Chapter 4 of Silent Vector

Chapter 4, in which a physician finally lives up to his oath to "do no harm."

CHAPTER 4

SIGNS

His family can’t understand it. Their son was one of the first in town to get the vaccine six years ago when it became widely available. The memory of his uncle’s long struggle with paralysis after contracting the disease at the age of twenty still wears on them all. Surely their family has paid its share.

Three days ago their son’s fever returned and the paralysis began, just as it had with his uncle. By the time the fever subsided both of his legs were terrifyingly inert, worthless. Their pleas to the doctors were of no avail. How could this happen? He came in for a tetanus booster and contracted polio? Is this a cruel joke? The doctors have no answers . . . that they will share.

His mother and father leave his Leipzig hospital room in a mournful daze trying to cope with the news of their eldest son’s sudden, crippling paralysis. A nurse escorts them down the hall to a waiting elevator. They step in and the elevator doors close on his mother’s exhausted, muffled sobs.

The attending physician lifts the young man’s chart from the hook at the foot of his bed, flips a few pages, finds the prognosis and reads it. He returns the chart to its place and leaves the room, heading for his office just off the nurses’ station.

He enters, closes the door behind him, sits down at his desk, picks up his desk phone’s receiver, and dials.

“Kampfried, here. . . . Yes, there’s no doubt. . . . 1956 . . . . It’s all in the records. . . . It’s irreversible. . . . Well, it means they can stop looking. They’ve found it. . . . Yes, yes. The same account as before. . . . It’s all in the report.”

He hangs up and tells himself he had no choice. They hold all the cards and have since the war ended. Madness followed by more madness. He knows there’s no escape. At least his wife will be comfortable. Her call from Frankfurt means he can stop worrying about her safety.

He pushes back from his desk, opens the top right drawer, and removes the fully-loaded Luger personally given to him by Josef Mengele. Atoning for all of his sins in a single instant, he puts the pistol’s barrel in his mouth and pulls the trigger. By the time the first nurse arrives Kampfried has been dead for 30 seconds. Perhaps had he known that similar reports were being phoned in from Warsaw, Prague, and Budapest he would not have felt so singularly responsible.