Jim, Blair and Simon were followed back to Clayton Falls by the Army convoy. Meeting up with Linda Conway, the veterinarian, Jim quickly filled her in on what they had learned then watched as armed and masked soldiers helped Jackie and Sam from Simon's car and placed them on stretchers. Linda stepped forward, brushing a lock of damp hair back from Jackie's pale face.
"Where are you taking them?"
"We've got a temporary isolation tent set up down the road," one of the medics replied. "They'll be well taken care of."
The four stood together, watching as the Army personnel moved in and set up shop. Pulling his cell phone from his pocket, Simon studied the display and shook his head. "The cellular is totally useless. With the landlines down, we're totally cut off from the outside."
"I don't like this," Blair said, frowning. "It's obvious the Army took out the phones. What are they trying to cover up?"
"Good question," Jim replied.
"I can't just stand around and watch. I'm going to go see if they need help." Linda turned and headed in the direction of the isolation tent.
Jim watched Garner directing his soldiers with setting up a Command Post a few yards away. "All right. Why don't we go talk to the colonel?" They walked over to the other man, waiting a moment as he finished up his orders.
"Give me a secure perimeter on Clayton Falls. Then, clamp down the interstate at the county line. I want every civilian in the hot zone accounted for by 1100."
"Yes, sir." Giving a smart salute, the soldier left.
Garner glanced at the three men distractedly. "You people should stay with the others. You'll be examined as soon as we have medical facilities set up."
"Why the communications blackout, Colonel?" Simon asked, stepping forward.
"Lockdown orders from DC. Until we have things under control, we don't want the media to get a hold of it and panic the entire state."
"Colonel, Captain Banks, Mr. Sandburg, and myself, we've all dealt with civil emergencies before, even a biotoxin threat." Jim figured it wouldn't hurt to offer their assistance.
"In Cascade. I remember the incident." Garner nodded thoughtfully. "So, what exactly are you gentlemen doing in Clayton Falls?"
Blair shrugged. "It was supposed to be a fishing trip."
"That's pretty bad timing," Garner replied. "Look, you may be cops, but my people are trained for this. Let us do our job."
Surprised, the three watched him stride off. Simon looked at Jim and rolled his eyes. "Do you believe this?"
Taking off, his long stride quickly caught him up to the colonel. "Hey, Colonel. Hey! Excuse me." He reached out and grasped hold of Garner's arm, waiting until the soldier stopped and turned to look at him. "We understand about the quarantine. What we would like explained is how this outbreak happened in the first place."
"A specimen monkey broke loose from an Army research lab," Garner replied, looking rather reluctant at sharing the information. "It was infected with a mutant strain of Filovirus similar to Ebola."
Blair gaped and looked suddenly pale. "Ebola? I knew it. This is some secret government plan gone to hell, right?"
"Sandburg..." Simon glared at the grad student, then seeing the genuine concern in Blair's eyes, placed a hand on his shoulder. Blair heeded Simon's warning and shut up, but he frowned and shook his head in obvious impatience.
"It was an accident," Garner explained. "The animal has been caught and destroyed, but several of the lab workers were exposed and it spread from there."
"Is it airborne?" Jim asked.
Garner nodded. "It's the nature of hot agents to travel through the air, yes."
Simon lifted his hand from Blair's shoulder. "Has the CDC been contacted yet?" he asked.
"They've sent their own doctor. His name is Dr. Stone." He pointed toward the medical tent. "You can speak with him if you like."
Simon set his mouth in a firm line. "Damn straight, I like." Motioning to Jim and Blair, he led the way to the temporary hospital.
The doctor stood in front of a medical truck, directing the unloading of medical equipment. He looked up at their approach and nodded a brusque greeting, apparently having already been told of their presence.
"What about a vaccine, Dr. Stone?" Simon asked. "Anything."
"With most cases like this, there is no vaccine."
Blair stepped forward then, his face thoughtful. "Well, to create an antiserum you have to identify the carrier or the host. And you guys caught the infected monkey, right?"
Stone nodded. "Our lab in Atlanta is analyzing what they found, but finding an antiserum to knock this thing down will take time. In the meantime, we'll give the victims here an inoculation, which will alleviate their symptoms."
Jim asked the question they'd all wanted to hear the answer for. "What's the worst-case scenario?"
Stone picked up a box of medical supplies and carried it toward the tent. Pausing at the flap, he turned to face them. "If the virus is replicating and spreading, it could kill everything in its path."
Linda and Simon watched from their seat on the back fender of one of the trucks as another stretcher was carried past them. "I feel so helpless," the vet said miserably.
Simon patted her hand sympathetically. "I know what you mean. I got to admit, though, Doctor. You've got me curious. I mean, with the way people have been moving out of this town, it seems like there wouldn't be too much call for a vet these days."
Linda shrugged. "Yeah, well, we went from a one-horse town to a couple of dogs and a goat." She smiled at Simon's snort of amusement. "Yeah, I've had offers to move my practice up to Cascade, but I grew up here, Captain. These people are the only family I have left. If someone breaks a bone or needs a couple of stitches, I can do that, at least. It's better than not having a doctor at all."
Simon stood suddenly and Linda followed suit. "Look at this." Simon gestured around them angrily at the masked soldiers going about their duty. "You would think they'd at least give us gas masks or something."
"I wouldn't think that would matter now. We've already been exposed," Linda reminded him. She watched as Jim and Blair approached. Blair looked worried, and the redness of his cheeks accentuated the pallor of his skin.
"Hey, guys," Simon greeted them. "You have any luck locating a phone?"
Jim shook his head, his face stern. "I can't get a straight answer about anything. Now who would be the law around here?"
"When the mill was operating, there was a security detail, but now there's only state patrol and they don't even come near here unless they're called," Linda told him.
"Couldn't if we wanted to, huh?"
Linda leaned forward, taking a closer look at the young man at Ellison's side. He stood hunched a little, his eyes looking a little unfocused as though his thoughts were elsewhere. She touched his shoulder. "Are you all right? You look a little flushed."
She wasn't surprised to see Ellison turn a laser-like stare on his friend. She could tell these two were close. Blair brushed her hand away gently as his attention snapped back.
"Who, me? I'm fine. I'm just pissed off. I mean, you know how this whole thing started? Some secret government research program with infected lab animals and this Colonel Garner guy admitted to it."
"This is getting out of control," Simon said after a moment. "I'm just gonna demand they give us an outside line."
"What about a radio?" They turned as one at Fisker's voice. He smiled apologetically. "I couldn't help overhearing. You boys are cops don't you carry short-wave units with you?"
Simon shook his head. "They were confiscated when we met up with the military as we were trying to get those people to hospital."
Fisker looked thoughtful. "Could be they missed one. I was cleaning out some boxes when I took over the inn. I seem to remember an old short-wave unit stored there somewhere."
The information seemed to rejuvenate Blair. "Let's go check it out."
"I'll stay here with the doctor and keep an eye on things," Simon said and then fixed Blair with an icy glare as the grad student waggled his eyebrows comically at him.
Jim sighed and pushed Blair ahead of him. "Lead the way," he said to Fisker.
The inn's storage area was hot, dusty and cluttered, not unlike his office at the university, Blair thought. Taking a look around, he stepped over to one corner and began sifting through the items on the shelf.
They'd filled Fisker in on the information they'd gotten from Garner and Stone, and he shook his head now as he lifted a couple of small boxes off an upper shelf. "Infected monkey, huh? Damn. How's that for payback? Human race started with an ape, then ends with one."
"Well, I wouldn't go setting my doomsday clock yet," Blair said, wiping the sweat from his brow with a sleeve. "Anyway, we're not really descendants of apes. We're from a common simian ancestor."
Jim turned from his perusal of the contents of a packing crate. "Hey, Sandburg...you might want to go easy on the seminar."
Blair gave Fisker an apologetic smile. "Sorry about that. I'm an anthropologist. I'm just attached to the police department."
Fisker waved the apology away cheerfully. "Well... army, killer virus, dead phones, out-of-town cops. You know I started to think you all were part of whatever the hell's going on, but you're okay. Hell of a day to go for trout, huh?" Lifting another small box, he grunted with approval. "Here she is." Picking up the ancient machine carefully, he set it down on top of a crate.
Blair lifted the loose top and peered inside. "Uh, this was definitely before transistors." He shook his head, hope turning to disappointment and burning his gut. "Aw, look at that: all the tubes are gone."
Fisker patted his shoulder, then picked up the useless radio and stored it back on the shelf. Blair turned away as his stomach suddenly rolled over and all the blood seemed to drain from his head. He felt bile surge up his throat as he went hot then cold and the sweat on his face turned to ice. A hand on his shoulder startled him and he looked up into Jim's worried face.
Blair nodded, regretting the action instantly, as the floor seemed to rise up to meet him. "Yeah, I'm fine, um...I've just got..." He shook his head again, trying to gather together his wandering thoughts. "I've got to get out of here."
He managed a shaky step toward the door before the first stomach cramp hit full-force, doubling him up. He tasted vomit. Jim's voice seemed to echo from far-off, but there was no mistaking the worry in the detective's tone
Blair was able to unclench one arm from around his convulsing stomach and anchor desperate fingers in the sleeve of Jim's coat. "Oh, God, I've just got to get some air."
He felt a strong arm go about his waist and he leaned into the support gratefully as his vision grayed out and his knees buckled. He flinched as icy outdoor wind bit at his hot cheeks and then he was pulling impatiently away from Jim's grasp, dropping to his knees in the mud, as his stomach attempted to turn itself inside out.
Jim's voice shouted above him, but he could spare no energy to decipher the words as the sickness gripped him mercilessly. Weakened from the attack, he slumped forward bonelessly as the vomiting subsided and would have fallen face-first into the mess if not for a strong hand bunching in the back of his jacket and pulling him to the side. A large hand cupped his head and lowered him gently to the ground and Blair whimpered, curling into a tight ball as cramps shredded through his insides. He felt hands touching him, heard voices speaking to him but could focus only on the unrelenting pain.
Jim crouched at Blair's side, one hand attempting to massage away his partner's obvious pain, Blair's skin hot beneath his touch. He looked up worriedly as Simon and Linda ran up, the vet immediately reaching to check Blair's pulse. Jim turned shocked eyes to Simon. "The virus. He's got the virus."