Fighting to be free, p.16
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       Fighting to Be Free, p.16
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         Part #1 of Fighting to Be Free series by Kirsty Moseley

  My jaw tightened as I pushed the car door open, and fierce determination settled over me. I’d get this done, sort my mom out, and then leave, and that would be it.

  I couldn’t help but wonder what her reaction to me would be. Maybe she wouldn’t even recognize me after all this time. She hadn’t seen me since I got sent down; she visited me once while I was waiting for my trial, just to tell me she wished I were dead, but she didn’t once visit me in juvie. The last time I saw her I was in court, where I pleaded guilty to murder and was led off in a pair of handcuffs while she watched, not even crying for me.

  The door opened a minute after I knocked, and my heart was in my throat at the sight of her. She looked a lot older than I remembered. The years hadn’t been kind to her. Her cheek was bruised, her lip split, and there was a little cut in her eyebrow.

  Fell down the stairs my ass; I can practically see the fist print on the side of her face.

  Her brown eyes, the exact same shade as mine, settled on me; they were curious for a split second before recognition washed over her face and her mouth dropped open in shock. Her whole posture changed in an instant. Instead of the relaxed woman who’d opened the door, leaning against the frame in her overly tight, short skirt and revealing shirt, she seemed to stiffen all over, her shoulders squaring as her eyes turned hard.

  “What the fuck do you want?” she growled. Her eyes flicked up and down the street, obviously checking to see if anyone saw me standing there.

  I sighed. The way she was looking at me made me angry and sad at the same time; I didn’t know which emotion to feel first because they were both so strong. She actually didn’t deserve my help at all; I should just turn around, climb into my truck, and go back to the life that I was building for myself. But I couldn’t. Loyalty was always one of my more prominent traits, even when it wasn’t warranted.

  “I heard through the grapevine that you fell down the stairs. I came to see if you wanted anything. You know, bread, milk … wayward son to beat the shit out of the abusive pimp you obviously have?” I offered sarcastically.

  She sneered at me hatefully. “I have no son!”

  I flinched internally at her words but didn’t let anything show on my face as I put my hand on her shoulder and pushed her out of the way so I could step into the house. Slamming the door behind me, I turned to face her. She was glaring at me with so much hate that I was surprised I hadn’t burst into flames from the intensity of it.

  “Look, I’m here to sort out whatever shit you’ve gotten yourself into this time. You might not want my help, but you’re getting it. Now tell me who this guy is, and I’ll go fix it!” I said, looking her right in the eyes, ignoring how her hands clenched into fists at my words.

  “You can’t just come in here! Get the hell out and don’t come back! You stupid little shit, Jamie. I don’t need you and the way you ‘sort things out’; I’ve never needed you to sort anything out for me. You did everything on your own and look where it got us! You go to jail, and I lose everything! Just get the fuck out!” she cried, grabbing the door handle, yanking the door open angrily and gesturing for me to leave.

  Without answering, I turned around and walked deeper into the house, down the short hallway, trying not to look at anything on my way through to the living room. I tried not to notice that the peeling wallpaper was the same as when I lived here, or the drawing that I had done on the wall by the stairs. I tried not to notice that the threadbare carpet hadn’t been replaced, and still had the little burn mark where I had dropped a lit cigarette after being made to smoke a whole pack one after the other, apparently to teach me not to steal my mother’s from her purse. I tried not to notice these things, but I just couldn’t help it.

  The thing that got to me most was the smell of the place. It still smelled exactly the same. The acrid smells of burnt weed, alcohol, mold, and general uncleanness hung in the air, bringing back memories that I just didn’t want to have. That pungent, unpleasant smell made a cold shiver trickle down my spine and the hair rise on the back of my neck.

  Behind me, my mother was screaming hateful things, telling me what a useless waste of space I was, how I’d ruined her life, how I’d screwed her over and left her with nothing. I ignored it all and stepped up to the last door on the left. My hand hesitated, hovering over the knob. This room was where my worst nightmare happened. I was scared that I would walk in there and see Sophie lying on the floor, blood seeping from her head, her eyes open and vacant. I was scared I would see a young me crouched over her body, crying and sobbing like I had never done before or after that moment.

  I bit the inside of my cheek and grabbed the cold brass knob, pushing the door open in one quick movement. My eyes automatically flicked to the right, to the wall that had been covered in blood the last time I had seen it, the plaster cracked from the force with which her head had been smashed against it. I honestly was expecting it to be the same, for the stain to be there still, but it wasn’t. The room had been painted a pale yellow, the carpet had been changed to a dark brown—obviously they couldn’t salvage it with the massive amounts of blood that had seeped into it that day.

  Thankfully, I didn’t have a long time to dwell on my memories, though, because before I knew it, my mom was in the room behind me, screaming profanities at me at the top of her lungs, slapping angrily against my back.

  I closed my eyes and tried to force everything else away. I needed to focus on what I came here for; I couldn’t keep thinking about Sophie. Twisting on my heel, I grabbed my mother by the tops of her arms to stop her hitting me, shaking her to get her to shut up and listen to what I had to say.

  “Stop it!” I demanded.

  “I hate you!” she screamed. Her face was red and blotchy, and the veins in her neck stood out, she was so angry and tense. She pursed her lips and then actually spat in my face. I closed my eyes and let her go, using the bottom of my shirt to wipe her saliva from my cheek.

  “I hate you, too,” I admitted. It actually felt quite nice to say those words to her. I’d never said that out loud before—I’d thought it since I was about seven years old, but I had never spoken it. I was a little shocked at myself, at how much feeling I had put into the words as they left my mouth.

  Her face crumpled, and for a couple of seconds she actually looked hurt, but then her hands dropped down to her sides and all traces of emotion were gone. Her face was hard as stone. “Then leave. We’re nothing to each other; I don’t need your help.”

  “I won’t let people hurt you. You’re still my mother. Now tell me what happened,” I barked, folding my arms over my chest, waiting.

  Her eyes dropped down to the floor as she touched the plaster cast on her arm, frowning. “It’s nothing.”

  I sighed and sat down in the armchair, keeping my eyes on her, not allowing myself to look around the room and see if there were any photos of Sophie that I could take with me when I left. “If it’s nothing, then you won’t mind telling me,” I countered, my tone firm and hard, letting her know I wasn’t leaving here until she told me the name of the guy who did that to her. It was pretty obvious from the clothes she was wearing—or hardly wearing—that she was back on the game. Her pose as she opened the door had clearly signaled that she thought I was a john come for a little afternoon delight.

  Instead of getting angry again and shouting, like I was expecting, she did something I never thought I would see her do. She sat down on the sofa opposite me, put her head in her hands, and cried. I gulped at the sight of it. She hadn’t ever showed any emotion when I was a kid; usually she was too intoxicated on either booze or drugs to actually “feel” anything. I didn’t know what to do. I knew I should comfort her, put my arm around her and tell her it was okay. But I couldn’t summon any compassion for her at all. She didn’t deserve it. But that didn’t mean I would stand by and let some guy hurt her because he thought he owned her.

  “Just spit it out, Sharon!” I demanded, using her name because I couldn’t bring myself to ca
ll her Mom. I needed to stay detached.

  She sniffed and wiped at her face, her eyes not meeting mine. “I … I don’t have a pimp, not anymore, not since …” She trailed off, shaking her head, wincing slightly.

  She didn’t appear to be lying to me; her eyes actually looked scared, terrified even. “So who did this?” I asked, waving my hand at her face and then her arm.

  “I … I … borrowed some money. I had a little trouble keeping up with the repayments,” she whispered, breaking into another round of sobs.

  It was worse than I thought. “Please tell me you borrowed from a bank,” I begged, knowing the answer to that before I even asked. What type of bank would take payment in the form of violence? No respectable bank, that’s for sure.

  She shook her head in answer. My heart sank. Loan sharks. I really didn’t want to be getting involved in this at all. I mentally added up how much money I could get my hands on. I probably had just over $1,000 in the bank; I got paid weekly, so if I worked extra hours I could probably get three cars done for next week instead of two. If I didn’t eat properly or go out for a couple of weeks, then I could scrape about $1,800 together, maybe a little more.

  “Who did you borrow from?” I asked, not even wanting to know the answer.

  She sniffed loudly. “Tony Grier.”

  My back stiffened at his name. I needed to get the hell out of this house. Tony Grier would take everything she owned, chew her up, and spit her out before selling her to the highest bidder and then doing the same with every member of her family and friends until there was nothing left to take.

  Ironically, it would have been much simpler if she just had a new pimp who was bashing her around. I could deal with that so easily, but this, this was different.

  “How much did you borrow?” I asked, closing my eyes, dreading the answer.

  “Two thousand,” she replied. Her tone had changed now; it was softer, more pleading, as if she suddenly thought she needed to be courteous to me so that I’d help her.

  I nodded, my body relaxing fractionally because it was a fairly achievable target. “I can get it for you within two weeks.”

  She sniffed loudly. “That’s … that’s just what I actually borrowed,” she stuttered.

  I opened my eyes and looked at her; she was leaning forward on the sofa, her hand half outstretched, reaching out for me. I flinched, pulling my hands back quickly. I didn’t want her to touch me; the woman repulsed me and if I had any choice I would never see her again.

  “Interest,” I guessed. I should have known it wouldn’t be that easy. “So how much do you need to pay it off?”

  She swallowed and ran her hand over her hair, trying to smooth her ponytail as she looked away from me. “Thirteen.”

  I gasped. “Holy shit.” There was no way I could get that money, and if she didn’t pay it off then it’d go up more every day. “Why would you borrow from him? Why didn’t you go to Brett?” I snapped. He would have given her the money; he wouldn’t have charged interest like Tony Grier had, either. Brett always looked after the families of his boys; he would have just let her borrow the money, no questions.

  She shrugged, her lip trembling. “I wasn’t thinking. I needed a hit, I was desperate, and no one would give me credit. I’d borrowed a couple hundred from Tony in the past and paid it back with no problems. I thought everything would be fine, but then I missed a payment and he just went crazy, smashing everything up and shouting threats. Then the interest was added, and now I’m even paying interest on the interest! Business was really slow last week because I was ill, so I couldn’t afford the latest payment,” she explained, looking down at her arm and wincing.

  I bit back my angry retort. This all started over drugs? She had borrowed money from a loan shark to buy drugs. How idiotic could one person get?

  “I don’t know what to do,” she whispered, not even bothering to wipe the tears and snot from her face. She looked so helpless, vulnerable, and weak. But she wasn’t helpless; she had me, she always had.

  I took a deep breath and shook my head, pushing myself up from the armchair. “I’ll sort it out. Just don’t pull this shit again. This is the last time I’m fixing anything for you.” I glared at her warningly. I was trying to go straight, and this wasn’t what I needed. I wanted to be free of this life, and just like I’d thought she would, she was pulling me back into it again.

  She gasped and jumped to her feet. “You have the money to pay it off?”

  I nodded. “Yeah,” I lied.

  “Thank you,” she whispered. Her eyes bored into mine, showing a compassion and gratitude that I had never seen from her before. But it was too late now, we were done, I was cutting all ties.

  “Don’t mention it.” I turned and strode toward the door. Thoughts of what I was going to do were running through my head. Now I had to go see Tony Grier and see what could be done about my drugged-up hooker of a mother’s debt.

  * * *

  Twenty minutes later, I pulled up to his lavish office. From outside, the place looked respectable. The sign above the door read YOU NEED IT, WE LEND IT, NO QUESTIONS ASKED.

  Tony Grier actually ran a legitimate money-lending service too, structured loans with payment plans—that was his official business. If the tax man or cops came along and looked into it, they would find a guy who did well for himself and loaned money to people for a fast payback, everything legal through the books. Of course, there were borrowers like my mother who went off the books, and that was where the real money lay for him. People borrowed small amounts, and after interest and charges were added, they ended up signing over their houses and possessions.

  I headed inside and over to the receptionist’s desk. “I need to speak to Mr. Grier,” I told her.

  She tapped on her keyboard, looking at the screen. “He’s in with someone at the moment. I’ll just take your name and you can wait here.”

  “My name’s Jamie Cole. Tell him that he knows my mother, Sharon Cole.”

  As the minutes passed, I could feel myself getting angrier and angrier. Either this guy had hurt my mother, or he’d had one of his goons do it. I took a deep breath. As much as I wanted to smash his face in, I knew that this was how it worked in his line of business. I needed to stay detached.

  I looked up just as Tony Grier opened his office door. He was probably in his early fifties, average height, a little overweight, slightly balding, his body encased in an expensive-looking charcoal suit. He smiled at me before heading over with his hand extended. I stood and tried to keep the hatred and anger from my face as I played the polite role of person begging for more time.

  “Jamie Cole. I hardly recognized you.”

  “It’s been a long time,” I said. All I wanted to do was knock his teeth out and shove them down his throat.

  He led me into the office, shutting the door behind us, and motioned for me to sit while he headed behind his desk. “So then, Kid, what can I do for you on this fine Sunday?”

  “I’m here to talk about my mother’s debt.”

  A slow smile crept onto his face. “Ah, I thought it would be something like that.” His eyes were calculating now; he looked a little more alert, like maybe he thought I was going to grab the gold-plated letter opener from his desk and shove it deep into the side of his neck. I was actually considering it.

  I nodded. “Yeah. She owes you thirteen thou, right?” I asked, cocking my head to the side, still trying to keep this conversation light and casual.

  He opened one of his desk drawers and pulled out a binder, dropping it on the desk and opening it slowly. Whether he was doing it slowly just to piss me off I couldn’t be sure, but if he was, it was certainly working. “Let me check.” He sucked his teeth with his tongue, coming to rest on a page fairly near the front. He sighed exaggeratedly. “I’m afraid that thirteen was last week’s total.”

  I bit back my groan. “And this week’s total?” I pressed, not even wanting to know the answer.

  He closed the file and
pushed it back into his drawer before speaking, “You know how these things work, Kid. Interest, late payment charges, callout fees—I have to pay guys to go and chase up the money.”

  Answer the fucking question, asshole! “I know how it works. So what’s this week’s total?”

  “Fourteen and a half,” he answered, touching his fingertips together and sitting back in his chair, watching me closely.

  It went up by $1,500 in a week? I was in serious trouble here. I tried my best not to show any reaction. Standing, I dug in my pocket, pulling out the seven hundred bucks that I had managed to get from the ATM down the street. I threw it on his desk and sat back down.

  His eyes were alight with amusement as he looked at it. “I may not be Rain Man, but even I can see that doesn’t quite cover it.”

  “I know. Call it a down payment or something. I want you to leave my mother alone. I’ll be taking over her debt, so from now on, you deal with me.” I looked at him sternly. That wasn’t a request; if he touched my mother again, then I was cutting him to pieces and mailing his wedding ring back to his wife in a clear plastic bag.

  He smiled and leaned forward in his chair. “Oh, really? Brett Reyes’s little protégé owes me money? Well, call this my lucky day,” he said, his tone joyful.

  I ignored the little glint in his eye when he thought about me being in his debt; maybe he was thinking I still had links to Brett and his organization or something. “I can get you about a thousand a month,” I offered.

  He laughed right in my face, a big booming laugh that echoed in the room, reverberating from the walls. “The interest alone is five thousand a month.”

  My heart sank. I didn’t even earn five thousand a month. “Right, like you’d get that much from my broke mother. You know you’ll get more from me than you ever would her, so let’s just cut the bullshit and work something out.”

  He shrugged nonchalantly. “Nothing to work out, debt needs paying. I don’t do payment plans, you know this, Kid.” He sat back in his chair with his fingers together under his chin, his eyes scanning my face. “However, if you were to come and work for me, I could forget this debt ever existed.”

  “No thanks.” I shook my head fiercely; my loyalty was and would always be to Brett, I wouldn’t ever jump ship like that. “Look, I’ll figure something out, just transfer the debt into my name and forget you ever heard the name Sharon Cole. I’ll get you your money
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