Natalia went into the living room. Kareen was now there holding Grace. She and Larsa looked settled on the sofa. Sherri was standing, looking as if she was supervising Kareen and how she held Grace. Someone was upstairs moving some furniture. She figured it was Grazie since Sherri wasn’t saying anything. She figured if it was one of the girls, she would be yelling at them.
“Where are the girls? Are they still out back?” Natalia said.
Without waiting for an answer, she headed for the back door that went out to a patio. All the girls were there, huddling against the house, out of the breeze. They looked cold but somewhat determined to stay out there.
“Come on in. I’m heading to the basement to see what treasures we have,” she said.
They looked interested and eager to follow at first until they realized their mother was tagging along.
Natalia turned on the light.
“No grubbies down here, but I don’t know what is.”
The basement proved to be a series of rooms. The laundry was down there. There was a full bathroom. Every room was empty. The bathroom, however, had towels and toilet paper sitting on the counter.
Zean jumped up and down on the floor.
“Nope. Nothing under here.”
“It’s way too small for grubbies,” Sherri said. “Ours is almost too small, but we manage.”
“I like the beetles,” Marian said. “Tastier than grubbies.”
That started giggles and bantering between the girls.
“Girls, stop fighting,” Sherri said with a stern voice.
The girls hushed immediately.
“Ooh,” Natalia said. “Scary furnace room.”
“Meh,” Zean said. “Not scary.”
“I guess it would take a lot to scare you girls. So if you had a bedroom down here, which room?”
Natalia knew this would start a game. The girls seem to know it and started to play.
“I’d want the one closest to the stairs so when someone goes to the bathroom…” Tracy started to say.
There were giggles stopping her from finishing and causing her to break out laughing.
“I want the one in the middle. I bet it’s the warmest,” Zean said.
They stepped into each room and worked out where all the furniture would go. By the second room, Natalia could see that Sherri was looking annoyed, but since Natalia was fully engaged in the game, wasn’t saying anything. When they started with the third room, Mag came down with a plastic bag and cleaned out the bathroom.
“Only use the bathroom off the kitchen, please,” Mag said.
“I think we’re done down here,” Sherri said.
She opened her arms and waved them up like someone herding sheep.
There were groans as the girls complied. Natalia followed them up, figuring Mag’s appearance was a sign that they were done loading the van.
Natalia paused on the stairs.
Black plastic bags.
Uri had emptied the trapdoor with their eighty plus million in cash into the van. Under the nose of everyone.
She finally figured it out.
She hit the light switch when she came through the door, then shut the door.
“I don’t know why you took the sheets off that bed, Mag,” Grazie said. “Now where am I going to sleep?”
The girls laughed.
Natalia could tell he was joking.
Everyone was now congregated in the living room.
“This will make a fine bachelor house, Uri,” Grazie said.
“Much too nice,” Sherri said.
“It’s a wonderful house,” Zean said. “I like it. It’s cozy.”
“We only have two more bags, and the kitchen is empty,” Mag said. “We’re heading out.”
Mag followed Zena and Kate, who were carrying bags, out the front door.
“I think that’s our cue,” Uri said.
“Thanks for letting us come over and run amok,” Grazie said.
“You’re welcome. Everyone out through the front please,” Uri said.
Everyone gathered in the laneway. Natalia noted there was no van in sight. All the garage doors were closed.
“I’m riding with you,” Marian said.
Kareen got in her car and drove off.
Tracy ended up riding in the car with her mother.
“Thanks for letting us come,” Marian said. “We needed to get out. Mother doesn’t let us go anywhere.”
“Controller,” Zean said, almost singsonging the word.
“Being a mother is hard,” Natalia said. “I just saw my brother who’s five and he’s a handful. I bet it runs in the family. And with Uri being the father...”
All the girls broke out laughing.
“Hey,” Uri said, pretending to sound offended.
Natalia smiled. She enjoyed the sound of laughter.
When they reached Sherri’s house, Natalia knew the girls were sad to see them leave.
“Take care. I’ll come visit,” Natalia said to their long faces.
They all waved a goodbye while Bonnie pulled into the street.
“Which gate?” Bonnie said.
“Grazie recommended the warehouse gate or the East one.”
“East is quite a drive. Let’s try the warehouse.”
“I wish we had the limo,” Uri said.
“Even if we did, I couldn’t use all the radars and radios,” Bonnie said. “They would key right into those and know exactly our position.”
Bonnie drove into the warehouse district. Natalia recognized the way from when Tia had driven her there to see the safe. However, she had never seen the warehouse gate. There were a dozen loading docks.
“Big area,” she said.
“We needed to give the trucks room to navigate and turn around,” Uri said.
Bonnie drove through the gate. There was no traffic on the other side. After two blocks, Bonnie made the turn. A moment later they were surrounded by police cars.
“Shit,” Uri said.
Bonnie rolled down the windows on her side, but police surrounded the car as if they were trying to get away.
“Get out Uri,” John said.
Uri opened the door. He had his ID ready which John took.
Natalia felt worried while she watched them make Uri lean against the car spread eagle. They patted him down.
“Knives, Uri. Where are they?”
“I’m not wearing any. I didn’t think I needed them to visit family,” he said.
“Pop the trunk, Bonnie,” John said.
“So what do we have here?” John said.
The police pulled out the bags and emptied every single one of them. The sounds of plates and silverware hitting the street echoed around them. Black plastic bags drifted off in the breeze. No one seemed to care about them. Natalia knew there was no money in the trunk. Uri wouldn’t be that stupid. She palmed her phone and turned on the video feature.
“Where’s the money, Uri?” John said.
“I don’t have the money you’re looking for,” Uri said. “The Council already questioned and cleared me.”
“The Council is tilted in your favor,” John said. “You’re their sweet boy who does all their bidding.”
“If that’s so, then why did I get audited when I bought Nattie’s car? Why do they have half my knives and won’t give them back? Why does my father hate me?”
“Your father is the only thing that keeps you in check,” John said. “Everyone else wants to breed with you.”
“That will be hard. I can’t do Viperian breedings,” Uri said.
“Oh, then what’s with Mina? I hear she’s having a Uri baby.”
“She figured out how to bite me just so. I won’t let anyone do that again.”
Natalia wanted to get out of the car and beat the shit out of John, but she stayed where she was.
A car pulled up. She saw John take a step back. Kareen stepped out of the car, then Friesa and Pearl.
“What’s the problem, John?”
“Just a check point,” he said.
“This doesn’t look like a check point. What did Uri do?”
“We’re just taking precautions because Uri carries all those knives.”
“How many knives do you have on you, Uri?” Kareen said.
“None. I didn’t think I needed to carry any since I was visiting family and I don’t need to do any more rescues from the Church.”
“Did you search him?” Kareen said.
“How many knives did you find?”
“None, ma’am. We were just about to let him go on his way.”
“Good idea, John,” Kareen said.
Uri pushed himself away from the car.
“May I have my ID back?” he said.
John handed it to him.
“Evening,” Uri said with a nod toward the three ladies while he slammed shut the trunk.
Uri got back into the car.
Police cars backed off. Bonnie pulled ahead and away from the group.
“What about our stuff in the road?” Natalia said.
“It was all trash. Let the police clean it up.”
“That was pure harassment,” Bonnie said.
“More fuel,” he said.
“I have a video. I don’t know of what, but I got all the audio,” she said.
“Send it to my phone. I’ll send it to Rog.”
Uri worked on that during the drive home. The car found no check points and the way seemed void of any police cars.
Natalia felt relief when they reached the house and pulled into the garage. In the first garage stall, was the car she had seen Mag, Zena and Kate arrive in at the other house.
“That’s Kate’s car,” Uri said before she could ask. “I said they could park there while your car is in the shop.”
“Good idea. Thanks, Bonnie. Have a good night,” Natalia said.
Bonnie headed to the guest house, while they headed into the house. Uri left to his office, already calling on his phone. Natalie stopped in the dining room, but found it wasn’t set for dinner. In fact, there was no smell of any dinner.
“I wonder if dinner is going to be late?”
She heard a noise and followed it. Someone was in the laundry room that was off the kitchen. She opened the door.
“Oh, Nattie, you scared me.”
Mag and Zena were stuffing money into the washing machine. The smell of balsam was already filling the room.
“Sorry to bother you. Should I order a pizza for dinner since you’re busy?”
“You’re a life saver,” Mag said, nodding.
“What do you like?”
“Meat lovers,” Zena said with a laugh.
“I should have known. I’ll get it ordered.”
She left them to call in the order and almost gave her mother’s house address, but she corrected herself at the last moment.
“It’s been a while since I ordered a pizza,” she said to herself.
She went over to Uri’s office. He was still on the phone.
“Did you get it? Thanks, Rog. No, I haven’t even watched or listened to it yet. We just got home. It’s been a hectic long day. Okay. Bye.”
Uri sat at his desk and shuffled through some papers.
“I ordered pizza for dinner. The girls are busy doing laundry,” she said.
Uri smiled and nodded.
“We’re giving them some, aren’t we? For helping?”
“Of course. Why else would they be helping?” he said.
“Because they’re good family?” she said.
“That, too,” he said.
“So you were really not wearing any knives?”
“I had them in the car, but not on me. I figured they would only be concerned with the trunk.”
“I hope you’re never wrong,” she said.
“Most people are predictable,” he said. “John’s looking for a pile of money. Not knives stashed under a seat.”
“Did you know that the Council women would show up?”
“No, but I did voice a complaint of harassment to them. I think they were following up on that at the right time… when we were heading home.”
“I’d hate to see what the police would have done if they hadn’t shown up.”
“If I had been alone, I’m sure John would have tried to beat the shit out of me. But with you and Bonnie, I think he was only going to be harassing and then let us go. He can’t be sure how tilted Bonnie is. She’s not family and she doesn’t work for me.”
“I didn’t know you were such the sweet heart of the Council.”
Uri half laughed and half choked.
“Me either. I wasn’t kidding about audits and the knives.”
“Just about your father hating you.”
“Yeah, but I think he likes you more than me.”
“He admires his son,” she said.
He looked at her and smiled.
“He’s the one who taught me how to run amok.”
“I’m not surprised. So where are you hiding all the laundry?”
“The last place they would ever look.”
“With the grubbies?”
“No, that would be the first place.”
“And where is the last place?”
“I haven’t even seen it and you’re going to destroy it?”
“Not at all.”
“Don’t tell me… It’s all part of the design.”
Uri grinned wide.
“Now, you finally understand me,” he said.
He rose and wrapped his arms around her.
“My wonderful wife. What kind of pizza did you order?”
“A large Meat Lovers and a large combo with everything on it.”
“I love you,” he said, breathing into her hair.
“Should I call Bonnie to come over?”
“No,” Uri said. “She’s not family. She’s not in on this. Not yet.”
“Okay. I’m going to wait in the living room for the delivery guy.”
He released her.
Natalia settled on the sofa with her tablet. She had to plug it in since the battery was getting low. Hardly a moment later, she heard someone on the porch. Mag came through before she could even jump up.
“I got it,” Mag said.
As soon as Mag opened the door, Natalia caught the smell of pizza. Uri stepped out of his office.
“Pizza,” he said.
There was a rush to the dining room. There was iced tea already poured and paper plates. Zena and Kate joined them. There was no conversation while everyone ate.
“Thanks for everyone’s help,” Uri said after three pieces.
The three ladies nodded.
“Thanks for ordering dinner,” Mag said to Natalia.
Uri closed his eyes.
“We’re definitely having an early night.”
“It’s going to take about seven loads to do all the laundry,” Mag said. “We have one done, one going, and one load in the dryer.”
“Do you need us to get up tonight and tag team checking the loads?” he said.
“No, we’ll have them all done before we retire. We’re doing a quick cycle with a dash of vinegar. That’s cleaning them up just fine.”
“They’re drying really fast,” Kate said.
“You can take the leftovers to the guest house,” he said.
Mag smiled shyly.
“I already told Bonnie we have some leftovers for her.”
“Good,” Natalia said.
After dinner, Natalia went back to her reading. Uri sat in a chair almost looking like he was falling asleep.
“Maybe you should go to bed,” she said.
“We both should.”
“Q 5?” she said in a whisper.
She had figured out that meant a phone call at five minutes after three in the morning.
“Let’s go to bed,” he said.
“It’s not even seven-thirty yet.”
He took her hand and dragged her up the stairs.
Natalia didn’t think she would be able to go to sleep. She took her time brushing her teeth. Uri was already sleeping when she slid in beside him. She listened to him breathing and to Victoria’s heart beat.
“Phone call,” Uri whispered to her, waking her.
She waited a moment to come to her senses before she stretched and rose. Uri was already in the quiet room waiting for her.
His phone lit up moments later.
“Uri and Nattie here.”
“Mirren and Sophie here.”
“So what do we have?” Mirren said.
“If any of you have access to your money, give it a sniff. It will smell like Balsam,” Uri said.
“Okay, so?” Mirren said.
“The Church blessed all of its donations,” Uri said. “They used holy water. That stuff is infused with Balsam. When I stepped into my garage in Viperia, it reeked of Balsam. I had to spill some paint thinner to cover the odor. Some of the smell I could probably have said was from the vault, but that’s not an excuse the rest of you can use. I recommend you send your money through the washer. Use the quick gentle cycle with a dose of vinegar to cut the smell.”
“That’s good to know,” Mirren said.
“One more thing,” Uri said. “Now knowing there is a scent, that will helps us track the money if the person or persons who have the rest don’t send it through the wash. I already have an order that any large deposits must be reviewed by me. I’m going to also start checking all the money bags we get in from businesses. Someone could do a legal wash of the money by putting it into the banking system.”
“That only works for your bank, Uri.”
“Most Viperians go through the Main Bank. Excuse the pun, but I’m banking on them using their normal bank.”
“Good to know,” Moralis said.
“I’m totally out of my Viperian house. For those of you not there, Kareen came. Grazie with Sherri and her whole household came as well. So, nothing happened at the house. However, a couple blocks out from Viperia, we were stopped. This wasn’t a check point stop. There were five police cars. They had me get out, and I was searched. The trunk was searched. Then we lucked out. Kareen, Friesa and Pearl showed up. The police let us go.”
“What are the police looking for?” Tia said.
“The money. The millions that disappeared out of the safe.”
“I’d like to know who’s been talking,” Mirren said. “That’s not supposed to be general knowledge. I know you mentioned it before, Uri, but now I’m wondering. Someone’s spreading a rumor to the police.”
“Someone’s out to get me,” Uri said. “Now they think I don’t wear my knives anymore. I didn’t have any on me today. I left them in the car.”
“That’s going to lead to a confrontation,” Moralis said.
“No, shit,” Uri said. “And who’s going to be with me when this happens? Nattie. I’m getting scared.”
“Maybe you should move back into Viperia,” Tia said.
“Maybe I should move all my wives into my house,” Uri said.
“Hey,” Mina said. “You’re going to put me in the line of action?”
“You’re the best woman around who can protect me,” he said. “Within the women’s group, Mina, you’re the best knife thrower.”
“Anyone would be an idiot to confront both of you,” Mirren said.
“Let me think about this,” Mina said.
“If someone can get me some sheaths I can wear Uri’s knives,” Natalia said, thinking that would be a good way to wear some of her own knives without having to say she had knives.
“That request has to go through the Council,” Mirren said.
“Council, my ass,” Mina said. “I’ll be over in the morning with sheaths. I have extra.”
“Anything else?” Mirren said.
There were five seconds of silence.
The call ended.
“Mina has throwing knives?” Natalia said.