A crack of thunder startled Bryant out of his sleep. He glanced at the digital clock on the nightstand and saw it was 2:12 a.m. Across the small gap between their beds he could see Margo under the covers, curled on her side. The Bible still next to her. The rain was coming down hard now, and the window rattled unevenly as the gusts would kick up then subside. Within the rhythm of the storm system surging against their motel window was another sound. A mechanical sound which didn’t belong to any of the natural occurrences a storm could produce. He squinted in the dark as if it could increase his ability to hear the noise more acutely.
Bryant’s heart stammered in his chest as he realized the noise appeared to be coming from inside their room. He jumped from the bed and searched for the source of the sound.
There it was again. A scraping sound clearly coming from the door. He licked a pair of dry lips and approached the doorknob as if he were about to touch plutonium.
The sound became louder as he got to his knees and put his face just inches from the doorknob. That’s when he saw it move. He sucked in a quick breath. The scraping sound and the movement were synchronized. Someone was trying to get in.
Bryant hopped to his feet and glimpsed into the peephole. It was blocked. He grabbed the doorknob and felt it jiggle.
“Margo,” he called to her in a forced whisper.
She moved her legs.
The doorknob seemed to be on the verge of giving up its security.
“Margo,” he called again.
This time she bolted upright. She saw Bryant and immediately threw aside her sheets. “What’s happening?”
Bryant grabbed the cell phone from his pocket and pressed the on button. He tossed it to her while keeping his hand firmly around the doorknob. “Call 911.”
From the perimeter of the closed curtains a bright flash of lightning lit up the room with its brilliance. Almost simultaneously there was a crack of thunder. The room shook from the devastating explosion of lightning and night air. The window rattled so hard, Bryant thought it might burst.
“There’s no signal,” Margo said with a panicked tone.
Bryant was close enough to the window that he thought of moving the curtain aside, but something prevented him from doing it.
Margo dashed over to the phone on the nightstand and put it to her ear. While staring at Bryant with wide eyes she placed the phone back down. “No dial tone.”
Another flash of lightning lit up the room. The blast of thunder that followed was even angrier than the previous explosion.
The doorknob was turning now. Bryant had to look outside. While squeezing the round piece of metal with both hands, he leaned to his right and brushed aside the thick curtain with the side of his head. The rain pelted the window with a vicious drumbeat. As his right eye moved far enough for him to see outside, a bolt of lightning lit up the parking lot and Bryant’s entire body trembled with what he saw.
Standing in the middle of the parking lot wearing a black trench coat and a sinister grin was FBI agent Ron Turkle. He was staring directly at Bryant through the sideways assault of rain with his hands in his coat pocket and complete satisfaction on his face.
Bryant was in shock. His grip gave way as he processed what he was seeing. The doorknob twisted farther now and the door slipped open an inch before it snagged the safety latch.
“No,” Margo screamed.
A man’s face scrunched up into the one-inch opening, and he grunted like a wild animal. “I’m coming in, alien girl,” the dark face hollered.
Bryant took two steps back and rammed his shoulder into the door. He felt the force of the man’s body jolt backward as the door slammed shut.
Margo jumped up and began slamming her fist up against the wall. “Help!” she screamed, hoping there was someone in the next room to hear her.
Bryant kept his weight pressed against the door, hoping the guy didn’t have a gun. He felt the man push back, a shove which almost knocked Bryant off his feet. A streak of red light flickered between the curtains. While keeping pressure up against the door, Bryant moved the curtain enough to see a swirl of red and white lights flashing up against the window. He heard some shouting over the storm.
Bryant kept leaning against the door. He turned to see Margo standing between the beds chewing on a fingernail.
“Get down behind the bed,” Bryant ordered.
There didn’t seem to be any pressure on the other side of the door, but Bryant wasn’t falling for any tricks. He stayed firmly attached to the door.
“Mike,” a familiar voice shouted from out in the rain. “It’s Sam.”
Bryant kept his stance.
“Mike,” the voice said. “It’s okay. Turkle’s gone.”
Margo crept up to the window as if she were trying to keep a baby from waking up. She pulled the edge of the curtain away from the window and looked outside. Her face brightened as she spotted the source of the voice.
“It’s Detective Meltzer,” she said with a sense of joy.
Bryant pulled open the door but kept the safety guard intact. Through the narrow opening he saw the detective standing there with a gun by his side.
“I’m sort of getting wet out here,” Meltzer said matter-of-factly.
Bryant shut the door, then flipped aside the safety bar and reopened it all the way.
“You guys okay?” Meltzer asked, leaning into the doorway to find Margo hugging herself with a tear-streaked smile.
“We’re fine,” Bryant said, stepping outside and seeing Meltzer’s sedan with the emergency lights still flickering against the building from the front grill. In the nearest parking space, an overweight man in jeans and an Aerosmith T-shirt was flopping around on the asphalt with his hands cuffed behind him.
“I’m gonna get you,” the man barked at Bryant while fighting the handcuffs in the rain.
Bryant turned back into the room. “Are you alone?”
“I didn’t know I’d find any trouble,” Meltzer said, putting away his gun. “It was after midnight before I left Dr. Lipson’s office and found your note on my desk.”
Bryant pointed to the man out in the parking lot. “What about him?”
Meltzer glanced over his shoulder. “I have a cruiser on the way.”
Margo was still trembling. “What about . . . what . . .”
“Turkle?” Meltzer asked.
Meltzer frowned. “There was a black Expedition leaving the parking lot when I pulled in, but I saw that guy trying to break into your room so I dealt with that first. I called in Turkle’s Expedition. The force is out there looking for him right now.”
A rumble of thunder sounded in the distance.
“They won’t find him,” Margo said with a faraway look in her eyes.
Meltzer didn’t appear ready to challenge her on that. He pointed to the bed and said to Margo, “Why don’t you sit down.”
“Because you have a bunch of questions you want to ask me?”
Margo looked at Bryant with compassion. “Do I have to?”
“Are you charging her with something?” Bryant asked the detective.
Meltzer rubbed the back of his neck and sat down on Bryant’s bed. “Listen, do you know how long of a day this has been? I have an obese drunk lying in the parking lot, a wife who thinks the world is ending every time a cloud comes by, a rescue worker from Alaska who thinks Margo is an alien, and a rogue FBI agent who’s doing his best to destroy innocent people. Can I please just get some answers from someone?”
When no one answered, Meltzer continued. “Look, she’s got some kind of mental capacity that a normal person doesn’t have. I get it. I spoke with Dr. Lipson at length about her condition.”
“My condition?” Margo squeaked as her eyes widened. “I have a condition?”
Bryant took Margo in his arms and sat her down on the bed across from the detective. While Margo’s head rested on his shoulder, Bryant scolded Meltzer with a viscous glare.
“N-n-no,” Meltzer struggled to maintain his credibility. “That’s not what I meant. I realize now that you’re special, it’s not like you’re suffering from some disease or something.”
Bryant rolled his eyes while the skinny girl shivered in his arms.
“What I’m saying is . . .” Meltzer looked at Bryant as if to ask for some help.
“You want her to help you figure some things out?” Bryant said with his head cocked.
“I see,” Bryant said. He looked down at Margo who was chewing on her lower lip. “Would you like to explain to Detective Meltzer what Turkle is doing? Maybe go into his psychotic behavior and the irrational acts he’s been perpetrating on an innocent young girl like yourself? In fact, maybe you could explain psychotic behavior in general so we all could learn a little?”
Meltzer blew out a breath and hung his head. “All right. I’m putting you two in a safe house for a few days.”
“No,” Bryant said. “Not me.”
Meltzer looked up. “I wasn’t asking a question, I was making a statement.”
“You need to protect her,” Bryant said, his arm still around the fragile girl. “But I won’t be cooped up waiting for this guy to come after me.”
Meltzer glanced over his shoulder to see the round assailant still rolling around in the rain like a beached sea lion. When he turned back, there was determination in his eyes. “There’s a very dangerous man probably trying to kill you. Now, you may not have an appetite for surviving this ordeal, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let you traipse around town until this guy finally succeeds. Not on my watch.”
Bryant’s face softened. “Look, I appreciate what you’re doing, but I’m not crazy and I don’t have a death wish. I’ll be cautious and I’ll be smart.” Bryant held up his right hand to Meltzer. “I promise.”
Meltzer was about to say something when a second set of flashing red and white lights swept across their open doorway. He shook his head, slapped his hands onto his knees and pushed himself up from the bed. As he walked outside to greet the local police officer, he said, “We’ll continue this fun conversation in a minute.”