23.Ellen's Problem

When Sam returned to the Buffalo command post, he found it deserted except for Eric, who sat in the corner with his computer, chewing on the end of a pencil.

"How goes the war, Eric?" Sam asked.

"It feels like it's just about over. All of the sick people have recovered and are busily chasing after members of the opposite sex, except for one homosexual, who's chasing after members of his own sex. We've narrowed the carrier children down to four; and about three quarters of their contacts of the appropriate age, seem to have contracted EE."

"Who's still here?"

"The interviewers are finishing up. Jack Monser left for L.A. yesterday, but Ellen is still here. Which brings me to a problem. I don't know whether to tell you or let you find out for yourself."

"Ellen has a problem?"

"You might say that. It seems that she... er, she..."

"I guess I'd better find out for myself, since you won't tell me."

"It's not that, its just that.... well"

"Where's she at now?" Sam asked.

"Room 406"

"I'll see you later," said Sam, walking toward the door.

"Sam, maybe...... oh, never mind."

Sam was greeted by Ellen Bast attired in a bathrobe.

"I'm sorry, Ellen, I thought you'd be up and around by ten."

"Come in, Sam, I've been up for hours. I just didn't bother getting dressed."

"Is Jack coming back for the meeting?"

"He left this morning, but he'll be back tomorrow for the meeting." Her face clouded up and she burst into tears. She threw her arms around Sam, "Oh, Sam, I'm so terribly lonely," she sobbed and kissed Sam's neck and ear.

"You caught it, didn't you?"

"Yes," she sobbed, " but make love to me first, then we'll talk."

"I can't, Ellen, I'm deeply involved with Sue."

"I don't want you to get uninvolved with Sue or involved with me. All I want is a little bit of loving," she said as she fondled him. kissing his neck and lips. Her bathrobe was open and Sam felt her naked body against his. She smelled of sex. His mind resisted as much as he could, but his body responded.

As they lay in bed, spent, Sam asked "How did it happen?"

"One of our young interviewers caught the flu. I went in to finish up what she had started. It seems that she was working with a child who, we found out later, infected eight people. I was in agony for three days -thought I was going to die. Jack nursed me through the whole thing. When I recovered, it was just wonderful for us. Jack said that I was the most wonderful lover imaginable."

"I can relate to that," said Sam.

"But as soon as he left..... well, you know the rest. I don't know what I'm going to do. It's not seemly for Dr. Ellen Bast to go around seducing bellhops. Sam, if you hadn't walked in, that was exactly what I was going to do."

"Maybe it would have been better if you had. Then I wouldn't have a guilty conscience."

"Sam, tell your conscience that you were only helping a sick friend. Since you already have a guilty conscience, it's not going to feel guiltier if you have one more for the road," she said as her mouth found his and her hand gently stroked his penis.

Jack Monser arrived early the following morning. He didn't emerge from their hotel room until mid afternoon. He encountered Sam in the coffee shop.

"Ellen told me what a great help you were," Monser said, between sips of coffee.

"What did she say that I did for her?"

"She said that you gave her the loving that she needed, so that she didn't have to look for it. Isn't she wonderful?"

"That she is," Sam said. "I'm surprised that she told you."

"We don't have many secrets from each other. I'm glad that it was you instead of some anonymous sex organ. Besides, now I have someone I can talk to. I understand that you and Sue Harwell are serious."

"It looks that way."

"Congratulations. By the way, will you tell Sue about what happened with you and Ellen?"

"No! If she finds out some way, I won't lie to her. We haven't made any commitment to each other yet, so we're both free to do as we please. I think that I would have resisted Ellen's blandishments if Sue and I were married."

"I wouldn't be too sure of that, if I were you. The powers of a woman who wants a man are pretty formidable."

"Do you like the change in Ellen?"

"It scares the shit out of me. Sure, it's great now, but I didn't get EE and I don't know how long I can keep it up. I've never been a slouch at sex, but I'm no superman either. If I knew how to contract it, I think that I would."

"Even at the risk of a fatal encephalitis?"

"I think so," said Jack sadly. "I loved her before she got EE and I think that I love her more now. If I had wished for any change in her, it would have been for her to lose her air of total self control -and now she's lost it. An uninhibited Ellen is a delight."

"Maybe the effects will go away."

"That's one big maybe. Have you seen any evidence that the effect weakens with time?"

"Not so far," said Sam.

"Neither have I."

When Monser left, Sam felt as if he had just awakened from a strange dream. He had just had a warm and friendly conversation with a man whose wife he had made love to the day before. Monser wasn't pretending, he was genuinely friendly toward Sam; not a trace of jealousy or anger. He wondered if he, Sam, would feel if the situation were reversed and it had been Jack who had made love to Sue. He would probably be fuming. Maybe it's Jack's psychological training, he thought. No, that couldn't be; psychologists are human too. Then he thought that it was because he both loved and understood his wife, and probably also understood Sam. If Sue had EE maybe he, Sam, could also be as understanding. He hoped so. One thing he was sure of was that he had no idea whatever how Sue would react if she found out about his brief affair with Ellen Bast. He knew how his ex-wife had reacted to a similarly brief affair.

The meeting was scheduled for one o'clock on the following day, with the rest of the participants being scheduled to arrive on that morning. Sam had dinner with Eric and the Monsers, then went to his room and watched TV until he got tired, then went to sleep.

Sam was walking naked down a long corridor, lined on both sides with immense eyes which followed his passage. At the end of the corridor stood Sue, with her arms held out to him. He started to run toward her, but did not seem to be getting any closer. Then, suddenly, Sue disappeared. Sam tried to call to her, but found that he was unable to make a sound.

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