Murder of Crows Page 26

“Simon hasn’t been in meetings all day.” And even if he had been, why hadn’t he stopped by to check on her or call? Sam, who was still a puppy, had called, mostly to whine a little about having to stay at the Wolfgard Complex tonight even though they all knew he enjoyed playing with the other pups and had been sleeping with the other Wolves on the weekdays.

Meg studied the Coyote. “Would you tell me? If there was something wrong, would you tell me?”

Jester sighed. “Yes, Meg. If something was wrong with Simon, I would tell you.”

Simon didn’t like feeling scared. He didn’t like feeling sick or shaky. And he wanted this craving that made him feel distracted and hollow to go away.

Because he knew what would fill up the hollowness.

And he wished Lieutenant Crispin James Montgomery hadn’t been so helpful over the past few months, hadn’t shown concern for things that mattered to the terra indigene. Hadn’t become something more than a not-edible human.

If Montgomery had kept his distance, Simon wouldn’t feel some obligation to share information.

But they were gathered in the Business Association’s meeting room on the second floor of Howling Good Reads because there were decisions to be made—and not all of those decisions were about the Others. Even so, he didn’t think Montgomery found it comfortable to be the only human in a room with him, Vlad, Henry, Blair, Elliot, and Tess.

Henry, Blair, and Vlad had locked down the Courtyard after they realized something unexplained had happened to him. Henry had summoned Dr. Lorenzo and escorted the doctor to the Green Complex to tend to Meg. Vlad had called Heather and Lorne to tell them the stores would be closed, but they both chose to come to work. Elizabeth Bennefeld wasn’t scheduled to work in the Market Square office that day, but she called to see if anyone needed her skills as a massage therapist. Merri Lee …

“I appreciate you letting Ms. Lee stay in the efficiency apartment for the time being,” Montgomery said.

Always quiet, always courteous. No challenges or dominance games.

“We set aside one of those apartments for our female employees,” Simon said. “No reason for her not to use it.”

Of course, the Others had given their employees access to the apartments as a temporary place to stay during bad weather. But Tess and Vlad had seen the young woman when Officer Debany brought her from the emergency room, and they agreed that until the unrest was dealt with one way or another, Merri Lee was too vulnerable staying in her apartment near the university. And, according to Debany, the two women Merri Lee shared the apartment with were relieved to see her go because they didn’t want to be targeted for living with a Wolf lover.

“This is what Captain Burke and I know about Talulah Falls,” Montgomery said.

Simon listened, a little surprised that the situation had escalated so fast. Then again, when Meg had been injured and the Lakeside Courtyard had been under attack, the Elementals and their steeds had retaliated with a storm that could have destroyed the city if humans like Montgomery, Kowalski, and Lorenzo hadn’t made an effort to help.

He was surprised, but the rest of the Others nodded, indicating they were already aware of the situation in the Falls, as well as the way Great Island was cut off for the time being but prepared to wait out the fog on the river. No troubles there between humans and terra indigene.

Maybe that was one reason why the tension in Talulah Falls had reached the breaking point so quickly. The Others in the Falls Courtyard had voiced some resentment lately about the way the human community on Great Island cooperated with the terra indigene. And the Lakeside Courtyard’s more recent success at receiving cooperation from at least some of the humans they dealt with just added to the resentment.

If humans weren’t going to live up to their part of the agreements that allowed their cities to exist in the first place, the terra indigene saw no reason for those cities to continue existing.

He agreed with the leaders of the Talulah Falls Courtyard that this assumption humans made that they were entitled to whatever they wanted had to be crushed quickly and completely, but Simon sincerely hoped the humans in Lakeside would continue to help him avoid making that same decision.

“Mr. Ferryman asked me to convey his thanks for the warning this morning,” Montgomery said, giving Simon a look that was clearly asking What is wrong with you? “But he also wasn’t sure how much had been told to him in confidence and indicated that I should talk to you about it in case you thought any of it might be relevant to Lakeside.”

Simon unfolded the piece of paper and placed it on the low round table in the center of the ring of chairs. “You know about Meg being hurt this morning?” He waited for Montgomery’s nod. “I think some of the prophecy was lost. Maybe some of the visions weren’t written down in the right way. I was …” He shook his head. “This is what we told Ferryman.”

He watched Montgomery lean forward to read the list of what little he had written on the bathroom mirror.

Fin

Smiling shark

Falling water

Hide the children

Smoke and broken jars

Scars

Shaking basement

Falling jars

Shark

Hide the children

“I guess this explains the earthquakes,” Montgomery said softly. Then he frowned. “But … shark? Are there sharks in the Talulah River?”

“No,” Simon replied. “The Sharkgard don’t tend any of the freshwater lakes or rivers.”

“Maybe the words are a symbol to mean something else?”

Henry nodded. “At least where the shark is concerned. But falling water indicates Talulah Falls. That’s clear enough.”

Montgomery studied the words. “Hide the children. She said those words and ‘shark’ twice.”

“Maybe it means a predator that would threaten the children on Great Island,” Tess said. “But it could be referring to the Falls or to Lakeside. We think Meg was referring to herself with the scar reference.”

“No, I don’t think she was.” Montgomery removed a color photo from an envelope and set it gently on the table. “I think Ms. Corbyn may have been referring to this girl.”

Simon didn’t see anything remarkable about the girl, except … Were those evenly spaced scars on the left side of her face?

“The Falls police found the remains of four humans in the same basement where they found the Sanguinati who was killed,” Montgomery said. “One of the girls was a cassandra sangue.”

Simon felt his canines lengthen. “You’re not showing this to Meg.”

“If she knows this girl …” Montgomery began.

“Not today,” Henry said firmly when Simon and Blair snarled at the lieutenant. “Meg needs to stay quiet today. And there is something more Simon needs to tell you. We don’t know if the knowledge will help anyone in Talulah Falls at this point, but the trouble is too close to Lakeside now, so we agreed that the police need to know about this.”

Simon stared at the photo. A blood prophet like Meg, dead.

He was leader. He might be sick and scared today, but he was leader of the Lakeside Courtyard, and no matter what the police or other terra indigene thought, Meg was not going to be in a picture like that.

“Mr. Wolfgard?” Montgomery said.

So careful, like the man had been careful after the storm. Suspecting the truth about Simon’s excessive aggression when Meg had been hurt but smart enough not to ask outright about the cause.

“When I found Meg in the bathroom, bleeding so much, I … licked up some of the blood to clean the wound.” Simon swallowed, craving water. Craving something much richer than water. “I thought it would make me angry so I could help her, protect her.” He looked into Montgomery’s eyes. “Like it did before.”

Montgomery nodded his understanding. “But it didn’t make you angry?”

“No. Well, it did for a moment, but then it made me feel good—so good I couldn’t focus on helping Meg or … She wanted me to write down the words, and I tried. But all I wanted was to lie there and feel good.” He remembered the erection, his human form’s desire for sex and something more than sex. But he couldn’t remember doing anything but feeling good.

“Are you all right now?”

Something in Montgomery’s voice. Simon forced himself to concentrate.

“No. I’m … not right yet.”

“You’re describing an experience that matches a drug called feel-good, so it’s not surprising you reacted that way. It’s as addictive as an opiate.” Montgomery paused and looked at the Others. “It’s addictive, and there has been at least one reported death from an overdose. The person just stopped making an effort to survive.”

An uneasy silence. Then Henry said, “Simon has been in a passive haze for most of the day, unable to fend for himself or defend himself.”

“I see.” Montgomery took a careful breath before asking, “Are you certain you didn’t ingest anything else. Are you sure?”

“I’m sure the drug you’ve been calling gone over wolf comes from the blood of the cassandra sangue,” Simon said. “And I’m sure this feel-good also comes from the prophet’s blood.”

Addictive? Would this hollowness and craving go away? Or would he turn on Meg and bite her for another taste? And how could two things so different in effect come from the same source? Because his reaction to Meg’s blood had changed almost between one lick and the next. How? Why?

Montgomery sat back. “I’d like to discuss this information with Dr. Lorenzo in strictest confidence.”

“If anyone finds out …” Simon warned.

“I understand the danger, Mr. Wolfgard. I do. I also know Dr. Lorenzo is scheduled to check on Ms. Corbyn tomorrow morning. I’d like to meet with all of you then.”

“Not Meg.” Simon felt everyone stare at him. He picked up the paper that held the words of the prophecy, and he picked up the photo of the other blood prophet.

Was this Jean, the friend Meg often mentioned? The friend who had defied the people controlling the girls by insisting she had a name and not just a designation?

“We will listen to what you and Dr. Lorenzo have to say about these drugs, and then I’ll talk to Meg.”

“Very well.” Montgomery stood. “Unless there is something else, I need to get back to the station.”

“There’s nothing,” Simon said.

He waited until Montgomery went downstairs, then sprang to his feet. Or tried to. Still shaky, still …

He whined when he saw the fur on his hands, how the fingers were changing shape despite his effort to stop them from shifting.

“It’s all right. You stayed human until he left the room,” Vlad said, his voice rich with sympathy. “Simon, you need rest.”

He didn’t need rest. He needed Meg.

“I’m going home.” He handed the photo and paper to Vlad. “Hold on to these. Lock them up. I don’t want them at the Green Complex.”

“I’ll drive you home,” Blair said.

He didn’t argue. Clearly he needed to shift to Wolf, and he couldn’t count on keeping enough of a human shape for the drive home.

Vlad excused himself and went across the hall to HGR’s office. Elliot said he needed to check in at the consulate. No doubt the mayor had left several more messages, determined to keep the lines of communication open and avoid having his city share the fate of Talulah Falls.

Simon followed Blair to the door. Hearing a startled grunt, he looked back—and wondered what Tess wanted with Henry.

Tess’s true face showed through just enough that she no longer could pass for human. And her hair—black with a few streaks of red when a moment ago it had been red-streaked green—coiled and writhed in a way that made Henry think it was reaching for him, waiting for the opportunity to wrap around his throat and squeeze.

“I mean you no harm, Beargard.” Even her voice was rougher, more savage. “But I’m not the only one having trouble with control today.”

Henry nodded. “Simon.”

“You.” She pointed at his hand.

He felt a jolt of surprise. Grizzly claws at the ends of stubby human fingers. When had he shifted?

“Meg brought some trouble with her, but she has also brought good,” he said. “She has been good for us.”

“I agree. We protected her from the humans who would harm her. Now we need to do the same for the human pack.”

He didn’t know of any other Courtyard in the whole of Thaisia who had a human pack. They were considered part of the Courtyard now and entitled to the same protection as the terra indigene living there.

But Merri Lee wasn’t Meg. Meg had run away from captors and didn’t have any ties to the human world beyond what she was building now. Merri Lee had friends and family. Didn’t she?

He suddenly realized how little he knew about the humans who worked for them.

“What are you suggesting?” he asked.

“We go to the place where she lived,” Tess replied. “Pack up her things. I don’t think Merri Lee has many possessions, so she values what she has.”

Something the girl had in common with the terra indigene. Something everyone in the human pack had in common? He would think about that on another day. “What about her schooling?”

“One thing at a time.” Tess’s hair stopped writhing.

“Blair can drive one of our vans. I will drive the other.”

“One of the police officers should go with us to avoid misunderstandings.”

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