Murder of Crows Page 14

He looked so gleeful, she had to laugh. But the amusement faded quickly. “No one else will be home until that meeting is over, and I’m … nervous … about being in the Green Complex by myself.” Darn Coyote must have picked that up with his first sniff and had been playing with her until he found out why she felt nervous. “I can’t really visit Sam at the Wolfgard Complex, and I didn’t want him to be away from the adult Wolves if something is going on ….”

Jester just studied her. If he knew what the meeting was about, he wasn’t sharing.

“Have you ever seen the inside of a barn?” he asked.

“Pictures.”

He opened the BOW’s door and rolled up the window. “Come inside and see the real thing.”

If she stayed with Jester and the ponies, she wouldn’t be alone.

She shut off the BOW and followed the Coyote.

“You can meet our newest resident if he decides to show himself,” Jester said as they reached the barn door. “He hasn’t been up to the Liaison’s Office yet with the other ponies, so you wouldn’t have seen him there. It’s unusual for one of his line to be assigned to the Great Lakes area, especially one so young, but the Elementals wanted him here. I have to say, he’s settling in remarkably well.”

The night of the attack, men had set fire to the Pony Barn and shot old Hurricane while he was in pony form. The Others fixed the Pony Barn before they made any repairs to the other buildings and fences that were damaged during the attack. While the residents of Lakeside had struggled to make repairs to their own buildings in bitingly cold weather, the area around the Pony Barn had enjoyed Spring’s delicate touch, making it easier for the workers.

Despite its name, the building fit images of a stable more than a building typically identified as a barn. As she looked around, Meg absorbed what she saw as a connected memory—like a video clip rather than a series of isolated pictures laid out in order. Many of the stalls were empty because the ponies were out in the Courtyard doing whatever ponies did. After looking her fill, she sat on a bale of hay and watched Jester groom Fog. Then she helped him groom Cyclone, enjoying the tactile experience as much as the pony seemed to enjoy it.

And then a white pony stepped out of the last stall, and Meg felt a tingle run under her skin from the soles of her feet to the top of her head. The feeling faded quickly. Almost too quickly, since she stood there and watched him try, and not quite succeed, to match the furry-barrel-with-chubby-legs look of the other ponies. Like a Wolf who couldn’t quite hide that he wasn’t human, this steed couldn’t quite hide the fact that he wasn’t really a pony.

Aquamarine, Meg thought, identifying the bluish green of the newcomer’s mane and tail. Not a color seen on an ordinary pony.

“Meg,” Jester said. “This is Whirlpool.”

At 5:15 p.m. on Windsday, Captain Burke turned his black sedan into the Courtyard’s Main Street entrance.

“Mr. Wolfgard said to park behind the Liaison’s Office,” Monty said. He’d made the call and asked for this meeting, but he hadn’t expected Simon to agree, especially since he couldn’t tell the Wolf why Burke wanted to meet. Which meant the leader of the Lakeside Courtyard had his own reasons for wanting to meet with a police captain.

“I thought we were meeting in the consulate,” Burke said as he parked the car.

“We are.”

“They want the car out of sight?” Burke kept scanning the backs of the buildings, especially the doors and windows.

“More likely, they want it out of the way. But I think the Business Association uses parking as a way to indicate trust.”

“Does this mean we’re trusted, Lieutenant?”

“Yes, sir, I think it does.” Up to a point, he added silently.

They walked back up the access way to the consulate. As they waited for someone to answer the door, Monty studied the Liaison’s Office. Already closed, with only a dim overnight light in the front room. Too bad Meg Corbyn was gone for the day. He would have liked a chance to check up on her, make sure she’d recovered from the prophecies she’d seen on Moonsday.

The consulate’s door opened. Blair Wolfgard stared at them. He wore a mechanic’s jumpsuit, which seemed to be his preferred attire when in human form. Behind Blair was a man with thinning hair and the amber eyes of a Wolf. He wore a hand-tailored suit of a cut and quality that said “money.”

Had to be Elliot Wolfgard. Monty imagined it was unsettling for government officials to realize a Wolf understood human symbols of power and knew how to send an intimidating message before the first word was spoken.

“You can hang up your coats and leave your boots over there,” Elliot said, gesturing toward the coat tree and the mat beneath. After they’d dealt with their outer gear, he led them to a meeting room that could have been the boardroom of a major corporation. Big room. Big table. Two big windows covered with wooden blinds.

And three terra indigene standing on one side of the table: Simon Wolfgard, Henry Beargard, and Vladimir Sanguinati.

Elliot stepped out of the room and closed the door. Monty wondered if Tess had chosen not to attend this meeting or wasn’t invited. Either way, he figured Burke now had confirmation of who gave the orders here in Lakeside.

“I appreciate you seeing me,” Burke said.

Simon pulled out a chair and sat down, a signal that the meeting had begun. “Have you found the men who tried to kill the Crows?”

After a moment’s hesitation, Burke sat in the chair opposite Simon. Monty sat beside Burke, across from Vlad. Even with the table between them, he wasn’t comfortable being that close to the vampire—not when he could still remember the prickling sensation he’d felt when he’d shaken Vlad’s hand. That was how he discovered that the Sanguinati could feed by drawing blood through a person’s skin.

Henry Beargard sat on the other side of Simon, his chair slightly pushed back from the table and angled in a way that made Monty think he was there as an observer rather than a participant.

“We found two of them,” Burke said. “And we found some things in their house that we’re investigating.”

“Things?” Vlad asked.

“In jars?” Simon asked, staring at Monty.

“Yes, in jars,” Monty replied. He kept his eyes on Simon, but he could see Vlad’s right hand close into a fist. This wasn’t the right time to ask if a severed hand could be dangerous. The novels he and Kowalski had skimmed over the past couple of days made it sound like a body part could survive separation for a long time if the rest of the vampire still lived, but there was no way of knowing if the fiction had been based on any facts. The lab techs were understandably reluctant to open the jars in order to test if the hand or eyes had belonged to a human or one of the terra indigene until someone did have some facts.

“I don’t think the captain is here to talk about the investigation,” Henry said, his voice a quiet rumble.

“I’m not here about the investigation,” Burke agreed. He linked his fingers and rested his hands on the table. “The son of a good friend of mine was injured in Jerzy last month. Roger was one of the police officers who answered the Crows’ call for help. He was shot by the humans who started the attack, but he survived.”

Simon said nothing. Monty wished Burke had given him some idea of where this was going.

“Roger is a good police officer, and he’s a good man,” Burke said. “He’ll be ready to return to duty soon, but indications are that it would be prudent for him to relocate.”

Simon cocked his head. “Why?”

Vlad gave Burke a chilling smile. “The monkeys blame him, don’t they? They think he should have let the Crows in that house die.”

Burke barely twitched in response, but Monty didn’t doubt the Others saw that twitch.

“Not all the survivors in Jerzy think that Roger is to blame for the fight that came afterward, but enough of them do,” Burke replied. “They want to blame someone. Right now, Roger needs to be someplace where the people he’s trying to protect don’t call him a traitor.”

“What do you think would have happened if this Roger had let the Crows die?” Henry asked.

Burke looked the Grizzly in the eyes. “I think if he and the other officers hadn’t responded to that call for help, there wouldn’t have been any survivors in Jerzy.”

Henry dipped his head, an acknowledgment of that truth. “Yes. Those humans are still alive because of him.”

“At least for another week or two,” Vlad added.

Monty stiffened. “What does that mean?”

Simon ignored the question and focused on Burke. “So you want your friend’s pup to relocate to Lakeside?” He shrugged. “You don’t need our consent. That’s human business.”

Now Burke looked uncomfortable. “Roger prefers living in a village—and working for a smaller police force.”

Puzzled looks.

“What are you asking us?” Simon finally said.

“I’m asking if you could find a place for Roger on Great Island,” Burke said. “I know the island is controlled by the terra indigene, but there is a community of Simple Life folks living there, as well as the humans who run the ferry and manage the shops and services on the southern end of the island. I don’t know what arrangements Great Island already has, but surely enough humans live on the island to warrant an official police officer or two.”

Monty tensed as silence filled the room.

Finally, Henry said, “There is no police force on Great Island. Not like there is in Lakeside. The Intuits who live in Ferryman’s Landing aren’t the same kind of humans as the Simple Life folk. Or you.”

Burke studied the three terra indigene. “I’ve never heard of a race of humans called Intuits.”

Henry studied Burke. “In Thaisia, that is what they call themselves. They may have different names in other parts of the world. They are the humans who have a sense of the world the rest of you lack, an ability to feel what is around them and recognize danger or opportunity before it is obvious. They were often killed because other humans believed such an ability must be evil. Even now, they keep to themselves and feel safer living in a human settlement controlled by the terra indigene than they do living in a city controlled by your kind.” He smiled in a way that seemed a threat. “It would be better if you didn’t remember hearing about them.”

After a moment, Burke nodded to indicate he understood.

“Letting another human live on Great Island isn’t my decision,” Simon said. “I don’t know if the Intuits at Ferryman’s Landing will welcome a human who isn’t one of their own. But I will talk to the village leaders about your friend’s pup, and they can decide.”

“Thank you.”

And now a police captain is in debt to the leader of the Courtyard, Monty thought. Because Simon will make sure Roger is allowed to live on Great Island. He just hoped that when Wolfgard called in the favor owed, Burke wouldn’t choke on it.

“It’s for the best this Roger doesn’t want to live in Jerzy anymore,” Simon said, his tone a little too offhand. “It won’t be a human place much longer.”

Monty looked at Burke, who held perfectly still. Then he looked at Simon. This is why he agreed to meet with us. To deliver this message.

“The lease on the Jerzy farmland expires at the end of next month,” Simon said. “The West Coast leaders have decided the lease will not be renewed, and the land will come back to the terra indigene. The hamlet’s land lease expires at the same time. It, too, will not be renewed.”

Burke sucked in a breath but said nothing.

How many people lived in Jerzy? Monty thought. A few hundred? More? Less? Stunned, he spoke without thinking. “You’re going to evict an entire town? Just like that?”

“Yes, Lieutenant,” Simon replied. “Just like that. We may allow you to build on it and use what comes from it, but the land isn’t yours. Will never be yours. Humans broke trust with the terra indigene who watched over Jerzy. So one way or another, the humans must go.”

“But those farms provide food for cities on the West Coast. What are the people in those cities supposed to do for food?”

“Humans can grow food on the farmland they still lease,” Simon said, shrugging.

“But …”

“Lieutenant,” Burke said quietly, a warning that arguing about a decision that was already made on the other side of the continent could be costly to their own city, as well as dangerous to themselves.

As Monty regained control, he caught Vlad looking at him.

The vampire smiled and said, “How will the strong survive?”

Shivering, he looked away, scared sick by the reminder. Vlad had asked him once if stronger humans would justify eating the weak if other food wasn’t available. It wouldn’t come to that, but he suspected a lot more people all across Thaisia would be trying to grow a little kitchen garden this summer. There had been lean times before. It looked like there would be lean times again. Even now, you needed a ration book for a lot of foodstuffs, like butter and eggs.

“Where are the people in Jerzy supposed to go?” Burke asked, sounding mildly interested. “How are they supposed to transport livestock? Will they be allowed to transport livestock?”

“They can take the animals,” Simon replied. “They can take whatever was made by humans. But they should take care during their migration. If land or water gets poisoned, if one of the gas stations should explode, if houses should catch fire as people are leaving …”

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