The very, very end.
His name was Alberto and he was one son of a bitch. He’d peaked, then floundered, then faded away a long time ago, but Mirabelle was still furious with him and felt that fury rise every time she unspooled the duct tape or grabbed a bucket, her feet cold and soaked. Throughout the cabin his name was cursed and saltwater was tossed back to where it belonged, outside their damaged hull and back to the ocean seven women were rapidly getting sick of.
Admittedly, they’d been adventuring in the open waters a little too long. After the shock faded and they got themselves together it had been a fun bout of piracy, jumping boat to boat and stealing provisions from stupefied fishermen. But the stench of sea water was taking its toll, and despite how nice her tan was she just about had it with frazzled, dry hair and sleeping in a hammock next to six other women. Not that she didn’t love her original troupe, not that she hadn’t quickly grown fond of their new companions (as annoying as some of them could be) but goddamn did she want off of a boat and into a spa.
They’d all been trying to determine their next course of action (okay, not all of them. She, Shay and Inez were figuring it out whilst Solana and Drew had a screaming match in the background in regards to, what was it? Dolphin fun facts. Every disagreement had to be battle royale with these pendejos) when the radio and the map let them know that Tropical Storm Alberto was heading their way. It put a sense of urgency in their plans: the FBI was apparently very intent on tracking them down from all the police bulletins they’d hear and all the times they were recognized, and since they weren’t killing civilians they had been leaving breadcrumbs behind. So what to do? Most of them wanted to head back to Florida, try to sneak in through Port Miami as they’d helped many others do, or even land elsewhere and make their way back to town naturally. But they had no safety net, no protection, just a couple of guns and about eighty dollars to all their names. Everyone’s assets had been seized, including Mirabelle’s penthouse, Candy’s rental in Little Haiti, and every cent in everyone’s saving account. Their families were questioned, their lives uprooted, and any warehouses they’d had were surely infiltrated by other gangs since the big heist very publicly failed. They were starting from scratch.
Elvira had said ‘fuck it, let’s go to Mexico.’ Which was, initially, a very sexy idea. Get a little vacay time in, lay on the beach with some piña coladas, sneak back into the states whenever they were ready. But concerns there couldn’t be avoided either: they might need help from former rivals to get in, which just wasn’t happening, and the journey looked to be increasingly more difficult with threats of a wall going up and the border being closed. The president’s sentiments put them all on edge, enough for Mirabelle to seek out other options. But all her deliberating had taken too long, and one day they woke up to a black sky and a harsh wind that sent goosebumps down Mirabelle’s back.
She sent Candy belowdecks, given her weakened state (it was difficult to recover from a gunshot normally, a teensy bit more so on a ship without air conditioning and not enough food and water) and Shay went with her to watch over. They were on an old schooner they’d nabbed from pleasure cruisers, so Drew helped her reel in the sails and they watched the wind pick up with their shoulders tensed and their knees shaking.
“I just need someone to help me control the ship. Everyone else can stay down, but if I feel we’re about to capsize I’ll call you back up.” Mirabelle had yelled into the cabin as the first lashings of cold rain hit the deck. Everyone nodded nervously, Candy with a drained look and Inez with three times the anxiety the rest of them were fighting off. Drew — loyal, hard-working Drew — stayed above decks throughout the storm, not that Mirabelle could remember much of the miserable experience anyway. It was cold and dark and she’d gotten way too thin, so the wind whipped right through her as she tried to keep the rudder from going haywire. Shay was screaming like a banshee, Solana was viscously cursing her out, Elvira yelled ‘woohoo!’ too many times, Drew tried to hide how miserable she was.
“There is a concerning amount of water in here!” Candy yelled up as Inez appeared in a life vest and tossed some out with her shoe. She handed it to Mirabelle and flared her nostrils — she got the message and smelled it, all salt.
“¡Santo Cielo!” She yelled. “Bail the boat!”
And then they bailed the goddamn boat. At some point the rain slowed, humidity and electricity hung in the air, the night brought cold, and they awoke to sunshine once again. Their feet were pruny, they were shaky and afraid, but they’d survived. After they made sure the boat was able to float for a hot minute without assistance Mirabelle found herself sitting on the edge with her feet over the side, the whole thing creaking beneath her. She was running on about four and a half minutes of sleep, so she wasn’t thinking of much when Shay sat beside her.
“Candy’s throwing up.” She said quietly, and even if she didn’t push for anything, didn’t even mean to, Mirabelle got the hint. Her well of patience came short when it came to her girlfriend’s health and safety, and she was not recovering as she should have been. They needed to get to shore.
“I just need to figure out where we are.” Mirabelle said after a long moment of silence. “And then we’ll find some safety wherever we can. Some place to hole up.”
“¡Santa mierda! Chunder over the side, not where we sleep!” Elvira yelled in the distance as she burst forth from the cabin. Solana followed, but Candy didn’t, maybe too weak to rise from her cot.
“—So fucking immature! Your friend is sick, concha!” She yelled at her girlfriend, who passed them with a peace sign as her only acknowledgment. “Concha!”
“Inez has a question.” Drew called Mirabelle’s way as she leaned over the wheel. Everyone’s eyes went to Inez, some of them to better learn her language. She raised a hand to her forehead and brought it down slowly for the new readers into the letter Y.
“Why.” Solana started. She made a W and tapped her lips twice.
“Water.” Elvira said, not a stranger to this one. She made a triangle with her fingers but crossed them at its peak.
“But.” Solana said, and Inez shook her head. “Different? Why is the water different?”
Mirabelle looked down past her faded sneakers and to the ocean below her, which had been a dazzling blue before the muddled gray of the storm. Now it was darker, murkier, tinged a little green, and with it she knew exactly where they were.
“Land ho!” She cried, and jumped up in a rush. “Drew, the sails! Solana, help her! You three get ready to bail, the momentum might tear some patches.”
“But there’s no land over there.” Shay frowned, and Mirabelle waved her off.
“Not that you can see. But there’s plenty of people.” She beamed at Inez, their attentive little genius. “Sewage. This close to a city the water is full of it.”
“Fucking delightful.” Someone called, and they all turned to see Candy poke her head out the cabin, her skin tinged green and her face puffy with illness. “Are we bailing?”
“Fuck you, you’re not doing shit.” Solana ordered. “Lie down.”
“Seconded.” Shay also ordered, and that was the one that caused Candy to turn away. Elvira raised a brow.
“So we’re near a city. How do we tell which one?” She asked. Mirabelle beamed.
“There’s only one city on the gulf big enough to produce this much shit.” She eyed where the coast lingered just out of vision. “We got lucky today, ladies.”
They floated in slowly during the day, navigating the approaching coast and avoiding detection as best they could. In an old sailboat three women were constantly bailing they stuck out like a sore thumb, and given they were FBI’s most wanted they weren’t exactly hoping for help from the coast guard. There was a conversation at sunset, and when darkness came they gathered their few belongings and swam to the beach, though Solana wasn’t thrilled after the sewage remark and Candy had some difficulty keeping her head above water. When they reached land all there was left was to find some desolate space to camp out in, an abandoned houseboat on the beaches of Lake Catherine.
“She’ll find us soon enough.” Mirabelle said confidently, and though she could usually instill belief she was met with some doubt.
“She better.” Elvira crossed her arms as Candy had to lay down again. “I did not anticipate being back on the water after crying at my reunion with Madre Tierra.”
“So stand outside.” Shay said, her nose high. “We need a lookout anyway.”
Elvira grumbled, walked outside, then walked back inside.
“She found us.” She said partially to the group and mostly to her shoes, and Shay beamed Mirabelle’s way.
It was an informant who had found but not approached the gang, and he disappeared soon after he arrived. It was nearly twenty four hours later, on a miserably humid day cramped inside another damned miserable boat, that Mirabelle heard the crunch of tires on asphalt and remembered that every single gun they owned was waterlogged. She was 99% certain that this was a major boon to them, and was going to carry that confidence until the last of them were shot down, but there was a small ‘oh mierda’ in the back of her head as she stepped out the squeaky wooden door, Drew right on her heels. The sky blue Mercedes idled for a moment, then turned off as a girl in a batik print sundress climbed out of the backseat, then a girl all in violet out the passenger side. Finally, a tall woman with springy curls and a blush blazer stepped out from behind the driver’s wheel, gave them a long, calculating look, and broke into a massive smile.
“Welcome to Louisiana.” She called, and Mirabelle knew in a heartbeat they were finally safe. She kept her composure as she stepped onto the docks, reveling in that solid feeling of earth beneath her, and Verene Beaumarchais gave her the warmest of nods. She made sure not to walk too quickly, to not look too desperate both for her crew and Beaumarchais, and the five of them — Verene and her girls, she and Drew — convened in front of the car, the hellish sun barring down on them but not taking Mirabelle’s relief.
“How many are inside?” Teonnie asked, and started texting rapid-fire when she answered five, her voice foreign in her own ears. “So Caldera’s still alive. I have a first aid kit in the trunk.”
“Next to the rosé.” Verene smiled again. “Let’s grab both and talk inside.”
Lakhela retrieved a bottle of wine and a first aid kit from the trunk and though Mirabelle felt as if Verene were the one leading her in she didn’t complain. When she swung the door open everyone stared at her, this stranger and saving grace, like a colony of rats blinking at the sunlight. The whole place stank like dust and the couches they had collapsed into were old, cheap, and overstuffed, but at least they’d found bottled water and beef jerky in the crooked oak-veneer cabinets of what passed as a kitchen. Verene frowned at all of them, at how thin and dirty they were, but didn’t recoil or voice any disgust as she crossed the threshold. Teonnie marched in behind Mira, the disgust more evident, and when Lakhela followed she raised the bottle and the med kit.
“Okay, everyone else move over.” Elvira said, and Lakhela handed Teonnie the wine and made a beeline for Candy, whom she must have known for the queasy expression on a face she’d seen all over the news. Shay brightened at the sight of the med kit, and Lakhela smiled faintly.
“Don’t worry, we’ve all patched each other up too many times to count.” She helped Candy to her feet. “Come on, we’ll get you some privacy.”
“You can go with her, Shay.” Mirabelle encouraged, as she’d been trying to do lately, with as empathetic a face as she could put on, and Shay looked torn until Solana gave her a confident nod, then assisted Lakhela and Candy into one of the two small bedrooms. With Shay gone she grabbed a few dusty beer steins from the cabinets and pulled up a seat at the cracked glass kitchen table, where Verene sat across from her as Teonnie opened the bottle (of course Verene Beaumarchais carried a bottle opener with her at all times) and poured them each a small serving.
“I thought Colette would be here.” Elvira pouted as she gazed towards the door. “She’s the one I really wanted to meet.”
“Make sure everyone is topped off, Tea.” Verene said, and Teonnie went around the room. “Colette and Fia are predisposed with other ventures at the moment. Both of course are interested in meeting you.”
“Then cheers to happy meetings.” Mirabelle raised her glass. Despite Verene’s talent at fibbing she understood the reasoning behind Fia’s absence: she was too ill to make it, or at least too ill to be seen by people who could whisper of Verene’s failing heiress. She would have suspected the child to be dead if Colette were around instead of babysitting, but then again she felt that perhaps that wasn’t a pain Beaumarchais could disguise.
“Cheers.” Verene said, and they all took a sip of wine: it was high quality but lukewarm, and Mira preferred hard liquor anyway, but she was grateful nonetheless. “So, let’s have our little meeting. We have quite a few things to talk about, but let me assure you however you escaped that ship, however you survived months at sea and a hurricane, you can regale us on that tall tale when you’re up to it. Once we have a proper safe-house in place and everyone’s fed and showered and possibly drunk it’s a story my daughter and I would love to hear.”
“We would put you up in the bungalow Lakhela and I haven’t been able to go home to, but there’s likely still police watching it.” Teonnie said as she emptied the bottle into her own cup and sat down next to Verene. “It’s a risk we would take if you didn’t have such recognizable faces. You’re still on the FBI’s most wanted list, even if it’s been awhile since you’ve hit the evening news.”
“So you still haven’t completely healed the wounds Wynn made.” Solana said, her tone guarded. “If you don’t have the police on your side.”
“I have enough that it’s less of an issue.” Verene lifted her chin and looked her square in the eye. “And in time it won’t be at all. Wynn’s influence will fade entirely soon enough.”
“In the meantime we’ll find a place for you.” Teonnie said as she closely examined her glass, then shoved it aside. “For a little R and R.”
“But you don’t want us here too long.” Mirabelle figured. “I am a threat.”
“I know.” Verene somehow stayed warm, and Mirabelle liked her immensely for it. “I doubt this city’s big enough for the both of us, or that you’d ever work under me. Besides, I’d like an ally back in Miami anyway. One of the closer major cities, I’d like someone to call a friend.”
“So that’s the end goal? To send us home?” Drew asked cautiously, then looked to Inez as she signed something. “‘That seems the sort of thing that would come with a price,’ she says.”
“Smart girl.” Verene said, though Inez did not look soothed by the compliment. “I don’t just want you in Miami — I want you to run it. A woman on the throne, a stable criminal economy, another strong city. I want you to eliminate the competition, and I’m willing to arm you to the teeth to do it. Whatever funds you’ll need, whatever threats, whatever connections I can manage.”
“At what cost?” Solana asked bluntly. “Sure, this will all benefit you, but not to a degree that makes sense of all this spending.”
“You want something from us.” Mirabelle said. Verene took another sip of wine. “When we retake the city. Go on, say it now before it’s too late for us to back out.”
“That’s fair. And calculated.” Verene said, and her desire to do business was clear now — her eyes had gone shark-like as she leaned forward. “I’m not asking much.”
“So ask it.” Solana said flatly, impatient now, and Elvira looked threatening with a sudden steeliness to her gaze. Verene sighed unexpectedly and set down her glass.
“There’s a doctor. In Miami. He’s sympathetic to the plight of the underworld, but all of my requests haven’t swayed him enough to travel here.” She said, a sudden desperation in her eyes, and Mirabelle felt her jaw tighten as she nodded. Fia was not well, and it was bad enough that locals weren’t helping anymore. “He’s familiar with your group. You can persuade him. But it’s not a decision you can make, Mira.”
“What do you mean?” She asked, and Verene looked over to Drew. She looked confused for a moment, then suddenly understood.
“When Candy shot me. That’s the guy you need.” She said, then suddenly understood further. “Oh! Oh. You want me to seduce him.”
“Ew.” Elvira said, and Mirabelle opened her mouth to protest before Teonnie cut her off.
“It’s 2018, no one has to seduce anyone. We’re just hoping he’ll listen to you. We’re hoping a young, injured girl humanized us towards him.”
“Oh no.” Drew said after a long moment. “I have to seduce a hot rich doctor. Oh no guys, I’m not sure I can do this.”
“Again, you don’t have to seduce—”
“There’s just no other way. I have to seduce this sexy and educated man. Oh the trials I’ll endure.”
“Fuck off.” Shay returned at that moment, Lakhela by her side. “You’re so annoying.”
“She’s going to be fine.” Lakhela addressed the group, apparently unfazed by these antics. “It’s a little infected and she’s super feverish, but it’s nothing rest and Advil can’t fix.”
“Thank god it’s you fixing her up and not Colette.” Teonnie ran a hand through her violet hair. “She always throws the — ahh! Ew! You motherfucker!”
Lakhela had thrown a bandage at her, causing Elvira to let out a sharp bark of laughter. “It’s clean, stop your crying.”
“I hate you.” Teonnie threw the completely clean linen aside with the very tip of her thumb and index fingers, and Elvira continued to snicker.
“But that can’t be all that you want.” Mirabelle said, and the laughter died away as Verene observed her carefully. “I mean, it’s a fair trade. My power restored for your daughter’s life. There just has to be more.”
Verene didn’t bother to deny it. “Yes, there’s more. This you can agree to yourself, though it’s alright if you’d like to discuss it. I want information, and I’m sure you understand information is almost as valuable as Fia is.”
“I’m not sure what I have to give you.” She said, which was the honest truth. Her knowledge was in trade routes, how to sneak people in and goodies out: it wasn’t exactly Verene’s territory.
“I want the name of your FBI agent. Yes, I know you were working with one.” She waved a hand as Mirabelle’s jaw dropped. “There’s been only the slightest of whispers. You have the knowledge that could give me so much more than that.”
“Why do you care about our fed?” Solana asked, her nose wrinkled. “Oh my god, are you turning?”
“We don’t need government backing to do what’s best for this city.” Lakhela spoke sharply. “Going against the authorities has often done it better.”
“There has been a target on our backs for some time now.” Verene explained with an expression attempting to convey great importance. “Since Aidy Nielsen destroyed the Las Vegas gang.”
“Since she accidentally unearthed the body of Wynn McAfee’s abuela.” Solana spoke the unspoken. “Since Wynn sought her bloody revenge.”
“Make no mistake — that fed didn’t choose you at random. She wasn’t working with other gangs. She was keeping tabs on you for the government.” Verene said, which brought Mirabelle some pause. “Threat assessment just like the old mobs. I need to understand the risk level here. Information will be key. I need everything you have on her.”
If she considered it, she supposed it made sense. It had never occurred to her to wonder why she was approached and not some other gang — she’d only thought that maybe someone higher up considered a woman easier to work with, or easier for a female agent to work with. Or maybe this was routine, keeping a gang out of jail to snitch on others. When she glanced Inez’ way her expression was hard to read, but she gave the smallest of nods that Mirabelle could only interpret as encouragement, like maybe she’d theorized the same. She looked back to Verene, who was waiting patiently but with a quiet confidence — she’d never had the same subtlety.
“That’s all you want? A doctor and a fed in exchange for putting me back on top?” Mirabelle asked skeptically, then lowered her voice. “You don’t want me to whip out a boob or something?”
“Please do not.” Elvira yelled as Inez hid her face in her hands. Verene was openly amused.
“That won’t be necessary.” She laughed. “You’re not my type.”
“Too dangerous.” Mirabelle took another sip of wine as Verene’s girls eyed her — Lakhela was protective, though not overly cautious, and Teonnie was calculating and well-practiced at being so. Admittedly, she was excited to meet Colette, another part of a powerful group of women, and Fia, failing though she may have been. She owed nothing to that agent, nor was she too happy with their final, screamed conversation. And one look around the room told her that dooming the stranger in exchange for a homecoming was not the biggest concern to her girls.
“Eve Franco means nothing to us. You can have her.” Mirabelle said as Teonnie tapped the name into her phone. “Just get us home.”
“I will.” Verene promised firmly, then stood. “I’ll get you new quarters by nightfall. Wait for the limo.”
“We’ll contact you wherever you are in the morning.” Teonnie stood as well. “Stay tuned.”
“Thank you.” Mirabelle said, and some excitement unexpectedly rose in her chest. Maybe it was just the rosé, but she was more hopeful than she’d been since she formed her original gang, or since the new girls joined on. She was about to owe a powerful woman very little in exchange for a great deal of aid, an exciting prospect that she could see was sinking into her other teammates. Shay had brightened for the first time since they left the cruise ship, Solana and Elvira had linked arms, and Inez leaned back with an air of ease Mirabelle had sorely missed on her. Verene, Teonnie and Lakhela all headed for the door, and Mirabelle stood as they departed, though Verene paused in the doorway.
“I must take you around to the mansion some time — we’ve been rebuilding it, you know.” She said, and Mirabelle smiled courteously at the invitation. “Fia’s put a lot of effort in. She’ll be excited to meet you.”
“And I’ll be honored to meet her.” Mirabelle said. “The heiress of New Orleans.”
Verene didn’t allow any uncertainty into her nod, and Mirabelle couldn’t tell if she was feeling it yet. She only stepped out and closed the door behind her, leaving the group alone again, but saved. Saved as long as Verene was doing the saving, and Mirabelle trusted that somehow. She smiled — not with courtesy, but with the long missed delight of wickedness. When she turned to her girls, they mirrored the look.
“Ladies.” She raised her glass. “We’re going home.”