Murder of Crows Page 22

“Who? What?” Had to regain control. Couldn’t think about Jean or the compound. Concentrate on something new. Intuits. Could they help her understand how to live in the outside world?

“Steve Ferryman,” Simon snapped. “He’s not even here yet and he upset you!”

“No, he didn’t. I was thinking about my friend Jean. You can’t blame Mr. Ferryman for that. And I would like to meet him.”

“Why? Have you seen him?”

She hadn’t known he existed until Simon mentioned him, so where would she see …?

Of course. She could have seen this man in a vision—just as she’d first seen Simon in a vision. But she hadn’t seen Steve Ferryman, hadn’t known anything about him or humans who were called Intuits.

Did the Controller know about these people?

Focus on Simon. “You said Intuits live in small communities. If blood prophets started out as Intuits, maybe that’s also an important thing to know about people like me.”

The fur receded from Simon’s cheeks. The fingernails were still claws, but he was being careful not to damage her.

“I did wonder if it might be the same for you,” Simon said. “Maybe your skin isn’t prickling all the time because you’ve gotten used to us.”

She thought about the routine of her days. She opened the Liaison’s Office and mostly had Nathan, and sometimes Jake Crowgard, snoozing in the front room in between deliveries. All the deliverymen were people she saw a couple of times a week. She went to the Quiet Mind class with Merri Lee, Heather, and Ruth Stuart. At the Green Complex, she came in daily contact with Henry, Tess, Vlad, Julia Hawkgard, Jester Coyotegard, and Jenni Crowgard and her sisters. And Simon.

There had been little prickles—like the time when Ruth misplaced her keys after class—but she was learning that small things could be dealt with in mundane ways, like having your friends help you look for the keys, so little prickles could be ignored.

“I’ll have to think about this some more, pay more attention,” she said.

“You haven’t been scratching at your skin until today.”

“Is something happening today?”

He growled, and she watched his canines lengthen.

“Maybe you need to go outside and run around for a while.”

“Did that.”

Meg sighed. When she tried to tug her wrists out of his hold, he released her. “Simon, go to your meeting. Try not to bite anyone. And after work, you and Sam and I can go for a walk.”

“Okay. Yeah. All right.”

He sounded unhappy. He arranged this meeting, so why would he be unhappy? Unless it had something to do with her?

“If it really bothers you, I don’t have to meet Mr. Ferryman,” she said, trying to interpret his body language and expression.

“You should meet him. Just … don’t like him too much.” He looked toward the front room. “Nathan says the police are here for the meeting, and another car pulled in too.”

“Then you should go.”

He hesitated, then gave her cheek a quick lick before rushing into the back room and out the door.

Meg stood there trying to sort through it all as she recalled training images of men’s faces showing various expressions and emotions. Then she shook her head and opened the Private door to keep Nathan from fretting.

When she spotted The Dimwit’s Guide to Dating, which she’d left on the counter, she closed her eyes and tried to imagine a series of images that could fit.

Simon coming into the office, thinking about this meeting and having a strange human—Steve Ferryman—in the Courtyard. Simon seeing the book that she’d hidden until now because she didn’t want to explain that she was reading a book about humans dating humans in an effort to understand him. Simon now wondering about her interest in Steve Ferryman and Ferryman’s interest in her. And last, Meg and Simon having this odd conversation.

She had to be mistaken, had to be interpreting the past few minutes incorrectly. After all, this was Simon, who was a terra indigene Wolf.

But if he’d been human, she would have said he was jealous.

Simon paused outside the Business Association’s meeting room and took stock.

Hands? Human. Ears? Human shaped and not furry. Teeth? He growled, “Close enough,” and walked into the room.

He’d expected Vlad and Henry to sit in on this meeting even though it didn’t have anything to do with the Lakeside Courtyard. But Tess’s being there, with her hair red and curling, was an unwelcome surprise.

<Why are you here?> he asked her.

<There is something the police need to know,> she replied.

Steve Ferryman was there, of course. He might know things Meg wanted to learn, but he would never be as thorough about cleaning the salt and butter off her hands after movie night.

Picturing Ferryman licking Meg’s hands surprised a growl out of Simon. That made everyone else sit up—except Ferryman, who made an effort to look smaller.

<Simon?> Henry asked. Or warned.

Simon blew out a breath and turned toward the other humans in the room. Sitting between Captain Burke and Lieutenant Montgomery was a male he didn’t know.

Roger Czerneda was medium height with blond hair and blue eyes. Nothing challenging or aggressive in his demeanor, which would lessen friction when he had to deal with the Others on Great Island. And still healing from the wound he’d received in Jerzy. If the pack was hunting and Roger was in a crowd of humans, they would try to separate him from the rest because he’d be vulnerable and easier to bring down.

An invited guest is not edible, Simon reminded himself as he took a seat. The look Henry gave him had him running his tongue over his teeth to confirm they were still close enough to human.

“We appreciate your hosting this meeting,” Captain Burke said, addressing the remark to Simon but managing to include the other three terra indigene in the room. “And we appreciate Mr. Ferryman driving down to Lakeside to meet Roger.”

“I’m glad to have an opportunity to visit the Lakeside Courtyard,” Steve Ferryman said. “And Officer Czerneda should know some things about Ferryman’s Landing before he makes a decision.” No longer needing to show the Courtyard leader he wasn’t issuing a challenge, he leaned back in his chair and crossed his legs at the ankles. “The way things work on Great Island isn’t unique in Thaisia, but it’s one of the most visible communities where terra indigene, Simple Life folks, and Intuits divide tasks between the groups so that all the parts make up the whole. Nobody has a lot in terms of wealth and material goods, but everyone has enough.”

Since the outcome didn’t affect the Courtyard one way or the other, Simon didn’t pay much attention to the “blah, blah, blah” about how the different groups worked together. Ferryman’s Landing wasn’t the only “human” village that belonged to the terra indigene. There were a couple of Intuit and Simple Life communities in the Addirondak Mountains, where products of interest to the Others were made in exchange for the use of land and natural resources. Not that different from other human towns and cities—except Courtyards were surrounded by a city and the humans who lived there, whereas small human settlements were surrounded by the wild country and the terra indigene who lived there. That meant the Intuits didn’t forget that their survival was, always, dependent on what the Others considered a fair exchange.

And the Others in the wild country didn’t forget that humans weren’t terra indigene and get tangled up in a friendship with one and start caring.

<You might want to pay attention now,> Vlad said. <It sounds like they’re finishing up.>

<What did I miss?>

<Roger is going to be the official police officer for Ferryman’s Landing. Burke is going to help Steve Ferryman acquire an official patrol car since the village doesn’t have one. Flash Foxgard is going to be Roger’s partner while he’s becoming familiar with the island and both sides of the village.>

<Will anyone tell him to look the other way if a farmer reports some eggs missing from a henhouse?>

<I’m sure the Foxgard can account for any and all eggs.>

“Well,” Burke said, shifting in his chair. “I think that concludes—”

“No,” Tess said. “There’s something you all need to know.” She looked at Vlad. “Unless you want to tell them?”

“Tell them what?” Vlad sounded puzzled.

As he listened to Tess’s account of the men who were watching Merri Lee, Simon studied Burke and Montgomery. Anger and concern, respectively. The Wolf-lover remark wasn’t a surprise to Burke. The question was which group—police or terra indigene—was going to curb the trouble before it turned into a full fight. Seeing the look in Vlad’s eyes when Tess mentioned the “bitch in a jar” remark, he didn’t think the police would have much time to act once Erebus Sanguinati decided how his people would respond.

“I’ll have a word with the patrol captain in the university district,” Burke said.

“It’s not just Lakeside,” Ferryman said. “We’ve heard rumblings about trouble brewing in Talulah Falls. A couple of demonstrations near the Courtyard there, some speeches at the colleges.” He paused, then added, “And we had an incident a few nights ago. It’s a big reason why we decided to adjust the village budget to hire an official police officer.”

“What happened?” Roger asked, looking pale.

“A boat landed on the north end of the island, where most of the Simple Life folks have their farms. Someone tried to set fire to a barn.”

“Tried?” Simon said.

“We had a sudden downpour that lasted a couple of hours. The rain put out the fire before the farmer could report it. About the same time the rain started, a heavy fog covered the river. You couldn’t have seen your own hand out on the water.”

Ah, Simon thought. Water must have been riding Fog that night. Not even the rest of the terra indigene knew how the Elementals divided the world into territories or even how many of them there were. But he was fairly certain that the Elementals who touched Great Island and Talulah Falls were the ladies who lived in the Lakeside Courtyard.

“Did the police have any luck finding the person responsible?” Burke asked.

Ferryman gave the captain an odd smile. “Thick fog and a fast river leading right to the falls. The morning after the fire, a broken boat and two bodies were pulled from the river.”

“Were the bodies drained of blood?” Vlad asked. “I know the Sanguinati who live on the island have been interested in the shore for the past few days. Such interest usually means an incursion of humans who might cause trouble for the island’s residents.”

Ferryman shrugged. “Those men went over the falls. If they were dead when they went over, the Sanguinati did them a favor.”

“Anything else?” Simon asked. When his only answer was several headshakes, he stood.

“Come up to the village whenever you’re ready and we’ll get you settled in,” Ferryman told Roger.

“Mr. Wolfgard,” Montgomery said. “If I could have a minute?”

“A minute,” Simon agreed.

“I’ll wait outside,” Ferryman said.

“Why don’t I give our guests a quick tour of the Market Square?” Vlad said.

When everyone else left the room, Simon studied Montgomery. Not sick, but the dark skin didn’t look as healthy as usual.

“Something wrong with you?” Simon asked.

Montgomery smiled. “Too many sleepless nights lately.”

A Wolf would curl up and take a nap, but humans were rarely as sensible.

“I understand a few of your human employees have left recently,” Montgomery said.

“Most, actually. Why?”

“Officer MacDonald’s cousin is looking for work. She has secretarial and business skills that might be useful to Dr. Lorenzo, if he hasn’t already hired someone for the office here.”

“Why would she want to work in the Courtyard?”

Montgomery looked uncomfortable. “Theral got out of an abusive relationship a few months ago. She’s had two jobs since then and was fired from both of them because her ex-partner showed up at her place of work, making threats and causing trouble. She moved back to Lakeside because she has family here. When Officer MacDonald mentioned that Theral was looking for work, I offered to broach the subject with you, in case you were looking for new employees. If you’re interested, she can call and make an appointment for an interview.”

Simon scratched behind one ear to give himself a moment to figure out what Montgomery was really trying to tell him. “You think this man will follow her to Lakeside and cause trouble?”

“I hope not.”

“But you want us to eat him if he does show up?”

“No, no, nothing like that.”

Despite the words, Simon didn’t think Montgomery would be too upset if he had to fill out a DLU form for this male who threatened a member of MacDonald’s family. “I’ll talk to the other members of the Business Association.”

“Thank you.”

He walked out with Montgomery and wished that Ferryman, who was standing near the back of the Liaison’s Office, would make some lame excuse about needing to get home and not having time to meet Meg.

They didn’t speak until the police drove away, Henry went back to his studio, and Vlad and Tess went back to their stores. Then Ferryman studied him for a moment. “When you walked into the meeting, I had a feeling that you really didn’t want me in your Courtyard. But it’s not the whole Courtyard, is it? It’s this office.”

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