Meltzer carefully positioned Mrs. Turkle into the back of the police cruiser, then shut the door and gave Officer Kessler instructions to keep her in the holding cell next to Jeff Davenport.
The officer stared at Meltzer with a blank expression. “Didn’t Kilborn call you?”
Meltzer cocked his head. “Kilborn?” Then a thought occurred to him. He’d turned his ringer off an hour ago. He pulled his cell out and examined his missed-calls log. There were ten missed calls, all from the Chandler PD.
“What’s going on, Freddie?”
Officer Kessler appeared reluctant to say anything.
“Jeff Davenport’s been kidnapped.”
“That FBI agent went to the station and . . .”
Meltzer didn’t need to hear the rest. “Oh shit.”
“We have a BOLO out?”
Meltzer examined Mrs. Turkle’s face through the tinted windows of the cruiser and knew there was nothing she could offer him. Not now anyway.
What could Turkle possibly want with Jeff?
Meltzer looked back at the house and considered how much he could glean from the rogue agent’s kids. He slammed the roof of the cruiser a couple of times and a layer of desert-warm raindrops bounced up. He told the officer, “Get her out of here.”
Officer Kessler didn’t wait to be told twice. He hustled behind the wheel and pulled away. There was a forensics unit on the way which would gather important evidence, but time was imperative and he couldn’t afford to wait for the traditional method of investigation. He went back into the house and made his way to the bedroom where Bryant was trying to console the young children of a madman.
Meltzer gave a soft knock then opened the door slightly. The psychiatrist glared for a second, then gestured with his head for Meltzer to get out.
Meltzer pulled the door closed and pressed his ear against the wooden structure while the kids continued their session with the state’s best listener.
“He told us all about her,” the girl said.
“Who?” Bryant asked.
“That girl. The one who came from another planet. The one who talks to the aliens to let them know our weaknesses.”
“That’s what he told you?”
“Yes,” they both said at once.
“And what did he say about her?” Bryant’s voice was meticulously soft, without a trace of condescension.
There was a pause while Meltzer imagined the two kids looking at each other, deciding who should be the one who told the story of these pictures.
Finally the boy spoke up. “There are these bad aliens and good aliens. The good aliens want to leave us alone and go to a different planet. But the bad aliens want to destroy the planet and take over. You know, grow their own crops and raise their own animals.”
“And which one is your dad?”
The girl said, “We think he’s a good alien. He’s here to fight the bad ones.”
“But you’re not sure?”
There was a pause. Then the boy said, “No. But we think he’s here to help us. That’s why he wants the girl alien so bad.”
There was another stretch of silence and Meltzer suddenly had a pang of guilt standing there with his ear against the door. It made him feel dirty eavesdropping on these two innocent kids, and he slowly backed away. He looked around the living room again searching for something, anything which could get him closer to the FBI agent who’d done some terrible things under that roof. He spied a fly in between a couple of pictures on the wall. Meltzer had seen the fly when they first walked in and didn’t give it a second thought, but now it seemed a long time for an insect to be motionless. He moved closer to examine it and realized it wasn’t a fly at all. It was a tiny fiber optic camera.
“Shit,” Meltzer muttered. He picked at the tiny device with his fingernails until he dug the cable slightly out of the drywall. “Bastard,” Meltzer said, examining the camera’s miniature lens while swiveling his head around to see if there were more devices hidden in the walls. He found none.
Meltzer paced around the room. Normally forensics was slow to arrive on a scene anyway, but with the craziness happening in Chandler, Meltzer knew his patience would reach a boiling point before they arrived. His cell phone vibrated in his pocket and he saw the name on the screen. He pushed a button, then walked out of the house into the morning rain.
“Hey, baby,” he said, once outside.
Meltzer listened to his wife explain her issue.
“Baby,” he said, rolling his eyes, “there is no alien FBI agent on the loose. Geesh, where do they come up with this stuff?”
He yawned and stretched, remembering that he hadn’t been to bed the night before. “Baby, that’s on the same channel you watch, ‘Searching for Bigfoot.’ They’re not a news channel, they’re an entertainment channel. Their job is to entertain you. Maybe even scare you a little so you can call your husband at work and tell him about this channel you’re watching and maybe he’ll tell other people and they’ll tune in.”
His wife went on about the details of the FBI agent from another planet when her voice was interrupted by a beep. He pulled the phone from his ear and glanced at the LED display: Private Call.
“Baby, I need to take this other call. I promise there’s nothing to worry about. I’ll be home for dinner around six. Okay?”
He waited for her to give her blessing before he pushed the talk button and got the other line beeping in.
“Meltzer,” he said into the receiver.
“Keep him away from my kids,” boomed a man’s voice.
It took a couple of seconds for Meltzer to put it together. The camera. The kids. He glanced over his shoulder at the house. “Okay,” Meltzer said. “Let’s get together and talk about it.”
A moment of silence was followed by a short burst of laughter. It was the creepiest laugh he’d ever heard. The rain began to come down harder and thunder roared in the distance.
“You think I’m a bad person, don’t you?” FBI Agent Turkle said.
“I try not to judge people before I get to meet them face to face. Where are you?”
“Closer than you think.”
Turkle said it like a dare. It made Meltzer swivel his head and even look up into the rainclouds as if the FBI agent might parachute down on top of him.
“Then stop by,” Meltzer said, shooting his eyes in every direction, scrutinizing the landscape for the lunatic agent.
Just then, the driver in a parked car flashed his lights at him. It was a black Ford Expedition and it was parked a hundred yards away on the side street perpendicular to the residential street where Meltzer stood.
“You are the defiant one, aren’t you?” Meltzer said, watching the Expedition roll into the street and head directly at him. Instinctively, Meltzer shuffled behind his parked car for protection.
“Do you think you’re a good detective?” asked Agent Turkle in a derogatory tone.
“I’d like to think so.”
“Then why are you buying this load of crap people are feeding you?”
The Expedition had heavily tinted windows so Meltzer could barely see the shape of the person in the driver’s seat with a phone to his ear.
“Are you parking?” Meltzer said in a quivery tone.
Just then, the Expedition swerved to the right and squealed tires on the saturated asphalt before turning and fishtailing down the street away from Meltzer. Streams of water spewed out from the rear tires as Meltzer fumbled the keys from his pocket and yanked open the driver’s side door to his car, all the while squinting to see if he could identify even a couple of digits from the truck’s license. He jumped behind the wheel, started the engine and jammed on the gas pedal.
Halfway down the street he felt his heart pound in his chest as he gripped his steering wheel with both hands and saw Turkle tap the brake lights of the Expedition just before he made a violent right turn onto another side street.
Meltzer slowed to make the turn, but something in his rearview mirror made him pause. There was a vague movement about the same spot where his car was parked. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but an awful thought crept into the back of his head. He’d just left Bryant and those two kids alone, unarmed and unprotected.
Meltzer looked right to see the Expedition continue down the same road without turning, almost as if it were enticing him to join in the hunt. He jammed the gearshift into reverse and backed into the nearest driveway. When he turned back toward the house, he noticed a blue sedan pulling into the Turkle’s driveway.
Meltzer stepped on the gas and felt the back end of the car slide from under him. He backed off for a second and saw a man get out of the sedan. He was fifty yards away when he recognized the man. Shawn Backman. Turkle’s partner. Meltzer rolled the car to a stop in front of the house and watched Backman square up his stance, his right hand reaching for his holster.
Meltzer sat there with his gun ready. Backman squinted at Meltzer and a sense of recognition seemed to come over his face. The FBI agent put his gun back in his holster and came around the car with his hands up and a terse smile.
Meltzer rolled down his window as Backman approached his car in the rain.
“I’m glad to see you,” Agent Backman said.
“What are you doing here?”
“The same thing you are. Looking for answers.”
As Backman leaned forward, he spotted the gun in Meltzer’s lap. “Are you expecting trouble?” Backman asked, glancing at the weapon.
“I don’t know what to expect anymore,” Meltzer said, being honest and not even sure which side Backman was on. Until the blast of a gunshot echoed throughout the quiet neighborhood and Backman lurched backward, clutching his shoulder, then dropping to his knees and scrambling up against the back door of the car.
Meltzer ducked, then opened his door and crawled out next to Backman.
“You okay?” Meltzer asked.
Backman’s hand came back bright red. “Not sure.”
Meltzer pulled out his phone and quickly called for an ambulance and backup. He looked down at the wounded agent and saw shock setting in.
“Hang in there,” Meltzer said, then dared to peek over the door to look through his car’s windows. He was greeted with a barrage of bullets that shattered the glass and sent fragments of sharp edges rushing down on them harder than the rain.
The two men covered themselves with their arms until the assault stopped and nothing but the gentle tap of raindrops on the hood of the car was left behind. They huddled together, protecting each other from the next attack.
Meltzer felt a needle-like pain in the side of his neck and he pulled a long strand of glass from deep in his skin. He considered where the shots were coming from and a bad thought ran through his mind.
“Please don’t tell me he’s inside the house,” Meltzer said.
Backman kept his hand pressed up against his chest for compression, but he seemed to be able to maintain. “I can’t tell,” he said. “It might be from next door.”
Meltzer turned on his haunches with his gun in his hand and a determined look on his face. “I’m going in there and getting that bastard.”
Backman grabbed him and said, “No, don’t. Wait for backup. He’s too dangerous and he has position.”
“I can’t help it,” Meltzer said. “I’ve got a friend and two kids in there. He’s too unstable.”
“All right, then I’m coming with you,” the agent said rolling to his side and attempting to push off the rain-glistened asphalt.
“No,” Meltzer placed a hand on the agent’s good shoulder and applied enough pressure to keep him on the ground. “You’re staying here. I’ve got this.”
The agent didn’t resist the move, but he grinned up at Meltzer. “What do you mean, you got this? You’ve got nothing. Maybe you’ve got guts, but that’s not going to keep you alive against this monster.”
“How good is he with a 9mm?” Meltzer asked, wiping his wet hands off on his saturated pants.
“He’s not a sniper, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“Good.” Meltzer rolled onto his back and pulled his knees to his chest. Then he kicked the side-view mirror straight up with the massive force of his legs. The mirror jolted upward, then clanged up against the side of the car before dangling against the door from a couple of wires. Meltzer removed a Swiss army knife from his pocket and pulled open the blade.
“What are you doing,” Backman asked.
Meltzer sliced the wires and released the mirror into his hands. “I hope the insurance is paid up,” he said, leaning back against the car door and raising the mirror up over his head. He angled the reflection so he could see through the broken windows and scan their surroundings. He started left to right. Backman’s car. The house next door. The oleanders separating the property line. Meltzer saw nothing. No movement. He continued to the front of the house. Nothing.
Until he turned the mirror just past the halfway point and saw the gun and the man standing just on the other side of Meltzer’s car, leaning through the passenger window.
“Don’t move or I will kill you,” Turkle said.
Meltzer froze. He kept the mirror aimed steady at Turkle as he fished for the gun with his free hand.
Turkle fired. The mirror exploded out into the street and skittered across the wet blacktop.
“I see a pinkie come out and I swear I’ll blow it off your hand,” Turkle snapped.
Meltzer looked at Backman as if wondering how to proceed. After all, he was the guy’s partner.
“Ron,” Backman said from his slouched position against the back tire. “Are you going to kill us?”
“Only if you don’t listen.”
“We’re listening,” Meltzer said, his hands shaking.
“Don’t you understand what’s going on?” Turkle said in a snarky tone.
“No,” Meltzer said. “Why don’t you tell us?”
There was a pause and Meltzer’s stomach churned as he considered what the rogue agent was doing on the other side of the car.
“You heard what the rescue worker from Alaska had to say, right, Detective?”
“And you heard about the little miracle at the hospital, correct?”
Meltzer saw Backman staring at him with no recognition on his face.
“Yes,” Meltzer agreed.
“Then why are you so afraid to admit that this girl is an alien?”
Of course there was some logic to the man’s question, but Bryant had thrown some science behind his explanations and Meltzer was leaning toward science over an invisible alien invasion.
“I’m not sure,” Meltzer said. “I’d just like to see all the facts before I decide.”
“Facts?” The word seemed to spit right out of his mouth. “Exactly how many facts do you need, Detective?”
Meltzer bent down to see if he could find Turkle’s feet under the car, but as his head neared the street, Turkle boomed, “I said don’t move.”
“Where’s the boy?” Meltzer asked.
“Your entire world is collapsing and you’re worried about a teenage felon?”
“Yeah, I’m funny like that.”
Meltzer saw Backman hold up his gun, then point to Meltzer’s gun. They had Turkle outnumbered. If they synchronized their attack, one of them would survive.
Meltzer shook his head. He wasn’t ready to go Rambo on the guy just yet. Besides, he didn’t like the fifty-percent survival rate.
“Ron,” Backman said. “What would you like us to do? The girl hasn’t broken any laws. She still has rights.”
“You two aren’t getting it. She and that doctor are plotting to destroy the planet. Are you ready to give up your world that easily?”
Your world? Not our world.
“Hey, Ron,” Meltzer said. “Whose world is it?”
Meltzer swiveled his head, prepared to see the rogue agent coming around the corner of the car to finish them off. A vision of his son’s face flashed across his mind and he pushed it aside.
“Agent Turkle,” Meltzer said, the blood rushing around his brain, making him lightheaded.
There was a siren in the distance. Then a second.
Meltzer was expecting the worst, so he twisted his body around on his haunches with his gun out, waiting for Turkle to make his move.
A third siren blared and now it seemed the entire police force was heading their way. An officer was down and another trapped. They would bring the Marines if they needed.
“Agent Turkle,” Meltzer shouted.
After a long pause the silence was broken by three police cars flying down the street, lights flashing, sirens blaring. One from the east, two from the west. They saw Meltzer and Backman and screeched to a stop, angling the nose of their cruisers against the front and back of Meltzer’s car to form a protective barrier for the two officers.
One of the arriving officers jumped out and kept low as he crept up to Backman.
“You okay?”Sergeant Jack Hanson asked.
Backman nodded, but it was obvious he was losing blood.
The sergeant looked at Meltzer. “How about you, Sam?”
“I’m fine,” Meltzer said. He pointed to Backman. “We need to get him out of here.”
“Ambulance is two minutes away,” Sergeant Hanson said.
Just then a large black van arrived behind the cruisers. There was no labeling on the van, but Meltzer knew they were Hostage Rescue. Probably the best people to have in this situation.
While the patrol officers took defensive positions behind their car doors and parked cars, the Hostage Rescue would be in full Kevlar, helmets and carrying bulletproof shields.
No bullets were flying now and that lowered Meltzer’s heart rate.
One of the officers from the Hostage Rescue team crouched over to the circle of officers.
“What have we got?” he asked.
“One rogue FBI agent,” Meltzer said, still gripping his gun as if the threat was still imminent. “He might be inside the house. His two children and a psychiatrist, Dr. Bryant, are inside the back bedroom. The room is on the southeast corner of the building. You need to get there quick. I’m not sure about the stability of this agent.”
The officer abruptly left and motioned for his team to follow him around the car and into the line of fire.
Meltzer was still breathing heavily as the ambulance arrived. Two medics jumped from the cab and swiftly maneuvered Backman onto a transfer gurney and lifted him up and into the back of the ambulance in less than a minute.
Meltzer was leaning back against the car when a terrible thought occurred to him. He jumped to his feet and swung his gun out and scrutinized the back seat of the car.
Then he quickly examined the front seat.
He sat back down and watched Hanson give him a double take.
“You okay, Sam?”
Meltzer took a deep breath, but he kept his fears inside. Somehow the clouds seemed closer now. A mist settled over the street and Meltzer became claustrophobic. He wondered why the city of Chandler had become ground zero for all this insanity. The rain. Margo Sutter. A lunatic FBI agent. A law enforcement officer like Meltzer knew these weren’t coincidences. He just couldn’t find a way to connect the dots.
Hanson was scrutinizing him now and Meltzer couldn’t stop his fingers from twitching.
“The thing is,” Meltzer said, leaning his head back against the rear panel of his car. He was sitting in an accumulating puddle, the rain keeping him saturated. “All this water and I’m completely dehydrated.”
Meltzer’s swirling thoughts were interrupted by the crackle of Sergeant Hanson’s radio. “We’re inside,” came a voice from Hostage Rescue.
Hanson looked at Meltzer while he pushed the button on the radio attached to his shirt. “Keep me posted.”
Lightning flashed across the sky just above their heads, followed by a loud burst of thunder.
There was a few long seconds of silence, then the voice on the radio said, “We’re in the bedroom.”
Another long pause. Meltzer couldn’t stand the waiting. He squeezed the handle of his gun, ready to leap out and run after Turkle all by himself if he had to.
Hanson kept his attention on Meltzer as if he might turn into a zombie if he looked away. His hand rested on the radio as they waited.
“I’ve got them,” the voice said. “They were hiding in the closet. They’re all safe.”
Meltzer shut his eyes and sighed. Even the strengthening downpour couldn’t prevent him from a satisfied smile as he felt a sense of relief. But then the realization came across his mind. Turkle would not quit.