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The arrangement 23, p.5

The Arrangement 23, page 5

 part  #23 of  The Arrangement Series

 

The Arrangement 23
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  Black sniggers bitterly and then begins to pace in front of the window, hands flying as she speaks. “It was so simple, so brilliantly uncomplicated that I never saw it coming. I got a tip that you were tied to the mob. No one knew how or why, just that you were a prime bargaining piece. Several players made a move to capture you, but I won. I thought I was a genius using Sean to pull you in, but that’s what Constance counted on—her son’s involvement meant that I’d bend when pressed. Before long, my call girl empire turned rancid.”

  “Bullshit,” I call her on it. “You knew you were selling women, kidnapping them, and enslaving them until they turned up dead. Don’t pretend you didn’t.”

  “I knew, and I looked the other way.” Her tone is razor sharp. “Anything can be rationalized, Avery. A life for a life.”

  “You sold more than one woman. It wasn’t a life for a life.”

  A deep growl rumbles from within her, tearing up her throat as she approaches me. Every muscle in her body is laced with unveiled tension, her dark eyes narrowed into thin slits. “It was never for me. It was always for him.”

  Black grabs my dress and jerks me toward her. I grab onto her hands, trying to tear her away, but Black’s pupils are tiny. I swear to God. She doesn’t see me even though she’s looking right at me.

  She sneers at me, speaking between clenched teeth. “I protected Sean as well as I could. When his mother disappeared, I knew we were all fucked. If someone defeated the chess master, then no one will be left standing.” The tension drains from her body, and she releases me, her dark eyes meeting mine. “Constance Ferro was a force of nature.”

  Was a force of nature? Why is she lying? Black’s either testing to see if I know Constance is alive or she doesn’t know. I think back, and there’s been no time that she referred to Constance in the present tense. It’s always past tense.

  I smooth my dress and shove her shoulder once. Not hard, just enough to get some tension out of my arms. Enough to distract her from my words, hoping she’ll slip in the truth. “Yes, she was. I had the unfortunate occurrence of meeting her.”

  Black glances at me as if she didn’t know, then nods. “I commanded my men to wait at the tree line on the far perimeter of the lawn, facing south. If you can get there, they’ll take you to safety. There’s no way out for me anyway. Once he finds out that I’ve been protecting you all along, I’m dead. Soon the pieces will fall into place, even in that deranged mind, and Vic will see everything.”

  My voice is stern, resolute, as I jab a finger to the carpet and lock eyes with Black. “I’m not running. This ends now.”

  There’s a strange expression on Black’s face, as if she’s not truly seen me before. One of her brows lifts slightly, along with the side of her mouth. “There’s no way out.”

  “Good, because I don’t intend on leaving.”

  CHAPTER 8

  With the little time we have left, Black and I both grudgingly share the plans we had to overthrow Vic tonight. We both failed. Black tagged along to make sure Vic went into the electrified pool, but something went wrong. Now she’s here with a flawed extraction plan and too many paths that lead back to her hand in the attempt on Vic. That’s why she grabbed the remote and closed the cover. There was no way Vic would get near the water after that. I tell her about our plans, which abruptly ended when Marty had Sean and Henry executed.

  We’re standing by the windows, looking down onto the darkened lawn below. Vic has yet to reappear, which is odd. Black expected him to return by now. Instead, there’s a massive amount of swearing before the floodlights blink on below. The bodies lay next to the coping, covered. Vic is standing by the edge of the water berating his new head of security. The man stands there, stiff, as Vic screams at him. I supposed that man didn’t expect a promotion when Marty died this evening.

  We’re in the middle of our conversation, but we both stop talking. We stare at the vast lawn, tall oaks, and sparkling water tinted red with blood. It’s a strange sight. Black is straight-faced next to me watching the commotion below. Vic is a drama queen, throwing a fit when things don’t work out exactly the way he wants.

  Sean’s death appears to have gummed up the works in Black’s brain because she’s silent, staring off like she’s remembering something—or regretting it. I snap my fingers under her nose. “Focus. There’s no time for that right now. If you can’t concentrate, you’ll get us killed.”

  Black’s gaze becomes razor sharp again and slices me in half. “Do not lecture me.”

  “Then stop walking down memory lane. There’s only one way to end this, and it requires access to the security room. I need your help, and I need Mel.”

  Her brow arches as she scoffs. “Melanie hasn’t the comprehension nor the aptitude—”

  I cut her off. “I don’t have time to fight, and since you want to run to play another day, I’m telling you what I need.” I tick off each request on my fingers. “First, find Mel and get her out. Second, make sure she knows we are on plan C. Third—”

  Black cuts me off, “Mel’s a liability. As soon as she’s freed, Vic will know I did it, and then what? I’m tossed in a cage and sold with the others?”

  Glaring at her, I snap, “You disgust me.”

  “Likewise.” She narrows her eyes before ripping it away.

  “Listen, this plan requires three people. Mel is the only one I’m certain will do her part. Marty is dead …” Something clicks, albeit late, but it snaps into place all the same. “Marty told me to run for the trees. I need confirmation and not some bullshit answer—were you working with him or not?”

  She sneers as if the mercenary were beneath her. “Certainly not. That parasite has been at Vic’s side since before his father perished. If I’m not mistaken, and I’m not, they were childhood friends.”

  “What?” I hate having to say that, but this might make a huge difference. I don’t have time to extract information from Black's head right now. Direct questions and short answers are needed since we’re already on borrowed time. “Vic and Marty were childhood friends? Are you sure?”

  Black gives me an ‘oh please’ look that infers I’m an imbecile for doubting her. “I’m one hundred percent certain of it.”

  “Then Vic betrayed his best friend?”

  Black nods. “I suppose that’s accurate.”

  “Why?” I look at her, hoping to God that she has infiltrated every aspect of Marty’s life the way she has mine. She’s like a fungus, seeping to every seam, every crevice, every corner of my life and just as toxic as black mold.

  She laughs as if it were obvious. “You. Like I said, everything comes down to you. That idiot mercenary liked you. Anyone could see that. Vic didn’t like it. The only thing I don’t know is why your brother has fixated on you. He deemed you a threat and I have serious doubts it’s related to jealousy.”

  I rub my fingers against my chin, my other hand rests on my stomach, unable to answer. Was Marty trying to protect Vic or me? Whose side was he on? Part of me thinks it no longer matters, but it might. Why did he tell me to run to the woods if he wasn’t working with Black? What else is out there? I rifle back through our conversations and his behavior, unable to come to any conclusions.

  Black’s eyes dart between my hands. Her expression is stoic, cold, and closed down. Her eyes lock on the hand on my belly, and she puts the pieces together.

  Her snapping voice pulls me out of my thoughts. “You cannot save that baby. There is no scenario in which that child survives.”

  Jaw locked, my throat tightens, as I lift my gaze to meet hers. Those are words that I didn’t want to hear, that I can’t accept. I’m polarized tonight. I’m willing to sacrifice myself, but not an innocent life—not a baby. I swallow hard, unable to reply.

  Black’s eyes look past me, her voice indifferent. “How could you be so utterly foolish? Do you have any idea what Vic will do if he finds out? That bastard will keep you alive just to rip the child from you at the last moment. Then, he will ei
ther sell it or play with it.” She cringes when she says the last part.

  I can’t fathom what she’s inferring, but Black has a picture in her mind. I’m sure of that. “What do you mean? Vic likes killing—it gives him a high. I’ve seen the look on his face.”

  Black’s slender fingers knit together in front of her hips as she flattens her palms to her stomach. There’s a tension in her neck that creeps down to her shoulders. Suddenly, she rounds on me, no longer concealing her thoughts.

  She’s in my face, snarling. “You haven’t seen a goddamned thing to know what that man is capable of, what he can do. The greatest mercy you can show that child is to make sure it’s never born so your brother can never touch it. And I see the wheels turning in your head—” She jabs a finger into my chest hard. “You can’t escape him. Your mother tried to protect you, to hide you. Look where you ended up. After twenty years of running, you are standing where she started, in the same exact spot.”

  Although I knew all this, I failed to put in words. Somehow, speaking it makes it real, and even more impossible. I finally admit it out loud, “I can’t save her.”

  Black drops her hand and shakes her head. “No, you can’t. There’s no way out of here and even if some miracle allows for you to live through the night—that baby will never be safe. It’s the focus of everything Vic hates wrapped into one little package. Imagine if he took her from you? Imagine what that would do to the surviving Ferros? That baby is half Ferro and half Stanz—the two families he hates the most. I don’t want to think about the existence that child would have, and the way it will die when Vic gets his hands on it.”

  As she speaks, waves of thought spiral inside my mind. I chase down one path of thought, and then another. Logic piles up and tumbles down—there’s no way out—nowhere that we’ll ever be safe. Black is right. Even if we escape, Vic will just find us again. This was supposed to be our last stand, and everything was thrown into this evening so that Vic wouldn’t walk away, but with Sean dead, it’s impossible. Black is right. There’s no way out, no way to stop the onslaught of violence that’s coming my way.

  I turn my back to her.

  “Avery, be logical,” Black speaks urgently, still trying to convince me. “Surely you can see it—”

  “Enough.” I cut her off with a single word.

  Black’s hand lands on my shoulder and whirls me around. She’s in my face, speaking in a hushed voice. “It’s paramount that you see it yourself. I know you’re tenacious and cunning, but—”

  I meet her dark eyes and nod once. “I’m never letting Vic near this baby.”

  “Then say it!”

  “What do you want to hear?” I press my fingers to my chest and hurl a fury of words at her. “That I know I can’t save her? That I can’t even save myself? I die here either way, so I’m choosing how I go out. Is that clear enough for you, Black? Vic’ll never know about the baby, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to end this. Now. No second thoughts. I’ve decided.” My chest rises and falls rapidly as my pulse roars, deafeningly loud in my ears.

  Black tips her chin back in approval. “You have my assistance.”

  I laugh in her face. “And why would I trust you?”

  “Because I got you alone and didn’t beat the shit out of you, no matter how much I’d like to bring you to your knees. I could have done whatever I wanted with you. If anything, Vic would have held me in higher regard.” She’s in my face, and her tone has a lethal quality that I admire. She makes an irritated sound in the back of her throat, backs off and glances around the room, frowning. “You’re not wounded, and I didn’t record anything, so you figure it out. Either way, I failed to make you bleed. Vic will notice that as soon as he sees you. I’m fucked.”

  I nod in agreement. “Yeah, you are.”

  “Well, then,” she replies, sweeping her eyes over me as if she’s reassessed everything and made a snap decision, “consider this a temporary alliance. What do you intend to do?”

  This decision is a vital juncture. I either trust Black and we work together, or we both die. If she screws me over, I’m dead anyway. It’s flawed logic, but her betrayal wouldn’t change my fate tonight, while her loyalty could alter everything. I tell her what I need. “Free Mel and get Vic back inside this house. Then go and break the emergency shut off valve for the gas lines into the house.”

  “How am I supposed to do that?”

  “You’re a smart girl.” I pat Black on the top of the head. Anger flashes in her eyes. She swats me away, and I grin. “Figure it out. Tell Mel that I’ll meet her in the trees on the south lawn, at the far end of the property, and make sure she stays put.”

  “Very well, but for this plan to be properly executed, you’ll need an earpiece which will be difficult to acquire. Without it, you won’t know what’s happening and will walk straight into one of Vic’s men.”

  “I’m more concerned about that bear.”

  Black’s expression darkens. “There is no device on the bear, no chip or collar to track it. The animal roams free as if it were a pet. If you see that beast, run. Don’t wait for him to make the first move or he will have his jaws on your neck before you can scream.” She shivers as if she’s seen it happen before.

  Black and I hammer out the rest of the details. She helps refine some of the weak parts of my plan and tells me the most vulnerable part of the house. Although it’s believed to be the most secure, it’s not. Vic is blind to it, thinking his security locks will protect him.

  I listen carefully. This woman is no stranger to atrocious deeds, but this makes me wonder. “Why do you know this stuff?”

  Black touches her fingers to her head as if she has a headache. “Because I have examined exit strategies for my personal safety. I know every inch of this house. This proposal is much sloppier work with far fewer preparations than the things I had planned, but if you can to get to the central point of the mansion—Vic’s bed chambers—game over. You’ll need this to get inside.” She lifts the chain with the golden keys from her neck and removes the plainest one. She hands it to me before putting the jewelry back on.

  “What is this?” I look at the piece of jewelry, remembering it from the nightstand in Black’s house.

  “It’s the key to Vic’s master bedroom. He doesn’t trust anyone, so it’s always locked. The door is comprised of a dual lock. You’ll need that key to get in the suite. The second lock requires a code.”

  As I turn over the golden ornament in my fingers, I ask, “Do you know Vic’s code?”

  Black shakes her head. “No, he changes it too frequently. I had an alternate code added by the security company as a master override. He doesn’t know I have it and I’ve not used it yet. It was a backup plan if everything else failed.” Black fills me in on everything about that room, leaving nothing out. Every piece of the plan to destroy Vic Campone Jr. snaps firmly into place.

  Eventually, the plan is fleshed out with enough latitude that one mistake won’t mean failure. Contingencies are in place should Mel not be freed, Black gets taken out, and to deal with the security cameras. The only roaming unknown is that white bear. I’ll be able to hear his claws clicking on the hardwood, but not on the carpets. It’s a massive white animal on dark carpet. I should be able to see him coming.

  There’s only one thing left to say. Black folds her slender arms over her chest and spits it out with no candy coating. She’s direct and to the point. “You die tonight, Avery. There’s no way out once this plan is in motion. The person lighting the fire doesn’t escape. Are you certain you can do this? If not, we’re all caught and—”

  I cut her off with a forward tip of my head, meeting her gaze head on. “We’re doing this. I know the ramifications. I won’t fail.”

  “You’re not the woman I thought you were.”

  I snort and turn away, glancing at the door. Vic will show up at any time. He left the lawn and entered the house a few moments ago.

  I click my tongue and point both i
ndex fingers at her. “Neither are you, you crazy bitch.”

  Black smiles in appreciation. “Takes one to know one. Avery…” She waits until I turn back and extends her hand toward me. She rarely uses my first name the way she has tonight. I focus on her fully. “Saying I appreciate your sacrifice is a massive understatement. I made a mistake of pinning you as naïve when we first met. No one will think that of you after this evening. They’ll remember the fierce woman who went down fighting, the only one who was capable of killing Vic Campone Jr.”

  I don’t require her respect to go through with this, but hearing her say those words makes me more determined. I grip her hand as a farewell gesture. Black shakes for a second before she pulls me in for a hug.

  When she steps back, the emotion on her face fades swiftly. She clears her throat and says, “When Mel is in motion, I’ll say a code word that you cannot mistake as anything else.”

  “Which will be?”

  “Sparkly.”

  I smirk. “I’ve never heard you say that before.”

  “And you never will again.” Black’s eyes dip to my waist and then back to my face before giving one curt nod. “See you in hell, Miss Stanz.”

  “I’m already there, Miss Black.”

  Black laughs once, and there’s a bit of joy in it. The corner of her mouth rises. “Indubitably. So let’s do this.”

  I throw the first punch.

  CHAPTER 9

  By the time Vic’s man shows up, Black has scratched my face open and struck my cheek in exactly the right place to send ribbons of black and blue up to my eye. She has bruises on her neck and scratches on her arms. While we did all this to make it look convincing, it may have been real to some extent.

  A thug pries her off of me and slams her down into the couch. “Stay,” he grunts to Black and then looks down at me.

  I’m gasping for breath the way Black told me to. The bruising on my side should make them think she broke a rib and it’s pierced my lung. When no gurgling begins, they’ll know it’s not that serious. Until then, they’ll think I’m dying which will knock my jackass brother off balance.

 
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