Murder of Crows Page 37

“This isn’t a good time, Lieutenant. The Courtyard has some guests for the next few days, and the stores aren’t open to human customers.”

“I have some questions, and I need answers,” Monty said. “And having a few select human customers might be something you would find useful.”

Simon studied him with amber eyes that held flickers of red. Then the Wolf stepped back enough for Monty to enter the store.

Turning the lock, Simon went back to the book display.

Monty followed him, putting aside the questions for a moment when he noticed the author names on the covers. He picked up a book. “Alan Wolfgard? I haven’t heard of him. What does he write?” He figured the red ink splashed on the cover was a strong clue but felt it was prudent to ask.

“Thrillers and horror.” Simon gave him a toothy smile. “As you must have guessed from the name, he’s terra indigene, so you wouldn’t have heard of him unless you borrowed some books from our library. You could ask Ruthie. I think she’s read some of Alan’s stories.”

In that case, he would definitely ask Ruthie. And Kowalski.

“I’ve heard the Courtyard bus has been to the train station a couple of times today, picking up passengers.”

“Our being able to use the trains is part of the agreement that allows humans to have the tracks between cities.”

“I wasn’t commenting about the Others’ right to use the railway, Mr. Wolfgard. But you said you were having guests. With the current unrest here and the future of Talulah Falls not completely resolved, I’m concerned.”

Simon didn’t look up from the display. “Some of the terra indigene leaders have things to discuss. Don’t human leaders meet to discuss things that concern their people?”

“Yes, they do. But when our leaders meet, cities don’t usually disappear.”

Simon laughed. It was a cold sound. “Wait here.” He walked to the back of the store.

A gathering of terra indigene leaders. How long had this meeting been planned? What had been the catalyst? And why had the Lakeside Courtyard been chosen to host this particular meeting?

Simon returned to the front of the store and handed Monty a thick book.

“You have your version of the history of Thaisia since humans first came to this continent, and we have ours,” Simon said. “Don’t think for a moment your leaders were innocent when it came to cities disappearing. Now it’s time for you to ask your questions and go.”

Do I really want to know what choices we’ve made? Monty thought. How many humans have ever seen this version of Thaisia’s history? Why is Wolfgard showing this to me now?

The book was a warning. That much he understood.

Forcing his thoughts back to his original purpose, Monty said, “You’ve heard about the quarantined town in the Midwest?”

“Heard what the radio reported,” Simon replied. He cocked his head. “You’re afraid to ask.”

“Yes. I am.” Monty blew out a breath. “Meat grinder. Still-living flesh. The ground meat was tainted with the flesh of cassandra sangue, wasn’t it? That’s why the people who ate it became violent.”

“Seems likely.” Nothing about Simon Wolfgard had changed physically, but Monty wouldn’t mistake him for human now.

“Street drugs made with cassandra sangue blood will reach a limited number of people, no matter how dealers try to distribute it. But ground beef? Entire families could end up raving mad and violent without choice or warning, just by eating dinner. Who was the target, Simon? Was this the next stage of someone’s attack on humans and Others?”

“Not us,” Simon said thoughtfully. “Blood prophets don’t smell like prey. It’s not just that they aren’t edible; they aren’t prey. Their flesh mixed with other ground meat wouldn’t smell right to us, and wouldn’t taste right no matter how someone tried to disguise it. I don’t think any terra indigene would consume enough to be influenced. Of course, we might not sense wrongness in time if we bit prey that was contaminated. That’s how a lot of the Others were dosed with gone over wolf or feel-good.”

“So humans are the targets,” Monty said.

“It looks like someone is experimenting on using you as a way to kill shape-shifters and Sanguinati,” Simon said.

“I’d say someone is after all the terra indigene.”

Simon gave him an odd look. “Provoking the Elementals would be a mistake humans wouldn’t survive.”

Vlad stood by the back door of HGR and watched the pickup truck drive past the back of the Liaison’s Office and park close to the wooden gate leading into Henry’s yard. Even though two of the leaders from the Toland Courtyard were attending, the Sanguinati weren’t happy about this meeting of leaders. The terra indigene sometimes quarreled among themselves—the different predators they’d absorbed over the centuries made that inevitable, especially when they had overlapping territory—but they were always united against their common adversary: humans.

This time Simon was gambling that the Midwest leaders weren’t so bitter or angry that they’d already decided what needed to be done.

From what Vlad had seen as the guests arrived throughout the day, there was plenty of bitterness and anger in the terra indigene coming in from the Midwest, as well as the areas around the Great Lakes where humans were spewing about the Humans First and Last movement without thinking for one second about who was listening to them.

Simon might be taking a risk calling this meeting and bringing them all to Lakeside, but he’d also been smart enough to stack the deck, as humans said, by bringing in three terra indigene from the High Northeast—a part of Thaisia that hadn’t yet been touched by the troubles—in the hope that they would provide some balance to the discussions.

Bobbie Beargard was a Black Bear who taught at one of the few terra indigene colleges on the continent. She had once told a visiting human professor who was spouting some nonsense about human superiority that if she wanted to handle crap, she’d shit in her own paw. Even if he hadn’t been eaten on his way home, the professor wouldn’t have been invited back.

Then there was Alan Wolfgard, whose thrillers were wildly popular with the terra indigene—especially the Others who had never seen a real human.

The last of the three stepped out of the pickup and raised a hand in greeting. Charlie Crowgard was tall and lean, with a kind face that somewhat hid the sharp intelligence in his black eyes. Like many terra indigene, he couldn’t shift the last little bit to look completely human. But being a musician, he’d used that to advantage by tying his black hair back into a thin tail and letting the feathers that wouldn’t shift hang in plain sight like an ornament.

“Why didn’t you take the train?” Vlad asked.

“Couldn’t,” Charlie replied, cocking a thumb at the pickup’s bed. “Wasn’t going to try to carry that.”

Vlad came around to the back of the pickup. “What is it?”

“It’s wood.” As the gate to Henry’s yard opened, Charlie added, “Henry. Give us a hand. I think this old tree has a story to tell, so I brought it to you.”

Henry studied the chunk of wood and nodded. “It’s a good piece.”

Vlad climbed into the bed and helped Charlie shift the wood to the tailgate—where Henry picked it up with a small grunt and took it into his studio.

“Brought the guitar,” Charlie said as he jumped off the bed and closed the tailgate. “I know we’re not here for fun, but … what’s that?”

“That’s a human,” Vlad said, watching Theral MacDonald, Dominic Lorenzo’s new … whatever they called her. Assistant? Phone person? Exploding fluffball?

No, that’s what he’d taken to calling Meg’s human pack. A few months ago, the humans who worked in the Courtyard just did their jobs and kept out of the way. Now they had opinions.

“I know that,” Charlie said. “What’s she carrying? It looks like a fiddle case. You have humans here who play music?”

Since Charlie sounded delighted by the prospect of meeting a music-playing human, Vlad called out, “Ms. MacDonald?”

Being very newly employed, Theral had kept her head down and her hair around her face in an attempt to walk past them without seeing them—as if not seeing them meant they couldn’t see her. Typical prey mentality, but that might change once she settled in. Now she stopped and moved toward them, every step filled with reluctance. “Mr. Sanguinati?”

“What are you carrying?” Charlie asked. “Is it a fiddle?”

“Yes, it’s a fiddle,” Theral said.

Charlie smiled at her before turning to Vlad. “Do you all join in and perform in the Market Square? If I remember correctly from my visit a few years ago, you have a platform there that would be perfect for performing.”

“Ms. MacDonald just started working for us, so I don’t think anyone has mentioned playing in the square,” Vlad replied. Then to Theral, “You staying here?”

Theral nodded. “Lawrence is picking me up after his shift. Mr. Wolfgard said it was okay if I stayed with Merri Lee until then.”

She hurried up the stairs to the efficiency apartments and knocked on the outer door. It opened moments later, so Merri Lee must have been waiting for the other girl.

“So,” Vlad said. He looked at the open area that was bordered by the garages, Henry’s yard, and the backs of HGR, A Little Bite, and the Liaison’s Office. Then he looked at the pickup, which was a lot bigger than the BOWs that were usually parked in the space. “How are you going to turn this thing around?”

Charlie grinned. “Very carefully.” The grin faded. “Simon is going to have to move carefully too.”

“I know,” Vlad said. Then he added silently, If the shifters want more blood shed than the Sanguinati will accept, Simon won’t be the only one who will need to be careful.

CHAPTER 21

“Since you’ve figured out what’s causing the sickness, let’s wipe it out at the source,” Joe Wolfgard snarled again.

“The source is a special kind of girl,” Simon snarled back. “They’re not choosing to be drugs that make us aggressive or passive. They’re being used. They’re being cut and bled, and that’s not their fault.”

“The source is human,” Joe snapped. “The solution should be simple.”

“You’ve had a couple of incidents in the Northeast,” Jackson Wolfgard said, pointing at Simon. “And now the Northwest has seen a few cases of humans being so aggressive they’ve no sense of self-preservation. But the Midwest Courtyards have been hit over and over by humans who are diseased from the blood of Namid’s terrible creation. If we can’t stop these attacks soon, a lot more than a few humans will disappear.”

Catching a warning look from Henry, Simon sat back and let the various leaders discuss and argue. The Wolfgard and Coyotegard from the Midwest had been the hardest hit. And the Crowgard had suffered losses every place the drugs gone over wolf and feel-good had been found. But they’d all become so fixed on the terrible side of Namid’s creation, they didn’t want to hear what he’d been trying to tell them about blood prophets.

Cheryl Hawkgard, Patty Crowgard, and Vera Owlgard wanted to know how the terra indigene were supposed to find a specific breed of human among a city full of humans. Simon had some thoughts about that, but he wasn’t going to share them while tempers were hot.

<The Wolves and Coyotes want slaughter,> Simon said to Henry.

<Can’t blame them,> Henry replied. <They’ve lost the most kin because of these drugs. Only the Crows have lost more. Let them talk. Eventually they’ll realize they can’t kill the source without poisoning themselves.>

But would they realize it in time? Simon wondered. The leaders who had come for this meeting had been in the Courtyard’s library for an hour now, arguing about what should be done to eliminate the problem.

<I’m more interested in why the Sanguinati from the Toland Courtyard have offered no opinions,> Henry continued.

Vlad had offered no opinions either, and Simon began to find that silence unnerving.

Perhaps Roy Panthergard found the Sanguinati’s silence unnerving as well because he said, “Stavros? Tolya? What do you have to say?”

Vlad replied quietly, “The Sanguinati will not harm the sweet blood.”

Hearing the warning—and threat—beneath the words, everyone stopped talking and focused on the Sanguinati.

“You’ve lost one of your own because of these drugs,” Jackson said.

“The Sanguinati do not drink the sweet blood,” Vlad said. “We do not harm the sweet blood. And if necessary, we will stand against other terra indigene who try to harm the sweet blood.”

No wonder Stavros and Tolya had said nothing. Vlad was the messenger, but Erebus was giving the orders—and making the threat of going to war against the shifters if they tried to eliminate the cassandra sangue.

Alan Wolfgard exchanged a look with Bobbie Beargard and Charlie Crowgard, who both nodded.

“Look,” Alan said. “We’re just chasing our tails. We can talk about this from one sunrise to the next and not have any answers because the answer isn’t in the library.” He looked at Simon. “You said you have one of them here in the Lakeside Courtyard. It’s time you showed us Namid’s terrible creation.”

Leading his guests from the library to the back door of the Liaison’s Office, Simon reluctantly turned the doorknob. He’d wanted to tell the leaders about Meg and how her desire to actually do the work a Human Liaison was supposed to do, and more, had altered so much in just the few months she’d been here. He wanted them to see past a kind of human who was a danger to the terra indigene and see Meg. But they had already decided Meg was a fearsome creature who should be destroyed along with the rest of her kind.

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