Chapter 22 of Silent Vector

Chapter 22, in which Nick issues an ominous warning

CHAPTER 22

CONNECTING SOME DOTS

Low tea at Mombasa’s Castle Royal Hotel was Ridgely’s idea. Dalila seems in her element, but Nick could use a frosty schooner of draft beer. He has been leaving the debriefing to Ridgely.

“You’re certain they sought tetanus boosters?”

“There was no deviation in any of the conversations I had on that essential point.”

“Is it possible that a defective tetanus booster can induce the same symptoms as polio?”

None of the three says a word until Nick finally speaks up.

“That should be easy enough to determine. I’ll get the folks at Langley working on it. I think it’s fair to assume in the meantime that someone has found a way to administer a strain of polio to individuals, and it appears that the strain is resistant to the existing polio vaccine.”

“That was my conclusion,” Dalila offers.

“You should have said as much,” Ridgely scolds.

Nick jumps in.

“He’s right. You’re on this team for a number of reasons, one of which is your brain. It’s imperative that you speak your mind, particularly when it involves any sort of analysis.”

“That will take some getting used to.”

“You’d better get used to it in a hurry.”

Nick is well aware of the fact that it is almost unheard of in 1962 for two white men, one an American, the other a British expat, to look to an African woman for much of anything other than perhaps answering a phone, typing a few letters, and making coffee or tea. And he understands that Dalila’s reticence to speak up stems from decades or more of relentless conditioning. But more than anything else he knows that team members in his line of work have to be absolutely forthcoming irrespective of sex, skin color, or national origin, that once you’re on the team, once you’re in the game, you’re in all the way.

Ridgely finishes his tea, wipes his mouth with his napkin, looks at his watch, and gets up from the table.

“Look, you two. I’ve got to get back to Cairo. There’s a flight leaving in two hours. My job was to put you in touch with each other, not to roam about Mombasa hoping God knows what turns up.”

“We’ll take the same flight and catch a hop to the States from Cairo. I’ll need to send some messages from your office so they can be looking into what Dalila found in Voi while we’re en route. Can we do that tonight after we land?”

“I’m at your service.”

Nick turns to Dalila.

“Have you been to the States?”

“You’d know if you’d actually read my file.”

Nick can’t help smiling at her assertiveness. She’s a quick study, no doubt about it.

“That’s more like it. Hugh, can you get a visa for her?”

“In a heartbeat. First order of business tomorrow in the a.m. I’ll see the two of you at the airport.”

Ridgely turns and leaves.

As soon as Ridgely is out of earshot, Nick looks to Dalila.

“Before you make this trip, I need to make sure you know what you may be getting yourself into.”

“More of what happened in Cairo?”

“Cairo was a taste, and not much more.”

“Are you trying to scare me away?”

“No.”

“What, then?”

“I want to be able to tell myself that you understood the risks; that you entered into this awful line of work with your eyes wide open.”

“You can tell yourself that now, if you feel the need.”

“It’s not now I’m talking about.”

“When exactly are we talking about, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“When I’m asked to identify your body.”