It was well after five when Tia arrived at Natalia’s office.
“Sorry I’m late. I totally forgot where you were working now, and I went to the conference room, then down to HR where Ursula told me you were up here. I knew you were in Records Management, but totally forgot.”
She seemed a little frazzled.
“No problem,” Natalia said, putting on her coat.
“How is it going here?” Tia said while they walked to the elevator.
“Much better. We let a person go yesterday that was causing disruptions and now everything is running smoothly.”
“They need to get that electronic system going,” Tia said.
The conversation ceased while they rode the elevator to the lobby. There were still quite a few people heading out and the elevator stopped frequently to pick people up.
Natalia picked the conversation back up as they headed toward the doors.
“I’ve been reading the documentation on the new system. I’ve got a lot of questions.”
“Tyrone is the man to talk to. He’s in the technical department.”
“I’ve seen his name.”
“Just tell him you’re the new manager. He’ll work with you.”
The frigid air took Natalia’s breath away when they stepped out of the bank. Every exhale of breath could be seen.
“The arctic wave has hit us,” Tia said. “I hate this cold.”
Natalia pulled her collar up.
They both hurried at a fast pace to the parking garage. Tia put the heat on full once her car was started.
“I called Corean, and she had no problem with you coming to see Anna. It actually might be a good test to see how she reacts.”
“She had a lot of hate in her for Undents,” Natalia said.
“How are you and Grazie doing?”
“We’re doing just fine.”
“Are you two going to be an item? Live together?”
“Time will tell,” Tia said.
“I think you like him way too much for this not to happen,” Natalia said. “Someone just has to mention his name and you smile.”
“He’s pretty young,” Tia said.
“I think he’s proven himself. That’s what you were waiting for,” Natalia said, taking a guess.
Tia smiled and seemed overly attentive to her driving.
There were no check points and they arrived at the gates of Viperia with no issues. Tia opened the window only part way, spoke the word open, and closed the window. The drive to the Council building was familiar to Natalia.
Tia parked as close to the building as she could. There were only three other cars in the lot. They almost ran to the door. Corean was just inside waiting for them.
“It’s cold out there,” Tia said.
“I wish I could hibernate,” Corean said. “Evening, Nattie.”
“Hi, Corean. How are you doing?”
“Good. I’m inside where it’s warm. You can put your coats over there.”
Natalia took her coat off and placed it on a table. Tia did the same.
“Come on back,” Corean said, leading them through the building. Natalia remembered the parts that she’d seen before, but wasn’t familiar with the area toward the back where Corean led her. They came to stairs that Natalia could see led down to the lower parts of the building.
“I’ll wait up here,” Tia said.
Downstairs, Natalia was expecting to see cells with bars, but the rooms looked like bedrooms with no doors. It was very quiet. There was carpet on the floor that muffled their steps.
Corean led her up to a room. Natalia could see Anna inside, but she didn’t seem aware that they were there.
“You can talk, but you can’t go through the doorway,” Corean said. “It’s a clear door.”
Corean tapped a button on the wall.
“You have a visitor, Anna,” Corean said, then she left, going back upstairs.
Anna rose from the bed.
“Hi, Anna. How are you doing?” Natalia said.
Anna looked the same as the last time Natalia had seen her. Her black hair was braided behind her. Her green eyes glinted in the low light. She wore a simple plain t-shirt and jeans, but she was barefoot.
“Nattie? Wow. So nice to see you. I didn’t expect you ever to visit.”
Her voice seemed to be coming from a speaker by the door.
“Your mother has always been nice to me, I thought I would check on you for her.”
“Tell her I’m doing as well as expected,” Anna said. “Has it snowed yet?”
“Yes, we had a storm last week. There’s still snow on the ground. But now it’s really cold out.”
“I miss it. Playing in the snow.”
She smiled and looked calm and serene.
Natalia couldn’t believe there was a door there. She reached out to touch.
“There’s a gap at the edge where you can slide it,” Anna said, barely moving her lips. Her eyes moved to the frame of the doorway.
Natalia paused, then lowered her hand, feeling uncertain and wary at the same time.
“We cleaned out the house in Viperia and everyone came over. Your new sister, Grace, is doing well. Doing the usual sleeping and eating,” Natalia said, watching Anna’s face closely. “All your sisters are doing well.”
Anna still smiled and nodded.
“I know my mother send you,” Anna said in a whisper. The smile on her face now appeared pasted and unnatural.
Natalia felt repulsed at what she was hearing and seeing.
How could Anna be expecting a note?
“I don’t understand,” Natalia said.
A flash of irritation crossed Anna’s face.
“Slide it through the edge of the door,” she said with pressed lips. The words were a command.
Natalia stepped back, feeling used in a bad way. Here, out of kindness, she’d unwittingly became a mule for delivering notes. She wondered what more there could be to that simple note and why Anna would be expecting it, especially when she wasn’t supposed to have any contact with her mother.
“The edge of the door,” Anna said again with pressed lips as if she didn’t want anyone to read her lips.
Natalia took another step back.
Anger flashed across Anna’s face.
“You haven’t changed,” Natalia said. She kept her face neutral and hid what she felt.
“Nattie,” Anna said in a loud, clear, and demanding voice.
Natalia turned and ran up the steps.
A short way from the top of the stairs, Corean was chatting with Tia.
“I-I’m sorry,” Natalia said to them, slightly out of breath. “I-I think I almost made a mistake.”
They both looked at her puzzled.
“Sherri asked me to deliver a note to Anna. I saw it. It’s just a simple note. But… but Anna was expecting it. I thought she had no contact with her mother?”
Tia and Corean looked at each other.
“Who else has been visiting Anna on a more regular basis?” Tia said.
“Regular basis? The only one is Cora but she’s dealing with the rehabilitation aspects.”
“Cora,” Natalia said, looking at Tia. “Alfie’s Cora?”
“No more visits by Cora,” Tia said to Corean. “Show me the note.”
She directed this towards Natalia.
Natalia pulled it out of her pocket.
Tia unfolded it. She held it up for Corean to see.
“Damn,” Corean said. “It’s a sliver letter.”
“I’d search Anna’s cell. She’ll need a special tool to open and read this.”
“I’ll put her on lock down immediately. We’ll do a medical check to get her out of the room. That way we can search her and the room. You’ll need Uri or Mina to read that,” Corean said.
Tia pulled out her phone.
“I’ll have Mina do it.” She walked off as she made the call.
“What’s a sliver letter?”
“That piece of paper is just an envelope. There is a sliver of a letter within. You’ll see when Mina opens it.”
“That’s a single sheet of paper. That’s awfully thin.”
“That’s why it’s called a sliver letter,” Corean said. “You’re the perfect courier. You’ve never heard of them.”
“If she’d continued to be sweet and hadn’t keyed me in to the fact she was expecting it, I would have delivered it. She hasn’t changed.”
Corean shook her head.
“No, I’m not seeing any change. She’s as much of a liar and manipulator as her day in court.”
“I feel sorry for her twin, Tracy. She is so unlike her sister.”
“Different father,” Corean said.
“What? How can that be?”
“Sherri did what wasn’t acceptable. She did two breedings one day apart with different men. That results in twins with different fathers.”
“Did they do testing to make sure?”
“At first, Sherri refused to admit that was what she did. I personally thought she was expecting support from both men. Monetary support. But men aren’t as stupid as some ladies think. They have a sixth sense for sniffing out their children, and one decided Anna wasn’t his daughter. He did the testing on the sly. Then the truth came out.”
“Is there a penalty for doing such a thing?”
“She was merely fined and told if she did it again, she would spend five years in jail. But the real penalty was that Anna’s father totally stepped away and refused to accept that she was his daughter. He refused to provide any monetary support. Tracy’s father made sure that what he bought for his daughter was given to his daughter and not to Anna. I think that’s when Sherri totally barred any man from her house and refused to allow any father to be part of his children’s life. I think that’s wrong.”
“I hear you will have Grazie be part of his child’s life.”
Corean smiled and nodded.
“Boy or girl?”
“Girl,” Corean said. “Alaina is the name I decided on. Grazie’s grandmother’s name, but don’t tell anyone. We’re not telling until it’s born.”
“Your secret is safe with me. That is such a pretty name.”
“Uri’s mother is Rayna,” Corean said.
“I just learned that Victoria was my father’s great great grandmother’s name.”
Tia rejoined them.
“Mina will be here shortly. I also had a text from Uri that he’s home with no problems. Moralis is going to hang around until you get home. When I drop you off, I’ll take Moralis home.”
“Okay, thanks. Good to hear. I hope Francie doesn’t mind.”
“She’s very forgiving because of the work Moralis does. Having a full time job and managing Viperia means he has an irregular schedule,” Tia said.
“He’s a good man. When are they having kids?” Corean said.
“They recently bred,” Natalia said. “I’m not sure if that’s general knowledge yet.”
“Good to hear. She’s made him wait long enough,” Corean said. “Excuse me a moment. I have an alarm going off.”
She left in a hurry, heading down the stairs.
“I’m betting Anna is having a tantrum,” Tia said.
They both walked down the stairs at a slower pace than Corean.
The bed in Anna’s room was now leaning against the door. The linen was shredded.
“I don’t think she’ll ever get out,” Tia said in a quiet voice.
The door to Anna’s room suddenly went dark.
“No light. No sound. She’ll be isolated for a while,” Corean said, rejoining them. “I put the order in for no visitors unless it goes through me.”
“She said there was a gap where I could slide the note.”
“A defect we have to fix,” Corean said. When the speaker is turned on, the door shrinks just that much. You would have had to unfold that note to slide it through.”
There was the sound of something hitting the wall.
“Is she going to hurt herself?”
“If she does, it’s her choice.”
“That’s the easy way to go and again her choice,” Corean said. “We won’t stop her.”
“A Viperian would rather fight than kill themselves,” Tia said. “She’s probably hoping someone will come in and stop her. That’s when she would attack. That’s immature thinking. No one’s going to touch her for a long time. Her punishment for trashing her cell.”
Corean led the way back upstairs.
Natalia felt sorry for Anna’s sisters having to experience such a horrible sibling.
“Do you want a hot chocolate while we wait?” Corean said. “I can see that’s what this kid is craving.”
“I wanted nothing but grubbies sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.”
“Oh, yuck,” Corean said with a grimace.
“I know. Now, I can’t see how I even ate that.”
“Grubbie frosting is pretty good,” Natalia said.
“That’s processed grubbie,” Tia said. “I meant stripped of their outer skin, raw and coated with cinnamon and sugar.”
“That sounds horrible,” Natalia said.
“Don’t go in the kitchen when their processing grubbies,” Tia said. “Have you seen them?”
“Yes, I’ve seen the larvae and beetles. Eaten both,” Natalia said.
“Boiled beetle is a delicacy,” Corean said.
The front door of the building opened. Mina stepped in and was quick to close the door.
“Freezing out there,” she said. She was dressed in jeans, her usual high black boots, and a heavy black coat, topped with a red thick faux fur hat. Her gloves were red as well. She pulled those off and shoved them into a pocket.
“Evening, Mina. We have a sliver letter to open,” Tia said.
Tia brought out the note.
“Interesting,” Mina said.
She put her purse down on a table and pulled out a small box, then took the note.
“I hate it when they crease it.” She flipped opened the note and turned it around. “Who sent this?”
“I got this from Sherri to give to Anna,” Natalia said. “Almost screwed up and gave it to her. I’ve never heard of a sliver letter.”
“Anna’s now in lock down. She’s having a bit of a tantrum,” Corean said.
Mina rummaged through her purse and brought out a pair of glasses. She examined the note again.
“Looks like a two sided envelope. Usually, a crease renders a typical sliver letter useless, thus making it look innocuous,” Mina said. “Also two sided makes it easier to open, once you’ve figured it out. Makes sense when one doesn’t have as sophisticated a tool as I.”
Mina examined every edge, then she examined the writing. She smiled.
“It’s coded. The writing shows the edge to cut, but I want to make sure. Can I take this to my shop? I want to make sure I cut the correct edge. If I don’t, I’ll render it unreadable.”
“Okay by you, Corean?” Tia said.
“Yes, that’s okay,” Corean said. “Nattie, if Sherri asks if you delivered it, tell her you did. You just don’t need to tell her that you delivered it to us.”
“I know how to play that game,” Natalia said.
“Let’s keep this amongst ourselves,” Corean said.
“Thanks, Corean,” Tia said.
Mina packed up her purse and headed to the door while Tia grabbed her coat.
“We better get going too if I have to take Moralis home,” Tia said.
Natalia nodded while she put on her coat. Her stomach growled, reminding her she’d had no dinner.
Tia bundled totally up before they headed out the door to her car.
“Keep this to yourself. Please don’t even tell Uri just yet,” Tia said as she pulled out of the lot.
“Let’s see what the letter says before we jump to any conclusions or spread a rumor.”
There were no check points. The car noted a few police cars in the area. The car felt like it was just warming up nicely when Tia pulled into the laneway.
“Hope the boys heard us. I’m not getting out of this car,” Tia said.
“I’ll send Moralis right out if they didn’t. Thanks, Tia.”
“No, thank you for figuring out something was wrong with the note.”
Natalia hurried to get out of the car and shut the door so she didn’t let too much heat escape. She jogged up to the front door, and it opened for her.
“Nite, Nattie,” Moralis said, passing her.
Uri shut the door behind her.
“Frigid,” he said.
“Yes. The cold part of winter has hit.”
“Your nose is cold,” he said, taking her into his arms.
“Be glad I had gloves or I’d have cold hands,” she said, returning his hug.
“Take your coat off. Dinner is waiting,” he said.
“Good. I’m starved.”
As soon as she sat, Mag brought out her dinner. It was a raw dinner with bread and vegetables.
“I already ate with Moralis,” Uri said, but he sat across from her.
She noticed he waited until she was done with the meat.
“How was your visit?” he said.
“Mixed. At first Anna was nice, then she wasn’t. I don’t think she’s changed.”
“How was your visit with Moralis?”
“Did you go run amok?”
“I hate it when you do that?”
“Smile and say nothing. You went out in the cold?”