Chapter 25 of Silent Vector

Chapter 25, in which the CIA gets a clue courtesy of Dr. Peter Hall

CHAPTER 25

JUST THE FACTS

Dr. Peter Hall, professor of microbiology at Johns Hopkins University, is impressed by the modern, sprawling complex his tax dollars helped build. It isn’t every day that outsiders get a glimpse into the insular world of America’s intelligence efforts, so when he was invited to discuss unspecified matters with the Director of Central Intelligence he jumped at the opportunity. He probably should have worn a tie, but he didn’t want to appear too much the academic. Just as he glances at his watch and notices that it is exactly 10 a.m., the Director’s secretary approaches him.

“Dr. Hall?”

He stands.

“In the flesh.”

“Thank you so much for coming this morning. The Director is ready to see you. Will you come with me?”

The 38 year-old Hall is also impressed by the Director’s punctuality.

“Lead the way.”

He is led to a large set of wooden double doors. The Director’s secretary knocks and opens one of the doors without waiting for an answer.

“Dr. Hall is here, sir.”

The Director gets up from his desk and comes around to greet his guest as Dr. Hall enters the spacious office.

“Thank you, Cheryl. Dr. Hall, thanks for coming this morning.”

The two men shake hands.

“Let me introduce you. This is Nick Temple. Nick was our Station Chief in Berlin for many years. His specialty is the Soviet Union and East Germany, but we let him roam fairly far afield these days.”

“Nice to meet you, Nick.”

“My pleasure, Dr. Hall.”

“Please, call me Pete. It’s what my seven brothers and sisters call me, so I’m kind of used to it.”

“This is Dalila Atieno. She’s on loan to us from what remains of the British government in Kenya. Studied economics and politics at the University of London. She’s helping us on the matter we’ve asked you to consult on.”

“Miss Atieno.”

“If you insist on calling me Miss Atieno, I’m afraid I will have to call you Dr. Hall.”

“Fair enough. I’ll go with Dalila if you’ll stick with Pete.”

“Agreed.”

“And these two gentlemen are rarely far behind when Nick’s working on something: Kyle Richardson and Bill Johnson, both long time Soviet watchers.”

“Kyle, Bill, nice to meet the two of you.”

Handshakes all around.

“Now, let’s get down to business, shall we?”

The Director leads them all to a solid cherry, oval conference table on the right hand side of his vast office. The table has room for ten. Once everyone is seated, the Director begins.

“Nick, how about a quick rundown to give Pete an idea of what we’re talking about here.”

“Sure. Well, it’s simple, really. A few weeks back a Kenyan drove a car filled with TNT into a café in Mombasa. The car contained, in addition to the explosives, a Soviet cultural attaché. The attaché was supposed to meet an East German national at the café. We’re fairly certain they were going to drive to a small city in the Kenyan interior called Voi. Are you at all familiar with Kenya?”

“Sorry to say, but I’m not.”

“No need to apologize. With the exception of Dalila, the rest of us are getting our sea legs, as it were. At any rate, the German never made it to Voi. Had he made it, he would have discovered that two of his countrymen, a physician and his assistant, had been murdered, disemboweled, and thrown into a ditch. I’ll let Dalila take it from here.”

Dalila straightens up. Her poise is phenomenal considering the circumstances she currently finds herself in.

“I traveled to Voi to speak with the locals. The two Germans had been operating a medical clinic for some time and had come to be trusted and accepted by the local population. Recently, three different patients–a young man and two teenaged girls–were given tetanus boosters at that clinic. All three almost immediately developed symptoms of polio. The young man died from complications of the disease, and the two girls are both wheelchair-bound, the muscles in their lower extremities having been targeted by the disease.”

Dr. Hall interrupts.

“Do you think these men are deliberately injecting patients with poliomyelitis?”

Nick jumps in.

“It’s only slightly more complicated than that. Dalila?”

“All three of the victims received the polio vaccine at least four years ago.”

“Ah, a defective vaccine,” Dr. Hall muses.

Dalila is quick to respond.

“There is no indication from anyone else in the potentially affected population that the vaccine these three received was defective. The affected population would statistically be much larger if a defective vaccine had been administered. A total of three cases is not statistically significant. We have, therefore, rejected the defective vaccine hypothesis.”

The room is silent. All eyes are on Dr. Hall. He is deep in thought. He removes his wire-rimmed glasses, cleans them with his handkerchief, and puts them back on. He carefully folds his handkerchief before he stuffs it into the breast pocket of his sport coat. He leans forward on his elbows and addresses the Director.

“You want to know if it’s possible to engineer a strain of poliomyelitis that is resistant to the current vaccine.”

He glances about for confirmation which he gets from several slight nods.

He takes a deep breath and measures his words carefully.

“Well, the answer of course is yes.”

“Damn,” is the Director’s response as he pounds his fist on the conference table.