Murder of Crows Page 47

“Gods.” Rough breathing. “Will … Will we be able to come back here?”

“Hopefully I’ll be able to answer that by the time you get here. And Pete? Keep your eyes open. If you think you’re being followed, head into the wild country and make enough racket to draw the attention of whatever is out there. Right now, your wife and kids have a better chance with the Others than they do with whoever knows you were asking questions.”

“I’ll call you when we get to Lakeside.”

“Check in along the way. And before you leave, send me an e-mail with the make and license number of your car.”

“All right.” A pause. “Doug? Do you think it’s all worth it?”

“I think we’ll know in a few days, one way or the other.”

CHAPTER 28

The following Windsday morning, Monty entered Burke’s office and closed the door. “I think we found the compound owned by the Controller.”

Burke gave him a long look. “Call Dr. Lorenzo. Tell him it’s time for whatever input he’s willing to give. And send a car around to pick up Simon Wolfgard. This time he needs to come to us.”

Monty went back to his desk, made the call to Dominic Lorenzo, and sent Kowalski to pick up the Wolf. Then he sat back, almost swaying with fatigue despite the early hour.

For several days he, Louis Gresh, and Burke had been running on strong coffee, sketchy meals, and little sleep as they tried to narrow down the possible places where the Controller’s compound could be located. An incident room had been set up at the station and was kept locked. Not that a lock was needed. The sign that read RESERVED FOR DOUGLAS BURKE was enough to make other officers in the Chestnut Street station avoid that corridor as much as possible.

Everyone at the station knew something was going on and it was something big, something dangerous. Everyone knew he and Louis were involved and their respective teams were not. Everyone knew it somehow involved the terra indigene.

Everyone knew something bad was about to happen, but not even the station’s chief had asked Captain Burke for an explanation—especially after the report came in that Burke’s friends were run off the road on their way to Lakeside. The two adults and two children suffered minor injuries and were now in some undisclosed location. The assailants, however, suffered fatal injuries when the roadway suddenly turned to quicksand and buried them up to the chest before hardening again.

It was understood that the local wildlife didn’t find the unexpected feast until after Burke’s friends had been taken from the area.

Louis sat on the corner of Monty’s desk and leaned toward him. “Do you think we defused this bomb?”

“Not completely,” Monty replied, rubbing his eyes. “But it will be a smaller one because of what we’ve done.”

Hearing the soft scuff of a shoe, Meg spun away from the front counter and hurried into the sorting room, hoping Simon finally had some news. But it was Jane, the Wolfgard bodywalker, who stood in a spot where she wouldn’t be seen by someone entering the office.

“Hello, Jane. Is there something I can do for you?” Then she thought of one reason why Jane would come up to the office. “Sam! Is he sick? Is he hurt?”

Jane shook her head. “Sam is fine. Did you … have an itch?”

Meg sagged against the sorting table. “No. When I saw you, it was the first thing that popped into my head.”

“Prairie dog thoughts. They can pop up right under your nose.”

The image made her smile.

It felt like she hadn’t smiled in days. It felt like all she’d done was wait for news, for answers, for … something. The terra indigene, on the other hand, had worked and played and hunted as if nothing was happening. Sure, more of the Wolves were patrolling the Courtyard’s boundary, more Crows were on lookout, more Hawks were soaring, but the Others weren’t waiting the way the humans were waiting. They were ready. Until it was time to act, they would simply live.

“I was wondering about the Wolf cookies,” Jane said.

“Did you want something in particular?” Meg asked. “Tess is going to e-mail the order to Eamer’s Bakery today. I’ve asked for smaller cookies for the puppies. The beef-flavored cookies were the most popular, and—”

“The people-shaped cookies,” Jane said.

“Oh.” Meg hesitated. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to have people-shaped cookies anymore.”

Jane looked disappointed. “They were useful.”

“Oh. They could still make chamomile cookies in a different shape,” Meg said.

“Small cookies? I’ve been giving Skippy a little piece each morning, and it calms him down just enough for his brain to work properly. We’ve all noticed the difference.”

“I’ll put in the request.”

“Thank you.” Jane shifted from one foot to the other. “Are there any humans working in the bookstore today?”

“I don’t know. But Merri Lee is working at A Little Bite. Did you want to talk to her?”

“No.” The word was snapped out too quickly, followed by a little whine. “No, I just thought, while I was up here …”

Merri Lee, Ruthie, and Theral had grown up watching scary “wolfman” movies, and they all agreed the real thing was a lot more terrifying. But they also agreed that the Others shouldn’t feel reluctant to shop in their own Market Square just because a few humans worked there—especially the terra indigene who couldn’t go to the human stores because they couldn’t pass for human and would likely cause a panic if people saw them.

Having someone like Jane Wolfgard, a respected bodywalker, go into Howling Good Reads and purchase a book when Merri Lee or Ruthie was at the checkout counter, or sit in A Little Bite to have a drink and a snack, might make other terra indigene feel easier about doing the same thing.

And anything that helped each side accept the other had to be a good thing. Especially now.

Meg touched the side of her head. “No one will mind furry ears.”

Jane studied her, then nodded and went out the back door.

Hearing the Crows who were on watch cawing at someone’s arrival, Meg returned to the counter in time to see a patrol car pull in and continue up the access way. Then she heard someone come in from the back and turned, thinking it was Jane needing a little more reassurance.

Not Jane. Simon crossed the sorting room and stopped at the Private doorway.

“They found the enemy,” he said. “I’m going to the Chestnut Street station to talk to Montgomery and the other police.”

“All right.” Suddenly cold, Meg hugged herself. “Will you tell me …”

Simon cocked his head. “Tell you what?”

“I don’t know.”

He waited a moment, then said, “I have to go.”

Gone.

She waited and watched until the patrol car pulled out of the delivery area and turned right on Main Street, heading toward the Chestnut Street station.

She held out her hands, studied her arms—and wondered if she should be relieved or alarmed that she didn’t feel even the faintest prickle anywhere.

Caught in an uneasy sleep, Jean grimaced, and a split on her lower lip reopened, turning dream into a prophecy that flowed like a movie clip.

The ground shook. The wind roared. The Walking Names shouted and pleaded and screamed. Walls were sprayed with blood, and limbs ripped from bodies littered the corridors.

The girls, locked in their cells, shivered and cried.

Then her door slammed open and she saw …

Jean opened her eyes—and she smiled.

Dominic Lorenzo looked haggard when he walked into the incident room at the Chestnut Street station. He studied Monty, Louis, and Burke before sagging into a chair. “Do you realize what we’ve stirred up? How many influential people have called to rattle the hospital administrators about my suitability to practice medicine?”

Burke sat down opposite Lorenzo and gave the man a fierce-friendly smile. “Oh, I wouldn’t worry too much about that, Doctor. Lakeside’s police commissioner has been dealing with similar calls about me and mine. I think the people complaining about you now will be singing a different tune very shortly.”

“Why?”

Burke’s smile became fiercer. “Benevolent ownership.”

“A necessary evil.”

“What about breeding farms? What about breeding girls with an eye to enhancing their ability to see prophecy? What about breeding them until the offspring are so sensitive they can’t survive without that benevolent ownership?”

Lorenzo stared at Burke. “That’s monstrous.”

Monty studied the doctor. “But it also confirms something you’ve begun to suspect, doesn’t it?”

Lorenzo opened his briefcase, pulled out a thick stack of papers, and didn’t reply for a minute. Finally, “The people who use these compounds and buy prophecies aren’t going to let that kind of information come to light. Breeding farms for those girls? None of those people would survive the firestorm of that kind of scandal.”

“Which is why I’m not planning to give the information to other humans,” Burke said. “I’m going to give it to the terra indigene.”

“Give what to the terra indigene?” Simon Wolfgard asked as he and Vlad Sanguinati walked into the room.

“We’ll get to that,” Burke said. “Lieutenant?”

“We’re reasonably sure we’ve found the city where the Controller’s estate and the compound are located,” Monty said, walking over to the map on one of the incident boards.

Can’t pass for human today, Monty thought, glancing at Simon and Vlad. Neither of them. There’s just too much predator showing through.

“What about you?” Simon said, looking at Lorenzo.

The doctor hesitated, then pulled out his own map and unfolded it. “I’ve talked to colleagues, acquaintances, and hospital administrators. I’ve marked the places where blood prophets have been given some medical care. I want to point out that most of the facilities who brought the girls in for treatment are known in their communities and are run openly.”

Simon and Vlad said nothing. They just looked at each map. Then Simon opened up another map and set it on the table next to Lorenzo’s.

“What have you marked?” Monty asked, noting the same towns that were marked on each map.

“Crows talk to the Crowgard,” Vlad said. “So they obliged when asked to look at human places. We made note of the places where humans shot them.”

“The towns where people shot the crows are the same towns we suspect of having compounds that hold cassandra sangue,” Monty said.

Simon nodded. “Your maps confirm the conclusions reached by the terra indigene in the Midwest.”

“Now what?” Burke asked.

“Now Lieutenant Montgomery, Dr. Lorenzo, and I will board the westbound train that leaves at two thirty this afternoon and meet up with the terra indigene who will settle things with the enemy.”

Lorenzo shot to his feet. “I’m not going anywhere!”

Simon and Vlad both smiled, showing their fangs.

“You’ll go because you’re a human bodywalker who is interested in blood prophets, and you’ll want to help the ones who survive,” Simon said.

“The ones who—”

“And the lieutenant will go because the police will want to talk to one of their own instead of the earth natives who will be present in that town,” Simon continued.

“And you?” Monty asked. “Why will you be going?”

“To keep a promise.”

Lorenzo shook his head. “No. It’s hard enough to have gathered this information, knowing what—”

“Have you heard about the other shipment of tainted meat?” Vlad asked. His voice was friendly; his eyes were dark ice. “Two delivery trucks full of the stuff. One had an odd accident and managed to tip over in such a way that the driver wasn’t hurt but the back door popped open. The driver got into the other vehicle and it drove off, leaving all that tempting meat just lying on the road. Funny thing about the Sanguinati. About all the terra indigene, but my people in particular. We recognize the blood prophets as not prey. The cassandra sangue are Namid’s creation, both wondrous and terrible. We don’t drink their blood. Other earth natives don’t eat their flesh. And we can recognize it even when it’s ground up and mixed with beef in an attempt to hide what it is.”

Louis groaned. Lorenzo sat down heavily. Monty braced his hands on the table, feeling sick. Burke stared at Simon and Vlad.

“Are you sure more girls were used to make that meat?” Burke asked.

“We’re sure,” Vlad said. He folded up the map Simon had brought and tucked it under his arm.

“Train leaves at two thirty,” Simon said. “If you want humans to have any say in what comes next, don’t be late.” He and Vlad walked out of the room.

Silence. Then Burke said, “Lieutenant? You and Dr. Lorenzo should go home and pack a bag. Doctor, Commander Gresh will drive you home and take you to the train station. Lieutenant, have Kowalski drive you. I’ll clean up here.” After a moment, he added quietly, “May Mikhos watch over all of us.”

Mikhos was the guardian spirit for police, firefighters, and medical personnel. Monty suspected his name would be invoked many times over the next few days.

Simon reached for the carryall but didn’t pick it up.

He didn’t want to go. It was important and necessary, and a few months ago, he’d gone to the Midwest Region to meet with leaders and had dumped Meg and Sam together with barely a second thought. Now he wouldn’t hear her voice for days, wouldn’t have the comfort of her scent. Now he would miss her.

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