31.Off The Hook

Sam picked up the telephone and heard the secretary say "Major O'Connor on line one.

Sam pushed a button. "How are you Andy?"

"Fine, but I miss Salt Lake City."

"There must be a little night life in D.C."

"Not like in Salt Lake. How do you like being a celebrity, Sam?"

"It's different. What can I do for you?"

"Nothing, I called to do something for you. I feel as if I ought to make amends for some of the trouble I caused you."

"Don't worry about it. Everything worked out very well for me. The secrecy business isn't putting a crimp in my work like it is in Zabalka's."

"Anyway, I thought that I'd relieve your mind."

"What do you mean?"

"So you won't worry about being prosecuted for treason."

"Should I have been worried?"

"If you were here, you would have worried. When Blakesly found out about Birnbaum's story, he hit the ceiling; raved that he'd see you all in prison."

"How did he find out about it before it got into print?"

"After Watergate, the army decided that it wasn't going to get caught with it's pants down like those fool plumbers, so we planted an agent at the Post. Anyway, Blakesly sent me down to the paper to squelch the story. The editor said that the damned army couldn't classify sex or disease. When I pointed out to him that the EE virus was a potential secret weapon, he agreed to say nothing about the cultures that Zabalka has. Now we have to protect Zabalka and his cultures because you can bet your bottom dollar that the Russians also have spies at the Post. Anyway, Sam, you're off the hook because you didn't reveal anything that we could classify."

"Then Blakesly bought your deal with the Post?"

"He had no choice. The editor was right and, if he had insisted, maybe we couldn't have gotten away with classifying Zabalka's stuff."

"It's too bad that the editor didn't hold his ground, because that stuff could make Zabalka a candidate for the Nobel. That secrecy bit really screwed him up."

"Well, it couldn't have happened to a nicer guy."

"What do you have against Zabalka?"

"I almost had a doctorate at the Rockefeller, but.... that's another story."

"Zabalka kept you from getting it?"

"Single handed!"

"I guess you're even now. Well, Andy, thanks for relieving my mind."

"Glad to do it, Sam old buddy."

The more that Sam thought about it, the more he felt that Arthur was being done a grave injustice, and an important scientific discovery was being suppressed just because Andy O'Connor had Zabalka on his shit list. That stuff about it being a potential military weapon was so much baloney. Most of the biological warfare agents that he knew about were pretty common bugs that would do a better job of disabling a country than Epidemic E and the effects would be transient, which was what the military wanted. Besides, Epidemic E only put people out of action for three days in contrast to some of the known agents that would disable a population for months.

He called Levering:" Mike, I think that I know why the army did what it did. Andy has Zabalka on his shit list."

"So that's it! I wondered how come everyone was let off the hook but Arthur."

"Arthur is a good friend of yours, isn't he? Could you do something to help him out?" Sam asked.

"Yea, I'll commiserate with him over his misfortune."

"Is that all that you can do?"

"No, I could try to get the army to lift its classification, but I don't think that I'd succeed."

"What about your connection at the Post?"

"What makes you think that I have any connection at the Post?"

"Oh, just a hunch," said Sam. He was pretty sure that it had been Levering who had told Birnbaum about Epidemic E -but he wasn't absolutely sure.

"Is there anything that I can do?" Sam asked.

"You could try, but you could get your ass in plenty of hot water if the wrong people found out about it. Zabalka has a lot of enemies who would be more than glad to add you to the list. Take a bit of advice from an old pro at this politics game: leave justice to the judges. If Arthur were your brother, I would say go for it; but he isn't even a good friend of yours. Remember, one person who has it in for you can screw up your chances of getting a job that you might want, or getting your research published. Leave it alone, Sam! Arthur is a big boy. If he can get his stuff declassified, he will, and he has a hell of a lot more clout than you do. Besides, knowing Arthur, even if he can't get it declassified, he'll figure out some way to make his discovery pay off. You can bet on it."

Sam knew that he was getting good advice, so he took a long walk until his urge to help Zabalka wore off. Then he went home and drank a couple of beers and watched the movie on television.

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