Minutes which seem like hours pass by painfully. None of us dares look at one another. We're going to be in tears if we do. All we can hear is a lot of screaming for the most part. It sounds as if they're trying to pass security. I just pray the guards don't have guns.
"I told Langly I'd come up with a plan, and he's got a listening device," Deborah explains. "They all do."
Suddenly, I hear screams. Horrible screams.
Deborah grabs the radio. "Okay, it's time to get those boys moving," Deborah announces, trying hard to maintain clinical demeanor. "Ed? Fred?"
We're treated to loud country music and two guys singing off key. "Roger that, Doc."
"You two turkeys better suit up. I think we have a biocontainment situation." Her voice gets more urgent. I watch as the blood drains from Sari's face. I almost run out of the room. Be a nurse, I remind myself. You'll do much better right now if you're a nurse than a fiancee.
"Got it," comes the electronic voice.
"And get samples!"
Deborah leans against the desk, hyperventilating. She's pale and clammy herself. I hope she can do this.
"Let's go, ladies. Showtime."
I've been to one biocontainment seminar where I learned to put on the suit. I think I'll stay away from infectious diseases as a career move, I decide in that moment.
"You gave them directions, right?" Deborah barks at Sari.
"Yes, I did." Sari snaps back. I think it's more out of fear and tension than any dislike of Deborah's tone.
The phone in the medical area rings. Sari picks it up.
"They're here. Let's get them inside."
The good news is, they're conscious. This is a huge relief. The bad news is, the paramedics informed us that their vitals started to head south as they brought them over.
All of them seem slightly confused. "Mel…what?" Mel asks me, his voice hoarse.
"Shh. Don't talk. Keep your strength."
"Got…a sample," Byers gasps, pulling a plastic bag clumsily from his suit jacket pocket and dropping it. It's a Hefty Slide Lock. Let's see if they're as good as their ads say they are.
I oxygenate Mel and Byers. Deborah is working on Langly, who, regrettably, is asthmatic and is suffering the most respiratory distress. "Just shut up and don't talk," she orders Langly, who seems to be unable to contain his inclination to chatter even when he can barely breathe. "I'm gonna push some albuterol." She grabs the inhaler and orders him to open his mouth. "Mel, I suck at IV lines, can you get them going?"
I unseal the IV catheters. I stick the first one into Langly's hand. Thank God he has decent veins. He makes a sound like a wounded animal as I stick him. "And don't tell me that was bad," I tease him lightly.
Sari has one inserted into Byers and I go over to Mel, who's breathing through a nose cannula as they all are. "You get him on your first stick?" I ask her.
"Deborah should take lessons." I'm trying to keep it light, just as we do in triage. I can tell that even through her bubble mask, Deborah is sticking her tongue out at me. This is good. We have some control here, or at least the illusion of it, for a moment.
I get everyone hooked up to pulse ox. Here my heart sinks. I don't like what I see. Even with increased oxygen levels being administered, their saturation levels are all lousy. Byers is at 95 percent, Mel at 93, and Langly barely holding at 90. First order of business is to get that up to over 96 in all of them.
"Was incubated…in shark cartilage," Byers explains to Sari.
"What was?" Deborah demands.
"The virus," he says weakly, closing his eyes.
All three of them have acquired a horrible ashen cast, and are mildly feverish.
"Shark cartilage? How would you cultivate a virus in shark cartilage?" I know of carcinomas in connective tissue, but not viruses.
"Beats the hell out of me. Histology was my worst class." Deborah calls out. "70 was passing. I got a 71."
"Thank you for sharing that," Sari says, a bit sharply.
"Jesus," mutters Deb as she comes over to check Mel. "Why couldn't they just get shot or something? That I know how to take care of."
"Not your lucky day, I guess," I say to her.
"Certainly not theirs. Look, I have a bud from gross lab at the CDC. I'm gonna give her a call. Here's what we're doing," she ups the volume of her voice. "Hypertonic saline, not normal saline. Antivirals, the stuff we use for HIV patients. I've got some. Toradol for pain and inflammation and hoping we'll keep any fever down." She looks at the monitors. "Don't like the tachy heart rates, that's for sure, but I'm not sure how much of that is from just being in a spot and how much is related to the virus." She shakes her head. "Mel, you remember the dosage for the antivirals?"
"Sari. We need all their clothes cut off and burned. Can you take care of that?"
"No problem." Sari grabs a pair of surgical scissors and begins with John, rapidly destroying his suit. Pity. I liked him in gray.
Deborah picks up the phone. "You're not likely to find your friend at the CDC after midnight, you know," I warn her.
"Then you don't know Maggie. She's the penultimate night owl."
"CDC was on scene," Mel gasps at me.
"We're going for the real version, not the official one," I say to him. I look over to Deborah, who's already punched the numbers into the phone. "Maggie's discreet, isn't she?"
"She will be if I tell her to. Shit!" I've got her voice mail! Dammit, the one night I need her to be there, and I don't have her pager number."
"I have a friend who works admin there," Sari offers. "He may be able to get it."
"Then get him on the phone. We're playing Beat the Clock here, and not the way I like doing it."
"His number's in my Palm Pilot. It's upstairs. I don't want to leave John."
"Then have Devi do it," I suggest. "I'm sure she'll help."
I start cutting away Mel's clothing. I'd prefer to be in our bedroom in the place we haven't yet rented, ripping his clothes off on our wedding night. This is not what I had in mind.
Apparently, he's thinking the same way. "Not exactly how I wanted to seduce you," he mumbles. I don’t like the way he looks at all. His color’s bad, his breathing is uneven and rushed.
"Let's start the antivirals first."
"We drip, not push," I remind her. "We can't push Toradol, either."
"The drip won't be fast enough," Deborah protests. "I have no idea how much time we're up against."
"We can do injections, then." I stroke Mel's hair. "Sweetheart, I'm sorry, this will hurt." They're intramuscular injections, given in an area which is normally much more suited to gentle stroking and grabbing than sticking with a three-inch needle. He obliges me with nothing more than a wince.
"Doesn't matter. Everything hurts."
"Feels like a bad case of the flu, I'm guessing?"
"Yeah. Something like that."
"You're not…gonna make me wear one of those…things?" Langly protests as the last of his clothing is cut away and Sari brings out a hospital smock.
"They're all the rage in Paris, I hear," Sari assures him. "Come on, Ringo."
"Sari?" Byers whispers.
"I'm going to be…" Well, I can see that the antivirals are working on John. Or doing something, at any rate. It's not unusual for a patient to vomit after they've been administered. I'm too late for a basin, but once Sari has Ringo gowned up, she begins cleaning up the mess. I run to grab some basins. This is unlikely to be the last occurrence of such an incident.
Devi calls down, and I understand from the conversation that she has with Deborah that Sari's friend at the CDC has indicated that he will be in Europe for a conference for another five days.
"Shit," Sari mutters.
"My throat hurts," Ringo whines.
"You're not the only one. Shut up," Mel shoots back at him.
"John, what about you?" Deborah asks. "Same?"
"Same," he says, leaning back into the pillow.
I try to touch Mel through my suit, which, of course, means that he gets the sweet sensation of plastic on his skin. He shudders.
"Try to rest," I tell him gently. "We'll figure this out."
"Yves. She knows." His eyes close and he seems to fall into a restless sleep.
"Mel, we have to figure out what the hell this thing is. It seems like it came on them pretty fast. Can you and Sari check the sample John had?" Deborah asks us. She sucks in her breath. "We've got to get a handle on this. Right now I'm not sure if we're doing more harm than good."
"Deb." A hoarse croak from Ringo.
"Just a minute, babe," she calls back to him.
"We're talking, Ringo, I'll be with you in a minute."
"When I'm better…wanna have kids."
Sari and I both raise our eyebrows. "You think he's delirious?" I ask Deborah, half serious and half not.
"Definitely." But I see the wistful smile on her face before she settles back down to business.
The sample is unlike anything I've ever observed. Not that I've been in the lab much in the past thirty or so years. Sari shakes her head.
"If this is really a virus, we need a confocal," I say to Sari.
Deborah groans. "Right. Like we're gonna get one at 2 a.m. And I can't leave. I won't."
Mel makes a weak motion to me. "Yes, dear, what is it?" I say softly to him.
"What about Yves?"
"Did he say Yves?" Deborah's tone turns sharp and angry. "She knows about this? She got you into this and she knows all about it?! I am so gonna kill that bitch!"
"Deborah, calm down," John croaks. I wish they would just sleep. Sleep would probably work wonders for all of them, but this particular species of whatever they have seems to keep them restless and on edge.
"I am not going to calm down! That whore gets you guys in more trouble and she walks away from this? No way!"
"Deborah," I say quietly. "We need her. I'll deal with her if we can just find her."
"Good luck on that," Ringo mutters. "Deb, man, c'mover here."
"There's a problem," John is by now so hoarse that he can barely whisper.
"You bet there's a problem!" Deb shoots back. "And she's going to help us fix it!"
"She thinks we're dead," Mel says to me. "Right now, you wouldn't have a hard time convincing me that that was true."
"She thinks what?!" Sari's eyebrows shoot up.
"We're…we're supposed to be dead." It's taking all of Mel's strength just to say that.
"We have to contact her," Sari says.
"She'll be in danger if she knows," John responds.
"And what the hell do you call what you're in right now?! Get her!" Deborah snaps viciously. "Or I'll hunt her down and beat the information out of her myself. And then I'll kill her!"
"We have to do this," I inform everyone in my quietest but most forceful voice. As a nurse, you have to develop that voice. I've had a lot of practice. "Try to remember as much as you can about reaching her, guys. And Deborah? Settle down."
"In the meantime, what do we do?" Sari asks, her face and voice riddled with anxiety.
"We watch. We wait." And we hope they stay alive, I add silently.
It's a long night. We haven't been able to raise Yves, and the three are all getting sicker. They're all having nausea from the antivirals and John keeps vomiting from them. Ringo has two additional asthma attacks. Deborah thinks about intubating him. This upsets him a lot and she obliges him for now, with the warning that she may have to at some point. "Or no sex for a year," she promises coldly.
As if she could accomplish that. I know how soft she is for him.
"Damn her, whatever the hell that hacker bitch’s name really is!" Deborah curses her.
"Funny you should say that," John croaks, waking fitfully. I’ve admonished Deborah to keep it down several times, but physicians, especially surgeons, aren’t especially good about taking orders from nurses. "It isn’t her name."
"What a shock," Sari comments sarcastically. "So what was she named? Gertrude? Mildred?"
"Almost as bad," John says, with just a hint of a smile. "Lois Runtz."
"What--oh God, that’s priceless!" Deborah giggles. "No wonder she changed her name. I would had my parents done that to me!"
"She had other reasons," John continues, but it’s taking all his strength.
"You need sleep," I instruct him. "How’s your stomach?"
"You need the basin again?" I ask him.
"No...not now." He drifts off again, restless like the others.
"Lois Runtz. Hmm. Remind my not to name our firstborn child that," Deborah says as gently strokes Ringo’s hair with her gloved hand.
The touch is sufficient to awaken him. "Wouldn’t even consider it," he mumbles.
The rest of the night is spent monitoring, cleaning up, trying to figure out how we’re going to dispose of the biological waste they’ve generated, administering medication. I try to encourage Deborah and Sari to get some sleep and that I’ll keep watch, but they won’t hear of it. Still, we must have dozed off at some point, all three of us, because when the phone rings, we all jump as if stunned out of our skins. The guys hear it as well. We can’t seem to get them comfortable, and I hope whatever this phone call is about, it’s important.
The phone is positioned closest to the bed where Mel is, so needless to say, I’m the one most able to rapidly pick it up.
"Yes?" I ask quietly.
"There’s some woman here who says her name is Lois Runtz. She says she has to talk to you."
"Uh...tell her one of us will be right up."
I turn to the five of them. "Lois Runtz is here. I think she and I are going to have a little chat." Deborah begins to rise up, her face all ice cold fury, but I motion her to restrain herself, and once in a while, I’m successful. This fortunately was one of those times.
Yves Adele Harlow, aka Lois Runtz. This should be interesting.
And whether Deborah realizes it or not, I am equally inclined to strangle her, but information first.
Getting out of the suit is time consuming, although faster than getting into it, and quite honestly, it’s an enormous relief to have shed it. I shower rapidly and head up the elevator.
When I come to the living room, Devi is chatting with her as if she were an old friend. I doubt very much that they are, but there are certain skills that come with being the wife of a diplomat, and lying through your teeth and never letting on that you are is obviously one of them.
"Mel, I’d like you to meet Lois Runtz. Lois, this is Mel Scarlett." This woman is cool. She’s got the act down pat.
I find myself face to face with a very young woman who is nothing short of a natural beauty. She’s got long, wavy dark hair, dark exotic eyes, and a voice with a soft, cultured British accent. Mel said she was a looker. He wasn’t kidding.
"Melvin’s fiancee, Mel Scarlett?" She inquires of me.
"That would be me, yes. I’m sorry we had to meet under these circumstances. You said you needed to see us."
"I need to talk to the guys."
"I'm afraid that's not possible. They’re in no shape to talk right now." I’m not lying. Medically, they’re in no shape to have any sort of discussion with the woman who, from what I can assess, bears the responsibility for what happened to my man and his cohorts. And there’s the issue of contagion. "If you have information, you can pass it through me."
"I need to talk to them. Please."
"Why is that? And how did you find us here? We’ve been attempting to locate you all night, and you never responded."
"I didn’t dare. It would have jeopardized them."
Or you, I want to say, but I’m too Southern military polite to say it aloud. "They say you have information on this virus."
"So they really are alive."
"What did you think?"
"I...I wasn’t sure. I was..."
"You left them locked in a room with a contaminated victim, and you say you hope they’re alive?" I lose my manners here. "That’s quite rich, Ms. Runtz."
"Please. Just...just let me see them. I’ll explain everything. I promise."
I think her promises hold as much water as a screen door in a submarine, but if it will help Mel, Ringo and John, I think it’s worth the risk.
"I’ll see if we have an extra suit."
Over the vehement protests of both Deborah and Sari, I allow Ms. Runtz to enter the area. I insist she suit up. She insists she’s not going to.
"Do it or you don’t go in." She sighs and obliges. She doesn’t know that I have thirty years of dealing with recalcitrant types such as her.
"It really doesn’t matter."
"Look, young lady, if you have a death wish, that is not going to be my problem," I inform her. I lead her into the room, raising my hand in warning to keep both women from tearing her eyes out. Even Sari is unable to maintain neutrality at this point. I can understand why. I wouldn’t mind smacking the little darling around myself.
The three are sleeping when she enters. I gently shake Mel awake, which I hate to do. It’s sufficient to arouse the other two as well.
"Guys...I’m so sorry."
"Lois?" John rasps.
"Jesus, this thing is making me delirious. What’re you doing here?" Mel demands.
"Drop dead, bitch." That was from Ringo.
"You have to understand...I had to do it."
"Just like you’ve had to do every other unethical act you’ve ever engaged in," Sari responds acidically. "At what point do you plan to start taking some responsibility for your actions?" This is the iciest--and angriest--I’ve ever seen Sari. Not that I know her very well, but well enough to know that she will generally behave in a cordial manner.
"Better yet, what the hell do you plan to do to help us? These guys are sick and they’re not getting better, and so help me, if they don’t get better, it’s your ass, girlie." Deborah, never one to be shy about saying what she feels, aims this one at her.
Ms. Runtz takes an audible breath inside her suit. "There’s a young woman who was the developer’s research assistant until about a month ago. She left his lab because he was sexually harassing her. She probably knows more about this virus than anyone else, save for the late doctor."
"All this and sexually harassing a lab assistant. Nice guy," Deborah retorts. "Give me her name. We need her. Yesterday."
"I can try to get in touch with her."
"I‘m afraid that won‘t be good enough," I say, and I mean it. "You have to get her to us."
"She’s left Hartwell."
"You found us. Find her. I don’t feel like giving it up yet," Mel barks in a hoarse croak.
"I’d like to stick around and make a few people miserable for this," Langly says harshly.
"Guys, shut up," Deborah orders them. She leans in close to Ms. Runtz. "Listen, Hacker Bitch Barbie, you got them into this mess. Now get them out. They’ve got work left to do."
"There’s another problem with that," Ms. Runtz says, rather sheepishly, I might add.
"In addition to them possibly dying from this? You have something that takes priority over that?" Sari whispers harshly to her.
"Guys," Ms. Runtz backs away from us and towards the guys. "They think you’re dead. And right now, dead is the safest place for you to be. If Fletcher and my father know you’re alive, they’re going to come gunning for you. And you might not be so lucky next time."
"You call this lucky?" Poor John. Even he isn’t in a particularly forgiving mood. Can’t say as I blame him.
"Compared to what will happen to you if you surface, this will seem like a walk in the park," Ms. Runtz promises.
"Does anyone know we’re alive, outside of the people in this house?" Mel asks her.
"No one. Not even Jimmy."
"You should tell Jimmy that we’ll be...okay," John informs her.
"No. Absolutely not. If he does, he’ll come looking for you, and that will just make things worse."
"What about Agent Scully?" Mel asks her.
"She has no idea."
"She’ll demand an autopsy." John warns her.
"She won’t. She knows the rules of biocontainment." Deborah understands that, as do I.
"As of right now, AD Skinner is clamoring to have you guys buried in Arlington National Cemetery."
"Oh, that’ll work. Anyone who knows anything about biohazards knows that the bodies have to be cremated."
"Apparently Mr. Skinner didn’t."
"So what you’re saying is...that these guys have to go into hiding," Deborah muses.
"And you ladies as well. You’re targets now, you know."
"It wouldn’t be the first time," Sari reminds her.
I’m just thinking, how many of those times was this woman responsible for that?
"Has anyone ever survived this virus?" I ask, very quietly.
Ms. Runtz shakes her head. "But you’re talking about a very small number of people. And all of them had the virus implanted in them. It’s never been tested airborne before."
"None of the implantees survived, I’m assuming," I say, hoping it’s not true.
"No. But there were tests planned. The first one was to be done in about a week...in the Washington-Baltimore corridor."
Mel opens his eyes for that. "Talk about deja vu."
"You’ve saved thousands of lives, you know," Ms. Runtz tells them.
"Fine. Now save theirs. Get this Anndie person or whatever her name is down here. And do it today," Deborah puts on her best pushy obnoxious surgeon act.
"Just do it!"
For once, I don’t correct Deborah. I’m with her all the way.
Go To Chapter 3