Eyana slept more soundly than she’d suspected for such a cold room: she must have been more tired than she’d realized. When the old alarm clock Wendy dug up from somewhere went off besides Cleo’s head she had to throw a pillow to get them to shut it off, then dozed beneath a pile of blankets as she saw Brienne’s small figure dutifully rise. At some point she’d fallen asleep again, but woke up for the only thing that really could get her going: the heady scent of coffee wafting in from the kitchen. At least she thought it was the kitchen: after about fifteen minutes of forming consciousness she heard a sliding door close and smelled something smokey.
“Barbecue coffee?” She grumbled, and Cleo’s figure blocked her vision.
“I thought you were fucking dead.” They leaned down with a mug and Eyana sat up to accept it. “She just has powdered creamer and sugar. No creamer, right?”
“Right.” Eyana took a sip: it was blistering hot and wonderfully dark to match the sky outside. “Time is it?”
“Almost five.” Astor answered clearly from the other side of the room, and when Eyana rubbed her eyes she saw her boss already dressed. Her hair was rather deflated, and after a moment she realized it was wet. “You need to get up or you won’t have time to wash.”
That was all the encouragement Eyana needed. She bolted up and took her coffee to the bathroom, where Wendy had left her an old Home Depot bucket of still-warm water and some soap. Not an ideal way to do it, but at least she could drink her coffee and change. When she returned to the kitchen Wendy and Brienne had returned from outside as evident by the kettle Wendy had sat on the stove. Both of them smelled like that specific autumn rain, all mushy, musky leaves with a brisk note of cold, but neither wore gloves or red noses, so Eyana assumed they’d finally have a decent day.
“Gang’s all here.” Cleo sat at the breakfast bar as Eyana went for the kettle. “You ready to get started, sleeping beauty?”
“Are we leaving?”
“Not yet.” Astor said. Eyana turned around and stared. On the wall a diagram had been drawn out rather meticulously in Sharpie, and beside it photos of themselves taken from newspaper clippings, some so grainy they were unrecognizable. Her eyes slid from this display to her boss — she looked well-rested, her expression determined but not as harried as it had been those last few days. Eyana had a thick skin, but she was relieved to see it. Astor seemed herself again, back to the woman she was before Wendy and Tate flipped their lives upside down.
“I was worried about you for a minute there.” Eyana dumped some sugar in her coffee and looked up to see Astor smile faintly, not quite beaming but still confident, still proud. She’d met Astor, what, seven years ago already? When it was just her and Tate working on their empire, one they seemingly fell into — the last gang fell apart, were unimportant and would be glossed over in city history, but Tate radiated power, and Astor had the strength of an ox. They just needed the right team. First it was her, just outside the library she’d gone to for a moment’s warmth on cold streets. Then they paid a freelancing Cleo and liked them enough to keep. Finding Brienne was dumb luck, something she now realized Astor had in spades.
“Who, me? Honestly.” Astor waved her off. “Don’t.”
Maybe Astor wasn’t the only lucky one. Maybe that was how they were going to win this.
“Are we just gonna sit pretty or are you gonna tell us the plan?” Cleo asked dryly, and Brienne gave their boss a gentle look of encouragement she didn’t need for a second.
“It’s amazing what a peanut butter sandwich and a good night’s sleep can do.” Astor approached the wall, Sharpie in hand, and flicked drying curls out of her face. “And a wonderful host, of course.”
“Thank you! Yeah, totally. Let me know if you guys need anything else. Breakfast-wise the grill isn’t the best for toast but in a pinch — oh, I have cereal, too, I have a lot of cereal. No milk, though.”
“Brienne refuses to eat cereal anyone sticks their hand in, so that’s out.” Cleo said, and Brienne flushed.
“It’s the natural order of things, Bee. You don’t always got the time and energy for milk. Which is nasty, just so we all clear.” Eyana grinned even if she was derailing the presentation she’d just demanded. Astor crossed her arms and tapped her foot and everyone looked back to her.
“We’ll get breakfast on the way. We’ve got a lot to do.” She sighed unexpectedly. “Look, I thought about our little predicament last night, and here’s the thing. I’m not killing Tate. She’s a greedy bastard who almost cost us our lives, but she’s my best friend. I want to reach out to her. See if she can see reason.”
“And what? Pay reparations to all those places she ripped off? I dunno if that’s happening.” Eyana pointed out, brows raised.
“I don’t either. But it doesn’t need solving overnight. As long as we can reach some sort of agreement right now. A peace treaty. And if she doesn’t cooperate. . .” Astor looked pointedly to Brienne, who nodded stiffly but not without remorse. “I’m your leader. I’m not going to let this endangerment continue. She cooperates or I take over, one way or another.”
Eyana couldn’t personally, admittedly confess to wanting bloodshed, at least not aloud. She wasn’t about to put Astor through that. She’d made her decision and in her position between an old friend and a gang who needed her it was a fair one. But if Eyana were in charge Tate would be dead, because fairness from her meant appropriate, logical mercy.
“Astor.” Eyana raised her now cold coffee in her boss’ direction. “I trust you. Do what ya gotta do.”
Astor smiled again. They were different, they’ve butted heads many times in the past, but they both knew that just made them stronger. She pointed back to the diagram, which upon closer inspection may have been two diagrams, though both were as scribbled and illegible as Astor usually made them. One seemed to portray an apartment complex, and the other a subway line.
“Does anyone know what this is?”
“Literally how could we?” Cleo snorted, and Astor rolled her eyes.
“This is where Tate’s hiding out.”
“She’s not at her office?” Wendy asked.
“Too big.” Brienne sighed at her coffee. “Too many entry points.”
“And not enough of her own men.” Astor said, and pointed her Sharpie with a flourish. “This, ladies and else-wise, is the Waldorf-Astoria. And this beneath it is Track 61.”
“Whoa.” Cleo’s jaw dropped, and Eyana smiled to herself. Any chance to explore a place security cameras didn’t reach got them surprisingly invested: normally it was a cool facade, a level head, a couple snarky remarks. They would always remind the gang they were all-seeing and all-knowing, so what the hell should they care about? Shocked by nothing, desensitized to everything, it was only ever the gang that could mean anything to them. The gang and all the adventures they offered.
“Why—” Brienne hesitated, then pushed forward. “Why wouldn’t she be at any random police station?”
“She has a lot of ins with the pigs.” Eyana pointed out. “Hence why we gotta get the hell out of here real soon.”
“She can hole herself up at whatever station she wants. And we can go out there and riot and slaughter. All it takes is one cop-killing to turn them against her.” Astor said. She knew Tate too well. “She’s been to the Waldorf-Astoria before, remember? We haven’t, we went to the Staten Island safe-house for the last time until this week.”
“We went underground when Las Vegas fell in case there was retribution from any bold officers here.” Cleo supplied, and Wendy nodded with sudden understanding. “But she’s not at the Astoria, remember? It’s closed for another year at least.”
“Closed by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. How many people on that board do we know?” Astor asked, and Cleo sighed, knowing the answer. “Yes, all of them. It’s not a difficult task for her at all.”
“I don’t understand what Track 61 is.” Wendy piped up. “But it sounds cool.”
“It’s our worst fucking nightmare.” Eyana answered as the grin slid off her face. “An abandoned subway tunnel the hotel was built on and an impenetrable fortress for Tate to hide in. If she’s there we ain’t never gonna reach her.”
“Forget that. If she’s in midtown we’re never gonna reach her.” Cleo gestured to the window. “No doubt they know what car we’re driving, that dude had to have called the cops.”
“We can steal another car.” Astor insisted patiently.
“And drive it through a toll or on a bridge and get spotted by her goons just like last night.”
“Is there any merit to taking the Port Jeff ferry to Connecticut? Get to her the long way?” Brienne asked, but Eyana shook her head before Astor could.
“She’ll be eyeing Port Jeff and Greenport. And every bridge and tunnel and probably a whole ton of charter boats.” Eyana said. “Our best bet would be to find a small marina and steal something, but even then we know a couple coast guard guys.”
“Guys. You’re still thinking of evading her. It’s not going to work. We have to slip in right under her nose.” Astor looked suddenly smug. “And lucky for us Wendy has fantastic timing.”
“Of course!” Wendy gasped, then looked agape when everyone stared at her blankly. “Guys, it’s the Saturday before Halloween!”
“Of course!” Eyana repeated. How could she have forgotten? They’d all been so worried about missing it. “She’ll be hunting in a sea of goddamn ghouls.”
“And we have a costume specialist who can make sure we’re impossible to spot.” Brienne beamed at Wendy, who grinned and ducked her head.
“That’s not the only disguising we’ll be doing.” Astor said, and they all turned back to her. “Tate knows us. She knows our every move, every weakness. She’ll target us accordingly. But if we’re not us—”
“I don’t know if I like where this is going.” Cleo said, and Eyana laughed but couldn’t quite disagree.
“Cleo. You suck at hand-to-hand combat. She’ll have someone punch you right in the face, I guarantee.” Astor said, and Eyana laughed again. “But if Eyana takes your place she can take some of those guards down. And if you take hers they’ll naturally shy away from you.”
“But we’ll still have your back.” Eyana assumed, and the boss nodded. “And we’ll still use your right pronouns.”
“Just call me Eyana.” They said. “No pronouns needed. So Wendy’s Brienne?”
“Brienne will be Wendy. Wendy will be me. I’ll be Brienne until I’m Wendy.” Astor said, and everyone but Wendy, who she must have already spoken to, gave her a quizzical look. “I know. I’m not a nineteen year old Korean or Filipino girl. But we’ve got the Halloween costumes, too, and a very dark room.”
“She’ll know our mannerisms.” Cleo pointed out. “We have no way of knowing where she is in the hotel.”
Eyana was more optimistic.
“Wendy can teach us. I know she can.” Wendy blushed. “As for Tate, we know her, too. She’s in the presidential suite.”
Astor stuck a sticky-note with a stick figure labeled ‘TATE’ to the top floor of the drawn building, then grabbed two pictures of herself and Brienne and put them right at the front entrance. Eyana went to the emergency entrance to the track, but she wouldn’t really, while Cleo took a restaurant entrance, where they wouldn’t really be. A surveillance still of Eyana that was actually Wendy who’d really be Brienne appeared to be scaling the back of the skyscraper.
“Everyone get what we’re doing?” Astor asked.
“No.” Eyana, Cleo and Brienne answered in unison.
“Got it.” Wendy said confidently, then shifted awkwardly on her feet. “But maybe this is a conversation to be had on the move?”
“Right. We’re short on time, so let’s get out of here before the cops close in. Everyone get the stuff in the car.” Astor ordered, and when Eyana walked outside with a duffel bag there was a different car in the driveway. When she walked back in Wendy was splashing her living room with gasoline out of a red can.
“Uh.” She said.
“Any opportunity to make things difficult for her.” Is what Astor responded. Brienne scurried to grab the rest of their belongings, plus a new bag Eyana suspected was Wendy’s and that oh-so-familiar painting. Everything she wasn’t willing to leave behind.
“I’m not coming back to this anyway.” Wendy practically read Eyana’s mind. “Anything for the cause, right? It doesn’t matter, really. I couldn’t hold on no matter what.”
This girl was joining their gang if they all got through this alive. Eyana was sure of that now, even if she had to argue the point afterwards. But she doubted that: Astor wouldn’t let her destroy her life for them without taking her in, helping her best as she could just as she did with Eyana. Food, shelter, cash and a dead pimp went a long way, as long as a peanut butter sandwich had gone for Astor last night. Enough to save her life and give her a family.
They piled into the new car quickly, still in darkness, and only waited a moment for Astor to run from the house and climb into the driver’s seat. She left the front door wide open, and when she threw it into reverse Eyana could see a plume of black smoke already spilling out. Wendy kept her eyes on it until they drove away, her eyes on the rearview and remaining when they heard the squeal of sirens. They’d barely made it out in time. After maybe a half hour of driving west Wendy directed them to a diner that had maybe three patrons inside, all of whom appeared to be truckers.
“We couldn’t go to the best one, the one near the airport.” She half-whispered in the quiet. “Tate would totally have goons over there, but this one still has great hash browns.”
They stretched their meal as long as they could, Eyana chewing her omelet at a snail’s pace until the sun rose. Then they paid the bill, tipped well with Tate’s money, and stood in the parking lot listening to Wendy’s instructions. Watch her walk — her boots are heavy, she’s pissed and impatient; they don’t care and make it clear, raise your chin, narrow your eyes; you have to be a little louder, more theatrical — yes I am, Brienne, I won’t deny it! And on and on until the stores opened and they could head over to a Spirit Halloween that was once a JC Penney. They all picked out their costumes with Wendy’s approval and headed over to the mall for whatever pieces of each other’s outfits they didn’t have and whatever makeup they could use to further deceive their old boss. They stretched that too, all the way to standing around in the afternoon eating Auntie Anne’s before finally changing and doing their makeup in the bathroom at Macy’s.
With the sun low in the sky, they made their way with the million other daily commuters west to the city. And that was how Freddy Krueger, the Wicked Witch of the West, the Grim Reaper, a pastel unicorn and Pennywise made their way to the Waldorf-Astoria.