Natalia felt as if she had just pulled the covers up when Uri flipped them off her. She turned to look at the clock.
“We have to dress, eat and get to the lake for my game,” he said, dragging her out of bed.
She thought he was as excited as a kid with new toys.
They showered, dressed, and headed down stairs. Mag looked just as excited as Uri when she set down their breakfast.
“We’re heading out, now. Kate is driving,” Mag said. “We have an early game in the women’s tournament. If you come back for any reason, there are sandwiches in the fridge.”
“Thanks, and enjoy,” Uri said.
“Good luck,” Natalia said.
She finished her sanguine tea. The tea seemed to get her brain to function better. Either that or she was finally feeling fully awake.
“Can I have some cash? I see the vendors only take cash.”
Uri fished out his wallet and handed her a bunch of fives, tens, and twenties.
“That should get you snacks, drinks, lunch, and treat anyone else you come across,” he said.
“Thanks. You have enough?”
“I have enough. You done?”
She swallowed down the last of her breakfast and chugged her tea.
“Almost. Let me hit the bathroom.”
“Hurry up, woman,” he said.
Natalia laughed because he headed for the half bath under the stairs while she ran upstairs. When she finished, she ran down the stairs to get suited up. Uri was just coming out of the half bath.
“Hurry up,” she said.
He smiled and slapped her ass.
Bonnie was already waiting for them in the garage. She was dressed in a snowsuit, looking like she intended to spend the day on the lake as well.
The car reported no check points and no police cars.
Bonnie dropped them off by the lake, then drove off.
“So is Trevor her man?” Natalia said.
“He’s been chasing her for a while,” Uri said. “You head for the seats. Keep on this side. I’ll be playing on sheet two. I have to go change my shoes.”
He jogged off. Natalia joined the crowd that was aiming for the seats make of snow. Over night, bleachers had been erected behind the snow seats. For being this early in the morning, she thought there were more people there than there had been yesterday. More than half of the seating was filled.
“Hey, Nattie. Come sit up with us.”
Tia was there with Sherri and her daughters. Sherri was sitting on a bleacher. Her daughters sat in front of her on the top snow seat. Tia was sitting beside Sherri. Natalia squeezed into a seat above them.
She looked out over the ice and had no idea what she was looking at. On sheet two, she could see Moralis and Grazie. A couple of minutes later, Uri and Carson jogged up. To the left of them on the ice, there were eight blue topped stones. To their right, there were eight yellow topped stones.
She watched them and four women shake hands.
“Good curling,” she heard them all say.
There was a coin flip. She heard the word hammer.
Carson grabbed a blue topped stone. He bent down, holding onto the stone with his right hand and a stick on his left. He pushed off and slid on his left foot, then released the stone. Uri and Grazie followed the stone, one on each side. They both carried what looked like sticks with wide ends and were rubbing the ice with them.
“What the hell are they doing?” Natalia said, leaning down toward Tia.
“Sweeping,” Tia said. “Those are called brooms.”
The stone stopped off center a few feet from one of the colored circles.
“That’s a good first throw,” Tia said.
“I’ll be right back. Getting a chocolate,” Sherri said, rising.
Tia didn’t seem concerned that she left, but Natalia caught her eye. Tia nodded at her, and then in Sherri’s direction. She caught the hint and rose.
Natalia pulled money out of her pocket to make it look like she, too, was heading to the vendors for a treat. She stayed some distance behind Sherri, walking at a leisurely pace and keeping a smile on her face like she was enjoying every minute of being there. The people around her looked like they were having just as much fun. Everyone seemed intent on getting somewhere.
She knew how to watch without making it look like she was; how to tilt her head and shift her eyes, but she felt that no one was really paying her too much attention. When she had been living with her mother, she had had lots of practice. Pretending to be a good girl, behaving herself, while snitching sweets when her mother wasn’t looking or stealing money out of her purse for when she would sneaked out at night to meet up with her friends.
Natalia had no problem catching what was happening in front of her. She didn’t miss the man, who she recognized as Peter, a Council man, that almost bumped into Sherri and the hand off of a note from him to her. Sherri pocketed the note and stepped over to the chocolate vendor. Natalia moved over to the soda vendor and bought a ginger soda. On her way back, she made sure to catch up to Sherri, pretending she hadn’t seen her.
“Oh, hi, Sherri.”
“You enjoying the game?”
“Fascinating. I almost think I understand what’s going on.”
Sherri laughed, then she lowered her voice.
“Did you ever get over to see Anna?”
“Yes, I did. This week was so busy. Sorry I didn’t let you know. Anna says to say the she is as well as to be expected.”
“Did she look comfortable? What was she wearing?”
Natalia knew right away that Sherri was checking to make sure that she had really been there.
“She looked quite comfy. Jeans and a t-shirt. Barefoot. I’ve never seen cells with carpeting.”
“The carpet contains sensors to track her,” Sherri said. “That’s why she is barefoot.”
Natalia could see that Sherri looked relieved, believing that the note had been delivered.
“Could you do me another favor?”
Natalia was expecting this.
“Do you need a tissue?”
At first, Natalia didn’t understand, but when she took the offered tissue, she realized what was happening. The note was tucked into the tissue.
“Enjoy your hot chocolate. I’m roasting in this snowsuit,” Natalia said while she pocketed the tissue.
Sherri smiled, then shifted to nod at Tracy and Zean while they walked by.
“Just getting a blanket,” Tracy said for an excuse.
Natalia took that distraction to return to her seat.
“You missed some good throws,” Tia said, moving to sit by her.
“I don’t really understand what’s going on.”
Despite what she said to Sherri, she still didn’t understand the game.
“They throw the stones to try and get as close to the center of the circles as they can. The center is called the button. The circles are called the house.”
“They sweep with those sticks? I mean brooms? They don’t look like brooms.”
Sherri slid back into her seat.
“In the old days, they were actually brooms. Now they have a pad on the end,” Tia said. “Sweeping can make the stone travel further. A good sweep can even influence the curl of the stone.”
Natalia could see that the stones seemed to be thrown to one side, but curled back in. One of the women had thrown a stone that curled back behind another stone.
“That was a good shot,” Tia said. “It’s protected and gives them the lead so far.”
Uri stepped up. He gracefully slid out on one foot while crouched down and released his stone. It seemed to be moving faster than most. It hit a blue stone with force, ricocheted off and hit the yellow stone the woman had last thrown, pushing it out of the circle. His stone ricocheted back just a little, almost stopping in the center of the button.
An uproar of excitement rippled through the crowd.
“That’s going to be a tough one to touch,” Tia said.
“He knocked hers out and one of his own.”
“That’s called a take out. He sacrificed a stone to get them better positioned.”
“It’s more like pushing than tossing,” Natalia said when Uri released his second stone.
His stone seemed to be heading toward Moralis who stood at the opposite end with his broom on the ice. He had one arm out.
“What’s Moralis doing?”
“He’s showing Uri where to throw his stone,” Tia said. “His arm indicates the direction of the curl that he wants and his broom is where Uri aims for.
Uri’s stone seemed to slip between the other stones as it curled. It stopped about a foot in front of his last stone.
“Wow. He just protected it even more. But there are two more stones that could take him out.”
“Hardly,” someone beside Tia said. “Too much blocking. Yellow is going to lose this end.”
The last four stones were thrown. Uri’s team raised their brooms.
“They won that end.”
“No, just that end. There are eight ends in the game. Now they’ll throw stones towards this end closest to us.”
There was a board at the far end of the sheet.
“What’s the board for?”
“Scoring. You see the numbers one through fifteen? Blue is on top and yellow at the bottom. You see the number one on top over the three? That means blue score three points in the first end.”
“Okay. I think I’m getting this.”
She watched intently. The women won the next end, getting two points. A number two was hung beneath the two for the yellow.
A woman joined them. She seemed a little tentative, but Tia made room for her.
“Nattie, I don’t know if you ever met Francie. This is Moralis’s wife. Francie, this is Uri’s wife, Nattie.”
“Hi,” Francie said, looking a little shy.
“Hi, Francie. Nice to meet you,” Natalia said.
“How they doing?” Francie said.
“Ahead, but it’s early,” Tia said.
“Why aren’t you playing?” Natalia said to Tia.
“I felt like watching this year,” she said. “The winning women’s team is back together, and they will be hard to beat.”
“Who are they?”
“Mina, Sachet, Pearl, and Ursula. The only one you might not know is Sachet.”
“I’ve met her at a Wednesday meeting. She’s a chef.”
Sherri’s daughters reappeared with a blanket that they spread out over the snow.
“They just started their game on sheet three,” Tia said.
Natalia noted that Mina’s team shook hands with their opponents.
“Good curling,” they all said.
She found it hard to watch both games. At the end, Uri’s game was close, tense, and exciting. They managed to pull off a win by one point. The game ended with all the players shaking hands and saying “Good curling.”
“Oh, my word,” Natalia said. “All that excitement. I have to pee.”
She rose and headed toward the portable potties that lined the shore. There was a line when she reached them.
She turned to see Mirren.
He waved her over.
“There’s a private restroom over here. You can use them. Usually, we reserve them for the players. Sometimes they can’t wait. Not when there might only be ten or fifteen minutes between games.”
She followed him over. There were four portable potties that were roped off.
“Thanks. I don’t know if I could wait too long.”
She stepped into one, ruing the fact that she wore a snowsuit. She had to undo it and pull it all the way down. The seat was freezing. When she finished and stepped out, Mina was talking with Mirren.
“Hey, Nattie,” Mina said.
“Did you win your game?” Natalia joined them.
“Of course, we did.”
’Q 5,’ Natalia whispered as she wiped her nose to hide her lips.
“I’ve got to head back,” Mina said.
“Good luck,” Natalia said. “My word. It looks like the entire city is out.”
“They did an ice thickness check. It’s up to seven inches. One more and the cars will be out. Glad it’s not there yet with all the children running around,” Mirren said.
Uri jogged up to use one of the portable potties. He was out in a minute.
“Next game is up, Nattie.”
He jogged off.
“See you later,” she said, heading back.
She hoped her Q 5 alerted them that she had something.
“Hi, Sherri. Pottie break?”
“Yes. Yes. You, too? You didn’t drop something back there did you?”
Natalia again picked up that Sherri was checking on her. She checked her pockets, flicking out the tissue with the note long enough for Sherri to see.
“Nope. Didn’t drop anything.”
“I’ll see you back at the seats.”
Natalia figured it was because she stopped to talk with Mina. Wasn’t it Mina and Uri who could open sliver letters? She climbed up and settled beside Francie.
Part way through this second game, Sherri’s daughters rose.
“Our game is going to start. We’ll be at the other side.”
They left, and other people took their seats. All of the seating was now taken. There was gentle jostling as people crammed in.
The crowd and the games started to become a blur to Natalia. She couldn’t keep track. At one point, she headed back to the vendors for lunch. The raw skewers were calling to her. She found a vendor, but it wasn’t the same as yesterday.
’Two,’ she said.
The man automatically turned to get what she asked out of the coolers, but then he paused and looked at her.
“Two?” he said.
She shook her head.
She wanted to make sure he understood.
She figured he could tell she wasn’t Viperian.
’Two,’ he said.
She nodded, and he pulled out the two skewers and wrapped them.
’Who is your man?’ he asked when he took her money.
’Uri,” she said.
’Ah. You’re Nattie. Heard of you. Never seen you. Enjoy.’
She stopped for a hot chocolate, even though she was quite warm in the snowsuit. She let it cool, while she ate her meat, wanting it for the taste, not the warmth.
John passed her.
“Nattie,” he said in a flat voice.
“John,” she said.
She noted other people she knew, waving when she could. Instead of returning to the bleacher, she headed to the other side of the sheets to watch the children play.
“Hey, girls. Did you win?”
“Zean’s team did,” Tracy said. “Mine didn’t. Marian and Jaina are playing right now. They’re on the same team.”
A few people turned toward a ruckus behind them. Natalia turned to look as well.
“That’s like the third fight,” Tracy said with a roll of her eyes.
Four teenage boys were fighting it out on a hockey rink. A few people were yelling at them to stop, but no one wanted to get in the way of the flying sticks.
“They’ve already had one ambulance out here,” Tracy said.
The fighting tees were Undents.
“They get a taste of freedom and have no control,” Natalia said.
Finally, a couple of big guys broke up the fight. She thought they looked like police officers. No one around her seemed interested any more and they all turned back to the game.
Natalia was half asleep on a blanket by a warming tent when Uri sat beside her.
“How many games did you play?” she said.
“You should be tired. What time is it?”
The sun was already down.
“It’s getting late. We need to head home. Work tomorrow.”
“Did you win?”
He frowned and shook his head.
“Lost by one point. The damn girls are too good,” he said.
“Mina and her team?”
“I think they have a private place to practice.”
She could tell he was joking.
“There’s always next year.”
“You mean next weekend,” he said.
“Next weekend? We’re doing this all again next weekend?”
“Maybe not so early and with some full nights rest,” he said, rising.
He held out a hand to help her up.
“At least we won’t have to move snow. Unless, of course, it snows,” she said.
She yawned and stretched.
“Uri,” she said in a cautious tone.
John stood off to one side. He was alone, but that didn’t make Natalia feel any better. There weren’t too many people around this area.
“John,” Uri said.
“Uri.” John paused for a moment. “We need to talk.”
“Here or somewhere else?”
“Alone or with your boys?”
“Alone,” John said.
“Tonight or another time?”
“You have a place in mind?”
“Give me a twenty-minute head start. Pick me up at Forest and Fifty-second.”
“We’ll see you there,” Uri said.
John nodded and walked off.
“What’s this about?” she said.
“I’m hoping it’s about the smell of money.”
“I have something, too,” she said.
Uri moved his eyes to her. She turned slightly so no one could see in case anyone might be around.
“Sliver letter,” she mouthed to him.
“And a little more,” she said.
He stooped to pick up the blanket and fold it. They were now both turned away from everyone.
“From whom? To whom,” he said, barely whispering.
“Peter to Sherri to be given to Anna.”
Uri froze and stared at her.
“What the hell.”
“Now, what do we do with this blanket?” she said.
“Leave it in the warming tent.”
He placed it just inside on top of a bench.
“Let’s go,” he said.