Gene Dockery glanced at his watch. Seven minutes past six–his wife was going to kill him. With the typical traffic on the beltway, he wouldn’t get home until almost eight if he left the office now, only he couldn’t leave now. Pushing his laptop away, he sighed and flipped the receiver of his phone into his left hand as he dialed with his right. The phone rang three times; he hoped the call would go to voicemail.
“Why are you calling me from your office?” Her shrill question made him wince.
“Because I’m still at my office, dear.”
“Gene, you promised–we have plans.”
“Yeah, we’re going to need to cancel. Or you can go without me. They’re your friends anyway.”
“And they’re all bringing their husbands.”
He closed his eyes a minute. “Even if I leave now I’ll be late. And I can’t. I have to finish preparing for this interview tomorrow. It’s quite possibly the most important one of my career.”
“Oh, don’t be so dramatic. Everyone has interviewed the CDC by now. Just come home.”
“Yeah but no one has the information I have. You don’t know what this could mean for us. For the show.”
“All you care about lately is the show. Are you seriously standing me up tonight?”
“I’m sorry, Barb. I’ll make it up to you.”
Click. She hung up on him. Gene frowned for a moment before dropping the receiver back onto the base and opening his computer again, tugging it toward him. He spent the next thirty minutes or so just staring at the questions on his screen, until all he could see was his reflection: the five o’clock shadow, bags under dark eyes, and tousled brown hair threaded with gray. At nine o’clock, Gene leaned back in his desk chair and turned on the round-the-clock news.
The situation in Manhattan is grimmer than ever before. City and state officials are pushing to lift the quarantine in order to bring some relief to those who have taken to the streets, but the island is not in the clear yet. Though no new cases have been reported for nearly two and a half weeks, the president is reluctant to lift the quarantine and open the bridges until the city has been clean for a month. Without a confirmed incubation period, many are questioning the wisdom of considering ending the quarantine even after a month has passed. The National Guard continues to make weekly supply runs…
He’d been offered that story, but it was nothing new. The president spent the entire summer thus far waffling between ending the quarantine and keeping it in place. The country was divided politically–for every bleeding heart who fretted over the welfare of those left to fend for themselves in Manhattan, there was another who kept the polls stuck in the middle. Gene didn’t want to report on the same thing over and over again. That’d been his job when this thing came to the United States. The outbreak was as much his fault as it was anyone else’s, and tomorrow he was going to reveal the truth.
He wondered if Ryan Barry was still alive, and if so, if he knew what his questions led to. He met the young EMT six months ago, and that’s when Gene began to question the disease. The Sweats. That’s what everyone was calling it, because that’s exactly what it was like. His first report after meeting Ryan was to draw comparisons between the mysterious plague that struck England during the Renaissance. A deadly fever wasn’t so unheard of–thousands died from the flu each year. But this illness–the Sweats, or the Sweating Sickness as it was called centuries before–didn’t appear to be caused by a virus or bacteria. The scientific community was thus far unable to identify what caused it, but Ryan had plenty of ideas. Their meeting had been incendiary at best.
When the first outbreak of the Sweats hit the United States, the Centers for Disease Control had been swift to assure people that the healthcare system in the United States could combat the illness. In many cases, early detection and monitoring did offer a better chance for survival. However, even quarantines within hospitals couldn’t stop the disease from spreading. Some seemed to contract it within a few days, others took weeks to show symptoms and fall ill. After meeting Ryan, Gene did some research and found a group of scientists who actually believed–and were gathering data to support–the idea that the disease spread by panic. A psychosomatic killer. Why then, he wondered, would the CDC pretend that it was a viral or bacterial infection when they weren’t certain?
He wondered if they were as clueless as everyone else and said it just because they needed to come up with an answer, or if something else was going on. That’s what Gene planned to unearth tomorrow.