Bryant dropped a handful of pills into a plastic cup from the water cooler and placed it on Detective Meltzer’s desk. Meltzer was hunched over his keyboard and clicking his mouse from page to page on the computer screen. He glanced down at the cup, then returned his attention to the monitor.
“Crush up two of these each day and mix them into some chocolate milk,” Bryant said. “It’s virtually tasteless and Jeff loves chocolate milk.”
“So we’re going to medicate him against his will?”
“You’ve got a better idea?”
Meltzer stared at his computer screen and frowned. “Have you threatened to bomb any federal buildings lately?”
Bryant squinted. “What?”
“That Expedition from the church parking lot is registered to the FBI.” Meltzer finally looked up. “Is there something you want to tell me?”
Bryant had to think about that one. The government agent sat in St. Andrews parking lot for most of the day. He hadn’t tried any covert surveillance techniques. There was no attempt to disguise his presence from Bryant’s office window. He only approached Bryant after Margo warned of his presence. What did the guy say to him?
“Don’t get involved with something you don’t understand,” Bryant muttered to himself. He looked over at Meltzer. “That’s what the guy said to me.”
“He saw you comforting Margo?”
“Then this is more about Margo than it is about you.”
Meltzer picked up the Time magazine with Margo on the cover, then outside at the cloudy sky. “What are they afraid of?”
Bryant followed his stare. A cable news crew was just beginning to unload their gear and join the rest of the news world for some low-cost ratings boost.
“I don’t know,” Bryant said, pulling his keys from his pocket. “But I’m tired of the questions. I want some answers.”
* * *
Frank Sullivan’s office was a freestanding building in downtown Chandler, by the hospital and the police station, so it was near potential customers for a busy psychiatric practice. It was past six o’clock and the sun had just settled over the horizon when Bryant crawled his sedan past the entrance. There was a light on, so he decided to park.
Bryant had become so immune to the drizzle, he didn’t even consider pulling the umbrella from his trunk. He ran up the steps and found the front door unlocked. As soon as he opened the door, Sullivan was in midstride, heading directly at him. They both stopped.
“Oh,” Sullivan said, “I was just leaving.”
Bryant squeezed the moisture from his hair. “You got a couple of minutes?”
Sullivan glanced up at the clock on the wall and shrugged. “Come on in.”
He locked the front door, before leading Bryant through the darkened waiting room to his office. It was much larger than Bryant’s with a glossy-clean desk and rich leather chair that made Bryant feel like sitting just by looking at it. The only thing on the desk was a razor-thin computer monitor.
Bryant took the seat in front of the desk while Sullivan dropped into the leather chair behind it. Bryant noticed another massive monitor on the wall behind Sullivan’s desk.
Sullivan smiled. He opened a drawer and held up a remote control. “Watch.”
He pressed a button and the image of a multicolored brain came to life on the huge screen. When he pressed a second button the frontal lobe blinked purple. A third button caused the cerebellum to blink red.
“It helps the patient understand how medication can affect blood volume in bipolar disorder.”
“I see,” Bryant said, simply out of courtesy.
Sullivan continued, unabated, pointing to the computerized image and its ability to highlight the affected area of a diseased brain. As if this understanding could actually help a patient cope with their illness.
Bryant had always been fascinated by professionals who couldn’t wait to show off their formal knowledge of the anatomy. Rationalization for the thousands spent on medical school. Deep down Bryant understood the concept. Teach everything you know and hope someone grabs onto a morsel of information. But it was all a con. Like trying to cover up a bald spot. Patients needed solid verbal directions, not MapQuest for the brain. All the technology in the world wasn’t going to replace the simple art of listening to your patients.
Sullivan must’ve seen something cross Bryant’s face, because he slowed down to a crawl and finally folded his arms. “So, what’s on your mind?”
“I wanted to talk about your new patient,” Bryant said.
Sullivan leaned back in his chair. “You’ve had a change of heart?”
Bryant edged forward and rubbed his hands together. How to approach this? He wanted information without all the expensive attachments that came with it.
“Why did she come looking for me in the first place?”
“Her family died in a plane accident. Tragic, really.”
“So she needed help. Why me?”
Sullivan’s forehead wrinkled up into deep lines. “It’s your specialty, teenagers. Why not?”
“But did she ever tell you who referred her to me?”
Sullivan didn’t seem to understand and Bryant knew his line of questioning was only making his friend more suspicious of his own state of mind.
“Okay, forget it,” Bryant said. “Tell me about the invisible aliens.”
Sullivan swiveled his sleek monitor around for Bryant to see. He pecked on his keyboard.
“What are you doing?” Bryant asked.
“I’m pulling up her file,” Sullivan said, a little gruff.
A couple of clicks and Margo Sutter’s chart came to life on the screen. Sullivan opened the file to his first session with Margo. Bryant dove in, reading the text with intense interest.
“See here,” Sullivan pointed to the middle of the screen. “She first came to me complaining of hearing voices in her head. Naturally I considered auditory hallucinations, until she picked up on some astonishing thoughts from a patient in my waiting room. It was someone who was pregnant and debating whether to have the baby. This patient hadn’t even told her own mother, yet Margo had known every detail, right down to where the baby was conceived. Of course I didn’t discover this until after Margo left and I’d listened to the girl’s account. That’s when I questioned my diagnosis of psychosis, until . . .”
Sullivan clicked to the next page and said, “This session is where the alien voices made their debut. Notice the dialogue. There are two different voices. One told her to get medication so she couldn’t hear them, the other pleaded for her help. He told her she was the only one who could help—that’s why she survived.”
Sullivan looked at Bryant. “You really don’t know this story, do you?”
Bryant shook his head.
“You didn’t read the piece in Time?”
“I glanced through it.”
Sullivan moved away from the computer. “You really are retreating from society, aren’t you?”
“Exactly,” Bryant snapped. “That’s why I’m sitting in your office on a Friday night asking you about a young woman who needs help.”
Sullivan pursed his lips, but said nothing. It seemed Sullivan wanted Bryant to cool down before he went any further.
Bryant held up his hands. “Okay, already. Tell me.”
Sullivan returned to the keyboard and tapped a few times. “They were on vacation in Alaska when their plane crashed. It took Margo’s entire family,” Sullivan said. He pulled up an article from a news website and scanned the piece. “They blamed it on a computer failure. The pilot lost his instruments during a heavy snowstorm and ran into the side of Mt. McKinley.”
Bryant’s stomach clenched at the notion. Then something occurred to him. “Margo was on board?”
“It was a miracle,” Sullivan said, still viewing the article.
All Bryant could think about was the psychological trauma. Margo must’ve been in shock for weeks. She was too young to take on so much pain. Too tender to develop scar tissue that large. No wonder there was a war going on in her mind. Margo was a walking miracle, and it had nothing to do with her physical ordeal.
Bryant said. “Let me see her file again.”
Sullivan tapped the keyboard, then slid the mouse toward him. Bryant clicked through several other sessions with Margo, and with each one, he found Sullivan’s direction to be stellar. He asked precisely the type of questions Bryant would’ve asked, and his notations following the sessions were founded in sound psychoanalytical theories. Margo’s issues became more and more systemic, slowly creating her own fantasy world in order to find relief for her guilt.
“Notice anything missing from the session?” Sullivan asked.
Bryant scrolled down and went from page to page, looking for it. Searching for the one thing every lone survivor asks. When he was finished with the transcript of the entire session, he looked up at Sullivan.
“She never wonders why she was the only one,” Bryant said.
Sullivan leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands behind his head. “It’s peculiar. There’s something missing and I’m still trying to figure it out.”
“But why two voices?” Bryant asked.
“I believe part of her mind was still working within the realm of reality, insisting she take the medication that would afford her relief. However, as the sessions continue, you’ll notice very little from the voice of reason.”
Bryant wondered which was the voice of reason, but didn’t pursue it. He clicked to the next page and kept reading. Margo continually maintained the aliens were here to annihilate the planet and she was the only one who could stop them. She even suggested the Lord allowed her to survive so she could save the world. The poor thing, Bryant thought. So fragile, inside and out.
Bryant let go of the mouse and pushed away from the screen. “Okay,” he said. “I’ve seen enough.”
“Classic PTSD, eh?” Sullivan said.
It was time for Bryant to make come clean. He needed more information and without full disclosure, he was only going to get so far.
Bryant nodded. “I met her this afternoon.”
“Really,” Sullivan sounded startled. “I was wondering what turned you around.”
Bryant shrugged. Another pothole on the road out of Chandler. He pointed to Margo’s file on the computer screen. “Worst case of survivor syndrome I’ve ever seen.”
This gave Sullivan some momentum. He leaned forward, elbows on his desk. “Yes, exactly. Can I ask where you saw her?”
Sullivan gave him a smug grin and Bryant immediately understood its origin. Many PTSD patients develop bipolar disorder. The mind is thrown into a constant state of stress causing the patient to have less desire for sleep and somehow kicking in the creative side of the brain. It’s the reason so many artists seemed to spawn from bipolar disorder. The overworked brain cultivates a fertile imagination, nurturing creative prose, paintings, even an entirely imagined world which might or might not include such things as invisible aliens.
But that wasn’t the real reason Sullivan was now raising his eyebrows at him. It wasn’t uncommon for bipolar patients to became hyper-religious in their newfound frenzy. They generally had a vision, an epiphany which they wanted to share with the world. So the fact that Bryant had met Margo Sutter in a church only further cemented Sullivan’s diagnosis.
“So you’ll recommend she take medication?” Sullivan said with enthusiasm.
Bryant wanted to help Margo, but the road ahead of him was murky and these roadblocks kept popping up. First Jeff, then Margo, then the FBI. The longer Bryant stayed, the more complicated his life became.
“Did you know that Margo and Jeff knew each other?” Bryant asked.
“Did you know that Jeff drove his car into the bank yesterday partly because Margo told him to find a way to keep me here in Chandler?”
Bryant ran a hand through his hair and sighed. “That’s what I’m trying to figure out.”
Sullivan leaned back in his chair and tapped the armrests with his fingertips. “You never answered my question about the meds.”
Something else occurred to Bryant, “Why would the FBI be interested in Margo?”
Sullivan shrugged and answered like he was responding to a knock-knock joke. “I give up. Why?”
The rain came down harder now and the windows began to sing with needle-stick urgency. Bryant lowered his head and buried his hands into his face. He was hoping for answers, yet kept coming up with more questions instead.
“I don’t know,” Bryant said, letting out a breath. “Nothing makes sense.”
Sullivan’s voice hardened. “This girl needs help, Mike, and I’m going to do anything I can to help her. With or without you.”
Bryant squeezed his eyes shut. This was precisely what he didn’t want to hear. Sullivan was going to take charge and pull out the prescription pad for yet another young kid. Something in the back of his mind told him Sullivan was using this to motivate Bryant into action.
“Listen, Sully,” Bryant said, “this kid needs help, no question. But what she needs more than medication is someone to believe in her. Someone she can trust.”
“Okay,” Sullivan said. “Who do you have in mind?”
Bryant looked up. He felt like an animal in the middle of a clearing during hunting season. Before he could say a word, Sullivan was already printing up pages of Margo’s chart with a satisfied look on his face.
“All right then, Mr. No-meds,” Sullivan said, handing him a manila file folder. “Let me know if you need anything else.”