Bryant was driving into the teeth of forty-mile-per-hour gusts while his windshield wipers tried to keep up. It was dark enough for him to drive with the lights on, but not even late enough for dinner. By the time he pulled up to Bobby Q’s, it was mid-afternoon and the parking lot was practically empty. Bryant parked in a spot by the entrance and shut off his engine. He looked around just out of habit and saw nothing bothersome.
Bryant pushed opened his door, then ran through the storm and into the restaurant. Once inside he shook the moisture from his body and looked around the room. There was only one booth occupied by an elderly couple sharing a piece of apple pie. The hostess stand was vacant, but he could hear employees working in the kitchen. He was about to peek through the window in the kitchen door when a teenage girl, wearing a white button-down shirt and blue jeans came out wiping her mouth with a paper napkin. She seemed surprised to see him there.
“I’m so sorry,” the girl said, still chewing on the remains of a meal while tossing the napkin into the trash next to the hostess stand. She grabbed a menu from the top of the stand and said, “Just one of you?”
“No,” Bryant said, “I’m just looking for a friend. She’s waiting for me here.”
The girl’s eyes widened. “Oh.”
“Is there a girl waiting for someone?”
“Well,” the hostess glanced toward a table near the front of the restaurant, then back at Bryant. “She was here not long ago, but she left.”
Knots of anxiety tightened up in his chest. “Where did she go?”
Now the girl seemed suspicious, her eyes examined Bryant with a touch of uncertainty. “Why are so many people looking for her?”
The blood drained from Bryant’s face. “What people?”
“Well,” the girl now looked past Bryant to the parking lot, “another man just came by asking the same question.”
“What did he look like?”
“He, um,” the girl seemed to hesitate, as if she could get into trouble somehow.
Bryant moved closer to her and lowered his voice. “Listen, this girl is in danger. She’s a sweet innocent kid who needs protection. Could you please help me?”
The girl appeared to make a decision. “Well,” she said, “the other guy was a little shorter than you, but thicker and he looked . . . . um, angrier. He said he was with the FBI. He even showed me his shield.”
Bryant could tell she was suspicious and wanted confirmation. “He’s not what he appears.” Bryant cocked his head. “I think you know that don’t you?”
The girl nodded. “I had a bad feeling about him.”
“You should. Did she leave before he came?”
The girl glanced at the quiet restaurant. “Yeah.”
“Good. Did the man tell you anything?”
“No. He just interrogated me like I was a criminal.”
“What did you tell him?”
“Nothing. Just what I told you.”
Bryant ran a hand through his hair and spun around in a circle. He scrutinized the outside of the restaurant, finding nothing noteworthy. When he looked back at the girl, she was chewing on a cuticle.
Bryant softened his tone even further. “Did she leave any kind of a message for me?”
The girl appeared apprehensive, like she was going to speak, but stopped.
“It’s okay,” he said. “There are no wrong answers.”
This seemed to calm her nerves. “You wouldn’t happen to be a doctor, would you?”
“Yes, in fact I am. Dr. Bryant.”
The girl’s eyes brightened. She looked around for eavesdroppers, then said, “She told me to tell you that someone needed her help.”
The girl shrugged. “She didn’t say, but it seemed like she was hearing something far away or smelling something in the air. Do you know what I mean?”
“Yes, I certainly do.”
Bryant turned back toward the rain. Someone needed help. He remembered Margo saying that she couldn’t hear thoughts when it was loud or too far away. Whoever was in trouble, they had to be close by.
He couldn’t imagine where to begin, until he spotted a stray cat wander across the grassy landscape of the restaurant’s exterior. He spun back and lightly gripped her arms. “Did you tell the other guy about this?”
“No. I asked him if he was a doctor and he just sneered at me like I offended him or something.”
“Is she in trouble? She looked really scared when she left.”
Bryant wanted to ask the girl if she’d watched the news or read a newspaper, but by her wandering expression, he already knew the answer to that. “She’ll be okay.”
“Are you sure? I hope I didn’t do anything—”
“You did great,” Bryant assured her.
Bryant squeezed her hand and the feeling in his heart came back to life. That sense of caring and concern for a young person grew inside of him without ever being forced. “It took a lot of courage to do what you just did. Thank you.”
The girl smiled.
“Now,” Bryant glanced outside, then back to the girl. “Did you happen to see which direction she headed?”
She thought for a moment, then pointed to her left. “No, but I saw her looking toward the kitchen. At first I thought she’d heard someone hurt themselves on the line, but then she walked out the door and turned left.”
Bryant thanked the girl again, then went out into the downpour. As he scanned the perimeter, he pulled out his cell and called Meltzer.
“She’s gone,” Bryant said when the detective answered.
“How?” Meltzer asked.
“I don’t know. I think she might’ve sensed Turkle.”
“Was he there?”
“Yes, but he’s gone as well. Probably searching for her.”
Meltzer let out a long breath and said, “I’ll be right there.”
“No,” Bryant said. “I’ll find her. She’s on foot, so she can’t be far. She asked for me to come alone, remember?”
“I don’t like this,” Meltzer said. “We need to use our resources. If you don’t like the FBI, then let’s get the Gilbert PD involved.”
“No. Give me some time,” Bryant said walking in the direction the hostess had told him Margo went. “I’ll phone as soon as I need you.”
“Great,” Meltzer said sardonically. “I’ll have a hearse sent by to pick you up.”