Uri kissed her cheek, then rubbed his cheek against hers.
“Good luck,” he said.
He left the limo. She watched him enter the bank while Bonnie pulled away from the curb. Suddenly, the limo jerked and swerved back to the curb. The doors unlocked. A door opened.
Natalia wondered what Uri forgot.
Tia slid into a seat and shut the door. The doors locked and Bonnie pulled into traffic.
“Good morning,” Tia said. “I got your message.”
“Thanks. I didn’t know if I could do this alone. I’m glad you could clear your schedule.”
“Not a good day for this, but then no day is good. We’re lucky it’s the cold and flu season. A sudden absence is understood.”
“I’ve seen sniffles here and there, but…“
Natalia realized she hadn’t seen any illness among the Viperians.
“No, we don’t catch the cold virus,” she said, answering the question Natalia hadn’t voiced. “And you won’t ever again.”
“Sanguine tea is an excellent antiviral remedy.”
“You could market it to the world and make a fortune,” Natalia said.
“With one problem. Undents can’t tolerate sanguine tea.”
“But I drink it every day.”
“You’re been bitten and you’re pregnant with a Viperian child. Once your daughter is born, you’ll get much less tea. And if Uri doesn’t bite you once in a while, you’ll actually get to the point where you find it distasteful and upsetting to your system.”
“So that means my father isn’t drinking Sanguine tea.”
“If Brianna isn’t biting him, then that is true.”
“She said she hasn’t.”
“Good for her.”
Natalia almost felt like the limo was heading back home until Bonnie made a turn into an unknown neighborhood. The houses were quaint with large yards. After going a few blocks in, the limo pulled up to the curb and parked.
Natalia recognized Kate’s car. No one was in it.
Both Tia and she got out of the limo and followed the front walk to the door. Tia tapped the door. It was a few minutes before the door opened.
Natalia figured this was Trina. Behind her were Mag and Zena, looking a little solemn. Trina looked like the typical Viperian. Her black hair was up in a bun. Her eyes were green and wary. She looked to be in her thirties. She gave them a stern look before she admitted them into the house.
“Morning, Trina,” Tia said. “Sorry to intrude.”
“Mag and Zena said you needed to talk to me.”
Natalia looked beyond Mag and Zena.
There were travel chests and boxes in the living room.
Trina’s lips were pressed together like she was going to need a crowbar to open them.
“Perhaps we should just get to the point of why we’re here. I’m Nattie, Uri’s wife,” she said introducing herself.
She decided she needed to ignore the chests for the moment.
Trina just nodded.
“I’m sorry to have used Mag and Zena. They are my maids, if you didn’t know. I understand the importance of a good maid, confidentiality, and such. They are the best, and I couldn’t manage without them.”
These words did nothing to defrost Trina.
“You must have the same close relationship with Cora. I only know her through the fine work she does at the jail.”
Trina didn’t move or acknowledge any of this.
“I believe Cora is a fine person, but… but we are under the impression that someone is using her.”
“We’ve received confidential information that there will be a jail break tomorrow,” Tia said. “The only person we know who could assist with this is Cora.”
“Ms. Cora would never do such a thing,” Trina said with conviction.
“She would if the right people told her there was to be a drill at the jail and that all prisoners were to be moved.”
“And you’re saying those right people are people we’ve entrusted with the jail?”
“Yes,” Tia said, “But they are not the usual ones. Since Corean will be at the Wednesday meeting, there will be three volunteers.”
There was a very long moment of silence.
“It’s the three volunteers that we can’t trust,” Tia said.
Trina’s eyes moved from Tia to Natalia then back to Tia. Natalia had the feeling she was doing a lot of thinking.
“Cora was asked to be at the jail tomorrow,” Trina said, sounding a little tentative.
Tia gave a patient nod. Natalia knew to not move or make a sound. She found herself hardly breathing.
“She wasn’t happy about it because tomorrow evening is when she and Alfie are leaving on vacation. To get away from the cold and snow.”
Tia nodded again.
“She told me she was asked special since this would allow Corean to attend the Wednesday meeting. She was told it would only take a half-hour of her time.”
“What time is she leaving for vacation?”
“Their ship leaves at nine-thirty. It’s a special cruise put on by some club that Alfie belongs to. I’m not familiar with it.”
“We can’t let Cora go to the jail,” Natalia said while she thought about what would have happened were Kasseen still alive. “Her life may depend on it.”
Trina swallowed hard.
“And I wouldn’t trust Alfie, either,” Tia said.
“He’s been acting strangely,” Trina said.
The stiffness in her body eased, and she almost looked relieved.
“He and Cora have shared this house for a long time, but more like roommates. They don’t share a room. Of late, he’s been very attentive. Wanting to know how she is, where she’s going, and such. She says he rarely ever took her out for lunch and now they go almost every day.”
There was a moment of silence as if Trina was thinking of her words.
“And now there’s this trip. They’ve never taken a trip before. I was always under the impression that Alfie hated to travel.”
“What time were they to leave for the ship?”
“Because Cora needs to go to the jail, he’s going ahead with all the luggage. Then he’ll come back to pick her up.”
“The time?” Tia said with a little urging.
“He’s leaving at six. He’s to pick her up at seven-fifteen.”
“Kasseen will be at the jail,” Tia said. “We know he’s not afraid to kill.”
Tia was also proceeding as if Kasseen were alive.
Natalia nodded, remember the teen’s throat he’d slit. She still felt apprehension, even though she knew Kasseen was dead.
Trina swallowed hard again.
“I don’t like him either. He comes at night after Cora goes to bed and meets with Alfie. A woman knows when men are up to something.”
“We need to talk to Cora, but we need to proceed carefully. She can’t let Alfie know.”
“Has Alfie been showing any money lately?” Natalia said.
Trina looked a little shocked and nodded.
“He bought her a huge diamond cluster ring, but it was too small. He sent it out to be resized. He is supposed to pick it up tomorrow.”
Too small, Natalia thought, because it was sized to fit Anna.
She looked at Tia who she nodded as if she had come to the same conclusion.
“How can we meet with Cora without cluing her in?” Natalia said.
“Alfie never did sign the papers that would allow me to handle the daily expenses,” Trina said. “He’s very thrifty and always afraid I’m wasting his money.”
“Can Cora sign those papers?” Tia said.
“She usually defers to him thus why she hasn’t.”
“Have her call Cora to get the papers signed? Tell her that a maid friend… Mag, volunteered to bring her over to the courthouse so as not to inconvenience her?”
“She would believe that,” Trina said. “I’ve done such things before.”
“We can meet her in the limo and have a chat,” Tia said.
“If that’s okay with you,” Natalia said to Trina.
“If you’re going to save her life, of course, I’m okay with that. Cora is the most gentle good person I’ve ever known.”
“Thank you,” Natalia said.
“I appreciate your cooperation,” Tia said.
“However,” Trina said in a careful voice, “she might not be receptive to you.”
“She’s been wooed in by Alfie?” Natalia said.
“She’s been wanting his attention for sometime now. Now that he’s giving it to her, she’s been so happy.”
“And blind,” Tia said. “The worse thing that can happen is she keys in Alfie about our suspicions.”
“If we find that may be the case, then we kidnap her and have Trina speak for her. She can tell him that Cora is out doing last minute shopping and will meet him at the jail,” Natalia said.
“Might work if you have to resort to that,” Trina said. “Men will believe anything.”
She rolled her eyes.
“His thoughts are elsewhere,” Tia said. “He’ll believe.”
“I’ll make the call,” Trina said.
Everyone followed her to the kitchen. She didn’t seem to mind. Her cell phone was on the counter.
“Good morning, Ms. Cora. This is Trina.”
She tapped her phone and put it on speaker.
“I know who this is silly. I can see the caller ID.”
“I was wondering if I can stop by. Alfie hasn’t signed those papers allowing me to handle the expenses while you are gone.”
“He’ll sign them tonight. He promised me.”
“Yes, ma’am. I was going to be out running errands anyway. There is so much to attend to. I didn’t want this forgotten.”
“Of course, not. I’ll remind him.”
Natalia could see that Trina was thinking fast.
“That last bag won’t handle all the last-minute items. I thought I’d go out and get one larger. You know you’ll want to bring back souvenirs.”
“Yes, that is true.”
“What about that blue bag?”
“Alfie packed it full,” Trina said.
“Oh, his mind is already on vacation. I told him I was using that one. Very well, perhaps it’s best. Come over this morning. I don’t have much time. Bring the papers and get a big bag, not one just a little bigger.”
“Yes, ma’am. I can come right now.”
“I’ll meet you in the car. Wait. Who’s driving you?”
“I’ll be with my friend, Mag. She has errands to run, too, so she’s happy for the company.”
The call ended.
“Mag. Zena. Thank you,” Tia said. “You can go home. We’ll take it from here.”
“I’ll go get my coat,” Trina said.
Trina joined them at the front door. She had a small case.
“The papers. She’ll know in an instant something is up if I don’t have this.”
They slid into the limo. Kate’s car drove off with Mag and Zena.
’Courthouse,’ Tia said to Bonnie.
’South side,’ Trina added.
They rode in silence.
Natalie could see that Trina was looking a little nervous. She, herself, was nervous. Especially, if they really did have to kidnap Cora. For some reason, she could see that happening.
The limo pulled to the south side of the courthouse. There was no parking.
“Bring her around,” Tia said to Trina.
Trina nodded and left the limo.
“Hopefully, she is full on board and won’t alert her,” Tia said while Bonnie pulled around the block.
When the limo reached the south side again, Natalia could see Trina with Cora. They were walking fast.
The limo stopped.
Tia stepped out.
“Morning, Cora. Let’s get out of the cold.”
“Why, morning, Tia. I just have a few moments.”
Cora didn’t look like she was going to get into the limo. Then, Trina bumped her. Tia took her hand and pulled a surprised looking Cora into the limo.
Natalia found that Tia arranged it, so Cora was nestled between them. Trina sat across from them. The doors locked, and the limo pulled away from the curb.
“What is this about?” Cora said looking affronted.
“We have a Council issue to discuss,” Tia said, taking the route of the law.
Natalia thought that was a good way to start since Cora was involved with the court systems in both societies.
“Well you’re certainly going about it in an off-handed manner. Trina, what is going on?”
“You have to listen to them, ma’am.”
“Any official business of the Council is to come via a council meeting. Not some… underhanded meeting in a car.”
“It has come to our attention that you will be going to the jail tomorrow,” Tia said.
“Trina,” Cora said in a sharp voice.
“They know more than I would have ever said,” Trina said.
“We also have inside information that there will be a jail break tomorrow and that the only reason you were asked to go to the jail was to assist with the jail break.”
“I would never,” Cora said. “How dare you to even think I would do such a thing.”
“I know you wouldn’t do such a thing,” Tia said. “But under fear of death, I think you might.”
“Are you threatening me?”
“No,” Tia said, keep her voice even and calm. “We’re trying to save your life.”
“The ring Alfie bought didn’t fit because it wasn’t for you,” Natalia said in a quiet voice.
“What? What are you talking about?”
“How long have you and Alfie been together?” Tia said.
“What has that got to do with anything?”
“I’ve known you to be together forever. Why would a man suddenly become so attentive unless he fears his woman is leaving? Are you leaving Alfie?”
“Of course not. We’re quite established and too old for changing our lives. We’re quite comfortable.”
“So why would a man, who rarely gives gifts or goes out to lunch or even likes to travel, suddenly do all these things? In my book, that means he’s up to something,” Tia said. “You see criminals all day. You know when they’re fibbing or pretending. Have you been turning a blind eye to Alfie?”
“You’re making something out of nothing. Alfie is just showing appreciation for all that I’ve done for him. He does these things every once in a while.”
Natalia almost thought she was trying to convince herself.
“Or maybe it’s not because he fears you are leaving, but that he’s leaving you,” Tia said.
“If you go to the jail on Wednesday, you will die,” Natalia said in a quiet voice. “Kasseen will be there. I’ve seen him use a knife. Alfie will not come to pick you up because he’s arranged to have you murdered. Alfie will get on that ship and be gone.”
Cora stared at her for a long time.
“You are out of your mind,” she finally said.
“If I hadn’t seen things with my own eyes, I would agree with you.”
“Alfie is known for being stingy with his money. The only reason he would pay for such an extravagant ring is if he suddenly came into money. A whole lot of money,” Tia said.
“Are you suggesting that he was the one who stole all that money out of that safe?”
“Has Alfie given you any money of late?” Natalia said.
“Of course he gives me spending money.”
“Have you smelled it? Does it smell like balsam?”
“What does that mean?”
“The money from the Church is blessed with holy water. It’s infused with balsam.”
Natalia pulled out her wallet from her purse and pulled out two twenties.
“Does your money smell like this?”
She almost thrust the money under Cora’s nose.
“This is insulting.”
“Prove them wrong ma’am,” Trina said.
Cora had been hugging her purse. She carefully opened it and pulled out her wallet. She pulled out a hundred-dollar bill. Tentatively, she sniffed it.
There was a long pause. Natalia still had her money there. Cora gave that money a sniff, then gave her bill a sniff. Then Cora burst into tears.
Tia put her arm around her.
“I’m sorry,” Tia said.
Natalia could see tears in Trina’s eyes, too.
The faint smell of balsam reached Natalia. She didn’t know if Trina could smell it. She took the bill from Cora and handed it over to Trina.
“Balsam,” Trina said when she sniffed it. “Alfie always did have a poor nose. But...how...how do we know this money wasn’t put into the bank by the robber? And Alfie just happened to get one?”
“Because Uri has been checking all deposits of cash. Most Viperians, including Alfie, use the Main Bank,” Natalia said.
Cora was in a full heaving sob. Tia had a tissue, but since her purse was already open, Cora was grabbing tissues from there. She was incapacitated with weeping.
’To the lake, Bonnie,’ Natalia said.