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The Kantz Journal

The Kantz Journal

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The Kantz Journal

Lunghezza:
315 pagine
4 ore
Pubblicato:
Aug 18, 2017
ISBN:
9781945975448
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

It’s a casual day off when Robert Finney dies of a sudden, catastrophic heart attack. Age 49. He’s the latest in a long line of Finney men who similarly died of massive, unexplained cardiac arrest, all before age 50.

Geoff Carter is a graduate student working on his Ph.D. with a passion for the genetic basis of heart disease. Carter is alerted to the unbelievably high death rate of adult males in the Finney family and plunges into a clandestine research project to protect what might be the medical discovery of the century.

But Carter is not alone in this pursuit. Finney’s widow (Robin), Carter’s thesis adviser (Dr. Trevor Smith), and some international players are also seeking to unravel a hidden medical mystery contained in a WWII cardiologist’s journal, The Kantz Journal. Only the combination of Carter’s research and analysis of cryptic data tables assembled in Nazi concentration camps have any chance of uncovering the killer gene taking the life of every male who inherits it. Carter enlists an expert in forensic medicine and encryption (Dr. Jill Adams), to team up and help him solve this monstrous enigma. At the same time, Robin. Finney and Dr. Smith are working together for answers to this mystery.

Two Mossad agents are covertly following both teams’ progress, while a German interested in Nazi letters seeks his own path forward to the Journal, a priceless Nazi artifact. All appears lost for the grad student with the professionals bearing down on Kantz’s data. But the tables turn when it is found that these results are phony. Carter’s team finds the authentic work and ties the decryption to DNA analysis resulting in the identification of a never-before known gene that is the most deadly genetic killer ever discovered. Carter’s final experiment before graduating confirms that Connor Finney, Robin’s sixteen year old son, indeed carries the killer gene. Carter obtains his Ph.D. and vows to find a way to save Connor from the same fate that just took his father’s life.

Pubblicato:
Aug 18, 2017
ISBN:
9781945975448
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

Doug Christie was formerly an Associate Professor of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology (University of Minnesota) and then Director/Principal Clinical Scientist with a major healthcare company. He received a BS in chemistry from Southern Oregon University and a PhD in biochemistry from Washington State University. He has extensively published in the scientific and medical literature. The Kantz Journal is his first fiction work. He lives with his wife and two gray tabby cats in central Florida.

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The Kantz Journal - Doug Christie

Prologue

Robert Finney’s darkly tanned legs stretched lazily across the ottoman. A whoop erupted from his throat with the blast off of Gonzalez’s bat. The ball hit a fan’s glove behind the left field wall and a quick scramble ensued. As the ESPN cameras zoomed in, the prize was almost immediately lifted high in the air by a young teenage girl to the tumultuous roar of the surrounding crowd.

From his complexion, Robert looked like someone who spent a lot of leisure time at the beach or out on the water sailing. His infectious smile and clean-shaven face caught people off guard. With his brushed-back gray hair and sky-blue eyes, he looked like some movie star out of the 1940s. But he was, in fact, an accountant with a casual day off, wearing an old pair of blue shorts, a white tank top, and worn-out brown sandals.

His one objective that day was watching his favorite team, the Miami Marlins, vie for first place in the National League going into the summer. This was the last game of May and they were playing the Colorado Rockies. The homer from Gonzalez definitely got them off on the right start.

The pain in his chest was almost imperceptible as he rose from the couch and headed into the kitchen for a glass of water. Sitting down again and taking a sip, he heard the crowd go wild once more as the quick-footed Chiu stole second on a pass-ball strikeout, then Smith doubled to right center, driving in his sixty-fifth RBI of the year, making it two nothing with two outs.

Awesome, Robert softly exclaimed, only to watch McNichols ground out to first and end the third inning. Suddenly, his right shoulder felt numb with his stomach twisting like a volcano fighting with a tornado. Hey, he thought, I’m behaving myself. No pizza. No nachos with jalapeños. What the heck is going on? He’d taken his usual baby aspirin during breakfast just like his doctor had prescribed. Heart disease ran in the family, but he was the picture of health—hardly sick a day in his life.

The Rockies were up and Hal Johnson, the hottest hitter of the season, was at the plate. Johnson, with a batting average of .399, could become the first hitter since Ted Williams to reach .400 if he made a hit during this at bat. How Robert would love to see this happen, but still have the Rockies lose, though that would mean his manager would have to bench him for the rest of the game—fat chance!

Cold beads of sweat broke out on Robert’s forehead.

Johnson swung at the first pitch from Romero—strike one.

Robert’s hands became clammy. Determined not to let this mess up his plans for a relaxing afternoon, he refocused on the next pitch.

Ball, the ump called—one and one.

Suddenly, Robert doubled over with a knifelike jolt that hit him in the chest. Nausea and chills flooded through his body as he toppled off the couch, unable to speak or breathe. Numbing confusion clouded his mind as he began to lose consciousness.

The Marlins are leading … going to take first place … did Johnson get a hit—did he make four hundred? Oh Lord, what’s happening to me?

Blackness. There was no sound—no cry for help.

Chapter 1

In the back office of Wilson’s Sporting Goods store, Connor Finney stared at the floor, his cheeks crimson. You’d better not be late again or I’ll have to let you go, his part-time boss, Mr. Parker, had warned him.

I’m sorry, sir. Connor slowly raised his head, trying hard to look Mr. Parker in the eyes. It won’t happen again.

OK, his boss replied. You’d better get to cleaning up that mess I told you about. I know it’s never fun taking care of something a customer’s kid did, but that’s part of the dirty laundry side of running a business.

Connor nodded, then headed to the back of the store where the display had been knocked over.

Connor was nearly done mopping when his cell phone rang. Mom’s photo on the screen indicated she was calling.

Hey, Mom, what’s up? Connor asked nonchalantly.

He heard piercing sobs, then a barely audible, Come home now.

Is everything OK? Did you say to come home? Mr. Parker’s got me cleaning up a big mess and—

Connor, I need you, Mom said, slightly more clearly. It’s an emergency!

The call ended and Connor turned around to see his boss standing behind him.

Is something wrong at home? Mr. Parker asked.

There’s some kind of emergency and my mom needs me to come home immediately.

Go ahead and I’ll finish up for you. I hope everything’s OK.

Connor turned the corner to his house as an ambulance was pulling away from the curb. He parked and raced up the walk and through the front door. His mom and two sisters, Jennifer and Britney, huddled on the couch, crying uncontrollably.

Mom, what happened? Connor screamed.

The three on the couch made room and pulled him in.

I was returning from an afternoon of shopping when I discovered your dad on the family room floor. Mom could barely speak. I dropped my bags and called 911. I screamed to the operator that he wasn’t breathing and his face was all blue. Then I fell to my knees, crying out to God, and just stared at his face. The paramedics arrived soon after, but nothing could be done.

Connor slid to the floor with convulsive heaving and loud sobbing. Mom and the sisters got down on the floor and held him.

No one spoke.

*****

Geoff Carter swiveled lazily in a lounge chair, drinking his coffee. The morning sun, with its warmth and bright rays, flooded his face and long shaggy black hair. Dressed in cut-off jeans and a gray T-shirt, he generally only got to lounge around on weekends given that most days, his graduate studies kept him buried in lab work from early morning to well past midnight. Consequently, he was rather pale despite living under the broiling sunshine of South Beach. Any chance to catch a few rays and darken his complexion was welcome.

A bit old-fashioned when it came to news, Geoff spread the Sunday paper on the glass tabletop and turned to the obituaries. Others might start the day with the comics, but Geoff enjoyed reading the death notices, his gray-green eyes peering intently at the stories to learn how the loved one passed. He loved feeling the emotion of those left behind as they heaped praise on that special individual who had gone on before. There were the two extremes—those who had lived a full life and died at a ripe old age versus the young children, or even babies, who had been struck down by various illnesses. And then, there were others who didn’t fit any expected pattern:

Robert David Finney, age 49, went to be with the Lord, having suffered a heart attack at home, Saturday, May 31. He was a loving husband and father; devoted to his family.

Geoff skimmed down the page.

taught Sunday school. … He then joined the finance department at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami where he was employed at the time of his death.

He wondered if he knew the guy, then kept inspecting the brief article.

Robert’s father, Ned, also passed away from heart disease before the age of 50. He is survived by his loving wife, Robin, son, Connor (16) and two daughters, Jennifer (13) and Britney (11). Services will be held at Bethany Chapel on Tuesday, June 3 with private interment to follow at Rose Park Cemetery. The family requests that donations be made to the American Heart Association.

How strange—Finney and his father both died before fifty and of cardiac arrest. Why would the obituary include that? This could be purely coincidental, but something about these circumstances struck a chord. There was a famous fitness buff who had similarly died fairly young from a heart attack. It seemed like heart disease was also prevalent among his male relatives. Finishing up the obituaries, Geoff turned his attention to the front page and the latest on the Middle East conflicts, all the while reflecting on what might explain the death of Robert Finney.

Heading into the university on Monday morning, Geoff’s mind was churning with possible explanations for Finney’s catastrophic death. He sat at his lab bench and contemplated the obituary he had torn from yesterday’s paper. The hereditary connection to Finney’s heart attack seemed a plausible theory. If true, the family history would point to the males dying young from coronary disease. Geoff imagined the possible graves of so many of Finney’s male relatives, all dying in the prime of life from heart disease—a whopping speculation at this point. Yet he couldn’t resist letting this thought pattern flow. There had to be a link between whatever tripped off the terrible events culminating in cardiac arrest among the males and … something, maybe being an XY member of your family—the Finney family, in this case. Then there was the story about the health guru.

This actually fit well with Geoff’s research and doctoral thesis project, which were focused on the molecular basis for coronary disease—more specifically, on the tiny world of biochemical and genetic factors that ultimately determined whether a person was going to have a healthy heart or suffer a heart attack. Sure, tons of work had been done over the past fifty years to better understand how the heart functions, its complex structure, and the multitude of factors causing poor heart health—high cholesterol, trans-fatty acids, smoking, sugar, diabetes, obesity, lack of exercise, gene mutations, and so much more. While some things were known about the genetic basis for heart disease, plenty remained a mystery and thus the field was wide open for new discoveries.

Geoff’s musings were interrupted by Dr. Trevor Smith, his thesis adviser.

Any success identifying that nucleotide sequence? Smith asked.

Geoff arched his brows and snapped his head up. The gels are still cooking, Trevor. Everything’s cool.

Carry on, then. Smith stooped to observe the experimental device holding the gels.

The man had a natural air of smugness about him that seemed to leak through every opportunity. Nucleotide sequence referred to the order in which the molecules making up the DNA chain spelled out genes—the genetic material that determines our makeup, including how well our heart works.

Educated in England at Cambridge, Smith had done a postdoctoral fellowship in molecular biology at the University of Wisconsin before joining the faculty at Miami, where he was an aggressive assistant professor desperate to make tenure.

He liked hearing his own British accent spoken among all the Hispanic accents so prevalent at the U. He said it somehow made him feel unique—even a bit superior to those around him.

Geoff was eager to see what Smith thought about his discovery over the weekend. Hey, Trevor, did you see this death notice on Robert Finney in Sunday’s paper?

Still hitting the obits, I see. No, I did not. I’m a funny paper man myself. Smith seemed annoyed that his question about the experiment had not really been answered. What’s so interesting about the Finney article?

Geoff thought for a moment. Well, he and his dad both died of heart attacks before they reached fifty. It made me think of that physical fitness guy who similarly died of heart disease a few years ago; he and several of his male relatives.

You mean Jim Fixx? Smith said.

Right, Fixx! Doesn’t it suggest a genetic trait? Maybe even sex-linked, which would be a huge advancement if we could ID the gene and prove it’s on the X or Y chromosome. Think of the possibilities—even typing for the bad gene and eventually introducing some therapeutic agent to overcome it.

Smith paused, then said flatly, Sounds like a stretch to me.

I’m thinking of contacting the family, his wife, and seeing if there’s any way to get blood or tissue, maybe from banked samples. This could be a major opportunity and especially if similar material was available on any of his surviving male relatives. Geoff could not contain his enthusiasm. What do you think?

Smith paused and took a deep breath. Like I said, seems like a long shot at best and a useless fishing expedition at worst. I think you need to keep focused on your current work and make sure you get your thesis project through the committee, not to mention me! And, by the way, Fixx died at fifty-two while on a run and, yes, of a heart attack.

*****

Robert Finney’s funeral was at 2:00 p.m. Geoff checked to make sure his current experiment still had several hours to incubate, then headed out the lab door and down the hall.

Where are you going? Smith was coming around the corner just as Geoff was making for the outside door.

My experiment’s incubating, so I thought I’d check out the Finney funeral. Geoff was peeved about running into Smith at the worst possible moment, but tried to hide it.

Smith raised his voice. I thought I’d made it clear that interacting with this family would be an incredible waste of time, not to mention hammering on them, especially at such an emotional occasion.

Geoff stared for a moment, unsure of how to reply. It was out of character for his thesis adviser to virtually yell at his star grad student over something like this. Finally, Geoff shook his head, then stormed out the door without a word.

*****

The black hearse slowly made its way down the quiet, tree-lined lane of the cemetery and turned in at a small gazebo-like structure with several chairs in neat rows for the mourners. Grieving family members and friends filed into the shelter and took their seats. Geoff quietly viewed the scene from an adjacent shelter that was currently unoccupied. He recognized a couple of people from Jackson’s finance department who he’d worked with on some research grant applications. Obviously, then, these were acquaintances—more likely coworkers—of the late Robert Finney.

Again he wondered if he’d met Finney before, but nothing clicked. With Smith’s rebuke burning in his mind, he contemplated how he was going to approach Mrs. Finney. Should he even be here? Did he really expect Finney’s widow to discuss her late husband’s blood samples right now at the cemetery? He continued watching as the back of the hearse was opened and eight men stepped forward to carry the coffin to a waiting gurney-like cart that was pushed to the front of the seated family.

A minister read from Psalm 23 and followed this with a prayer both for the departed man and his grieving family. The service was over in less than twenty minutes and the family was escorted out of the shelter and down a path to the site of a freshly dug grave. Geoff lingered in the empty shelter and watched as the funeral party entered what appeared to be a family plot where Finney was being laid to rest among several other departed relatives.

As the casket was being lowered into the ground, Geoff began to understand the deep emotional impact this event was having on the various family members gathered around the open grave. Clearly, four people, who had to be Finney’s wife and three children, were powerfully moved in their grief. Their collective sobs and clinging to each other sending a profound message of intense emotion into his own heart. All at once, it hit him how insensitive he was being. With a single backward glance, Geoff quietly slipped out of the shelter and walked back to his car. Still fuming about Smith, he nonetheless had to agree that showing up at the cemetery was totally inappropriate. Even so, he was more determined than ever to contact Mrs. Finney about her husband’s specimens—the question was how.

Thirty minutes later and a half mile from his home, a sudden thought struck Geoff and he turned around and headed back to the cemetery. After parking in the same spot, he made his way to the previously empty shelter, only to find it occupied by a new funeral party. Quietly moving past the group of mourners, he saw that the Finney family was already gone. As casually as he could, he entered the site of Robert’s freshly dug grave and began examining the other head-stones, all laid out in neat rows. As Geoff quickly scanned the various markers, he was stunned to note that virtually all were males—very few markers were engraved with female names. Even more amazing was that of the nine grave stones, the dates from birth to death indicated that five of the family members passed away before the age of fifty; all were males with the last name of Finney.

Back at his house, Geoff skimmed over the web page on Jim Fixx to learn more about the cause of the man’s death. As a talented young scientist, he wasn’t about to accept what Smith said and had to check it out for himself. Dead as a result of a massive heart attack while jogging, Fixx was 52, the article read. A bit miffed that all was just as his adviser had said, he continued reading down the page. Jim’s father also died of a heart attack at the age of 43. Wow, forty-three! And the article also implied genetics had played a role. Fuel, fuel, fuel.

Hello.

Hello, Mrs. Finney? Sweat beaded up on Geoff’s forehead. He had waited until the next morning to call, thinking this was probably as crazy as showing up at the cemetery, but knowing he had to act quickly or there might be no chance to obtain any blood samples from her late husband.

Yes. Who is this?

Mrs. Finney, my name is Geoff Carter. I’m a graduate student over at UM. I’m sorry for calling at such an early hour, but I have something important to ask you. Geoff immediately noted uncertainty in Mrs. Finney’s lack of response. I’ll be brief, knowing the difficulty of these circumstances. I’ll only take a couple of minutes of your time.

What is your question?

I am working on my doctoral degree in medical genetics. My main interest is uncovering the causes of heart disease. I read the article in Sunday’s paper about your husband, Robert, dying before fifty of a heart attack. It was also noted that his father died in his forties of heart disease. I am so sorry for your loss.

Geoff didn’t mention yesterday’s discovery at the gravesite. I believe it is possible that there is a hereditary cause behind this and would like to see if I can discover the reason. I would not normally ever approach someone in a situation like this, but I noticed that your husband had worked at Jackson. That’s the same place where I have my lab. Is that where your husband was taken?

Yes. Why do you ask?

It is likely that they drew some blood from him, and if so, it may not yet have been discarded. If I could get access to these samples, it would provide a way to look for any family traits of heart disease. However, I’d need your permission. Geoff waited, holding his breath, fully expecting Mrs. Finney to blast him for such an outrageous request.

To his surprise she said, Do you have something to write with?

He scrambled to grab paper and pencil from the nearby kitchen table. Sure!

This is the information for the lab where my husband’s workup took place. Mrs. Finney read off the details. I will call the hospital and tell them you’re coming for Robert’s samples. Before you hang up, though, I would like to have a way of reaching you if needed.

Geoff readily gave her his cell phone number.

Clearly choked up, Mrs. Finney spoke again. My husband and his father are not the only ones who died early from heart attacks. His grandfather died at forty-four, an uncle at forty-seven, and two older brothers and a first cousin all before they were fifty. It might interest you to know that his mother is still alive and doing well at eighty-eight, as is an aunt at ninety-two and two of his mother’s female cousins. Both in their eighties. We have three children, two girls and a boy. He’s sixteen. Mrs. Finney paused. Needless to say, I am concerned about my son. She seemed embarrassed about confiding in a complete stranger.

Suddenly uncomfortable at her emotion, Geoff said, Mrs. Finney, I will be certain to call you back with the outcome of my analysis.

She thanked him and quietly disconnected the call.

Geoff clearly envisioned her as he hung up. He could imagine the grieving widow asking herself why she would agree to help him based on a phone call out of the blue. He rushed to get his things together and headed out the door, thinking all the while that when he showed up at Jackson, no call would have been made and no samples would be available.

*****

Robin Finney slowly walked into her bedroom, closed the door, and sat on the edge of the bed. An attractive reddish-blonde, Robin was forty-six years old and above average height for a woman. Unable to restrain her emotions, she curled up in the center of the bed and buried her face in a pillow, sobbing uncontrollably.

Chapter 2

By the year 2020, heart disease and stroke will be the number one cause of mortality among all medical conditions in the world. This apocalyptic fact will overwhelm every healthcare system known, making COPD, AIDS, cancer and even maladies like Zika, HIV and dengue infections pale in comparison.

Geoff put down the medical journal and reflected on the dismal editorial. While part of him knew such articles tended to be sensationalized, they nonetheless motivated and depressed him at the same time. He was passionate to continue his studies, yet often considered bailing out for something less staggering in significance.

It had been midmorning when Geoff stopped by the main hospital lab, hopeful about the possibility of picking up Robert Finney’s blood samples but half-expecting to be disappointed. He’d wondered all the way to the campus whether Robin Finney would really come through and arrange to have the samples released into his custody. He had been ecstatic when the medical technologist behind the counter had merely looked at his hospital ID badge and then handed him a Ziploc bag containing several tubes of blood.

Now, two hours later, he felt a little guilty for proceeding with this submarine project, as he began calling it. He had spent the rest of the morning obtaining the white blood cells from the specimens and taking them through the various steps for isolating the DNA—the stuff of genes. He chose this more laborious approach in order to keep a low profile on what he was doing. There were certainly high-tech systems in the lab that could run a much more rapid gene analysis on Finney’s blood, but all of these required entering an ID code and password for access. Then the results generated were automatically downloaded into central files, all of which Smith

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