“Where’s your coat?” Uri said to her in a terse voice.
“On the fourth floor.”
“Go grab it. Meet us in the lobby.”
Uri grabbed his coat. Moralis followed him out of the office, but while Natalia headed for the elevators, they headed for the stairs.
The elevator felt slow. At least it didn’t stop on any other floors. When it opened on the fourth, she ran to her office. Since she sometimes walked during lunch, she had walking shoes that she had brought in and left. She changed into them before grabbing her coat and heading for the stairs.
The four flights down seemed like nothing. When she burst into the lobby, only Moralis was there waiting.
“Come with me,” he said.
They left the bank at a jog.
“Glad you have other shoes,” he said. “We can go faster.”
“Uri go on ahead?”
She followed Moralis out into the street. Traffic was moving slow, and the street was clearer than the sidewalks. She had to run full out to keep up with him. Natalia was amazed at how fast she could go without feeling winded.
They ran for three blocks down the main street before Moralis turned off onto a side street. They ran down two more blocks then cut over again. Natalia could now see the limo. It was hemmed in by three big city plow trucks. There was one at the back, one at the front, and one plowed into the driver’s side door. The limo was pushed against another car. Natalia could see that Bonnie had no way out.
Uri was standing in the middle of the street. The driver of the truck at the back of the limo had his window down.
“Back away from my limo,” Uri said in a loud voice.
He sounded mad.
“What limo?” the driver said with a shrug.
He had a big stupid grin on his face.
Natalia took out her phone and took pictures.
The truck that was against the driver’s side door, backed up a little, aiming for Uri. Its backup alarm beeped loudly like it was cursing at him.
“That’s a threat, and I’m going to defend myself,” Uri said.
“Stay here,” Moralis said to her.
He jogged around to the driver’s side of the truck that had backed up.
“Back off,” Uri said. “You’re going to lose your job over this.”
The driver laughed.
Natalia heard a window break, but she could tell the other driver hadn’t heard it since he was laughing and the idling truck engines were loud.
A few moments later, the truck backed up again, turning a little, almost as if it was aiming for Uri. The driver who had laughed at Uri laughed some more as if amused by the other truck. The truck that had backed up suddenly surged forward and into the truck that was at the front of the limo.
Natalia saw Uri, at the same time, rush over and jump up to the open window of the laughing driver. She was amazed that he was able to pull the large man out of the window, letting him fall heavily onto the street. Uri jumped down, grabbed the man and slammed him against the side of the truck.
“Why are you doing this?”
Uri kept slamming him against the truck. After the fourth time, he paused.
“Why are you doing this?”
“We…” the man looked terrified. “We were told this limo had excessive outstanding tickets. We were supposed to block it.”
“That’s against the law,” Uri said. “There are no tickets against this limo. You think a limo this obvious would even be allowed to move with one ticket?”
The man mouthed sounds, but no intelligible words came out.
Moralis came around dragging another man.
“What do we do?”
“Lawyer time,” Uri said. “Sit.”
He pushed down the man who collapsed onto the street where he seemed to cower by a tire. Uri brought out his phone.
“You think the law’s going to help?” Moralis said, pushing down the second man beside the first.
“We already have a good harassment case. Nattie signed papers earlier this week. We got stopped when she was driving and we were keeping to side streets.”
“Getting stopped isn’t harassment,” Moralis said.
“No, but coming later to the house and telling me a new car had no inspection sticker is. Hey, Rog. I got more to add to our case.”
Natalia stepped toward the limo, wondering why Bonnie hadn’t gotten out since the truck that had blocked the driver’s door was out of the way. Then the window shattered and Bonnie knocked it out. She climbed out of the broken window.
Bonnie looked around, then walked over to her.
“You okay?” Natalia said.
“Yeah. The door was jammed. I couldn’t get it opened.”
However, Natalia thought she seemed a little shaken.
“Good thing we carry window breakers in the glove compartment.”
A police car pulled up.
“Good or bad cop.”
“Don’t know. Get off to the side.”
Bonnie waved her over to the sidewalk.
Natalia backed up slow while she watched. She saw Uri put his arm around Moralis as if they were having a private conversation. The policeman stopped to take a look at the scene. Bonnie walked up to him and began to explain the situation.
Uri still had his hand on Moralis’s shoulder and they seemed to be talking. Or was Uri doing all the talking? Were they coordinating their story? Then, Moralis put his hand on Uri’s shoulder. They dipped their heads slightly toward each. Natalia had taken three breaths before they stepped away from each other.
Moralis crossed the street to join her. Uri joined Bonnie. Natalia thought Moralis seemed a little subdued.
“You okay?” she said.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m okay.”
“Where’s the third driver?”
Natalia took more pictures without looking like she was. She paced a short distance up and down the street as if she was keeping warm. Moralis moved with her.
“Did you get all the license plates?” he said, keying her in that he knew what she was doing.
“Their going to try and clean up the scene.”
Two more police cars showed up. Everyone, at least for the moment, was being civil. The two drivers were now standing by the one truck, looking like they were afraid to do anything. Finally, a policeman approached them.
“Move the truck.”
“No, nothing moves.”
Natalia recognized Rog jogging up. She didn’t know where he had come from. There wasn’t a car, but she couldn’t see around the last truck. He took charge of the accident scene. Another man jogged up and Rog was directing him to take pictures. Uri left the group to join her and Moralis.
“You cold, Nattie?”
“No, I’m doing okay.”
“Oh, good. You’re in different shoes. I thought you were still in your office shoes, and your feet were getting cold.”
“No, I had my walking shoes.”
Moralis and Uri again touched shoulders with their hands and looked at each other. Natalia wondered what they were doing and why.
“Bonnie called the house. Zena is coming to pick you up in my car. Bonnie… she’s a good one,” Uri said with a grin and a shake of his head.
“What did she do?” Moralis said.
“She took the long way of getting here, going through a check point on purpose. They cleared her. So the story of this limo having outstanding tickets is so bogus. They can’t go and make some tickets up when the limo was cleared just a short time ago.”
“We’re learning we have to hit a check point or two,” Moralis said. “The Drivers Guild must have informed all the drivers to start hitting them.”
“My take on this is they’re going to plea mistaken identity,” Uri said.
“I’d bet on that. Well, well… if it isn’t Alfie himself,” Moralis said. He fumbled through his pockets. “I might have something for him.”
“You’re the best Moralis,” Uri said with a grin.
Moralis walked over as if he was seeing what was going on. Uri remained where he was. Natalia watched Moralis greet Alfie and put a hand on his shoulder.
Natalia turned away.
“He’s bugging him, isn’t he?”
“What was up with you and Moralis putting your hands on each other’s shoulder?”
Uri turned away from the group, looking up the street. A plow had gone by at a cross street.
“Reaffirming our friendship. You might refer to it as male bonding.”
“Even despite you drugged him?”
“That will only strengthen our bond. I apologized and told him if he ever doubted me that I would willingly submit to him drugging me.”
“Why… why did you ask him twice about…?“
“If it was the warehouse on Crows Avenue?”
“The drug doesn’t affect a movement. Only what he can say to me.”
“Oh, so he could nod his head, even though the truth is a no.”
“It seemed to have worn off fast.”
“I didn’t give him much.”
“What happens if he does ask to drug you? And what happens when he asks you how much money you took out of the safe?”
“I only took out two bags,” he said.
“What? But… “
“You’re the one who took out the rest,” he said with a grin.
“You… your… “
“I’m always one step ahead, thinking about not only what needs to be done but what I would have to say if drugged.”
“So you intentionally only did the two bags because if asked under a truth serum you would answer…“
“Only two bags. So now I know he took three. That’s okay. He’s risking a lot with what he does.”
“You’re amazing,” she said.
“Just running amok as usual,” he said, turning back to the scene.
The man taking pictures seemed to be wrapping things up. The two truck drivers were allowed to move their trucks. The last driver was now sitting on the bumper of another car. There were two people with him checking him over.
“I have permission to move the limo.” Bonnie said when she joined them.
She did a head nod in the direction up the street.
“There’s Zena finally.”
There was a familiar car coming their way.
“More damage to the limo?” Uri said.
“Yeah. Second time this year. The major part is the door is jammed. I’ll take it to the repair shop and call to get picked up.”
She broke into a jog to meet up with Zena.
“Are you coming with me?” Natalia said to Uri.
“No. You go home. I was part of this, and I don’t have clearance to leave. You weren’t.”
He motioned for her to head toward Zena, then he left to rejoin Moralis.
Natalia made her way down the street. Zena hadn’t come all the way down.
“You okay, Nattie?”
“Yes, Zena. Thanks for coming to get me.”
“I’ll call when I need a ride,” Bonnie said.
“Sure,” Zena said.
Natalia slid into the front passenger side.
Zena backed the car up the street, and then she turned around.
“Traffics lightening up. People are finally getting the message to stay home,” Zena said.
The car told them there were no check points. There were a number of police cars, but they were handling accidents. Natalia was thankful the ride home was uneventful and was relieved when Zena pulled into the garage.
Mag was there waiting.
“City is playing games,” Natalia said, telling the story.
Mag rolled her eyes.
“I’m going to change,” Natalia said, heading up stairs.
She was surprised by the time on the clock in their room. Despite, they had left work early, it was almost the normal time that they got home. She changed and decided to leave her mark covered in case the police showed up. Leaving the bedroom, she paused. The door to her office, the new one, and the nursery door were still closed. She tried the handle on the nursery. It was locked.
She headed toward the dining room, wondering if she could get dinner.
The dining room was set for dinner, but it was a few minutes before Mag appeared.
“Dinner is coming,” she said.
“When can I see my office? And the nursery?”
“When we’re done,” Mag said, ending any more conversation by going into the kitchen.
Natalia sat at the table to wait, exasperated that she couldn’t see.
“I’m in the dark about everything,” she said to herself.
She rose and retrieved her tablet.
“Might as well start that test.”
She was busy typing out an essay when Mag brought dinner.
Natalia hardly remembered eating, but her plate was gone when she finished the test.
“Wahoo. One class down. I got an A.”
She checked the time. It was a few minutes before six-thirty.
She waited a few minutes, but Mag didn’t appear. Natalia rose from the table and went into the kitchen. It was spotless as usual. No one was there. She looked in the back pantry, but no one was there either. Across from the pantry, was the door to the basement.
Natalia smiled to herself.
“Time to do a little exploring.”
She opened the door and trotted down.
The basement was finished. There was a very thin carpet on the floor. The walls were finished with drywall and painted. It looked like a huge empty rec room. There were three doors. The odor of moist wet dirt and rotting wood smelled the same as when she had been in Sherri’s basement.
Since she didn’t need to, she hadn’t switched on the light. There was nothing glowing. There were no lights coming from under any other door.
Natalia approached one door and tried the handle. It was locked. She tried the other two doors. One was locked. The other opened into a half bath.
“Where are the grubbies?”
There was nothing else to look at or explore. She couldn’t believe everything was behind the two locked doors. She paced out the room, figuring out where the rooms above her were.
“Those rooms can’t be that big.”
There were foots steps overhead. She moved to the stairs.
“Yes? What are you doing down there?”
“Where are the grubbies?”
The basement light came on. Mag came down not looking happy. Zena followed her.
You’re standing on them,” Zena said.
“What?” Natalia looked down. There was just the carpet. It looked spotless.
“Under the floor,” Zena said. “We might as well show her before she gets herself into trouble.”
Mag frowned, but she grabbed an odd contraption from under the first step. She put it down on the floor with some force, gripped the handle and pulled. A three-by-three section of the floor pulled up.
Natalia could see a two-foot gap below the floor. At the bottom was nothing but dirt.
Mag pulled up a couple of more panels. Zena opened up a door that Natalia hadn’t seen under the stairs. She pulled out a shovel.
“This is where I dumped our last leftovers,” Mag said. “There should be some here.”
Zena carefully scrapped away dirt with the shovel. It was a loose loam. Natalia stared hard.
“The ground is moving.”
Mag pulled on gloves before plunging her hand into the ground. She came up with two wiggling grubs.
“Those are huge,” Natalia said with amazement.
“Not ready yet. Only four inches. About six inches is when we harvest,” Zena said.
The grubs were a pasty white with purple bristles on each end. They were thicker than three of her fingers put together.
Natalia reached toward them.
“Don’t touch. They’re poisonous.”
“Poisonous? And we eat them?”
“Just the purple part. They have to be processed properly before you can eat them.”
“How big are the adults if the grubs get to six inches.”
“Eight inches if we let them mature,” Zena said. “Adults are as big as my hand.”
“My word. And what do they eat?”
“Just about anything organic. All the yard waste. Our leftovers. Scraps. The main grubbie farms get all the yard waste the city picks up.”
Mag dropped the grubs. They burrowed into the dirt and disappeared.
“Don’t ever step in there,” Mag said.
“Ick,” Natalia said. “So what are in the two locked rooms?”
“Adults,” Zena said with a smile. “That room contains the breeding adults. We won’t bother them. And that room contains the ones waiting to be dinner.”
“Dinner? I’ve eaten them?”
“The larvae are used in cookies and the adults in soup. You might think they were clams or bits of lobster,” Mag said.
“I think they’re more like lobster,” Zena said. “Steamed and dipped in lemon butter is the best way.”
“We haven’t had them that way in a while.”
“We haven’t had enough of them to make a meal.”
Zena headed toward one room. She unlocked the door.
“Open carefully. I don’t want any escapees,” Mag said.
“Yeah, there’s always one or two who have figured it out.”
Zena opened the door slowly, looking along the door jam.
“We’re clear, so far.”
The room contained glowing dots of various patterns.
Zena turned on a light.
One wall looked to be a screen from top to bottom. Behind the screen, there was a scurry of movement away from the light.
“We might have enough for a ladies lunch,” Mag said.
Natalia couldn’t make out the full form of the beetles.
Zena pulled on gloves this time and opened a small door. She reached in and pulled out a beetle.
“My word,” Natalia said.
“Yeah, we definitely have enough for a lunch,” Mag said.
“That’s as big as your hand,” Natalia said.
“I said it was.”
The beetle was pure black with pincers on two of the front legs.
“Those can hurt,” Zena said. “Shut the door. Show her what happens when the lights go out.”
Mag closed the door behind them and made sure the small door into the cage was latched. She turned out the lights. All the beetles in the cage swarmed toward them. The screen bowed out and creaked.
Natalia could now see the more intricate designs that glowed on the beetles.
“Wow. They’re beautiful.”
“Deadly,” Mag said with a gleeful smile. “We’re dead if the screen fails.”
Mag turned the lights back on and all the beetles fled from the light.
Zena put the one she held back in, and it scurried quickly off.
“Why were you hesitant in showing me grubbies. They don’t look bad,” Natalia said.
They all stepped out of the room and Zena closed and locked the door.
“They’re dangerous, Nattie. Don’t come down here without one of us. Like I said, they eat anything organic dead or alive.”
Natalia didn’t like how Mag said dead or alive.