“Cheryl Kaye Tardif has once again captivated readers in her third novel and latest suspense thriller, The River. Set in the wilds of Canada 's north, The River combines intrigue, science, love and adventure and is sure to keep readers clamoring for more.” ― Edmonton Sun
“Exciting and vivid. Tardif’s latest novel sweeps readers along into uncharted, wild Canadian territory. A thrilling adventure...” ― Midwest Book Review
“A wild river ride of tension, intrigue and romance as a motley crew of adventurers take you on a search for a man of the past who holds the key to the future, and the secret to eternal youth and power. Hang on--it's going to be a bumpy ride! Excellent read!” ― Silver Moon Magazine
One of my mother’s friends had a dream to travel along a mysterious river in Canada . When my mother told me some of the rumors of this river―the name of which she couldn’t remember―I became hooked and a chilling story began to brew in my mind. The search was on to find that river.
The South Nahanni River in Canada ’s rugged Northwest Territories is one of the most spectacular sights in the world. It is fraught with exquisite beauty and hidden dangers. It is also filled with an abundance of plant and animal life―not to mention, woven with legends ‘older than dirt’, as my husband would say.
This may be the river to which my mother’s friend was referring. Or it may not. Nevertheless, the Nahanni River holds many secrets. Decades ago headless skeletons and corpses were discovered along its banks. Over the years, people have gone missing, and I’ve heard it referred to as the ‘Bermuda Triangle of Canada’.
Although THE RIVER is interwoven with fact, this novel is a work of fact…and fiction.
I’ll let you be the judge of which is which.
Take the ride of your life, down…
©2005 Cheryl Kaye Tardif
She always leads with her heart,” a voice croaked.
Startled by the interruption, Del Hawthorne lifted her head and gasped, shocked.
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 protégé. 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?”
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.
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, 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!”
“ 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.”
“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.”
“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.
“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.
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.
Lawrence V. Hawthorne.
Just below her father’s name, a date was scribbled.
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 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.
It was past eight o’clock when Del reached her small house in Port Coquitlam. Parking her car under the carport, she grabbed her briefcase and went inside.
“Honey, I’m ho-ome!”
An overweight, one-eared, brown-tinged Siamese darted toward her and anxiously rubbed up against her leg, mewing mournfully at the same time.
“Oh, Kayber! You act like I never feed you.”
She had found the cat in her backyard five months ago. He was bruised and scratched, his right ear hanging by a piece of skin. He looked like he had been in a barroom brawl―and lost. She had adopted him on the spot.
Although, she often wondered if it weren’t the other way around.
Tossing her briefcase on the couch, she returned to the kitchen, poured some cat kibble into a dish and set it on the floor. Then she sat on the couch, picking at a bowl of leftover macaroni casserole and sipping vanilla tea.
Her gaze drifted over the photographs on the mantle of the brick fireplace and dozens of memories raced through her mind. Memories of good times, happy times. Times when her father was alive―before he disappeared and left a dark void in her life.
She slid the bowl of half-eaten casserole onto the coffee table and pulled the journal from her briefcase. She leafed through the book, stopping when she came to a page filled with unfamiliar words, abbreviations, numbers and symbols.
DC #02541-87654-18 prov. base….BSC & syn. CSF in
She found several references to her father but couldn’t make out the content. A few pages in, the journal lapsed into page after page of numerical code. An hour went by and she was only one-third into it when she found an odd entry.
She hissed in a breath.
Her father had worked for Bio-Tec. Why was that in Schroeder’s notes? Other than her father, Neil Parnitski and the intern, Schroeder had never had any contact with anyone else at Bio-Tec. He was an anthropologist. Bio-Tec was a research company exploring biotechnology.
Del was baffled.
She pushed the journal aside and flicked the remote control in the direction of the CD player. As Alexia Melnychuk’s smooth voice filled the room, Del stretched out on the couch and closed her eyes.
Kayber, having wolfed down his food, immediately took this as an invitation and jumped up on her stomach. All twenty-two pounds of him.
“What is it with males jumping on top of me today?”
As she thought of Peter Cavanaugh with his Tobey Maguire-like face, a smile formed on her lips. Peter was in his first year of studies, but he had missed too many classes due to an ailing grandmother, which resulted in an ‘incomplete’ on the regular one-year course. That was why he was taking her summer class.
Ten years younger, he was an embarrassingly shy kid, a bit of a loner―except when he was around Del. He had a severe crush on her. She knew it. Hell, everyone knew it. Half the faculty thought she was sleeping with him. But she wasn’t. She wasn’t a cougar. She didn’t go after younger men. Unlike her mother.
Del unceremoniously pushed Kayber aside, then reached for the phone and dialed her mother’s number. After several rings, someone picked up.
“Yeah? Wh-who’s this?”
Ken, her mother’s newest conquest and third husband, had been drinking again.
That’s what you get when you marry a nightclub owner.
“Is my mother there?”
“What ya want her for?”
“Just put her on, Ken.”
She listened while her mother’s husband stumbled through the house. He swore loudly after he dropped the phone. She swore too as the sound reverberated into her ear.
Jesus! What’s taking him so long? Did he pass out?
She waited, listening to faint shuffling sounds. She was about to hang up when her mother’s cool voice greeted her.
“Maureen Walton speaking.”
“Hi, it’s me.”
“It’s Delila, Mother.”
God forbid if you forget to introduce yourself!
She couldn’t believe that her mother was still playing that game. The woman lived for formality. Proper manners and etiquette, shaking hands, addressing elders by their surnames and owning a house that was treated like a show home. It was all part of her mother’s attempt to become the next Manners. Or, God forbid, Martha Stewart.
“Delila, I haven’t heard from you in weeks. Why haven’t you come to visit us?”
Del cringed, remembering the last time she had visited. The time Ken tried to cop a feel when she passed him in the hall.
“I’ve been busy.”
“Too busy to visit your own mother?”
Great! Here it comes.
“When you were sick with the flu, was I too busy to bring you some magazines?”
Her mother’s voice was tinged with disapproval.
“And when you went away with Tyler or whatever his name is, was I too busy to feed that filthy animal?”
Del held the receiver away from her ear and threw Kayber a rueful look. “She’s never going to forgive you for peeing in her shoes.”
She gave her mother a few minutes to vent, then drew the phone back to her ear.
What could she possibly say that would shut the woman up?
A sharp gasp on the other end was followed by silence.
“Well, that worked,” she said dryly to Kayber who was busy grooming himself.
She pressed her ear against the receiver.
“Are you there, Mother?”
“Of course, Delila. Now what’s this nonsense about your father?”
“I had a visitor today. Schroeder.”
“Arnold? But that’s not possible, dear. They found a piece of his head.”
Del gritted her teeth. “They found a piece of his scalp, Mother. And a bit of hair. That’s all.”
"Well, whatever. He was dead and buried along with Neil , Vern and your father six years ago.”
Del resisted the urge to correct her again. It had been seven years.
"Yes, dear. The young man, your father’s assistant or whatever he was. At least I think his name was Vern. Or maybe it was Victor …”
Her mother’s voice dwindled away, lost in thought.
“Schroeder says that Dad is alive. He gave me a journal. It has some strange notes in it, Dad’s name―”
“Arnold always was a bit of an odd duck, Delila. I wouldn’t take too much that man said seriously. God only knows where he’s been.”
“I’m going to bring him back, Mother.”
There was a pause on the other end.
“No. I’m going after Dad.”
“You can’t be serious, Delila. He’s dead!”
“I am serious. I’m bringing Dad home.”
She hung up, feeling both relieved and irritated.
Why was her mother so heartless? Her parents had been married nearly thirty years. Didn’t that count for anything? Didn’t the woman care that her husband might still be alive? Or was it that her mother didn’t want her perfect little life to come crashing down?
She was the first to admit she certainly wasn’t an expert on relationships. Look how long it took her to realize that TJ was screwing around on her. He had moved into her house and her heart.
Then he betrayed both.
She would never forget the day she came home early, barely able to walk and yearning for her bed―only to find that it was otherwise occupied.
Her neighbor, Julie Adams, had always been asking whether the rumors about a black man’s libido and the size of a specific part of his anatomy were true. Now Julie knew.
Del had kicked TJ out on his ass that same day.
She shrugged off the dark mood that threatened to engulf her and gave Kayber a quick pat on the head. With the journal and briefcase in her hands, she walked to the large second bedroom that doubled as an office. She flicked on the lamp and was immediately greeted by a pile of final summer exams that screamed to be marked.
Turning a deaf ear, she nudged them aside, opened her briefcase and pulled out an empty notebook. She wrote a reminder at the top of the first page.
Find out where Schroeder is. Go see him!
Then she began to translate Schroeder’s journal.
An hour later, she gave up trying to make sense of the scribbled notes and strange numerical code. When she finally crawled into bed after marking the exams, it was after midnight.
She lay in the dark, the flicker of shadows moving through her room. She pictured her father as she remembered him. Tall, with golden brown hair and rich brown eyes. He was always happy, always smiling.
She closed her eyes, her lashes damp with unshed tears.
I’m coming for you, Dad.
©2005 Cheryl Kaye Tardif
This month I am giving away free books at some of my virtual book tour stops, so be sure to check my schedule and drop by. http://www.whalesongbook.com/virtual-tour-2007/
To order The River, please order from Amazon.com, Chapters.ca or any other online retailer, or ask for it at your favorite bookstore.
Also, if you order Whale Song plus two other Kunati titles, you can qualify to enter Kunati’s Great Summer Reads Contest.
Thank you!~ Cheryl Kaye Tardif, author of Whale Song, The River and Divine Intervention
(Please note: there were some minor spacing issues while pasting this chapter into this site. They do not appear in the printed text of the novel. CKT)