Murder of Crows Page 17

“But it wasn’t before!”

“Yes, it was. We just didn’t know how dangerous. That’s what Meg and I are trying to figure out. And there are bad things happening, so I don’t want you staying by yourself. That’s why I want you with the rest of the Wolfgard.”

A different kind of whine now. Softer. Unhappy. The kind of sound that felt like teeth closing around his heart.

“Look,” Simon said. “We can’t do it this week, but next Earthday, why don’t you pick out a couple of movies, and I’ll ask Meg to join us for a movie night. All right?”

“Okay.” A pause. “Can I get new movies?”

Simon held up two fingers. “Two new movies.”

The pup would have settled for one, but until a few weeks ago, Sam had been hiding in a cage, afraid of everything. A little indulgence wouldn’t hurt either of them.

A howl that quickly became a chorus.

“Come on,” Simon said, heading for the Wolfgard Complex quickly enough that Sam had to run to keep up with him. “It’s time to join the others for a hunt.”

Simon trotted back to the Green Complex. The hunters had brought down a buck and eaten well before howling the Song of Prey to let the rest of the Wolfgard know there was fresh meat. Sam tore into the kill with the same enthusiasm as the other pups, and all the Wolves viewed it as a good sign.

Having sufficiently socialized with his own kind, Simon felt itchy. He kept thinking about Meg spending Earthday all by herself. Maybe she wanted some solitude. Maybe she had made plans with her human pack that he didn’t know about. Maybe, maybe, maybe didn’t change the simple fact that he wanted to spend some time with his friend now that they were friends again. Besides, Jester had told him that Meg felt nervous about being too alone. Very Wolfish of her, not wanting to be too alone. He approved.

When he reached his apartment, Simon paused and considered. Human skin or Wolf? Which shape would achieve what he wanted?

Since that answer was easy, he bounded up the stairs to Meg’s porch, pressed on the doorbell in a way that made it sound like a demented mechanical squirrel, then gave his fur a good shake while he waited.

Meg opened the door. He gave her a Wolfy grin. When she didn’t invite him in, he studied her face, wishing he could step closer for a good sniff without her slamming the door on his nose.

She looked embarrassed, uneasy. Since he didn’t understand why she looked that way, he pushed past her, then stopped so he wouldn’t track snow all over her floor.

“Simon?” Meg finally said as she closed the door. “Why are you here?”

She was his friend, and he wanted to be with his friend.

“Do you want something?”

A towel to dry his feet would be nice.

She couldn’t communicate the way the terra indigene did, but she must have figured out why he was waiting near the door because she disappeared for a moment and came back with a towel that she put on the floor so he could press his feet against it.

Must have gotten it from the hamper since it smelled like her.

He pressed his feet into it a few more times before going over to her sofa and getting comfortable. Okay, she hadn’t actually invited him to come in and get comfy, but she wasn’t screeching for him to get out either.

Meg stood near the sofa instead of sitting down the way she was supposed to.

She said, “I know you prefer to stay in Wolf form on Earthday, but maybe you could shift for a few minutes so you can tell me what you want?”

Oh, no. He was furry, not stupid. The last time he’d shifted from Wolf to human in order to talk to her, she’d gotten all confused and things had gotten strange between them. He wasn’t stepping into that trap again.

So he just looked at her expectantly.

“If you could just tell me what you want …” Her face colored as she glanced at the small clock on the table and then at the television. “It’s just … I watched a television show last Earthday, and the next segment is on in a few minutes.”

He wasn’t stopping her from turning on the TV. In fact, he liked this idea. She would sit still and pet him.

He waved the tip of his tail a couple of times to indicate approval.

Meg sighed, turned on the TV, and selected the channel. Then she sat at one end of the sofa, her cheeks still full of color.

Once the show started, Simon intended to reposition himself so that he could rest his head on her thigh the way he used to on movie night. Before he could do that, Meg opened a jar full of thick cream that smelled like the soap and shampoo the terra indigene sold in their stores. Propping one foot on her knee, she slathered cream all over that foot, spending extra time on the skin around her toes while she watched the TV show. Then she pulled on a thick sock before doing the same thing to the other foot.

Feeling a quiver of excitement, Simon thought, Oh. New game!

The first time Simon prodded her thigh with his paw, she ignored him because the story on TV had reached a tense moment. And she ignored the second poke a minute later. But she squealed when a big paw suddenly appeared in front of her face.

She jerked her head back and yelped, “What?”

He looked at the jar of cream, then held up his paw again.

No, he couldn’t mean … “You’re kidding.”

The he**ine screamed, pulling Meg’s attention back to the story. But she couldn’t see what was happening because that big paw appeared in front of her face again.

“All right!” Scooping more cream out of the jar, she carefully rubbed it into the pads of one front paw and then the other, massaging the paws longer than she’d intended because she got caught up in the story.

After she finished the front paws, Simon settled his head on her thigh and closed his eyes.

“Bad Wolf,” she muttered. As she burrowed her fingers into his fur, she added, “Hope your front end doesn’t go sliding across the floor.”

His response was a contented sigh.

A slidy game of chase on the apartment’s wood floors might have been fun, but this was very nice too. And he liked how careful she’d been with his paws.

Simon listened to enough of the story to decide it held no interest for him. In fact, he wasn’t sure it would hold much interest for any kind of male, and if he’d worn his human skin, it would have been hard not to look bored. And that would have made Meg unhappy. But a Wolf could keep her company and snooze while snuggling up much closer than she would have allowed him to do if he looked human. A furry Wolf was a friend. A human-shaped male was a confusion.

Contentment filled him as he breathed in the scent of her.

He raised his head and gave her hand a couple of licks—and felt a quiet happiness flow through him as he went back to snoozing.

Even with the cream on her skin, he really did like the taste of her.

CHAPTER 12

Monty figured he was in some kind of trouble when Captain Burke summoned him first thing on Windsday morning. Then he walked in and spotted the fax on the desk before Burke folded his hands over it and gave him a smile that was more fierce than friendly.

“Nicholas Scratch,” Burke said. “Who is he and why is he of interest to the police?”

Busted. “I’m not sure he is of interest to the police yet,” Monty replied cautiously.

“That still leaves the first question. Who is he?”

While he considered his answer, he remembered that Burke understood that sometimes there wasn’t much of a line between the job and your personal life. “He’s Elayne Borden’s new lover. He’s a man whose identity can’t be confirmed. And he’s the man who is living in the same apartment as my daughter, Lizzy.”

Burke lifted his chin to indicate the visitor’s chair. “Sit.”

Monty sat.

“This fax doesn’t say much. Did you find out anything else?”

“Only that there’s plenty I can’t find out about the man. According to Elayne, Scratch comes from the Cel-Romano Alliance of Nations, hails from a wealthy and influential family, uses an alias to protect the other members of said family, and is in Toland as a motivational speaker for the Humans First and Last movement.”

Monty clenched his teeth to prevent himself from saying anything more. Two days of hitting walls where Nicholas Scratch was concerned had left him frustrated and angry.

“Can you verify any of that?” Burke asked.

“Scratch is scheduled for several speaking engagements in Toland.” He hadn’t been able to confirm that personally. He had no allies in the Toland Police Department for the same reason he’d been transferred to Lakeside—he had killed a human to save a young Wolf. So he’d asked Kowalski to make the inquiry. “Either no one knew anything more about him, or no one wanted to share what they knew.”

“Understandable if he has some government support and really is over here to stir up the HFL movement,” Burke said thoughtfully. “Ms. Borden is Lizzy’s mother?”

“Yes.”

“Does she understand what Scratch is getting her involved in by association?”

Monty smiled bitterly. “She’s rubbing elbows with socially important people. She’s quite happy with the association.” Since Burke hadn’t chewed him out—yet—for using time and resources for something that wasn’t work related, he lowered his guard. “She wants to take Lizzy to Cel-Romano this summer. She’s talking about not coming back to Toland or even returning to Thaisia. I’m not sure there is anything I can do to stop her.”

“We’re just a few days into Viridus. Summer is a whole season away, so let’s work on the immediate problem, which is finding out about Scratch,” Burke said. “I’ll ask my cousin Shady to find out what he can, and he’ll reach out to other Brittania relatives. It’s a long shot, but the ones who work in law enforcement have been keeping a sharp eye on Cel-Romano, so they might have heard a rumor or two.”

“Thank you, sir. I appreciate it.” Monty pushed to his feet, then remembered the e-mail he’d received that morning from the Courtyard. “Simon Wolfgard and Henry Beargard are going over to Great Island tomorrow. He’ll ask whoever runs the island if your friend’s son can relocate there.”

“I appreciate it.”

Not having anything else to say, Monty gave his captain a nod and returned to his own desk to continue searching for information about the man now tangled up in his daughter’s life.

Until he—or someone—found that first nugget of real information, Scratch’s alias was holding up, keeping even his nation of origin a secret. Had Scratch gone through that much effort to hide from the Others, or did he have a reason to hide from humans as well?

CHAPTER 13

“I appreciate the invitation,” Burke said after Simon Wolfgard had been driving north on River Road for several minutes. “It wasn’t necessary to have me come along for this meeting.”

Simon glanced in the rearview mirror, then fixed his eyes on the road. “You planning to visit your friend’s pup if he settles on Great Island?”

“I’d like to, yes.”

“Then your coming along is necessary.”

Monty glanced at Burke. Nothing showed in the other man’s face, but the tension in the vehicle increased a little more. Burke took a proprietary interest in what happened in Lakeside and knew whom to call when he needed information about his city or the human places nearby. But he’d drawn a blank when he tried to find out more about Ferryman’s Landing than they’d been told at last week’s meeting with Simon Wolfgard.

The Simple Life community was the only acknowledged group of humans on Great Island. Yes, there were some humans who ran a few stores and the island’s ferry, but their village, such as it was, wasn’t under human control. Like the rest of the island, it belonged to the terra indigene. Population, unknown. Level of technology, unknown. Pretty much everything, unknown. Which meant the human governments of Lakeside and Talulah Falls, which were the nearest human-controlled places, didn’t know Ferryman’s Landing was an Intuit village.

So Burke had to be wondering what he’d gotten his friend’s son into.

Simon and Henry weren’t big on small talk. They also weren’t big on explanations. Wolfgard’s call that morning had been unexpected, as was the invitation—demand?—that Monty and Burke come with him and Henry to discuss whether Roger Czerneda would be acceptable as an official police officer for Great Island.

Monty wasn’t sure if the short notice—little more than the time it took Wolfgard to drive from the Courtyard to the Chestnut Street Police Station—showed a lack of courtesy or a last-minute decision to include two members of Lakeside’s police force so that there was someone available to answer any questions the Great Island residents might have. Either way, every effort Burke had made to find out why they were both invited and unwelcome had been met with silence.

Sitting on the right side of the van behind Henry, Monty couldn’t see much of the Talulah River, so he concentrated on the landward side. The moment they passed the sign that read LEAVING LAKESIDE, he saw nothing but brown fields and bare trees. Viridus was the greening month, but nothing was blooming yet. Then he spotted an industrial complex that looked abandoned and houses crowded together on the land that rose behind it. He barely had time to blink when he was looking at open land and stands of trees again. The visual difference was so sharp, it felt like a blow to the senses.

“What kind of businesses were in the buildings we just passed?” he asked.

“Those buildings are closed,” Henry replied.

That didn’t answer his question. “Closed? Why?”

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