Read Plague Online

Authors: Graham Masterton

Tags: #Horror, #brutal, #supernatural, #civil war, #graphic horror, #ghosts, #haunted house

Plague (10 page)

BOOK: Plague
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‘That’s right,’
he said absent-mindedly. ‘Supposing their children caught it.’

Gay said,
‘Beth, haven’t you finished those prawns yet? We still have the fondant
frosting to make.’

Beth peeled as
quickly as her fat fingers would allow. ‘I don’t have too many more now, Mrs.
Garunisch. Just as soon as I’m through, I’ll make that frosting.’

‘Well!’ said
Gay Garunisch, turning back to her husband. There was a pleased little smile on
her face.
‘Our first social event at Concorde Tower!
Isn’t it exciting?’

Kenneth looked up.
He was miles away. ‘It’s terrific, Gay. I just wish we didn’t have this plague
business hanging over our heads. It really kind of worries me.’

‘It’s not
hanging over my, head,’ said Gay. ‘I don’t even know what it is.’

Garunisch took
another canape and pushed it into his mouth whole. ‘Plague is a deadly epidemic
disease,’ he mumbled, spitting out crumbs. ‘They used to have it back in the
Middle Ages. These days, it’s pretty much under control. But, you know, people
can die when they get it, and that’s serious. The news said that thirty or
forty people were already dead.’

Gay Garunisch
was taking off her apron. ‘Thirty or forty’s not many,’ she said, looking for
the pepper. ‘Why, more people die in a single plane crash.’

looked at her patiently for a moment. He loved her, but he sometimes wondered
how she could be so totally impervious to everything that went on around her.
She lived in her own self-contained world of cocktail parties and celebrity
luncheons, and the real events of America escaped her attention.

crashes,’ he said, very gently, so that he didn’t sound sarcastic, ‘are not

The doorbell
rang. The chimes were a copy of the bells of Amory Baptist Church, which used
to ring outside Mrs. Garunisch’s home when she was a little girl. Beth looked
up from her prawn-peeling, but Kenneth moved to get it.

He opened the
door with a fixed grin on his face, and welcomed his first visitors. It was Mr.
and Mrs. Victor Blaufoot, from the apartment above theirs. They had met in the
elevator just the other day, and Kenneth, in an expansive mood after successful
overtime talks, had invited the Blaufoots along to their condo-warming.

isn’t it?’ said Garunisch, showing them in. ‘Would
you like something to drink?’

‘Blaufoot,’ corrected
the guest. He was neat and small, in a shiny blue mohair suit, with gold-rim
spectacles, and a large nose. Mrs. Blaufoot was even smaller, in a dark green
dress and a fur stole.

Garunisch laughed. ‘I’m sorry. I’m usually terrific with names. This is my
wife, Gay.’

There was a lot
of hand-shaking and uncomfortable laughter. Then they all stood there and
looked at each other.

‘I hope we’re
not early,’ said Mrs. Blaufoot. ‘The truth is
don’t have very far to come.’

They all
laughed some more.

certainly made your place look different,’ said Mr. Blaufoot, looking around.
‘I don’t think that any of the other apartments have been done like this. It’s
– it’s – well, it’s very different.’

‘It’s a genuine
replica,’ smiled Gay Garunisch, pleased. ‘It’s just like the old colonial
farmhouse at Trenter’s Bend, Massachusetts.
Right down to the
patterns on the drapes.’

Mrs. Blaufoot
laughed nervously. ‘You must be the only people on First Avenue with an
authentic early-American farmhouse.’

Garunisch, grinning, put his arm around his wife. ‘We were thinking of having
ourselves a farm, too, but they don’t allow cows in the lobby.’

They all

Kenneth fixed
some drinks, and they perched themselves around the sitting-room on the early-American
rockers and upright reproduction Windsors.

‘You’re in
unions, aren’t you, Mr. Garunisch?’ asked Victor Blaufoot politely. ‘The
Medical Workers, if I recall.’

‘That’s right,’
nodded Garunisch. ‘It’s not the biggest union around, but I guess you could say
that after the Teamsters, it has one of the hardest clouts. When we get up to
defend our members’ interests, Mr. Bloofer, there aint many people who don’t
tremble in their shoes.’

Victor Blaufoot
smiled uncomfortably. ‘No, I’m sure. I’ve heard a lot about you.

Myself, I’m in

Gay Garunisch
looked interested. ‘Diamonds, huh?
The girl’s best friend?
Can you get me a diamond tiara, at wholesale?’

Mr. Blaufoot
stared for a moment,
looked embarrassed. ‘I
regret not, Mrs.

It’s not exactly a jeweler’s. It’s more of a

Gay’s smile
stayed on her face, but she was obviously confused. ‘Brokerage?’ she asked.

correct. I buy uncut stones from South Africa, and sell them in New York.’

‘Oh,’ said Gay Garunisch.
‘So you don’t have tiaras?’

Mr. Blaufoot
shook his head.

There was
another long silence, and they all sipped their drinks and smiled at each
other. Then, to Kenneth Garunisch’s relief, the telephone rang. He reached over
and picked it up. Everyone else watched him because there was nothing else to

Oh, hi, Matty. What news? Did you get through?’

There was
obviously a long explanation on the other end of the phone.

‘You what?’
said Garunisch. ‘You couldn’t reach him? That’s ridiculous! Didn’t you tell the
switchboard who you were? You did? And they still didn’t-? Get back on there
and try him again! Yes, now! And call me back when you’ve spoken!’

He slammed the
phone down angrily. ‘Would you believe that?’ he grated. ‘That was my chief
attorney. He’s been trying to call up the health people down at Miami for
twenty minutes, and they can’t find the guy in charge. They can’t find him –
can you believe that?’

‘I heard about
Miami on the news,’ said Mrs. Blaufoot. She looked like an old, unsteady
pigeon. ‘I understand they have an epidemic down there.’

‘They sure do,’
said Garunisch. ‘They have an epidemic, and it’s already knocked off thirty or
forty people, and my members
are having
to deal with
it. That’s what I’m trying to sort out now.’

‘Excuse me,’
said Mr. Blaufoot, ‘but what exactly are you trying to sort out?’

opened his wooden colonial cigarette box and took put a cigarette. He didn’t
offer them around. He lit up, and tossed the spent match into an ashtray. ‘Pay,
mainly,’ he said. ‘My members
are having
to drive and
carry people infected with this disease, and I want to make sure they’re
properly compensated. I also want to make sure they have a choice of whether
they want to do the job or not, without penalties.’

‘Surely it’s an
emergency,’ said Mr. Blaufoot, looking concerned. ‘Does pay matter so much,
when there are people’s lives at risk?’

‘My members’
lives are at risk,’ replied Garunisch. ‘I believe that, every man who willingly
risks his life at work should be paid for taking that risk, and that he should
also have the choice of whether he wants to take the risk or not.’

Mrs. Blaufoot
held her husband’s hand. ‘Supposing none of your members wants to take the
risk? What happens then?’

shrugged. ‘That’s one of those bridges we’ll have to cross when we come to it.’

Victor Blaufoot
spread his hands, appalled. ‘But what if it
own sick child, and a hospital worker refused to carry him into hospital,
because he was not getting paid enough, or because he didn’t choose to? What

Garunisch blew out smoke. He had heard all these soft-headed emotional
arguments a million times before, and they cut no ice with him.

‘Listen, Mr.
Bloofer – everyone is somebody’s child, and my members have parents and
families as well. They’re entitled to danger money, and that’s as far as it

Before you
start shedding tears for the patients, think of the kids whose fathers and
mothers have to treat those patients. Everyone has their rights in this kind of
situation, and those rights have to be respected.’

Victor Blaufoot
frowned. ‘I see. Everyone has rights, except the sick and the needy.’

‘I didn’t say
that,’ snapped Garunisch. ‘I said everyone has rights, and I mean everyone.’

‘But what if it
was your own child? Answer me that.’

Garunisch was
about to say something, then bit his tongue and stopped himself. He said
quietly, ‘I don’t have any children.’

Victor Blaufoot
nodded. ‘I thought not. You talk and behave like a man with no children. Men
with no children have nothing to lose, Mr. Garunisch, and with respect, that
makes their bravery very hollow. I know you think that I’m an emotional old
fool. I can see it on your face. But I have a daughter in Florida, and I’m
worried about her.’

Garunisch crushed out his cigarette and stood up. ‘Okay, Mr. Bloofer, Mrs.

Bloofer, I’m
sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. I didn’t realize you were personally

Mrs. Blaufoot
looked up at him.
A frail old lady staring pointedly at the
heavyweight union boss.
‘Would it have mattered if you had realized?’
she asked. ‘Would it have changed, one iota, what you have asked your people to

Garunisch shook
his head. ‘No, Mrs. Bloofer, it wouldn’t.’

Gay Garunisch,
sensing unpleasantness, said brightly, ‘Would anyone like something to eat? We
have some hot spiced sausage, and some Southern fried chicken.’

answered. ‘Hold the food,’ Garunisch said. Wait till some more people arrive.

I don’t think
Mr. and Mrs. Bloofer are very hungry.’

‘I could use
another drink,’ said Mr. Blaufoot, holding up his empty glass. ‘Please.’

The doorbell
chimed. Kenneth Garunisch collected Mr. Blaufoot’s glass, and then went over to
answer it. It was Dick Bortolotti, one of his union officials – a young
blue-chinned Italian with suits that always reminded Kenneth of the Mafia.

‘Dick?’ he
said. ‘What’s wrong?’

stepped in, and closed the door.

‘I know you’re
having your party, Ken, and I don’t want to spoil your fun. But there’s big
trouble down in Miami, and we can’t get through.’

‘What do you

‘It’s this
epidemic. It says on TV that it’s getting worse – spreading. They won’t even
say how many people are dead, because they can’t keep count.’

A muscle in
Garunisch’s cheek began to twitch. ‘Go on,’ he said in a whisper. ‘What else?’

‘The hospital
phones are jammed solid. I can’t get through to any of our organizers for love
nor money.’

The telephone
began to ring, and Garunisch knew it would be Matty, with the same story.

He held himself
in close control. ‘Who do we have at Fort Lauderdale? Maybe they could drive
down and take a look-see.’

‘I had a call
from Copes, out at Tampa. He said the Miami health people were being really
cagey and uptight. They keep insisting it’s nothing too serious, and that
they’ve gotten it under control, but the evidence sure doesn’t point that way.
I think it’s a bad one, Ken. I mean, it sounds like a real bad one.’

Garunisch bowed
his head. He was thinking, fast and hard. If there was an epidemic in Florida,
his members were going to be right in the front line, and he was responsible
for them.

Eventually, he
looked up. ‘Okay, Dick. You’d better come in. Grab yourself a drink and
something to eat, while I try to talk to those health department dummies down
at Miami. Maybe I can get some sense out of this situation.’

turned back to his guests. ‘Sorry about the interruption, folks, but it seems
like some urgent union business has just come between me and my fun again. Just
enjoy yourselves, and I’ll join you in a moment.’

Victor Blaufoot
looked round. ‘Is it the plague? Have you heard any news?’

Garunisch smiled. ‘Don’t concern yourself about that plague, Mr. Bloofer.

about the plague is well under control.’

Edgar Paston
first heard about the plague on the radio of his seven-year-old Mercury station
wagon. He was driving back to Elizabeth, New Jersey, after picking up fifteen
boxes of canned peaches from his wholesaler. It was growing dark, and he had
just switched on his headlights.

The radio
newscaster was saying, ‘Unconfirmed reports from Miami say that nearly forty
people have fallen victim to an inexplicable epidemic disease. Health
authorities say that the epidemic is well under control, and have warned Miami
residents not to panic or react prematurely to what health chief Donald Firenza
called “an unfortunate but containable outbreak.”

‘Hospitals and
police are working overtime to cope with suspected sufferers, and Miami Police
Department, have reported that nine of the epidemic victims are police officers
who were called out to assist with casualties. Specialists have been unable so
far to identify the disease, but Mr. Firenza has likened it to Spanish

‘The mayor of
Miami, John Becker, has sent personal messages of condolence to the families of
the dead, and has called for a speedy containment of what he described as “this
tragic mishap”.

‘We’ll have
more reports about the epidemic later, but meanwhile here’s the weather report
for New York and Jersey City ...’

Paston switched
the radio off. He reached across to the glove box, and found a peanut bar.
Tearing the wrapper off with his teeth, he began to chew. He hadn’t eaten since
early this morning, when he had stopped for a cheese Woppa just outside

Edgar Paston
was the owner and manager of Elizabeth’s Save-U Supermart. He had bought the
premises ten years ago, at an auction, when they were nothing more than a
dilapidated tire-fitting works on the outskirts of town. He had taken a risk,
because in those days, zoning laws still prevented any residential development
in that part of Elizabeth. Business, at first, had been hard, and the family
ate cheap vegetable soup and corn biscuits at night, even though they served
hams and chickens by day.

BOOK: Plague
2.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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