Calling it a night was one of the most depressing things Teonnie had ever endured, only beaten by waiting for a rescue chopper to take her family off their roof after Katrina, sharing a room with them when they had to live with her aunt, and watching Fia almost die in that fountain. The fundraiser was over and people were streaming out, but a stubborn part of all of them wanted to stay until the custodians had all left and the lights had been turned out. Yet even then Wynn wouldn’t have been there.
“I don’t get it. I thought we did everything right.” Colette complained on the way to the car, then halted and made a sound of exclamation. “Oh, it’s not even blown up or anything!”
“How dreadful.” Lakhela said. Fia put a hand on her shoulder.
“Maybe this isn’t the one she’s gonna get us at.” Teonnie tried to reassure them as she hopped into the passenger’s seat. “Maybe it’s too soon and she’s not ready yet, or she’s too badly injured from when Fia cut her arm half-off.”
“It could be.” Verene said thoughtfully. “Check our schedule, the next event like this we’ll do the same thing. Though I’m not sure I can take another night like this.”
“Agreed.” Colette said as she wriggled her way into the backseat and set her crutches on the floor. Fia sat in the middle, Lakhela sat directly behind Teonnie, and Verene drove off. They were all silent a minute as Teonnie looked through the agenda, but she doubted Verene would want to spend another week feeling the way they’d felt today. Even when she found something almost two weeks away she waited another minute for Verene to find a new idea.
“I have a thought.” She said after a moment and Teonnie grinned to herself. “If she’s not here it’s possible she was a step ahead of us on this, too. Which would be pure insanity and inspires an incredible urge to throw oneself off a building.”
“I get what you mean mom, but that means she’s got a plan even beyond this.” Fia put a hand on her chin. “If she were smart and patient she’d attack our businesses from a distance, draw us out so we have no choice but to strike.”
“Clever girl. But no, she’s too brash for that. She’ll do something more direct.” Verene replied. “Now we just have to figure out what that is.”
“Let’s do that after a full night’s sleep.” Lakhela said. “Clear our brains.”
Teonnie nodded and the group fell into silence. Verene drove the two of them back to their house and bade them goodnight before departing, and they had a quiet night, separate in both their rooms with not much incentive to speak. Teonnie went to bed so early she was up just as the sun was rising, and even when she took her time to get ready she’d already donned a chartreuse smock dress with green velvet sneakers when Verene called her.
“Morning boss. Orders?” She asked. The call wasn’t unexpected – she’d figured Verene would be up late thinking things through.
“I need you for something dangerous. You or Khel, but . . . well, I think you’re the better choice for this one.” She said, determination returned to her voice. It may have been because she’d finally gotten a sound plan, but from the way she said ‘dangerous’ a suddenly on-edge Teonnie wondered how much caution she was throwing into the wind. Perhaps Verene had finally reached the brink of her tolerance and was crossing into even more dangerous territory than last night’s attempt to damage their reputation and business ties.
“Whatever you need me to do.” She said, the only thing she could say.
“Go for a walk.” Verene ordered. “Make up a reason. Don’t wake Lakhela up.”
“Got it.” Teonnie said, though she understood none of it. Verene seemed more certain and sure of herself than she had in awhile, so she just had to put her faith in whatever breakthrough her boss must have had. “See you later.”
“Definitely.” Verene said, and Teonnie heard a shout in the background. “Fia says good luck.”
“Tell her I said thanks.” Teonnie said, slow and hesitant, and hung up without another word. It was strange for Fia to be awake so early, and she could only guess as to what they were planning. At any rate she had a walk to take, so she finished her makeup, put her wig over her short hair and went to the bathroom before stepping out into another hot day. Verene had told her to make an excuse but had also told her not to wake Lakhela up, so she had the feeling she was going to be stopped.
Her story would be a simple one: she was looking for cameras in case Wynn was casing them somehow, which was less plausible for her and Lakhela’s place than it was for Verene’s mansion. But she needed something to go on so she pulled out her phone as if prepared to take photos and proceeded to take the next half a block squinting at trees and inspecting bushes for microphones. It felt foolish and pointless, but whatever it was for, it was probably vital to the cause. When she peered into a neighbor’s trashcan she heard a voice.
“Cameras are a waste, you know. I can just come over and watch.” It said harshly. “I’ve got nothing else going on.”
Teonnie felt her heart stop and her eyes go wide. Slowly she lifted her head to see a figure all in white appear in front of her, a look of gleeful hatred on her face. Wynn was wearing white denim shorts and a flowy white top, and around her arm there was a sheet of gauze she must have applied to Fia’s wound. Her bright blonde hair shimmered in the sunlight and her vicious grin dazzled, though what Teonnie noticed first was the gun in her hand pointed right at her.
“That’s what you’ve been doing. Watching.” Teonnie figured. “Waiting to get one of us alone.”
Wynn nodded and Teonnie realized her plan. Verene had been right to say she would likely do something rash. Cruel and personal was just her speed, so of course here she was at Teonnie’s doorstep.
“Hopefully this’ll be a more successful kidnapping than the last.” She said. “If you could just walk with me to the car, that would be wonderful.”
She waved her gun towards a new white sedan at the end of the road, and Teonnie’s finger twitched as she fought the urge not to grab her own weapon. If Verene knew this was going to happen she was also aware of a great deal more; that Wynn wasn’t watching the house, for starters, so she wouldn’t know Verene’s whereabouts at that exact moment. That she could also make her way over and anticipate the attack with ease. That she could serve as some unanticipated back-up Wynn probably couldn’t fight spur of the moment. So Teonnie knew that help was on the way and all she had to do was stall, and already it tasted a bit like victory.
“Somehow I don’t get the vibe that you’re gonna treat me right once I’m in it.” She said cautiously. “Since you’ve got a history of being such a sweetheart.”
“What can I say? I came here with goals, Tea, I do what needs doing to meet them.” Wynn replied with her unending grin. “And if I have to ransom someone to get grandma’s cash back so be it.”
“But then you’ll return me safely, right? I won’t have the same fate as granny rich-ass?” She asked, and Wynn’s expression clouded over. “Yeah, I figured. My imminent torture-murder-whatever isn’t the greatest incentive, ya know. In fact, if I’m guaranteed a death either way there’s not much stopping me from trying to take you down right here and now.”
“There might be something.” She said, then lowered her gun slightly. Panic flared in Teonnie’s chest and she jumped out of the way just as a shot fired and a bullet sparked the asphalt where her foot had been. “Next one’s the knee, and then the torso, and I doubt you can outrun that one.”
“Alright, that’s enough of that.” Her neighbor’s door opened, and Verene stepped out, tall, proud and victorious. Behind her Colette was balancing precariously on crutches and pointing a massive shotgun right at Wynn’s head. Teonnie glanced her way to find her jaw slack, and couldn’t help but laugh. “Good morning, Wynn. I expected to find you here.”
“I – what – I don’t –” She began, and Verene walked down the porch steps, poised in a familiar mint shift dress. Behind her Teonnie spotted the bright pattern of Lakhela’s green and brown midi dress, a flash of Fia’s delighted expression, and her neighbor looking entirely perplexed before she shook her head and went upstairs until this mess was over. She glanced back to Wynn, who was clearly pissed. “Don’t take another step! I’ve still got a gun pointed at your friend.”
“Give it up, Wynn. You lost.” Verene said calmly and with great authority. Lakhela ushered out behind her, gun raised, and Fia followed with her small beretta. Colette didn’t bother with the steps as Verene gave Teonnie an apologetic look. “I’ll explain things better next time, I was running late. Someone had a hard time getting up.”
Fia shrugged sheepishly, and though she looked a bit clammy Teonnie waved them off understandingly as Fia addressed the blonde. “Come on Wynn, go out with dignity.”
“Fuck dignity.” She replied sharply and glanced Teonnie’s way. “I’m going out with a bang.”
Teonnie pounced just as Fia had two days prior, thankful Wynn had been fool enough to glimpse at her target because Colette’s shotgun would only have the time to avenge her, not save her. She slammed into Wynn and grabbed her by the arm, and though Wynn used her other hand to punch her shoulder hard she’d quickly gotten her hand around the gun. It fired once onto the asphalt before she dug her nails into Wynn’s fingers and it fell to the ground.
“Kick it!” Colette yelled, and Teonnie kicked it far out of the way. Fia rushed around them, gun still pointed, and kicked it even further, then held position so Wynn was encircled. She pushed Teonnie away from her, fury written all over her face, and Teonnie allowed it as she calmly brushed herself off.
“I wouldn’t have just killed you.” Wynn said to her, and though her voice shook with anger Teonnie could only celebrate what sounded a lot like last words to her. “I would’ve killed all of you, every last one!”
“Yeah, good going with that one.” Teonnie said, then took out a gold hoop earring. “I’ve been waiting a long time to kick your ass.”
Wynn’s expression hardened as she balled her fists. Teonnie removed the other earring and tossed them aside, the mood suddenly electric. Colette looked hungry for action, Verene proud as could be, Fia eager to watch a beating. The feeling of adrenaline was absolutely delicious and Teonnie felt herself grin near as wickedly as Wynn had been earlier, but there was still a resentful determination on Wynn’s face that made Teonnie well aware she would fight back, even now at her end. So she leaned back and motioned for Wynn to come to her. Of course she couldn’t resist.
Wynn flung herself at Teonnie, who dodged the move and grabbed at a wrist as she sailed past, but she was quick to round on her opponent and spun to land a punch on Teonnie’s jaw. Teonnie twisted the wrist she held and Wynn growled and ducked her head low. She rammed into Teonnie’s stomach and brought her down, but Teonnie refused to let go and dragged her along. On her back she kneed Wynn in the gut, who slapped her hard across the face. She kneed her again and was slapped again, so instead she tried to grab at Wynn’s free hand. Wynn snaked it around her throat with an exacting glare and Teonnie gasped for breath.
“Mom.” Fia said urgently, and for a moment Teonnie thought how odd it must have been for her to see someone else struggling to breathe. In the corner of her eye she saw Verene wave a hand and give her an expectant look, and she decided to take a page from Colette’s book. With a crooked grin, she spat into Wynn’s face.
“That’s my move! Woohoo!” Colette cheered as Wynn reeled, and Teonnie pushed her away and rose to her feet before she delivered a kick to the kneeling girl’s thigh. She groaned and leaned over, but quick as lightning she grabbed at both Teonnie’s ankles. The move was meant to pull Teonnie back off her feet and flat onto her ass, but instead she thought fast and fell purposefully right onto Wynn. There was a flash of terror in her eyes and Teonnie came crashing down on top of her so both ended up collapsed on the ground.
As Lakhela whooped in the background Wynn was quick to try and wriggle away, but Teonnie wrapped her in her arms as tight as she could and pinned her down. She reached behind her and tried to pull Teonnie’s hair, but only succeeded in removing her wig. Teonnie laughed despite herself.
“Jesus!” She shoved it against Teonnie’s face and she leaned back, blinded. It was enough for her to move up a little, and when the wig fell away she elbowed Teonnie right in the nose. There wasn’t a click so she knew it wasn’t broken, but it hurt so badly she instinctively raised a hand to cover it and Wynn broke free.
“Okay, time to shoot her.” Lakhela said as she clambered to her feet and Teonnie scrambled to her knees.
“I got this.” She assured the girls, and Wynn must have known there was no chance of running because she turned around to face Teonnie with a fire in her eyes. Her next move would likely be a kick, aimed at her chest if she were smart, but Teonnie grabbed her by the front of her shorts. For a moment she looked terribly alarmed, and Teonnie knew it would be nothing compared to what came next; she pulled Wynn forward against her shoulder and flipped her, and she shrieked as she flew threw the air and slammed onto her back hard.
“This is the part where we all sit on her and fart.” Colette said, and Fia gave her a strange look. “Listen, I went to public school – Tea!”
Wynn flipped over as fast as she could and reached for the back of Teonnie’s neck, and when she turned she did the unexpected and pinched her nose. It still hurt from her elbow and Teonnie winced and pulled up to her feet. Wynn did the same, but the motion was unsteady and she looked bone tired – her face was all red and there was the slightest sheen of sweat on her forehead. She was breathing as heavily as Teonnie was, though with blood on her knees instead of pouring from her nose, and for a moment they stared each other down.
“I’m gonna kick your ass.” Wynn said, her voice low and boiling with anger.
“You might.” Teonnie replied grimly. “But we’re going to kill you.”
Wynn moved too fast this time and hit her in the jaw, and Teonnie responded with a punch that missed the targeted eye but got her in the ear, which still pained her enough to cause Wynn’s hand to waver and the following punch to her stomach to be rather tame. Teonnie hit her again, this time in the chest, and Wynn stumbled back a half-step. When she took a step forward to repeat the move Wynn punched her in the throat, and Teonnie bent over with a croaking sound she didn’t know she could make. It was a mistake she was quick to realize when Wynn’s fist came crashing down against her skull, and she saw lights dance in her vision as she fought to stay on her feet.
“Again, the whole murder thing. Still a great suggestion.” Lakhela said, and though Teonnie wanted to agree she wasn’t done with the other woman yet. She straightened as best as she could and looked Wynn in the eye – it was akin to stumbling upon a wild animal. And then she did what wild animals did and struck out by bolting at Teonnie so quick her responding shove was completely ineffective. She got behind her in an instant and wrapped her arm around her neck so she was trapped in a headlock.
“Nobody fire! I’ve got your friend!” She yelled, and Teonnie rolled her eyes.
“You don’t even have a weapon, for God’s sake.” She said, and got a very quick, terribly disgusting idea. Before she could think too much on it she grabbed Wynn’s arm and stuck her thumb into the gauze until it grew bright red. Wynn screamed long and loud and released her grip, and Teonnie whipped around and punched her in the face once more, though she had to fight a gag as it happened. There were tears of pain in her eyes as blood dripped down her arm all over again, and Teonnie’s stomach lurched when she realized she probably broke some homemade stitches.
“Ew, okay, I’m done now.” She said, and Verene nodded. She stepped to the side as Verene pulled her revolver from behind her back and moved to face Wynn, who still looked livid. A silence fell as everyone watched, something final in the air.
“I think I’ll save the dramatic last words and just shoot you.” Verene lifted her gun calmly and Wynn paled. “Otherwise I think you’d appreciate it too much.”
A siren blared a few feet away, and they all turned to see a squad car approach with its lights on. The girls shared a look.
“Halt!” An officer called from the speaker system, but Verene kept her gun right where it was. “In the name of the law!”
“Weird.” Colette said to herself, then called out to the two officers in the car. “Hey buddy, don’t you know who we are?”
“Lower your weapons!” He yelled in response, and Teonnie caught Verene giving Wynn an odd look, one of cautious disbelief. She felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up as Wynn looked back with nothing but blind anger.
“Sir please, this’ll just take a minute.” Verene said politely, but they both hopped out of the car and drew their weapons. Fia, who’d had her back to them, took a few steps back but kept her gun up. “Come on, this is highly irregular.”
Irregular was a polite word. Off is what Teonnie would’ve said and certainly what she was thinking. Another siren blasted in the distance and they saw a second squad car approaching down the street. Though Verene was keeping composure everyone else shared a nervous look, all seemingly realizing the same awful fact at once; her money was no longer keeping them safe.
“Mom, we need to run.” Fia mumbled. “There’s too many to fight and more on the way.”
“No talking! Drop your weapons now or we will fire!” He shouted again. The two officers in the other car got out and raised their guns as well. Verene glanced at Wynn, who looked smug, and Teonnie saw her hand shake for a split second.
“We can’t kill her here, we’ll be slaughtered.” Lakhela urged. “Let’s fight back.”
“You still have yesterday’s firepower?” Verene asked quietly and ignored the yell of an officer. “Do it then. Now.”
A great deal of things happened at once, but what Teonnie saw first was a rapid movement from Lakhela and a grenade soar through the air. Then she spotted Verene rush Wynn in hopes she’d be distracted, but there was no such luck there and she was prepared to keep fighting just as she’d been doing. Teonnie ran at the pair a split second after Fia did and both tackled their target at the same time. As they all fell over she was vaguely aware of more sirens – much, much more – and the bang of a grenade in the distance. Wynn was grappling with Verene for the gun as Fia tried to wrench her arms away, and from the corner of her eye Teonnie saw the plume of black smoke and a scattering of officers, all unharmed.
“We gotta go!” Colette yelled and fired her shotgun. An officer shouted so the girls were at least putting a dent in but they didn’t have cover and were in a desperate situation – it just wasn’t enough. Verene’s gun clattered to the ground as she grabbed Wynn by the hair and began to pull her to her feet. Teonnie quickly saw what her play was, took Wynn’s arm and ignored her myriad of threats and swearing.
“Let’s go!” Verene shouted and pulled Wynn in the direction of the neighbor’s door. Wynn dragged her feet but when Teonnie pulled with her boss there was no real resistance. “Fia, behind me!”
“You need cover fire!” She shouted as she began to shoot down officers. Colette awkwardly moved backwards into the doorway and fired over her shoulder as Lakhela too backed up. Wynn was fighting their grip with a menacing look, so fierce Teonnie thought she’d get loose.
“Here!” Lakhela threw something and Teonnie nearly laughed when she caught it – a pair of handcuffs from one of her hidden pockets, but of course. Wynn’s wrist was so slick with blood she almost escaped Teonnie’s grasp, but she managed to get both restraints around her wrists and suddenly it became far easier to drag her to the back door as gunfire continued to sound in the distance.
They edged back into the house with Fia, Colette and Lakhela still in the doorway shooting; the moment they slammed that door shut they would have to run to the car, Teonnie knew it. She looked up to Verene, still struggling with their captive, and over to the trio, who were trying to ease back as best they could; Fia was trying to take out everyone she could from beneath Lakhela’s arm, but after a moment her gun clicked and that was their cue to leave.
“Run!” Verene shouted to them, and in a heartbeat Lakhela shoved Fia back and slammed the door closed. They all bolted at once; Teonnie and Verene with Wynn between their arms, kicking and screaming the whole way, Fia running and puffing with rattling breaths, Lakhela encouraging Colette at the back of the line, hampered by crutches. It was cramped and chaotic but thankfully when they burst out through the back door there were no police, just a yard without a fence that had a direct eye-line to the Mercedes. It felt like it only took a moment to cross through that yard and the next and throw themselves into the car.
“What now?” Colette asked breathlessly as Lakhela turned the key with shaking hands. Everyone looked to Verene as they sped away, to Wynn as she kicked at their shins, to Fia doubled over coughing. And Teonnie realized she didn’t have an answer.