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“You can’t be here. You don’t have a suit on.” But he had helped himself to a pair of latex gloves from the CDC supplies, she saw.
“I was all over this wreck this morning. If the bug is out here, I’ve already got it.”
“Then you should be in decon.” She glanced at the portable showers, now in working order, and the line of workers snaking around them.
“I’ll scrub down.” His voice was deep and seemed to vibrate deep inside her. It was as almost as unsettling as his eyes. “When it’s my turn.
She’d bet a month’s pay it wouldn’t be his turn until everyone else had finished.
Had he said he’d been following her?
She shook her head as if that would straighten out her jumbled thoughts. “What do you want?”
“The same thing you do.”
“Huh?” Brilliant. That implacable stare of his stole her ability to think.
“You’re looking for the bug, aren’t you?”
No sense in lying. The truth would be written on her face. She’d never been good at deception.
“I want to know what you find.” He jerked his head toward the camp. “They’re all going to want to know.”
He was right. They deserved to know. But what if she found the containment had been breached? How would she tell them?
She pulled in a shuddery breath. “I haven’t located the virus yet.”
His gray eyes went hard—harder than usual. “Did you think you’d find it under there?” He nodded toward the white sheet.
Heat crawled up Macy’s neck to her cheeks. “No. I—” She blew out her breath. “I knew these people. They were my coworkers. My friends.” More.
“They’re dead. Nothing you can do for them now. Those over there—” He nodded toward the camp. “They’re the ones that need your help now.”
A wave of guilt hit her—how selfish to be mourning her loss when so many more people—the Ranger included—faced their own mortality. David and his ghost would have to wait.
“The virus was in a steel cylinder about the size of a dormitory refrigerator, shiny and kind of dimpled on the outside, with two combination locks on top. It would have been inside a wooden crate with packing material, but that might have broken away or burned in the crash. Have you seen anything like that around?”
He shook his head, wiping the sheen of sweat off his forehead with the sleeve of his flannel shirt. He didn’t seem to mind that the sleeve was as grimy as his face. Again she thought of David and his sterile white shirts. Her stomach plunged.
“Most of the back end of the plane is over there, though.” He pointed west. He didn’t have to add that a container the size she was looking for would have been stowed in the rear of the aircraft. Didn’t have to. The front half was built out with passenger seats, the remains of one of which she was standing on.
She turned and started picking her way in the direction he’d indicated. She heard footsteps behind her, and turned to find him following. “You don’t have to come.”
“Yes. I do,” he said, and she didn’t bother to argue. She had a feeling it would be a waste of time.
Since she was wearing what was, for all intents and purposes, a spacesuit, she guessed it was appropriate that she felt as though she was walking on the face of the moon as she picked through the wreckage. She stared at a perfectly pressed pair of trousers hanging in a tree as if left there by a butler. She stepped over a half-completed crossword puzzle as if it were some alien life form. Each bit of debris made her wonder who it had belonged to. What it had meant to them.
Out of the corner of her eye, she watched the Ranger. He walked through the wreckage in a precise criss-cross pattern, his head sweeping left, then right. How did he do it? How did he walk through the remnants of the last moments of five peoples’ lives and look so unaffected?
His foot thudded against something metallic. He stopped, rooted in place like a man mired in quicksand. “Doctor?” His head turned, one eyebrow lifted. Then he reached down.
“For God’s sake, don’t touch it!” She hurried to his side.
“That’s it?” he asked when she crouched down next to him.
She nodded, running her gloved hand around the sealed edge. “Looks like it’s intact.”
“Hallelujah,” he said, but without the emotion that should have been attached.
She looked up at him and grinned, feeling like an eight-year-old who’d just caught her first crawfish. “It is intact!”
He didn’t return her grin. His mouth stayed set in the same firm line. She felt a blush creep up her neck. Of course he wasn’t grinning. The unit could still have leaked. The seal would have to be checked microscopically.
He nodded. “Then let’s get the hell out of here.”
“Fine by me. We’ll send a team in to remove it.” She marked the sight with orange flagging tape and pushed herself up. He reached out to steady her elbow. The touch sent an electric shock up her arm, even through the cumbersome suit. She took a step back, out of his grasp before she embarrassed herself, and froze.
There, behind the Ranger, a Plexiglas habitat lay cock-eyed in the scrub brush, one of the rubber handling gloves sealed into the hole in its side torn, the other missing altogether. The bolts on one end of the container had been sheared off, and the base ripped away.
The habitat was empty.
“Oh, God,” she said, feeling her flush fade as blood drained to her toes.
The Ranger’s grip on her arm tightened. “What?”
“The monkey…” She had assumed the animal had been killed in the crash with everyone else aboard.
His gaze swept over the broken habitat. “Animals?”
“One. A rhesus macaque. A research animal.”
“Does it pose a danger?”
“It was infected with ARFIS before we left Malaysia.” She lifted her gaze to his, then had to turn away from the flat intensity of his stare. From the power swirling in the metallic gray. Dread settled in her chest with the finality of a casket being lowered into a grave. “It’s highly contagious.”
And now it was loose in Texas. The Sabine National Forest was officially a hot zone.
Clint’s skin was already red from scrubbing off three layers of epidermis in the decontamination shower. As he faced down the smug CDC security guard all dressed up to play soldier in camouflage fatigues, combat boots and a gas mask, even more blood flooded the capillaries just beneath the surface. The fact that Clint was wearing a navy-blue jumpsuit that was two sizes too small and had been told his own clothes were about to be burned, along with everything else he’d had on him this morning, didn’t help his disposition any. Neither did the gas mask he held in his left hand, a reminder of the seriousness of the situation here.
“I don’t think you understand, son. A Ranger never surrenders his gun and badge. Not while he’s still breathing.”
“Then you better hope somebody around here knows CPR, ’cause I’ve already got yours.”
“Correction. You’ve been holding mine while I showered. Now you’re going to give them back.”
“Correction,” Cammo Boy mocked. “Now I’m going to put your badge in the incinerator with the other personal effects. Your weapon—” He turned the plastic bag holding Clint’s