Murder of Crows Page 45

“We appreciate your candor, Mr. Wolfgard,” Burke said. “Obviously, reaching out to fellow officers and alerting them to the existence of such a dangerous enemy will not be a quick process. How much time do you think we have before the terra indigene take action?”

Simon looked at Cheryl Hawkgard and Joe Wolfgard.

“The next time humans try to use either of those drugs against us will be the last time,” Cheryl said.

“Clock is ticking,” Montgomery said so softly Simon was sure the man hadn’t meant for anyone to hear him.

Simon escorted the humans out of the building. He didn’t watch them walk back to their cars; he didn’t need to. Jenni Crowgard and her sisters were keeping an eye on the back of the Liaison’s Office and the parking lot.

<Meg and the other girls are getting restless,> Tess told him. <Meg wants to start work and is waiting for you to finish your meeting since you’re all in the way. The other girls want to use the computers in the library and find pictures of buildings.>

<We’re done,> Simon replied. <Give us a couple more minutes to clear out. Then I’ll be at the bookstore.>

<Good. Apparently, Nyx is thinking about working at HGR and wondered if you were going to open it again to human customers. You might want to discuss this with Vlad.>

Not a discussion he wanted to have right now. Then again, he’d rather discuss Nyx interacting with humans then have the discussions Burke and Montgomery would have to face.

“I didn’t sign up for this.” Standing in the parking lot next to his car, Dominic Lorenzo sounded frightened and angry. “I agreed to provide some medical services in the Courtyard, not help the Others commit mass murder. It won’t be just one person who gets killed. You know it won’t.”

“Keep your voice down,” Monty said, pretending he wasn’t aware of all the Crows gathering on the roofs that overlooked the parking lot.

“You might not have signed up for helping them hunt down a man,” Burke said, “but if you back out, the Others won’t forget it.”

“And you can live with that?” Lorenzo asked.

“I can live with that a lot easier than doing nothing and then watching the terra indigene destroy all the cities in the Midwest,” Burke replied. “But I think you’re forgetting the other side of the coin, Doctor.”

“And what is that?”

“Someone put a living girl into a meat grinder in order to wreak havoc in a town. Should that man, that murderer, be granted benevolent ownership of an unknown number of girls whose affliction is being used for profit?” Burke studied the Crows for a moment, then looked at Lorenzo. “You’re not the one who has to find this man. But you do need to decide if you’re going to help the girls who were his victims.”

Still pale, Lorenzo got into his car and drove off.

Monty and Burke didn’t say anything until they were in their car and Burke was driving toward the Chestnut Street station.

“Lieutenant, the Others are going after a man who has enough juice to influence governors and start a manhunt over half of Thaisia in order to find a girl who had escaped his control. He sent a team of trained mercenaries to Lakeside. It stands to reason a lot of important people will not want him to be found.” Burke looked grim. “Before I start making phone calls and shaking up police departments in the Midwest, I’d like some confirmation of just how bad the bad could be. So you know who you need to talk to.”

“Yes, sir, I do,” Monty replied. “But I think I’ll have a better chance of talking to Ms. Corbyn alone if I wait until this afternoon.”

Monty waited until late afternoon before returning to the Courtyard.

“Will you be able to get a cup of coffee at A Little Bite?” he asked Kowalski.

“If anyone has objections to me staying, Tess will give me the coffee and tell me it’s to go,” Kowalski replied. “Anything I should be doing there if they let me stay?”

“Keep your eyes and ears open.” Monty got out of the car and went into the Liaison’s Office while Kowalski drove the patrol car to the employee parking lot.

He recognized the watch Wolf, who sprang off one of the Wolf beds and blocked his approach to the counter.

“Good afternoon,” he said, raising his voice enough to be heard in the next room. “I’d like to have a word with Ms. Corbyn if she’s available.”

Meg stepped out of the sorting room, rubbing her left hand. “Mr. Wolfgard thought you’d be back. Come inside.” She opened the go-through.

When Monty took a step toward the opening, the Wolf blocked him again and snarled.

“Nathan, I know Simon told you Lieutenant Montgomery was here this morning and has permission to enter the sorting room,” Meg said.

Another deeper, wetter snarl.

“Nathan!”

He backed away, watching Monty and still snarling. As Monty slipped behind the counter, Meg pointed at the Wolf.

“If you start howling just to rile up the other Wolves, I’m going to forget where I put the order for the Wolf cookies,” Meg said sternly.

“Arrroooo!”

Monty noticed that Meg didn’t lock the go-through, and she didn’t close the Private door all the way.

“I don’t want to cause trouble,” Monty said.

“You’re not. Nathan is just being …”

“Thorough?” he suggested.

Meg smiled. “Yes.”

Monty returned the smile. “Can’t fault a security guard for doing his job.”

“Arrooooo!”

“This is as private as it gets,” Meg said, huffing out a breath.

He eyed the door and considered the question he’d come to ask. No help for it. Simon Wolfgard might have given permission for him to be in a room with Meg, but the chaperone with teeth was going to hear everything that was said—and report it.

Well, wasn’t that why he’d asked Kowalski to have a coffee at A Little Bite? To listen and report whatever was overheard? Right now trust was a fragile commodity.

It suddenly occurred to him that Wolfgard wasn’t granting this privacy for his sake; it was for Meg.

“I have a question,” Monty said.

“Simon thought you would.”

Meg looked at him with eyes that were older than when he’d first met her a few months ago. Someone else used to make all the decisions for her. Now she wasn’t shielded from seeing the results of the prophecies she spoke, and the weight of that knowledge showed.

“I told Simon I was going to make one cut to help find the Controller, but after all of us spent a lot of time narrowing down the possibilities of where I was held, the Others didn’t think I would be able to tell them anything more that would be useful right now. Simon, Tess, Henry, Vlad, and I talked it over, and we agreed that if the police needed that one cut to help you search, then I would make the cut.”

That makes me responsible for the next scar. Monty didn’t want to take that responsibility. Why would anyone want to take that responsibility? But someone had to, and this time, he was that someone.

“We need an answer,” he said.

“Wait a moment.” She went into the back room. When she returned, she placed several paper towels, folded to make a thick pad, on the table, and set another one off to the side. Then she removed a folding razor from her jeans pocket and set that on the table.

“Is there something wrong with your left hand?” he asked, watching her.

“It’s been prickling since you arrived,” she replied, rubbing it. “The feeling has been getting stronger. I’ll need to cut soon, so ask your question, Lieutenant.” Holding up a hand to stop him, she opened the Private door and stared at Nathan, who had his forelegs on the counter and was leaning in as far as he could.

“Go out now,” she said. “Tell Tess to come in a few minutes. She knows why.”

Monty didn’t think the Wolf would obey, but apparently the danger of being around a cassandra sangue when her skin was cut was sufficient motivation. Or else Meg was simply confirming an order Simon had given already.

“Why have him leave?” he asked.

“Nathan would want to lick the wound, and that wouldn’t be good for him,” Meg said. “And it wouldn’t be good for you.”

Monty nodded. Whether the Wolf reacted aggressively or passively, the Others wouldn’t respond well to a human being present.

Once Nathan went out the front door, Meg said, “Ask your question.”

“The police have been asked to help the terra indigene find the Controller. Our concern is that the Others might go in and eradicate an entire town in order to eliminate a single enemy. My question is this: what will happen if the police don’t help the terra indigene find this man?”

Meg picked up the razor and opened it. “Do you remember the words that Tess used at the meeting? It’s not what was said in the compound, but the first time Tess said them when I made a cut, it helped bring everything into focus.”

“I remember the words.”

“Then ask your question again and say the words.” She turned her left hand and braced it on the table before resting the width of the razor against her skin.

Monty swallowed hard. Seeing her hold the razor, he wanted to tell her to forget it, wanted to walk away before she sliced her skin. But she was the only one who could tell him what the future might look like.

“What will happen if the police don’t help the terra indigene find the Controller? Speak, prophet, and I will listen.”

Meg turned the razor so the edge rested on skin and cut the side of her left hand. Monty slipped the razor out of her hand and set it aside, unnerved by the agony he saw on her face before it became filled with a blank sensuality that was even more disturbing.

She looked at the table. Her right hand moved as if she were unrolling something.

“Map of Thaisia,” she said. Her hand moved up and down. “Midwest.”

“What do you see?” he whispered, not sure she could hear him now.

“Twisting wind. Fire. Broken buildings. Ash.” Her hand moved up and down again. “Bones.”

Monty shivered. “Do you see any people? Where are the people?”

“Ash and bones.”

Meg took a deep breath, then let it out in an orgasmic sigh. She blinked and looked at him. “Did you get your answer?”

She really doesn’t know, he thought. Doesn’t know what she said, doesn’t know how wanton she looks. When she speaks prophecy, she becomes a vessel and forfeits the person, the personality. Not that big a leap to think of her as property, as something that can justifiably be used.

“Lieutenant?”

And then she was Meg Corbyn again, with that childlike sweetness that was inherent to her.

“Yes. Yes, I did. Thank you.” Disturbed by his thoughts, Monty focused on Meg’s hand, resting on the pad of paper towels that was stained red. “Do you want some help bandaging the cut?”

He heard a door open. Tess walked into the sorting room, coming in from the back.

“I’ll take care of it, Lieutenant,” Tess said.

Her hair was green and loosely coiled. Since she sounded brusque rather than angry, he made a mental note of the color and degree of curl. It had been brown and straight the first time he’d met her. From what he’d gleaned from Kowalski’s and Debany’s observations, brown and straight meant relaxed or at least not anxious about anything. Green was the first sign of annoyance. Red indicated anger. And no one, no one, talked about her hair turning pure black.

Having looked at the crime scene photos of the four Lakeside University students who died after the attack on Merri Lee, Monty thought he had a good idea of what happened when Tess’s hair turned black.

He nodded to Tess, then turned to Meg. “I appreciate your help, Ms. Corbyn.”

She gave him a wan smile.

“Officer Kowalski is in HGR, talking with Alan Wolfgard,” Tess said. “They were discussing a story about a girl who gets swallowed by a wolf and then rescued by a hunter. Apparently, whether you see it as a story of love and courage overcoming danger or a horror story about devious humans depends on whether or not you have fur.”

“Ah.” Monty took his leave and hurried over to Howling Good Reads. He trusted Karl to be cautious when engaging in this kind of discussion, but he thought it prudent to avoid reminders of devious humans for the foreseeable future.

Retrieving his partner, they drove back to the Chestnut Street station, where he told his captain about the prophecy.

“Pete? It’s Douglas Burke.”

Silence. Then a too-hearty “Doug! It’s been a long time.”

“Yes, it has. Haven’t seen you since we took that long ride into the wild country.”

“You looking for a lawyer? My clients are usually located in town, but …”

“I don’t need a lawyer. Not exactly.”

Another silence. “I guess you’re calling in the IOU.” A sigh. “Burke’s Justice doesn’t come without cost, but it can save a man’s life. What do you need?”

“Information about a man called the Controller. He runs a compound where cassandra sangue are held. I know he’s in the Midwest.”

“The Midwest is a big region.”

“That’s why I need help from people who live in that part of Thaisia.”

“ ‘Where cassandra sangue are held’? You make it sound like a prison.”

“Prisons have rules about how inmates can be treated. No one is monitoring what happens to those girls.”

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