"Drive!" said Alma, and Tilda rounded the corner like the devil himself was on their tail. No one had their cherries on yet but that didn't mean they didn't have some metal bracelets with Alma's name on them. The problem wasn't Alma, though. Alma could talk herself out of the situation just fine, or if not talk then certainly do some convincing in some other way. The problem was, if the coppers pulled them over, they would find Tilda behind the wheel and not six feet under.
"I told you they had the place watched," said Tilda, "but you just had to set up the meeting there."
"Don't be like that," said Alma, a calming hand on Tilda's knee as she gunned the engine and swerved around another treacherous bend in the road. "You know it wasn't my call."
"You could've sweet talked that old sailor into anything and you know it," said Tilda. "You just liked the idea of seeing the old haunt one more time."
"And so what if I did," said Alma. "You wanted to see it too."
Tilda pressed her lips together and watched for the sign that pointed them towards land nobody but nobody would dare follow them onto. It was small and out of the way, but Tilda had been driving these roads since she was barely tall enough to reach the pedals and she knew them like she knew the back of her hand, or Alma's. She wouldn't miss it.
"Maybe I did," she admitted, for all that she'd only seen a brick wall and part of an unlit sign. "A girl can go stir crazy cooped up all the time."
"Anything I can do about that?" said Alma, and moved her hand a little higher. "Make the time pass a little faster?"
"Unless you want me to crash this car, you'll hold that thought a little while longer," said Tilda, but she left Alma's hand right where it was. The tension was good for her reflexes, and the anticipation put a little more speed in her engine.
The whole Lydecker empire was built on lies, lies about what they were doing, lies about where they were, even lies about who they were. One more lie had just been one more lie, at the time, but now the consequences of it were almost as much of a prison as a box of bars would have been. Every day Tilda pushed the limits of it just a little bit more.
Anyone who believed she died at the La Brea hadn't been paying attention, but she liked it when people weren't paying attention. You could get away with so much more when they were all looking the other way. Poor Minsky, though, Minsky really was six feet under and likely to stay that way.
When they were first planning the set-up and Muriel had suggested Tilda use her real half-sister as the decoy, on account of the family resemblance, Tilda slapped her so hard her cold, dead brother ought to feel the sting of it. Tilda might have long ago swapped her sister's identity with that of her lover, but that was for their mutual protection, and just because she hadn't seen her in years now didn't make her sister any less family. She made Muriel find some stiff instead to drop off the roof in her place, bullet hole piercing her heart and the fall masking any identifying details.
Tilda might have been ruthless, but she was anything but cold.
"They're still on our tail," said Alma, looking back over her shoulder. Tilda could see the headlights in her rear view mirror just fine. Still no other lights, though, cherries or otherwise. Maybe they had someone else on their tail, but that someone else might be someone even worse. Lot of people interested in catching the Lydeckers off their game.
"Not for long," she said, and put on some more gas. Gravel kicked up beside her tire as she took the next curve right to the edge. "They want us that badly, they need to work for it."
It was still an us. It was always an us. Even though their pursuers had no idea who Alma's driver was, they were in this together.
"Have you heard from Muriel Slade?"
"Radio silence," said Alma, glancing behind them again. It wasn't an idle question. Muriel was the only person outside of the family who knew Tilda was alive, and that made her someone to hold very close. Silence was not on the menu. "Not a peep."
"I'll have someone reach out," said Tilda, and by someone she meant her little metal friend, the one who made her points very sharply. "I'm nobody's fall guy."
"Turn here," said Alma, but Tilda knew where they were, made a sharp turn onto the side road, dusty with lack of rain. "We're almost home."
Not the home they knew, the home they shared, but Lydecker land all the same, private property and safe from any official chase vehicle. At least for now. As for any unofficial chase vehicle, well, here was where Tilda turned off her lights and trusted her memory and good sense to get them where they needed to go.
"They've stopped," said Alma. The lights were getting smaller and dimmer in the rear view mirror. Tilda kept driving, past trees in full fruit and light posts that had been deliberately darkened. "They aren't following. Nobody's behind us."
"They know what's good for them," said Tilda, "and what's good for them has nothing to do with the Lydeckers."
"Are we spending the night in the lodge?"
"I had someone make up our room, just in case," said Tilda. She was ready for almost anything, and had visions of this meet going south long before it happened. "In the morning we'll make sure they aren't camped out waiting for you at the turn-off."
"Not too early, I hope," said Alma, letting her hand slip higher now that they were on safer ground. "I have better plans than that."
"Business before pleasure," said Tilda, but as soon as she stopped the car up by the lodge she turned and steamed up the windows with Alma for a good long few minutes. "So let's get business done as quick as we can. So show me what you got."
"Show and tell, then," said Tilda. "More of the tell than the show."
"It's everything we were looking for," said Alma, "and for half what it's worth. The dirt on O'Bannion and then some. That's the thing about this town, they haven't caught on to the value of information yet. They still think the most valuable stuff can be pawed over."
The Lydecker women had learned otherwise generations ago, and it was something they passed down to their daughters, and their daughters' daughters. Always keep your eyes open and always hold the winning hand, no matter how you had to get it. That was how to survive in this town.
Tilda'd done a lot to survive lately, but life on the lam was better than life as a stiff, that was for sure, and both were better than life in a cell. At least here she had her family, and her business, and Alma. That was all she needed. On paper, one day soon, Tilda would become Aunt Lottie or Cousin Dot, or maybe another half-sister could come out of the woodwork. After that, who knew. Only one thing was for sure: she would survive, and the Lydeckers would thrive.
No matter what it took.