I could smell the fresh cut grass from the lawns in the neighborhood as I stood under the apple tree across the street. It’s fruit hung low and nearly ripe as I watched the playground. There were a handful of kids running, screaming, and playing.
This works. I won’t have to work too hard today. I thought as my eyes narrowed in on the little girl who popped out of the bottom of the slide.
My eyes were always searching, but today I saw what I didn’t know I needed. A man walked up to the little girl and bent, talking to her with a bright smile and clean clothes.
Enjoy that smile. It’ll be your last. I thought.
I stepped out from under the tree, pulling a cigarette from my pocket. I lit it taking a long haul off it as I walked down the street in the direction I had seen the man talking to the little girl walk. My pace was quick, but not running as I caught a glimpse of the girl’s dress as they went around the corner a few buildings ahead of me.
I jogged to the corner and bolted around it. The man and girl were only a building ahead of me now. He was still talking and holding her hand as I came up behind him. My fist was already on its way when he heard my sneakers grinding the sand into the bricks.
I connected hard, feeling the familiar sickening crack of bone beneath my knuckles again. The man crumpled under the force, collapsing into unconsciousness.
The little girl screamed and tried to run, but I caught her hand as I knelt down trying to look her in the eyes.
“Liz! I need you to look at me!” I said, my voice a little louder than I wanted, but it was necessary to get her attention. Her tiny face stopped turning away from me at the sound of her name, “I need you to go find your mommy and tell her what happened, do you understand me?”
She nodded, “O-Okay.”
Her tiny voice brought tears to my eyes. She looked so much like her father.
“Don’t cross any roads though, okay? You need to yell for her from the corner by the park, okay?” I reminded her.
She nodded as I let go of her hand. I watched her take off, her little four-year-old legs carrying her quickly back to the corner by the park. I crossed the street, disappearing into the shadows of the buildings in the neighborhood.
I watched as Elaine, Liz’s mother, arrived with her cell phone in hand. Her eyes searched for the other man as Liz proceeded to tell her the story of what happened. I could already hear the sirens of the police cruisers coming as a grin spread across my face.
I will always protect you, I thought, both of you.