Murder of Crows Page 16

Shivering, she lay down on her narrow bed and pulled up the covers.

She tried not to think about how the Walking Names were going to look one day. Instead she focused on the last image that came to her as the prophecy ended. She had stopped speaking out loud by then, so this image was clear in her memory.

For the rest of the afternoon, she pondered the significance of seeing her own hand holding a jar of honey.

CHAPTER 11

On Earthday morning, Monty left the Universal Temple and walked down Market Street toward home. As he did every Earthday, he stopped at Nadine’s Bakery & Café and picked up enough food for the day. Kowalski had invited him over for the midday meal, and he intended to go, but if something came up and he couldn’t make it, he wanted a bit of fresh food in the house.

Besides, stopping at Nadine’s was a way to feel connected to the people in his neighborhood and hear the gossip on the street.

On Windsday evening, he and Captain Burke were the only people in Lakeside who knew the residents of Jerzy were going to be evicted. By Thaisday, the television news was broadcasting the terra indigene’s decision coast to coast. On Firesday, Lakeside radio talk shows were full of outrage that humans could be thrown out of their homes, and did Elliot Wolfgard want to comment.

Elliot Wolfgard’s only comment was that, like anyone who rented property to a tenant, the terra indigene were within their rights to refuse to renew a lease if the tenants proved themselves to be unsuitable. That caused enough histrionics that Captain Burke put all his men on standby in case a mob formed to move against the Courtyard.

His concern proved unnecessary. As soon as the sun went down on Firesday evening, a storm swept through the city. High winds and sleet encouraged everyone to stay home. Lightning struck with such precision that it almost took out all the radio and television stations. The next day there was no mention on the TV news of anything happening outside the Northeast Region of Thaisia, and all radio talk shows were replaced with music.

Warning given. Warning heeded.

So today at the temple and on the street where he’d become a familiar face, several people watched him because they knew he was a policeman, but no one approached and asked him the question that was on everyone’s mind: if provoked, would the Others really evict the two hundred thousand people living in Lakeside?

No one had asked the question. Probably because everyone already knew the answer—and feared it.

He left Nadine’s with a beef potpie, a container of soup, and a small braid of bread—the kind of food his ex-lover Elayne used to call Bulky Belly. The food probably would put on some bulk, but he craved some physical comfort.

The terra indigene’s decision was final, and there was nothing the human government in the West Coast Region could do. One way or another, the humans in Jerzy would be gone by the end of the month.

Monty entered his apartment, toed off his boots, then put the food away before taking off his overcoat. While waiting for his order, he’d overheard two men talking about how rent on apartments all along the West Coast and Northwest had doubled in the past few days. That confirmed what Captain Burke had heard through the police grapevine.

As he hung up his coat, Monty felt grateful to have a one-bedroom apartment with its own bathroom that he didn’t have to share with anyone.

Plans for new multistory apartment buildings were being tabled in many cities where government officials suddenly had to consider if the land should be used for farming or grazing in order to feed the people already within the city limits. Efforts to lease more land from the terra indigene for new farms or towns had been unsuccessful. And, according to Captain Burke, negotiations to drill new oil wells and gas wells had ended abruptly the day after the attack in Jerzy. So there was no new land for food and no new sources of fuel to heat the houses or supply energy for industries.

Most likely, the small human settlements within the vast tracts of wild country controlled by the Others were Intuit villages. Most people didn’t know the particulars about the inhabitants of those settlements, but there was plenty of talk about the places themselves. While not as technology deficient as Simple Life communities, they weren’t civilized places to live because they were completely controlled by the terra indigene. No human government whatsoever to speak for the human population!

The last new human-controlled village had been built more than a hundred years ago. The Others hadn’t given up a single acre of land to humans since then. And now, Monty suspected, angered by the events in Jerzy and the drugs that were harming their own, the terra indigene would pounce on every excuse to rid Thaisia of the two-legged pests. Unfortunately, the human-controlled parts of the world that had the same level of technology as the larger Thaisian cities could barely support their own people and had no surplus for outsiders.

Sighing, Monty quickly scanned the Lakeside News. The home section had started a series of articles about tub gardens and raised beds for vegetables. He took it as confirmation that, at least for the coming summer, food that couldn’t be grown in the Northeast would be expensive—if it was available at all.

Nothing to be done about it today, he thought as he set the newspaper aside and dialed Elayne’s phone number. If he timed it right, she and Lizzy should be returning home from temple right about now.

The phone rang four times before he heard his little girl say, “Borden residence. Who’s calling?”

He grinned despite the ache in his heart. “Don’t you sound grown up.”

“Daddy!”

Lizzy’s squeal eased the ache a little until he heard Elayne saying something in the background followed by a reply that was definitely a male voice.

“Can I come visit you, Daddy?” Lizzy asked.

“Of course you can, Lizzy girl,” he replied.

“Give me the phone,” he heard Elayne say harshly. Then Lizzy, now in the background, saying, “Daddy says I can come and visit.”

What was he hearing in his daughter’s voice? Unhappiness? Or something closer to desperation? What would make a young girl desperate to get away?

“What’s going on?” he asked as soon as Elayne came on the phone.

“Don’t make this harder,” Elayne said, her voice low and fierce. “She’s already being difficult about our summer plans, and thinking she can run off to you anytime she doesn’t get her way isn’t going to help.”

“Don’t make what harder? What summer plans?” Anger began a slow burn in his chest.

“It’s none of your concern,” she said, using that dismissive tone of voice she’d been using with him whenever he asked about Lizzy.

“She’s my daughter, so it is my concern,” Monty replied. “I can’t send the support checks if I don’t know where Lizzy is.”

“You send them here, as usual, and they will be forwarded.”

“No, they won’t. I send them to where my daughter is residing or I don’t send them at all.”

“You want me to take you to court over child support?”

“If that’s what it takes to get an answer. And then I and a judge and the attorneys will all know about your summer plans.”

A startled silence. Then Elayne huffed, “It’s not as if I’m doing anything unseemly.”

Monty said nothing.

Another huff. And maybe a bit of uneasiness in the sound?

“I met someone, and our relationship is serious.”

That was fast, Monty thought. “So he’s living with you and Lizzy? Is that what serious means?”

“You’re not part of our lives any—”

“Not part of yours, but I am, and always will be, part of Lizzy’s life,” Monty snapped. “What aren’t you saying, Elayne? Not saying is your specialty—you always try to get people to agree to something by omitting the details that would change an agreement to a refusal.”

Another silence. “Nicholas is a motivational speaker and very influential in the HFL movement.”

HFL? Monty pondered the letters for a moment before shock had him clutching the arm of the chair. “Humans First and Last? You kick me out and then take up with someone wearing a target on his back? Do you realize what people spouting Humans First and Last are doing?”

“They’re the leaders who will help the rest of us get what we deserve,” she replied hotly.

Did it even occur to her that “what we deserve” could have more than one meaning?

“Nicholas came all the way from the Cel-Romano Alliance of Nations to give a series of talks here in Toland,” Elayne said, having regained her typical cold dignity. “When he returns to his family’s villa, Lizzy and I will be going with him and will be staying with him at least through the summer.”

“What’s his full name?” Monty asked.

An odd pause. “Scratch. Nicholas Scratch. Of course, that’s the alias he uses for his speaking engagements. It’s a necessary precaution since his family name is well-known and he has several relatives who are wealthy as well as influential. As is Nicholas.”

His anger turned to ash. Anger wouldn’t get him anywhere with her, so he would try to appeal to her own self-interest. “Do you understand what’s going on in Cel-Romano? The food shortages, the rationing? Things are not good over there, Elayne.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Nicholas wouldn’t have invited us if that was the case. You’re just trying to spoil things for me again.”

The reminder that Elayne didn’t currently have the kind of social clout that should have attracted an influential man from an influential family had him thinking like a cop instead of a father. A woman desperate to climb the social ladder would be an easy mark for a man who didn’t want the expense of living in a hotel for the duration of his speaking engagements. Had Nicholas Scratch come over to Toland at someone’s invitation, or had he crossed the Atlantik in the hopes of making some money? Easy enough to say you come from a wealthy family if no one can verify that fact.

“Fine,” Monty said. “If you want to go to Cel-Romano with Mr. Scratch, that’s your business. Lizzy can stay here with me until you get back.”

“I’m not leaving my daughter in a place like Lakeside,” Elayne said. “Besides, you’ll be working all the time. Where could she stay?”

“I’ll work it out,” Monty insisted.

A different kind of silence. Then, “There’s nothing to work out. Lizzy and I are going to Cel-Romano with Nicholas. And we might not be coming back to Toland or even Thaisia. I want my daughter to live in a city that doesn’t have shifters and vampires watching her from every corner. Until we can civilize the world, we’ll never truly be able to enjoy civilization.”

That had to be HFL rhetoric.

No point continuing to talk to her. Tomorrow he would look for an attorney and see what he would need to do to gain custody of his daughter—or, at the very least, stop Elayne from taking Lizzy to another continent.

“Take care of yourself, for Lizzy’s sake,” he said.

“Why would you say that?” she asked.

“Because, Elayne, if your friend really is trying to stir up the Humans First and Last movement in Toland, there will be shifters and vampires watching his every move and listening to everything he says from now on.”

“You’re just saying that to scare me.”

“No, I’m saying it because it’s true.”

He knew he’d unnerved her when she let Lizzy come back on the phone and talk to him for a minute before someone took the receiver from his girl and hung up without speaking.

He didn’t know what he would do with Lizzy over the summer, but he’d be damned if he let her get on a ship and cross the Atlantik without putting up a fight.

“But why do I have to stay here?” Sam asked, pitching his voice to a whine.

Simon gritted his teeth and kept walking back to the Wolfgard Complex. Whines sounded a lot more annoying coming from a human form. Especially puppy whines. “You like staying with Elliot because you get to play with the other pups.”

“But I wanna live with you and Meg!”

Especially with Meg, Simon acknowledged silently. Now that the novelty of sleeping in a pile of pups had faded, Sam was campaigning hard to go back to living with Simon, who lived next door to Meg in the Green Complex. He wanted to play with his adventure buddy. He wanted to tell her about school. He wanted to do all the things he’d done before Simon began to appreciate the danger puppy clumsiness and enthusiasm could have for both Sam and Meg.

Wasn’t that the reason he and the pup were taking this walk in human form? So they could talk? So he could explain?

“Sam.” Simon stopped walking. His sister Daphne had gray eyes, like Elliot. Sam had gray eyes too, but the pup’s eyes made him think more of Meg than Daphne. “This isn’t a good time for you to be staying with me.”

Sam lowered his eyes. “Is Meg sick again?”

So much fear in the pup’s voice. Sam had seen his mother die, had watched her bleed out from a gunshot wound. It had taken Meg’s unusual way of thinking to bring the traumatized pup back to them.

Simon crouched, the act of a caring uncle rather than the dominant wolf. “Meg is fine. But we’ve learned some things about her. Her skin …” How to explain Meg’s strange and fragile skin?

“It smells good,” Sam offered.

Good, yes. Intriguing because of her not-prey scent, definitely.

“Yes, it smells good. But it’s easy to hurt her.”

Sam took a step back, offended. “I wouldn’t hurt Meg!”

“Not on purpose, no,” Simon agreed. “But even a little scratch is dangerous for her.”

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