Part Four penned by Justine Manzano
It was good to be home. After a long day of work, Natalya could finally settle down and revel in her accomplishments. The tattoo was gone, her debt paid, and she would finally get her wish. Katya was safe and Natalya could finally breathe.
Taking a deep breath, she sank into the plushness of the living room couch, content with the fact that, though she didn’t know how it would happen, she would never have to fear for her sister again. She would never have to make a deal like she had, would have something resembling a normal life from this day forward. The thought made her unbearably light, and she felt like she was floating on a sea of accomplishment and the promise of peace.
It was quite a difference from the creeping sense of dread she’d had in all her hours at the coffee shop, and the relief of it settled into her bones until she found herself drifting off to sleep. She cuddled into the cushions, embracing the pull of a long nap.
Knock, knock, knock.
The banging of the door made her sense of comfort flake away, and when she pushed off the couch to answer it, she spotted the clock on the cable box. She’d been asleep for nearly an hour. She rubbed at her eyes, walking around the delicately placed furniture. The living room, the place where her parents entertained their visitors, attracted investors for their various tainted businesses with their faux-friendly conversations and their manipulative maneuvering. Maneuvering that had often been detrimental to Natalya, but would never touch Katya.
Thanks to her.
And the Manager. A bitter thought.
The image she saw through her peephole woke her better than any cup of Perfectly Pumpkin could.
Two plain-clothes detectives, their badges hanging from chains around their necks.
She yanked the door open in a panic. “Hello?”
“Natalya Devin?” One of the men greeted her, a grim set to his jaw. His deep voice shook something within her.
Her eyes darted between the two of them. “Yes, that’s me.”
“I’m Detective Matthews, this is my partner Detective Coran. Can we come in?”
Natalya let them in. She didn’t have anything to hide. Perhaps whatever this was would lead her on the first steps toward the future she’d set them on.
While they settled in on her couch, she lowered herself to the love seat across from them and reminded herself that she had nothing to fear. Not anymore.
“We have some bad news for you, ma’am,” Detective Coran said, eyes tender, voice soft, as though he feared setting her off. “Your parents are. . .well they’re dead.”
She gasped. She’d hoped for them to be arrested, for their crimes to be discovered, but she’d been a fool. She’d asked The Manager to free Katya from their hold. She, of all people, should know The Manager gave his gifts in questionable ways. Still, she found herself forcing the horror of her reaction. They’d brought this on themselves.
“H-how?” she stuttered.
“Your mother was in a car accident. There was a drunk driver. . .” Detective Coran tried to be gentle about it, but there was no way to deliver information like that, gently.
“You said my parents.” Her voice sounded hollow. “They don’t drive in together.”
“Your father was at his office when he was,” Detective Matthews cleared his throat. “Attacked by a coworker. We don’t truly understand what caused the attack. The woman kept saying something about coffee. . .” He shook his head. “It’s not important.”
Coffee. Perfectly Pumpkin, perhaps? Her head spun with the possibilities. What had she set into motion when she’d etched all those symbols? Had she thought she was doing something good? Something right?
The detectives kept talking, but most of it became a blur, her mind whiting out like the whipped cream topping on her favorite drink to hex.
She’d done this. Or rather, The Manager had. In fact, this had probably been his plan from the beginning. Natalya felt a storm brewing, one much worse than the one she’d been trying to contain when she’d gotten herself into this mess in the first place.
The detectives rose, and she followed them to the door.
“We’ll be in touch with any information,” Detective Coran said, a gentle hand landing on her shoulder. “I’m very sorry for your loss. Losses.” He winced.
Detective Matthews frowned for a moment, before his eyes widened. “Ms. Devin? Where were you this afternoon? We tried to come visit earlier, but you weren’t home.”
“I was at my job.”
“Job?” Matthews’ eyebrows raised.
“The coffee shop on the corner of Johnson and Roberts.” The coffee shop had no address. Not really. It was a mirage to anyone without a skeleton in their closet. “Today was my last day.” At least, if she added that, they wouldn’t try to come looking for her there.
Matthews hummed. “Was anyone on shift with you?”
The question may as well as tied her intestines in a bow. “Just my M-manager.”
“Very well,” Coran said, his eyes never leaving his partner. “We’ll definitely be in touch. Our condolences, ma’am.”
“Yes,” Natalya muttered. “Have a good night.”
She closed the door and pressed her face against it, stifling her growing horror at the curveball Matthews had thrown her way.
“Looks like you need some help,” The Manager spoke behind her, making her startle hard enough to smack her head against the door. His words were a mockery of their first meeting. “Again.”
Natalya took a deep, steadying breath and attempted to pull herself together. She turned toward him. “When Mother told me not to talk to strangers, I’d bet she meant you.”
The Manager narrowed his eyes. “I’d say that didn’t work out too well for her.”
“What do you want from me?” But she already knew, and she cursed herself for it.
“I want you to come back to work with me, full time,” The Manager said, a cocky grin stretching across his handsome face. “We’ve done tremendous work together, you and I.”
“And if I don’t?” she asked. She already knew the answer to that, too. Or she could imagine it wouldn’t be good for her.
“If you don’t, I don’t provide you with the alibi those detectives are obviously seeking.” He leaned against the wall, arms crossed over his chest. “When they arrest you, poor Katya will have no family left. She’ll probably need some help. She may not be as adept at the family business as you or your parents, but I’m sure her little spark of the occult could be cultivated into something much stronger, in my care.”
Natalya’s throat tightened, hot bitter tears filling her eyes. “You wouldn’t.”
“Do you doubt me? Truly?” He stepped forward, his hand landing on her shoulder in an echo of the comforting squeeze Detective Coran had offered earlier. “I offered to help you get out from under the damning control of your parents.” He leaned forward, his tone almost conspiratorial. “I never said anything about the damning control of. . . well, me.”
Keys jingled in the door behind her, and Natalya’s eyes closed, already knowing what waited for her when she turned again. When she opened her eyes, The Manager had disappeared. It figured.
She stepped forward to give the door room to open.
“Natalya, I’m hooooome,” Kayta sang out, as she made her way into the house, keys jangling in one hand and her other arm curled around a paper bag. “Oh, hey!” she said, when she spotted her directly in front of the door.
“Hey,” Natalya uttered.
Katya was beautiful. Blonde curls bouncing along her shoulders, a broad smile stretched across red lips. She’d turned sixteen last week, and she was already fielding prom invitations from upperclassmen. She was going to cause Natalya so much trouble.
She was just a kid. She deserved an ounce of normalcy.
“How was your day, Natty?”
Natalya couldn’t answer. How could she? Our mother and father are dead and I’m gonna sell my soul to the. . . Manager.
“That bad, huh?” Katya’s face darkened slightly, before brightening suddenly. “Oh! I forgot to tell you! They opened a new coffee shop! It’s on the corner of Johnson and Roberts and they have some great themed drinks.”
She thrust a coffee cup into Natalya’s hands. “I got you a Perfectly Pumpkin! You want?”
It wasn’t as though she had a choice anymore.
“Sure, Katya. Why not?”