Uri paused, actually looking as if he couldn’t remember.
“Probably the last rescue in the Church. You should check with the Council on that one. I haven’t done any more.”
Even Natalia couldn’t remember the last time Uri had killed anyone. She wasn’t counting the dumping of the kidnappers in the basement.
“It might have been when the Driver’s Guild attacked us,” she said when the thought occurred to her.
His eyebrows went up.
“Yeah, you might be right,” he said with a nod to Natalia. “So why are you asking?”
He directed this question at John.
“Moralis,” John said.
Uri straightened up and looked wide awake now.
“When did you last see him?”
“Mag said he stopped by this morning to deliver some sanguine tea. He’s making sure all the households with pregnancies have a supply.”
“We believe he’s been murdered.”
“Believe? He’s dead?”
Uri looked shocked.
Natalia stared at him, trying to think of the timing between when they last saw Moralis and now.
“His wife said she found blood out in the garage. A mass of blood. Moralis was gone, but his car was still there.”
She knew Moralis lived further from Hell then they did. Had he made it home? Just in time to be killed? The timing wasn’t adding up to her.
“Moralis was my bachelor roomie. We’re best friends. Why… why would I kill him? Did you type the blood?”
“Moralis doesn’t keep grubbies, but you do. Can we see your car?”
“My car? Of course.”
Natalia felt some worry that they might want to see their grubbies. There were four bodies down there. How fast could the grubbies eat? But still, there would be the things the grubbies couldn’t eat.
Uri rose and all four officers followed him to the garage. Natalia didn’t like the odds of four against one, so she tagged along. Mag did as well.
Uri grabbed the keys and popped the trunk. He also opened all the doors.
“Can you open the garage door?” John said.
Uri looked her way and she hit the button for the middle garage door. Outside were more police. One entered carrying a case.
For the next hour, the police technicians seemed to swab every inch of his car. They seemed disappointed when they came up with nothing. Natalia knew from the whispers that not a single blood stain was found.
John stepped up to Uri.
“You stole millions. Where is it?”
“Yeah, and I’m the most watched person in Viperia. You tell me,” Uri said. “I can’t even pee without an inquisition. I buy a car for my wife and get audited.”
Natalia thought he looked pissed, but he was keeping his voice controlled.
“I even have my friends drug me because they don’t believe me either,” Uri said. “I have a limo driver that watches me. Servants that watch me. You can search me, my houses, cars, and wife, and you’re not going to find those millions, John.”
John looked stern and unmoving.
“But the question you should ask yourself,” Uri said, speaking almost low enough for a private conversation, “is why was Alfie lying the other day about sanguine tea? I picked him and Cora up on Thursday because their car got stuck in their laneway. He mentioned he was all out of tea while I said we were barely scraping by. Because I hadn’t had any tea for some days, I could smell it on their breath.”
John remained silent.
“Why was Alfie lying about tea? Because every other household had none? Because somehow he managed to get a supply and was hiding it? Maybe from what had gone missing? And maybe you should think about what he controls. The tracking system. The police. The systems in our cars.”
John looked like he had enough.
“We’re done here,” he said to his men.
They all left through the open garage door.
Uri watched them go. Once all the flashing lights of the police cars were gone, he put all the items that had been taken out of his car back in. Then he closed all the doors and the trunk. While he ushered them back into the house, he pushed the button to close the garage door.
Natalia noted he waited until it was closed before he closed the door into the house.
“What was that all about?” Mag said.
“They were trying to catch me doing something. Don’t know what or why.”
Uri brought out his phone. He made a call.
“Where you at? Police were here. They said you were murdered. Okay. Bye.”
“Moralis is okay?” Natalia said.
“Yeah. He’s home.”
Uri looked at her.
“It’s time to go back to bed. Thanks for the tea, Mag.”
While Mag picked up the cups, Uri took her hand and led her upstairs. He undressed them and they cuddled in bed, but neither one slept. It was almost three am. At exactly three, Uri rose, taking his phone. Natalia followed him to the quiet room. Five minutes after three, his phone lit up.
“Uri and Nattie here.”
“Mirren and Sophie here.”
“What the hell happened tonight, Moralis?” Uri said.
“Someone must have been watching Hell despite I was sure I wasn’t seen. Police and dogs showed up.”
“They came to my house and made me believe you, Moralis, were murdered,” Uri said. “They had lab techs search my car and when he couldn’t find anything, John accused me of stealing the money.”
“What the hell?” Tia said. “The Council cleared you.”
“No one came to my house,” Moralis said. “Francie was in bed and unperturbed. No one had bothered her.”
Natalia noted Moralis inferred that only he was in Hell.
“I made John do some thinking,” Uri said
He told them about Alfie’s lie.
“I’m disturbed that there were no cameras on the safe,” Mirren said. “No one can say who really touched it, and who didn’t. Everyone on the Council had access to it.”
“The tea shortage will be over in a week or so,” Moralis said. “It caused little distraction in our work. I’ll be moving tea out of Hell tomorrow since the warehouse is no longer considered safe.”
“Maybe we weren’t the ones who were the target,” Mirren said.
“This mostly affected staff of Viperia,” Moralis said.
“Police,” Natalia said. “I think the police have been distracted. Check points. Chasing after Uri. The limo. I think the tea was incidental. Secondary.”
“This points more toward Alfie,” Uri said.
“Or someone wants to have things pointed at him,” Mirren said.
“If you’re thinking Sherri, she hasn’t done a thing. She’s focused on the baby and how to get Anna out of jail.”
“I can vouch for that,” Tia said.
“We’re not letting her have any access to Anna,” Mirren said. “And no rehab where Sherri can get access. Anna is not to be discussed further here. For the next few days, everyone keep clean. Uri, try to stay out of trouble.”
“Trouble finds me,” Uri said.
“And Nattie, no driving alone. I know you weren’t alone with this last incident and we’re glad for that,” Mirren said. “Uri, I don’t want you to go anywhere alone. You keep some witness with you at all times and someone more than just Nattie.”
“Yes, sir. Already trying to do that.”
“The rest of us who aren’t on someone’s radar will do the work. Uri and Nattie seem to be drawing everything away from us.”
“But now the tracking system isn’t working. Someone is going to use that against me since they can’t track me.”
“Thus why you need witnesses all around you,” Mirren said. “Mag and Zena are supposed to report about you. They have, but I note it is in your favor or at least boringly neutral.”
“They aren’t tilted,” Uri said.
“Any things else tonight?” Mirren said.
There were five seconds of silence.
The call ended.
“What next?” Natalia said after Uri hadn’t moved.
“We visit your father tomorrow. I mean today. We’ll have Bonnie take us even though parking isn’t an issue.”
“Mainly for a witness?”
“Yes. I want to go the other house, but don’t know when I can do that.”
“Are all our clothes and things out? Maybe after we see my father, we can go over there. Tell Mag, Zena and Kate to go over there to meet us.”
“We can do that. Maybe I’ll let the Council know what I am doing so they can send someone over if they wish. Of course, someone other than Tia.”
“Call Grazie. Have him come over with the girls. Or just send the girls over.”
“That is brilliant. Five young girls running around will create the distraction I need.”
“What are you up to?”
Uri smiled, took her hand and led her back to bed.
“Just running amok as usual,” he said.
They cuddled under the covers. He licked her shoulder. Natalia already felt her body heat rise.
“That’s warming me up. You just needed to do that earlier after freezing my ass off.”
“We’re lucky garbage pickup is tomorrow morning.”
He kissed along her neck, but didn’t bite her. He stopped to kiss her lips.
“We’re not going to get much sleep tonight,” she said.
“Not for another hour,” he said.
“You need to look fresh and happy for your father.”
She wrapped a leg around him.
“Maybe this will be quick,” he said.
Natalia could feel his arousal.
Sunlight was streaming around the curtains when Natalia woke. She noted the time was well after nine. Uri was still beside her. He woke at her movement.
“You slept late,” she said.
“Happens when you stay up most of the night,” he said, cuddling up to her. “We had a hell of a week.”
“Yeah, I guess we did.”
“We can sleep in one day.”
There was a knock on their door.
“Or maybe not,” he said.
“Sorry,” Mag’s voice said. “Moralis.”
“Give me a moment,” he said to Mag through the door.
He threw on some clothes and left.
Natalia rose to shower and dress. She put on jeans and a nice top. She paused at the top of the stairs. Faint voices told her that Uri and Moralis were in his office. She trotted down the stairs to the dining room. At her place, there was already a glass of sanguine tea.
She was a half way done sipping the tea when Mag appeared with her breakfast.
She wanted to ask about the grubbies and their progress with their last meal, but decided that probably wasn’t a good topic. Instead, she focused on her breakfast. Afterward, she got her tablet and settled on the sofa.
It was some time before Uri and Moralis came out.
“Morning, Nattie,” Moralis said.
“Welcome back from the dead,” she said, causing him to smile and laugh.
“See you two around,” Moralis said.
Uri walked him out. When he returned, he sat on the sofa beside her.
“So what’s up,” she said.
“He thought it would be appropriate if he came over. I, naturally, would want to make sure he’s okay since the police thought he was dead. We are best buds. That is well known. He said he had to go through one check point to get here, but the police didn’t harass him or anything.”
“Why did John do that?”
“To see how I would react. We both acted how we should have,” he said, rising. “I need some breakfast.”
She watched him go to the dining room where he asked the question that she wanted to ask.
“Have we checked the grubbie progress, Mag?”
“Yes, I already raked up a few items this morning. I burned the clothing. I have IDs for you.”
A few minutes later, Uri came out with his plate and sat. He pulled out his phone.
“Moralis. New development. The four kidnappers that tried to get Nattie… I recognized two names. I think they’re on the police force.”
He listened on his phone. Then the call ended.
He sat and ate, leaving Natalia highly curious. She waited until he finished and was just about to ask when Mag came out to answer the door. There had been no knock or ring. Moralis came in and sat in a chair across from them.
Uri leaned over and handed him the IDs.
“If they would have searched your grubbies, you’d be in jail right now,” Moralis said. “And yes, you’re right. These are all policemen. Undents.”
“Why were policemen posing as kidnappers?”
“Good question for which I have no answer.”
Moralis stared at the IDs.
“John has to know they’re missing. Probably thinks you came to help the girls so they searched your car looking for evidence. I wonder if they went over to Gregg’s and searched Nattie’s car?”
“Neither my car nor Nattie’s has ever been used to carry a body. The kidnappers came in their own car,” Uri said.
“My hands were bloody,” she said.
“Mag wiped down the steering wheel, seatbelt and your door handle: inside and out.”
“I assume those bodies will never be found,” Moralis said.
“Why would I know where those kidnappers drove?” he said with a shrug.
Moralis smiled at Uri’s words.
“So why didn’t John ask you about that?”
“Good question,” Uri said, almost imitating Moralis.
Uri rose to take his plate into the dining room. He returned with three mugs of tea which he sat on the coffee table. He handed a mug to her then Moralis before he took his own.
“I did mention to John the kidnapping and that Nattie’s car was damaged, but that was it. Yes, odd that he didn’t ask more. Maybe he already knew this. Just didn’t know what happened to his guys.”
“That does confirm that the police are tilted, maybe not all of them, but they are being directed inappropriately.”
Moralis smiled and shrugged.
“What happened after we left,” she said in an extra quiet voice.
“Police ran all over the place,” Moralis said, almost whispering. “Ended up with the dogs at the door we entered and they traced us backwards.”
“Moralis already had one of his people move the car.”
“Dogs stopped at an empty street,” Moralis said. “Always good to breakup your trail. Which is why I picked you up a few miles from your house. If they ran the dogs in a wide enough circle they might have picked up your trail when you headed home, but it was far enough away from the building.”
“I’m glad you think of all these things,” she said.
“That’s our job.”
“That’s my forte. Always thinking ahead.”
“We’re fighting ourselves, which makes it harder,” Moralis said in a more sober tone. “But it’s Undents who are dying.”
“Do you think they were teddy bears?” Uri said. “I never thought to look for bite marks.”
“Most likely. What are you and Nattie doing today?”
“Visiting her father and Brianna. Then we’re going to my house in Viperia to clean it out. I’m thinking of leasing it out as a bachelor house.”
“Don’t go alone.”
“I’ve already keyed in the Council. I asked Grazie to bring the girls over. Everyone is supposed to meet there about three-thirty.”
Moralis nodded and handed the IDs back to Uri.
“Hide those well.”
“I’m already late meeting Francie. Take care.”
Uri again walked him out. When he came back, in he headed to office.
Natalia felt unsettled. The Council seemed against them. The police as well. She felt like everyone was after them. Because they all believed he stole all that money? Or they were trying to blame him as a cover up? A cover up for what?
She rose and stepped into his office.
“When do I get to learn to throw my new knives?”
“We’ll find a day. At the moment, I’m using half of them,” he said.
“I see. That’s why you’re not too upset that the Council hasn’t given your five back.”
“I do like it when you can count.”
“I remember how many you used. And how many you let the Council keep. You didn’t tell them two hit a bat.”
“They only needed the knives with blood on them.”
“It would be nice if I could carry one or two any way.”
“You’ll need special sheaths. I can’t openly get some, so I’ll have to go through some of my old ones. Let’s just get through today.”
“Well, I’ll go do homework until we have to leave,” she said.
Natalia settled on the sofa. She finished another class and took the final. The two new classes that showed up were generic and not related to finance.
“To make me more well rounded. I wonder if I have to learn a foreign language and if Viperian counts?”
Mag served a light lunch at twelve-thirty.
“When do I get to see the rooms, Mag?” Natalia said.
“A couple of more days. Some of the things that we ordered are coming late.”
At one o’clock, Uri came into the living room.
“We’ll leave about one-thirty. I’m giving you warning in case you have to change or something.”
“I’m not. I never showered. I should probably do that.”
He disappeared upstairs.
At one-thirty, they met Bonnie in the garage.
“Sorry to have to ask you to drive Bonnie, but it’s not wise for me to be alone.”
“I understand. We’re supposed to be watching you. Do you want to drive Nattie?”
“No, I’m good. All the excitement of driving has worn off with getting crashed into.”
Bonnie pulled out. Traffic was light as expected.
“You’re fidgeting,” Uri said.
“You got grubbies in your stomach?”
She laughed. He brushed his cheek against hers.
“This is a good meeting. Not confrontational,” he said.
“I’m still nervous.”
“Check point,” Bonnie said.