Bryant turned left down the first side street he came to. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. A few cars parked on the street and a few on the driveway but nothing notable. He walked quickly, wiping the moisture from his face as the low-lying clouds continued to drop rain over the Valley of the Sun.
Bryant had made it down two blocks without any sign of Margo, but he also hadn’t seen Turkle either. As the minutes passed he found himself moving faster and faster.
He decided to turn right and moved down another street perpendicular to the one he traveled, like going across the back lane of a grocery store to look down the different aisles. He was trying to be inconspicuous, but Queen Creek, Arizona, wasn’t designed to be walked. It was a sprawling suburb of Phoenix where people drove their cars, especially in the rain.
Bryant passed another side street and saw nothing worth his attention. He kept wiping back his hair to keep the rain from dripping in his eyes. Behind him came the sound of a car engine. He didn’t know how to react. Should he turn and see? The car was going slow and that caused him to walk faster and get ready to flee. He resisted the temptation to turn, hoping the driver wasn’t Turkle, but knowing he would be better off out in the open. He glanced around trying to find a house with a car in the driveway—maybe someone would be home. Someone who might help him.
The car was close now and Bryant’s nerves were frayed. He forced himself to take a deep breath. As the car rolled by, he spied an old pickup truck with a middle-aged couple in the cab. The bed of the truck was full of medical supplies. There were cases of sodium chloride and IV catheters along with tubing to administer the IV bags. At first Bryant wondered whether there was a walk-in clinic nearby, but then he spotted a case of canned beans and realized these supplies weren’t for patients. These were actually doomsday preppers getting ready for the alien invasion. If the world was going to end, these folks were going to survive as long as possible.
Bryant sighed from relief. He didn’t need to log on to a social media site to know how this was playing over the globe. Chandler was ground zero for the alien invasion, and Margo was their point person.
Bryant was convinced the public was overreacting, but now, sneaking along the sidewalk of this quiet neighborhood, he couldn’t help but feel vulnerable and exposed.
As he passed another empty street he stopped. There wasn’t anyone visible, yet something caused him to pause. He didn’t know what he was waiting for until he saw the golden retriever strolling across the desert landscape of a neighbor’s yard. On the opposite side of the street, he noticed a gray cat moseying in the same direction. It wasn’t much, but it got him to follow his instincts. His body was saturated to the point where he no longer stepped around puddles. Even his socks were waterlogged.
Bryant wanted to shout out Margo’s name, but knew it was futile and possibly even dangerous. He examined the front doors, the driveways, the garage doors, anything which would give him a sign that someone was in trouble.
Down the sidewalk directly in front of him, a dog’s white tail wagged. Bryant couldn’t see the dog because of a large oleander bush which covered the entrance to the home. His steps came quicker now. As he approached the home, he could see Margo sitting on the bottom step of a three-step concrete stoop which led to the front door. Her head was low as she allowed the white Labrador to lick the back of her hand.
“Margo,” he breathed out her name with a sense of relief. “Are you okay?”
She didn’t look up or even acknowledge his presence. “So much pain,” she said.
Bryant squinted. “Who?”
“Tell me, Margo. What’s going on?”
Finally she looked up at him. “She’s only thirteen and he beats her every single day.”
Bryant looked at the house. “She lives here?”
Margo nodded. “He just doesn’t understand her.”
Bryant’s natural impulse was to call Child Protective Services. He had a contact there who would send a social worker immediately. He could even request a local law enforcement official to inspect the situation. But that was before he dropped his practice and became known as the psycho protecting the alien girl. Besides, Turkle had half the city on his payroll. It only made sense that he had contacts there as well.
Bryant clenched his fists and was about to bang on the front door when it opened and a shirtless man wearing blue jeans and a cowboy hat looked at them with a disgusted expression.
“What do you want?” he sneered.
Bryant was all ready to charge the guy and find his own sense of justice. “We’re looking for Sugar.”
The guy stepped out onto the porch and cocked his head. “Sugar?”
“You mean Abbey?”
Bryant glanced at Margo who kept petting the white Lab. She nodded ever so slightly.
“Yes, Abbey,” Bryant said, more firmly now.
The guy moved further out onto the porch. He had a large wad of something inside his cheek, causing it stick out. “What do you want with her?”
The guy was three steps higher than Bryant, and by his bare torso, it was obvious he worked out. Bryant had been a hard-hitting college cornerback, however, and some things just never left you.
A young girl came to the door. She wore shorts and a T-shirt. She also had a swollen lip, a black eye and a battered cheek. The shirtless guy followed Bryant’s gaze and saw her.
“Get back inside, Sugar,” the guy barked.
There seemed to be a glimmer of hope on her face until the guy turned back and squared up on her. The girl cowered backward until she was lost in the darkness of her dungeon.
“You like beating up young innocent kids?” Bryant seethed.
“What do you know about innocent?” the man said, turning his attention back to Bryant. He spit out a couple of sunflower seeds into the nearby bushes.
Bryant stretched his fingers wide, then curled them back into a fist. “You’re about to learn what I know.”
Bryant took a step up and saw the guy look out toward the street. A black Ford Expedition was rolling to a stop in front of the house.
Margo looked up at Bryant with wide eyes. Clearly she didn’t sense Turkle coming.
“Get inside the house,” Bryant uttered to Margo.
Margo got to her feet and as she moved around Bryant, he grabbed her and whispered, “Get Abbey and run out back to the restaurant.”
The shirtless guy seemed confused as Margo went past him. He tried to stop her, but she ducked and scampered inside before he could get a grip.
“What are you doing?” he said to Bryant.
Ron Turkle opened the driver’s side door to his car and smiled as he viewed the occupants of the front porch.
“Who’s that?” the guy asked as Turkle slowly made his way up the path. He left his truck running and the door wide open.
When Bryant saw the intensity on the child beater’s face, a thought occurred to him.
“He’s with the government,” Bryant said quietly. “He’s here to take your daughter away from you.”
The guy spit a giant wad of sunflower seeds into the rain. “Over my dead body,” he snarled.
Turkle seemed overly calm as he approached the steps. He looked up at the cowboy hat and said, “Howdy.”
“She’s inside,” Bryant told Turkle. “But he’s not going to let you take her.”
Turkle took his time now taking in the shirtless man. “Is that right, cowboy?”
“That’s right,” the guy said trying to match Turkle’s cool demeanor by spitting out sunflower seeds onto the porch steps, a couple bouncing off of Turkle’s shoes.
Bryant took a step back to allow the two alpha males a better angle at each other. One more step and he was behind Turkle.
“He’s not in the car,” Turkle said to Bryant without turning.
Bryant was so twitchy he’d almost forgotten about Jeff. He looked at the Expedition with the door open and the engine running, and came to a decision.
The guy on the top step of the porch pointed to the car and said, “You can just go on and get going ‘cause no one’s taking my girl from me.”
“I see,” Turkle said, pulling his jacket aside to show the guy his pistol. “She’s your girl now, huh?”
“That’s right. Always has been.”
Turkle was paying no attention to Bryant and for some strange reason this gave him solace. He was halfway to the Expedition when the two men went after each other. The cowboy was tough, but Turkle knew how to fight. A couple of well-placed jabs and an uppercut put the cowboy down onto the cement steps, tumbling to the walkway where Turkle kicked him in the face, forcing blood to seep out of the cowboy’s mouth.
Bryant was at the driver’s door to the Expedition when Turkle entered the house. He quickly hopped into the front seat and checked out the interior to make sure Jeff Davenport wasn’t inside, then shut the door and slammed the gear into drive. Just being inside the vehicle made him feel dirty somehow. He stepped on the gas and charged to the end of the block until he skidded to a stop. His heart was pounding now, desperately searching for the girls, hoping they’d made it out the back door.
Bryant turned left and scrutinized the neighborhood. He had the overwhelming sense that he was out of his league. A very sick thought ran through his mind. What if Margo hadn’t made it out of the house? What had he done?
Bryant rolled the car to the parallel street behind the cowboy’s house. He was all ready to double back and find them when he spotted movement in the bushes. He stepped on the gas, hoping for some good luck.
He didn’t get it.
Jumping from the bushes to his left came Turkle, charging toward his Expedition with his gun out and a snarl on his face. Bryant had no time to think. Staying still was not an option. It was either reverse or forward. He chose forward.
Bryant jammed on the accelerator and steered directly at the FBI agent, his engine roaring and tires spinning on the wet asphalt. But Bryant had stepped on the pedal too hard and the vehicle was now hydroplaning. Turkle was practically to the driver’s side, when Bryant gripped the handle. Turkle’s face was contorted into a malevolent scowl as he reached out for the door handle. At that very second Bryant shoved the door open with every ounce of strength his shoulder could muster. He felt the connection with Turkle’s torso and saw the man go tumbling back, his body hitting the street and his head bouncing off the curb.
Bryant needed to move, but he needed to stay as well. He had to find Margo and Abbey. As his tires slowed, he gained traction and was able to drive away from Turkle while desperately scanning the landscape for any sign of the girls. His adrenal glands pumped adrenaline through his system making him feel like he could rip the steering wheel from its column. He knew the excess adrenaline was now dilating his pupils, which would allow him to focus straight ahead, giving him tremendous tunnel vision. But it also reduced his peripheral vision and forced him to swivel his head aggressively.
Bryant looked through his side-view mirror and saw Turkle getting to his feet. When he looked back through the windshield, he swerved violently to avoid hitting a parked car. The back end of the Expedition slid sideways down the neighborhood street and he tapped the brakes until the vehicle came to a stop.
Turkle was on his feet now, rubbing the back of his head and staring at Bryant with disdain in his eyes. He bent over to pick up his gun and began hobbling toward Bryant. Without taking his eyes from Turkle, Bryant pulled the steering wheel to his right and rolled the Expedition away from the crazed man. As he straightened the vehicle he caught Turkle in the rearview mirror limp-running after him. He was just thirty yards away yet Bryant maintained gradual pressure on the accelerator so he didn’t hydroplane again. He was sure he wouldn’t survive another mistake like that. Bryant was so focused on Turkle he almost missed the turn at the end of the street. He swung the truck to the left again and backtracked. Now he was going in circles. Nothing made sense. He was acting irrationally and he needed help.
That’s when he saw her. Margo. On the side of the road, waving her arms, knowing it was him inside the Expedition. Abbey was next to her. Behind him, Turkle had turned the corner and was moving with a greater sense of urgency, his gun in his right hand.
Bryant slowed until he was just next to the girls. He turned the truck sideways to protect them from Turkle, then stopped.
“Get in,” he yelled, even though the windows were up.
Margo didn’t need to hear though. She knew. The back door flung open and she and Abbey jumped inside.
“Go,” Margo screamed, looking back over her shoulder and seeing Turkle gaining on them.
Once again Bryant had to start slowly for fear of the tires slipping. This allowed Turkle to come right up to the rear panel and pull on the back door. Margo yanked on the inside handle and slapped the lock down. Turkle used the butt of the gun to bang on the window, trying to show he was still in control. He looked extremely dangerous even as Bryant pulled away from him.
In the rearview mirror Bryant saw Turkle get into a crouched position with his arms straight out and his pistol trained on the truck.
“Get down!” Bryant shouted to the girls, while he hunched low behind the wheel.
As they pulled away, Bryant braved a peek into the side-view mirror and saw Turkle put the gun down by his side. Then, a more sinister expression came across the FBI agent’s face. An expression that sent a chill down Bryant’s neck.
Turkle actually smiled.