Murder of Crows Page 27

Henry nodded. “I will talk to Officer Debany and Merri Lee while you call Blair and arrange for the vans.”

When Tess stood, he raised a hand to stop her but didn’t touch her.

“You know what I am,” she said, turning her face away from him.

“I grew up in the West, near the border of the High North. I never connected you with the stories I heard until I saw the way that Asia Crane died. Then I guessed.”

“And said nothing.”

“You eliminated an enemy. What was there to say?” He hesitated. “But with talk of a predator on the river that even the Sanguinati were avoiding, I did wonder if there was another Harvester hunting around Talulah Falls.”

“Possible. There’s going to be a glut of prey there over the next few days. A lot of predators who live near Lakes Etu and Tahki are going to be drawn to the Falls.”

He suspected as much. At another time in his life, he would have been one of them.

He stood, towering over Tess as he towered over everyone in this Courtyard.

“Is that all we’re doing, Tess? Fetching Merri Lee’s possessions?”

Her hair began writhing again. “That’s all you’re doing.”

She walked out of the room, keeping her head down to prevent anyone from seeing her face, looking into her eyes.

Harvesters could take a little life energy or they could take it all. They were Namid’s most ferocious predator, Namid’s most effective weapon when the world needed a species decimated.

Ferocious and effective, yes. And, thankfully, a rare form of terra indigene. But perhaps the Harvesters weren’t Namid’s most dangerous weapon after all.

Shaking off such thoughts, Henry walked over to the efficiency apartments above the seamstress/tailor’s shop to talk to Merri Lee and make some arrangements with Michael Debany.

Simon knocked on Meg’s kitchen door. He knew she was home. He’d listened to Jake’s chatter and Jester’s yipping laugh to trace their progress from Henry’s apartment on the other side of the Green Complex to Meg’s front door.

She was home, but would she let him in?

The door opened. Meg studied him.

“I’m sorry I broke your door.” He wasn’t sorry, but it was the correct human thing to say.

She stepped back. “Come in.”

Trying not to appear too eager or reveal how relieved he felt to hear those words, he stepped into her kitchen.

“Would you like some pizza?” she asked. “I’m not sure how many people Lieutenant Montgomery thought were participating in movie night, but there are plenty of leftovers.”

“No. Thank you.” Just the scent of her was making him shaky with a need he didn’t know how to fulfill without doing something unforgivable.

“Are you going to tell me what’s wrong with you? Because there was something wrong with you this morning, Simon, and …” She began to knead her left arm. Probably trying to relieve a pins-and-needles feeling. “And you’re still not right.”

“I don’t want to talk about that tonight. Please?”

“Then what did you want?”

The words tumbled out, making him sound like a scared, whiny puppy, which was humiliating. “Can I stay with you tonight? Sam’s staying with Elliot, and I … It feels too lonely being by myself tonight.”

She looked wary. “You want to sleep with me?”

“Yes.”

Her hand moved in a vague gesture. “Like that?”

“No. As Wolf. I won’t shift to human. I promise.” He wasn’t sure he could keep that promise, but he knew if he didn’t it would be the last time she let him get close enough to cuddle.

He wasn’t sure what she saw in his face, in his eyes. It wasn’t the strong, dominant Wolf in charge of the Courtyard. He didn’t feel strong or dominant.

“All right.” She shook a finger at him. “But if you’re wearing fur, don’t growl about me hogging the covers.”

He lowered his eyes. “Okay.”

“Simon. I was teasing.”

He didn’t know how to respond to that, so he closed the kitchen door as much as it could close and followed her into the bedroom. While Meg was in the bathroom, he stripped out of the jeans, sweater, and thick socks he’d been wearing. He shifted, relieved to feel his body flow into its familiar shape. And then he stretched and rolled and did everything he could think of to confirm that all of him had shifted.

Finally satisfied—and out of time because the toilet flushed and Meg was running water in the sink and would be back soon—Simon leaped on the bed and made sure he wasn’t taking more than his half. He never meant to take more than his share. He was just bigger than her.

Meg got into bed and pulled up the covers, her arms outside the blankets.

“I’m supposed to sleep on my back because the cut is long,” she said. “How am I supposed to remember to sleep on my back once I’m sleeping? And I’m not supposed to get the cut wet for a day or two, so that means a sponge bath at best and not washing my hair. And I feel really crabby about those things, and I don’t know why.”

He didn’t know why either, but he whined in sympathy.

Sighing, Meg reached out and burrowed her fingers into his fur. “We sure didn’t do things right today, did we?”

He couldn’t disagree with that. Since there was nothing he could do about the mistakes he made this morning, he wasn’t going to think about how the missing pieces of Meg’s prophecy might have changed the fate of Talulah Falls.

He breathed in her scent—and felt the craving recede. Warmth and comfort and friendship. If he could just stop making mistakes where Meg was concerned, he would be able to keep those things.

He felt her body relax into sleep, her fingers still buried in his fur. Stretching his neck, he gave her cheek one gentle lick.

The taste of her soothed him, like it had when she had been in the hospital and he had been so angry.

He gave her cheek one more lick, then closed his eyes and fell asleep.

CHAPTER 17

Simon raced beneath a full moon, reveling in his speed and power as he closed the distance between himself and the most delicious-tasting, succulent meat he’d ever known. His soon. All his.

He chased her until she began to tire. The pumping legs, the pumping arms. They couldn’t give her enough speed to escape a Wolf.

He caught up to her, felt the rhythm of her moving limbs, closed his teeth over her elbow as it swung back—and pulled her down.

Intoxicating scent, that blood. And meat so very delicious because it was …

<Meg!>

Simon woke with a yelp and flung himself off the bed. Panicked and panting, he peered over the edge. The room held the faint gray of early morning, which was enough light for a Wolf. He couldn’t see Meg on the bed, but …

He started to shift. Remembering his promise to stay in Wolf form, he shoved his head under the covers and sniffed.

Blood.

Scrambling away from the bed, he howled, filling the sound with his unhappiness and fear.

<Simon?> A startled response from Vlad, whose apartment was two doors down. Tess and Henry had apartments on the other side of the complex, but they would be demanding answers soon.

He didn’t have answers. He had only the memory of his teeth …

Simon howled again—and Meg appeared in the doorway. She flipped on the overhead light, momentarily blinding both of them.

“Simon, what’s wrong?”

<Meg!> He leaped toward her, caught the scent of blood, and backed away, whining. The delicious smell of her was right, but the taste in his mouth was all wrong, confusing him.

“What is wrong with you?” She looked frazzled. “Are you hurt? Are you sick?”

That wasn’t fair! She’d made him promise not to shift, but now she was asking questions that he couldn’t answer because she couldn’t communicate in the terra indigene way.

He shook his head. It was the best he could do under the circumstances.

Meg sagged against the doorway for a moment. “Okay. Since you’re all right, I … have to flush the toilet and wash my hands. I thought something was wrong, and I didn’t finish things.”

She hurried back to the bathroom and shut the door more firmly than she needed to.

The front door of her apartment opened and slammed shut.

“Meg!” Vlad shouted.

Simon shifted, grabbed the jeans he’d left on the floor by the bed, and pulled them on before Vlad appeared in the bedroom doorway.

“What’s going on?” Vlad asked as he stepped into the room.

“I’m not sure.”

“Are you still sick?”

“No.” In fact, now that he was fully awake, he felt good. Confused, yes, but rested, energized.

Meg returned to the bedroom and stared at the two of them. “What is wrong with all of you this morning?”

“I smelled blood,” Simon said. “It was … upsetting.” He looked at her torso, just below the br**sts. Did the cut open up? If it opened up and bled again, would Meg need to speak prophecy? Or did she have a fresh cut? Was that the reason she was in the bathroom? “Is there something I should write down?”

“No,” Meg replied tightly. “It’s not a cut, so there aren’t any visions or prophecies with this kind of blood.”

He cocked his head. “There are different kinds of blood?”

Vlad, who was standing closer to her, looked at her face and took a step back. Simon wished he hadn’t put on the jeans so he could grow a tail and tuck it over his male bits.

“I’m a girl!” she shouted. “It happens!”

Simon glanced at Vlad, who looked equally puzzled.

“You’re both so quick to think it’s ‘that time of the month’ whenever a girl isn’t all sweet and sunny, but it doesn’t occur to you when it really is that time of the month?”

Probably best not to point out that she’d been living in the Courtyard for three months now and this was the first time she’d done this particular female thing. Maybe blood prophets came into season once a season? How were the Others supposed to know? The human female employees usually took those days off work to avoid being around predators who might become excited by the blood scent. So this was his first experience being around a female who was doing this and wasn’t terra indigene—and most kinds of terra indigene females only came into season once or twice a year.

“Meg,” Vlad finally said.

She gave Vlad a scalding look. “Since I’m not getting any more sleep, I’m going to put the kettle on and make some chamomile tea.”

For a short female whose weight was appropriate to her height, she could sound as stompy as a bison.

Vlad turned to look at him. “What’s going on?”

“I think Meg is in season.” That wasn’t what humans called it, but he was rattled and couldn’t remember the right word. “I was dreaming. I must have smelled the blood and …”

Vlad flipped the covers back. They looked at the brownish red smear on the bottom sheet. He flipped the covers up. “I don’t want Meg mad at me for poking into private things, so I didn’t see that.” He picked up one of the pillows and frowned. “Why is one corner of this pillow drooled on and chewed?”

That explained the taste in his mouth. Instead of answering, Simon retrieved his sweater and put it on. “You head off Henry and Tess. I’ll deal with Meg.” He paused in the doorway. “Human females. They’re kind of crazy during this time, aren’t they?”

“If you choose to believe the stories written by male writers,” Vlad replied.

They heard a bang and thump from the kitchen, followed by Meg yelling at something.

Simon sighed. “That many males can’t be wrong.”

“This morning’s top news stories. Late yesterday evening, radio and television stations in Talulah Falls stopped broadcasting. Sometime after midnight, phone lines went down. A spokesman for the Lakeside mayor’s office says every effort is being made to reestablish contact. Here at home, terror and tragedy struck last night at the Lakeside University when over two hundred students living on or near the campus contracted a mysterious illness. So far four deaths have been reported, and investigating officers and medical personnel are working to identify the illness and counter its effects. When asked if this was a new kind of plague, medical personnel refused to comment. However, all classes at the university are canceled until further notice. This is Ann Hergott at WZAS, bringing you the news on the hour and half hour. And now …”

The man sitting in front of Monty on the Whitetail Road bus turned off his portable radio and gave his fellow passengers a self-conscious smile. “Sorry. I was hoping the investigators had identified the cause of the illness.”

The investigating officers know enough about the illness not to ask what caused it, Monty thought, giving the man a distracted smile before turning to look out the window. They’ll remember the talk about people who came down with similar complaints a few weeks ago. They’ll look at the students who died and remember that a woman named Asia Crane had also died in a way that gave seasoned cops and medical examiners nightmares.

The cause of those illnesses and deaths lived in the Lakeside Courtyard—and there was nothing the police could do about it.

“Captain Burke is looking for you,” Kowalski said as soon as Monty reached his desk.

“Already? I came in early because Dr. Lorenzo and I have a meeting with Simon Wolfgard this morning.”

“Well, I think the captain has been here for a while.” Kowalski hesitated. “Debany heard the news on the radio and called me. He’s a bit freaked.”

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