""So you're saying that you were drunk?", Marc asked, leaning over to grab one of Edmund's Budweisers from the enormous blue and white Playmate cooler sitting at the foot of the ambulance's bed. He swayed a bit, sympathetic to the Econ-O-Line's lateral movement as it rolled toward Dallas.
"Not drunk yet, but on my way.", Edmund answered, motioning at the cooler for another. He tipped back the bottle he had just gestured with and drained the last half of it in three, thirsty gulps. He belched, turned, and threw the empty into the clinking, haphazard pile that was beginning in front of the cargo van's rear doors.
Marc grabbed another Bud and tossed it to him. Edmund caught it with a practised ease that belied the amount of alcohol he had consumed. Marc had been awake and listening to Campion recount his tale for about an hour and a half and he had personally seen the doctor put away seven beers to his meager two. He wasn't surprised. Campion's ability to function drunk had been almost as legendary at Teresa as his brilliance in manipulating human cellular structure and his shitty bedside manner.
Still, Marc thought, There is a huge difference between listening to Mozart's music and actually watching him agonize at the piano.
Edmund lit a cigarette and parked it in the corner of his mouth. It bobbed up and down with the motion of his lips, as he continued his story.
"It didn't matter anyway. The big boys at the CDC and I had just met together that very morning and discussed my...", he paused, rolled his eyes, and took another long pull from his beer. He smacked his lips appreciatively and continued, "issue. I was informed that if I was caught drinking again I would not only be fired but blackballed as well." He laughed. "I would never work in this town again. One beer or twenty, if Mike Windish had been CDC, I would have been fucked."
He pointed at Marc with the same hand he was holding his bottle in. "And you would not be taking this wondrous road trip with me." He grinned expansively and spread his arms as far apart as they would go. "You can thank me later."
Marc raised his own beer in salute and nodded solemnly. They stared at each other for a moment and then both men burst out laughing. It wasn't a happy laugh, or a healthy one, but it did go a long way toward easing some of the gnawing tension that Marc had felt since awakening in the van.
Edmund arose clumsily and made his way to the front of the Ford. He banged his fist on the small, rectangular, iron mesh opening in the sheet metal partition that separated the rear of the van from the cab. Marc wondered idly if the vehicle had served time transporting prisoners before it's transformation into a makeshift ambulance.
"Hey Driver!", Edmund shouted, much too loudly. "How about some music? I need a soundtrack for the rest of this show!" He crouch-walked back to his seat near the foot of the bed and plopped down. He looked at Marc grimly and said, "I need you to listen to me very carefully when I say this. My favorite part of this whole excursion is that the young man operating this vehicle is, indeed, named Driver." At this his grin resurfaced. "Our driver is Private First Class Chris Driver. I fucking love that."
Marc snorted and wondered if Edmund was ever going to get on with it. Patsy Cline, crooning about strolls in the wee morning hours, began to drift out of the van's speakers.
"I hope you don't mind the old country.", Edmund said emptying his bottle yet again. This time he deposited the butt of his now defunct cigarette in it and promptly lit another. "I like to have it when I'm crying in my beer."
He flipped his empty to the back of the cargo area and grabbed himself another full one from the cooler. "Now where was I?"
"You had just met Dr. Windish outside a bar...", Marc prompted.
At the mention of Windish's name, Edmund's whole body sagged. He suddenly looked like he had aged thirty years. His heavy jowls and forlorn eyes lent him the look of an ill treated basset hound. An ill treated, drunken basset hound.
"Ah yes. . .Michael.", he said vacantly tapping the mouth of the bottle against his bottom lip. His entire demeanor had changed and he seemed to be staring intently at nothing. "Michael and I were pretty tight there for a very short while. He came to me and presented himself as not only an intellectual equal but also as an individual bent in all the same shapes as I was. He had me believing that the two of us were not only going to save the world, we were going to transform it. The human race was going to get a good hard look at the abyss before Windish and Campion pulled them back from the brink, scared shitless, and ready to do whatever it took to never, ever, come that close again. They were going to be willing to change for real.", Edmund laughed harshly, a brittle, bitter sound. "I believed that fuckin' bullshit right up until yesterday. Right up until that cocksucking little fraud tried to fucking kill me!!!"
He turned and threw his nearly full bottle at the back of the van. It exploded in an amber spray of Budweiser and brown glass. The vehicle was immediately filled with the yeasty, acrid tang of spilt beer. Harry McClintock took over for Patsy and started singing a song about the Big Rock Candy Mountains.
Edmund stared for a moment at the mess he had just made. His teeth were clenched together so tightly that the veins in his temples began to throb. Marc felt a twinge of uneasiness worm it's way into his gut. Campion's face was an alarming shade of red and he was breathing heavily through his nose. He sounds like a pissed off bull., Marc thought. This was immediately followed by, Oh Christ, please don't let him work himself into a heart attack.
Edmund took a deep breath and shook his head rapidly back and forth like a wet dog. He looked at Marc and Marc was relieved to see some normal color returning to Edmund's face.
"But I'm getting ahead of myself.", he said. His tone was conversational, with no hint of the rage that had just possessed him. He could just as easily been commenting on the weather. "When Windish assured me that he wasn't with the CDC and suggested we turn around and go back into Mulligan's to discuss his proposition over drinks, it never even crossed my mind to refuse. Mike's true gift is his ability to get you to do what he wants and believe it was your own decision. I just turned right around and followed him into the bar. We found a table in the back...
...and sat down. Edmund waved to Greg standing behind the bar who was simultaneously trying to pull a draft, talk on his cell phone, and drop a twenty in the till. Greg saw him and held up his forefinger to signal he would be with them in a minute. Edmund nodded and turned to speak to his newly acquired drinking buddy. He was aware in the back of his mind that by following Windish into Mulligan's he had effectively kissed the CDC good-bye.
"So, you're not going to try and convince me to start selling Amway are you Mike?", he asked, hoping he was coming across as casual and clever and not petulant and half drunk. He had been told he was six of one and half a dozen of the other.
Windish laughed and shook his head. "No, Dr. Campion. Of my numerous shortcomings, Amway has not yet made the list. I would like, instead, to offer you a unique opportunity."
Edmund saw the bartender making his way to their table. He remembered bouncing his head off of his car door and winced. Maybe he should just order a coffee.
"Sorry about the wait fellas. What can I getcha?", asked Greg.
"Bring me a bottle of Becks with a double Jameson on the side. No ice.", said Windish. He winked at Edmund. "My friend here has gotten a bit ahead of me and I've got some catching up to do."
Edmund ordered a Budweiser, utterly nonplussed. The afternoon had taken on a mildly surreal aspect he hadn't experienced since his dope smoking days at Harvard.
The bartender left to get their drinks.
"You look a bit overwhelmed Dr. Campion.", Windish observed. "Shall I continue?"
Edmund nodded, "In for a penny, in for a pound."
Windish crossed his arms and leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table. "There is no longer any possibility of containing the flu. Our most conservative estimates show a fifth of the population of the United States infected by the end of May. Of this fifth a substantial number have no access to any kind of meaningful health care. Without adequate medical assistance seventy-five to eighty percent of these people will die from their infection." He paused to give Edmund time to absorb what he had just been told. Greg materialized with their drinks and then disappeared back behind the bar.
Edmund felt as though he had been sucker punched. If the figures Windish gave him were accurate the resulting death toll would be staggering. The CDC's models were estimating only a fraction of what Windish was suggesting. He took a long pull off of his beer and wondered just exactly who Michael Windish was working for.
"There needs to be a place for people to go so they can recieve the treatment they need." Windish continued. "We intend to set up a facility in Nevada to address this problem."
He paused again, this time draining his Jameson and immediately signaling for another. He looked at Edmund and smiled. "We would like you to come aboard as the head of this facility Dr. Campion."
A young voice from the front of the van cut Campion off. "We will be stopping to refuel in five, sir."
Edmund leaned forward and pulled a large black duffel bag out from underneath the bed Marc was seated on. He began to rummage through it's contents and yelled, "What zone are we in Driver?".
"Zone three, sir.", was Driver's reply. Hank Williams Sr. was going on about cheatin' hearts.
Edmund pulled a pair of nine millimeter handguns from the bag and handed one to Marc.
"Just a precaution Bucky." he said smiling grimly. "Things have gotten a bit...complicated on the outside since you joined our little family."