The flashing red lights called to him like a lighthouse to a lost sailor. Michael Bryant rushed toward them, his temples dripping with sweat. His leather shoes clacked on the sidewalk as the approaching storm system spit drops of rain on his face. His pace quickened. He couldn’t lose another one. Not now. Not this soon after the accident that took his family from him.
Bryant dodged the early lunch crowd along Arizona Avenue like a running back, his eyes always on the flashing lights and hoping he wasn’t too late. Yellow tape swung in the breeze between police barricades while uniformed officers waved back the crowd gathering behind the semicircle of police cruisers.
Two news helicopters hovered in the distance, their camera crews recording the night’s lead story. As Bryant ran up to the barricades, a burly policeman headed him off and shoved an open hand into his sternum.
“Sorry, sir,” the officer said. “We need this area cleared.”
“I’m his doctor,” Bryant blurted, finally seeing the front of the car halfway through the entrance to the bank, smoke wafting from the front end. The shattered glass and opened driver’s side door chronicled the event.
“There’s EMTs on site,” the officer said. “We’ve got it covered.”
“No, I’m his psychiatrist. He needs me.”
Someone whistled from behind the officer and Bryant got what he needed. A familiar face. Detective Sam Meltzer was squatted behind the wheel well of one of the cruisers and gave another whistle until the officer saw him waving the doctor through. Bryant ducked under the tape and hustled the remaining thirty yards. Meltzer gestured for him to stay down until Bryant was crouched next to him behind the security of the cruiser, still huffing from the five-block sprint.
“Who told you?” Meltzer said.
“His mother,” Bryant said, breathless. “He called her to say goodbye and she called me.”
“So he’s one of yours?”
Bryant nodded. Then Meltzer gave him the look he’d always despised. The look of pity that saturated every face he’d seen for the past four months. The look that said, “I’m sorry about your wife and daughter,” and did nothing but remind him of the phone call. The last time he would ever hear a phone ring without flinching.
“You shouldn’t be here,” Meltzer said. “It’s too soon—”
“I’m familiar with the calendar,” Bryant snapped, taking the sympathy right out of Meltzer’s eyes.
“But I thought you were leaving?”
“I am,” Bryant said, jabbing his thumb over his shoulder toward the bank. “Some of my patients aren’t all that thrilled with my decision.”
“You think he’s doing this for attention?”
Bryant leaned back against the car and his right arm touched a leg. He looked up and saw a man in a navy blue jumpsuit cradling a rifle over the hood of the car, training his open eye through the sight. His face seemed strained.
“I’ve got an open shot, Detective,” the man said without moving a muscle.
Bryant turned to Meltzer, “What’s this?”
“He’s got a gun in there, Mike. I’m sorry, but I can’t afford to let anyone get hurt.”
“He’s only eighteen.”
“He’s got twelve hostages.”
“Has he harmed anyone?”
“So tell me, what’s he asking for?”
Meltzer frowned. “He wants us to take all the money from the bank and give it to the poor people of Chandler.”
Bryant rolled his eyes. “Wow, I’m surprised you haven’t killed him already.”
The man in the jumpsuit whispered, “Just tell me when, Detective.”
Bryant wanted to rip the gun from the guy’s hands and pound him with it.
Meltzer must’ve noticed because the detective’s face softened. “Not yet, Roger.” Then he turned to Bryant. “What’s his condition?”
Bryant nodded. A sharp wind sprayed sideways raindrops across his face.
“Is he dangerous?”
Bryant let out a breath. “Probably.”
“What meds is he taking?”
Bryant looked away and Meltzer cursed under his breath.
“Can’t you ever prescribe medication for any of these kids? Just once?”
“I was trying to correct the distortion his mind had created and medication was simply going to thwart that progress.”
Meltzer looked up. “What’s he doing, Roger?”
“Nothing,” the man said. “Just sitting there.”
“Is he pulling at the hair on the back of his head?” Bryant asked.
The sharpshooter turned away from his rifle sight and looked down at Bryant. “How’d you know?”
Bryant got to his knees and Meltzer grabbed his arm.
“Where are you going?” Meltzer said.
Bryant put one foot under him and leaned into Meltzer. “There’s still time,” he said. “I can get him out of this. I know which buttons to push.”
Meltzer was shaking his head, but his eyes weren’t agreeing with his mind. He simply kept his hand on Bryant’s arm while he seemed to play things through.
“Listen,” Bryant said, “It’s no coincidence that he chose a bank to drive into. His father is Charles Davenport.”
Meltzer’s eyebrows rose.
“Yes, that Charles Davenport. The guy who swindled millions from innocent investors. Now, Jeff is in there telling you to take money from the bank and give it to poor people. He’s trying to right a wrong. He’s not a bad kid, just confused.”
Meltzer released Bryant’s arm and began unbuttoning his shirt.
“What are you doing?” Bryant asked.
“I’m giving you my Kevlar jacket to wear.”
Bryant held up his hands. “No, that won’t work.”
“Because the minute he suspects I’m hiding something from him, we’re done. His father is a big liar and Jeff despises people who try to deceive him. I stray from the truth even slightly and he’ll know it.”
Now Meltzer’s mouth tightened, wanting to argue, but maybe realizing he was low on options. There was a small chirp. The detective glanced down at the cell phone in his left hand and frowned. He looked up, apologetically. “I gotta take this.”
Bryant froze momentarily at the sound, then righted himself and lifted up enough to peek through the cruiser window. Jeff sat on the floor of the bank, his back up against the teller wall. His head was down in deep thought. Bryant knew the boy couldn’t see or hear anyone right now. His mind was miles away, and there was a gap available for someone who knew what to do with it.
“Yes, honey,” Meltzer said into the phone. There was a pause, then “Listen, sweetie, I’m just a little busy right now.”
Another pause. “I know, baby, I’ll call you right back I promise.”
Meltzer looked up at Bryant with pleading eyes, his index finger in the air. “I understand, darling, there’s no reason to fret. It’s only a storm system. Nothing more.”
Bryant stood up and listened while Meltzer finished the call. The detective put his phone in his pocket and stood next to Bryant.
“Ever since Kyle was born, she worries about every little thing,” Meltzer said. He looked up at the sky. “This rain cloud’s got people whacked out. This is Arizona, the Valley of the Sun, but three days without sunshine and people lose control.”
“I’m going in,” Bryant told him.
Meltzer’s silence was all he needed. Bryant glanced at the sharpshooter, then back at the detective. “Tell the cowboy to give me some time.”
Meltzer nodded. “You think you’re in trouble though, you tap your head. That’ll be the signal for us to get involved. Okay?”
Bryant was around the cruiser now, slowly walking toward the opening created by Jeff Davenport’s car. He was careful to walk with his arms away from his body. Unthreatening.
“Hey, Mike,” Meltzer called to him in a low voice.
Bryant turned to see a harsh look in the detective’s eyes.
“If I turn over a dead body in there,” Meltzer said. “It better not have your face on it.”