Murder of Crows Page 35

While Merri Lee went into the sorting room to call Henry and Lorne, Meg cleaned her razor. She wanted it out of sight before any of the Others burst through the office’s back door.

Vlad walked into HGR’s office. “Another meeting?”

Simon remained sitting behind the desk. “Humans have meetings all the time.”

“I know. How do they get anything done?”

He didn’t much care if the monkeys ever got anything done.

Tess, Henry, and Blair walked into the office.

“Close the door,” Simon said.

“This can’t be good,” Blair muttered as he closed the door.

No reason to fluff it up. “Steve Ferryman called me earlier today, after Jerry Sledgeman made the delivery of cookies. Too many Intuits had a bad feeling this morning, so they moved all the children over to the island.”

Blair nodded. “That call was the reason you wanted Nathan roaming the delivery area instead of being inside the Liaison’s Office.”

Simon nodded. “Ferryman called again a few minutes ago. A man named Phineas Jones showed up at Ferryman’s Landing.”

“Fin,” Tess said. “Ass.”

Simon nodded. “Ferryman called him a smiling shark.”

“What did this Phineas Jones want?” Vlad asked.

“He didn’t actually say it, but Ferryman thinks Jones is looking for blood prophets,” Simon replied.

“Is the shark still in Ferryman’s Landing?” Tess asked.

Simon shook his head. “Ferryman told him to be on his way. The Crowgard, Hawkgard, and Eaglegard kept watch on him all the way to Lakeside, then lost the car in traffic. We should figure that he’s gone to ground here.”

“Do we call that lieutenant?” Blair asked. “Can he hunt for Jones?”

“Doubtful,” Vlad said. “Jones isn’t an unusual name, and there are plenty of hotels, inns, and B and Bs in Lakeside. We don’t even know what this man looks like, besides being a smiling shark, which I don’t think the police will find useful.”

“Ferryman gave me a basic description, and he and Czerneda are working to get a likeness of Jones’s face made,” Simon said. “Once they have that, they’ll send the image to us and to Lieutenant Montgomery. But I don’t think we’ll have to do much hunting. We know he’s here, and there’s only one blood prophet in Lakeside.” He looked at Blair. “You get Skippy settled into the Liaison’s Office?”

“More or less,” Blair replied. “But he’s not much good as a watch Wolf.”

“Nathan won’t be far away. In two days we’ll be meeting with leaders from the Midwest, Northeast, and High Northeast. We’re going to keep the Courtyard stores closed to human customers, but I want our humans working.

Marie Hawkgard will stand watch at HGR. Nathan will roam the area around the Market Square, Liaison’s Office, and consulate.”

“So will I,” Blair growled. “Right now, Skippy’s form of attack is tripping someone in his enthusiasm to see if they have anything to eat.”

A frantic tapping on the door before John opened it and poked his head in the room. “Sorry to interrupt, but Merri Lee just called and said Henry or Tess should come to the Liaison’s Office right away. Meg just had a prophecy.”

Simon pushed past everyone in the room and knocked John aside in his haste to get down the stairs and out of the back door of HGR. But he wasn’t as fast as Vlad, who had opened the upstairs window, shifted to smoke, and flowed down the outside wall and over the pavement. By the time Simon caught up to him, Vlad had shifted back to human form and was opening the office’s back door.

They charged into the room together, followed by Henry, Blair, and Tess.

Merri Lee let out a startled yip and jumped away from the sitting area. She stared at the Others, then looked toward the table and said, “You weren’t kidding when you said they wouldn’t take this well.”

Simon spun toward the table. Meg sat on one of the chairs, looking a little pale. She held up her left hand, showing all of them the neat—and small—bandage on her little finger.

He wanted to tear off that bandage, wanted to see the wound and lick it clean. Wanted …

A warning growl from Henry stopped him from taking a second step toward the table.

“You’re making tea?” Tess said.

Merri Lee nodded. “Peppermint for me and chamomile for Meg.”

“I’ll finish it. You sit down.”

When Merri Lee didn’t move, Simon stepped back as much as he could with Blair and Henry standing behind him.

“You all right, Meg?” Vlad asked.

She nodded, then looked at Merri Lee as she touched the pad of paper on the table and the stack of index cards. “Tell them.”

Merri Lee slipped into the other chair. “I wasn’t sure how this is usually done, so I made extra notes.”

“Words first,” Henry said.

Merri Lee looked at her list. “Teeth. No! Sandwich. Skull and crossbones. Broom. Bright frogs. Arm. Shark. Teakettle.”

Simon swallowed the desire to snarl, howl, and otherwise express displeasure and frustration. Cryptic nonsense. And what wasn’t cryptic were the two items that had shown up in other prophecies—and at least one of them meant something lethal.

Tess brought the mugs of tea to the table. She stared at the pad of paper, then at the index cards. “What are these little drawings?”

“Associations,” Merri Lee said. “It wasn’t just the words. Meg made gestures that seemed connected to the words. It reminded me of a picture game I used to play as a kid. You tried to make a story out of the pictures on the cards, and you could rearrange the order three times to create the best story.”

Tess spread out the index cards to reveal all the drawings. Then she took the pad of paper and brought it over to the rest of the Others.

Simon looked at the first index card and snarled at the cartoony Wolf head that had some kind of symbol over its bared teeth. He knew by the way Merri Lee hunched into herself that snarling right now wasn’t helping, but he couldn’t stop himself.

“No teeth?” Vlad said.

“No biting,” Merri Lee replied. “The circle and line symbol means ‘do not’ or ‘no,’ and after Meg said ‘teeth’ and ‘no!’ she mimicked biting something.”

“I did?” Meg looked startled.

“You said to write down the words, but I figured the gestures were important too. So that seemed like it meant no biting.” Merri Lee tapped the index card that had the cartoony Wolf head with the “no” symbol drawn over its muzzle.

“Skull and crossbones means poison,” Tess said, as Merri Lee put the index card with that symbol after the cartoony Wolf. “We know that from when Meg’s prophecy saved the ponies.” She stared at the list. “Sandwich? That doesn’t sound threatening. Neither does arm.”

Fur sprang up on Simon’s shoulders and back. Had to stay human. Had to stay in control. Had to listen and not yell about Meg not calling him.

“Every time she said ‘sandwich,’ Meg mimicked spreading something on her arm,” Merri Lee said, laying the “sandwich” and “arm” cards after the “poison” card. “But sandwich doesn’t necessarily mean food. It could mean something in layers if the visions aren’t always literal.”

“I don’t know,” Meg said when they all looked at her. “I wasn’t part of deciphering the visions, so I don’t know how it worked.”

“Frogs?” Tess asked.

Merri Lee glanced at Meg and nudged the index card with a frog into position. “When I went into the sorting room to phone Henry, I saw a magazine on the counter. It was open to a picture of frogs.”

Vlad disappeared and returned with the magazine. As he quickly skimmed the article, he looked grim. “Poisonous. Lethal. A defense against predators because devouring them kills you. Montgomery mentioned poisonous frogs killing their attackers.”

Leaning over the table, Henry repositioned the frog card after the skull and crossbones.

“Can’t put poison on your own skin,” Simon said. “You would kill yourself doing that, wouldn’t you?”

“Sandwich.” Tess held her hands one above the other with a little space between. “Two protective layers with poison spread in between?”

They all looked at the story made from the drawings on the index cards. Then they looked at Meg.

“The girls are tied to the chair for cutting, so I don’t think I acted things out before,” Meg said. “I don’t remember doing it now. But the cards …” She touched an index card. “The Controller could have done something like this, arranging pictures until a sequence had meaning to the client.”

“Maybe the shark is doing the biting and ‘no’ is a warning?” Merri Lee said. “Meg didn’t mention a Wolf, just the shark and frog, and frogs don’t bite. At least, I don’t think they do.”

She didn’t have to mention a Wolf, Simon thought. Meg knows who would be most likely to bite an intruder. And so does Merri Lee. “Steve Ferryman called me. We know the shark is a human named Phineas Jones.”

“We do?” Meg gasped.

Ignoring her, Simon put the simple drawing of an oval with a fin and tail after the other cards.

“What if we rearrange the pictures, see if there is another story?” Henry said.

Henry put the index cards in a different order. Merri Lee reached out, hesitated, then changed the order of a couple of them.

Henry nodded. “That’s a story. Don’t bite the shark who has a sandwich of poison on his arm.”

“What about the broom and teakettle?” Simon asked.

Merri Lee shook her head and set those two index cards apart from the rest. “No clue. Except I think they go together somehow.”

Simon hadn’t noticed Blair had left the room until the enforcer returned, holding up half a cookie and scowling at Meg.

“What did you give Skippy?” Blair demanded.

“I wanted him to calm down, so I gave him a chamomile cookie,” Meg said, narrowing her eyes at Blair. “It was either that or bite you for leaving the singing Wolf here.”

If she were anyone else, she’d get nipped for sounding so uppity, Simon thought. “Something wrong?” he asked Blair.

“Damn Wolf is in the front room snoring,” Blair growled. “Doesn’t have any idea we’re here. Which isn’t helpful since he’s supposed to be the watch Wolf.” That last part was directed at Meg.

“I’ll make a note for the bakery that the chamomile cookies are a little too strong,” Meg said. “And too big. I didn’t mean to knock him out, just calm him down a little.”

Simon studied the two women. Meg and Merri Lee had done well working together to reveal this prophecy, and using the index cards was a clever way to share the images Meg saw in the visions. But the girls should have told him before Meg made the cut. After all, Meg was his friend, so he should have been told. Which was why, instead of praising them, he growled, “Can the two of you manage to stay out of trouble for the rest of the afternoon?”

“Oh, Simon,” Tess muttered.

Henry’s hand suddenly landed on his shoulder, almost buckling his knees.

“Our Meg did stay out of trouble,” Henry said. “Her friend was with her to watch and to help. They saw much, and lives will be saved because of what we know from the visions.”

“Maybe you should go home and rest,” Simon told Meg. Maybe he could go home with her and they could cuddle for a while or play a game. Or she could watch a movie and pet him.

“Merri Lee is helping me make some sample packages of cookies,” Meg said, sounding like the only game she wanted to play right now was whack a Wolf.

A warning rumble meant it was time to go before Henry decided he needed a friendly reminder to leave. The Grizzly’s reminders tended to hurt.

Simon tore off the pages that held the prophecy, dropped the pad on the table, and walked out. Then he waited for Vlad and the others to join him outside.

“All right,” Blair grumbled. “I wouldn’t mind having some of those chamomile cookies to give to the youngsters when it’s time to sleep, but a watch Wolf is supposed to be awake enough to watch, even if he is a skippy.”

“Have Nathan come back for the last hour,” Simon said.

“Those two females aren’t having anyone as friendly as Nathan watching over them.” Meaning the dominant enforcer planned to park himself in the office for the rest of Meg’s shift.

“I don’t like our Meg having this prophecy now,” Henry said. “Is there a connection to so many leaders coming to Lakeside and this shark suddenly appearing in our territory?”

“If he’s here hunting for a blood prophet, the connection is Meg,” Vlad said. “She’s the reason Simon called this meeting.”

“I wonder if the enemy isn’t also guided by prophecy,” Vlad said. “Wouldn’t you use a cassandra sangue to find out the best time to strike out at us?”

“When this Phineas Jones comes to the Courtyard, he’ll have a defense that will kill us if we respond to a threat in the usual way,” Simon said.

“Then we use human weapons instead of teeth,” Henry said. “No matter how it’s done, we make sure Jones doesn’t leave here with Meg.”

Simon nodded. “He’s not taking Meg.”

“Hello?”

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