Page 7 of Coercion

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“Maybe.Or maybe you weren’t.I’m not fine, and I’m not the one who got taken hostage by my dad.”

“At the location now.”Evan scans the sidewalk, then pulls the SUV to the curb.Bristol’s had the last word, and thank God, because that conversation was going to be nothing but an open wound.One of his guys asks a question.“Pawnshop.I’m going in.”

Bristol almost beats Evan out of the SUV.I’m right behind her.Evan leads the way to the door of a pawnshop and tugs it open.Every pane of glass—the windows, the door, everything—is so smudged and dirty that it could be privacy glass.

The inside is more of the same.A glass case up front has been swiped over in the most half-ass job I’ve ever seen.Half the fluorescent lights are burned out.Rows of shelves, too close together, hold plastic bins of random shit, some if it tagged, most of it not.

I get to the counter first.A man slouches behind it, wearing an irritated expression and a leather jacket with a layer of grime that matches his store.He readjusts his trucker hat and looks me up and down.“Help you?”

Evan steps up before I can say anything.“We’re looking for two children who were here sometime this morning.They’re ten years old, brother and sister.The boy has dark hair, and the girl’s a redhead.”

Guy behind the counter purses his lips.It’s a grimy, pawn-shop impression of being deep in thought.“I don’t know.Never saw anything like that.Couldn’t say.”

Evan leans closer to the glass case.“Are you sure?This is about two minors who have been abducted.If you’re lying to me—”

“Then you’re fucked.”I’m done waiting on this prick.I’m done waiting, period.“And not because I’m going to call the cops.There won’t be anything left of you for the cops to find if you don’t start talking.”

“Okay, okay, okay.”The asshole puts both hands up in front of him like I’ve already got my fist cocked.I don’t.I’ve justmadea fist.That’s all.“Jesus.Let’s all calm down.There was a guy loitering here.That’s all I saw.Hanging out in front of the store.Whatever.Shady people are my business.I got a camera.You can come on back and look.”

He turns around and pushes a filthy curtain to the side.So polite of him to hold it open while we go through.

The back room is basically the same as the front.Shelves, crowded with plastic bins.The three of us stand aside for the owner to drop into a folding chair in front of a desk pushed against one wall.He flips open a laptop that looks ancient and clicks around.

A video window pops up.

He scrolls back and back and back.I want to punch him for having a computer this slow when we need what’s on it right now.

“There’s the guy.”He leans back in the chair.Bristol’s dad stands on the sidewalk, hands in his pockets, looking like a criminal on the run.He’s conspicuous, and not hiding how nervous he is.Every so often he looks over his shoulder.Once or twice, I’m pretty sure he says something.There has to be someone else with him.The shop owner scrolls again.A yellow cab pulls up to the curb, and Bristol’s dad steps out of the frame.It’s just light enough that the camera’s not using night vision.“And there’s the kids.”

Mia and Ben get out of the cab.Ben goes to the passenger side window and hands money through to the driver.Then Mia grabs his arm and points.

Bristol’s dad—their dad, too—steps back into the frame with a huge smile on his face.The twins go to him.He hugs them both, but he’s not looking at them.He’s looking over his shoulder again, this time in the opposite direction.

A white van pulls up to the curb.The side door opens, and a man gets out.

The dark shape in his hand can only be a gun.

Bristol makes a choked sound.

This isn’t a romantic comedy.This is a horror film.The guy with the gun gestures into the truck, and Bristol’s dad goes along with it, ushering his own goddamn children in through the door.

“That’s all I got.They didn’t come back.”

The pawnshop asshole hits pause.It stops the video on a clear shot of the van, the gunman’s hand on the handle.Mia’s pale, terrified face is in the center of the screen.

She’s looking right at us.



My sister’sface is so small on the screen, but her expression is clear.The man in the pawnshop doesn’t have a nice laptop.Somehow, the screen gets brighter when he pauses the video.It’s the last moment before a man with a gun shuts the van door and they drive off to God knows where, and then…

I put a hand to my chest and step out of the tiny back room.It’s too crowded.I can’t breathe in there.And if I look at Mia’s face one more time, I’ll cry or sob or scream.

From heartbreak, because my siblings areten.None of this should have happened to them.Our mom shouldn’t have died.Our dad shouldn’t have been a second-rate con man.