Knives and forks clanging together mixed with idle conversation echoed through the dining room and grated on eight-year-old Samantha Vargas’s last nerve. Peering out into the hallway, she eyed the golden hands of the antique grandfather clock for the millionth time. It was almost seven, and her father was now thirty minutes late. While her mother and siblings seemed unaffected by his tardiness, she was on pins and needles awaiting his presence in the house.
“Ignoring your food isn’t going to make Daddy get home any sooner,” her mother chided, motioning her fork at Sam’s untouched plate. “Eat up.”
With a sigh of frustration, Sam picked up her fork and started poking at the food that was usually her favorite but tonight held no appeal at all. She brought some of the arroz con pollo to her lips. Just as she was about to take a bite, her ears perked up at the hum of a car’s motor. When a door slammed outside, Sam jerked her head up. “He’s here!” she cried, flinging herself out of her chair.
As her black Converse tennis shoes beat a hot path out of the dining room, her mother called, “Samantha Eliana Vargas, get back here and finish your dinner!”
Ignoring her mother’s command, she sprinted down the hallway and threw open the front door. She barreled forward off the porch and onto the path, where she jumped into her father’s arms.
He dropped his briefcase onto the concrete, unable to juggle them both. He then chuckled at her enthusiasm. “I guess this means you’re glad to see me, huh?”
“You’ve been gone almost a week,” she protested as she tightened her arms around her father’s neck. When she pressed herself flush against him, she could feel the gun holster through his suit, along with the steel of his gun. It might have freaked out most kids, but to her, it was comforting. It was how she identified her father. Like on television and in the movies, he was one of the good guys fighting against all the bad ones committing crimes.
“This case took a little longer than I thought, mija. But rest assured that after tomorrow, I’ll be home now for a while.”
“I’m so glad.” She pulled back to stare into his dark brown eyes—the same ones she had inherited from him. Of course, she had inherited so much more from him than just his eye color. Unlike her older brother and sister, who favored their mother, she was her father’s Mini-Me. She wanted to be just like him when she grew up. Law enforcement was in her blood. Her grandfather had been a detective with the Miami police, and then her father had become a DEA agent. She had a strong desire to beat the bad guys, just as they did. While other girls her age were playing with Barbies and other dolls, she was learning from her father’s stories how to dismantle weapons and read body language.
“Come on. Let’s go inside. Your mama promised to cook my favorite dinner tonight, and I’m starving.”
Sam grinned. “She did.”
“And that’s why I love her so much. She might be a good Irish girl, but she tries her hardest to make her Cuban husband his favorite foods.”
As they climbed the porch stairs, her mother and siblings were waiting in the doorway. Her father eased Sam down onto her feet so that he could give her fifteen-year-old brother, Steven, and thirteen-year-old sister, Sophie, each a hug. Being teenagers, Steven and Sophie didn’t think it was cool to show the same kind of excitement for their father’s return as she had done.
Drawing her mother into his arms, her father gave her a lingering kiss. “Mmm, I’ve missed you, Jenny.”
Her mother smiled at her father. “I’ve missed you, too. Do we have you all to ourselves for a while?”
“I have one last thing to wrap up tonight around nine, but after that, I’ll be chained to my desk for the next few weeks.”
A relieved sigh escaped her mother’s lips. “Since that’s the safest place you could be, I’m glad to hear it.”
After bestowing another kiss on her mother’s lips, her father added, “You worry too much.”
“Daddy, can I go with you tonight?” Sam asked. When he shook his head, she argued, “But it’s Friday night. I don’t have school tomorrow.”
“There’s a little too much heat on this one for you to come along.” As disappointment clouded her face, he reached over to tweak her nose. “Next time, mija.”
From her father’s no-nonsense tone, Sam knew not to press the issue any further. Once he took his seat at the head of the table, she reluctantly sat down in her chair. Her dinner held a little more interest than it had before her father got home, and she managed to clean her plate because she knew it would please him.
It was during those last few bites that a brilliant idea formed in her head. She would prove to her father she wasn’t too young to see a case with heat. If she was going to be an agent like him one day, she had to start somewhere. Just as with her siblings, he had started her off young by teaching her how to shoot a gun down at the range as well as demonstrating several self-defense moves.
Of course, if she was to succeed, she would have to be a little sneaky. That was where the idea came in.
“What’s the grin for?” her father asked, bringing her out of her thoughts.
“Nothing,” she murmured.
After the dinner dishes were washed and her siblings scattered off to their own Friday-night social events, Sam pretended to be interested by what was on television. When the clock ticked closer and closer to nine, she faked a few yawns and then claimed she was tired and turning in early. She held back a smile as she kissed her parents good night.