Wynn McAfee. Now that was one hell of a name. She hadn’t heard it until after Mirabelle and her crew splashed across front pages throughout the country, and amidst all these petty thieves and guns-for-hire someone eventually mentioned some other famous fallen gang members: long dead February Cheng and dying little Fia Beaumarchais. Wendy often avoided other criminals, kept to herself for safety and comfort, but when that name was brought up she convinced some pickpocket to tell her story. And what a story it was.
Cuffed to a chair in a dark room that smelled distantly of ground beef, surrounded by armed men and a very sore looking Tate, desperate to bounce her leg but fearing repercussions, she understood the sense of betrayal Astor must have felt at that moment. Everything else was hard to read.
“Wynn McAfee?” She asked for a long moment, her voice tinny and distant through the phone. “Tate. What have you done?”
Tate looked physically wound up, all tense with a twisted expression. Then she sighed.
“It was for the best. No — listen — the money that came in, that wasn’t from smart investing. But it was a lot, wasn’t it? You remember. It was so easy to sell her that stuff, she had no idea about pricing—”
“What stuff? What fucking stuff, Tate, the military-grade weapons she used to nearly kill the Beaumarchais?” Astor seemed aghast by this. “The smoke bombs? The remote-control grenades? The fucking plane?”
“She owned the plane.” Tate spoke almost flippantly, and in the dark background Brienne put her head in her hands. “She was fabulously wealthy. She wanted a way to take down someone immensely powerful. She heard of me through the grapevine. I only asked a few old military pals for some stuff, paid them a little and sold for a lot. And off she went. We got some funding with zero harm done.”
“Only because she got her ass killed.” Eyana said hotly. “And only because Verene didn’t trace those weapons back to you. At least not yet anyhow.”
“Well they’ve been busy, haven’t they.” At this Tate glanced back to Wendy and made the clear choice not to say anything more. She swore inwardly: there was clearly some very new and interesting gossip in the subtext of this conversation.
“Tate.” Astor said, and the urgency in her voice reminded Wendy of her mother, of those occasional moments when she would get fed up and just wanted Wendy to behave a moment as a child. “You funded a plot to kill one of the big three. This is — this is the worst possible thing we could have discovered here.”
“She didn’t succeed.” Tate rolled her eyes. Wendy wasn’t sure what the big three meant, but Astor looked livid.
“Fia Beaumarchais is still sick. She’s getting sicker by the minute. If you fucking kill this girl—” Brienne came and mercifully took the phone out of Astor’s shaking hands. “Tate, this is so bad.”
“I know.” Tate sobered a moment. “I never wanted anything to happen to her, she’s just a kid.”
“Wynn doesn’t promise to protect her in any of these emails.” Cleo spoke up, their tone brutal.
“‘Cause you actually didn’t give a fuck, did you.” Eyana seethed. “You just wanted to expand your turf. I’ve seen that shit before, you was just gonna swoop in there and take Verene’s spot like it was nothing. What would you have done to any of her surviving gang? What would you have told us, that it was ‘so easy?’”
“What would you have told that orphaned girl?” Brienne asked, her voice strained. “The Pakistani one who doesn’t know who her biological mother is?”
Everyone paused and stared at Tate through the screen. She had completely frozen, and Wendy realized this was well beyond what she ever expected to learn as Astor’s hostage.
“You’re Fia’s mom?” She asked, but Astor shook her head.
“Seventeen years ago we were serving.” She said quietly, her voice quaking. “But wouldn’t it have been so simple to drum up a birth certificate, fake a DNA match? Wouldn’t a newfound orphan accept this hero swooping in without hesitation? This could’ve been the power grab of your dreams, huh?”
“Astor, I — I wasn’t trying — it was just business.” Tate said, and Astor gasped. “I mean — it wasn’t ideal, but it would have gotten us New Orleans. We’d be unstoppable.”
“You’d be unstoppable. You and all the business partners we don’t know about. All these people you’ve sent threatening emails to.” Cleo said. “Plenty of these suggest you’re getting cash in exchange for our protection. I’ve never heard of any of these people!”
“Oh great.” Astor waved a hand despairingly as Eyana marched over to the computer and bent over Cleo’s shoulder. “In case provoking New Orleans wasn’t enough let’s get our own city to turn on us! Let’s leave these fuckers high and dry!”
“That’s the bodega Wendy robbed. You raised this guy’s dues for additional protection when we don’t even provide it!”
“You’re the one who hired Wendy.” Brienne said quietly from behind the phone. “So you could drive the rate up.”
“I accepted the offer from some random guy.” Wendy recalled. “But I guess that was just you covering your tracks. It looks like you always know where to place a middleman.”
“I — you robbed that bodega?” Tate looked to Wendy, then to Eyana with narrowed eyes. “That’s your role in all this? You’re some kind of con?”
“I’m a copy-cat.” She puffed out her chest. “And it looks like you bought it twice.”
She would have felt a little more triumphant without the multitude of guns glinting in the dim light, ready to dispatch her with one word from Astor’s boss. But said boss thought she was both Eyana and Cleo so she had to take that as a win. All in all she’d had a pretty successful career in this.
“I saw Eyana robbing the place on the news.” Tate said slowly. “And then you picked up the cash. I’ve hired you before — Wendy, is it? I knew you guys were on to me.”
“We weren’t. She picked the wrong spot to play pretend.” Astor rubbed her eyes.
“You hired her to tail that foreign dignitary, the one with the stake in the hotel.” Brienne said. “And she was reminded of us somehow and chose that as her next target.”
“I’m not perfect with middlemen, as it turns out.” Tate shrugged. “He blabbed to someone that the gang was involved and I had to dispose of them both. But I thought word had gotten out once I saw you with Wendy at the safe-house. I thought you had a witness, or an ally.”
“And you saw her with us because you had us watched. You gave out the location of the safe-houses and they never even had to tail us.” Astor spoke softly. “And you were so threatened when you thought we’d figured your shit out that you burned down our apartment.”
Brienne gasped behind the phone. Wendy could no longer help the urge to bounce her leg.
“To be fair, that was wrong. I went way overboard, and I’m sorry.” Tate said, then thought a moment. “I may have been a little paranoid with this one. I felt justified when we met at 30 Rock and you tried to dig for information, pretended you were clueless—”
“I was clueless, dumbass! I thought we were friends! I thought we were business partners! How the fuck was I supposed to know you were cutting us out of deals, trying to take over other cities, threatening children for fuck’s sake?” Astor snarled. “That girl is going to die because of you. You have made so many bad decisions based on greed!”
“I put the money towards us! Towards our endeavors! Are you honestly forgetting everything we’ve done for Brienne?” She asked, and Astor looked momentarily queasy. “What about Eyana, what about everything she was put through? We pulled her out of that!”
“Don’t fucking speak for me.” Eyana spat. “I know you laid waste to some motherfuckers. Of course I’m grateful. But when I joined up I thought it meant something. I thought you wouldn’t go behind our backs.”
“I’m on your side. I’ve always been on your side.” Tate said, her tone pleading, but Wendy recognized a fellow actor and had to question the sincerity. “I didn’t do this out of malice, I did it for you!”
“Then why haven’t I seen a dime from this stuff?” Astor asked, brows raised, and Tate hesitated for just a second, but it was far too much. “You thought I’d be satisfied with the nice apartment, the unlimited art-theft funding, the police protection. Maybe you even hoped I’d look the other way if I did smell something rotten. But your so-called generosity doesn’t stop you from being a liar and a traitor.”
“Traitor is a strong word.” Tate said quickly. Wendy noticed a new sheen of sweat on her brow, a slight twitch in her fingers. She absolutely knew she’d royally fucked up, and whatever she was about to say now would be a last-ditch effort. “Astor, come now. I’m your friend. I’m more than that. You can’t honestly believe I’m not devoted to you and this gang. We need to talk about this properly. I’ll come back to the office—”
“Alone?” Eyana asked, and Tate paused again. “Or are you worried about what we’ll do to you?”
“Bring Wendy back.” Brienne said, the first command Wendy had ever heard out of her. Tate looked back to her with a calculating look, one that had to be determining her value as a hostage. They both knew it was higher than expected if Brienne were so urgent about it.
“Why don’t I just come alone?” Tate turned back to her phone. “So we can speak alone as a family. And maybe, just in case, I can bring a guard or two.”
“Fuck you.” Eyana spat again, and Astor nodded fiercely. “That ain’t gonna fly. And if we’re being real I’m not really in a talkative mood.”
“Nor am I.” Astor agreed solemnly. Cleo was busy looking at the screen, their hand moving ever so slightly with the mouse. Wendy already knew they were forwarding hundreds of emails to themself. “I don’t know what the hell you could say to me to calm us down right now, not when you’re holding Wendy hostage. Not when you’re being a fucking thief and a liar.”
“And she burned our house down.” Cleo muttered, and Astor shook her head. She seemed strained, but not tired, not as burnt out as Wendy or any other sane person would be carrying around all her rage for so long. If there was some sadness over such a good friend’s betrayal she didn’t voice it, and Wendy couldn’t find it on her face, but she wondered at the mood in that distant, dark room.
“Astor.” Tate said softly, almost pleading. Wendy watched her shoulders fall. When she pinched the bridge of her nose she seemed so human, this shadowy figure meant to be benevolent but in reality tainted. “There’s no point right now, is there? I know how you are.”
Astor stayed silent, and Tate lowered the phone so Wendy could no longer see it.
“Uncuff her.” Tate spoke after a moment, deathly silent. No one moved.
“Fucking uncuff her!” Eyana yelled through the phone. Tate waved a hand, and a guard stepped forward to unshackle her. Wendy rubbed her wrists and sat up slightly, unsure.
“Holding this girl hostage is only going to anger you.” Tate sighed. “And I’ve done enough of that for today. Besides, she could end up spying or something. I’m not going to underestimate her again.”
“What does that mean?” Astor asked forcefully. Wendy weighed her odds: she didn’t think she’d have to be uncuffed to get shot and killed, but Tate was probably furious with her and in some way now she had a chance to shoot the messenger.
“It’s a boon to an old friend. I’ll release the kid instead of killing her.” Tate said, and Wendy couldn’t help a deep sigh of relief. She was getting good at close calls. “And now, Astor, I urge you to keep your head down. All of you. We can all calm down in our own space, and then we can forget this ever happened.”
“Tate, I love you.” Astor said. “But fat fucking chance.”
“Then I have no choice but to war with you.” Tate said, and when she turned back to Wendy her phone was black. “Damnit. Dead battery. What did I buy a brand new phone for?”
“Am I — can I go?” She asked hesitantly. Shame on her for not taking the moment as a learning opportunity, but with her life on the line yet again she was a touch eager to get out of there. Tate looked her up and down, truly studied her in a shrewd way, reminiscent of Astor if only because both of them had sized her up, tried to determine how much of a talent and a threat she was. Her latest adventures had her feeling big-headed, enough to stare back at Tate when they met eyes. Hers weren’t as cold as Wendy thought they would be: they were older and more weary than someone her age ought to have been. Not that she was the best at analyzing the emotions of others, but that look was reminiscent of her mother’s in those last few months and something like pity stirred in her gut.
“Get out of here.” Tate said, then walked over to a dark door and opened it. In flooded the smell of fry oil and the sound of a small crowd of patrons. “Tell Astor. . . no, never mind. Tell her — tell her not to bother with Monet.”
Wendy nodded stiffly, stood, and walked out the door and past the counter. Outside the air had chilled and night had descended. All light was artificial now, illuminating crowded sidewalks of hockey fans making their way towards the stadium. She darted through the masses in the opposite direction, up the road and then back along Fashion Avenue from whence she came until she arrived at Herald Square. In the city that never sleeps the sidewalks were still crowded, but amongst the hustle and bustle she saw complete stillness around her Scion in the stony faces of Astor and her crew. As she approached them she knew instinctively they were relieved, and though she knew it was inappropriate she was so proud of that. But she kept her smile down as she looked to Astor, who seemed to be in a place she couldn’t name.
“She said not to bother with Monet.” Wendy said quietly, and though she didn’t understand the meaning of those words everyone else must have, because their shoulders dropped, they all sighed, and suddenly all the despair her new friends had felt over the phone, isolated in that dark office, was here and real and only just beginning.