As Kyle drove away from the hospital, he felt uncertain about what had just transpired. It had all been too easy.
He drove a few blocks towards home, glancing in his rearview mirror, but no one seemed to be following him. Maybe they were no longer interested in him or Briana, now that they thought they knew the location of the spring. He and Briana were small potatoes...
He really wanted to believe what he was telling himself. He decided that he would have to believe it, at least for the time being, and continue to move forward with his plan.
He drove straight over to a Pizza Hut that was only a few minutes away. The nun idea had come to him on the way over to the hospital, and he had called Tanya from a pay phone to tell her where to go and wait for him.
He parked, and started to go inside the restaurant to find her, but she stepped out the front door and trotted down the sidewalk to his jeep. She jumped inside, looking scared out of her wits.
“Where’s Brie?” she said breathlessly. “These two men came to our house this morning, and I told them I didn’t know where she was, and—“
“She’s in the hospital,” Kyle interrupted.
“The hospital?” Tanya looked shocked. “What’s the matter with her?”
Kyle wondered how much Briana had told her. “Why did she say she needed to stay in your tree house last night?”
“She said she was in trouble with her mom. She didn’t explain. Why? What’s the matter with her, Kyle? I didn’t think she looked right when I left for school this morning.”
“She’s kind of sick,” Kyle said, backing up the jeep and heading out of the parking lot. He decided that there wasn’t time to explain everything, not that Tanya would have believed it. Besides, if she went along with his plan, the less she knew, the better off she would be. “She drank some water from a spring out at the lake yesterday, and it must have been bad. Those guys are from some government agency—they wanted to find her to do some tests on her.”
“I knew she didn’t look right,” Tanya said. “She said she was just tired and wanted to sleep today, but I thought something was wrong...” She turned to Kyle. “But last night, she was on top of the world. I’ve never seen her in such a good mood.”
“It has kind of a delayed reaction,” Kyle explained. He pulled out into the street and glanced over at Tanya—she had on a pair of tight shorts and a top that showed too much skin. It was hard to imagine her playing the part he was about to ask her to play. But he couldn’t think of anyone else.
“What do you want me to do?” she said. “You said you needed my help.”
“We do. We both do. We need you to help us get Brie out of the hospital.”
Tanya looked puzzled. “How can I do that?”
Kyle glanced at her outfit again. “Do you think you could pretend to be a nun?” he said, trying not to sound too doubtful.
“A nun,” Kyle repeated.
She was quiet for a moment, and he glanced over at her again. She was looking at him like he had lost his mind.
“Come on, Tanya I think you can do it. We can rent a nun’s habit from the costume shop and stop at a bookstore and buy a bible.”
“I can’t act like a nun!”
“Yes, you can,” Kyle said patiently, though Kyle knew it would be a stretch.
“No I can’t!” Tanya looked panicky. “Anyway, I don’t see how that will get her out of the—“
“I’ll explain how,” Kyle said. “Just listen to me for a minute.”
This time, a middle-aged nurse served as the escort from the waiting area down the hallway that led to Briana’s room. Kyle and Tanya trailed a few feet behind her, Tanya walking slowly and reverently, with her head down, as Kyle had instructed. The nun’s black habit looked perfect on her. She had applied a little bit of makeup, giving herself some laugh lines around her eyes and highlighting the creases around her mouth. She still looked young, but she could have passed for a 25 year-old.
They came around a corner and Tanya slowed down a little when she saw the MP. He was still sitting at the desk outside Briana’s room, reading a magazine. He was a beefy fellow who looked like he took pride in his job.
“I know it’s a challenge for you,” Kyle whispered to Tanya, “but try to think pure thoughts.”
She elbowed him through the nun’s habit.
The MP looked up at them as they approached.
“This is Sister Mary Louise,” Kyle said.
The MP looked her up and down, as if he had never seen a nun before.
Kyle waited patiently. He prayed that the MP wouldn’t ask for any identification.
The MP’s eyes stopped on the bible in her hands. To Kyle’s great relief, he reached over and opened the door for her.
As Kyle stepped inside the hospital room, he hoped that Briana wouldn’t laugh when she saw Tanya’s face. He remained outside and pulled the door shut. He smiled cordially at the MP, who barely acknowledged him and went back to his magazine, some kind of fitness journal. Kyle put his hands in his pockets and leaned against the wall.
“Been in the Army long?” Kyle asked.
The MP looked up at him and frowned. “Why?”
Kyle shrugged. “Just wondering. I’ve thought about joining up a few times.” Of course, this was an even bigger lie than Tanya pretending to be a nun, but Kyle wanted to distract him in case there were any unusual noises from the room.
The MP looked him over. “You don’t look like the type, bud.”
“Oh? What type is ‘the type’?”
The MP shrugged. “Hard to say.” He went back to his magazine.
Kyle started to say something else, but changed his mind. It was obvious the man wasn’t interested in making conversation, and he didn’t want to push his luck. Instead, he jangled the change in his pockets and paced slowly up and down in front of the room, dragging his sneakers across the floor so that they made squeaking sounds. The MP glanced at him a couple of times.
“Why don’t you sit down, kid?” the MP finally said, nodding to a chair across the hall. “You’re getting on my nerves.”
At that moment, the door to Briana’s room opened. The nun stepped out. She gave Kyle a wan smile.
“Did you make any progress?” Kyle said, looking into her eyes. They were teary, but he knew the tears weren’t emotional—they were from the physical pain she was in.
“I think so,” she said softly.
The MP peered into the room, as Kyle looked nervously over the big man’s shoulder. Tanya was in the bed, but under the covers, turned away towards the window so that only the back of her head was visible. Fortunately, Tanya’s bleached blonde hair was close to the color of Briana’s.
The MP seemed satisfied and pulled the door shut. He watched Kyle and the “nun” walk away. Kyle hoped that Briana wouldn’t wobble or collapse until they got out of his line of sight.
As soon as they stepped around the corner, Briana stopped to lean against the wall, gasping softly.
“I can’t make it,” she said.
“Yes, you can,” Kyle said, supporting her by the arm. “It’s not much farther.”
She gritted her teeth and continued on, wavering slightly. A passing nurse glanced at her but kept moving.
“Just a little farther,” Kyle whispered, as they went back out into the waiting area. It was still empty. He led her out the door and down another hallway that led to the elevator. They fell in step behind an orderly who was pushing a cart of dirty linen. On the right, Kyle spotted a door with a red EXIT sign above it. He quietly pulled Briana through it and into the stairwell.
She promptly collapsed.
Kyle caught her in his arms. He picked her up and carried her down three flights of stairs. When they reached the bottom, he set her back down and leaned her against the wall. He noticed a smear of blood on his right forearm. He quickly wiped it away.
Her eyes were slowly opening and closing, as if she was drifting in and out.
“Brie,” he whispered, gently shaking her. “There’s no way I can carry you through the lobby—we’ll get caught for sure. You’ll have to walk out yourself.”
“I can’t,” she said. She looked up at him helplessly. “Kyle, it’s no use...”
“Yes it is, Brie. Do you want to spend the rest of your life in an army hospital? When they find out the truth about that green water, they’re never going to let you go. You’ll be nothing but a human experiment. Didn’t you see that form to transfer you to Walter Reed? That’s in Washington, D.C. They don’t have any intention of keeping their promise, don’t you understand?”
Her eyes opened a little wider.
“Wait right here,” he said, moving her over into the corner, behind the door. “You don’t have to walk—I’ll get you a wheelchair.”
Kyle let go of her as she slumped against the wall. He was afraid she would fall down again and propped her back up. “Just lean here for a minute, okay?”
She closed her eyes.
When he let go again, she slumped a little further into the corner, but looked like she would stay put. Kyle went back out into the hallway and walked briskly down the corridor, glancing in every doorway he passed. He spotted a wheelchair in a room where an elderly woman was sleeping. He slipped inside, grabbed the wheelchair, and rolled it back out the door. Several nurses passed by, chatting with each other. One of them glanced at him, but they were absorbed in their conversation and just kept walking.
When he pushed the wheelchair through the stairwell door, he found Brie in a semi-squatting position. She was panting and her forehead was dripping with sweat.
He carefully picked her up and set her in the wheelchair. She slumped over to one side, but Kyle straightened her back up. “I’m going to get you out of here, Brie,” he said, hoping to inspire her a little. “I’m going to take you straight to the green water.”
When the last two words crossed his lips, she looked a little more alert.
“Good. Now, try to act like you feel great. Pretend you just drank five gallons of the stuff.”
She gave a trace of a smile.
“Perfect,” Kyle said. “Now hold that pose.” He got up and pushed the door open, hoping that nobody would notice the fact that they were coming out of a stairwell, and guided the wheelchair out into the hallway. He looked ahead of them, to the lobby. It was only fifty feet away. Kyle pushed the wheelchair straight down the hall, mentally telling himself to look as if he knew exactly what he was doing and had every right to be doing it. But he was certain he would run into Brawn or Brains or the guy who had first ushered him up to Brie’s room. If that happened, it was all over.
When they reached the lobby, a few people glanced at them, but nothing more. He pushed her straight over to the wheelchair access door, fighting the impulse to break into a run, and they went down the ramp. As soon as they were out in the parking lot, Kyle broke into a trot, weaving the wheelchair in and out of the rows of parked cars, keeping a sharp eye out for anyone who might try to stop them.
“This feels good,” Briana said, her nun’s habit billowing around her in the cool breeze. It was dusk, and the temperature felt like it was somewhere in the low sixties.
It only took them a minute to reach the jeep. He scooped her up and set her in the front seat, then rolled the wheelchair in between a couple of parked cars and jumped in the driver’s side.
“Just hang in there, Brie,” he said. “You’re going to make it.”