Murder of Crows Page 24

“Write,” he growled. He should be angry. Why wasn’t he angry? Wasn’t sick, but wasn’t well either.

Fear surged through him, clearing his head for a moment.

A basket on the counter full of little brushes and pots of color. Female toys. He grabbed a pencil and wrote the words that poured out of her now.

Something wrong with him. Something very wrong. But he wrote the words until her voice stopped. Then he dropped the pencil and slid to the floor.

“Meg?” He licked at the blood still flowing from her wound and whined. “Meg?”

Her eyes were glazed. When she tried to raise her hand and touch him, she couldn’t do it.

“Your ears are furry,” she said.

They needed help. He … needed … help.

<Henry!>

<Simon? What’s wrong?>

<Sick. Meg … hurt. Hurry.>

Meg bleeding. Had to do something about Meg bleeding. Im … por … tant.

Simon stretched out on top of Meg, his face pressed into her sweet belly, where he could breathe in all those delicious scents.

Familiar scents and sounds, but nothing that said Meg to him.

Meg smelled good. Tasted even better.

“I think he’s finally coming around.” That voice belonged to Blair, the Courtyard’s primary enforcer.

Why did hearing Blair’s voice make him feel afraid?

“Simon?” That was Vlad, sounding angry. Why angry? Did Vlad also lick …?

“Meg!” Simon tried to move, to sit up, but his body seemed tangled and nothing worked quite right.

Until Vlad grabbed his arms and hauled him up enough so that all he could see was the fury in the Sanguinati’s dark eyes.

“What. Did. You. Do?” Vlad snarled.

Do? He … remembered.

“Meg was bleeding,” Simon said. His voice didn’t sound right. His jaw didn’t move the right way for human speech. What …?

Tess stepped into view next to Vlad. The hair that framed her face was black, black, black, but the rest was the red of anger. And all of it coiled and moved in a way that was mesmerizing—and terrifying.

“We know about Meg,” she said. “We’re asking about you.”

To avoid her eyes and Vlad’s, he looked at his surroundings. The living room in his apartment. How did he get there? Then he looked at his na**d body—and the jolt of what he saw cleared the rest of the fuzziness from his mind.

One leg was human, the other was a Wolf’s hind leg starting from midthigh all the way down to the foot. As he processed the scents in the room and realized how many Others were looking at him, his tail curled protectively over his human genitalia. Fur on most of his torso. Hands that weren’t quite hands. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know what his head and face looked like.

Between was a form that wasn’t Wolf and wasn’t human. Many of the terra indigene who lived in the wild country could take the rough shape of a human but could never pass for human, could never achieve a form that wasn’t somewhat between. The Wolfman in horror stories. The Others who lived in a Courtyard made an effort not to take a between form around humans, but they all shifted pieces when they needed some aspect of their other form. Like ears that could hear better. Or claws and fangs. There was a symmetry to that kind of shifting, even when it was more instinct than deliberate choice. But this? This was a body out of control.

He looked up at Blair, who watched him with sympathy laced with anger.

Then Henry stepped up beside Blair. There wasn’t any sympathy in the Grizzly’s eyes, but there was plenty of anger.

Surrounded by Sanguinati, Wolf, Grizzly, and Tess.

Have to choose a form. He wanted to shift to full Wolf and curl up somewhere until he had time to think it through, sort it out. But he was the Courtyard’s leader, and the leader couldn’t hide.

It took effort to shift all the way to human, and that surprised him. It felt like he’d tumbled into something sticky, something that slowed his reflexes and hampered his ability to shift.

So hard not to show fear. Impossible not to feel fear.

He must have shifted sufficiently to human because Vlad released him and Tess tossed a blanket in his lap.

“Where is Meg?” Simon asked. He needed water. He wanted food. More than either of those things, he wanted answers.

“Meg is staying at my place,” Henry said. “She’s been there since this morning. Nathan, Jester, and Jake are with her now, watching movies.”

“This morning?” He couldn’t see the windows—too many bodies in his way—but the light wasn’t much different from when he’d broken Meg’s kitchen door.

“Sun’s down,” Henry said. “I found you and Meg in her bathroom this morning. Do you remember that?”

“Don’t remember you coming in, but I asked you …” Simon struggled to remember. “Meg, bleeding. Long cut. Too deep. Too much blood. Words. Had to write the words.”

“When Henry found you, he called Blair and me,” Vlad said. “We hauled you out of the bathroom so Henry could deal with Meg.” He bent over so his eyes were on a level with Simon’s. “You were awake. For hours you were awake, but you didn’t care. About anything. We could have cut off your hands and feet, and you wouldn’t have done a thing to stop us. Couldn’t have done a thing to stop us. We could have carved you into pieces or cut you until you bled out, and you would have done nothing but watch us. The drug that laced the food the humans had used as bait for the Crows got into the Courtyard, got into you. We need to know how that happened.”

He kept his eyes on Vlad’s. “It’s not Meg’s fault. I thought it would make me angry, like the last time. I thought it would make me stronger so I could help her.”

Vlad studied him. “What isn’t Meg’s fault?”

“The Sanguinati don’t drink the sweet blood of the cassandra sangue. Not because of the prophecies that swim in their blood. Erebus was wrong about that. It’s because the blood prophets are Namid’s creation, both wondrous and terrible.”

Vlad straightened up and took a step back. “What are you talking about?”

“The drug. It’s the blood of the cassandra sangue.”

“Which drug?” Henry asked. “There are two of them affecting terra indigene and humans.”

Simon swallowed. He really wanted some water. “Both of them.”

Turning into the Bird Park Plaza’s lot, Captain Burke glanced at Monty. “You hear anything more from Dr. Lorenzo about Meg Corbyn’s condition?”

“No, sir. Nothing since this morning.” Monty had already reported his conversation with Dominic Lorenzo. Meg Corbyn had an atypical cut—too long and too deep—but there was no indication it wasn’t self-inflicted. After closing up the wound, Lorenzo’s recommendation had been rest and plenty of iron-rich foods to help replenish the blood that Meg had lost. “He’s planning to look in on Ms. Corbyn tomorrow morning after his shift at the hospital.”

Burke made a sound between a grunt and a growl as he pulled into a parking space. “Then let’s take care of this problem.”

Monty got out of the black sedan, relieved that the drive to the plaza from the Chestnut Street station was a short one. Burke was a big man, and being stuck with him in a small space when his blue eyes were lit with controlled fury wasn’t pleasant.

Of course, there was good reason for Burke’s fury. As information trickled in from Talulah Falls, the Lakeside government and police force began to realize they were looking at a situation that could sweep away more than one human town if everyone wasn’t very, very careful.

The town of Talulah Falls was the powder keg. It was no longer a question of if the humans would lose another piece of Thaisia; it was a question of how much they were going to lose.

The residents and tourists trapped in the Falls could be just the beginning of what was lost.

And that was the reason Captain Douglas Burke and Lieutenant Crispin James Montgomery were standing in the plaza’s parking lot at sundown, waiting as patrol car after patrol car found a parking spot and the officers got out to meet them.

Burke must have summoned every officer under his command, Monty thought. Then he spotted Louis Gresh and wondered if the commander of the bomb squad had been summoned or if Gresh understood something about Burke’s meeting with the station’s chief that afternoon and decided to bring his squad to this gathering.

“Gentlemen …” Burke began when the men gathered around him.

Just then Michael Debany’s mobile phone rang.

“Beg your pardon, Captain,” Debany said. Instead of turning off the phone, he moved away and spoke to someone for a couple of minutes. When he returned to his original spot next to his partner, Lawrence MacDonald, he was sheet white.

“Debany?” Monty asked.

“That was Ms. Lee, who works at A Little Bite.”

Monty nodded. He didn’t need that clarification, but some of the other men might. “And?”

“She’s been attacked. University students. She made it back to her apartment, but she doesn’t feel safe there.”

“You know where she lives?” Burke asked. When Debany said he did, Burke pointed at MacDonald. “Go with him. Pick her up. Get her to the emergency room. Use Lakeside Hospital, where Dr. Lorenzo works, unless the situation is too critical for that much delay. Go.”

Debany and MacDonald ran for their vehicle.

“The rest of you.” Burke looked even fiercer than he had a moment ago. He swept a hand to indicate the whole plaza. “I want the owner or manager of every one of these stores brought to Hot Crust in five minutes. Anyone gives you any lip, arrest him and take him down to the station.”

Monty blinked. “On what charge, sir?”

“On the charge of being a pain in my ass,” Burke growled. “And right now, that is good enough for an overnight stay in our facility.”

Gods above and below, Monty thought. He means that.

No one questioned the order. The men simply headed for the stores.

“Mind if I tag along?” Gresh asked, approaching Monty and Burke.

“No, I don’t mind,” Burke replied. “Give me a minute.” He pulled out his mobile phone and took a few steps away from them.

“Attacks on humans employed by the Courtyard aren’t good,” Gresh said quietly, his eyes scanning the people who saw all the patrol cars and hesitated. Some returned to their cars and left the plaza. Most went about their business, ignoring the evidence that something was happening.

“People are scared and they’re angry. They don’t always think rationally under those conditions,” Monty countered. He didn’t disagree with Louis. Harassment and attacks weren’t good at any time. Now it was like pulling down your pants and mooning beings that already wanted you dead. Not to mention breaking the human laws dealing with assault.

“I don’t know how it was when you worked on the force in Toland, but around here, the watercooler and coffeemaker are great spots to overhear a whole lot of things. And the latest gossip is that the captain now has a connection to the police department on Great Island.” Gresh gave Monty an inquiring look.

Monty glanced at Burke, who was still on the phone. Then he nodded. The captain hadn’t said the conversation with Roger Czerneda was to be kept confidential. And most of what had been relayed could be heard on the news or seen by anyone brainless enough to drive to the island right now. “There’s fog on the river so thick you can’t see your own hand. But a channel of water stayed clear long enough for ferry and barge to cross for a hurried supply run and get back to the island side of Ferryman’s Landing. Now the island is completely closed in.” He hesitated, then added, “And it appears that there is something in that fog that is hunting anyone desperate enough or suicidal enough to try to get out of Talulah Falls by boat.”

“Sanguinati?”

“Maybe. Short of falling over them, no one is going to find any bodies until the fog lifts.” Not quite a lie, but part of the report had been confidential—the part about the Sanguinati telling Steve Ferryman and Officer Czerneda that they had yielded the river to another kind of hunter, one that didn’t live on the island but must have been drawn to Talulah Falls by the glut of prey.

What was out there that could scare vampires?

“Nothing fancy about the explosives in the trash cans,” Louis said after a moment. “Whoever set the charges didn’t have any regard for human life. The bastards just wanted to kill some Crows … and maybe start a war.” A glance at Burke, who seemed to be finishing up the call. “You think that’s where we’re headed? War?”

Maybe, Monty thought. “I hope not.”

Burke joined them just as police officers began leading the first group of store managers toward Hot Crust.

“Mark Wheatley is the patrol captain for the university station,” Burke said. “Until Debany and MacDonald arrive, he’ll have men standing watch at Ms. Lee’s apartment to prevent any further problems. Now, let’s get this done.”

He started toward the pizza place, then stopped when a young man with several insulated bags came out and hustled toward a car with a HOT CRUST DELIVERS! sign secured to the roof.

“You!” Burke snapped. “Turn around and go back inside.”

“But—”

“Son, if you get in that car, the penalty to you is a five-hundred-dollar fine and five days in jail. And your boss knows it.”

The deliveryman, who looked barely old enough to drive, stared at Burke, then hurried back to Hot Crust.

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