“I have Grace,” Natalia said.
“No, Anna. Where is Anna?”
“Sherri,” Peter said.
He stressed her name to get her attention, but Sherri kept looking around.
“Where is Anna?”
“Dead,” Mirren said. “Or close to it.”
Sherri looked in a panic, then almost fainted. Mirren held her up.
“Is this my child or not?” Peter said with rage into her face.
Sophie stepped over by Natalia. She had a black sweatshirt which she helped wrap around Grace.
“I want my baby,” Sherri said in a whimper. “I want my Anna.”
Peter lunged at Sherri, knocking both her and Mirren to the ground.
Moralis and Uri jumped in to grab Peter off of them.
“Is this my child?” he said with a roar.
“Anna isn’t your child,” Sherri said, getting to her feet.
“No. Grace. Is Grace my child,” he said.
“Don’t make me bite you, Sherri,” Tia said.
“You’re only temporary. You can’t bite.”
“I can authorize her. Or do you want your day in court to start with a bite?” Mirren said.
Sherri looked as if she wanted to hiss. Her face scrunched with anger and contempt.
“Because of you… What you did sixteen years ago, all children are tested to prove parentage,” Mirren said. “The hospital did it automatically. Grazie followed up and did it as well.”
“Tell me,” Peter said. “You did a breeding with me.”
“It didn’t take,” Sherri said. “I did a breeding with Grazie the next day.”
Peter went limp, but remained standing. Moralis and Uri no longer had to hold him. He looked crestfallen.
“I wondered why we had to do it in the dark,” Grazie said. “You were probably covered in bruises.”
“I think the rest of this conversation needs to be finished in front of the Council,” Mirren said.
“Uri and I will do cleanup,” Moralis said. “We’re getting pretty good at it.”
“Anything special for Alfie?” Uri said. “Or he gets the same treatment that we’ll do for the Undents.”
“Nothing special,” Mirren said. “He was a party to all the murders or attempted murders. He can go join Kasseen for all I care.”
“I’ll catch up to you,” Uri said to Natalia.
“My car is in that building over there,” Mina said. “I can take a prisoner.”
“Take Sherri,” Mirren said.
“I’ll take Grace,” Grazie said.
Natalia handed her over to him.
“Then that frees up Nattie. Why don’t you do the driving for Mina. Sophie, go with as second.”
Sophie nodded and took hold of Sherri’s arm on one side with Mina on the other.
“Peter. You come with me.”
Peter nodded, looking drained of all emotion.
Natalia followed the three women to the building. Mina waved, and Natalia knew to open the sliding door. A car was just inside. Mina tossed her the keys.
“Where is Anna?” Sherri said.
Mina opened the back door and pushed Sherri in. Sophie got on the other side. No one answered Sherri.
Natalia pulled the car out of the building, then stopped to get out and close the door to the building. She drove carefully, retracing her steps. Alfie’s body was gone already. The gate was held open by Mirren. Peter stood beside him, looking like he was doing whatever he was told to do. She wondered if he would spend sometime in jail.
Natalia knew the way to Viperia, and she hardly stopped the car to open the window and say open in Viperian. The gate opened immediately. She knew to pull around the back of the jail, where she parked. Corean opened the door when they rang. No one said a single word as they followed Corean down the stairs to a cell. Sherri reluctantly slipped off her shoes and stepped into the cell with a little shove from Sophie. The door slid shut and the door went dark.
As soon as they reached the top of the stairs, Corean was hurrying to let in Mirren. He was carrying Anna who was unconscious. Peter trailed behind.
Natalia followed them downstairs. Peter willing stepped into a cell. The cell they put Anna in was tiny and bare. There was no carpet. There was no bed. There was a squat toilet and a spigot over a drain. Mirren wasn’t gentle when he put her on the ground.
Corean stepped up with scissors and cut Anna’s clothes off.
They all went back upstairs.
Twenty minutes later, Kareen, Jada Lee, Friesa, and Pearl arrived. Natalia figured there was going to be a Council meeting regarding what had happened.
“I’ll take you home,” Mina said. “Tia’s going to be busy.”
Natalia slid into the back of Mina’s car. Sophie sat upfront.
“Is there going to be a trial?”
“Sort of,” Mina said. “There will be a collecting of all the facts.”
They all fell silent. Mina took Sophie home first since it was on the way. Natalia moved to the front seat.
“Thanks for the ride, Mina.”
“You’re welcome. Have a good night, what’s left of it.”
It was now snowing hard.
Natalia’s hand was almost on the handle of the front door when it opened.
Zena had a look of concern.
“I don’t know what I can say or not,” Natalia said.
“Will Cora be expecting Alfie back?” Zena said.
She took Natalia’s coat and hung it up.
Natalia took off the vest and put it on the stairs to take up later.
“I could use some dinner, Zena. And, no, Cora shouldn’t be expecting Alfie ever again.”
Natalia sat at the table.
She’d finished dinner and was thinking of a hot bath when she heard the garage door.
Zena stepped out of the kitchen.
Moments later, Uri came in from the garage.
“We’ll need some tiles pulled,” Uri said. “Do we have room for six?”
“Six?” Zena said, looking astonished. “Is...is this approved?”
“You can report me to Mirren,” Uri said.
Moralis came in.
“We ready yet?”
“Letting Zena know she can report us if she likes. Mirren knows.”
“We’re good Zena,” Moralis said as if he had the authority, which Natalia knew he didn’t.
“Mirren did say,” Natalia said, omitting the part about Alfie joining Kasseen.
Zena and the others didn’t know he ended up here, and she wasn’t going to tell.
“I guess,” Zena said.
“I can help,” Natalia said.
“No, I can do it,” Zena said.
She disappeared back into the kitchen. Natalia heard her go down into the basement.
“Everyone in jail?” Uri said.
“Yes. They put Anna in a bare cell.”
“Death penalty cell. She’ll die there. Let’s get the grubbies fed,” Uri said, heading out to the garage with Moralis.
Natalia stepped out to watch while they grabbed a tarp. The first body they pulled out of Moralis’s car was one of the Undent teens. He was already stripped naked. They wrapped him in a tarp and carried him to the basement.
Grubbies bubbled up from the ground as soon as the body touched the dirt. Uri and Moralis headed back up for another body.
“We’re going to be harvesting grubbies soon with all these feedings,” Zena said.
“We should let a few extra mature for a beetle dinner,” Natalia said.
“We can arrange that.”
She closed up the floor tiles and opened the next section.
Moralis and Uri arrived with another body. She noticed they moved between Zena and the opening. Moralis held the tarp up. Uri replaced the tiles. She figured this has to be Alfie.
“We need a bigger basement,” Uri said when the last body was put in place.
“Perhaps, Moralis isn’t the only one who should go buy a new house,” Natalia said.
“You’re giving me that many children?”
“No, I need more room for grubbies,” she said.
“Have a good night,” Moralis said.
Uri followed him out through the garage door to close things up.
Zena hurried to get his dinner warmed, and in the dining room. Natalia sat and watched him eat.
“We’re not even going to get to bed late,” he said.
She shook her head.
“You going to tell me what happened?”
“When we go upstairs.”
A few minutes later he was done and they headed up.
Uri sat on the bed.
“By the time I arrived at the port, it was starting to shut down. Looked like it was a busy day. I know all the crates that Moralis had marked were gone. However, because the steamer was due to leave, the port didn’t shutdown all the way. Mina never saw Sherri get to the tug boat. She said there was a full crew on board, and they’d just docked about six. It’s possible they picked Sherri up, but I don’t think she could have gotten there that soon.”
“Grazie hung around during cleanup since Grace wasn’t fussing.”
“He should have gotten her out of the cold.”
“He put her inside his coat. She was good. He told us of the timing when Sherri had gone missing.” Uri looked thoughtful. “She had no luggage and nothing for the baby. We didn’t find anything on that tug.”
Natalia felt the horror of hearing this.
“She was going to give Grace to a bunch of Undent teens to sell on the market,” Natalia said.
“Say, what? The ones you killed?”
“She’d have died.”
Uri nodded, looking shocked.
“How could she do that?” Natalia said.
“Money,” he said.
“Here I thought her time spent with Grace was her way of saying goodbye. She wasn’t saying goodbye. She was setting the scene so she could leave the house without being detected until it was too late. Why didn’t she just leave the baby there?”
“I think she was using Grace to keep Peter in place. I’m not sure what his role was.”
Natalia sat beside him and took her shoes off.
“If all had gone according to her plan, her and Anna would be sailing away on the tug boat with all of the stolen money,” he said.
Natalia shook her head.
“I think a warm shower is next. Then bed.”
Uri stood and pulled her up. He started to undress her.
“Don’t get any ideas,” she said.
“You are so beautiful.”
“Is there a Q 5 tonight?”
“Not that I’ve been notified of.”
He pulled her shirt off and undid her bra.
“You’re wearing knives,” he said as he outlined a breast with a finger.
“And I know how to use them,” she said.
“I have the two you threw,” he said.
“Thank you. Where did Grazie get all those knives that he threw?”
“He carries a few. I don’t know why. A guy thing,” Uri said.
He was now kissing gently up her neck.
“Six of them were steak knifes that I think he must have grabbed out of his kitchen before he left.”
Uri paused to breath in her hair.
“Never underestimate a Viperian father.”
“Who gifted me my knives?”
She felt him smile.
“People like you,” he said. “While some people think you keep me in line, others know better. They know I’m going to teach you.”
“Who gifted those knives? Your father, Mirren?”
“The Council women know your value in more ways then you realize. So do I.”
He took her hand.
“Let’s have our shower and get to bed.”
Natalia was the first to wake in the morning. Things felt a little surreal as if what happened last night was just a dream.
Uri stretched then cuddled with her.
“Busy day?” she said.
“Yes. Tis the season for some reason everyone buys houses. Everyone wants a mortgage or to see someone about their money.”
He breathed once into her hair, then whipped the covers off of her.
Breakfast seemed normal. Mag was back, but Natalia detected an undertone of excitement between Mag and Zena. Even Bonnie seemed more attentive, opening the door for both of them when they got into the limo.
Work felt the same, but there was an increase in the volume of files flowing in and out. Natalia was kept busy. She almost thought they might need help, but at the end of the day, all was tidy.
“You can spend the evening catching up on your classes,” Uri said while they rode home. “Tomorrow though, we have to leave work by two. There’s a special Council meeting, and we’ve been summoned to attend.”
“Is this good or bad?”
“Depends on who you are,” Uri said.
“I meant for us,” she said.
“Now I’m going to worry.”
“You don’t have to worry. Everything we’ve done, whether it was you or me, was done according to the wishes of the Council.”
“The good Council or the bad?”
“That depends on what side you’re on.”
She hit him on the arm.
“You are of no help.”
He chuckled, and she took that as a sign she didn’t need to worry.
That night, both Mag and Zena waited on them for dinner, but they never hung around long enough for her to ask what was up. Uri didn’t either. He ate fast and retired to his office.
Natalia worked on her classes and managed to finish two more. Her sense of accomplishment was short lived when two more classes popped up and she found she had three more text books to read.
Friday morning felt like a repeat of Thursday. Work was again busy, but Ursula brought up a new intern.
“You only have her for a few weeks before I move her to another department,” Ursula said.
“That’s okay. It’ll get us through the busy times,” Natalia said. “Nice to meet you Orla. Let’s get you oriented.”
Orla was a typical Viperian woman, but Natalia figured she was fresh out of high school; one of the December graduates.
At two, Uri came down to get her.
“Glad to hear you have help,” Uri said after she told him about the new intern.
“She learns fast, but I’m expecting that out of a Viperian.”
“I’d like to say we’re a smart people, but it’s probably the fact that Ursula only hires the smart ones,” he said.
Natalia noted there was a lot of traffic and it was heading toward Viperia.
“Why all the traffic?”
“The special Council meeting,” Uri said. “It will involve a special vote to elect new members.”
“A message went out to all Viperians for recommendations on candidates. The vote will be held today.”
“In one days’ time?”
“Can’t have a short Council for very long. It’s not wise,” he said.
The gates to Viperia were wide open allowing cars in through both sides of the street. It almost felt like when they’d gone to the dart tournament. The lot for the jail was blocked off, but the limo was allowed through as were a few other cars. The limo pulled up to the front of the building that was adjoined to the jail.
Bonnie ran around and opened the door for them.
Uri escorted her into the building. The front entrance appeared to be restricted to only those people allowed to park in the lot. She saw Council members and Corean. Tia was there will all her children. Grazie was with her holding Grace. All of Sherri’s children were with them as well.
Uri led her to an auditorium like room. The room reminded her of the Council meeting room, except a lot larger. At the front, there was seating for the Council members. Tia left Grazie and the children and headed that way. Raised seating surrounded the middle. There was one raised area in the middle.
The room filled quickly. There were hundreds of people. She and Uri were ushered to sit in the middle area. Over on the side, she saw Grazie and the children take seats. Corea was seated not too far from them. Trina was there, but there was also an older gentleman who seemed to be attentive to Cora.
Within an hour, the place was filled, and it was standing room only. Natalia wondered about those who couldn’t find a spot to stand, but she noted the room was full of cameras. She’d never asked, but she wondered if there was a Viperian TV channel.
Kareen rose from her seat at the front and the room went silent. Natalia was aware of the void. There were three empty chairs.
“Today, we are holding a special vote to fill three vacancies on the Council.”
There was a moment of silence.
“We will also announce the sentences of three guilty parties.”
There was another moment of silence.
“Our first order of business, however, is the transition of Tia, who was filling in temporarily as a Council member for Sherri, to a full position. Are there any concerns or issues?”
Natalia counted a full ten seconds of silence.
“Normally, we take a vote for every candidate presented to the Council, but today, we only have three candidates to fill three positions. I will call names. Please rise.”
Kareen looked over the crowd.
“Ingus Defier. Rubert Orsen.”
Both men were seated close to her and Uri. They rose. They looked to be in their forties.
“Ingus is president and overseer of GI, Inc., also known as Grubby International. Rubert Orsen is president of Burosso Fuels. Both are Viperian owned and operated businesses. They have been nominated to fill two of the Councilmen positions. Are there any concerns or issues?”
There was again a full ten seconds of silence.
“Gentleman, welcome to the Council, please join us. We will need you to be part of the next nomination.”
The men rose and sat in two of the empty seats.
“Normally, there are five women and four men. As you can see, we are one man short. However, the only rule regarding the male and female ratio is that there must be at least five women.”
Kareen turned and then spoke to each Council member, individually. Each one listened to her and nodded. After she spoke to all of them, she turned back to face the gathering.
“There is also no rule that a Council member needs to be Viperian.”
The people in the auditorium remained dead silence. Natalia could hear Victoria’s heartbeat.
“Due to her experience and success in both societies, Nattie Osrisca has been nominated as Council woman. Are there any concerns or issues?”
Natalia looked up with shock and amazement. Uri smiled. She realized he’d known this.
Ten second of silence passed.
“Nattie, welcome to the Council, please join us.”
Uri pushed her and she rose.