Margo was admitted to a private room and slept off the anesthesia while Bryant paced in a half circle around her bed. A bag of saline hung from an IV pole next to her. The vital signs monitor showed everything in the normal range, but Bryant knew there was nothing normal about the patient it monitored.
“Why don’t you sit down?” Father Joe said from a chair in the corner of the room. “You’re making me nervous.”
Bryant heard the request, but kept on pacing. Father Joe sighed and flipped a page from the Bible on his lap. Bryant kept scrutinizing Margo, looking for something, anything, which could tell him who she was. He questioned her motives for everything now. Had she come looking for him in Chandler for therapy, or was there something else going on? Something he was overlooking?
A white pigeon danced outside on the shallow windowsill, jutting his head left and right, but always settling his glare on Margo.
Bryant banged a knuckle on the window, yet the bird didn’t flinch.
“What’s with this pigeon?” Bryant asked.
“It’s not a pigeon,” Father Joe said, his index finger on a particular passage he was reading. “It’s a dove.”
Bryant shook his head. “Everything’s got biblical implications with you, Joe. Why can’t it just be a pigeon?”
“Because it’s not,” the priest said finally looking up. “There’s a reason it’s here.”
“Okay, I’m listening.”
Father Joe returned to his Bible. “I haven’t figured that one out yet.”
“Which implies you’ve figured other things out.”
Bryant scoffed at the notion of the priest finding answers in the Bible. He resumed pacing and considered how to approach Margo once she gained consciousness.
Bryant’s phone vibrated in his pocket. He pulled it out and saw “private number” on the Caller ID. Moving to the far end of the room, he pushed the talk button and said, “Hello.”
“I heard,” Frank Sullivan said, his voice sounding cautious. “How is she?”
Bryant glanced over at Margo still motionless. “She’s sleeping off the anesthesia, but her prognosis is good.”
“Jeez, Michael, were you there when it happened?”
Sullivan was quiet for a moment, then said, “How are you?”
Bryant knew where Sullivan was going, a friend to the end. “I’m fine. I wasn’t injured.”
“Yes, but you witnessed the shooting of a teenage—”
“I’m okay, Sully,” Bryant spoke a little too loud. Father Joe looked up from his Bible, his finger still holding his place.
“Hold on,” Bryant said as he left Margo’s room and walked along the corridor until he found an empty patient room. His friend waited.
Once inside Bryant went to the window and spoke in a low tone.
“I’m okay, Sully. I promise.”
“Well I just—”
“Do you remember our second year in med school? Kitty Jenson’s class?
“Yeah,” Sullivan said sounding suspicious.
“Do you remember a study she lectured on about the brain’s ability to heal itself?”
“Sure, neuroplasticity. Neurons are sent to compensate for injured tissue within the brain. Why do you ask?”
“Well, what if the brain were able to send neurons to repair damaged tissue in other parts of the body as well?”
“Oh, I don’t know about that. There’s no evidence the brain is capable of something like that.”
“A normal brain, no. But what about a superior brain. A brain with telepathic ability. Maybe the only brain on the planet using its full potential?”
There was a pause while Sullivan seemed to consider the question. “Michael, I don’t know what you want me to say. It’s science fiction right now, but who knows about the future?”
“You saw Margo’s brain scans after the accident. You showed them to me. I didn’t think about it at the time, but the activity throughout the temporal lobe was off the chart.”
Bryant’s phone beeped, signaling an incoming call.
“Hold on, Sully,” Bryant said, pushing a button, then saying, “Hello.”
“You got a minute?” a man’s voice said.
“Who is this?”
“FBI Agent Ron Turkle.”
“Look, I’m kind of busy right now.”
“I’ll bet,” Turkle said. “I’m downstairs in the cafeteria. She won’t be coherent enough to talk with you for an hour or so.”
“How’d you know—”
“I’m an FBI agent. I know a lot of things.”
Bryant was curious if Turkle knew just how much he despised the sardonic tone the guy was giving him. “Thanks, but I’ll pass. I have a call holding on the other line.”
“You don’t like me much, do you?”
“You want to know why?”
“Because I know what really happened on March 19th.”
Bryant’s face twitched while his grip tightened around his phone. He stood by the window overlooking the valley. In the distance he could see the stand of trees that lined Rittenhouse Road. One of the few streets which didn’t go directly north and south or east and west. An angled road with steep drop-offs and a parallel wash which would fill during heavy rain. The road where a drunk driver swerved too far into the oncoming lane. On March 19th.
Bryant tried to control his rapid breathing. “I’ll be right there.”
* * *
The cafeteria was half full with a mixture of hospital employees in scrubs and visitors sitting in a scattering of square tables. Agent Turkle stood out with his FBI blue suit and sunglasses sitting on the top of his head. He was chewing on a sandwich, clutching it with both hands as if it might escape his jurisdiction.
Turkle saw Bryant coming. He nodded to the plastic chair across from him like a grumpy high school principal and said, “Sit down.”
Bryant was terminally resistant to authority figures, so he stood next to Turkle, looking down at him, forcing Turkle to look up.
Turkle seemed to understand the gesture. He put down his sandwich, then wiped his mouth with a paper napkin, gave Bryant a warm smile and stood. “Pardon me, Dr. Bryant,” Turkle said, holding out his hand toward the empty chair. “Would you please join me?”
Turkle retained a chronic smugness which seemed as irrevocable as his sneer. He bit into his sandwich, then looked at the buffet line. “You want to get something to eat?” he said with his mouth full of bread and meat.
What Bryant wanted was to leave. Get up and forget he even came. But Turkle seemed to know exactly which buttons to push.
“No thanks,” Bryant said. “You mentioned March 19th.”
Turkle finished the first half of his sandwich, then flicked crumbs from his fingertips over his plate. “Sorry, I skipped breakfast this morning.”
Bryant waited, wondering if he’d made a mistake coming to meet Turkle. Why was the FBI even interested in him? He was a retiring psychiatrist attempting to leave town. What could the government possibly want from him?
Turkle took another bite of his sandwich, chewed, then swallowed. “I need your help, Dr. Bryant.”
“You need my help?” Bryant said. “What could you possibly need from me?”
Turkle worked the sandwich and said, “You may want to reevaluate your opinion of this girl.”
“Why does she seem to scare you so much?”
Turkle grinned though a mouthful of whole wheat bread. “You misunderstand.”
“Explain it to me,” Bryant said, clasping his hands together on the tabletop.
“Well,” Turkle said, putting the remainder of his sandwich down and pushing the plate to the side. “For one thing, she’s dangerous.”
Bryant scoffed. “You’re kidding, right?”
“No, I’m very serious. This girl is not who you think she is.”
“Then who is she?”
Turkle leaned over the table and lowered his voice. “I showed you the picture of her accident, right?”
“Well, what you don’t know is John Ames, the man who shot her this morning, is the rescue worker who first found her on the side of the mountain. His initial report claimed that he saw her all mangled up and watched as her body virtually repaired itself right in front of him.”
Bryant felt the room get warmer. “How come no one reported this?”
“Because his superiors were protecting him. They deleted his document. He’s got a family to feed and a stellar record. They gave him some time off and told him he was suffering from an altitude disease.”
“So why does he come to Arizona and try to kill her?”
“Because he’s trying to prove a point.”
“Well,” Turkle said, wiping crumbs away from the perimeter of his mouth, “he hears about her talking with aliens and he puts two and two together.”
Turkle tapped his index finger on the table and looked around the cafeteria. He seemed to be grappling with something. Finally, he lowered his head and maintained an even gaze on Bryant. “I think you know by now that Margo Sutter died on that plane, don’t you?”
Bryant couldn’t help but grin. “That’s your theory?”
Turkle leaned back and took a deep breath. “Look, the FBI trains their agents to theorize. They nurture the creative thought process, offering seminars and workshops on the power of critical thinking.”
“So why are you telling me? Why don’t you have her taken in and examined?”
Turkle’s cheek muscles tightened as he avoided eye contact. A clear sign of stress. Bryant understood the reason.
“Oh,” Bryant said, suddenly understanding. “This isn’t the FBI’s theory, is it? It’s your theory.”
To his surprise, Turkle caved in and nodded, the smugness taking a momentary break.
“So what do you want from me?” Bryant asked.
“I want you to declare her a danger to society. Then I can take over the investigation from there.”
“Because you’re one of the most respected psychiatrists in the nation for treating teenagers. Your integrity wouldn’t be challenged.”
“But as far as I can tell, she isn’t a danger to anyone.”
Bryant thought about her clairvoyant abilities. Listening to Turkle’s theories made neuroplasticity seem more and more plausible. At least there was science behind the concept and that was the only thing Bryant had faith in anymore. Science.
“Listen,” Bryant said. “There might be a biological explanation for some of this stuff.”
“Really?” Turkle said. “Tell me one biological reason she could do what she did.”
Bryant wasn’t ready to give up the extent of Margo’s telepathic ability to the FBI. There was still too much he needed to know. Too many questions to answer before he gave that up.
“I’m not doing your dirty work for you,” Bryant said. “If you have justification to deem her dangerous, go ahead and do it, but I won’t be complicit.”
“Complicit? That’s a strong word. You don’t think there’s anything here that requires further inspection?”
Bryant pointed to the ceiling. “She’s lying in a bed on the third floor. Inspect away.”
Turkle grimaced. “Why do you have to go and force me to upset you?”
Bryant sat upright while Turkle pulled a large manila envelope from his black, leather brief bag. He lay the envelope on the table and spread his hands across it as if gravity couldn’t be trusted to keep it down. The conceit returned to Turkle’s face and it made Bryant’s head throb.
“I’m an investigator,” Turkle said. “Investigating is like putting together a puzzle. Some people get down to three or four pieces and stop. They see the picture and lose the desire to finish. Me, I’m more of a finisher. I wait until the entire picture is completely clear, then I declare the puzzle finished. Never before.”
Turkle drummed his fingers across the top of the envelope. Bryant couldn’t keep his eyes away. The longer Turkle waited to open it, the warmer the room seemed to get.
Turkle looked down and straightened the aluminum clip before pulling out a large photo. He twirled the photo to face Bryant and slid it in front of him.
“Robert Henson,” Turkle said.
Bryant pushed it away. “No, no, no,” he stammered. Suddenly his legs were wobbly. The sturdiness of a four-legged chair didn’t seem enough to keep him upright.
“What is this?” Bryant panted.
“Photo radar,” Turkle said dryly. “He was speeding down Rittenhouse Road on March 19th, going eighty-five in a forty-five mile-per-hour speed zone.”
If he could’ve run, he would’ve, but Bryant could only stare down at the man who had killed his wife and daughter with a suffocating pressure in his chest. The man was slumped over the steering wheel, his head leaning on the dashboard.
Turkle began talking too fast, the words coming at Bryant like bullets. “This was taken two miles before the accident occurred. He had nine times the legal limit of alcohol in his system. The human body can’t survive that much alcohol.”
“What?” Bryant murmured, leaning back as far as he could. The grief coming at him in waves.
“He couldn’t have kept the car on the road for that long after he died. That’s impossible,” Turkle rattled on.
“You’re a sick bastard,” Bryant growled.
“I believe his body was taken over by the aliens. Just like they took over Margo’s body. That’s why the timing of Margo’s accident and your family’s accident were so close. They targeted your family.”
Bryant grabbed the photo and tore it in half, then in half again. “You’re insane.”
“I wish it were that simple.”
Bryant managed to get to his feet. He noticed a handful of customers paying close attention to them. His legs splayed on him, then stabilized as he hobbled toward the exit. Turkle was up and close at his side.
“It’s not as crazy as it sounds,” Turkle said, keeping up with him. “I’ve got other evidence.”
Bryant’s rage hummed like a tornado. He stopped to face Turkle and stuck a finger in his face. “You stay away from me,” Bryant roared. “And you stay away from Margo. She’s just a teenager with issues. That’s all.”
“Is that what you call it? Issues? Are you kidding me?”
Adrenalin rushed through Bryant’s veins. He glanced at the audience accumulating around them, then lowered his voice. “You think you know me because you have data and pictures and people crawling through my office looking for information. You don’t know anything about me.”
“You may not care about yourself, Doctor, but I know how to hurt you. And trust me, I will hurt you.”
Bryant wondered what the consequences would be for punching an FBI agent. His hand came up from his side and his finger caught onto something which flew out of his pocket and onto the floor next to Turkle.
The FBI agent bent over to pick it up and stopped as soon as he saw what it was. His hand slowly retreated while he stood up and took a step back, clutching his chest and struggling to breathe.
“You’re making a mistake, Dr. Bryant,” he coughed out. He stumbled backward toward his table. His words were soft and tepid. “I’m going to get what I want.”
Turkle dropped into his chair and clawed at his chest while trying to maintain his composure. Bryant wondered if the agent was having a heart attack. He waited until the episode seemed to pass.
Finally Turkle pulled down his sunglasses and grabbed his brief bag. He never turned his back to Bryant, watching him like he was in a gunfight.
After a long minute of the two men staring at each other, Bryant reached down and picked up the rosary beads Margo had given him, while Turkle examined the move carefully.
Bryant felt the beads in his fingers, feeling nothing but a gritty marble texture. He turned to leave. From behind him, he heard Turkle say, “She’s mine, Doctor.”