Coils of the Serpent Cover
357 pages, softcover.

Front Cover
Back Cover
    Prologue: A Death
    Ch 1. Friends
    Ch 2. Agent Hall
    Ch 5: The Challenge
    Ch 23: Eden
    Suggested Reading
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        What’s that?

        Dan spun around and looked behind him, letting the door of the coffee house swing closed. He held his breath while his eyes darted over the familiar coastal village, looking for someone or something out of place. The tension and touch of fear was the same one he would get as a child, running in the dark from the garage to the house, the one he would get in the middle of the night, wondering about moving shadows or sounds, especially after his father’s untimely death when he was only ten.

        Leaves blew across the damp sidewalk around parked cars and into the two-lane street; some lodged in the gutter or cracks in the street; others blew up on the aging brick buildings. Massive, gnarled roots of two nearby eucalyptus trees cracked the brick-edged sidewalk with their zest for life. Above, limbs arched over the street and sidled up to the buildings. Dan looked down the street, past the antique store, the women’s boutique, and out to the Pacific Ocean, flat and calm under solid gray overcast skies. A flock of seagulls swooped overhead, squawking and chattering as a group. The shops were still closed, not unusual for an early Wednesday morning, but something felt strange. Why do I feel like someone is watching me? Dan closed his jacket to block the light ocean breeze and turned back to the door.

        He pulled open the rustic wooden door and looked over his shoulder. Half a block back, a bearded man holding a bag of cans and bottles stumbled from between two buildings and staggered off in the opposite direction without making eye contact. Hmmm. Just a bum, Dan thought. That explains it.

        Dan entered the familiar, warm interior of the shop and pulled the door closed. He took one last look through the unusual round porthole window in the door—a door salvaged, perhaps, from the captain’s quarters of an ancient sailing ship. The marine theme continued through the coffee house, with antiques, brass hardware, and artwork. Dan could still feel adrenaline in his blood; it would take a few more minutes to relax, even with the comfortable smell of roasted coffee beans and warm scones drifting in the air.

        Lately, Dan had been reserving time in the morning for conversation with friends. This was a relatively new practice. For years, he had worked long hours every day at his Internet service company, a company recently sold for a comfortable profit. Finally, he was setting aside some time for leisure, friendship, and perhaps even love. Now, that would be a change.

        Only a few customers sat here and there. After buying his coffee, Dan glanced at his two friends sitting as usual at the table where they all had met at the book club gathering several months earlier. Dan’s friend John frowned and shook his head, and Dan smiled to himself—-Ah, the old argument again! Dan approached the table, leaned down, and surprised Shannon with a hug from the back, reaching across her slender waist and dodging her healthy brown hair. She turned and laughed; her gold necklace glinted through the top of her blouse.

        John’s frown disappeared into a deeper crinkle of his permanent laugh lines. His vice-grip handshake prompted a short squeezing contest. Dan occasionally wondered if that customary death grip was a help or hindrance to John’s insurance and financial planning practice.

        Dan removed his jacket, placed it over the back of his chair, and made room at the table for his napkin and mug by pushing aside John’s black leather Bible and Shannon’s hardcover microbiology textbook.

        “Scientists have been experimenting with genetic engineering and DNA technology since the ‘60s,” Shannon said.

        John picked up his gold pen and twisted it closed. “Huh? I don’t remember that.”

        “People don’t keep up with technology. Public didn’t shift for another twenty years.”

        “Shift? What shift?” John asked.

        Shannon pondered John’s question for a moment and sipped her coffee.

        Dan’s friends were so engrossed in their conversation, they didn’t seem to notice his difficulty in getting settled. It seemed that again, John was the reluctant student, resisting all scientific advances and denigrating Shannon’s technical biotechnology education. Dan looked out the window, through the trees, and out to the ocean. Birds flew under the clouds to join dark flocks floating on the surface of the sea, only appearing as tiny black dots in the distance.

        An answer came to Shannon, and she blurted out, “The shift—I think ‘Oh-Jay’ did it.”

        “Oh what? Orange juice?”

        “No, no, no. O.J. Simpson. You know, his trial.”

        Dan picked up and cradled his mug to warm his hands, sitting so he could keep an eye on the door and still be in the conversation—a conversation that could start to get interesting.

        John twisted his pen open, wrote “OJ” on his napkin, and then circled the initials. “Right. O.J. Simpson. Sure, everybody remembers that. Don’t they? I figured it was just another celebrity in a spat with his wife. Instead it was a huge production. Remember the thirty-five-mile-per-hour freeway chase and the thousands of idiot fans waving ‘GO OJ’ signs from the overpasses?”

        Dan briefly recalled the so-called “trial of the century” that seemed to consume everyone in America and most of the world, one of the first big trials to be fully televised. The reality soap-opera—including everything from a football star, to the celebrity lifestyle, strange roomers, parties, and drugs—ran daily for months; seventy million viewers watched the anticlimactic verdict.

        Shannon stirred her coffee with a red plastic stirring stick. “Prosecutors relied heavily on DNA evidence. You can’t really argue with matching DNA samples, at least not with the overwhelming statistics.”

        “O.J. and his ‘dream team’ tried to blame poor Mark Fuhrman for everything,” John said. “They were desperate.”

        “I wouldn’t be so sure. DNA is easy to plant if you want to.” Shannon held the straw-like red stirring stick like a laboratory pipette, her thumb over the end as if she were in one of her graduate biotech labs, to keep a few drops of coffee inside. “One drop...” she released a drop onto John’s napkin, “...of blood...” she dropped another on Dan’s napkin, “...and you’ve got someone framed. Blood samples from O.J.’s house even contained a blood preservative normally used by forensic labs, and they said they didn’t add it. It seems possible that rogue cops planted the glove and the blood. It wouldn’t be too hard. Remember? They said, ‘We found this glove at the crime scene and a matching glove at O.J.’s house.’ Yeah, right. If they planted the glove, how can you trust the blood?” Shannon licked her stirring stick and popped it back in her cup.

        Dan set his mug on his “blood”-stained napkin. “Without the DNA evidence, what would they have? Not much, I would say. I’ll bet they would’ve dropped the case,” Dan said.

        “Except for the bloody glove, you’re right. They didn’t have much,” she said. “My point is that the O.J. trial exposed the general, nonscientific public to biotechnology. DNA, chromosomes, and genetic fingerprints became common during prime time for months. But it really wasn’t new at all. DNA evidence was already standard practice in the courtroom, deciding life or death for years. The Simpson case merely brought it to the kitchen table.”

        “John, why do you have such a hard time accepting the reality of DNA?” Dan asked.

        “What proof is there? We can’t see it, right?”

        “Even under a microscope, it’s too thin to see in any detail, that’s true. But you can see the chromosomes and there’s a lot of supporting evidence. I’m really surprised you’d have any doubt of the existence of DNA at this point.”

        “I’m afraid our friend here is still hanging on to the Dark Ages.” Shannon patted John on the arm.

        “John, you’ve got to wake up to modern times. It’s a hard, cold fact, proven over and over,” Dan said. “Is there really any doubt? Geez, in 2003, the Human Genome Project finished unraveling the complete sequence of human DNA. Anyone can view the entire genetic sequence on the Internet, all three billion bases.”

        Shannon added, “Yeah. Just click on It’s overwhelming: a massive pile of genetic data, like a huge pile of unassembled jigsaw puzzle pieces. It’ll be a long time—I’d say at least decades—before scientists decode the meaning of it all.”

        “Look, I’m no scientist. I’m willing to go along to get along. DNA probably exists. But so what?”

        “DNA is not just a simple fact of life.” Shannon leaned forward and tapped on the table. “It’s the most significant discovery of all time, as far as life is concerned. DNA is at the core of absolutely every form of life, in all animals, all plants, all bacteria, and even viruses. No life form exists that uses anything else.”

        Dan added, “DNA essentially means life. Remember comparisons of animal skeletons in high school science class? A rat skeleton looks very much like that of a cat, a bird, a whale, and even man, with five digits in their paws, wings, flippers, or hands. All about the same, just proportioned a bit differently. The pattern of life is not just uniform at that level. Organisms are very similar no matter how closely you look. At the genetic level, all life uses basically the same DNA structure, DNA code, cell machinery, and procedures. To the big picture, there simply is no exception!”

        The door to the coffee shop creaked open, and Dan glanced up.


Next Excerpt: Chapter 2 Agent Hall


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