The limo pulled up to Moralis’s house. The porch light was on as were a few other lights in the house. Cars lined the street.
“I don’t know why he likes paying his electric bill,” Mina said, getting out of the limo.
“Makes him fit into the neighborhood,” Natalia said. Every other house had lights on. “I take it this is an Undent neighborhood?”
“I guess,” Mina said.
They hurried up to the door. It opened as soon as they reached the first step.
“Come in,” Moralis said. “Everyone’s here.”
No one started to remove their coats until Moralis had shut the door. He moved them into the dining room. Everyone was there; Tia, Grazie, Mirren, and Sophia.
“Evening,” Mirren said.
“I know we don’t have much time, so I’ll start,” Mina said after everyone found chairs. “On Tuesday, we confiscated a sliver letter that was en route to Anna. I’ve opened it.”
Mina held up the note. From one end, she pulled out what looked like a thread. She blew on it gently, and it expanded to almost a full size of paper that was so thin it was almost transparent. She pulled another thread from another end of the note and did the same.
“You have to put them together to read the note,” she said. “Very crafty way of doing it, but I’ve seen this before. Let me read this to you.”
Mina cleared her throat.
“Dear Sweet Anna, I miss you so much. Our days of sweet love seem so long ago. I will soon have you free and we will spend our days in the sun with more money than you’d ever dreamed. The Drivers Guild is no longer a tool for us, but your lovely band of teens is working out just fine. They think I am just a stupid old man delivering your instructions. Everything is almost packed in the shipping crates. We will soon be together, sailing away. Hold strong my love. Alfie.”
There were a few moments of stunned silence.
“What the fuck?” Sophie said, looking shocked. “Alfie is what? Sixty years old?”
“Sixty-five, actually. Anna is sixteen,” Tia said.
“Shipping crates,” Uri said, looking at Moralis. “The blood we’re no longer getting… the blood meal is going on shipping crates.”
“Maybe it isn’t just blood meal being bagged and put in the crates,” he said.
“I have more,” Mina said.
“This note seemed to have come from Sherri. Anna seemed to be expecting it. Cora, Alfie’s Cora, has been the only one, aside from Tia and Corean, to have regular contact with Anna.”
“This is not all making sense,” Mirren said.
“Agreed,” Mina said. “Also, since Uri had asked me to help protect him, I decided to do it from the other side. I’ve been following John. I’ve seen no contact with him and Alfie. However, the other officers are complaining about the systems not working and odd behavior by John and Alfie. There is a split of opinions about things on the force.”
“They seem to be keeping close tabs on me,” Uri said.
“From what I hear, they were told directly to harass you, giving some stupid reason about getting away with tickets despite that last limo incident and that there were no tickets,” Mina said. “You should be finding that they are waving you around check points.”
“In fact, the officers at check points are doing the opposite of their orders and they are waving around all Viperians cars at check points.”
“Looks like things are in our favor for once,” Uri said.
“Anything else?” Mirren said.
“We just have questions to answer,” Mina said.
“Uri and Moralis. Shipping crates,” Mirren said.
They both nodded.
“Grazie and Tia. You’re supposed to be on Sherri watch.”
“Neither Cora nor Alfie have been at the house,” Grazie said.
“Rogue teenagers,” Mirren said.
“Sherri isn’t even letting the girls socialize with their friends,” Grazie said.
“I’ve seen nothing as well,” Tia said.
“You two need to question the girls and find some answers,” Mirren said.
“We’ll need Nattie,” Tia said.
Natalia felt puzzled.
“Tracy likes you. You might be a good one to talk with her,” Tia said in explanation.
Mirren stood. He still had his coat on. He pulled out a rolled up towel and handed it to Uri.
“I don’t know how these got into your hands,” Mirren said.
Uri nodded and put them into his coat pocket.
Natalia had an idea of what was wrapped in the towel.
“Anything else,” Mirren said.
“Whose close enough to talk to Cora?” Tia said. “I don’t know her well. She stays behind the scene and doesn’t go to Wednesday meetings much.”
There was a long silence.
“Who are her closest friends?” Sophie said.
“Mina, find this out,” Mirren said. “Anything else?”
There were five seconds of silence.
“Get out of here,” Moralis said.
Everyone grabbed coats and bundled up. Natalia saw Grazie and Tia head for the back door. Everyone else went through the front. By the time, Natalia was in the limo, most of the cars were already gone.
Natalia refrained from talking on the ride home. Uri remained silent as well. She wondered what Bonnie was thinking.
Once home, they said their goodnights to Bonnie and went into the house. Tea and cookies were on the coffee table, but Uri led her up stairs.
“Let’s change,” he said in a quiet voice.
Natalia put on some lounging pajamas and her robe. Uri threw on some jeans and a t-shirt. They went down to sit in the living room where they sipped tea and ate cookies.
Mag came in and looked startled.
“Sorry. I thought you’d gone to bed since it was so quiet.”
“Just a long day,” Uri said.
Mag nodded and returned to the kitchen.
“What’s that for?” Natalia said.
“She usually can hear you walking, but you’re getting quieter. She can’t hear me.”
“Oh, I didn’t know or realize.”
“We might go running amok this weekend.”
“You need to show me those sheaths. They must be awfully thin. And did Mirren give you your… you know what back?”
“Yes and yes,” Uri said.
“We now have two full sets.”
“Yes,” Uri said.
Natalia chuckled as his one word answers.
“You’re not running amok tonight, are you? You need some sleep.”
“Tomorrow morning,” Uri said. “We’ll use the cover of building the curling sheets. I’ve already put out the call. There will be lots of people there.”
“That’s also lots of eyes watching you,” she said.
“No, the call went out to our people. There will be lots of eyes watching out for me. Big difference,” he said.
“How are you going to keep me warm?”
“Snowsuit. Very warm.”
“Have I ever lied to you?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “Can I bite you?”
Uri grinned wide.
“I do the biting,” he said, leaning into rub her cheek.
He slid his hand down the front of her pajamas.
“I think we need to get you out of these,” he said, pulling her up and leading her upstairs.
“Can I brush my teeth?”
“Hum. No. I like the smell and taste of cookies and tea.”
He smelled deep in her hair while he unbuttoned the front of her pajamas.
“You are fattening up quite nicely,” he said as he touched her breasts.
“That’s not something you say to most women,” she said.
“It’s a compliment to a Viperian woman,” he said. “Especially…“
He leaned down to lick her breasts.
“Especially when she’s pregnant. Means you’re healthy and doing well.”
He slipped her top off then pulled down her bottoms. She helped him pull off his shirt and pants.
“I don’t know if I like you having multiple wives,” she said.
He was now kissing down her belly.
“You’re the only one for me,” he said. “But, as I said, it’s good to be on Mina’s good side. A compliment her way will go far.”
Natalia took a few steps back toward the bed.
Uri straightened and smiled.
Natalia took his hand and pulled him to the bed, then she pushed him down. She straddled him.
“You’re getting stronger,” he said.
“All the reason to stay on my good side,” she said, feeling him get hard beneath her.
He smiled, then he took hold of her hips and lifted, then slid himself into her.
“Why do you feel so good?” she said.
“We’re bonded,” he said.
Then he flipped her over, and he was now on top.
“My pleasure is your pleasure.”
Natalia felt as if their pleasure was synchronized and he almost had is orgasm the same time as she.
They were panting together in unison.
“Will it always feel that good?” she said.
“Always,” he said.
Natalia was in a warm and comfortable sleep when she felt the covers whipped off of her.
“Early start today,” Uri said.
He pulled her out of bed.
“What? But it’s Saturday.”
“We have lots to do.”
Their shower was quick. Uri had silk long underwear set out for her to wear under her jeans.
“You know these jeans are tight enough as it is,” she said.
“Tell Mag to buy the stretchy ones.”
“These are the stretchy ones.”
He led her downstairs for breakfast.
“Is it even light out?” she said.
“Six am, almost,”
Mag was just setting out sanguine tea for her when they sat.
“I have the snowsuits out,” Mag said.
“Thanks. Are you three coming?” Uri said.
“Wouldn’t miss it,” Mag said with a smile.
The sun looked like it was just coming out when Bonnie pulled out of the garage.
“These are warm,” Natalia said.
The snowsuits were white. She thought they were a little thin, but sitting in the limo, she was almost hot.
“You should be able to move around easily in them,” Uri said.
The gloves with the suits were also white. There was also a white face mask.
“With the mask up, no one is going to tell it’s you,” she said.
“As planned, I see,” she said.
The parking area by the boat dock was already packed.
“Well get out here. Bonnie will go back home and get the others.”
Uri helped her out, and they headed for the ice.
There seemed to be a hundred white figures on the ice. Most of them were down near a machine that seemed to be clearing an area. That was the direction Uri headed. Soon, they were surround by white figures.
“Morning, Moralis,” Uri said. “Looks like we’re all set.”
“We’re clearing the area to add another two lanes. The youth group pooled resources and bought a set of stones, so we’re going to have a youth competition tomorrow. Took them two years to save up, plus I think there were a few businesses that matched funds.”
“That’s only stones for one lane,” Uri said.
“The Sisters of Fayth bought a set of stones, and they’re going to have a ladies only competition tomorrow.”
“They been selling Church assets?”
Moralis smiled and shrugged.
“We need a lookout,” Moralis said. “You volunteering Nattie?”
“Yes. She has a vested interest in keeping me alive.”
“I don’t like the sound of this,” she said.
“You don’t want to keep him alive?” Moralis said, keeping a straight face.
“You know what I mean,” she said. “What are we doing?”
“So, do we have the warming tent setup and functional? I see some going up,” Uri said.
They were still walking along through the people.
“The one we need is up and functional,” Moralis said. “I setup the last piece last night.”
“Do you ever sleep, Moralis?” Natalia said.
“Not much as of late.”
The ice beneath Natalia groaned, startling her.
“You sure the ice is thick enough?” she said.
“We have over five inches. Only need four for a person, five for that machine that’s clearing the ice and eight to drive vehicles on it.”
“What? You’d drive a car on the ice?”
“As soon as the officials declare there are eight inches, this lake becomes a highway,” Moralis said.
“Where have you been living?” Uri said.
“No where near the lake,” she said.
They reached a grouping of tents.
“Morning, Grazie. Girls here?” Uri said.
Natalia hardly recognized him in his white snow suit.
Grazie shook his head.
“They’re coming soon.”
He opened a flap to allow them to pass. Natalia wondered if he was guarding the front.
Inside, there was a rug on the ground and benches along the side. The interior was about twelve by twelve feet. There were also a couple of lockable chests by the benches.
Moralis unlocked one. Inside were gray, mottled colored snowsuits.
“Change,” he said.
All three of them changed out of the white snowsuits and put on the gray ones. Moralis locked the chest back up.
“Rather obvious,” Natalia said, wondering how this was going to work.
Moralis just smiled. Uri said nothing, but pulled back the rug. In the ice was a round manhole cover. Moralis pushed it aside and lowered himself into the hole. Uri motioned for her to do the same. Warily, she followed Morais. There was a metal run ladder down a steep section of pipe. The ladder ended where it leveled off abruptly. She had to bend over to fit. Over her head, she could hear Uri positioning the rug, blocking out any light. There was the scraping of the manhole cover. He soon joined them.
Moralis had a pinpoint of light to allow them to see. She followed him through the pipe. She could tell that it headed back toward shore. The pipe was damp and musky. There seemed to be only one pinpoint of light that Moralis was using to navigate.
They reached a dead end, or so it seemed to Natalia, but Moralis pulled out a bar and opened the end. He waved them through. She found herself in a larger pipe, and it smelled rank.
“We’re in the sewer?” she whispered.
Moralis put a finger to his lips.
Moralis continued to lead the way. After a long walk, they climbed up a ladder. There was a makeshift tent over the manhole where they came up. Outside the tent, there was a car.
“Quite elaborate,” Natalia said.
“We’re heading to the shipping port on the other side of the city,” Uri said.
“I’ve identified two possible ships that have been sitting in port for a long time that may have the blood meal loaded. One I know for sure because I followed a load all the way from the plant. However, I am suspecting a second ship. They might be splitting the shipment,” Moralis said.
“You’re going to be the look out,” Uri said to her. “You’ll be on shore and if you see people heading our way, you tap the phone button. That will alert us.”
He showed her what he wanted her to do.
“I got it,” she said. “What do I do if someone comes up to me?”
“You tell them you’re from Environmental Services, and you’re monitoring water quality.”
“Nope,” Uri said. “You say that and they’ll avoid you like the plague.”
He picked up a tote in the back.
“Here’s a clipboard and binoculars to look official.”
They reached the port. Moralis parked. They walked for a long time. At one point, Moralis stopped at a padlocked gate, but he seemed to have it opened as if he had a key. They walked through as if they owned the place.
“This isn’t the busy season,” Uri said in a whisper. “There shouldn’t be too many people around on a Saturday and in this cold.
They passed a security booth. All four men in the booth were drinking out of mugs and focused on a TV. Natalia felt they could be wearing bright neon signs and still not have been noticed.
Moralis stopped by some steps.
“Sit up top here. We’ll be on that ship. We’ll let you know when we move to the other one.”
Natalia nodded and climbed the steps. There were four levels that she had to climb before she reached the top. The wind was brisk up that high and there was nothing to block it. She had a full view of the ship. It was full of containers. She wondered how they were going to find what they were looking for.
Sniffing, she thought. That’s why Uri had been drinking that good tea. To improve his sense of smell. She wondered if he could really sniff out what they were looking for? And how long was this going to take? There looked to be hundreds of containers on the ship.
For a long time she saw nothing, then she caught sight of them. They were working separately from each other, moving along each container. Often they would bend over or lay down as if checking down a gap.
She knew not to get totally absorbed in watching them. So far, she hadn’t seen any other person. She made herself move her eyes away from watching them and scanned the area around her. It was empty. There wasn’t much to look at. She flashed her eyes back to the ship, but Uri and Moralis were no longer in sight.
Movement caught her eye. It was a truck. It drove by along the dock, but it kept going and disappeared from view. However, a moment later, she caught sight of four people walking the same way the truck had gone. She watched intently as they didn’t seem to fit in. They were definitely not dock workers. They weren’t dressed warm enough. They also jumped around and bumped into each other.
“Four teenage boys,” she said in a mutter.
They weren’t being secretive that they were there, but they were all taking turns looking a round. However, they never looked up. For a while, she lost sight of them since a crane blocked her view. She wondered if they went aboard the same ship as Uri and Moralis, but then they reappeared, still walking along the dock. They continued on. She almost dismissed them, when they paused, scanned the area, then dashed up the gangway of the ship next to where Uri and Moralis were.
Natalia decided to err on the side of caution. She buzzed Uri.
His voice was very low.
“Four teenage boys passed. On ship next to you.”
A moment later, she saw someone appear. She figured it was Uri. He left the ship he was on and headed to the ship the boys were on where he quickly moved out of view.
Nothing happened for over an hour. Natalia was feeling the cold.