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Chapter 18: A Hint of Deceit

In that second of illumination, Lilly had an impossible thought. Was it the one person she loved all her life.

Spooked by the flashing sign, Cosmo yanked up his coat collar, but it was too late. Lilly had already seen him. Now she also recognized her father’s clothes. The long black raincoat was the same one he had donned earlier. The army boots, the ACU camo pants, it was her dad.

She watched him cross the street in three long easy strides. A pick-up truck came close to clipping him when it ran the stop sign. His coat billowed as the vehicle honked and screeched past.

Lilly’s mouth fell open. A shoulder holster fully loaded hung beneath her father’s left armpit.

What was he doing? Was he looking for her? Was he afraid she had been kidnapped or hurt?

Upon closer scrutiny, his brisk pace told her more. Head down, walking fast, he was focused on a specific destination. He was a man on a mission.

It was conceivable that he thought her safe at home, tucked in under the bedcovers. So, if he wasn’t looking for her where was he headed? Out on the town, visiting friends or even a lover? Multiple scenarios lined up in her mind. Like yeast in rising bread, Lilly’s anger doubled, then tripled. Had he denied her friendships, while he enjoyed his own? Did her father lead a second life while she slept? One that required him to carry a gun? Lilly leapt to her conclusion: he was cheating again, like the cell phone and broken promises.

Tem and the Jesters were secondary, forgotten in this latest development. A bath, clean clothes, home, it would all have to wait. This was more important.

Lilly’s eyes narrowed. Full disclosure. Remember, Dad—no more secrets. No more sneaking around. How can I trust you when you do things like this?

She changed directions, lowered her head, and followed on the opposite side of the street.

Lilly had no intention of intercepting and challenging her father. She whispered, “No debate. No confrontation this time. You are not going to talk your way out of this, Dad!”

It was, as she had been saying all along, time for a change. Instead of forcing the issue, she would collect evidence of his hypocrisy to prove her point. Then she would have all the ammunition she needed when she confronted him. The next time they talked about her social life, she would be ready.

Breaking into a trot, Lilly traveled, always at least a block behind and mirrored her father’s every step, turn, and pause. They were each other’s shadows.

In the middle of the next block, a rowdy couple spilled out of a brownstone. The woman, twentyish, was wearing four-inch stilettos and a short narrow skirt. Teasing, she broke free of her boyfriend’s arms and careened down the steps. She grabbed the railing to catch herself with one hand as she sipped from a bottle of wine she held in the other. At the bottom, she teetered, legs buckling.

Cosmo saved the girl from planting her face in the sidewalk and caught her in his arms as she fell. He sat her on the step ready to walk off.

Lilly watched with a hand over her mouth to muffle her giggles as the playful girl danced around Cosmo. She insisted he join the party and take a sip from her bottle.

“Get out of my way.” Cosmo bulldozed by leaving her sprawled on the pavement this time. The girl’s boyfriend played the white knight and vaulted onto Cosmo’s back.

Lilly snickered as her father shook the younger man off with no more effort than it took to brush a fallen leaf from his shoulder. Side-by-side on the sidewalk, the uninjured couple slurred profanities at Cosmo’s back.

He marched on and Lilly tailed him—both unaware of the other and the Nautilus team that observed their every action.

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