The time was exactly eleven when Uri arrived in her office.
“Good timing,” she said, feeling frazzled.
“A couple of ladies from the Mortgage Department were here causing problems about the wrong files. Turns out they were asking for the wrong files, but they blew up before we could iron it out. They just left.”
“The two ladies by the elevator looked a little ruffled.”
“Totally unprofessional, but they were assuming the old days of Records Management.”
“You should tell Ursula to put a message out about being under new management.”
Uri grabbed her tote, while she bundled up. He headed toward the stairs.
“Faster taking the stairs,” he said, heading down fast.
They left through a side door.
Uri wove her through the crowded streets for a couple of blocks. The foot traffic was just starting to ease, making it easier to walk without weaving around people, when Uri turned into a store.
He didn’t respond.
There was no one in the shop which was tiny. There were sewing supplies crammed everywhere. A few moments later, a short old woman with squinty eyes appeared. At least, Natalia thought it was a woman. She was almost as short as she was wide. Her head barely cleared the counter. Her gray hair was rather sparse.
“I have some alterations,” Uri said.
The woman flipped up the lens on her glasses to look at him closely.
“How many?” the woman said in raspy voice.
Natalia almost felt as if the woman rarely talked and it was an effort to do so.
“Twelve,” he said.
She and Uri squeezed around the counter and followed the woman to the back room which proved to be almost as tiny as the front. There were sewing machines, mannequins, cloth, mirrors, and shelves filled to capacity.
Uri pulled out the jeans and shirt.
The woman took them and nodded.
Uri pulled out an envelope. Natalia recognized it as the one that Mina said had sheaths in it. He opened it to reveal the translucent sheaths. From a pocket, he also pulled out a wad of hundreds and gave the old woman all of it.
She smiled, showing brown stained teeth.
“These alterations are for me,” he said. “This is my wife, Nattie.”
The woman nodded.
“This is Yige Zhi. She does all of my alterations to fit my sheaths.”
“Jeans,” Yige Zhi said, handing them to Natalia.
“Put them on,” he said.
She slid off her skirt and slipped into the jeans.
“Right or left?” Yige Zhi said.
“Right,” he said.
Yige Zhi made six chalk marks on her right thigh, and two on her left.
Natalia took them off and put on the other jeans where Yige Zhi make the same set of chalk marks.
Natalia slipped off her blouse and put on the long sleeved shirt. Four chalk marks were made on her left sleeve.
“Wait?” Yige Zhi said, looking at Uri.
“Yes, we will wait,” he said.
Natalia was already ahead of them. She took the clothes off and gave them to Yige Zhi. She redressed in her suit.
He led her back farther through the store and through a door. Once through the door, she felt as if they were in a kitchen. She glanced around and confirmed it. This was a tiny kitchen.
“Two,” he said to a middle aged woman who sat at a table.
She nodded and stood to scoop noodles into two bowls.
“Thank you,” he said, handing her money.
They sat at the table slurping noodles and broth. The woman also gave them fried vegetable rolls.
“Delicious,” Natalia said.
“Private kitchens make the best restaurants,” he said.
“You going to show me how to use my new toys?”
“I have to go see to Anna.”
“Right after Anna. Bonnie will drive us.”
“We’re tracked now.”
“We’re not doing anything illegal,” he said.
It was an hour before Yige Zhi came back and handed Uri the tote.
“Thank you,” he said with a respectful nod of his head.
Yige Zhi did the same.
“This way,” he said, leading her out the back door.
The alley they walked through was surprisingly clean and tidy. Once out of the alley, the crowds and the traffic surrounded them. They walked back to the bank, but had to go through the front since the side doors allowed one to leave but not to enter.
“I’ll walk up the stairs with you, not that I really need the exercise,” he said.
“You must be tired.”
“Yeah,” he said. “I’ll get some sleep tonight.”
He put the tote in her office. She followed him out to see that he took the elevator. Then she returned to her office and set up a meeting with Tyrone. His calendar was full until next Thursday.
“A really busy guy,” she said to herself while she changed back into her office shoes.
She did a quick loop around the Records area. The other ladies were talking while they worked, but there wasn’t a backlog of files. They were still keeping up with the demand.
The idea of an announcement about new management sounded like a wise thing to do. She sent an email to Ursula about this, outlining why it would be a good idea. However, Ursula was quick to respond that while it was a good idea, she had to wait since it wasn’t official.
The afternoon went by a little slow. She was getting tired of reading the documentation on the new system. Even a walk down to the tellers to get change for the hundreds that Uri gave her, didn’t take that much time. Shortly after four, she went to the restroom. When she came back, Uri was waiting for her.
“We’re going early,” he said.
She changed shoes before grabbing her coat and her satchel. He took her tote. They used the elevator. The limo was waiting for them.
Uri seemed extra tired and leaned back. She refrained from asking questions, letting him rest. The ride was so quiet and uneventful, that she almost fell asleep herself.
The limo pulled into the parking lot of the jail. The turn woke Uri. He yawned and stretched.
“A lot more cars here than last time. So, what’s the plan here?”
“Just to see what’s going on,” he said.
They stepped inside to find chaos.
There were four police officers, Mirren, Corean, and an EMT.
“I am the Council Head,” Mirren was saying with a slightly raised voice.
“I don’t care if you’re the Queen of Utopia,” Corean said, almost shouting back. She had her hands on her hips. “You don’t have access. I can’t give you access.”
“We need to move some prisoners,” Mirren said.
“There are no prisoners that can be moved.”
“We believe one is injured.”
“If one is injured then, they did it to themselves. No one is being moved,” Corean said, standing strong.
Corean spun to face them.
“What do you want?” she said, sounding huffy.
“Just to see how Anna is doing,” Natalia said, taking a step back.
“She’s doing just fine. She’s allowed no visitors.”
Corean spun back to face Mirren and the officers.
“You can leave now,” she said.
Her voice was a little haughty.
Mirren barely moved his hand and the four officers and the EMT left out the back.
“Who’s going to be here on Wednesday?” Mirren said to Corean.
“Why do you want to know?”
Tia came through the front door. Everyone stood where they were and no one spoke while Tia removed her coat. She stepped up to the group but put her finger to her lips. A minute later, Kareen came through the front door.
Kareen did not remove her coat.
“Why am I here?” she said in a demanding voice.
Her eyes were on Mirren.
“A few issues have come to light,” Mirren said.
“And what are they? Why are Nattie and Uri here?”
“We just stopped by to check on Anna,” Natalia said.
“We can go,” Uri said.
“No.” Mirren said.
“Yes,” Corean said.
“What is going on?” Kareen said.
“Who’s usually here on Wednesday?” Mirren said.
“That is of no concern of yours,” Corean said.
“He is the Council Head,” Kareen said, but her voice was quiet as if she didn’t want to be heard.
“Until the Council tells me that it’s permitted, I will not allow him access or give him any information,” Corean said.
“Have you come into any money of late?” Mirren said.
Corean looked furious and insulted.
“Grazie has given me money to prep the nursery for his daughter.”
She almost hissed the words.
“Why are we having this confrontation?” Kareen said.
“Because we need to tease out who we can trust,” Tia said.
Her voice carried such authority that it curbed a rebuttal on Corean’s lips and caused everyone to turn their attention to her.
“T-trust?” Corean said, appearing to change the words she wanted to say. “I’ve been running this jail for over five years. There have been no issues as to confidentiality, security, or bribes. My record speaks for itself. I have a reputation to uphold.”
“I can vouch for that,” Kareen said.
“But what about you?” Tia said, keeping her voice calm.
Natalia was reminded of how Uri kept his voice so controlled.
Kareen looked surprised and then almost affronted.
“I also have a good record. I’ve been consistent with my role on the Council. I’ve been re-elected three times. My life is scrutinized almost daily for having been on the Council this long. We have policies in place that require specific checks and balances of power.”
“So why was I not given access to the jail when our rules specify what the Council Head has access to?”
“Asking for it now lays in some suspicion,” Corean said. “He wanted to move a prisoner.”
“He was only testing Corean,” Tia said.
“Now, I’m totally confused,” Kareen said. “Why are we here?”
Tia looked at Mirren. He nodded.
“We have inside information that there will be a jail break on Wednesday,” Tia said.
“Over my dead body,” Corean said.
“You would be at the Women’s meeting on Wednesday,” Tia said. “And so… who would be here? My informant said it would be two police officers and Kasseen.”
“Kasseen is missing,” Kareen said.
“Let’s discuss that later,” Tia said. “Am I right?”
“On Wednesdays between six and eight-thirty, this place is manned with volunteers from the police force and one of the Council men. They don’t have full access,” Corean said. “And, yes, I had Kasseen volunteer and two officers.”
“But Cora has full access,” Tia said.
“She deals with rehabilitation. She needs full access,” Kareen said. “What does she have to do with this?”
“She doesn’t have full access anymore,” Corean said in a quieter voice.
“Does she know this?” Tia said.
“Not full access? Why?” Kareen said.
Corean looked at Tia as if seeking guidance.
“Thank you, Corean,” Tia said. “I do remember I told you to keep this quiet.”
“Keep what quiet?” Kareen said.
“Go ahead, Corean,” Tia said.
“We found equipment in Anna’s room that allowed her to open sliver letters. A sliver letter was confiscated,” Corean said.
Natalia felt relief that she wasn’t mentioned.
“Does Cora know she’s lost this access?” Tia asked again.
“No. People tend to get huffy when they lose access to stuff. I wasn’t going to tell her until she came in again,” Corean said. “I told her no rehabilitation visits this week and left it open with resuming them next week.”
“So she thinks she still has full access,” Tia said, making a statement.
“Do we know where these sliver letters are coming from?” Kareen said.
“Yes and no,” Tia said. “We’re trying to make sure, so we don’t falsely accuse anyone.”
“I wish you would do that with me,” Uri said.
“Uri, you’re always guilty of something,” Kareen said.
Uri had the ‘what did I do now’ look.
“I only trust you when you have Nattie with you,” she said. “I think she’s the only thing that keeps you in line, other than your father.”
“Everyone is against me,” he said, looking like a beaten puppy.
Tia smacked his arm.
“You’re always guilty.”
“I appreciate your caution, Tia,” Kareen said.
“We need to continue caution and limit who knows this information,” Mirren said. “We need your support without bringing in the rest of the Council members. Some are suspect.”
“Is this part of why Kasseen is missing?” Kareen said.
“We believe so,” Mirren said. “Now, having said we don’t want to falsely accuse anyone, we do need to put out some false information.”
“Can you tell me the whole story?” Kareen said.
“The problem is we don’t know the whole story. However, I can tell you who we believe are the key players and that this also involves the money missing from the safe,” Mirren said.
“Who are the players?”
“Kasseen, Alfie, Peter, Sherri and Anna.”
“Anna is in jail,” Kareen said.
“And she’s been receiving sliver letters. Cora, we believe, delivered them or at least some of them. They might have come from any of the Council men, except me, of course or Sherri.”
“Sherri has no access to her daughter.”
“Didn’t I say Anna had been getting sliver letters?” Mirren said.
“What is the false information we need to put out?”
“We need to let people know that Kasseen has been found. He’s fine. And requests some privacy.”
“What about his wife?”
“Tell her the same misinformation. We also need to keep acting as if nothing has changed at the jail and that Kasseen and the two officers will still be here. However, we will be here.”
“Okay, then what happens?”
“We are under the assumption that Kasseen will release Anna and that they will then go somewhere. We don’t know where, yet. We’re going to need to bite Anna and learn some of the truth, but not before Wednesday. We need to know all the players and catch them.”
“Anna isn’t doing too well,” Corean said. “She’s not eating, and she’s been beating herself against the wall.”
Tia spun to Uri.
“Can you make up a sliver letter?”
“Yeah, but I don’t have the necessary materials,” he said.
“We have some confiscated materials,” Corean said.
“Make up a letter,” Tia said as if giving an order.
“I know what you want,” he said.
Tia looked to Corean as if telling her to get to it.
“This way,” Corean said.
“Give Mirren access to the jail.”
“I second,” Tia said.
Corean nodded and headed off with Uri.
Kareen turned to Natalia.
“Is this why you’re here?”
Natalia shook her head.
“I was concerned about Anna and was just stopping by to ask. I wasn’t expecting this.”
She raised her hands to indicate the meeting that just happened.
“I don’t think Uri was expecting this either since it was sort of last minute that I wanted to come.”
She was stretching the truth a little.
“We’ll have you deliver the note,” Mirren said.
“I don’t think she likes me.”
“You can still deliver it and then leave.”
“But she can’t open it.”
“Good point. Where’s the evidence room?” Mirren said.
“This way,” Tia said.
Tia led the way.
Corean was standing outside of a room. Natalia could see Uri working inside.
“We have the issue that if we give her a sliver letter, she can’t open it,” Tia said.
’Covered,’ Uri said without breaking his concentration.
“Don’t disturb him,” Corean said. “He has to control his breathing so not to damage the letter.”
Natalia figured he was going to duplicate the sliver letter she had last been given. She felt it was such a simple note, but it took Uri over forty-five minutes to create it.
“I duplicated the last confiscated letter,” Uri said, confirming what she thought. “I also make it an easier envelope to open. She won’t need a cutter. The exterior writing will key her into that.”
Kareen took the envelope and gave it to Natalia.
“Go deliver this.”
Natalia nodded and followed Corean down the stairs. Anna’s room was dark and eerily silent.
“Give me a moment.”
Corean walked off. A few minutes later the door to Anna’s room lit up. Corean returned and tapped the speaker on the wall.
“You have a visitor, Anna.”
Corean left, going upstairs.
Anna was not in view. She didn’t walk up to the door. There was no sound.
“I’m so sorry, Anna,” Natalia said in her best voice of apology. “Your mother said I should have delivered the note. That there was no harm. Here.”
Natalia slid it through the gap. The note fluttered into Anna’s cell and landed on the floor.
“I know you’re upset. I’m very sorry. Your mother wishes you the best.”
Natalia left and trotted up the stairs. Everyone was in a room off of the main area. She joined them and could see they were watching a security camera. Anna was already visible. She had already snatched up the note and opened it.
Natalia was someone shocked at her appearance. Her hair was matted. Her clothes were ripped. There appeared to be bruises on her face.
“She’s going to look a mess on Wednesday,” she said.
“If she stops banging herself against things now, most of those will be gone by Wednesday,” Corean said. “We’ll offer her new clothes tomorrow. I’m betting she puts them on.”
Anna was already finger combing her hair and smiling.
“What did the note say, Uri?” Kareen said.
“Dear Anna. Wednesday is the day. Seven pm. We will soon be together. Love, Kasseen.”
Kareen looked at Uri. There was confusion on her face.
“That’s what the last confiscated sliver letter said.”
“Oh, my word,” Corean said.
“You’re now as confused as we are,” Mirren said.