Responses to subjects brought up by this blog are welcome. I can be contacted by e-mailing me from my website.
Subjects this month:The Famous brown sheepskin, State of America series: Drug problems, illegal and otherwise, Letting books go, Progress report, Book reviews, Political columnists, New dog: Tip, Piddling, Fan Mail, The Melanin Apocalypse, Excerpt from The Melanin Apocalypse.
The Brown Sheepskin
This segment here is for all those men (and perhaps women) who succumbed to the heavy advertising of authentic brown sheepskins for sale about twenty years ago and ordered one for their significant others. For simplicity’s sake I’ll tell this as if it were the husbands who ordered the sheepskins for Christmas, birthday or other occasions for their wives and the wives, upon opening the brightly wrapped present eyed their husbands as if they had lost their mind (and perhaps we had) and asked, “What in hell is this thing?” After seeing their wives’ reaction they answered the question rather reluctantly by telling the truth: “Sweetheart, it’s a genuine tanned brown sheepskin with the wool still on it.” And then when their wives asked, “What in hell am I supposed to do with it?” they either mumbled something unintelligible or fumbled with trying to think of a good use for it or simply said nothing and began furiously thinking of what they could do to make amends for an obviously very underappreciated gift.
Those moments pass, as they always will and other Christmases or special occasions have come and gone. If your wife is like mine she really didn’t want to toss a gift from her sweetie in the trash as she probably wanted to so she kept it--out of sight in my office--and went on with life.
Over the years we’ve had three dogs who I thought might appreciate a nice warm sheepskin to sleep on but they were singularly unappreciative and insisted on trying to eat the sheepskin so it had to be put out of their reach.
And then came the kittens. They didn’t want to sleep on it but as you may know if you’ve ever had a kitten in the house, nothing is out of a kitten’s reach. Our kittens always tried to kill the poor sheepskin and very nearly succeeded once or twice before they were relegated to other homes or in the case of our last kitten, had to be moved out to the porch and have a nice warm cave fixed for it because it insisted on exploring the kitchen table and counters despite everything we tried to discourage it.
So what ever happened to the poor misbegotten and lonely sheepskin? Well, Betty might not have liked it and the dogs might have wanted to eat it and the kittens might have wanted to kill it but brown sheepskins are resilient if nothing else. The one living in our house, out of sight and so far as Betty was concerned out of mind, thought and thought and finally came up with a solution for its loneliness.
You see, we have a daughter who is both an elementary school teacher and a Sunday school teacher. Brown sheepskin obviously figured this out and waylaid her one day while she was racking her brain trying to think of things to use in the nativity scene she was assigned to set up for the Sunday school class, or maybe the church scene--Sheepskin didn’t talk to me about it. All the discussion was between Pat and Sheepskin.
The end result was that Brown Sheepskin not only found a use for itself but a profession. Now, several times a year Sheepskin volunteers its lovely self for use as a prop in nativity scenes, a participant in school plays and has a great time at Vacation Bible school. Pat and Sheepskin have several other collaborations they participate in each year, too.
So at last this husband has been vindicated, at least in the eyes of his stepdaughter. She, at least, thinks I had a great idea that Christmas many years ago even if Betty doesn’t. But actually, I think Betty is finally coming around, too, and about to concede it was a good idea.
So there you go. If you’re still in the doghouse over giving someone a brown sheepskin years and years ago, maybe you can get out of it by passing Pat’s ideas along to someone in your family. Then you’ll be vindicated, too.
Personally, I’m convinced that every one of us who ordered a brown sheepskin as a gift for their wife had a fine idea!
State of America series: DRUG PROBLEMS, ILLEGAL AND OTHERWISE
We’ve all heard of the “War on drugs”, haven’t we? Sure we have, but how many times have you heard anyone announce that we’re winning it? None that I know of. So why are we still “fighting” it? I’ll tell you why. Because drugs have become inextricably intermixed with politics. Whenever that happens it usually fouls up a situation so badly that no one knows what to do except to keep on doing what is obviously not doing a bit of good.
God only knows how many billions upon billions of dollars we’ve spent on the drug problem. And it is a problem, no doubt about it, but it sure ain’t going to be solved the way the situation is now. But before going any further with the present, let’s back up to the past for a bit. I’m sure everyone has heard the phrase “History Always Repeats itself?” Actually, that’s a pretty accurate statement. History does repeat but never in exactly the same fashion and as a corollary to the statement, politicians never learn from the past.
Hardly anyone around now remembers prohibition. That occurred back during the first part of the previous century when a bunch of religious leaders joined forces with a bunch of women (and a goodly number of men) (and strangely enough, were allied with bootleggers of untaxed booze) in an attempt to abolish the consumption of alcohol. Really. This really and truly happened. A constitutional amendment was passed which prohibited the sale and consumption of alcohol. Every other nation in the world laughed at us, of course. Trying to make people quit drinking alcohol is akin to trying to stop the tide. Trying to make humans do something the majority doesn’t want to do never works. It can’t be done but the uninformed proponents of the idea thought otherwise.
Guess what happened? The road to hell is paved with good intentions, so it is said, and I believe it. I guess the people who thought they could stop other people from drinking didn’t stop to think the practice had been going on since we came down out of the trees, or maybe even before then. And something that has been lubricating social interaction, not to mention our throats, wasn’t going to be stopped by a law, no matter if it was such a monumental law that it actually got embedded into the constitution of these United States of America.
There’s no doubt that alcohol causes a lot of problems. So do automobiles and bacteria for that matter. But laws won’t stop people from doing what they want to do. Never have and never will. And the majority of people want a drink now and then. The result, of course, was illegal alcohol, and illegal alcohol on a truly massive scale. The coast guard couldn’t stop the smuggling. Hell, some of the coast guard participated in it. The border patrol couldn’t stop it from entering the country. Border patrolmen like to drink, too. And nothing, but nothing, could stop every Tom, Dick, Harry and Jane from making their own. Can’t buy it legally? Screw you, we’ll brew it in the bathtub if we have to. And people did.
The prohibition against alcohol made criminals of more than half the citizens of the country as might have been predicted had any of its proponents stopped to think about it in a halfway sane fashion. “Speakeasies”, places that sold alcohol popped up on every corner. Policemen and district attorneys were bribed on a massive scale to let the illegal trade exist. And why not? Most of them liked to drink, too.
Mobsters made fortunes with illegally imported booze. Politicians and law enforcement officials made fortunes accepting bribes to let the trade go on. Before long everyone knew the whole thing was a joke. I think it took only about thirteen years for the forces arrayed against the evil booze to give up. Another amendment was passed making alcohol legal again. Doesn’t the whole thing remind you of something? It sure does me. Drugs, as a matter of fact.
Today drugs are much more prevalent than they were before “The War On Drugs” was begun. Not only are they being sold openly on street corners in many cities, but the United States of America, that bastion of liberty and justice, has the distinction of running the biggest prison system in the world in proportion to our population. Almost all the “crooks” in prison are there because of drugs in one way or another. A full quarter of the black men in America are either in jail, prison or on parole because of drugs. And when they get out, they have a record that prohibits them from getting jobs and earning honest livings. So what do they do? They go back to the drug trade despite the threat of jail. And I’m not just picking on blacks. Caucasians and other groups are just as bad. It is a ludicrous situation.
Let me tell you another little story from history. Did you know that back in the late 1800s and early1900s you could buy heroin, opium, and all kinds of narcotics from your nearest drug store and not even need a prescription? It’s a fact. And all the nostrums your great, great, grandmothers ordered through the mail or got from door to door salesmen weren’t much more than a cocaine solution or an alcohol base to a “medicine” and sometimes a mixture of both. Use of these nostrums was widespread and perfectly legal, as well as other drugs that I just mentioned. At that time in history most women wouldn’t be caught dead in a place that sold booze. It just wasn’t done. But boy, did they sop up the “medicine” from the drugstore and from catalogs and salesmen. And guess what? The country didn’t collapse when all those drugs could be legally purchased, did it? Nope, we’re still here. However, I’m not so sure we won’t collapse now that all that stuff is illegal though.
Just look at Mexico, our neighbor to the south. Or Honduras or several other countries south of the border. In Mexico, for example, the whole damn country is in thrall to the drug lords, with daily gun battles and shooting and knifing and torture deaths as drug gangs battle it out for turf and against the honest police, who are fewer and fewer. All to supply illegal drugs to us. Not me and you of course. Just our neighbors and the ghettos and schools and…whoops--the whole country, it seems like, including me and you. Most of us have at least smoked pot and many of us have experimented with some of the harder stuff. People demand drugs and when people want something it is damned hard to stop them from getting it. In fact it’s well nigh impossible. To make it worse, the profits from illegal drugs are so high that for every drug runner arrested or killed three more are ready to step into his place. There’s just no way to stop it, not when profits from the illegal drug trade are so lucrative.
Another faucet of the drug problem is the glut of illegal prescription drugs on the market. The demand for those is so high, and the profits are so great, that even doctors are getting into the act. A lot of doctors have gotten rich running “Pain Clinics” that are nothing more than mills cranking out prescriptions for pain meds that are immediately re-sold on the streets. This in turn has led the feds to try cracking down on the doctors so hard that they’re becoming scared of prescribing narcotics to their patients who really need them to control severe pain. The crackdown on doctors hasn’t even slowed down the illegal prescription pain pills from going to market on the streets but what it has done is scare the holy hell out of doctors who are honestly trying to treat pain for patients who really do require narcotics in order to live half-way comfortably. The honest docs many times won’t give their patients near as much pain medicine as they really need for fear the feds will class them in with the docs just wanting to make money off the demand--and doing it.
So, is there any solution to the drug problem? Yep. Here’s how it ought to be.
Drugs should be legalized and sold in government shops or prescribed by doctors to those who want and/or need them, all at reasonable prices that would be far lower than the crooks sell them for. That would dry up most of the illegal market. Then all those drugs being sold legally should be taxed with about half the tax money going for rehab clinics to get the people who want to quit using drugs off the habit, much the same way as AA works to get and keep addicts off alcohol. And by the way, alcohol is legal and it is a well known fact that alcohol abuse causes far more harm than illegal drug use. This fact in conveniently ignored by our politicians out to get votes by supporting the “War on Drugs”. I’ll tell you one damn thing, and that is for a so-called war, we’re on the losing side and getting whipped worse every year. So why not surrender and get it over with and stop wasting money and start making money on drugs? Seems quite sensible to me, with one small caveat: anyone caught selling or giving addicting drugs to kids under eighteen should be sent up for ten years the first time, no parole. For a second offense, either hang them up by the balls or tits or send them to the wall. Anyone who deliberately sets out to addict an unwary kid on drugs or alcohol or anything else for profit should get it stuck to them in a big way. Adults are a different matter. If they want to go to hell on drugs, I say have at it. When they’re ready to see the light, rehab clinics would be waiting, paid for by legal sales of drugs.
Now I can just hear all the religious do-gooders, the social do-gooders and the political do-gooders wailing to the sky about how such a program would send all our kids to hell and destroy the country. Crap! It would do no such thing. Most of us can take drugs or leave them alone, just like alcohol. For the poor souls that can’t, all the laws in the world won’t do a single solitary thing to stop them from getting their fix one way or another.
It appears to me that a program of legal drugs would sure as hell beat a war on drugs that is killing 30 or 40,000 people a year in Mexico, suborning the whole country to drug lords and putting one out of a hundred of our citizens in jail. Decriminalizing drugs would take the illegal element out of the sale and keep so many of our youngsters from getting a police record that will keep many of them from honest employment the rest of their lives. Simple enough and it couldn’t possibly make the situation worse!!
Letting Books Go
Betty and I both read so much that periodically we have to go through our bookshelves and weed out the ones we haven’t re-read in the last ten years or so. The books pile up because we both do re-read our favorites again and again. I’m in the process of clearing out some books from my collection again and it is particularly difficult this time. Several years ago when I did this I retained a lot of old favorites even though I hadn’t re-read many of them for a long time. Now I’m being forced to let many of them go. There simply isn’t any more room--they are overflowing my office bookshelves where my books live. I wish I could find a home for a lot of my old favorites but many of them date back to the fifties and sixties and even then are not first editions so they aren’t collectible items worth money (I do have a number of first edition books that I have listed in a special file so that my heir, Betty if I go first, can sell them).
It is really painful to part with books that have given me so many hours of reading pleasure. Hours? More like years! It has to be done, though. Once we gave sixteen boxes of books to the local library. The last time we gave eight or ten boxes to the Goodwill. So far I’ve got ten boxes ready for disposal and that’s just from my science fiction shelves. I still have to go through the non-fiction and the fiction that falls into a class other than science fiction. There are at least as many more I’ll have to let go as I’ve already boxed up! And this doesn’t even count many of Betty’s books this time. She hasn’t gotten started yet.
I guess it would take a real reader to understand my angst as I go through the shelves upon shelves of books, deciding which to keep and which has to go. By a real reader I mean those readers like Betty and I, who keep many of the books they acquire and re-read the ones they keep time after time. Betty and I both agree on this definition of real readers and we also agree on another definition: people are either born readers or not. We are both born readers. One of my boys reads quite a bit and two of Betty’s daughters also read a lot but none of our kids read like we do.
One of the first questions I asked Betty when we got married was, “Do you mind if I read while we eat?” Her answer: “I don’t mind if you don’t mind me reading at the same time!”
Maybe all this is just a long-winded, round about way of saying we have a great marriage! We’re both born readers!
I’m apparently taking a hiatus from fiction writing for the time being. After finishing the Apertures trilogy, three novels of alternate realities and how access to them changes our own reality in ways no one thought was possible.
Writing is a strange profession. For over twenty years I’ve never had a problem with writing that next book or short story. In fact, I have two novels, a non-fiction book, and several short stories under consideration but at the present time it seems I’m more interested in reading than writing. Reading, in all kinds of genres and in both fiction and non-fiction, has always been my first love. For now that’s mostly what I’m doing, although I’m fairly sure I’ll get back to writing fiction sometime this year. For now, though, I’m taking a rest and evaluating how much more I want to do. Well, I am continuing to put out Bainstorming and revising a little children’s story I intend to submit somewhere but that’s about the extent of it. For now.
This past month I’ve been mostly involved with the Honor Harrington series, re-reading it once again in preparation for the next book in the series by David Weber due out in march. I’m eagerly looking forward to it. Reading the complete Honor Harrington series over again takes most of a month which is why there aren’t more reviews in this segment this month. I’m also re-reading Weber’s Safehold series because there’s another book coming out soon in that series.
I’ve also read Women of the West by Cathy Luchetti. It concerns pioneer women here in America during the middle years of the 1800s. I’m always astounded at what hardships those people underwent, especially the women and also what lengths many people will go to in the name of religion, in this case the Mormons treking west, many of them pulling handcarts rather than riding in wagons as is popularly assumed. Any time you think you have it hard try reading this book or similar ones and be thankful you live today instead of back then!
And I read one more, When The Bullet Hits Your Funny Bone by Billy Allmon. This is sort of a combined history of the SEAL teams and some of the humorous incidents that military men and women always use to defray some of the more horrendous side of combat. It’s different and I enjoyed reading it.
How many of you who read the political commentaries on the net or in newspapers bother to read both sides of the issues discussed? I don’t know about you, but I try to read opinions and essays both for and against my own particular beliefs and opinions. I’ve found many times that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. Paul Krugman is a very liberal columnist, writing for the New York Times. I don’t agree with his viewpoints very often but he is such a good writer he is well worth reading anyway. And I admit, occasionally I learn something from the man despite the fact that I think he is way too far left for the good of the country. Anyway, try looking at both sides of a discussion where possible. You may find, like me, that you can learn from both sides, one side or neither side. But read! How else will you know anything important? Sound bites on television convey little of importance, in my opinion, and are frequently taken out of context or don’t supply enough supporting data to give enough information to really know much. Andforget about learning anything important from a politician. It’s as likely to be pure fiction or outright lies as anything else.
Tip, our new dog
I thought we were finished with ADHD doggies after poor Tonto died, much too young, but we decided to get old couch potato Susie some company. We wanted a dog 5 or 6 years old but wound up with a small Terrier/Chihuahua/?? mix that isn’t much bigger than Susie and not much more than a puppy. He was a stray and we’re suckers. Also, I’ll confess, we had forgotten about how much puppies like to chew on things. Already, Tip has destroyed Betty’s favorite pair of shoes and my favorite house shoes among many other items he’s taken a fancy to, such as our blood pressure cuff, books and on and on. We’ve taught him the meaning of Baddog! and Down! But unfortunately, he hasn’t learned to stay off chair side tables or out of trash cans yet. Anything we forget that’s attractive to puppies and leave on those tables or in the waste baskets is toast, so to speak. The table is where I had been keeping my little wrapped squares of dark chocolate so I could remember to eat one of them each day. Forget that! He loves chocolate and doesn’t understand it’s not good for him. He also grabbed an unopened package of cashews. I found the wrapper in my office but not a sign of a cashew anywhere. Oh well, he came with one outstanding virtue: he was already housebroken.
Sometime in the last couple of months I reviewed a book or maybe two books by Rick Bragg, the southern newspaper columnist and writer. Betty showed me one of his little essays in Southern Living titled Piddling. According to Rick Bragg, Piddlng consists of doing something to kill time but it can’t be anything that’s constructive or necessary, otherwise it’s work. In order to piddle you have to kill time doing something absolutely not related to work, like maybe, oh, rearranging the pens on my desk just because I wanted to kill some time. Or going for a walk short enough that it can’t be considered exercise--that’s work. Get the idea? Now go piddle!
I guess every author who has a very big reading audience gets fan letters and e-mail has made the task much, much easier than it used to be. I get one or two a week. One that came in this past month was the kind I like to receive. The fellow told me he had bought 26 of my books and really, really liked them all. Now if only everyone who reads one of my books would read 25 others I could sign up for that trip to space I’d so dearly love to take (Betty says she won’t go with me but her daughter said she would). Get busy, fans! I’m getting older fast!
The Melanin Apocalypse
The Melanin Apocalypse remains my most controversial work. I was called a racist for having written it on a radio talk show. A review belabored me and stated that the book left a horrible stink because of its content. Other reviews and comments have been very positive, taking it as I intended, a warning of what the future may very well hold in the area of genocidal warfare by terrorists, using newly discovered methods of altering or even creating new strains of viruses specifically designed to afflict particular racial or ethnic groups. I did a good bit of research for the book and hoped that it would be received by a wide audience. Every now and then talk about The Melanin Apocalypse flares up again even though the book was published three years ago. Currently a number of reviewers are looking at it again. I really hope the word spreads of just what this book is all about and not necessarily for the recognition I might attain. I simply believe it is a timely work and the ideas it contains should be thought about. Very seriously thought about. Scientific advances are coming more and more rapidly these days and the sooner we prepare for the content in The Melanin Apocalypse to become reality, the better chance we have of staving it off. Believe me, folks. It is all very, very possible!
Excerpt fromThe Melanin Apocalypse
Doug Craddock took a seat at the conference table in the administrative building of the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia. He nodded to the others present and smiled across the table at Amelia Foster. He had been with the scientist-physician once before on a mission, to the Congo where a pesky, previously unknown virus had popped up, then disappeared just as suddenly. Amelia's presence meant they must have a puzzle on their hands. She was CDC's top specialist in infectious diseases; they didn't send her just anywhere. He also knew Robert Handley, the man in charge of logistics and a good friend. The other person was new to him, a small attractive woman with light brown hair who looked to be in her thirties.
Amelia saw him looking and realized her oversight. "Doug, I'm sorry. This is June Spencer. She'll be head nurse on this little jaunt. June, Doug Craddock, in charge of our security detail. It was becoming almost routine for the CDC to send a security contingent along with the scientists and health workers when it was called on to investigate disease hotspots these days. There was even a new building going up next to the CDC complex, to be devoted to security.
"Hi," Doug said, smiling at her. The nurse gave a very slight nod in return, without a smile. He diagnosed her problem almost immediately. Another one who thinks the world would be better off without guns--until the bullets start flying in their direction, then we're the first ones they call for.
Amelia tapped her fingernails on the table to get everyone's attention again. "There's coffee and tea for those who want it. Now that everyone's here, let's get started."
Doug had been the last one to arrive. He poured coffee for himself while Amelia played with the keyboard at her place. The wall screen swam into focus. It showed a map of a large part of western Africa.
"Here's where we'll be going." An arrow moved over the map. It stopped at Port Harcourt, Nigeria. "As you can see, we'll be in Nigeria, near the coast. Port Harcourt is a relatively modern city so facilities should be adequate.
"And here's what we're investigating." The next image showed the body of a pale black man. His skin had a peculiar hue, as if some of the color had been scrubbed off with a rough cloth. Other than that, there were no signs of illness--yet he was obviously dead.
"What is it?" June asked.
"Good question. We don't know; that's why we're being sent. The disease starts with a tingling felt over the whole body and progresses over a period of weeks to extreme myalgia, neuralgia, intractable pain and death. The good news is that it doesn't appear to be contagious through airborne droplets, as diseases like the flu are. The bad news is that it's spreading anyway and the medical people don't know why."
Doug rubbed his chin where a five o'clock shadow was forming. He had a beard that showed more gray than did his wavy, dark brown hair, though his hair was beginning to be shot with white threads, too. To him, the new disease already sounded ominous, but then these days any unexplained phenomenon that caused death worried him. Damned terrorists.
Amelia continued. "We've already received specimens from some of the afflicted. So far, we haven't turned up what's causing the illness, though we're beginning to suspect a peculiar little enterovirus that resembles the poliovirus species."
"Polio? I thought we had wiped it out," Doug said.
"I didn't say it was the polio virus; just that it resembles it in certain ways. We'll have to wait and see what the virologists say. In the meantime, our job is to go there and assist in finding and identifying the vector."
quot;Any clues yet?" June Spencer asked. She and her team would be the ones having the most direct contact with patients. She played with a pendant at her neck, an odd arrangement of diamonds and gold, rolling it between thumb and fingers.
Amelia hesitated, as if reluctant to speak. "Well…possibly. For some reason, it's only people of color that have become ill. That's rather peculiar considering what a cosmopolitan city Port Harcourt is."
The other three people in the room couldn't help it. Their eyes turned toward Bob Handley, whose skin was a rich brown color, bordering on black.
He ignored the stares. "Maybe it only strikes those carrying the genes for Sickle Cell," Handley shrugged. "Or maybe it's an all black neighborhood where the vector popped up."
"It doesn't matter right now," Amelia said. She brushed a tress of her blond hair away from her forehead.
Doug smiled inwardly, remembering a dream he had of running his fingers through that same tumble of blond hair. Amelia was a few years older than he and had an appealing, rather than pretty face. He had thought idly about asking her out now that he was getting over Doris' death, but doubted he would. There was no real spark there. They were fast friends, though she was nominally his superior.
"How many of us should I plan on supplies for?" Bob asked, holding his stylus ready. His PDA was on the table in front of him.
Amelia thought. "Four infectious disease specialists, two doctors, June's gang and I think all of Doug's squad."
Doug sat up straighter. Amelia must be worried to want the whole squad. These teams usually took less than a half dozen security specialists. "You want my whole squad? Is there something I don't know?"
"Doug, I'm not sure of anything at this point. Call it a hunch, but I've got a feeling about this one. It's new, the symptoms are unlike anything we've seen before and despite Bob's disclaimer, I don't like that thing about it affecting only blacks. No, let me take that back. Right before I came from the office, I saw where a couple of Indians from Calcutta had come down with it, so it probably isn't confined to people of African descent, just those who happen to have dark skin."
"How dark were they?" Bob twiddled with his PDA, obviously somewhat uncomfortable with the subject matter.
"I have no idea. Anyway, that's about it, so far as facts that we're sure of."
"How many so far?" June asked.
Doug liked the way her voice sounded. It had a pleasant, melodic tone to it. She was pretty, too. Too bad she didn't seem to take to him.
"It's gone from a dozen or so a week ago to over three hundred hospitalized now and many more beginning to show symptoms. The clinics have long lines in front of them. A few dozen deaths so far, but according to my sources, none of the sick are showing any signs of recovery; on the contrary, they're getting worse. We'll be wanting to take level one precautions until we know more." Amelia had decided not to bring up what the virology laboratory director had told her; that there was a possibility the virus could have been tinkered with. She wanted to wait until they knew for certain, one way or another. No sense in letting unfounded rumors get started.
The other three groaned at the mention of level one precautions. In the tropics, the protective suits were burdensome and hot and very uncomfortable, especially when worn for long periods.
"We'll be leaving as quickly as we can, so get your people briefed and check with Bob for anything extra in the way of supplies you think you might need. Plan on the day after tomorrow at the latest. I know this is kind of rushed, but that's what we're here for. Any questions?" She scanned the three faces. No one responded. "All right, same time tomorrow morning we'll meet again and see where we are."
Doug rose from his seat. He gave Amelia a mock half-salute and strode quickly away, his mind already in overdrive, mentally running down his checklist of the things he would need to do to get his squad ready. There weren't many items on the list. Most of the squad were retired military, all professionals, all trained by him personally to be ready to go at an instant's notice. Two days? Hell, they could be ready in two hours if they had to. Something else was on his mind, too; Bob Handley. Before they parted, Handley stopped him with a touch.
"Doug--for some reason this scares me, the thought that only blacks are falling ill. If I buy the farm, will you see to the family?"
"Of course, but don't worry; just make sure you wear your biosuit and you'll be okay."
Handley's earnest black face held a graver expression than Doug had ever seen; ordinarily, he was cheerful almost to a fault. And he was such a good friend that they could honestly discuss race relationships and cultural attitudes with none of the intellectual posturing so common when the subject usually came up.
Doug remembered very plainly when he first became aware of racial differences. He was five years old and not yet in the first grade when he stumbled while racing along the sidewalk near his home. He fell and skinned his knees. The old black man who did yard work for the neighborhood helped him up while Doug tried to hold back the tears. Big boys don't cry! He remembered his Dad's admonishment but sometimes it was hard to keep the tears inside.
"You okay, little man?" The white haired old man asked, while brushing him off.
Doug nodded, unable to speak. His chin was quivering.
"You a big boy," the old man said, his smile showing a gold tooth.
Doug nodded again, feeling better. It really didn't hurt that much.
From out of the blue came another question that he didn't understand at first. "What you rather be, a black man or a white man?"
For the first time, Doug really looked at the old dark skinned gardener. His shoes were split and taped. A much used leather belt held up equally worn and patched jeans. His shirt was stained and wet with the pungent odor of dried sweat and his cap was a shapeless mass. But what Doug noticed most was his color and the way his face held a reservoir of old sadness that was never absent. He didn't laugh and sing and wear nice clothes like the black men he saw on television. He was very dark, almost black, and Doug remembered now that a lot of other people were dark, too, like the woman who came to clean house every week or two. He thought of his playmates and how they were all white. He thought of his parents and their friends. None of them worked outside all day in the yards or mopped floors. He hung his head, ashamed, somehow, but his child's mind had no idea why. Yet he knew the answer to the black man's question. From hundreds of overheard jokes and conversations a cultural bias had already soaked into his little mind. He didn't really want to say anything but his parents had taught him to always answer when an adult spoke to him.
"White, I guess," he muttered, looking up at the old man.
"Me, too," the black gardener replied in a soft voice. He seemed to be looking at something far beyond them, something out of sight. "You go home now, get them knees doctored."
Doug thought he had never seen anyone look as sad as the old man, even when he smiled. "Yes, sir," he said as he nodded his head and turned back toward home. In a moment he was running again, but not from excitement or playfulness. He was running to escape an unknown menace, something he didn't understand but knew was threatening.
He never forgot that episode, and even as a child, he began observing how blacks and whites treated each other and by the time he turned thirteen, he knew that blacks were considered an inferior race. He didn't know why, but he didn't agree with the prevailing attitude of his white friends and his parents. He didn't speak out openly very often, being shy and reclusive. He was considered a bookworm by many of his peers. It wasn't until he was grown and in the army that he began voicing his opinions at times and places he thought were appropriate, but it seemed as if he had always known it was an unfair situation for black people and even as a child always tried to treat blacks as politely and with as much consideration as any one else.
Bob Handley was the only person other than Doris he had ever told that story to. Remembering it, he patted Handley's shoulder, but was unsure of what else he could or should say.
Handley finally smiled at him. "You're a good man, Doug. I hope you come out of this okay, too."
"We will," Doug assured him again. But now he began to worry.
* * *
June lingered after Bob Handley and Doug Craddock had hurried away. This would be her first mission after returning from her extended leave of absence.
Amelia smiled warmly at her. "I'm really glad to have you back, June. I'm sorry I haven't had a chance to talk to you before now. How are you doing?"
"I'm okay, Amelia. It just took a while for me to get over it. I guess no woman really expects to become a widow when she's barely in her thirties and…"
Amelia nodded sympathetically. "Yes, but--June, I saw the way you reacted to Doug. Please don't take it out on him just because he was a soldier. He's a good man and I'm glad he's going to be with us."
"I'm sorry. I know I was rude, but when he walked into the room, just the way he acted…so…so …"
June granted Amelia a small chuckle. "I guess so. And I guess I'm still a little resentful that it wasn't the professionals who took so many of the casualties; it was the National Guard troops." She fingered her pendant, a nervous habit she wasn't even aware of. It was made from her wedding and engagement rings, cut down and set on a small flat oval made of yellow gold. "Anyway, is there anything special I need to know? Anything that's changed since I've been gone? I didn't want to ask while the others were here."
Amelia shook her head. "The only thing that's changed is that the world has become an even more dangerous place since you took your leave. I guess you know that, though."
June smiled and Amelia thought how engaging and cheerful a simple smile made her look. She was glad that June had decided to return. Moping wouldn't bring her husband back and Amelia was a firm believer in work. Perhaps staying busy would help dispel the last remnants of sorrow she still carried inside her.
"Oh yes, I have kept up with the news," June said. "The terrorists are getting worse all the time, aren't they?"
"Yes, they are. That's not our problem, though. We just want to identify this new bug and find a cure or a vaccine, if that's possible. At the very least, we need to find the vector."
"Well, if there's nothing else, I'm going to go brief my gang. Thanks for taking me back, Amelia. I really do appreciate it."
Amelia Foster watched the younger woman leave the conference room. It's good to have her back, she thought. June was an excellent infection control nurse.
In another part of the building, Amelia's superior sat at her desk in the CDC Director's office and rubbed her eyes. There were never enough hours in the day or enough money in the budget to cover everything that needed doing. Mary Hedgrade had to take the time for the next task though. Just in case. She punched a button on the console that held three phones, a speaker phone and a teleconference line connected to the big flatscreen on the wall behind her desk.
"Yes ma'am?" Her assistant's voice came from the adjoining office of the CDC Director's suite.
"Tammy, get Mr. Tomlin on line one for me, please. As quickly as you can arrange it."
Sometimes the wait to speak to Edgar Tomlin, Homeland Security Director, was a long one. Mary tried to review the latest morbidity reports, but couldn't keep her mind on the papers in front of her. Shuffling papers ate up an administrator's time, but there was no help for it; it sometimes seemed to her that the more advanced computers became, the more they generated a need for hard copies. While she was waiting, her mind wandered, but always came back to the subject of her call--that new illness in Nigeria. The last update from the initial small team sent a few days ago prompted her to make it. Doctor visits in Port Harcourt were far above normal, as were hospital admissions. Patients almost all had the same symptoms, a tingling sensation that advanced to pain and weakness. In itself, such a disease wouldn't have prompted her to notify Homeland Security, but the new report confirmed the earlier findings. Only people with dark skin were falling prey to whatever it was. More deaths had been reported, and even more ominous, still not a single person had recovered. There weren't that many bacteria or viruses so target specific--and so universally deadly.
Mary's assistant broke into her reverie. "Ms. Hedgrade, Mr. Tomlin is ready for you."
Mary picked up the secure phone. She barely knew Edgar Tomlin, but what little she knew of him struck her positively. He wasn't simply an out-of-work politician appointed to fill the National Security Director's seat temporarily until a new Director was nominated and confirmed; he was a career official and the former undersecretary, and CIA Director before that. His predecessor had died of a heart attack two weeks ago.
"Mr. Tomlin, I have some news for you. A new disease, a bad one, has poked its head up in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. It appears to infect only blacks and other very dark skinned persons."
"Good God! Won't that cause a run of paranoia! But why tell me?" He sounded impatient. Mary imagined his workload probably outweighed hers.
"There's a possibility that the original virus could have been deliberately altered to produce just that effect, Mr. Tomlin."
Dead silence reigned at the other end of the line for a long moment. Finally Tomlin spoke. He no longer sounded as if he wanted to hurry. "But you're not sure yet. Is that it?"
"Yes, sir. But we should know within a few days. I just wanted to give you fair warning. This could be a bombshell."
"Damn right it could! Bombshell is an understatement. What are your people doing about it?"
"I sent one small team initially. Within forty eight hours I'll have a complete contingent over there. I would appreciate it if you would have the Secretary of State pave the way for them. And I suppose you need to start your wheels rolling just in case?" Her last sentence was framed as a question.
Another silence, then he said "Yes, I'll start some preliminary work but…uh, Mary is it?"
"Mary, I'm going to put a clamp on this. Tell your people not to talk about it, especially the part about it affecting only blacks. Good God, what would--wait! Is there any possibility it could spread to here? Is it contagious?"
"Mr. Tomlin, that's what we're going to find out. We have no idea yet how it spreads, nor exactly how fast; only that it's doing it, and doing it very rapidly." She didn't finish with the implication. Whether or not Tomlin knew it, Port Harcourt was a metropolitan city, the hub of both air and sea travel into and out of Nigeria, the most populous nation in Africa. If it could be spread by human to human contact, as apparently it could in some way, then it was already present in nearly every country in the world. Including the United States of America. Globalization and universal air travel would have seen to that.
* * *
Edgar Tomlin put down the phone and stared into space, reviewing the conversation in his mind. Had he responded properly? Been appropriately concerned? Finally he nodded to himself. Yes. He had said just what he should have.