Murder of Crows Page 39

“What’s your name?” she asked, struggling to ignore his voice. She took a step back to avoid being within reach of his hand.

“I’m Phineas Jones. I’m here to help you.” He walked around the counter to the go-through and slid the top bolt open. But the go-through, still secured by the hidden bolts, didn’t budge.

Phineas Jones, Meg thought as she heard Merri Lee whispering, “Shark, shark, shark.” No biting.

Thank the gods Nathan wasn’t the watch Wolf this morning. Skippy was too involved with the cookie to notice a stranger in the office, but Nathan wouldn’t have hesitated to bite the hand that had reached for her, regardless of any warning she gave.

She backed up until she stood in the Private doorway. “The office is closing in a couple of minutes for the midday break. If you need assistance, you should call at the consulate to make an appointment.”

He stared at her with those blank eyes. “You need to come with me. I can help you. I can make the hurting go away.”

She still wanted to believe him, couldn’t stop herself from believing him.

Then Merri Lee, hiding on the side of the doorway where she couldn’t be seen, grabbed the back of Meg’s sweater, a reminder that she already had help from people she could trust.

“You have to leave now,” Meg said, trying to sound firm and professional but hearing the quiver in her voice. “We’re closed.”

He pushed at the go-through again, then reached down, feeling for the hidden bolts.

If he got in, she wouldn’t be the only one in danger. “We’re closed!” she shouted as she stumbled back into the sorting room. She locked the Private door, then hurried to the receiving doors to make sure those were locked too.

“Meg?” Merri Lee whispered. “I think he was trying to hypnotize you. Do you know what that is?”

“Snake charmer,” she replied as she hurried to the back room. She didn’t lock that outside door. The Others used it to pick up the mail for the Market Square, HGR, and A Little Bite—and there was the unspoken worry now that she might cut herself and they wouldn’t be able to reach her in time if all the doors were locked.

Skippy was on his feet, watching them come into the room. Meg wasn’t sure if he finally sensed something was wrong or if he’d finished the cookie and was hoping to get another one.

Whatever the reason, the Wolf stood between her and the back door when Phineas Jones walked in.

“Get out!” Merri Lee yelled. “I’m calling the police!”

She would never know if it was the tone of Merri Lee’s voice or the words or a spike of fear that Skippy picked up, but something made the youngster turn on Jones, who scrambled out the door.

“No biting!” Meg yelled as Skippy rushed after Jones.

She grabbed the broom and went after the Wolf.

It was like a movie with gaps, only she was the person in the pictures. Inside the office, grabbing the broom … skip … outside, screaming as Phineas Jones raised an arm in a protective gesture and Skippy prepared to leap on the intruder and bite … skip … swinging the broom and whacking Skippy so hard she bowled him over … skip … Crows cawing, Wolves howling … skip … screaming as she whacked Phineas Jones with the broom … skip … more screaming as Merri Lee beat on Jones with the teakettle … skip … suddenly surrounded by heads and bodies that were and weren’t human … skip … Simon grabbing her, dragging her away and shouting something at Charlie Crowgard and …

They were in the back room. Merri Lee looked as sick and dizzy as Meg felt. And there was Charlie standing between them and the door, changing his position and raising his arms to prevent Merri Lee from going to the window that would give her a view of whatever was happening behind the office.

Shouts. Roars. Howls. Caws. Screams.

Silence.

Then Charlie, looking grim, said, “Simon wants you to call the police. He said you would know which one.”

With their arms linked, Meg and Merri staggered into the sorting room to reach the telephone on the counter. Meg’s hands shook so much she could barely lift the receiver.

“I can’t remember the number,” Meg said. “Lieutenant Montgomery.”

“We’ll call Michael. He’ll reach everyone else.” Merri Lee punched in the numbers while Meg held the receiver.

Just as Michael Debany answered the phone, Charlie stepped into the doorway and said, “Tell the police to bring humans who can handle dangerous things.”

Having delivered the message and given Michael a shaky reassurance that she and Merri weren’t hurt, the two women returned to the back room.

“I can make some tea,” Merri Lee said, turning toward the counter. “It’s gone. The electric teakettle is …” She swallowed convulsively a couple of times, then ran into the bathroom and threw up.

“Meg?” A gentle voice. Kind in a way that wasn’t at all like Phineas Jones’s voice. A voice she really could trust.

She focused on Charlie, who was crouched beside her on the floor.

“You have feathers in your eyebrows,” she said.

He looked embarrassed. “I’m having some trouble holding the human shape.”

They were all having trouble holding on to the human shape. People teeth weren’t as useful as beaks and fangs, and … She grabbed Charlie’s arm. “No biting. Poison frog. Tell Simon no biting!”

“He knows,” Charlie said, patting her hand. “You told him, told all of us. Don’t you remember?”

She’d been too scared to remember. Suddenly exhausted, she lay flat on the floor, releasing her grip on Charlie’s arm.

“Just tired,” she said when he made some inarticulate sound of distress. “Just tired. Tell Simon all the pins and needles are gone.”

She heard Merri Lee return and ask a question, but she slid into sleep before she heard Charlie’s reply.

Monty tried not to think about what they would find in the Courtyard. For now, it was enough that Simon Wolfgard had placed the call. Well, not Wolfgard personally, but he’d sanctioned the call.

And Wolfgard had asked for police who could handle dangerous things. Not knowing what to expect, Monty had called Louis Gresh, the bomb squad commander, figuring Louis had been seen before by Simon and Vlad, and a familiar face was a better choice no matter what they were up against.

Gods above and below, please don’t let this be someone trying to assassinate the terra indigene who came for this meeting, Monty thought. He didn’t want to consider what would happen to Lakeside if anyone started that kind of trouble.

Lights flashed and sirens screamed as every available police officer from the Chestnut Street station descended on the Courtyard—including Captain Douglas Burke, who was driving so close to their bumper, Monty hoped Kowalski wouldn’t need to make a sudden stop.

Debany and MacDonald were already there, their patrol car poking out of the access way.

“Park …” Monty began, then didn’t bother to finish when Kowalski pulled up in front of the street entrance, effectively blocking the delivery area.

Louis wasn’t going to be pleased with being shut out. Then again, maybe he’d be relieved that he had an excuse not to bring his vehicles onto land where human law didn’t apply.

But they asked for us, Monty thought as he got out of the car and hurried toward MacDonald.

“Where’s Officer Debany?” Monty asked.

“In the consulate,” MacDonald replied. “Ms. Corbyn sort of passed out, and Ms. Lee is real shaky. Mr. Sanguinati and Mr. Wolfgard didn’t want the girls taken past …” He suddenly looked ill. “They’re in Elliot Wolfgard’s office. Michael’s helping get them settled. He’s not taking a statement; since he’s dating Ms. Lee, we figured you should do that.”

Feeling Burke approach, Monty just nodded. Then he noticed the smoke on either side of the consulate door. “Was there a fire?”

“No, sir,” MacDonald whispered. “Some of the Sanguinati are standing guard, so to speak.”

He heard Captain Burke suck in a breath, but no one said anything until Simon Wolfgard walked out of the access way at the same time Louis Gresh hurried to join them.

“You look first,” Simon said, indicating the three men. “Then decide who else should come in. We all want answers, so we’re all staying to hear what is said. Some shifted to their preferred form. Others have stayed human—mostly.” He walked away, leaving them to follow.

“Brace yourselves, gentlemen,” Burke said quietly.

When they reached the end of the access way and turned toward the back of the Liaison’s Office, Monty was grateful for the warning. Even seeing Simon Wolfgard as a kind of wolfman when Meg Corbyn was in the hospital didn’t prepare him for this.

The Others were the stuff of nightmares. If they’d been malformed or disproportioned in some way, they might have been pitiable. But these blends that married human and animal in harmony were a terrible reminder of why humans would always be meat.

Louis made a sound that might have been a quiet moan, but the man’s face was set in a professional mask as they followed their captain to the terra indigene who had formed a circle around …

The Others stepped aside, revealing a human, a broom, and an electric teakettle.

“What is that?” Burke asked.

Monty looked at Burke and realized the man wasn’t asking about the human or the objects. He was looking toward the back of the bookstore, where a wailing arrrooooo! continued almost without breath.

“That’s Skippy,” Simon replied. “Meg saved his life, but right now all he’s absorbed is that she whacked him with a broom.”

The wailing Wolf sat at HGR’s back door, one hind leg lifted as if it was injured.

“Is he hurt?” Monty asked.

Simon shrugged. “Probably has a bruised leg. He managed to get out of her way to avoid getting whacked again, so I doubt the leg is broken.”

“And this man?”

“Phineas Jones.”

Burke let out an angry sigh. “The man who was in Ferryman’s Landing a couple of days ago. He’s good at covering his tracks. Even with the description we had, we couldn’t locate him. Do you know why he came to the Courtyard?”

Simon snarled—and his canines lengthened. “He was after Meg.” He took a moment to regain control, then continued, making a gesture that included all the terra indigene who were present. “We were taking a break from our talks and had just walked outside when we heard Meg and Merri Lee screaming.”

“Howling,” another Wolf said.

“Battle cry,” a woman with black fur said with approval.

“Anyway,” Simon continued, “we all ran toward the sounds and found Meg and Merri Lee whacking at this human with a broom and teakettle. We got the girls away from him, and Charlie took them inside. Meg was yelling at me about no biting. Either of the Beargard could have brought him down with a blow, but after we surrounded him, he pushed up his jacket sleeve and bit his own arm. Then he died, so I had Meg call you to bring the humans who deal with dangerous things.”

“What sort of danger do you think it is?” Louis asked.

“Poison,” Simon said.

That explains why Meg Corbyn whacked the young Wolf, Monty thought.

“Okay,” Louis said. “Any idea what kind of poison?”

“Frog,” Simon said.

Burke stiffened, and Monty noted how many terra indigene suddenly focused on the captain.

“Don’t ask, Commander,” Burke said when Louis started to do just that. “The information came from a reliable source.”

After a moment, Louis nodded.

“You have no objections to our taking the body?” Monty asked.

Simon shook his head. “It’s better not to have poisoned meat on our land.”

“If you could all clear the area while we work?”

“You should be careful with the broom and teakettle,” the unknown Wolf said. “When we pulled the females away, I noticed the edge of the teakettle looked wet.”

“What I can see of the shirtsleeve looks wet too,” Louis said, crouching to study the body. “If he had some kind of container of poison taped to his arm, a blow might have caused a leak.” He looked at Monty. “Would have made it a lot easier for him to ingest the poison himself.”

“Might have killed a lot of us if we’d bitten poisoned meat,” Henry Beargard said.

And you probably would have bitten him if Meg Corbyn hadn’t warned you, Monty thought.

The Others didn’t leave. They gathered in small groups in front of the garages that formed one side of the space behind the buildings. And there were Crows and Hawks and even a few Owls flying in to perch on rooftops where they could keep watch.

“I can arrange transportation of the body and the weapons,” Louis said.

“I’ll talk to Ms. Lee and Ms. Corbyn if they’re up to it,” Monty said.

“I’d like to sit in on those interviews,” Burke said.

Kowalski, Debany, and MacDonald were waiting for him in front of the Liaison’s Office. And they were keeping an eye on Nyx Sanguinati, who stood next to the consulate’s door.

“Mr. Wolfgard thinks the man who died was after Meg Corbyn,” Monty said. “He had to have transportation nearby, but I doubt it’s the same car that was seen in Ferryman’s Landing. Debany and MacDonald, take a look at the parked cars, especially the ones that are illegally parked on this side of the street. Kowalski, you take Officer Hilborn and check out the parking lot and the cars near the Stag and Hare. Pay special attention to cars that have a rental agency sticker on them.”

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