Infected Page 9

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“Yeah, you’re probably right,” Bill said. “Although I did drink more than you, girlie-man.”

Perry started to reply, but a stabbing itch on his right collarbone stole his voice and replaced it with a slight gasp of surprise. He dug his fingers through the sweatshirt, scratching at the skin underneath. Maybe he was allergic to something. Maybe a spider had crawled into his bed last night and tried to bite its way out.

He scratched harder, intent on blasting the itch into compliance. The irritation on his forearm acted up again, and he switched his focus to that spot.

“Fleas?” Bill’s voice came from above, unhampered by the divider walls. Perry looked up. Bill’s upper body leaned over the fabric-panel wall that separated the cubicles, his head just inches from the ceiling. He attained this height by a frequent practice of standing on his desk. Bill, as always, looked immaculate despite the fact he’d left the bar the same time as Perry — which meant he couldn’t have had more than four hours’ sleep. With his bright blue eyes, perfectly trimmed brown hair, and a cleanshaven baby face free of even the tiniest blemish, Bill looked like a model for teenage zit cream.



“Just a little bug bite is all,” Perry said.

Bill retreated back behind the divider wall.

Perry stopped scratching, although the skin still itched, and called up the Pullman file on his computer. As he did, he launched his instantmessenger program — even though people were only a few cubes away, instant messaging often proved to be the preferred method of communication within the office. Especially for communication with Bill, in the next cube, who usually had plenty to say that he didn’t want others in

the office to overhear. The IMs let them share sophomoric humor that helped to pass the day.

He started off the daily ritual with a message to Bill’s instant-message handle, “StickyFingazWhitey.”

Bleedmaize_n_blue: Hey. R we doing Monday Night Football tonight?

StickyFingazWhitey: Does the Pope wear women’s underwear?

Bleedmaize_n_blue: I thought the phrase was, “does the Pope wear a funny hat” ???

StickyFingazWhitey: He already wears a big dress, although my sources say he doesn’t deserve to wear white, if ya know what I mean. A

Perry snorted back a laugh. He knew he looked like an idiot when he did that, big shoulders bouncing, head down, hand over his mouth to hide laughter.

Bleedmaize_n_blue: lol. Cut it out, I just got here, I don’t want Sandy to think I’m watching YouTube clips again.

StickyFingazWhitey: How about you watch Popes Gone Wild™ on your own time, mister, you sick, sick man.

Perry laughed, out loud this time. He’d known Bill for . . . God, was it almost ten years already? Perry’s freshman year in college had been a tough one, a time when his violent tendencies ran roughshod and unchecked. He’d landed at the University of Michigan courtesy of a fullride football scholarship. At first they’d roomed him with other football players, but Perry always viewed them as competition even if they didn’t play the same position. A fight inevitably ensued. After his third altercation, the coaches were ready to yank his scholarship.

That crap may float at other schools, like Ohio State, they told him, but not at the University of Michigan.

The last thing they wanted, however, was to lose him — they hadn’t recruited him and given him a full ride for nothing. The coaching staff wanted his ferocity on the field. When Bill heard of the situation, he volunteered to room with Perry. Bill was the nephew of one of the assistant coaches. He and Perry met during freshmen orientation, and the two had hit it off quite well. Perry remembered that the only times he smiled during those first few months were when he was around Bill’s irrepressible humor.

irrepressible humor.

pound English major volunteer to room with a six-foot-five, 240-pound linebacker who benched 480 and had already beaten the holy hell out of three roommates, all of whom were Division I football players? But to everyone’s surprise, it worked out perfectly. Bill seemed to have a talent for laughter, laughter that soothed the savage beast. Bill saved not only Perry’s athletic career but his collegiate one as well. Perry had never forgotten that.

Ten years he’d known Bill, and in all that time he’d never heard the man give a straight answer about anything that wasn’t related to work.

Music drifted over from Bill’s cube. Ancient Sonny & Cher ditty, to which Bill cleverly sang “I got scabies, babe” instead of the original lyrics. The IM alert chimed again:

StickyFingazWhitey: You think Green Bay is going to give the Niners a good game tonight?

Perry didn’t type in an answer, didn’t really even see the question. His face scrunched into a mask of intense concentration that one might mistake for pain. He fought against the urge to scratch yet again, except this time it was far worse than before, and in a far worse place.

He kept his hands frozen on the keyboard, using all his athletic discipline not to scratch furiously at his left testicle.

7.

THE BIG SNAFU

Dew Phillips slumped into the plastic chair next to the pay phone. After this ordeal even a young man would have felt like a week-old dog turd, and at fifty-six, Dew’s youth was far behind him. His wrinkled suit stank of sweat and smoke. Thick smoke, black smoke, the kind that only comes from a house fire. The odor seemed alien in the clean, dirt-free confines of the hospital. Somewhere in his head, he knew he should feel grateful that he was in the waiting room at the Toledo Hospital and not in the airtight quarantine chamber at the CDC in Cincinnati, but he just couldn’t find the energy to count his blessings.

Infected Page 9

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Infected Page 9 summary

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