Murder of Crows Page 40

“Yes, sir.” When the officers headed off, Monty and Burke crossed the delivery area to the consulate.

“I’d like to get a statement from Ms. Lee and Ms. Corbyn if they’re feeling up to it,” Monty said.

“Vlad says they will talk to you,” Nyx said just as the door opened.

Elliot Wolfgard studied them. “Follow me.”

Monty hadn’t seen the mayor’s office, but he’d bet it didn’t have furniture of the quality that filled Elliot’s office. And he’d bet anyone who thought dealing with a Wolf meant dealing with someone who could be conned had an unnerving—and possibly short—epiphany when they walked into this room.

Meg and Merri Lee sat on a leather settee, looking pale and shaky. He thanked Vlad when the vampire brought him a straight-backed chair. Burke remained standing, close enough to hear everything but clearly not participating.

It didn’t take long. Merri Lee had made notes, and her main concern and emphasis were on the way Meg had sensed the danger and the hypnotic quality of Phineas Jones’s voice. Meg talked about prickling under her skin and wanting Skippy out of the front room.

A good choice, Monty thought as he listened to them. They’d acted rationally right up to the moment when Skippy ran after Jones. Then some other sense had taken over.

Broom and teakettle, Monty thought as a wave of dizziness swept over him. They’d gone after a dangerous man with nothing but a broom and teakettle—to save a Wolf. He thanked the women; then he and Burke followed Elliot Wolfgard back to the consulate’s door.

“This is as much about public relations as police work,” Burke said quietly as they walked back to the scene.

“You think we’ll have protests or people causing trouble because Phineas Jones killed himself instead of killing terra indigene?”

“That’s possible, but I wasn’t talking about the citizens of Lakeside, Lieutenant. I was talking about the Others. How many of the ones watching us work have ever talked to a human outside of a confrontation? A leader among them called humans for assistance. I doubt the rest of them have ever considered that, let alone done it.”

“I understand, sir,” Monty said. An opportunity to change the dynamics between humans and Others shouldn’t be wasted.

Burke stopped. “Then I’ll leave you to—”

Monty had tuned out the wailing howl. Now he noticed its sudden absence.

“Gods above and below,” Burke breathed, then quickly looked at the ground.

Simon and Henry, standing near Louis and the medical team who were preparing the body for transport, moved to block the men’s view of the back of the stores. And every single terra indigene was looking in the opposite direction.

Monty leaned to one side and got a glimpse of Tess’s coiling red-streaked black hair before Burke grabbed his arm and said, “Don’t look,” in a low, harsh voice.

For a moment, his vision blurred and his heart couldn’t find the right beat. He blinked several times and everything seemed all right. “Sir?”

“They’re afraid of her,” Burke said. “All of the Others are afraid to look at her.”

“But that’s Tess. She’s …” Suddenly he thought about Asia Crane’s death the night the Courtyard was under attack, and the deaths of the students who had assaulted Merri Lee—and Burke telling him weeks ago that there was something in the Courtyard that could kill with a look. What was Tess? If he asked, would anyone give him an answer?

If they did give him an answer, would Tess let him live?

A BOW pulled up. Moving away from Louis, Simon said, “Nathan, take Skippy to the Wolfgard Complex. Ask Jane to look at him.”

Tess strode toward them, and Monty realized Burke was right. The rest of the terra indigene made an effort to stay out of her way. Except Simon, who stepped out to meet her, reminding Monty of the old movies he used to love as a boy where the gunslingers met on the street of some dusty little town in order to settle some dispute.

“Here,” Tess said, handing Nathan something wrapped in a paper towel as he passed her, his eyes averted. “Give this to Skippy once you get him in the BOW, and tell Jane he’s eaten one of those chamomile cookies.” As she turned toward Simon, the black hair changed to red, and the red streaks changed to green. She held up one of the insulated sacks that A Little Bite used to deliver food around the Market Square. “The girls should have something to eat, and I didn’t think you wanted them out here yet.”

Simon Wolfgard looked her in the eyes, and that was a message to everyone: Tess was no longer a danger to them.

“Thanks,” Simon said, taking the sack. “We’ll have to figure out what to do with the two of them this evening.”

Tess laughed. “Romantic, girly movies and lots of chocolate should do the trick. And don’t whine if they cry in your fur.”

Louis twisted around to look at Simon and Tess. Burke choked. And even though Monty didn’t see any ears change shape, he knew the Others’ ears were all pricked, one way or another, to catch every word.

“Females,” Simon grumbled once Tess was out of sight. He eyed Monty, as if daring the man to laugh at him. “I’ll deliver the food and then be in HGR if you need anything.” Still grumbling, he walked to the consulate.

Burke left to check on the officers who were looking for Jones’s vehicle.

Not wanting to leave Louis and the medical techs alone, Monty stayed with them, aware of the wary approach of one of the Wolves and a Crow who had a couple of feathers tucked in his black hair. They hesitated until Vladimir Sanguinati walked up to Monty; then curiosity must have overcome wariness.

“Can I ask you something?” the Wolf said.

“You going to put this in one of your stories, Alan?” Vlad asked.

When Alan just shrugged, Monty filled the silence. “What did you want to know?”

“Is this … normal … for humans?” Alan said, sounding bewildered and intrigued.

“There is nothing normal about exploding fluffballs,” Vlad muttered, which made the Crow laugh.

“I’ve done some research for my books and talked to a few humans, and they all said humans would use guns and knives and clubs for weapons.”

The Crow nodded. “A screaming woman with a teakettle just doesn’t sound sufficiently dangerous.”

“But she was! They were!” Alan said. “How would a human deal with them?”

“Don’t know about anyone else,” Louis said, getting to his feet, “but I’d want a stout door with a strong lock between me and her before I tried talking to her.”

Monty stifled a laugh. “People will use anything that comes to hand when they’re fighting for their lives—or for someone else’s.”

“Interesting,” Alan said. Then he looked at Vlad. “Are any of the other humans who work here exploding fluffballs?”

Vlad pointed to the back of Howling Good Reads. “Her name is Heather. She’s more of a bunny, but she has the potential to explode. Tell her I asked you to autograph your books.”

Alan frowned. “Autograph?”

“Authors sign their names in their books. Humans like having books like that.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. But it should be a safe way to interact with her.”

“I’ll go with you,” the Crow said. “This is entertaining.” Then he looked at Monty and Louis. “Are there weapons in a bookstore?”

“It’s a store full of books, which are objects that can be thrown as well as read,” Monty replied blandly.

The Crow cocked his head. “I had no idea you humans lived with so much danger.”

Monty watched the Crow hurry to catch up with the Wolf, while Vlad headed for the Market Square.

Louis cleared his throat. “Well. We’re ready to transport the body. I’ll send the teakettle and broom to the lab to test for poison. I’ll also talk to a hazmat cleanup crew and get their recommendation for washing the poison residue off this pavement. If they feel they should handle it, I’ll let you know. Oh, and I found an empty vial nearby. Don’t know if it’s relevant, but I bagged it for testing.”

Casually mentioned. Nothing that would give anyone a reason to connect the vial with the last time someone attempted to poison members of the Courtyard. But taking the vial away before some curious youngster gave it a sniff and lick—and ended up dead—was better for all the humans in Lakeside. “Thanks,” Monty said. “I appreciate it.”

Louis turned a little so he wasn’t facing the few terra indigene who were still watching them. “They look human now. You could pass most of them on the street and not know what they are.”

Monty stepped out of the way. The Others had seen the police respond to a request for assistance. They’d seen his people working and following procedure. They would be given whatever information he could find about Phineas Jones.

But he suspected the thing most of them would share when they returned to their home territories was the story of the exploding fluffballs who used nothing but a teakettle and broom to save a Wolf from an evil human.

CHAPTER 23

After a quick meal at Meat-n-Greens, Simon, Vlad, Henry, and the Courtyard’s guests reconvened in the Market Square Library. Tess walked in a minute later, her hair coiling and completely red. Not good.

What also wasn’t good was the way the rest of the terra indigene tensed as soon as she walked into the room. Simon hadn’t known Tess’s true nature until recently, but it seemed at least some of his guests had recognized the predator who sat among them.

“We need to find a human called the Controller,” Simon said, resisting the urge to shift in his seat when Tess sat in the chair beside his. “We need to find the place where the humans are making the drugs from cassandra sangue blood.”

“And we need to give human government more incentive to keep better watch over the places where the blood prophets live,” Vlad added. “We need to impress on them that we know what’s in the drugs and that we’re going to hold them responsible for anything that happens from now on because of those drugs.”

“They’ll whine and wring their hands and say there is nothing they can do,” Cheryl Hawkgard said. “They won’t want us to find those places.”

“They will,” Simon said quietly. “But first we need to narrow the search as much as we can. And for that, we need Meg.”

“No,” Tess hissed as half the coiling hair turned black.

He wished he could move out of reach of the coils of hair that made him think of angry snakes.

“A thousand cuts,” Tess said. “Do you know how many she already has? How much of her life are you going to take for this hunt?”

Charlie Crowgard leaned forward. He looked at Tess, then at Simon. “What does she mean?”

“Each time a cassandra sangue’s skin is cut, she’s that much closer to the cut that will either kill her or drive her insane,” Vlad replied, staring hard at Simon. “But that’s not what you meant. You’re not going to ask Meg to cut her skin.”

“Yes, I am,” Simon said. He’d thought about this while they’d been having their meal break. “One cut. Before she sets that razor on her skin, we’re all going to work to give her as much information as possible. She knows more about how she got here than she realizes. She sees things in images. So she saw at least some of her journey to Lakeside. We need to help her find images that match what she saw.”

“She knew about the kind of poison Phineas Jones was going to use because she’d seen a picture of those frogs in a magazine,” Tess said, the coils relaxing into loose curls.

Henry nodded. “This will be like a puzzle where we eliminate pieces in order to see the picture.”

Now Alan Wolfgard and Charlie were both leaning forward, interested and struggling to understand. The Midwest leaders looked surly, and Simon could sympathize. He’d be less interested in circling around to find the prey if a straight path could be taken. But to them, Meg was just a human, and they didn’t fully realize how the Elementals would react if she came to any harm.

“Are you all just crapping in the den?” Bobbie Beargard demanded. “If not, then say what you mean.”

“How do you get from one human city to another?” Simon said. “Train, bus, car. Humans wouldn’t walk to the next village, so they wouldn’t walk from one region to the next. Trains have stations at specific cities. Buses travel specific routes, whether they stay inside the city or are the ones that provide transportation between human places.”

“And some buses make a stop at the train station,” Alan said, nodding.

“When she reached the Courtyard, Meg wasn’t wearing clothing appropriate for the Northeast,” Tess said.

“She could have lost a winter coat or left it somewhere,” Vlad said. “Or maybe it became soiled in a way that would have called attention to her. She had to stop somewhere for a little while when she dyed her hair red.”

All the guests cocked their heads. Finally Charlie said, “Her hair is red?”

Vlad waved a hand dismissively. “It was supposed to be.”

“Photographers have been allowed to go into the wild country and take pictures of the land and the animals,” Simon said. “And photographers take pictures of the human places. We have books in the library here and at Howling Good Reads that have pictures of the wild country and of cities in every region in Thaisia. Tomorrow we’re all going to work on putting them together in a way that will help Meg narrow down where the enemy is hiding.”

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