Exhaust fumes began to permeate the cabin of Robert’s pickup truck. The wafting cloud bore a full-frontal assault on his nostrils. The engine’s low thrum had faded from his eardrums, barely distinguishable from all the other sounds around him. But it was the acrid scent of burning fossil fuel that snapped the man out of his trance.

     He’d been sitting in his truck, eyes fixated on a set of double doors that lead into the local community center for over an hour. The stream of people he’d watched enter the building was now filing out. All lost in some sort of conversation with each other ignoring the man in the pickup truck. Tried as he did, Robert couldn’t bring himself to enter today, again.

     This was the third time in the last two weeks that he’d found himself sitting outside of the very same building, posted in the parking lot, riddle with hesitation and doubt. He swore to himself today was the day. Alas, though, another day, and again, another failure. It was as if an invisible forcefield prevented him from entering. A cloaked barricade erected as a manifestation of his own self-doubt and desire to punish himself for past misdeeds. Maybe. Or just cowardice.

     Each attempt to enter got harder and harder as an internal debate raged on inside. Robert couldn’t bring himself to do the one thing he knew he needed to help himself. Blast that stupid poster, mentally cursing the telephone pole poster he’d passed leaving the park after his conversation with Detective Reese more than two weeks ago.

Was AA even for him? Why did he even take the strip of paper with the meeting address on it? A question for which he knew the answer but didn’t want to admit it. He had a problem. But did he have a problem? Surely he could stop drinking whenever he wanted to, right? He’d stopped smoking when he first meant Rebecca and did that cold turkey with no problems, and from what everyone says, that’s the hardest thing to quit.

Besides, he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to quit in the first place. It’d been two weeks since he’d last seen the visage of his son, Roland, after he’d guided him to the park to help Detective Reese. The ghost of his son’s continued visits had only worsened Robert’s guilt upon seeing the face of his baby boy. His poor little Roland. He needed to be punished.

Dropping his head, banging it against the hard rubber of the steering wheel. “I just wanted to protect you from the world.” He cried, tears welling in his eyes, reaching under his seat for the bottle he’d stashed there.

The drink was the only thing keeping him together these days, or so he tried to convince himself rolling the bottle back under the seat after taking a swig. It was the only thing that allowed him to not feel the pain of his loss.

Although, he needed to do something. His life, for whatever it was worth these days, was now hanging precariously in the balance. Already trying to end it once. Only to be thwarted by circumstance, along with a vision of his son telling him there was more to his life.

He needed help.

So Robert waited patiently for everyone to leave the parking lot, watching the last of the cars pull away. He then climbed out of the truck, staring down the large oak doors as if they were the double barrels of a shotgun. Ok, one foot in front of the other, Robert. He said, coxing himself, shaking his body out.

If he could at the very least make it to the door, he’d have taken a small baby step to maybe going in next time.

Inhaling a deep breath, he steeled himself before taking the first step. Then another, followed by one, two, three, and four more. Halfway home. Maybe there wasn’t that invisible bubble after all. He continued to inch closer. Reaching the front of the building. Another breath. He climbed the four concrete steps. Standing before the doors. He reached out, clasping his hands around the brass handle.

“Nope, nope, can’t do this.” He grumbled, twisting, racing back to his truck. Hoping in, gripping the steering wheel, hands trembling, head down in shame. “Next time, yeah, next time.” He muttered, shaking his head throwing the gear shifter into reverse.

Speeding away, he watched the building disappear in his rearview mirror, resignation on his face. He failed yet again. As he sped away in the back of his mind, he heard Roland’s soft little voice, “don’t give up, daddy.” The words brought a twinge of a smile to Robert’s face. He couldn’t give up. His son was urging him to do something. What that was, he wasn’t sure just yet, but he was going to listen to that voice and not his own.

Halfway home, Robert noticed that he was almost out of gas, and his mouth was terribly dry from the drink and running. “I’ll just stop in here for a moment and get something to drink too.” He said to himself, coming up on a gas station—intent on not making that beverage of the alcoholic variety.

He pulled into a pump station, disembarking from the vehicle, searching through his wallet, finding a twenty-dollar bill stashed away. Just enough to get a few gallons and something to drink, he happily thought, making his way into the convenience store. Just enough to get him to payday, hopefully.

Opening the glass front door, triggering the door sensor alerting the clerk staff, someone had just entered with a chime. The woman behind the counter peered up from something she was working on. A blonde-haired woman who looked to be in her mid-thirties took in the new arrival over her glasses.

“Welcome,” she said, acknowledging Robert’s presence returning to her paperwork.

“Hello,” Robert fired back as an obligatory autonomic response.

Stopping a few feet from the door, Robert took in the surroundings. It just occurred to him he’d never been in this store before. He had no idea where the drink coolers were. Surveying over the uniformed chest-high shelves neatly configured into six rows in the center of the floor, to his left. The front counter, filled with all of its little impulse buys. And directly ahead against the far wall was what appeared to be a small open cooler of convenience food, a microwave, and hotdog rollers. Maybe he’d pick up a hot dog too. His stomach rumbled at the sight of the rotisserie frankfurters.

To his left, at the very back of the store against the wall, were the rows of coolers, housing just about any drink you can ask for.

Making his way down one of the aisles, Robert could overhear a conversation; well, it was more like an argument coming from the next aisle over. Passing one of the perpetrators, he briefly locked eyes with the young Hispanic woman. She politely smiled while rolling her eyes, like an unspoken language between two adults commiserating over a dispute with a child.

“But mom,” the little boy whined, “I am hungry now.” Stamping his foot tantrum-like.

“I told you, Miguel, we’re on our way home, and dad is cooking dinner. So put the candy bar down, and let’s go.”

Robert returned the woman’s knowing smile, fondly remembering that he and Roland would sneak in an ice cream treat occasionally returning from the park just before dinner. Seeing no harm in it as Roland would still always finish his dinner. Though it was clear that Miguel’s mother wasn’t having any of it.

With a slight chuckle to himself, he continued on with his mission. Robert reached the drink coolers, standing in front of the liquid refreshments wall, undecided of what he wanted. Well, he knew what he wanted—alcohol, but that was off the menu for the time being. Or so he hoped. Settling on a bottle of water, the cheapest one, since he had concluded getting himself a hotdog was a good idea.

Rounding the last aisle approaching the hotdog station, he retrieved a warmed bun from under the counter. He could still hear the boy whining over his shoulder, begging his mother for that candy bar while standing in line as the cashier rang up their purchases. The boy was now in full negation mode. Promising to not eat it until after dinner. His mother not budging off her stance. If she caved now, the boy would have a free ride all over her now and in the future.

All Robert could do was shake his head and try not to laugh aloud. Collecting his dog with the supplied pair of tongs, dropping it in between the two buns, returning the tongs, sliding over to affix his meal with some toppings.

The front door chimed, signaling someone or someones were entering the market. Robert always hypervigilant of his surroundings. A force of habit from his years in security. Looked back over his shoulder to see who had entered.

He caught a glimpse of two people out of his peripheral vision wearing all black. They had ski masks complete with eye, nose, and mouth openings pulled down over their faces, skulk inside.

The market was being robbed.

Robert spun, mind racing, playing through several scenarios mapping out how to react. He couldn’t rush the robbers; he was too far away to reach them. They would see him coming, plus there were two of them. He could duck and hide, try to take them out one at a time. No, that wouldn’t work either. The store was too small. Also, having to factor in that there were three other bystanders in the store with him—all potential hostages.

Protection. The only course of action he could take. Protect the mother and her son. Robert sprung from the condiments counter, advancing several feet across the linoleum floor.

The first robber through the door, a tall, bulky figure, glided over to the cashier unnoticed by the woman or the mom and the boy. They brandished a handgun, jabbing it at the clerk’s face producing shrieks of fear from all three.

“This is a robbery; no one move,” the man shouted. “That means you too, hero.” Swiveling the gun in Robert’s direction, freezing him in his tracks. “Now you, bitch behind the counter,” moving the gun back to her. “Give me all the money in the register and the safe, and we’ll be gone.” The robber demanded, tossing a large canvas bag onto the counter. “Secure them, and watch him. I don’t trust him.” The man ordered his companion, singling out Robert.

The companion, a shorter individual with strands of blonde hair protruding from underneath their skull cap, produced their own gun. Waving it from side to side, shifting between Robert, the boy, and his mom. Robert figured the figure had to be a woman, though it was hard to tell as both wore oversized clothing.

“Ok…ok. Um, you three get over here.” The soft squeaky voice gave away that the second intruder was indeed a woman, just as Robert suspected. Her demeanor and timidness barking the order indicated that she was less confident than her male counterpart. Or less experienced at committing armed robbery.

With no choice but to obey, Robert calmly walked over to where the woman had indicated. Noticing that the mom and boy were too paralyzed by fear to move. The boy had started to cry.

“Shut that fucking kid up,” the man screamed. “Hurry bitch.” Growing impatient.

“Yeah, woman, shut your kid up, and get over there,” the woman echoed, pointing her gun at Miguel. The boy’s mom thrust herself between her son and the robber’s gun.

“Hold up,” Robert said, hands raised, slowly moving over to the two. Grabbing both the boy and mom. “It’s ok, we’re going to do as they say, and we’ll be fine. Right.” Looking at the female robber, who still had her weapon trained on the mother. “Right.” Robert reiterated, subtly nodding at the robber.

“Yeah, yeah, right. Just do as I say, and no one gets hurt.”

“Ok, now come on,” taking the kid by the shoulders, pulling back. Robert knelt, bringing himself eye level with the boy. “Who’s going to be a brave boy. Miguel right.” The kid nodded. Robert glanced up at his mother. “We’re all going to brave here and do exactly what they say. Now come over here with me.” Robert peered over the boy’s shoulder, seeing a glimmer of light refract from the sunlight, bouncing off the walls inside. Someone had pulled up.

“What’s taking so long, babe?” The woman robber asked, turning away from her charges.

“I…I…am sorry, but I…I don’t know the safe combo.” The clerk stammered. “Only the managers do.”

“Fuck,” spat the man. “Well, hurry and empty the register then.”

Robert stood, pulling the pair back away from the two robbers inching closer to an aisle where they could take cover. Noticing the vehicle that pulled up outside was a cop car. The officer was now walking up to the front door. He looked inside, reaching for the door handle when he caught Robert’s eyes. Desperately trying to signal him not to enter, shaking his head. The cop noticing what was going on, drew his gun. Robert shoved the boy and his mom behind him.

“Hey, what are you doing.” The female robber shouted, seeing Robert shaking his head following his line of sight. “Cop!”

The male spun, “fuck you,” he shouted, opening fire. Flashes of ignited compressed gas spat from the gun’s barrel in thunderous claps. The cashier, mother, and boy shrieked as the front door exploded into thousands of shards of glass.

“Get down,” Robert shouted, shoving the woman and her son down one of the aisles. Throwing himself on top of them as bags of chips exploded above, raining down crisp tortilla chunks over the three.

The officer returned fire while hastily retreating, realizing that he was outgunned and outmanned. He pulled back to his police cruiser, taking cover behind it, sliding over the hood.

“Give me the bag bitch.” The man twisted, screaming at the clerk who had ducked down behind the counter. She tossed the bag over. “Thanks. Come on, babe, we’ve gotta go. Cops are like rabbits; they spawn quick.”

“Where,” she screamed back. “He’s still out there.” Complaining. “I don’t want to kill a cop.”

“We don’t have to; we’ve got him outgunned. Just shoot over his head keep’em down till we get to the car. Let’s go.” Scooping up the bag, they raced towards the door, guns drawn, ready to shoot it out.

The two hit the doorway simultaneously, searching for their target. The cop popped up from behind the trunk of his car, throwing the robbers off, shotgun in hand. “Freeze!” He screamed. They shifted their aim, ready to shoot when the officer squeezed his trigger.

Boom!

The 12 gauge shotgun roared, spitting fire, blowing a softball-sized hole into the wall beside the man. Chunks of concrete and stucco filled the area, caught in a swirl of wind that blew by. “Shit, get back.” The man shouted, throwing his companion back inside the store. She hit the floor hard, sliding backward, dislodging the gun from her hand. It smacked against the tiled floor, skittering across the store, coming to rest outside the aisle Robert and the other two had taken refuge down. Robert saw the glinting firearm spin to a halt.

Her male counterpart returned fire as he pulled back into the market, helping his girlfriend up. “My gun, where’s my gun?” She shouted frantically, looking around for it.

Sensing his opportunity. Robert tried to scramble to his feet, chips crunching beneath his shoes, causing him to lose traction. Stumbling out of the aisle, diving for the gun, reaching.

A large boot appeared, kicking the gun, sending it careening back to its owner. Leaving Robert grasping at thin air on his knees. He looked up, the male robber standing leering over him with a crooked smile. “That was stupid.” A flash of something metal and the world went black.

****

“Mr. Pikeman do you want to hold your baby boy,” asked the nurse coming over after having cleaned up the newborn cradling him in her arms. Looking back at his wife, Rebecca glistening with sweat, her usually perfectly groomed raven hair straggly and puffed in splotches, nodded with a smile.

“Sure,” he answered, a smile as bright as ten suns on his face. Taking the tiny human being in his arms, sliding a hand under the boy’s head and neck, the other under his bottom, cupping the child close to his chest. He turned to face his wife. “Look at what we made.” Somehow finding a wider grin as he shifted glances between the two loves of his life.

For as long as Robert could remember, he wanted a child. He always dreamed of having a baby boy. He would teach him how to swim, fish, play ball, shave. All the things that his father was never around to teach him. And now his dream had come true.

“So,” Rebecca said, sharing a knowing smile with her husband, shifting in the bed. “What do you think of the name?”

The couple had decided to wait until the week before the expected due date to pick out a name. However, with Rebecca going into labor two weeks early, they were forced into their decision a little earlier than expected.

“I love it,” Robert answered, not breaking eye contact with the buddle of life in his arms. “Hi, Roland,” addressing the newborn in a baby voice. “I am your father, Robert. I will make you a promise today that I will hold until my dying breath. I will always, always be there for you. See, it’s my job as your father to protect you from the dangers of this world, and it’s something I take very seriously,” he said, voice growing sterner. “So no matter what, I’ll be there to protect my precious baby boy always.”

****

“Sir, sir, are you ok.”

Robert’s eyes flickered, struggling to stay open. The world around him slowly came into hazy focus. His forehead stung, black spots danced in his vision, his back was cold lying on the floor. A warm ooze trickled down his face. He cautiously and gently reached up, touching the location the pain was radiating from, removing his blood-covered fingers. “Ouch,” he moaned softly. “What…what happened?” He asked, uncertain of what was going on. “Where’s Roland? The last thing I recall—.”

“I believe you were what they call pistol-whipped, sir.” Answered a voice.

Looking up into the light-brown iris’ of the boy’s mother through squinted eyes, memories of the most recent past flooding to the forefront of Robert’s mind. The last thing he could remember clearly was reaching for one of the robbers’ guns, then a glint of something, followed by a cold metallic clunk off his head.

“How long have I been out?” Straining to sit up, his arms still weak.

“About thirty minutes, sir.” The woman answered, helping Robert up. The two robbers stood several feet away, locked in an animated conversation. Most likely strategizing how they would get themselves out of the predicament they now found themselves in.

“It’s Robert, by the way, Robert Pikeman. How’s your, boy, Miguel, ma’am.” Searching around for the kid. Locating him and the cashier just behind them huddled up against one of the shelves.

“I am Maria,” she answered. “And he’s fine. Scared, but fine for now. How’s your head?”

“Hurts like hell, but I’ll live. What did I miss?” Robert took the sleeve of his shirt and wiped off the blood from his forehead.

“Well, there’s more cops outside now. And those two,” indicating the pair of thieves. “Have been arguing about what they’re going to do next. Oh, and by the way. Thanks for trying to end this by going for that gun. That was brave.” She added, smiling at Robert.

“Sadly didn’t work, though.” Thinking back to a training course he’d taken and just about every action movie he’d seen. “Most likely, their next move is to demand that the police provide them a car of some sort in exchange for hostages. Which, by the way, we are at this time.” Robert explained, rubbing his throbbing head. “Most likely keeping at least one of us to ensure the police stay back as they make their escape. So, when that time comes, be ready.

“Be ready for what?” The mother asked, glancing back at Miguel, watching him shake in fear.

“Be ready to go,” Robert responded, checking himself for any other injuries.

“What do you mean?”

“The officer who tried to come in probably saw Miguel, so they know there’s at least one kid in here. So they’ll ask for him, plus yourself, in exchange for the vehicle.” The woman looked at Robert, dumbfounded at how he could know all of this. “It’s like negotiating 101. Get the children out of harm’s way first if possible. So, when that time comes, I am going to volunteer myself to stay behind.”

“Oh my god, why…you would you do that for us?”

Robert looked over Maria’s shoulder, locking eyes with the frightened boy curled into a ball. Thinking about the promise he had made to his own son upon his birth. That no matter what, he would always be there to protect him from the dangers of this world—a promise that he failed to keep.

He couldn’t protect his son from the heart defect, and he couldn’t save him from the car crash that took his baby boy and wife. So, unable to uphold his end of the bargain at that time, Robert wasn’t about to sit ideally by. He may not have been able to protect his family. But he sure as hell could try to keep another innocent child and family from having to go through the pain and torment of losing theirs.

“Yes, yes I will,” he answered calmly, the two exchanging a smile. “I know what’s like to lose a child—a family. I will not make yours go through that. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone, not even those two.” Thumbing behind him at the two squabbling thieves when the store phone rang. “Get ready,” Robert warned Maria, the pair scooting back to the child and clerk.

Unable to hear the specifics of the phone conversation, but it was brief and judging by the calculating way that the male robber had looked over his four hostages. The talk with the police negotiator had presumably gone just the way Robert had laid out.

The man hung up, striding over to the group with a sneering grin. “Good news,” he said, holding the female back. She looked as if she wanted to object to whatever they had agreed upon, but he put the kibosh on whatever she was about to say. “For three of you,” he continued. “Your nightmare day ends right now. You’ll get to go home. Well, probably after about three million questions from the pigs outside.”

“And for the fourth?” The store cashier asked gulpingly.

The man’s grin widened. “Well, the fourth will just have to endure just a bit longer for us to make our getaway. Three of you will secure our transport out of here, and the other. We’re going to be taking a wee bit of a road trip first. Then, maybe if that person is good, we’ll let them go.”

The look in the female companion’s eyes suggested to Robert that was the part of their plan she had wanted to object to. From the moment the robbery started, he could tell this was not her idea, and she definitely wasn’t in it to kill anyone. However, the way the man had carried himself suggested this wasn’t his first robbery. He had no intentions of letting that fourth person go.

“I’ll be your fourth,” Robert insisted, sliding to the front of the group.

“How’d I know,” the man laughed. “Seems we have ourselves a bonafide hero attempt here, babe.” Looking back at his girlfriend. “Sorry pal, you’re not invited to this party, though.”

“Ok, your cars here and ready to go. Now release the three hostages.” The negotiator boomed through a megaphone.

“Alright, everyone up.” The robber ordered, waving his gun for the four hostages to get on their feet.

“Babe, we’re not going to do this, are we.” The woman complained.

“I said it’ll be fine,” he growled through clenched teeth as he whirled on the smaller woman, raising his hand. She flinched, drawing back as if he was about to hit her. Signaling a violent past between the two. “Now march,” ordering the hostages forward, sticking the barrel of his gun in the small of Robert’s back.

As they traversed the store, Robert could hear the bickering between the captors. “He’s just a boy.” Giving away their intended road trip hostage.

Robert’s blood began to boil. They were really going to kidnap the kid to use him as their escape hostage. Knowing that the police would be less inclined to follow close enough to keep tabs on them with a child involved. Also, he wouldn’t likely present any complications to them.

He needed to act quick, approaching the entrance to the market.

A plan began to form. Albeit not a very solid one, it was all he had.

Nearing the doorway, Robert clutched Miguel’s shoulder, bringing him closer, inching the child in front of him. “You’re really going to use the kid?” He asked, feet from the door. He could see a row of officers, guns at the ready. A car parked between them and the cops. “Not very manly of you.”

“Shut the fuck up,” the man said, driving the barrel deeper. “I could just as well shoot you instead of letting you go.”

“No witnesses right.” Robert continued, grunting through the searing pain as the thieve twisted the steel rod-like object deeper. “Just like what you’ll do, the boy,” he whispered.

“No,” the woman protested. “Right,” no immediate response came from the boyfriend.

“Maria, get ready to grab Miguel and run.” Robert chirped in the woman’s ear.

“Right, Johnny,” the female captor said, raising her voice.

“Bitch,” he snapped, “I told you.”

Feeling the release of pressure from his spine. “Run!” Robert shouted as they reached the doorway. Maria grabbed Miguel and fled, pulling along with her the cashier.

Robert snapped his elbow back, driving it into the man’s nose, feeling the wet crunch as it broke, followed by a wail of pain as the man’s head snapped back.

Whirling, he punched the gun aside as the stunned robber squeezed the trigger, being caught off guard by the sudden flurry of activity from his hostage. The gun fired.

The deafening boom and percussion from the close-range shot’s blowback ruptured Robert’s eardrum just as the hurled projectile pierced his side. Clutching his abdomen, Robert wily staggered back falling just outside the store.

The thieve, recovered from his daze, clutching his nose, snarled at Robert lying on the ground. “I am going to kill you,” he shouted, pointing the gleaming barrel at his helpless target.

A chorus of shots rang out from across the driveway as the officers opened fire at the gunman. Robert realized that his bewildered accomplice had frozen in shock and horror, unable to move. He swiped at her legs, knocking her down and out of the field of fire, covering her with his bleeding body.

Through the ringing in his right ear, he could hear that the firing had ceased. Glancing back, the robber was no longer moving. Police rushed in, pulling Robert off the female robber, quickly disarming and placing her in handcuffs. Several other officers attended to Robert noticing his wound. The muffled sounds of the world around him had pulled his attention away from the gunshot wound in his side. Officers helped him up, carrying him to a nearby waiting ambulance.

Sitting on the stretcher in the back of the ambulance holding his side. Robert peeled his hand away at the order of the paramedic allowing him to examine the wound. “You’re lucky, sir,” the young man said. “Looks like the bullet just grazed you. We can patch you up here or take you in.”

Having already had enough of hospitals that he could stomach in the last month, having already seen the inside of the hospital several weeks ago after rescuing a family from their sinking car. “I think I’ll be fine,” he said, feigning a smile watching the police hold back onlookers from the scene. Several news vans also surrounded the area, reporters in full fact-finding mode.

“Robert,” Maria called, picking her way through the gathered officers. “I can’t hug him, can I?” she asked the paramedic, who shook his head. “I will never be able to thank you enough,” she said. “What you did in there for us was brave and heroic. The world is truly a better place for having you in it.” Pecking Robert on the cheek. “Here, if you ever need any type of legal help, my husband is a lawyer. It would be the least we could do for you,” handing Robert a business card. “Thank you.”

“It’s not necessary, but ok,” Robert took the card, putting it into a pocket. “And you’re welcome. I just wanted to protect your boy,” he added.

“You did, thank you.” She turned and was escorted back to her son and a waiting police car by another officer.

“Mr. Pikeman,” another familiar voice said, coming from inside the ambulance. Gazing back, the blond-haired paramedic from his prior heroic event appeared. “We have to stop meeting like this,” she said. “I’ll patch him up, James. Get the paperwork ready. You’re denying transport, right?” Turning to Robert.

“Sure am, this time.” He responded, pulling up his shirt to allow the paramedic to work. “Mandy, right.”

“You remembered,” she said, face lighting up with a smile, still cleaning the wound. “You’re becoming quite the resident hero,” indicating the news vans parked down the street. “First, pulling those two out of the water, and now this. You some kind of adrenaline junkie?”

Robert watched as the police loaded Maria, Miguel, and the cashier into police cruisers. Miguel looked back at the injured man who’d just saved their lives, smiling and waving as the car and its escort pulled away. The vehicles drove past one by one; Roland appeared in flashes between each car, nodding in approval of Robert’s actions.

Smiling back, Robert thought about his promise and the words his son had spoken to him several weeks ago when he first began having visions of his deceased son. Each time leading him to a greater purpose. That he indeed does have more to offer to the world.

“I get it now,” Robert whispered.

“What.”

“Ouch,” Robert yelped in pain, drawing his attention from his son as Mandy had accidentally wrapped the bandage too tight.

“Oh, sorry,” apologizing. “So…you never answered. What are you, an adrenaline junkie, hero, or what?”

Robert looked back up to where Roland had been standing. His son was gone. “Or what,” he answered. “I guess I’ve just been in the right places to help. Right past wrongs.”

“Well, in my book, those who help others in need are heroes.” The paramedic quipped. “You’re all patched up, Mr. Pikeman. If you don’t wanna go to the hospital, we can’t make you. But in the future, let’s try to not meet like this,” she added.

“I know better now not to make promises I can’t keep.” He said, grinning, hopping out of the back of the rescue vehicle.

Mandy nodded behind him. “He’s all yours, officers,” leaping down, closing the doors. “Oh, and Mr. Pikeman, keep the heroing down to a minimum, please. The taxpayers will thank you,” adding a wink as she walked away.

Again, another promise he probably wouldn’t be able to uphold, given his son’s recent appearances. Whatever his new purpose was, it seemed to be putting him in dangerous places to help others.

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