Father Joe was flipping through passages of his Bible when Dr. Sanford barged into the room with a manila file in one hand and a pair of reading glasses in the other. He was breathing heavily, as if he’d run up the stairs instead of taking the elevator. He saw the empty bed, then swiveled his head around in confusion. Finally he focused on Father Joe.
“Where is she?” he asked.
Father Joe looked straight at him and said,” Who?” with a straight face.
Dr. Sanford frowned at the response. “Margo Sutter,” he said. “The girl you came to visit.”
Father Joe shrugged. “I think she went to get something to eat.”
Dr. Sanford looked at the priest suspiciously. “Father,” he said, “this girl is recovering from a gunshot wound she’d acquired this morning. She shouldn’t be ambulatory.”
Father Joe resumed his page turning. “I’ll let her know that,” he said with as much indifference as he could muster. In his peripheral vision he could tell the doctor was standing there trying to decide how to react. It was hard to get angry with a priest who was reading a Bible. Finally Dr. Sanford let out a huge sigh and left the room.
When the door clicked shut, the priest waited a long moment, then looked up to the ceiling and shook his head. “Forgive me, Lord.”
“Would you like to confess your sins, Padre?” a voice said.
Father Joe recognized the FBI agent poking his head into the room from the hallway. Agent Turkle pushed the door entirely open and entered the room. He swirled a pair of sunglasses and never even looked at the empty bed next to him.
Father Joe examined the agent’s face. There was nothing but a steely glare. “What can I do for you Agent Turkle?” Father Joe said.
Turkle snapped his sunglasses shut and slipped them into the inside pocket of his jacket. “I need you to tell me the truth,” he said. “You think you can do that?”
Father Joe didn’t respond to the rhetorical question. He had the sudden urge to hold his Bible with a tighter grip.
“I need to know where he took her,” Turkle said, then quickly held up his hand before the priest could reply. “And don’t ask me who, or I swear I’ll throw that Bible right out the damn window.”
Father Joe’s stomach felt like it was in motion. Turkle had such a wicked demeanor it was hard for him to concentrate.
“I won’t lie to you, Agent Turkle,” Father Joe said, then opened his Bible and returned his attention to Hebrews and waited for the response to his defiance. He thought he’d heard Turkle snort. When he looked up he saw something in the FBI agent’s face that made him cough. Turkle’s eyes were dark as coal and his nostrils flared like a charging bull. But what really startled Father Joe was the venomous expression which the agent didn’t even try to hide. It was as if he were practicing his death stare into a mirror. Turkle’s voice deepened when he spoke and sounded as if his words came from an echo chamber. “I will find them, Father Joseph Murphy. And when I do, I’ll be sure to make an example of them for you. Whatever’s left of them, that is.”
It took less than three seconds for Turkle to storm out of the room, but Father Joe’s fingers continued to tremble for three full minutes after the incident. He dropped the Bible to the floor, then ran for the bathroom to relieve himself.
* * *
Bryant had taken Margo through the doctor’s entrance and scampered the long way around the parking lot until they got to his car. Father Joe had driven it to the hospital once Bryant insisted on riding in the ambulance with Margo. With a couple of miles behind them, Bryant finally took his eyes from the rearview mirror to glance over at Margo in the passenger seat.
“You okay?” he asked.
Margo chewed on a loose fingernail. “Fine.”
“I mean, do you feel . . . I mean, are you in pain?”
Margo shrugged. “I’m sad. Does that count?”
Standing along the side of the road was a person wearing an alien costume with the big eyes and the narrow face. The person was holding a sign which read: TAKE ME WITH YOU.
Bryant shook his head. Margo said nothing. They drove down Ray Road, two lanes in each direction. The clouds overhead seemed to darken. Bryant’s short-term plan was to get as much distance between them and Agent Turkle. His long-term plan hadn’t quite developed just yet. Bryant was going through his options when he had to swerve into the next lane to avoid running over a dead cat lying next to the curb. As they passed, Margo appeared extremely interested in the crumpled animal whose guts were exposed for everyone to see.
Margo pulled at the loose fingernail while stretching her neck to see the cat. “Can I ask you something, Doc?”
“Why can’t I die like everyone else?”
Bryant bit the inside of his cheek. “Well, I have a theory.”
“Father Joe is working on a theory as well.”
Bryant sighed. “Father Joe’s theories are a bit one-sided.”
“I don’t know,” Margo said, “he seems to be pretty levelheaded about things.”
“Listen, Sweetie—” Bryant stopped himself. He couldn’t believe what he’d just done. He was transferring a conversation he could’ve had with his daughter to Margo. Just how twisted had his mind become?
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“There’s nothing to be sorry for,” Margo said.
“Still, I shouldn’t have—”
“Doc,” Margo reached over and squeezed his arm. “It’s okay.”
Bryant nodded. A flash of light caught his attention in the rearview mirror.
“Shit,” Bryant muttered.
“I’m being pulled over.”
Bryant must’ve been speeding without realizing it. The adrenalin going all the way to his right foot. He found a side street to turn down, then pulled over to a stop. He reached for his wallet and retrieved his driver’s license. By the time the officer walked up to the driver’s side window, Bryant was already holding out his license.
“Anything wrong, officer?” Bryant asked.
The man took the license and examined the inside of the car, stopping at Margo.
“Who’s she?” the officer asked.
“You didn’t answer my question,” Bryant said.
Now the officer took in Bryant with a sour expression. “I’d like my question answered first, if you don’t mind.”
Bryant’s aversion for authority figures was about to raise its ugly head when Margo blurted, “I’m his niece,” then pasted a phony smile on her face.
Bryant gave her a quizzical look. She kept the smile and looked past him at the officer.
“You did a little dance back there in the middle of the road,” the officer said.
Bryant tried to figure out what he meant, then it came to him. “Oh, that. There was a dead cat in the road so I swerved to avoid hitting it.”
The officer didn’t seem impressed with the excuse. He pointed the license at Bryant then said, “I’ll be right back.”
They sat there in silence for a moment waiting for the officer to return.
“We have to go,” Margo whispered.
Bryant glanced back at the officer who was methodically making the exact type of motions he’d expected the man to make.
“What are you talking about?” Bryant said quietly while watching the flashing lights blink off his rearview mirror.
“He’s trying to find a way to get us alone,” she said, urgently. “We have to get away from him.”
“But I can’t just leave. He’ll call for backup.”
“No, he won’t,” she said. She didn’t seem interested in turning around, as if she knew what monster was standing behind her and she refused to look. “He’s working alone. He won’t call it in.”
“Margo, you’re still under the effects of anesthesia. He’s just doing his job.”
“No, he’s not,” she said, her face down now, her eyes darting back and forth as if she were eavesdropping. “He’s friends with Turkle.”
At the sound of the agent’s name, Bryant flinched. “You’re sure?”
“Positive,” Margo said, a quiver in her voice.
The officer returned to Bryant’s side of the car, handing him back his license.
The man glanced around the perimeter as if searching for something.
“Okay, here’s what we’re going to do,” the officer said. “I want you two to get out of the car very slowly.”
Margo gripped Bryant’s arm and squeezed. He could feel her anxiety flush into his system while he sat there with his heart pumping way too fast.
“Dr. Bryant,” the officer said firmly, backing up a step and placing both hands on his right hip. His gun hip.
The way the words came out of the man’s mouth, it was too familiar, like he’d used them before. And how did he know Bryant was a doctor? Bryant felt motion next to him. He turned in time to see Margo pull the gearshift into drive and slam her foot down on the accelerator. Instinctively he grabbed the steering wheel and pressed on the brake, but Margo had viciously planted her foot to the floorboard.
“Stop,” shouted the officer running next to the car as it jerked away from him in lurches. The brakes screeched its displeasure in the quiet neighborhood. Bryant could sense the officer hold out his gun, but he had to keep the car on the road while fighting for control with Margo.
“What are you doing?” Bryant yelled at her.
“Please, we have to get out of here,” Margo cried.
Bryant finally glanced over at her face and saw the sheer panic in her eyes. He decided to let go of the brake. The car squealed forward, jolting them back. Margo was thrown into her seat, while Bryant yanked the wheel left to avoid a parked car. When he looked into his side-view mirror he saw the officer pointing his gun, but not shooting. A moment later the man ran to his cruiser and began the chase.
“Get down,” Bryant shouted.
Margo shrunk down in her seat, her knees to her chest.
“What’s he thinking?” Bryant asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “He’s too far away. It’s too hectic.”
Bryant was accelerating past sixty down a residential street, the police car gaining and the siren now blaring its warning at them.
“I should pull over,” Bryant said. “I can’t outrun him. If he takes us in, I’ll call Detective Meltzer. He’ll get us out of this.”
“No,” she said. “You don’t understand. He doesn’t want to take us to the police station.”
Bryant took his foot off the gas for a moment as they zipped past a side street, then he slammed his foot on the accelerator flying forward with no destination.
“Even if he doesn’t call for backup, he’ll catch us,” Bryant said, searching for ideas, but coming up empty. The smell of burning brake pads finally wafted up from the wheel wells. “Maybe I can pull over in a crowded shopping center, so we’ll have witnesses.”
Margo stared out the front windshield at the darkening sky above them. She seemed to be in a trance.
“Margo, I’m going to find some busy—”
“No,” she said, “I have a better idea.”
They were rapidly approaching a main intersection. The traffic light had just changed from yellow to red.
“Pull over,” Margo said.
Bryant was barely paying attention to the road in front of him. Instead, he was staring at his rearview mirror, watching the cruiser gain on him like a cheetah to a gazelle.
“Pull over,” Margo repeated.
“Are you sure?” Bryant said, breathless, peppering his brakes, preparing for the red light.
Bryant glided the car to the curb, watching the police car gobble up the space between them and get close enough to tap bumpers. When Bryant stopped completely, he watched Margo pull on the door handle.
He grabbed her arm. “What are you doing?”
“I can stop this,” she said with a forced calmness to her voice.
“No,” Bryant said, glimpsing the side-view mirror and watching the officer jump out of the car with his pistol held out in front of him. The siren was off, but the lights still flickered its urgency.
“I know what I’m doing,” she said pushing open her door and looking back at Bryant. “He won’t shoot me.”
“No,” Bryant said, reaching out for her, but grasping at air.
His body felt numb as he watched Margo walk around the front of his car. The officer was crouched in an aggressive position, both hands on the gun and trained at Margo.
“Get in my car,” the officer barked at her, and at first it seemed that was exactly what she was going to do. She strutted right past him and slid into the open door of the cruiser. The driver’s side door.
“Hey, the back seat,” the officer yelled as an approaching car slowed, then crawled past them. Two men inside the car gawked at the incident as if watching animals in a wildlife park.
The police car’s engine suddenly stopped. Margo jumped out of the car, her right hand balled into a fist.
She passed the officer once again as he shouted, “Stop, or I’ll shoot.”
This merely put a little hop into her step as she scurried the last few feet to Bryant’s car, slid in and shut the door behind her.
The officer sidestepped his way to the front of their car and pointed the pistol while shouting warnings. Bryant felt his body tremble.
Margo opened her fist and showed him the police officer’s car keys. “Drive,” she said.
Bryant put the car in gear and rolled forward, the officer hopped back and forth like a linebacker. As the car gained speed, the officer dodged to the side and gave way as they rolled past him.
In the rearview mirror, Bryant watched the officer aim his gun at them. He saw him shout warnings. He watched the guy dance maniacally next to his cruiser. Bryant kept waiting to hear a shot fired, but nothing came. Finally as the officer grew smaller, he lowered his weapon and stood there with his hands on his hips.
“I told you,” Margo said, twisting around in her seat for the direct view of the officer’s antics. “He won’t be calling this in.”
As Bryant’s heartbeat slowed, he turned right onto Ray Road. Now he knew where he needed to go. The two of them drove in silence. After a while, Margo opened her window and tossed the police officer’s keys onto the side of the road.
“He’s a bad man,” Margo said.
Bryant didn’t need to ask who she was talking about.