Four-year-old Mark sat in the back of the ambulance as the paramedics tended him. Firefighters put out the last of the flames. Detective Miller walked over, flashing a badge.
“Can I talk to him?” Miller asked.
The paramedic nodded her head. “Yeah he’s clear.”
Miller sat down next to Mark. “Hey kid, how you holding up?”
“Where’s Mommy?” Mark asked.
Miller winced. “I’m sorry, Mark—she didn’t—she was still in the house.”
Mark began crying. “You mean she—she—she’s dead?”
“I’m sorry Mark,” Miller said as he hugged the boy. “They’re both gone.”
Mark began sobbing. Miller held him tight.
“A couple of neighbors said they’d take him for the night,” a deputy said as he came over.
Miller nodded his head. “The Richardos? They’re probably his best choice.”
“Senor Carlos?” Mark asked. “He was Daddy’s best friend.”
“Si chico,” Mrs. Richardo said as she and her husband came over. “Your parents were very good amigos.”
“What happens to him after tonight?” Carlos asked as his wife took the boy to their house.
“Generally speaking the next of kin would take him,” Miller said. “But since the boy doesn’t have any next of kin, he’ll probably end up in foster care.”
“What if we took him?” Carlos asked.
“We’d have to get a lawyer,” Miller stated.
“Si—Russell; Charlie Russell,” Carlos suggested.
“That may not be a bad idea,” the deputy said. “You’re friends; familiar faces; he’d feel comfortable with you.”
“No relatives?” Carlos asked.
“Stephanie’s parents died seven years ago; Richard’s dad was killed in a car wreck and his mother is in a nursing home,” Miller answered. “Both of them were only childs.”
“Can’t ever be easy, can it?” the deputy said, shaking his head as he walked away.
Miller looked at Carlos. “I’d take the kid but I’ve got no way to take care of him while working cases; it’s better if you and Rita take him.”
“And he’ll see you every Sunday when you’re in town,” Carlos said. “You’re a good friend, senor.”
“I’ll call Russell tomorrow; let him know what’s going on,” Miller said. “In the meantime, count on housing the boy temporarily.”
“Si,” Carlos said.
“See you tomorrow,” Miller said.
“Si, buenos noches,” Carlos said.
Miller picked up Charlie the next morning, and the two of them arrived at the Richardos’ house.
“Let’s talk on the porch,” Carlos suggested. “The others are still asleep.”
“Did you tell Rita about this?” Charlie asked.
“No,” Carlos replied. “I didn’t want to get her excited until we were sure.”
“That’s good,” Charlie said. “This process could take a while; you said there’s no next of kin?”
“There’s a distant cousin in Oregon; otherwise no,” Miller said.
“We’ll have to check with him before they take him, you know,” Charlie said.
“Except that he’s constantly traveling and not exactly father material,” Miller said.
“Done you’re research?” Charlie asked.
“El acosador,” Carlos muttered.
“No, profundo,” Miller stated.
“And that is why I hate working with you guys,” Charlie remarked. “We’ll still have to check over that option for the court’s sake.”
“Burocria molest,” Carlos muttered.
“Oh for crying out loud,” Charlie said. “English, please?”
“Red tape, senor,” Carlos said. “Lo siento.”
“That means—” Miller began.
“Sorry; I know,” Charlie stated. “I’m not completely stupid.”
“Well how long will this take?” Carlos asked.
“Between six months to a year at least,” Charlie answered. “You’ll have to prove Mark can live with you; plus all that ‘red tape’ you love so much has to be cut.”
“In the mean time Mark can stay with you,” Miller stated. “I’ve pulled some legal strings and you’re his guardians until this is all over.”
“Gracias,” Carlos said. “I’ll do whatever I can to help.”
“Yes Rita, you can keep the boy for now,” Miller said as he looked toward the screen door.
Rita stepped out onto the porch. “Sorry, just curious.”
“How long have you been standing there?” Charlie asked.
“Distant cousin in Oregon,” Rita answered.
“Chica furtiva,” Carlos muttered. “Volver a la casa me ocupare de ti mas tarde.”
“Si papi,” Rita remarked smugly.
“What?” Carlos asked.
“Just funny,” Miller answered. “You two are a cute couple.”
Carlos glared at Miller. “Whatever, you helped us stay together, you know.”
“You’re welcome,” Miller said.
“Okay great,” Charlie said, “if you three are finished, I’d like to start the paperwork for this case.”
“Alright,” Carlos replied. “Keep me updated; we’ll talk later.”
“See you,” Miller said.
“Bye,” Charlie said.
Stephanie stood by the window and sighed.
“Can’t sleep?” her new husband, Richard, asked.
Stephanie looked guilty. “Sorry,” she said, “it’s been two years I should be over it, I just—”
Richard silenced her with a kiss. “You’ve been through a lot,” he said, “the pain will be there. It means you’re human.”
Stephanie smiled back at him. “Yeah, but Mark needs both his parents.”
Richard hugged her. “He’s got both of them,” he stated. “You know, maybe we should take up that preacher’s invitation.”
“You think it would help us?” she asked.
“It might,” he answered. “It’s worth a shot, anyways.”
They arrived the following Sunday for morning services.
“Welcome folks, I’m Daniel. We’re glad to have you.”
“Thanks,” Richard stated. “I’m Richard; this is Stephanie and our son, Mark.”
“Find yourselves a seat; we’re not picky,” Daniel stated. “We’re glad to have you.”
“Thanks,” Richard said as they moved to a pew.
“Been a while since I’ve been inside a church,” Stephanie said. “Either of us, really.”
Richard nodded his head as he studied the bulletin. As soon as the piano began, Richard perked up. “Haven’t heard these songs since Sunday School, either,” he stated.
“Please take your hymn books and turn to number 300,” the pastor announced. “Number 300; please stand.”
More secure is no one ever/Than the loved ones of the Saviour the congregation began singing.
Stephanie leaned towards Richard. “This was my mother’s favorite song,” she said.
“My aunt loved this song,” Richard whispered, “she sang it all the time.”
“You folks from around here?” Daniel asked after the service.
“Other side of town,” Richard answered.
“Mr. Thomas, glad you could make it,” the pastor stated as he walked over.
“Pastor Garcia, thanks for inviting us,” Richard said.
“Please, it’s Jose; and we’re glad to have ya.”
“That first song has a history with our families,” Stephanie remarked. “We thought it special.”
“Yes, it’s one of my personal favorites too,” Jose stated. “You two come from Christian families?”
“Not exactly,” Richard answered. “Couple family members, that’s all.”
“You don’t know what to believe, do you?” Daniel asked. “You feel unsure; bad history with a previous church?”
“You could say that,” Richard said. “How’d you know?”
“Daniel’s a friend of mine and an FBI profiler,” Detective Miller answered as he walked over.
“Didn’t know you attended here, detective,” Stephanie stated.
“Mrs. Thomas,” Miller greeted her. “Glad to see you’re doing better. How’s the little one?”
“He’s not so little,” Stephanie said, pulling Mark from behind here.
“Hello little fellow,” Miller said, moving to Mark’s line of sight. “How are you?”
The families continued to talk for a bit before heading home. Richard sat on the porch swing later that evening, pondering.
“Penny for your thoughts?” Stephanie asked.
“You think there’s anything to what the pastor said?” Richard asked.
Stephanie sat down beside him. “I don’t know; my mother always seemed to think there was something to religion.”
“What about Miller?” Richard asked. “You trust him?”
“He’s done nothing to make me not trust him,” Stephanie stated.
“Really?” Richard asked. “Cause he still hasn’t found the killer.”
“Sometimes people can’t be found,” Stephanie stated.
“Or he’s already dead,” Daniel stated, as he and Miller came up from the sidewalk.
The Thomas couple looked at them.
“How long have you known?” Richard asked.
“We found him four days ago,” Daniel stated, handing them a photo. “He was found in Texas on Thursday.”
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Stephanie demanded of Miller.
“I told him I would,” Daniel said. “Anthony McNab was wanted on other charges in two other states. Since the FBI took him down, I told Miller I would tell you.”
Stephanie put her hand over her mouth. Richard put his arm around his wife.
“Where is he now?” she asked.
“In Hell, I’m afraid,” Miller stated. “I had to put three bullets in him when we found him.”
Richard looked up at Miller. “Is that what you actually believe?”
“You go to one of two places when you die,” Miller answered. “Heaven or Hell. Anthony wasn’t prepared for death; he had a chance and didn’t take it.”
“He shot at two other agents,” Daniel said. “With a twelve-gauge shotgun. Miller had to take him out or we wouldn’t have come out of there alive.”
“How do you do it?” Richard asked. “You’re both Christians; how do you do your jobs?”
“It isn’t always easy,” Miller answered. “But putting away bad guys is what I do.”
“Does your faith help?” Stephanie asked.
Daniel nodded his head.
“I know that if I die, I’ll go to Heaven,” Miller stated. “I can look down the barrel of a gun and have no fear because no matter what, it’s in God’s hands. The guys I put away, however, they don’t have that courage.”
“How do you do it then?” Richard asked. “If you believe shooting someone will send them to Hell, how do you do it?”
“I give them enough of a chance to surrender, “ Miller said. “I know that when I shoot someone, they’ve had their last chance to fix their life. They made that choice to go to Hell; the ultimate prison cell.”
Richard stood up. “Thanks Detective. For everything. And for the spiritual advice. It means a lot.”
“Anything I can do to help,” Miller said, handing Richard a business card, “let me know.”
Richard nodded. “We will.”