I paced the pier as the shadows of the masts grew longer with the darkening sky. The horizon turning an orange color and the air cooler. The doubts from Tom’s office crept back in, and I couldn’t avoid bringing them to the surface.
What if he takes her?
What if he kills her the moment he sees her?
The thoughts vanished like smoke the moment I heard a high pitched giggle from behind me. I smiled so wide my cheeks hurt and turned to see Lilly and my mother walking towards me down the pier. Her hair tied into two ponytails on the side of her head, to hide her hearing aid, skipping happily alongside my mother, who sang the same bedtime song to her as she did to me and Sarah many years ago.
As soon as Lilly saw me, she let go of my mother’s hand and ran towards me.
I dropped on my knee and opened my arms for her to jump into. As soon as my arms closed around her little body, my world fell into place again. All the madness, the death, the fear, all of it, gone in a second at the smell of sweet shampoo and candy floss. I held onto her, maybe a bit too tightly, but I couldn’t let her go. Not yet.
Right here, in my arms is the safest place she could be.
The thought snuck its way into my mind, and I let go of her and leaned back to look into her eyes.
“Hi, Paul,” she said in a sweet voice.
“Hey, baby girl. I missed you so much.”
“I missed you too. Not too much though,” she said with a wide smile.
“Oh yeah,” I said, “and why is that?”
She giggled, “Coz I was in Disneyland, silly. There was so much to do, I only missed you at night, when Grandma said I had to go sleep.”
I smiled at the thought of how simple life is at that age, “Well you know what?”
“I missed you every second, of every day.”
She smiled at me and I raised my hand to tuck a strand of stray hair behind her ear, careful not to knock the implant.
I stood up and met my mother’s eyes, “Hi mom.”
“Hi honey,” she said and I gave her a kiss on the cheek, then a hug.
“Where is dad?” I asked looking behind her as Lilly slipped her hand into mine.
“Where he needs to be,” she said with a smile. I nodded and led them to my dad’s boat. An old piece of junk that, frankly, I was surprised still floated.
I stepped on first, then helped Lilly and my mother before we headed to the small cabin. I gave Lilly some paper and some pencils and let her draw in the corner. I pulled my mom to the other side of the space and spoke quietly, “How are you doing?”
She sighed, “Fine. I don’t like this plan of yours, Paul, but I know why it needs to be done. Do you have a location for this yet?”
I nodded, “Yeah I do. A storage lot on the outskirts of town. As soon as I get the call from Toni, I will set it up and we can do this.”
“What about backup?” She asked with a frown.
“It’s covered, mom,” I said with a smile, “and stop worrying, it’s not my first time.”
She didn’t share my humor but rather gave me a scolding look before she said, “It’s not you I’m worried about. I know you can handle yourself. It's her,” she said and turned to look at Lilly.
“I know. I won’t let anything happen to her. I promise.”
“What did I tell you about making promises you don’t know if you can keep?”
I stepped closer to my mother, “I will set this whole world on fire and watch it burn, before I let anything happen to her.”
My mother nodded, “Alright. Call your father. He should be ready by now.”
I nodded and reached for my phone.
When my father answered, his deep voice sounding distant, I said, “Are you ready?”
“In position and waiting. Any news from Toni yet?”
“Nothing. I will give him a few more hours. If he doesn’t make contact, then we call this off and try again tomorrow.”
“Copy that,” my father’s voice said, in full police mode.
“Thank you for doing this. I know you left all this behind a long time ago.”
“Paul. That is my only living grandchild. And you are the only child I have left. This asshole is not getting away again.”
I smiled and hung up.
My mother came over, “Is he ready?”
“Yeah. He’s ready. To be honest with you, I didn’t think he would want to do it. He hasn’t held a rifle in over twenty years.”
“Your father may be old, honey, but that man’s aim is like a fine wine, better with age. You know he still practises every week. Just because he isn’t officially a SWAT sniper anymore, doesn’t mean he can’t take the shot.”