Murder of Crows Page 2

CHAPTER 2

Parked in front of his best friend Grizzly Man’s house, Wild Dog sat in his father’s pickup truck with his other best friend, Howler, and waited for the fun to begin. Windsday was trash day in this part of Walnut Grove and the freaking Crows from the Courtyard would be flying in just ahead of the garbage trucks to pick over the trash humans threw out. Every freaking week they came around and poked in the trash cans that were put out at the curb. They poked and pecked and flew off with all kinds of crap because, really, that’s all Crows were—crap pickers.

Nothing people could do about it. Government Man said so. Couldn’t even take a potshot at the black-feathered thieves because the jail time and fines could ruin a whole family. But Grizzly Man, who knew how to find shit on the computer that you wouldn’t want your parents to know about, had learned about a bitching game called Crow Bait and Roadkill. Girly boys could sign up at the site and play the game on the computer, but if you wanted to try the real thing you needed two very special drugs: gone over wolf and feel-good.

It wasn’t easy to get your hands on the stuff, and neither drug was cheap. It had taken him, Grizzly Man, and Howler two months of pooling most of their spending money to buy the vials that Howler had acquired from a friend of a friend who knew a guy who knew a guy. Now they were going to find out if the drugs and the game were worth it.

“Come on,” Wild Dog muttered. “I’ve got to get the truck back before the old man wants to leave for work.”

Howler rolled down the passenger-side window. “I hear the garbage trucks. They must be on the next block. Is G-Man ready?”

Wild Dog pulled the mobile phone out of his pocket and made the call. “You ready?” he asked when Grizzly Man answered.

“I gave ’em the dosed meat,” G-Man replied. “You sure about the dosage?”

Gods below, no, he wasn’t sure about the dosage. Last week the three of them had split half the vial of gone over wolf in order to try it out, and he had only the vaguest memory of what happened after they caught up with Priscilla Kees, who had no business walking home alone after dark. But he remembered that he’d felt beyond horny. He’d felt wild and powerful—and he wanted to feel that way again.

But not for a while. Not until things cooled down. Priscilla hadn’t come back to school, and he’d overheard his mom tell his grandma that the vicious attack had caused some kind of damage to the girl’s innards down there and maybe other kinds of damage, and she wasn’t letting her daughter walk alone even to a friend’s house that was six doors down the street. Not until the animals who had done that to Priscilla were caught.

It felt weird hearing his mom talk that way, like she wanted to lay on some serious hurt. That scared him some, which was why he was glad they voted to use the rest of the gone over wolf for the game. By the time they could afford another vial of the drug, everything would be back to normal.

“Hey, Wild Dog,” G-Man said. “You still there? The dogs are acting funny, and I don’t like the way they keep looking at me. It’s weirding me out.”

“Here they come,” Howler said as the Crows flew in. Leaning forward, he rested one hand on the dashboard.

“Come on, you freaks,” Wild Dog whispered. “Enjoy some spaghetti and feel-good.” He snickered. Take some feel-good, and you’ll feel so good you won’t feel a thing.

Howler swore the drug was powerful enough to make a full-grown Wolf as helpless as a newborn puppy—or keep all the damn Crows grounded. So yesterday they’d bought a large take-out order of spaghetti. This morning they’d laced the food with feel-good and left handfuls of it next to six garbage cans on the street.

The Crows came in, winging toward the cans that didn’t have tightly sealed lids or had items left next to them. As soon as the first Crow spotted the spaghetti, birds came in from everywhere, and Wild Dog couldn’t tell if they were Crows or crows. But they were all gobbling the spaghetti.

“Go on, you stupid shits,” Wild Dog whispered. “Eat up.” He spoke into the mobile phone. “G-Man. Almost time.”

“Hey,” Howler said. “Who’s that?”

They watched the petite black-haired girl walk from house to house, looking into the garbage cans.

“That’s perfect,” Wild Dog said. “We’ve got one of the Others in human form.”

“Garbage truck will be here any minute,” Howler said. “We need to be gone before someone spots us.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Wild Dog watched the birds for a moment longer. A car coming down the street had to swerve to avoid a bird that didn’t even try to get out of the way. Perfect. “G-Man, let the dogs loose.”

The two hunting dogs that belonged to G-Man’s father ran out of the backyard, spotted the birds, and tore into them with a savagery that made Wild Dog feel excited and a little sick. A couple of the birds flapped their wings in a feeble attempt to escape, which did nothing but draw the dogs’ attention to them—and to the girl standing frozen next to a garbage can.

“Oh, shit,” Howler said. “I know who that is! It’s the new girl at school. Her family just moved here, came all the way from Tokhar-Chin. We’ve got to stop the dogs!”

“We can’t stop them!” Wild Dog grabbed for Howler’s coat, but Howler had already half fallen out of the truck and was screaming, “G-Man! Get your dad! Get your dad!”

Nothing to do but go with his friend. Couldn’t be seen just sitting there with Howler yelling and the girl screaming and people coming out of their houses, some dressed for work and some still in their bathrobes despite the snow and cold.

Suddenly someone shoved him aside and was yelling at everyone to get out of the damn way, and …

Bang. Bang.

That same someone was now yelling at people to call the cops, call for an ambulance, and Wild Dog finally recognized him. Didn’t know his name, but knew he was a cop friend of G-Man’s father.

The cop was next to the girl now, pressing his hand right against the wound on her neck that just kept bleeding. He looked up at G-Man’s father and said, “I’m sorry, Stan, but I had to shoot them.”

“Is the girl going to be all right?” Stan asked.

The cop paused a moment, then lifted his hand and shook his head. After cleaning his hands with fresh snow, he rose and stared hard at Wild Dog and Howler. “What are you boys doing here?”

Stan just stared at the girl, then at the dogs. “Gods above and below, what got into them? And how did they get out of the yard?”

“We’ll take them in, get them tested. Find out if they went crazy for a reason.” The cop was talking about the dogs—sure he was—but he kept staring at Wild Dog. Then he looked at the dead birds. “Yeah, we’re going to need to do some tests.”

Wild Dog tried to field a story about just dropping by to see G-Man for a minute, but suddenly there were all kinds of official vehicles clogging up the street, and there were a lot of cops interested in hearing his story, and they wanted to hear it down at the station with his father present. That was why he ended up riding home in the back of a police car.

And that was why the police were right there with him when he walked into the kitchen and discovered that Priscilla had remembered a lot more about that night last week than he did, and that was why she brought her father’s shotgun when she came calling at his house this morning.

CHAPTER 3

Late Windsday morning, Lieutenant Crispin James Montgomery parked the patrol car in the Courtyard’s customer lot, got out, and breathed in air that still had the bite of deep winter. That wasn’t surprising, considering the storm that had savaged the city of Lakeside at the beginning of the month—a storm that had proved to everyone living here that the shape-shifters and vampires who were the public face of the Courtyard were not the most dangerous terra indigene in residence. Enraged by the attack on the Courtyard and the death of one of their steeds, the Elementals, led by Winter, had unleashed their fury on the city and its residents in what newspapers and television newscasts had called the storm of the century.

Some buildings had been damaged or destroyed in that storm. Some people had been injured and a few had died. Whole sections of the city had been without power for days, and people had struggled to stay warm and fed while Lakeside was locked in by a record snowfall and slabs of ice that blocked all the roads out of the city.

Having spent every spare moment over the past two weeks reading up on towns that had been destroyed after a conflict with the Others, Monty knew the storm and the consequences could have been much, much worse. He wasn’t sure whom Meg Corbyn had talked to or what she’d said, but he would bet a month’s pay that she was the reason the ice slabs simply melted away one night, allowing needed supplies into the city. She had warned the Others of a poison that had been intended for the Elementals’ steeds. She had saved Simon Wolfgard’s nephew Sam during the attack on the Courtyard. She had won the trust of beings who rarely, if ever, trusted humans.

On the other hand, because she had been the attackers’ intended target, she had been indirectly responsible for the storm that crippled Lakeside, as well as the deaths of Lakeside’s mayor and the governor of the Northeast Region. But that was something only a handful of people knew. For everyone else, the official story was that a group of outsiders had come to Lakeside with the intention of stirring up trouble and had provoked the Others’ attack when they blew up part of the Courtyard’s Utilities Complex and killed several terra indigene. Since all the news reports made it clear that humans had started the trouble, there had been a wait-and-see truce between Lakeside’s citizens and the Others these past couple of weeks.

Maybe people were too busy making repairs to their homes and businesses and just wanted to get back to their lives. Or maybe they were making an effort to steer clear of the beings who ruled the continent of Thaisia. And not just Thaisia. The terra indigene ruled most of the world. As far as they were concerned, humans were another kind of meat, and the only difference between people and deer was that people invented and manufactured products that at least some of the Others enjoyed having. That was the only reason the Others in Thaisia leased tracts of land where humans could live and grow food, and supplied people with the resources needed to manufacture products. But people were still meat the moment they did something the terra indigene didn’t like.

That wasn’t an easy truth to swallow at the best of times, and given the information he was about to share with Simon Wolfgard, today was not going to be the best of times.

Monty walked past the seamstress/tailor’s shop and A Little Bite, the coffee shop that was one of the few Courtyard stores open to the general human population of Lakeside. When he reached Howling Good Reads, the bookstore run by Simon Wolfgard and Vladimir Sanguinati, he ignored the Residents Only sign and rapped on the door.

Simon approached the door and stared at Monty for a little too long, giving the police officer time to consider the contrast between the two of them. Wolfgard looked like a trim man in his mid-thirties with a handsome face and dark hair that was cut to match the persona of a business owner. Most of the time, he easily passed for human. Except for his eyes. The amber eyes never let you forget you were looking at a terra indigene Wolf, a predator—especially now that Wolfgard had given up wearing the wire-rimmed glasses that had been an attempt to make him look less dangerous. Monty, on the other hand, was a dark-skinned human of medium height who stayed trim only with effort. He hadn’t reached forty yet, but his short curly hair already showed some gray, and there were lines on his face that hadn’t been there a few months ago.

Finally Simon unlocked the door, and Monty slipped inside the store.

“Not open to human customers today?” Monty asked as Simon locked the door again.

“No,” Simon replied curtly. He limped over to a cart full of books and began redoing the display table in the front of the store.

Monty nodded to the young woman behind the checkout counter, one of the humans the Courtyard employed. “Ms. Houghton.”

“Lieutenant,” Heather replied.

She looked scared, and when she tipped her head toward Simon in a “pay attention to him, there’s something going on” sort of way, Monty wondered if the Courtyard’s residents had already heard the news or if Heather had another reason to be afraid.

After observing Simon for a moment, he said in a conversational tone, “Did you injure your leg?”

Simon slammed a book down on the table and snarled. “She kicked me off the bed! She was having a bad dream, so I tried to wake her up, and she kicked me off the bed.”

Monty didn’t have to ask who she was. He noticed that Heather, now staring at the Wolf with wide eyes, didn’t ask either.

“And then she acts and smells all bunny-weird about me being there in human form.” Simon dumped more books on the table. One slid off and hit the floor. The Wolf didn’t notice. “What difference does it make if I’m furry or not?” He pointed at Heather, and the look in his eyes made it clear he expected an answer.

“Aaaaahhhh,” she said, glancing at Monty. “Weeeellllll. When my mom takes a nap, our cat curls up with her, and my dad doesn’t care. But I don’t think he’d like it if the cat suddenly turned into a man.”

“Why?” Simon demanded. “The cat would just be a cat in a different form.”

Heather made a funny sound and didn’t answer.

Monty quietly cleared his throat before he said, “A form that would be able to have sex with a human female.”

“I didn’t want sex!” Simon shouted. “I just wanted my share of the covers.” A hot and hostile look at Heather. “Females are peculiar.”

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