Mystery, suspense, thrillers, paranormal, horror & YA by "Cheryl Kaye Tardif" & romance by "Cherish D'Angelo". Cheryl is represented by Trident Media Group in NY.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The River by Cheryl Kaye Tardif


"She always leads with her heart," a voice croaked.
Startled by the interruption, Professor Del Hawthorne lifted her head and gasped, shocked.
What the--?
A man stood in the doorway to her classroom, panting for breath. He was in his late seventies and wore a grimy suede jacket over a once-pristine white dress shirt. The shirt was torn and stained with what looked suspiciously like dried blood. The man's tailored black pants were ripped from the knees down.
He stumbled inside and slammed the door.
Del threw a warning look at Peter Cavanaugh, her young anthropology protege. Rising slowly from her desk, she faced the old man.
"Can I help you, sir?"
His stringy gray hair covered part of his face and was in desperate need of a shampoo and cut. His mottled, creviced skin reminded her of weathered cedar bark. But it was the man's glazed yet vaguely familiar eyes that made her heart skip a beat.
Did she know him?
The man's eyes flashed dangerously. "She always leads with her heart!"
Del gulped in a breath.
It wasn't every day that she heard her father's favorite saying--especially when it wasn't her father saying it. Instead, the words were coming from a man who looked like he had escaped from the psych ward.
How the hell did he make it past security?
She looked at her watch. Damn!
After six o'clock, security was reduced to two men on the Anthropology wing. And they were probably on rounds or at the snack machine.
She glanced at Peter.
The young man was terrified. He stood motionless at the far end of the room, his head drooping against his chest.
"Campus security will be here soon," he said quietly.
The man turned half-closed eyes toward Peter. "Who's that?"
Del took a hesitant step forward. She rested her hands at the edge of her desk, careful not to draw the man's attention.
Where's the damn button?
Security had installed silent alarm buttons underneath the lip of every faculty member's desk. Times had changed. Schools, colleges and universities had become common targets of deranged psychopaths hell-bent on murder.
She pushed the button and drew in a breath, praying desperately that it wasn't the case today. "Security will be here any minute."
The old man's head whipped around, his eyes pleading. "Don't you recognize me?"
"Should I?"
Whatever reaction she was expecting to see, didn't prepare her for the one she got. Instead of answering her question, the man slumped to the floor, babbling incoherently. His right hand reached shakily into the folds of the jacket.
She stabbed repeatedly at the alarm button.
Where the hell is security?
Terrified, she saw the man pull something bulky from his jacket.
A gun?
Suddenly, two armed security guards rushed into the room.
Then all hell broke loose.
One minute, she was standing behind her desk. The next, she was on the floor--with Peter Cavanaugh on top of her.
She waited, holding her breath, expecting shots of gunfire. But there were none. Instead, she heard scuffling sounds and a few grunts.
Finally, one of the guards called out. "We got him, Professor."
She heaved a sigh of relief.
"You okay?" Peter asked, his boy-next-door face bare inches from hers.
She groaned. "Uh, Mr. Cavanaugh? Security has him under control, so you can get off me now. You're crushing me."
Peter turned a delicious shade of lobster red.
"Didn't want you to get shot," he mumbled, helping her to her feet.
She brushed herself off, then glanced toward the door.
The guards dragged the intruder out into the hall.
That's when she heard the man shout, "Delly! It's me!"
Only one person in the world had ever called her 'Delly'.
She ran toward the old man.
"I've seen it," he hissed, his eyes wild. "I've seen the future...not human...monsters!"
"Professor Schroeder?" she whispered. "Is that you?"
The old man's gaze locked on her. "You have to stop the Director, Delly!"
A shiver raced up her spine. "Director of what? Professor, we thought you were dead. You, my dad, the other men..."
Schroeder leaned closer, tears welling in his eyes. "They're going to kill your father, Delly."
"He-he's alive?"
"For now. The little bastards have him. You have to destroy the cell. I know how to get in. To the secret river. I know how to get in...and out."
"Professor Hawthorne," one of the guards said. "We have to take him downstairs."
Halfway down the hall, Schroeder's head whipped around.
"Follow your heart, Delly. And remember...only one!"
The guards half-dragged him into the elevator.
"Professor Schroeder!" she yelled. "What are you talking about?"
His dull brown eyes flared like a trapped fox, wild and feral.
"It's all in the book. Destroy the cell, Delly. Find the river and stop the Director before he destroys humanity."
The elevator doors hissed shut.
Del leaned against the wall outside her classroom. Her legs ached and vibrated. When her vision wavered, she closed her eyes and welcomed the darkness.
They're going to kill him, Delly.
Was her father really alive?
Someone called her name. Peter.
He stood beside her, clutching something to his chest. Whatever it was, he gripped it as though he were holding the treasures of the Egyptian Pharaohs.
"He dropped this," he said, handing her a book. "It's what the old guy was reaching for. You gonna be alright, Professor?"
She nodded. See you tomorrow, Peter.
Del returned to her empty classroom, firmly closing and locking the door behind her. She made it across the room before her legs gave out. Dropping into a chair, she took a few deep breaths, then she picked up the leather-bound book that Peter had given her.
The cover was stained, partially missing. There was nothing on it except for an embossed symbol that was hard to make out.
Perhaps a cross.
She traced what was left of it with one finger.
Professor Schroeder, what happened to you?
Arnold Schroeder was a renowned genius in anthropology. Whenever he had visited Del's father, which was often, he would take Del under his wing and teach her something new. He was the reason she was teaching anthropology at the University of British Columbia. Schroeder had been her idol.
Other than Dad, of course.
Del carefully opened the journal, her fingertips barely grazing it. She flipped the pages, reading sentences here and there, trying to make sense of Schroeder's notes. Most of the entries in the journal appeared to be written in some kind of code and they were next to impossible to decipher. She was about to put the book down when a name jumped from the page.
Dr. Lawrence V. Hawthorne.
Just below her father's name, a date was scribbled.
January 2001.
Her hand began to shake.
She yanked open a drawer and rifled through it.
Finally, she found what she was looking for--a photograph taken seven years ago. Back in 1998. In it, her father and Professor Schroeder stood side by side wearing jeans, t-shirts and silly fishing hats. They had infectious grins on their faces, probably laughing at some private joke. The photo had been taken the day that her father, Schroeder and two associates had left for 'the adventure of a lifetime'.
In the summer of '98, a new intern at Bio-Tec Canada, the company Del's father worked for, suggested a summer rafting excursion down the Nahanni River in the Northwest Territories. The intern seduced him with native legends about veins of undiscovered gold, and headless skeletons and corpses lining the banks of the river. Her father became consumed by the idea of exploring one of Canada's most spectacular sights, and he convinced Schroeder and his boss to accompany them.
The four men went missing three days later.
A search party was sent down the Nahanni, and the investigators discovered a headless skeleton a few miles downriver from Virginia Falls. Most of the flesh had been consumed by wild animals and the bones were badly decayed, but a forensics expert was able to identify the body.
It was Neil Parnitski, CEO of Bio-Tec Canada.
There was no sign of Del's father...or the other men.
A week later, the search party found a bloody shirt on the shore and scalp tissue embedded into a rock. DNA tests showed that most of the blood matched her father's, while the scalp tissue was Schroeder's. The investigators also said that based on the amount of blood found at the scene, even a doctor couldn't have survived without medical attention. Six months later, the investigation was closed, the missing men presumed dead.
Del stroked the photograph of her father.
He's a dead man.
Schroeder's words echoed in her mind, and she was unable to shake the doomed sensation that crept under her skin and invaded every pore.
She stared out the window into the darkening night sky, remembering the day her mother had told her that her father was presumed dead, months after his disappearance. She recalled the funeral a week later, and remembered standing in the pouring rain at the edge of the gaping hole as an empty casket was lowered into the muddy ground. The funeral had been three days before her twenty-fifth birthday--a birthday that came and went without any fanfare.
Del never celebrated her birthday anymore. Too many memories.
Now, staring at her father's picture, the overwhelming grief she had felt seven years ago came back with a vengeance.
They're going to kill him, Delly.

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