It’s the big one! The climax to the whole story, guys!!
A cop fired at Sorrel, and then Sorrel fired at her, and no matter how badly she wanted to scream the noise couldn’t escape – a gun at your head could do that to a person. A wretched, burning pain hurtled through her and enveloped her whole head like flames licking at her eyes and brain, with even her sinuses filled with heat. The origin point at the left side of her skull was already slick and warm with blood.
The fall itself was another nightmare. Right off the cliffside she went, her eyes wide as she saw Sorrel disappear with her head still turned away because she hadn’t even been looking when she delivered the killing blow. The sky was bright blue and nearly cloudless, and the wind whipped at her blonde hair. She saw a hint of her sequin dress reflect light against the arid red dirt of the mountain before she slammed into the water.
For a moment, she thought the impact was hard enough to break all her bones apart, but she was still alive despite the ache in her head. She was weak from the shock and pain of it and everything felt muddled and dim. Beneath the water her gut instinct told her to kick hard and get to the surface, but she slowly, deliberately reminded herself that would not be wise.
In those final moments, surrounded by police and inches from arrest, her dear clever friend grabbed her, hauled her to the edge of a mountain, and held a gun to her face. Aidy had wanted to cry; she couldn’t believe one of her best friends would just kill her so ruthlessly. Even if Sorrel accused her of betraying them all she would have thought that an execution would be too much for her to handle, given all their years of friendship.
But then Sorrel gave her a look, with raised brows and focused eyes, and in a heartbeat Aidy registered her plan. Sorrel couldn’t save herself, but she would save her friend with a quick trick to make the police think she’d turned on her. It was a beautiful gesture, a complete sacrifice, and Aidy wouldn’t waste it by splashing around now. So she floated calmly to play dead to the best of her abilities, just waited patiently to rise to the surface.
If she was being honest with herself, she was pretty angry that Sorrel turned away as she was trying to fake-shoot her. Granted, a cop did fire at her, but she had hurt Aidy badly enough to make her wonder if she was truly out of harm’s way. The pain was ever-present and she had already lost a lot of blood. Still, she was about to get arrested for armed robbery, and for her mistake that was more than enough punishment.
She felt herself reach the surface but kept her eyes closed as she started to regain some mental footing. The sun warmed her face, and the fiery pain of the gunshot had started to cool from the water, which left her with a throbbing headache. For now she could only float down the river into Lake Mead and think about what had happened and what to do next, which was not the easiest task when her head was so light and she still felt close to fainting.
In the casino she had panicked badly, and though she wasn’t keen to admit it she was still scared half to death. That had always been Feb’s thing, plans that seemed too boisterous to succeed and yet always did: just not today. Even if the cops hadn’t showed up Mica would have still accidentally taken the cash whilst her partner was fretting, which would have thrown a wrench into the whole system. Aidy just had to figure out where Mica was or if she had been arrested so she could take care of the cash she was supposed to deliver.
She had to assume that Mica had been thrown in prison; there were so many officers and so few of them, and Mica was right in the middle of it all. If not she figured she would head to the airstrip where she and Sorrel were meant to pick up Neve and Feb, but that place would be an absolute snake pit so she’d probably be arrested there, too. Riley and Neve were likely in jail as well, though Neve was slippery enough that she probably could have out-run them despite having nowhere to go. But February had escaped, possibly with Celeste but definitely not for long: all of them were out of hiding spots.
The water wasn’t too bad in the summer heat, but the thought of her friend made her blood run cold. The fireball of that explosion played on repeat behind her eyelids, and it pained her to think of poor little Celeste inside of that. And then Feb cried out her name and a moment later she was gone. She must have found her alive, she could never believe that if Feb spotted a body she wouldn’t do her duty as the leader and break the bad news to them. But that left the big question of where they were now. Would she have taken Celeste to the hospital, or would she not accept the arrest that came with it? How long could Celeste live without help or medicine?
The river continued its slow pull, and she kept drifting along to the sounds of running water. Her shoes had slipped off and her dress felt like a weight it was so waterlogged. She wondered if Celeste knew the ignition bomb was meant for February, if their boss knew. The whole team must have figured that out, no one had ever dreamed of hurting Celeste. If February did, she must have been plagued with guilt, though if Celeste was aware she would probably just wave it off. Aidy fought a frown. She had always been too sacrificial for her own good, always thought there was some sort of price she had to pay for finally getting a family.
She had seen that hope and despair in her eyes the day Aidy introduced her to Feb and Neve; the day they offered food, shelter, knowledge, all as a package for a future gang member. She never resisted, but she hesitated and carried that hesitation for years as though waiting for the other shoe to drop. It softened when she brought on Sorrel soon after, and even further when Mica and Riley joined quickly after that. But it never disappeared.
This wasn’t a price she ever should have had to pay, and Aidy’s stomach was in knots as she thought of that blast over and over again, the anger boiling her insides and contributing to all the heat in her. That bomb and that death were meant for Feb but those idiot officers planted it on the wrong SUV. She never should have trusted those crooked cops.
Sure, the ones who offered her a clean slate in exchange for information were squeaky clean, but of the whole force it was easy to find a few who’d seen February do enough evil and ruin enough of their days to want petty revenge. Nothing like what she felt, like she wanted, but enough to agree to plant a bomb. And now she just had to hope she didn’t accidentally become Celeste’s murderer.
The river flowed on and her rage and hurt twisted inside her and somehow made her stronger. She had been shot and yet she thrived. None of the gang knew it was her, the cops thought their informer was dead. Admittedly, a lot of other stuff had gone wrong and the plan to arrest everyone at the scene of the crime had completely fallen apart. Celeste was hurt, Feb was free and there was no telling who was in jail even if she felt certain Riley, Mica, and Sorrel were locked up.
On one hand, she knew this was a chance to escape. If she didn’t return that cash and take every single one of them down the cops would throw her in jail with the rest of them, and wouldn’t that be an awkward little cell. But now they saw her shot and killed and really couldn’t charge that dead body they would fail to find.
On the other, though, Feb and some of the others were out there and would figure out who did this to them eventually. If she ran, she would have to cower the rest of her life, and she’d done that long enough. It wasn’t just the thought that they could catch her that haunted her, either, it was the fact that Feb would keep on living. That was something she could not abide by.
February Cheng, who had been her friend for eight years and her boss for five. Who had paid for her plane ticket to America to help her and her new friend Neve start up a brand new team to rule Las Vegas. Who entrusted her to find the brightest minds and the biggest talents in town. Who acted with a firm hand and a big heart as their leader.
February Cheng who laughed when she tripped over herself. Who taunted her for every clumsy moment. Who never conceded that the crew started out as a trio, not a duo of just she and Neve. Who never took her seriously, who never thanked her for finding the other members of their crew and doing half the convincing to get them to join up. Who never let her have any input, who mocked her so consistently and so carelessly that the rest did the same.
Mica had called her useless in the casino and always yelled at her. Riley liked her well enough but insisted it was despite her ‘general buffoonery’. Celeste had looked up to her so much at first, but by the end she was just a punchline. And at no point did Neve even begin to respect her. She was just some kid to her, Riley, and Feb and just some joke to everyone else, caught between them and the adults.
There was only so much she could take before she hit her breaking point. So many times she’d been passed over as irrelevant, laughed at as the town fool, disregarded as a lesser member when she was their very core. There would be no gang or family without her, no late nights watching bad movies or long stakeouts that ended with big pay-outs. Mica and Sorrel never would have met without her, and yet they were all bridesmaids at the wedding when there should have been a ceremony just thanking her for all she’d done for the ungrateful brats.
It was all because of her, but Feb and all her flair just had to be the center of the attention. She’d always garnered awe so easily with the schemes Aidy used to love as much as they all did, but she never asked for any better ideas and couldn’t hear a suggestion without turning into a carnival act. Like when Aidy proposed the Commodus as a nice challenge; it wasn’t as though she planned to wear a beaded headdress and cover herself in sequins. Sure, it was fun when she wasn’t petrified, but it put her on the front line when they could have just as easily dressed as gamblers or tourists or snuck in at night like civilized criminals.
She wanted to be taken seriously. She wanted her thoughts to be considered. She wanted a team who didn’t laugh at her for meaningless nonsense. She wanted worship. She wanted revenge for years of hard work and no reward. So no, she wasn’t going to run away, but rather run to Feb. To the ends of the earth if she had to, she would root her out somehow. No matter what had happened to Celeste, how responsible she was, she wasn’t going to let February live through this.
A sound buzzed overhead and she strained to hear it above the water. As it began to fade away, she tentatively opened one eye. For a moment, she was blinded by the brightness of the day and blinked and squinted. In the distance she spotted a black blot in the sky and vaguely registered a helicopter, and not one that belonged to the police. She had a moment of realization and had to fight a manic scream of anger; how had Sorrel possibly escaped from that? How did those incompetent fools let her slip through their fingers?
Well, that was just great. Yet another escapee for the cops to moan about – if they ordered her to track Sorrel down she’d be indescribably irritated. But the deal she made was a simple one and it hinged on returning the money to the cooperative casino and locking up the six biggest menaces to the city. It would probably end up on her plate to get them all to the cops, except of course the one who – ‘Geez, sorry officer, the boss put up a fight! I had to commit a grisly murder! Oh well!’ – just wouldn’t make it.
But first she had to figure out where Sorrel went or things would go way south for her. Sorrel suspected there was a traitor, so she may have decided to take action and root her out, but that seemed unlikely when she had no information to go on. She could seek out her wife, but if she made the assumption Aidy did she would think the other woman to be in jail. Given her status as the perfect child one could only speculate that she would continue with the plan despite the way it fell apart, and that was where things hit a snag.
Aidy knew the next place to go was the airstrip (or, to get specific, the mountains around it) but she didn’t know who else would be there. Maybe Neve given her likeliness to have squeezed out of there. Or maybe February, but her whereabouts were honestly a complete mystery. She could have been at a hospital with Celeste or she could have been caught and arrested there. Maybe Celeste had died and she’d buried her and moved on to new planning. Or she suspected there was a traitor just as Sorrel had and either sought out another team-mate or ran for it.
At any rate, if Sorrel was headed to the airstrip she would probably work something out with Feb or Neve and head to the city. If no one showed, she would probably hunt someone else down, though Aidy had no idea how she could do so which meant she had no leads on a location. All of this dead-end planning was starting to get frustrating.
The river pushed along and bobbed her gently in the cool water. Her head hurt a lot less now, but she still felt a little woozy and knew it would be a good idea to have a little snack at some point, though she would prefer a set of stitches. A third option suddenly occurred to her, one that had nothing to do with chasing Sorrel to the mountains or hunting down February. Sorrel had tried to fake the shooting but botched it and nearly killed her. Was she aware of that? From experience Aidy knew that you couldn’t hit someone so closely without a little spatter on your sleeves. Surely she would have noticed some literal blood on her hands and figured out what she had done. And she was still wearing her spotlight-bright dress, it would be easy to spot her body floating down the river. Had Sorrel seen her when she flew by in the chopper? She had been lying in a pool of blood that looked a lot worse that the injury was, falsely still to keep the police from chasing after her. It would have been easy to presume the worst.
That was the idea, then. That Sorrel would look at her corpse and look at the river and know she was headed down to Lake Mead to wash up on some muddy shore. And now that she thought about it, golden girl that she was Aidy was willing to bet all twenty three million that she would come back to check on her or at least recover the body to bury her with respect. And even if she didn’t, Feb would figure it out and tell her to go back and do so. Despite all the hatred Aidy had for her, Feb was entirely unaware of it and loved her in return, as cruel as that love was.
And thus a plan suddenly formed and it was so easy that Aidy almost burst out laughing. All she had to do now was take a lovely little float down the river and wait for Sorrel to come rescue her, whether that be in a few minutes or a few hours. She’d reveal the miraculous fact she was still alive and be welcomed with opened arms: welcome to any tidings from the rest of the crew, any scrap of knowledge Sorrel had obtained, maybe even to February’s very location.
But this time she couldn’t panic. It had been a good cover to some extent, threw the suspicion off someone too cowardly to ever make a move against her own family, but it wasn’t as much acting as she’d care to admit. She had been genuinely nervous, though she didn’t have the foresight to expect at least three of her crew to escape and Celeste to take a punishment meant for February.
At some level, maybe all the fear was her body telling her this was wrong, but she already knew that and was just fine with it. And it wasn’t run of the mill robbery/arson/homicide stuff that they usually pulled, but rather full on hatred and betrayal. At the end of the day she was just a little more evil than originally intended and couldn’t bother with beating herself up about it.
It didn’t matter, really. She had no intention of ever explaining herself to any of them. For now she just had to dismiss her nerves and focus on the apprehension and murder of her friends. It was finally happening; they were all going to jail while she led herself down a new path to freedom, to triumph. She smiled to herself.
“Bright light city gonna set my soul, gonna set my soul on fire.” She sang quietly to herself, then felt laughter bubble to her lips as she drifted down the gentle river. It could not get any easier for her. “Viva Las Vegas!”