Cheryl Parker put the receiver down and frowned. She was a pretty brunette, thirty two years old, and very bright. Top of her class in fact – and she investigated UFOs.
She had pushed for this position, and she’d enjoyed it and found it to be very interesting at first, but then the novelty wore off when she realised that the probability of her ever seeing a UFO, yet alone chasing one down, was slim to none.
So while she sat in her office, waiting for the phone to ring; other people were seeing and reporting UFOs all the time. All she could really hope for were traces of evidence; some marks in the mud, maybe a scorched patch of grass, or some country hick’s uneducated version of what he or she claimed to have seen.
Ninety percent of these cases turned out to be mistaken identity; weather balloons, secret experimental aircraft and wisps of cloud – that type of thing. The other ten percent that really were unexplained aerial phenomena, remained that – unexplained.
And one hundred percent of these cases came from ‘Joe Public’; the man on the street – doctors, teachers, policemen, late-night truckers, fishermen, pilots, drunks and prostitutes.
But this one was different…
This call had come internally, right from the top, and they weren’t interested in waiting. They met her as she left the lift, one on either side. Dark, non-descript suits, dark glasses; big, good-looking and serious.
‘Doctor Parker?’ one enquired.
‘Yes, that’s right.’
‘Follow us please. Right this way.’
They led her down a brightly lit corridor, through two high-security checkpoints, and into a large office with many desks, computers and people wearing glasses. Not a uniform in sight.
‘So this is where all the nerds from college ended up?’ she joked, receiving a cold, unsmiling look for her efforts.
‘Okay, so this is how it’s going to be,’ she muttered to herself. Putting her game face on, she followed her two escorts through to a smaller office at the back. A large man with a beard stood up from behind the desk, and extended his hand to her in welcome.
‘Ah, Doctor Parker, nice of you to join us,’ he said in a friendly manner, ‘please, sit down.’
‘Hello, Bill,’ she replied. She had never been up here before, but she knew William Cummins well. Everybody did. He looked at her over a desk heavily laden with random pieces of paper and unread files.
‘I’ll get straight to business, Cheryl. I have just returned from a meeting with our South African counterparts and they have requested our assistance in a rather unusual matter,’ he said. Looking down at the documents in front of him, he continued.
‘Sometime yesterday, at about 15h00 GMT, a young boy of thirteen ran away from a trout farm in northern South Africa. He was on a fishing trip with his father, who apparently got drunk and abused the boy in some way. They had an altercation of sorts – the details are a little unclear – and afterwards, the young boy, Johnny Roberts, ran away.
‘Having discovered his loss, his father initiated a search of the surrounding woods in the morning, with the help of several fellow fishermen and the local police force.’
Bill looked up at Cheryl and said, ‘We have several eyewitnesses who all claim to have seen the same thing – a silver disc rising into the air and disappearing into the distance at a tremendous speed. They are unanimous that the young man was on board.’
‘How can they be so sure?’ she asked.
‘Well, they found his rucksack at the scene, Cheryl, but no sign of the boy.’
She was flabbergasted, ‘You mean to say that we finally have an abduction case with credible witnesses?’
‘It sure seems that way, Doctor,’ he confirmed.
Cheryl sat back in her chair. This was huge! In her experience, abductions happened almost exclusively at night, in remote areas, with no witnesses. It was one of the reasons why they were so difficult to investigate, and so easy to cover up.
‘What kind of witnesses are we looking at?’ she asked.
‘Besides the father, who seems to be an habitual drunk, the rest are pretty reliable. Three fishermen and five cops,’ he replied.
Cheryl was busy taking notes, jotting everything down in her notebook for later review: A missing boy, an alien ship and nine witnesses – this was good. This was a lot more than she usually had to work with; she was on to something big here. She was so used to following up on local police reports herself, having to sort fact from fiction without any recourse to any higher power other than her own experience and ingenuity. However, sitting here in Bill’s office, getting it straight from the top, she began to appreciate just how significant this really was.
‘Okay Cheryl, I think that just about covers it,’ Bill said as he rose from his chair.
‘I think your first course of action is obvious. Pack your bags; you’re going to South Africa.’
Cheryl shook Bill’s hand and allowed her escorts to lead her out. Back in her office, she made all the necessary arrangements for her absence, and booked an open-ended return ticket to Johannesburg with her usual travel agent. After returning to her apartment and hastily packing her bags, she called a taxi and left for the airport.
Cheryl arrived at Johannesburg International feeling tired and grumpy. Crossing time zones always had this effect on her. She picked up her hired car from a friendly African woman with a wide smile and a strong accent.
‘Yeh is yo’ kah,’ she said, holding out a set of keys.
‘Yo’ kah. Theh ret wun.’
‘Oh, my car! Yes, thank you so much,’ Cheryl replied, feeling a little embarrassed. She made her way to the red hatchback, put her luggage in the trunk, and nearly climbed into the passenger seat before remembering that South Africa used the British system and cars drove on the left hand side of the road.
Activating her GPS, she headed onto the highway and turned north onto the R21 towards Pretoria. She was heading for the small town of Hazyview in the province of Mpumalanga to meet the local police Captain, Hannes Swanepoel.
The drive took her several hours, but it was refreshing for Cheryl; the scenery of drab browns and greens gradually gave way to stunning vistas of lush, green forests, majestic waterfalls and crystal-clear skies – the likes of which Tolkien would have been proud.
Cheryl finally arrived in Hazyview and found the police station without much difficulty. It took only moments to track down Captain Swanepoel in his office. He wasn’t alone.
‘Doctor Parker, I am most pleased to meet you. May I introduce Detective Scott Riley, who will be your liaison in our country.’ Cheryl gave Riley an appraising look.
He was tall and muscular, with short, brown hair and a scar on his left cheek, just below his eye. He looked like a nice guy; tough and resourceful, but fair and kind.
His brown eyes were warm, and his smile genuine. Despite his friendly demeanour, Cheryl could see he was a veteran of many campaigns and had probably learnt the hard way about when to be polite, and when to be blunt – she figured he was as good with the one as he was with the other.
‘Doctor Parker, I’ve been looking forward to meeting you,’ he said, extending a hand.
‘Well, I’ll leave you two to get on with it. I am afraid more mundane matters require my attention,’ Captain Swanepoel nodded and left the room.
‘Where shall we start?’ Scott asked.
‘Well, Detective, I’m aware of the basics, but I need a clearer picture of what actually happened. I’d also like to go step-by-step over the actual scene too, if I may?’
‘That won’t be a problem, Doctor. I have it from high up that I am to extend you every courtesy,’ he replied, smiling.
Cheryl found herself quite charmed by Detective Riley; there was something disarming about his open smile and friendly eyes.
‘And I believe you will, Detective,’ she said, smiling back at him.
‘Please, Doctor, call me Scott. I really do hate formality.’
‘Okay, Scott, in that case, please call me Cheryl,’ she replied. With the formalities out of the way, Scott and Cheryl decided to draw up a plan of action.
She had decided against visiting the boy’s father first, figuring she could do it just as well on her way home. She doubted he could give her any valuable information other than a basic personality profile and some background information, which she didn’t feel pertinent enough to help her with this case. An abduction victim was, after all, just a victim, and personality and character rarely came into play. What was important however, was the scene of the incident.
She needed to know what had happened in the hour or two preceding the incident, and how and why an alien ship had abducted the boy in the first place. From her experience, almost all reported abduction cases happened in remote areas with few or no witnesses, and so far, everything seemed to fit.
They opted to drive out to the forest together and they compared notes as they drove to the scene.
‘Okay Cheryl, this is where Johnny Roberts and his father, Robbie, were camping,’ he said, pulling the car up at a picturesque camping site on the banks of a pristine lake.
‘Robbie Roberts? Odd name…,’ she said.
‘It’s a nickname, Cheryl. His real name is Hendrik, but the locals often give themselves nicknames of that sort; ‘Robbie’ Roberts, ‘Blackie’ Swart, that sort of thing. Anybody unfortunate to have the very common surname of ‘Van Der Merwe’ inevitably ends up being called ‘Van’. It’s a local thing.’
He continued. ‘It would seem that Mister Roberts upset the boy in some way, and the boy retaliated violently.’
Scott paused and then said, ‘What I found interesting is that this thirteen-year-old boy stood up to a grown man and came off the winner.’ Cheryl looked at him with a quizzical expression.
‘I’ve had a look at Mister Roberts’ file,’ he explained, ‘and it seems that Robbie fought in the border wars in the eighties and has almost certainly killed men before – perhaps more than once. Yet somehow, his thirteen-year-old son beat him, and I mean beat him – as in physically gave the man a serious bruising.’
‘Very interesting,’ she said thoughtfully, ‘I think a visit to his father may be in order after all.’
As they walked through the woods, Scott showed Cheryl various signs of Johnny’s passing, and that of the ensuing search. They finally got to the rise over which Johnny had first spotted his pursuers. Cheryl stood aghast.
‘What the hell happened here?’ she demanded.
‘Well, this is the abduction scene,’ Scott replied. ‘This is where the witnesses saw the so-called UFO and this is where Johnny’s rucksack was found.’
‘There’s a great stinking hole in the ground and the trees are all uprooted!’ she exclaimed. ‘Why didn’t you tell me about this?’
‘Well, to be perfectly honest Cheryl, this is my first visit to the scene myself,’ he replied, feeling a bit awkward.
‘I’ve studied the report and the policemen on the scene mentioned a blast of some kind, but they didn’t make a big deal about it – what do you make of it?’
Scott felt like a tit.
Cheryl walked into the clearing and studied the broken ground and uprooted trees before her. She knelt down, staring at the hole in front of her. It was huge – about the size of a large, public swimming pool, and very, very deep.
‘Well Scott,’ she replied, ‘it would seem that as there are no scorch marks to indicate a blast of any kind, and those trees over there that have been uprooted still have their root systems intact and undamaged, that something exceptionally large came out of the ground.’
Scott looked her, ‘You think this thing was buried here all along?’ he asked.
‘It seems to be the only rational explanation, wouldn’t you agree?’ she replied, raising one brow sardonically.
Scott looked long and hard at the scene. ‘You do understand, Cheryl,’ he said, as the realisation dawned upon him, ‘that if this ship was lying here for whoever knows how long, buried under the ground, and it has now disappeared taking Johnny Roberts with it – the possibility now exists that he wasn’t abducted at all, but may well have instigated the whole incident himself?’
Cheryl turned around and looked at Scott. ‘Are you suggesting that a thirteen-year-old boy found a buried UFO and flew away in it?’ she asked.
‘It seems the only rational explanation, wouldn’t you agree?’ he replied smugly.
Cheryl grinned at him, ‘Okay, I guess I deserved that.’ She stood up and walked over to him.
‘Let’s just think this over for a second,’ she said. ‘Johnny Roberts runs away. He finds this spot and takes a breather, putting his rucksack down next to him.
‘Somehow, he discovers a buried UFO and somehow he coaxes it out of the ground. He then enters it just as his pursuers arrive on the scene and manages to do, in a matter of minutes, what should take years of training to achieve?’
She couldn’t believe it. ‘There are just too many holes here,’ she said, ‘just too many improbabilities.’
‘Cheryl, the only improbability here is that UFOs actually exist!’ Scott exclaimed. ‘If we are prepared to accept that they do, then the rest doesn’t really seem so incredible, does it?’
Seeing her expression, he pointed out, ‘Think about it; from all the reports I have, Johnny Roberts seems to be an exceptional child; big for his age, intelligent, tough and resourceful. Perhaps UFO’s are easier to fly than we expect? I know cars and planes have become simpler to handle as technology has progressed, and children now dominate computers when just a few years ago, you needed a PhD to operate one.
‘Who is to say that a form of technology sufficient to span time and space wouldn’t be a simple matter of climbing in and telling it where to go?’ he finished.
Cheryl Parker looked at Scott Riley with the dawning of new respect. She was supposed to be the UFO expert here.
‘You really think that our alien abduction may actually be a case of a kid finding the keys to his dad’s truck and going for a joyride?’ she asked again.
‘I absolutely do,’ he replied, ‘unless you have other information that contradicts this?’
Cheryl looked down thoughtfully, ‘No Scott. I think you may be right. I need to make a call.’ They made their way back to the car after taking photographs from all angles, and drove back into town. Cheryl immediately commandeered Scott’s desk and picked up the phone. He sat and watched her.
She was a woman after his own heart; intelligent and focused. He had thought he would never meet another woman that would make his heartbeat quicken, but Cheryl was doing that to him as he watched her every move. The fact that she was, in his eyes, one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen, was an added bonus.
She hung up the phone and looked at him, and seeing his face, she smiled.
‘Oh don’t look so serious Scott, it isn’t as bad as it sounded,’ she said, misunderstanding his expression.
‘Bill wants us to go down to Johannesburg and interview the boy’s father. He thinks there may be some substance to our theory and is keen to find out more about the kid.’
‘No problem, Cheryl,’ he said.
‘One more thing, Scott… It seems you haven’t been entirely honest with me have you?’ she asked, smiling. ‘Special Forces? How the hell did you end up with this gig?’ she teased him jokingly.
Cheryl’s estimation of this man, which was already pretty good, had just gone up to really-super-duper-good.
‘I had hoped that this wouldn’t come up, but if you must know, I quit all that after I lost my wife,’ he replied, feeling self-conscious.
‘I’m so sorry, I had no idea,’ said Cheryl, completely serious now.
‘Oh it’s not as bad as it sounds,’ said Scott with a small smile, ‘she’s still alive, for what it’s worth.
‘She left me for another man – she claimed she was lonely and unloved, and other excuses along the same line, but the short version is that she ran off and left me with all the old scars on my body, and completely new scars on my heart.’ He looked down at his hands for a moment and Cheryl’s heart went out to this big, tough, gentle man.
‘I needed something new, something I could just get into and enjoy, and let all the bruises heal, you know? So, I became a cop – the only thing I knew how to do.
‘I paid my dues, worked my way up through the ranks, and here I am now – a detective working on the case of a missing kid, a UFO, an alcoholic father, and all of that with the friggin’ CIA breathing down my neck!’
He looked up at her with a mischievous glint in his eye, and Cheryl laughed out loud.
‘Well I am most sorry to hear that, Detective Riley. I really do hate to ruin your pity-party, but I think your world is about to be turned upside down! Bill has already asked your Government to reinstate you.’
‘What?’ he was speechless. ‘Don’t I have a say in the matter?’
‘Oh I don’t think so Scott. What Bill wants, Bill usually gets,’ she said, ‘and Bill wants you on the team. Looks like you’re stuck with me.’
Neither seemed too unhappy with this new arrangement.
Published Titles in the Johnny Roberts Series:
Book Two: Johnny Roberts and the Gods of Eden
Andrew Noble © 2012
Cover artwork: Adam Van Der Riet © 2012
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© 2012 Andrew Noble All Rights Reserved