Murder of Crows Page 33

What little color Jerry’s face had regained drained away again.

Meg looked at the papers. “The people-shaped ones have chamomile. They’re soothing.”

“Soothing?” A thread of something dark and menacing in Simon’s voice.

“Chamomile tea is soothing,” Meg said, looking at the rest of the information the bakery had sent. “I like to drink it in the evening.”

Simon studied her. “You do?”

“Yes.” She peeked in the containers. “Okay, the cow-shaped cookies have beef stock for flavoring. The bars have honey. Henry might like to try one of those. The … what is that?”

“Turkey,” Jerry and Simon said.

“That’s the poultry-flavored cookies. And the people-shaped are chamomile. The bakery is asking for feedback on taste and texture.” Meg went through the papers again, then looked at Jerry. “I don’t see an invoice.”

“These are the samples to see if we can produce what you were looking for,” Jerry said. “After that, you can talk to Mary and Claire about the size of the orders and price and such.” He looked at Simon. “And Steve will need to talk to you about how to increase the island’s allowance for the ingredients.”

“Let’s see how this goes, and then I’ll talk to him,” Simon said.

“No.” When they looked at her, Meg pointed at the front door. The three juveniles were back—and the crunching sound inside the office had stopped. “Can we have a rule that you can’t use howling as a form of coercion?”

Simon stared at the juveniles, who immediately looked more subdued. Then he turned to Meg. “If they’re annoying you, just bite them on the nose.”

Jerry coughed.

Meg sighed. “I don’t think that will work for me.” Pulling out her clipboard and pen, she wrote down the information for Sledgeman’s Freight and tucked the business card Jerry gave her under the clip.

“You have a minute?” Simon asked Jerry.

“Sure,” Jerry replied. He brushed his cap again. “It was a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Corbyn.”

“Thank you.” She looked at Simon. “Am I allowed to lift things yet?”

“No,” he said at the same time Nathan sprang to his feet.

She thought that would be the answer. “Then you bring the cookies into the sorting room.”

“Why?”

“So I can sort them.” If the containers weren’t in the room that was mostly off-limits to everyone else, the floor of the front room would be littered with cookies and Wolves in minutes. Not that she would say that to the dominant Wolf—especially with a human present.

He must have known why she wanted the containers brought in because he grumbled, “I want to try some of these.”

“I’ll make up sample packages. If we’re going to order fresh-made cookies, I need to know what flavors are preferred and how many Wolves want which kind.”

He stared at the containers. “How long can these last?”

Meg shrugged. “I think I saw something in the paperwork about being able to freeze them. They won’t last as long as the dog cookies I’d ordered from Pet Palace, but they should last a few days. Why?”

He whined softly. “There’s going to be a gathering here in a couple of days. I’d like to have some of these for that.”

A gathering that made Simon uneasy? But wouldn’t he have been the one to issue the invitations? “I’ll put aside enough for your meeting.”

Returning to the front room, he vaulted over the counter and walked out with Jerry Sledgeman.

“What kind of meeting is he having here?” she whispered to herself.

Her back was suddenly filled with that pins-and-needles feeling that indicated the answer could be found in prophecy. Gritting her teeth, she waited until the feeling faded. Then she called a couple of the Market Square stores to find the small containers she wanted.

Steve watched another busload of children head down to the dock.

Moments after he had that uneasy feeling, the grade school and high school principals and the owners of the two day-care centers on the mainland side of Ferryman’s Landing called because they, too, suddenly had a bad feeling. Then his aunt Lu called to say she was getting her boat ready for anything he needed. Then his parents called to tell him they were bringing the barge across ahead of its usual schedule. Then Roger Czerneda drove up in Great Island’s new official black-and-white patrol car with its flashing lights and sirens. The other vehicles they used for police business were ordinary cars with regular horns and bubble lights that could be stuck to the roofs. Funny thing. All but one of those cars were also on the mainland side of the river that morning.

Something’s coming, he thought, rubbing the back of his neck. Hide the children.

There wasn’t any debate about where to hide them. Everything he’d been told lately indicated that the island was the only place. And just to be sure, the ferry and barge weren’t giving passage to anyone who wasn’t a resident of the village.

If the attack was meant to happen at Ferryman’s Landing, it would have to hit the mainland half of the village. The Sanguinati were keeping watch on the north and east shorelines near the Simple Life farms. The Beargard were watching the western shoreline, while Ming Beargard guarded the docks. The Hawks and Eagles were in the air, watching the river and the roads leading into Ferryman’s Landing. The Crows had spread out through the mainland half of the village to watch cars and people, ready to sound an alarm if they spotted a stranger. The Foxgard and Coyotegard had spread out to maintain a perimeter watch around the island half of the village. Even the Owlgard was out there keeping watch.

They were all as prepared as they could be.

Steve raised a hand in greeting as Jerry Sledgeman pulled into a nearby parking space. Before Jerry got out of his van, Roger Czerneda turned on to Main Street and parked on the opposite side.

“Gods above and below, what’s going on?” Jerry said, gesturing toward the yellow buses on the barge.

“You see anything unusual in Lakeside?” Steve asked. With Talulah Falls still cut off, there weren’t many ways to reach their village except a few dirt roads through farmland, and those weren’t marked in a way a stranger could identify. If someone followed the road that ran along the shore of Lake Etu, that person would reach the city of Lakeside first. Why not stop there? A stranger could disappear more easily in a city.

Then again, the Lakeside police were aware of the potential for trouble, and a city police force had all the tools for checking license plates and drivers’ licenses that a little village like Ferryman’s Landing didn’t have. They probably even had a few of the deluxe patrol cars with cameras that could take a picture of a vehicle for identification. Balance that against one official police officer, newly hired, and a handful of part-time peacekeepers, and Ferryman’s Landing would look like an easier target.

“Simon Wolfgard asked me the same question about Great Island,” Jerry replied, looking around. “Of course, I didn’t know about this when he asked.”

“We’re moving the children to the island. Too many of us had a bad feeling just after you left.”

He hadn’t had time to do anything except answer questions, take phone calls, and help Will load extra supplies on the ferry. As soon as the last bus was on the barge, he’d call Wolfgard. From what he could tell, none of the Intuits had a feeling about any place beyond Great Island and their own village, but without the warning from Meg Corbyn’s prophecy, they wouldn’t have known why they were all feeling uneasy or what to do to protect their own. Seemed only fair to give the Others in Lakeside a heads-up.

“Why come to Ferryman’s Landing at all?” Jerry asked. “What’s here that isn’t easily found anywhere else in the Northeast?”

Steve thought about the question and said grimly, “We are.”

Meg didn’t know what to think when Blair Wolfgard, in human form, walked into the Liaison’s Office just after she returned from her midday break. He had a young Wolf with him, one of the youngsters who had responded to Nathan’s howl that morning.

The moment the youngster saw her, he lunged for the counter, miscalculated the leap, and got only his front half on the countertop, his back legs scratching at the wood base in an effort to haul himself up and over.

Blair grabbed him by the scruff and pulled him off the counter. “You already had a cookie. She’s not giving you another one.” Then to Meg, “This is Skippy. He arrived a couple of days ago from the Wolfgard in the Addirondak Mountains and will be living with the Wolfgard here now.”

As soon as Blair released him, Skippy immediately went to investigate the item that would be of most interest to a Wolf—the cushiony dog bed Meg had ordered from the Pet Palace when Nathan became the watch Wolf for the office. Skippy threw himself on the bed, rubbing and rolling. Claiming.

“You pee on that, I’ll bite your tail off,” Blair growled. “Or Nathan will.”

Skippy, on his back with his paws in the air, just looked at the Courtyard’s enforcer and wagged his intact tail.

The young Wolf had to be a juvenile, but he seemed less mature than Sam, who was still a puppy.

She didn’t have any images of Wolves she could use for comparison, but there was something going on that she didn’t understand.

She leaned toward Blair. “He knows about not shifting where he can be seen by humans? I don’t want to explain to the police why a na**d teenager was wandering around the delivery area.” So far she’d avoided any calls about Nathan being outside without clothes or fur, but she didn’t think she would be that lucky with Skippy.

Something in Blair’s eyes. Pity? Acceptance?

“He’s a skippy,” Blair said. “They don’t shift from the form they have at birth.”

“So his name is Skippy …”

“Because he is a skippy. Their brains don’t work quite right and skip over bits of what they need to learn. If they survive to adulthood, they settle down and do just fine. But most of them can’t survive in the wild country long enough for their brains to catch up. A Courtyard is safer, and if a hunt is spoiled here because of a skippy, the pups in the pack won’t starve.”

And the pack’s leaders wouldn’t have to choose between driving away one youngster in order to save the rest.

“I didn’t have any packages for you,” Meg said.

“Wasn’t expecting any right now.” Blair didn’t like being around humans, but he did like tinkering with things—especially the machines that could transform sunlight and wind into electrical power. She suspected his tolerance for her was in direct proportion to her diligence in delivering the parts he had ordered for his current project.

“So you came up to the office to introduce me to Skippy?”

As the Courtyard’s enforcer, Blair exuded a more feral quality than Simon, and she wasn’t quite sure he believed the “Meg isn’t bitable” rule.

“Skippy is going to be the watch Wolf for a couple of afternoons,” Blair said. “He’s here to learn.”

Ha! She suspected Skippy needed a minder, and she’d been elected because the Wolves in the Courtyard were busy.

“Isn’t Nathan going to be here anymore?” she asked. The deliverymen had become accustomed to Nathan, and he recognized them. That meant he reacted only to someone he didn’t know, like he had with Jerry Sledgeman.

“He’ll still be here most of the time,” Blair replied. “But I need Nathan this afternoon.”

Wolves weren’t usually possessive about objects, but Meg didn’t think an enforcer like Nathan was going to be happy about sharing the bed with a goofball like Skippy.

Keeping her voice low, she asked, “Should I see if the Market Square general store still has one of those beds so Skippy and Nathan don’t have to share?”

She watched the annoyed expression on Blair’s face change into embarrassed resignation when Skippy, still on his back with his paws in the air, began a yodeling arooeeooeeoo!

“Yeah,” Blair said. “You should do that.”

By the time Steve Ferryman walked out of Bursting Burgers, he wondered if he and the other adults who’d had a bad feeling that morning had made a mistake. There were still Crows winging through the village, and Hawks and Eagles still soared overhead. Roger Czerneda had been patrolling on the mainland side of the village for hours while Flash Foxgard and Ming Beargard kept watch around the docks. Now Roger parked the patrol car and joined Steve.

“Late lunch?” Steve asked.

Roger nodded as he read the sign. “Bursting Burgers?”

“You haven’t tried them yet?”

“I’ve been getting acquainted with the shops on the island side of the village.”

“These are the best hamburgers in the Lake Etu area,” Steve replied. “Can’t get them on the island side because Burt has a phobia about water. And boats.”

“You’re kidding.”

“Nope. They do a great roast beef sandwich too.”

“In that case, I guess I’ll give it—”

Caw, caw, caw, caw.

“—a try,” Roger finished.

The two men watched the car drive up Main Street and park a few spaces down from where they stood. Steve noted the Midwest license plate on the car and the way the Crows took position in the nearby trees.

The man who got out saw them and hesitated. He started walking toward them just as Steve’s mobile phone rang.

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