Isabella Swan sat cross-legged, enjoying the feel of the Egyptian cotton sheets that were pulled taut and creaseless across the four-poster bed of Suite 227 of the Mandarin Hotel, New York.
She sat, smiling, watching with rapt, adoring nine year old eyes as her father stood in front of a large vertical mirror, trying to fathom how to fasten the black silk tie that was hanging uncooperatively around his neck. He sighed in frustration and rolled his eyes at the reflection of his daughter, who giggled and grinned back widely.
Usually his wife would assist him in matters such as a defiant tie but she was five hours away in D.C attending a breast cancer awareness event; a cause that she had been an avid supporter of since she had lost her older sister to the appalling disease not ten years before. He couldn't begrudge her need to be there but it didn't stop him from missing her.
Just recently they had been more like ships passing in the night as opposed to husband and wife. He longed to have more than one night with her without the stress of an upcoming flight or an event hanging over them as they made love or simply held one another. But alas, a politician's life was filled with responsibilities that took him away from his family, which was why he had asked Isabella to join him on this particular trip.
Senator Charles Swan was known in the political world for two things; a ruthless determination and utter humility. Many admired him for walking such a fine line between two such opposing character traits, others saw him as a walking contradiction but neither bothered Senator Swan because another characteristic he possessed, that lay silent but entirely present under his cool façade was that he took no bullshit.
And God help anyone who tried to shovel any his way.
He finally won his battle against the tie from hell and spun around, arms out wide, to face his daughter.
"So, Bells, what do you think?"
"Handsome," she chimed with a loud clap.
"Always am," he replied with a wink, before walking towards the phone that was ringing from its position on the night stand by the bed.
"Yes," he answered quickly.
"Senator, your car is waiting," replied the young blonde from the hotel front desk.
"Thank you," he said with a smile. "Ok," he continued towards his daughter as he replaced the receiver. "You ready, baby?"
"Yep," Isabella answered, jumping from the bed and straightening her pastel blue dress down past her knees.
"You excited?" he asked as he placed a loving hand on her shoulder.
She nodded and twisted so that she could wrap her arms around her Daddy's waist. He was her hero. He was her cuddly giant who always saved the cherry from the bottom of his cherry ice cream sundaes. Who still tucked her in when he could and read her 'Walter the lazy Mouse,' even though she knew, that if the girls at school ever found out, she would be taunted and laughed at for certain. But that didn't stop Daddy from doing it. He would do anything for her, she knew. She knew because he told her repeatedly.
"Anything for my beauty,' he would say and he meant it.
If Charles Swan's wife was his world then Isabella was the sun that warmed it. He basked in her glow and spark, which was as much he as it was her mother.
He glanced out of the limousine window to see the tall skyscrapers slowly become smaller more destitute buildings that were covered in graffiti that was as beautiful as it was misplaced. It deserved to be in an art museum somewhere. He smiled as he thought back to the days when he would leave his signature CS in bright green and black around the town that he lived in. He was warned and fined twice but it never stopped him. He was rebellious and he reveled in it. Growing up in a low class neighborhood where drugs and crime were rife he had to do something to keep him off the path that was so inevitable for so many others.
The car came to a slow stop outside a large whitewash building that looked like a large precious gem amidst the other dirty walls of the surrounding neighborhood and, ironically enough, that was exactly what it was in Senator Swan's eyes. It was his gem.
The Bronx Helping Hand Shelter was a four-year labor of love for him. His idea had been to build and open a place for people with little or no medical insurance, particularly families, the homeless and the hungry. Once there, the users could cook their own meals, were given access to medicines and volunteer doctors and also Internet access to help them find work or to simply learn a skill in using a computer. All the workers at the shelter were volunteers and the letters of recommendation from them all had been unprecedented.
The Senator's idea was obviously something that struck a chord in many others, far and wide.
People were limited to staying at the shelter for a maximum of seven days but Senator Swan was determined to change that. He knew, with a heavy heart and a frustrated soul that there was a lot of political red tape to get through before that happened. But he would. He had to. He knew without doubt that, had there been a place like the Helping Hand Shelter for him and his own mother, when he was Isabella's age, their lives would have been a damn sight easier.
His one wish at that moment was that his mother was still alive to see what he had achieved.
"Let's go, sweetie," he said to Isabella, taking her hand and slipping out of the car door that was being held open by Agent Billy Ephraim, Charles's favorite and most trusted bodyguard.
"Thank you, Billy," he said with a nod.
"Of course, Sir," he replied in kind.
The grand opening of the shelter had been three months earlier but Senator Swan wanted to make sure that all was running as it should have been and that any earlier kinks had been ironed out. He was happily assured as he walked around, led by Hannah Crest the shelter manager. He held Isabella's hand tightly and pointed out all the elements that would make so many people's lives easier.
"What do you think, Bells?" he asked with a small smile.
"It's wonderful," she answered as she ran her hand over the keyboard of one of the new Mac computers that were bolted to the wooden desks "Do you help all these people?" She motioned towards the dozen or so men, women and children that were scattered around the room, reading, eating and talking.
"I try," he answered honestly.
"You're their hero too," Isabella mused almost to herself.
Senator Swan couldn't help but laugh and flush gently at his daughter's compliment. He walked towards her and crouched so that he was eye-level with her.
"It's important to help people, Bells. We are very lucky but that wasn't always so for me."
"When you were little?" she asked, running her index finger across his moustache.
"That's right," he replied with a smile that made his eyes crinkle. "We need to make sure that we give back, Bells. Do you understand, baby?"
She frowned slightly but nodded. "How can I help?" she asked firmly. She knew she had to do something. She just wasn't sure, at nine years old, what that could be.
"Well, when you're a little older and you've gone to college, you can do whatever you want."
"Whatever I want?"
He nodded and tucked her hair behind her ear.
"Of course, sweetheart; A doctor, a teacher, a nurse…"
"A teacher," she repeated with wide eyes.
Senator Swan laughed again. "Yeah, baby. You could teach in a school, helping people."
"Helping like you," Isabella said softly. She could be a hero like Daddy and that thought alone excited her like nothing else. "I will. I promise. I'll help," she swore without a hint of dishonesty.
"That's great, Bella," her father replied, knowing that she ant every word. "I'd be so proud of you. Even more than I am already."
The words hit Isabella's ears and her immediate reaction was to throw her arms around his neck and squeeze. Her father hugged her back and rubbed his palm down the back of her hair and took a deep breath of her precious scent. He knew his daughter was destined for greatness and through helping others he knew she would achieve it. He and his family led a charmed life that he had worked hard to attain, but it was vitally important to him that his daughter gave something back. He had done his utmost to teach her right and he prayed daily that some part of her had taken his words to heed.
"I love you," he whispered as he cupped her face and kissed her forehead. "You can be all you want to be, Isabella."
"I want to be like you, helping people," she answered determinedly.
"And so you shall be," he promised her.
The father daughter duo spent three more hours talking and learning more about the people who used and volunteered at the shelter. Isabella was fascinated by the way in which people gravitated towards her father. He was commanding but approachable and everyone he met thanked him and wished him well.
Yes, Isabella wanted to be like her father and being a teacher would be just the way to do it. She wanted to make him proud and she wanted to help people just like he did.
Yes – she was decided – she would make her Daddy proud.
"Ok, Bells," he said with a wide smile. "I don't know about you," he whispered. "But I'm hungry and I know a great sandwich place around the corner. How about it, baby, you and me?"
Isabella bit her lip and nodded eagerly. Senator Swan said his goodbyes, thanking everyone for their hard work and promised that he would be back to once again check on his gem. The shelter, he decided, was looking excellent and, although there was more work to be done, he was pleased with what he saw. He made a note on his Blackberry to speak to his assistant about finding a supplier for thicker blankets for the beds and larger pans for the kitchens.
The cool evening air hit the two of them as they approached the car, while Agent Ephraim held the door open for them.
"Thanks, Billy, but I'm taking my daughter here for a Mr. Hess sandwich."
Agent Ephraim smiled gently and nodded, "Very good, Sir."
He closed the car door and made to escort them down the street.
"Stay here," Senator Swan said with a shrug. "It's only a block down."
"Senator," Agent Ephraim protested.
"Please," he assured him. "We'll be fine, really." He clapped a hand to the agent's large, broad shoulder. "Take a load off." He grabbed Isabella's hand and began towards the world famous sandwich shop.
Agent Ephraim clenched his teeth. He could still make out the pair of them as they walked across the street but he became extremely uneasy when they disappeared around the corner. He slammed his palms against his hips and sighed in exasperation. This wasn't the first time that this had happened but orders were orders and Senator Swan was a determined and stubborn son of a bitch. He paced and adjusted his earpiece once again. He knew the Senator had a panic alarm but not being with him filled him with anxiety.
It was his job to protect the Senator after all.
Senator Swan however was oblivious to the worries of his bodyguard as he sat down with his daughter and began tucking into the best cheese steak sandwich outside of Philadelphia. Isabella ate hers with enthusiasm while smiling at a young girl who glanced over with a look of recognition on his face. The shop was empty but for the three of them, not that Senator Swan was concerned.
The area may have had a poor reputation for crime and violence but he was confident that he was safe with his daughter as they ate. Besides, after living in the areas he had growing up, he would like to see anyone try something against him or his daughter. He may have been wearing a thousand dollar suit and Prada loafers but his knuckles and street sense were worth more than those combined.
Isabella continued to regale her father with her dreams of the future and how she saw herself in a classroom, teaching and helping in any way she could. Her enthusiasm and fortitude warmed his soul more than he could express, especially since he knew that she got it all from him. Daddy's girl, his wife would sigh repeatedly.
They finished their sandwiches and set off back onto the street, Isabella's hand placed firmly in her father's tight grip. The grip however suddenly became painful as they passed a dark, piss soaked alleyway from which slunk four young men with knives and guns in the waistbands of their dirty, ripped jeans.
Senator Swan couldn't see the weapons but, like a sixth sense that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end, he knew they were there. He quickened his pace so much that Isabella was almost jogging to keep up.
"Daddy," she whispered in panic as she glanced up to see a tightness in his jaw that she had never seen before.
It scared her.
"Shh," he soothed as he pulled her across the street, heading for a streetlight, while fumbling for his panic alarm in his pants pocket. "Just listen to me ok, baby? Stay calm. Do exactly what I say. Do you understand me? Exactly what I say."
Isabella nodded and chanced a glance behind them, seeing that the four young men were keeping up with her father stride for stride, watching, stalking like wild animals. She wanted to cry. She didn't exactly know why but the emotion seemed to bubble in her stomach before starting to move up her body to her throat.
Senator Swan cursed as he continued to pat himself down for the panic alarm. He knew it was somewhere. His fingers eventually found it in his right breast pocket and he felt a wave of calm over take him as he pressed it. The calm was quickly over taken when something hard and blunt hit the back of his knees, sending him sprawling onto the floor, taking his daughter with him.
"Give me your fucking wallet," the first guy hissed before hitting him again across his lower back.
Isabella screamed in horror as she watched the baseball bat connect with her father, sending the air out of his body in a loud gust.
"Shut the fuck up, bitch!"
Isabella didn't know where the voice came from nor did she see the direction at which the hand came that struck her hard across the face, sending her skidding across the sidewalk.
"Don't you fucking touch her!"
Senator Swan had suddenly dissolved into the sidewalk leaving only Charlie Swan, project and ghetto resident in his place, breathless and seething and ready to take on the four motherfuckers for touching his precious beauty.
With unknown strength he made it to his feet and launched himself at the wide eyed kid who had struck her. There were fists and palms and even bites that rained back down on him. His head throbbed and there was the faint taste of iron in the back of his throat as he fought a desperate, losing battle.
But all he could think about was his Isabella.
"Run!" he cried to his daughter, unable to see where she was or if they had her, through the barricade of bodies that surrounded him. "Run, Isabella. Please just fucking run!" He groaned in agony as another fist met the side of his head.
Isabella was struck cold by the pleading in her father's voice so much so that she was frozen solid to the concrete that she had met after being hit. Tears ran down her face and an animalistic cry erupted from her throat.
"Isabella," Charlie gurgled as his knees hit the floor, his eyes blurring with blood, sweat and tears. "Please, baby."
Isabella made to move towards him to help her hero but her arm was suddenly being pulled hard in the opposite direction. She breathed in slight relief, expecting to see Agent Ephraim holding her but was stunned to see a person not much taller than her, wearing a dirty, black hoodie, dragging her violently away from where her father was being beaten.
"No," she screamed loudly as the stranger dragged her faster, "Daddy! Daddy!"
"Keep moving!" the stranger hissed from under his cap and hood. "We have to get away from them. They'll kill your ass! Move!"
"I can't," Isabella sobbed. "My Dad…"
The stranger didn't stop to listen as the adrenaline pumped through him and instead pulled her into the doorway of an abandoned building two blocks from where the resounding and terrifying sound of gunfire filled the air. Isabella screamed and yanked her hand hard from her rescuers grip. She began running back in the direction of the attack but was wrestled to the floor by strong and firm hands that pinned her down from behind.
They both landed on the sidewalk with a resounding thud.
Isabella continued to scream from under the stranger who was determined not to let her go. She may have been a spoilt little rich girl, he thought, but she was far too pretty to be left to the fuckers that were no doubt killing her poor bastard of a father. He wouldn't normally involve himself for fear of becoming the gangs target but this time was different. Something inside told him to help the dark haired girl in the blue dress, something that would not relent or shut the fuck up.
"Stay here," he breathed heavily into her hair as she wriggled beneath him. "You can't go back dammit. He told you to run for Christ's sake."
Isabella fought more against him but soon felt her body become heavy and exhausted, her cries and screams had now changed to wracked sobs that stuttered into the concrete under her forehead before she felt the weight on top of her disappear and two hands lift her, pulling her into the freezing doorway of the same abandoned building.
She slumped against the body next to her and mewed in pain into the musty smelling fabric of his hoodie. She needed to get to her Daddy. She needed to see that he was ok. He had to be ok. He was her hero, powerful, commanding and strong. He had to be all right.
An arm around her shoulder and a cold hand against her cheek was her undoing as she wilted further against the body of her unknown rescuer.
She may have stayed that way for hours, she may have even fallen asleep because the next thing she knew she was being carried by a police officer towards an ambulance. She opened her eyes as wide as they would go from all the crying she had done, only to see the exhausted face of Agent Ephraim surrounded by a sea of red and blue flashing lights.
The expression, that would haunt her for the rest of her life, told her, unequivocally, that her Daddy, the hero, would not be tucking her in later that night.
Holy what a start, Batman!
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