Page 71 of Coercion

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“No.”I look back toward the crush of parents and cops, take a deep breath, and scream.

Evan’s head snaps around, and then he’s running.He’s fast.He’s going to get here.The person dragging me puts an arm around my waist and lifts my feet off the ground.A driver honks at us, the horn blaring next to my ear.I kick wherever I can—knees, shins—but it doesn’t do anything.

“Put medown.I need to get to my siblings.”

Evan sprints into the intersection, reaching for his gun.

The car comes out of nowhere.

It runs into Evan with a screech of brakes, tires burning rubber across the asphalt, and a loud, sickeningthud.

A hand clamps over my mouth.I never get the chance to scream.



Jeffrey Miles looks tooyoung to be a Jeffrey, but too old to be putting on a show like this.He sits across from me in the same meeting room where I had my first real conversation ever with my mother, frowning at the contract on the table between us.A secretarial assistant from another floor refreshes my coffee.

He’s my fourth meeting of the day.Under other circumstances, I might have already skipped out on this much back-to-back time at a conference table to work out my frustration at the gym or the warehouse.

I’d rather be here.The adrenaline rush is almost the same.My skills transferred, too.I’m wry and funny and forthright in the ring because it gets the crowd on my side.No crowd necessary today.It’s just me, my favorite former CFO Christa Hong as my right-hand woman, Jeffrey Miles, and his right-hand man.

“Any for you, sir?”she asks, straightening up.

“No, thank you.”Jeffrey’s assistant declines, too.Christa accepts with a quietthanks so much.

The door closes a minute later, leaving us alone.

Jeffrey sits up straight and folds his hands on the table.He arranges his face into an expression that I think is meant to make him look tough.He doesn’t have to do that.He’s slated to become a major partner with Hughes by the end of the year.

My coffee’s perfect, as confirmed by the first sip.“Now that you’ve had a chance to review the contract, let’s get started.”

“We’re pulling out of negotiations with Hughes Industries in light of the revelations about Mr.Hughes.”

“I don’t think so.”

Jeffrey believed with all his heart that I was going to apologize.He thought I’d open with inviting him to explain.He’s already leaning forward, both hands out, ready to say,Now, I’ve always admired Daniel’s work, but this level of dishonesty…

He pulls himself upright, his expression torn, like he can’t decide whether to be confused or offended.“Excuse me?”

“I don’t think you’re going to pull out of negotiations with Hughes Industries.Certainly not the negotiations that have all but concluded.”

“Circumstances have changed.”

“Your circumstances haven’t.You’re having a pretty significant downturn in medical equipment manufacturing.Twenty-two percent in the last three quarters.”

Jeffrey exchanges a raised-eyebrow glance with his assistant.“Those are internal numbers.They haven’t been released to the public.”

“I’m not the public.Regardless,youknow that Hughes Industries has the highest profit margins in the industry.That’s not because of price-gouging or bullshit insurance scams.”

“I never implied—”

“That’s because their suppliers are second to none, and you could spend the rest of your life searching for a more efficient distribution network and never find one.The way to keep your manufacturing arm in the black and ensure that your tech gets in as many hospitals and doctor’s offices as possible is to partner with Hughes Industries.So, no.I don’t think you’re going to screw yourself over by walking away from negotiations.In fact, I think you’re going to sign.”

I don’t have to look at Christa to know that she’s wearing a serene expression with a hint of a smile, which happens to be the one that scares the most people.

Jeffrey and his assistant stare at me in shocked silence.

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