Murder of Crows Page 21

Meg had been a source of confusion since he hired her to be the Courtyard’s Human Liaison. His response to Ferryman was just another example of how she muddled him up.

He wasn’t surprised when Blair joined him as he trotted back toward the business district.

<You all right?> Blair asked.

<Fine,> he grumbled.

<Having second thoughts about the meeting?>

<Not about the meeting.>

They trotted in silence for a couple of minutes. Then Blair said, <Be careful, Simon. You don’t want to become too human. We see a few of them differently now, but most of them are still just meat.>

<I know.> It was one thing for an earth native to be able to pass for human. It was quite another thing to start thinking like a human.

Blair headed back to the Utilities Complex while Simon continued trotting toward the business district.

Becoming too human was always a danger to terra indigene who worked in the Courtyards and kept careful watch over the clever meat. He should go to the wild country for a couple of weeks this summer. He could stay in Wolf form for days at a time and regain his sense of who he was, what he was.

But he already knew he wouldn’t go to the wild country. Too much unrest rippled throughout Thaisia, as well as right here in Lakeside. Until they figured out who was making the drugs that had reached his piece of the world, there was too much uncertainty.

And there was too much need to stay close to Meg.

Trying to figure that out confused him, and being confused made him angry.

It was unfortunate for the four-footed bunny that it chose that moment to bolt from its hiding place.

Four young men stood across the street from A Little Bite. Tess watched them crowd Merri Lee when she stood at the corner, waiting for the light to change, jostling her until she almost stumbled in front of a car. When she crossed the street and hurried to the coffee shop, the men stayed on the other side, the human side. Tess hadn’t heard what they said to the girl, but she saw the look on Merri Lee’s face—a look that was quickly hidden behind a cheerful mask.

An hour later, they were still there, watching. And Merri Lee watched them while she went about her work.

And Tess, being one of Namid’s most ferocious predators, knew the difference between a hunter watching and prey watching.

“Do you know them?” Tess asked, tipping her head to indicate the men across the street.

“Not really,” Merri Lee replied. “They go to Lakeside University. I think I’ve had a class with a couple of them.” As she wiped off the tables near the windows, the men shouted something.

<What did they say?> Tess asked the Crows who were perched on the roof. They, too, were watching.

<They say the Merri Lee is a Wolf lover and is going to get what she deserves,> Jake replied. <Is the Merri Lee ha**ng s*x with a Wolf?>

<It wouldn’t be Simon,> Jenni said. <Simon likes our Meg.> A pause. <Do Simon and Meg have sex after they play?>

<No,> Tess said firmly. Simon’s relationship with Meg was too complex for anything as simple as sex. <And asking about that will upset Meg.>

No response from the Crows. She didn’t expect one. They might be willing to poke at a Wolf and say something to get a reaction, but they wouldn’t say anything to upset the blood prophet who had saved their lives.

Tess turned her attention back to Merri Lee. “Those men. Do you know their names?”

Merri Lee shook her head. “It’s nothing.”

Tess let it go. Except for Meg, Merri Lee and Heather were the only humans left who worked in the businesses open to the public. Lorne Kates ran the Three Ps, but the print shop was for Courtyard residents only; Elizabeth Bennefeld, the massage therapist, was an independent contractor who worked in her Market Square office two days a week; and despite some concerns expressed by the administrators of Lakeside Hospital, Dominic Lorenzo was going ahead with his plans to provide care for Courtyard residents and employees. The other humans who worked for some of the Market Square businesses had been calling in sick a lot over the past couple of weeks, and some of them had stopped calling. Even the consulate had lost its human employees.

All of it was a backlash from the storm in early Febros and not unexpected. But it only proved the fleeting nature of human memory. The humans who quit had forgotten that working in the Courtyard was the only thing that made them not edible.

“Why don’t you check the storeroom?” Tess told Merri Lee. “See if we’re running low on anything.”

She waited until the girl was in the back before she walked out the front door. Nothing between her and those four men except pavement. But still too much distance to reveal her true nature. Too much chance of other people looking upon her. If many people became ill while driving past the Courtyard, there would be questions she didn’t want asked because she had no intention of letting anyone with answers survive.

At least, no one human. She had revealed her true nature when she killed Asia Crane, the human female who had participated in the attempted abduction of Sam and Meg. Afterward she wondered if Henry or Simon had suspected what kind of terra indigene she was, but neither of them said anything. She valued their unspoken acceptance enough that she wouldn’t deliberately bring trouble to the Courtyard without good reason.

“See something you like?” Nyx joined her.

Tess glanced toward the Courtyard’s customer parking lot. How many Sanguinati were watching from the shadows? “I see a pack of two-legged nuisances.”

“Hmm. I see takeout.”

Tess laughed, which seemed to enrage the men. One of them pulled a small container out of his coat pocket and waved it at them.

“Come on, then!” he shouted. “Bitch in a jar!”

Nyx’s smile didn’t change, but Tess’s hair turned red with black streaks. Black. The death color. So tempting to let her true nature show when she could feel the effort Nyx was making not to attack.

But in the end, the men weren’t tempting enough. Yet.

She went back into the shop. A moment later, still smiling at the men, Nyx went into Howling Good Reads.

Had to make a decision soon. She’d already checked her stockroom and knew what she had to order. It wasn’t going to take Merri Lee much more time.

It wasn’t the terra indigene’s place to protect humans—at least not when they were beyond the Courtyard’s boundaries. But she knew one human who would be interested in keeping Merri Lee from harm.

She dialed the number for HGR’s office. “Vlad? Tell Simon I want to be at the meeting when he talks to the police.”

“You’re out of the beef flavored? What about the chicken?” Meg listened to the blustering manager of the Pet Palace and bared her teeth in a smile. She’d read a magazine article the other day about how maintaining a positive attitude produced better results when dealing with someone who forgot the service in customer service.

Unfortunately, Wolves were much better at discerning attitude than humans. As soon as she bared her teeth, Nathan hurried over, flopped his forelegs on the counter, and pricked his ears to hear the other side of the conversation.

Since she was trying to order more boxes of dog cookies, she was surprised he’d resisted butting in for as long as he had.

“What about the puppy cookies?” Meg asked. “Completely sold out of those too. I see. When do you expect …? Oh. No longer being made? Yes. I’m sure you are sorry.”

“Arrooo?” Nathan queried softly.

She hung up a little more forcefully than required just as the office door opened and Nathan twisted around to see who was coming in.

Harry from Everywhere Delivery hesitated in the doorway. Then he came in and set his packages on the end of the counter farthest away from them.

“Guess I don’t have to ask if you two are having a good morning,” he said.

“Arrooo!”

Meg blew out a breath and picked up her pen and clipboard. Harry was a darling who chatted about his wife and showed her pictures of his grandchildren. It wasn’t fair to be grumpy with him.

“Sorry, Harry. I’m having some trouble getting an order delivered.” She began filling out the information on the packages he’d brought.

“Oh? What kind of trouble?” When she didn’t answer, he looked at Nathan. “Guess you can’t tell me?”

The Wolf leaped over the counter and through the Private doorway into the sorting room.

“Do not shift unless you’re going to put on clothes!” Meg yelled when she heard Nathan rummaging around.

He returned with a box of dog cookies and dropped it on the counter.

Harry looked at the package, then raised his eyebrows at Meg.

She sighed. “I called the Pet Palace to have them deliver more boxes of cookies. The manager informed me that they were out of stock, all flavors, all sizes.”

“It does happen, Miz Meg,” Harry said. “You go into stores the day before the next delivery, and you’ll find plenty of empty shelves. And with seasonal items, stores just plain run out for the year.”

“I understand that,” Meg said. “But that doesn’t explain why, when I called Hot Crust yesterday to have a pizza delivered, they told me they didn’t make deliveries anymore, and a few minutes later I saw their delivery car drive by!” Since Nathan was crowding her to the point of stepping on her foot, she put her hands over his ears and whispered, “And Julia Hawkgard told me that when the Courtyard bus went to the plaza last Firesday, there were signs in some of the store windows that said Humans Only.”

She let go of Nathan’s ears in order to dig her fingers through the weave of her sweater and scratch at the pins-and-needles feeling that suddenly filled her right arm.

“Damn fools,” Harry muttered. He picked up the box of dog cookies. “This what you want?”

“Yes, but—”

“Don’t carry much money on me, but I can swing by that store during my lunch break and pick up a box or two—unless they’re telling the truth about being out of stock.”

“I have money,” Simon said, stepping up to the counter.

She hadn’t heard him come in. Nathan squeezed behind her to crowd her on the other side, wedging her between a Wolf in Wolf form and a Wolf in human form. It made her very aware that she was a short human—and it made her aware that the pins-and-needles feeling was quickly fading.

Simon put two twenty-dollar bills on the counter. “People might ask questions if you buy too many. A box of each flavor will be sufficient.”

“Fair enough.” Harry pocketed the bills. “I’ll see what I can do.” He tapped a finger to the brim of his cap and left.

“Watch the counter,” Simon said, then took Meg by the arm, hauled her into the sorting room, and closed the Private door.

“Nathan can’t sign for packages unless he shifts,” Meg protested. “And a na**d Wolf is not going to make deliverymen feel easy.”

“This will only take a minute. Why are you scratching your arm?”

“It prickled.” When she reached for her right arm again, he grabbed both her wrists and held her hands apart. “Simon!”

“Your skin hasn’t been prickling all week. Not here, not at home. And you haven’t needed to cut.”

He was being careful not to hurt her, so she didn’t struggle—especially when she realized he was right about the pins-and-needles feeling. And he was right about the cutting, up to a point. Some days she wanted to cut, desperately wanted to feel the euphoria, but she didn’t need to cut. While everyday activities couldn’t match the orgasmic release that came from cutting, they did blunt the need. And being surrounded by neighbors who had a wickedly keen sense of smell meant you couldn’t hide even the smallest cut.

“I don’t understand,” Meg said.

“When I went to that meeting on Great Island? Steve Ferryman said that Intuits live in small communities in order to become attuned with the place where they live and the people around them.”

“I’ve never heard of Intuits.”

He looked uncomfortable. “They’re a between kind of human.”

“Between what?”

“Between a human like Lieutenant Montgomery and a human like you. Most of the Intuits can’t see prophecies, but they get feelings about things, for good or bad.”

“Most of them?” Meg’s heart jumped. “But some of them do see visions, speak prophecies?”

Fur sprang out on Simon’s cheeks and hands, then retreated and returned. Involuntary shifting was a sure sign of strong emotions in the Others.

“The cassandra sangue originally came from the Intuits,” Simon admitted. “At least, that’s what I was told.”

He didn’t want to tell me that, Meg thought. So why is he telling me now?

But the wonder of it! Her friend Jean had insisted that girls like them could live outside in the world. Jean had come from a family that had lived outside the control of people who became richer with every scar a girl acquired.

Jean.

Meg cried out and tried to claw at her arms, but Simon still held her wrists.

“Meg!”

Couldn’t cut now. Not with Simon holding on to her and Nathan howling in the front room in response to whatever he was sensing. And if Nathan didn’t shut up, there would be Wolves and Bears and Sanguinati crowding in and wanting to know what was wrong.

“I’m okay,” she gasped. “I’m okay.”

“I’ll send him away,” Simon growled. “I don’t care if he wants to meet you. I won’t allow him to enter the Courtyard.”

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