by Robin Cook
ne roy drugomu yamu, sam v neyo popadesh (do not dig a hole for another, you just might fall in it yourself)
VECTOR: (medical) a carrier that transmits an infectious agent from one host to another.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 15
Jason Papparis had been in the rug business for almost thirty years. He started in the Plaka district of Athens in the late sixties, selling mostly goatskins, sheepskins, and fur rugs to American tourists. He did well and enjoyed himself, especially with the young, college-age female tourists to whom he invariably and graciously availed himself to show the night life of his beloved city.
Then fate intervened. On a sultry summer night, Helen Herman of Queens, New York, wandered into his shop and absently caressed some of Jason's higher-quality rugs. A romantic at heart, Helen found herself swept off her feet by an irresistable combination of Jason's soulful eyes and fervent attentions and the romantic mystique of Greece.
Jason's ardor had been no less. After Helen's departure for the States, Jason found himself inconsolably lonely. An impassioned correspondence began, followed by a visit. Jason's trip to New York only fanned the fires of desire. Ultimately he emigrated, married Helen, and took his business to Manhattan.
Jason's business thrived. The extensive contacts he had established over the years with rug producers in both Greece and Turkey stood him in good stead, and provided Jason with a monopoly of sorts. Instead of opening a retail shop in New York, Jason had wisely opted for a wholesale business. It was a lean operation. He had no employees. All he had was an office in Manhattan and a warehouse in Queens. He outsourced all his shipping and inventory control and occasionally he hired temps for clerical work.
The business operated by telephone and fax. Consequently Jason's office door was always locked.
On this particular Friday his mail was dropped through the mail slot as it always was, but due to a thick catalogue it landed with a louder than usual plop on the wooden floor. At his desk, Jason's attention was plucked from his bookkeeping. He balanced his omnipresent cigarette on the edge of his overflowing ashtray, then got up to retrieve the mail. He was counting on receiving a significant number of checks to alleviate his burgeoning accounts-receivable balance. Regaining his seat, he sorted through the mail, placing each piece in its appropriate pile and the junk mail directly into the wastebasket. Reaching the next-to-last envelope, he hesitated. It was thick and square instead of rectangular. Jason detected a small, irregular bulge in the center. Glancing at the postage, he noticed that it was a first-class letter, not bulk mail. In the lower left-hand corner the envelope was stamped with an admonition: Hand Stamp. The explanation was: Fragile Contents!
Jason turned the envelope over. It was made of rather thick, dense, high-quality paper. It was not the usual paper for an advertisement, yet the return address was for ACME Cleaning Service: Leave Your Dust to Us. The business was located on lower Broadway.
Flipping the envelope over once again, Jason noticed that it was addressed to him personally, not to the Corinthian Rug Company. Below the address were the words personal and confidential.
With his thumb and index finger, Jason tried to determine the source of the bulge. He had no idea. His curiosity getting the better of him, he picked up his letter opener and sliced through the envelope's top flap. Peeking inside he could see a folded card made with heavy paper of quality equal to that of the envelope.
"What the hell?" Jason said aloud. This was certainly not the usual advertisement. He pulled out the card, marveling that some advertising executive had been able to talk a cleaning service into sending out such an expensive gimmick. The card was sealed with a tab. In the center of the front of the card was the single word Surprise!
Jason worked the tab loose from its bed and as soon as he did the card leaped in his hands and snapped open. At the same time a coiled spring mechanism propelled a puff of dust along with a handful of tiny glittering stars into the air.
Jason was initially startled by the sudden, unexpected movement, and he sneezed several times from the dust. But then a smile quickly appeared. Inside the card was the caption Call Us To Clean Up The Mess!
Jason shook his head in amazement. He had to give credit to whoever was responsible for this advertisement for ACME Cleaners. It was certainly unique and cleverand effective. Jason found himself wishing that he could enlist ACME Cleaners, but he didn't need a cleaning service since his landlord provided one.
Jason tossed the card and envelope into his wastebasket, then leaned over to brush off the tiny glittering stars from the front of his shirt. As he did so he felt another tickle in his nose which caused him to sneeze several more times, hard enough to bring tears to his eyes.
As usual for a Friday, Jason finished work early. Enjoying the fall weather, he walked to Grand Central Station to board the five-fifteen commuter train. Forty-five minutes later, just as he was nearing his station, he felt the first twinges of discomfort in his chest. His first reflex was to swallow, but that had no effect. He then cleared his throat, which was equally ineffective. He then patted his chest and took several deep breaths.
The woman sitting next to Jason lowered the edge of her newspaper. "Are you okay?" she asked.
"Oh, yeah, no problem," Jason responded, feeling embarrassed. He wondered if he'd smoked more than usual that day. That night, Jason tried to ignore the odd tickle in his chest, but it didn't subside. Helen became aware that something was wrong when he pushed his dinner around his plate instead of eating. They were at their usual Friday haunt, a local Greek restaurant. The couple had started going to the place at least once a week after their only daughter left home for college.
"My chest feels funny," Jason finally admitted when Helen asked.
"I hope you're not coming down with the flu again."
Although Jason was basically healthy, his heavy smoking made him susceptible to respiratory infections, particularly influenza. He'd also had a serious bout with pneumonia three years earlier.
"It can't be the flu," Jason said. "It's not flu season yet. Is it?"
"You're asking me?" Helen returned. "I don't know, but wasn't this about the time you got it last year?"
"That was November," Jason said.
When they got home, Helen insisted on taking Jason's temperature. It was ninety-nine point four, barely above normal. They discussed calling Dr. Goldstein, their primary care physician, but decided against it. They were reluctant to bother the doctor on a weekend.
"Why does something like this always happen on Friday night?" Helen complained.
Jason slept poorly. In the middle of the night he had a hot flash resulting in so much perspiration, he felt obliged to take a shower. While toweling off he had a chill.
"This settles it," Helen said after putting several blankets on her shivering husband. "We're calling the doctor first thing in the morning."
"What's he going to do?" Jason grumbled. "I got the flu. He's going to tell me to stay home, take aspirin, drink a lot of fluids, and rest."
"Maybe he'll give you some antibiotics," Helen said.
"There's some antibiotics left over from last year," Jason said. "They're in the medicine cabinet. Get them! I don't need a doctor."
Saturday was not a good day. By late afternoon Jason admitted that he was definitely worse despite the aspirin, fluids, and antibiotic. The discomfort in his chest had worsened to pain. His temperature had risen to one hundred and three, and he'd developed a cough. But what he complained about most was a splitting headache, along with generalized aching muscles.
Attempts to reach Dr. Goldstein were unsuccessful. The doctor had gone to Connecticut for the weekend. His answering service advised Helen to take her husband to the local emergency room.
After a long wait, Jason was finally seen by the emergency-room physician, who was impressed with his condition, especially after a chest X-ray. To Helen's relief, the doctor advised Jason's immediate admission to the hospital and referred the case to Dr. Heitman, who was covering Dr. Goldstein's inpatients. The diagnosis was influenza with secondary pneumonia, and the emergency-room physician started Jason on intravenous antibiotics.
Jason had never felt worse in his life as he was taken to his hospital room just before midnight. He complained bitterly about his chest pain, which was excruciating when he coughed, and about his headache. When Dr. Heitman came by to see him, Jason pleaded for relief and was given Percodan.
It took almost a half hour for the pain medication to have an effect. By that time Dr. Heitman had departed. Jason lay on his bed, exhausted but unable to sleep. He sensed a mortal battle was raging inside his body. Allowing his head to loll to the side, he looked at Helen in the half light and gripped her hand. She was maintaining a silent vigil. A tear traced a path down the side of Jason's face. In his mind's eye Helen was still that young woman who'd wandered into his shop in the Plaka all those years ago.
Helen's image began to fade as welcome numbness suffused Jason's body. At twelve-thirty-five A.M. Jason Papparis fell asleep for the last time. Mercifully, he was unaware when he was later rushed to the intensive care unit by Dr. Kevin Fowler, who waged an unsuccessful battle for his life.
MONDAY, OCTOBER 18
The hum of the commuter plane's engines was ragged. One moment they were screaming as the plane headed inexorably earthward, the next they were eerily silent, as if they had been inadvertently switched off by the pilot.
Jack Stapleton watched in terror, knowing that his family was aboard and there was nothing he could do. The plane was going to crash! Helplessly he shouted NO! NO! NO!
Jack's shouting mercifully yanked him from the clutches of his recurrent nightmare, and he sat bolt upright in bed. He was breathing heavily as if he'd been playing full-court basketball, and perspiration dripped from the end of his nose. He was disoriented until his eyes swept about the interior of his bedroom. The intermittent sound wasn't coming from a commuter plane. It was his telephone. Its raucous jingle was relentlessly shattering the night.
Jack's eyes shot to the face of his radio alarm clock. The digital numbers glowed in the dark room. It was four-thirty in the morning! No one called Jack at four-thirty. As he reached for the phone, he remembered all too well the night eight years ago when he'd been awakened by a phone call informing him that his wife and two children had perished.
Snatching the receiver from its cradle Jack answered the phone with a rasping and panicky voice.
"Uh oh, I think I woke you up," a woman's voice said. There was a significant amount of static on the line.
"I don't know why you'd think that," Jack said, now conscious enough to be sarcastic. "Who is this?"
"It's Laurie. I'm sorry I've awakened you. It couldn't be helped." She giggled.
Jack closed his eyes, then looked back at the clock just to make sure he had not been mistaken. It indeed was four-thirty in the morning!
"Listen," Laurie continued. "I've got to make this fast. I want to have dinner with you tonight."
"This has got to be a joke," Jack said.
"No joke," Laurie said. "It's important. I have to talk with you, and I'd like to do it over dinner. It's my treat. Say yes!"
"I guess," Jack said, reluctant to commit.
"I'm going to take that as a yes," Laurie said. "I'll tell you where when I see you at the office later on this morning. Okay?"
"I suppose," Jack said. He wasn't as awake as he'd thought. His mind wasn't working up to speed.
"Perfect," Laurie said. "See you then."
Jack blinked when he realized Laurie had disconnected. He hung up the phone and stared at it in the darkness. He'd known Laurie Montgomery for more than four years as a fellow medical examiner in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for the City of New York. He'd also known her as a friendin fact, more than a friendand in all that time she'd never called him so early in the morning. And for good reason. He knew she was not a morning person. Laurie liked to read novels far into the night, which made getting up in the morning a daily ordeal for her.
Jack dropped back onto his pillow with the intent of sleeping for another hour and a half. In contrast to Laurie, he was a morning person, but four-thirty was a bit too early, even for him.
Unfortunately it was soon apparent to Jack that more sleep was not in the offing. Between the phone call and the nightmare, he couldn't get back to sleep. After half an hour of restless tossing and turning, he threw back the covers and padded into the bathroom in his sheepskin slippers.
With the light on, Jack regarded himself in the mirror while running a hand over his stubbled face. Absently he noted the chipped left incisor and the scar high on his forehead, both mementos of some extra-office investigating he'd done in relation to a series of infectious-disease cases. The unexpected fallout was that Jack had become the de facto guru of infectious diseases in the medical examiner's office.
Jack smiled at his image. Lately it had occurred to him that if he had been able to look into a crystal ball eight years previously to see himself now, he would never have recognized himself. Back then, he'd been a relatively portly, midwestern, suburban ophthalmologist, conservative in dress. Now he was a lean and mean medical examiner in the City of New York with closely cropped, gray-streaked hair, a chipped tooth, and a scarred face. As far as clothes were concerned, he now favored bomber jackets, faded jeans, and chambray shirts.
Avoiding thoughts of his family, Jack mulled over Laurie's surprising behavior. It was so out of character. She was always considerate and concerned about proper etiquette. She would never phone at such an hour without good reason. Jack wondered what that reason was.
Jack shaved and climbed into the shower while he tried to imagine why Laurie would have called in the middle of the night to arrange a dinner date. They had dinner together often, but it was usually decided on the spur of the moment. Why would Laurie need to line a date up at such an hour?
While Jack toweled himself dry, he decided to call Laurie back. It was ridiculous for him to guess what was going on in her mind. Since she had awakened him as she had, it was only reasonable that she explain herself. But when Jack made the call he got her answering machine. Thinking she might be in the shower, he left a message asking her to call him right back.
By the time Jack had eaten breakfast it was after six. Since Laurie still hadn't called, Jack tried her again. To his chagrin, the answering machine picked up for the second time. He hung up in the middle of her outgoing message.
Since it was now light outside, Jack entertained the idea of going to work early. That was when it occurred to him that perhaps Laurie had telephoned from the office. He was sure she wasn't on call, but there was the possibility that a case had come in that particularly interested her.
Jack called the medical examiner's office. Marjorie Zankowski, the night communications operator, answered. She told Jack that she was ninety percent sure that Dr. Laurie Montgomery was not there. She said that the only medical examiner there was the tour doctor.
With a sense of frustration bordering on anger, Jack gave up. He vowed not to spend any more mental energy trying to figure out what was on Laurie's mind. Instead he went into his living room and curled up on the couch with one of his many unread forensic journals.
At six-forty-five, Jack got up, tossed aside the reading, and hefted his Cannondale mountain bike from where it leaned against the living-room wall. With it balanced on his shoulder, he started down the four flights of his tenement. Early in the morning was the only time of the day that loud quarreling wasn't heard in apartment 2B. On the ground floor, Jack had to navigate around some trash that had been dropped down the stairwell during the night.
Emerging on West 106th Street, Jack took in a lungful of October air. For the first time that day he felt revived. Climbing onto his purple bike he headed for Central Park, passing the empty neighborhood basketball court on his left.
A few years ago, on the same day that he had been punched hard enough to chip his front tooth, Jack's first mountain bike had been stolen. Listening to warnings from his colleagues, particularly Laurie, about the dangers of bike riding in the city, Jack had resisted buying another. But after being mugged on the subway, Jack had gone ahead with the purchase.
Initially, Jack had been a relatively careful cyclist when riding his new bike. But over time that had changed. Now Jack was back to his old tricks. While commuting to and from the office, Jack indulged his self-destructive streak by taking a twice-daily, hair-raising walk on the wild side. Jack believed he had nothing more to lose. His reckless cycling, a habitual temptation of fate, was a way of saying that if his family had had to die, he should have been with them and maybe he'd join them sooner rather than later.
By the time Jack arrived at the medical examiner's office on the corner of First Avenue and Thirtieth Street, he'd had two protracted arguments with taxi drivers and a minor run-in with a city bus. Undaunted and not at all out of breath, Jack parked his bike on the ground floor next to the Hart Island coffins and made his way up to the ID room. Most people would have felt on edge after such a harrowing trip. But not Jack. The confrontations and physical exertion calmed him, preparing him for the day's invariable bureaucratic hurdles.
Jack flicked the edge of Vinnie Amendola's newspaper as he walked by the mortuary tech, who was sitting at his preferred location at the desk just inside the door. Jack also said hello, but Vinnie ignored him. As usual, Vinnie was committing to memory the previous day's sports stats.
Vinnie had been employed at the ME's office longer than Jack had. He was a good worker, although he'd come close to being fired a couple of years back for leaking information that had embarrassed the office and had put both Jack and Laurie in harm's way. The reason Vinnie was censured and put on probation rather than terminated was the extenuating circumstances of his behavior. An investigation had determined he'd been the victim of extortion by some unsavory underworld figures. Vinnie's father had had a loose association with the mob.
Jack said hello to Dr. George Fontworth, a corpulent medical examiner colleague who was Jack's senior in the office hierarchy by seven years. George was just starting his weekly stint as the person who reviewed the previous night's reported deaths, deciding which would be autopsied and by whom. That was why he was at the office early. Normally, he was the last to arrive.
"A fine welcome," Jack mumbled when George ignored him as Vinnie had. Jack filled his mug with some of the coffee that Vinnie had made on his arrival. Vinnie came in before the other techs to assist the duty doctor if need arose. One of his jobs was to brew the coffee in the communal pot.
With his coffee in hand Jack wandered over to George and looked over his shoulder.
"Do you mind?" George said petulantly. He shielded the papers in front of him. One of his pet peeves was people reading over his shoulder.
Jack and George had never gotten along. Jack had little tolerance for mediocrity and refused on principle to hide his feelings. George might possess stellar credentialshe had trained with one of the giants in the field of forensic pathologybut to Jack, his efforts on the job were merely perfunctory. Jack had no respect for the man.
Jack smiled at George's reaction. He got perverse pleasure out of goading him. "Anything particularly interesting?" Jack asked. He walked around to the front of the desk. With his index finger he began to shuffle through the folders so he could read the presumed diagnoses.
"I have these in order!" George snapped. He pushed Jack's hand away and restored the physical integrity of his stacks. He was sorting them according to the cause and manner of death.
"What do you have for me?" Jack asked. One of the things that Jack loved about being a medical examiner was that he never knew what each day would bring. Every day there was something new. That had not been the case when he was an ophthalmologist. Back then Jack knew what each day was going to be like three months in advance.
"I do have an infectious case," George said. "Although I don't think it's particularly interesting. It's yours if you want it."
"Why was it sent in?" Jack asked. "No diagnosis?"
"Only a presumed diagnosis," George said. "They listed it as possible influenza with secondary pneumonia. But the patient died before any of the cultures came back. Complicating the issue is that nothing was seen on gram stain. And on top of that the man's doctor was away for the weekend."
Jack took the folder. The name was Jason Papparis. Jack slipped out the information sheet filled out by Janice Jaeger, the night-shift forensic investigator or physician's assistant, called a PA for short. As Jack skimmed the sheet, he nodded with admiration. Janice had proved herself a thorough researcher. Ever since Jack had made the suggestion for her to inquire about travel and contact with animals in infectious cases, she never failed to do so.
"Mighty potent case of flu!" Jack commented. He noted that the deceased had been in the hospital for less than twenty-four hours. But he also noticed that the man had been a heavy smoker and had a history of respiratory problems. That raised the issue of whether the infectious agent was potent or the patient unusually susceptible.
"Do you want it or not?" George asked. "We've got a lot of cases this morning. I've already got you down for several others, including a prisoner who died in custody."
"Groan," Jack mumbled. He knew that such cases frequently had complicated political and social fallout. "Are you sure Calvin, our fearless deputy chief, won't want to do that one himself?"
"He called earlier and told me to assign it to you," George said. "He'd already heard from someone high up in the police hierarchy and thought you'd be the best one to handle the job."
"Now that's ironic," Jack said. It didn't make sense. The deputy chief as well as the chief himself were always complaining about Jack's lack of diplomacy and appreciation of the political and social aspects of being a medical examiner.
"If you don't want the infectious case, I've got an overdose you can do," George said.
"I'll take the infectious case," Jack said. He did not like overdoses. They were repetitious and the office was inundated with them. There was no intellectual challenge.
"Fine," George said. He made a notation on his master list.
Eager to get a jump on the day, Jack stepped over to Vinnie and bent the edge of his paper down. Vinnie regarded him morosely with his coal-black eyes. Vinnie was not pleased. He knew what was coming. It happened almost every day.
"Don't tell me you want to start already?" Vinnie whined.
"The early bird gets the worm," Jack said. The trite expression was Jack's stock response to Vinnie's invariable lack of early-morning enthusiasm. The comment never ceased to further provoke the mortuary tech even though he knew it was coming.
"I wish I knew why you couldn't come in when everyone else does," Vinnie grumbled.
Despite appearances Jack and Vinnie got along famously. Because of Jack's penchant for coming in early, they invariably worked together, and over the years they'd developed a well-oiled protocol. Jack preferred Vinnie over all the other techs, and Vinnie preferred Jack. In Vinnie's words, Jack did not "dick around."
"Have you seen Dr. Montgomery yet?" Jack asked as they headed for the elevator.
"She's too intelligent to come in here this early," Vinnie said. "She's normal, which you're not."
As they passed through communications Jack caught sight of a light on in Sergeant Murphy's cubbyhole office. The sergeant was a member of the NYPD Bureau of Missing Persons. He'd been assigned to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for years. He rarely arrived much before nine.
Curious whether the ebullient Irishman was already there, Jack detoured and glanced inside. Not only was Murphy there, he wasn't alone. Sitting across from him was Detective Lieutenant Lou Soldano of homicide, a frequent visitor to the morgue. Jack knew him reasonably well, particularly since he was a good friend of Laurie's. Next to him was another plainclothes gentleman whom Jack did not recognize.
"Jack!" Lou called out when he caught sight of him. "Come in here a minute. I want you to meet someone."
Jack stepped into the tiny room. Lou got to his feet. As usual, the detective appeared as if he'd been up all night. He hadn't shavedthe sides of his face looked as if they had been smeared with sootand there were dark circles under his eyes. On top of that, his clothes were disheveled, the top button of his once white shirt was open, and his tie was loosened.
"This is Special Agent Gordon Tyrrell," Lou said, gesturing toward the man sitting next to him. The man got to his feet and stuck out his hand.
"Does that mean FBI?" Jack questioned as he shook the man's hand.
"It does indeed," Gordon said.
Jack had never shaken the hand of a member of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It was not quite the experience he envisioned. Gordon's hand was slight, almost effeminate, and his grip loose and tentative. The agent was a small man with delicate features, certainly not the masculine stereotype Jack had grown up with. The agent's clothes were conservative but neat. All three buttons of his jacket were buttoned. In most respects he was the visual antithesis of Lou.
"What's going on here?" Jack questioned. "I can't remember the last time I saw the sergeant here this early."
Murphy laughed and started to protest, but Lou interrupted.
"There was a homicide last night that the FBI is particularly concerned about," Lou explained. "We're hoping the autopsy may shed some light."
"What kind of case?" Jack asked. "Gunshot or stabbing?"
"A little of everything," Lou said. "The body's a mess. Enough to turn even your stomach.
"Has there been an ID?" Jack asked. Sometimes with heavily damaged corpses identification was the most difficult part.
With raised eyebrows Lou glanced at Gordon. Lou didn't know how much was confidential about the case.
"It's okay," Gordon said.
"Yeah, there's been an ID," Lou said. "The name is Brad Cassidy. He's a twenty-two-year-old Caucasian skinhead."
"You mean one of those racist screwballs with Nazi tattoos, a black leather jacket, and black boots?" Jack asked. He'd seen such riffraff on occasion hanging around the city parks. He'd seen even more of them back home in the Midwest when he visited his mother.
"You got it," Lou said.
"Skinheads don't all have Nazi regalia," Gordon said.
"Now that's certainly true," Lou agreed. "In fact, some of them don't even have shaved heads anymore. The style has gone through some changes."
"The music hasn't," Gordon corrected. "That's probably been the most consistent part of the whole movement and certainly part of the style."
"That's something I don't know anything about," Lou said. "I've never been much into music."
"Well, it's important in regard to American skinheads," Gordon said. "The music has provided the movement with its ideology of hatred and violence."
"No kidding?" Lou said. "Just because of the music?"
"I'm not exaggerating," Gordon said. "Here in the U.S., in contrast to England, the skinhead movement started as just style, sorta like punks, posturing to be shockingly offensive in appearance and behavior. But the music of groups like Screwdriver and Brutal Attack and a bunch of others created a change. The lyrics promoted a screwed-up philosophy of survival and rebellion. That's where the hatred and violence have come from."
"So you're kinda a skinhead expert?" Jack asked. He was impressed.
"Only by necessity," Gordon said. "My real area of interest is ultra-right-wing extremist militias. But I've had to expand my focus. Unfortunately, the White Aryan Resistance started a fad of recruiting skinheads as shock troops of sorts, tapping into that well of hatred and violence the music has engendered. Now a lot of the neo-fascist militia groups have followed suit, getting the kids to do a lot of their dirty work as well as getting the kids interested in neo-Nazi propaganda."
"Don't these kids usually beat up minorities?" Jack asked. "What happened in this guy's case? Did someone fight back?"
"Skinheads have a tendency to fight with each other as much as they attack others," Gordon said. "And this is a case of the former."
"Why so much interest in Brad Cassidy?" Jack asked. "I'd have thought that one less of these guys would just make your law enforcement lives that much easier."
Vinnie stuck his head in the room and informed Jack that if Jack was going to continue jawboning, he was going back to his New York Post. Jack waved him away.
"Brad Cassidy had been recruited by us as a potential informant," Gordon said. "He'd plea-bargained a handful of felonies in return for cooperation. He was trying to find and penetrate an organization called the People's Aryan Army or PAA."
"I've never heard of them," Jack said.
"I hadn't, either," Lou admitted.
"It's a shadowy group," Gordon said. "All we know is what we've been able to intercept off the Internet, which, by the way, has become the major method of communication for these neo-fascist nuts. All we know about PAA is that it's located somewhere in the New York metropolitan area, and it's recruited some of the local skinheads. But the more disturbing part has been some vague references to an upcoming major event. We're worried they might be planning something violent."
"Something like the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City," Lou said. "Some major terrorist thing."
"Good God!" Jack said.
"We have no idea what, when, or where," Gordon said. "We're hoping they're just posturing and bragging, which these groups tend to do. But we're not taking any chances. Since counterintelligence is the only true defense against terrorism, we're doing the best we can. We've notified the emergency management people here in the city, but unfortunately there's little information we can give them."
"Right now our only positive lead is a dead skinhead," Lou said. "That's why we're so interested in the autopsy. We're hoping for a lead, any lead."
"You want me to do the post right now?" Jack said. "I was on my way to do an infectious case, but it can wait."
"I asked Laurie to do it," Lou said. He blushed as much as his dark, southern Italian skin would allow. "And she said she wanted to do it."
"When did you talk to Laurie?" Jack asked.
"This morning," Lou said.
"Really," Jack said. "Where did you get her? At home?"
"Actually she called me," Lou said. "She got me on my cell phone."
"What time was that?" Jack asked.
"Was it around four-thirty in the morning?" Jack asked. The mystery about Laurie was deepening.
"Something like that," Lou admitted.
Jack took Lou by the elbow. "Excuse us," he said to Gordon and Sergeant Murphy. Jack took Lou out into the communications room. Marjorie Zankowski gave them a quick look before going back to her knitting. The switchboard was quiet.
"Laurie called me at four-thirty, too," Jack said in a whisper. "She woke me up. Not that I'm complaining. Actually it was good she woke me up. I was having a nightmare. But I know it was exactly four-thirty because I looked at the clock."
"Well, maybe it was four-forty-five when she called me," Lou said. "I don't remember exactly. It's been a busy night."
"What did she call for?" Jack asked. "That's a rather strange time to call, wouldn't you say?"
Lou fixed Jack with his dark eyes. It was apparent he was debating the appropriateness of revealing what Laurie had called him about.
"All right, maybe it's not a fair question," Jack said, raising his hands in mock defense. "Instead, why don't I tell you why she called me. She wanted to have dinner with me tonight. She said it was important that she talk with me. Does that make any sense given what she said to you?"
Lou blew out through pursed lips. "No," he said. "She said the same thing to me. She invited me to dinner, too."
"You're not pulling my leg, are you?" None of this was rational.
Lou shook his head.
"What did you say?" Jack asked.
"I said I'd go," Lou answered.
"What did you think she wants to talk to you about?" Jack asked.
Lou hesitated. It was again apparent he was uncomfortable. "I guess I was hoping she wanted to tell me she missed me. You know, something like that."
Jack slapped a hand to his forehead. He was touched. It was obvious Lou was in love with Laurie. It was also a complication, because in many ways Jack felt the same way about her although he was reluctant to admit it to himself.
"You don't have to say anything," Lou said. "I know I'm a sap. It's just that I get lonely once in a while and I enjoy her company. Plus she likes my kids."
Jack took his hand away from his forehead and put it on Lou's shoulder. "I don't think you are a sap. Far from it. I was just hoping you could shed some light on what's up with her."
"We'll just have to ask her," Lou said. "She said she'd be a little late arriving this morning."
"Knowing Laurie she'll make us wait until tonight," Jack said. "Did she say how late she'd be?"
"No," Lou said.
"Even that's weird," Jack said. "If she was up and at 'em at four-thirty, how come she's late?"
Jack went back into the ID room with his mind spinning about Laurie and terrorism. It was a strange combination. Realizing there was little he could do about either for the moment, he got Vinnie away from his paper for the second time and vowed to get his day underway. He looked forward to concentrating on a problem with an immediate resolution.
As Jack and Vinnie passed Janice Jaeger's office, Jack leaned inside.
"Hey, you did a good job on this Papparis case," Jack said.
Janice looked up from her desk. Her dark circles were as impressive as always. Jack couldn't help but wonder if the woman slept at all.
"Thanks," Janice said.
"You'd better get some rest," Jack said.
"I'll be leaving as soon as I wrap up this case."
"Anything extra we should know concerning Papparis?" Jack asked.
"I think it's all there," Janice said. "Except for the fact that the doctor I talked with was pretty upset. He told me he'd never seen a more aggressive infection. In fact, he'd like a call after you do the autopsy. His name and number are on the back of the information sheet."
"I'll call him as soon as we have something," Jack promised.
Once in the elevator Vinnie spoke up. "This case is starting to give me the creeps. It's reminding me of that plague case we had a few years ago. I hope this is not the start of some kind of epidemic."
"You and me both," Jack said. "It reminds me more of the influenza cases we saw after the plague. Let's be extra careful about contamination."
"That goes without saying," Vinnie said. "I'd put on two moon suits if it were possible."
Vinnie was already in his scrubs, so while Jack went into the locker room to get out of his street clothes, Vinnie went to don his moon suit. Then while Vinnie went into the autopsy room, or pit as it was called, Jack went through all the material in the folder, particularly Janice Jaeger's forensic investigator's report. On this more thorough reading Jack noticed something that he'd missed the first time through. The deceased had been in the rug business. Jack wondered what kind of rugs and where they were from. He made a mental note to bring the question up with the forensic investigators.
Next Jack snapped Papparis's morgue X-ray onto a view box. As a total-body film the X-ray was not much good diagnostically. In particular, the chest detail was indistinct. Regardless, two things caught Jack's attention. First, there was little evidence of pneumonia, which seemed surprising in view of the history of the patient's rapid respiratory deterioration; and second, the central part of the chest between the lungs, known anatomically as the mediastinum, seemed wider than usual.
By the time Jack got himself suited up in his biocontainment moon suit, with its hood, plastic face mask, and battery-powered HEPA filtered ventilation system, Vinnie had the body on the autopsy table and all the appropriate specimen jars lined up.
"What the hell have you been doing out there?" Vinnie complained when Jack appeared. "We could have been done by now."
"And look at this guy," Vinnie added, nodding to the corpse. "I don't think he's going to get to go to the prom."
"Good memory," Jack said. Jack had used that line when they'd started the plague case Vinnie had referred to earlier and it had become a staple of their black humor.
"And that's not all I remembered," Vinnie said. "While you were out there dicking around I looked for arthropod bites. There aren't any."
"Such recall!" Jack commented. "I'm impressed." During the plague case Jack had told Vinnie that arthropods, particularly insects and arachnids, played an important role as a vector in the spread of many infectious diseases. Searching for evidence of their involvement was an important part of the autopsy on such cases. "Soon you'll be taking over my job."
"What I'd like to do is take over your salary," Vinnie said. "The job you can have."
Jack did his own external exam. Vinnie was right: there were no signs of bites. There was also no purpura, or bleeding into the skin, although the skin did seem to have a slightly dusky tint.
The internal exam was another story. As soon as Jack removed the front wall of the chest the pathology was apparent. There was frank blood on the surface of the lungs, a finding called hemorrhagic pleural effusion. There was also a lot of bleeding and signs of inflammation in the structures located between the lungs, which included the esophagus, the trachea, the main bronchi, the great vessels, and a conglomeration of lymph nodes. This finding was called hemorrhagic mediastinitis, and it explained the wide shadow Jack had seen earlier on the X-ray.
"Whoa!" Jack commented. "With all this bleeding I don't think this could be the flu. Whatever it was, it was spreading like wildfire."
Vinnie nervously glanced up at Jack. He had difficulty seeing Jack's face because of the reflection from the overhead fluorescent lights glinting off Jack's plastic face screen. Vinnie didn't like the sound of Jack's voice. Jack was rarely impressed by what he saw in the autopsy room, but he seemed to be now.
"What do you think it is?" Vinnie asked.
"I don't know," Jack admitted. "But the combination of hemorrhagic mediastinitis and pleural effusion rings a bell in the back of my mind. I've read about it someplace; I just can't remember where. Whatever this bug is, it's got to be something mighty aggressive."
Vinnie instinctively took a step back from the body.
"Now don't go freaking out on me," Jack said. "Get back over here and help me get out the abdominal organs."
"Yeah, well, promise me you'll be careful," Vinnie said. "Sometimes you work too fast with the knife." He reluctantly stepped back to the table.
"I'm always careful," Jack said.
"Sure!" Vinnie said sarcastically. "That's why you ride that bike of yours around the city."
As the two men concentrated on the case, other bodies began arriving. They were placed on their respective tables by the mortuary techs to await their autopsies. Eventually, the other medical examiners began to drift in. It was promising to be a busy day in the pit.
"Whatcha got?" a voice asked over Jack's shoulder.
Jack straightened up and turned to look at Dr. Chet McGovern, his officemate. Jack and Chet had joined the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner within a month of each other. They got along superbly, mainly because they shared a true love and appreciation for their work. Both had tried other areas of medicine before switching to forensic pathology. Personality-wise they were quite different. Chet wasn't nearly as sarcastic as Jack, and he didn't share Jack's problem with authority.
Jack gave Chet a thumbnail sketch of the Papparis case and showed him the pathology in the chest. He even showed him the cut surface of the lung, which revealed minimal pneumonia.
"Interesting," Chet said. "The infection must have been airborne."
"No doubt," Jack said. "But why so little pneumonia?"
"Beats me," Chet said. "You're the infectious disease expert."
"I wish that were true," Jack said. He carefully slipped the lung back into the pan. "I'm positive I've heard of this combination of findings. For the life of me I can't remember what it was."
"I'll wager you'll figure it out," Chet said. He started to move off, but Jack called after him, asking if he'd run into Laurie.
Chet shook his head. "Not yet."
Jack looked up at the wall clock. It was going on nine. She should have been there an hour ago. He shrugged and went back to work.
The next order of business was to remove the brain. Since Jack and Vinnie worked together so frequently, they had established a routine of cutting into the head that didn't require conversation. Although Vinnie did a significant amount of the work, it was always Jack who lifted off the skull cap.
"My, my," Jack commented as the brain came into view. As with the lungs, there was a significant amount of blood on its surface. When this was seen in an infectious case, it usually meant hemorrhagic meningitis, or inflammation of the meninges to the point of causing bleeding.
"This guy must have had one wicked headache," Vinnie said.
"That and crushing chest pain," Jack said. "The poor fellow probably felt like he'd gotten run over by a train."
"What do you have there, doctor?" a deep, resonant voice asked. "A burst aneurysm or a trauma victim?"
"Neither," Jack said. "It's an infectious case." He turned and looked up at the imposing six-foot-seven silhouette of Dr. Calvin Washington, the deputy chief.
"How appropriate," Calvin said. "Contagion is right up your alley. Have you got a tentative diagnosis?"
Calvin leaned over the table to get a better look. His massive muscled bulk made Jack's stocky frame look tiny by comparison. As an athletically talented African-American giant, Calvin could have played professional football if he hadn't been so eager to get to medical school. His father had been a respected surgeon in Philadelphia and he was determined to follow a similar career pattern.
"I hadn't a clue until two seconds ago," Jack said. "But as soon as I saw the blood on the surface of the brain it hit me. I remembered reading about inhalational anthrax a couple of years ago when I was boning up about infectious disease."
"Anthrax?" Calvin gave a disbelieving chuckle. Jack had a penchant for coming up with outlandish diagnoses. Although he often turned out to be correct, anthrax seemed beyond the realm of possibility. In all Calvin's years as a pathologist he had seen only one case, and that had been in a cattleman in Oklahoma, and it wasn't inhalational. It had been the more common cutaneous form.
"At this point anthrax would be my guess," Jack said. "It will be interesting if the lab confirms it. Of course it might turn out that this patient had a compromised immune system that no one knew about. Then the bug could turn out to be a garden-variety pathogen."
"From sad experience I know better than to make a bet with you, but you've picked a mighty rare disease, at least here in the U.S."
"Well, I don't remember how rare it is," Jack said. "All I remember is that it's associated with hemorrhagic mediastinitis and meningitis."
"What about meningococcus?" Calvin asked. "Why not pick something a lot more common?"
"Meningococcus is possible," Jack said. "But it wouldn't be high on my list, not with the hemorrhagic mediastinitis. Besides, there was no purpura, and I'd expect more purulence on the brain surface with meningococcus."
"Well, if it turns out to be anthrax, let me know sooner rather than later," Calvin said. "I'm sure the Commissioner of Health would be interested. As for your next case, you've been informed that I want you to do it."
"Yes," Jack said. "But why me? You and the chief are always complaining about my lack of diplomacy. A police custody case usually stirs up a beehive of political turmoil. You sure you want me involved?"
"Your services were specifically requested by people outside the department," Calvin said. "Apparently your lack of diplomacy has been taken for a positive trait by the African-American community. You might be a headache to the chief and me, but you've managed to develop a reputation of professional integrity with certain community leaders."
"Probably from my exploits on the neighborhood basketball court," Jack said. "I rarely cheat."
"Why do you always have to denigrate a compliment?" Calvin questioned irritably.
"Maybe because they make me feel uncomfortable," Jack said. "I prefer criticism."
"Lord give me patience," Calvin commented. "Listen, by having you do the post we might be able to avoid any potential contention that this office is involved in any sort of cover-up."
"The victim is an African-American?" Jack asked.
"Obviously," Calvin said. "And the officer is white. Get the picture?"
"I get it," Jack said.
"Good," Calvin said. "Give a yell when you're ready to start. I'll lend a hand. In fact, we'll do it together."
Calvin left. Jack looked at Vinnie and groaned. "That post will take three hours! Calvin might be thorough, but he's slower than molasses."
"How communicable is anthrax?" Vinnie asked.
"Relax!" Jack said. "You're not going to come down with anything. As I recall, anthrax doesn't spread person to person."
"I never know when to believe you or not," Vinnie said.
"Sometimes I don't believe myself," Jack said self-mockingly. "But in this instance you can trust me."
With no more conversation Jack and Vinnie finished the Papparis case. As Jack was getting the lab specimens together to take upstairs, Laurie came into the pit. Jack recognized her by her characteristic laugh; her face was hidden by her bioprotective hood. She was apparently in a buoyant mood. She was accompanied by two others who Jack guessed were Lou and the FBI agent. All were dressed in moon suits.
As soon as he could, Jack stepped over to the table where the newcomers had grouped. By that time there was no more laughter.
"You're telling me this boy was crucified?" Laurie asked. She was holding up the corpse's right hand. Jack could see a large sixteen-penny spike protruding from the palm.
"That's what I'm telling you," Lou said. "And that was just the start. They'd nailed a cross to a telephone pole and then nailed the kid to it."
"Good grief," Laurie said.
"Then they tried to skin him," Lou said. "At least the front of him."
"How awful," Laurie said.
"Do you think he was alive when they were doing that?" Gordon asked.
"I'm afraid so," Laurie said. "You can see by the amount of bleeding involved. There's no doubt he was alive."
Jack stepped closer with the intention of getting Laurie's attention for a quick chat, but then he caught sight of the body. As jaded as he thought he'd become to the image of death, Brad Cassidy's corpse made Jack catch his breath. The young man had been crucified, partially skinned, his eyes gouged, and his genitals cut off. There were multiple superficial stab wounds all over his body. The skin of the thorax that had been removed was draped over his legs. On it was a large tattoo of a Viking. A small Nazi swastika was tattooed in the center of his forehead.
"Why a Viking?" Jack asked.
"Hello, Jack, dear," Laurie said brightly. "Have you finished your first case already? Have you met Agent Gordon Tyrrell? How was your ride in this morning?"
"Just fine," Jack said. Since the questions had come so quickly he only responded to the last.
"Jack insists on riding a bike around the city," Laurie explained. "He says it clears his mind."
"I wouldn't think that would be particularly safe," Gordon said.
"It's not," Lou agreed. "Yet with the crosstown traffic, there are times I wish I had a bike myself."
"Oh, come on, Lou!" Laurie exclaimed. "You can't be serious."
Jack experienced a distinct feeling of unreality as the conversation continued. It seemed absurd to be engaging in social banter dressed up in biocontainment moon suits in front of a mutilated corpse. Jack interrupted the discussion about bicycling by returning to his initial question about the Viking tattoo.
"It's from the Aryan myth," Gordon explained. "Like the style of the clothing and the boots, the Viking image is borrowed from the skinhead movement in England, where the whole thing started."
"But why specifically a Viking?" Jack repeated. "I thought they were into all the Nazi emblems."
"Their interest in the Vikings comes from a very revisionist view of history," Gordon said. "The skinheads think the maurading, murderous Vikings epitomized self-reliant masculine honor."
"That's why Gordon thinks he got skinned," Lou said. "Whoever killed him didn't think he deserved to die with an image of a Viking still attached."
"I thought this kind of torture went out with the Middle Ages," Jack said.
"I've seen a number of cases just as bad," Gordon said. "These are violent kids."
"And scary," Lou said. "They're true psychopaths."
"Pardon me, Laurie," Jack said. "Could I have a quick word with you? Alone."
"Of course," Laurie said. She excused herself from the others and stepped to the side of the room with Jack.
"Did you just get here?" Jack asked in a whisper.
"A few minutes ago," Laurie admitted. "What's up?"
"You're asking me what's up?" Jack questioned. "You're the one acting weird, and I'll tell you, the mystery is driving me crazy. What's going on? What is it that you want to talk to me and Lou about?"
Jack could see Laurie's smile despite her face mask.
"My goodness," she commented. "I don't think I've ever seen you this interested. I'm flattered."
"Come on, Laurie! Quit stalling. Out with it!"
"It would take too long," Laurie said.
"Just give me a quick synopsis," Jack said. "We can save the gory details for later."
"No! Jack," Laurie said forcibly. "You'll just have to wait until tonight, provided I'm still on my feet."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Jack! I can't talk now. I'll talk to you tonight like we decided."
"You decided," Jack said.
"I have to get to work," Laurie said. She turned away and went back to her table.
Jack felt frustrated and irritable. He could not believe Laurie was doing this to him. Grumbling under his breath, he pushed off the wall and went back to get Papparis's specimens. He wanted to get them up to Agnes Finn so that she could run a fluorescein antibody test for anthrax.
Reprinted from VECTOR by Robin Cook by G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 1999 by Robin Cook.