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Death In Mcmurdo


When Ruth Berman pays a surprise visit to her agnostic geology professor, Archie Knox, a torrid romance ensues, bringing with it a host of problems.

Archie wins an award and decides to go to Antarctica for twelve months to research the timely prediction of earthquakes. Ruth cannot adjust to the icy claustrophobia and succumbs to temptation, creating a nightmare of events in the Circle of Death.

Death in McMurdo is a gripping story involving a ...

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Death in McMurdo

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When Ruth Berman pays a surprise visit to her agnostic geology professor, Archie Knox, a torrid romance ensues, bringing with it a host of problems.

Archie wins an award and decides to go to Antarctica for twelve months to research the timely prediction of earthquakes. Ruth cannot adjust to the icy claustrophobia and succumbs to temptation, creating a nightmare of events in the Circle of Death.

Death in McMurdo is a gripping story involving a mismatched couple who face life-threatening challenges in a hostile environment while attempting to make the world a better place.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781449089924
  • Publisher: AuthorHouse
  • Publication date: 3/22/2010
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.69 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Death in McMurdo

By Izzy Heller


Copyright © 2010 Izzy Heller
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4490-8991-7

Chapter One

In the middle of February, during an extremely cold spell, a little after midnight, a middle-aged man parked his Chevy in a side street off Boston Post Road By-pass in the small historic town of Weston, Massachusetts. He got out of the driver's seat and shut the door softly. He looked about him. No movement, hardly a light. He opened the rear door, took hold of a duffel bag from the seat and lifted it out. He shut the door and locked the car with his key. Carrying the bag, he carefully negotiated the slippery ice and slowly headed in the darkness to his destination near the river.

Carlo Carbone was sad. His plan had gone awry. His orchestration of secretive steps after the devastating news had backfired. His daughter was dead. Tonight was the grand finale of the tragedy.

Over his wife's objections, Carlo had taken command of Sophia's pregnancy, sending her to a family on a small Pennsylvania farm, where she was to give birth in privacy. He was to arrange for adoption and there would be no shame. Life would be normal again and everyone could go about their business.

Carlo thought of himself as a compassionate man. When he first set eyes on his grandchild, he had a moment of loving, thinking kindly of its mother at birth. Sophia too was born with a mop of brown hair. But he realized he could not assume guardianship of the baby.

He was overcome with guilt. His demand for secrecy, necessary to protect the family's good name, led to his recruitment of a local midwife to assist with the delivery. When things went wrong, she was not equipped to prevent the worst. Sophia died giving birth. John Doe survived.

Earlier in the night, his wife had wrapped the boy in layers of wool blankets so its tiny eyes, nose and mouth were the only exposed features. He placed the bundle in a carry bag, partially zipped it and took it to his car.

Before he reached the brown brick building that was the town precinct, his tears froze. He brushed them clean with his gloved hand. He climbed up the seven stairs to the lobby of the Weston police department. Moving quickly now, he swung open the storm door of the main entrance and felt the warmth in the enclosed foyer. He scanned the area. No one. He deposited the bag softly on the floor, turned to leave and heard a muffled gurgle. He paused momentarily.

Retreating to his car in the still of the night, Carlo hoped that his illegitimate grandson would be well looked after and that he would have a life longer and happier than his mother.

Back home, instead of his usual glass of red wine, Carlo downed a bottle of Chianti before going to bed.

Chapter Two

On an afternoon early in November, thirty-four years later, the Antarctic sea was tranquil, the air cool and fresh, and white snow petrels played in the cloudless sky. It was a lovely day, something that could not be taken for granted even at the start of summer in the southernmost region of the Southern Hemisphere. This was where at other times the strongest winds blow and the roughest seas rage. But now the breeze was light and the cold water calm. Ruth and Archie were happy as they leaned over the ship's railing, basking in the sunlight while sailing through the Antarctic Convergence. Three years into their marriage, Ruth asked her spouse, snuggling against his side, "We're in harmony now, aren't we, Archie?" Never one for verbiage, he nodded agreement, while pressing his hip against her.

Archie had to admit that despite the odds and the prediction of failure, their relationship was generally harmonious. The incident with Arny a year ago still hurt him to the core. Ruth and her former boyfriend were seen having lunch together at a restaurant on Newbury Street, Boston by a university colleague of Archie. "How was your day?" he had asked her.


When confronted, she dismissed it as a result of "just bumping into Arny". As an afterthought she added, "I knew you'd make a fuss if I told you."

That was not what Archie wanted to hear. He felt a pang of jealousy and wondered if his wife was faithful to him. Although Ruth tried to smooth it over, she discovered her husband was not very accepting of her meeting with the man she had once dated.

"I'm not very forgiving," he warned.

Six weeks before their departure to the White Continent, the young couple had sent a container with the "big stuff" from Boston by cargo ship with trans-shipment to a smaller vessel from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to McMurdo in Antarctica. The contents included a prefabricated hut, heating and drilling machines, laboratory equipment, and various supplies such as clothing, books, DVD's, medicines and food. Archie and Ruth were going for twelve long months and had tried to think of everything they would need in their remote outpost. Esther, Ruth's mother, also did some thinking, and gave them a heavy corrugated box with a label "YOU NEVER KNOW!" and an instruction "Do not open until one month after your arrival. It's a surprise." All this would await them in McMurdo.

When they flew off from Boston's Logan airport, they took four suitcases of their personal belongings, and stopped in Miami, before proceeding to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where Ruth embarked on a shopping spree, buying leather coats and shoes.

"We're not millionaires," Archie cautioned.

Ruth was undaunted. "But we're not paupers either. This is a chance to get some special things."

Archie was quite relieved when they left the big city with its upscale shops. A small plane took them to Ushuaia, the tip of the country, the southernmost city in the world. Travel weariness was secondary to the excitement of the great adventure they were about to undertake from the jumping-off point to Antarctica.

After a few hours in the bustling transit port city, located under steep mountains on one side of the Drake Passage, six hundred miles from the Antarctic peninsula, they boarded an icebreaker expedition to explore the southern seas en route to McMurdo. The cruise would give them an opportunity to see icebergs and wildlife close up in a casual setting.

On the ship's deck, Archie remembered there were quite a few pieces of mail in the letterbox when Ruth retrieved them on that ordinary day two months' earlier that dramatically changed their lives. The large one bearing the return name of "The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation" stood out. She had a big grin when she handed it to him. They read the letter together.

Since then Archie had re-read the notice so many times, he could recite it verbatim.

"Dear Professor Knox:

The MacArthur Foundation is pleased to inform you that you have been selected to become a Fellow. By being so named, you will receive a stipend of $500,000 paid out in equal quarterly installments over five years. Our check for $25,000 as the first such payment is enclosed herewith.

You were nominated on the basis of your expertise, accomplishments and breadth of experience and chosen for being amongst the most creative people within your field and beyond.

This is a "no strings attached" award in support of people, not projects, and as such The Foundation does not require or expect specific products or reports and does not evaluate recipients' creativity during the term of the fellowship. In other words, you may use the money however you wish.

Although you, Professor Knox, were reviewed for your achievements as a geophysicist - in particular your research into the fluid dynamics of magma, the results of which offer more accurate forecasting of seismic activity and the prediction of large earthquakes - our fellowship is not a reward for your past accomplishment, but rather an investment which hopefully will enable your creative abilities to be exercised in the future for the benefit of society.

We congratulate you and wish you every success in your endeavors.

If you require more information, please feel free to call me.

Sincerely yours, John Philip Boulle Director."

At the time, they were dumbfounded. "I'm baffled as to how I got it," said Archie to Ruth, "and I'll probably never know, as the selection process is confidential. It feels weird to know that someone anonymously nominated me for this honor." The surprise gave way to ecstasy and they held hands, dancing in circles. They were only too well aware this was no ordinary grant: this was a prestigious reward for excellence, a recognition for genius.

Ruth shared in the bliss of Archie's accomplishment and she cried. She stood back and, taking his face in her palms, looked him straight in the eyes and without words expressed her pride.

Within an hour of the news, Archie thought of his mentor, the rabbi. What an opportunity to prove his respect for Judaism. Without consulting Ruth, he went to the phone, called Itzik, told him matter-of-factly of the letter and pledged ten percent to a charity. If ever there was a time for payback, this was it. His second call was to his teacher and sponsor, Mr. Andries Stassen. He told of the award and undertook to send payment for the balance of his loan. "You made this possible, Andries. You're a generous guy and I'll always be grateful to you. There'll be some sexy bow ties in the mail to you."

Stassen gasped. "Congrats, Archie. I've always had faith in you. Your award is my reward. I've got something for you, a lapel pin with a Latin inscription. Wear it well. I wish you the best."

The faculty and student body read of their Professor's success in the morning press and Archie knew his standing in academic circles soared when they saw his name, one of twenty-five men and women who were selected to be genius awardees. Each report had a simple instruction, written between the lines, on how to use the money: Go for it. The recipients came from many parts of the States, their professions ranged from violinist, neurobiologist, mathematician to deep-sea explorer, psychiatrist, aviation engineer and author. The youngest was thirty, the eldest sixty-five. The article said, "An eclectic group, chosen for their ability to conjure new ways of bettering the world."

The bountiful award allowed him to undertake pioneering work in a virgin area. He could fulfill his career dream of predicting earthquakes. He owed it to the memory of his mother who had died so tragically. Archie felt the urgency of his project even more after the Sichuan earthquake in 2008 killed 100,000 Chinese and left eight million homeless.

Immediately, he applied to Office of Polar Programs of the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Virginia for special status for himself and his wife as honorary researchers in Antarctica for his sabbatical year. Within thirty days, his request was granted, conditional on his sharing any scientific findings with the NSF, and on his paying the Lazon Corp. for board and lodging.

A mere month later Archie was thrilled to be on his way to the frozen continent. He was ready to transform the allure of Antarctica, an attraction since childhood, into reality.

* * *

His first cruise, Archie enjoyed the Antarctic Explorer. The brochure had promised "simple but comfortable accommodations" and even though the cabins were basic, the ship offered informal refinement. Although Ruth had been on the Queen Mary and other luxury liners, she was resigned to rough it in preparation for their sojourn at McMurdo.

"Are we safe, Archie? I keep thinking of the other ship," asked Ruth.

"Relax," said Archie. "This boat is much stronger. It has a specially reinforced hull to deal with any iceberg. Don't worry. Nothing can go wrong."

The Antarctic Explorer held two hundred passengers, mainly tourists, with a score of professional zoologists, naturalists, geologists and ornithologists. The late spring weather remained kind and as the ice began to melt and break up, everyone was excited in anticipation of days with twenty-three hours of sunlight and relatively mild temperatures.

At Port Stanley in the Falklands, Ruth asked Archie, "Why would any country go to war for these rocky outposts?" They sailed across the Drake Passage to the South Shetland Islands. Tucked into a motorized rubber dinghy (called a Zodiac), with a dozen other passengers, they enjoyed their first shore excursion: a brief stop on Elephant Island. They learned Sir Ernest Shackleton's crew had been stranded on the island after their ship was crushed by ice in 1916. For three and a half terrifying months they sheltered themselves with lifeboats until they were rescued. Today, hundreds of rookeries of chinstrap penguins were playing in their tuxedos while dozens of elephant seals fearlessly spread themselves over the rocks.

"You know," said Archie, "penguins need exposed rock, not ice, to lay their eggs.

As they proceeded to sail around the northern tip of the Antarctic peninsula, wearing dark glasses against the glare of the pristine white scenery, they stood on the top deck in their light parkas enjoying the spectacle of playful humpback whales against a backdrop of huge icebergs and glistening glaciers.

For miles, the grandeur of the Antarctic landscape appeared with its undisturbed beauty. The seasonal renaissance was in full swing and the sea and air were alive with the courting rituals of penguins and other birds and the staking of territory by an army of seals.

"These mountains of floating ice are so beautiful, I think I've become a pagophile," said Archie.

"What's that?"

"A lover of ice. And this area has ninety percent of the world's ice. The significance of ice to mankind is great. A prominent scientist said, 'no ice, no us'."

"I learn something new each day."

With binoculars constantly pressed against their eyes, there was much to see as others wowed and shouted. Their fellow tourists had a variety of cameras and were using them actively, shooting the surrounding wonder in boisterous amazement. The geography of the area memorialized the names of the early explorers, Amundsen, von Bellingshausen, Byrd, Cook, Scott and Weddell. Conversations over meals in the open-seating cafeteria centered on tales of their exploits.

The spartan ship boasted a spa. Ruth indulged herself daily with manicures, massages and hair styling. Both she and Archie worked out in the gym each morning before unwinding in the unisex sauna. Slowly, the Antarctic Explorer made its way towards the ultimate tourist destination, the area of superlatives, the Ross Sea. Named after Sir James Clark Ross, who in 1841, forced his pair of wooden vessels, Terror and Erebus, through the frozen ice pack in his quest to find the South Magnetic Pole. The Ross Ice Shelf and its spectacular edge continue to rupture off massive icebergs which pose a hazard to shipping.

The whales thunderously appeared and disappeared around them. "These giants feed on krill. A whale eats about three tons of these shrimps each day."

One night after dinner, the cruise director, who had already addressed passengers about aspects of Antarctica history and natural history, invited Archie to speak on the geology of Antarctica. As he had with his students, professor Knox impressed his fellow-passengers.

"Mother Nature is a serial killer, periodically going on a murderous rampage. Imagine 500 atomic bombs detonating simultaneously! That's what happened deep down below the Indian Ocean to cause the unanticipated tsunami a few years ago in 2004, leaving 200,000 dead. Six years earlier, here in Antarctica, a big earthquake (magnitude 8.1) struck near the Balleny Islands. How do these things happen? Plate tectonics tells us the outermost shell of the Earth divides into rigid slabs that move, and when they make contact, we have earthquakes and volcanoes. These events are catastrophic. In due course, we must, and we will predict them. I hope my mission in Antarctica to investigate geological faults way below the ice helps us reach that goal".

The following morning, with the sea calm, the scenery breathtaking, the air pure and the sounds reassuring, the Knoxes were ecstatic. "I can't wait to fly in the chopper this afternoon," said Ruth. The pad on the upper deck was able to accommodate one aircraft, which held five passengers. Its half-hour flights were available on days with near-perfect weather and were much in demand. At 2:30 pm Archie and Ruth boarded the noisy helicopter with three of their shipmates; the pilot rose a thousand feet in minutes. Views of inaccessible mountains and sculpted icebergs, some with sheer walls as high as a forty-story building, appeared through the large windows. "I always thought of ice as monochromatic," said Ruth. "In fact, the bergs are full of color. I never expected to see blues and reds in ice. We're so lucky to see this wonderland."


Excerpted from Death in McMurdo by Izzy Heller Copyright © 2010 by Izzy Heller. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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