Jeff Davenport sat on a cot with his back against the wall. His entire body seemed to sag from a purely relaxed state. When Bryant entered the cell, Jeff barely seemed to notice him. Bryant sat in the chair Sharon Davenport had used earlier. It was still warm.
“How are you?” Bryant asked.
“Good,” Jeff murmured. His eyes were focused and alert, but his eyelids were half shut. Bryant could tell that Jeff was using his facial muscles to force his eyes to appear closed. They weren’t hanging loose like a drug addict or someone who was sleep deprived. It was subtle, but there was too much strain in his face.
“What have you been doing?” Bryant asked.
“Mostly hanging out,” Jeff slurred like a drunken surfer.
Bryant stood up and approached Jeff with his hand out, palm up. “Hand them over,” Bryant said, flatly.
“What’s wrong, dude?” Jeff said in a slow voice.
“Give me the pills,” Bryant raised his voice and gave Jeff a stern look.
Jeff frowned. He sat up abruptly and shoved his hand into his jeans pocket. He came up with a half dozen tan pills and handed them to Bryant.
“How did you know?” Jeff asked, with a completely clear and lucid tone.
“Well, first of all,” Bryant said, dropping the medication into his pocket, “you’re using your eye muscles to force your eyelids half-shut. Secondly, you’ve never called anyone ‘dude’ in your entire life. It’s not like they invented a medication that can change your vocabulary.”
Jeff smirked like a kid caught stealing French fries from his little brother. “Oh,” was all he said.
Bryant sat back down and folded his arms. “Why haven’t you taken your meds?”
Jeff’s face drew into a distasteful pucker. “I hate taking pills. So do you. So why talk me into doing something we both hate?”
“Well, for one thing, the DA is going to charge you with assault with a deadly weapon, and if we don’t make some changes in your behavior, they might put you in prison for a while. Is that what you want?”
“Look,” Jeff scooted to the edge of his cot, feet planted on the floor, elbows on his knees, “I made a mistake, okay. The gun wasn’t even loaded.”
“That doesn’t matter and you know it.”
“But you were leaving and I didn’t know what else to do. The voices kept telling me to do something dramatic.”
That got Bryant’s attention. “Voices?”
“Yeah, well, you haven’t been around, but Dr. Sullivan knows about it.”
“What about the voices?”
Jeff rubbed his hands together and kept his head down. “I wouldn’t call them voices exactly. It’s not like I hear someone speaking, but it’s like I get these thoughts and I don’t know where they come from.” Jeff looked up at Bryant. “You ever had that happen? You get a crazy thought and you just can’t figure out where something like that would come from?”
Bryant had considered numerous wild thoughts that ran through his mind over the past couple of months. He squeezed the back of his neck to relieve the tension. “So these thoughts told you to crash into the bank and take hostages?”
Jeff shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe I sort of embellished a little. My original thought was to crash the car and get hospitalized.”
“You thought that would keep me from leaving?”
Bryant sat back in his chair and sighed. “Jeff, why wouldn’t you just call me and talk with me?”
“Well,” Jeff said, looking at the tops of his shoes, “you haven’t exactly been real approachable ever since . . . you know.”
Bryant got to his feet and paced. Nervous energy kept him feeling like a caged tiger. “Look, Jeff, you know when you’re on a plane and they tell you about the oxygen bags dropping down if the aircraft loses cabin pressure? And how you’re supposed to put the oxygen mask over your own mouth first, before you put them around your child’s mouth? That’s because you need to take care of yourself first, before you can take care of anyone else. It’s hard for me to counsel people on how to deal with life’s misfortunes when I’m running out of oxygen myself.”
Jeff looked ashamed. “I guess I’m pretty selfish, huh?”
“No, of course not.” Bryant grabbed his chair and pulled it across the squeaky floor in front of the boy. He twisted the chair around backwards and sat down leaning forward, inches from Jeff’s lowered head. “You’re not selfish, you’re a normal teenager with typical teenage issues.” Bryant waited a beat, then conspiratorially he said, “You want to know what I did when I was eighteen?”
Jeff looked up with anticipation. “Yeah, what?”
Bryant glanced outside the steel bars to see if Tony was listening. The officer was talking with someone on the phone. Bryant turned to Jeff with a mischievous grin. “One Friday night a couple of buddies and I ran into a bowling alley, stole some bowling balls and ran out to the parking lot where another buddy was driving the getaway car.”
Jeff seemed disappointed. “That’s it? You stole a bowling ball?”
Bryant shook his head. “We ended up driving really fast down Chandler Boulevard . . .”
“Yeah,” Jeff said with a lackluster shrug.
“Then we opened the doors and rolled the bowling balls down the street into a crowded intersection at eighty miles an hour.”
Jeff’s eye’s popped open. “Are you serious?”
Bryant looked over his shoulder at Tony again for effect. “Yes. I’m serious.”
“Did anyone get hurt?”
“See that’s the thing. We didn’t stick round. We made a radical U-turn in the middle of the street and hightailed it out of there. We were seventeen, eighteen-year-old kids. We didn’t know how dangerous that was. All we could think about was how much clout we’d have at school telling all of our friends what we’d done. We were practically heroes.”
“Exactly. That’s precisely what an eighteen-year-old is supposed to say. It’s a ‘wow’ experience. However, looking back almost thirty years later, that was the dumbest and perhaps the most dangerous thing I’ve ever done. Do you know what the difference is? Time. That’s all. I’m the same biological makeup I was all those years ago, except time has changed me. I still have the same molecular structure, but now I view things with a different eye. The same way you’ll view your choices when you’re my age.”
Jeff leaned back with a knowing smile on his face.
They sat there in silence until Jeff looked up at the ceiling with a worried look. “Is it still cloudy?”
Bryant pulled on his earlobe. “Yeah. Listen, about this storm. Your mother is worried it’s having a destructive effect on you.”
“Well, then what’s your theory about the rain?”
“I think the environment is acting strange, but no more than that. It’s no different than the last drought we went through.”
Jeff nodded. “It’s just that Margo had me convinced—”
“You know her?”
“We graduated together this year. I knew her pretty well in high school, but when she came back from that trip where her folks died . . . well, she was different.”
Bryant listened with a fascinated ear, sifting through the words for answers. “Different how?”
Jeff shrugged. “I don’t know. After the funeral I went up to her and she sort of looked right through me. Like she was examining my skeleton or something.” The boy looked up. “Does that seem weird for me to say? I mean you’re not going to make me take the medicine if I talk like this, are you?”
“I always want you to talk to me from your heart,” Bryant said. “Never ever hold back. If it seems strange, then it’s strange. Just like our weather.”
“Well, it’s just that she was so compelling. She really believes there are aliens up in the clouds. It’s freaky.” Jeff seemed to measure Bryant’s reaction. “What do you think?”
“About aliens in the clouds?”
Bryant sighed. “There’s just no evidence, Jeff. I can’t really put a lot of faith in one person’s opinion without some science to back it.”
“But she says they’re invisible. They’re here to take over the planet.” Jeff’s hands began to tremble and his expression became dark. He was about to slip away and Bryant knew it. “They’re going to take us all away.” Jeff tapped his foot on the floor with urgency. His eyes searched for a place to focus, then landed on Bryant. “She did this to me, you know.”
“Yeah,” Jeff said, with the jumpiness of a heroin addict looking for a fix. “She said we needed to keep you here.”
“Where? In Chandler?”
Jeff’s head nodded to the rhythm of his foot-tap.
“Why?” Bryant snapped.
Jeff stood, took a couple of quick steps, then abruptly returned to his cot and shifted his legs from one position to another. He seemed preoccupied.
The boy’s eyes roamed the floor as if he were reading invisible words. “I don’t know the answers. I don’t know how she told me. I don’t know if I dreamed it, or what. I just don’t know.” The boy looked up at Bryant with a dazed expression. With his last glimmer of lucidity, he said, “Can you find out?”
Bryant’s head spun with questions he needed answers to, but he knew better than to probe Jeff’s psyche. Not now. The boy carried such a load that his frame seemed to shake with uncertainty.
No response. The boy was in his own world now. Nothing Bryant said would register. How could Bryant have been so oblivious to his condition? Didn’t he recognize this in therapy, or had something changed since their last session? Something did change, of course, but it had nothing to do with Jeff and had everything to do with the loss of Bryant’s family. And his ambitions.
Jeff stared at the floor with no expression. His burden seemed too heavy for such a fragile soul. Bryant squatted down next to the boy and attempted eye contact, but came up empty.
“I’ll find out, Jeff,” Bryant said. “I’ll find the answers. I promise.”