Murder of Crows Page 46

Uneasy silence. “Look, Doug. I’ve never gone to one of those places. Gods, I have a wife and two kids, not to mention a car payment, and we’re hoping to buy a house. I couldn’t afford it. But this might not be a good time to be spending your money on a prophecy.”

“Why is that?”

“Client of mine. He’s not guilty of all the charges against him, but he’s not innocent either. I haven’t been able or willing to guarantee he won’t go to prison for a while, so he went to visit a man called Mr. Smith who has ways of predicting such things. But when I met him after that very expensive meeting, all my client did was complain that he’d been cheated, that the girl hadn’t told him anything about himself or his spot of trouble, had just screamed about wind and fire. Mr. Smith tried to pass it off as metaphor for a heated debate in court, but when my client threatened to raise a fuss, Mr. Smith returned half the fee. Lately there have been whispers that the places claiming to have girls who can see the future are just scams.”

“Has it occurred to anyone that the girls are seeing the future? That the wind and fire are an accurate prophecy?”

“Oh, now, that’s … Doug? What are you saying?”

“I’m saying if the man known as the Controller isn’t found very soon, those prophecies will be accurate. The Midwest will burn, Pete, and the Others aren’t interested in leaving survivors.”

Gasps. “Why?”

“You’ve heard about the troubles? About the drugs called gone over wolf and feel-good? About that town that went crazy because of the tainted ground beef?”

“Sure, I … The police suspect him? Is there any proof?”

“Human law does not apply in this case. The terra indigene consider him an enemy, and they are going to hunt him down. How much of the Midwest survives that hunt will depend on how quickly they find him. Help me find him, Pete.”

“I … How much time do we have?”

“When was your client going to trial?”

“Two weeks.”

“Then we have less than that.”

Another silence. “Is it just me, or are you calling in other IOUs for this?”

“I’m calling in all of them.”

CHAPTER 26

On Sunsday morning, the guests of the Lakeside Courtyard gathered behind the Liaison’s Office, waiting for the bus that would take them to the train station for the journey home.

Moments after Blair drove up and opened the bus door, Meg stepped out of the office.

Something’s wrong, Simon thought as he hurried toward her. Not a big wrong; she hadn’t sounded an alarm. But something was bothering Meg.

Henry and Charlie noticed moments after he did, and moments after that, all the terra indigene leaders were watching her.

Meg trembled, but she faced the Others and said in a quiet voice, “We were taught a lot of things in the compound in order to provide accurate prophecies that could be understood by the Controller’s clients. But we weren’t taught about ourselves, and I think most of what we were taught was a lie. But the Walking Names weren’t always careful about what they said around us. That’s how I know that buying a cut of my skin is very expensive.”

Simon looked at the bandage on the side of her left hand. The Others hadn’t asked for the cut; the police had. But whatever she’d told Lieutenant Montgomery was the reason the police were working hard to locate the Controller.

<We’re going to miss the train,> Blair warned.

Simon ignored him.

Joe Wolfgard looked at the other leaders before turning back to Meg. “We have some human money. We can harvest other things that humans covet to get more.”

Meg shook her head. “I don’t want money or things.” She paused. “We’re told we can’t have a life like other humans. We’re told we can’t survive outside the compound. If it wasn’t for my friend Jean, I would have believed the Walking Names. But Jean wasn’t born in one of the compounds. She came from outside. She had a mother and a father and a baby brother. Someone like Phineas Jones took her away from her family and tried to turn her into property. But she never forgot, wouldn’t let them forget that she’d had a name once, had a family just like they have families. She was my only friend. She told me about outside. And she used up some of her skin to help me escape. So this is what I want from you. You’re going to find the Controller, one way or another. That’s not prophecy, just … belief. You’re going to find him and you’re going to find that place. And when you do, I want you to save Jean, if you can. I want you to find a new place for her where she’ll be safe and can have a life.”

“You want her to come here?” Simon asked. Wasn’t that what Meg wanted? To bring her friend to Lakeside? After all, she was safe here, had a life here.

“Only if Lakeside is the right place,” Meg replied after a moment’s thought. “It’s the right place for me, but it might not be for her.”

The terra indigene studied her, this human who didn’t want gold or silver or gemstones or money. Finally Cheryl Hawkgard said, “We will try to save your friend.”

“Thank you,” Meg said. She went into the office and quietly closed the door.

The terra indigene hustled to load their carryalls into the bus. Blair took off for the train station as soon as he could close the bus door. After a brief discussion, Alan Wolfgard and Bobbie Beargard decided to ride back to the High Northeast with Charlie, so they loaded their gear in the back of the pickup. Alan wanted a last quick browse through Howling Good Reads and Bobbie went with him, leaving Simon alone with Charlie.

Smiling gently, the Crow said, “Don’t absorb so much of what is human that you forget who you are. But if you must, do it for your own sake rather than for the benefit of the rest of us.” He looked around. “This is a good place. Can I come back and visit again?”

“You will be welcome,” Simon replied.

Alan returned with another bag of books. Even Bobbie had a couple she tucked in her carryall before he could see the covers.

After they were gone, Simon returned to Howling Good Reads and looked around. All the guests had taken advantage of shopping in a bookstore—and interacting with humans who chatted with them and recommended books—so there were a lot of empty spaces on the shelves. He and Vlad were going to have some work ahead of them to restock. Maybe he should get a cloth and wipe the shelves now that he could see them.

Was that too human?

He understood Charlie’s warning, but he was a Wolf and always would be.

But would it be such a bad thing to be just a little more human? Just enough more?

Don’t get too comfortable in this skin, he thought as he went into the stockroom and rolled a cart to the shelves. Especially when there’s no certainty you’ll still want it a decade from now.

Monty flipped the folder closed when Louis Gresh walked up to his desk.

The two men studied each other. Then Louis said, “Yesterday you and Captain Burke went to a meeting at the Courtyard. Since then, he’s been on the phone and you’ve been working at your desk instead of being out on patrol. Burke’s not always easy to read, but you’ve got the look of a man who knows there’s a bomb and is trying to find it before the clock gives that final tick.”

Monty said nothing.

“Not only that,” Louis continued, “you’re keeping your partner out of it with the captain’s blessing, which means he knows how bad this will be if things go sideways.”

“Something you want, Louis?”

“Let me help on the QT.”

“Did Burke okay it?”

Louis smiled. “Okay what?”

Monty hesitated. The fewer people who knew the ultimatum the Others had given, the fewer people who might tell the wrong person. The Controller had clout with people in government and business. What if someone warned him as a way of garnering favor? What would happen to the Midwest—and the rest of Thaisia—if the man managed to escape and go to ground somewhere else?

But they weren’t going to narrow down the target without taking chances. Not in the window of time Burke figured they had before the terra indigene began destroying the Midwest.

He wrote down the names of a dozen villages, towns, and cities, then handed the paper to Louis. “We’re looking for private schools, institutions, or any other kind of place where blood prophets might be kept.”

Louis gave the paper a little wave. “These located around the Great Lakes?”

“Lower Midwest.”

Louis looked at him for a long time. “If this bomb goes off before you find what you’re looking for, how much of Thaisia do we lose?”

“The whole Midwest Region.”

“Gods above and below.”

Monty watched Louis carefully fold the paper and put it in a pocket. The Midwest wasn’t their jurisdiction. Government officials should be informed of the threat, and the rest should be up to the Midwest’s governor to locate the Controller and stop the actions that were adding to the ever-present tension between humans and Others.

But that assumed the Midwest’s governor wasn’t a client of the man the terra indigene wanted killed. That wasn’t an assumption the humans who would get caught in the destruction could afford to make. It wasn’t an assumption he could afford to make.

Clock is ticking, Monty thought. He hoped Dominic Lorenzo would come through and give him the list of private hospitals or other medical institutions that could hide a compound that matched the description Meg had provided. He hoped that what he was doing would give all of them the chance at a better future.

He hoped he found the answer before the bomb made of wind and fire destroyed the Midwest.

CHAPTER 27

On Firesday morning, Monty waited at the bus stop and listened to the people around him.

“Crows gathering around schools and medical facilities in the Midwest. Why would they do that?”

“Spying. That’s what I heard.”

“Spying on what? Looking to snatch food from the children or pick through the trash is more like it.”

“All those people arrested for shooting birds. It’s not right.”

Not wanting to get entangled in the discussion by pointing out that killing crows was against the law, Monty felt relieved when the bus arrived.

Gods above and below. Shooting crows. Those Midwest towns might as well paint a target in the town square and have the government stand there shouting, We have something to hide!

The police force grapevine could be an effective tool. However, in this case, some people who shouldn’t have had gotten wind of the hunt. But the Lakeside police were discovering the grapevine had also revealed unexpected allies in other regions. Much of what Captain Burke received was speculation or rumor about halfway houses for girls with addictions, but it was becoming clear that many police stations across Thaisia were looking at Lakeside and wondering if the Chestnut Street station might provide a new model for working with the terra indigene. After all, Lakeside had come through that recent conflict with the Others with minimal casualties and damage to property.

It won’t mean anything if the east and west of Thaisia are divided by a scorched hole where the Midwest used to be, Monty thought. But we’ll keep trying. Clock is ticking, so we have to keep trying.

“Gods, Doug. What did you get me into?”

“Problem, Pete?”

“You’re damn right there’s a f**king problem! Someone e-mailed my wife’s itinerary to me to show they can find her at any hour of the day. Someone sent me a photo of my children’s school and a close-up of children on the playground during recess, with a black X over my kids! Someone doesn’t want me asking questions.”

“You want to back out?”

“The time to back out was when you called. But I don’t want to come home one day and find my wife and kids …” A choking sound. Then a shuddering effort to regain control. “I’m pretty sure I located Mr. Smith’s compound. It’s not in my town. It’s in the nearest city, which is on the main rail line.”

“We’ve been looking at the towns with railway access too.”

“I sent you an e-mail with all the information I have about Mr. Smith and his business. Here in town, there’s a facility that specializes in group housing for ‘those who can’t live on their own.’ It looks legitimate, but the administrator became ‘very busy, must dash’ as soon as I asked about blood prophets. In one of the farming hamlets nearby, there’s a government-run orphanage. It has a small medical facility attached to it and is the place girls who get themselves in trouble go when they’re giving up the babies.”

“Sounds like a good place to run a breeding program for cassandra sangue.”

Stunned silence. “What did you say?”

“Nothing you heard.” A long pause. “Pete? How are you set with gas coupons?”

A hesitation. “Eve and I have been conserving fuel since I got your call earlier in the week. I can spare a few gallons of gas from the family budget if you need me to drive somewhere and take a look around.”

“No, I want you to pack up your family and come to Lakeside. Now.”

“You said we had time. Doug, there’s still time—”

“To find someone waiting for you when you get home?”

“I … I need to cancel the newspaper, put a hold on the mail, hand off my cases or at least contact—”

“Someone who will tell the people who sent you your wife’s itinerary and pictures of your children at recess that you’re going to disappear?”

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