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Chapter no 3

Five Survive

Red concentrated on staring ahead. She wanted to think about the pattern in the curtains again, but she couldn’t risk looking that way. Instead, she looked down at the check mark drawn on her hand, eyes tracing the lines, trying to summon back that tiny firework.

Maddy placed her phone facedown. “Shall we play another game?” she said.

If Red had to sit here any longer, she might go mad. Even just walking a few laps of the RV might help. Thirty-one feet, you know, not just thirty. The 2017 GetAway Vista 31B. 2017 was also the year that—no, stop.

She was about to stand up when the sound of a duck quacking stopped her, mechanical and insistent. It was coming from behind her head.

“Oh, that’s me,” Oliver said, jumping up from the passenger seat and squeezing his wide shoulders past Arthur and Simon. “Mom’s calling,” he said.

Red breathed in.

“How do you know it’s your mom without looking?” Simon asked, a look of genuine confusion on his face.

“Personalized ringtone,” Oliver said, walking past the dining table to the tiny kitchen, running his hands through his golden-brown hair, the exact same

shade as his eyes. His backpack was sitting on the counter. He unzipped it. “My mom started it; has personalized ringtones for the whole family,” he explained, digging his hand inside. “She has duck à l’orange for her birthday meal every year. Hence the duck.” He found the ringing phone, pulled it out. “Arthur, can you take over directions?”

“No problem.” Arthur took the empty seat.

“Hey, Mom,” Oliver said, holding the phone out to get a good view of his face. He stepped forward and slid onto the booth beside Red. Catherine Lavoy’s face filled the screen, her hair the same color as Oliver’s, neat and curled. Faint lines around her eyes as she smiled out of the phone. She looked tired, her face full of shadows.

“Hello, sweetie,” she said, an uncharacteristic croakiness catching her voice. She cleared her throat. “I just tried Madeline but she wasn’t picking up.”

“I’m here, Mom,” Maddy said, with an awkward glance at Red, but Red pretended not to notice. It was stupid anyway because Red liked Catherine. More than liked her. Catherine had been there Red’s entire life. She was kind and caring, and she always knew just how to help her. And, most importantly, she always cut sandwiches into triangles. Oliver pressed the button to activate the rear camera so Maddy could wave at her mom. “Sorry, I didn’t hear it ringing.”

“That’s okay,” Catherine said. “Just calling to check how you guys are doing. Are you at your stopover point yet?”

Oliver pressed the front camera on again, and Red could see from the direction of his gaze that he was looking into his own face, shifting his angles so the light found his cheekbones. “No, not yet, we’re close to the campsite I think, though. Hey, where are we?” he called to those at the front.

Arthur checked over his shoulder. “Driving through a Morven Township.

Should be around twenty-five minutes.”

“Who was that?” Catherine asked, searching the corners of her screen as though they could give her the answer.

“Maddy’s friend, Arthur,” Oliver said. “Who’s driving?” Catherine asked.

“Reyna is currently.”

“Hi, Mrs. Lavoy,” Reyna called from the front, not taking her eyes off the dark road.

“Hello, Reyna,” Catherine shouted back, too loudly, her voice crackling against the speakers. “Okay, so you’re almost there?”

“Correct.”

“Great. Oh, is that Red there?” Catherine asked, peering into her screen, raising it closer to her eye.

Oliver tilted the phone, trapping Red inside the camera. She smiled. “Oh, it is! Hello, sweetie, how’s it going?”

“Yeah, good. No official complaints to file.”

Catherine laughed. “And are my children behaving? You know I trust you the—”

Catherine froze on the screen, dead pixels distorting her face. “The—”

Her hand jolted across the screen, blending into the mess of her face. No longer a person, just blocks of muted color.

“Mom?” Oliver said. “Th…th…”

Her words scattered into layers, robotic and strange.

Red’s image was frozen too, eyes wide, afraid she’d be stuck in Oliver’s phone forever.

“Mom, can you hear me?” Oliver said. “Mom?”

“Ca…n you g…uys hear me? Hello?” Catherine’s voice broke through, but her face couldn’t keep up, mouthing words that already existed, talking before she could speak.

“Got you,” Oliver said. “Well, sort of. Guess the service must be spotty around here.”

“Okay, well.” Catherine’s face fast-forwarded, twitching as it dragged itself to the present. “I’ll let you get on with…is that a beer bottle?” Catherine’s eye moved to the camera again, staring at a shape on the counter behind Oliver’s shoulder.

“Yeah, it’s mine,” Oliver said smoothly, without a beat. He might just be a better liar than Red.

“You aren’t drinking on this trip, are you, Maddy?” Catherine raised her voice to find her daughter off-screen.

“No, Mom,” Maddy began. “I know—”

“—You are seventeen, I don’t want to hear from anyone that you’ve been drinking. You can have fun without it.”

Which reminded Red; Maddy turned eighteen in just a couple of weeks.

She was already worrying about how to get her a birthday present.

“Yes, I know. I am. I won’t,” Maddy said, leaning forward so her mom could hear her more clearly.

“Oliver?”

“Yes, Mom. I’ll watch her. Take chaperone duties very seriously, won’t we, Reyna?”

“Yes ma’am,” Reyna called.

“All right.” Catherine eased back from the camera. “I’ll let you go, then. I’ve got some prep to get on with. Text me in the morning before you head off again.”

“Will do, Mom,” Oliver said. “Okay, bye everyone, bye Red.”

They called “Bye” in clashing tones, Simon going high and shrill for some reason.

“Love you, Oliver, Maddy.”

“Love you, Mom,” they said in perfect Lavoy synchronization, and Oliver thumbed the red button, disappearing Catherine back to that warm house in Philadelphia.

“Whew.” Maddy breathed out. “What more does she want? My big brother and his girlfriend are already accompanying me on spring break at her insistence. It’s so annoying.”

She was talking to Red, she must have been, because just then her eyes flashed and she snatched them away, realizing she’d been complaining to the one with the dead mom. But that was okay because Red was thinking about

the cartoon Phineas and Ferb; they weren’t a match for the pattern in the curtains, but now the full theme song was running through her head.

“It’s fine,” Oliver said to his sister. “Reyna and I are renting our own condo. You won’t even see us; we’ll leave you and all your friends to it. Wouldn’t catch me staying in an RV for a whole week with a bunch of teenagers.”

“Yeah,” Maddy said, directing her voice at her brother now, “but Mom doesn’t know about that part.”

“And what Mom doesn’t know can’t hurt her. She’s just stressed with work stuff at the moment,” Oliver said, coming to his mom’s defense. He did that a lot.

Red really wanted to stand up now, to escape this conversation, to go stand with Arthur at the front, but Oliver and his wide shoulders were trapping her here. Simon came and sat down too, just to make the situation worse, dropping in beside Maddy and digging his hand through the bag of chips. He shoveled an entire fistful into his mouth.

“Yeah, I know,” Maddy said, cheeks still flushed. “But she doesn’t have to take it out on me.”

“She’s just protective of you,” Oliver countered.

“What are youse all talking about?” Simon said, spewing orange crumbs from his mouth as he did.

“My mom,” Oliver explained. “She’s stressed because she’s in the middle of this huge case at the moment.”

“Oh yeah, she’s a lawyer, right?” Simon asked, going in for more chips.

Oliver did not look amused. “She’s assistant district attorney,” he said, and it was hard to miss the pride in his voice, the way he overpronounced those three words. Which Red translated to mean: No, Simon, you idiot, shes not just a lawyer.

“What’s the case?” Simon said, oblivious to the disdain on Oliver’s face. “You’ve probably heard about it on the news,” he said, pointedly. “It’s a

pretty big deal.”

A huge deal, Red thought.

“It’s a homicide case; a murder involving two members of the biggest organized crime gang in the city,” Oliver said, a shadow of disappointment in his eyes as he didn’t get the reaction he was looking for from Simon. He elaborated: “The literal Philadelphia Mafia.”

“Oh, cool,” Simon said, between bites. “Didn’t know the Mafia was still a

thing, I love The Godfather. ‘Revenge is a dish best served cold,’ ” he said in a dreadful Italian American accent.

“Very much still a thing,” Oliver said, settling in to his story now that he had Simon’s attention.

Could Red climb under the table to get out? Urgh, no: too many legs. “There was some leadership dispute going on in the crime family, I won’t

bore you with the details. And at the end of August last year, one of the leaders, Joseph Mannino, was killed by another, Francesco Gotti. Allegedly, I should say. Shot him twice in the back of the head.”

Red tried not to picture it, studying the curtains again. She had heard it all so many times; she probably knew the details even better than Oliver. Not that she was going to say so.

“We are officially in South Carolina!” Arthur called, pointing to a green sign out the front, illuminated by the RV’s headlights.

Oliver kept talking: “Mom is the lead prosecutor taking Frank Gotti to trial for the murder. The pretrial conference is in a couple of weeks—”

April 25 to be exact, Red thought, surprised she had remembered that particular detail. That wasn’t like her.

“—and then it’s jury selection and the actual trial.”

“Cool,” Simon said again. “Mrs. Lavoy, taking on the mob.”

Oliver seemed to swell a little, sitting up taller, blocking Red in even more. “But it’s not just all that. She had to fight to even get this case. Normally a crime like this would be considered a federal case and would be tried by the US attorney’s office. They’ve tried to prosecute Frank Gotti multiple times, on various charges like drug trafficking and racketeering, and have never once got a conviction. But Mom managed to argue that this murder was under the DA’s jurisdiction because it wasn’t specifically related

to drug trafficking and because Frank Gotti killed Mannino himself; he didn’t pay a hit man like they normally do.”

Simon yawned; Oliver was losing his crowd. But he didn’t take the hint. “And we know that,” Oliver continued, “because there was an eyewitness.

Someone actually saw Frank Gotti walking away after shooting Mannino dead. And that’s why Mom’s so stressed—because the entire case rests on this witness’s testimony. And, as you can imagine, in cases against the Mafia, lead witnesses are often intimidated out of testifying or straight-up killed. So Mom has had to make sure the witness has been kept entirely anonymous in all the court documents. Witness A is what the press are calling him.”

“I see,” Simon said. Did he regret asking? Red certainly regretted having

to hear it all again.

“But if she wins this case,” Oliver said, eyes flashing as though this were the most important part of the story, so Simon better stay with him, “it will be career-defining. The current DA is retiring after this term, and if Mom gets this conviction, she’s basically guaranteed to win the Democratic primary this year and be elected DA.”

“Let’s not jinx it,” Maddy chimed in, and it was nice to hear someone else’s voice for a change, other than Oliver’s and the one in Red’s head.

“No”—Oliver nodded down at his sister—“but I’m saying, if Frank Gotti is found guilty, Mom has a great chance of becoming DA.” He turned back to Simon. Poor Simon. “Her biggest competition at the moment is Mo Frazer, another assistant DA. He’s very popular, especially with the African American communities, but if Mom gets this conviction, I think it will give her the edge over him.”

Oliver finally drew back, bowing his head like he was waiting for someone to personally congratulate him.

“Congratulations,” Red said, resisting the urge to add one small clap.

Simon took the opportunity to escape.

“Shut up, Red,” Oliver replied, trying to make it a joke. There were times when Red thought of Oliver as a borrowed big brother; she’d known him her entire life, longer than Maddy if you thought about it like that. But then there

were other times she wasn’t even sure he remembered her name. Not like it was a difficult one: think primary colors.

“She’s done incredibly well for herself. DA before the age of fifty. Of course, by that time I’m going to be US attorney general,” he said, again like it was a joke, but it really really wasn’t. Oliver managed to turn everything into a dick-measuring contest. Red snorted at that, giving the voice in her head a pat on the back.

“What?” Oliver turned to her, his wide shoulders even wider now, a blockade either side of his neck. “Okay, so what are you doing with your life? I actually can’t remember which college you’re going to this year, remind me?”

A lump in Red’s throat.

“Harvard,” she said without blinking. “Full-ride scholarship.”

Oliver’s eyes snapped wider, bottom lip hanging open. She had just one-upped his prelaw at Dartmouth with a premed girlfriend, how dare she? Red enjoyed the look while she could.

“Wh…R-really?” he said.

“Yeah,” she said. “Early admission.”

“Red,” Maddy said in a mock-warning voice, her eyes silently scolding.

She used to enjoy annoying Oliver too. “What?” Oliver looked between them.

“I’m not going to college this year,” Red said, relenting. It was fun while it lasted, living that other life.

Oliver laughed, a sigh of relief buried in there somewhere. “I was going to say. Full scholarship at Harvard, ha! Didn’t think so.”

Oh he didn’t, did he?

“You’re not going anywhere?” he asked now, fully recovered from the shock.

“Red missed the application deadline,” Maddy explained for her. Which wasn’t the truth, but it was a good lie, a convenient one, because how very Red it was.

“You know me,” Red said, just to hammer it home.

“How could you miss the deadline?” Oliver turned to her, a look of cold concern on his face, and Red didn’t like where this was going, but she was trapped right here in this fucking booth forever.

She shrugged, hoping that would shut him down.

It did not, Oliver opening his mouth to speak again.

“I don’t understand it,” he said. “You were such a smart kid.” Don’t say it, please don’t say it.

“Seems a shame,” Oliver went on. “You had so much potential.”

And there it was. The line that ripped her open. She’d lost count of the number of times it had been said to her, but there was only one that truly mattered. Red was thirteen and Mom was alive, screaming at each other across the kitchen, back when it used to be warm.

“Red?” Maddy was saying. It was too hot in here.

Red stood up, knocking her knees against the table, swaying as the RV turned.

“I gotta go—”

But she was saved by Arthur, calling: “Shit, I think we went the wrong way.”

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