Fia had never seen her mother so lost. The determination was there, the way she stood straight and clenched her fists showed some semblance of control, but the look on her face was hesitant and mournful, her entire aura imbibed with rare fear. Wynn seemed to know it – for a change she was taking her time, clearly savoring the moment. From the ground, on her knees next to a Teonnie that could only stare down and shake, she was having difficulty processing all this. The massive pile of emotions meant for her hadn’t set in yet, though she understood the facts well enough. Lakhela was dead, but she couldn’t scream or cry. They were losing, but she couldn’t hope otherwise.
Wynn advanced towards them, still in the fountain. Landing there must have been planned – she was less likely to be hurt with water to fall in. She’d loaded the last missile into whatever massive cannon she was holding, but all she really needed was one to kill Fia, the rest of her family, and a great deal more hostages: from the triumph in her eyes it was clear she knew that too. She seemed very satisfied with looking down on them.
“Afternoon, ladies. I’m going to rip your fucking throats out.” She gave them a toothy grin. “Good plan, right?”
“Fuck you!” Colette yelled from behind Fia. “Murderer!”
“Yeah, wow, I’m the only one here who’s taken a life, ya got me.” She quirked a brow. “But I guess the holier-than-thou bit can work after a lifetime in the church – oh wait, you gave that up to be a criminal a full decade ago.”
She tutted Colette with very full enjoyment. Verene’s fists were shaking. Fia looked around to see what kind of move she could make, but there was nothing to do that wouldn’t compromise their safety and get a massive missile pointed right at her family. If Wynn was intent on killing them, if this was their final stand, she couldn’t see any solution but to stall. She wasn’t sure if that was her mother’s plan, but Verene seemed off and out of focus, so she decided she’d give her a chance to think.
“The airport security cameras.” She said, the first thing that came to mind. “You did something to the footage, you destroyed Teonnie’s laptop.”
“God, I can’t believe how long it took you to fall for that one. I had that set up last week.” She swelled with pride as Teonnie looked disgusted. “Nice to hear about the destruction though, it’s such an irritation not getting to witness it first-hand.”
“You’re the devil.” Teonnie managed with a sniffle as she wiped her face. Lakhela was gone, but they were still around to fight for. “You’re pure evil. You get off on misery.”
“On your misery.” Wynn corrected, and the crowd of hostages shrunk even further back in fear if that was possible. “On my plan going well. On the end that’s soon to come.”
“Why?” Verene spoke up, her voice not as strong as usual. “Tell me why.”
“Not the most authoritative command. Without any power behind it it just sounds like begging, you know.” Wynn smiled. Trees crackled as fire spread in the distance. “Not that I would mind it.”
“I will never beg –” Verene began, but Wynn’s expression grew wild as she cut her off.
“I’m well aware. I know you Verene, I know by now.” She hissed. “You can’t say I’ve been waiting on things that won’t happen. Every part of this plan was about anticipating your moves, not expecting you to give me anything so lovely.”
“Then what do you want?” Verene asked sharply. “I asked at the funeral –”
“And I’ll give you the same answer.” Wynn bit back. “I want you to suffer and then I want you to die.”
“What, and we’re on the second part?” Fia asked, unnerved and slightly queasy. Her mother looked positively harried, but Wynn shook her head.
“Oh no, I’m still not done. Apparently someone isn’t so concerned with their departed hubby, so the suffering needs continuation.” She glared at Verene a moment, but found the chance to look back to Fia for her next words. “That doesn’t mean we can’t see another death today.”
“Enough!” Colette snapped with a grimace – partly for Lakhela, partly because she understood the implication same as Fia. It wasn’t the first time she’d threatened her life, but that didn’t make it any easier. When she died she had no intention of it happening by an enemy’s hands – she had no desire to cause even further hardship for her mother. Let it be quiet, let it be her illness, let it not be today by the hands of their greatest challenge yet.
“What did she do to you, huh?” Fia called out boldly. Verene made a clear attempt to steady her nerves. “People have their sob stories now and then, what’s yours?”
“I don’t understand you, you know that?” Wynn replied unhelpfully, her expression goading. “You’ve always seemed so nice, but your mother is a criminal and you condone it. How do you live with it? Who are you, Fee?”
Fia faltered. She was born into this world gun in hand and knew crime would exist regardless, so why not be the one to do it right? She wasn’t the naive little sweetheart the world often thought her to be, but Wynn wasn’t one of those. So what was she supposed to say, that she’d never get the chance to run things a little more leniently? That was obviously what Wynn wanted to hear, but not something the girls could really bear, especially now. Unfortunately it was clear from the pained look on her mother’s face that she understood all of it, and gave herself and Fia an out to the conversation by continuing her earlier question.
“Really, what was it? Some boy you liked owed a debt and wouldn’t pay? Did I snap some poor sap’s arm?” Verene asked boldly, and Wynn’s expression grew dark with rage. “Or I cost you money somehow? What, you buy into one of those insurance scams?”
“I can’t believe you. The fact that you don’t remember.” Wynn seethed and stared her down. “You should’ve known who I was the moment I killed him. You should’ve been waiting for the harbinger of your doom ever since you did it.”
“Did what?” Verene asked as Fia and the girls looked on in morbid curiosity.
“The worst thing you’ve ever done!” She spat. “Think, Verene, think! You destroyed my whole world, you must know how!”
Verene looked astounded in her deep thought a moment, and then:
“Don’t change your face, Fee.” A voice spoke up, and though Fia suddenly wanted to scream and cry with sheer relief she did as she was told. Because she’d been so caught up in the day’s events she’d never taken the bluetooth earpiece away from the side of her head. Because Lakhela was alive and speaking to her.
“I’ve done a lot.” Verene said simply, and Wynn’s face contorted as Fia quickly slipped the speaker into her ear, hidden by hair and her large hat. Wynn was so busy staring her mother down that Fia tapped Teonnie’s arm and gave her a quick reassuring look when she glanced her way – she wasn’t sure if she got it, but could only hope it was enough.
“I don’t care!” Wynn screamed. “I don’t care what you’ve done to the world, I care what you’ve done to me! Haven’t you been scared at all? Since last year, weren’t you afraid?”
“Last year?” Colette mumbled in confusion as Fia watched the cogs turn in her mother’s brain in search of an answer.
“I don’t have the gun, Fia.” Lakhela said. She must have been hidden by fallen foliage or buried by something because when Fia looked towards the spreading fire she saw no one. “I fell out of the tree, I’ve got some nicks and scratches but I’m fine besides that.”
“Last year! You assholes! Forget Verene, at least you people should know!” Wynn yelled at the trio beside her, then looked out to the crowd. They all ducked their heads to avoid the ugly anger on her. “Any of you? Anyone recall?”
“What do we do, Khel?” Fia whispered while Wynn looked elsewhere. When she looked up to her mother she saw her thinking harder than she ever had before, but her face darkened once Wynn asked the girls and the party-goers. Fia understood why – she was talking about a world event, not something Verene herself had done, which only served to confound her.
“I don’t know, my nine millimeter’s jammed, I already tried it – and landed on it.” Lakhela answered. “But I’m not going to hide away and watch you all get murdered, I promise you that.”
Wynn whipped around to give them another angry look, Verene still deep in thought, so Fia gave no reply and only silently hoped for a miracle: Wynn’s knuckles were white around that missile and she worried with her temper and her mother’s lack of understanding it may be put to use. Of course, to actually figure it out could have been even worse for their life expectancy, but there was just no telling with Wynn and nothing more desirable than the truth.
“Really, Verene? Are you so proud to think you’re immune to destiny?” Wynn asked. “Did you even flinch that day, did you even worry about your biggest secret being revealed?”
“What day? What secret?” Verene asked, but this time she had a suspicious look on her face and Fia knew she was piecing it together. So did Wynn by her vile look of satisfaction.
“The day they lost. The day the Las Vegas gang were taken down by one of their own, arrested in that quarry.” She said, and finally after days of anxious waiting, there it was clear as day on Verene’s face – recognition. Fia glanced to the girls and found their confusion mixed with awe.
“Little Winnie McAfee.” She said, her tone grim. It didn’t have any meaning for Fia, and when she looked again to Teonnie and Colette they looked similarly unaware. But Wynn at last was happy. “I haven’t seen you since you were a girl. What were you, eight?”
“Ten. An innocent child.” She corrected, and raised her voice when Verene made to speak. “Don’t go on the defense and tell me some bullshit about how you never hurt me. You wounded me to the extreme. You snatched my whole world away from me.”
“And my guess is that they found it in that quarry.” She said, and then Fia saw the last thing she ever expected: tears welling up in Wynn’s eyes.
“My grandmother. Her skeleton stuffed between a few rocks like a piece of garbage.” She said, and though Fia sensed an explanation ahead she could already tell enough of the tale. The bystanders were muttering amongst themselves; most of them knew she was a criminal, but it was one thing to quietly ignore it and another to face the gritty details directly. Something told Fia their community standing would take a hit after this party.
“They never announced a thing, did you bribe someone to keep quiet?” Verene asked boldly, though she was clearly winded from the shock of it and Wynn’s very presence. “Cops in Vegas were always crooked.”
“Not that crooked. They arrested those girls, didn’t they?” She asked, and Lakhela swore in Fia’s ear as Teonnie’s fists clenched.
“They were betrayed.” Colette burst out angrily, unable to hold her tongue even during a moment like this. “The brit and Neve. Those damned corrupt cops deported one traitor and let the other walk, don’t credit the bastards.”
“Ah, it seems you criminals do treat it like legend. You were rumored to.” She smirked. “That’s why Lakhela hasn’t really been sniping this past year, right? Reminded too much of a dead kid. What about you Vee, does the lifeless leader role feel a bit parallel?”
Verene glared at her as Lakhela swore into Fia’s ear. The fire continued its spread along the lawn to untouched trees, and a thick black plume of smoke was hanging over them. This part of the park was remote enough for it not to be immediately noticed, but it wouldn’t stay that way long and Fia didn’t want to think of a fire brigade’s arrival.
“Regardless, they weren’t crooked enough for your benefit. That gang met in the abandoned quarry by chance but the police searched it anyway.” She looked a bit distant as she thought back to the events. “Turns out a bunch of people throwing guns and punches can adjust some rocks, reveal some ugly truths.”
“Wait a minute, that’s why we’re all being put through this bullshit?” Colette called out. “You plotted our demise for like, what, eleven months? For some old bag?”
“She didn’t tell you though, did she. It wasn’t just a murder.” Wynn snapped. “It was every destructive thing you could imagine. She came to my family with some bullshit title, an investment broker or something, got close to the head of the company.”
“Your grandmother.” Fia said. “You were filthy rich. An heiress of a different kind.”
Wynn gave her a look of superiority that confirmed just that. It was a similarity to herself she hadn’t expected, but now that it was realized she wondered if the fact lended to Wynn’s focus on her. It seemed she hadn’t gotten the chance to fill her grandmother’s shoes, which looked like an inevitability for Fia as well – she hated her sudden twinge of empathy.
“My daughter’s wise to use the past tense.” Verene said, and Wynn gave them both a furious look. “I know why you’re pissed, I understand the enormity of it.”
“And clearly you don’t feel guilty. You embezzled millions and pinned it on her. Made it look like she grabbed the cash and ran.” Wynn recalled – a few party goers gave Verene looks of shock and anger, but Fia supposed for such a wealthy group ‘embezzlement’ was a big buzzword. “Our family was humiliated, we lost all our homes, our nice cars, everything. I spent the last decade being told all about grandma’s crimes and all this time she was innocent! Slaughtered for your greed!”
Verene only stared calmly, as though thoroughly examining her for the first time. Wynn for once kept silent, and Fia imagined this was a moment that had been consuming her thoughts for nearly a year. To finally confront the woman who’d robbed her family business, pinned it on someone Wynn likely loved and looked up to, disgraced her name and took her life. As she mentioned before, she wasn’t waiting for Verene to give her anything so unrealistic as sorrow or regret, but she wouldn’t have been human if a small part of her didn’t want it.
“I’m sorry you lost someone. It’s always the hardest for the bystanders.” Verene finally said, but she didn’t look as small or alarmed as she’d been thus far. She finally knew who this woman was and why she was here, and that was an advantage, something to make her strong again. “But you understand there will be no forgiveness for all you’ve done to my family. Not even in the slightest.”
“I think it’s time.” Lakhela urged in her ear. “We have to do something, I just don’t know what.”
“Likewise.” Wynn said, and pointed her weapon at the party-goers. “Everyone on their feet. Stand with Verene and her girls. Go!”
They all fearfully moved over to crowd around the group, all of whom shared looks of confusion. The roughly two dozen people surrounded them, their backs to the nearby venue Lakhela was unable to snipe from as they all watched Wynn carefully to determine what on earth she could possibly do to them next.
“You said you dropped your rifle?” Fia asked quietly as she rose to her feet, and Teonnie gave her a surprised look, then quickly tried to conceal it as she began to understand what was happening. “Can you see it?”
“No but it’s getting bare with all the trees burning, I haven’t moved as to not blow my cover.” She answered quickly. “I can get up and search if she’s not looking –”
“Alright everybody, I wasn’t sure how I was going to end things today.” Wynn announced, and Verene stared at her with a hardened glare. “How do I kill just the right amount of people in just the right way?”
She glanced up for a fraction of a second, and Verene reached over to grab Fia’s hand. Her mother may not have added everything together, but she did and pulled it away.
“Look for it now while she’s distracted.” She mumbled and bent her knees.
“She’s not distracted enough.” Lakhela worried, and Fia braced herself.
“I think this is a pretty interesting solution.” Wynn declared and hoisted up her weapon. “Let’s allow fate to decide today.”
“She’s about to be.” Fia said, and Wynn fired.
The missile shot over their heads and slammed into the building behind them with a boom and a massive amount of screaming, and Fia ran. Behind her the facade and greater part of the building collapsed with a shattering of glass as fire and smoke mingled with the dust of debris. The crowd was being crushed, burned, cut, all of them in mortal danger, but Fia had to put her concern for them out of her head. Her mother may be dead just feet behind her, but it was what lay ahead that was important.
Wynn looked delighted by her work for about five seconds before she noticed Fia sprinting her way in attempt to rush her. She only caught a moment of Wynn’s frown before she somehow cleared the edge of the fountain and slammed into the woman. The water was cold and her chest was already tight, but her focus was on shoving Wynn down, and she succeeded as she fell to her knees. Fia’s hand went to her back pocket for her throwing knife, the one she’d tried and failed to kill her with back in that car, but Wynn whipped the missile launcher and it slammed into the side of her head.
“Fia!” She heard her mother scream as she tilted and fell into the water, pained and disoriented. In a dizzy moment she tried to rise, but Wynn was on her in a moment and shoved her down just as she did her, and for a moment she sunk beneath the water. She was unbearably dizzy, but when she felt hands on her shoulders and looked up Wynn’s face was clear as day, clear as the rage in her bright blue eyes; she was holding Fia down, trying to drown her, but her hand quickly went for her back pocket and grasped her knife. With a quick slashing movement she sliced into Wynn’s arm and she pulled away.
Fia scrambled to get her head above water and looked over to the building; it was half-destroyed, a massive pile of rubble with several bodies underneath, some still but many more only half-buried or prone with an injury. She spotted Teonnie first, who’d risen to her feet and was gaping at the pair struggling, then Colette wincing and clutching her ankle, then her mother trapped under a large panel that may have been part of the ceiling. If she was hurt she didn’t show it, her expression only centered on concern.
“Honey!” She shrieked, and Fia realized she’d glanced away too long and turned back to Wynn just in time to have the knife knocked out of her hand. “No! Fia!”
She’d slashed deep enough into her arm that Wynn’s dress was already bright red and the water around them swirled with blood that dripped steadily from a massive wound. It was a mistake to look – she was already dizzy and threw up in an instant. For a delirious moment she was reminded of how badly she’d wanted to see her dead step-dad’s brains splattered everywhere, but then she was shoved again and too disoriented to think of much else.
Her head was submerged beneath the water and held there, and though she struggled and was able to get up a few times her lungs had already started taking on blood, vomit and water and didn’t have the strength others had. She vaguely registered someone screaming her name, saw Teonnie stood there frozen in fear of the water, strained for anything other than silence from Lakhela, but everything got muddled and hazy until at last there was a green blur in her quickly darkening vision.
The next thing she knew Teonnie was holding her in her arms as she coughed up cold dirty water, but she couldn’t say a word and could barely see a thing except a distant red and white figure. For a moment she came into focus, angry and bloodstained as she glowered at Fia, and then she lost sight of her. When she regained it she felt Teonnie’s hand on her cheek, heard her mother still screaming, smelled the burning forest, and watched Wynn step out of the fountain and calmly walk away. Amidst the chaos it was easy for her to saunter off because she’d gotten exactly what she wanted: the plan was destroyed not through lack of planning but Wynn’s brute, headstrong anger, and her own went so wonderfully for the same reasons. Fia felt just as she did trying to reboot that computer in Teonnie’s kitchen; young, sick, weak, humiliated. Defeated. And then she lost consciousness.