Detective Meltzer saw the boy get to his feet. He could sense Roger’s rifle tighten against his thick shoulder. Meltzer had his Glock ready too. Even if Bryant had lost interest in his own wellbeing, Meltzer hadn’t. There was too much history between them. Bryant deserved a chance to get through his crisis. He’d helped too many kids in his life to have one of them end it.
The end came quicker than expected. The boy dropped the gun to the floor, looked down and collapsed into Bryant’s arms like a homesick five-year-old. The psychiatrist gathered Jeff into his chest and clutched the boy with a father’s grip. While the two of them embraced, the hostages scurried out of the bank into the light drizzle. Uniformed officers escorted them away from the scene, splitting them up into appropriate groups of witnesses. The Chandler PD would want their statements while the incident was still fresh in their minds. Time was the killer of all good testimonies. Fortunately for Bryant, time was the only thing that was killed.
Meltzer holstered his pistol and smiled. Roger pulled back from his scope and sighed like a hunter who’d just lost sight of a ten-point buck.
“Waste of my time,” Roger grumbled.
Meltzer patted the sniper on his back as he headed toward the bank. Thank goodness, he thought. He felt a vibration in his pocket, pulled out his cell phone, and looked at the display.
“Hi sweetie,” he said into the receiver. He listened for a moment, then added. “It’s just a storm, honey. That’s all it is.”
* * *
The next morning Bryant sat in a leather chair behind his desk examining the stacks of patient charts that needed attention. He’d opened his practice years before electronic records were even a viable option. Now he needed to determine their fate—which charts went to storage and which ones went to his old college roommate, Frank Sullivan.
He was doing a good job of keeping busy until his eyes found the framed photo next to his computer screen that haunted him each time he looked up. It was a photo of Kate and Megan smiling as they sat on a white oak fence in a farm back in Virginia. His daughter’s bright eyes seemed to be looking directly at him. Megan was thirteen and completely oblivious to the fact that she wouldn’t survive another month. He began taking shallow breaths and felt the anxiety rising up inside. He needed help, but didn’t want it. His agony was just the thing he’d deserved for his transgression. This was more than mere Catholic guilt and he knew it.
He opened the top drawer of his desk and spied the unopened bottle of Ativan. As the surge of anxiety swelled, he leaned back and concentrated on taking deep breaths. Get through it alone. You’re capable. But how long could he hold it off? It became harder with each passing day.
Bryant shut his eyes and focused on the patter of raindrops hitting the windowsill. He tried to meditate, but couldn’t keep his mind off his girls. Like a phantom limb, the pain was sharp and real.
Bryant heard children’s voices and it startled him. His eyes popped open as he watched a group of kids exiting St. Andrews. His freestanding office shared the parking lot with the church. It was the reason he’d purchased the building to begin with. Before he’d lost his convictions, the church was a big part of his life. Through the picture window that fronted his office, he could see St. Andrews only forty yards away. Close enough for Bryant to run over to the rectory and visit with Father Joe between patients. Before the accident. Back when he cared.
Now the white stucco building seemed farther away somehow. The asphalt between the two buildings seemed to run on for miles. Even after Bryant sold his house and moved into the office fulltime, his trips next door had diminished. His reasons for going had evaporated along with his faith.
The kids jumped into the open door of a waiting minivan and drove away. Through the drizzle, a black Mercedes coupe pulled up outside Bryant’s office and parked next to his car. A stout man with premature-gray sideburns and a potbelly hunched out of the car and jumped around a couple of puddles until he ran up the steps to Bryant’s private entrance.
The office door opened and Frank Sullivan lunged in from the rain, then shut the door behind him.
“I was just getting these charts ready for you,” Bryant said, his breathing now under control.
Sullivan ran his fingers through his wet hair and wiped his hand on his pants. He went over to a cabinet and pulled out a Styrofoam cup.
“The newspaper is calling your actions at the bank yesterday heroic,” Sullivan said.
Bryant said nothing.
Sullivan poured himself a cup of coffee from the coffeemaker on the counter next to the sink. “But we both know what really happened out there yesterday, don’t we?”
Sullivan sprinkled powdered creamer into the steaming cup and stirred it with a plastic swizzle stick. When the silence lingered, Sullivan added. “I mean, why would you do such a thing unless of course you had no sense of consequence.”
Bryant finally looked up from his charts and said, “Is that how you talk with your patients, because it’s a great way to keep them coming back. How else are they going to find out what you’re talking about?”
Sullivan sat on the couch that Bryant pulled out as a bed each night and took a careful sip of the hot coffee. “You’ve stopped taking your meds, haven’t you?”
Bryant waved the back of his hand. “I’m not dulling my senses in order to cope with something I have no business coping with.”
Sullivan leaned forward. He spoke in a softer voice. An instructive voice. “There are certain chemicals that can have a direct effect on your—”
“Don’t, Sully,” Bryant snapped. “We took the same classes and I got better grades, so don’t give me a damn chemistry lesson.”
Sullivan frowned. “Listen, I’ll take care of your patients. I’ll take care of your office while you’re gone. I’ll even drive your car around the block once a week, but I’m not going to be an accomplice to your demise.”
Bryant had nothing for that. How do you hide your proclivities from a
professional who spends his day scouring the landscape for those tendencies?
“You can’t give up that easily. Kate and Megan didn’t have a choice, someone took that away from them. But you . . . you do, and without proper medication, I’m afraid you’re going to make the wrong one.”
At the mention of his wife and daughter, Bryant’s hand clenched up into a fist. “Don’t you dare take this anger away from me. It’s all I’ve got left.”
Sullivan seemed to retreat. He pushed off the couch and turned to look out the window. One hand in his pocket. One hand holding the coffee. “How’s Jeff?”
Bryant followed Sullivan’s gaze and watched the rain glisten the asphalt. “He’ll be okay. Sam’s keeping him in a holding cell until the meds kick in.”
“What’d you put him on?”
Sullivan turned with raised eyebrows. “Ten milligrams of Zyprexa? That’s practically the recommended dose.”
Sullivan grinned. “You know, a psychiatrist who doesn’t like prescribing medication is like a fisherman who can’t stand the smell of fish.”
“I prefer to get to the root of the problem rather than treat the symptoms.”
Sullivan shrugged, then took a sip of coffee. “Listen, you’re the best in the world at treating adolescents. I’ve never seen a collection of patients gain more strength and stability purely from psychoanalysis as yours do. It’s amazing. But there is a place for science within our profession.”
“I’ll try to remember that,” Bryant deadpanned.
Sullivan returned his gaze out the window again. He lifted the cup to his mouth and slurped another sip. “Actually, that’s why I’m here. I need your help.”
“One of my patients?”
“No,” Sullivan said. “It’s a new one. A girl. Eighteen years old. She wanted you, but your calls are being forwarded to my office, so she made an appointment to see me.”
Bryant waited while Sullivan seemed to put his thoughts together.
“She’s special,” Sullivan finally said.
As the silence lingered, Bryant felt like the pause might have been contrived. Finally Sullivan turned to face him. “She says she can sense beings from another planet.”
Bryant tried to remember. “The alien girl? The one who says the aliens are living in these thunderclouds above Chandler?”
Bryant looked outside at the sky as if for the first time. The dark clouds seemed to be in a permanent standstill. “So what’s the problem?”
Sullivan shrugged. “She’s suffering from acute PTSD and refuses to take any medication.”
“Because she’s afraid it’ll dull her senses and she won’t be able to know what the aliens are doing.”
Bryant sighed. Sullivan was quite aware of Bryant’s interest in helping teenagers navigate their way through adolescence.
Sullivan looked him in the eyes. “So you’ll see her?”
“No. But that was a really good try.”
“C’mon, Sully, you don’t think I see what’s going on here? You think I’m living recklessly, without any sense of purpose and you just happen to come across a teenage patient who won’t take medication? How long did it take you to find her?”
Sullivan frowned. “You’re paranoid. There’s nothing here but an innocent girl with a problem.”
“Maybe,” Bryant said. “But I’m not a practicing doctor anymore.”
“Mike, if anyone is capable of helping this girl without using medication, it’s you. No one has done more with less. You’re her best chance for recovery.”
“I’m sorry.” Bryant picked up a stack of files from his desk and handed them to Sullivan. “I’m making travel plans.”
Sullivan’s head rolled back in mock surprise. “You? You’ve lived in Arizona your entire life and never even been to Mexico.”
Sullivan was right, of course. Bryant was doing it for Kate. At least that’s what he told himself. It’s what she had always wanted. Before they were married, before Megan came along, Kate had dreams of traveling around the world. It was her one great desire. Then the family started and Bryant got what he wanted instead. A reason to stay home and play games and wash dishes and avoid the perils that could be out there waiting to disrupt his perfectly safe life. Kate’s dream would have to wait until Megan left for college. Then the dream died.
“I’m going to see the country,” Bryant said. “Then maybe Europe.”
“But you hate to travel,” Sullivan stated flatly.
“I know and that’s about to change.”
Sullivan nodded. “And what about Jeff?”
“I’m going to stay until the meds kick in, then I’m going to have Catherine take care of him. You remind him too much of his father.”
Sullivan held his ground. As Bryant walked over to open the door, Sullivan simply stood there with the patient charts pulled to his chest.
“I may be too close to offer therapy,” Sullivan said, “but you need to speak with someone. Anyone.”
It was no accident that Bryant had avoided psychotherapy. He was merely sidestepping the awful memories that had haunted his dreams and soiled his daydreams. As the scar tissue continued to pile up, his chance for a full recovery became virtually unattainable. And that’s precisely where he wanted to be—incapable of recovery.
“I’ll think about it,” Bryant lied.
Sullivan pointed his thumb out the window toward St. Andrews. “Maybe even Joe,” he said. “At least you could trust him to listen.”
“Maybe,” Bryant said, faithfully keeping his grip on the open door.
Sullivan placed his coffee cup on Bryant’s desk, then came up to his friend and gently squeezed his arm. “Listen, there’s nobody left to take care of you. No siblings. No parents.” Sullivan paused a beat, then added, “I worry about you.”
“I know you do,” Bryant murmured. “I know.”