21.Major Andrew O'Connor

Sam stopped at the departmental office to check his mail. The secretary grinned at him. "You have a visitor."

"A visitor?"

"An army officer."

"Where is he?"

"I told him to wait in your office."

"Did you tell him that you didn't know when I'd return?"

"I told him that; but he said that he would wait until you returned, no matter how long it took.

"Did he say who he was?"

"Yes, Major Andrew O'Connor."

A man in an Army uniform sat at Sam's desk with his feet up, reading one of Sam's journals. He looked less like an Army Officer than any Sam had ever seen. His uniform looked as if it had been slept in, his hair was rumpled, his tie was loose and his collar open. Slung over a chair was his jacket complete with gold oak leaves and a medical department caduceus with a large letter A on it.

"Dr. Michaelson," he said, "I'm Andy O'Connor. I hope that you don't mind my making myself at home. I didn't know when you'd come back."

"Do I have a choice?"

"Sure," said O'Connor, smiling, "you could kick me out." He got out of the seat and replaced the journal. Then he put on his jacket.

Sam sat down at his desk. "What can I do for you, Major?"

"The army sent me here to work with you on Epidemic E."

"How the hell did the army find out about Epidemic E?"

"They didn't tell me, but they have their ways. They just assigned me here for an indefinite period."

"They assigned you to me!" Sam growled. "I'm going to be under army surveillance. If those bastards think..."

"Hold on there," said O'Connor, "I don't watch anybody. I'm a biologist and a damn good one. My specialty is typhus and insect-borne diseases. I've probably done more epidemic chasing in the last twenty years than anybody in the world. If you think that I'm going to watch you, you'd better think again. They sent me on detached service to the university. With the Viet Nam war over, the Army has no use for a typhus expert so they sent me here to get me out of their hair in Washington. They only want me around when there's a war on. The Army doesn't give a damn what I do. They just want to know where to reach me if a war breaks out. If you don't want me around, just say so and I'll go and work on fleas in the Entomology Department. They didn't even tell me what this Epidemic E was, except that it might have some potential in biological warfare."

This O'Connor was different from any army officer that Sam had ever known. He thought for a minute and decided to be candid.

"Major, I'm not particularly fond of the army, and I really don't like the thought of someone in uniform watching me."

"I think I understand how you feel. Even though I have to wear it, I've never been fond of uniforms. When I don't have to wear it, I don't." He held out his hand, " My name is Andy, and as for the uniform, this is the last you'll see of it. Give me a short trial. If you don't want my help after you see what I can do, all that you have to do is say so, and I'll disappear."

"Fair enough," said Sam, still wondering whether he was making one big mistake. "By the way, do you have your family here?"

"No. I'm divorced and my kids are back East."

"In that case, let's have dinner tonight and I'll tell you all about Epidemic E."

It was easier for Sam to relate to Major Andrew O'Conner out of uniform. His black hair was cut short and parted on one side and his shining blue eyes made him look much younger than his forty five years. When he wasn't smiling, one had the feeling that he was about to. His looks reminded Sam, in a vague way, of Barry Fitzgerald. He could hear Fitzgerald say, "Oi may be small, but oim agile."

That evening, at dinner, Sam told him all about Epidemic E and where the project stood at the moment.

"Now I know why the army is interested," O'Connor said.

"Then maybe you'll explain it to me, because I don't."

"That, Sam, is because you don't understand the officer mentality. What they think of constantly is getting an edge on the enemy-whoever it happens to be at the moment. If the enemy is busy screwing, he can't fight at the same time. That's what biological warfare is all about. They don't try to kill the enemy, just disable him for a while. That's why they concentrated on bugs that produced chronic illness. If the enemy is only interested in sex, he's not likely to be interested in war. The hippies knew about that with their 'make love not war' slogan. But you and I know that Epidemic E isn't going to be of any use, because all that the fighting man thinks about now is sex ,and it doesn't seem to interfere with his fighting ability," he said laughing.

"I'm glad to hear it, but does that mean that you won't want to work on it?"

"Hell no! I don't give a damn whether what I do is of any use to the army. What's more, I don't think that the army gives a damn either. Somebody in headquarters probably figured that they might get the jump on the navy with a new weapon, and get O'Connor out of Washington at the same time."

"If you don't think much of what the army does, what are you doing in it?"

"I was a rebellious kid and when I was eighteen, it was either the army or jail. By the time I realized how much I hated the army, I had ten years in toward retirement, a wife and four kids. Thanks to dependency allowances, I had a salary that I couldn't match on the outside with my meager schooling. Besides, the army lets me play. I can chase epidemics, study insects and now sexy viruses. If I got out, I might have to go to work and keep regular hours."

"Surely you couldn't do what you've been doing without an education."

"Oh, they sent me to the best schools, but it's hard to get a doctorate when you never got a high school diploma or a bachelors degree. I ended up with the education but not the credentials."

"Then how did you get to be a major?"

"They sent me all over the world chasing epidemics. Since it's not seemly for an enlisted man to tell officers what to do, they kept boosting my rank, consistent with the kind of authority I needed to do my job. If they think that I might have to deal with Colonels, I may even get another promotion -but I doubt it."

"What do you want to do as far as Epidemic E is concerned?"

"I'd like to get some feel for the problem first. Why don't you use me where you need me, and if I get any ideas I'll let you know."

"There are some things that I need done here in Salt Lake. It takes more leg work than brains, but it has to be done and I don't have the time to do it the way that it should be done."

"What do you have in mind?"

"I have eighteen kids in one class who were in contact with those teachers at the Benedict School. I've found two who seem to have spread the disease. I want to know if there are more, and I need to find out as much as I can about the extent of the spread: when the contacts where made, how long the kids remained contagious. I also want to be sure that the condition isn't spread from adult to adult."

"It sounds like as good a place to start as any. Give me what you have and I'll take it from there."

"I'll do that tomorrow morning, before I leave for Buffalo."

Sam decided that he liked Andy O'Connor after all. Now he would see what he could do. Also, by now, things in Buffalo should have taken some kind of a turn. He could also make a brief stop in Chicago and see Sue.

Sam had called Sue the night before and she agreed to meet him at O'Hare and spend the rest of the day and night with him. He had booked a flight to Buffalo for the following morning.

His flight for Chicago didn't leave until 10 A.M., so he went to his office at 7 A.M. to put a call in to Mike Levering and organize his notes for O'Connor.

"Mike," he said, "did you send me a Major Andrew O'Connor?"

"No, I didn't, but I do know him. We were at the Hooper Institute in the old days. He's a great guy and a fine scientist. Knows more funny stories than anyone I've ever met."

"How many more surprises am I in for? Am I due for a visit from the CIA?"

"I have no idea, Sam. Washington is full of secrets that everyone knows. I have to report the money that I spend, so someone is always looking over my shoulder. What does Andy want?"

"To work on Epidemic E."

"How do you feel about it?"

"I guess it's all right."

"Whatever Andy does, he does well, but he is unpredictable. By the way, I got a call from Zabalka. He can't find anything in the polio vaccine but polio virus. He says that he can't be sure that there isn't anything else, but he hasn't found it as yet. It was the first time that I ever heard Arthur say that he wasn't sure of something. It was a treat."

"Nick was hoping that he would find a coxsackie virus."

"Well, he hasn't. By the way, Sam, are you planning to be in Buffalo?"

"I'll be there tomorrow."

"Good! I want to call the whole group together in the next few days and Buffalo seems to be the most convenient place for everybody. I'll let you know when, as soon as it's arranged."

Sam called Nick Tarkas and passed on the information that he had received from Levering.

"I know," said Nick, "I talked to Zabalka yesterday. He might still come up with something after he passes the stuff in tissue culture for a while. Meanwhile, we have to assume that if the coxsackie virus is involved, that it came from somewhere besides the vaccine. What have you found?"

"For one thing, it looks as if the vaccine itself doesn't produce EE in adults of the right age. They have to have had contact with an infectious child, and only a few of the vaccinated children seem to transmit EE."

"I've never heard of anything like that. Maybe we're on to a new phenomenon. By the way, all of the stuff that I've tested since we talked comes up with the same thing: high polio and high coxsackie A antibody levels in all of them. The control group of close relatives and contacts with people with EE show just a few people with both, a few with either one and most have neither; so I still think that it's significant. Maybe these people with Epidemic E have a simultaneous infection with polio vaccine and coxsackie. We'll have a better idea when the Buffalo series is finished. I've also sent serum samples to a few other labs who have antisera to other viruses than the ones that I test for. I should know more when I see you at that meeting in Buffalo."

Sam passed the material that he had assembled to Andy O'Connor and went to the airport.

He flew to Chicago, where he spent a quiet evening with Sue and her family and then went on to Buffalo the following morning.

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