CH. 16: Cheap Shots

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It was funny. It didn't occur to Gwendolyn Wyatt that she never tried to dissuade her big sister even once. Until now. But, of course now was too late.

She didn't think a return trip to the Lowlands was necessarily a dumb play, but if she were being honest, she hadn't been thinking about much of anything at all. Just fantasies of watching Mac kick Gregg Selfridge's head in. But, looking around the ghost town of the Lowlands, where no one would know if anything went south, the idea finally cropped up that this was, in truth, a very bad idea.

Gwenie hadn't been back to the Lowlands in nearly four years. Nobody had. Neither a Wyatt nor a Selfridge. They say a criminal will always return to the scene of the crime, but given the crime the Wyatts and Selfridges had committed in this swampy, vacant graveyard of a town, Gwenie doubted that rule was universal. She still remembered the night her mom came back to Freehold with her new husband, Derek and her sisters and their husbands and most of her cousins, all covered in blood and stinking of rum. That was the night the truce began. Because that was the night that every member of the Latimer family was wiped from the earth. The power triangle of Sunshine Beach families reduced to a straight line.

Though Gwenie was soon taken to view the Lowlands after the slaughter, she wasn't there when it went down. Tracy Wyatt has dubbed her too young and inexperienced. And neither was Mac present. She was too busy in Sunshine Beach proper with her secret boyfriend and his brother, Virgil. Mac was too busy either following her heart or her mentally ill impulses. Mac was too busy being played for a fool. The fires followed. And now they were here.

In the modest tree encircled yard in front of the Latimer' home, abandoned and crumpling these last four years, Gwenie watched her big sister stretch out while her big sister's former lover and bitter enemy did likewise fifteen feet away. She looked beyond them to Gregg's kin. His sister, Trisha was scowling, leaning against the hood of the Selfridge's GTO. Darla was grinning and failing to disguise the knife in her jeans. Trisha could talk to cars. Darla could telepathically link to her brother, Dash. No overriding threat given that Gwenie had recently been trained by her mom to manipulate the elements with her hands. But, Gregg, he could burn them alive with his mind. Had she thought this simply a bad idea? This was tantemont to suicide. Why had she allowed Mac to be drawn into this fight in the middle of a dead, forgotten town? she thought, following that thought with the hard truth of it. You don't let Mac do anything. You just take the ride.

"You tell anyone you was coming?" Gregg asked Mac.

"I look stupid to you?"

"Stupid? No. But crazy? Well-"

"Fuck you, Gregg. We doing this or what?"

Gregg rolled his neck and took off his shirt. His torso was an interlacing lattice work of scars, big and small. On another man it might look gross, but on Gregg's toned and muscular frame, they served only excite and titillate. His pecs. His six pack abs. His powerful arms. A girl had her choice of where to gawk. Gwenie shook her head and threw the thought away. Her eyes settled on Rachel, who was obviously engaging in a similar appreciation. Rachel caught Gwenie looking at her and turned her attention back to Mac.

"Before we start," Gregg said, "Why the fuck shouldn't I just burn your asses to cinders and be done with it?"

Mac said, "Because Rachel would put a bullet in your sister's melon before you licked out the first flame."

Gwenie turned back to Rachel aiming a Colt .45 semi-automatic pistol dead bang on Trisha's head. Gwenie knew Rachel had the gun. "For protection," Rachel had said. It hadn't been in her hand a moment ago. The speed with which she'd drawn it from her leather jacket spoke to much practice. Given Rachel's circumstances, Gwenie wasn't surprised.

"Nah," Gregg said. "I just wanted to see how fucking bonkers you really are. Girl, I'm gonna kick your ass all over the Lowlands. Gonna make up for missing the Latimers' downfall cause I had to stop you from stealing our recipe."

"You cheap prick," Mac spat. "Like you had anything I'd steal. You know why I was at your distillery. Cause you fucking invited me."

"You were using me!"

"How would you know, Gregg? You weren't even there when I showed up. Your Goddamn brother, Virgil ambushed me. Where were you anyway?"

Gregg flushed then went red with rage. "I've had enough of this!"

Then, he charged forward. Mac followed suit and met him in the center of the Latimers' front yard. They dodged and weaved and feinted but eventually committed to the fray. Gregg's right hook hit Mac so hard in the jaw her head whipped around. Gwenie seethed and shut her eyes. Before she opened them, she heard Mac gasp for air, the sound repeatedly punctuated by the dull thwapping of knuckle of meat. Then, she heard Gregg yell, "Oh, Jesus!" and knew it was safe to open her eyes. Gregg, who outweighed Mac easily by eighty pounds of muscle, was staggering back with his hand covering his eye.

"How you like the old 'thumb in the eye socket,' Greggie?" Mac called.

Gregg spun around, swinging a half blind haymaker but Mac stepped back out of range. Mac tried to dive back in and Gregg swung again and by luck or Mac's arrogance he connected with her shoulder and sent reeling away. He used the time to regain his bearings, blinking repeatedly until his full vision apparently returned.

Gregg barked, "You wanna take this to another level, that's fine. Really fine."

And they were at it again. Gregg punched Mac in the side. Mac elbowed Gregg in the solar plexus. He hit her in the bicep. She stomped on his foot. It was incredible really, Gregg had Gwenie's sister by at least six inches of extra reach, yet she showed no fear. But, she was reckless, throwing jabs and crosses, not bother to block. One good shot from Gregg could put Mac in traction. She either didn't realize this or didn't care. She fought with abandon, running on hatred and adrenline and her illness. And it was not going her way.

Rachel said under her breath, "I don't like it."

Gwenie nodded and winced as Gregg clipped Mac above the right ear. "Yeah, this is getting bad. She can't keep this up."

"That's not what I mean. Look."

Gwenie followed Rachel's gaze beyond Mac's slow decline, settling on Trisha and Darla. Trish was intent on the fight, mock juking and jiving in tandem with her brother. Darla, however, was absent, staring off into the thick trees beyond the yard. But, "beyond" was right. The word was "behind." Darla Selfridge is looking behind us, Gwenie thought with dawning horror. Into the trees. To something or God- Someone in the trees behind us. She was about to call out to Mac. To tell her they needed to run. But, Gregg called out something else first.

"You got it tattooed on your leg?! With a slash through it?!"

Gwenie and Rachel looked back at Mac and Gregg. Mac was standing a few feet away from him with her right leg poised for inspection. Gregg, fists still before him, was staring at the limb, his face wounded and child-like.

"The shelter of my heart," Mac said to Gregg, particularly spitting venom as she did. "The words you and I used to say to each other at the end of every night. The words we'd carry in secret within our homes. The words that were a promise of a future away from all this madness."

"A slash," Gregg said, still dumbfounded.

"When you sicced your brother, Virgil on me, cause you were too much of a pussy to sell me out in person, I forced to leave Sunshine Beach. I lost my home. My sanity. And my love. The shelter of my Goddamn heart, Gregg. And now, I'm gonna kick your fucking ass."

"You slept with my wife!" Gregg yelled. And was there a hitch in his throat?

"I fucked your wife! I gave myself to you, you asshole!"

Gregg clenched his jaw. His body flexed. He broke sweat. "Let's end this."

As they charged each other, Gwenie screamed, "Mac, don't! It's a trap!"

A gunshot went off in the trees behind them. And Mac fell to the ground.

Gwenie screamed again, but no words came out.

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