Despite the stress, Dan Dalgard sleeps well, feeling confident in his knowledge of monkey viruses. Early in the morning of Wednesday, November 29th, his phone rings. It is C. J. Peters, requesting to send people over to look at monkey tissue specimens. Dalgard agrees to turn over the tissue, but refuses to let Peters inside the monkey house until the two men have met face-to-face. He drives to work and calls Bill Volt, who gives him terrible news: one of the animal caretakers, who is called Jarvis Purdy, has fallen ill with a heart attack. Wondering whether the heart attack was caused by Ebola, Dalgard begins to feel panicked. He orders Bill Volt to keep all caretakers out of the monkey rooms whenever possible, and adds that employees should wear biohazard suits at all times. At the same time, Dalgard is worried about the news media picking up the story, and tells Volt that the employees cannot leave the building in biohazard gear. Last, he calls Purdy’s hospital, and asks his doctor to call C. J. Peters if anything about the heart attack appears atypical.
Dalgard’s feelings of confidence and security are, of course, completely misguided—an example of how even educated, well-informed people can underestimate the threat of Ebola. Preston hammers home the dangers of Dalgard’s complacency by subsequently revealing that Jarvis Purdy is ill. The episode illustrates a sad but true fact: that people often fail to take action until their lives and the lives of those they know are directly in danger.
Later in the morning, C. J. Peters, Nancy Jaax, and Gene Johnson head out to Virginia, where they meet Dan Dalgard at the Hazleton office. He introduces Nancy to a pathologist, who has slides of monkey liver for her to observe. As she looks at the cells under a microscope, she sees that they have been destroyed, and are filled with huge crystalloid bodies—clear markers of Ebola. Meanwhile, Peters and Johnson ask Dalgard whether the company might have been using dirty needles to vaccinate the monkeys. Dan Dalgard says that this would be against company policy, but that he’s unsure. Nancy, meanwhile, collects pieces of sterilized liver and spleen to go back to Fort Detrick. When Peters asks Dalgard if they can go to the monkey house, however, Dalgard again evades the question, instead telling the group that an employee of his will meet them at a gas station near the monkey house to bring them “samples.” Peters urges Dalgard to have the samples wrapped in plastic.
Although all parties involved have good intentions, this meeting is an example of the multiple ways in which an effort to combat Ebola can be hampered by human complacency and lack of cooperation. Nancy, C. J., and Gene all understand the threat they are facing far better than Dalgard does, and yet they are unable to access the monkey house due to his refusal. Dalgard, meanwhile, has to answer to his own company, even though he now understands the gravity of a potential Ebola exposure. In the end, the episode is frustrating for characters and readers alike.
Nancy Jaax, Gene Johnson, and C. J. Peters drive to the gas station and wait. As they do so, Peters watches the goings on of everyday life and imagines what would happen if Ebola were to break out in this kind of community. He also thinks about AIDS, and wonders if it would have been possible to stop its spread. He compares AIDS to Ebola, and wonders what exactly is living inside the monkey house. He begins seriously contemplating who exactly is going to have to euthanize the monkeys, and becomes more and more sure that the Army should take charge, using a military biohazard SWAT team to sterilize (or “nuke”) the building.
This is a striking passage within the book, in which Peters considers the catastrophic effect that Ebola would have on this quiet, peaceful community. Readers, too, must contrast the idyllic town of Reston with the horrors described in the epidemics in the Sudan and Zaire. In many ways this question—how will modern American life react to the threat of an Ebola outbreak?—is one of the central questions of the narrative.
Sitting next to C. J. Peters, Gene Johnson thinks about Kitum Cave. He is terrified that someone is going to die because of the disease in the monkey house, and that the Army will be blamed. Finally he turns to Peters and tells him that someone is going to have to euthanize the monkeys, and that they absolutely must have experienced people at the helm of the operation. Peters, meanwhile, feels irritated that Gene thinks he needs this sort of advice.
Even for Gene, a rational, brilliant scientist, Kitum Cave emblemizes the deadly, unknowable virus. This huge, menacing symbol contrasts with the petty rivalry between Johnson and Peters, proof of the various forms of human effort and foolishness even in the face of a crisis.
Preston explains the complicated and difficult relationship between C. J. Peters and Gene Johnson, who went on an unsuccessful expedition together in central Africa looking for Ebola virus, and whose friendship was strained because of the stresses of the trip. Comically, it was there that Peters began eating termites (to the disgust of the pickier Johnson). During this trip, Gene had often felt that Peters was trying to take charge, which irritated him greatly.
Preston expands on the conflict between C. J. and Gene, revealing that it (like so much else in the narrative) is integrally related to Ebola. What underlies this episode, however, is the great bravery that the two men showed in searching for Ebola at all—they can simultaneously be petty rivals and incredibly courageous allies.
At last a van pulls up, with Bill Volt driving. He shows the Army team seven double bags filled with monkey corpses. Peters, Nancy, and Gene are horrified by the possibility of contamination, and Nancy refuses to put the corpses into her car, telling Peters that he should do it because he outranks her. Despite the legal problems of transporting dead, infected monkeys across state lines, Peters agrees to carry them in his “old red Toyota” anyway. The team doesn’t have gloves, and Nancy asks Bill whether the bags have been disinfected. He responds that he washed their outsides in Clorox bleach. Disgusted but determined, they put the seven monkey corpses into the trunk. Nancy says that they must begin dissecting the corpses right away, before they liquefy. Peters jokes that they’ll need to “watch for drips” from his trunk.
For the scientist characters and the reader alike, this is a truly horrifying episode, one that underscores just how little the employees of the Reston monkey house truly know about the virus to which they’ve been exposed. Unlike Nancy, C. J., or Gene, Bill Volt clearly has no idea how easily he could have been exposed to the virus, or that he has put others in danger as well. Despite the threat of contamination, however, all three show tremendous bravery in handling and transporting the monkey corpses. Preston, as usual, emphasizes the gruesome nature of the work.