Lennox heads up an international team of top specialists with the intent of identifying and possibly developing a vaccine to halt the virus’s progress. However, there’s a problematic variable: the virus is ethno-specific, killing only blacks and leaving others with nothing more than a common cold. As an African American, the stakes have suddenly changed for Dr. Lennox Richards.
The good doctor has yet to realize a more sinister plot is being waged, with Benin as the initial test site for the bioengineered killer. A lethal plan is in effect to expose the world’s ethnic groups to a virus specific to their particular racein other words, the implementation of an ethnic bomb.
With time running out and no cure in sight, will Dr. Lennox Richards be able to stay alive and halt the doomsday scenario that looms close at hand?
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Read an Excerpt
A Pandemic by Design
By L.A. Hollis
iUniverseCopyright © 2016 L. A. Hollis
All rights reserved.
THAT MUCH HE KNEW. HE HAD FALLEN INTO THE DARKNESS. AND AT THE INSTANT HE KNEW, HE CEASED TO KNOW.
— JACK LONDON
"Thousands reported sick, thousands more dead or dying." Dr. Lennox Richards stared down at the confidential epidemiologic memo he'd just received about a possible hemorrhagic fever outbreak in West Africa. Memo still in hand, he leaned back in his leather desk chair, ignoring the clutter of medical journals and research articles he had been reviewing. "My God — so many dead," he muttered. He reread the document, which not only gave a description of the inquiry the CDC was launching but also listed him as the lead investigator and specified the rest of the personnel who'd be involved. Dropping the memo onto the desk, he phoned his wife. When she didn't answer, he left her a short message asking her to call him back. There was one more person he needed to contact, and he quickly punched in the numbers.
A moment later, a female voice said, "Howard University School of Medicine."
"Dr. Louis Richards's office, please."
Lennox rubbed a hand over his forehead as he waited for his father to pick up. His dad was the codirector of molecular genetics at the prestigious medical school. A few seconds ticked by before his father said in a deep voice, "Dr. Lou Richards."
"Dad, it's me. Listen — I'm being sent to Benin in West Africa. There's an epidemic of some sort that the local health officials haven't been able to fully identify. Unfortunately, it has all the makings of becoming a pandemic. The CDC wants me to head up an international investigation team. I'm to leave next Monday."
"I heard about the outbreak. It's all over the news. Do you have any idea what you're dealing with?"
"The victims all have the classic symptoms of a hemorrhagic fever."
"That doesn't sound good."
"You're right about that. Whatever it is, it appears to be resistant to our recent vaccines. Until we can get a team on the ground, we can't be sure how to treat or contain it."
"What does Liz think about your leaving?"
"I haven't had the chance to tell her yet. I'm waiting for her to return my call."
His father didn't respond for a moment and then said in a worried voice, "I don't have a good feeling about this, son."
"It's what I do, Dad. That's why I joined the Epidemic Intelligence Service in the first place. It's my job to investigate the causes of major epidemics."
"I know, but I still worry."
"Don't." After a pause, Lennox said, "I want to see you and Mom before I leave next week. As soon as I receive my travel agenda, I'll let you know."
Hanging up the phone, Lennox mulled over the logistics of his assignment. His brow furrowed with the unanswered questions that flitted through his mind: What virus was causing the deaths of thousands of West Africans? Would they be able to stop it from spreading? Was he up to the task?
He hoped to God he was.CHAPTER 2
HEAVEN FROM ALL CREATURES HIDES THE BOOK OF FATE.
— ALEXANDER POPE
Lou Richards sat motionless at his desk after speaking with his son. He couldn't shake the uneasy feeling he had about the outbreak in Benin that Lennox had been asked to investigate. He and his colleagues had been discussing it for the last several weeks, since the news media had begun covering the fatalities. That his son was going into harm's way didn't sit well with him.
His disturbed gaze flitted over numerous photos displayed on the file hutch next to his desk. He eyed one in particular — a picture of Lennox wearing his cap and gown on the day he graduated from medical school. He wore a broad smile as he stood with his mother. Thank goodness his only child had inherited his mother's good looks, Lou thought, taking in his son's handsome features.
Lou considered himself homely, and for the life of him, he couldn't understand what his wife, Angie, saw in him. The lenses in his glasses were so thick that they made his eyes appear as tiny dark dots. Luckily, his son had excellent vision. Lennox had inherited his mother's medium-brown complexion, and his nose was slightly more aquiline than Lou's bulbous one. Lou's face was peppered with tiny black moles, some flattened into the skin and others raised. Lennox's skin was smooth and blemish-free. His son also had a muscular build and topped his father's six-foot frame by two additional inches.
Lou was proud of his son. He had graduated magna cum laude in biology and chemistry and earned an MD from his alma mater, Howard University. Lennox had then gone on to complete his internship and residency in clinical pharmacology and infectious diseases at Harvard Medical School. In his second year of residency, Lennox had been one of eight students chosen to receive an Applied Epidemiology Fellowship at the CDC. The fellowship gave the students hands-on training experience in studying epidemics and epidemic diseases — the field Lennox had chosen to pursue. Now, at thirty-five years old, he was a department head and becoming renowned in his field.
Sighing audibly, Lou glanced at his watch. He needed to focus his attention once more on the biobank project he was spearheading for Howard. The biobank was known as GRAD, or Genomic Research in the African Diaspora. It was to be a fi rst-of-its-kind gene bank, gathering the genetic codes and personal family health histories of about twenty-five thousand people who identified themselves as African American. A similar project was going on with their neighbors to the south. Mexico's Instituto Nacional de Medicina Genómica (INMEGEN) had just completed mapping genetic markers of groups in their county of indigenous and mestizo (European and American Indian) origin. Just last week, he had learned that the United Kingdom had launched the 100,000 Genomes Project, hoping to identify genetic bases for a multitude of diseases. The genomes project would provide much-needed data that would allow better clinical interpretation of the genetic code.
Unfortunately, his department was running into numerous problems in gathering the data. The whole premise of the biobank project was geared toward studying the role of genes and ethnicity in health, but the work raised eyebrows among several civil-rights groups in the DC area. Even though Howard University was involved in the project, they believed cataloging the genetic information was another form of racial profiling of minorities, leading to more prejudice, exploitation, and discrimination.
Lou could almost understand some of their concerns. He'd had a discussion with his lab assistant, Sam, just that morning about the Tuskegee syphilis experiments that had started in 1932 and ended in 1970.
"It's hard to believe that the government used hundreds of black men as guinea pigs just to see what would happen if syphilis wasn't treated," Sam said. His brow was a triple roll of frown lines that almost reached the base of his short Afro haircut. He continued, "Those men thought that they were being given free treatment and medicine. And what's so bad about it, when penicillin became available, it could have saved their lives, and the doctors weren't even allowed to treat them with it. How wack is that?"
"It didn't end there," added Lou. "They were given free meals, fifty dollars toward their burial, and an award certificate signed by the surgeon general. That a certificate was issued, supposedly by the most trusted physician in America, was a travesty in itself."
"I, for one, can't believe that the men were so gullible," Sam replied with a look of disbelief on his face.
"Those perks were a big deal at the time. You have to remember that the communities where they lived functioned way below the poverty line. Free food and medical treatment — it must have seemed like a gift from God."
"But look what the legacy of that program created — suspicion and distrust of the government and the medical establishment in the black community. That's why we're having a hard time signing people up for the biobank project."
Sam went back to the lab after their conversation, leaving Lou to further contemplate how to proceed with the task. He believed that ethical principles had to be applied to any medical research, especially research that had his name attached to it. As a research geneticist, Lou had found some minimal racial differences encoded in the genes associated within certain populations, and he believed the differences might confer some additional risk of diseases in the black population. It was a provocative theory, which was why he was so interested in the bio project. In fact, he had done the preliminary research for a pharmaceutical company that had patented a hypertension medication developed exclusively for African Americans.
A rapid knock on his office door interrupted his train of thought. "Come in," he said a moment later.
The door opened slightly, and Sam poked his head in. "Dr. Richards, we have several families here to fill out the DNA questionnaire. You said you wanted to sit in on the interview portion. Do you want to come to the lab or have me bring them up here?"
"Take them to the lab's waiting room. But give me ten minutes; I have to make a quick phone call."
"Yes, sir," Sam replied as he closed the door.
Lou dialed his home number, and when his wife answered, he said, "Angie, Lennox is going to West Africa on CDC business, and I want to have a family dinner before he leaves."
"Monday. He's going to call us later today with the details."
"That's just a few days away," she said, fretting.
He didn't want his wife to press him for information he didn't yet have, so he changed the subject and said, "I'll be home around six. We can discuss his trip then." On a lighter note, he asked, "Are you fixing something good for supper?" Lou couldn't help licking his lips at the thought of what she had on the menu. Angie was a fantastic cook. Her meals could rival those of the best restaurants in the city. The only thing that kept him at a trim 180 pounds was running two miles every morning before going to work.
"Your favorite: grilled rib-eye steak and twice-baked potatoes stuffed with bacon and topped with chives and plenty of sour cream."
"Yep. Asparagus spears sauteed in butter with mushrooms."
Lou's stomach grumbled. "Hmmm, sounds good. Love you, Wife."
"Love you too."
Lou put the phone back onto the receiver. Rising from his chair, he glanced once more at his son's picture. In a few short days, Lennox was going on one of the most dangerous missions he had ever undertaken. Why couldn't he shake the uneasy feeling that Lennox's trip to sub-Saharan Africa was going to change all of their lives forever?CHAPTER 3
A MAN SHOULD KEEP HIS FRIENDSHIP IN CONSTANT REPAIR.
— SAMUEL JOHNSON
"Why did you have to invite him?" Lou said to his wife. He crossed his arms over his chest in an obstinate gesture as he watched her put wine goblets next to the china place settings on their dining table. Angie had made plans for Lennox, Liz, and her parents to come over for dinner. She had wanted them all to be together before Lennox left on his trip to Benin.
"Lou, we can't have Liz's mother come without her husband."
"The mother's fine; it's the father that I have problems with." Lou Richards couldn't keep the ire from tainting his voice.
"Look," replied Angie, exasperation tingeing her words, "we've had this conversation many times. John Caine is not a racist."
"Humph. The man didn't even have the decency to show up at his only child's wedding. That smacks of racism to me. And you have to admit that he wasn't too happy with his daughter being engaged to a black man." Before Angie could respond, he added, "John Caine is a Neanderthal."
His wife reached around him and put the last goblet down. "You know you're being unreasonable." Angie lifted the lid off of a pot of green beans. She put a teaspoon into the liquid and then, backing up from the steaming pot, tasted it. She closed her eyes, a thoughtful expression on her face, clearly savoring the different flavors.
"Needs a pinch of sea salt," she told Lou as he stood watching over her shoulder. She added the flavoring and then a cup of sliced almonds.
When she turned back to him, he exclaimed, "Why should I have him in my home, eating my food at my table?"
"Because it's our house, our food, and our table, and I say he is invited." Angie had an exasperated look on her face. Although she and Lou were the same age, she looked ten years younger. She wasn't as tall as her husband, but she had a trim, athletic build and was a formidable woman who was not easily cowed. She could also be diplomatic when required.
She continued in a cajoling tone of voice, "Besides, you know in your heart that John is not a bigot. He's quiet and reserved — that's all." Seeing the scowl masking her husband's face, she added, "Can't you please just let your dislike of him go for once — for Lennox's sake?" Angie reached out and placed her fingers on his forehead, smoothing the lines on his brow. He leaned forward and kissed her on the lips.
"Okay, I'll try," he said halfheartedly.
Sighing, she said, "Why is it that I don't quite believe you?"
The doorbell rang, interrupting their conversation. "It must be them," said Lou. "I guess I'd better let them in."
Angie shouted after him, "Remember your promise!"
Snorting, Lou went to the front of the house. He looked through the peephole. A fake smile curled his lips before he opened the door to his son's in-laws.
"Ruth, John, please come in." He waved his hand for them to enter.
Once in the foyer, Ruth exclaimed, "I just love your house, Lou! I wish we would move out of DC into a quieter city like Alexandria."
"I like DC just fine," interjected John. "I'm not wasting my life sitting in traffic, going into the city every day." Their home was located in central downtown Washington.
"Honey, you're retiring in six months — it would be nice to move out of the hustle and bustle of Washington."
"We'll see." John's stance belied his answer. His square chin jutted out in a stubborn fashion.
"Let's go into the family room," Lou told them. He led them down a limestone-tiled hallway into a spacious room adjacent to the kitchen. The area boasted a huge fi replace and a vaulted ceiling. French doors off the family room led to a large second-level deck overlooking a well-manicured yard with an in-ground pool.
Seeing her visitors, Angie untied her apron and came over to greet them. She first hugged Ruth and then John.
"I'm so glad you both could make it. The kids are upstairs." Putting her arm through Ruth's, she said, "Let's you and I go see what's keeping them."
Lou watched in dismay as his wife left him alone in the room with his nemesis. After a long, uncomfortable moment, John finally walked over and sat down on a large L-shaped sectional.
Lou remembered the promise he'd made to his wife. "Would you like something to drink?"
"Sure. Beer, if you have it."
"Bud Light or Samuel Adams?" Lou asked, heading toward the kitchen.
He walked back into the room and handed John a can and a glass.
"I don't need the glass — the can's fine." John popped the top and took a swallow.
Lou set the glass on the coffee table next to the sofa. Even though there was plenty of room on the sectional for him to sit down, he went over to a side chair situated across from his guest. From his vantage point, Lou watched as the man took another long drink from the can.
John Caine was about his height but heavier by about thirty pounds, and he had brown hair and piercing blue eyes. His daughter, Liz, had those same light eyes but had her mother's blonde hair and petite build.
"So you have any plans after you retire from the FBI, Caine?" Lou called him by his surname and then took a sip from his can of beer. John couldn't have been any older than he was, he thought, and he was only fifty-eight. He wondered if John's retirement had anything to do with his recent heart bypass surgery.
"I don't know — I'll probably write a book about my experiences with the bureau."
"Oh yeah, that's nice." Lou wished his wife would hurry back. He didn't have anything else to say to the man. He decided to give him some health advice. "You know, if you start jogging for exercise, you could drop a few pounds." Puffing up his chest, he continued, "I run a couple of miles before work every morning. Keeps you trim and fit."
"Good for you."
Excerpted from Blood Virus by L.A. Hollis. Copyright © 2016 L. A. Hollis. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse.
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