A few minutes passed and my sobbing lost steam, as if the supply of tears had been exhausted and as if the volcano inside me was quieted, except for the occasional shuddering rumble of breath. I took the paper towels from her and cleaned myself up. I gathered what rational thoughts I could and faced her. “They seem to be recovering.”
“Really.” No judgment, just a statement. Her eyes were concerned, but serene.
“Yeah. I’m supposed to give them some water. They didn’t want water before.”
“And Anna?” Carla was cool, logical.
“I locked her up in my bedroom. She disobeyed my orders to stay away from them.”
Carla nodded. “So, we give them some water.”
“I suppose so.”
“Tell you what. Get them water...and Carter?” She took the hand that wasn’t holding my gun. Her other hand turned my face toward her. “It’s a lot—them, your daughter, the boyfriend, the agents—it’s okay to let it out sometimes.”
I nodded, and I might have fallen in love with her a little more right then and there. “Thank you.”
“But let’s be smart. Yes, he’s your brother, but this situation is so damn unusual. Hell, it’s unprecedented. All the more reason to keep our heads and our wits about us.”
Thank God for Carla. She was always there when I needed her most. “Right.”
She rose and gave me a hand up. I didn’t mind that she was the strong one in this moment.
I again filled the red plastic cups with water. We crossed the short distance to the cellar door.
Carla drew her own gun. “It might be better if I was the heavy,” she observed. “Put your gun away. I’ll stay back, but I’ll have you covered.”
Good cop. Bad cop. She was smart.
My hands were occupied with water cups so she opened the door for me and we went down to my captives.
* * *
Joe and Mike smiled in relief when they saw me. They were a little wary of Carla, but they weren’t calling the shots.
Carla was professional, fierce. “Joe, Mike. Do you mind moving back a little?”
I tried to be nice. “I’ll set down the water for you.”
Mike complied without hesitation. Joe looked hurt, but he submitted as well. They backed away to the far side of the beams that held them captive. I set down the cups. I backed away and moved next to Carla. “Go ahead.”
Both moved forward and drained the cups in an instant.
“More?” I asked.
Joe was ravenously thirsty, I could tell. “Please.”
“Go,” Carla said. “I’ll stay.”
I returned with refilled cups. They drank. I didn’t want them to overdo it, but they were seriously dehydrated. Already my brother Joey looked stronger, and so did Mike.
“Thank you.” Joe’s face portrayed sincere gratitude, except—dammit—except that his eyes briefly flared red. Shit.
“Still feeling better?” I asked. Carla was calm, collected. I was glad she was with me.
“Yeah,” Joe answered.
Carla caught my attention and jerked her head up to the kitchen.
“Hang on, Joey,” I said. “I’ll bring you some food.”
I turned my back on them and followed Carla up into the kitchen. I shut the door to the basement as Carla leaned a hip against the counter. A nice, curvy hip.
“They do look better,” said Carla. “But their eyes, Carter. I don’t think it’s over.”
“You’re right,” I conceded. “How about we first get Joe out? He’s my brother. I know I can reason with him.”
“What if there’s no reasoning with him?”
“Then I’ll put him back down there.”
I waited for Carla to think it through. “All right,” she agreed, “Let me listen. Just for perspective.”
“I’ll question him,” I said. “Maybe he knows something else, or not. I won’t know until I can talk to him.”
Carla nodded and I saw the genuine concern in her eyes, and perhaps I saw something else. Love? Whatever it was, I hadn’t had a woman look at me like that for a very long time. I reached out and brushed my hand along her cheek. “Thank you for coming.”
Carla kissed me lightly, then hugged me tight. That hug gave me the strength I needed.
* * *
I leaned back in the patio chair and watched my brother eat the oatmeal I’d made for him. Seated a short distance away, Carla appeared relaxed. She had her cop shades on. Behind her nonchalant pose, I knew she was scrutinizing Joe’s every movement. I didn’t blame her.
“How is it?” I asked.
He looked from me to Carla, then back to me. He knew he was being studied like a rat in a cage. I didn’t care if he knew. My brother might have contracted something freaky, and we weren’t going to take any chances. Period.
He said, “Honestly? It tastes okay, but I’d rather have a steak.”
“Maybe you’re anemic,” I said. What I didn’t say was: Maybe that goddamned space rock screwed you up.
“Maybe.” He kept eating, but without enthusiasm. I got the feeling that he was trying to please me. “So...Mike and I...we’re not an isolated event?”
“No.” I had briefed him on what Anna had gleaned from the internet. He had listened quietly, impassively. I had expected a different reaction from someone who had just learned that he might soon be going crazy and start eating other human beings. Instead, he took the news in stride. Too much in stride, I thought.
“Are the others getting better?”
He looked at me. “Do you think I’m getting better?”
I did my best to hide my breaking heart. “Joey, you do look better. But your eyes...”
He shook his head excitedly. “Jack, all my senses are heightened. I can see better than before. I hear everything. There’s a cat on the other side of your garden wall. A hummingbird is two houses over. Anna and Jared are talking quietly. I can’t understand what they’re saying, but I know you don’t hear them at all. Do you?”
“No, I don’t.” I turned my head, slightly curious about the cat. I also turned my head because I didn’t want to look at my kid brother. “How’s your mind, Joey? You were delusional. You were also vicious.”
“I know, and I’m sorry.”
“And now? I mean, I need to know how you really feel.” I tapped my head.
He considered my question, his eyes flashing briefly red. Eyes shouldn’t look like that. And my brother shouldn’t be hearing a goddamn hummingbird two houses down either.