Well, as you can see, I couldn’t wait to get started on this next chapter, just got it finished, and no, I did not write any of this before I hand. I just wrote it all today, after class. I really had fun with this chapter developing Elaina and Nathaniel more, while introducing Katherine. Hope you guys enjoy this too. 🙂
I didn’t expect this. No– Wait– Nobody expects it. That’s why it’s a surprise– That’s why it hurts.
Nathaniel stepped out of the doctor’s office. His collected demeanor had not changed when the doctor had revealed the results of the medical exam to him. Nathaniel had merely nodded slightly, accepting them as fact. He was not surprised that he had not noticed it himself before, after all, he did have pain indifference. When the doctor had asked him if he wanted treatment, he had shaken his head. It did not matter anyway. First thing in Nathaniel’s mind was to pay a visit to his father.
“How is he?” Nathaniel asked the nurse as he entered the ward. A quick glance at the clock showed that Nathaniel had arrived precisely on time, and that he was not interrupting his schedule of visits. It was the beginning of summer break, and every week, for the past two years of Nathaniel’s summer break, he had visited his father in the hospital.
“He’s fine,” the nurse said with a quick smile. “In fact, he seems to be getting stronger. I believe he anticipates your visits. You’re such a compassionate son.”
“He deserves it,” Nathaniel muttered, brushing past the nurse. “Hey Dad,” Nathaniel said, his rare smile spreading across his face.
“Nate,” his father rasped, grasping Nathaniel’s hand. “You came. What happened? I heard you went for a checkup.”
“Nothing,” Nathaniel said, his smile dropping from genuine to fake. “Just the same as usual.”
“What are you planning to do with your summer?”
“Well, I’ve found a new case; it’s a murder case,” Nathaniel said. “It’s two years old and there’s no danger associated with it,” he added soothingly, when his father’s hand tensed up.
“Well, it’s good that you’re keeping yourself busy. Get more out of life than what I did son.”
Nathaniel’s face fell, and his tone was almost bitter, when he spoke again.
“It’s all Mom’s fault. She sapped you of your money and then left you in the dumps. She would have made you completely broke had I not stepped in. She ruined you,” and Nathaniel’s voice choked up.
“No Nate,” Aberth Sr. said gently. “It wasn’t your Mom’s fault. She was a good woman. In fact, it was my fault. My money ruined her. She never cared about money you know. She always wanted to do what was right.”
Here Nathaniel’s father paused, and Nathaniel could see the gleam in his parent’s eye whenever he spoke of the woman who had walked out on him years ago. Suddenly a wave of something washed over the face of the invalid. He winced almost, and drew his hand from Nathaniel’s grasp. Delving into the front of the light shirt that he wore, the man, who looked to be eighty, yet could not have been a day over sixty-five, drew out something and pressed it hard into Nathaniel’s palm.
That hoarse, urgent whisper seized Nathaniel’s heart like a hand enclosed in a gauntlet of black ice. Then his father fell back into the bed, his whole body limp. The cardiac monitor’s never ending beep was the only thing that broke the silence. Nathaniel’s face went winter cold. He rose to his feet and turned, calling a nurse over. As the doctors and nurses gathered urgently around his father’s bed, Nathaniel shook his head slowly. He knew there was no way his father could be saved.
Warm metal in his hand reminded Nathaniel of his father’s final gift. Looking down he saw what appeared to be a rosary. Nathaniel had known his father was Christian for a long time, but wasn’t a rosary Catholic? On the front side of the cross was engraved the reference Romans 3:23. On the side was the word ‘Twist’. Nathaniel twisted the cross over. On the back was engraved the reference John 3:16, and on the final side once again was the word ‘Twist’. Nathaniel did not understand why it had been so important to his father that he get this, but he put the necklace on anyway.
It had been two weeks. His father’s funeral had already been taken care of, and all the legalities were complete. Nathaniel needed something to distract himself from his deeply embedded sorrow; a sorrow no one could see. He spun his phone on the desk. Call her– don’t call her– call her– don’t call her. The thought kept bouncing around in his mind like a pinball in a spherical pinball machine. Finally he picked up the phone and punched in Elaina’s number.
“Hello! Elaina here, how may I help you?”
“Hello,” Nathaniel said dryly in response to Elaina’s ebullient greeting. “It’s Nathaniel, and if you still wish to come with me, you’re going to have to curb that enthusiasm. It clouds the mind, and detracts from reasoned logic.”
“Oh, okay,” Elaina said her voice now repressed. “What are we doing?”
“Well, I have been doing some research–” Nathaniel got no further.
“You cheat! You stinking low down cheat! So while I’ve been here waiting for you to tell me when we can begin investigating, you go on by yourself and research. You– You–”
“May I please remind you that I am the dictator here?” Nathaniel’s voice was frigid and quelled Elaina’s outburst instantly. “There are no rules except those which I make, and I have not been cheating. As I said, I was doing some research, and I found out that both students visited the Amazon just before they were killed.”
“Well everybody visits Amazon,” Elaina said. “I do my shopping on there all the time.”
“You. got. to. be. kidding.”
“I am!” and Elaina’s merry laughter rung through the phone, making Nathaniel wince. Her unbounded cheerfulness grated severely with his own sorrow. Then as she realized Nathaniel was not joining her in laughter, Elaina sobered. “So are we actually going to the Amazon?How can you even get permission to do something like that?”
“I am my legal guardian. The question is, how are you going to get permission to do something like this?”
“Well, if this is something to get me out of this mystery, you failed. I will get permission, never fear. And if you are your own legal guardian, does that mean you’re eighteen? And how are we going to get there?”
“Yes, and I have already paid for two tickets.”
“Hey! I can drag my own weight around here. I don’t need you chauffeuring me around.” Elaina said defiantly.
“You make a very good first impression,” Nathaniel said acidly, the sarcasm so thick that Elaina could feel it pressing on her spirit.
“I– I’m sorry,” she said, in a much smaller voice.
“Pack your things.” Nathaniel was brusque now. “I will pick you up at three ‘o clock sharp.” He hung up without waiting for a reply.
True to his word, Nathaniel’s car was idling in front of Elaina’s house just as the grandfather clock in her house clicked to three. She dashed out the front door, her bags flailing behind her, and after loading her luggage, got into the car.
“Your exuberance grates severely with my mood,” Nathaniel said coolly as the car roared towards the airport. Elaina ignored him.
It was not long before they found themselves settling down in their seats on the plane. There was a woman to their right and a man to their left. The man’s face was ashen, and the stubble on his chin showed he had not shaved recently. He seemed deep in thought as he faced the back of the seat in front of him. The woman had long, slightly curled, raven black hair. Her skin was tanned and she seemed nervous.
After the initial takeoff, Elaina faced Nathaniel and asked him to tell her about the ‘research’ – she put special emphasis on that word – that he had done.
“Like I said, the two had been to the Amazon before they were murdered. Reports say they were…” Nathaniel paused, “…changed– when they came back.”
The man beside them looked up as if he had just been struck by lightning. “Don’t you get into murders,” he said, gravely, almost beseechingly, with an earnest ring to his tone that struck them. “The pale face of a lifeless corpse– We kill animals without a second thought, but to kill a human– It takes away their souls. I’m a retired homocide detective, and take it from me, blood is one thing, a person’s soul is another.”
Elaina and Nathaniel were silent for about five minutes after that grim peroration. Then Elaina noticed the woman beside them. The latter seemed extremely nervous. She was constantly looking around, and her eyes were wide, like those of a deer in headlights.
“Nervous about flying?” Elaina asked with a smile that she hoped was reassuring.
The woman looked at her, and stared, her eyes wide open. It was then that Elaina noticed the person facing her had the most piercing green eyes she had ever seen.
“I asked if you were nervous about flying.”
“Oh,” the woman seemed to relax a bit, and she gave Elaina a weak smile. “I guess I am.”
“You should sleep,” Elaina said kindly. “It helps take the strain and the edge off the flight. Allows you to relax.”
“Oh no,” the woman declared vehemently. “I feel much better when I can look around and see what is actually going on.”
“She doesn’t need your help,” Nathaniel cut in. “She can take care of herself. Now focus, we still have to get this mystery sorted out.”
They stepped out of the plane onto the tarmac. The first thing Elaina noticed was that the air was hot and humid, and seemed to bear down oppressively. Nathaniel however, did not seem to notice, and she steeled herself. I will not let Nathaniel think I’m weak. she thought, and she found much use for this mantra in times ahead.
“Excuse me,” a soft voice spoke from behind them. When they turned, the stranger continued. “My name is Katherine Verraaier. I am a schoolteacher and am on a botany visit to the Amazon. I heard before that you were headed there, and I was wondering if we could party up.”
Nathaniel was instantly about to say no, when something caught his appraising eye. He stared for a moment, then said,
“I already have one woman along, does it make much difference if I have two?”
Before Katherine could thank him, Elaina pulled Nathaniel sharply away.
“Yes it does!” she hissed. “It does make much difference.”
“She’s a schoolteacher needing a party to venture into the jungle. How does that make any difference?”
“She’ll limit us!” Elaina said.
“Are you doubting my judgment?” Nathaniel asked. “Never– and I mean never, doubt my judgment. The schoolteacher comes with us, and if you’d used your eyes, you’d see why.”
Yes, I did go over the limit. I had too much planned. Sorry!