They’d driven almost three miles when they saw the opening in the desert. Margo pulled her eyes away from the phone long enough to point at the black Ford pickup truck idling in the clearing.
“He’s in there,” she said, her voice jumping from her lungs.
Bryant stopped the car and put it in park.
Margo kept half her attention on the truck and the other half on the phone.
“It’s okay,” Bryant assured her. “They’re on the way.”
She put the phone back down on the console and focused on the truck.
“What’s he thinking?” Bryant asked.
Margo stayed completely still, her nose in the air. “I can’t tell with him,” she said, disappointed. “There’s just so much . . .”
The truck flashed its lights.
“I think he wants you to get out,” Margo said.
“Yeah, I know.”
No one moved for a minute. The rain was down to a slight drizzle.
“What are you waiting for?” she asked him.
“Time is on our side.”
Turkle flashed the headlights again.
“I think he’s getting mad,” Margo said, curled up tight in the corner of the passenger seat.
“I was counting on that.”
“Well, do you have a plan you’re not telling me about? Because my stomach isn’t feeling so good.”
Bryant looked over and saw Margo chewing on a cuticle, while staring at the black truck. He put a hand on her arm. “Relax. It’ll be okay.”
She shifted in her seat, but said nothing.
A door slammed shut. Turkle came out of the truck and begin to stride toward them. Maybe forty yards away.
Bryant glanced at the clock on his dash and opened his door a crack. He stopped, then turned to Margo.
“Lock the doors as soon as I get out and stay in the car no matter what happens,” he said. “Understand?”
She nodded, then as Bryant pushed open the door, she grabbed his arm so tight, he was startled. “Don’t,” she pleaded. “Let’s just go. We can find another way to get Jeff.” Her eyes burned with pain. “Please?”
She had every right to be frightened. Bryant wasn’t even sure just how dangerous the guy was, and he was putting tremendous faith in Meltzer to come through for him. Where was all this bravado coming from, he wondered?
Margo wasn’t letting go of his arm.
Bryant gently pulled on a couple of her fingers and said, “Trust me. We can’t live the rest of our lives running from something we don’t understand. Just stay in the car.”
Margo let go of his arm and curled up against the passenger door. “Be careful,” she breathed.
He got out of the car and saw Turkle standing there in the middle of the clearing, his FBI windbreaker flapping in the breeze. The agent had his pistol by his side.
Bryant pointed to the weapon. “Is that necessary?”
Turkle grinned with contempt. “That depends entirely on your behavior.”
Bryant gestured toward the truck with the dark-tinted windows. “Is Jeff inside?”
“Can I see him?”
First the agent looked inside of Bryant’s car to see Margo sitting there motionless, then he raised his right hand. From inside the truck an interior light flipped on and Bryant could clearly see Jeff in the passenger seat holding up his handcuffed hands.
“So here’s how it’s going to work,” Turkle said. “You have the girl come out of the car and walk over to my truck. Then I’ll have her uncuff the boy and we can go on our merry way.”
“Just like that?”
“Just like that.”
“Okay, but before she comes out I need to know something.”
“What are you going to do with her?”
“That’s my dilemma, isn’t it? Should I cut her into pieces and place the parts in separate containers so they can’t reattach? Or should I shoot her in the head and shut down her alien-regenerating ability?”
The casual way the man spoke about killing Margo left Bryant with a tightening in his throat. Turkle’s mind was made up—he would kill Margo—and Bryant’s therapeutic words would likely deflect off him like spitballs.
Bryant still had to try. “What do you really want with her? I mean you couldn’t possibly believe she’s an alien. You’re way too intelligent for that kind of backward thinking.”
“You think reattaching arms is a human thing?”
“She has a highly developed brain. It’s possible. There’s scientific evidence to support it.”
“I like it. You keep clinging to science,” Turkle said, glancing over Bryant’s shoulder at Margo in the front seat. “That’ll get you where you want to go.”
“I can prove it to you.”
“I see,” Turkle said. He cocked his head and looked as if he were trying to read something on Bryant’s face. “Really? This is your tactic? Stall until help arrives?”
“Of course you are. You really believe you can outsmart me?”
Bryant held out his hands, palms up. “Listen, you’re not thinking clearly. I can help you, if you let me.”
Now Turkle grinned widely. “You trying to save me, Doctor?”
In the distance a conspicuous fluttering interrupted the mild tapping of raindrops on the desert floor.
Bryant desperately tried to remain composed, while Turkle assessed the noise with an even more sinister smirk. “Ah, the cavalry, eh, Doc?”
As the thumping of the helicopter’s blade grew closer, Turkle seemed unimpressed. Instead he motioned for Margo to exit the car with his pistol. “Now,” he shouted. Then he pointed the gun at Bryant and added, “Or I kill the doctor.”
This didn’t make sense. Bryant didn’t have Turkle pegged as suicidal. Behind him, the car door opened. He turned and saw Margo standing on the far side of the vehicle, looking over the hood at them. A blank stare on her face. Her lips trembling.
“Good girl,” Turkle said. “Now come around and let’s get this party started.”
“No!” Bryant shouted. “Margo, get back in that car.”
The helicopter was approaching now, its nose low as it charged toward the opening in the desert.
Turkle spread his legs and aimed the gun at Bryant, shouting orders, but the thumping of the chopper drowned them out. A gust of wind began to swirl around them and Bryant could see the chopper struggling to land.
Margo kept coming around the car until she was next to Bryant, sliding in front of him to protect his body.
Bryant pulled her aside. “No!” he yelled.
Turkle’s face brightened with the prospect. He steered the barrel of his pistol at Margo, while Bryant fought for position. He retreated up against his car, pulling Margo with him.
Bryant desperately tried to signal the helicopter, but it was being forced backward. The side door was open and a sniper was being tossed around like a sheet of paper. Margo was hanging onto the handle of the car to keep her slight frame from being swept away herself.
Turkle seemed to be extending his pleasure at finally having a clear shot at his victim. The gust swept up the loose debris from the desert floor and whipped it around them in a tight circle.
As the wind gained momentum, it became so strong Bryant had a hard time standing. He got to one knee and covered his eyes with the crook of his elbow.
Bryant’s body was pounded by tiny shards of desert foliage and tumbleweeds. His mouth dried up and his throat was sandpaper raw.
The cyclonic power of the storm strengthened, and it caused the helicopter to retreat, wobbling in midair like a damaged kite. As the chopper was forced farther away, Bryant could see their hopes of survival drifting away with it.
Through all of this Turkle kept his eyes focused, breathing in the event with deep satisfaction on his face.
Bryant’s instincts took over. He crouched into a ready position, about to charge the man, take him to the ground and finish it. At that very moment, Turkle switched his attention away from Margo. His eyes were bright red and churning with fury as he turned them on Bryant and sneered.
“You still don’t know who I am, do you?”
Bryant couldn’t speak. Words suddenly seemed futile. His entire professional life he had used words to manipulate, cajole, or manufacture the outcome he desired. It was his weapon of choice. But now as Turkle leered down at him, he felt helpless. Was the FBI agent so delusional he’d actually assumed a new identity?
“You suddenly lose your appetite for conversation?” Turkle mocked.
Bryant’s stomach roiled up inside of him, forcing him to his knees.
A blast of thunder exploded just behind Turkle followed by a blinding flash of lightning. Bryant hit the ground flush. His head banging onto an imbedded rock.
Margo was close to him now, holding his hand, begging him to get up.
Time seemed to slow down. The panic came at Bryant in waves, moving from his stomach to his jaw. He had to fight the urge to heave as Margo tried to protect him. Seeing the madman hover over them with a steely glare saying something to them, intent on getting an answer.
In his periphery, Bryant could see the helicopter fighting to reach the desert floor, spinning and jerking its way down.
“I said, you haven’t figured it out yet, have you?”
“Stop it!” Margo howled. “Leave him alone.”
The clouds dropped down and smothered them in the desolate chamber of the lost.
Turkle lowered himself to meet Bryant’s face. A flicker of satisfaction in his eyes as he held out his pistol just inches from Margo’s temple.
“Watch what happens when I shoot your little angel,” Turkle said with a ferocious scowl.
Bryant fought to move, but before he could react, Turkle fired his pistol. The explosion so close, it temporarily deafened Bryant. A squirt of skin and blood spewed out onto Bryant’s face as Margo went limp next to him.
“No!” Bryant screamed, finally finding his voice, grasping at Margo’s torso as it slumped to the ground.
The bullet hole in her forehead was small and round, but as he pulled her up into his arms, he felt the exit wound on the other side of her head. Her entire skull had been shattered leaving a huge empty hole.
Bryant gathered her up into his chest and wailed. He trembled with rage, his body jerking up and down with deep convulsions of anguish.
“No, no, no,” Bryant moaned. “Not the brain.”
Turkle cackled with delight as Bryant realized it was too much for him to cope with.
“Heal, Margo,” he begged, kissing her bloody forehead. “Please, heal.”
“There will be no recovery this time, Doctor,” Turkle scoffed.
Lightning bounced all around them now, sparks flying off the desert floor and shearing off cactus limbs. Bryant had tried, but he couldn’t do it all alone anymore. It was too much for him to bear. He turned to the one remaining source he had left. The one resource he’d been avoiding ever since March 19th.
As he clutched Margo’s wilted body tight to his chest, he looked up into the dark looming clouds and cried, “Dear Lord, please save her. Take me instead.”
While rocking back and forth and dripping tears onto Margo’s face, he heard a moan behind him. Through blurry eyes he could see Turkle clutching his chest and dropping to the ground, face first, like a two-hundred pound sack of sand. A vial of pills bounced to the ground next to him and Bryant could tell they were nitroglycerine tablets. Something which could immediately assist a heart patient during an attack. Turkle was clawing at them with his free hand while grunting from pain.
Bryant kicked the vial into the desert with a scowl. “Go back to where you belong.”
Turkle groped for the pills, but coming up short. He lurched on the ground, desperate to survive.
Bryant felt the wind subside. The clouds broke apart and the sky lightened. In his fingers, he could feel Margo’s head move. Her eyes opened and she gazed up at the brightening sky and whispered, “You did it.”
Bryant felt a twinge of hope. “Are you healing?”
Margo shook her head gently. “I’m going home, Doc.”
“Don’t leave me here, Margo,” he implored. “Please, don’t go.”
She had little strength left, but she managed one last distant stare, then locked eyes with him. “They know about your call, Doc. They know you called to apologize.”
And immediately he knew. He dropped his head and the tears came rushing out. Hearing their names in his head. Kate and Megan. Knowing it was them who’d communicated with Margo.
“Megan said Cujo was a dumb name for a dog anyway,” Margo added.
Bryant’s chest fell onto Margo’s tiny body, clutching her tight, as if he could keep her soul from leaving. “Don’t go,” he pleaded.
“We need you, Doc,” Margo said in a quiet tone. “You need to be strong for us. There will be bigger battles ahead.”
And he knew right then that the word us somehow meant his family. Margo was going to be with them, and he wanted once last message to get across.
“Please,” he uttered, digging his head into the sleeve of his shirt to wipe away the tears. “Please, tell them how much I love—”
“They know, Doc,” Margo said, her voice fading now. “They know.”
The sun broke through completely and Bryant had to squint from the glare. Sirens blared and helicopter blades thumped overhead. Margo’s body wilted in his arms and he held her close, breathing her in, sucking every last molecule from her essence. He wanted to wrap her around him and keep her with him.
Turkle’s body finally relented. His head was face-down in a pile of mud, his arms splayed apart unnaturally. Even with Turkle’s expired body next to them, Bryant cradled Margo, still trying to protect her, the guilt dripping out of every pore.
Footsteps came rushing up behind him. Two SWAT team members swept up Margo from Bryant’s grasp as he fought to keep her. He was entirely irrational, but somehow he needed her close. Finally, he lost his grip and watched them rush Margo to the waiting helicopter. He was completely immobile as the chopper elevated into the cloudless sky and disappeared into the horizon.
Bryant’s mouth moved, but nothing came out. What could he possibly tell her? I’m sorry? I was so obsessed with my own desires that I forgot about the one thing still that still mattered? He’d focused so much energy on destroying Turkle he’d dragged Margo to her death.
He felt a hand on his shoulder. When Bryant finally turned, Meltzer was looking down at him with a sad smile.
“It’s over,” Meltzer said.
But Bryant saw his world evaporate in the clouds, and he was just beginning to understand the depths of his solitude.
“Yeah,” Bryant murmured. “It sure is.”