Murder of Crows Page 20

On the drive back to Lakeside, he expected Burke at least to ask questions about what his friend’s pup could anticipate from living on the island. But the two humans were quiet, and he suspected Henry’s thoughts were more focused on the honey and jam they were bringing back.

That was fine. He didn’t need anyone yipping at him. But his talk with Steve had decided one thing: the next time Meg needed to cut, he was going to be there to confirm or deny his suspicions about the humans Namid made to be both wondrous and terrible.

CHAPTER 14

The following Earthday, as he’d promised, Simon picked up Sam late in the afternoon and prepared for a movie night with Meg. Despite their apartments having access to a common back hallway, which would make it easy to visit, Meg persisted in using the front door when invited over, even though it still meant putting on a winter coat and boots.

Today that suited him. While she shrugged off the winter garments—and tried to avoid clobbering Sam, who bounced around her and jabbered about school, the new movies, the other puppies, and everything else he could manage to say before he had to take a breath—Simon made the popcorn and poured glasses of water for Sam and Meg. And if the popcorn had a little more butter and salt than usual, and if he forgot to bring extra napkins before slipping out of the living room to strip off his clothes and shift, then he’d just have to be polite and help Meg clean her fingers, wouldn’t he?

Meg and Sam had started the first movie and each had a helping of popcorn when he returned, so he took his place on the sofa and snuggled up next to Meg.

Adventure movie. Still geared for youngsters Sam’s age, but much more interesting than the movies the pup had wanted to watch a couple of months ago. He’d done more growing, both mentally and physically, since Meg coaxed him out of the cage than he’d done during the two years he’d been frozen by the trauma of his mother’s death.

Feeling content, Simon stretched out. The movie was interesting, but resting his head in Meg’s lap and snoozing was much better.

He wasn’t sure when things changed. He must have dozed off more deeply than he’d intended. One moment he was vaguely aware of Meg’s hands in his fur, urging him to sit up. The next moment he was being choked.

Fully awake now, he struggled—and the arms tightened. He bared his teeth, prepared to bite, but the only scent surrounding him was Meg’s.

<Meg? Let go, Meg. I can’t breathe.> Not that she could hear him. He started to jam a paw between her arms and his throat, then remembered what a toenail scrape could do to her. <Meg? MegMegMeg! Ack!>

“Hey, Meg,” Sam said, looking over and giggling. “You’re choking Uncle Simon.”

“Oh! Sorry.” Loosening her grip, she gave Simon a couple of thumpy pats and a kiss between the ears.

He would have preferred less thumps and more kisses, but he happily settled for breathing. The next time she closed around him, he managed to get a paw between her arms and his throat to give himself breathing room before she squeezed him again.

Sam glanced at him. <You look funny.>

He growled. <Eat your popcorn.>

Of course he looked funny. Meg had hauled him halfway into her lap and was using him as a furry shield, peering between his ears when she wasn’t squeezing him breathless during the movie’s scary bits. Problem was, Sam wasn’t giving him any clues about what would be considered the scary bits. The pup was bouncing and shouting and cheering and howling as the Wolf Team fulfilled their mission. Whatever it was. The second time he almost poked himself in the eye when Meg squeezed him, he decided to pay more attention to the story. Her breath ruffling his fur was more of a clue than the story, but at least he started to recognize the signs and began to anticipate when to take a deep breath.

By the time they finished the first movie, Sam was bouncing around the living room and Simon had a crick in his back. After getting his hindquarters on the floor, he managed to pull himself out of Meg’s arms.

She looked like she’d rubbed her face with flour to erase every bit of color.

“Did you see how the Wolf Team tore up the bad guys?” Sam said, waving his arms. “They tracked’ em and found ’em and—”

“That was so scary!”

“Yeah, it was scary when the Wolf Team almost got caught. But they found the bad guys and—”

<Sam.>

Sam stopped bouncing and looked at Meg.

The pup loves her, Simon thought as he watched Sam absorb Meg’s reaction to the movie. Not like he loved Daphne, but like a sister. Like pack. Like … family.

“Well,” Sam said, “I guess it might have been more scary for you because you’re a girl.”

Simon didn’t think it was Meg’s being a girl but being human that made the difference, but he didn’t correct the pup. <I think that’s enough movies for tonight.>

“Wanna play a card game, Meg?” Sam asked.

“O-okay.” She reached for the popcorn bowl. “Let me put this in the kitchen and wash my hands.”

Sighing at the missed opportunity to get a few licks, Simon hurried out of the room to shift before Meg reached the kitchen. He had his jeans on and was pulling the sweater over his head when she walked in. Her gait wasn’t steady. Neither were her hands when she set the bowl on the kitchen table.

“Simon?”

“Meg?”

“Can I stay here tonight?”

That movie really scared her. “Sure. But … Sam was going to curl up with me tonight. Is that okay as long as he and I stay in Wolf form?”

She nodded. Then she looked at her hands. “That’s a lot of loose fur.”

He wasn’t sure all that fur had been loose when the evening started. In fact, even in this form, his skin felt a little sore, the way you’d expect it to feel after being plucked.

Busy, nervous fingers. He’d have to remember that.

“Why don’t you and Sam start the card game?” he suggested. “I want to make a last walk around the complex.”

“Why?” Meg squeaked. “Is something wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong. I do this every night. Remember?”

“Oh. Yes. You do.”

Meg wasn’t a bunny, but tonight she sure did want a furry, Wolf-size security blanket. Which, considering what had scared her, was kind of funny.

“I won’t be gone long,” Simon said.

He stopped in the living room to sniff out Sam, who had hidden behind the sofa so he could jump out and growl. Meg’s fear of the movie had already bounced right out of the puppy’s head. Reminding Sam that Meg wouldn’t want to watch movies with them anymore if the pup scared her on purpose, he left the youngster sufficiently settled down and waiting for his adventure buddy.

Simon stepped outside. He swallowed a couple of times to make sure his throat worked, then took a deep breath. He stretched his back, wincing a little. Definitely a crick. The terra indigene had given Elizabeth Bennefeld office space in the Market Square, but he didn’t think any of the Others had actually tried that massage stuff. However, Meg and the human pack liked it and said it helped sore muscles, so maybe he’d make an appointment. If movie night was going to be like this from now on, his muscles would need some help.

He walked around the interior of the complex, noting who had lights on and whose homes were dark. Then he spotted Henry standing in the archway that provided access to the Green Complex’s garages.

“You already watch both movies?” Henry asked.

“One was all Meg could handle,” Simon replied.

Henry frowned. “I thought you were going to watch something Sam had selected. Something suitable for a youngster.”

“We did. But it was a terra indigene movie.”

Henry laughed so long and so loud, every resident in the complex looked out a window or opened their doors.

<Henry? Simon?> Vlad called. <What’s going on?>

He heard the same question from Jester Coyotegard, Marie Hawkgard, Jenni Crowgard, and Tess.

I’m not going to be the one telling on her, Simon thought as he ignored the queries and hurried back to his apartment. But when he shook his head at Vlad and Jester before dashing into his apartment and locking the door, he knew that, by morning, everyone in the Courtyard would have heard this new tidbit about their Meg.

CHAPTER 15

On Thaisday, Simon unlocked Howling Good Reads’ front door, then went about opening the store for business. Not that there was much business. There hadn’t been many human customers stopping at HGR or A Little Bite for a while now. There were even fewer since the incident last week when two girls tried to vandalize the bookstore by smearing dog poop on the books.

The girls’ stinky perfume had almost masked the scent of poop. They’d gotten past John, who was manning the checkout counter that day, but then they tried to walk past Blair and Nathan. The two enforcers pinned the girls to the shelves before howling for Simon and Vlad.

Human law did not apply in the Courtyard. A few months ago, Blair and Nathan would have killed those girls just for trying to damage the books. But that day, Simon had called Lieutenant Montgomery and demanded that the girls be arrested.

When two patrol cars showed up with lights and sirens going, the girls were stunned. They were going to be arrested? They were going to have a police record? They were going to pay fines or go to jail? But they didn’t do anything!

That’s when Blair lost the little tolerance he had for whining, dumb-ass monkeys and snarled that the Wolves were hungry and which of the damn vandals’ arms could they rip off for lunch?

It didn’t surprise anyone that the girls were suddenly thrilled to be arrested and walked out of the store by armed police officers.

They hadn’t had time to damage anything in the store, so there wasn’t any evidence of intended vandalism beyond the bags of dog poop found in the girls’ day packs, and the cops on TV shows were always growling about needing evidence. So it wasn’t likely that human law would do more than give the girls a nip. And that would not sit well with the terra indigene living in the Courtyard. Most of them would have preferred Simon giving Montgomery enough of the girls’ possessions so that the police could fill out a Deceased, Location Unknown form. Then Boone Hawkgard could put up the sign in the Market Square butcher shop indicating the availability of special meat.

The girls wouldn’t understand or appreciate the decision Simon had made, but Montgomery did. The lieutenant’s quiet “Thank you” as Kowalski and two other officers escorted the girls out of the store confirmed that the human recognized the call as an effort to keep the peace a little longer—and as an acknowledgment of the efforts the police were making to uphold the agreements between the city of Lakeside and the terra indigene.

It had been only a few weeks since Winter had locked the city in a blizzard of rage. Every day the news on the radio whined about the difficulties people were having with getting the building supplies needed to repair the damage done to houses and businesses during that storm.

The humans had no idea how close they had come to being wiped out completely. If Meg had died that night, Winter would have shown no mercy, and Lakeside would have been another human city that disappeared.

Because it hadn’t been that long since the storm, and because he hoped Spring’s warmth would ease the tension in the city, he was giving the humans some time to use their brains—and giving the police time to shake things out in their own way. Besides, he had other things to think about.

Last week, he had gone to Great Island to talk to Steve Ferryman. Now Ferryman was coming to the Courtyard to meet with Captain Burke and Roger Czerneda. It was sensible to host the meeting since it meant he and Vlad could sit in and listen. But there were two problems with meeting here: one was Roger Czerneda and the other was Steve Ferryman. Both were unattached males, and Ferryman had already indicated an interest in sniffing around his Meg!

Not my Meg, Simon thought, wondering why he’d opened the cash drawer. Not exactly. Earth natives in human form could have sex with humans, but they didn’t mate with humans.

But an Intuit could be a mate for a cassandra sangue. So could a regular human.

Fur suddenly covered his chest and shoulders. His hands shifted enough to have fur and claws. He didn’t realize he was snarling or that his fangs had lengthened until he heard a gasping squeak.

Heather, the only human employee left at HGR, stared at him.

“Should I leave?” she asked.

He shook his head. Damn! He had shifted enough that he didn’t have human speech. As he pointed at the register, he wondered what else had shifted, but he didn’t think patting his head to find out how much was still human-looking and how much was Wolf would be a good thing to do.

Don’t think about human males, or females, or mating, or … anything. Just get up to the office before you scare the bunny. Heather. Shit, f**k, damn!

She tensed when the checkout counter was no longer between them, but he kept moving toward the stockroom and the stairs. Except he couldn’t stand the thought of being confined in the office. He needed to run!

He stripped off his clothes, leaving them on the floor near HGR’s back door. Then he stepped outside, shifted to Wolf, and let out a howl that rang with frustration.

<Simon?> Nathan called.

<Guard Meg,> he said and took off running. He ran away from the Courtyard’s business district, ignoring the queries from Elliot and Tess asking what was wrong. Running on clear roads wasn’t demanding enough, so he ran across open ground and through the trees, plowing his way through some drifts of snow. It was Spring’s official reign now, but reminders of Winter still lingered.

He ran until he was tired enough that his first thought wasn’t tearing out Steve Ferryman’s throat just for being male. He shouldn’t feel that way, didn’t understand why he felt that way.

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