Authors: James Lilliefors
Copyright © 2012 by James Lilliefors
Soho Press, Inc.
New York, NY 10003
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Viral / James Lilliefors.
1. Virus diseases—Fiction. I. Title.
For my brother
“Biological weapons are characterized by low cost and ease of access; difficulty of detection, even after use, until disease has advanced.… This territory is technically unfamiliar to most of the intelligence community, which has taken many positive steps but has a long way to go.”
molecular biologist, Nobel Prize winner
“The bugs are smarter than we are, and the bugs are winning.”
“All war is deception.”
, “The Art of War”
CLOUD SHADOWS CARPETED THE
African countryside as a privately owned
rattled along the dusty lorry route toward the capital. Four passengers had been on board as it rolled out of Kyotera just past daybreak. Now, as the bus neared Kampala, every seat was taken, with nine men standing, gripping the overhead straps. Several transistor radios played incongruously—gospel, raga, soca—their signals becoming clearer as the city loomed. The passengers were villagers and farmers, many of them carrying goods to sell at the open-air markets of the city: Nile perch and tilapia, tomatoes and maize, basket-ware, gourds, kikoy cloth.
In a worn wicker seat at the rear of the bus, a wizened banana farmer clutched a bark-cloth package and gazed through the sweating bodies at a spout of rain in the distant terraced hillside. The man wore a vacant expression, although occasionally he stole glances at the other passengers: at the young bearded man who nipped from a flask; at the toothless woman seated in front of him, who kept falling asleep against the window; at the burly, bare-chested man—the only one facing backwards—who held a panting dog in his arms; at the tall, handsome woman with the lovely profile on the aisle. The man was careful not to make eye contact with them, though, or to give any of the passengers reason to notice him. He had been paid to make a delivery in Kampala, and the only thing on his mind this morning was the cold bottle of
—fermented banana beer—and the plate of
that he would enjoy once he returned home. He did not think about what he was delivering, or why it might be important to someone. That was not part of his job.
The farmer closed his eyes as they came to another makeshift village, where women were washing clothes in a creek beside the road. When he looked out again, he saw cane and cassava fields and then a gathering of people by a banana grove, dressed up as if for church.
Two of the men, he saw, before averting his eyes, were leaning on shovels. It was the fourth funeral they had passed since leaving Kyotera.
The road took them past a roadhouse, where sunken-cheeked women watched blankly from under a cloth awning, and into a sprawling neighborhood of ramshackle apartments and merchant stands, where the air was smoky from roasting meats. As downtown came into view, the farmer remembered traveling here as a boy, in the years before the dictators—the shouting merchants, the bleating horns, the pungent scent of spices from the food stands, the buses and
, the chaotic excitement of so many people sharing space peacefully.
The man got off the bus near Bombo Road and walked into the open-air market, as he had been instructed, keeping his eyes on the cracked pavement. He breathed the beef and lamb smoke, the spiced vegetables, looking at no one until he found a booth far in the back, belonging to a fish merchant named Robinson. A nod, pre-arranged. The man spoke the sentence he had been instructed to repeat: “A fresh delivery for Mr. Robinson.” He was handed an envelope containing five hundred thousand Ugandan shillings—about two hundred dollars. No one else saw the exchange. Sweating in the mid-afternoon heat, the farmer walked back toward Bombo Road and the
that would take him home.
CHARLES MALLORY WAITED IN
a third-story room of the old colonial-style hotel on Kampala Road, studying the foot traffic below, watching for men traveling alone or for anything that didn’t fit.
He liked the haphazardness of this neighborhood—a hodgepodge of apartment houses, food markets, pavement stalls—and the cover it lent him. For the past eight months, Charles Mallory had been working on a single project—a puzzle that had become a labyrinth of unexpected turns, finally leading him here, to this busy street in downtown Kampala. A project his father had handed to him just days before his death.
From a paper cup he drank the last of the sweet tea he had bought from a merchant down the street, listening to the chuk-chuk-chuk of the ceiling fan in his room, alert for any unexpected sound or movement.
Then he checked his watch: 12:46. Paul Bahdru was late.
Mallory had invested seven days in arranging this meeting, communicating with Paul through encrypted messages and other, less conventional, means. They had devised a system that was virtually impenetrable—or so it had seemed: a series of short, cryptic communiqués, based on patterns and information that only the two of them could know. It was Paul’s idea that the exchange take place here, at a café in the bustling neighborhood where he had once lived. The meeting would be brief: Bahdru would arrive first, purchase a coffee, and take a seat. When Charles Mallory determined that Paul was not under surveillance, he would go downstairs and enter the café. Paul would pass him his message and an envelope; they would separate. It would be over in less than three minutes.
Charles Mallory’s work as a private intelligence contractor often required him to deal with government power brokers and morally
ambiguous businessmen who spoke their own duplicitous languages. But Paul Bahdru was not like that—he was reliable and honorable, and one of the bravest men Charlie knew. Over the past several weeks, Bahdru had learned details of a “high-stakes war,” as he called it, that wasn’t yet visible. Some of the information he had already passed to Charlie; today, he would give him the most important. A specific date. Locations. Along with photos and documentation.
Mallory and Bahdru had first met in Nairobi in 1998, when Charles Mallory was stationed in Kenya under State Department cover. Bahdru was a journalist then, a reporter for the
, Kenya’s largest newspaper. Through a single source, he had learned the sketchy details of a plot against American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Mallory had met with him early one morning in a coffee shop on Radio Road and afterward relayed what he was told to Washington—details too vague to be acted upon, although the plot, of course, had been carried out.
Bahdru eventually left Nairobi, and journalism, but he continued to write. His essays angered several high-level African politicians and quasi-intellectuals, who considered him a dissident and dismissed his writings as Western-tainted propaganda—perpetuating the cliché of Africa as a continent sinking in corruption and ethnic strife. Not long after Paul resettled in the West African nation of Buttata, his wife was brutally raped and murdered during a supposed home robbery—a crime never “solved”—and Paul himself was detained in solitary confinement for seven days for writings deemed “treasonous” by the government. But Bahdru’s travails had made him more determined than embittered; what he discovered had to be known; and, finally, it would be.