“Don’t look now but flu season is in full effect! Just last week the latest strain of the flu has caused the deaths of three people here in the Tri-State area, as well as seven more fatalities across the heartland stretching to the west coast this week alone. Do yourself a favor and make sure you go get your flu shots if you haven’t already!” Lindsey Wagner of the New York Times.
Lain Barker parked his rented Dodge Intrepid curbside on a busy Miami, Florida street shopping district, including the Miracle Mile and downtown Coral Gables. Among the crowd, a few shoppers donned white surgical masks. Lain bypassed the crowd, strutting to the end of the block to a café called Bembe Eats.
Lexi Remington sat in a booth at the very back of the café. From the hostess booth, Lain spotted him.
“Is it just going to be you, darling?” a hostess asked Lain.
“No, I was supposed to meet someone here and it looks like he’s already seated.”
Glancing quickly around the room, Lain walked over to Lexi’s booth.
“I see you’re still as careful as ever,” Lexi commented.
“Just making sure,” Lain said.
“Unless someone followed you here, this place is totally safe. You know that,” he said.
“Yeah, but I’d rather be safe than sorry. So, let’s get down to business. You have something for me,” Lain said, displaying a little anxiety.
Lexi slid a Manila sealed envelope across the table to Lain. “It’s all there, everything I promised and then some.”
“Senator Dalton and his reps?”
“That’s what I said.”
“Well, if that’s the case than at the very least I owe you a lunch,” Lain exclaimed with a grin as the server approached.
“What can I get for you?” the server asked.
“Anything this man wants, and I’ll have a coffee with milk,” Lain said.
The two men had their lunch and parted ways. Lain subtly eased a silver flask with a stallion engraved on it from his pocket and took a few large swigs of his favorite alcoholic beverage, bourbon.
Beaming, Lain took a victory march back to his rental car. As Lain approached his car, he could hear sirens blasting. He looked over his shoulder and saw an ambulance hopping the curve at a nearby condominium complex. Rolling a gurney, paramedics raced into the condominiums nearly stampeding a group of people. Lain stood there watching, while people milled about in the front lawn of the condo building. Fewer than five minutes later, the paramedics exited the building, only this time there was a male patient on the gurney. Blood spewed out of the patient’s nose and foam dripped from his mouth. The paramedics adjusted the mask they had perched on the man’s face just before they lifted the gurney in-to the ambulance.
There were whispers among the spectators. “Do you think he has that virus they keep talking about?” one of the people uttered.
Lain watched the ambulance whiz away. Was it the new virus?
Lain noticed a man in the crowd; he was dressed in a black suit. Expressionless, the man stood there not interacting with a single person. The two exchanged eye contact briefly and the man disappeared into the crowd. That was creepy, Lain shrugged. Just a curious citizen with an awkward demeanor.
Five weeks prior, a new super virus had surged into existence, claiming the lives of just under seven thousand people worldwide and killing around 200 people in the United States. The CDC, the WHO (World Health Organization) and other various medical agencies around the world did not seem to know the origin of the virus. Some theorized that the virus perhaps originated on the South American continent, because the first recorded cases came from that area. Experts did not even have a name for it and kept referring to it as NSV (Novel Super Virus). They did know the virus had a ten-day incubation period after initial exposure with a sixty-five percent mortality rate. Scientists said there appeared to be several routes of transmission which include vector-borne, direct contact, and fecal-oral. It was classified as a droplet infection, a step down from a full-blown airborne infection. The symptoms start off as the common cold and within several weeks manifest themselves into serious respiratory and cardiovascular disorders, such as pneumonia and heart failure.
Lain had been working on the Senator Dalton piece for a year; therefore, he hadn’t focused much on the new pandemic.
He headed to the airport and took the next red-eye back to Washington, D.C. Senator Dalton’s story had been something Lain worked on for months, but this new virus started to overtake his thoughts.
The disease affected the economy in the United States and abroad. Several industries were taking it in the face, especially the airline industry. The government recently recommended that the airlines temper both international and domestic flights due to the accelerated spread of the virus. The few people traveling wore masks, keeping a healthy distance from one another through a relatively empty airport. The TSA, as well as various medical professionals, stopped Lain as he left the gate. They asked a series of questions to the small line of people trying to retrieve their luggage.
“Where was your last destination? Did you by any chance encounter anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms? Have you been experiencing any of these symptoms? If by some chance you do experience these same symptoms please contact this number,” the medical personnel instructed, followed by slipping everyone a card with a hotline. Following the questions, they administered a check for fever, holding a device near the forehead of each passenger.
Over the last couple of weeks, the virus had spread quicker than most anticipated leaving the U.S. government grossly ill-prepared and causing huge shortages within the medical community supply chain. A shortage in virus testing left people vulnerable to the infection; they did not know they were infected because the virus had a ten-day asymptomatic period.
Following a two-hour flight back to D.C., Lain caught an Uber back home. What a stressful yet victorious trip that was, he thought as he entered his apartment. Needing a stiff drink, Lain’s next stop would be the kitchen to pour a tall glass of bourbon. While taking a few large gulps of his drink of choice, Lain listened to the voice mail on his apartment land-line. An unsettling message from his mother popped up. He called her back right away, because the two of them talked regularly.
“Mom, I got the message. What’s going on? Is everything all right with you guys?” Lain asked.
“I’m fine, but it’s your father. He’s sick and he isn’t getting better. He started not feeling well several days ago and we thought he just had a cold but, I’m starting to get a little concerned,” said Lain’s mother, Sandra.
“Well, it’s only been a couple of days, right?”
“It’s probably nothing. I’ll tell you what, I’ll come over and see you guys and check on pop in the morning before I go to work. Does that sound good?”
“All right, I’ll be here. Did you just get in?”
“Yeah, I just got back from Florida on business.”
“You must be tired. Get some rest and I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Okay ma, take care of pop and I’ll see you bright and early.”
Lain and his mother paused briefly before they hung up the phone. Shit, just another brick laid on the preverbal pyramid of paranoia, he thought.
Following the news, Lain opened the envelope Lexi Remington had given him. He found a flash drive inside of it. On the inside of the envelope was a note, reading; Confidential, for your eyes only.
Lain slipped the flash drive into his computer and started to watch one of the videos saved on it. The monitor showed two of Senator Dalton’s bodyguards and one of his advisors inside a hotel room. Senator Dalton made an appearance halfway into the video.
“Did you take care of that problem?” the Senator asked Dick Valentino, a close advisor.
“It’s all taken care of,” Valentino responded.
“Yes, it took some convincing.”
“And about fifty large for both Barret and Lennox,” one of the guards chimed in, referring to representatives from two Florida districts.
“Well, this goes to show you everyone’s got their price no matter how much of a hard case they are,” the senator said.
“Yes sir,” Valentino agreed.
“I want you to keep an eye on both those liabilities, understand,” the senator ordered his advisor.
Re-elected six months before, Senator Dalton already had a shady past with multiple indictments of trader fraud, violating SEC regulations, and bribing judges for fellow politicians. Having vast political influence, the senator ended up walking based on legal technicalities. The public had grown tired of Senator Dalton’s antics, even though he had never been convicted. With his approval ratings tanking, the senator had needed an edge during the previous election. That edge showed up at the polls when his team manipulated and tampered with the voting machines, thus committing electoral fraud. The fraud was never revealed, so the plan worked like a charm for the senator and his team. He squeaked by his primary opposition and won the general election by a narrow margin.
“Got you, you son of a bitch!” Lain said out loud.