For those of you who read one or both of my previous novels, Big Game and Murder Over Kodiak, you probably remember my protagonist, Dr. Jane Marcus. Jane is only a supporting character in my latest novel, The Fisherman’s Daughter, which I hope to publish in a few months. She makes her appearance early in the novel, though. The following excerpt is taken from chapter one, where we find Jane elbow-deep in a rotting whale carcass.
I struggled to maintain my grip on the ten-inch-thick slab of blubber while my colleague stripped it from the fin whale carcass. I cursed myself for the umpteenth time for not thinking quickly enough to get out of this project, but here I was, elbow deep in decaying whale blubber, and yes, the smell was worse than anything you can imagine. I had been offered my position on this necropsy team by marine mammal biologist Leslie Sinclair, and I’m sure she thought I should feel honored to be included on her team, but my scientific enthusiasm tended to wane when I was fighting the urge to vomit. As soon as I got home, I vowed to write a list of excuses for the next time Leslie tried to invite me on a necropsy.
It could have been worse. This whale had been dead for around two weeks, but it was only moderately decomposed. The tongue extended from the mouth of the bloated carcass, but the skin had not started to slough, and it was only slightly sunburned. Unfortunately, the external condition is not a good indicator of the internal condition of a dead whale because whales decompose from the inside out. Due to the large volume of tissue wrapped in insulating blubber, the inside cooks before the outside decays. I learned the necropsy team must be very careful when making the first cut on the fifty-ton carcass because it can explode if all those built-up gasses are expelled at once, and yes, when the gasses do escape, the horrific smell just keeps getting worse. I wore a rubber rain suit, the legs duct taped to my boots and the arms duct taped to my gloves. This covering allowed me to wade into the project without getting biological fluid on my skin. A face shield protected my eyes, nose, and mouth, and I’d pulled back my hair and stuffed it under a rubber cap. A persistent drizzle rounded out the perfect day, but at least I was wearing rain gear.
It made sense for me to be part of this necropsy team since I was one of several biologists trying to discover why more than fifty whales had died near Kodiak Island during the past two years. The affected whales included fin whales, sei whales, humpbacks, and gray whales, all species that had baleen instead of teeth and fed on small fish and zooplankton. These huge animals feed at the bottom of the food chain, making them susceptible to pollutants, toxic algae, and changes in their food concentrations due to a variety of reasons, including warming ocean temperatures. Any one or a combination of these factors could be responsible for the whale deaths, or the cause could be something we hadn’t suspected yet. The team was also considering underwater noise pollution from military sonar and other sources. Since I had been studying toxic algae at the Kodiak Braxton Marine Biology and Fisheries Research Center, Dr. Sinclair asked me to come at the problem from the toxic algae angle. Even though the algae I suspected might be the culprit in the deaths of the whales was a different species from what I had been studying, I was happy to do what I could to shed light on this disturbing problem. It seemed as if dead whales were being sighted nearly every week, but most were floating several miles from shore. This carcass was one of the few that had conveniently washed up on shore where a necropsy could be performed. I wanted to do what I could to help, but I’d try to do my work from my lab in the future.
“Jane, can you hear me?”
“Sorry, Leslie. I was lost in thought.”
“The smell is amazing, isn’t it?”
“Since you’re looking at toxic algae, why don’t you be in charge of taking the stomach and intestinal samples as well as collecting feces, if you can find some.”
Oh boy! My day just kept getting better.
While Jane’s role in this novel is not big, it is important, and we all want to find out what happens when she and FBI Agent Nick Morgan reconnect. Next week, I’ll introduce you to some more characters from my novel.
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