I’ve finally shut the doors to The Mission for the night and drag my tired ass upstairs. Thankfully, that’s how far I have to go to my bed. At 45 this shit isn’t as easy as it was 20 years ago. I kicked the last of the drunks out around two forty-five, luckily it wasn’t a mess, so clean up went fast. Being awake until three am is not abnormal for me since I’m a bar owner.
Grumbling, I rub my hand down my face stopping at my scruffy beard.
It’s about time for a trim again.
As I head up the stairs and open the door, my phone rings. Who the hell is calling me this late, well actually early for most people? I let out a long breath before reaching into my back pocket to grab my cell. That’s odd, a number I don’t recognize. That’s never a good sign.
Throwing caution to the wind, I answer it, “Hello?”
I hear a timid whimper in response. I’m wide awake now. Adrenaline pumping through my veins, I’m instantly alert.
“Hello? Anybody there?” I ask softly.
“……. *shaky breath*…. hello?” A girl whispers, obviously scared, probably crying.
“Hey, sweetheart, what can I do for you?” I respond soothingly.
These seem to be the magic words that open the floodgates, now she’s whispering a mile a minute, and it’s hard for me to keep up.
“I’m so sorry to call you, but I need your help. My brother told me to call you... I think he’s gone, but I’m not sure.” She starts crying quietly, whimpering. I can imagine her lip quivering as she fights to remain silent.
“You still with me sweetheart?”
I have no idea who she is or how she got my number, but she needs help. I never could say no to a damsel in distress.
“Please hurry…*garbled words*…angry…please…” I can’t understand what she’s saying, but I need to move. I grab my keys and take off down the stairs to my old Chevy C10. Don’t knock her, she has gotten me through a lot of shit through the years. Unlike most people, she is the most reliable thing in my life.
I take a deep breath, fighting myself to calm down and think for a moment. I have no idea where or who this girl is.
Her brother told her to call me if she got into trouble.
She has to be one of the family members of the SEAL’s that just deployed.
Okay, think. Who has a sister? Have I even met any of their family members? The barbeque at Katie’s parent’s house, Charlie brought those damn troublemakers, Logan was there with Katie, and Dumbass was there alone. Oh, that sexy country girl, with brown hair and ocean blue eyes that I couldn’t take my eyes off of. I kept telling myself if I didn’t stop staring at her I was going to hell. The things I was thinking about doing to her, damn, I had to get out of there before I did something Justin would’ve killed me for. Right, LT’s little sister, but damn if I remember her name.
Searching through my phone, I find who I’m looking for and hit ‘Call’ while backing out. It rings a few times then goes to voicemail. I immediately hang up and call again.
“Come on, pick up the phone.” As if the person on the other end can hear me.
“Jimmy? Do you have any idea what time it is?” You ever heard the saying never wake a sleeping bear? Well, they wrote that with Katie in mind. This is an emergency, she will forgive me, eventually.
“Yeah, sorry Katie but this is important. LT has a younger sister, right? Brown hair, blue eyes, and legs for days?” God, I sound like a perv on the hunt for young pussy.
“What? Um… yeah.” Katie isn’t quite awake yet, thankfully.
“Her name is Emma, why?” Now she’s suspicious, that’s my girl.
“Look, I’m pretty sure she called me, but I have no idea where she is. Do you have her address? I want to drive by and make sure everything is alright. From the sound of the call, she’s in trouble.”
Come on Katie, give me the address. You know I’m not some crazy stalker.
“I’ll text it, by the sound of it, you’re already in the truck. She’s staying in Manchester Village for USD.”
“Thanks, Katie, I’ll let you know what I find.”
“You better or I’ll call Avery to come check on things for me.” She’s wide awake now.
“That’s payback for waking you up, isn’t it?” I snicker into the phone.
I hear my phone chime with an incoming text.
“You’re damn right, you owe me breakfast in the morning too. I want to check on Emma myself. ”
“Alright, try to get some sleep.”
I hang up the phone and speed down I15, this isn’t going to be fun for anyone.
Finding a place to park near the university isn’t too difficult at three am, but locating her housing is tricky. I get lucky and stumble upon her building, hoping that I don’t need a student ID to get in. Luck is on my side tonight, the door is open. I’m sure they have roving security guards somewhere, but they aren’t my concern right now. Heading up to the third floor, I follow the numbers until I see her apartment number and bang on the door.
It takes a few minutes, but a half-awake co-ed opens the door in shorts and a tank.
“Is Emma here?” This kid needs to wake up, I have questions and I need answers, now.
“Emma? No, she hasn’t been here in weeks,” she says, squinting against the light from the hallway.
“Do you know where she is?” I’m getting frustrated, the girl needs help, but I have no idea where the fuck she is.
“Uh, yeah hang on. Some guy dropped off a business card a few days after she left, said to call if anyone came looking for her.” She walks into the apartment, leaving the door open. Shaking my head at her lack of personal security, she hasn’t even asked who I am or what I want Emma for. Handing over the card, she seems to finally be awake.
“Are you her dad or something?” She’s looking me over, her brain has finally kicked on.
“Or something, thanks,” I say over my shoulder, walking down the hallway toward my truck.
Flipping over the card, I see a name, number, and address but that’s it. No branding, company name, nothing. I’ve got a bad feeling about this. When I get to my truck, I check to make sure my P22 9mm is locked and loaded, time to ruin someone's day.
* * *
I pull up to the address, parking across the street. The shack Emma is living in is disgusting, falling apart, and probably infested with rodents and bugs like the rest of this part of town.
The lights are on, so I grab my P22 9mm from the glove box, I’m sure someone is awake in the house. I make sure it's loaded, and the safety is on before sticking in the back of my pants and covering it with my shirt.
It’s quiet as I make my way across the street, which if I’m being honest, makes me nervous. Once I reach the house, I peer into the window and notice some Mexican looking dude passed out face down on the dilapidated couch. After checking the knob, which is unlocked, I open the door with a loud squeak. I freeze waiting for the man on the couch to move, but nothing. No movement from any other part of the house. Silence.
With my pistol in hand, I close the door carefully and methodically check the house, just like I was trained. The stench of rotting food, trash, and stale sweat assaults my senses, making it difficult to concentrate as I make my way through the house. I finally reach what appears to be the master bedroom. I’m sure there’s a bed underneath all this shit, but I bypass that to search for a closet. The smell of old urine and mildew waifs from the open bathroom door as I pass, making me gag.
How does anyone live like this?
Continuing to search, I follow the path through the clothes, trash, and things I would rather not identify, and finally reach the closet. Squatting down next to the wall, I hear soft breathing through the crack in the door. This must be where Emma is hiding. I don’t want to scare her even more, so I can’t just swing the door open. She may attack me and hurt herself. If I knock on the door, she may scream and wake up the drunk in the front room. Simply trying to get her attention is probably my best bet.
“Hey, is anyone in there?” I whisper.
I wait patiently, listening intently while keeping my eyes and gun trained on the door. Neither one of us can afford any surprises.
“Hey, sweetheart? This is Jimmy, you called me.” I try again.
Maybe there’s no one in there, and I’m talking to an empty closet.
I consider opening the door when I see a pair of bright blue eyes staring at me before the door launches open and she flings herself at me, pushing us both to over onto what I hope is a pile of clothes.
Emma is shaking and gripping me so tightly I may have bruises later.
“Okay sweetheart, I’m going to stand up, wrap your legs around me and I’ll get us out of here. You with me?” The only response I get is a head shake as her tears soak through my shirt. It's time for us to go.
Slowly, I climb to my feet again, with a girl wrapped around my torso, it's not much different than the gear I had to carry while deployed, my body is just out of practice. Once I get the muscles moving, we head back out the way I came.
I try not to focus on the feel of her tiny body pressed up against me as my heart thumps so loudly I can hear it in my ears, feel it in my hands as they wrap around the pistol.
I shake my head to clear the thoughts of the girl, I have to focus on getting us out of here. I recheck the rooms to make sure there is no surprise. Everything is clear until we reach the end of the hall, our retreat is blocked by a very drunk Mexican man.
“Hey, man, I don’t want any trouble. We’re going to leave, and that’s it.” I holler at him.
This obviously isn’t okay with him because he’s now yelling in Spanish. His words are slurred, and I can’t keep up with what he’s saying, but I can tell he’s pissed. His arms are waving around, and he keeps pointing either at me or the girl that is now shaking like a leaf in a hurricane. With her wrapped around me, there’s no way I can fight him, and I doubt she’ll let go of me long enough for me to knock him out.
“Hey, can you translate for me? My Spanish is terrible on a good day, I can’t follow this,” I whisper to her.
She nods, at least I think she does. She’s shaking so bad that it’s hard to tell.
“Tell him that I don’t want to hurt him, we just want to leave.”
She relays the message, and he stops for a moment before he’s charging at us. With no other option, I shoot, clipping him in the upper arm. It doesn’t slow him down, so I shoot him again, this time in the thigh. He crashes to the floor, taking out part of the wall and cracking his head on a wood stud, knocking him unconscious.
I take a second to get my breathing back under control, then walk past him, out of the house and to the truck. I should check to see if he’s still alive, but, fuck it, I warned him.
The shot was so loud my ears are still ringing. My entire body is pressed against this man that I met once at a barbeque but never talked to. Justin told me to put his information in my phone with the promise that I would call him if I needed help.
I thought I was done making stupid mistakes, I left podunk Indiana in hopes of leaving all my bad decisions behind, but all it took was a nice smile and a few lines to bring me right back to where I started, needing someone to protect me.
Today was the final straw, Javier had gone too far. Today started out like any other day, taking a ride to one of his minion's houses for a shipment and then waiting in the car for hours. He was in a foul mood when he reappeared, and I wasn’t much better off after sitting in the California heat all damn day.
I started yelling at him, and he backhanded me before we even got back to the house. Him hitting me is nothing new, it has become a daily occurrence in my life. When we got back to the house, he pulled me into the house to use me as his own personal punching bag before locking me in the bedroom. I lay in a heap on the floor after being punched in the stomach, kicked in the pussy with a steel-toed boot, dragged by my hair, and smacked in the face so many times I lost count. Today, I had enough, when Javier passed out I picked up the phone to call Jimmy. I wanted my life back, and if I didn’t do something soon, I knew I wouldn’t have one for much longer.
Jimmy saved me, he may have even killed someone for me. Now, I’m sitting in his truck, pressed up against his side, curled into a tight ball. I don’t know where he’s taking me, or what is going to happen next, but I do know if I’m with him, I’ll be safe. Justin never would have told me to call him if I couldn’t trust him, and having someone to trust right now was the one thing I needed over everything else.