- Author: Victoria Paige
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The Boss Assignment
Bonus: On the trail of a bioweapon
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Copyright © 2021 by Victoria Paige
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This book is a work of fiction. The characters, names, places, events, organization either are a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to any persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, places or locale is entirely coincidental. The publisher is not responsible for any opinion regarding this work on any third-party website that is not affiliated with the publisher or author.
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Nine months earlier
Charlotte Bennett sat back on a swivel chair and did her usual stretches to ward off stiffness in her shoulder and neck muscles. Hunched for six hours in front of a microscope analyzing cell samples could be tough on the body.
Not that she would complain.
After a year of vying for one of two coveted research scientist positions under Doctor August Leigh—a prominent CDC virologist—she was finally accepted onto his team.
She was proud to have achieved this on her own. Not with the help from influential friends because of her mother’s family name.
And most especially not with the help from dear old dad.
And best of all? She was exactly where she needed to be.
At the newly constructed Biosafety Level 4 (BSL-4) lab of the CDC in Los Angeles.
There were only a few of its kind in the United States and in the world. Tasked to analyze some of the planet’s deadliest and most exotic pathogens, this particular lab was outfitted with the latest in bioengineering technology.
Even with all the cutting-edge instruments, this current virus puzzled her.
Movement out of the corner of her eye drew her attention to her partner at the lab, Dr. Sandra Evans. Her colleague was busy depositing the virus cultures with administered candidate vaccine into a temperature-controlled containment unit.
“Dr. Evans, can you come here a second?”
The other doctor walked over. “Still showing an anomaly?”
“Yes. The spike proteins of this newer sample show a difference.”
Charly scooted back on her swivel stool to give the scientist room. “Have a look. Left one is current; right one is from a week ago.”
Sandra peered into the microscope.
The Z-91 cells on the glass slide were a weaponized version of the Zaire Ebola virus. It couldn’t have mutated that quickly from the version ingested by Raul Ortega, could it? The crime lord deliberately infected himself with Z-91 for revenge against the LAPD and to cause fear in Los Angeles. From what Charly had gathered, it took amazing detective work to capture the elusive criminal.
As her patient, he was being kept on the same level as the lab to minimize contagion exposure. Though her beliefs prevented her from the many ways she wanted to torture the man, she had little remorse in using Ortega as a human pin cushion.
Do no harm.
A muscle twisted at the center of her chest as a memory from long ago echoed in her head. But she was an expert in coping, an expert at shutting out feelings that could make her vulnerable.
Plus, her work as a virologist kept her busy.
Sandra straightened from viewing the cell samples. “You’re right. Their spikes are different. The ones on the right are more prominent. Have you sent your findings to Dr. Leigh?”
“Yes. But he hasn’t responded.”
“Does that mean it’s less transmissible?” Sandra asked. “Less capable of attachment to the host cell?”
“In theory, that’s what I think, but that’s what is confusing me if the mutation was deliberate since this is a bioweapon.”
“I agree.” Her colleague sighed. “I’m about done here. Ready to go?”
Charly’s stomach rumbled and she nodded. It was eight. Yep, she needed to eat.
Both of them tidied their work areas. Working in a BSL-4 lab, they were required to work in tandems to allow cross-check and avoid deadly mistakes in the lab. Both of them stepped into a chemical shower, letting the spray disinfect their positive pressure suits. The last step was their own personal shower before emerging from the lab. Sandra pointed at the opposite direction Charly was heading. “I’m parked on the third level. I’ll use the skyway.”
Charly waved her off and checked her messages. Strange that Dr. Leigh hadn’t responded. She would think he would be interested in her findings. Or maybe he thought she was an overeager research scientist with something to prove. She’d been here only a few months after all. Charly didn’t need to be patted on the head or be told she was doing a good job. What she wanted was to be taken seriously.
Her car was under the covered ground-level parking beside the CDC entrance. Her annoyance at Dr. Leigh quickly faded and was replaced by thoughts of getting the biggest burger at her favorite drive through.
Maybe Charly should have noticed the missing guard in the reception area.
Perhaps, she should have been more suspicious seeing Dr. Leigh waiting for her beside her car. Charly shouldn’t have ignored her instincts when her boss was suddenly chatty about the email she sent him.
Mutated viruses weren’t typical parking lot conversation.
Especially when it involved a notorious crime lord.
Maybe she should have ditched her boss and run back into the CDC.
Then, probably, she wouldn’t have ended up in the mess she was in now.
This can’t be happening again.
Dust trails obscured the back of the Land Rover as it moved further and further away from Charly. And with it, the chance of getting out of this hellhole.
She’d been too shocked to