Our lovely fourteenth chapter is here, kids. Read on.
They walked to the quarry in silence. The only time either of them spoke was when Mica pondered on stealing a car, and Neve quickly turned her down. She’d had enough bad luck in stolen vehicles for one day, and it was only a mile or so away. Mica had groaned and dragged her feet at that.
It had been very informative, speaking with Mica. Detrimental to the other woman to an upsetting degree, but informative. She claimed she was going to tear through that quarry and everyone in it, but Neve wasn’t so sure. It was one thing to threaten and quite another to pull the trigger, and given that she was so distraught over one of their own dying Neve didn’t expect her to add more to the death count.
But there was no guarantee the traitor would even be there since Sorrel was flying to Lake Mead. Neve still suspected Riley, still felt the burn of her betrayals, but something in her gut told her she wasn’t the only woman to watch out for. Sorrel was strong-willed enough to pull it off, and recent revelations didn’t look very good for her. She had apparently either seriously wounded or killed Aidy, though it was most likely the former if she was going back to find her. To finish the job, maybe, to silence a loose end.
The only thing that didn’t make sense if she was their villain was Mica. Neve couldn’t believe for a moment that Sorrel could or would ever do something this huge and awful behind her back, especially when it put her in danger. They adored each other in a way few couples could ever even aspire to, so it was entirely out of the question that one would betray another. And if they were working together Mica was putting on an incredible act. If they had killed Celeste together why was she ranting and raving about murdering the murderer?
When they neared the old quarry, Mica threw out a hand to pause her and pointed to a squad car parked out front. She pulled out her gun and gave Neve a look to do the same.
“That was Riley’s ride.” Neve said, then scowled. “Keep your gun ready.”
The quarry was surrounded by a barbed-wire fence on all sides, but the place had been shut down and abandoned for years, and the fence was riddled with gashes from kids who would sneak in on occasion. She and Mica approached the squad car to find it had been parked at the entrance, where a busted padlock lay on the ground beneath a fine layer of dust; Riley didn’t even have to break her way in.
Mica approached the gate to find it stopped open by a large rock and slipped through easily, then Neve shimmied in behind her. The walls were jagged rock, light beige and grey and red, and a steep decline to the flat, expansive bottom; Celeste had been right to call it a bowl. They were standing on a winding dirt path that led down along the walls to various dig sites and to the very ground, where even from a distance they could spot Riley right away.
She was holding the duffel bag in her hand and looking away from them and Neve felt her stomach twist into knots as she and Mica began to descend down the dirt road. They walked in silence and when Neve looked over she found Mica’s expression uneasy, and she seemed almost jittery from the speed of her walk. No doubt she wanted to get this all over with and get to her wife as soon as possible.
When she told Mica Celeste had died, she’d kept the details to herself. There were things she seemed to figure out on her own, like the way the explosion had been the cause. But Riley’s admission of guilt, the number one reason Neve suspected her to be the traitor, she didn’t mention that. It would seem prudent, and a good way to get Mica on her side, but she wanted to do things right. When Feb arrived, that would be the perfect opportunity to expose her. She’d have someone definitely on her side as opposed to the wife of her number two suspect. And that second wave of pain for Mica, if her hands were truly clean in all this, would give her the conviction she needed to fire her weapon.
Because Neve didn’t want to murder the traitor, not with Feb watching and especially not when she could get Mica to take her out and get stuck with the guilt of it the rest of her life – a final payback for leaving her at that casino. But she wanted that hypocrite traitor dead, and she especially wanted that if it was Riley. She abandoned her twice, accused February of double-crossing again and again, and admitted that even if she didn’t kill Celeste outright, she still killed her with every wrong move she made. And if Aidy was dead, well that was just another thing to blame her for.
It was the long game, and a lot of it hinged on Riley being their sinner and not Sorrel, but it was still a beautiful plan. If it turned out Riley wasn’t the traitor, Neve wouldn’t get into any trouble, and she still had all the cash, even though Riley thought she was holding it. She was untouchable.
Riley didn’t see them until she heard them near, and when she turned around her face was full of surprise. She wore a reluctant little grin, probably glad to see Mica but less so to see her pistol. When her eyes landed on Neve she gulped nervously.
“Hey guys.” Riley called out as they approached. “Wow. Finally, a few of us together at once.”
“Finally.” Mica echoed, and Riley looked wary. Perhaps she expected a warmer reunion. She turned to Neve.
“Hey. I’m . . . glad to see you’re alright.” She said, and Neve nodded stiffly. She let out a nervous chuckle. “Not gonna shoot me, are you?”
“Maybe. Not yet.” She answered. “I’ve had a chance to calm down.”
She looked even more surprised, but pleased at that.
“Great! So we’re just waiting on three more. Any news from your wife?” She asked Mica, who bristled.
“I wouldn’t expect her any time soon. She had to go to Lake Mead.” She was already defensive, though Riley didn’t know her reasons. “There was an accident. Aidy . . .”
Riley went pale as a sheet, and Neve knew it was another reason she could have been innocent. She wasn’t the most dutiful of the bunch, but she loved them all so strongly, almost strongly enough to acquit her. But she wouldn’t just let go of her suspicions for that.
“What happened? Is she dead?” She asked.
“We’re not sure. She and Sorrel were trying to escape the police and Sorrel accidentally . . .” Mica stared down at her ugly shoes. “Shot her. But we’re not certain she’s dead. I’m staying optimistic.”
“She shot her? How?” Riley asked, horrified, and Mica looked reluctant. But Riley only looked lost, not accusatory, so she talked.
“They were on the cliff above the river. She was just going to make it look like she was shooting Aidy in the head –” She began, and Neve was rocked with surprise.
“What? You didn’t tell me that.” She yelped, and Mica gave her a dirty look.
“This is awful.” Riley hid her face in her hands a moment, and when she pulled away her eyes were red-rimmed. “I can’t deal with this. I can’t lose someone else.”
Celeste’s death hung over the trio like a miserably dark cloud, and Mica visibly shook herself to avoid the thought. Neve, however, was still caught up in Mica’s previous words.
“So she put a gun to Aidy’s head and pulled the trigger.” She repeated. “And then she told you it was an accident. We’re all supposed to just believe that, then.”
“Watch it.” Mica warned, but Riley looked as distrusting as Neve felt.
“So she accidentally did exactly what she was already doing.” Riley stated dryly, then looked away, thoughtful. When she spoke again, it was more to herself. “They were alone. Anything could have happened.”
“What?” Mica asked, and Riley glared at her.
“If Aidy’s dead all we have is your wife’s word, and who knows how strong that is.” She said fiercely. “The word of an ambitious young woman who will always be second fiddle to Neve, at least while she’s in this gang.”
Neve was torn between her cockiness and suspicion. Either of them could have done it, and Riley could only be saying these things to throw them off, but it seemed Sorrel had the stronger motive. Mica’s face was all scrunched up in fury as she fired back a reply.
“Don’t you dare, Ry. She’s my wife, not some cold-blooded killer.” She said defensively. “Apologize.”
“Oh, I’m sorry alright. I’m sorry, Neve.” She turned to her, and Neve was dumbfounded a moment. “Sorry for all those accusations I lobbed at Feb in front of you. Clearly, I was wrong.”
“But you’re not sorry for those two separate occasions you left me to the police.” Neve stated plainly, and Riley rolled her eyes.
“You can’t get everything.” She said, and Mica scowled.
“Shut up, Riley. You’ve been horrendous. You’re not trustworthy even if you aren’t the traitor.” Mica said, and though Neve agreed wholeheartedly, she was finding it harder not to blame Sorrel for this. Not apologizing was cruel, but it was understandable; she herself had nothing kind to say about Sorrel after their argument.
“Neither are you, if you’re married to her.” She bit back, and Mica raised her gun.
“Settle down.” Neve ordered. “We can’t go at it right now, we’re missing three people.”
“Four.” Mica noted sourly, but she lowered her gun.
“What do we do then, wait?” Riley asked, and she seemed a bit on edge.
“We don’t have a choice.” Neve answered. “We have to wait for our boss.”
“And Sorrel.” Riley added. Mica gave her a look filled to the brim with annoyance. “What? She can defend herself, at the very least.”
“From accusations.” Mica snapped. “Not gunshots. Don’t try anything, or I swear –”
“Relax. Remember when I chose not to steal that cash because I knew I couldn’t beat you?” Riley recalled. “Same principle. No offense, Neve.”
“I was trapped in a car upside down.” She retorted. “I think you had a slight advantage.”
“Speaking of the cash, I think you should drop it.” Mica said, and Neve stiffened. “Put it in the middle so no one has it in hand.”
“I’m not going to steal it.” Riley said as she held onto it tightly. “But if you need it to run off to your wife, well, that would give me plenty reason to protect it.”
“We’re not traitors! You are!” Mica snapped, and Neve shook her head and stepped forward. She gently took the bag from Riley, a bit surprised she let her take it.
“Let’s keep it in the middle. On the ground.” She said calmly, and set it down where hopefully no one would think to open it. It seemed Riley hadn’t bothered to check it when she stole it off of Neve, but why would she? It was the last thing that would occur to anyone during so much upheaval.
“Fine.” Riley said. “I guess there’s nothing more we can do now.”
“Yes there is.” Neve said. “We can see if there are any vantage points from down here.”
“I bet there aren’t.” Mica said. “This place feels like a big ditch for all of us to roll around wrestling in.”
“We had a similar notion.” Riley nodded to Neve. “That February planned for us to figure out who the traitor is together.”
“I don’t like it.” Neve admitted as she looked around. “We have no cover, we can’t see anyone approaching.”
She looked around carefully, but saw nothing more than jagged rock all around the sides, the outer fence not even visible from such a low elevation. There were no large boulders remaining for them to hide behind, no explosives or construction equipment left behind by miners as extra defense. When she looked down at the dirt they stood in she only found their own footsteps and Riley’s, tracked up and down as though she had been pacing before they got there.
“Maybe that’s the point.” Mica said darkly. “If we can’t figure it out, the cops flood the place. Traitor wins.”
“Man, if I were still pointing my finger at Feb.” Riley said with raised brows, and Neve gave her a sharp look.
“Mica, take a look around anyway.” Neve commanded. “I’ll help you. Riley, move your squad car, it’s a dead giveaway.”
“Move it where?” She groaned. “Don’t tell me I have to walk back.”
“Park it on the edge of the suburbs and walk back.” Neve said firmly, and Riley groaned again as Mica grinned.
“Serves you right. You stole the stupid thing anyways.” Mica said, then brushed past her and walked to the other end of the quarry to begin her look around. Neve turned the opposite direction and ended up walking with Riley up the path back to the entrance. When they neared the top, she noticed Riley glance back at Mica, then give her a purposeful look.
She grabbed her by the arm a lot more gently than Mica had in that backyard earlier and pulled her to the side, into the shadow of the rocks. Neve wondered what her play would be; she could kill her and run, but somehow she didn’t think that was going on here, especially with the duffel bag on the ground several meters away. Maybe she could kill her loud enough for Mica to come running and pull a sneak attack, but she didn’t really rough her up enough to let out a scream. A little part of her hoped for a confession, but that was foolish enough to make her settle on just a parlay.
“You know Aidy’s either dead or soon to be.” Riley said in a low tone. “We all do, even Mica.”
“That’s not something I’d like to believe.” Neve said softly. It pained her to think of losing Celeste and Aidy from one awful liar in one awful day.
“But it seems to be true.” Riley frowned. “And I have no words to describe my sorrow.”
Neve nodded and blinked away some unexpected tears. She wondered if she would ever see Aidy’s body, ever give her final respects. Sorrel was probably going to leave her or bury her before she came after them, and who knew if they could all survive that civil war.
“Sorrel’s an absolute devil for this.” Riley said, her disgust clear. “Aidy was innocent.”
“You’re pretty certain it’s Sorrel after hours and hours of blaming February.” Neve pointed out. “Maybe you’re just shifting blame.”
“You know it makes sense. I can see it on your face.” Riley said, then sighed. “But I know you still suspect me. I did a lot of terrible things to you.”
“Yeah, you did.” Neve said, but it was with bated breath. She hoped for an apology, but she had to firmly tell herself that she couldn’t let that affect the plan she’d already made. Vengeance had to be won, with or without Riley’s guilt.
“Well, I still can’t say I’m sorry about it.” Riley continued, and Neve sulked. “There were cops all over that casino, I would have landed myself in jail right at your side and no, that’s not worth being a ‘good friend’ or whatever.”
“That’s not the way it works.” Neve said. “We’re a family.”
“And I’m our black sheep.” Riley gave her a glum little smile. “The second time I can’t be sorry for, either. You would have killed me or stopped me from getting here. I need to make things right, Neve. I need to do what I can for the few of us left standing.”
“It was wrong.” Tears formed yet again, and her face grew warm. She just wanted to be angry at an unpredictable woman, but really she was upset with a friend who kept letting her down. “I was angry, I had every right.”
“I know.” Riley said firmly. “And now I’m the one who’s angry. Now that I see who the real traitor is. She killed our friends and fractured our family. All these horrible things have happened because of Sorrel.”
“You did plenty of those horrible things yourself.” Neve said, but she knew Riley wasn’t the only one as she thought of the cash she’d hidden in that dumpster. “But I catch your drift.”
“Then you understand that something has to be done.” She said, her mouth a thin line. “I just don’t know if I have the nerve to kill her.”
“Neither do I.” Neve admitted. “But when Feb gets here I doubt she’s going to let us murder someone, anyway.”
Riley looked away and shifted on her feet, and Neve wondered how hard February would try to stop them after Aidy and Celeste. She wouldn’t let them kill Sorrel, that was certain, nor would she forgive them. But at some level, she might hesitate, might feel the rage they’d all been feeling just enough to let a terrible accident happen, to see a fight break out and not make a move to stop it. After a moment, Riley spoke again.
“Whether or not either of us can take her out, we need to protect ourselves.” She said ominously. “So when Sorrel gets here, I’m going to take Mica hostage.”
“Riley.” Neve looked over her shoulder, but Mica was way off, staring at stones as if they could help her. “That’s not just some cop. That’s our friend.”
“I won’t hurt her. But Sorrel would never risk Mica’s safety, you know that.” She reasoned. “If we have her, we’re untouchable. Even if she’s in on Sorrel’s treason.”
“I don’t think she’s in on it.” Neve said honestly. “You should have seen her when she found out about Celeste, she was destroyed. You can’t fake that.”
“But her wife went to the police. How could she hide that?” Riley asked doubtfully. “From the woman she loves and lives with? It would be nearly impossible.”
“Which is why I can’t be certain it’s Sorrel.” Neve took a step back. “Why I can’t rule you out.”
“Look, if you want to keep accusing me, that’s fine. I know I didn’t do this.” Riley said. “But when Sorrel shows up, with or without your support, I’m grabbing Mica. You can stand behind me or don’t, it’s up to you.”
This was going to end very ugly, that much was clear to Neve now. Riley holding Mica hostage certainly wasn’t part of her original plan, but that plan depended upon Riley being the killer. If she took Mica hostage, how would Mica murder her for Celeste’s death? Then again, how could she keep a hold of Mica if she knew she would be the loser in any fight they would have? It was a desperate move going far beyond recklessness, and not something Riley would ever risk if she didn’t truly believe Sorrel was the one responsible for all this.
“Why tell me?” Neve finally asked after a long beat. “I could just run over to Mica and we could take you down together.”
“No, I don’t think you will. I think you know I’m making a good case.” She answered confidently. “Sorrel is the traitor, Neve. Best you come to terms with that.”
Neve mulled it over. Saying you would do something and actually going through with it were two different things, and for now Riley was just talking. No matter who the traitor was, they would all be pointing their guns at each other in the end. Did it really matter what Riley was planning if things were going to be a hectic mess anyway?
“Just because I’m not telling Mica doesn’t mean I believe you’re innocent.” Neve said in a low voice, and Riley gave her a dark look. She knew she had just won an important battle, and Neve’s skin crawled with all her uncertainties. So many variables and so many devious plans, and all she could do was brace herself and move forward. “Now get rid of that squad car.”