Natalia sat down to breakfast before she remembered. She rose to go back upstairs.
“Where are you going?” Uri said.
“To see my office.”
“I’m going to look.”
She turned, but ran into Mag.
“We’re not done yet,” Mag said, standing in her way.
“You’re not going to let me see?”
“Tonight. Maybe,” Mag said. “Here’s your satchel with your tablet. You don’t need to go upstairs. Besides, we locked the door.”
Mag returned to the kitchen.
Natalia sat with a huff.
“Why am I always in the dark about everything?”
Uri smiled and laughed.
“It’s a surprise. Let them do this.”
“Very well, but I’m looking tonight.”
“Don’t tell me that. Tell Mag.”
“Yeah, like I said, I know who runs this house,” she said, then she chuckled.
“They’re not doing anything that doesn’t have my approval,” he said. “It is my house, after all.”
“My baby,” she said.
He chugged his tea.
“I guess. Now the day is going to crawl,” she said when he took her hand and led her to the garage.
The garage felt unusually cold.
It wasn’t until Bonnie had backed the limo out of the garage did she notice.
“Temperature really dropped overnight. Traffic is going to be a mess,” he said. “We’ll probably be late.”
“I hate it when you have a nice temperate fall and then, boom, winter hits,” she said.
He pulled out his phone to call his office.
She turned back to look out the window. Everything was white.
“There has to be four or five inches already,” she said, using the parked cars they passed as her gauge.
The car was reporting no check points, but there were lots of police cars.
“What’s the other…EV?”
She listened hard, hearing the car talk about EV’s.
“Snow plows and other emergency vehicles,” Uri said, ending his call.
He had left a message. No one had answered.
“There’s going to be a lot of people late or gone today. Your driving lesson might get canceled.”
“I’ll call before Bonnie takes me to make sure.”
Bonnie finally turned onto a main road. It was plowed, but traffic was crawling.
“The first snow of the season is always the worst,” Uri said. “With all the rain we had this year, I have a feeling we’re in for some record snow.”
’Pickup?’ Bonnie said.
Natalia noted the exchange was in Viperian.
’Who?’ Uri said.
’Cora Dee. Alfie.’
The limo pulled over and stopped. The door locks sounded and a man and a woman climbed into the limo. They were wearing boots that were snow covered. The man was carrying a large tote.
“Morning Cora. Morning Alfie,” Uri said.
Natalia had never met the middle aged woman, but she knew Alfie, the Council member.
“Thanks for the ride,” Cora said. “We got stuck in our own laneway. We knew you passed this way, so we risked a snowy walk to see if we could hitch a ride.”
Natalia deduced they were a couple.
“I hope we don’t get stuck in traffic. I’m fresh out of hot chocolate,” Uri said with a smile.
Alfie chuckled, then he turned serious.
“Are you getting enough sanguine tea?”
He nodded at Natalia.
“Sherri sent us some since she had her baby,” Uri said. “We’re scraping by.”
“We’re totally out,” Alfie said. “We’re not getting shipments.”
Cora nodded almost absentmindedly.
“I hear a lot of people are out. We’re rationing what we have left,” Uri said.
“The middle of winter isn’t a good time to go looking for a new blood supply,” Alfie said. “All the livestock dealers have already sold their lots.”
Natalia went back to looking out the window. It took four light cycles to get through the intersection. People were not keeping the intersection clear. She was thinking about getting her tablet out, not sure if that was polite or not, when the limo pulled up to the courthouse.
“Thanks for the ride,” Alfie said.
“If you need a lift home, give me a call,” Uri said.
“Thank you. We have other options for getting home.”
The two left. The locks sounded. The limo moved on.
“That was out of our way,” she said while she got out her tablet.
“Never out of your way when you’re helping,” he said.
“Brown nosing with a Council member?”
“You said it. I didn’t,” he said, but he grinned at her comment.
She finished her homework for one class. There was just a final exam left, but it was timed. She decided to do that one later.
“Almost there,” he said as if giving her warning.
“I have a final exam in the English class then I’m done with that.”
“The next class will automatically pop up.”
“Wondered how that worked. I didn’t know if I had to notify anyone or not.”
“Are you working in Records Management again?”
“Yes, we’re going to document someone’s work, so we can fire her, then I’ll be able to get some things done in that department,” she said.
The limo pulled over. They waited for Bonnie to come around to open the door. Uri stepped out and then helped her out. A white limo pulled up behind them.
“Ravi,” Uri said.
“Thanks, Bonnie,” Natalia said.
The snow was slushy around them. There were two men shoveling the walk clear around the bank entrance.
They waited for Ravi’s driver to come around and open his door. Ravi was the bank president. He stepped out and waved.
“Isn’t this just beautiful,” he said.
He seemed to mean it.
“It would be a lot more beautiful without the traffic,” Uri said.
“Yes, yes, I would rather be home having a snowball fight with the grandkids. Schools been called off.”
They walked into the building together.
“We’ll have a lot of people out today.”
“HR sent out a notice that people are allowed to work from home if they can or come in only if they could do so safely,” Ravi said.
They rode up the elevator together. For a change, it wasn’t crowded.
“Have a good day,” Natalia said.
She got off on the fourth floor.
Of the five women who worked for Records Management, Natalia only saw one had made it in. She decided to make the best of it.
“Morning, Tonya. Put on some music. We’ll just do audits today.”
An audit was picking a letter and going through files to make sure they were alphabetized correctly and in the right place.
Tonya was one of the easier going ladies.
Natalia picked the section that Ingrid last worked in. Ingrid was the one she wanted to get fired. Ingrid didn’t like to do her work and was combative if you tried to make her. As expected, she spent the whole morning correcting files and making notes to send to HR.
At lunch, a pizza delivery guy showed up with a pizza for them. Uri came down a few minutes later with sanguine tea for her.
“Thanks, Uri,” she said. “You joining us for pizza?”
“No. I have my own.”
He kissed her cheek since there was no one around, then headed toward the elevators. She chugged the tea, then headed to the restroom that was at the opposite end of the hall.
When she passed the men’s room, she paused. There was a faint odor. It was a familiar smoky BBQ aroma. It made her stomach churn. She turned on her heels and went back to the office she was borrowing to use the phone and call the HR director.
“Hi, Ursula. Someone’s doing kite in the men’s restroom on the fourth floor.”
“Okay. I’ll handle it. You stay out of the way.”
Natalia hung up the phone then went back down the hall to use the restroom. There was still no one around when she went back to the office.
She and Tonya were back to work when she heard people in the hallway. Tonya hadn’t heard. She was tapped a foot to the music and seemed oblivious to what was around her. Natalia knew she wouldn’t even notice her when she stepped over to the door and peered out.
Two security guards were dragging out a man. His pants were half off him. The guards kept trying to pull them up, but the man wasn’t cooperating.
Natalia recognized him as a manager who was one level below Uri. He wasn’t Viperian. She had seen him at the cocktail party she and Uri had attended with all the bank board members. There was also the smell of a woman’s perfume, and she wondered if he had been bit as well. The look on the man’s face didn’t match the tremor in his limbs. His face showed ecstasy. His limbs showed agitation which wasn’t helping the guards. The one thing Natalia did know for certain was that he just lost his job.
“Another Viperian is going to get a promotion,” she said to herself. The Council was slowly taking over the bank. Uri and Ursula were the only Viperians in upper management. Ursula was the HR Director and seemed to be the key operator in moving Viperians onto the payroll.
Natalia returned to her work, but when two o’clock rolled around, she decided to send Tonya home.
“Thanks for coming in,” Natalia said. “I know it’s going to be a mess going home.”
“Thanks. See you tomorrow,” Tonya said.
Natalia sent her email to HR about the poor work she found that Ingrid had done, then she took the elevator up to the top floor to see what Uri was doing. She was surprised to find him in his office with Moralis. The door was shut. He spied her and waved her in.
“Hi, Nattie,” Moralis said.
“Hey, Moralis. How’s it going?”
Uri pulled out a thermos from his desk and filled a coffee mug. He handed her the mug.
Natalia could smell the sanguine tea.
“No rationing? I already had some today.”
“You’re good,” Moralis said.
“Sanguine tea,” Uri said as if in thought. “Reminds me. I caught Alfie in a lie this morning.”
“Oh?” Moralis perked up a little.
“Nattie wouldn’t have noticed. When you’ve drank sanguine tea, you don’t tend to smell it on others. I haven’t had any since we started rationing. I smelled tea on both Cora and Alfie this morning, but he said they were totally out.”
“Maybe he meant they just ran out this morning,” she said.
Uri shook his head.
“That wasn’t how he said it.”
“Interesting,” Moralis said. “First we have a stash at Sherri’s. Now we have Alfie lying about it.”
“Sanguine tea is a rather low value thing to create a shortage,” Uri said.
“Not if you’re in a pregnancy,” Moralis said.
“Whose pregnancy are they targeting? Nattie’s?”
“One could infer that. Or it could be a diversion tactic.”
“Is this diversion keeping us from doing what we’ve been doing?” Uri said.
Moralis smiled and shook his head.
“No. We’ve upped our surveillance of Hell and all the suspected parties. There have been no reports regarding Alfie, so we’ll look into him more. I suspect he already has a stash of tea so doesn’t need any shipments.”
“He’s getting up there in age. Why would he be risking everything?”
“But if he’s mixed in with what’s going on, it might explain the added police harassment, the radio blocking, and our systems being suspect.”
“Yeah,” Uri said, looking thoughtful.
“Is he associated with the police? We dropped him off at the courthouse,” Natalia said.
“He’s a lawyer,” Uri said.
Both Uri and Moralis exchanged looks.
“I never heard back from John, either,” Uri said.
“He’s suspect. He could be tilted.”
“Getting hard to see who’s on our side,” Uri said.
“Sometimes it’s not a matter of who’s on our side, but who’s on neither side,” Moralis said.
“There are the roadblocks,” Uri said.
“If tea is more for the pregnant ladies and just a vitamin pill for you guys, why would he stash some?”
“Some of the older generation still believe it keeps them young,” Moralis said. “We have other supplements that are better than sanguine tea for that.”
“Sanguine tea does keep your senses fine tuned,” Uri said.
“Someone wants to dull our senses?” Moralis almost laughed.
“You didn’t smell the kite in the men’s restroom down the hall on my floor,” Natalia said.
“Kite?” Uri said.
“Oliver in Strategic Marketing. I told Ursula. Two guards hauled him out. He was high on kite but shaking. I suspect a bite. I smelled perfume on him.”
“Glad someone’s nose is working. You better start drinking tea,” Moralis said to Uri. “You’re our best sniffer.”
“I had some already today,” he said.
“It was pretty faint, though,” Natalia said. “I didn’t smell it until I was passing the door.”
“Who set this up?” Moralis said, looking at Uri.
“Let’s keep this under our hats and see what’s said.”
Uri’s eyes rose to the door and he waved.
Ravi stepped in.
“We’re officially closing at three,” Ravi said.
“Thanks,” Uri said. “We’re not getting much done with no one here.”
“Drive home careful,” Ravi said.
“You, too,” Uri said.
Natalia listened to him walk down the hall. Uri and Moralis seemed to be doing the same.
“I’m pretty sure your driving class is canceled,” Uri said, breaking the silence.
“How’s that going?” Moralis said.
“Pretty good. Let me do a quick call to make sure class is canceled. My due diligence.”
Natalia pulled out her phone and hit the number she had listed. The first part of the recorded message was that the DMV and driving school was closed. She didn’t listen to any more or wait to leave a message.
Uri pulled his phone out and tapped out a text.
“Bonnie is on her way. She’ll let me know when she gets here.”
“It’s still snowing, but it’s just the light stuff that’s going to blow around and drift,” Moralis said.
Uri pulled out another mug and filled it with tea.
“Here. You might need some, too.”
Moralis chuckled and took the mug, then he took out his phone.
“I’m canceling club night. That’ll give a few of us some time to do a few things.”
“Won’t the snow slow you down?” Natalia said.
“No,” Moralis said with a chuckle. “A Viperian on foot is pretty fast. This snow is going to slow everyone else, but not us. I didn’t even drive in this morning. I hoofed it.”
“And that’s not a red flag?”
“Red flags are when you change your behavior,” he said. “I hoof it a lot. It’s expected.”
“How’s Francie doing?” Uri said.
Moralis grinned wide.
“We’re expecting,” he said. “We haven’t spread the word just yet.”
“When did this happen?”
“Last night. It was her birthday. I gave her a gift that showed her my commitment to our relationship.”
“A barrel of sanguine tea?”
“Let’s just say I don’t really need this tea, but thanks.”
He drained the mug.
Natalia finished her tea.
“Glad to hear she finally gave in to you. You’ll probably get a daughter since you have a son.”
“She didn’t say if she was going to influence the sex.”
“Just how much tea do you have?” Uri said this in such a low voice, that Natalia had a hard time hearing it.
Moralis looked at him odd, then his face dropped.
“You drugged me.”
He looked agitated for a moment, then his face became blank.
Natalia looked at Uri and then Moralis.
“Silence,” Uri said to her under his breath.
They stared at Moralis for almost five minutes before Uri spoke again.
“How much sanguine tea do you have?”
“F-four barrels,” Moralis said. At first he seemed to struggle in his answer, but then he relaxed.
“Did you cause the problem with the sanguine tea?”
He now locked eyes with Uri.
“Where’s the new plant?”
“You shouldn’t know,” Moralis said.
There were some tears in his eyes.
“I need to know your alliances, Moralis.”
“I’m not tilted. You should know this, Uri. You didn’t have to do this.”
“I have a wife with child. You should now realize that importance with your own wife and child.”
“How much did you take from the safe?”
“Almost three sacks. There was so much.”
“Do you know who took the rest?”
“No. I was the last one involved with the safe before it was taken to the warehouse. The money was in there. I told you this.”
“I needed confirmation.”
“Everything I’ve told you is true.”
“Where is the new plant and who is involved?”
“We… we don’t have a new plant. We’re running a secret third shift at the main plant.”
“Where are you getting the supplies?”
“The blood meal plant is run so inefficiently that we tapped into one of their vats. We’ve been siphoning it off. They haven’t noticed.”
“Who knows this?”
“Plant staff only know about the third shift. Mina, myself and three truck drivers are the only ones that know about the supplies.”
“Everyone would know then.”
“We’re hiding the production. As fast as they make it, it’s disappearing out of the warehouse.”
“Where’s it going?”
“Who’s side are you on, Uri?”
“Our side, Moralis.”
There was a long pause of silence.
“Hell. There’s a warehouse on the edge that’s easy to access and away from the usual areas of surveillance.”
“The one on Crows Avenue?”
“The one on Crows Avenue?”
Natalia wondered why he asked again.
“Yes,” Moralis said.
“Is Francis expecting?”
“Yes. We bred last night.”
Uri rose and went around his desk to Moralis.
“Don’t do this, Uri,” Moralis said in a soft voice.
“I didn’t do anything,” Uri said while he blew and whispered into Moralis’s ear.
Natalia couldn’t pick out what Uri said, but Moralis closed his eyes.
Uri then returned to his chair.
“What did you do?” she said.
“I needed to know where he stood. We need to make sure we know who our friends are.”
“Did he pass? And won’t this make him wary of you?”
“He passed. He’ll understand why I did this.”
Uri turned to watch out his window.
“It is a pretty snow,” he said. “Glad I don’t have to shovel. My mother used to make me shovel instead of enlisting a service. It was her way of working the devil out of me. It didn’t work.” He laughed. “We have a service, so no one in our household has to shovel.”
“Might be nice to go out and play in the snow,” she said.
“I’ll have to shovel.”
Both Uri and Natalia turned to Moralis. His eyes were open, and he was watching the snow.
“Did Francie go to work?”
“No, she stayed home. She can work from home on days like this. Besides, she was a little stiff from last night.”
He smiled and looked like his old self.
Natalia thought he acted as if the drugging and questioning had never happened.
“Basement or garage?” Uri said.
“I’ll never say.”
Natalia rose and gathered the mugs.
“I’ll rinse these out. Bonnie’s probably getting close.”
Natalia went down the hall to the break area. She heard no one. After rinsing and drying the mugs, she returned to Uri’s office. Both men were watching out the window.
Uri’s phone buzzed. He glanced at it, then jumped up.
“SOS from Bonnie.”