Preston describes the city of Reston, a wealthy suburb about 10 miles to the west of Washington, DC. It is an idyllic place with prosperous businesses and lovely houses. Near the main street in town, Leesburg Pike, is a “small office park” across the street from a McDonald’s. In 1989 this building is occupied by a company called Hazleton Research Products, a division of Corning, Inc. This unit deals with importing and selling lab monkeys, and is also known as the Reston Primate Quarantine Unit.
The theme of the fragility of modern life continues as Preston describes the peaceful suburb of Reston—once again illustrating the idyllic setting for his horror story. Although he has made no mention of Ebola yet, the reference to imported monkeys already creates a sense of foreboding and dread.
The international monkey trade, Preston explains, brings 16,000 wild monkeys a year to the US. Before they are shipped anywhere, they must be held in quarantine for a month at a secure facility such as the Reston monkey house.
The process of globalization is clearly at the root of the expansion of the monkey trade, and is directly connected to the events to come.
We next meet Dan Dalgard, the consulting veterinarian at the Reston Primary Quarantine Unit. Dalgard is a respected physician with a specialty in “primate husbandry.” In October 1989, a shipment of one hundred wild monkeys comes in to Reston from the Philippines. They have been jammed into cages on a boat and taken to Amsterdam, and from there they have been flown to New York City, and driven down to the Reston monkey house. The monkeys are crab-eaters native to Southeast Asia, and are called long-tailed macaques. Strong creatures with sharp canines and human-like hands, they tend to be mistrustful of humans. Preston describes their life in the wild, from their ability to catch crabs in the river to their strict hierarchy, dominated by an aggressive alpha male. The monkeys are placed in the twelve holding rooms (designated alphabetically from A-L) within the monkey house. When they arrive in October, two are already dead. This is not unusual, but in the next three weeks, more of the monkeys begin to die.
Preston expands on the theme of globalization by explaining the route that the monkeys have taken to end up in Reston. He then spends a significant amount of time explaining the monkeys’ life in the wild, clueing the reader in to the fact that these animals will play an important part in the narrative—while also “humanizing” them, as Preston does with his descriptions of other Ebola victims. The mention of the monkeys’ deaths, meanwhile, creates a sense of suspense and foreboding that will only grow as the chapter continues.
That same October, the Jaax family experiences a tragedy: Jerry’s brother, a businessman from Kansas named John Jaax, is mysteriously and violently murdered. A homicide officer named Reed Buente takes the case, but is unable to solve it, although the family suspects John’s business partner John Weaver, with whom he had a difficult relationship. His brother’s death throws Jerry into a deep depression. He becomes obsessed with solving the murder, and even fantasizes about killing John Weaver himself.
The sudden and violent death of Jerry’s brother offers another kind of perspective, and serves to remind the readers that many forces besides Ebola can destroy human life. This is a horror story about a “predatory” virus, but the only truly malicious and sentient killers in the natural world are humans themselves.
Preston introduces Bill Volt, the Reston monkey house manager. On October 1st he calls Dan Dalgard to tell him that an unusual amount of monkeys are dying—twenty-nine out of a hundred monkeys, particularly in Room F. At the same time, the heating system in the monkey house is refusing to turn off, meaning that the house itself is sweltering. Volt speculates that the heat may be killing the monkeys. Dalgard arrives at the monkey house the following week. The men put on surgical masks and enter Room F, where Dalgard observes that one of the monkeys appears dazed and ill. Donning thick leather gloves and pinning down the monkey, Dalgrard feels that it has a fever, and sees that it has a runny nose. Finding that another monkey appears sick as well, he theorizes that it might be the heating system. The next morning, Volt finds both of the monkeys dead, and decides to dissect them. Disturbed by the autopsy, he calls Dalgard over. The two men note the monkeys’ enlarged spleens, and find blood in their intestines.
Again the book displays how human error and complacency can allow a hot virus to spread unchecked. Dan Dalgard and Bill Volt are not negligent or stupid, and yet both of them have no idea of the threat that is growing within their facility. Their decision to dissect the monkeys, meanwhile, is nerve-wracking for readers, who know what exactly the dead animals’ blood contains.
Another shipment of monkeys arrives the same day, and Bill Volt places them in Room H. Dan Dalgard, meanwhile, becomes worried that the monkeys have a disease called simian hemorrhagic fever, which is lethal to monkeys but harmless to humans. On November 10th he decides to check on the monkeys, and finds three more dead in Room F. He autopsies them immediately afterwards. Dalgard then begins to keep a diary, where he describes the animals’ dry, swollen spleen, enlarged kidneys, hemorrhages, and lethargy. As far as Dalgard can tell, the monkeys simply became lethargic, stopped eating, and died. What he does not realize is that the hard, enlarged spleen was in fact full of a giant blood clot. On November 12th, Dan Dalgard returns to the monkey house and finds three more monkeys dead. He carries one of them, a specimen named O53, up to the autopsy room. He removes a large piece of spleen and collects mucus from the monkey’s throat as samples.
As has happened multiple times before in the narrative, Dalgard mistakes Ebola for a different, far less serious disease—in this case, simian hemorrhagic fever. When Dalgard describes the symptoms in his diary, however, it is clear to Preston and to the reader that he is actually listing the effects of Ebola. The feeling of frustration and helplessness that stems from Dalgard’s ignorance helps us to understand just how difficult it is to combat this kind of rare yet deadly virus, considering the lack of public awareness (and even scientific knowledge) about it.