Loan Shark

Bama Bridge – Chloe Fox

Christina Graham

Sitting in this cell I’m both pained and saved by the memories. I can’t quite recall what exactly went south. My guess would be it began when our partners and workers insisted on incorporating technology into our work. My brother’s been insistent on incorporating technology into our business. He claimed that it would be easier and more efficient. While I understood computers would be good for researching when libraries were crowded, or telephones for arranging meetings, I didn’t understand his obsession with smartphones. He and my youngest brother would sit around for ages looking into their phones, finding new ways to download games and software. It’d frustrated me as every five or so minutes they’d wander from our conversation at the ping of their phones. I thought adding technology to our line of work would be bullshit. Technology leaves traces everywhere, and not the silent bloody kind. But since I was outvoted, for some reason, it’d been agreed we had to change some of our policies to be digital. I wished with everything in me that things continued to be done the old way. Bloody packages, sending a trembling child to someone’s doorstep to relay a message, following someone around until they know for sure, without a word, that their life is in jeopardy. But my brother and his cronies convinced my our team that it was unethical. Then I couldn’t care less about ethics. We had a business to run, I thought. Now I regret everything. Everything that took the life from my chest and replaced it with the moldy cold air that has surrounded me for years.

Around that time Tecca, my brother who stayed in the business, sent a message to one of his clients threatening a broken arm. He explained that it was fine because the client was in a similar line of business, and small threats were okay to send via text because often people don’t take them seriously.  While on the other hand my youngest brother, Bryson, texted in a family “group chat” that he needed to have a family meeting. At the time I figured it was some of his cowardly shit when, but would have never anticipated it would be the greatest decision for my baby girl. Soon after, over dinner, he explained he’d stay in college and make a living out of basketball. He’d decided that he wouldn’t join us in business. It came both as a shock and with resistance, to begin with, but eventually, we all agreed it may be better for one of us to stay out of the family line.

That morning my phone buzzed me awake. It sat on my nightstand buzzing, buzzing, buzzing. Typically I woke up to the sun shining in my room, but ever since I was forced to get that phone it woke me up with texts from desperate clients, employees, or “spam.” The first message I got was from one of my special contractors, Thomas. My eyes were foggy with sleep but I knew what he was concerned about. He wrote good morning and asked how long he had to complete his task. Some crap about his loading truck needing to be sanitized. 

I had Mikey move the body. You have three days to complete your end of the bargain or I’ll hire someone else, I sent.

 I rubbed my eyes before hitting the green send button. As I headed toward the bathroom, my wife rushed past me. She said there was an emergency at the warehouse and she needed to make sure she secured some files before they fully uploaded. Mornings like these weren’t entirely unusual. She kept record of all of our cases and often would need to work with a sense of urgency since it included both money and survival. However, I wished I’d paid more attention to the panic in her eyes. I wish I had the knowledge and words to comfort her for what was to come. Moreover, I wish most that I could hold her again and feel her melt into me the way she always seemed to when stressed.

“Make sure Mina eats breakfast! She likes the waffles in the freezer with cut banana.” She pressed her lips into my cheek before rushing out of our bedroom, her purse dangling from her shoulder. I smiled, softened by the thought of my little family. After brushing my teeth I went downstairs to see, our daughter, Mina sitting on the couch watching Doc McStuffins. I sat next to her snuggling my head on her lap, intimidating her. 

“Good morning! Can I have waffles? Mommy makes them with-”

“Bananas” I finish.”Of course, you can! Waffles right up for Dr. Mimi!” I said before heading toward the kitchen. She giggled behind me and I heard her little feet trailing after me. I pulled out the waffles, toaster oven, bananas, and syrup. She smiled at the syrup because her mom didn’t usually let her have any. Then when I pulled out the chocolate fudge I was awarded with an applause. As I prepared her easy breakfast, she played on my phone. Her uncle Bryson downloaded some games on it. I thought it was a waste, but it made her happy and I was a sucker for that bright toothy smile. 

“O-K” she read slowly. She was ahead of her classmates in reading, but it was still new to her. “I weell get it done two- tonigh!.” 

“What’re you reading there, ladybug?”

“A text!”

“What did I tell you about opening my texts?” I say sternly. While I’m sure she couldn’t quite grasp what the content of our work is yet, her mother and I agreed to keep it from her until she turned 16. I grabbed the phone from her, my hands sticky with banana, and opened the message. Tecca texted me about one of our clients finally paying off all of his debt. More texts come through from both of my brothers. Apparently, Tecca was followed on his way to work for a while by unmarked police cars. He said that each cop dipped off before he got 5 minutes from the warehouse but that I should be careful. Bryson texted that he was back home from college, in San Diego, to pick up a part for his car and that he would pick Mina up from preschool later because he promised her a tea party the last time he was home. His texts were always long and drawn out, explaining every detail and laced with too many unnecessary emojis. I decided I’d answer them all later before turning the phone on “do not disturb,” so that Mina could play her games in peace.

“Daddy I’m hungry. Are you almost done?” 

She sighed at the counter. It was good that Bryson was home more often. Each day it felt as if Tecca and I were being watched.  Even at nineteen, he was responsible and was on a great track to creating a life of his own. Something Tecca and I never had the courage or drive for. I doubted anything would happen but it was better to have him as a backup. Especially when the backup loves his niece the way Bryson does Mimi.

On the way to Mimi’s preschool, I missed at least four phone calls, forgetting to turn my “do not disturb” off from breakfast. Mimi smiled at me from the backseat, practicing her little dance moves, swaying side to side. When the shark song began I sang along in my Daddy Shark voice, which had her giggling for the rest of the ride. It wasn’t until we pulled up to her school that I knew something was wrong. Bryson stood at the entrance of her preschool looking frantically at my car as we pulled up. His arms were crossed in front of him and his eyes had the same panic as my wife’s that morning. Mimi’s face brightened when she saw him. Just as I put the car in park he opened the back door, unbuckled Mimi from her seatbelt, and swept her up into his arms. 

He moved quickly as he told her to go to his car, and grabbed her backpack and car seat from my back seat.

“Answer your fucking phone! Tecca and your wife are behind bars and said they’re after you next. All of your cars are bugged. Somehow some files were leaked from all of your emails. I’m taking Mina. We’re gonna get out of here quickly so she doesn’t have to see you get arrested.” His eyes surveyed the parking lot. “Mimi come here and tell daddy you love him.”

Everything moved so quickly. So when Mina walked up to my door I jumped out and held her close in my arms. Kneeling on the ground in front of my car, it was then I knew this was the last hug I’d get from my daughter for a long time. She could tell by our sense of urgency that something was wrong. Over and over again I told her I love her and that daddy was sorry. When the sirens wailed I painfully let her go and looked up at Bryson. Taking her hand in his, he looked at me with the most seriousness I’d ever seen on his usually playful face and said “I promise I got her, Lino. We’ll be okay.” I nodded before the two of them quickly got in his car and drove off. And suddenly years of guilt came crashing down.