As my mother made her trademark ham, cheese and mustard sandwiches, I sat by the table, watching Lilly draw. We were waiting for Toni to call, to tell us he knew Lilly was back in town, but for two hours now, it’s been quiet. I didn’t mind. Every moment the phone stayed quiet, was another moment she was safe.
My mom bought me a plate, with a glass of milk and I smiled.
“Mom, a beer would have been better,” I said, taking a long sip of the milk.
She shook her head, “Not on the job, Paul. You need a clear head.”
I picked up the first half of my dinner when my phone rang. The tension in the little cabin of the boat turned ice cold as I reached for my phone and saw the unknown number.
I nodded to my mother, and stepped outside, away from Lilly.
“Is Gail alive?” I asked as soon as I answered the call.
“She’s hanging on,” Toni’s snake like voice said, “But not for much longer. I see my little Lilly is home. That’s good Paul. Bring her to me.”
“That’s not how this is going to work. You come to me.”
“So I can walk right into your trap? I thought you understood that I am smarter than that.”
“That’s the only way this will work. In an hour, Lilly and I will be at Portland self store. By unit three nine one. You can either be there with Gail, or I take Lilly and we disappear for good.”
Toni sighed over the line as I waited.
“Fine. I will see you there. One hour Paul, don’t make me wait. It won’t end well for Gail if you do.”
The call ended, and I dialled my father again.
“Paul, is it on?” He asked, sparing no time for pleasantries.
“Hey dad, yeah, one hour. Mom will be in position in about twenty minutes, and the rest of the team should be there already.”
“They are. Tom and the others showed up about fifteen minutes ago. We have three nine one covered from every angle, including the units around it and all the exits.”
“Great. I’m heading out now.”
I hung up and went back inside.
My mother came over to me, “Is everything set up?”
I nodded, not taking my eyes off Lilly as my heart raced, “Yes. Dad and the others are onsite, and in position. Time for you to go.”
She nodded and pulled me down for a hug, “Be safe Paul. I love you.”
“Love you too, mom.” I said and watched her leave. I turned to Lilly and when her big green eyes met mine, I smiled.
She is damn near an angel.
“Hey squirt,” I said, getting her attention, “Did grandma tell you what we need to do tonight?”
She nodded, “Yes. You need to catch a very bad man, and you need my help.”
“That’s right. Do you remember when I showed you how to wear that really heavy vest?”
She nodded, looking back at her rainbow and Mickey Mouse drawing.
“Well, I need you to wear it tonight.”
She rolled her eyes at me, “But it’s so heavy.”
“I know. But you have to, honey.”
She sighed again, in the way only a seven-year-old can, and signed to me with her little hands, fine, but once this is over, you are buying me ice cream.
I smiled and signed back, you got it, kid!
Thank God Sarah insisted we all learn how to sign.
Even though Lilly could hear, I insisted Lilly continue to use and learn sign language.
She can hear, but there are still a lot of people who can’t. Why let a valuable skill be forgotten?
I gestured for her with my head to follow me and we walked back to my Camaro parked in the Yacht club parking. I opened the trunk and took out a vest, helping Lilly get into it before I strapped on my own. My shoulder still ached with a fiery pain, but I bit it back and smiled at Lilly.
I checked the time on my phone and as the seconds ticked by, my adrenaline grew.
I loaded Lilly into the back seat, making sure her belt was strapped in tight, then climbed into the driver's side.
As we drove towards the city limits, I couldn’t help but look in the rearview mirror every few seconds.
I won’t let him get her. He won’t even get close. As soon as anyone has eyes on Gail, he’s a dead man!
I pulled the car into the entrance of the storage complex, giving the undercover officer dressed as a homeless man a nod.
I stopped my car in an open space at the entrance to three passages of units. I stuck the earpiece into my ear and climbed out, opening the back door for Lilly.
In my ear, I heard Eli say, “We have you and Lilly in sight. Two o’clock, top of the unit.”
I looked in the direction he mentioned and spotted the faint outline of an officer laying on the roof of the unit. I scanned my eyes around and spotted two more on the roof, in other directions.
Lilly climbed out of the car, putting on a show at how heavy the vest was, and I took her hand.
I led her down the passage, my heart racing more and more with every step.
“Paul,” my dad’s voice said in my ear, “Turn left here. Head straight to the end, then right. The unit will be on your left.”
“Copy,” I mumbled, and looked down at Lilly. Her eyes looked around the empty and dark area and I felt her little hand grip mine tighter as she walked closer to me.
Once we got to the unit, I checked the number above the large metal roller doors and waited.
When I didn’t see anything, I lifted my hand to my ear and tugged my earlobe.
In my ear I heard my father again, “I’m with you, son. I have you in my sights. No sign of Toni yet.”
At least he remembers the contact code he taught me as a kid. Even if he does forget his anniversary almost every year.
Lilly tugged on my arm and I knelt down next to her, “It’s ok. I’m here with you.”
“I’m cold,” she said and I noticed her body trembling. I stood and took my jacket off, wrapping it around her shoulders and she smiled up at me. I replied with a wink, then heard a whistling coming from somewhere in the complex.