Cold in the Shadows

By: Toni Anderson

For my brother, Ian.

Who tried to teach me physics.

And failed.

Hopefully he has better luck with the RAF.

Chapter One

THE OLD TRUCK Audrey Lockhart had borrowed from the research station pinged noisily as she turned off the ignition and stared at the tropical surroundings of the Colombian rainforest. It was only five PM, but this close to the equator the sun set early, and it was already getting dark. She jumped out and dragged her heavy rolling suitcase from the bed of the truck before hefting two large bags of groceries, her laptop case, and a light rain jacket into her arms.

The Amazon Research Institute where she did her fieldwork was associated with local universities, who ran field courses and rented space to visiting scientists. Audrey had been coming out here on and off for the last five years and loved Colombia—the lush green forests, abundant wildlife, the salsa dancing, even the crazy road system and general lack of amenities. Life was simpler. The pressures of her academic life fell away like broken fetters. The only downside was that the little cabin provided by the institute squatted at the top of a steep hill, with no road access. She started slogging upward.

After a series of early morning flights from Miami to Bogota to Leticia, she’d driven straight to the research station to check on her frogs. She’d rushed home to Kentucky a few weeks earlier when her sister’s life had hung in the balance. Thankfully her sister had recovered. In Audrey’s absence, her grad student Mario had looked after her animals and had done such a good job she’d given him a few days off in reward.

Plastic from the heavy shopping bags cut into her fingers, and they doubled in their pain-in-the-assedness by hitting her shins with every step. Orff’s distinctive “Carmina Burana” chime sounded on her phone. She huffed out a frustrated breath and set down the shopping bags to dig her cell out of her pocket. If she didn’t answer her mother would panic.

“You didn’t call to say you arrived safely,” Sandra Lockhart said in a querulous voice.

“I was gonna call as soon as I got to my cabin.” She looked longingly up the hill.

“Considering all the other things I have to worry about I’d have thought you’d at least have the courtesy to call as soon as you landed.”

“Sorry, Mom.” Audrey rubbed her forehead. Back home in Kentucky, Audrey could go weeks without seeing her parents, but as soon as she headed south of the equator her mom freaked, and needed daily reports. It got old fast. “Everything’s okay with you guys, right?” She deflected. “No emergencies?”

“Your dad is putting Redford to bed.” Redford was her two-year-old nephew, father unknown. “Sienna went out on another date with Devon.”

And wasn’t that awkward—her drug addicted sister dating Audrey’s ex-boyfriend.

“I think he’s smitten.” Her mom sounded thrilled. Probably because Devon was heir to a billion dollar pharmaceutical fortune. She’d certainly been pissed when Audrey had stopped seeing him.

Audrey didn’t want to deal with the drama anymore. Except she was stuck with this new reality for the foreseeable future.

“Let’s just hope she can stay clean, huh?” Audrey winced at the cynicism of the words, but past experience had taught her to expect the worst. Sienna’s accidental OD in December had been the third in five years. Audrey had resigned herself long ago to it only being a matter of time before they buried her sweet, beautiful sister. But until her sister was ready to kick her drug habit nothing was gonna change, and Audrey only made it worse by pushing too hard.

Although, really, what was worse than dying and leaving your precious child an orphan?

It wasn’t Audrey’s problem—not right now. Her problem was catching up with her research after a month-long absence. “I gotta go, Mom. I need to unpack my groceries.”

“Be careful down there.”

Audrey refrained from telling her she’d experienced more violent crime in the States than she’d ever experienced here. It wouldn’t help. She said goodbye and hung up. Then picked up her heavy bags and struggled up the hill.

The noise of insects grew increasingly loud as if they were working their way up to a rousing crescendo. The sweat and grime of the day clung to her skin even as the cool breeze stirred the hairs on her nape. She couldn’t wait to have a shower, crawl into bed, and sleep for eight hours straight.

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