Murder of Crows Page 28

“I imagine he would be.” Debany was one of the officers who’d found Asia Crane. “Where is he now?”

“At the efficiency apartments. He didn’t want Ms. Lee to be alone last night. But he’ll be in for his shift.”

Monty studied his partner. “Is Ruthie all right?”

Kowalski gave him a strained smile. “The president of the school where she teaches suggested that she take an unpaid leave of absence.”

“Why? Because the rest of the faculty don’t want to be around someone who is a ‘Wolf lover’?”

“Something like that. There’s only a few weeks left in the school year. Ruthie wants to stick it out if she can. And, frankly, it’s going to be hard to afford our new place without both incomes.” Kowalski tipped his head toward the captain’s office. “Not a good day to keep him waiting.”

As soon as Monty walked into the captain’s office, Burke said, “Close the door and have a seat, Lieutenant. Your meeting still on with the Courtyard’s Business Association?”

“Yes, sir. In about thirty minutes.”

“Then I’ll be brief. You’ve heard about the university?”

“And about losing communication with Talulah Falls.”

“Nothing we can do about the Falls, so let’s do what we can to help Captain Wheatley contain the situation at the university.”

“Yes, sir.” What were they supposed to do? Stop our own people from escalating the troubles; that’s what we’re supposed to do.

Burke pushed a piece of paper across the desk.

Monty picked it up and read, “ ‘The next time you touch what is ours, this will happen to all of you.’ ” He felt dizzy. “What is this?”

“That message was found with one of the bodies, written in a notebook the boy must have been carrying. I think the message is clear enough.”

“Simon Wolfgard wouldn’t allow that.” At least Monty hoped Wolfgard wouldn’t agree to senseless slaughter.

“Remember when this strange illness appeared a few weeks ago, around the time when Darrell Adams died? We suspected then that there is something in the Courtyard that can kill with a look. If that creature now wants to wipe out the entire student body of Lakeside University, I don’t think Simon Wolfgard is going to get in its way.” Burke’s smile was fierce and friendly—and held a little pity. “You’re a bit innocent, aren’t you, Lieutenant?”

“Sir?”

“You were born and raised in Toland?”

“Yes. My father’s family immigrated to Thaisia from Afrikah a few generations ago and settled in Toland. Most of my mother’s family still live in the Storm Islands.”

“But you never had any real contact with the Others until now?”

Monty shook his head. “I didn’t even know that Sanguinati was the name for vampires or that they ruled the Courtyard in Toland until I came here.”

“And that’s why you’re an innocent. The Sanguinati have ruled the Toland Courtyard for two hundred years or more.” Burke blew out a breath. “Gods above and below, how many other officers in the Big City don’t know something that basic?”

Stung, Monty wanted to push back, but he tried to keep his voice courteous. “We were charged with keeping the peace among our own kind. Most police officers never came in contact with the terra indigene. It’s not that different here. This station and its personnel are the only ones who have to deal with the Others on a regular basis. It’s not like there’s any status in dealing with the fanged and furred.”

“The fanged and furred?” Burke linked his fingers together and rested his hands on his belly. “That’s quite an outburst coming from you. Why do I think this lapse has nothing to do with Talulah Falls or the students at the university?”

“I have to get to my meeting.” Monty didn’t want to admit that it was the call he’d received from Elayne last night that was behind the outburst. Her speech had been slurred, which made him suspect she’d been drinking steadily for a few hours before the call, and he should have hung up since there was no likelihood of him talking to Lizzy at that hour. But he’d listened to her rave about her new lover and how Nicholas Scratch was going to make things happen and how much she was looking forward to spending the summer with him at his family’s estate in Cel-Romano.

Suddenly he realized he’d been thinking out loud.

“Have you found out anything about Mr. Scratch or his current plans while he’s in Thaisia?” Burke asked.

Monty shook his head. “I’d be accused of being a jealous ex-lover if Elayne found out I was investigating Scratch in any way, and it’s already hard getting any information out of her about my daughter’s well-being.”

“I’m not an ex-lover, and considering his line of work and the current tension in the cities around the Great Lakes, I have a very good reason for wanting to know more about Nicholas Scratch and his speaking engagements—especially if he’s planning to visit the area anytime soon. And if I choose to share that information with some of my officers, that’s just police business.”

Monty felt sick with relief. He’d take whatever help he could get to keep tabs on his little girl.

But thinking about Lizzy made him think of something else. “Captain? Why isn’t anyone trying to help the people in Talulah Falls?”

Burke gave him a long look. “Say the governor of the Northeast Region orders every city, town, and village to send a percentage of its police force to the Falls to extricate the citizens who are trapped there. And we’re assuming some of them are still alive. How would that armed force reach the Falls?”

“They could go by train,” Monty replied, having the odd feeling that he was about to prove his innocence once again. “Or pack men and supplies into buses and …” He understood so many things at that moment. Why the human-controlled cities in Thaisia were so far apart. Why the police in each city were the only armed force, hired and trained to maintain order within the human population—and stop people from provoking the Others into a slaughter.

“All roads travel through the woods,” Burke said gently. “The moment the terra indigene spotted an armed force on the move, they would do what they have always done here in Thaisia—and everywhere else in the world, for that matter. They would crush the enemy, Lieutenant. They would smash the roads, tear up the train tracks, leave no survivors. And after that, what odds would you give that the Others would allow the roads and tracks to be repaired?”

“No odds,” Monty said, feeling a shiver run through him. “But it would inconvenience them too.”

“Not nearly as much as it would inconvenience us, because it’s a good bet they’ve built roads that aren’t accessible to us.” Burke sighed. “Hopefully the government in the Falls is doing its best to negotiate for the town’s continued existence and a ‘citizen swap.’ ”

“A what?”

“I was a boy the last time it happened, and I don’t even remember which part of the continent was involved. But there was a blowup between humans and Others that was escalating toward humans being exterminated in that part of Thaisia. The Others didn’t want the town to go away completely, but they weren’t going to deal with the humans living there. So a few towns arranged a swap—some of their people moved to the town under siege, and the existing citizens were relocated. Fresh start for everyone. If my father had been younger and single at that time, I think he would have gone for the adventure of it. But everything was too unsettled between us and the Others, and my mother didn’t want to risk her children in such a place.”

“Do you think that will happen in the Falls?”

“I don’t know. What I do know is the farmers in Jerzy talked to the terra indigene and are being allowed to return to their farms. They hadn’t been part of that fight, so when they asked to stay they were given permission. None of the people living in the hamlet itself were allowed to stay. The last of them were escorted out a few days ago.” Burke picked up a folder and set it in the middle of his desk. “You’re going to be late for your meeting, Lieutenant.”

“Yes, sir.” Monty pushed out of the chair. When he reached the door, he looked back. “Do you think the Others are afraid of some of their kind?”

Burke opened the folder and didn’t look up. “I think some of them are afraid sometimes. And some of them aren’t afraid of anything except the end of the world itself—and maybe not even that.”

“I’m going with you,” Meg said. She tossed her carry bag into the back of the BOW and hoped Simon didn’t see her wince. Why would moving her arm pull at the cut on her torso? She didn’t remember having so many movement restrictions when she lived in the compound. On the other hand, the girls didn’t do anything the day after a cut except sit quietly at their lessons.

“I know,” Simon replied, giving her a wary look. “I’m driving you up to the Market Square because you wanted to meet the female who is going to work for Dr. Lorenzo. And you wanted to look at the books that came in for the library since you still need to rest for the next few days.”

“Yes, I want to meet Theral MacDonald and look at the books, but I also want to find out how Merri Lee is doing. She was beat up, which is something none of you thought to tell me.”

She saw something change in his face and identified the look. If she kept pushing, the dominant male would need to assert his dominance.

“I was going to tell you,” he growled. “You didn’t need to know yesterday, so who told you?”

“Well, maybe you were right not to tell me yesterday.” She saw no reason to admit that Jenni Crowgard had told her a few minutes ago when Simon had gone to the garage to get the BOW and bring it around. As if a cut on her torso stopped her legs from working properly. On the other hand, it was foolish to slap at someone who was trying to be thoughtful, especially when being thoughtful toward a human was a new behavior. “But that’s not what I meant. I’m going with you to this big meeting you’re all having with Lieutenant Montgomery and Dr. Lorenzo.” Which was something Jenni had also mentioned, along with the grumble that the Crows weren’t invited.

Simon’s canines lengthened, his amber eyes held those weird flickers of red that indicated he was angry, and fur sprang up on his cheeks.

“That meeting has something to do with what happened to both of us yesterday, doesn’t it?” Meg pushed with disregard for the consequences. “It has to do with the things I saw in the prophecy, and what happened to you afterward. So I should be there too.”

He stared at her while the fur receded from his cheeks. If you didn’t count the red flickering in his eyes and the canines, which were still too long, he could pass for human. But she didn’t think he was feeling very human, especially when he came around to her side of the vehicle and pinned her between his body and the BOW without actually touching her.

“Give me the razor,” he growled.

They’d had this argument before. “It’s mine.”

“Maybe you should be at that meeting. But I am not having you there with a razor in your pocket. Not on a day when you’re having a bout of female crazies.”

At that moment, she wished she was as strong as some of the women in stories she’d read recently. She would really like to pick up the BOW and smack him on the head with it.

Female crazies! How dare he!

“I’m not the one who was howling his head off this morning!” she snapped. “And what were you dreaming about that you chewed on my pillow?”

He leaned forward just enough that his body brushed against hers.

“I dreamed I was biting you.”

Okay, it had been a while since he’d threatened to eat her or even bite her. But this didn’t sound the same as when he used to say it. It sounded darker, riper.

She swallowed—and his eyes followed the movement of her throat. Could he see her pulse beating, hear her heart pounding?

“We’re going to be late,” she whispered.

He took a step back and held out his hand. She didn’t argue; she pulled the silver folding razor out of her jeans pocket and handed it to him. He shoved it into his own pocket, then walked around to the driver’s side and got in.

Shaking, Meg slipped into the passenger seat and closed her door. If the rest of the Others were as stirred up as Simon, maybe she didn’t want to go to this meeting after all.

Monty wasn’t pleased to see Meg Corbyn walk into the meeting room with Simon. He didn’t think Dominic Lorenzo was pleased either. They’d both hoped the Others would have a little time to think about Lorenzo’s ideas before seeing their Human Liaison.

Henry Beargard and Tess pointed to a couple of chairs around the low table, then took their own seats. Elliot and Blair Wolfgard were also in the room, but they stood against the wall. Observers rather than participants?

“This might not be …” Monty began.

Simon snarled at him. “We’re all looking for answers. Meg is part of this, and she wants to be here.” He turned to Henry. “Where is Vlad?”

“On his way,” the Grizzly replied. “He said to wait for them.”

Simon froze for a moment, then sat next to Meg, who was between him and Tess.

Before anyone had a chance to feel restless, Vladimir Sanguinati walked into the room with a beautiful woman dressed in a long, old-fashioned, black velvet gown with draping sleeves. Like Vlad, she had olive skin, black hair, and dark eyes. Monty felt a tug of attraction and wondered how many men who responded to that tug survived.

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