Detective Meltzer led Bryant into Father Joe’s private office in the rectory. Father Joe’s office was modest considering the size of his congregation. Appropriately spiritual pictures hung on the walls and candles sat on various tabletops. The bookcase behind the priest’s desk was packed with self-help books and an abundance of Bibles from different parts of the world.
As soon as Bryant saw Frank Sullivan sitting in a couch along the wall and Father Joe behind his desk, he knew something was up.
Meltzer pointed to a chair in front of the priest’s desk. “Have a seat.”
As Bryant sat down, he said, “Is this some sort of intervention?”
“You could call it that, yes,” Father Joe said. He held up his own personal Bible and said, “The answers we’re looking for are in here.”
Meltzer walked to the back of the room, put his hands in his pocket, and let the priest take center stage.
Bryant leaned back in his chair and said, “Okay. I’m listening.”
Father Joe placed a pair of reading glasses on the bridge of his nose and opened his Bible. “John, Chapter 16,” the priest said. “Christ knows His time on earth is nearing the end and He is trying to comfort the Disciples. He says, ‘Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.’”
Father Joe looked up and removed his glasses. “You see, Christ was telling them of a Comforter to allow them the ability to understand what was to come next.”
Bryant clasped his hands together on his lap. “You lost me, Joe.”
Father Joe nodded. He stood up and pulled another Bible from his bookshelf and returned to his chair. He replaced his glasses and flicked through a few pages of the new Bible. “That was from the King James version. This is an excerpt from the World English Bible. Same chapter.” The priest placed a finger on the page and said, “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I don’t go away, the Counselor won’t come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”
Father Joe looked up again and removed his glasses. “You see, Michael, all these occurrences were meant for a reason. This is not coincidence. It is fate.”
“What?” Bryant said. “You think the Lord has assigned me as some sort of counselor?”
“You have to admit,” Father Joe said. “You have a gift for helping young teens. You’re considered one of the best in the world. Jesus must have known how tough it would be to get through the teenage years. In John, He routinely speaks of the Comforter. I believe he speaks of someone who has the ability to comfort a certain person through the most difficult part of adolescence.”
“But who am I supposed to be counseling?”
Father Joe gently placed his eyeglasses on his desk and drummed his fingers on the fine wood. “I don’t know. I suspect he may have sent you here to counsel someone very special. A new Disciple perhaps. Someone who could bring us home safely.”
Bryant looked around the room to see Meltzer standing with his hands in his pocket, taking it all in, not saying a word. Bryant zoomed in on his psychiatric colleague sitting on the couch. “Sully, are you buying this?”
Sullivan leaned forward at the edge of the couch and shook his head.
“Oh, thank goodness.”
“Turkle is an alien,” Sullivan said. “I think I can prove it.”
Bryant rolled his eyes. “Aw, Sully, of all the people in the world . . . you?”
Sullivan held up his hand. “Now wait a minute. I’ve spent hours scouring through Margo’s sessions with me, and there are two distinctive voices. Two different alien species are fighting over this planet, or two different ethnicities among the one alien species. Either way, the meaner voice is the one encouraging her to take medication. I believe this species is the one who wants to destroy the planet so they can occupy it themselves. The mean voice knows if she takes the medicine it will dull her senses and she won’t be able to hear them. Therefore she won’t be able to warn anyone about our impending doom.”
Bryant put his hand over his eyes and squeezed them shut with his thumb and middle finger. “Boy, you guys make a great team. I can’t wait for the movie to come out.”
“There is a war going on, Michael,” Father Joe said. “And we need you on our side.”
Bryant’s mind was flush with neurons banging against his skull like beams of light trying to escape a black hole. “Then who is Turkle in all of this?”
“He’s an alien,” Sullivan jumped in.
In the silence of the room, Father Joe whispered, “I think you already know that answer.”
“Cut it out!” Meltzer shouted. He came around to Bryant’s side and bent over to examine his friend. “I didn’t know you were going to sabotage him like this.”
Bryant took a deep breath. “You believe them?” he asked the detective.
Meltzer looked disgusted as he waved the back of his hand at Father Joe and Sullivan. “Of course not. What they have is a sequence of events which leads to a theory of their choice. It’s completely circumstantial and would never hold up in court.”
“But we’re not taking this to court,” Father Joe said. He pointed to the ceiling. “There’s a much higher judgment waiting for us.”
“Listen, you two, there’s nothing supernatural about Agent Turkle,” Meltzer said as he stood tall and leaned over Father Joe’s desk. “He planted a GPS device on Margo. That’s how he knew where you were hiding. He wired his house with a surveillance device, so that’s how he knew we were there as well. He’s not mythical. He’s simply a psychopath with FBI technology. That’s all.”
“I went back through the transcripts very carefully,” Sullivan said, unabated. “She was being coerced by a couple of extremely intelligent beings. There’s no other way to interpret them.”
Bryant carefully examined his friend’s eyes, trying to read them. Trying to understand how he should take what Sullivan was saying. The psychiatrist never wavered in his look of determination.
“Look,” Meltzer said, “I brought him here because I thought you two had figured out Turkle’s motivation. I had no idea you were writing a sci-fi novel.”
Thunder boomed outside. The rain pelted the window with an urgent cadence.
Bryant rocked himself to his feet and began to pace. While running a hand through his hair, he turned to Joe and said, “I’m so important, why didn’t Turkle just kill me when he had the chance?”
“Exactly,” Meltzer said.
“Because it doesn’t work that way,” Father Joe said, clutching the Bible to his chest. “It’s much more powerful if you walk away on your own. It sends a message.”
Bryant’s head was swimming with crazy notions. He’d depended on evidence-based conclusions his entire life, and now his closest friends were conspiring to throw everything he’d ever known out the window. It made no sense.
“You missed your calling, Joe,” Meltzer said. “You should’ve been a prosecuting attorney.”
Nearby lightning momentarily illuminated the room.
“I’m right and that frightens you,” Father Joe said.
Now Bryant gained strength from his analytical brain. First he looked at Sullivan and frowned. “Aliens? Really?”Then he shifted his attention back and forth between the two conspiracy theorists.
“You know,” Bryant pointed to Father Joe. “This is his job. He convinces people to see his way. And he’s good at it. Very good.”
No one spoke.
Outside, the storm continued to pound the exterior of the building. It sounded like angry pellets trying to invade the rectory.
Father Joe sat at the edge of his chair and waited. He was in his element now, a fighter waiting for a punch to be thrown so he could deflect and counter with something close to the heart.
Bryant found himself sucking in large gulps of air with an open mouth. A thought occurred to him. One of the best ways to help a depressed person was to get them to do something for someone else. It gets them focused outward, not inward. A byproduct of helping others is the sense of satisfaction and enjoyment of the act itself.
“I see,” Bryant finally said, slowly backing away from the desk. “This isn’t about Margo or the storm or the apocalypse. This is about saving me, isn’t it?”
Father Joe gave nothing away. As always, he waited.
Bryant’s proclamation didn’t seem to affect anyone’s demeanor. Then another thought came to him. He recognized the expression on their faces. Frank was looking for answers which would save his friend from a self-inflicted tragedy. Keep Bryant engaged and have him try to save Margo, then maybe save the world. What was a more noble cause than that? Father Joe, however, had other motivations. Maybe he wanted it so badly he was willing to toss aside anything that got in his way. Even logic.
“All right, Joe. What do you want from me?” Bryant asked.
“Surprisingly little,” Father Joe said, the Irish lilt adding a touch of irony to his voice.
“Tell me,” Bryant insisted.
“There’s only one reason Margo cannot die,” Father Joe said. “And it’s not any neuroplastic nonsense you’ve discussed. It’s simple. She was brought here for a purpose and she can’t return to Heaven without accomplishing her mission.”
“Which is?” Bryant asked.
Father Joe smiled. “She needs you to believe again.”
“She needs you to believe so she can go back home.” Father Joe shrugged. “It’s just that simple, Michael. “Once you declare your belief in the Lord, she’ll return.”
Bryant shook his head. “You know, there’s a name for the condition you’re experiencing.” He gestured toward the couch. “Sully could prescribe a pill to help you out. He’s good at that.”
“Michael,” Father Joe’s voice was almost a whisper. As if he were afraid to spook a frightened bird. “Did you ever wonder why you hated to travel? It’s been programmed into your soul to have the desire to stay here, close to home, for the betterment of humanity.”
“That’s enough,” Bryant said.
“Look at me, Michael,” Father Joe said. “This isn’t an old western shootout. All the other side needs is the good guy to look the other way.”
Bryant didn’t look up. Instead, the vision of Kate and Megan flashed through his mind. Where would they be if he just would’ve kissed his wife goodbye that Tuesday morning? That split second it took to kiss her would’ve changed their fate forever. Are we all just that vulnerable?
While he was losing his train of thought and slipping down the familiar slope toward inner shame and despair, Bryant heard a chime and saw Meltzer look down at his phone.
“Shit,” Meltzer said, then looked directly at Bryant.
Bryant dropped his head. In a low voice, he said, “Margo is missing.”
“How did you know?” Meltzer asked.
How did he know? Bryant considered the question. “I could tell by the way she said goodbye when you took her to the safe house. I knew it was a fleeting comment.”
“She’s looking for you, Michael,” Father Joe said. “She needs to protect you.”
Bryant said nothing. He’d spent so much energy distancing himself emotionally from the world. If you had no one to care about, you had nothing to lose. No stake in their welfare. But now Margo forged her way into his life and once again he had something to lose.
At that very moment he became determined to show them just how wrong they were. Margo was just an innocent kid with a remarkable mind. She needed him all right. She needed him to be there for her.
“You want to help me?” Bryant asked Father Joe. “Then let’s find Margo before Turkle does.”
The priest was nodding, maybe finding common ground where he could manipulate the masses to draw out his theory to its conclusion.
Bryant pushed himself forward and brushed off imaginary dust from his pants, as if cleaning off the old sorry thoughts, ready to begin a new agenda.
“Okay.” He turned to Meltzer. “She doesn’t trust anyone right now. How far away is the safe house?”
Bryant went to the window and peered through the shutters behind Father Joe’s desk. It was early afternoon, and the storm had blocked out so much sun, it seemed as if night was approaching. “We need to find her quickly.”
From behind him, Meltzer said, “Does she have a cell phone?”
“No,” Bryant said, staring out into the slant of rain streaming down from the sky. “Where’s her car?”
“At the station.”
Bryant turned. “How did she get out of the safe house?”
Meltzer half-shrugged. “It hardly matters now. I’m sure she used her abilities to deceive the agents.”
The lights in Father Joe’s office flickered. Everyone froze, almost waiting for something to happen. When the lights ended up staying on, Bryant decided to take charge. He pointed to Sullivan on the couch. “You stay here in case Margo shows up.”
“Of course,” Sullivan said.
Bryant headed toward the door. “Let’s get going,” he said.
“I should put out a BOLO for her,” Meltzer said, pulling out his phone.
“No,” Bryant said. “That’ll just alert Turkle, if he doesn’t know already.”
They were following Bryant out the door, when the phone on Father Joe’s desk rang. They stared at it like a ticking bomb.
Father Joe took a couple of steps back and picked up the receiver. “St. Andrews,” he said. The priest’s eyes sparkled. “Margo?”
Bryant, Meltzer and Sullivan crowded around the desk.
“Where are you?” Father Joe asked, excitedly.
Bryant waited for Father Joe to get Margo’s whereabouts before whispering, “Is she okay?”
Father Joe held up his index finger to Bryant, then said into the receiver, “Are you—” Father Joe nodded. “Yes, of course. I understand.” He face remained unreadable while he listened. “Okay. He’ll be there in twenty minutes.”
Father Joe hung up the phone. He looked at Bryant and said, “She’s at Bobby Q’s restaurant in Queen Creek. She only wants you to come get her.”
Bryant said nothing.
“Michael,” Meltzer said, “you can’t go alone. The two of you are in danger. It’s ludicrous to be out there on your own.”
“He’s right,” Sullivan added.
Bryant simply kept his attention on Father Joe. “You never told us if she’s okay.”
“She said she’s fine,” Father Joe said. “But she didn’t sound too happy.”
Bryant looked at Meltzer. “I’ll go alone, but you stay a mile or two behind me. If I need help, I’ll call.”
Meltzer cocked his head, then said, “All right.” He let out a breath and added, “I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t even know who to trust anymore. Turkle has his claws everywhere.”
“Exactly,” Bryant said as he headed for the parking lot.