10.The Assignment

By the time Sam and Sue got out of bed, it was nine o'clock. They took a shower together, which was probably a mistake. Sue would tease him and, when he got excited, reminded him that they had to be in Levering's office by ten thirty. She threw on her clothes and left for her room where she would change into her professional clothing, arranging to meet Sam in the cafeteria in half an hour.

When Sue had left, Sam looked in the mirror and smiled at himself. Then he sat down on the edge of the bed and smiled some more. In the last twelve hours his life had made a one hundred and eighty degree turn, from the depths of despair to a pinnacle of happiness. He dressed, put on his tie and smiled at himself in the mirror once again. Then he went to the cafeteria.

Sue was just ahead of him in the line and had heaped her tray with an enormous breakfast.

"I thought you weren't hungry," said Sam.

" I said nothing of the sort. I just had another appetite that was stronger. Have to keep up my strength! Research does consume a good deal of energy, you know."

Sam heaped his tray full of food and they sat down. Between bites, they touch each other under the table like teen aged lovers. They both decided simultaneously that it wouldn't do at all --that the loving would have to stop during business hours. They changed the topic of conversation from how they felt about each other to Epidemic E --which didn't help at all.

The morning air and the walk to the Administration Building cleared their heads and they were ready for business by the time they reached Levering's office.

"My, but you both look bright and bushy tailed this morning. Are you ready to go to work?" Levering said.

Sam wondered if Levering could tell that Sue and Sam were lovers. If a person is sensitive, it isn't very hard to recognize lovers. No matter; Levering couldn't have cared less -he had a job that he wanted done.

Levering escorted them down the hall to a small office containing a desk, two file cabinets and the woman who had brought in the lunch; only her hair was not flaming red as it was the day before, but black. Sam discovered that she changed her hair to match whatever she was wearing. Levering introduced them to Annabelle Smith:

"Annabelle is a specialist at cutting red tape. If there's anything that you need such as money, supplies, consultation fees, all that you have to do is tell her and it'll get taken care of."

"I suppose," said Sam, " that the first thing we have to do is fill out the appropriate forms for reimbursement of expenses."

"Nope, no forms. All that you have to do is the research and Annabelle here will take care of all the rest."

"What are the limits as to what we can spend and how we can spend it?" Sam asked.

"To all intents and purposes, there are no limits. You can spend as much as you want in any way that you see fit."

"Are you serious, Mike? N.I.H. has all kinds of financial problems, and you say that we can spend as much as we want."

"I'm perfectly serious. The funds for this study are not coming out of the N.I.H. budget. They're coming out of the budget that feeds the C.I.A. and a whole bunch of secret projects that the public never hears about. I didn't mention that at the meeting, because if I did, every one of those pirates would have had his hand out. Give Zabalka a blank check and he would build a new laboratory to add to his empire. Then he would give it to his technicians to run, while he flitted off to meetings. I don't want the money wasted, because if we spend too much, my fellow bureaucrats may start asking embarrassing questions. I might as well tell you now that I deliberately recruited you two because I thought that you knew your business and would actually put in the time that's needed to find out what's going on. I need the rest of the group to spread the blame if nothing comes of it. Besides, if it does turn out to be a virus of some sort, those boys will come in mighty handy. Zabalka and Tarkis really know their business. As for the Monsers; they have more money than they need already."

Sam was surprised at the degree of awareness that Mike Levering had in both science and politics. He also found it hard to believe that he really had financial carte blanche.

"You mean that if we had to, we could spend a million dollars?"

" I can tell that you haven't been in the Washington area for long, Sam. A million bucks is peanuts. You could spend several times that before anyone would start asking questions. Everything has been set up so that you can do your work unencumbered by red tape. Annabelle will get you both credit cards and the bills will come directly to us for approval and payment. If you have any out of pocket expenses, just give the receipts to Annabelle and she'll see to it that you're reimbursed. If you need help from anyone, just ask him what his usual consultation fee is; or offer them a standard government consultation fee and tell Annabelle to pay them. Now go to it and see if you can find out what this Epidemic E is all about."

Sam smiled mischievously, "You mean if I wanted to hire a call girl, I can put it on the account like the cloak and dagger boys do?"

"Sure," said Levering. Then his eyes twinkled, "Of course, Sam, you really should have no reason to pay for it on this project." He turned to the secretary, " Annabelle, let's have the files on Epidemic E."

She reached into a filing cabinet and pulled out a handful of file folders and handed them to Levering who handed them to Sam. Sam looked inside to find a bunch of newspaper clippings and some hand written notes.

"This is it?" he asked.

"That's it," said Levering, "It's not like one of those reportable diseases where you have thousands of cases or like the ones where you have death or autopsy records. This is catch as catch can stuff. If it doesn't make the newspapers, we have no way of knowing that it even exists."

"Where do we start?" Sam asked.

"That's your business, Michaelson. You're the epidemiologist, not me -start at the best possible place," he said smiling, as he walked out the door.

Sam remembered a story that he had heard about a hotshot professor of surgery who used to break in his new residents by making a full-length incision on a patients abdomen with one sweep of his scalpel, then step back and say "tie!" as the resident frantically tried to get hemostats on the many severed blood vessels. Sam never quite believed the story, but he did wonder what would have happened if the resident had been unable to tie the big ones.

They both started leafing through the files and skimming their contents. After about an hour, Sam looked at Sue and said "Oh well, as an old colleague of mine used to say, when you don't know where to start, try the beginning." He tucked the folders under his arm, looked at Sue and said "Let's go to lunch!"

Sam and Sue walked back to the Governor's House where they had lunch in the cafeteria, then proceeded to Sam's room.

"Sue, I would like to introduce you to a great American custom; it's called the nooner," Sam said as he kissed her, his tongue exploring her mouth.

She threw her arms around him and, when she was able, said "You Americans are worse than the Russians -think that you invented everything," as she unbuttoned his shirt.

When the heavy breathing was finished, Sam propped himself up on some pillows and reached for the files on the bedside table. He handed one to Sue and opened one himself. "Shall we get to work?"

"We might as well waste the rest of the afternoon."

There were three files marked Los Angeles, San Francisco and Salt Lake City. Apparently Annabelle had searched the nations newspapers for the last year. The files contained a number of cases that weren't mentioned in Time magazine. Sam started on the Los Angeles file. There were newspaper clippings and a typewritten report of the incidents that had occurred at The Schmuckler Institute. There was little in it that they hadn't already been told at the meeting.

Sue had been reading the San Francisco file. "Listen to this, Sam: Teachers Discharged For Sex Acts. The two teachers who were discovered in intimate embrace in a classroom, after school hours, were discharged by the Haight School Board. Except for the number of teachers involved, it's almost the same as the Ogden incident. What's more, the teachers were both in their forties; an age when you'd think they would know better than to do it where they might be discovered.

"That is peculiar," Said Sam," all of the people involved seem to be in their forties."

"That's our age."

"Not quite," said Sam," I won't be forty for another month."

"We don't know better!"

"We're not doing it in places where we might get caught."

"Suppose Levering walked in this minute?"

"He'd excuse himself and walk back out," said Sam.

"I guess there is something odd about the behavior of these EE people. They seem to have no control." said Sue and she inserted her finger in Sam's ear. He bent down and started to tongue her nipple and the folders slid to the floor.

Their second sexual interlude of the day occupied considerably more time than the first one. When they had finished, they propped the pillows up at the head of the bed and picked up the folders.

"You're the epidemiologist, Sam; tell me how one gets started finding out about a disease." Sue said.

"To begin with, you collect cases and then look for elements that the cases have in common."

"Well, they all have sex in common and all seem to involve people in their forties and all seem to involve men and women, but it can be one sided as in the case of the May Company rapist. All of the cases seem to be a bit flamboyant."

"That's because our method of locating the cases is the newspapers."

"How do we find out if there are other cases that are not quite so lurid?"

"The best way that I know of is to look for contacts: relatives, friends, neighbors and see if any of them are afflicted."

"I suppose that a hotel room in Bethesda isn't exactly the best place to be looking."

"I knew that you had the makings of a first rate epidemiologist."

"Seriously, Sam," she said as a tear glistened in her eye, "You should be back in Salt Lake City studying those school teachers."

"You're right, of course. We can leave L.A. to Monser, but you should be talking to people in San Francisco."

"I think not. Interviewing people isn't exactly my cup of tea. That's why I never practiced medicine."

"You could do it anyway."

"No, Sam, you're forgetting that I have two children for whom I'm responsible . I've pretty much overstayed my leave here in Bethesda. We should both return to our respective homes in the next day or two."

"I don't want to leave," said Sam, unable to use the word part or separate.

"Nor I, but we must." She started to weep. Sam held her head to his chest as she sobbed and tears trickled down his cheeks.

Sam and Sue flew to Chicago together, where Sue saw Sam off on a plane to Salt Lake City and then took a taxi to her home.

That evening, as Sue lay in her own bed in Chicago, she carried on a mental dialogue with herself:

"Well, Sue old girl, you've done it; fallen in love -and with an American at that." She thought of the words of a Noel Coward song: "I'm hooked, cooked, done to a turn."

It's hard to understand, she thought, he's not at all like Alf. Of course he's easily as intelligent, and, if anything, a bit kinder. Still his love making is so different. Alf would always be concerned that I was satisfied. I used to get so tired of his asking if I was all right. Sam seems not to care whether I'm satisfied. Of course, he's had no reason to inquire -he could tell that I was. Alf was always so gentle and slow and quiet. Sam is more like an animal, vigorous, strong. When he is about to come he is so noisy that I know it. It excites me so much that I'm carried along with his passion. Not that Sam isn't gentle, he is -at least in the beginning. When he gets carried away with passion he is almost rough -and the amazing part of it is that I love it. After we'd made love, Alf and I would talk. Sam goes to sleep almost immediately and so do I. Still, we have no lack of talking; it just doesn't come after love making. And the variety of positions that Sam uses makes Alf seem almost provincial. I never knew how Alf felt; with Sam, I can tell immediately merely by looking at his face. And Sam makes me laugh -he's playful like a kitten is playful. When we love one another, we're like two children. When we're together, I feel complete, as if I was only half a person without him. I say 'we' as if it's never going to end. Still, even if it should end tomorrow, I'm glad that it happened. And to think that this was supposed to be a purely physical affair.

Sam settled in his airplane seat and reflected on how his whole life had changed in less than a week. He had not known what sort of project he would tackle next, and now he was deeply involved in the most interesting work that he had ever done. He had gone from the depths of loneliness to a closeness that he had never known, even with Janet. He had thrown caution to the winds and allowed himself to be completely himself -no reservations in his feelings and actions, and he felt that Sue had done the same. In contrast to his first evening with Sue, Sam remembered his first encounter with Janet. When he first saw her in the office of the Department of Medicine, he thought her very attractive. He would visit, from time to time, to chat with her. After about a month, he asked her out to dinner and a movie. Janet had a deep-seated suspicion of medical students, having had an affair with one that ended with his graduation, when he had returning to his home town to marry the local doctor's daughter. It was not until she felt secure in Sam's intentions that she allowed him more than kisses. They were married immediately after Sam's graduation and moved to Atlanta, where Sam had a Post-doctoral Fellowship at C.D.C.

Several years ago, he had spent three months doing some work in Atlanta. During that time he had a brief affair. In an attempt to ease his conscience, he had told Janet. She saw it as a complete betrayal and, after much recrimination, demanded a divorce. Sam had no recourse but to acceded to her wishes. They agreed to a separation that would spare the children as much pain as possible.

Although it was Sam's affair that precipitated the divorce, their problems started after the birth of their second child in Salt Lake City. They decided that they could finally afford to have Janet stay home and take care of the children and the house. It was what she said she wanted to do. Things were wonderful for the first year. Janet was more relaxed than she had ever been and thoroughly enjoyed the relative freedom of being a housewife; relative, that is, to being a housewife and holding down a full-time job. At the end of the year, Janet became almost morose. Sex was no longer a pleasure, but something which she felt she had to do to keep her husband happy. Cooking, which she used to enjoy, became a chore; and house cleaning, which she had never enjoyed, but managed to get it out of the way as quickly as possible, became a continuous bit of drudgery. She resented Sam not helping with the house work, which he used to do when she was working. Sam, on the other hand, didn't think that he should, since it was her job in their agreed-upon arrangement. Sam recalled the many times that he would put his arm around Janet, in bed, and start to fondle her breast, only to have her stiffen up and move away from him. After many such incidents, they ended up sleeping back to back. Sam complained that she was physically cold and Janet complained that Sam didn't offer her any affection -all that he wanted was sex. It was as if both Sam and Janet were waiting for something to happen that would give them some excuse to end a marriage that had become a burden to them both; and when it came, they took advantage of it. Sam wondered if, perhaps, they had gotten some kind of help, they might still be married -but it was too late for that now.

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