“I’m only going to ask you this one more time, son,” Brawn said. “Who cut up your friend?”
Kyle was sitting in a chair in his living room, facing the two government men, who sat side by side on the couch. His father sat off to one side on an ottoman, leaning forward, watching Kyle intently.
“I told you,” Kyle said wearily. “She got hit by a speedboat.”
Brawn looked over at Brains, shaking his head. “And then she swam down to the bottom, went into the cave, fixed herself up with the magic water, and swam back to the boat.”
“That’s right,” Kyle said flatly.
Brawn let out a frustrated sigh and looked over at Kyle Senior. “Did you raise your son to fabricate whoppers like this, professor?”
“That’s enough,” Brains said. He looked at Kyle Senior respectfully. “I apologize, sir. You have to understand, this is a stressful situation for both of us. There’s a great deal at stake here.”
Kyle Senior gave him a slight nod, but regarded Brawn coolly.
Brains looked back at Kyle. “I give you my word. We will give you both round-the-clock protection until we catch whoever it is. You have nothing to fear.”
“I’m telling you the truth,” Kyle said. “There’s no one to catch. Why won’t you believe me?”
Brains studied Kyle’s face. “Whoever it is, they’ve scared the living hell out of you, that’s for sure. Is it somebody from a foreign country? A terrorist? Who?”
“It’s NOBODY!” Kyle shouted.
Brawn leaped off the couch. “Then why won’t you tell us where the water IS, you little punk!”
“Don’t you yell at my son like that!” Kyle Senior said, jumping up from the ottoman.
“Hold it, hold it,” Brains said, waving his hands in the air. “This is getting us nowhere. Both of you just plant your asses back in those cushions and calm down.” He pointed at Brawn. “And if you can’t act like a professional, I’m going to report you and have a replacement brought in. Is that clear?”
Brawn just looked at the floor, a surly expression on his all-American face.
Brains spoke slowly and carefully. “Kyle, even though my hot-headed associate here has a little trouble expressing himself in a diplomatic manner, he does have a point. If this far-fetched story you’re telling us is indeed true, then why won’t you tell us the location of the spring?”
Kyle said nothing, trying to organize his thoughts.
“Answer the man, son,” his dad said.
“All right,” Kyle said irritably. “I’ll tell you why. If I show you where the spring is, I’m afraid you won’t let Brie have access to it any more, and she’ll die.”
Kyle’s father shook his head and stood up, as if he couldn’t bear to listen to any more. He walked over to the window and gazed out at the front lawn.
As if talking to a small child, Brains said to Kyle, “Well, what if I promise to see that she gets as much of it as she wants?”
Kyle felt a twinge of hope. Maybe the man would keep his word. “You’ll let her drink as much as she wants? Let her bathe her wounds in it?”
Brains glanced over at Kyle’s father, who was still shaking his head. “If she agrees to receive medical help. After she’s recovered, if she still wants to drink it, we’ll let her have as much as...”
“Why can’t her mother just sign for her?” Kyle’s father broke in.
“Because the girl is eighteen years old,” Brains answered patiently. “Not that her mother is in any condition right now to sign anything, anyway.”
Kyle Senior rolled his eyes and looked back out the window. “What a family.”
“Son,” Brains said to Kyle, “I give you my word. After she’s recovered, she can drink as much of that water as she wants to.”
Kyle wanted to believe him. “Do you have a piece of paper?” he asked.
Brawn stepped forward, smiling for the first time since Kyle had met him. “We can do better than that—we have a satellite map of the whole lake.”
Kyle pulled into the parking lot of the Veteran’s Administration Hospital, where they had taken Briana. As he got out of his jeep, he noticed four big Army helicopters flying along the horizon, in the direction of the lake.
They don’t waste any time, Kyle thought.
When he went inside the hospital, no one at the front desk could find any record of a Briana Fox having been admitted. Just as Kyle was beginning to get angry, a tall man in a gray pin-striped suit walked up.
“Come with me,” he said.
Kyle followed him; they took the elevator up to the third floor. He led Kyle past an MP who was sitting at a desk in the hallway and into an empty waiting area.
“Wait here,” the man said simply, and left.
The room was stark—no magazines, no ash trays, nothing—only a few flimsy-looking plastic chairs.
After a minute or so, the door opened again. Brains entered the room. His face was expressionless. He sat down in a seat directly across from Kyle and sighed.
“She still won’t sign the papers.”
Kyle wasn’t surprised. “You told her about our agreement?”
“Didn’t make any difference. She still won’t consent to treatment.” He shook his head sadly. “She’s making a big mistake, son. She needs those cuts sewn up. They’re not going to heal properly without stitches.”
Kyle nodded, but he knew that it would take a lot more than a few stitches to get her back to normal. They didn’t know the extent of her wounds. But why would they? They didn’t know that she had ingested some strange healing substance that was wearing off and causing the injuries to steadily worsen. Well, maybe they knew it, but they still didn’t believe it.
“Maybe if you talked to her,” Brains said, “she’d see reason.”
Kyle watched the man for a moment, anger slowly welling up inside him. “You can cut the dramatic act. I don’t buy it.”
Brains’ eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Excuse me?”
“You don’t give a damn about her. All you care about is having a healthy warm body to use as a guinea pig to see what effects the water might have on it.”
Brains regarded him coldly. “You’re wrong about that. We’re interested in any applications this new isotope might have, positive or negative.”
“Really?” Kyle said, glancing around the room. “Then how come you locked her up in this army hospital? Why isn’t she over at University Hospital, where all the high-powered research goes on?”
“Because we can arrange for better protection here.”
“Protection?” Kyle couldn’t help laughing. “Protection from what? Nobody’s worked up about this water but you guys.”
Brains eyed Kyle knowingly. “And whoever cut her up.” He leaned forward and lowered his voice. “Have they paid you off to keep quiet, or what?”
Kyle shook his head and got up. “Where is she? I want to see her.”
The MP opened the door and Kyle stepped into the room. He found Briana sitting up in bed, the covers pulled tightly around her neck. She looked pale and very tense, but relaxed when she saw Kyle’s face. He smiled at her.
He turned back to Brains and the MP, who were both standing in the doorway, watching him.
“Can we have a little privacy?”
The MP looked at Brains.
“It’s all right,” Brains said. They left and pulled the door shut.
Kyle turned back to Briana. “You’re looking better,” he said. He leaned over and kissed her on the forehead.
“Don’t lie, Kyle.”
He looked around the room, checking for a tiny video camera, but didn’t see one. But there was probably a microphone hidden somewhere. On the table beside her was a clipboard, thick with release forms. There was a ballpoint pen sitting on top of it, tip extended.
“Ready and waiting,” Briana said, eyeing it coldly.
Kyle pulled up a chair and sat down. They looked at each other for a moment, and then her face became cloudy. “I’m mad at you.”
Kyle picked up the clipboard. “I figured that.” He thumbed through the forms. There were a few that were marked “U.S. Army” in the back with titles like “EXPERIMENTAL SIDE-EFFECTS DISCLAIMER” and “OFFSPRING DEFORMITY RELEASE.” On the bottom was a form titled “PERMISSION FOR TRANSFER TO WALTER REED ARMY HOSPITAL.” He wondered if she had read them all.
“I had no choice, Brie,” he said, looking back at her. “I had to tell them where the spring was.” Making small, stealthy movements that he hoped wouldn’t be caught by a camera, he picked up the pen and wrote in the margin of the top form, I didn’t tell them where it really was. Don’t say a word—the room might be bugged. Just play along.
“You really have to sign these forms,” he said, holding the clipboard out so she could see what he had written.
“I’m not going to sign...” Her voice faded momentarily as she read the message. “...those forms, Kyle.”
“Why are you so stubborn?” he said, as he scratched out another message. He thrust the clip board at her. “You have to sign, Brie!”
I have a plan to get you out of here, he had written.
She nodded, then looked like she didn’t know what to say. “I want the water!” she blurted out. It sounded melodramatic, even to Kyle.
“Well, you have to sign these forms to get it.” He looked back at the clipboard and touched the pen to the paper, quickly writing:
Say that you have to talk with Sister Mary Louise before you decide.
Briana bit her thumbnail. “I really need to talk to Sister Mary Louise, before I decide,” she said, sounding even more melodramatic than she had before.
She was no actress—Kyle knew he had to wrap this up quickly.
“Do you want me to get Sister Mary Louise for you?” Kyle said.
“All right,” he said. He got up and kissed her again. He slipped the release form he had written the message on into his pocket and put the clipboard and pen back down.
Opening the door, he smiled briefly at the MP and saw Brains emerging from a door down the hall. They both went back out into the waiting area.
“Well?” Brains said.
“She wants to talk to a nun first.”
“A nun?” he said, sounding surprised.
“Yeah. She’s kind of religious. She was raised Catholic.”
“Oh,” Brains said. If he had been eavesdropping, he was doing a good acting job. “What nun?”
“Sister Mary Louise. She’s Brie’s half-cousin, or something. They’re real close.”
“Where does she live?”
“At a convent downtown.” Kyle paused. “I can go there now and get her, if you want me to.”
Brains glanced at his watch. For an instant, Kyle thought he saw a flicker of suspicion cross the man’s middle-aged face. “Yes,” he said, “that would be helpful. I’ve got a lot of things to do.”
Yeah, Kyle thought. Like maybe taking a little run over to the lake to see how your scuba-diving operation is coming along.
Brains turned to the MP “He’ll be back with a nun, Sister...” He turned back toward Kyle. “What was her name?”
“Mary Louise,” the MP answered.
“Right. She has my permission to see the girl.”
“Right. She has my permission to see the girl.”