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Authors: Victor Methos

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Pestilence: A Medical Thriller

BOOK: Pestilence: A Medical Thriller
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PESTILENCE

 

 

 

A Medical Thriller by

 

 

 

VICTOR METHOS

 

 

 

Men die of the
diseases which they have studied most.


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four o’clock in the morning
, the man sprinted down the terminal, his heart pounding like a drum.

He glanced ba
ck once and saw the walls of O’Hare International pressing in around him. A bathroom was to the right, and he ran inside and went straight to a stall. He closed and locked the door and then climbed onto the toilet so his feet weren’t visible underneath the door. Sweat was pouring out of him so profusely that he could barely see out of his glasses, and he took them off and wiped them on his shirt.

His vision was still blurry
, and he wiped his glasses again before he realized tears were obscuring his view. He thought of his wife and wondered what she was doing right then. He hadn’t had time to get her. And even if he could have, he knew she wouldn’t be safe. But leaving her back in Los Angeles might’ve been signing her death warrant, too. He didn’t know what the right decision was.

A couple of
people were in the bathroom, and the sounds of their voices calmed him. But then he heard a set of purposeful and calm footfalls walk in, sending a shiver up his spine. He held his breath.

The foot
steps grew closer, and he quietly slipped off the toilet and looked under the stall. A pair of black crocodile-skin dress shoes stood at the first stall. The door opened, then they moved on to the second stall.

The man got down
on his belly. He was in the fifth stall. He crawled into the sixth and then the seventh. Someone opened the eighth and stepped inside. He couldn’t risk a confrontation. He looked back and crawled the other way.

The shoes got to the fifth
stall, and their owner tried the door, which was locked. The crocodile-skin wing-tips stood quietly a moment before standing up on tiptoe.

A
s the shoes moved on to the next one, the man crawled over into the fifth stall. He had timed it well enough, he thought. He kept going. All the other stalls were empty up to the first, and he crawled until he got there and then got to his feet and peeked out. No one was around him, so he slipped out and headed outside, when a hand rested on his shoulder.

He spun around and
batted the hand away, but a blow to his chest sucked all the wind out of him. Another blow flung him back against the sinks. He hit his head on the mirror, shattering it.

“No, please,” he begged. He thought of his wife
, and the tears flowed.

The attacker held him by his collar as he cried. He was handsome and young
, and he wore a black suit—not at all how the man had thought his killer would look.

“Do you want money?” the man said, sensing the killer’s hesitation. “I have plenty of it.
Enough for you to retire on today. I can get it for you right now.” His glasses had flown off, and he could see only a hazy outline. “Whatever they paid you to kill me, I’ll pay you ten times more. Twenty times.”

“Do you know,” the man said in a calm, steely voice, “how many people you’ve put at risk?”

“What was I supposed to do?” he said, beginning to cry again. “Just lie down and die? Even a dog wouldn’t do that.”

“I wouldn’t actually care
, except for one thing. You are a hindrance to my employer’s plans.”

The killer took out a pistol
with a silencer attached.

“Wait! Wait
. Please wait. You’re… you’re Ian, right? That’s what they call you. Ian. I know about you. I knew you were the one they would send after me. Ian, please, I have a wife. I have a wife, and that’s why I did this. I can’t watch her die.”

“You won’t.”

 

 

He pulled the trigger, and the man’s brains and bits of skull spattered against the broken mirror. Blood spread out in a lotus pattern behind him, and a red halo appeared to be hovering above him.

A
toilet flushed, and Ian turned around to see an older black man standing at the stall.

“I didn’t
see nothin’,” he said.

“That’s right
. You didn’t.”

Ian shot him twice in the chest as he walked out of the bathroom. He took out his iPhone once he was in the terminal and opened a dossier.
Inside was a list of names and locations, along with birthdays and current photos. He ran his finger across the name at the top: Norman Russell Stewart. His name and information turned to a light gray, then faded into the background. Six names were left on the list.

Ian tucked the phone into his pocket,
then left the terminal.

2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Samantha Bower stood on top of the Hotel Intercontinental in Kinshasa, the tallest building in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The wind was strong that day, and she felt its warmth against her sunburnt face as she looked out over the city.

The city was
surprisingly modern, despite the poverty and horror that surrounded it. Office buildings and billboards gave it a sense that it was attempting to catch up with the rest of the modern world, but its gray, menacing fog permeated everyone. Not sixty miles from where she stood, nearly an entire village had been slaughtered by the FDLR, a rebel military force. They had raped the women, some as old as eighty and as young as two, in front of the men. Then they mutilated them so they could never reproduce. Many times, the husbands and fathers of the women were held at gunpoint, forced to partake in the rape and torture.

Nothing more than terrorism on a grand scale,
it had been dubbed “the Forgotten Conflict” by United Nations workers. Over five million people had died, and no one seemed to even know what was really going on.

As horrific as the FDLR was, she was
there for another killer. Her killer was more prolific, more deceitful, and far more deadly.

An outbreak of Ebola hemorrhagic fever had been reported
less than three days before at the Kinshasa General Hospital. Though it was the country’s busiest and best-equipped hospital, its staff hadn’t taken proper precautions for containment. The staff simply hadn’t known what they had, even though an outbreak of Ebola in 1976 had killed nearly three hundred people.

Samantha pulled out her phone
using her good hand—one of her wrists had been broken the month before and was still in a cast—and checked her e-mail. She found twelve unread e-mails from the Centers for Disease Control and two from an epidemiologist in Bakwanga, the Congo’s second-largest city, as well as a text from her boyfriend, Duncan, that said,
Be careful
.

She stepped down f
rom her perch and turned back toward the entrance to the hospital. Though Ebola was destructive, she knew of something even deadlier. And her initial concern, before testing proved otherwise, was that this outbreak was deadlier than Ebola.

Black pox
—more specifically, a new strand that the CDC had termed Agent X—spread in a way she had never seen. As far as she knew, it was the world’s number-one killer, and some speculation, which had vaguely begun in an unfinished article by her former boss Dr. Ralph Wilson before his death, had made the rounds that the Plague of Justinian, the deadliest epidemic in history, may have been black pox rather than bubonic plague.

And just one month
earlier, an outbreak of black pox had held the world by the throat. After the nightmare of the first outbreak was over, Samantha debated whether or not she wished to continue working at the CDC. In the end, it was a matter of expedience. She wanted to work with hot viruses—ones that were extremely deadly and contagious—and nowhere, with the exception of the military, would she have more freedom to do so. But working with the CDC came with a downside: she knew things in advance that the general public was not allowed to know.

Walking inside the hospital, she went down to the sixth floor, a wing normally reserved for
psychiatric patients. In almost any hospital, the psychiatric ward was the easiest to clear. She walked to the empty nurse’s station and sat in a chair, then stretched her legs. She calmed herself with breathing exercises. After being attacked and brutally beaten in her home—the cast was the last spectacle from the incident—public places gave her a gnawing anxiety that forced her to consciously control her reactions. She also carried a small stone with her that she rubbed whenever the anxiety came on.

Wearing full biohazard gear, a
tall doctor named We Kayembe came out of one of the hospital rooms. He went into the temporary shower that had been set up in the bathroom, and Samantha heard the water bouncing off the biohazard suit.

Dr.
Kayembe came out in sweatpants a short while later and sat down about fifteen feet from her, behind the transparent plastic barrier that had been installed the night before.

He
had been infected with Ebola and was beginning to look worse. Nineteen patients, all with confirmed Ebola, were in this wing of the hospital, and Dr. Kayembe continued to treat them. Samantha knew he wore the suit just to avoid cross-contamination in case they were carrying anything other than Ebola. She appreciated the fact that he was concerned with such things, considering that when she’d arrived, the Ebola patients had filled beds in the emergency room, without barriers around them.

“You look tired,” he said in his deep voice that was accented heavily with French. “Have you slept?”

“Not for thirty-six hours. You?”

“No
. I can’t sleep. I have nightmares.”

She was silent a moment. “Do you need anything?”

“A new body?” he joked.

She smiled out of obligation
, but humor was the last thing she felt.

In the past thirty-six hours, she had seen a woman vomit
so much black blood that her skin had turned a pasty white before death and she didn’t have enough left in her body to fill a syringe. She had seen a young boy of no more than twelve tear open the skin on his legs and torso by doing nothing more than sitting up in bed. His skin had liquefied and slipped off his body, and he’d bled to death. And she had seen a pregnant woman lose her baby one day and her life the next.

And
Dr. Kayembe, who was newly infected, displayed pharyngitis, a severe inflammation of the throat, as well as an irritation of his eyes’ mucous membranes, abdominal cramping, and vomiting, though he had not yet begun to vomit blood.

“You know, I learned
English in school,” he said. “I never got to see the United States, though.”

“Your English is very good. Better than mine
, actually.”

He smiled. “I love English, but French I love more. Even when you swear and talk about wiping your ass
, it is like poetry… Do you have any children?”

“No.”

“Have children. Plenty of them. That is my most profound regret. That I did not have any. No one will remember me after this.”

She was quiet. “I’ll remember you.”

He smiled weakly and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “I’m going to go lie down.”

“It’s not a hundred percent fatal,” she blurted out as he rose
, regretting doing so as soon as the words came out, but it was too late. He was looking at her. “Ebola’s mortality rate is around seventy percent. It’s not a guaranteed death sentence.”

He nodded and then
went into a room at the end of the hall.

Samantha exhaled and leaned her head against the wall. The outbreak had been contained
after leaving forty-two people dead and nineteen more that would probably die in the next week or so. She was there to fill out paperwork and submit her findings to the CDC, which would then submit them to the World Health Organization.

Her cell phone buzzed and her boyfriend’s name appeared on the screen
.

“Hey,” she
answered.

“Hey,” he replied
after a slight delay from the distance. “How’s everything there?”

“As awful as you’d think. I don’t want to talk about here
, though. Tell me what’s happening there. What happened on
Game of Thrones
yesterday?”

“A lot of nudity and violence.”

“I’ll take that over what I’m seeing any day.”

A
pause. “I shouldn’t tell you this. We’re… well…”

“What is it?”

As a researcher with the United States Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases, Duncan, from time to time, had information that no one, not even the CDC, had access to.


Your sister’s in California right now, right?”

“Yeah,
Disneyland.”

“How long is she going to be there?”

“I’m not sure, couple more days, I guess. Why?”

Duncan paused. “Get her out now.”

“What d’you mean ‘get her out’?”

“I mean call her right now, right after you hang up with me
, and tell her that she has to be on the next plane out. If she waits until morning, it’s too late.”

“Why? What’s going on
, Duncan?”

“Not on the phone. When are you going to be home?”

“I have a flight in a few hours.”

“Come see me first thing.”

“You’re scaring me.”

“I’m sorry
, but I can’t talk right now. Please come see me right away. And call your sister.”

She hung up the phone
with a tightness in her guts she hadn’t felt for a while. She rose and looked for the doctor, but he had shut the door behind him. She wouldn’t get to say goodbye. Grabbing the one gym bag she’d brought with her, she walked out of the psychiatric wing and took the elevators down to the main floor.

BOOK: Pestilence: A Medical Thriller
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