When Natalia woke, she was already feeling nervous for the day.
“Pack your jeans and shirt with you,” Uri said.
He was rummaging through the closet.
He handed her what looked like a padded vest.
“It will keep you warm, but allow you to have your sleeve free in case you need to use the knives. Put it under your coat for tonight and if you have to you can just throw off the coat. Then you have full access to the knives.”
She noted he was also packing a bag.
“I’ll be going direct to the port after work,” he said. “You can go direct to the jail. I’ll check with Mirren if this is okay or if he wants you to meet up with them elsewhere.”
She swallowed hard as if they were already heading to the jail.
Uri must have noticed. He stepped over to her.
“You’re ready for anything,” he said as he wrapped his arms around her. “You are more deadly than most Viperians. Certainly more deadly than anyone we suspect.”
“It’s that unexpected that worries me,” she said.
“No more running amok after this,” he said. “You and Victoria are much too precious.”
He rubbed his cheek on hers.
Together they went down for breakfast. Zena served them.
“Mag called. She spent the night over at Cora’s. All is going well. According to Mag, Alfie is so preoccupied that he didn’t even notice extra staff,” she said.
“Good. Hopefully, things continue to go as planned,” Uri said.
They both ate fast.
“Let’s go. I have a busy day,” he said.
Natalia thought he look a little harried and the day had already started.
“Sorry to be a little rushed,” Uri said. “I have three mortgage closings that I promised to oversee. Those are always intense with a lot of details.”
“I’ve gotten the impression it involves a lot of paperwork.”
“We’ve got the paperwork covered. It’s the people. One is a hostile take over within a family. Or at least that’s how it has felt so far when dealing with them.”
“You’re the best when it comes to tact,” she said. “I know you can do that.”
He smiled and put his arm around her.
She hoped she was comforting him. His body heat was making her feel better.
Natalia had just gotten settled at work when Tonya, her best worker, arrived. A few moments after that a woman stepped up to the counter.
“Hi,” she heard Tonya say.
“I need a whole bunch of files.”
“Okay. Do you have a list?”
“I, like, need them fast.”
“Okay. Do you have a list?”
Natalia stepped out.
“Yeah, I have a list. Like, how long will it take? I don’t have two weeks.”
The name on her name badge was Clarissa. She wasn’t Viperian. Natalia knew she was in the Collections Department.
“If you wait, we’ll have them out in ten or fifteen minutes, Clarissa,” Natalia said, stepping over. “How many files are we talking about?”
Clarissa finally handed over a list.
“There’s twenty,” Tonya said. “Do you need this piece of paper?”
“Uhm, just for the list.”
Tonya tore it in half and gave Natalia one half.
“Just wait here, we’ll get you the files,” Natalia said.
It was close to fifteen minutes by the time the stack of files was in front of Clarissa.
“We found all but this one,” Natalia said. “Looks like its checked out to Robert up in Compliance.”
“Thanks. I’ll stop up there.” She seemed to hesitant. “Why did it use to take weeks to get files?”
“The wrong people were in charge.”
“Oh. Nice to have a good change for once.”
Natalia smiled and nodded. She hoped the rest of her day would go this well.
At lunch, Tia showed up with bag lunches and sat with her. Natalia even noted Tia seemed worried.
“Mirren wants me to take you over,” Tia said. “He doesn’t want the limo to be around since the limo signifies you and Uri. Especially, Uri.”
“I can see that.”
“Uri said he’d give Bonnie the night off.”
“How is he getting to the port?”
“Probably with Moralis,” Tia said.
Lunch was short and quiet.
“I’ll come down to get you,” Tia said, rising.
The rest of the afternoon seemed to crawl despite there were a lot of people coming or calling for files, and the fact that Natalia had to jump into help.
In spite of the fact that she kept watching the clock, she still jumped when Tia arrived.
“Sorry, you startled me.”
“Everyone’s jumpy,” Tia said.
Natalia changed shoes, put on her coat, and grabbed her tote.
“Glad to see you’re ready,” Tia said, indicating the tote.
Their conversation ended as they reached the elevators. Everyone seemed ready to go home and the area was busy. Natalia listened to the conversations around her and the reason for all the tenseness was weather related.
“Storm is supposed to hit tonight,” someone said.
“Six to eight inches of snow possible.”
“I heard a foot or more.”
Natalia just hoped it waited until they were home and all the bad guys were in jail. She just wondered who all the bad guys or gals were.
It wasn’t until Tia paused at the gates of Viperia, that Natalia realized they’d been silent, both deep in their own thoughts. She hadn’t even been paying attention to anything around them. It was now snowing lightly. Tia drove around the jail building and parked in the back. There was one other car. Natalia didn’t recognize it.
Tia didn’t get out of the car.
“Do you know who’s car that is?” Natalia said.
“Yes. It’s one of the police officers. He’s okay. The original two who volunteered with Kasseen were told not to come.”
Tia texted on her phone.
“Checking with Mirren to see if we can go in or wait.”
Natalia hoped they wouldn’t wait too long. With the car off and no heater running, the car was cooling fast. She stared at the snowflakes settling on the car. They were just flurries. She decided it would only be a worry if it was snowing harder. The thought, however, didn’t stop her from worrying.
Tia’s phone buzzed.
“We can go in,” she said. “We can get changed, too.”
Tia pulled out a tote from the backseat.
Natalia had never been in through the back. She could see that this was where prisoners were processed. There was another set of stairs that went down.
Tia cut through the area and headed to the front.
Mirren and Corean were sitting at a table. They looked as if they were sipping tea with no concerns about what was to take place.
“Go ahead and change,” Mirren said. “Do you want some hot tea?”
“Sure,” Natalia said.
Tia nodded and led the way to the women’s restroom.
They both finished at the same time. Tia was dressed all in black. They stepped out to find tea ready for them.
“Have a seat. We’ve got some waiting,” Mirren said. “Uri set Mag up to notify us as soon as Alfie leaves.”
“Won’t he be suspicious that he hasn’t heard from Kasseen,” Natalia said.
Mirren smiled and put a phone on the table.
“Kasseen has been in close contact with Alfie,” Mirren said.
“Kasseen’s phone?” she said.
“The boys were thoughtful to have saved that,” she said.
“Anybody can text. A voice can be recognized,” he said.
“I’m surprised he didn’t have it locked.”
“It took Uri about three tries. Kasseen used his birthday.”
“I love old guys and technology.”
Natalia could tell she was being facetious.
“Lucky for us,” Mirren said. “Unlucky for us was that of the four teens, we couldn’t hack any of their phones.”
Natalia sipped her tea. It was rather good.
“What we do know for tonight, based on what Kasseen and Alfie texted, is that Alfie will be waiting at the dock. Kasseen is supposed to free Anna once Cora comes. They need her access to accomplish this.”
Mirren stopped there and sipped his tea.
“Did they discuss what they were to do with Cora?” Natalia said.
Mirren nodded, but didn’t say anything more about Cora.
“Anna and Kasseen are to go to the dock. We have the first meeting place established, but we’ll see what Anna has to say once she’s bitten.”
Mirren pulled out a second phone.
“Uri and Moralis are in position. I know Sophie… “ he paused as he looked at his phone. “Sophie is in place. Mina has been there since three. She’s set up cameras, so she can watch multiple places.”
“Time to lock the front doors,” she said.
She was gone only a few minutes.
“So if anyone did come, they’d come in the back?” Natalia said.
“They would have to ring in. At this point, all doors are locked. Because of what’s happening, I restricted and tightened down all access to just myself, Mirren, and Tia.”
“How many prisoners are here?”
“Nine,” Corean said. “Most are light sentences. Anna is the only exception.”
“That’s not very many for the city the size of Viperia,” Natalia said.
“There are a few hundred in A’ppollo jails,” Mirren said. “Let A’ppollo feed and house them.”
“I think most of those in A’ppollo jails would rather be here,” Corean said.
“The cells did look rather nice,” Natalia said.
The phone on the table lit up.
“Alfie is letting Kasseen know that he’s going to the port.”
Mirren checked his own phone.
“Mag just let me know that Alfie left.”
Both Mirren and Tia exhaled with a sigh of relief.
Mirren typed on Kasseen’s phone.
“I let Alfie know that I’m waiting for Cora. Corean?”
“Go move your car. Just in case Alfie drives by.”
Corean rose. She disappeared in the back, but came back out shortly wearing her coat, hat and gloves. She left out the front door.
“Let’s move to the back. That’s where Corean will need to come back in.”
Everyone grabbed tea items and took them back with them.
It was only a few minutes later that Corean came through the back door and rejoined them.
Mirren rose and filled the pot with hot water and added another tea bag. He freshened up everyone’s cup.
“Are we waiting until seven to do anything?” Natalia said.
“We’ll start with Anna as soon as Kate comes,” Mirren said.
“Kate has Cora’s bracelet that tracks her. We need to make sure if anyone is watching that they see what they are expecting to see,” Mirren said.
“I see where Uri gets his planning skills,” Natalia said.
“We took that into consideration once we learned about it,” Mirren said.
“I told him,” Tia said. “I then called Kate to be sure to get it from Trina. I don’t even think Cora knows it’s missing with all the repacking she’s doing.”
The conversation lulled as they waited and sipped tea. Natalia rose to go to the restroom when Mirren’s phone lit up. She paused.
“Alfie has arrived at the port. Per Mag, there were eight bags and boxes put into the car.” Mirren paused. “Alfie only removed three bags and one box onto a luggage trolley.”
Natalia resumed her trip to the restroom. No one was talking when she returned. They were all watching phones. A bell rang.
Corean jumped, looking startled.
“See if that’s Kate,” Mirren said. “It’s about that time.”
Corean rose. She checked a monitor and then opened the back door. Kate came in.
“Evening, sir. Do you want me to wait?” She handed over the bracelet.
“No, you can go back. This is all we needed, thank you.”
“Thanks, Kate,” Natalia said.
Once Kate left, Mirren rose.
“We can begin.”
Natalia followed Mirren and Corean downstairs. There was one police officer sitting in an office.
“Zap Anna’s cell on my signal. We need to ask her some questions.”
Natalia could see that Anna’s cell door was dark. Mirren and Corean moved to the door. Mirren signaled the officer. The door to Anna’s cell lit up, then slid open. At that moment, there was a scream from within. Mirren and Corean rushed in fast. Natalia stepped over to see.
Anna was writhing on the ground. Mirren rolled her over and handcuffed her. He also put what looked like a collar around her neck. Using the handcuffs and the collar, he hauled Anna to her feet.
“Evening, Anna,” Mirren said. “I’m not who you were expecting, am I?”
Anna suddenly looked like a wild animal. She was baring her teeth. Her fangs were protruding, and she was trying her best to get free. Mirren easily held her in place.
“Are you going to tell me who was coming this evening?”
Anna screamed. Natalia felt the hair on the back of her neck rise. The scream didn’t sound human and, to Natalia, it sounded horrific.
“Under the law, you have three chances to answer me,” Mirren said.
Anna’s second response was to spit and try and kick him.
“Leg restrains. That’s your answer?”
Corean left, but returned in a few moments. She was carrying leather hobbles. There were no buckles. Natalia watched in wonder while Corean aimed one side of the hobble at Anna’s thrashing leg. It wound around her leg as soon as it hit and looked secured. She did the same for the second leg.
Anna was now shaking in her restraints. She looked livid.
“I will ask again. Who was to be here this evening?”
“He’ll kill you,” Anna shrieked.
Mirren turned her abruptly and ripped open the back of her shirt. Corean stepped in. Natalia thought Corean was a little more cruel with her bite.
Anna shrieked in obvious pain. Her legs buckled. She was held upright only by Mirren’s hold on her collar and hands. However, he released held her after a moment, letting her fall onto the floor. She was now writhing in agony.
“Anna, who was coming tonight to let you out?”
Anna writhed for five minutes before she answered.
“What is his proper name?” Natalia said.
Anna went still. Her wide open eyes seemed to stare at nothing.
“Was Kasseen to free you?” Mirren said.
“What were you and Kasseen going to do after he freed you?”
“Kill everyone here,” she said. Her voice deepened and her eyes became slits. “Everyone. Even all the prisoners.”
Corean looked disturbed.
“Why would you do that?” Mirren said.
“What about the security cameras?”
“Kasseen has explosives in his car,” she said, then she bellowed out. “Boom. Everyone is dead.”
Natalia felt her heart beating fast, and her stomach tighten up. Corean had jumped.
“Where are you going after you leave the prison?”
“Where are you going after you leave here? Where are you driving to?”
“Let’s go,” Mirren said.
He pulled Anna to her feet and dragged her up the stairs with little concern when she tripped and lost her footing. Everyone, except Corean, grabbed coats, but no one grabbed a coat for Anna or put any shoes on her bare feet. Natalia wasn’t even going to question this omission.
“Thanks, Corean. We can handle it from here,” Mirren said.
Corean looked at Anna with disgust.
“Maybe you shouldn’t bring her back.”
No one answered Corean.
Mirren dragged Anna out the door. He shoved Anna into the back of Tia’s car, then got in beside her. Natalia rode up front. The snow was a little heavier now.
“We are traveling like you are with Kasseen,” Mirren said. “Where are you two going?”
“Where at the port?”
Even Natalia knew where that gate was. It was the same gate she, Uri and Moralis had gone through the two times she’d been at the port. It wasn’t where you went to board a steamer. It was also an isolated spot.
“What are you going to do once you and Kasseen get there?” Mirren said.
Anna was shivering a little.
“Kill him,” she said.
“He’s supposed to give me new clothes. There will be a knife.”
“Who are you going to meet next?”
“Alfie,” she said.
“Where are you and Alfie going?”
Her face turned blank.
“Nowhere,” she said.
“Where are you meeting Alfie?”
“At the port. On the dock.”
Natalia saw some irritation pass over Mirren’s face.
“That’s the dock with the three ships in question,” Natalia said.
“Why are you meeting Alfie?”
“To kill him,” Anna said.
“Where are you going once you kill Alfie?”
“To the boat.”
“I’m not sure.”
“Who will tell you which boat?”