As it turned out, a week and a half flew by when you were under immense pressure, stressed out of your mind, and intensely sleep deprived. Mirabelle had a very fuzzy recollection of most of it, save for one small shooting in her living room, but somehow had formulated their plan and prepared to execute it. On the last evening before the big day, the day of the cruise ship heist, they sat down to yet another tense meal, their table littered with papers and laptops. The group had been working through their tensions, and by working through she meant overlooking and ignoring all their problems while passing each other the empanadas.
“So Shay and I will pick up the helicopter EARLY early tomorrow morning.” Mirabelle said as she scanned her notes. “You two will have the supplies and eyes on security when we pick you up.”
“And again, you’re so very welcome that I volunteered to do the three a.m. dirty work so you two could sleep in.” Shay said, and Drew looked down at her plate.
It had to be you, Inez signed before Shay could glance her way and think too much of it. No one else would be functional so early.
“Very true.” Shay admitted, and Mirabelle was wise enough not to breathe a sigh of relief.
She barely slept, which was not unusual (especially of late) though the reason was. It was pitch black when it was time for her to get up, change into black leggings, a black top, and a black ski mask that she rolled up like a beanie. By the time she’d finished making two cups of coffee with her insanely expensive coffee machine and filled them with milk, sugar, and a single pill Shay had risen from the guest bedroom (where she’d curled up by Drew’s entirely unconscious side) and joined her in matching attire.
“Thanks.” She murmured as she took the proffered cup and had a little sip. “Just the way I like it.”
“And somehow I know you’ll only drink half.” Mirabelle said, and hoped her smile was more fond than strained. When Shay just commented on her small bladder and the unlikeliness of a helicopter restroom Mirabelle nodded distantly and the pair took off.
They needed a black car to stay stealthy, and the blocky SUV Mirabelle had gotten her hands on looked like a modern day grim in the spot next to the beaten up Maserati that would be joining them later. She and Shay climbed in, likely both thinking of Drew’s past words when Mirabelle brought it home the day before (“Geez boss, did you get the actual make and model Feb Cheng died in or what?”) but Shay only made a pleasant comment about the lack of wind and Mirabelle agreed it would likely be best for her very first time flying. If either Drew or Inez were on this mission with her they’d be snarling through snores, but of course Shay was polite and mild-mannered as she downed her coffee and made small talk that got smaller and more distant as the ride went on.
“Oh my god, I’m so tired.” She yawned through her words and compelled Mirabelle to yawn too.
“Don’t pee in the helicopter, please.” She answered as Shay kept drinking her coffee, and ten minutes later she was slumped in her chair. Mirabelle pulled over a minute, cuffed her, tossed the gun and two knives she was carrying into the backseat, and kept driving like it was nothing: she didn’t want the enormity of drugging and kidnapping one of her own gang members to fully sink in.
The idea had begun as a dark little line of thought that morphed into a wriggling, nagging worm the day Shay was shot. When she’d gone home that evening Inez had clearly sensed a need not to hitch a ride, and with just the three of them alone at the kitchen table Mirabelle introduced a new facet of the plan to them, one Shay would only unwittingly be a part of. Remove her from the heist all together and go back for her after they’d steal the ship, come back, and announce the banishment to a gang that would surely see it on the news anyway. If the girls held up their end of the bargain and left without a fight, hell, they could even deliver Candy right to Shay’s open and awaiting arms. And if things got dicey, well, sorry Shay, at least you have the team, right?
She kept driving, though not to the private aircraft hangar she’d be robbing by herself later in the day. It was a long drive had in silence, so long that even after three quarters of an hour had passed and the city was just barely behind her she still had quite a ways to go. When she heard Shay stir in her seat Mirabelle’s knuckles went white on the steering wheel and she stared straight out the windshield.
“We’re – we’re in the Everglades.” Shay mumbled in a hazy confusion. Mirabelle knew she could say exactly where they were, too: a little while outside the city, still in tourist region. It was all flat lands and marshes, with just enough water making its lazy way beside Route 41 for a couple of airboats to tour. In the dark the stretch of black asphalt was not yet surrounded by tangled trees and appletini-green swamp waters, but that was exactly where Mirabelle was going.
“Why–” Shay shifted, but paused with a click of her handcuffs. There was a very long moment of silence as she realized exactly what was happening. Mirabelle aimed to keep purposefully numb, though she felt like someone had grabbed the hawkbill in her pocket and taken it to her gut, like now there were intestines all over the car and the tense silence. When Shay spoke again, her voice was as cold and hard as Mirabelle had ever heard it. “Mirabelle, think very carefully about what you’re doing here.”
She had thought about it to an excess – mulled it over every single millisecond she was certain Shay wouldn’t see it on her face. If it was betrayal she certainly didn’t want to look at it that way: even if the back of her mind confirmed the word she replaced it at the forefront with ‘rescuing,’ which turned treachery into heroism.
“I had to.” She answered stiffly. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Shay preparing an unfairly harsh reply. “No, I had to. For your own safety.”
“My own – Mirabelle. If you wanted everyone safe you would be drugging and kidnapping all of us.” Shay said in a voice of forced calm. She was clearly having difficulties being a diplomat with a friend. “Now why don’t you explain this to me? Just tell me why you’re doing this.”
“You are not going to run me around and talk your way out of this.” Mirabelle said flatly. She looked over to see Shay’s jaw clench as she thought hard about her next move. “You of all people should know how difficult the game gets when the opponent knows you.”
“Candy doesn’t have to be an opponent. None of them have to be.” She said, and Mirabelle shook her head. “Fine. I know what you have to say on that. But once we steal the boat today and kick Solana and Elvira out of town it’s a moot point. I can get the girl.”
“Yes.” Mirabelle said as Shay clearly waited for the ‘but.’ “After the heist, if all goes well. You’re going to be perfectly safe here, Shay. We’ll come back for you and you’ll still be safe, even if the other team puts up a fuss.”
“They know the rules, they said they wouldn’t.” Shay snapped, then paused. “Drew and Inez were in on this, weren’t they?”
Mirabelle weighed her options. Her instinct told her to defend them, but if they were doing the right thing in an admittedly shitty way there shouldn’t have been anything to defend. “Your safety was everyone’s primary concern–”
“My fucking safety, yes, I’ve heard!” Shay’s voice raised unexpectedly, and Mirabelle nearly flinched. “You know what, go ahead, explain to me how my safety is such an issue right now. Explain how of all four girls stealing a freaking cruise ship today I’m apparently high risk.”
“You know how. You’re distracted – yes, you are, don’t give me that look. You’re distracted with Candy during the biggest theft of our careers. One fuck up is going to put all of us in jail for life.”
“And I’m that fuck up? You can’t do this with three people.” Shay reasoned, but Mirabelle shook her head again. Outside the darkness continued as a few straggly trees began to crowd around the road.
“We planned around you. We’re ready for this.” Mirabelle said, though admittedly it would be a challenge. “You’re just a walking hazard right now. You could get someone hurt, or get yourself hurt, or. . . ”
“Or sabotage us.” Shay finished the unspoken for her, her voice harsh with disbelief. “After all of this, you think I even could? I will never betray you Mirabelle, not any of you. Don’t betray me now.”
“See, but how do you know? How do you know you haven’t already let something slip?” Mirabelle asked her, and Shay started. “How could you compartmentalize that? How could you flirt with the enemy and reveal nothing about yourself?”
“I’ve been careful.” Shay said hesitantly, then grew more firm. “No, there’s no way they know anything. I’ve barely been able to speak to her – my own girlfriend! – since this heist started.”
“I can’t trust that.” Mirabelle shook her head. “You can barely trust it. We have to stow you away, just for a little bit. Just until we tell the others it’s time to go.”
“No you don’t! Mirabelle, this is insanity!” Shay urged. “What are you gonna do, somehow steal a cruise ship with only three people? Having one more girl was our biggest advantage over them!”
That was true. Mirabelle was most worried about that aspect of the plan, but she knew being short one team member was better than having a corrupted one. The trees outside loomed over them, so thick and dark that even with the brights on Mirabelle had to squint and watch the road for armadillos – which, in these swamps, would hopefully be the only road hazard they encountered.
“And then the three of you are gonna tell Candy’s girls to pack their shit and leave? What happens when Candy asks where I’m at? You think a kidnapping’s gonna go over well?” She asked. Mirabelle opened her mouth to reply and was cut off. “She’s going to react accordingly. You saw how freaked out she was when you and Drew had guns on me.”
“Well that was admittedly–” Mirabelle began, but Shay began to yell.
“Someone’s going to get hurt, Mira! You are setting her up for failure!” Tears welled in her eyes. “You’re giving yourselves a reason to murder her!”
“That’s not true.” Mirabelle said firmly, though she could see how clearly it looked. “Shay, that’s not true. Keeping you out of the fray here is vital. Solana and Elvira – esos diablos – they know about the relationship too. Don’t you think you could be a target?”
“No, because they’re actually supporting their teammate.” Shay spat back, but Mirabelle persisted.
“And what if they decide that you’re a problem? What if they decide to deal with you as such?” Mirabelle felt firmly justified again as she turned and gave Shay a determined look. “They will target you. They will kill you.”
“They aren’t like that! If you weren’t so competitive you’d see–”
“I see your life in danger! I see two bloodthirsty animals who are only being held back by the concern of a friend!” Mirabelle burst out, and now Shay nearly winced. “With the lengths I’m going to to keep you safe you really think they won’t go just as far?”
“They wouldn’t! They wouldn’t do that to Candy!” She said, but it sounded like scrambling. “There’s not enough logic behind murdering their best friend’s girlfriend to go through with it. You’re just hunting for reasons, Mira. You just don’t want to admit that this is wrong.”
“Escúchame.” Mirabelle demanded. “We have to tell them afterwards that we’ve won. We have to stand over them and watch them pack. I know we can’t trust them, I know they might try to stay and fight.”
“So if I’m there to help you–”
“Then we all get into another bad situation. Drew gets another harpoon to the chest.” She sucked in a breath and clenched the wheel somehow even tighter. Of all the crime she’d committed, of all the life she had lived, that was the worst day she’d ever been through. “But if you’re not around, if they actually give a shit as much as you say they do, won’t they wonder?”
“Wonder wh– wonder where I am?” Shay asked, then horrible realization dawned on her face. “Mirabelle.”
Mirabelle swallowed hard and looked at the road. The implication hung in the air, a knife dangled above her head. It was a clear and simple idea: confirmation that the two girls were gone would get Candy a free ride to the dead center of the Everglades, where Shay would be safe and relatively unperturbed. But she knew if her love and concern for Shay weren’t clear most would just see this as taking one of her own hostage, an offense just as bad as what Aidy Nielson churned out. She, Drew and Inez had all realized that as they sat around that dark kitchen table planning Shay’s involuntary respite, but it was clear they just had to assure themselves that wasn’t the case.
“Don’t – don’t look at it that way.” Mirabelle managed after a long moment, her throat tight. “You’d be no help to us on the front lines. Out here you’re a bargaining chip for peace.”
Shay stared at her for a long moment, astounded and clearly heartbroken. Mirabelle matched the look as long as she could without knowing what was on her own face. She was justified, wasn’t she? She was in the right doing this, even with Shay’s miserable countenance. When she looked back to the road, full of relief that nothing wild and hungry had meandered onto their path, she saw their turn up ahead and flicked on her blinker on an absolutely deserted road.
“How the hell do you think this day is going to end, boss?” Shay asked as she turned onto a narrow dirt road. “You think you and two people are gonna steal the biggest cruise ship in the city no problemo? You think you’re gonna somehow find Candy and her girls, tell them to scram, let them know you’ve kidnapped me – and that’s gonna go over well? No one will get hurt or killed or arrested during this entire shit show?”
“That’s the plan.” Mirabelle said dryly, and Shay scoffed. “I just want you safe and not . . . meddling in things.”
“While you’re out stealing boats and threatening my girlfriend and her crew.” She said bitterly. “You keep insisting that you can’t trust me, you can’t trust them – how do I trust that you won’t murder her?”
Mirabelle paused. She didn’t want to say what was in her head; because you’re actually making me start to like this girl of yours, because I’d be awash with guilt over ridding the world of such a bright young mind, because you love her and how could I? She didn’t want to rule out something that might have to be done for her group’s safety.
“You’re only supporting my case here, cariña. Look how distracted you’d be if we had you out there. No, you’re best here.” She finally managed, and Shay made a stifled sound. Mirabelle glanced over to see her curl her hands in front of her mouth, and suddenly there were fat tears rolling down her cheeks. Fuck, that made her feel awful.
“No, no, no tears.” She cooed, which did absolutely nothing. “No tears, princesa.”
Shay began to absolutely wail. Of all her arguments this definitely got under Mirabelle’s skin the most, but she knew for everyone’s good she couldn’t budge. No, she had to ignore how painful this was and go on with the plan. Very tersely, she kept driving as the road grew impossibly narrow, then opened up to a very small clearing in the tightly clustered trees. There rested a little shack with a tin roof and walls made of those cement blocks that were so common for sheds and cheap houses in the area. Its two windows (one in front, one in the back) were made of cheap plastic and thick screens, and the door was rotting particle board. Mirabelle knew for a fact there was no heating, no central air, no running water, no sewage system: but it was a basic shelter, and for one day it would be enough.
“You know, they’ve always called me a Miami rat.” She said, half to herself as she switched off the car. “Well, rats know where to hide.”
She walked around the car, took a bag from the trunk, and pulled Shay outside, who didn’t struggle. Didn’t even drag her feet, just walked with Mirabelle through mud, moss, and fallen leaves to the door while hiccuping out the last of her tears. It was so humid they drank every breath, and the air reeked of stale water and algae sludge. Mirabelle unlocked the door (useless, one kick could’ve caved it in) and guided her inside by the elbow. The shack was one room, empty save one rickety wooden chair, a spider in the corner, and a whole load of dust. When they crossed the wood-plank floor they kicked it all up and Mirabelle wrinkled her nose as she pushed Shay as gently as possible into the chair.
“I used to have a family.” Shay said idly, her throat hoarse but her tears done. “Two big brothers and a picket fence. I’ve never been a rat.”
Whether it was stating fact or throwing an insult, Mirabelle didn’t know and didn’t care. That’s what they’d called her all her life, the suburban girls like Shay and the immigrants like Drew and the criminals like them all. She only ever responded by clawing her way to the top, because what was the point of stomping her foot and yelling when she could beat the world into the dust. But maybe she got a little petty when that fed found her and asked for help putting a few criminals away, maybe she enjoyed taking out a little anger there. She unzipped her bag and pulled out a few chains, then locked up her relatively calm friend to the chair, the floor, herself. When she was done and stood up the constraints almost looked cartoonish, but she had to focus on herself now. This was just another game that had to be won.
“You lost them and found us.” She said, and picked up her bag and headed for the door. “We will find each other again, Shay. Soon.”
“Wait!” Shay yelled desperately. “I’m your teammate! You love me! Don’t do this to me!”
Mirabelle only ignored her, pulled the door open, and slammed it behind her. It did nothing to muffle the pleas, the hopelessness in her tone, but Mirabelle only pulled out her keys and returned to her car. She had a helicopter to steal.