The snow storm was getting worse. It was about ten miles to the next town and I began to wonder if I would make it. The Ford F250 I am driving is four wheel drive, but even the big truck was having a hard time staying on the road.
The snow storm was almost blizzard like and there were short periods of white out. These conditions made visibility minimal at best. I literally couldn't see much more than thirty feet in front of the truck and I had slowed to five mph trying to stay on the road. As I drove, I thought of why I was here in the middle of a small blizzard.
My name is Patrick Ryan O'Rourke. Patrick not Pat please. My wife would have kicked your butt if you called me Pat. As the name indicates I am of Irish descent. I am 59 years young, well I don't really know about the young part. Young is not how I'm feeling lately.
I am medically retired from the United States Marine Corp. I was a Marine lifer for twenty years and was mustered out with a medical discharge. I am also retired from the security and surveillance field after another twenty years. I am drawing two pensions and medical disability check.
A word about my disability pension; I was medically discharged after being wounded in some third world shithole of a country and the retirement was not my choice.
My retirement rank was as a Gunnery Sergeant E7. I probably would have retired as First Sgt E8 or Master Gunny E9, but I had a bad habit of telling young officers to get their head out of their ass. I kept getting busted down in rank for insubordination.
Always made it back to Gunny, but I would again open my big mouth again and miss out on the next promotion. I am currently unemployed. My pensions, disability, and other investment income gives me a pretty much do what I want life style. That's not a bad thing.
When I retired from the Marines after 20 years, I was 6 feet even and 180 pounds. Even at 37 I was a hard body; running around getting shot at will keep you in shape. At 57 I retired from my second career, I had added 10 pounds to my frame but was still in excellent shape.
The other thing that the years had added was my salt and pepper hair, mostly pepper I might add. The beard that I wear is mostly, well actually all of it, is grey and gives away my age. My wife always said that I was no Sean Connery but I cleaned up nice and she wasn't ashamed to be seen with me.
My wife Molly and I were married for 35 years. I say were because she was killed in an auto accident a year ago. It was the day after I retired for the second time and we were on the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) driving north from San Diego. We were going to take a couple of months to drive up the coast and into Canada and then east across Canada to Quebec.
We never made it past L.A. A large truck lost control, rammed our Corvette from the rear, and then rolled over us. I was seriously hurt, but Molly was crushed and died at the scene. Still trapped in the wreckage, I was holding her hand when she smiled at me, whispered "I love you" and passed away. The light of my life had just gone out.
I spent about three months in the hospital, had two surgeries on my left leg and one on my left arm. The driver's door of our car had done a lot of damage to that side of my body. The prognosis was good and I eventually regained about 90 per cent usage of both limbs.
Part of the investment income I mentioned before is from the settlement I was paid by the trucking company. Their driver had been drugged up on speed and he was trying to make up time on his delivery run. This cost the company a lot of money, I mean a lot of money.
They settled out of court to keep their drugged up driver out of the media. It didn't work; they paid me all that money and I still went public and raised as much hell as I could. Didn't do any good but it made me feel a little better.
When I was released from the hospital, I had to spend three months in intensive rehab, and then several more months just getting back to normal, or as normal as I would ever be. After I regained the almost full use my left side, I resumed my life. I took some of the money and bought the big Ford pickup and a vintage Shelby mustang to replace my Corvette that was totaled. I was going to buy another Corvette but every time I sat in one I would think about my wife and get bent out of shape.
My idea was to finish the trip Molly and I had planned; but with a bigger vehicle. I made it from Southern California to Oregon, before I ran out of steam. It wasn't the same without Molly. I enjoyed the country I drove through, but I kept thinking how much she would enjoy this and it took the wind out of my sails.
I decided to suspend the trip and drive home to Arizona. My plan was to head east through Idaho and then south through Utah. It was getting pretty late in the season and the people I was staying with suggested that I retrace my steps and go back south on the PCH.
They were worried about snow in the high country taking the route I had chosen. My Ford can make it through anything I told them and took off. I made it to Brian's Head Resort near Cedar City, Utah and ran into a snow storm. This is where I started my tale.
The big Ford must have hit a patch of black ice and it started to skid toward the shoulder of the road. I was going to ride it out when I saw two people in the truck's path. Hitting the gas and turning to wheel as far as possible, I was able to swing the truck around and miss the two figures.
When the truck stopped, it was facing back the way I had come and I jumped out to see if they were okay. I wasn't okay; I was shaking like the proverbial leaf in a storm. I yelled to them asking if they were hurt but I didn't get an answer from either of them.
Walking toward them I had a chance to get a better look at the two people I almost ran over. They both were wrapped up in what looked like blankets. One was taller, about 5 feet 6 I guess and the way the larger one was checking over the other made me think it was a female. The shorter one was about 5 feet 2 and sorta hanging on the taller one.
"I'm sorry; the truck hit some ice and skidded right at you. Are you okay?" Still no answer from either of them.
What are you guys doing out here in this storm?" Again not a word. "Look you can't stay out here, you will freeze. Come get into my truck and I will take you where you need to go."
The smaller one tried to pull away, but the other one stared at me intently. The tall one said "Okay, but no funny business."
They both climbed into my truck, and sat squeezed against the passenger door. I got the truck turned around and head back toward the town I had been trying to get to. I turned the heater on high to help them warm up. They must be freezing being out in that storm, I thought.
"There's hot chocolate in that thermos if you guys want, it will help you warm up. My name is Patrick O'Rourke by the way."
The bigger one grunted thanks and opened the thermos, poured some into the cup and handed it to the other one. The cup of chocolate lasted almost 30 seconds. Another cup was poured and the biggest one pulled back the blanket and the parka hood to drink. My god it was a woman or a girl but the light wasn't good enough to tell her age. The other one unwrapped herself and proved to be a younger girl.
A little aside here; there is a scene in the movie, "The Magnificent Seven" where Chris, played by Yul Brynner, is asked where he's from. He gestures over his shoulder with his thumb indicating behind him. Then asked where he's going, he points with his forefinger in front of him.
That's what I got when I questioned my riders. No info just gestures, indicating they came from back there and are going that way. Strange I thought. One would think after the close call on the road, they would be talkative and excited. What I got the most was silence.
"Look, I am going south to Arizona, but I can drop you off in the town up ahead. You can stay there until this storm blows over."
"Can we go," the taller one asks.
"Go to the town, sure." I answered.
"No, I mean, can we go to Arizona with you? We won't be any trouble and we have money. We can help pay for the gas and food."
I was stunned. Two strangers, girls at that, wanted to go to Arizona with me. Well, maybe not with me, but away from here anyway. I wondered what was going on. There was something under the surface here and did I want to get involved?
It took another hour to get to the town. I was thinking the entire way about my very quiet guests. I saw a diner that was open and decided I should eat, so I stopped. The girls just sat there as I got out of the truck, taking the thermos with me to refill.
"Come on girls, you can't stay out here. The truck won't offer much shelter without the heater running, so come on into the diner. I'll spring for dinner or supper or whatever it is."
Slowly and cautiously the two got out and followed me into the diner. I slid into one side of a booth and they sat across from me. There was only two other customers in the diner; they looked like truckers sitting out the storm. After a couple of minutes the girls took off their blankets and parkas and I got my first good look at both of them.
The bigger of the two was about 16 I guessed. She wasn't really pretty, but sorta wholesome with the girl next door look. The smaller one was a few years younger. It was obvious they were related, the family resemblance was very strong.
After the waitress had taken our order, I turned back to the girls and said, "Okay, what's the deal ladies? Why were you on the road in this storm and why do you want to go to Arizona with me? And by the way, who are you?"
The older one answered, "This is my sister Alyssa Kelly. We need to get away from here and I thought we could go with you. I have a little money and can help with the gas. I'm a good driver and could help; after we get out of this storm, anyway."
"What is your name, young lady and why away from here? It must be something serious to make you try to run away in this storm."
"My name is Molly Kelly," she answered.
I almost fainted when she told me her name. MOLLY! It seemed too much of a coincidence for her to have the same name as my wife. I must have heard her wrong. "Molly?'
"Yeah, I was named after my grandmother. The reason we need to leave is sort of personal, mister."
"If I'm going to be taking two young girls across state lines, I think I have a right to know why. Even if it is personal; so talk."
Molly told me a sad and horrifying story. She was 16 and Alyssa 13. They were living with their step father, Ralph Henning. Their mother Alice had been killed, in of all things, an auto crash two months ago. They had stayed with their step father because they didn't have anywhere else to go. Their mother had a sister Jennifer somewhere, but the girls hadn't seen or heard from her in over two years.
Ralph had been sexually abusive to Molly for over a month now. No intercourse but he fondled and pawed her almost every day. He watched her dress and bathe then touched her in places that no young girl should be touched. Molly felt she could stand it because she and Alyssa needed a home. There were no other relatives and Molly didn't think she could support them. Then things got worse.
Ralph started to pay attention to Alyssa last week. He would stroke her arm or breast or butt when she walked by him and try to catch her changing clothes or in the bath. Earlier today, he told Molly she would have to be nice to a couple of guys tonight and he would take care of Alyssa while she was busy.
Molly knew what he meant and decided no home was better than what they had. So they ran away and that's when I came into the picture. They didn't care where I was going just as long as it wasn't here.
I don't believe in fate or any of that type of stuff, but this scenario really stretched the laws of coincidence. I mean a girl in trouble with the same name as my late wife. She and her sister were left alone when their mother was killed in a car crash, just like my wife.
I had goose bumps the size of golf balls. I stared at the girls as they ate their dinner. Finally I sighed; I had made up my mind. Fate or coincidence or whatever, these girls needed help. Help is what my wife and I had done for thirty years together; it is a hard habit to break. Don't even know if I want to break it. Their situation sounded like something out of a bad movie, but I was going to help them get out of Dodge.
When the girls finished their food, I told them, "Go to the bathroom, wash up, use the toilet, wrap up, and meet me at the truck. I guess you gals are going to see Arizona. I will get some food to go and more hot chocolate while you are gone."
They both looked at me with tears in their eyes and started to babble. "Thank you, we will be a big help" and on and on. I couldn't really understand most of it, they were talking so fast.
"Go on, get going. We aren't going to stop except for gas until we get closer to my home. I don't want this Ralph to track us down. Now git!"
I bought some sandwiches, packaged snacks, filled the thermos and headed for the truck. As I left the diner, I heard one of the truckers ask the waitress if the girls were Ralph's kids. The waitress replied that yes that was Molly and Alyssa.
I thought, oh shit, we have got to boogie. The girls met me at the Ford; we climbed in and beat feet out of there. I told the girls about the waitress knowing them and that we needed to get as far away as possible as quick as possible. I hoped my skills are up to the speed I was driving in this storm, because snow or no snow we needed to get some miles behind us.
I kept an eye on my rear view mirror for the next three hundred miles, watching for a sign of pursuit. As far I as I could tell no one was after us. Using secondary roads, we continued south on U.S. 89 to Arizona. We took 89A at Sedona to my home in Prescott.
I don't know if we got enough of a head start that Ralph couldn't catch us or if we were just lucky or some divine intervention kept him off our butts. Don't know don't care. We made it to my house without problems; well I did have to stop more than I wanted to so the girls could use the restroom, but other than that we made good time. You know how women are.
To help pass the time on the drive I learned more about the girls. Their mother, Alice, and Ralph had only been married for two years when she was killed. Molly and Alyssa couldn't understand why their mother had married him to begin with.
Alice had told them she needed someone to help with the living expenses. She didn't seem to love Ralph, but did like him. At least for the first year, then he became abusive to their mother. Ralph was not a nice man. He started to hit Alice and yell at her a lot. He also complained about having to raise the girls. He didn't appear to be too broken up at Alice's death. Maybe because of the insurance money he received.
I told them about my wife and me, our years together and the accident that killed her. Then I explained the trip I was on that brought the girls and me together. Molly thought it was "cool" that she and my wife have the same name. Molly, Alyssa, and I had become friends; at least friends of convenience, if nothing else.
My house is an old hotel, just off Whiskey Row in downtown Prescott. The bottom floor houses an upscale restaurant that leases the space from me. The upper two floors have been converted into two large apartments, one on each floor. My wife and I bought the place at a bankruptcy auction about 20 years ago, when I retired from the Marines.
The restaurant was thinking of leaving because of the auction. Before the sale we talked to them and made them an offer they couldn't refuse to get them to stay. We froze their rental cost for a period of ten years. That lease paid the mortgage and a lot of the cost of the conversion of the top floors to apartments.
All and all, the place didn't cost us much more than the down payment. My wife kept one of the apartments for our use and rented out the other. We used the apartment as our base; we traveled a lot with my job in security.
When Molly died, I quit renting out the top floor apartment; I just didn't want the hassle. After ten years we gave the restaurant the same deal for another ten years. I would continue the same lease rate for as long as the restaurant wanted to. Other than maintenance and utilities, the place cost me nothing and the lease was a good source of income.
I got Molly and Alyssa settled into the top floor apartment. They had their pick of three bedrooms and two private baths. The girls had been living in a four room shack, with one bathroom. My place was the lap of luxury in comparison.
After the girls had two days to acclimate to my home and town, I took them shopping. They only had jeans, sweatshirts, heavy cold weather boots, and parkas. The clothes were too heavy and hot for our climate in Prescott.
Women must be born with the ability to enjoy shopping. These girls weren't women yet, but they had a great time trying different things on and debating which items were best. We spent the better part of the day going to different stores and the girls trying on clothes. I had the feeling that this was something new for them. If so, they took to it like ducks to water.
For the first time, I saw actual smiles and heard laughter from those two. In the end, I spent about five hundred dollars on the girls and had to almost force them to take the things I bought for them. They didn't have anywhere near that kind of money and said they didn't feel right in letting me spend that much. I told them the experience of watching them and their smiles were worth the expense.
The next day I took Molly and Alyssa to a ladies spa at a nearby resort. I had set it up while the girls were shopping yesterday. I went in with them, told them they were getting the works, and I would pick them up in five hours.
I was setting in front of the spa in my truck waiting for the girls to come out. Two very pretty young ladies came out of the door but I didn't pay them any attention. That is until they walked up to my truck and said hello to me. My god, it was Molly and Alyssa.
They had changed so much that I hadn't recognize them when they came out. All the way home the girls talked about what had been done at the spa and their new clothes. When we got to the house, they both thanked me with a hug.
Molly and Alyssa were in the kitchen the next morning when I got there. They had fixed breakfast for all of us and were waiting for me. Molly said she wanted to talk to me and she sounded much more mature than a 16 year old. I told her go ahead.
"Why are you doing this, Patrick? I mean, you saved us from the storm, fed us, and helped us get away from Ralph."
"You needed someone's help and I was there," I answered. Molly is acting like an adult and I need to treat her as one, I thought.
"Okay, I can maybe see the ride to town and some food, but why the rest of it. You brought us to your home, gave us a place to stay, and now the clothes and spa. Why?"
"It's what my wife and I did our whole life together. We didn't ask why or should we when someone needed our help; we just helped. It's the way we lived and the way we were and I don't see any reason to change because Molly is gone."
"You could have left us at the diner or turned us over to the sheriff instead of taking us with you. It would have been easier for you."
"Yeah I guess it would have been easier except when I tried to go to sleep. I would have known that the real problem, Ralph, had not been taken care of. Just to ease your fears, I'm not Ralph. I'm not planning on bothering you ladies in that way. I don't molest children."
"We know that much Patrick. You're too nice of a man for anything like that. You are like a big bear, a big teddy bear."
"I have one other reason for helping and it's a little weird, so don't freak out on me. Molly and I never had children, we wanted kids but it didn't happen. If we had, your mother Alice would have been about the right age to be our daughter. That makes you young ladies about the right age to be my granddaughters. That's how I think of you. Like I said, it's weird"
Molly and Alyssa looked at each other and I saw tears welling up in their eyes. They both turned to me and said, "Thanks Grandpa." The girls grabbed me in a big family type hug and I had a hard time seeing through the tears. I must have gotten something in my eye.
I have no excuse for what happened soon afterward. The only thing I can say is my ignorance caused a storm to come to my home.
The girls couldn't just sit around my place, they need to go to school; both because of their education and they needed friends their own age. What I should have done was hired a tutor and home schooled them. Hindsight is 20-20, believe it.
I contacted Shirley, a family friend because she worked for the school system as a high level administrator. I explained about the girls, where they came from and their story. Shirley agreed to help get them into school without any hoopla and to keep it as quiet as possible.
The problem was the principal at the school contacted the girl's former school for their records. He didn't do it to cause trouble; he was trying to help the girls by getting them into the right grades. The principal at their old school was a fishing buddy of Ralph's and he of course called Ralph and told him what was going on. Now Ralph knew where the girls were. I learned of all of this later on.
I don't believe that Ralph really cared about the girls, except as sex toys. Plus he wanted them at home so he could draw aid from the state on the two motherless children. It was more money for him to piss away and not have to work for it. That's my theory anyway.
The first sign of trouble was about six weeks after the girls started school. They both came home from school all worked up, scared, and almost crying.
"Molly, what is wrong? Why are you guys so upset?
"Nothing Patrick, some boy was teasing us," she lied.
"C'mon Molly, you are a lot of things but a good liar isn't one of them. What is going on?"
"Alyssa and I saw Ralph going into the school office this afternoon. We are afraid that we will have to go back with him."
"You stepfather was at the school? How did he find you? I need to call Shirley and find out what is going on. You ladies go change and start dinner while I call."
"Shirley, this is Patrick," I said when she answered the phone. "My girls told me they saw their step father at school today. What the hell is going on? I thought you were going to keep this quiet."
"Patrick, I'm so sorry. Mr. Bolton, the principal, contacted their old school for their records. He was just trying to help the girls, but it lead their step father to them. I guess they will have to go back with him until something can be worked out through the courts."
"My girls are not going back with that asshole. I don't care what the courts say. If they go back he will be pimp them out within a week. No damned way. You hear me, no way."
Shirley said, "I will stall him as long as I can but you had better get some legal help. Stay within the law Patrick, don't try your Semper Fi Marine logic on this one."
I laughed, "You know me too well Shirley. Okay, I'll get an attorney and do this the legal way. At least at first, but I told you before, my girls are not going back to that asshole. I don't care what the courts decide; that son of a bitch is not getting his hands on them again, period."
In spite of what I told Shirley, I had no doubts about doing whatever was necessary to keep Molly and Alyssa out of their step father's hands. I would do so legally if possible but if I had to go outside the law to accomplish that goal I would do so.
The next day, I told the girls they shouldn't go to school for a few days. At least until I can solve this problem with Ralph. It didn't break their hearts to miss school. I called an attorney, an old friend of mine, and got an appointment for 9:00.
"Molly, Alyssa, I'm going to see a lawyer so I'll be gone for awhile. Lock up after I leave. You have my cell number so you can call me. The attorney's office is only a few blocks from here; I can be back in less than 5 minutes if you need me. Okay?"
"We'll be okay Patrick. Don't worry," Molly said. "We trust you Grandpa." Then she and Alyssa both giggled.
Jake Summers was the attorney I went to see; he was also a retired Marine. Jake had been in Judge Advocate's Office while in the Corps. We had met at one of our Marine company reunions. I walked into the outer office but there was no one there then he yelled from his office to come on in. He rose from his desk and walked to meet me and shook my hand.
"Hi Patrick, how are you?" What can I do for you?"
"Hello Jake, I'm fine." I filled him in on my history with the girls, what was happening, and what I wanted.
"You have no standing legally as far as the girls go because you have no blood relationship. However, this Ralph has no standing either. This is going to be interesting if nothing else."
"No standing, what the hell? I saved them from a child molesting asshole and I have no standing. What kind of shit is this?"
"Take it easy Patrick. We're not completely unarmed here."
"Are you going to help me Jake?"
"Semper Fi, Patrick. Besides, I haven't tweaked the local courts nose in some time. This is going to be fun."
"I'm not interested in fun; just put a stop to this shit Jake. I'll cover all the costs and your fee. You can send me a bill when it's over."
"Don't worry about that; if I work it right the state will have to pay on this one."
My cell went off and I picked it up. It was the manager of the restaurant on the ground floor at my place. He told me there was a strange guy sneaking around in back of the building. The car the guy was in has Utah plates on it. I thanked him and told Jake I had to ditty mao. (Means get going fast). About half way home, my cell rang again; it was Molly. Ralph had climbed the fire escape and was trying to open a window.
"Molly grab Alyssa, get into my bedroom and lock the door. No one short of a swat team can get into that room. Don't come out until I tell you to. I'm 3 minutes away, be right there."
I slid the truck to a stop in the front and sprinted up the stairs to my apartment. As I entered my place, I could hear a window break in the dining room. I keep a .45 Colt over the door, in case of a home invasion. I grabbed the Colt put it under my belt in the small of my back and walked into the dining room.
Ralph was crawling through the window into my house. I guess it was him, I had never seen the asshole before.
"Son, you are about to make a bad career move. I suggest you go back the way you came. This is the only warning you'll get," I told him.
"Screw you old man. I'm Ralph Henning and I came to get my daughters. Where are my girls?"
"Two things. First, they are not your daughters or your girls. You never adopted them, so you are not their father." Second, you are going to be really embarrassed to tell the sheriff that this "old man" kicked your ass. Last warning, it would be in your best interest to leave."
Ralph got through the window and stood up facing me. He yelled and started for me, throwing a round house right. I won't go into the details of the altercation here but I will tell you the results.
It took almost ten seconds and poor old Ralph was finished. He was sitting with his back against the wall to hold himself up. His right shoulder may have been dislocated, his nose was bleeding profusely and possibly broken, and his left knee was starting to swell. The "old man" as advertised had kicked his ass. I heard a police car with its siren screaming pull up in front of the building...
I walked to the door and waited on the sheriff to come up the stairs. Nodding at him, I pointed to the dining room and followed him into the room.
"What going on Patrick Who is this guy?" The sheriff, Bob Smalls, asked me.
"Don't know who he is; he said he's Ralph Henning. I caught him breaking into my house and I asked him to leave, but he attacked me. I had to defend myself Bob."
"Did you have to beat him so bad?'
"He attacked me and I blocked his punch and only hit him twice after that. Believe I'm within my rights to defend my home."
"Yeah you are, but the medical bills for him are going to cost the county a lot. Couldn't you have taken it a little easier on him?"
"I did take it easy on him. He's still breathing isn't he? I slowly pulled the Colt out and showed it to Bob. "I could have just shot him, I guess."
The sheriff got Ralph to his feet and led him down to his car. Bob turned and said, "You'll need to come down and sign a complaint this afternoon."
I nodded and went to my bedroom; knocking on the door I said, "You can come out, he's gone."
They rushed over to hug me. "I thought you would be hurt, Patrick," Alyssa said. "How did you stop him?"
"He fell coming in the window and hurt himself. The sheriff got here before he recovered."
"It's not nice for me to say, but bullshit Grandpa" Molly laughed.
Things settled down for a few days. One morning as I was walking to my truck a man approached. He asked, "Patrick O'Rourke?"
"Yeah, what do you want?"
"You have been served," he said. He handed me an envelope and walked away.
It was a summons to appear in the question of custody of Molly and Alyssa Kelly. The custody hearing was set for the next day. I had no intention of letting the court take the girls away. I called Jake right away, he was aware of the summons and was prepared for the hearing. He told me to take it easy and not to worry. I finished talking to Jake and then my door bell rang. The sheriff was standing there when I opened it.
"What do you want Bob?'
"I'm sorry Patrick, but I have a court order to pick up Molly and Alyssa and take them to a foster care facility until the custody hearing is over."
"Bob, I don't think I'm going to..."
"Stop right there. Don't make any threats; that way I don't have to arrest you. Come on Patrick, be smart for once. One on one you can take me, but you can't take the whole department. Please just go along and it will work out for the best."
I stood staring at him and thinking. He was right; nothing good could come of me going all Semper Fi on him. The girls needed me there in court, not in jail. I just nodded at him and went to get the girls.
It was really hard to explain to Molly and Alyssa and it was even harder to get them to go with Bob. I promised them that they would never have to go back to Ralph. I told them it didn't make any difference what the courts decided, that I wouldn't let them go back to that monster. The girls left with the sheriff and I went to my bar and poured a large bourbon. Thinking about it I decided the girls needed me sober and poured the bourbon back into the bottle. My door bell rang again.
"Did you forget to get my balls, Bob?" I yelled at the door as I opened it.
There was a woman standing there looking surprised. "Excuse me," she said.
"I'm sorry, thought you were someone else. How may I help you?"
"Are you Patrick O'Rourke," she asked?
"Yeah, that's me."
"Mr. O'Rourke, I have come a long way to see you. My name is Jennifer Riley." At the blank look on my face she continued, "I am Molly's and Alyssa's aunt. My sister Alice was their mother. I just found out you had them.
I was in shock. "I thought the girls didn't know where you lived or anything? How did you know they were with me?"
Jennifer answered, "I didn't even know my sister Alice had died until I ran into a mutual friend. My friend said she had read in the local paper that Alice had been killed in an auto accident. It reported that she was survived by a husband and two daughters so I knew that Alice had been alone in the car. I couldn't leave the girls with Ralph so I went to their house to bring them home with me." She stopped to hand me her identification.
"No one was there and I checked around in town," she continued. "The waitress at the diner had written down your license number but didn't give it to anyone because she hates Ralph. It seemed strange to her that Ralph's step daughters would be with a stranger. That license number is how I found you Mr. O'Rourke."
"Come in Mrs. Riley, Molly and Alyssa aren't here. They just left with the sheriff. Let me tell you what has happened."
"Left with the sheriff? Why, what have they done? I need to go to them."
"Please, calm down. They aren't under arrest; they are wards of the court. Come in and let me explain before you go running off in a huff. Give me ten minutes. Please."
She studied my face intently and said, "Okay ten minutes, but then I'm going to get my nieces. No funny business Mr. O'Rourke."
We went to the bar area of my game room and I offered her a drink.
"White wine would work. Maybe it will help calm my nerves; and it's Miss Riley. Call me Jenny."
I fixed her drink and made myself a weak bourbon and water. Then I told the tale, from nearly running the girls down in the storm, to the diner, and the reason I brought them with me to Arizona. The story took around 30 minutes.
"Molly and Alyssa told me they didn't know where you were or how to contact you. If they had, I would have taken them to you before dragging them across three states. I was trying to look out for two young ladies that needed help Jenny."
Jenny again studied my face intently before replying. "I believe you. You have a kind face and your eyes light up when you mention the girls. It's obvious that you care for them very much."
"I guess I really didn't know how much they had grown on me until Ralph showed up."
"Ralph's here? How did he find them? I have to get them away from that drunken sot. I have to go to the girls now."
"Hold on Jenny the girls are not with Ralph; they are in a foster care facility. There is hearing tomorrow to determine who should have custody of the girls. I have my lawyer working on it and intend to fight to keep them away from Ralph." I stopped for a minute wondering if I should tell Jenny the rest of it.
"I made Molly and Alyssa a promise that they would not have to go back to Ralph and I will keep that promise legally if I can but I will keep that promise. They will not, I repeat will not, have to live with that animal."
"What do you mean, legally or in other ways?"
"If it comes to it, I will load the girls in my truck and take off for parts unknown and I don't believe the law can track me. Knowing my friend the Sheriff, he might not even try until I've had time to get away. If I have to I will take them to Canada or Mexico. It doesn't matter; they are not going back to Ralph. Period."
"I know you love those girls, it shows; but why would you give up your home and your life here to protect them?" Jenny asked.
I told Jenny about fate or whatever that brought the girls and me together. Molly and my wife's shared name. How I thought of them as the granddaughters my wife and I never had and reminded her again about my promise to the girls.
"However, now we have a trump card to play tomorrow," I told Jenny.
"What card? What do you mean?"
"Jenny you're the trump card. You are a blood relative and should have the custody. Much more so than some asshole step-father; more so than an adopted grandfather even. We are going to put a stop to Ralph's plan."
She began to smile then, for the first time since we had met. Then she started to giggle. "I think Ralph has run into more than he knows," she laughed.
"He knows some of it. He broke into my house yesterday to get the girls and I had to show him the error of his ways. Don't be surprised at his appearance when you see him tomorrow; he is a little the worse for wear."
Jenny laughed out loud, shaking her head at the idea of Ralph biting off more than he could chew. She and I discuss strategy and decided to keep her presence quiet until the hearing. We would spring her just before the judge would make his ruling.
I called my lawyer, Jake, and told him about Jenny. He laughed and said how much fun it was going to be, to pop Ralph's bubble. All of a sudden I didn't have such a bad feeling about the custody hearing. In fact I was sort of looking forward to seeing Ralph's face.
"Guess I had better find a hotel for the night," Jenny said to me as she stood up to leave.
"No need. You can stay here in the girl's apartment. That's the one on the top floor. It was basically just their bedroom and bath. They spent almost every waking hour here in my place and you are welcome to stay over. We can have dinner at the restaurant downstairs and we won't have far to go to get home."
We spent an enjoyable evening at dinner and then had a couple of drinks at my place. Jenny went up to the girl's apartment about 11:00. The next morning I awoke to the smells of breakfast; Jenny had made coffee and breakfast for us. We talked some more about the hearing and our plans for her surprise appearance.
"Patrick I want you to promise me something. No matter how it goes, I want you to promise me you won't do anything to Ralph."
"Why?" I didn't want to make that promise.
"If you do something drastic to him you may end up in jail. I think you could help Molly and Alyssa more if you were not locked away. Please, promise me."
"I will make this promise. If Ralph does nothing to provoke me, if he makes no threats toward you or the girls and if he behaves himself; he will leave my town healthy. If he doesn't behave himself, he will pay a heavy price. That's the best I can do."
We both went to our rooms and dressed for the hearing. I put on a suit and tie for the first time since my wife's funeral. Jenny came down dressed in a conservative skirt and blouse. We went to the courthouse in my big Ford. I could have taken my Mustang but I had the truck packed and ready to run if the need arose.
The hearing was set for 9:30. I entered the courtroom at 9:15 alone; we were going to surprise everyone with Jenny at the right time, so she waited in the hall. Molly and Alyssa were sitting with a sheriff's matron at a table near the judge's bench. The girls saw me, dodged around the matron, ran to me, and we stood there hugging each other for several minutes.