ask this question. She didn’t want to be responsible for killing anyone or for spreading Ebola.

“He’ll live to stand trial. He did use the serum in time, and it proved effective, but he came down with a severe case of serum sickness. As soon as he’s better, he’ll also be off to jail.”

“What about the other officers of the Physicians’ Action Congress?” asked Marissa.

“A number of them have offered to turn state’s evidence,” said Dubchek. “It’s making the investigation inordinately easy. We are beginning to believe that the regular members of the organization thought they were supporting just an ordinary lobbying campaign.”

“What about Tieman? He certainly didn’t seem the type to be mixed up in such an affair. Or at least his conscience really seemed to bother him.”

“His lawyer has been making arrangements for a lighter sentence in return for his cooperation. As for PAC itself, the group’s bankrupt. The families of the victims have almost all filed suit. They’re also suing the doctors individually. Most of the officers are being prosecuted as criminals. So they should be behind bars a good while, particularly Jackson.”

“He and Dr. Heberling would be-I think your word is lynched-if the public got ahold of them,” added Dr. Fakkry.

“I guess Ralph will also be sentenced,” Marissa said slowly. She was still trying to come to terms with the fact that the man she considered a protector had tried to kill her.

“He was one of the first to cooperate with the prosecution. He’ll get some breaks, but I doubt he’ll be released for a long time. Aside from his connection with PAC, he is directly linked to the attacks on you.”

“I know,” Marissa sighed. “So it’s really over.”

“Thanks to your persistence,” said Dubchek. “And the outbreak in New York is definitely under control.”

“Thank God,” she said.

“So when will you be coming back to the CDC?” asked Dubchek.

“We’ve already gotten you clearance for the maximum containment lab.” This time there was no doubt about his grin. “No one relished the thought of your stumbling around in there at night anymore.”

Marissa blushed in spite of herself. “I haven’t decided yet. I’m actually considering going back into pediatrics.”

“Back to Boston?” Dubchek’s face fell.

“It will be a loss to the field,” said Dr. Fakkry. “You’ve become an international epidemiological hero.”

“I’ll give it more thought,” promised Marissa. “But even if I do go back to pediatrics, I’m planning to stay in Atlanta.” She nuzzled her new puppy. There was a pause, then she added, “But I’ve one request.”

“If we can be of any help . . .” said Dr. Fakkry.

Marissa shook her head. “Only Cyrill can help on this one. Whether I go back to pediatrics or not, I was hoping he’d ask me to dinner again.”

Dubchek was taken off guard. Then, laughing at Fakkry’s bemused expression, he leaned over and hugged Marissa to his side.

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