Deadly Exposure

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Forensic pathologist Joanna Blalock returns in an explosive new medical thriller!

When Los Angeles forensic pathologist Joanna Blalock is tapped to investigate a deadly new bacteria currently on a Navy ship off the coast of Alaska, she is both excited by the challenge and apprehensive about the dangerous and claustrophobic working environment at sea. Joining a team of world-class scientists, she finds the atmosphere is scary enough, but it gets worse when several suspicious ...

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Forensic pathologist Joanna Blalock returns in an explosive new medical thriller!

When Los Angeles forensic pathologist Joanna Blalock is tapped to investigate a deadly new bacteria currently on a Navy ship off the coast of Alaska, she is both excited by the challenge and apprehensive about the dangerous and claustrophobic working environment at sea. Joining a team of world-class scientists, she finds the atmosphere is scary enough, but it gets worse when several suspicious deaths lead Joanna to believe that there is a ruthless killer on board who may be responsible for the entire disaster. The horror of her discovery pales, however, when the entire ship is quarantined and Joanna is plunged into a desperate fight for survival -- pitted against both man and microbe -- with the fate of humanity in the balance!

Leonard S. Goldberg, M. D. is the author of Deadly Harvest, Deadly Care, A Deadly Practice, and Deadly Medicine. He is a consulting physician affiliated with the UCLA Medical Center, where his is a clinical professor. A native of South Carolina, Dr. Goldberg currently makes his home in Los Angeles.

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Editorial Reviews

With Deadly Exposure, Goldberg's fifth medical thriller, I can now say I am a fan of the medical suspense genre....Goldberg is really good at what he does, in a manner similar to Michael Crichton. As a doctor himself, he is able to weave medical and biological concepts with a good story. Deadly Exposure is an adventure in both medical science and sleuthing: sort of like "The Poseidon Adventure" meets "Quincy." I'm ready to read another of his deadly adventures!
The Mystery
Library Journal
In each of his five Joanna Blalock novels, Goldberg (Deadly Harvest, LJ 3/15/97) manages to manipulate real-life medical conditions into full-blown panic situations. Here he has Dr. Blalock recruited by ETOX (Extraterrestrial Toxic Agent Team), founded in the 1960s to examine the possibility of life beyond Earth and its implications for astronauts and now concentrating on unusual occurrences of living organisms. Their current assignment is to deal with an iceberg carrying a deadly agent that causes the rapid demise of all who come in contact with it. Meanwhile, as handpicked scientists gather off the coast of Alaska on a floating laboratory, a deadly bacteria is causing an epidemic of global proportions. Torn between two medical emergencies, Blalock must use all her skills to combat both. Despite a few loose ends and a rushed plot, Goldberg mines his considerable knowledge to create a story that will terrify his audience. This is the stuff of nightmares. For all fiction collections.--Jo Ann Vicarel, Cleveland Heights-University Heights P.L., OH
School Library Journal
YA-A medical thriller that has it all, Deadly Exposure recounts the further adventures of forensic pathologist Joanna Blalock, who appeared in Deadly Harvest (Dutton, 1997), Deadly Care (Signet, 1997), Deadly Practice (Dutton, 1994), and Deadly Medicine (Signet, 1992). This time, Dr. Blalock is summoned to join a secret mission in the waters off Alaska. An outing that tests her mettle, this trip on a government ship uncovers a deadly 65-million-year-old bacterium, an unscrupulous former lover, an obnoxious bungler, a pending deadly epidemic, an earthquake, a tsunami, a shipwreck, and homicidal icebergs. Whew! There is also a mystery as to who is responsible for a couple of murders onboard. Just inches from death, the heroine is rescued in the nick of time. Certainly not cerebral, this novel is nevertheless entertaining and fast paced. Paleontology, microbiology, infectious medicine, and navigational science are all included within the boundaries of the story and provide some painless education. YAs who enjoy Robin Cook's style will find this an entertaining, fast read.-Carol DeAngelo, American Chemical Society Library, Washington, DC
With Deadly Exposure, Goldberg's fifth medical thriller, I can now say I am a fan of the medical suspense genre....Goldberg is really good at what he does, in a manner similar to Michael Crichton. As a doctor himself, he is able to weave medical and biological concepts with a good story. Deadly Exposure is an adventure in both medical science and sleuthing: sort of like "The Poseidon Adventure" meets "Quincy." I'm ready to read another of his deadly adventures!
The Mystery
Kirkus Reviews
A lethal microbe, a brutal murderer, and a sentient iceberg menace cooly competent forensic pathologist Joanna Blalock, back for a fourth outing(Deadly Harvest, 1997, etc.). This time, Blalock is summarily whisked away via helicopter to an infectious-disease laboratory drifting off the coast of Alaska. There, a crack team of scientists races to develop an antidote for a highly toxic bugaboo that just might be of extraterrestrial origin. It seems a husband and wife, out for some coastal yachting, tied their boat on to an unusually colorful iceberg and then died rapidly while their four-year-old asthmatic daughter remained alive. The disease also killed a Coast Guard seaman, whose corpse Blalock is to autopsy, while other scientists, including millionaire pharmaceutical researcher Mark Alexander, Blalock's former lover, study the berg itself, which has been somehow lifted out of the ocean and put into a vast Plexiglass cylinder inside the ship. Shortly after Blalock examines the corpse, the disease breaks out, spreading through casual contact—-and steamy sexual encounters—-among the hundred military personnel on board. Moreover, someone is killing off scientists, à la Dame Agatha's Ten Little Indians. Is it the brainy but impoverished NIH researcher Malcom Neiderman, who wants to make a million by selling some of the toxin to the highest bidder? What about the insipid but fabulously famous TV celebrity astronomer Benjamin Kagen, who hungers for a big discovery to call his own? Goldberg crowds his tale with numerous supporting characters who die of causes both natural and supernatural, leaving Blalock to unmask the killer and confront the berg itself. Which, afterwiping out a few humans it doesn't like, knocks a hole in the ship and thus gives Blalock the chance to perform some Poseidon Adventure shenanigans. A salty vichyssoise of zingy technobabble and tiresome plotting that, thankfully, refuses to take itself too seriously. .
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780525944270
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 11/1/1998
  • Series: Joanne Blalock Series
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.36 (w) x 9.34 (h) x 1.21 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The baby girl had been dead for four hours.

    Joanna Blalock glanced at the baby's face. It looked like a China doll with straight black hair and almond-shaped eyes that stared out into nothingness. The only sign of death was the bluish discoloration of the tiny hands and feet.

    Joanna sighed to herself and went back to stitching up the incision that ran from the infant's sternum to its pubis. She carefully placed the sutures close together to minimize the disfigurement caused by the autopsy. Chances were the baby would be buried in a gown that would cover the incision. But Joanna knew the parents would look under the gown to see what had been done to their daughter.

    "I hate doing autopsies on babies," Dr. Lori McKay commented. "Don't you?"

    "Dead is dead," Joanna said evenly, though she really felt otherwise. As director of forensic pathology at Memorial Hospital, she had performed hundreds and hundreds of autopsies, but the babies always got to her. There was something so unfair about it.

    The ventilation system switched itself on in the special room where autopsies on contaminated cases were done. The air began to stir, but Joanna barely felt it beneath her cap and gown and mask and gloves. She wiped the perspiration from her forehead with a sleeve and again glanced over the small body.

    The infant seemed so tiny on the stainless steel table. But of course, she reminded herself, these tables were made for adults, not babies.

    The intercom came on with a blast of static. Afemale voice said, "Dr. Blalock, Colonel Hawksworth is here to see you."

    "Send him in," Joanna said, raising her voice.

    "Would you like me to leave?" Lori asked.

    "You stay put," Joanna told her. "We're not finished here yet."

    "Is this guy really a colonel?"


    "So why doesn't he wear a uniform?"

    Because he's with the National Security Council, Joanna started to say, but she held her tongue as she was asked to. "He didn't say."

    There was a brisk knock on the door.

    "Yes?" Joanna called out.

    Colonel Guy Hawksworth entered. He was tall and well built, in his early fifties, with narrow eyes and a square jaw. His gray hair was crew cut, his posture ramrod straight.

    "Don't touch anything unless you want to get cholera," Joanna said.

    If the word "cholera" bothered Hawksworth, he didn't show it. "You've received your security clearance. We have to leave as quickly as possible."

    "I'll need a few minutes more," Joanna said, and turned to Lori. "Make sure you get the cultures on all the baby's fluids and organs. Tell the bacteriology lab they're looking for the Vibrio cholerae organism."

    "Right," Lori said, making a note on her pad.

    "I've dictated the gross findings on the baby. I want you to read the microscopic slides. Pay particular attention to the intestinal mucosa. That's where the abnormalities will be."

    "Got it."

    "While I'm away, you'll be in charge of forensics at Memorial. Be careful and take your time and you'll do fine."

    Lori's eyes widened. She had never directed a division of forensic pathology. She had been out of her training only a year, with most of that time spent as a junior medical examiner for the County of Los Angeles. Lori had been invited to join the staff at Memorial less than two months ago.

    "Is something wrong?" Joanna asked.

    "Nope," Lori said, quickly gathering herself. She mentally repeated Joanna's advice. Be careful and take your time. And don't fuck it up. "How long will you be away?"

    Hawksworth answered for Joanna. "For an undetermined length of time."

    "What if I need to get in touch with you?" Lori asked.

    "You won't be able to," Hawksworth answered for her again. "I'll leave my number with Dr. Blalock's secretary. If there's a true emergency, the call will be forwarded to Dr. Blalock."

    Lori felt like telling the colonel to go screw himself with his hush-hush rules. But she knew it had to be something important, otherwise Joanna Blalock wouldn't stand for all this nonsense. She turned her back to the colonel and asked Joanna in a quiet voice, "Do you have any idea where you're going?"

    "Someplace very, very cold. That's all I know."

    Lori wrinkled her brow. "Someplace like Antarctica?"

    "You'll have to ask Colonel Hawksworth."

    Hawksworth's face was closed, his expression blank. "We need to move on, Dr. Blalock."

    He watched the women leisurely stripping off their gloves and gowns. Now they were talking about the cholera organism and a toxin it produced—an adenyl cyclase inhibitor. Hawksworth glanced up at the wall clock. It was 11:15 A.M. He wished they'd hurry it up. He was already behind schedule.

    His gaze dropped to the baby on the stainless steel table. From where he stood, only one arm was visible, the fingers balled up into a tiny fist. Hawksworth stared at it, his mind flashing back to Vietnam.

    The American forces had decided to pacify the villages in the Mekong Delta, an area controlled by the Viet Cong. They gave the people food and medicine, and even vaccinated the children. One hot August day Hawksworth led his platoon into a village where the vaccination program had just been started. It was deserted, everything and everybody gone. In the center of the village was a stack of children's arms that had been severed at the shoulder by the Viet Cong. On most of the tiny arms you could see the vaccination marks. Hawksworth still had nightmares about that. Not as often as before. But he still had them.

    "Ready," Joanna said, breaking into his thoughts. She pushed through a set of swinging doors and led the way out.

    They went down a long corridor with flickering fluorescent lighting. In places the paint on the walls was cracked and peeling off, and overhead there were water marks on the ceiling. The overall appearance was of chronic neglect.

    They walked through another set of swinging doors and the corridor suddenly widened, its walls now covered with lime-colored grass cloth. The sound of Mozart's "A Little Night Music" came from behind a closed door.

    "I didn't know we still had cholera in America," Hawksworth said.

    "We don't," Joanna told him. "The baby you saw had just been adopted by an American couple. They picked the infant up in Shanghai and it became ill on the plane ride back to the States."

    "So the baby caught it in China."


    Hawksworth squinted an eye. "Why would this case require a forensic pathologist?"

    "The baby died two hours after getting off the plane and nobody knew why. That makes it a homicide until proven otherwise." Joanna nodded to a group of approaching technicians and waited for them to pass by. "Of course, most babies who become ill on planes are not the victims of homicide."

    Yeah, Hawksworth thought sourly, and most babies who receive vaccinations don't get their arms cut off because of it, either.

    "Will I need to bring any equipment along for this project?" Joanna asked.

    "No," Hawksworth said at once.

    "You have microscopes and dissecting instruments?"

    Hawksworth smiled thinly. "Everything. But if by chance you require anything from your laboratory, we can have it flown up to you in under six hours."

    "I see," Joanna said slowly, her mind now calculating distances. She was going somewhere very cold and it was six hours away from Los Angeles by jet. That ruled out Europe, Antarctica, Greenland, and the North Pole. Joanna wetted her lips. "So we're going to Alaska, huh?"

    Hawksworth didn't answer, but Joanna could tell from the tightening of his jaw muscles that she'd guessed right.

    They walked into the reception area of Joanna's office. She pointed to a leather-covered chair for Hawksworth, but he remained standing. Joanna's secretary, Virginia Hand, held up a thick stack of phone messages.

    Joanna waved them off. "They'll have to wait unless something is urgent."

    "They can wait," Virginia said, sensing the seriousness in her boss's voice.

    "I'll be away for a while working on a government project. Lori McKay will be in charge until I return."

    "How long will you be away?"

    "Weeks," Joanna answered before Hawksworth could. "Colonel Hawksworth will give you a number where I can be reached in case of a true emergency."

    Hawksworth came over to the desk and looked at the secretary. "The number I give you is for your eyes only. Understood?"


    Joanna went into her office and closed the door behind her. She hurried to her computer and logged on to the Internet. She searched for anything in Alaska that would require the government to bring in a forensic pathologist. Joanna was particularly interested in incidents on military bases, atomic weapons, exposure to radioactive materials, and toxic dump sites. There was nothing worthy of note.

    Then she went to the Bering Sea which separated Alaska from Russia. Maybe the Soviets dumped some of their toxic junk into the sea and it had now made its way into American waters. But again the Internet came up with nothing. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack, she told herself. It could be anything.

    She switched the computer off and quickly got out of her scrub suit and into a tweed skirt, white Oxford shirt, and blue blazer. She looked in the mirror and brushed her hair, then added new lipstick, all the while wondering where she was going and what the project was and why the need for so much secrecy.

    She glanced over at her desk, seeing if there was anything that needed to be taken care of before she left. She saw stacks of letters to be answered, reports to be dictated, slides to be read. A hundred things, but nothing that couldn't wait.

    Her gaze went to a framed photograph. It showed her and Jake Sinclair on a white sand beach in Hawaii. She studied the detective's face for a moment. He was so good-looking, and getting even better looking with time. His hair was thick and brown and swept back, just covering the tops of his ears. But it was his eyes that were overpowering. They were deep-set and blue-gray, and they could look right through you or right into you, depending on how he felt. No, it was over between them, she reminded herself, and she planned to keep it that way. Joanna removed the photograph from its frame and crushed it into a small ball, then dropped it into the trash can. She grabbed her suitcase and left the office.

    Hawksworth was standing in the exact same place as before. "Let's go, Colonel," she said.

    Hawksworth took Joanna's suitcase and held the door for her. They hurried down the corridor to a bank of elevators and rode an empty car to the second floor. Quickly they headed down another corridor, passing through a pediatric wing, then an administrative area. Hawksworth was moving so fast that Joanna had to break into a half run to keep up. Now they were going up a short flight of stairs, then through a door and out onto a rooftop.

    A helicopter with no markings was waiting for them. As soon as they were aboard, the engine whined to life and the rotor began to swing in wide circles overhead.

    Moments later the helicopter was flying over West Los Angeles at an altitude of a thousand feet. Beneath them Joanna could see the vast expanse of Los Angeles, with the downtown area to the east and Santa Monica and the ocean to the west. She glanced over at Hawksworth, who was sitting in the cockpit next to the pilot, his face closed as ever. One thing was certain. She wasn't going to learn anything more from Hawksworth.

    Joanna shifted in her seat and tried to find a comfortable position as her mind drifted over the past twenty-four hours. Everything had gone so quickly and smoothly, without a hitch. All of her duties and responsibilities at Memorial had been assigned to others and nobody said a word—not even Simon Murdock, the dean at the medical center, who usually insisted on being in control and knowing every detail. He didn't ask her who, what, where, or for how long. She didn't even have to fill out a leave-of-absence form. Someone had smoothed the way and taken care of everything for Joanna.

    The helicopter abruptly began to descend. Joanna tightened her seat belt and looked out. Below them she saw Los Angeles International Airport. Commercial jets were lined up next to the runway, but none was moving or taking off. The helicopter circled over a larger hangar at the end of the tarmac, then landed scant yards from a Boeing 727 without markings or windows. As they scrambled from the helicopter and up the steps to the plane, the jet engines came to life. A young steward led them aft.

    The 727 was divided into two sections by a wall with a closed door. A sign on the door read NO ADMITTANCE. The spacious first-class area had twelve seats, six on each side. In the center was a small conference table surrounded by swivel chairs that were bolted to the floor. A diminutive man rose from a chair and extended his hand. "Doctor Blalock, I presume."

    Joanna recognized the famous astronomer from Cal Tech immediately. Benjamin Kagen was a small man, much smaller than he seemed on television, with thin gray hair, inquisitive eyes, and an oversized forehead. His television documentaries on the universe had made his face and name known all across America. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Professor Kagen," she said formally.

    "Ben, please." Kagen's voice was soft and soothing and made you want to listen. He was wearing a corduroy suit with a black turtleneck sweater and highly polished penny loafers. "I'm delighted you've agreed to join our scientific team."

    "I am too," Joanna said, liking the man instantly. "But I have no idea what I've gotten myself into."

    "You've gotten yourself into what might well turn out to be the most fascinating project of your life." Kagen signaled to the steward. "Would you care for a martini?"

    Joanna nodded. "Two olives."

    With a jerk the giant jet began to taxi. Then it slowly turned and stopped. Since the plane was windowless, Joanna had no idea where they were. At the end of a long line, she guessed, remembering the aircraft that were stacked up waiting to take off.

    Suddenly the engines roared and the jet was zooming down the runway. Joanna leaned back, now recalling her phone conversation with Peter Allen Weir. He had said that Hawksworth had authority from the very highest level. The power Hawksworth must have, Joanna was thinking, the incredible power. One phone call and he could put an entire international airport on hold.

    With a smooth rise the plane was airborne.

    Joanna had no sense of motion because there was no reference point. She felt as if she were in a tube or a submerged submarine. Even the noise of the plane seemed subdued.

    "Why no windows?" Joanna asked.

    "Most large military jets are used to transport materiel, not people," Kagen explained. He waved his hand around the cabin. "All of this could be removed in minutes and the plane would revert to its original use—moving cargo."

    The steward brought two martinis on a tray and served them. Now he was wearing white gloves.

    "Cheers," Kagen said, sipping his drink while he studied Joanna. She was so young, he thought—too young. Her curriculum vitae stated she was in her late thirties, but she didn't look it. She was strikingly attractive, her face unlined except for delicate crow's-feet that only showed when she smiled. Her sandy blond hair was drawn back in a simple barrette, and this seemed to accentuate her high cheekbones and patrician features. So young, he thought again. Youth meant inexperience and poor judgment, and with those qualities you couldn't be a good scientist. Shit, Kagen cursed to himself, keeping his expression bland as he chewed on his olive. He needed a scientist with wisdom and years of experience on this project. He needed a Peter Allen Weir, not a Joanna Blalock. But Weir was unavailable because of a badly broken leg suffered in an automobile accident.

    Hawksworth unbuckled his seat belt and stood. "If you require anything, let me know." He walked to the rear of the cabin and through the door, shutting it behind him.

    Joanna tried to see in, but the door closed too quickly. "What's in the back of the plane?"

    "The next section contains rest rooms and lounge areas."

    "Why the no-admittance sign?"

    "To keep people from wandering in, I would guess," Kagen told her. "There's a third section which is strictly off limits, however."

    "What's there?"

    "A special telecommunications room," Kagen said, and signaled to the steward. "Would you care for another martini?"

    Joanna shook her head. "How much longer are you going to keep me in suspense?"

    "I waited intentionally," Kagen said. "I wanted Hawksworth out of here."

    "I thought Hawksworth knew everything."

    "He does. The problem is, he keeps interrupting conversations with statements like `Don't mention that' or `That's classified' and other such nonsense."

    Kagen reached for a sheet of paper with a lot of small print on it. "This is a standard nondisclosure form in which you agree not to reveal any information about this project without first receiving appropriate authorization. I'd like you to sign it."

    Joanna quickly read the form. It contained dire threats of prosecution for any disclosure. "Is this really enforceable?"

    "Probably not. According to my lawyer, you can disclose just about anything you want as long as it doesn't involve spying for a foreign country. This form is more of a formality than anything else."

    Joanna signed the paper and pushed it back to Kagen.

    Kagen's second martini arrived. He sampled it slowly. Satisfied, he nodded to the steward and waited for him to disappear. "Dr. Blalock, have you ever heard the term ETOXAT?"


    "Most people haven't. It stands for Extraterrestrial Toxic Agent Team. Its abbreviated name is ETOX. In the late nineteen-sixties, President Nixon signed an executive order authorizing the formation of ETOX. It consisted of a group of distinguished scientists whose function was to investigate extraterrestrial toxins. In particular, ETOX was formed to carefully study the astronauts who landed on the moon and the lunar rock samples they brought back to earth. After all, we had no idea what they might bring back with them. A major concern was that there might be some strange microorganisms on the moon that were highly toxic and transmissible. Just think if Neil Armstrong had brought back some terrible infectious plague for which there was no treatment. It would have been one small step for man, one giant disaster for mankind. So we studied the astronauts and their space suits and the rocks, and fortunately found nothing. After that, ETOX was kept intact, just in case. But you'd be amazed at how hard we had to fight to keep our funding. No one seems to believe that there's a real possibility of life in outer space."

    "Even after the findings on ALH?"

    Kagen's nodded. ALH 84001 was the name of a Martian meteorite that had been extensively studied by NASA. "What do you know about the Alan Hills meteorite?"

    "Only that it came from Mars and showed some evidence for the presence of bacterial life there." Joanna paused, thinking back to the article she'd read in the Los Angeles Times. "It contained polyaromatic hydrocarbons, and there were fossilized findings as well."

    "Exactly," Kagen said, impressed. "They also found a carbon isotope, carbon-12, in it. This form of carbon is present in methane, which of course is produced by bacteria."

    "Are we dealing with extraterrestrial life in the project?"

    "I'm getting ahead of myself," Kagen said, now doodling on Joanna's signed disclosure form. He was drawing an iceberg. "Let's go back to ETOX. Our team meets once a year to review various projects and studies, particularly those being done on newly discovered meteorites. We've never had to deal with a toxic agent before—not until ten days ago. At that time the Coast Guard was patrolling an area west of Juneau called Icy Strait. It's just south of Glacier Bay. They came upon a charter fishing boat that was tethered to an iceberg by grappling lines."

    Joanna's brow went up. "Isn't that kind of dangerous?"

    "To say the least. One shift in the wind and that boat would have been turned into splinters. Anyone who knows the sea stays as far away from icebergs as he can."

    Kagen reached for his pipe and lit it. "Anyhow, there it was. A boat and an iceberg, hand in hand, drifting with the current. The Coast Guard came alongside and two seamen boarded the fishing boat. They found the deck covered with chunks of ice that were neatly stacked up. And atop the ice were pickaxes. For safety's sake they released the grappling lines. As they moved away, they noticed gouged-out areas on the iceberg. Someone on that fishing boat had used the pickaxes to rip off pieces from that iceberg."

    Joanna gave him an inquiring look. "Why? Why would anyone do that?"

    "The iceberg had some unusual colors that sparkled brilliantly in the sunlight. Gold and blue and flecks of green here and there. Our best guess is that the people on the boat thought they were looking at precious metals."

    "Were they?"

    "Yes and no," Kagen said evasively. "You'll understand my answer in just a moment."

    Hawksworth reentered the cabin and came over to Kagen. "Dr. Neiderman is in Juneau, but he refuses to go to the site until he's assured the project will in no way endanger the environment."

    "Give him my assurances," Kagen said. "Tell him that, if anything, the project will preserve the environment. Send him a fax under my name. Leave out all the specifics, of course."

    Hawksworth nodded ever so slightly. "This colleague of yours is turning out to be very difficult."

    "Brilliant people usually are."

    Kagen drew on his pipe as Hawksworth disappeared behind the door. "So," he said and turned back to Joanna, "we have a fishing boat whose deck is covered with chunks of ice. The Coast Guard team search the entire deck and find nothing. One of them goes below and stays there for at least a minute but no more than two. Suddenly he comes back topside, choking and gasping and clutching his throat. He drops and dies on the spot. His partner, who is no fool, gets the hell out of there and returns to the Coast Guard vessel. He then reboards the fishing boat, now wearing a gas mask and protective clothing. Any guesses at this point?"

    "I need to know more," Joanna said, but she was already listing the possibilities in her mind. It was most likely something in the air, she thought, something very toxic. But the same symptoms would have occurred if the man had aspirated a big wad of bubble gum and acutely closed off his airway.

    "Our coastguardsman opens the door below," Kagen continued, "and finds a middle-aged couple dead on the floor of the cabin. There's a large piece of ice in a bowl, another almost melted piece in a pan on the stove."

    "How was the stove powered?"

    "By a portable generator. It was gasoline-powered."

    Joanna nodded slowly. "What was the color of the victims' skin?"


    "Then it's probably not carbon monoxide," Joanna said thoughtfully. Carbon monoxide killed by combining with hemoglobin to form carboxyhemoglobin, making the hemoglobin unavailable to transport oxygen. Carboxyhemoglobin had a cherry red color that was frequently seen in the victim's skin. "What happened next?"

    "The coastguardsman grabbed the baby and got out of there."

    Joanna's jaw dropped. "There was a baby?"

    "More like a toddler," Kagen corrected himself. "Against the wall was a four-year-old sitting in a highchair. He was sucking for air as hard as he could, but he was still alive. And he still is."

    Joanna leaned back in her swivel chair and tried to put the pieces of the puzzle together. It had to be a toxin, a deadly pollutant, something in the air. But what would kill three adults, one almost instantly, yet not kill a baby? She searched her mind for an answer, but couldn't find one. "I assume the toxin came from the melting ice."

    "Correct. Samples of the ice aboard the boat and from the iceberg were tested in a toxicology laboratory at the NIH. It contained a very poisonous protein that can be transmitted in the air by droplets. Its molecular structure is unlike anything we've ever encountered. Preliminary studies indicate it's a polypeptide, which means it's organic in nature. But we have no idea if it's produced by plant or animal or something in between."

    "Was it tested on laboratory animals?"

    Kagen nodded. "It killed mice, rats, and guinea pigs in less than a minute. It's very, very lethal."

    "It's got to be an enzyme inhibitor to kill that fast," Joanna said, thinking aloud.

    "That's what the toxicologists think too. But they don't know which metabolic pathway it interrupts."

    "Were the brilliant colors in the iceberg related in any way to this toxin?"

    "Probably not. The blue and green colors were the result of embedded plankton. The gold flecks were caused by large sulfur crystals."

    Kagen signaled to the steward for another martini. "There were also other things present in that iceberg," he continued. "They detected a fair amount of sulfur dioxide and trioxide and some sulfuric acid as well. And they then discovered the most astounding thing of all. It's the reason why you and I are on this plane and why other members of the ETOX team are now converging on Juneau."

    Kagen wetted his lips, savoring the moment. "They detected an incredible amount of iridium in that iceberg."

    "Iridium?" Joanna asked, puzzled.

    "It's a precious metallic element resembling platinum. It occurs very rarely in nature. The high concentration of iridium in that iceberg has been found previously in only two sorts of places on earth. In the craters that asteroids make when they crash into our planet, and in the meteorites that are the remnants of such asteroids."

    "Are you saying that the toxin and whatever produced it were brought to earth on an asteroid?"

    "Beyond any doubt."

    "Jesus!" Joanna uttered softly, now grasping the importance of the ETOX project. "Can we guess when the asteroid fell to earth?"

    "Oh, we can do better than guess," Kagen said as his third martini arrived. "Using a potassium-argon dating technique, we determined precisely when it touched down."


    "Sixty-five million years ago."

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2002

    Very exciting book

    This is a very exciting and interesting novel. Dr. Goldberg wrote the book with medical expertise and the plot is full of twists. He has the brain of a medical expert as well as a detective. This novel is certainly entertaining if you love mysteries.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2000

    Totally Surprised

    I picked up this book only because the cover reminded me of another book by the title, 'The Hot Zone'. A book about the Ebola virus. And I'm so glad I did. This was my introduction to Dr.Goldberg's series of stories with Joanna Blalock as the 'Jack Ryan' of medical adventures. I'm looking forward to going back to the beginning of the series and following her adventures. If the rest of the series is anything like this story, then I'm in for some wonderful surprises. The reason I'm recommending this book is two fold. (1) The characters, even the minor ones, are well developed (2) When you think you know what's going to happen, Dr. Goldberg shows you that you don't. Having been in the medical field for 17 yrs both as a medic and RN, I truly enjoyed the mixing of factual data with the possibility of what might happen.

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