The hallway was unusually empty, so that her footsteps echoed for each move she made, highlighting her uncertainty. Most of the other inmates were out in the yard, where she’d been sitting with her back to the wall, staying out of the sun and heat when she was called to the visitation area for the first time in the three years she’d been there. These eternally stretching gray brick walls and linoleum floors always made her a little dizzy, but today was not such an aimless day like the hundreds that had come before that, and she found she could ball her fists like she could knock all of these walls down.
“Babe.” She paused at the word to see her wife emerge from the laundry room, where she’d been assigned to work for the day. Mica looked similarly confused, and took her hand readily when she reached out. “What on earth is going on?”
“Beats me.” She sighed and continued walking — they’d learned by now not to loiter lest they be met with a yelling guard. “Maybe Riley did something.”
Mica went silent at that, but a glance her way suggested she’d thought, or maybe feared, the same. They still weren’t on the best terms with their old friend despite her loyalty to them: though she was a defeated woman the couple was relatively left to themselves, and they suspected Riley put a great deal of effort into protecting them even if they may not have appreciated it. Well, Mica didn’t, but she didn’t grumble too much, be that from exhaustion or a secret remaining fondness. Sorrel retained a great respect and affection for Riley despite her crimes. And those crimes were vast.
Nearly four years later Celeste was still a constant on her mind. She would have been twenty three by now, navigating a newfound adulthood. At night, staring at the ceiling from her top bunk, Sorrel had to admit she had trouble picturing her. Would she have stayed petite, with that young, round face and those doe eyes of hers? Would she have changed her hair again and again like she was so prone? What would she wear, what kind of car would she drive? Would she eventually shake that self-sacrificial urge of hers? And Feb. All her dreams and wild plans. She’d be nearly forty. Would gray have kissed her hair? Maybe a few streaks, maybe just around her heart-shaped face. Sorrel missed them both fiercely, missed the life they were meant to have, that she was meant for. Her friend was gone and her mentor would never lead her to the bright future that could exist if she were allowed outside these solid walls.
As the pair walked towards the visitation room they saw Riley stood just outside the double doors, clearly waiting for them but antsy like she was ready to walk off in case of a scolding. Funny how she’d once been the greatest fear of the LVPD. Now she didn’t have the might to bicker with a guard. She nodded when they approached, her slick blonde ponytail bobbing with the motion.
“Since when do we have a lawyer?” She asked Sorrel directly, wise enough to avoid Mica’s eye, and Sorrel shrugged.
“We thought this may have been your doing.” She answered, and Riley gave her a hollow look where she felt a fond smile may once have been.
“Though history suggests otherwise, I know a lost cause when I see one.” She said, then raised her hands innocently as Mica took a dangerous step her way. “Sorry. I’m sorry. I run with a pretty brusque crowd of late. Though the words do sting.”
“Watch your mouth or words won’t be the only thing you’ll have to worry about.” Mica spat, but Riley seemed to have already moved on. She approached the heavy doors and held one open for them, and Mica glared at her as she stepped through. Sorrel followed and refrained from a polite ‘thank you’ for her wife’s sake, then looked around.
Seeing as she and Mica had never actually had visitors she’d never seen this room before, but it looked like it always did on TV, with a couple gray tables and benches, several high-alert guards, and metal detectors at every exit. They’d painted this room a cream color, presumably a false show of cheeriness for the outside world.
“You’ve never been in here.” Sorrel turned to see Riley’s brow furrowed and looked away quickly.
“You know how my mom is.” She muttered, and Mica turned around, saw some distress, and took her hand.
“You’re not telling me you actually get visitors.” Mica aimed for a snarl, but the thought seemed so incredulous to her that she couldn’t quite get there. Riley clutched at imaginary pearls, scandalized but hiding a grin.
“Goodness me, isn’t it a wild idea that someone might actually like me?” She asked. A nearby guard told them to move it along, and Mica pulled Sorrel further into the room. “This ain’t the first time I’ve been to jail. My mom’s used to it despite her bewilderment.”
“Who are we looking for?” Sorrel thought aloud to distract herself from this odd turn of the conversation: she’d never met Riley’s parents but couldn’t fathom what they were like, or how someone like Riley sprung up from apparently normal beginnings. But her answer gave itself away when she looked to a round table in the very back of the room, where a woman she did not know or recognize was watching them patiently. She was certainly dressed like a lawyer with a gray pencil skirt, sheer tights, kitten heels, a black blouse and a blazer she somehow wasn’t sweating through. Her stiff back and raised chin also implied a professional career, as did her perfectly styled black hair and the light amount of makeup she wore around deep brown eyes. The way Mica paused, then turned to her with some uncertainty showed she also saw the woman as a fish out of water. In this prison and in Las Vegas.
She felt a sudden urge to square herself, one that came from years of preparing to lead. That didn’t exactly come to fruition, she couldn’t lead her wife and no one lead Riley but Feb, and yet. And yet it may have just been for her. She squeezed Mica’s hand and the pair walked over to the woman with Riley following suit.
“Good morning, ladies.” She said as the three of them sat down. “What have you been told?”
“Only that our lawyer came for a visit.” Sorrel answered. “But somehow I don’t remember you from our hearings.”
“And you don’t exactly look like a public defender.” Mica said, guarded, and the woman gave her a slow and easy smile.
“I assure you, Mrs. Cunningham-Foley, I’m an expert when it comes to criminal law.” She had a hint of an accent Sorrel couldn’t quite place, and a charm in the fine lines around her eyes. She seemed at ease, too, maybe more than a civilian ought to be in a prison. “And we are going to be fast friends.”
“Oh yeah? How so?” Riley asked, her brow furrowed. She didn’t trust her, but she rarely trusted strangers.
“Well, we’re going to start with a series of appeals on your behalf. I believe I can greatly reduce your sentences.” She got serious at that, but Mica scoffed. “Yes, I can. And I think I can get you out of here.”
Mica now genuinely laughed, albeit sharply.
“You think two women with life sentences and a third on death row are getting out of maximum security prison?” She asked, brows raised, and Sorrel had to agree with her wife’s doubt. They were thieves and cop-killers in a city highly averse to both, and they weren’t exactly the type of criminal to be pardoned.
“Not right away. I haven’t brought any hammers or nail files.” She smiled but no one smiled back.
“You’re not legit.” Riley said suddenly. “You don’t want to work with the law, you want to work around it.”
“I can assure you I have no idea what you mean.” The stranger said, and Riley pulled something from beneath the table — a flask. She paled at the sight of it and snatched it away quickly.
“People are usually patted down before they’re allowed in.” Riley said, brows raised. “But if they have to place a little bribe, well, I guess they could carry in all sorts of things.”
Sorrel and Mica both looked to her curiously. She seemed very pleased with herself to have figured something out, or more likely to have thrown a wrench into this woman’s plans. Always a catalyst for chaos. She glanced back and smiled broadly as the stranger cleared her throat and smoothed down her top, though that smile didn’t reach her eyes.
“Neve taught me that.” She wasn’t too harsh saying it, but the vitriol was there enough for Mica to bend her head. They had no idea where Neve was, but maybe it was for the best. Sorrel wasn’t there for the very end, but she understood Riley’s rage, her desire for revenge. Mica didn’t share the same passion. One night, whispering in the darkness on their bunks, she recalled when Aidy hit her head hard enough to nearly knock her out. She’d stayed conscious but collapsed and was too dizzy to get up, and it was Neve who dragged her out of the way.
“Because she loved us.” Mica had said. “She loved us. Aidy didn’t, she told us.”
“She didn’t love Riley after the stunts she pulled.” Sorrel had replied, then felt her wife glower. Riley had killed Celeste and given them all a reason to hate her, but she’d also left Neve for dead twice in one day. Mica voiced what she was thinking.
“She hates Riley. Not us. She would probably still like us if we saw her again. She could be hiding out because she thinks we hate her. Or she’s just trying to have a normal life.” She sighed into the darkness. “It’s just another thing that separates Riley from us. And if it comes down to it we should keep things that way.”
Sorrel had no response. This feud was vague and distant: she never feared anything besides Riley’s foul mood about it would reach them. But sitting in front of a shady, would-be lawyer, she felt apprehension. She didn’t trust this woman and didn’t want to, and if that meant siding with Riley then so be it.
“I don’t want the three of you to be worried.” The stranger spoke easily. “I’m going to handle everything for you. Just relax.”
“I’m not interested in you handling anything for me, quite frankly.” Sorrel said, her own voice unexpectedly harsh, and Mica scootched closer to her in a show of solidarity. “Thank you for your visit and your concerns, it’s very kind, but we can take care of ourselves.”
She wasn’t sure if she wanted to catch Riley’s eye, but when she did she saw her beaming for the first time in years. The lawyer didn’t match that: the smile slid off her face, but she stayed composed. If she was furious, or if she had a reason to be, she didn’t show it, and only leaned towards the trio. Sorrel didn’t lean in with her, and neither did her apparent cohorts in this, but the quiet words she said next didn’t escape any of them.
“Why don’t you girls look around and see who can stand up and leave when this is over?” The stranger asked, and Mica’s hand squeezed her own tightly. “Don’t be stupid. You’re not in control here. You don’t decide jack shit. I’m going to get you out of here even if I drag you, kicking and screaming, out that door. Understand?”
And in the shocked silence she stood, not waiting for an answer, and walked away.
. . . Aaaaaaaand, hiatus. A reader’s favorite word, I’m sure, but don’t fear. You can still grab the ebook for this and all other Bad Towns in the Ebook tab above and enjoy New York all over again. I have other projects going on right now, but hopefully sometime this or early next year I will have some exciting new Bad Town announcements (like where our next Town will be). So enjoy the break while I do as well, and don’t be a stranger! Check out my Twitter and Instagram at the top of the page.