Her Father's Keeper
1. A Long Night

It was past midnight when they came, but I was very much awake. I was sitting on the couch, in the silence, with my arms wrapped around my knees. Waiting, as I had far too many times before.

They came up the stairs, and I heard them coming. My body stiffened and I drew in a deep, shuddering breath. Please, God, I thought, Please don't let it be bad this time. Please let him be okay, please don't let him be...

I stood up in the semi-darkness, straightening my green blouse and waiting for the knock on the door. Even so, I jumped when it came. I opened the door and saw the serious, unfamiliar face of an African-American man who appeared to be in his mid thirties. My eyes dropped to the uniform he wore, and numbly I noticed the way light glinted off his badge.

"Arianna Hobson?" The officer asked. I saw sympathy in his eyes and I forced myself to keep breathing evenly. I had been through this so many times, one would think I'd finally get used to it, but I knew I never would. I was always afraid each time would be the last.

"Yes," I said, my voice trembling a little despite my efforts to seem totally calm. "its daddy — it's my father, isn't it?"

The officer exchanged a look with his partner, a blonde, blue-eyed female officer. "Yes, Miss Hobson," The female officer said, her voice gentle. "Your father has been involved in..."

"How is he?" There was only one thing I wanted to know. She didn't tell me what my father had been involved in — I already knew all too well. I had the headline memorized, as I always did: "CEO of Kravitz Computers Found Murdered"

Again, the two officers looked at each other, their expressions disturbed. Their faces began to blur before my eyes, and I asked quietly, "He's dead, isn't he?" I had been afraid of this for so long — most of my life, really.

"No!" The blonde officer said quickly. Then she hesitated. "We ... we don't think so, anyway." She sighed. "Miss Hobson, you need to come with us. We'll explain on the way to the station."

I grabbed my jacket and turned off the light in a daze. Behind me, the cat meowed, but I ignored him. Shut up, you creep, I told him silently. This is all your fault, anyway.

As we headed down the stairs, the blond police officer kept giving me disturbed glances. "How old are you, Miss Hobson?" She asked, trying to distract me from the current situation. I should know what she was doing — I've had plenty of experience with concerned grown-ups trying to reassure me.

"I'm thirteen," I replied. "My name is Arianna Marissa Hobson and my birthday is June third. Where is my father? Or don't you know?"

"We don't know," The officer admitted. She shot her partner a glance — I was getting tired of that — and he gave her a slight nod. She turned back to me just as we stepped through the front door of McGinty's and out into the bitterly cold night. Stars sparkled over our heads like tiny pieces of broken glass scattered on a velvet curtain.

"Arianna, I'm Officer Kate Allison, and this is my partner, David Ross," She said. "Your — your father was seen at the scene of a crime. A murder. He was seen only briefly, because he ran. Right now, your father is our primary suspect in the murder of Charles Dove."

I stared at her, hoping against hope that I had heard wrong. My father — Daddy? A murder suspect? I tried in vain to swallow the bitter taste in my mouth. If there was a murder, I realized, that means he failed. And he ran — oh, daddy, why did you run?

"Arianna — do you mind if we call you Arianna?" Officer Ross asked. Without waiting for a reply, he continued, "Arianna, we need you to tell us about your dad — how he's been acting recently, what he did today. We need to know why he went to the home of Charlie Dove."

Charlie Dove. The CEO of Kravitz Computers. I could tell them, but they would never believe me. If I even tried to explain it would only make things worse, so I just climbed into the police car.

"Please." Officer Allison looked at me with large, sincere blue eyes. "Please, Arianna, tell us about your father."

Tell us about your father? I could tell them about him, about Gary Hobson. I could tell them that he knew my favorite color, my favorite flower, favorite gemstone, favorite food, favorite movie, and favorite song. I could tell them how he liked to French-braid my hair and clip it with my prettiest barrette. I could tell them how he used to take me out for walks on cold days, when I was very small, and let me wear his leather jacket, which always smelled like cinnamon from the chewing gum he kept in the pocket. I could tell them how he got up extra early on school mornings so he could make me blueberry pancakes or oatmeal with extra raisins before the Paper arrived.

It wouldn't do any good. I was old enough to realize that, old enough to know that nearly every criminal, no matter how psychotic, has a sobbing mother or wife or girlfriend or daughter to assure the police that "he would never do something like that — he's such a sweet boy!"

So I didn't tell them, about my daddy or the cat or that darned newspaper. "I'm not talking," I told them very softly, "until y-you tell me e-everything abou, about wh-what happened." Like my father, I always stuttered when I was nervous. I also smiled like him, talked like him and unconsciously imitated many of his nervous habits. I never minded any of these things because I wanted to be just like daddy.

Officer Allison let out a slow breath. "We don't have all the details just yet," She said; I wasn't sure whether to believe her. "Once we get back to the station, we'll try to dig them up for you."

I didn't feel like saying "thank you", so I just leaned back against the seat and thought about daddy. He was forty-nine; it always shocked me to realize that, because he looked so young, boyish really. He still had that smooth All-American face that had long been drawing female glances; his eyes, much like mine, were a muddy shade of green and his hair was very thick and dark, showing no signs of thinning or graying. I had blondish-brown hair, but in most other ways I took after daddy — tall and lanky, with the same puppy-dog eyes, same smile, and same stutter.

"Is ... is your mother around, Arianna?" Officer Ross asked, his eyes momentarily flitting to the rear-view mirror. I wanted to tell him to watch the road, but I bit my tongue.

"My mother died two days after I was born," I replied. "I thought you people could look up things like that."

Neither of the officers seemed to know what to say. I rubbed my eyes and exhaled, feeling as if I had been holding my breath for hours. I should be more polite to the officers — they were just doing their job — but I was frightened, make that terrified out of my wits, and trying desperately to hide it.

Daddy, where are you? I suddenly found myself fighting back tears as I imagined my gentle, soft-spoken father, who spent his days trying to help other people, crouched in an alley somewhere, pursued by police and undoubtedly haunted by the reality of his failure.

I wondered if he was scared, if he was hurting. I wondered why he had run, why he hadn't been able to prevent the tragedy.

There was complete silence in the car during the remainder of the ride to the police station. When we arrived, the officers wordlessly escorted me inside; David Ross walked away, presumably to find out more about daddy, and Kate Allison stayed with me. Glancing at her, I noticed that she was probably in her late thirties, and rather pretty. Her eyes were her best feature, meaning that she and I had something in common.

In ten or fifteen minutes, Officer Ross came walking back toward us. "I talked to Andrews," He said to Officer Allison, then addressed me. "Have a seat, Miss Hobson." I was glad he had reverted to the more formal title — it made him sound slightly less patronizing.

I sat — practically collapsed into a chair — and clasped my hands in my lap in a futile attempt to keep them from shaking so badly. "What happened?" I asked.

Officer Ross rubbed his forehead and hesitated long enough that I wanted to strangle him. "The police received an anonymous call warning them that something was going to happen at Dove's house," He explained. "They got there just in time to hear shots coming from inside. They got set up outside and they saw Hobson — they saw your father standing over Charlie Dove, holding a gun."

I closed my eyes in disbelief and horror. Dear God, daddy, how are you going to get yourself out of this one? They practically caught you red-handed!

Ross continued, "Your dad bolted out the back door when he saw the police. An officer was just rounding the house, and he fired —"

"Oh, dear God," I whispered, somehow knowing what was coming next.

Officer Ross's brown eyes, full of sympathy, fixed on mine. "He's pretty sure the ... the fugitive was hit." This he said to Allison as much as to me. "There was a trail of blood into a nearby alley, but he must have gotten the bleeding stopped, because there was no sign of him after that. It was like he dropped off the face of the earth."

Daddy. Daddy is hurt. I couldn't stop the tears this time; they blurred my eyes until Officer Ross's face dissolved from my vision, and when I blinked they ran down my cheeks. My father had been injured before — more times than I could count — but never had he been so alone, with no one to give him medical attention, no place to turn. What if he died out there, alone, lying on the cold concrete?

"We've told you what we know, Arianna," Officer Allison said gently. "Now why don't you do the same?"

I blinked a couple times, trying to clear my vision. "I'm not going to tell you that I know he would never do anything like that because he's too gentle and good and sweet. I know it won't make any difference and I know that you guys hear it a lot anyway."

Kate Allison brushed back a wayward strand of blonde hair. "You don't think he did it, though, do you, Arianna?"

I looked into her eyes, held her gaze without flinching. "I know he didn't do it."

"Do you 'know' this just because you think your dad is not capable of killing someone, or because you have a real, concrete reason?" Officer Ross asked. I dropped my eyes, suddenly finding the floor quite fascinating. Both, I thought, but didn't say it out loud.

"Arianna, for your father's sake, you need to tell us."

It's for my father's sake that I can't tell you, I thought, but I wasn't about to say that either. I sat and stared at the floor, concentrating on a single spot on the tile until the rest of the world melted away. It was a trick I had perfected while sitting in hospital waiting rooms, hoping for news of daddy.

Officer Ross said something to me, but I couldn't make out what it was, and I honestly didn't care. After an eternity of silence, I looked up, breaking the spell. "Are you sure it was daddy?" I already knew the answer, but I had to ask anyway.

Officer Ross nodded. "I'm afraid so, Arianna. Two of the officers recognized him — they'd picked him up for questioning a few weeks back." I remembered that. Some woman had accused him of trying to kidnap her child, when in reality he had prevented the little girl from toddling in front of a semi truck.

"Your dad sure manages to get himself into ... odd situations a lot," Officer Ross said. I was smart enough to realize it wasn't an idle comment. He was trying to trick me into saying something.

"Yeah, well ..." I shrugged. "Some people have a lousy sense of timing."

Behind Officer Ross, someone snorted loudly. A heavyset, dark-haired man shifted his cup of coffee to his left hand and said, "Gary Hobson is so darn elusive it's impossible to get anything out of him that makes sense. He's worse than a darn politician, and it looks like the kid here is a chip off the old block."

The man sent me an icy glare, and I returned it. Nothing makes me angry more quickly than hearing someone talk bad about daddy. "Maybe he just ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time," I said, paraphrasing daddy's favorite cliché.

The big, dark-haired man snorted again. "Looks like abstinence runs in the family," He practically spat. My anger was being replaced by hurt and fear, and I felt my eyes filling with tears again.

"Go easy on her, Andrews," Kate Allison put in. "She's just had a big shock. I doubt I'd feel like talking either, if I was her."

Andrews rolled his dark eyes. I didn't like him, and I could tell the feeling was very much mutual. "I think she knows more than she's telling," He said. "She's got that same guilty look Hobson always has."

You have no idea, Andrews, I thought, but stayed silent. I had learned at an early age that I was never, ever to speak of the Paper, except to Chuck Fishman or Marissa Brown. Chuck was rarely around — he lived in LA with his wife Jade and their three children, two boys and a girl — but Marissa still helped daddy run his tavern, McGinty's. Marissa, gentle, blind Marissa, was the closest thing to a mother that I had ever known. She and her husband, Emmett, had one child, a ten-year-old daughter named Elaine.

Marissa! I had to let her know what was happening. She would be so worried. "Can I use a phone, or ... something? I need to call Marissa."

Kate Allison looked thoughtfully at David Ross, and then nodded at me. "You can use my phone," She said. "Who is Marissa?"

"Marissa Brown. She's a family friend and she helps run McGinty's," I explained, taking the cell phone that Officer Allison handed me. The phone was one of those extremely short ones; those things have always driven me crazy, but right now it didn't seem to matter that much.

Marissa's husband picked up on the third ring. "Hello?"

"Hi, Emmett." I ran my fingers through my hair, noticing that my hands were still shaking. "Is Marissa there? I really need to talk to her."

"Sure, Arianna. Just a minute, let me get her." I heard the concern in Emmett's voice, but thankfully he didn't ask any questions.

After a brief silence, I heard Marissa's gentle voice. "Hello?"

"Hey, Marissa, i-it's Arianna. I-I'm at — at the police st-station."

Marissa sighed, the weary sigh of a woman who had received similar calls too many times. "It's Gary, isn't it?" She asked.

"Yes." I fought back a sob, hoping she wouldn't be able to tell how scared I was. Fat chance — Marissa could always tell what I was feeling just from the tone of my voice. "Marissa, th-they think that daddy k-killed someone. They don't know where h-he is."

I heard Marissa's sharp intake of breath, then a brief silence. "There's something you're not telling me," She said finally.

"He's hurt," I replied, and started crying again. "A policeman shot him when he ran. Marissa, what if he —"

"It never helps to dwell on 'what ifs', Arianna," Marissa reminded me in a gentle, soothing voice. "I'll be there soon. Keep your chin up, Ari. You know Gary wouldn't want you to be so worried."

"I know." I drew in a deep, shuddery breath.

Marissa hesitated, and I could sense her next question coming before she spoke it. "Did it have something to do with the —"

"I'll tell you all about it once you get here," I said quickly, knowing that Allison and Ross were listening to every word I said.

Marissa took the hint. "Okay, Arianna. Emmett and I will be there in a few minutes. You hang on."

"I will." I hung up and handed the tiny phone back to Officer Allison. "Thank you," I said softly.

"You're welcome." She gave me a small smile and tucked the phone into her pocket. "Marissa must be a pretty good friend," She commented.

I shrugged. "She's the closest thing to a mother I've ever had. She and daddy — I mean, she and my dad were good friends long before I was ever b-born."

"What happened to your mother?" Officer Allison asked.

"When I was born, my mom had to have an emergency C-section. She got an infection, died two days later." I sighed. "Don't say you're sorry. I've been better off than most kids. Daddy's always m-made up f-for me n-not having a m-mom."

Officer Allison looked away; I could see the conflicting emotions on her face. She believed daddy was guilty — I could tell — but she also felt sorry for me. I could almost hear her thinking, 'What kind of creep would commit murder knowing how much it was going to hurt his child?'

Marissa arrived soon; it felt so good just to let her pull me into a warm hug. "It will be all right, Ari," She whispered. Marissa never calls me 'Ari', except when daddy is in trouble and she knows I'm scared.

"Can I go home now?" I asked Officer Kate Allison.

She gave me another sympathetic smile. "You haven't been very cooperative, Arianna," She pointed out.

"If she's anything like her dad, and Andrews seems to think she is, we can't expect much cooperation," David Ross put in, giving me a slightly annoyed glance. I didn't say anything; neither did Marissa.

"I guess we can let you go home for tonight," Officer Allison relented, seeing how exhausted I was. "But just so you know, Arianna, we will have to talk to you again. If you know anything, we're going to have to find out what it is." Her tone was soft but clearly said that she wasn't kidding.

I shrugged but didn't reply. Marissa put an arm around me and held Emmett's hand with her free one, and we all walked out of the police station together.

Marissa and Emmett offered to let me stay with them, but I insisted on staying home. Marissa didn't argue much — I think she knew why I wanted to stay. She just kissed Emmett on the cheek and quietly said she was going to stay with me. Emmett nodded. "I'll make sure Lainey's up in time for school in the morning," He promised. That was what they usually called their daughter — Lainey.

It was nearly 2:30 AM by the time I finally collapsed into bed. Frightening images flashed through my mind — Daddy alone, hurting, maybe dying. I didn't think I would be able to fall asleep, but my exhaustion took over and I finally drifted off.