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The arrangement 23, p.2

The Arrangement 23, page 2

 part  #23 of  The Arrangement Series


The Arrangement 23

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  “Do I need to check further for weapons, Masterson? Not that I’d mind, but you already have an unfair advantage.” Vic glances at me, his bald head shining under the spotlight that floods the yard. Vic thinks I’ll trip on this, that I’ll be too clouded to realize the truth and act on it. But I’m crystal clear on that account.

  Marty is my enemy.


  I’m not blinded by emotion anymore. This little exercise is a means to an end. It gives me a chance to remove another obstacle from my path so that I can bring this entire house down and then I’ll hold Sean again. I realize there’s a disconnect there. If I bring the house down, the odds are that I’ll be trapped inside. Maybe I don’t need to touch Sean to say goodbye. Maybe I’ll wake up in hell, and I can say hello. Good things don’t happen to bad people, though. I can’t count on that. I need to say goodbye now, while I’m out here.

  Vic tips his head toward Black. “Search her for weapons.”

  Miss Black walks over, her cold stare meeting mine before she stops in front of me. Her lips form a straight red line as she lifts her hands and places them on my waist. Black runs her palms over me slowly, as if she enjoys touching my body and feeling the rise and fall of curvy flesh beneath her hand. That’s when something odd happens. Her eyes are locked on mine when her hand goes right over the knife on my inner thigh. She caresses it and then sweeps past the blade as if it weren’t there. She leans in close and brushes her lips to my ear, flicking out her tongue.

  To everyone else, it looks like she’s screwing with me, playing mind games. A curtain of silky black hair falls forward, and she breathes a word of warning, before pulling away. “Stab his calf and run to the trees.”

  I remain expressionless but wonder what the hell she has planned. When Black pulls away, she tucks the long strand of hair behind her ear, and I know that no one saw her whisper to me. They couldn’t with those shining locks obscuring the view. I glare at her, wondering which side she’s on. An answer rises in my mind. Black is on her side. She’s always on her side. Which means if she’s not Vic’s ally, she’s his enemy.

  When Marty is stripped of his weapons and is standing in front of me, I lift my gaze. For a moment, I wonder if he’s armed too—if Vic left a weapon on him the way Black left the knife on me. I wouldn’t put it past him. My brother likes surprises.

  Vic backs away from us as he spits out the rules. “I’d planned on killing her myself, Masterson, so if you don’t make Avery’s death a sight to be seen, an artistic display for me to witness, you’ll be dead before her corpse hits the ground. You know how I prefer long, drawn out suffering. Amuse me, Masterson, and I’ll never question your loyalty again.”

  Marty nods once, curtly, but doesn’t speak. His eyes are locked on my face, jaw tense. Those long blonde eyelashes that once batted at me in laughter are attached to someone I don’t know. The man wearing black fatigues is not the flamboyant gay joker he initially presented to me the first day we met. He’s not the sweet man who held me while I cried. He’s a motherfucking coward that’s been hiding behind lies. He’s always been looking out for himself, no matter what he said. Having no emotion to cloud my judgment makes things easier. Marty is one more obstacle to remove from my path.

  Vic turns to me and lightly taps the palms of his hands together, grinning. “Little sister, there’s no fucking way I’m letting you survive the night, but,” he lifts a finger and then continues, “if you destroy Masterson, I might consider a brief reprieve. I’ll postpone my previous plans for the evening.”

  I don’t believe him. I ask flatly, “What’s the catch?”

  “No catch, you just have to kill him in a way that pleases me. Make a splendid scene of this spectacular body for me to admire. That’s it.” Vic’s eyes rake over Marty like he’s an object of desire. I wonder if Vic changed his plans for the night because he wants to do unspeakable things to Marty’s dead body instead of mine.

  I don’t care. How is that possible? Apathy isn’t impenetrable. There’s a weak spot somewhere, and it’ll sneak up on me from behind when I’m not expecting it. Can I trade Marty’s life for my own? There it is, the truth. The act that promises me an existence beyond tonight. If I felt anger or rage, it’d be easier to accept this challenge, but I feel devoid of everything. Thoughts flow smoothly as I consider my options and weigh Black’s suggestion against my desires.

  The problem is that there’s no vengeance flowing through my veins. I don’t care that Marty betrayed me. His lies aren’t eating away at me. There’s no hatred rushing through me, making me want to do anything. Instead, I’m a walking corpse. I want to mourn, but there’s nothing there—no tears, no tight throat, and no semblance of the person I’d been. Hollowness consumes me.

  Black’s eyes are on me, waiting for me to pull the knife, but I don’t. I stand there wondering if I’d rather die than fight back. If that’s the better choice. With no feelings to guide me, I don’t know what I want. Emotions are what spur people to action, to fight back, to want to survive. At the moment, I don’t want anything. No, that’s not true. I chance a glance out of the corner of my eye, back to the pool with that bloody water.

  Vic takes Black by the arm, which she dislikes. Her eyes narrow to thin slits and cut his face when she looks at him. She growls, “Do not touch me.”

  Vic chortles like she’s funny. “Always playing hard to get, are we? Come along, Razelleia, my dear. We have prime seats on the terrace.” Black’s eyes flash with anger at the use of her first name. She went to great lengths to keep that information hidden, and Vic is flaunting that he knows her secrets—all of them.

  Vic points to a stone overhang on the second floor. There’s a wide sweeping staircase of gray stone that leads to the upper landing. Flower pots line the steps at the bottom, overflowing with blossoms. Black’s heel connects with the stone, making a tap-tap sound as she climbs. Vic bounces up in front of her. Two guards follow them up, and two remain at the foot of the staircase.

  Before Marty can do anything, I act. It’s the only thing I want, and I don’t care if it gives him an advantage. I need to see Sean. I race past Marty and move quickly, planting one foot in front of the other, taking long strides toward the pool. The grassy lawn rushes past, and I’m almost there. I have to see Sean’s face. I need to say goodbye. The thought is covered in static, flickering like an old television screen. Everything will be fine once I do this. I can manage whatever comes if I have this moment. This fight is the first stepping stone on the path to the end.

  Marty’s voice is soft, urgent. “Where are you going?”

  I ignore him and hurry toward the floating bodies, breaking out into a full run. I hear voices drifting in the wind from above and the sound of metal scraping stone as Vic and Black move chairs.

  I’m near the shadows of the pool house, about to walk across a stone path when Marty catches up with me. He grabs my elbow and jerks me toward him and barks, “Stop.”

  His arm comes up around my neck while the other holds my waist tightly. His front is to my back, holding me firmly in place against his rock-hard body. I swing my arm backward and connect my elbow with his stomach. The impact is enough that he falters for a moment. I turn and look him in the face, in those brown eyes that were once so warm. My hand hovers over the knife below the hem of my skirt, ready to pull it out and do whatever I have to do. I know where I’ll aim and it won’t be his leg. Mel showed me, taught me where to strike to take someone out. If I do this, if I take a swing at Marty, I have to mean it. I can’t flash a weapon and then not use it. He’ll take it from me, and I won’t be able to stop him.

  I glare at him. “Fuck off.”

  Marty grabs my wrist as I turn toward Sean’s body again. I barely take a step when he hisses, “Listen. We have no time—”

  I stop suddenly and turn, cutting him off, “Stop.”

  Marty glances up at the balcony. Vic screams to his men to flush us out of the shadows by the pool house. Marty speaks quickly, grabbin
g me by the shoulders, “Avery, please—”

  Vic is bellowing into the night, “You stupid fuckers. You can’t hide, and once they flush you out, you better fight or I won’t be so nice!” Vic is hanging over the edge of the stone railing. I can see him from the corner of the house. He can see us, but the shadows are still obscuring Marty.

  “There are no excuses for what you’ve done,” I hiss. Vic’s men are coming, and if they get hold of me, this is over. I raise my knee to Marty’s nuts. He staggers back into the light, away from the edge of the tiny house.

  There’s a slow clap from the balcony, and Vic crows with delight before he yells out, “Do it again! Castrate the motherfucker! Come on, Sis. Show that bastard what happens when you fuck with a Campone.”

  Marty breathes, still bent at the waist. “Stay away from the pool. Go to the woods. Convincingly take me down and run to the trees.”

  That was an odd thing to say. Distracted, I glance at the tree line and then back at Marty just as he rushes me. I’m knocked to the ground and land on my back, skidding across the grass. Asshole. Stop underestimating him!

  The air rushes out of my lungs as I collide with the ground. My shoulder scrapes the corner of a stone. The large pieces of slate have rough edges nestled in the pale sand that forms a pleasantly curving path between the pool and the little house. My skin rips open, but I can hardly feel it. Red ribbons of blood flow down my pale arm and drip onto the grass.

  Vic is clapping and shouting obscenities. There are no neighboring houses in earshot. Why run to the tree line? Black said the same thing. It’s not like I can jump the fence and get the hell out of here. What are they talking about?

  I don’t have time to consider it. Another floodlight turns on, momentarily blinding Marty. I twist out from under him, and when he reaches for me, I grab a fist full of sand from between the rocks and throw it in his eyes. Marty swears and backs off, rubbing at his face, trying to get the sand out. He staggers to his feet.

  A fist connects with my side before I can decide if Black and Marty are on the same team. Marty grabs me by the waist and growls as he throws me down. I fight back. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t think or plan, I act coldly and hit his weak spots. A shot to his nose with a backward blow of my elbow spatters blood across his cheek. I use that bone in my arm as if it were a weapon, hitting him the face, then the chest until Marty staggers back enough for me to go for the blade.

  When I slip my fingers around the cold steel, Marty is there again, his arms wrapping around me, trying to pin me to the ground. My fingers are pulling the weapon out when his head butts against mine. The knife falls from my grip and bounces into the grass out of reach. I slam my hand against the ground, searching for it.

  Marty is speaking frantically, as he pulls my hair, his face contorted with rage, “Avery—”

  My hand lands on something cold. I pluck it from the earth, making Marty stop mid-sentence, and swing. When the blade connects, he gasps and staggers back. When Marty looks down at his wound, and then at the hilt of the blade still in my hand, his lips part. The weapon is still in Marty’s side as his hot blood pours over my skin. The powerful man suddenly weakens, falling to his knees beside me. His face crumples as he tries to regain his footing, but can’t.

  Those dark eyes look up at me. “I’m sorry. For everything. Get the hell out of here.”


  Mercy swells from within me. Conflicting memories slam together in my mind—the way Marty defended me, saved me from the car crash and hid me on Oak Island. Those were lies; deceit intended to throw me off. It worked. I never knew which side he was playing for but now I know—it was for Vic.

  My plan to leave Marty bleeding out on the lawn crumples and I throw it away. Instead of walking away, I crouch next to him and get down close to his face. I put my hand on his wound and press. Marty falls to the ground and howls. An eerily chipper version of the screech echoes from the balcony.

  Vic is leaning back in his chaise lounge and slaps Black on the shoulder. “I told you she was a nasty little cunt. And you didn’t think she had it in her.” Vic grunts and then folds his arms across his chest and cranes his neck forward to see what’s next. He cups his hands to his mouth as if I couldn’t hear him and shouts, “Make me proud, Sis!”

  My life for Marty’s. I’ll see the sunrise and he won’t. If I live that long, I’ll have an opportunity to free Mel. I need to know where they took her. I spit the words out between my teeth, “Where is Mel? Did you kill her too?”

  Between gasps of pain, he breathes, “No. You need to run for the trees. Mel can take care of herself. Please, Avery. Listen to me. If you can get to the trees, you’ll be safe.”

  Liar. I stand and pull away from him. Marty is curled on his side, cradling the wound. Looking down at him, I remember pancakes, stories, and those larger than life costumes. Which version of Marty is real? Does it matter?

  Standing over him, I hiss, “Everything about you is a lie. Why should I believe you now?”

  “Because I traded my life for yours.” Marty closes his eyes as his jaw clenches tight, trying to endure the pain. “Finish this and get the fuck out of here.”

  Finish this? He wants me to kill him? That was the deal, my life for his. This is the second time he’s said it, told me to take his life.

  Marty doesn’t look at me. His eyes are shut tight as he grapples with the pain. “Fuck, Avery. Even if you don’t believe me, stay away from the pool and kill me.”

  I watch him writhe for a moment and confess, “I didn’t twist the knife.” Mel told me that it would do more than make a man fall. It would bleed faster, and the assailant would be nearly impossible to save. I had the chance. I could have done it, but I didn’t.

  Marty’s eyes flash open, pure fear shining back at me. “Avery, please. Don’t leave me like this. End it before it’s too late...” His voice fades to a whisper as he grits his teeth to keep from crying out.

  The moment passes too quickly. I never heard Vic approach. He is there, flanked by two thick men with necks like tree trunks. They have no expression on their faces, and their eyes are dead. Marty glances up at me, then his eyes land on Vic. Terror fills them in an instant. I can’t do this to Marty, but before I have the opportunity, Vic is here. His movement and all its gusto make me think he’s happy, that he’ll give Marty a chance.

  I don’t see it coming. Vic swoops down, and there’s a flash of silver as he swipes a blade across Marty’s stomach. There’s a deafening scream followed by the sound of Vic’s crowing. He leans down and whispers something to Marty that I can’t hear. Marty writhes on the ground, his hands trying to hold his torso together, but failing. Blood is everywhere, pouring from Marty’s prone body and staining the stone.

  Marty’s face is white and covered in beads of sweat. With every panting breath, agony sweeps across his features. He meets my gaze for half a moment, and I swear that I can still hear his voice, begging me to kill him. The knife is still in my palm.

  Vic kicks Marty in the side before standing erect and placing his hands behind his back. Rising up on the balls of his feet, gleefully, he preens, “Although I applaud your method of a slow, painful death, no one has that kind of time, dear sister. That would have taken days where as a stomach wound like this,” he shrugs and glances aside, looking at the mansion, “he’ll be dead in a matter of hours. It’s long enough to think about what a dumb fuck he’s been.”

  A cold void wraps around me like a blanket. I should care. I should be horrified. Instead, I’m drowning in logic, remembering everything the man dying at my feet has done for me. Whether I like it or not, I owe him a favor. This action constitutes a repayment even though it’s despicable.

  Vic senses my coldness and admires it. His approving look lingers on me before he claps his hands together as if ticking off another thing on his to-do list.

  Forgiveness is foreign to me, but the methodical nature of courtesy is singing in my mind. I owe Marty. I can’t leav
e him in agony, not when I can stop it. The movement is so quick, so unexpected that no one stops me. I lunge, knife ready, firm in my grip and slice Marty’s neck ear to ear. I’m sprayed with hot blood as more of it leaks from his pale neck. His eyes meet mine one last time before they see no more.

  I stand over Marty, holding his lifeless stare. I know I have a knife in my hand and that I did this to him. I know his blood covers my forearm and is splattered across my chest, but I can’t feel it. There’s a difference between knowing and feeling. I can’t look away even though Marty is gone.

  There’s complete silence. Vic glares at me, fists clenching and unclenching. I ruined his fun. Good. He’s a sick fucker.

  The man lying at my feet is gone. I’m the one who took his life. A favor for a favor. How could I be so cold? Why didn’t this tear me apart inside?

  Because there’s nothing left of you, a sharp voice should answer, but my only response is more silence. There’s no consciousness telling me to feel guilt, shame, or sorrow. That part of me is horrifically absent.

  Vic’s face is turning red as he stands there, seething with his jaw locked. His men are still frozen in place and waiting for a command.

  I glance at the pool again. The water is calling to me, telling me something. It says that I need to look and see for myself. It tells me not to walk away. I start walking toward the pool. It’s only a few paces away, and when I’m at the edge, I stare down at the brown haired man floating with his face in the crimson stained water.

  Vic is behind me a moment later, suddenly placid again. The man needs better meds. He flips from seething hatred to chipper way too fast. Is that what’s in store for me? I never knew my biological father. What if my fate is the same? If I manage to live through this, my future is already cast. There’s no way to recover from the things I’ve done, from the woman I’ve become.

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