Mag ran up the stairs at full speed.
“Is your mark covered?”
“Yes. What is it?”
“Police,” Mag said, pausing at the door of Natalia’s office before she dashed into the master bedroom.
Natalia jumped up and followed her into the bathroom. Mag opened the medicine cabinet and pulled out the liquid skin that was always there. She dabbed it on to cover her own mark.
Downstairs, there was the sound of the front door.
“Don’t go down... unless you are called,” Mag said. She was trying to catch her breath from running up the stairs. She did one more dab and checked in the mirror.
“You’re good,” Natalia said.
Mag picked up a hand towel to wave it across her face to speed up the drying. She took a long time to refold the towel and replace it back on the sink.
“You should now go back to your office and sit,” Mag said in a slow measured voice. “Do not look over the railing.”
Natalia returned to her office as Mag instructed. The sounds she picked up let her know that the police were in Uri’s office. Her ears and nose determined that there were two of them. They were speaking loudly, and she knew they weren’t Viperian.
“You have paperwork for that car?” one officer said.
“Yes,” Uri said.
“You have to get the vehicle inspected. Even though it’s a new car,” the second office said.
“The car was inspected. The sticker is on the car.”
“No sticker was noted.”
“Come to the garage. The car is there. There is a sticker,” Uri said, keeping his voice calm.
“Where’s the paperwork? Did you finance this car?”
“Here’s the paperwork. No, I paid cash. Bank draft.”
“Hell of a lot of money for a car to pay cash.”
“Both my wife and I had saved up. We both work.”
“But you failed to get it inspected.”
Natalia thought the officer was being a real ass.
“Here’s the receipt for the inspection,” Uri said.
“You keep files on everything?”
“Yes. I’m an accountant. It’s habit,” Uri said.
“Nice big house. You know how to manage your money.”
“Yes, sir. We keep expenses down to manage. The car is in the garage if you need to see.”
“You need to get the sticker on it.”
“The sticker is on it,” Uri said. “I can get a maid to go take a picture of the whole car with the license plate and sticker. You don’t need to go out to the garage.”
Natalia noted the change in his voice. He was going to make those policemen demand to see the car, despite at the moment, they weren’t going to. They were just going to continue to harass him.
“Your wife was pulled over earlier and no sticker was noted. There’s a fine for not having a sticker.”
“I showed you the receipt. You don’t need to see the car.”
“I think we need to see the car.”
Natalia could see Mag just inside the master bedroom doorway. She was also listening in, but she kept looking behind herself. Natalia figured she was checking the clock. Was she waiting for something? Someone?
“Have the officer check his body cam. You’ll see the sticker. You don’t need to see the car,” Uri said. There was now a slight edge in his voice.
Natalia was awed by how he was using his voice to direct what he wanted the police to do. She wondered if she could learn to do that.
“We need to see the car. Now. Do we need to handcuff and drag you?”
“I’ll show you the car, but this could have all been avoided,” Uri said.
There was some silence. Natalia could hear the men breathing. She wondered what Uri was doing since he didn’t seem to be leaving his office.
“We need to see the car, now.”
“I’m just putting the file away since you don’t need to see it any more. Can I have the paperwork back?”
“We need to see the car.”
“Let me have my paperwork back since you’ve seen it,” Uri said.
“We need to see the car. Now.” The voice was now loud and demanding.
There was sound at the front door and the bell rang.
Mag, as if on cue, left the master bedroom. She trotted down the stairs to answer the front door.
Natalia rose, unable to resist. She needed to see what was going to happen.
“I can show you the car,” she heard Uri say.
Natalia slipped into the doorway of the master bedroom. From there she could see the front door. Mag let in another officer and a man in a suit.
Uri and the two officers stepped out of Uri’s office.
“A word,” the new officer said to the first two.
Natalia decided he was a Viperian. The man in the suit was also Viperian. She wondered who they were, why they showed up and what was their purpose?
“This isn’t the man you want to bother,” the new officer said. He spoke softly as if he was having a private conversation. Perhaps in a normal situation, no one would have heard, but Natalia knew everyone was hearing. “He’s too high profile. He’s a high level banker.”
“I don’t give a shit. If he’s not going to follow the rules,” one officer said.
“What is the problem anyway?”
“No sticker on the car. Bought a new car and there was no sticker on it.”
“Have you verified?”
“We’ve been trying to, but he’s been an ass.”
Natalia rolled her eyes.
“Let’s go verify.”
“Who’s that?” The officer was indicating the other man in the suit.
“Attorney. Like I said, this is not a person to bother. This is the banker that Headquarters uses.”
“Sir, can we check your car?” the new officer said.
“Certainly,” Uri said, leading the way.
All the officers followed. The man in the suit brought up the rear. They all disappeared into the garage.
Natalia waited, but they were taking a long time. She wondered how long it took to see a sticker. She went back into her office, but couldn’t focus. Her ears were tuned to any noise.
Over twenty minutes passed before she heard the garage door.
She rose and trotted down the stairs. Uri and the man in the suit were standing in the living room.
“Nattie, this is Rog. He’s our attorney.”
“So you were stopped this morning?” Rog said.
“Uri told me the story. This is such a clear case of harassment that I want you to file charges.”
“Filing charges might get us harassed more,” Uri said. “This might not be a good time.”
“Let me put together some paperwork and get a signature from Nattie. I’ll run it past the Chief of Police and get his take. I’ll let him know that we’re prepared for a battle if this happens again. A damn inspection sticker on a new car is the worse thing they could have picked. They don’t even release new cars without the sticker.”
“The sticker receipt was in with the purchase paperwork. I showed them that.”
Uri had the papers in his hands.
“Idiot tried to take these papers with him,” Uri said.
“We’ll see what John finds out. See where this is coming from,” Rog said.
“They’re getting pissy because everyone is avoiding the check points. And our guidance systems seem hacked,” Uri said.
“The police are using blocking systems that are causing them havoc. I hear an update is coming out soon to resolve that.”
“Doesn’t make me feel good about Nattie driving.”
Rog rolled his eyes.
“I have teenagers wanting to drive. It’s hell out there. They don’t understand.”
“Thanks for coming at short notice, Rog. If you send the papers to the bank, Nattie will get them signed.”
“I’ll do that. You two have a good day.”
Mag let Rog out.
“So what went down in the garage?” Natalia said.
“They saw the sticker. They were assholes. They left.”
“The last officer. Viperian. But he’s supposed to be a peacekeeper on the force. Don’t know how much clout he has.”
Uri went back into his office.
Natalia returned to her office and her studying.
The rest of the day was quiet. When they went to bed, Uri had to listen to Victoria’s heartbeat before he went to sleep. Her heartbeat eased Natalia’s mind and let her sleep.
Monday and Tuesday seemed to be a blur other than the fact that Uri brought her sanguine tea for lunch to supplement the little that she was getting at home. On Wednesday, the attorney had papers sent to her that she signed. Her driving lessons were uneventful and almost boring. She was feeling very comfortable with her driving and even parking the car. Her vision had improved where even her spacial acuity enabled her to know the exact location of the car in relation to any objects when she parallel park or backed up.
“You’re doing really well,” Barb said after the lesson. “We’ll do some highway driving tomorrow.”
“Okay. Nice to have something different.”
Driving around was also giving her an even better idea of the layout of the city.
Natalia stepped out of the building, expecting to see the limo pull up. Today, it was Tia. The limo was nowhere in sight.
“Get in,” Tia said after she rolled down the window. “I sent Bonnie home. I’ll take you to the Wednesday meeting.”
“Okay. Yeah, I almost forgot about that. Wasn’t really thinking of going because of my driving lessons,” Natalia said.
For a moment, she felt excited about going because she kept thinking that Lisa was going to be there, but she had to keep reminding herself that Lisa was no longer part of the Wednesday women meetings. She hoped to find out more that was going on with her on Saturday. Tia seemed to be closed lip on things.
“How is the class going?” Tia said, pulling out of the lot.
“Really well. There are only two of us so we’re getting pretty much one-on-one training. We split up and get a whole hour of driving each.”
Natalia watched the route that Tia took, knowing all the alternative routes they could take. There were no check points.
Tia paused at the gates of Viperia long enough to say open. She drove through, but after a couple blocks turned a different way than Natalia knew.
“Where are we going?”
“One order of business before we go to the meeting,” Tia said.
Natalia wondered what was up. They were not in a residential area, but the warehouse district.
Tia pulled into a lot. There were a number of other cars. Natalia found herself counting them. The number eight troubled her, especially when she recognized a few of them as cars of Council members. An uneasiness settled in her stomach.
“This won’t take long,” Tia said, getting out of the car.
Natalia followed her into the warehouse. The sight that met her eyes caused her even more concern. Every single Council member was there now that Tia had arrived. There were the five women: Kareen, Jada Lee, Friesa, Pearl, and Tia, who was acting as a temporary Council member until Sherri recovered from having her baby. There were the four men: Kasseen, Peter, Alfie, and Mirren, who was the head of the Council and Uri’s father. And positioned right behind the group was the huge safe that had once been in Uri’s garage at his house in Viperia. The same safe that Moralis and Mina had stolen out of Hell where the Church had been concealing cash.
“Evening, Nattie,” Mirren said.
“Do you recognize this?” He gestured behind himself. Natalia knew he meant the safe.
“It’s a safe.”
“When did you last see this safe?”
Natalia knew better than to fabricate any answer, especially since Mirren was asking her and he knew quite well when she’d last seen this safe. He’d been part of the team responsible for stealing the safe. In fact, she, Tia, Uri, Grazie, Mina, Mirren, Moralis, and Sophie had gone into Hell to find a factory making the insidious drug named kite, which is when Moralis had located the safe.
“I saw it in Uri’s garage in Viperia,” she said, not saying that was where Moralis had put it after extracting it from Hell.
“Did you see Uri open it?”
Mirren opened the safe.
“Is this what was inside?”
Natalia was expecting there to be something peculiar. The only thing different from when she last saw the contents was the quantity.
“There used to be a lot more money in there,” she said.
“How much more?”
“Almost the back half floor to ceiling was money. Bundles of money. It looks like all the boxes are there, though.”
More than three quarters of the money were gone.
“Is this how the safe looked when Uri closed it?”
“You saw him open it and close it?”
“And there was a lot more money in it when he closed it compared to now?”
“Yes as I said before.”
“Did you take any money out?”
That answer caused a stir.
“Why did you take money out?”
“Uri had me fill a black plastic bag to the point where I could lift it comfortably and count how many bundles there were. He used that as a means to calculate how much money was in there.”
She expected next to be asked what was done with the plastic bag. She didn’t know how she was going to answer that question.
“Did Uri put any money into his pocket?”
“No.” She shook her head.
“No. Nor my purse,” she said with another head shake.
“Was Bonnie present?”
“So no money was put into the limo?”
“Did any money leave the garage as far as you know?”
She didn’t add anything about the money Uri had her put into a trapdoor, because that was still within the garage. The equivalent of over eighty million in cash.
Mirren leaned over the boxes and pulled up a black plastic bag that had been out of sight.
“Did Uri say how heavy it was?”
“About forty-five pounds,” Natalia said.
She now knew why they hadn’t asked where that plastic bag went. She hadn’t realized that Uri left one in there.
“About forty-five pounds,” Mirren said, hefting the bag as he verified the weight.
Pearl stepped up and took the bag and nodded in agreement.
“Do you swear on a bite?” Kareen said. “And do you understand what I mean?”
Natalia had seen the truth serum bite.
“I saw what you did with Anna. I understand. I can say I answered all questions truthfully. I will swear on a bite.”
Natalia wondered how far they would go and if they’d bite her. That wasn’t something she wanted to experience having seen the agony that Anna had gone through.
There were glanced between the Council members.
“Does anyone else have a question?” Mirren said.
“That pretty much covers everything,” Alfie said. All the other men nodded in agreement.
“Who else had access to this safe?” she said.
“Uri’s staff,” Peter said.
“Uri told them to stay home and they didn’t know we’d gone to the house,” Natalia said. “We’ve always stayed at the house in A’ppollo. The garage visit was only the second time I’d been at the Viperian house.”
’Moralis’, Kareen said in Viperian.
“This needs to be a private discussion,” Mirren said. “Natalia knows Viperian.”
Everyone turned to stare at her.
’You understand Viperian?’ Kareen said in Viperian. ‘You can hear the words?’
’Yes, I do,’ Natalia said, replying in Viperian.
“Tia,” Kareen said, dismissing them with a wave of her hand.
Tia motioned to her and Natalia followed her back out to the car.
“Most of them were pretty confident that Uri had stolen all that money,” Tia said once they were in her car.
“That would have been blatantly obvious if he had,” Natalia said.
“I told them that. Mirren told them that. But it had to come from you. I thought Uri had bad timing when he bought your car, despite the fact that it was your birthday gift, but the Council has access to his accounts. All monies have been verified.”
“I wish you’d warned me.”
“We needed you to answer truthfully,” Tia said.
Natalia finally realized how much of what was going on was staged. She decided she needed to stay in the dark and keep her mouth shut.
“I’m going to see Lisa this weekend,” she said, changing the subject.
“She’s doing well,” Tia said.
Natalia expected a little more out of Tia, but again, that was all she got.
Well, I’ll let Lisa tell me first hand what’s been happening, she thought.
Tia pulled into the Women’s Center parking lot. It was almost full. Natalia felt an underlying tension when she stepped inside the building. She couldn’t tell if she was imagining it or not, feeling as if more women were watching her. It also felt odd that no one seemed to question that none of the women Council members were there, despite this was a meeting where they all attended. However, half an hour later, they showed up.
Natalia felt a little relief as everyone’s attentions turned to the Council women. She was glad they were now the center of attention, however, she noted that one woman moving through the room paused to look at her. The woman looked pensive. For a second, Natalia thought she was going to be accused of something else, but then she realized that she knew this woman.