“Bonnie, where you at? We need to go,” Uri said into his phone.
“I’ll meet you on the far side of the curling sheets.”
Uri took her hand and they headed that way.
“Everyone’s leaving,” Natalia said, noting the wave of people, but that they were going against the wave.
“School day tomorrow. Work day. It’s a mass exodus. I came to get you as soon as my last game was finished.”
“Getting out of here will not be fun or fast.”
“All depends on how resourceful Bonnie is,” he said. “She’s a good thinker.”
They were almost to the far side of the curling sheet when a two horse sled came up behind them.
“Hop in,” Bonnie said. “There’s room for two more.”
Mag and Zena were already on board, smiling and looking like they were enjoying themselves. Bonnie was sitting up front with the driver.
“Bonnie, you are amazing,” Natalia said, climbing aboard and sitting across from the others. “This is so cool.”
“You’ve outdone yourself, Bonnie,” Uri said, climbing on.
The sled took off, cutting across the ice, going around all the cleared areas. The night air was crisp. They put up their face masks to cut the wind. Soon, they were sailing up the middle of the lake with no obstructions.
“This is awesome,” she said.
The sled cut across the lake to the other side. This side held a boardwalk, but not a boat ramp. The sled slowed and stopped by the shore. There was a flat area with the boardwalk and then a steep hill.
“Out everyone,” Bonnie said, while she paid the driver. “Up the hill.”
The sled left while they climbed. The snow provided a good climbing surface. Natalia reached the top, feeling warm, but hardly out of breath. There was a parking area and there was the limo. The area was deserted.
“Good job,” Uri said to Bonnie. “But, we’re not heading straight home. We have to meet someone. Also, I don’t want you two with us.”
He motioned toward Mag and Zena.
“I can let them off and then we can pick them back up,” Bonnie said, while everyone piled in.
Uri told her where they needed to go. Two blocks before they reached the specific intersection, Bonnie stopped to let Mag and Zena out. During the short drive to the meeting spot, Uri pulled out her bracelet and put it around her wrist. She pulled her snowsuit down over it.
The limo pulled over to the curb. John was standing there waiting. He slid into the limo.
’Take a walk, Bonnie,’ John said.
Bonnie got out and walked around the corner.
“What can I do for you?” Uri said.
“I have a problem with balsam smelling money,” John said.
“I only know that someone stole some.”
“Will it all need to be accounted for?”
“I highly doubt it,” Uri said. “We don’t know all the players, yet. Hell, we don’t even know how much was taken. There are no exact numbers.”
“The tracking system is now working,” John said. “I see you are both here.”
“We should be.”
“You were at the lake all day, too.”
“I was in the tournament.”
“Makes it hard for you to disappear,” John said.
“Moralis has a tracking system. He was also tracking us to protect us. So if you have any doubts, you can check his system.”
“Can I see the bracelet?”
Natalia raised her wrist and pulled back her snowsuit. Uri opened his snowsuit to show his chain before John even asked.
“I’d be happy if all that money wasn’t accounted for.”
“I can guarantee it won’t be,” Uri said.
John shifted in his seat.
“I also have a problem with Alfie, Kasseen, and Peter.”
“In what way?”
She could see that Uri was going to play dumb and not give anything away. However, he had already established with John that he could keep his money and he would never tell.
“Disabling the tracking system, ordering us to harass you to name a few.”
“I have a problem with that, too. I have a pregnant wife, you know. She would like me to be around for our daughter’s birth.”
“I am aware that this week… on Wednesday, during the Women’s meeting that there will be a drill at the jail. All prisoners will be moved.”
“I see. What time?”
“Seven pm. The only ones at the jail will be two officers and Kasseen. However… he has gone missing.”
“Everyone was at the lake and just heading home now. How can you be sure?”
“He was supposed to meet Alfie, Peter, and myself at the lake this morning. He never showed. His wife doesn’t know where he is.”
“That is of concern,” Uri said.
“Did you by chance see any of the Council men?”
Uri had to pause to think.
“I was pretty wrapped up in the games. Oh… I saw Mirren by the potties.”
“Nattie? Who did you see?” John said.
“Peter and Mirren were the only ones I remember seeing.”
John nodded. He paused as if he was thinking of his next words.
“We won’t be harassing you any more, Uri. If anything changes for Wednesday, I’ll let you know.”
“You want my phone number?”
John nodded and they exchanged numbers.
“Here’s Nattie’s just in case,” Uri said.
“I won’t tell where I got this information,” Uri said. “But I’m going to pass it on to those that need to know.”
“I appreciate the anonymity.”
“We’re on the same team,” Uri said. “Unfortunately, no one knows the rules, making it a hard game to play.”
“Have a good evening,” he said before he got out of the limo.
Natalia watched him go around the corner the way Bonnie had gone. A few minutes later, Bonnie returned. The limo pulled around the corner and, after a couple of blocks, picked up Mag and Zena.
Natalia was relieved when they arrived at home.
“Mag, I want cookies and tea, but I can get it myself,” Natalia said, stopping Mag who was heading toward the house with them. “You two go to bed.”
They both nodded, looking pleased, and followed Bonnie.
As soon as Natalia got her snowsuit off, she headed to the kitchen. Uri followed her and they ended up drinking tea and eating the cookies over the counter.
Natalia rinsed their glasses and swept up the crumbs.
“Bed,” Uri said, taking her hand.
Natalia waited until they were in their room and the door was closed.
“Want to see the note?” she said, taking the note out of her pocket.
“Is this the reason for the Q 5?”
“Yes. Like I said, I saw Peter hand it off to Sherri. Then Sherri asked me to deliver it to Anna.”
“Did she ask about your other visit?”
“Yes, and checked details to make sure I was there, like what Anna was wearing. Is a t-shirt and jeans standard jail wear?”
“Yes. And bare feet.”
“That’s what I said.”
Uri took the note.
“Let’s open it.”
He left their room and headed down to his office. Natalia followed close behind not wanting to miss anything. He sat behind his desk and opened his safe. From within, he pulled out a small box similar to the one she had seen Mina take out of her purse.
“The last one was double sided. This is single. But the writing indicates which side to open,” he said.
On the note, it was written, “Anna, Take heart. Love Mother.”
“That isn’t Sherri’s handwriting,” he said. “I’ve seen enough of her writing to know.”
He placed the note through a slit on the box, then pressed a tiny lever. There was a hushed whoosh. He pulled out the note.
Natalia couldn’t see any difference, but Uri tapped the box with the slit downward and a tiny bit of paper slid out. It was only visible because of the dark brown of his desk.
“If you take off any more than that, you ruin the note,” he said.
He barely touched the note and a thread of paper came off, looking like it was stuck to his finger.
“Mina is a little better at this than I am. She has the fingers for it.”
He took a pair of tweezers out of his desk to hold the thread, then blew gently. Gradually, a full sheet of paper unfolded. He turned his desk lamp on and held up the paper.
She could barely see the writing. Uri had to hold it at a particular angle in order to read it.
“Dear Anna. Wednesday is the day. Seven pm. We will soon be together. Love, Kasseen.”
Uri looked at her.
“Love Kasseen? Do we have a love triangle or is this code?”
He moved the paper around the light as if he was looking for more writing.
“That’s all it says,” he said, sounding disappointed. “At least it corroborates with what John said.”
He grabbed a scrap of paper and wrote down what the note said before putting the sliver envelope and letter into his safe.
“Here, get some change tomorrow,” he said, taking out a couple of hundred dollar bills and giving them to her.
“Odd that the Church only stored the hundreds,” she said.
The bills had a clean smell to them.
“The last bag they put in the safe had the smaller bills. I’m betting they slowly changed the small cash into the hundreds for easier storage. Not too many people put hundred-dollar bills into the collection basket.”
Uri turned out the light and led her back upstairs. In no time they were snuggling in bed. She felt as if she had just fallen asleep, when Uri woke her.
“Your call,” he said.
She followed him into the quiet room.
His phone lit up.
“Uri and Nattie here,” he said.
Everyone else acknowledged their presence.
“What do we have?” Mirren said.
“I have another sliver letter,” Natalia said. “I saw Peter hand it off to Sherri. Then Sherri asked me to deliver it to Anna after she had verified that I actually had seen Anna. She never asked me if I had delivered the last note. Just assumed since I was able to describe what Anna was wearing and such.”
“The exterior note was not Sherri’s hand writing. I opened the envelope,” Uri said.
He read from his scrap of paper.
There was a long moment of silence.
“I have more,” Uri said, when no one spoke. “Someone, who I will not identify, told me that there will be a drill on Wednesday at seven pm at the jail. And that only two policeman and Kasseen would be there.”
“That’s when they’re going to spring Anna,” Tia said.
“All the women will be at the meeting,” Natalia said. “I assume that also means Corean?”
“Yes,” Tia said.
“Love, Kasseen?” Mina said.
“Love triangle or code,” Uri said.
“We have three Council men, Sherri, and Anna. Tia? Grazie? Is Sherri taking a trip here soon?”
“Not that I’m aware of,” Grazie said. “I haven’t seen any evidence of packing and I’m in every room every day.”
“I’ve seen or heard nothing. Larsa is tight with all the servants and tells me all the gossip. Sherri isn’t saying anything out of the norm,” Tia said.
“My source also indicated that Kasseen is noted to be missing,” Uri said.
“Wonder who they will substitute on Wednesday?” Mirren said. “At least we know why he’s missing, and we’re not messing with some love triangle gone wrong.”
“Still sounds like a love triangle,” Sophie said.
“But Sherri is an active participant,” Natalia said. “Why would she support a love triangle with her daughter? A sixteen year old daughter?”
“A lot still doesn’t make sense,” Mirren said.
“Nattie needs to go to the jail on Monday to pretend to leave that note,” Tia said. “I’ll key in Corean...”
“No,” Mirren said. “I don’t want anyone keyed in outside of this group. Nattie can go visit the jail, but no mention of the note.”
“I’m going to need some of Corean’s assistance to have other people there on Wednesday,” Tia said. “I haven’t been given full access since I’m supposed to be temporary.”
“Who else has jail access?” Mirren said.
“All the women Council members. Corean. Cora.”
“Cora. Where are we with Cora?”
“I’ve spread the word through some of the trusted maids. I’m waiting for them to get back to me,” Mina said.
“Speed it up if you can,” Mirren said.
“I going as fast as I can without pissing anyone off,” Mina said, sounding a little huffy.
“Sorry to push you, Mina,” Mirren said.
“I understand the urgency,” she said.
“I can be at the jail on Wednesday,” Tia said, “but I don’t know how much use I will be.”
“Uri?” Mirren said.
“I can be there. Tracked or not tracked?”
“Good question,” Mirren said.
There was a long pause.
“Tracked,” Mirren said, breaking the silence. “Your excuse is you heard Nattie was taken there.”
“Bad Nattie. Got it.”
Natalia poked him. He smiled.
“Grazie, I know you’re babysitting. Keep an eye on the house.”
“Sophie, you account for everyone at the Women’s meeting and notify us if anyone of importance is missing.”
“I’ll be at the jail as well,” Mirren said. “I can see where I need to be given access, but I don’t see that happening before Wednesday.”
“I thought all Council heads had access,” Tia said.
“The ladies never gave it to me,” Mirren said.
“I will be notified by my source if anything changes for Wednesday,” Uri said. “We don’t know what may change due to Kasseen’s disappearance.”
“Make sure he doesn’t reappear,” Mirren said.
“We got that covered,” Moralis said.
There were five seconds of silence.
The call ended.
Uri led her out of the room.
“You go to sleep,” he said.
“Where are you going?”
“Meeting Moralis. We need to move Kasseen’s body to a better place.”
He dressed and then went out the window with the ladder. Natalia closed the window behind him. She didn’t think she could sleep now, but she did. Later, she felt Uri cuddle up to her.
“You’ll warm me up.”
She fell back to sleep, but she was the first one to awake.
“Time to get up.”
He looked at the clock.
“Going to be a rough week,” he said rising and looking very tired.
She noted he didn’t even whip the covers off her like he usually did.
“What did you do with Kasey?” she said, using the teens’ name for him.
“Basement,” Uri said.
“Won’t that be noticed by Mag or Zena?”
“We put him in a corner. They won’t open up the floor again unless they’re going to feed and it won’t be a corner. He’s already stripped of everything the grubbies won’t eat. We even yanked his jaw out because of fillings and such.”
“Yuck. I don’t need all the details here.”
“Moralis is thinking of getting a bigger house, so he can raise grubbies. That would really make Francie happy.”
“He’s got the money for it.”
“Careful there,” Uri said, but he grinned. “We’ll get him a good loan with excellent rates.”
When he led her downstairs, he let go her hand and headed to his office while he was pulling out his phone.
Natalia went to the dining room. Breakfast was an omelet. She felt hungry and ate it down fast. Her tea was almost gone when Uri finally joined her to snarf down his breakfast and chug his tea.
“Let’s go. Busy day. We’re taking a long lunch. Before we go, I need you to go upstairs and bring a couple of pairs of the jeans you wear. And a long sleeve shirt.”
She didn’t ask why, but trotted up the stairs. She took a tote and threw in the clothes. Because of the cold, she was wearing her walking shoes to and from work, leaving her work pumps at the office. She figured she was ready for anything.
When she came down the stairs, Uri was waiting for her.
“I’ll come down and get you at eleven,” he said when they headed into the bank.
He had grabbed her tote when they got out of the limo and he was carrying it.
“Long lunch,” she said. “What’s up?”
They were now waiting by the elevator. Uri went silent. She waited. The elevator came and when it reached the fourth floor, he got off with her and followed her to her office. He put her tote down and looked around.
“Quiet here now.”
“I let the ladies turn on the radio when they come in,” she said.
“Have you talked to Tyrone about the system?”
“Not yet. I keep missing him.”
“He’s a busy guy. Put a meeting out on his calendar and force the issue.”
“What’s up with lunch?” she said.
“I’ll pick you up at eleven.”
Natalia rolled her eyes.