"You're risking your life," Paul Hunter said, pitching his voice low.
As one person, Brock Pierson and Paul glanced at the next picnic table in the park, where Paul's five-year-old daughter, Sammy, played with her Larrymobile and the beanbag figures of Bob, Larry, Larryboy and Junior Asparagus. The little girl giggled and pushed the two cucumber toys together, side-by-side, her white-blond head bobbing up and down with the force of her chatter to her toys. Brock decided Sammy hadn't heard a thing he had said to her father since the two men sat down to talk half an hour ago. He was relieved.
"It's the right thing to do," Brock said, shrugging. He reached for his travel mug of coffee and tipped it back, grimacing when he found it empty. He had done that three times already. It just showed how distracted he had been since he had made up his mind.
"The Feds offered you witness protection and a new identity because you're valuable to them. You did a good job."
"They're hoping I'll remember more details some time in the future, to testify against anyone else they manage to bring in."
"True." Paul slapped his hand down on his Bible as the freshening breeze stirred the pages. "She must be worth it."
"More than worth it." Brock sighed, feeling about ten degrees of tension uncoil in his gut and shoulders. Paul had been there as a counselor since his first days of incarceration, before the trial to put away Ringo Esteverde had even been put on the docket. He had helped Brock finish the last steps of the path he had chosen the day Nikki fled him -- after their last argument, when he ordered her to abort and then hit her hard enough to fling her across the hotel room bed, to hit the wall.
Remembering those horrific days, when he had been secretly working for the DEA and feared for Nikki's life more than his own, Brock stroked the Bible he had carried with him from that hotel. He had caught Nikki reading it, crying over the pages, and tore it out of her hands, ripping it down the spine into three pieces. When she fled the hotel, he had found the pieces in the wastebasket, pieced the Bible together, and started reading it.
Not until Ringo had found Nikki and kidnapped her, did Brock realize he had read that Bible because he knew he would eventually be killed, and he wanted to find a way to end up in Heaven, just so he could see her again and apologize.
And tell her that he loved her.
"I've paid for my crimes," Brock finally said, raising his head to meet Paul's gaze. He had the same piercing blue eyes as his daughter, the same white-blond tangle of hair. If Sammy exuded innocence and joy, her father radiated strength and integrity and a demand for honesty and honor. "I helped put Ringo away. I served time in prison. By some miracle, I wasn't charged with statutory rape." He shuddered, remembering how the authorities had actually put that charge on the list. Nikki's sister, Joan, testified that Nikki's birthday was three months sooner than the official records said. Brock had literally escaped that rape charge by two days. "It's time I make things right with Nikki."