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The arrangement 23, p.6

The Arrangement 23, page 6

 part  #23 of  The Arrangement Series


The Arrangement 23

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  Black rights herself, muttering, “I’m done with this little bitch. When Vic wants me, he knows where to find me.”

  The thug calls after her, “He wanted the kill, Black. You fucked him over! Get your ass back here.”

  Black strides out of the room, her head held high and she doesn’t look back. She puts the plan in motion. Not surprisingly, she knew exactly how the Ferro mansion went up in blazes so quickly. It was teamwork, open flames, and strategically altered gas pipes. The only problem with this plan is that the person who ignites the estate gets blasted to pieces with it. Chalk it up to last second planning.

  I’ve considered it every way, unraveled every scenario which leaves me alive until morning, and they all end the same way. I’m stalling the inevitable. Vic won’t stop coming for me, and even Black doesn’t know why. I’d rather die in an explosion than be slowly tortured and mutilated. That decision drives me, spurring me forward. Relying on Black is madness, but I believe her. With all emotion turned off, I sense she’s almost like me, devoid of feeling, even apathy. But it’s when she spoke of Sean, a strand of regret could be heard that keeps her tethered to her soul. I don’t have that. I’d feel jealous if I did. In the place of envy, there is just a calm acceptance—she will see Sean avenged. Vic won’t walk away tonight, which is all I want.

  I hold my hands over my right rib and cry out and then gargle the saliva pooling at the back of my throat. The thug standing over me pales, ignoring Black as she walks away, and then swears under his breath. He’s about to speak into his earpiece when I drive my knee up into his nuts. He falls to his knees, and I kick out hard. The man drops like a rock. Ninja shot to the skull, courtesy of Mel. Blood seeps from the fresh wound on his temple as I extract the earpiece from him. I place it in my ear, grab his keys, and his flashlight. Patting his waist, I feel for a gun but there isn’t one. Where the hell is it? We don’t have time for this. I’ll have to manage without one. His body is too large to move, so I leave him where he fell, exiting swiftly and locking the door behind me.

  No one is coming until Vic shows up or the thug regains consciousness. Vic thinks I’m getting beaten by Black and confined by the fallen guard. I suspect I have less than half an hour before someone notices the downed man. It doesn’t matter. That’s more than enough time.

  I follow the directions that Black provided and head down the hall, taking my first right and a quick left. Behind a tapestry, there’s a door that leads to janitorial storage. Once inside, I flick on the lights. Ignoring the chatter on the earpiece, I find what I’m seeking. A large pair of pliers fits in my grip. The only way this plan fails is if they shut off the main gas line to the house, which is why I need Black to help. There’s no way I can move through this vast house, opening pipes and setting the fire that causes the explosion if I’m outside by the main shut off. She knows I’m not coming back, and I have no doubt that if Sean were alive, she’d be the one striking the match.

  No wonder why Black is so insane when it comes to me. She thought I saved the man she couldn’t redeem. All along I thought I could bring Sean back from those dark places, but there were only small flashes of him. I didn’t understand until tonight that there is no way out of this hell. Sean said he loved me, but how did he feel it? I don’t want to think about that right now, that maybe he didn’t truly love me at all. Maybe he couldn’t, and that was the problem. He kept trying to tell me that it wasn’t possible, not for him. It’s not that he lied to me when he said those three little words, but there’s a difference between a cognition and a sensation. I’d thought he could feel love, but if he felt the way I do now—it’s not likely.

  Mel will disable the security team as originally planned, so they don’t see anything unusual. Without the black bead, she’ll have to do it the old fashioned way. I need to wait a few minutes before moving again. It’ll be a lot easier if I can do this without worrying about cameras. At the same time, the earpiece will cut out temporarily while she’s putting the cameras on a loop, so I’ll be moving around blind until it’s done.

  I sit down on a barrel of solvent used to clean carpets and listen to Vic snarling over the earpiece. “Fan out and lock down. They’re here. Those motherfuckers are still here.”

  I’ve been only half listening to his unintelligible ranting, and it’s not until that second that I begin to concentrate on what Vic is saying. “Report back in three minutes. I repeat, full lock down. Fucking do it!”

  Men’s voices chime in order, giving location, current status, and then confirmation of lockdown orders until they get to my personal thug. No response.

  Vic’s voice is livid when he snarls, “G7, you better fucking be dead. G8, report!”

  The flow of voices continues until there’s a crackle on the line, and a new voice, distinctly female, and completely confident. “G7 is a worthless excuse for a guard. I may have killed him.” She sounds nonplused.

  Vic snarls, “Black, you better know exactly where the fuck Avery is or so help me God—”

  She cuts in, static separating the speakers, her voice smooth and confident. “I know exactly where your little bitch is and what she’s doing. Your taste is lacking, Victor. She wasn’t very good.”

  “You’re just jealous. I know you. You won’t be happy until you strip that motherfucker of everything, you conniving bitch.”

  I press the earpiece as if I didn’t hear them correctly.

  Black replies. “I will despise Sean Ferro until the day I die, and his suffering is the only patch of light in this abysmal existence. Let’s just say it’s my sparkly spot of mirth.”

  Holy shit. Black did it. Mel is free and in motion. I need to break the gas valve in this room and find the suite Black mentioned. This house has gas fixtures everywhere, ensuring that this place will end with a fireball.


  Vic’s men report but find nothing. My brain is on autopilot. I don’t think about Sean or mourning him. I don’t ponder anything except finishing this and punishing my bastard of a brother. Maybe I’ll go to hell. Maybe I don’t care. For the first time in a long time, my thoughts are entirely clear. I don’t feel pulled in two directions. For a moment, I wonder if my conscience died with my soul, and then shrug it off. What happens when people become so broken that they run unchecked without any sounding board for their actions? How do they know what’s right and wrong? Does it matter? I should have studied philosophy instead of psychology. I never read any case studies about people this fucked up.

  I walk down the main hallways, avoiding the servant’s passageways because I’m certain they’re filled with thugs. It’s not as if the main corridors are deserted, but it’s easier to move with floor to ceiling tapestries to disappear behind when I hear footfalls rapidly approaching. I wait with a woven canvas blocking me from sight. Most people don’t look down.

  The toe of my black heels pokes out from the edge of the tapestry as I press my back into the cold stone wall. More footfalls rush toward my hiding spot and then pass by me. In the dim light, I stare at the threads in front of me. They’re mostly dark shades of purple and blue with blacks and grays. But there’s this string of gold that bobs in and out of it, marking its design on the front, perfecting it. There’s no way to distinguish the pattern from this side, no way to tell if the golden strand was obliterated, but it appears again further down. From this side, it looks as if that strand is insignificant, a tiny, shining thread on a massive dark canvas.

  After the echoes of rushing feet fade, I slip out of my hiding place. My heart doesn’t thunder in my chest. I almost wish it did. I look up at the piece of art hanging on the wall to see what part that gold strand plays. I don’t see it at first because of the kaleidoscope of deep gemstone colors surrounding it, but then it pops out, nestled next to a shade of violet so dark that it’s almost black. The golden thread runs in tandem with that dark color forming a brilliant fleur-de-lis. The gold wouldn’t appear so bright without the vibrant color nestled next to it. It makes me wonder if
I lightened Sean after all this time or he darkened me. Or maybe we stayed the same because people can’t change. The fracture inside my soul won’t mend. Somehow I know that. Even Sean couldn’t touch it if he were here. I wish I could cry and grieve for everything I’ve lost, how I’ve failed and suffered—but there are no tears, no anguish.

  I peek up at the sconces lining the halls. The flames are housed in glass containers. If I disable the safety and blow out that flame, then the gas will build in that little glass box until I set off the main explosion, sending it racing down this hall and ensuring it’ll meet up with the supply closet. No one ever looks up, so they won’t notice that I’ve tampered with them until it’s too late.

  But how do I get up there? The ceilings are over fourteen feet, and the light fixture is around ten feet off the ground. If I push into a room to find something to climb on, I risk someone seeing me. As it is, Mel must have gotten into the control room because a flock of men aren’t headed this way with nets, and my earpiece has gone silent.

  Think, Avery. There’s a chair, which is too short, a sideboard table, which is too heavy. Further down the hall is a window with thick drapes and long tasseled cords. I wonder if they’re attached. Only one way to find out. I rush to the alcove and confirm I’m alone before yanking on the silken rope. It’s a little thicker than my finger, so not the kind of line you’d need to dock a boat, but it should work.

  I head to the nearest fixture, smirk as I toss the cable up and over the swooping decorative neck of the lamp and grab the other side of the silken cord as it falls. I wrap it around my hand and tug hard, hoping the damn thing is actually anchored in the wall. The fixture doesn’t budge.

  “Ha! Assholes.” I silently thank God that I learned to climb the rope in gym class and shimmy my way up to the light, flick open the pane of glass and blow out the flame. I’m looking down at the regulator and don’t smell gas. Cocking my head, I inspect the space behind an ornamental fitting and find the safety shut off. A copper wire connects to another piece. I have no idea if I’m pulling the right part, but I use my fingers and tug. The thin wire snaps and the scent of natural gas fills my nose.

  I close the glass panel and slide down the rope, managing not to rip the skin off my palms. My fingertip is a little raw from pulling the wire like that. I’ll have to use the pliers next time. From the floor, there’s a faint scent of gas but nothing alarming. Move faster. One per hallway between here and Vic’s bedroom which sits above the central part of the house. If Vic’s room blows, it’ll cause a chain reaction that takes out both wings with it. The fire will rush from the center of the house to the ends, instantly engulfing the entire mansion. I hope Black does her part. If Vic is on the lawn, then this isn’t going to work. He must be in the house.

  I’ve climbed the rope seven times already, and my arms are sore. More footfalls race toward me, but I’m already hanging from a light fixture. Damn. I’m ten feet up in a blood red corridor that would have made Henry drool. Black marble statues of Greek goddess-like figures stand on scrolled corbels with their heads nearly touching the ceiling. Paintings form a line below their feet. The light still flickers in front of me. I scan the walls and notice there are no tapestries this time.

  Shit. Shit. Shit. Where to go? There’s a chandelier hanging from a rotunda that connects the two hallways, but it’s too far away. Voices draw nearer, so I do the only thing possible and go up higher. Directly above my head is one of those statues. I use the cording and lasso the thing and tug lightly. It rocks. Fuck. I carefully gather my rope again and try to hook it around the pedestal this time. I barely have time to grab the cord, knot it, and climb before Vic’s men come around the corner.

  I freeze. I’m dangling from a gold rope about twelve feet off the ground, suspended between a statue and a gas lamp slowly spinning. I cringe, waiting for someone to spot me. I’m not exactly inconspicuous. I’m like a fly dangling on a spider’s web.

  Four of Vic’s men stop below me. The tallest of them swears, and mumbles, “We’re looking for a fucking ghost.”

  Another man with dark skin nods in agreement. “The guy is dead.”

  “Then where the fuck is the body?” The third man growls. He has broad shoulders with blonde hair that is tied at the nape of his neck.

  The fourth man is silent. His face is obscured by a black ball cap, his clothing covered in yard debris, and he’s thicker through the middle. He pauses and looks down the hall behind them.

  The blonde ponytail guy pivots slowly, examining the walls and swears. “Why are the cameras showing Vic in this hallway if he’s not here?”

  The tall man shrugs as Mr. Ball cap flicks his eyes upward. His gaze lands on me for a fraction of a second. Fuck, he’s going to shoot me. Or worse, drag me back to a room to wait for Vic. For a moment nothing happens. I wait for a voice to call up and a finger to point my way and announce me to his comrades. But he doesn’t do that. Instead, he turns the other way, moving down the hallway. The rest of the men follow.

  What the hell was that? By the time I climb down, my hands are aching and raw. The rope cut into my palm from clinging there so long. It’s not until I round the corner that I see him—Mr. Ball Cap is waiting for me.

  Great, more people who want to fuck with me. I stop so swiftly that my skirt swishes at the top of my knees. I’m ready to lasso his neck with my tapestry decoration and strangle him if needed. I loop the rope in my palm, preparing to move when he spreads his hands apart and smirks. “Avery, really? You hid on the ceiling?”

  I take a second look at his face. “Gabe?” I can barely believe it. “You came to help?” He nods, and before he has a moment to explain, I scold him, “You have to get out of here. The entire building is going to be nothing but a bonfire.”

  “When?” He glances at his watch.

  “As soon as I reach the master suite on the fourth floor. I’m nearly there.” Three more hallways, a back staircase, and then it’s the first door on the left. It’s positioned directly over the center of the house. If Mel saw to the west side of the house, the supply closet coupled with this wing should take this entire building down.

  “How much time do I have? I need to move my men out, but we’re scattered.”

  “Ten minutes, tops. Better make it five. I’m not waiting. As soon as I get there, I’m lighting it.”

  Gabe’s expression softens, and he places his hand on my shoulder. His eyes sweep over me again, noticing the bruises, blood, and gore. “Avery, you don’t have to be a martyr.”

  “I already am.” I pull away and continue down the hall, tapping at my wrist as if I were wearing a watch. “Five minutes until ignition. Get them out.”

  “Avery, you’ll heal. If you give yourself a chance…” He watches me as I turn the corner.

  I wish I believed him.


  As I sprint up the final staircase, a faint noise catches my ear. It’s something familiar and light—not footfalls or like hearing someone breathing. It’s more unnerving than that. The sound is as gentle as fingernails on a chalkboard with a similar effect. The soft scrape of knives across the wood, gently scratching the floor below—or claws. The bear found me.

  Once I reach the upper landing, I can hide, but right now I’m out in the open. There are three flights of stairs, and I’m dead center. If I run, it’s possible that I could hide. But there have been corridors with no quickly accessible crannies to wedge into, and if it’s one of Vic’s men, that’d be a problem. The line of sight on the staircase sucks. Damn it. I’m still frozen halfway up the second flight of steps. What would Sean do? Something crazy. I’m getting pretty good at crazy. Actually, I think I’m legally insane at this point. The men in white jackets will come to fetch me if by some stroke of luck I manage to survive the night. I’ve killed my conscience, and I’m considering doing something completely nuts. At the same time, the animal trailing me won’t see it coming. Crazy and me are BFFs right now. There is no tomorrow, no worries about an asylum.

  Screw it. I need to kill a bear with pliers. It’s not something they taught me in college, and I can’t say I’ve Googled it before either.

  After coming to an abrupt halt on the steps to the second landing, I grab the thick banister and spin on my heel. I risk a glance between the fat wooden rungs, but no one is standing there. No crazy-ass white bear with freaky pink eyes. If I peer out too far, I’ll get shot in the face if it’s a person. Part of me thinks that it could be a person trailing me, using the sound to rattle me. But it’s much more likely that it’s the bear. I’m sure I look like a lunatic, crouching by the banister, thinking about doing what I need to do, flashlight in one hand and a pair of pliers in the other.

  The scratch is inching closer, rising up the staircase, passing the first landing. There’s a slow slicing of wood that’s muffled by carpet. The sound is similar to nails scraping across paper. It’s a noise that has always made my hair stand on end and my stomach twist. Now, it does nothing to penetrate that part of me. No sound or slow stalking will put me over the top. I’ve already been there, done that. What’s left isn’t someone I want to know. I wish I had a knife, but trying to take the one taunting me might not be the best move. I can’t overpower anyone. I have shock value and crazy on my side, and that’s about it. How hard is it to startle a bear?

  I crouch low, as I peer around the railing quickly. There are five steps between me and the bottom landing. That’s it. I perch on the stairs and look at the pliers in my hand and its curved edges. A blow to the temple will stop anything. It’ll be like driving a knife into its skull.

  The magnitude of what’s about to happen, once I get past the bear, lingers above me like mist. When it fully penetrates my mind, it’ll be so much worse. I don’t want to think about it. I can’t think about it. But still. My main regret is the baby I carry in my body. I wish I could save her, but there’s no way out. Even if we manage to escape, I know this story. I’ve lived it. My mother couldn’t outrun them, and she couldn’t save me. All that’s happened seems like a dream gone horribly wrong. I wish I could wake up. I wish I could strike a match and begin again, but I can’t. There’s nothing left to save, no soul, no laughter, no anything.

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