Unlucky thirteen is finally here.
She pulled the cord and the chute opened to slow her down, which was rather preferred to slamming into the ground where a dozen officers could sweep her off her broken ankles. Just above her, Sorrel flew away, and just below her a squad car sped out the tunnel at an alarming speed, though thankfully she was still too high up to be seen. She drifted down right to the mouth of the tunnel, where what she saw was an absolute nightmare.
The station wagon she and Sorrel had seen only a few minutes prior was upside down, and all the other officers had arrived, parked hastily, and were pointing their weapons down at the car. Just one stood on the edge of the crowd, on her side of the vehicle, and he stared at her in slack-jawed confusion.
“Don’t mind me, boys, I’m just a misplaced sky-diver!” She called out as she tossed the backpack on the ground. “Total civilian. If you could put your guns away, that would be cool.”
“She’s one of them!” An officer yelled, and she suspected the showgirl dress may have clued him in.
“No she’s not.” A familiar voice called out with a groan, and Mica recognized Neve’s tone as she lamely attempted to help her friend out. She rolled her eyes and quickly ran at the closest officer and wrapped her arm around her throat, then pulled her gun and held it at his head.
“Not again.” He moaned, and she dragged him towards the car. As she peered in, she found Neve upside down and clearly shocked to see her, and sat at the front of the car with the cop dragged down beside her.
“I’m stuck!” She yelled out. “The seat belt!”
“Stand down!” An officer yelled, but Mica ignored him as she pulled out her knife and tossed it onto the ground beside the window. Neve grabbed at it and began to saw her seatbelt as Mica tried to find a way out. No one was behind them and it would be the obvious exit point, but there was two of them and only one human shield. That and the fact that all those officers would be right on their tails lead to a pretty quick ending for them. They needed something to keep the police out of their hair.
“What’s the plan?” Neve questioned, her eyes wide and her voice full of panic.
“Got your gun?” Mica asked in return, and Neve made a motion with her head to the wall a few feet away, where the gun was resting after it was presumably thrown from the car when it crashed. She suddenly noticed that Neve was sitting in the passenger’s seat.
“Does that guy have one?” She asked, and the officer looked flustered as he tried to wriggle out of her grasp. She looked down to find his holster empty, but beside it she found a little can of pepper spray.
“Ooh! Okay, I can work with this.” She said thoughtfully and grabbed it off his belt, then leaned in close and lowered her voice so the cop couldn’t hear. “Neve, as soon as you break that seatbelt, crawl over the driver’s seat and run to your weapon. I’ll create a distraction.”
“It’s almost sawed through.” She warned, then gave Mica a doubtful look. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”
“I literally don’t at all.” Mica promised, and steeled herself as she jumped up from behind the car, still with her human shield. “Hey cops! I surrender!”
She stepped forward, and none of them looked keen to trust her, but while she had the cop in front of her she had insurance that no one would open fire. When she got a few steps closer a handful of men around her lowered their guard (and guns) enough and even took a few steps towards her. That one moment of near-trust was enough, and she pulled the pepper spray out from behind her hostage’s back just as Neve fell to the ceiling in the corner of her eye.
An orange spray enveloped the crowd, and the officers jumped back and yelled as they shielded their eyes with their hands. Neve scrambled across the driver’s seat and rushed to her gun; Mica saw one or two officers who hadn’t been caught in her trap shift their guns in her direction, and she dropped the can and pulled out her own lightning fast. She fired twice before Neve got her hand on her glock and stood up to fire twice more.
“Run!” Mica yelled as she pushed the final officer to the ground, and Neve turned sharply away from her targets and bolted to the edge of the tunnel. Mica followed, grateful when Neve paused and looked over her shoulder for her.
“This way!” Neve called, and ran up the dirt embankment on the side of the road. Mica followed as fast as she was able, and when she caught up she knew Neve was going slow for her given how fast she was normally. They ran along the road together for a long while, and Mica was heaving by the time she and Neve ran to a residential area. There, she paused by a random house and took a heavy breath.
“Over the fence.” She told her, though Mica had no idea how she could even speak.
She knelt down and placed her palms flat, and Neve stood on her hand and hopped up and over the fence. Mica jumped high and followed, and somehow managed to grab the top and scramble over. On the other side was a plain yard that belonged to an average house with Spanish roof tiles and beige stucco, which felt so incredibly safe after a long day of abandoned millionaire’s airstrips and golden casinos. When she landed on the ground she quickly found Neve sitting in the grass and stretching and practically collapsed beside her onto the cool earth. She took a few deep breaths and relaxed for just the smallest of moments before she felt Neve’s eyes on her, and turned to find a wide-eyed, curious stare.
“You have so much explaining to do.” Neve said. “But thank you. You saved my life.”
“No problem.” Mica huffed. “I actually looked really cool doing that. Not so much now though.”
“Are you okay?” Neve asked, and when she nodded she took that as permission to laugh. “It was barely a mile, Mica. How did you even find me?”
“You had nine cops following you.” She pointed out. “Not too hard for the wife and I to spot.”
At the mention of Sorrel, Neve’s expression turned curious for a moment, but was won over by rancor. Her jaw tightened as Mica lost her smile.
“I’m glad you found her.” Neve said simply, and though there was a tinge of anger Mica could tell she really was happy for her. “Is she alright?”
“Yeah, she’s fine. It would’ve been a duo-rescue mission, but she thought you wouldn’t want to see her.” She knew it was imperative that she work with Neve so she could learn about the code, but the fact that she’d insulted her wife couldn’t be forgotten. “You were not at all nice to her earlier, Neve.”
“I’m having a bad day.” She retorted. “I’m not apologizing for that right now. Maybe when all the dust is settled we’ll get lovey-dovey.”
“That’s my wife. She’s amazing and talented, you –” Mica glowered, and Neve raised a hand to interrupt.
“You’re right. I love her and respect her. Just not halfway through the world’s biggest mood-swing.” She said, and Mica faltered. It wasn’t a full apology, but it was honest and as kind as she thought any of them were getting, so she accepted it and moved on for the time being.
“I met her at the airstrip. Thank you for telling her where I went.” She said, and Neve perked up.
“Was Feb there?” She asked, and bit her lip when Mica frowned. “I thought not. Riley said she went into hiding while the traitor’s out and about.”
“Oh, good.” Mica heaved her first sigh of relief in a long while. “I’ve been worrying about her all day. At least I know she’s MIA on purpose.”
“Is she the only one?” Neve asked, and Mica knitted her brows. She wasn’t sure why Neve suddenly looked so distraught. “I know Aidy should have been with Sorrel, they left the casino together. Why wasn’t she on that helicopter?”
Mica hesitated, and that seemed to confirm the worst to Neve as her eyes grew misty. She leaned her head back against the plastic white fence and stared at the sky in deep despair.
“We’re not certain she’s dead.” Mica prefaced. “Don’t give up hope just yet, Sorrel’s going to look for her.”
“What happened?” Neve asked, and Mica wasn’t sure if she was imagining that suspicious undertone.
“Don’t get mad.” She said slowly. “Sorrel was trying to save her from the cops and something . . . something went wrong.”
“Went wrong how?” She asked. “How, Mica?”
“Sorrel may have, uh.” She cringed. “Accidentally shot her in the head.”
“She did what?” Neve stopped stretching and sat up straight. “Mica!”
“She was trying to save her.” Mica said again. “Her aim was just a little off. She could be totally fine.”
“Or she could have been shot in the head!” Neve exclaimed, then lowered her voice. “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe Aidy’s just gone.”
“It was an accident.” Mica said again in her wife’s defense. Neve looked dubious, but kept her mouth shut for a change, and that worried Mica even more so than her complaining. Maybe she thought Sorrel was the traitor but didn’t want to make that accusation in front of her wife, or even thought the pair were in it together. Maybe she herself was the traitor and none too sorry to lose another crew member. She suddenly wasn’t so sure she ought to be with her.
“I hope she’s alive.” She finally said. “Poor thing. And poor Feb, she’d be heartbroken.”
“How did you get into that tunnel?” Mica changed the subject. “How did all those police spot you?”
Anger flared up in Neve’s expression yet again, enough to make Mica edge back.
“Riley.” She spat. “What a monster.”
“She was the one in the driver’s seat.” Mica realized, then groaned. “The empty one.”
“Empty because she abandoned me again!” Neve said ferociously. “That traitor!”
“Whoa, let’s not call anyone a traitor just yet.” Mica said as she thought of Sorrel. “Not until we have proof.”
“She left me to rot in prison twice! It’s been like ten hours!” Neve yelped. “And she stole the cash!”
“What?” Mica gasped, then shook herself. “How could she be the traitor, then, if she cares so much about the cash? Won’t this all end when the bad guy gets it?”
“It ends when we’re all dead or jailed.” Neve said bitterly. “She’s going to wait until February is out in the open to reveal herself, I guarantee it.”
That all made sense, but Mica didn’t want to just point fingers with no real evidence. Riley had a tendency to be her own sort of awful anyway, it wasn’t as if this behavior was so markedly different that it was smoke leading them to flames.
“Listen, I don’t want to make these accusations right now.” She rubbed her temples, and Neve gave her a hard grin.
“You haven’t made any this whole time.” She pointed out. “You might act tough, but you’ve always been the goody-two shoes with all that morality of yours.”
“They aren’t mutually exclusive. Please, Neve, I don’t want us torn apart.” Mica nearly pleaded.
“It’s too late.” She said, her tone defeated. “The moment we were surrounded at that casino, it was too late.”
Mica didn’t have much to say about that. She was a cynic at heart and she’d taken this betrayal pretty hard in all the moments she wasn’t completely avoiding it. It was hard to disagree, but it was harder on her drive to sit in the grass and bemoan her situation. That was probably part of the reason Sorrel didn’t want to point fingers and create further rifts: she knew her wife well enough to see that spark get close to going out.
Which only meant she had to keep moving, no matter what. Keep pushing forward, or she’d never make the journey to Lake Mead to find Sorrel. She had to stay resilient at all costs and through all arguments, betrayals, losses, every shock and every wound. Because the only other option was defeat and she wasn’t going to let that happen to her and Sorrel, not in a million years.
“I came to you for a reason.” She recalled her original mission. “I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there’s this code.”
“Meet up at the quarry.” Neve said flatly. “You’ve really been slacking today.”
Mica gaped. That had been easier than she thought.
“So Feb will be there.” She said, and Neve nodded. “And Riley.”
“She’s probably there already.” Neve said. “And I have to get over there as soon as I can to protect Feb. I could use all the help I can get.”
“I need to tell Sorrel where we’ll be.” Mica said, and Neve looked cautious. She didn’t come right out and say she had her suspicions despite Riley’s abandonments, but Mica could tell from her wary expression.
“I need you now, there’s no time to go all the way north and back.” Neve argued. “Sorrel will have Aidy, they can turn on any news channel to listen to the code.”
“But what if they don’t understand it?” Mica asked.
“Aidy knows February better than even I do.” Neve said. “She won’t even need a map like I did to figure it out. Please, Mica, you know Sorrel can handle herself and you know she’s not in danger like we’ll be at the quarry with Ry.”
As much as Mica wanted to resist, they were all good points and they were pressed for time. And if Neve was up to something and Mica let her go alone she could seriously hurt someone else. Even if it was some sort of trap she would at least have more control there than not.
“Fine.” Mica grumbled. “But if Feb will be there, do you think Celeste will be too?”
Neve’s face fell, and Mica felt her chest tighten suddenly. She was struggling to breathe as Neve gave her a look of absolute pity, and in that moment, she knew.
“Mica . . .” Neve began softly, and she felt her lip wobble as she closed her eyes and turned her head sharply. “I didn’t want to be the one to tell you.”
“I knew it.” She said, her voice all choked up. “Oh no, I knew it.”
“I’m so sorry.” Neve said, her own voice tight, then leaned over and squeezed her shoulder. “I know you were closest to her.”
“She was a kid.” She cried out as her face appeared behind her eyelids over and over again, an unbearable look at her fallen friend. She opened her eyes and tried to give Neve a steady look. “Poor Celeste. Do you know if she suffered?”
Neve didn’t answer, but from her quiet, miserable demeanor Mica knew she had done so dearly, and broke down bawling. For a long moment, she only heard her own shuddering breaths as she curled up into herself. Neve sat stiffly across from her, not exactly the most comforting person to have in a crisis as she released her shoulder. A stray breeze ran through the stranger’s well-manicured lawn, and the mourning in Mica did what she had long suspected it would – it gave way to rage.
“We are going to kill that traitor.” She swore. “I don’t care about forgiveness anymore, I don’t care! She murdered Celeste!”
“I know. This is really hard.” Neve said softly, but Mica fumed.
“Shut up! I can’t trust you, can I? I can’t trust anyone!” She said through tears. “It’s just me and Sorrel, I can’t listen to any of you!”
Neve seemed hurt but made no move to disagree or defend herself. From the way she looked down at the lawn, Mica suspected she wasn’t entirely innocent in this, traitor or no. She sighed and wiped her red eyes, then stood up and offered her hand to the woman on the ground. Neve looked up to her questioningly, and though she knew her own expression was dark she had to note that Neve did not look fearful.
“I’ll go with you to the quarry. To keep my eyes on you, Riley, and god forbid maybe even February.” Mica said. “And when we figure out who it is, I’ll kill her. Even if you all beg me not to.”
“And what if someone stands in your way?” Neve asked, but Mica knew she was angry and mourning, too. She wouldn’t stop Mica from killing any of them but Feb, and Feb would stop her from killing anyone else. It would have sounded like high treason to admit she’d cut one of them down when that person could well be their leader. If she was honest, she wasn’t entirely sure what she would do, but there was no way she would let Celeste’s killer live.
“I’ll figure that out when I get to it.” Mica said harshly. “And then I’ll get my wife and get Aidy and leave this awful, tainted town behind. I’m done with this crew.”
“You can’t leave the rest of your family.” Neve said softly, and Mica felt her mouth curl into a snarl.
“Call me your family again when we’re acting like one. I’m angry and I’m devastated, so believe me when I say that I’m not playing around.” She reached down, grabbed Neve by the arm, and pulled her to her feet. “I’m not protecting the entire group anymore. I’m protecting my own.”
Neve snatched her arm away, her expression cool.
“I won’t argue on that point. Nor will I defend the sanctity of our collapsed friendships.” She said calmly. “But I get the feeling you won’t feel the same when we get there.”
“What kind of threat is that?” She asked harshly, but Neve just gave her a sad little look.
“It’s not. But the world isn’t as black and white as you’d like, and this solution won’t be so simple.” She said quietly, and for a moment they only stared at each other.
“Help me hop this fence.” Mica finally said in a stiff tone, and Neve held out her hands to boost her over.