“Brianna, right?” Natalia said.
“Yes. I didn’t know if you knew me. We’ve never been officially introduced.”
“I was told about my father’s... mistress and my brother, Ryan. I saw you one time. I hear you are having another. Congratulations.”
“Thank you. I did want to meet you since I heard you were doing well.”
Natalia nodded. She still wasn’t sure how she should feel about Brianna. She had been shocked the first time she found out her father had a Viperian mistress and a son by her.
“I hear Ryan is a smart little boy,” Natalia said.
“I’m really pleased. I hope his new sister is just as smart.”
Brianna tapped her belly. She paused as if she was thinking her next words.
“Your father does worry about you. I was going to ask you and the Council if it would be okay that he finds out you’re here. That you’re okay.”
“I’m surprised he even notices I’m gone.”
Or thinks about me, she thought.
“He’s your typical man. Finds it hard to show he loves and cares. Relates better to his sons than his daughter. But he does care. He said he was against you going to the Church, but your mother insisted. I guess she told him you were quite silly and lacking much intelligence. I know that’s untrue. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
Brianna indicated the room with a wave of her hand.
“And I’ve talked with Tia.”
“I think my mother was the one who was silly. Or at least one overly concerned with getting attention,” Natalia said.
“Based on what I’ve heard from your father, I will have to agree with you.”
“I know my father never came home early on Wednesday. Is he with Ryan?”
“Yes, he’s babysitting.”
“I have a hard time seeing my father babysit, but then again my older brother was six years older than me so I never saw it. My mother was the one who liked to fuss and dress me up. My dad never babysat me.”
“He never had to since my mother was too busy showing me off for the attention.”
Brianna nodded and smiled.
“I would like you to meet your brother, Ryan.”
“I would like my father to know I’m okay,” Natalia said.
’Tia,’ Brianna said, speaking Viperian.
Natalia saw Tia respond by turning her head. Brianna motioned for her to join them. It was a few minutes before Tia finished her conversation with a group and moved over to them.
“Nattie is open for a reunion,” Brianna said.
“You’re okay with meeting your father?” Tia said.
“Yes. If he’s worrying about me, then he should know I’m okay. Besides, I’m eighteen now. He can’t drag me back home.”
“That is true. I’ll get it approved.”
“I doubt he would have you dragged home if you weren’t eighteen,” Brianna said. “If he sees you’re happy where you are, then he’ll be fine with that.”
The door to the Center opened. Everyone turned to see who was coming late. Natalia wasn’t expecting to see seven young men, especially since they weren’t Viperian. The mood of the room seemed to change to curiosity.
“Ladies, ladies, ladies,” one said, looking cocky.
He emphasized his words by running his hand across his crotch.
Another man grabbed a girl. She looked about ten. For a moment, she looked startled, then she looked mad. The man’s arm around her chest was too perfectly position and Natalia knew what was going to happen. The girl bit him.
He released her, shaking his arm. She ran. In his anger, he drew out a gun.
Natalia hardly felt herself draw and throw her knife. There was barely a whisper of its flight. A moment after she had thrown, she heard another. Then, a few more. The man now looked like a pin cushion. He looked shocked. He looked down, dropped his gun and fell over.
The building was now silent with an edge of gleeful excitement, but the mood came from the women, not the men. The men were now breathing in short terse breaths while they stared at their fallen buddy. They seemed unsure about what to do next.
“Who wants to practice?” Kareen said, stepping forward, but she wasn’t talking to the men.
Natalia had an odd feeling she was talking about practicing bites.
“Setta? What did you bite that one with?” Kareen said to the girl that had escaped.
“Too bad we won’t know for sure if you delivered the right venom.”
A couple of the men were now scanning the room as if they were trying to figure out what had happened.
“I kinda bit too hard. I hurt one of my teeth.”
“Then I wouldn’t do another.”
“Any more guns?” Tia said, also stepping forward. “You do know a knife is faster than a gun.”
Only the men’s eyes moved in response to her words. However, a moment later, as if they had decided as a group, they edged backward toward the door.
“The door is now locked,” Kareen said, holding up a device. “We can control it remotely. You’re not going anywhere.”
The man closest to the door reached back to test the handle.
“Shit. It’s locked,” he hissed at his pals.
They now looked panicked.
“I’m not drawing my gun,” one said in a whisper.
“How cocky you were coming in the door,” Kareen said. “How dead you will be when you leave. You certainly chose the wrong place to be.”
“Sorry to have bothered you, ladies. We thought we were somewhere else. We’ll just leave,” one said.
He did a slight bow of his head as if in apology.
Kareen was shaking her head.
“Too late for that,” she said. “How did you get into the city?”
“Walked through the gate.”
Friesa walked up. She had her phone.
“I just got word that we had a gate malfunction. I told them at least seven Undents got through and where they could be found.”
“I would like to test a mix,” Sophie said while she made her way up to the front.
“You did mention you had something you wanted to try. Be my guest,” Kareen said.
Sophie smiled and slowly approached the men.
“You’ve heard we like sex,” she said in a provocative whisper.
She was aiming for the closest man.
He smiled, but it was a wary smile.
“A little bite and you’ll be in ecstasy.”
Natalia thought Sophie had puffed up her breasts a little. While the men stared at Sophie, Natalia had a look around. She was somewhat aghast that this was going on with children present. No one seemed concerned about removing them. In fact, all the young girls had gathered into a group to watch.
Sophie pursed her lips. Natalia knew she was blowing on him. She wondered what that did other than seeming to hypnotize the man. The others were edging away.
Sophie reached him and touched him. She blew and murmured in his ear. Natalia knew he was definitely doomed. Then Sophie bit him on his shoulder, but she did a triple jerk. She walked away as if she hadn’t done anything.
The man just stood there.
One of the other men suddenly put things together.
“They’re fucking Hollows,” he said.
There was terror in his voice.
The five bolted, looking for any way to escape the building. Two tried to ram through the door while the other three tried to skirt around the women. However, those three were soon captured and brought back to face the bitten man, who still stood there frozen to his spot. He hadn’t even blinked. The ones ramming the door were soon exhausted and getting nowhere. They turned, shaking and panting.
Sophie was now sipping a cup of tea.
“We should be getting something about now,” she said, tilting her head just a little while she watched closely.
The bitten man was now quivering. His nostrils were flaring. Then he started chewing and foaming at the mouth.
“Rabid dog?” Kareen said.
“He’s going to turn on his friends,” Sophie said with a smile.
“That which is familiar becomes detested. Nice twist.”
The man’s eyes were unfocused, and he ignored the women. He executed a slow turn toward the two men by the door like he was attracted to their panting. Natalia caught a sneer on his face right before he lunged at them. He seemed to know exactly what he needed to do. He grabbed one with each hand, slamming them together. She could see his strength was drug enhanced. Having stunned his two friends, he proceeded to slash their faces with his hands and rip their clothing. The area quickly became a bloody mess.
Natalia found herself fascinated by the fight.
“What did you use?” she said to Sophie.
“A combination of slow kill, sexual excitement, and heightened awareness.”
“Just how many venoms do you have?” Natalia said.
Sophie just grinned.
“Yes,” a couple of girls shouted with excitement while they jumped up and down. “Disembowelment.”
“It’s going to get real messy,” Natalia said.
One man stared aghast at his intestines spilling out of his ripped open belly.
Within fifteen minutes, the show was over. All three men were dead in a pile of guts and blood. The other three men were shaking and pleading for their lives.
“That was a good combination,” Kareen said to Sophie.
“Any other takers?”
No one volunteered.
Natalia watched while the three remaining men were dragged toward the back of the building. Four women showed up in hazmat suits and a tarp. They piled the mess of bodies onto the tarp, then dragged it out the front.
All the younger girls appeared with mops and buckets. They seemed not to mind mopping up the blood.
Brianna appeared at Natalia’s side.
“Come for tea on Sunday, around two. I’ll send you the address of my flat. If it’s nice, we’ll sit out in the courtyard. I’ll let your father know. Bring Uri.”
“Okay. Thanks. I will.”
The gathering was now breaking up.
Tia came over to her.
“Here’s your knife. They did just a quick cleaning of it. You might want Mag to check it and resharpen.”
“Thanks. I would have forgotten it.”
“You ready? I think you’ve had enough excitement for the evening.”
“Yes. I’m ready to go home.”
Natalia followed Tia and her daughter, Theresa, out the front. All the blood was cleaned up. The floor was still wet as well as were certain areas of the wall and door, but there wasn’t a drop of blood to be seen or even smelled.
“That’s a good cleaner,” she said when they got into Tia’s car.
“The best. If we can smell it, it’s not clean.”
“No fish sauce?”
“What does that mean?” Theresa said from the back.
“It’s a joke about smells. Nothing more,” Tia said, sending a grin toward Natalia.
“Will this be the last I hear of the safe?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you know what happened with the money?”
Tia shook her head.
“We all had access and we were all supposed to take small bit for ourselves, but not that much.”
“Oh, so everyone got some?”
“Yeah. Uri did the measurement and told us how much each could take. Someone didn’t follow the rules.”
Natalia wondered if everyone got eighty million in cash, but she suspected not. Still, even if everyone took one bag full, that was two million.
They remained silent for the rest of the ride until Tia pulled up to the door, but then it was only to say their good nights.
“Good night, Nattie.”
“Good night, Tia. Theresa.”
When Tia drove off, Uri opened the front door.
“Are you okay?” he said.
He took her hand and pulled her into the house and into his arms.
“Why do you ask?”
“I received word about the security issue.”
“The seven Undents?”
“Actually, there were about fifteen of them. They spread out. The eight that didn’t go to the Women’s Center were caught pretty quickly.”
“They didn’t fair too well at the Center,” she said.
“Yes, I heard that too.”
“My knife needs cleaning and a sharpening, but I don’t know if I can count the kill. There were a dozen knives in the guy. He tried to pull a gun.”
“We’re not bullet proof, but our reflexes can usually beat a draw.”
“And us ladies are even better,” she said, teasing.
“Do I need to warn you? I was put on trial this evening.”
“Tia picked me up to go to the Women’s Center.”
“That I know. Bonnie told me when she got home.”
“Tia took me to a warehouse. All the Council was there. And the safe.”
“There should have been no question you couldn’t answer,” he said.
“I believe I answered all the questions correctly.”
“What was the issue?”
“Most of the money is gone.”
She described what she had seen.
“Someone got greedy,” he said.
“Other than you?”
“I could have taken a lot more and it wouldn’t have been noticed,” he said with a shake of his head.
“They mentioned Moralis before Mirren keyed them in to the fact that I know Viperian.”
“Damn. Your secret is out. He must have decided you needed to stay uninformed.”
“I’m getting the picture about how that’s important.”
“Your honest answers carry more weight than anyone else’s. Don’t get caught in a lie.”
“So did Moralis take more than his share?”
“I don’t know but I doubt it. If I’m cleared, then he’s next in line. Since I was the first, they can only guess how much I took.”
“So how much did everyone else take?”
“I calculated two bags per person. That’s four million for each. A tidy sum. Times eight people.”
“Our eighty million hardly put a dent in the money so twenty-eight million more should also have gone unnoticed.”
“I love it when you show how well you can use numbers,” he said, breathing in her hair.
“You are definitely an accountant,” she said with a roll of her eyes.
“Do you need cookies?”
“Yeah. Being late to the Center and then dealing with the Undents, prevented me from getting a second plate of food. Oh, and we’re having tea with Brianna and my father on Sunday.”
Uri led her into the living room. There were cookies on the coffee table, but only iced tea instead of sanguine tea.
“Your father? The Council approved this?”
“Yeah. Brianna said my father was worried about me.”
“Everyone who sent a girl to the Church was worried with the last fiasco. The Sisters of Fayth have been reuniting girls back to their families.”
“Sisters of what? You pronounced that with a flat “a”.”
“They are not sisters of faith but Fayth.” He spelled out the word. “I think it’s a pun on the whole Church thing. It’s a Viperian group and they’ve taken over the Church. They’re assisting with the audits. They were actually a group created by Sherri, but it’s now run by Julia Decantor. You think I’m a nerdy accountant. She’ll fret if a penny is missing.”
“I think I met Julia once at the Center.”
“She provided all the so called “nuns” who helped us that day we went to the Church.”
Natalia ate two cookies and sipped her tea. The cookies reminded her of another question she wanted to ask.
“Do we have grubbies in our basement?”
“Does everyone grow grubbies?”
“No. You need large garden areas and a big enough basement. There are a couple of large farms that mass produce them.”
“Can I see our operation sometime?”
“Check with Mag.”
“Mag,” Natalia said with a slightly raised voice.
It was a few minutes before Mag appeared.
Natalia pulled out her knife.
“It may need a more thorough cleaning and be sharpened.”
“Okay,” Mag said without asking any questions.
“Oh, and Mag?”
“Can I see the grubbies in the basement sometime?”
“Yes, sometime,” Mag said while she took the knife and left.
“She doesn’t really want to show you.”
“My experience is that you’ll either be grossed out by the larvae or be afraid of the beetles.”
“I got over drinking sanguine tea, eating raw meat, and eating cookies with beetle larvae. I think I can handle it.”
She paused and looked at him.
“Or is it what you feed them? I smelled dirt and rotting wood.”
“Is Moralis taking you to the club tomorrow?”
“Now I’m getting no word answers. At least a single word answer was better than none,” she said.
“Yes, Moralis is picking me up. And yes, we’ll have a discussion about the safe. Is that what you really wanted to hear?”
“Are you going to tell me what he says?”
“It depends on what he says.”
“I know it’s in my best interest to remain ignorant, but it’s disconcerting not knowing what’s going on.”
“You know enough.”
“Just as long as you don’t end up in jail.”
“That’s why it’s important for you not to know,” he said. “You’re keeping me out of jail.”
“I knew you were still running amok.”
“And I love it,” she said, taking the last cookie.
She savored it.
“Maybe you’re right. Maybe I don’t want to see grubbies. These are damn good cookies.”
He took her hand and led her upstairs.
She noticed her office door was shut.
“They moved me,” she said, but Uri pulled her into the bedroom. “I want to look.”
She tugged back.
“Tomorrow. You can see what they did tomorrow.”
“What they did? I don’t like the sound of your voice. What did they do?”