“Perfect.” Mirabelle clasped her hands together loftily. “Things are coming together so smoothly. We should be ready in a few days.”
That would make it a week and a half since the challenge was proposed, a week and a half since she saw Candy. They’d pushed up the date due to the deciding factors that came with skulking around Port Miami: like the fact that they had to steal a huge ship, not a small one, and that they were going to land on top of it via helicopter. The surveillance had sucked – everyone else enjoyed the planning, the thinking, the elbow grease that came with hard work, and she enjoyed it too, but not so much with that unfortunate undercurrent of lovesickness. She missed her girlfriend even when just the thought of the word made her giddy, and though she was an expert at playing it cool she was anxious for this whole caper to be over with so the two could be together.
There were at least some positives – the weird messiness of the group dynamic was being ignored in favor of oiling guns, inspecting blueprints, and trying on showgirl costumes before rejecting the idea as poor form.
They were all meshing like they used to, a lovely little renaissance after all their arguing. Drew could even convince Inez to smile every now and then if she elbowed her at just the right moment, and she was getting stronger by the day, despite not being able to really move her left shoulder yet. Shay was tentatively slipping in the smallest mentions of Candy and her team, to generally positive effect (“Well the bomb was successfully dismantled with zero fingers lost, and your email was very much appreciated Inez” won almost as many laughs as “I’m not giving her more than twenty three. Did you see that thing? In Mira’s day they’d call it a jalopy.”) so she hoped that once Solana and Elvira left town Candy would feel free to work a job or two with them instead of flying solo. They hadn’t worked out the logistics of that yet – they hadn’t worked out much of anything, actually, because Candy somehow thought she and her girls had a shot. Shay only gave the nicest responses she could to texts like that and didn’t send much else. They were too busy planning heists to communicate much, and she needed to focus anyway.
Focusing, by the way, was all Mirabelle was doing. Focusing to a manic degree on who was doing what and going where and steering this and sailing that all while ringing her hands and knocking back espressos. She was competitive by nature and now she had a challenge with her greatest enemies to really amp that up, which had turned her life into a nightmare in heaven, all work and stress that she couldn’t get enough of. Shay was fairly certain she’d gotten four hours of sleep in the last three days, but hey, she was at least enjoying those ‘Fly A Helicopter For Dummies’ videos Inez kept pulling up.
“This might actually work.” Drew said, and Inez signed something that was no doubt full of snark and completely missed as Shay looked to her phone yet again. She’d texted a little heart two whole hours ago to no response, and seeing nothing now only caused her to sink further into Mirabelle’s rigid, uncomfortable couch. “I mean it, even with this massive-ass target. The Commodus!”
“Not to be confused with Commodus Cruise Lines.” Mirabelle called over. She was hovering over Inez’ shoulder at the kitchen table, inspecting whatever video she was playing with great and exhausted interest. “Remember those ships? They went bankrupt back in the day, remember?”
I’m twenty two, Inez signed, though Shay did actually remember. Her father the money man worked for them before he moved on to a different cruise line, then bounced around hotels. That was how the family kept up her middle class childhood until the recession knocked them down a peg. But no, this wasn’t that Commodus, it was The Commodus, hotel and casino on water, child of The Commodus in Las Vegas. Symbolically it felt like a bad move, but when Inez checked departure schedules she saw this was the dock closest to the open water, and when Mirabelle saw that it was the biggest ship in the harbor of course her eyes lit up. The challenge of it all, a sparkling gold palace on the sea! Never mind what befell the last gang that hit a Commodus, not when there were goals to be met and enemies to cross.
“Security is still a concern to me.” Shay said idly, though she was silently more concerned about the radio silence coming from Agent What’s-Her-Face. It was clear she’d noticed that they weren’t moving anything, hadn’t taken a job in too long to just be worry for Drew. But any consequences would be negated in Mirabelle’s mind by the squashing of her foes, so she ignored the woman and Shay did the same.
“I agree, we have a lot to go over.” Mirabelle said. “And the helicopter. Are we sure I should fly this? You kids are the ones familiar with the video games.”
“Ah yes, The Video Games.” Drew grinned. “I’m the gunslinger here, I need to jump out to tackle security. Shay’s helping me because Inez can’t aim for shit. From there it’s a coin toss.”
It is not, Inez signed, I don’t want to be the one that kills all of us. Captain of the ship, captain of the helicopter.
The sign for helicopter was apparently a miming of the spinning rotor blade, which Drew giggled at. Mirabelle bravely accepted her captain’s role with a brisk nod.
“Fair enough. At any rate, I’m excited! We’re putting on one hell of an operation – the scale of this is enough to make quite a few gangs ripe with envy.” Mirabelle looked like an evil gym coach in all her fiery perseverance. She clenched her fist and gazed into the distance like she could already see her trophy. “Mark my words girls, we’re going all the way to the top. And on our way we’re grinding those meddling kids into the dust.”
“Does she always talk like this, or have I come at a bad time?”
Shay leapt off the couch. Her phone smacked to the ground in a way that screamed pulverized, but she was a little distracted by the fact that Candy was standing very fake-casually on Mirabelle’s balcony. She had a cast on her leg and she looked out of breath, but other than that she seemed fine. That and the fact that suddenly she had three guns trained on her.
“Guys.” Shay said, and went over to Candy, past Drew turned in her chair, in the way of Inez and Mirabelle’s pistols. At this Inez was the only one to lower her weapon, but Shay was more focused on her girlfriend standing in her boss’ living room. And trying to control her swooning, because it had been a few days and Candy, all dark and sharp as usual, looked damn good. She took in the pink tank top and denim shorts and had to practically wipe away drool before asking “Honey, what are you doing here?”
“I missed you.” Candy replied, sheepish for maybe the first time in her life. Shay melted like ice cream. “Texting’s not enough, y’know?”
“I know. But also this was a terrible idea.” She turned to find two guns still trained on her girlfriend, and quickly side-stepped to get in front of her. Mirabelle’s pistol dropped like a weight, and though Drew kept hers up it was with a clear look of caution.
“How the hell did you find where I live?” Mirabelle asked, visibly shaken. Candy didn’t seem too sympathetic.
“Not so fun, is it?” Mirabelle scowled. “I drove around rich neighborhoods looking for a busted up, neon yellow Maserati. ‘Twas not that difficult.”
“Well it certainly wasn’t Yelp stalking levels of effort.” Drew muttered, and Inez beamed.
“But you knew my apartment.” Mirabelle said, and peered behind Candy. Shay did the same – there was a grappling hook hung over the railing. “You scaled the building?”
“Babe! That is so dangerous!” Shay said. Drew cleared her throat. “On one leg?”
Drew cleared her throat even louder. Candy made the clear decision not to question it. “I mean, of course Mirabelle Bravo has the top floor apartment. That was not a crazy assumption. The interior isn’t too much of a shock either.”
She looked around the expanses of white with some interest as a vein in Mirabelle’s neck swelled. Shay gave her a little tap on the arm. “I mean, I didn’t scale the building. I broke into the apartment below you and climbed up from their balcony. It would be way too much work getting up here otherwise.”
Not so impressive then, Inez signed. Candy brought her hand to her chin and pulled down to present an open palm: thank you. Inez looked frazzled before responding: I don’t think you actually know sign language.
You’re not that cute.
“Candy.” Shay admonished as gently as she could, because she could see the very protective Drew getting furious. There was a difference between the little kids who ran up to Inez to perform ‘He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands’ and the adults who knew a few words and used Inez as a novelty or sounding board.
“I really am working on it.” Candy said, then pointed to herself. She followed that up with a shape like a diagonal L beneath her chin: I’m a lesbian.
“We knew that.” Drew said, her tone short, and Shay gave her a sharp look. Okay, this was unraveling a little bit, she had to keep this together.
“So you broke into my apartment because you missed your girlfriend. Or – or! – because you wanted to spy on our plans and sabotage our heist.” Mirabelle screeched. Shay raised her hands and Mirabelle cut her off. “No. This girl is using you! She wants her team to win!”
“My team doesn’t need to spy on your shit to win!” Candy said, heated. “And how goddamn dare you say I’m using Shay!”
“You can’t truly compete with us! You’re resorting to cheating!” Mirabelle raised her gun and Shay saw the bags beneath her eyes more sharply than she had before. She was strung-out and tired, getting too erratic. And she was always so brash that Shay worried she would do something she could regret. She pushed Candy further behind her and grabbed her hand in hopes the small motion would say ‘holy shit, you need to chill out.’
“It’s okay. Everyone’s okay.” She assured her boss, but even as she said it Drew sidled out of her chair and into a standing position, practically at point-blank range. “Listen, we can all agree tensions are high right now–”
“Because her team has been disrupting our business for half a year.” Drew said, and Shay paused. She’d expected this from Mirabelle, not her best friend. “And now one of them is just into you out of nowhere?”
“Very convenient that now we have to go through this all-or-nothing situation to be rid of them.” Mirabelle continued, and raised her gun again. “And very convenient that the plans for this are laid out on my kitchen table eight feet away from this girl.”
I invented the challenge, Inez signed with a reserved expression, though Shay was the only one who looked her way.
“I just missed my girlfriend.” Candy said behind her, her tone clipped. She was tough as hell and Shay was proud of that, but maybe she didn’t realize how severe the situation was. “I’ve been – I dunno, lovesick, I guess.”
She’s getting soft, Inez signed, and Shay gave her a critical look. She was getting wonderfully lovey-dovey, maybe more thoughtful of her surroundings, but the word soft wasn’t quite right. It didn’t show all the adoration she had for someone thinking about where she stood in the world, what she was learning about right and wrong.
“Okay, fine, you really love Shay. Or at the very least she’s thoroughly enamored with you.” Mirabelle said as Shay fought a blush. “You really think you should be on my turf right now?”
“Can you please use a word that’s not a letter from turd, for the love of shit?” Candy snapped back. Drew didn’t even snort. “I’m realizing the stupidity of this right now, okay? That doesn’t mean you have to flip out. Hide your freaking plans that I don’t care about if you’re so mad about it.”
“Don’t tell me not to flip out! You’re on my turf–”
“Dating my kid, still being our enemy! I have every right not to trust you!” Mirabelle shouted, and Shay couldn’t disagree with that even if she was blushing even harder at being called Mira’s kid. Lord knew she hadn’t seen her own mother since her first arrest. Behind her, Candy fidgeted like she knew that was fair.
“Then let’s leave.” She said quietly. “You’ve had her cooped up for a week working on this stuff, let’s go out and catch a movie and give your girl a well earned break.”
“I don’t think so.” Drew said, and when Shay looked her way she couldn’t work out the expression on her face. So protective as always, and angry, and maybe a little scared. And something else that might have been guilt. She looked directly into Shay’s eyes – mirrored eyes, like sisters, and dropped her voice. “We don’t even know how safe you are.”
She won’t hurt her in public, Inez signed, her hands slow and expression hesitant. Candy clenched Shay’s hand.
“She’s perfectly safe with me, thank you.” She shot back in the most deadly tone Shay had ever heard from her. “Unlike the people who are pointing a bunch of fucking guns at her.”
“I’m pointing my gun at you. Because you’re a threat to us.” Drew said evenly. “Because challenge or not, you’re the enemy and you always will be.”
That’s not what we agreed to, Inez signed with a little more urgency now. We accepted the whole dating nonsense, remember?
“Drop your fucking gun.” Candy warned, and Shay squeezed her hand to hopefully convey ‘seriously! Chill! Please chill!’
“And now you’re threatening us.” Mirabelle said. “Shay, you tell this girl to leave before we make her leave.”
She paused – she had sorely missed Candy too, but she wasn’t about to keep her in any more danger. She ought to tell her to go and hope it came across as safety concerns more than cowing down to her boss. When she turned to Candy the fury in her expression was more than clear, but softened at Shay. There was already disappointment in her eyes, so Shay knew her face told her next words for her.
“This was a bad idea. You should go.” Shay said, and Candy looked down at her feet. “We’ll work on things with them after.”
“After I kick them out of the city? How?” Candy asked bitterly. There was a noise behind them – Shay turned to see Inez holding Mirabelle back.
“We’re going to obliterate you!” She yelled, her face deeply pink. “We’re going to throw your weirdo friends out of here like it’s nothing!”
“You keep telling yourself that.” Candy snapped. “God, I’ll be glad when you’re gone. I keep trying to like you high-strung lunatics and you keep trying to kill me!”
“Candy.” Shay said again, though all of that was true save for them being high-strung. Candy’s crew was just too relaxed, was all. If they ended up staying – and of course they never would because Mirabelle had it in the bag – Shay would have to whip them into shape. “It’s time to go, sweetheart.”
“Fine. Fine. You enjoy the upscale looney bin.” Candy said, but didn’t look her in the eyes. “This freaking lock up you’re in. You and your one-armed sister, your holier-than-thou bestie, your boss who’s so competitive to hide what a loser, Miami rat she really is–”
A shot rang out. Shay noticed the hole in the drywall before she felt the pinprick on her ear. Candy paled and ran to the kitchen, fumbled with the paper towels and ran back to catch a bead of blood Shay felt running down her neck. No guns followed her. Shay turned away and Candy scrambled to keep staunching it as she looked to Drew, who already reeked with regret, her gun still up. Mirabelle was gaping – Inez looked an inch from a panic attack.
“Did you just try to kill my girlfriend?” Shay asked quietly. She couldn’t give a shit that she was hurt, she could tell it was just a graze by the room’s lack of hysterical screaming. “Right in front of me?”
Drew nodded slowly, and despite all that remorse didn’t look like she was about to apologize. She kept her gun up as Mirabelle set her own on the counter, and Candy patted the paper towels against Shay’s ear with a stream of swears running under her breath.
“I’m sorry.” She kept patting her ear – Shay pulled the paper towels away to inspect the damage and found that it was less than a thimble full of blood. From Candy’s desperate, guilty expression it could’ve been a gallon. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I was mad, I’m sorry.”
She looked between Shay and Drew, who hadn’t moved an inch.
“Don’t apologize to me.” She said, her voice strangled. “I just shot your girlfriend.”
“I’m just – it was my fault, I’m sorry.” Candy said, and her voice hitched. Shay moved to hug her, but she stepped back and kept her eyes on the ceiling as they went red and filled with tears.
“I shot her.” Drew insisted, then looked directly to Shay. “You should fight back. Go ahead, take your gun out.”
“If you think I’m going to retaliate you really are insane.” Shay said, and she couldn’t identify the emotion in her own voice. Of course she couldn’t fight her, she couldn’t have fought any of them. A dozen rounds could have gone into Candy and she could only just stand there, which scared the absolute crap out of her. How was this ever going to work if they kept acting like this?
“How about you, sugar bear? Pull out your gun.” Drew urged, and Candy let out a frankly embarrassing sniffle and turned away from them to wipe her cheek.
“You’re stressed.” Mirabelle suddenly offered, speaking to her back. “We’re all stressed. Why don’t – why don’t we all go out for drinks?”
It was a peace offer come far too late. Candy didn’t turn around, so Shay took the step over to her and half forced her into a hug she wasn’t returning.
“I’m allowed to comfort you despite getting shot in the head, y’know.” She said, and Candy sniffled again. “It’s okay. I don’t blame you.”
“That’s the best thing you’ve ever said.” She whispered into Shay’s ear. She rubbed her back reassuringly. “But I’m still the worst.”
“You’re not the worst. It’s just the situation.” She promised. “You need to go home and relax, okay? You’re way off your game. How could you steal a boat in this condition?”
“Don’t underestimate me.” She grumbled, and Shay pulled back to give her the brightest smile she could drum up. Candy looked terrible – everyone looked terrible, actually, probably including herself. But one way or another, this would all soon be over, and they would be together as long as both gangs abided by the terms. Shay just had to wait for Mirabelle to win and hope they wouldn’t shatter otherwise.
“Seriously. I want you to go home and rest, even though I would have loved a movie date.” Shay said quietly. The rest of the room was still staring at them, though she didn’t know if shock or wariness kept their eyes in their direction. “Not because they’re mad at you, not because you’re not wanted here, because I want you well and being your best self. Okay?”
“Okay.” Candy said, maybe hopefully slightly cheered by that, and Shay grabbed her by the collar and pulled her into a kiss. For a moment she mentally challenged anyone in the room to say a word, but then she just melted into something she’d sorely missed. Candy grabbed her around the waist and for one second, they were alone and perfect together and goddamn if that wasn’t the best feeling in the world. Then she heard the smallest of sounds and practically leapt away, but it was just Drew finally lowering her gun, her face shining with shame. Candy gave her another little peck, but seemed to understand it was time to go.
She retreated to the balcony, picked up the grappling hook, and began to coil its rope: it took awhile, considering Shay had thrown it up to the fifth floor of that hospital. She looked around to see Drew staring into the distance blankly while Inez did it with a deeply disconcerted look. Mirabelle looked her right in the eye when she glanced her way, sorrowful and maybe apologetic beneath her residual anger. When Candy finished with the rope she gave her another little peck on the lips and seemed to restrain herself from doing more, a mutual feeling.
“I’ll put this back in the car.” Candy said vaguely in Drew’s direction. Everyone politely ignored the fact that she’d stolen their junk from the backseat.
“Thanks.” Drew said, also not looking at her, and without meeting eyes with anyone Candy hobbled across the room on a cast she really shouldn’t have been standing on and left with not so much as a slam of the door. For a moment, everyone was silent.
I’m still concerned about security, Inez finally signed. I think we should check the news for any past incidents.
“I agree.” Shay said, her voice strained. “Maybe I’ll text some people we’ve worked with.”
“That’s a good idea.” Mirabelle said, her voice also shunted. “Just not enough to tip them off to anything specific. And Drew, I still need you to hone my straightedge.”
“I’ll give you my hawkbill if you’re going to be cutting rope with it.” Drew replied distantly, and with that they all fell back into their work, not quite looking at each other, not really speaking to one another, but at the very least functioning. At this point, that was all Shay could ask for.