The very end.
Every hallway was cold and bare. Every room was the same cheap linoleum floors, the same thick stone walls, the same light gray that made everything feel dingy. When they walked down those halls they held hands, when they ate at gray tables they huddled together, when they returned to their cell and rested on thin gray sheets they stared helplessly at the ceiling for too long before they slept. Prison felt unending, and though in their case it actually was there was something supernatural about the way it muddled everything together and became their whole reality, like there was nothing outside those thick gray walls.
Maybe they weren’t getting used to it, but at least they were adapting to it. At first eyes and whispers followed them endlessly, and everyone tried to talk to them for either gossip or a ruse of friendship. The pair kept to themselves – the third didn’t. Time passed and they were ignored more and more and felt perfectly fine with that. It wasn’t completely solitary, but they had each other and that alone. So about a year after they first entered prison when the sly glances resumed and whispers floated around them for days Sorrel was nothing but suspicious.
She knew what she was there for, who put her there. What she couldn’t understand was what new development had occurred that was bringing attention back to her and her wife. Was there a development in their case she didn’t know of? Was Neve, wherever she was, making some kind of trouble? She imagined that maybe Riley had done something wicked (as she had once been so wont to do) but still couldn’t believe she’d go out of her way to hurt the pair.
“Something must have happened.” She muttered to Mica one afternoon in their shared cell – a small grace for the eternity they’d share in that building. They both had a top bunk across each other and sat cross-legged on them now. Their two cellmates were thankfully elsewhere so Sorrel spoke freely. “I’ve got a bad feeling that Riley did something.”
“Could be.” Mica agreed solemnly, her expression drawn. “But she’s made no attempt to hurt either of us yet.”
That was true. She stuck to them like glue throughout the court procedures, a silent presence that gave no comfort but rarely caused upset. They were furious with her of course, but it was hard to keep up when she was only serving the penance she’d decided she deserved. For awhile she was only going through the motions, until eventually she’d quietly made a companion or two and became a quiet presence to them. The couple didn’t talk to her much: there wasn’t really anything to say. She still killed Celeste.
“Accidents happen.” Sorrel said, but let out a heavy sigh. There wasn’t much Riley could really do. “Maybe something happened outside.”
“I never thought Aidy could survive prison.” Mica said, and Sorrel nodded. Last they’d heard of the girl she was somewhere in England, healed and arrested for life. Sorrel doubted she’d learned any guilt since that terrible day. “Or maybe something happened to Neve.”
“Well we haven’t seen her in here. If she’s on her way . . . Jesus, I hope not.” Sorrel didn’t know what she would do if Neve got herself locked up with them. Mica hated her more than she did, but she still betrayed them, even if it wasn’t planned out like their other traitor had done. What was certain was that no reconciliation could be had, but anything else was in the wind. Sorrel’s skin crawled as she came to a conclusion. “We need to talk to Riley.”
“Uh, no thanks.” Mica replied curtly. Sorrel supposed she would be so bitter too if she had been around for all the drama in the quarry instead of getting her ass immediately handed to her at the lake.
“If that’s what’s happening we need to know about it. We need to make some decisions, prepare ourselves.” She urged, and saw Mica reluctantly swayed. “I can’t even imagine what we’d do. We need some foresight from whoever can offer it.”
“I guess. If it’s not her it’s still gotta be something big, right?” Mica asked, then shifted uncomfortably. “Not that this needs to be an all-hands-on-deck situation.”
“No, I agree. Riley’s on her own, we have no responsibility to protect her anymore.” Sorrel said, and Mica looked grateful they were on the same page. “But we’re in agreement, right? We have to talk to her, see what she knows.”
“Okay. Let’s just make sure we’re together for safety’s sake. She may not be as unpredictable as she used to be but she’s still Riley Reaver.” Mica said, and Sorrel fought a sudden shiver. It was funny how dangerous their old friend seemed now that they were no longer on speaking terms. But she held no animosity towards the couple and Sorrel couldn’t help but feel they were somehow still on the same side.
When it came time for dinner they went to the cafeteria together and were served a typical meal, a salad that was just threatening to brown and some sludge that claimed to be chicken and dumplings. When they walked to an empty table in the corner Sorrel glanced over to Riley’s typical spot to find there were more women with her than usual, the one or two now being five or six. She looked Mica’s way and found they were clearly thinking the same thing – the odds would be stacked against them should any sort of fight occur. Not that she thought one would, but the risk wasn’t worth chancing then. As they made their way across the room she looked to Riley a moment longer and was taken aback to find her return it with a knowing expression. There were definitely answers to be had, then, she could guess that much.
She led Mica away to their own table and ate in relative silence, though she first assured her wife that they’d be speaking with Riley soon. After dinner most went to the rec center to watch their weekly movie, but they went back to their cell, luckily empty once again, and only waited. Mica seemed tense, so Sorrel sat with her on her bunk and rubbed her shoulders as she beat back her own apprehensions. She hadn’t spoken to Riley for almost a year, and after she’d learned of Celeste’s death and the way Riley almost took Mica hostage their words were rather sparse. Yet on some level she still had the urge to call her a friend.
“Hey.” Riley appeared in the doorway, and Sorrel wordlessly motioned for her to come in. She looked mostly the same, still with her blonde hair tied up high in a ponytail but now donned in an orange jumpsuit instead of her usual black. She wore the same restrained look she’d had on a year, the same exhaustion. It was her atonement for Celeste’s death, one she’d given herself – Sorrel was glad to still see it. She deserved that misery.
“What’s going on?” Mica asked, straight to the point as usual. Sorrel felt an automatic fond grin as she wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “The other inmates have been staring at us for like, three days.”
“Well we are the hot goss.” Riley said with a raised brow. The pair only stared at her blankly, and after a moment she looked genuinely surprised. “Wait, you guys actually don’t know?”
“We’re not making as many friends as you are.” Sorrel said, a bit snide. Her nature seemed to be kinder to Riley than her gut instinct. Riley only looked resigned, as though she felt she earned that derision – Sorrel wasn’t quite sure she could agree.
“Okay. Sorry, I would’ve come to you right away if I knew this was upsetting you guys.” She said, half an olive branch, but Mica’s stare continued to bore right through her.
“Just talk. What happened? Is it Neve or what?” She asked, and Riley’s expression darkened at the other woman’s name.
“No. I don’t know where she is or what she’s doing.” She said bitterly, and Sorrel let out a breath of relief. Her being entirely AWOL was the best case scenario – when Sorrel lay sleeplessly on her cot on particularly long nights she often wondered where Neve was, if she had turned civilian, even if she still lived. But ultimately she didn’t want to know, not really. She didn’t think her heart could take it.
“Is it Aidy?” Mica pressed, and Riley’s look grew even darker, as did their own.
“No, she’s still in jail, still not guilty over any of it.” She practically spat, and Sorrel felt nauseous at the thought. “It’s the McAfee family.”
“What? What do we have to do with them?” Sorrel asked in surprise, then wracked her brain quickly. “We used the airstrip they used to own in the Commodus plan –”
“Not for its intended purpose. You landed there and I cleared out the cops prior to your arrival.” Mica cut in, and Sorrel recalled it easily. Aidy was supposed to be with her, but she’d accidentally shot her and left her for dead, something she still felt bad about after everything.
“Apparently they found granny McAfee’s remains in the quarry.” Riley said, and Sorrel felt herself go slack-jawed. “Yeah. The gun I threw dislodged some rocks or something and the cops found her when they combed the whole place for evidence after the arrests.”
“You’re saying That McAfee was down there? The one who embezzled billions and managed to run off with it?” Mica asked, and Riley raised a brow. “Ah. Not really, then.”
It was a set-up, Sorrel realized. Someone framed her and besmirched her family name for years, then took off with all that money themselves. Maybe it wasn’t the right time to be impressed, but she couldn’t resist a little curiosity for a phenomenal crime that happened right under the city’s nose.
“No, not really. But our lovely police force seems to have taken a bribe to prevent that from going to the press.” Riley said sternly. “Because her granddaughter tried a shot at revenge. It took Wynn McAfee almost a year, but now it’s known knowledge in the criminal community so everyone’s giving us unnecessary attention.”
“Just because the body was found where you guys got taken down.” Sorrel spoke thoughtfully, then felt some of the tension in her shoulders begin to ebb away. It wasn’t anyone in her gang. She and her wife were perfectly safe. “So we’ll be fine.”
“Eh.” Riley wiggled her hand in an uncertain motion and the tension slammed right back to her. “Let’s hope so. The McAfee fortune was stolen by Verene Beaumarchais.”
“Oh no.” Mica jumped off the cot so quickly Sorrel thought she was going to start throwing punches, but she only paced around the small room. “Oh no. She’s one of the three most powerful criminals in the country.”
“Uh, surely she knows it was just a coincidence, right?” Sorrel asked uneasily, but tried to remain calm and in control. “She dumped a body in a common spot, our team got taken down there like a decade later. It happens.”
“What was she even doing here?” Mica asked in alarm. “New Orleans is her territory.”
“She came here after Katrina.” Riley answered. Sorrel remembered a time when Mica would have hated a genuine response, or any conversation with her for that matter. Now a year had passed and she was tolerating one of necessity – it was actually more advancement than she ever thought that relationship would get. “I’m betting she was looking for the hustle that pre-Feb Vegas had to offer, and boy did she find it.”
They all went silent at that. Sorrel missed her boss fiercely and thought of her nightly. She was in her prime when all this happened, shot down by some stranger, a civilian and a hick to boot. Part of her thought Feb deserved better, part of her was just relieved she never learned about Aidy, never had to be caged in prison with people who were nowhere near worthy of her.
“February was never concerned with the national network of criminals. Not in New Orleans or anywhere else.” Sorrel said thoughtfully, and her wife stopped pacing to look at her. “We shouldn’t be either.”
“You don’t have to be. You can follow in her footsteps like always.” Riley said, and something in her voice made Mica grow cross. She turned and gave her a defiant look, and Riley raised her hands and stepped back. “It’s not a bad thing. That’s what you were always meant to do.”
“Well she can’t now, can she?” Mica said, and motioned to the prison around them. Riley only gave her a soft, sad little look. Sorrel could see her wife was angry, but she wasn’t in the mood to fight. Riley sapped that away with all her forlornness.
“Regardless.” She spoke over them, and Mica easily turned her way. “I think Verene’s too smart to come after us. She definitely could reach us in here, but I doubt she will. No one has anything to worry about.”
“It’s just gossip because we happened to be there.” Mica finished, and Sorrel nodded. “The cops probably found a ton more less important stuff down there. That was a hot spot.”
“Murder weapons galore, likely.” Riley said, then seemed to realize her task was done here. She shuffled back a little towards the door and Sorrel thought her restrained expression was glum for a moment. “I’ll leave you two to yourselves.”
“Thank you for speaking with us.” Sorrel replied quickly before she could run off. She deserved that at least, and she didn’t know when they’d speak with her again – if it was the next time they had a need, it could’ve been never. Riley stopped and stared at both of them a moment, her expression vague as it had always been of late, but with something important to it.
“You know I love you, right?” She asked meekly, though Sorrel sensed the urgency in it. She wanted them to know, but of course they already did. Hadn’t five years of their life been about trusting her regardless of all her calamity, because they knew she held so much love and respect for them all? It had been until one fateful day where they were all under too much pressure and made all the wrong choices.
“Like you loved Cele–” Mica began in her usual angry tone, and Sorrel knew she’d been on the same line of thought as her wife. But she paused, sighed, and slumped her tense shoulders in clear exhaustion. She could get so furious about the past that Sorrel knew it was draining. “Just go. Just leave us be, Ry. You’ve done a great job of it so far, all buddy buddy with your new friends.”
Riley raised her brows incredulously, and Sorrel slid gently off the bunk to stand beside her wife – she didn’t understand what Riley was thinking, but she sensed an argument.
“That’s what you think of me? That I’m happy now, I’m moving past this?” She asked, actually a bit offended. Mica’s expression stayed hard. “It’s called networking. I’m building connections in here that’ll lead to connections out there. People who can actually affect the world.”
“What are you talking about? What are you trying to affect out there?” Sorrel asked as she and her wife traded a look of curiosity. Riley’s expression grew distant and ominous, and then she said something Sorrel would never forget.
“I’m going to find her. I’m going to find Neve Harmony.” She clenched her fists as Sorrel’s jaw dropped once more. Mica’s eyes went wide in clear debate of how she should’ve been feeling about that. “I won’t have her killed, but she will never forget what she did to us. Mark my words: she will never move past us.”