Was it an accident? Everyone said that it was. But was it an accident, or was it something more sinister?
Tom Kendall, a down to earth private detective, is asked to investigate the death of a young newspaper reporter. The evidence shows quite clearly that it was an accident, a simple, dreadful accident. That is the finding of the coroner, and the local police. Furthermore there were two witnesses. They saw the whole thing. But was it an accident, or was it something more sinister?
Against a backdrop of a viral epidemic slowly spreading from Central America, a simple case soon places Kendall up against one of the largest drug company in the Country.
Against a backdrop of a viral epidemic slowly spreading from Central America, a simple case soon places Kendall up against one of the largest drug company in the Country.
Costa Rica – Six Months Ago
There was really only the one major news story that Monday morning. Oh, certainly, there was other news that day; there was no doubt about that. In fact, that weekend had been busier than usual. There had been a major landslide in the northern part of the country following a period of prolonged heavy rain. There had been a substantial amount of damage, but fortunately nobody had been hurt. One hundred and thirty miles to the south, in San Jose, trade discussions with Nicaragua had, at last, restarted after weeks of postponement and delay. On the labour market the Minister of Labour had announced higher than expected unemployment figures, causing widespread protests. And, last but not least, oil workers at the Attico Plant were threatening to take strike action for better working conditions.
Certainly, there was other news, but nothing was quite like that particular news item that dominated all the front pages on that day. Although every newspaper in the country ran the story, it was the influential “La Republica”, based in San Jose, which had broken the news first. The front-page banner headline simply read “Mysterious Illness Strikes” in thick, black letters, almost three inches high. But those three simple words graphically told the whole story, the news report that followed simply filled in the details, such as they were.
“Three people, two men and a young woman, were admitted into the local hospital at Punta Rojas, in the early hours of the morning,” it read. “It is understood that all three were suffering from respiratory problems, and all had a rash to the upper part of the body. A series of tests have been carried out on all three patients, in order to try to determine the cause of the sickness. The results of those tests are still awaited. It is understood that the preliminary results are not expected until late tomorrow afternoon at the earliest. All three patients are said to be in a stable, but critical condition. An official spokesperson for the hospital said that at this stage it was far too soon to comment on the actual cause of the sickness. However, the symptoms were generally considered to be not too dissimilar to influenza. The spokesperson went on to say that the illness could be due to a previously unknown strain of influenza, or possibly, a mutation. The illness has preliminarily been dubbed Rican Flu by the hospital staff.
It is understood that the Attico Oil Company, which is based in the port of Almeria, employs all three people. It has been suggested that a chemical leak at the oil plant may be the cause of the illness, at least in part. The Health Ministry has said that at the present time there is no evidence to support this rumour. It also stresses that at no time was there any danger to the general public, and that there is no cause for alarm. The plant has now been evacuated, except for key personnel. The area has been completely sealed off. The authorities are stressing that the situation is now fully under control. Emergency teams, including chemical specialists, are currently on the site carrying out a thorough investigation. In the meantime the public are being advised to wash their hands, and, as far as possible, to keep away from crowds. Furthermore they are being told to only make essential journeys. Anyone feeling unwell should take two paracetamol tablets, drink plenty of fluids, keep warm, and rest.”
In the later editions there were no further details regarding the sickness. There was, however, a small additional news item regarding the alleged oil leak. “Rumours continue to spread regarding a possible oil leak at the Attico Plant. However, a spokesperson for Attico Oil has subsequently denied that there has been any chemical leak at the plant, as previously reported. The plant has been thoroughly checked and no problems have been reported. It is understood, from Interior Ministry sources, that the plant is to remain closed, as a precaution, for the next few days at least, and possibly as long as the middle of next week. It was also reported that there have been no new cases of the mystery illness.”
* * *
That was a little over five months ago. According to the authorities the situation was said to be under control, and there was no need for panic. However, reality showed those words to be a lie. Since that time the disease had spread throughout much of South America, and up into Mexico and into the United States. Some cases had been reported as far north as Montreal in Canada. There had been a total of three hundred cases and twelve deaths, in total.
* * *
The small General Hospital at Punta Rojas is located on the outskirts of the town, a mile or two to the north of the town centre. It comprises a group of eleven single storey buildings, which are linked to each other by a series of corridors. It is reminiscent of an old army barracks, which is exactly what it used to be when it was originally constructed in the mid nineteen thirties. At that time it was home to the Fourth Squadron of the then newly formed Army Flying Corps. The eight original buildings fell into disuse in the early nineteen sixties, and then remained vacant for a little over four years. At that time the buildings were taken over by The Health Ministry. The hospital was established just six months later, in October, nineteen sixty-five. Three additional buildings were later added, comprising a main reception area, an operating theatre, and a small number of offices. From that day, up until the present time, nothing further had been done to the buildings, except for the construction of the mortuary block five years ago. All of the original buildings were in need of some major repair works, and re-decoration. All were in great need of refurbishment. All of the buildings lacked modern features. The heating system and the electrical installation needed upgrading urgently. Furthermore, the hospital was poorly equipped and inadequately staffed. It was far from ready for the emergency that was currently unfolding in its midst.
* * *
The young nurse hurried along the corridor, the rubber soles of her shoes squeaking loudly on the vinyl covered floor as she passed by. She was breathing hard and sweating profusely. She was late. That was bad enough, but to make matters even worse, she had a dreadful headache, and she was feeling very tired. She had taken two paracetamol tablets about an hour ago, but, so far, they had been of no effect. Prior to that, she had tried two Codeine tablets. They had made no difference either. It seemed that nothing would eliminate the persistent ache, or the constant throbbing to the side of her face. If anything, the pain actually seemed worse. She suddenly felt very hot and dizzy. And then there were those sharp pains at the back of her neck that felt just like red-hot needles being prodded into her skin, and slowly twisted. And now her heart was beating fast, and thumping loudly. For a brief moment she wondered if she were actually coming down with the wretched virus. She shook her head, and instantly dismissed the thought from her mind. Of course she wasn’t. The symptoms were all wrong, weren’t they? There was no rash to the upper body for a start, and although she was breathing hard she couldn’t actually say that she had respiratory difficulties.
She shrugged her shoulders, and sighed deeply. She knew that there wasn’t actually anything seriously wrong with her, but it was all rather worrying nonetheless. Over-work, that was all it was, she murmured, as simple as that. Over-work. That’s what the trouble was. Over-work. Oh, and lack of sleep. She had been on duty for a little over seven hours now, without a proper break. Furthermore, she had no idea when she would actually finish duty that day. Yesterday had been a sixteen-hour day, the day before fifteen and a half. The day before that it had been eighteen hours. Before that her mind was a blur. Try as she might, she couldn’t actually remember how long it had been. It didn’t matter anyway, did it? Eighteen hours, or twenty, or even sixteen, what did it matter? The work was there, just waiting to be done, however long it took. She sighed once again. Overwork, she repeated. Overwork and stress - that was it. And no amount of tablets was ever going to solve that problem. Take two of these four times a day, until the workload goes away. There were no soothing creams, or antibiotics available that would help. Apply this cream to the affected area, and the stress will clear up in no time. There was no medication that would provide relief, or make things easier. There was no vaccination she could have. There was no surgical procedure. No miracle cure.
She shook her head, and sighed deeply for a third time. And now, on top of everything else, there was something extra, she thought. Now there was that tight feeling slowly spreading across her chest. And her throat felt constricted. That was something new, she thought. At least she hadn’t noticed it before. Not that she could remember anyway. It was just something else to worry about, something else to add to all of the rest of her ailments. She sighed, trying to stifle a yawn, and failing. It was probably nothing more than indigestion; most likely, she thought, a slight touch of heartburn maybe. A couple of tablets would clear it up in no time. She smiled, that is if she actually had the time to take them, which, of course, she didn’t. More tablets, she murmured. She shook her head. Probably caused by rushed meals more than likely, she thought, and no time to actually sit down and eat properly. There was just no time to digest your food properly. There was no time to relax, and take things easy. No time to rest. No time to think. Not now, she murmured, not at present. No time for anything, except work of course. There was plenty of time for that, she whispered, as much time as you could imagine. It wasn’t fair. It just wasn’t fair.
She suddenly started to cough, adding to the pain in her chest. She stopped moving along, and slumped against the corridor wall. Her eyes were closed, and her head lay back against the wall. She took a deep breath, expanding her lungs fully, and then she slowly breathed out. The tight feeling in her chest began to ease slightly, and the coughing stopped. She took another deep breath, and slowly exhaled once again. All right, so it wasn’t anything serious, she muttered. The pain had eased, but she knew that it hadn’t gone for good. She knew that it would come back again. All right, so it was just over-work. Stress, or strain, or whatever you wanted to call it. It was just anxiety, nervous tension. So she wasn’t really ill. So she wasn’t going down with something. So what about it? Was that supposed to make her feel any better? Well it didn’t. Was it supposed to make her problems fade and disappear, and everything suddenly seem all right? Well it didn’t. All right, so it was the same for everybody else, she reasoned. They hadn’t just picked on her, had they? They hadn’t singled her out from the rest, for special treatment, had they? All right everybody, you can all go home, all except for you, Nurse Martes. You stay. We have something planned for you, something special.
She shook her head. She wasn’t being worked harder than anyone else was she? She wasn’t the only one whose holiday had been cancelled. She wasn’t the only one with the extra duties. She wasn’t the only one crying out desperately for a break. Oh no, everyone else was in the same boat. Everyone else was being treated exactly the same as her. Was that supposed to make her feel any better maybe? Well it didn’t. Did it change anything? No, it didn’t. She didn’t care about everyone else anyway. She only cared about herself, her feelings, and her well-being. Nothing else mattered. All she wanted to do was to lie down and go to sleep. Right here, in the corridor, on the floor, right now. She longed just to close her eyes for a little while. Was that too much to ask? Twenty minutes that would do, she murmured. Fifteen maybe. Ten would be good. Ten minutes that was all. Who could refuse her ten little minutes? Six hundred seconds. What was that, after all? Ten minutes. It wasn’t anything really, was it? You would hardly notice it. Why, it would all be over and done with by the time you spent actually discussing it. She started to laugh, and shook her head. Who could possibly refuse her? Matron, she murmured, answering her own question. Matron could refuse, and Matron would refuse. Nurse Martes shook her head once again. She knew that for the time being there wasn’t the slightest, remotest, possibility of any rest, not even for ten minutes, not for ten seconds.
For the twentieth time she checked her watch. She was late. Her hands were tingling with pins and needles, and they had now started to sweat. It was all due to nerves, she knew that. It was just psychosomatic. That is what it was, nothing more. All in her mind, her sub-conscious. She was nervous that was all.
She was also worried. She was also in trouble. Deep trouble. She was late reporting back for duty. That would be the third time this month. She nodded her head. There would be a deduction on her pay, as a penalty. That was certain. She heaved a sigh. It wasn’t fair, she murmured once again. It wasn’t just. It wasn’t right. Oh yes, she was certainly late. There was no disputing that fact. She was definitely late, although not by that much. Only by twenty-two minutes or so, but she knew that in the eyes of the matron one minute was far too much. Indeed, thirty seconds was too much. She also knew that in the present emergency that was facing the hospital every single minute counted. There was no room for leniency. Words like mercy, forgiveness, sympathy, kindness, compassion, and understanding just did not exist in the matron’s vocabulary. Nurse Martes knew that there was to be no rest. She took a deep breath, and reluctantly continued on her way.
* * *
Juanita Martes had been a nurse for a little over eight years now. She had spent most of that time at the General Hospital, right here at Punta Rojas. And in all of that time she had never experienced anything quite like what was now happening at the hospital. There had been something similar about five years ago, she recalled, but nothing quite like this. In the past few weeks it had been sheer turmoil, and utter chaos. The daily influx of patients, the shortage of drugs, and the hours worked. Never had there been such a time. Certainly they had been busy before, quite often if the truth was known, but it was never quite like this. This was exceptional. There seemed to be no let up, no respite, no time to relax, and no end in sight.
The local hospital had been taken by surprise, and completely overwhelmed. Not that planning in advance, if that had been possible, would have made any real difference, because it wouldn’t have. There was no way that they could have foreseen what was to come. No way that they could make adequate plans to cope with the situation. Who could have imagined what was to come? Who could have foreseen the events of the past few weeks? Every bed was now occupied. Every ward was full to capacity. Extra beds had been brought in, and makeshift wards had been set up in several of the narrow corridors. Within a few short days they too had been brought into use.
She hadn’t gone very far when the pain in her chest returned. She stopped once again. Leaning against the corridor wall, and holding her chest, she tried to catch her breath. As she did so she glanced out of a nearby window. Just a few yards away she could see the large white marquees that were being erected by a small detachment of soldiers. They had been there just four days and already three of the tents had been erected. There were two more planned as far as she was aware. Another two days, she guessed, three at the most. Then she estimated that there would be another day or two before the beds and other equipment arrived. Then the extra wards would be ready. She turned away from the window for a moment. Although she could not see them, she could hear the sirens ringing out, as more ambulances brought in more and more patients. She shook her head. “Much needed extra wards,” she murmured. Another fifty beds, or so, she estimated. Perhaps sixty. Another three or four days, a week at the most, and they would be ready for the first patients. She shook her head, and sighed deeply. Temporary wards. She sighed once again. As far as she could remember, there had never been the need for temporary wards before. They were needed now though, that was certain, and they were needed today. A lot could happen in a week, she murmured.
She looked down at the tents. Suddenly she noticed somebody looking up at her window. Although she didn’t know the man’s name, she did recognise him. She had seen him on a number of occasions around the hospital, along the corridors, or in the cafeteria. They had never actually spoken but merely politely nodded to each other as they passed by. She looked away from the window. Had he seen her, she wondered. Had he recognised her? Should she have waved to him? She turned back towards the window, and slowly raised her arm. It was too late. He had already turned, and walked away, towards the group of soldiers.
* * *
Luis Ramone shook his head, and looked away from the window. Slowly he walked over to a small group of soldiers busily erecting one of the tents. He nodded, and smiled. He was in charge of erecting the temporary wards. It had been his idea, his project. The work was going well, he thought. Another two days and they would be finished. Three days ahead of schedule. He slowly nodded his head, and took a deep breath. He had certainly seen it all before, or at least something very similar. He had been in charge once before, for a similar project. It was almost five years ago. Then the tents had been considerably smaller, but there had been many more of them. He had finished that job ahead of schedule also, he remembered.
He shook his head, and looked at the tent currently being erected. “Soldier,” he called out loudly. “That tie rope needs securing.”
* * *
Nurse Martes continued staring out of the window for a few moments longer. Directly below her she could see the man talking to the soldiers. She smiled and looked away. She would wave the next time, she decided.
Over to her left she could see the mortuary. Beyond, thick black smoke could be seen billowing into the air from the chimney to the crematorium. There had been a lot of that recently, she thought sadly, and probably more to come. Quickly turning away from the window, she closed her eyes and shook her head, trying to blot out the sight from her mind. She took a deep breath, and then continued on her way. As she did so she thought of those five great tents. She wondered how long it would be before they too were full to capacity. She had no doubt whatsoever that it wouldn’t be that long. “And what happens then?” she wondered. Even more tents she supposed. And then more, and more, and even more, she murmured. Where would it all end? She shook her head once again. When would it all end? How many more tents would be required before this was all over, she wondered. And what about staff, she asked. It was obvious that extra wards needed extra staff, and extra equipment. Where would it come from? Who would pay for it? She started to rub her chin, and then shook her head. Sadly, she knew that it was much easier to provide the extra wards, than it was to provide extra staff.
At the present rate it would not be too long before more of the tents would be required, she knew that. Another fifteen cases had been brought in just that morning. All of them had that same rash to the upper part of the body. All of them were vomiting, and all of them had the same respiratory problems. The symptoms were all too obvious, and, sadly, they were fast becoming all too common. With those extra fifteen cases that now made a total of one hundred and forty-seven in all. One hundred and forty-seven cases in a few short weeks! Just at this one small hospital in Punta Rojas. She knew that the same thing was happening in hospitals all over the country. She also knew that they were all poorly equipped, and they were all desperately short of effective drugs. They were all short of staff. All were fighting a losing battle. So far, four people had died at their hospital alone, two elderly men, a middle-aged woman, and a teenage boy. There were nineteen others who were now showing advanced symptoms. She knew that there was nothing that could be done for them, and they would probably all be dead in a matter of a few days. The remainder were either mild cases, or still awaiting confirmation following extensive tests.
* * *
The first case to be reported had been just over three weeks ago, and had been brought in from the small fishing town of Almeria, just a few short miles further north. Nurse Martes had received that first call at just after three o’clock in the morning. Her husband woke first and picked up the telephone. He rubbed his eyes and stared at the bedside clock for a few moments. Six minutes past three. Then he sighed and handed her the telephone. “It’s for you,” he murmured. “The hospital.” All members of staff were required to report in to the hospital immediately. That meant everyone. All leave was cancelled with immediate effect. There were to be no ifs, ands or buts. There were to be no arguments. There were to be no excuses. Just report in for duty, now. That was the instruction that went out. That was the order. A young man had been brought in from the Attico Oil Plant. He had flu like symptoms, and then shortly afterwards he had developed a rash across his back, and upper chest. Within hours he started to experience respiratory problems.
She had to get in, and fast. Her car was still in the garage, awaiting a new clutch, so it was out of action. She would have to take her husband’s car. “And how do I get to work?” he had asked, as he stifled a yawn.
She smiled. “Well there’s always the bus,” she replied, as she quickly got dressed. “Or you could walk.” She paused. “The exercise would do you good. You could lose a few pounds.”
He smiled, and shook his head. “And what about the kids,” he murmured. “What about their school?” She shook her head, and smiled once again.
“All right, no need to answer,” he said. “I’ll take them.” He heaved another sigh.
“And bring them home again,” she added. She was sorry about the situation, truly sorry, but there was nothing that she could do about it, was there? They had no choice did they? They just had to get on with it, and that was that.
He smiled and shrugged his shoulders. “And bring them home again,” he repeated.
She moved over to him, kissed him goodbye, and walked to the door. “Bye,” she called to him. He didn’t hear her. He was already fast asleep. She smiled, switched off the light, and went out.
By the time she had arrived at the hospital, twenty-five minutes later, two other cases had been brought in, a young woman and a middle-aged man. Like the first case, they too worked at the Oil Plant. And, also like the first case, they had respiratory problems, and that dark red rash to the upper body. Over the next few days a series of tests were carried out. It was determined that the disease had been caused by a mutant strain of a flu virus, and that it was extremely contagious.
* * *
She checked her watch once again. She was now more than twenty-five minutes late. She started to run, and then almost immediately stopped as memories flooded back to the time when she had been a student nurse. She could hear the matron calling out to her. “Nurse Martes, we do not run along the corridor,” she would say in that distinct, cutting voice of hers. “Ladies do not run. Ladies walk.” Then there would be that slight pause. “But walk quickly,” she would then cry out angrily.
Nurse Martes started to walk quickly. Suddenly her bleeper sounded. She stopped and pressed the answer button. “Where are you?” a gruff voice demanded to know. It was the Matron.
“I’m on my way, Matron,” she replied nervously. “I’ll be there in five minutes.”
“Make it two,” the voice snapped back. The line went dead. She looked at the bleeper and shook her head. It wasn’t her fault that she had been delayed at x ray, was it? If that technician hadn’t mixed up the negatives she would have been back ages ago. All right, so he was young, and inexperienced. All right, so he had only been doing the job for a little over three weeks. Was that her fault, she murmured. No it wasn’t. It wasn’t really her task to sort out things like that was it? Why, he was virtually blaming me, she murmured. Certainly she had knocked the pile of envelopes to the ground. But that was an accident. Could have happened to anyone. He was the one who had actually confused the names. She shook her head. She knew that they would not accept that as a legitimate reason for being late. Off hand she couldn’t think of anything that would have been acceptable, except maybe the outbreak of World War III. Even then she wasn’t entirely convinced. She sighed deeply. She had only stopped to help because she felt sorry for the young man. But now she was beginning to regret it. She should have left him to it. It was his job not hers.
She sighed once again. She knew that she would have to make up for lost time; that was a foregone conclusion. Every minute would have to be accounted for. Another late shift, she reminded herself. That would be four this week. She shrugged her shoulders, and smiled. Four out of four, she muttered. How long could she go on doing eighteen or twenty hour days, with very little rest or a break? On top of all that, leave had been cancelled for the foreseeable future. So much for the week’s holiday, further up on the coast that she had planned with her husband, and two young children. They had rented a small bungalow overlooking the beach. They were all looking forward to it immensely, especially the children. They had it all planned. Playing on the beach, building sandcastles, and swimming; perhaps taking a small boat out into the bay. “Can we, Daddy? Can we?” they had pleaded. He had looked at her and smiled. She had smiled back and slowly nodded her head. Then he looked back at the children. “Of course we can,” he had replied. Their squeals of delight had been magical. She shook her head. It would all have to be cancelled now. There would be no boat ride. There would be no swimming, no sandcastles, and there would be no beach. What could she tell her husband? More to the point, what could she tell the children? They wouldn’t understand would they? They would be so disappointed. This was to have been their first real holiday for five years. She shook her head again.
She suddenly started to smile. Perhaps they could have that holiday after all. Oh no, she wouldn’t be able to go with them. She knew that. The hospital and this wretched virus had seen to that. But there was no reason why they should all have to suffer. There was no reason why the children shouldn’t get their holiday, was there? Her husband could take them, couldn’t he? All right, she would not be with them, but it was only for a week after all. Of course she would miss them, but it wasn’t like they would be parted for months. And besides, with the long hours that she was working she didn’t get to see much of them, anyway. She nodded. It was all settled, she murmured. Her husband and the children would get their holiday after all. She was beginning to feel better already, as she made her way along the corridor. Suddenly she stopped, and a frown spread across her face. She shook her head. There was no way that he would agree to go away and leave her alone.
Sadly she shook her head once again. There would be no holiday. They would not get their money back either, that much was certain. Of course they had holiday insurance, but that would not cover the present circumstances. A cancellation due to a family illness would have been acceptable, maybe. A cancellation because the holiday company had ceased trading would be fine. But there would be no chance for a cancellation because the hospital had stopped all leave, and matron had said that she couldn’t go. No, there was no possibility of getting their money back. Perhaps she could claim it back from the hospital, she thought momentarily.
She smiled, and then she shook her head once more, quickly dismissing the thought from her mind. There was absolutely no way the hospital would reimburse her. She sighed deeply. She was so tired, so weary. She needed a break. She needed a rest. She needed that holiday. It just wasn’t fair, she murmured. Her bleeper sounded once again. This time it was to tell her that there had been another death, a few short minutes ago; a young man, in his mid twenties. He was one of the fifteen that had been brought in that morning from Almeria just a mile or two away.
She slowly returned the bleeper to her pocket. She took a deep breath, as she realised that tears were slowly flowing down her cheeks. She took out a handkerchief, and gently wiped the tears away. She took another deep breath. She knew that his death wasn’t her fault. She knew that even had she been back earlier, it would have made no difference. She was powerless to prevent it. And yet she still felt guilty, somehow. All of the time that she had been worrying about the loss of her precious holiday, and complaining about long shifts and being over-worked, that poor young man was taking his last few breaths. She shook herself. But it really wasn’t her fault was it? It was nobody’s fault, not really. It was just one of those things, she told herself. She shook her head. No, it wasn’t just one of those things. It was a particularly nasty strain of a flu-like virus. That’s what it was.
She suddenly heard a loud noise behind her. Doors being pushed open, and then loudly swinging closed. She turned around, and there coming towards her at great speed was a hospital trolley being pushed and pulled by two orderlies. Running at one side was a young nurse holding a drip connected to the patient’s arm. On the other side was a paramedic, pushing the side of the trolley. Nurse Martes quickly moved to one side to allow the trolley to pass. As it did so, she could see the patient quite clearly. It was a young girl, no more than six or seven years old, she thought. Much like her own daughter. Walking quickly behind was a young woman, her eyes deep set, and rimmed in black, where she had been crying. The girl’s mother, Nurse Martes guessed. Next to her was a young man. His arms wrapped tightly around the woman’s shoulder. His face was white, ashen, his eyes staring into the distance. It was obvious that he, too, had been crying. The woman’s husband obviously, the young girl’s father. Nurse Martes said a silent prayer, as she reached for the rosary beads inside her tunic.
As she eventually reached the Isolation Ward she could see one of the doctors speaking to someone. The man was distraught and crying loudly, beating his fists against the wall so hard that they had started to bleed. The young man who had just died was his younger brother. Should she speak with him, she wondered, to try to console him, to offer some comfort. She sadly shook her head. What could she say anyway? What could anyone say at a time like this? She closed her eyes, trying to obliterate the scene from her mind. She turned away, and looked along the corridor. At the far end, over to the left, she saw a group of people deep in conversation. She recognised Doctor Fernandez, the head of the hospital. Next to him was Rosa, his secretary. Then there was Professor Gonzalez. The last person in the group was a young American. She did not know his name but she was sure that he was from Trenton Pharmaceuticals. The company had been in the area for several weeks now, trying desperately to find a cure for this terrible disease. She looked down at the floor. She shook her head. So far without success, she whispered.
She turned to her left and headed towards the ward. There, on the right hand side was the trolley that had passed her a few minutes ago. The young woman and man were standing next to it. The man was staring at the crumpled white sheet that now completely covered the patient. “Oh no,” whispered Nurse Martes, “No.” Suddenly the tears started to fall once more.
* * *
That was just the start. Little did they realize what the future would bring. As a precaution, facemasks were distributed throughout the country, together with basic advice regarding cleanliness. The population was advised only to travel when it was absolutely essential. Over night the tourists had all packed their cases, left the area, and returned to their homes. All flights into the country, other than those bringing in emergency supplies, or aid, had been banned until further notice. There were assurances from the authorities that everything possible was being done. There was talk of vaccinating the entire population, although what vaccine would be used was still unknown.
Within days, the virus had spread over much of the country, and some cases had been reported across the border in the neighbouring country. An urgent appeal had been launched for financial aid, and for medicines. The World Health Organisation had been called in to give assistance, and The United Nations had sent in a medical team to try to isolate the source of the outbreak.
The news was reported on all major news channels, but it was contained within a relatively small area, so no real significance was given to the reports. CNN made an attempt to show the seriousness of the matter, but with no real effect. The screen showed their reporter in Costa Rica, the small Central American country where the disease had first come to light. He was wearing full protective clothing, including rubber gloves, and a mask. “There have been three reported cases in San Miguel, and one in Costa Felipe,” he said. “So far there have been no further deaths. A spokesperson for the World Health Organisation said that the situation was being closely monitored, and was completely under control.”
The picture then changed. Now it showed the huge glass and steel tower that was the headquarters building for Trenton Pharmaceuticals, in downtown Miami. The reporter was speaking to one of the executives of the company. “We are doing everything we can to combat this dreadful virus,” he said. “My people are working day and night.” The picture changed and now showed the inside of one of the laboratories. White coated technicians were busily testing row upon row of samples. “We are determined to find a cure,” the executive continued.
The screen then changed once again, returning to the studio. The newsreader shuffled the papers lying in front of him, and looked up at the camera. “It has just been announced that the United States has pledged five million dollars to the Costa Rican Emergency Appeal ….”
* * *