It was midnight when Uri woke her.
Before going to bed, they’d set out clothes, so they didn’t have to open drawers. Uri had also brought up hats and gloves, but not one’s she’d seen before. They dressed quickly. Once they were dressed, Uri licked his finger and slid it over her bracelet. It dropped off into his hand. He then gave a tug to the fine chain around his neck. He put her bracelet under her pillow and his chain under his pillow before putting on his gloves.
Natalia expected them to sneak downstairs, but was surprised when Uri opened a window. He took an escape ladder out from under the bed and hooked it on the railing of the small balcony. She saw that all the snow was cleared off both the balcony and below it.
He waved for her to step out. Once she was out, he followed and closed the window. He went down the ladder first then signaled for her to follow. There was a stone path that was also clear of snow. They reached the street without leaving any foot prints.
Uri broke into a fast jog. The cool weather and the exercise felt exhilarating to Natalia. She jogged at a fast pace, keeping up with him, until a car pulled up beside them. Uri opened the back door for her. He sat up front.
“Evening,” Moralis said.
“Evening,” Uri said. “You’re right. She can run pretty fast and far.”
“Told you. That’s how we got to the limo so fast. You’re not bathing her in sanguine tea are you?”
“No. She’s developed this fast on her own.”
They fell silent. Natalia didn’t ask, knowing by the direction they were going that they were heading toward Hell. However, Moralis changed direction a short ways from hell and parked on a side street. There were a few buildings on the side where they parked. Across the street was an empty lot.
“Short walk,” Moralis said.
Uri had her follow Moralis, and he took the rear. They crossed the lot.
On the other side, there was a fence, but there was a swath cut through it. They easily stepped through the gap into another lot. She could see that this lot wasn’t so empty. There were piles of clothes and boxes. It took her a moment to realize these piles were made-shift tents.
Natalia could see bare legs sticking out of one tent they passed. From within, she heard the huffing and grunting of two people having sex.
Moralis led them across a street to another lot. This lot also wasn’t empty. It was piled high with trash. The trash was so high that the only way through was to follow a trail that the wound around the piles.
Another street was crossed. Natalia could see they were aiming for a warehouse. Moralis opened a side door with a key and stepped in. He closed the door after they had entered.
The building had no lights, but Natalia could see the rows and rows of barrels.
“So what’s the word,” Uri said to Moralis. “And what’s up with the tracking system?”
“It’s out. I’m guessing sabotage. Another diversionary tactic I’m guessing again.”
“So we’re not tracking anyone?”
“Oh, my tracking system is working fine,” Moralis said with a grin. “It’s just the one the Council uses. So you and Nattie are not being tracked right now. If you look at the system, it’ll show you where you were at when the system went down.
”So that’s why I saw her at home earlier and thought it was working.”
They were walking down one aisle filled with barrels. Natalia could smell that they held sanguine tea. They were stacked on racks, three high per rack level. There were three levels to the ceiling.
“Not seeing anything with Alfie. He’s going to all the expected placed.” Moralis stopped to look at some barrels.
“And the safe?”
“Everyone took their money out. I was the last one. I made sure the safe looked pretty much how it did in the video that Mina took. My guess is one or more of seven people helped themselves.”
“All Council members I presume.”
“Council members?” Natalia said.
“They were the last ones with access to the safe. They were the only ones who knew where it was taken. Mirren didn’t even tell anyone in our group where it was. You were the first non-Council member to see the safe, Nattie. Tia told me that she didn’t even know where it was despite she’s considered a Council member. So she didn’t know what was going to happen when she was told to take you to that warehouse. She was as surprised as you were.”
“No ones spouting any excess money or spending extravagantly?” Uri said. He tapped on a barrel. There was a dull thud showing that it was full. “You sure you’re not causing the sanguine tea shortage?”
“With only pregnant households getting tea, it’s quick to stock up. We guzzle a lot of tea, probably more than we should.”
“So we have Council members stealing money, sabotaging the tracking system, and taking all the blood for tea,” Natalia said. “And Mirren or Tia don’t know who? You sure their not tilted?”
“I’m hard pressed to believe that my family is tilted against me,” Uri said. “I know that Mag, Zena, Kate, and Bonnie are on our side.”
“Grazie is getting lots of time with Tia, and she hasn’t dropped any hints that she’s in on this,” Moralis said. “She’s visiting him every day I hear.”
“If Mirren and Tia were in on this, than our whole operation is suspect,” Uri said. “I don’t see that.”
“Tia likes Grazie,” Natalia said.
“No ones throwing money around,” Moralis said. “The last big expense was you buying Nattie’s car. Boy, did that light up everyone’s radar.”
“I already had the money for it.”
“So hows that car working for you Nattie?”
“It’s in the shop already.”
“Shop? I thought you were a good driver?”
“I am a good driver. Kidnappers nailed it,” she said.
“Shit. No, kidding.”
“Bonnie suspected they were seen in town and saw Nattie get into the car. She was the target. They won’t try that ever again.”
“I can imagine they weren’t expecting two Viperian ladies with knives and attitude.”
“A rather accurate description.”
Natalia found herself smiling at being called a Viperian lady.
“I’m getting a little bothered with my vehicles in a repair shop, though. The limo is still there, although we’ll be getting it back in a few days. Second time this year,” Uri said. “My insurance is going to go through the roof.”
“I’m surprised Bonnie is still driving for you. It seems to be dangerous around you two.”
“I’m as surprised as you. Perhaps it’s the challenge,” Uri said.
“I think she likes me,” Natalia said.
“With how you can handle a knife, I’d not be surprised,” Uri said.
They turned and headed down another aisle.
“I’ve still not heard anything from John,” Uri said.
“I’ll say you’re not going to. He’s spending too much time with Alfie. I’d make sure you follow all traffic rules,” Moralis said.
“I went through a check point today,” Natalia said. “It went as Bonnie said it should, but she did show me the SOS button.”
“I wouldn’t drive alone if I were you,” Moralis said. “Either one of you.”
“I haven’t even gotten my knives back from the Council,” Uri said.
“That was weeks ago,” Moralis said. “Is that going to hamper you?”
“Not in the least. I should ask Mirren and/or Tia about them. They will probably say I don’t need them. With the Church pretty much disbanded, I’m not being used for rescues anymore. Moralis, there’s a hell of a lot of tea here.”
“Uri, this isn’t even a months supply of what we go through. The recommendation is once or twice a week for an adult male and twice that for a female. Club night alone goes through more than half a gallon per person.”
“Yeah, even I’m drinking more than the recommendation.”
“I’d raise the price, but I don’t think that will change everyone’s habits,” Moralis said.
“What’s the recommendation for a pregnant lady?” Natalia said.
“Daily, usually twice daily,” Moralis said.
“I’m getting that.”
“I’ve got new sources of blood coming in. Within a week or two, this shortage will be over. We’ll be better for it. We got a little lazy with our one source.”
Moralis stopped at one barrel. It was tapped. There was a mug on top. He took it and opened the tap to fill the mug part way.
“That’s a different smell,” Natalia said.
“New recipe,” Moralis said. He swirled the tea, sniffed and put the mug to his lips. “Good stuff.” He smacked his lips and handed the mug to Uri.
Uri took a mouthful, then a second.
“Wow. Intense. What’d you do?”
“Most of our blood is a mixture of all the cow blood. We don’t know the types. One of my supplier types the blood. We can get barrels of only type B.”
“This is what it produces?” Uri said.
“You want your senses to become more acute, drink this stuff.”
“You going to give me some?”
“How much tea do you have?” Moralis said in an extra quiet voice.
“Ask me anything you want?”
Natalia suddenly realized Moralis had drugged Uri.
“How many bags of money did you take?” Moralis said.
“Just the two.”
“How many did Nattie take?” Moralis said.
Natalia knew he had Uri there.
“Nattie’s already been questioned by the Council. She filled one bag that I used to calculate what everyone could take,” Uri said. “You saw that bag when you were last in the safe and left it like I asked.”
He was still speaking the truth.
Natalia nodded as he spoke before she realized that Moralis was watching her, not Uri.
“How much money left your garage that night?” Moralis said.
“None,” Uri said. “I took my two bags out the next night.”
Natalia wondered when he’d done that.
“Who’s side are you one, Uri?”
“I’m on your side. I’m not tilted,” Uri said.
“How many sides are there?” Natalia said.
“That’s a fine question,” Moralis said.
“I’d say three,” Uri said.
“Who are they?”
“Us, Council, Sherri,” Uri said.
“Driver’s Guild is part of Sherri’s side,” Moralis said.
“Not from what I’m hearing from Bonnie. They’ve started to tilt away from Sherri. Apparently they got a their asses chewed with the attack on Nattie and me.”
Moralis poured what was left of the tea on the ground. He poured more tea then drank it.
“I left some of this mix at your work. Don’t drink any more than four ounces in a day. It’s quite potent.”
“I didn’t drug you that much.”
“I can feel it already wearing off,” Uri said. “Makes the brain tingle.”
“Sorry, Uri,” Moralis said, putting his hand on Uri’s shoulder.
“I said you could any time. I’m glad you did.”
Uri put his hand on Moralis’ shoulder.
They lowered their heads toward each other almost like they were bowing in respect.
“Do you want half of my third bag?” Moralis said.
“No. You’re risking more than I am and doing a lot more work. You’ve earned it.”
“Thank you, Uri. You’re a good man.”
Moralis poured a small bit in the mug and handed it to Natalia.
“Don’t take more than a couple of swallows.”
She took a sip. The taste was strong and sweet and there was a strange after effect that radiated up her nose.
Her nose had been clear before and she could smell very well, but now she felt as if she could smell everything like it was right there in front of her.
“That clears the sinuses and more,” she said.
She took another swallow. Uri took the mug and finished the last sip. He put the mug back on top of the barrel.
“All my sniffers and listeners are on a small dose of this stuff.”
“We now have an edge,” Moralis said. “All the people who are supposedly working on the tea shortage are doubling their efforts on tracking certain people. I hope for some results in the next day or so. Whoever thought this was a diversion thought wrong.”
“The more mistakes they make the better,” Uri said.
Moralis led them down the aisle back toward the door. When they reached it, he paused. Natalia thought both Uri and Moralis were listening hard. Moralis put a hand on the handle, but Uri stopped him. They stood totally still. She thought they were hardly breathing. It was some minutes later that a sniffing sound passed the door.
Uri’s nostrils flared.
Natalia noted the smell of a dog.
Moralis looked a little worried.
Natalia knew a person had passed with the dog. She could smell them. Suddenly, her senses told her there was more than one person.
Uri looked up.
They backed down an aisle until they reached one of the supports of the building that wasn’t blocked by barrels. Moralis shimmied up first. Natalia didn’t think she could do that, but with Uri urging, she tried it. She found she was stronger than she thought, able to hold on, using both her hands and feet to propel her upwards. She followed Moralis all the way to a cross beam of the roof.
Once they were all up there, Moralis led the way, walking along the beam as agile as a cat. At the opposite end of where they started there was a large open pipe that looked to led to another building. Moralis picked up a marble. She could see there were a dozen lined up by the pipe. He released the marble down the pipe. It seemed rather loud to her as it rolled.
The sound of a dog huffing as it pulled on a leash and running feet came around to their side of the building. This led her to believe that at least one was Viperian, being able to heard and track the sound of the marble.
Moralis motioned for them to follow. He crossed over to another beam, then back across to the side where they started. He climbed back down. Natalia waited until he totally down before she followed, almost sliding more than she was climbing. Uri slid all the way down very fast. Moralis then moved a lever. A barrel moved, revealing a hole. Moralis gestured for them to do down.
They ended up in a tunnel. It was pitch black and despite her enhanced eyesight, found it difficult to see. Moralis brought out his phone and the screen light was enough to allow them to jog through a tunnel.
They came out through what appeared to be an abandoned building.
“Run home as fast as you can,” Moralis said. “Those were police. Get rid of the clothes you are wearing and the shoes.”
Uri nodded as he took Natalia’s hand. They left the building at a jog. As soon as they hit the street, Uri was running as fast as she could handle. He took shortcuts through yards, parks, and one cemetery. She was breathing really hard when he slowed down. She was glad to see they were only a few blocks from home.
She jumped when police cars flew by at a cross street.They had lights flashing but no sirens.
Uri paused by a garbage bin of a house. He took his shoes off and started to undress. He gestured for her to do the same. She wanted to mention that they were two blocks from home. Were they going to run home naked? And not freeze to death?
He urged her on and started to help her.
She followed his urging and stripped. He put their clothes and shoes in a garbage bin, beneath another bag of garbage. Then he took her hand, and led her down the sidewalk.
She was glad that it was late, but that was no guarantee that no one would be out walking a dog or hoofing it home. It was cold and they jogged as quick as they could. Sand and grit thrown out to keep sidewalks from being slippery were painful on her feet.
Natalia now could see the route that Uri was taking would bring them up behind their house. Uri seem very familiar with the route and she knew he’d come this way before. They climbed a fence and were in the yard. There were clear places to walk without leaving footprints. She had the fleeting thought of what the police would think if they saw barefoot prints.
The sight of the ladder held little relief. They still had to get up there without being seen. She could see the flashing of police lights at the front of the house. The ladder rungs were frigid cold as she put her hands and feet on them. The moment she reached the top, she felt it move as Uri climbed. She was able to push up the window. Uri folded up the ladder and put it under their bed while she closed and latched the window.
Uri took her hand and they slid under the covers. His body was cold. Her feet felt frozen.
“I love you,” Uri said as he cuddled up to her. He ran his hands up and down her body while he breathed in her ear, but he was only warming her. She felt him put her bracelet back on, and then he fiddled to get his chain back on.
Downstairs, they could hear the front door being answered by Mag. A few moments later there was a tap on the door.
“Uri. Police,” Mag said.
Uri rose and threw on a robe. When he opened the bedroom door, Natalia could see relief on Mag’s face.
“Can I at least throw some clothes on?” he said.
He was looking down the stairs and talking to someone. They must have approved his request as Uri stepped back into the bedroom. He checked his chain in the mirror and threw on some jeans and a t-shirt. Natalia rose and did the same, but she put on some socks and shoes since her feet where still cold.
“How about some hot tea,” she heard him say to Mag.
When she came down, everyone was in the living room. There were four policemen. They were all Viperian. As she sat in a chair, Mag brought in tea with six cups.
Natalia took the job of pouring. None of the policemen accepted a cup. Uri took a cup and sipped without sugar or cream. Natalia knew how to play the game. She yawned.
“Where were you tonight?”
Natalia recognized this was John, the one they now believed was tilted.
“What time tonight?” Uri said. “Is this about the car?”
“What about the car? What car?” John said.
“Nattie’s car was rammed by kidnappers. We had to take it to the shop.”
“Gregg’s. That’s where my limo is getting fixed after the city plow trucks rammed it.”
John nodded like he knew all about this.
“No this isn’t about the car. Where were you earlier this evening?”
“Bed,” Uri said. “After we had returned home from taking the car to the shop, we had dinner. I worked in my office until bed time. We went to bed about ten.”
Natalia nodded, making it look absentmindedly, while she sipped her tea. The heat felt good, and she was finally warming up. She also knew the tea was removing the scent of sanguine tea from their breath.
Uri finally poured more tea and added sugar and cream.
“Sorry. Not totally awake here,” he said as he sipped. “What is this about?”
“Who’s the last person you killed, Uri?” John said.