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The Paths We Take #31: Guardian

Sep 25, 2018








Every second counted. As they stood in the burn of the headlights, I heard the shots splintering the tree trunks and cracking against the boulders. They were shooting blind, their targets shielded by red pine, silver maple, and black gum trees that covered the steep hillside between the road and The Dollhouse.

When I called out to Luke, he grabbed at his waistband but then stopped. His eyes caught mine as I stood with one foot on the road and the other on the floorboard waving them towards me. The girl stood shaking as Luke put his hands on her shoulders and guided her towards the back-passenger door of the Explorer. A trail of blood ran from her shoulder to her elbow and she looked at me with her exotic black eyes as Luke slammed the door shut and rushed into the front passenger seat.

“I’m a cop . . . you’re okay,” I told her as I stomped on the accelerator, the Explorer plowing forward into the night.

“Oh yay . . . my hero,” she spat out as Luke looked over at me and gave a half smile

“That’s Lilly,” Luke said before turning around to look at Lilly. “You can trust him,” he told her.

“What the hell are you talking about? Someone just tried to kill you . . . You don’t even know who it is,” Lilly screamed as she leaned towards Luke.

I looked into the rearview mirror and I could see the mascara running in thin black lines down her cheek. It was like her coal black eyes were melting. The sarcasm in her voice faded into a high-pitched chirping.

“I have an idea who it was,” Luke said.

“They were going to kill me too . . . just because I was with you. How do you want me to feel about that?”

Luke turned back to face the beams of moonlight that snuck through the windshield. He brought his palms to his temples and his hands balled into fists as he held his breath. I’d seen him that way before.

“What am I supposed to do now? That was my life, and it might look like a shit existence to you, but it was mine. I can’t go back now,” Lilly said with an edge in her voice.

“Lilly, I’m sorry—”

She looked out the window, her eyes fixed on the shadows as we sped towards town. I veered off on an unmarked road that I knew to lead to a lumber yard. I pulled behind the office trailer, shut the headlights off, and killed the engine.

“Where the hell are we?” Lilly asked.

“We need to stay off the road for a few hours. I’m going to monitor the radio traffic,” I told them.

“It was Marks wasn’t it?” Luke asked.

I didn’t respond, but he knew the answer. He rested his neck against the seat and shook his head.

“I’m going to run out of luck.”

“It’s not luck,” I said.

Luke told me he was going to the Dollhouse to see if he could get more information from one of the girls there, and at the time, it seemed like a good idea. We’d arrested a few of the girls that worked there before on drug and prostitution offences, but they were tight-lipped when it came to providing information on The Dollhouse or Joe Snyder.

I wanted to take advantage of having a new covert vehicle that Marks didn’t know about. I followed him to the Dollhouse and pulled over just before the entrance to the parking lot. Detectives Chavez, White, and Weiger were already there suiting up for a raid. There was no radio traffic, no tactical unit or K9 to assist, just a few of the Special Investigations Unit detectives armed with shotguns and their duty weapons.

They cleared a few of the cigarette-smoking patrons from the entrance, barreled through the double doors, and then disappeared inside. After a minute passed, I flinched as the shots rang out inside, followed by a few seconds of silence before the blasts started outside the rear of the club. I spun the Explorer around and raced down the hill to the road. I watched two shadows emerge from the tree line and into the road.

“Someone’s looking out for you . . . for us,” I told him as I closed my eyes and sunk into my seat. I watched headlights pass by on the road, but I couldn’t be certain if it was just a passerby or a SIU detective hunting for their prey. I remembered the carving in the hood from The Breed, a warning, a mark, or maybe it was more. Either way, hunters shoot to kill.

Kristin agreed to meet me in town with clothes for Lilly and to take her to the airport in Harrisburg.

“I’ll do this for you this time Gavin, but after I drop her off, you better tell me what’s going on,” Kristin’s voice shook through the phone. “I know this is your job, but you have to think of me too. How much risk are you willing to take?” she asked before ending the call.

“It’s too hot in Miami,” Lilly said when I told her I’d pay for the one-way ticket to Miami. I learned that Lilly’s sister lived in Pinecrest under the red-shingled roof of the $4 million-dollar Mediterranean-style mansion with her CEO husband and three kids. “That’s her life; I choose my own life,” Lilly responded when I told her it would be a good thing to spend time with her sister.

After two hours, I pulled out of the lumber yard and headed to meet Kristin at the Sheetz on the north end of town. It was almost midnight, and the roads were empty except for a few sleepy second-shifters who were on their way to dates with their pillows.

We rolled to a stop for the red light at Rawlings Ave. and Hampton Street. Lilly leaned forward and kissed Luke on his cheek.

“I hope you find Claire and get yourself out of whatever this is,” she half-whispered to Luke. Her voice trembled as she grabbed his hand and kissed it. She let go, threw open the door, and darted into the shadows of the buildings in the office park.

“She’ll be alright. I can tell she’s the survivor type,” I told Luke as he opened his door to go after Lilly. “We can’t save everyone. Maybe someone is looking out for her too.”

Luke looked at me, nodded, and then shut his door. He made a fist with his right hand and tapped the dashboard several times before relaxing.

“I didn’t want to get her involved in this,” Luke said as we turned onto River Rd. “She’s a nice girl, just never really had a chance at anything different.”

My cell phone buzzed in my coat pocket. I reached inside, pulled it out, and held the phone to answer it. I noticed “Blocked Caller” illuminating the screen. I took a breath and hit “Ignore.”


© Josiah A. Miller 2018. All Rights Reserved.