Authors: Sarah Sorana
Copyright © 2015 by Sarah Sorana
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof
may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever
without the express written permission of the publisher
except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Published in the United States of America
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“What happened?” Merle asked, totally businesslike. He hardly seemed to register the blood on his friend’s face.
“I was doing some rounds, checking up on some of our guys on the street, and I got jumped,” Jackson said. “Three guys, maybe about twenty, maybe younger.
Merle nodded, absently.
“You know them?” he asked.
Jackson gave him a withering look. “I’d have said, asshole.”
Merle nodded a few times.
“Right,” he said. “Fuck this. Fuck this in the ass. We’re gonna go pay el Jefe a visit. He’s mixed up in this somehow.”
Jackson nodded. “No bikes,” he said.
Merle looked at him, opening his mouth to argue.
“They’ll literally hear us coming,” he said. “Not fuckin’ figuratively, Alex is always on my ass about that. They will literally hear us coming from miles away and get the fuck outta there.”
Merle nodded, slowly.
“Okay,” he said. “Yeah. A car. A new one. We’ll take something from the lot.”
“You armed up?” Merle asked.
Jackson nodded again.
Merle turned to a dresser and pulled out a pistol. He checked it over before sliding it into a holster in his jacket.
He looked at me.
“Lock yourself in,” he said. “If this goes south, Alex will take care of you.”
I shook my head.
“Fuck. That,” I said. “I’m coming.”
Both men raised their eyebrows and started to argue with me.
Fuck that. Fuck no. I was not going to, yet again, stay put while men controlled everything around me and didn’t care what I wanted.
I was an adult, right? It was time to fucking act like one.
If Merle could help me, I could help him.
“You’ll be in the way-” Merle started.
I met his eyes.
“You need someone to drive, someone to be your lookout,” I said. “I can do that. I’m not saying I’ll charge in there with you and beat someone up, okay? Just let me help how I can.”
They traded looks.
“We don’t have time to argue with you,” Jackson said.
In the end, I went with them. Jackson gave me a gun, showed me how to work the safety, and told me that if someone tried to hurt me I should aim for center mass and pull the fucking trigger.
We headed to the small car lot full of cars, probably stolen, the guys who could work on cars were fixing up to take to their little dealership in town.
“We keep keys handy,” Merle said, reaching under the driver’s side door to pull off a magnetic key safe and get out the key.
He tossed it to me.
“You’re driving, so drive,” he said.
It wasn’t rude, the way he said it.
It was a challenge.
I wanted to rise to it.
I half-expected the ride to be silent, but the men talked non-stop, making plans, directing me where to go.
We picked up Alex from outside an office building downtown, and the plans had to be rehashed for him, and he had to argue about every detail.
“And another thing,” he said at one point, elbowing Jackson in the seat beside him, “I have a fucking job, asshole. Stop texting me and saying it’s an emergency, I’m going to get fucking fired.”
“It is an emergency,” Merle said from the front seat.
“While I will grant you that this time does have a particular urgency, that does not legitimize the other visits,” Alex drawled. He had the thickest Southern accent of any of us, and it flavored every word he spoke.
Jackson muttered something.
“Don’t even try it,” Alex said. “Blue balls are what jocks use to try and get laid by debutantes on prom night.”
Jackson rolled his eyes.
I thought about my own prom night and winced.
Well, at least I’d met Merle.
The wait in the car, engine running, eyes darting around, while they went inside the plain building on the outskirts of town was one of the longest twenty minutes of my life.
It wasn’t the same building I’d been held in when I was kidnapped, but the same general idea. Catalina had told them where it was before she took Lupe and headed out.
Some seedy-ass cover business in the crappy side of town.
This one was a used tire shop and self-storage business.
Kind of genius, actually, they could store their illegal crap and pretend it was a client who never showed back up.
Long lines of warehouses, though, were not comforting.
My mind was finally wandering.
For a minute, I thought I’d gone crazy.
Why did I feel like I was back in my old bedroom as a kid, curled up with Bear - who was strictly not allowed on the furniture - on my bed?
My father’s car.
I could hear it.
It was the familiar engine I’d been hearing for years. What the hell reason did he have to be on this side of town? He was at work.
At his job.
With the boss my mother had complained about never meeting.
No holiday parties, no company picnics.
My father went to work, came back home, got a paycheck every two weeks. Sometimes he had to work late to deal with the books.
Oh my fucking God.
It all fit.
It was my father.
The last man on this planet that I wanted to suspect.
It was the only way this all made sense.
Merle had said that the heroin trade picked up about three years ago.
My father spent two years unemployed when I was in middle school, but three years ago, he found a new job. A great job.
It was longer hours than he’d ever worked, but almost twice the money of the other jobs he’d had.
“They really knew how to value an accountant,” my father said a few times, smiling at his own private joke.
The sound of the engine grew louder.
My horror mounted.
They didn’t know. Merle. Jackson. Alex. They didn’t know.
I had their numbers, and I texted all of them immediately, frantically, but I knew better than to expect them to answer.
I waited a few agonizing seconds, listening as my father’s car made a loop around one of the buildings, ducked down in my car so he couldn’t see me.
When the sound of the engine faded, I knew I had only a few seconds. I didn’t know if he’d Seen the car I was in… but I couldn’t risk it.
I grabbed the gun and slipped it into my pocket, checking the safety first. It was a tiny gun, so small I thought it might be a toy when I first saw it… but Jackson had calmly told him that it would kill a man, or at least make him hurt bad enough for me to get away.
I needed that.
I had the gun. I had my phone.
I popped up and glanced around. No one in sight. From what Merle’d said, people in this neighborhood know when to avoid certain places.
Now was one of those times.
I got out of the car, slipping the key into my jeans pocket -
where I had the gun - and following the guys into the enemy’s lair.
I knew better than to get out my gun and walk with it super obvious.
I hoped I’d never have to use it.
I was glad I had it, though. The comforting cool weight of it in my pocket reassured me. I had a secret weapon - literally, as Jackson would say, rolling his eyes.
The room was almost deserted. A metal desk in one corner, an uncomfortable chair behind it. A computer so old that no one could possibly want to steal it.
A potted plant. A filing cabinet. A layer of dust.
This was not an inviting room.
No problem for me, though. I heard Merle’s voice coming from down a hallway.
I crept softly down it, hoping not to run into anyone before I found Merle. Or Alex. Or Jackson.
“- not asking. I’m telling. Tell me who your pusher is. The one who organizes all of this. I want their name,” Merle was saying.
I tiptoed closer, hoping that it wasn’t el Jefe. It wasn’t, it was another Latino man, one I’d never met.
The man was shaking his head. Jackson and Alex were standing on either side of Merle, feral smiles on their faces, their guns held steady at the stranger’s chest.
Jackson carried his rifle. Alex, a large pistol.
With them around him, Merle didn’t have to carry his own gun openly.
The stranger was shaking his head, refusing to tell.
“Theodore Nelson,” I said. My voice was loud enough to carry. I wish I could say it was steady, like Alex and Jackson’s hands.
It quavered and almost broke.
Jackson kept his gun trained on the stranger. Alex spun around and fixed it on me, glancing around to make sure I was alone. He nodded and returned to the other man.
Merle kept his eyes on me.
“Are you sure?” he asked.
“It’s the only thing that fits,” I said. “I just heard his car. He kicked me out when I got too close to you, but made my mother think I ran away. He… the night we met, he got angry about his daughter dating someone who sold dope.”
Merle frowned. “And?”
“I never mentioned anything but your first name, Merle,” I said. “How on earth would he know that? Meth is more common around here.”
Merle nodded, slowly.
“It does fit,” he said. “It explains more than you know. El Jefe should have… I’m sorry, but if you were anyone else, he’d have hurt you a hell of a lot worse. He wouldn’t have wanted to piss off your father if he was making him that much money.”
I hadn’t thought about that, but… it sounded right.
I felt sick to my stomach.
My father had to have known where I was the whole time, then.
He let me stay there, terrified, hungry, filthy, beaten, thinking I was going to be raped any moment.
What sort of a man would let his daughter live like that? For an hour, a day - unthinkable.
My father left me there for over a week.
I could hardly believe it.
I almost burst into tears right there.
Unfortunately, the main door opened. I heard a too-familiar tread through the hallway. I edged into the room, making myself harder to spot.