Bryant drove Turkle’s Expedition to a greasy spoon diner in east Chandler with a parking lot in the back, away from the street. They sat at a booth against the window. Margo on one side, Meltzer and Bryant on the other. The three of them staring out at the rain-soaked world expecting the worst.
There was a dark-green SUV parked across the street with a couple of FBI agents inside, waiting for Turkle to show up. Abbey had already been taken to Child Protective Services to get the support she needed.
When Bryant recounted the events to Meltzer, he added, “So it seems Turkle isn’t afraid to make his obsession a secret any longer.”
Meltzer tapped his finger on the table. “He used technology to aid his search for you, including large payments to some of his law enforcement friends to do his dirty deeds.”
“So he still believes I’m an alien?”
“But,” Margo stared at the table, “what if he’s right? What if I really am an alien and just don’t know it?”
Bryant had to grin at that one. “You only see the best in people, don’t you?”
They went back to gazing out the window. Bryant yawned hard, then briskly shook his head. How long had it been since he’d last slept?
“Is Abbey going to be all right?” Margo asked in a quiet voice.
“She’ll be fine,” Meltzer said, stirring his ice tea. “I’ll make sure of it.”
Bryant looked at the frown on her face and said, “The question is, are you okay?”
Margo developed a sudden fascination with her chocolate milk. She swirled the straw around and seemed to search for the right words.
The waitress dropped a grilled cheese sandwich with French fries in front of Margo and asked if they needed anything else. Bryant and Meltzer waved her off.
“Starving,” Margo said, as she bit into her sandwich.
While staring out the window, Meltzer said, “You know how this is going to go down, right?”
“Yeah,” Bryant said.
Margo looked up at them. “What are you talking about?”
“FBI agent Ron Turkle will want to trade Jeff for you,” Bryant explained.
Margo put her sandwich down and looked at Bryant with Bambi eyes. “You’re not going to do that, are you?”
Bryant frowned. “Of course not.”
With a big smile, she reached over and touched his hand. Bryant felt the touch linger long after she returned to her sandwich. He was getting too close to the girl, treating her like she was his surrogate daughter. If she were his patient that would be considered inappropriate. But at this stage of the game . . .
Margo looked outside and said what they were all thinking. “How are we going to get Jeff?”
Meltzer tapped the table with his index finger. “I have a plan.”
Just then Bryant’s phone vibrated. He looked at the number which wasn’t in his contact list and felt a tinge of apprehension as he answered. “This is Dr. Bryant.”
The man’s voice was suave and unyielding, “You think the green SUV can protect you?”
Bryant licked a pair of dry lips. Ron Turkle sounded swankier than he’d ever sounded.
When Bryant didn’t respond, Turkle added, “One of the guys in that vehicle is named Tom Braken. Something which might interest you about Tom—he was in my wedding party.”
Bryant’s face went pale.
Meltzer whispered, “Is it him?”
Bryant managed to nod as Turkle continued. “You ever want to see Jeff again, you take that alien girl and walk out that back door right now. There’s a black Honda Accord sitting in the back parking lot with the key in the ignition. You begin driving east on the Superstition Freeway until I call you and tell you where to go. If I see another police car or unmarked car or Federal SUV come within a mile of your vehicle, I’ll put a bullet in Jeff’s head. How does that sound?”
“It sounds like the words of a very unhealthy mind,” Bryant said, trying to gather himself.
“You might use words to accomplish your goals, Doctor Bryant, but I’m trained to use bullets in mine. Let’s see whose method works best, huh?”
And then it dawned on him. Turkle tried to intimidate Bryant at every opportunity. It was almost as if the agent was feeding on his fear, like a plant sucking up carbon dioxide. Bryant considered the antidote to such tactics.
“Can I ask you a question?” Bryant said.
“Are you out the door yet?”
“No. I’m still sitting here.”
There was a pause. At first Bryant thought the agent was thinking of what to say, but Turkle coughed and he seemed to be struggling to breathe.
“What’s going on over there?” Bryant asked.
Another long pause, then he heard Turkle taking deep breaths. “Nothing,” Turkle gasped. “Nothing.”
A thought went through Bryant’s mind. “Are you having chest pains?”
“I’m fine,” Turkle barked, seeming to gain momentum.
“You’re not fine. You have a bad heart. You need to get help.”
When Turkle spoke again, he’d already recovered from whatever episode he might’ve had and his voice was now sharp and sinister. “You get in that car and drive, or I promise, you’ll have Jeff Davenport’s death to add to your conscience. And I don’t think you could afford another blow like that.”
Turkle’s demeanor took another step up, assailing Bryant’s psyche with an image he couldn’t handle.
“Okay,” Bryant said, trying to muster some inner courage. “I can’t wait to see you face to face.”
Turkle chuckled. “Are you trying to intimidate me, Doctor? Because if you are, you’re failing miserably.” Turkle continued to chuckle right up until the line went dead.
Bryant put the phone back on the table and looked over at Meltzer. “Boy, this plan of yours better be good.”