Bryant pulled open the bullet-proof glass doors of the Chandler Police Department and went directly around the information counter to the back hallway. He walked through a door labeled, “Authorized Personnel Only,” and found Detective Meltzer at his cubicle, leaning back in his chair, speaking into his desk phone. He rolled his eyes at Bryant while listening to someone on the other line.
“Yes, I’m still here,” Meltzer said. “I completely understand.” He waited another moment with exasperation on his face. “Look, what would you like me to do?”
Meltzer grabbed the Time magazine sitting on his desk and flipped it to Bryant.
“Yes, of course it’s unbelievable,” Meltzer said to the caller. “But so is reality TV and no one’s going to jail for that, right?”
Bryant looked down at the cover of the magazine and stopped. Staring back at him was a full headshot of Margo Sutter glancing up at the clouds. The caption below the picture read, “Are We Alone?”
Meltzer twisted the phone away from his mouth for a moment and pointed to the Time magazine in Bryant’s hand.
“You see what I’m dealing with here?” Meltzer whispered to Bryant, then swiftly said into the phone, “Uh huh, sure, I’m following you. You want me to arrest an innocent girl because she might say something that offends you. Tell you what, I’ll send a squad car over to her house as soon as you cite me the law she broke.”
Meltzer slammed the phone down. “We’ve gone national,” Meltzer said, as Bryant scanned the magazine. “So my life is getting complicated.”
There was nothing groundbreaking in the article. It was mostly about the extremists who were using the immobile storm system as a sign of the apocalypse, while others were convinced aliens were indeed here. Virtually none of it had anything to do with Margo Sutter. She herself was being used as a symbol for both sides of the argument.
Bryant placed the magazine on Meltzer’s desk and fished out a slip of paper from his pants pocket. “Do me a favor,” Bryant said, handing Meltzer the paper. “Can you run this government plate and tell me who this person is?”
Meltzer glanced at the paper and said, “I can tell you it’s Federal.” He looked up at Bryant. “You want to tell me what’s going on?”
Bryant told him. Everything but the part about Margo’s clairvoyance. Meltzer seemed satisfied with the incident and scooted his chair toward his computer. His fingers tapped the keyboard with purpose.
“How’s Jeff?” Bryant asked.
Meltzer nodded his head sideways down a corridor to the left of his desk. “His mom’s in there right now.”
Bryant cringed. Jeff’s mom had always flirted with Bryant even at the most inappropriate times. Especially at the most inappropriate times. It was as if her tact gland had been removed from her body. She was pretty and filthy rich and probably never had anyone refuse her desires.
“How’s Jeff’s behavior?”
“Hard to say,” Meltzer said while double-clicking his mouse. “I can’t tell if the meds have taken hold, or if he’s putting on a good face.”
“Are you going to charge him with a felony?”
Meltzer looked up. “You think I have a choice?”
“It was my fault, Sam. He should’ve been on meds months ago. I was negligent.”
Meltzer returned his attention to his computer screen and grunted a vague response.
“I’m going to check on him while you’re doing that,” Bryant said, turning to leave.
“Yeah, let me know what you think.” The corridor that led to the holding cells was well-lit and stark white with nothing on the walls but a fresh coat of paint. There were two cells adjacent to each other with a small guard desk directly across from them. Jeff’s mother sat in the first cell with her back to the corridor while Jeff sat on his cot, his feet planted to the floor. His mother used a small voice and although Bryant couldn’t hear the exact words, her tone suggested comforting phrases.
As Bryant approached the desk, the officer smiled at him. “Hey, Doc.”
Bryant shook his hand. “How’s your girl doing?”
“I took your advice,” the officer said. “I praised her for the things she does well. She noticed. Last night she says to me, ‘Dad, can you take me to school in the morning?’”
Bryant patted the officer’s shoulder. “That’s terrific, Tony. She wants you in her life.”
“That’s all I ever really wanted,” the officer said, pride beaming on his face.
Bryant nodded while clenching his back teeth. It was hard to realize the full benefit of his work while his heart was so damaged. The officer seemed to realize the awkwardness of his exuberance, because his smile dissipated. It made Bryant feel like a walking black cloud.
He squeezed the officer’s arm and looked into his eyes. “Enjoy her, Tony. Enjoy every moment. You deserve it.” Then he faked a genuine smile.
The officer resumed his jubilant grin. “Yeah, thanks. I will.”
Bryant looked over at Jeff’s cell. “How’s he doing?”
The officer grabbed a set of keys from his desk drawer. “Passive,” he said. “Very passive. I don’t know if that means contrition, or resignation, or something else.”
The metal-on-metal scrape of the key in the lock got Jeff and his mother’s attention. When the officer opened the cell, Jeff’s mom smoothed her skirt and jumped to her feet.
“Hi,” she said to Bryant. “Could I have a quick word with you?”
Bryant looked over at Jeff who gave him a “fine by me” shrug. Bryant followed the woman as she sashayed her way down the corridor; her stiletto heels clicked on the tile floor until she approached a dead end at the end of the hall. She stopped short and turned to face him. Sharon Davenport was pushing fifty, but had the sculpted radiance of a much younger woman. Mostly because of the money her husband, Charles Davenport, swindled from investors before his Ponzi scheme put him away for twenty years.
“I’m worried about him,” she began. “He’s holding it all in.”
“Not necessarily. The medications could be taking effect.”
“Then I don’t like what they’re doing to him. He’s too timid. I know he needs to be settled down somehow, but it just seems like the fight has been taken out of him.”
A muted version of sunlight came through the rain-spotted window next to them. It seemed to set a gloomy atmosphere throughout the entire city, including the makeup-caked face of Sharon Davenport.
“Let me speak with him. I might be able to tell what’s going on,” Bryant said.
Sharon lightly placed her hand on Bryant’s chest, her manicured fingernails trailing down his torso. “You’re getting too skinny. How much weight have you lost?”
“Three pounds,” Bryant said from his heels.
“That’s all? Still, you look like you need a good, home-cooked meal.”
“I understand.” She removed her hand from his chest and looked away. “I’m not ready yet either. Charles is still fighting the divorce. Our time will come.” She raised her eyes to meet his. They sparkled with an expectant hope.
“Sure,” Bryant said. There wasn’t enough time in the universe to allow him any intimacy with Sharon Davenport, but he gave her a quick smile just the same.
When he turned to leave, she said, “One more thing.”
“I don’t like his infatuation with this alien girl,” Sharon said. “Can’t you get rid of his notion that there are aliens living in these clouds? That can’t be healthy for him.”
Bryant wanted to know more about the clouds and Margo Sutter himself, but his heart was fighting his mind. As hard as he tried to get away from Chandler and remove the sights and sounds of his lost family, it seemed the entire world was conspiring against him, keeping him from his escape route.
“I’ll see what I can do,” Bryant said.