Murder of Crows Page 48

He picked up the carryall, walked out of his apartment, got into the van, and looked at Vlad, who was driving him to the train station.

“You’ll keep an eye on everything?” he said.

“She’ll be fine, Simon,” Vlad replied. “Meg won’t come to harm while you’re away.”

He sighed. “How did things get so stirred up?”

“It’s not the first time. Won’t be the last. If the shifters and Sanguinati who live around humans can’t get things settled, the older forms of terra indigene and the Elementals will. They always do.” Vlad pulled up near the back door of the Liaison’s Office. “Go inside and say good-bye. Give her a hug.”

Simon hesitated. “That wouldn’t be too human?”

“No,” Vlad replied quietly. “That would be a friend in any skin.”

He went inside. Meg was in the sorting room turning the pages of the Lakeside News. But he didn’t think she was absorbing any images because when she saw him she looked preoccupied—and scared.

“It will be dangerous for you to be on a train now,” she said.

He cocked his head. “Are you sensing something?”

“Nothing. Maybe I’ve been drinking too much chamomile tea. Jane said the chamomile cookies have helped Skippy’s brain not to skip. Maybe the tea is blocking my ability to feel … something.”

“Or maybe there’s nothing to feel.” Had to get moving and get to the station. “Meg? Want a hug? It’s a friend thing to do when someone is leaving.”

When she nodded, he put his arms around her, pulling her against him. Her arms went around him and held on.

He breathed in the scent of her until Vlad said, <Simon? Time to go.>

He eased back and looked into her gray eyes. “Don’t cause too much trouble for Vlad and Henry.”

She sputtered. “I don’t cause trouble!”

That made him laugh. He walked out with her still sputtering. And the scent of her on his clothes was a comfort.

Monty’s phone rang.

He hesitated, almost let the answering machine pick up. But habit made him reach for the phone. “Hello?”

“You did it on purpose, didn’t you?” Elayne’s voice, tearful and strident.

“Did what?”

“You sabotaged Nicholas’s speaking engagements in Talulah Falls and Lakeside—that’s what you did!”

Monty rocked back on his heels. He couldn’t be hearing what he was hearing. “Elayne, have you paid any attention to what’s been happening in Talulah Falls? No one is getting in or out of there yet. And considering the problems they’re having and the trouble the Humans First and Last movement has already caused in Lakeside, it’s not surprising your boyfriend’s speaking engagements were canceled.”

“Because you didn’t want to be shown up for the jealous, small-time man you are!”

“Is Lizzy there?” He didn’t have time for this nonsense, but he’d like to hear his daughter’s voice.

“No, she is not here!”

More and more strident, which made Monty wonder if Elayne thought Nicholas Scratch was as wonderful as he’d first appeared to be.

“Elayne, I have to go.”

“By trying to ruin Nicholas, you’re also ruining Lizzy’s chance to have something better. You realize that, don’t you?”

He felt a pang in his heart, even if he didn’t believe for a minute that Scratch could offer Lizzy a better home than he could.

“I have to go,” he said again. As he hung up, he heard Elayne screaming, “What’s so important that you can’t give me a minute to talk about your daughter?”

His hand hovered over the phone. They wouldn’t have talked about Lizzy. Whenever Elayne claimed that she wanted to talk about their daughter, the conversation quickly became the list of what Elayne couldn’t have because of his inadequacies.

“What’s so important?” He repeated her words as he stared at the phone. “I have to go help the Others murder a town full of people.”

CHAPTER 29

Throughout the Midwest, the Elementals moved toward the town that held the enemy’s lair.

Air flirted with Earth, tickling and teasing until Earth twitched—and left humans trembling in their insignificant houses.

In the towns where crows had been shot, Fire embraced the utility poles as he passed by, silencing electricity and telephones by the time Water arrived to deliver a punishing rain.

Tornados chased cars and trucks, sometimes catching them and tossing them high in the air, sometimes letting them go with nothing more than the lightest brush of warning.

Lightning struck with vicious accuracy, and Fire and Air danced in the houses of the men with guns before galloping away on steeds who shattered the roads as they ran.

Finally the Elementals arrived at the place that held the enemy. Once they had the town surrounded, they stopped playing.

And the world held its breath while the Elementals and their steeds waited for the rest of the terra indigene to arrive.

The conductor escorting Monty, Dominic Lorenzo, and Simon said, “Our executive car isn’t being used at the moment, so we thought you would appreciate the privacy.”

Meaning the railway didn’t want too many human passengers to realize a Wolf was on board, not when everyone was already stirred up and a minor conflict could swiftly become violent.

Monty looked at the leather chairs and the tables with padded bench seats. “Very nice. Who usually rides in this car?”

The conductor glanced nervously at Simon, who was poking around in the back of the car. “Men who do a lot of traveling and use the hours they commute to keep up with their work. Over here is a small kitchen area, stocked with sandwiches and some other foods and drinks. There is also a bar.”

“People pay on the honor system?” Monty asked.

“Oh, no. Food and drink are included in the ticket for this car.”

Monty thanked the conductor and went to the back of the car to find out what intrigued Simon.

“Toilet and sink,” Simon said, pointing to one door. He opened the door on the opposite side. “What is that?” He pointed to something that looked like a porcelain half-barrel with a seat. Water taps and a handheld shower attachment were secured to the wall behind it.

Dominic joined them. “It’s a little shower stall.”

Monty returned to the front of the car. Food, drinks, comfortable seats, and workplaces. Even an adequate washroom so a man traveling overnight could arrive fresh to a morning meeting. And privacy. “How much do you think it costs to ride in this car?”

“More than you or I would want to pay,” Lorenzo replied as he and Simon joined Monty. “Better take our seats. Feels like the train is leaving the station.”

They stowed their bags on the overhead racks and found seats.

Once the train reached the open land beyond Lakeside, Simon said thoughtfully, “What kind of humans would use this car?”

“The conductor said it was men who needed to work while they’re traveling, so I imagine it’s mostly businessmen and government officials,” Monty said.

Simon nodded. “Businessmen and officials. And humans who don’t want too many other people to notice where they’re going?”

“Why would they care if someone noticed …” Dominic looked at his companions and didn’t finish the question.

Monty stared at Simon. “You think that someone who can afford to purchase a ticket for this car can also afford to buy a prophecy?”

“Just because a person uses the executive car doesn’t mean he or she also goes to one of the compounds for a prophecy,” Dominic protested.

“No, but I don’t think the people going to those compounds do so openly,” Monty replied. “So while not every person who uses the executive car buys prophecies, it’s a safe bet that most people who buy prophecies would use the executive car.” He looked at Simon. “What do you think?”

Simon stood. “I think I’m hungry, and I want to see if those sandwiches are worth eating. And I think the railroad wouldn’t waste fuel to pull an empty car, so I’m wondering where the humans who had tickets for this trip were heading.”

Simon didn’t think the sandwiches were any better than what could be bought in the dining car, but maybe it was the convenience of not having to wait in line that made the food special.

Or maybe the fancy food had been replaced when the humans who had tickets for this car didn’t show up. Didn’t matter to him. Montgomery and Lorenzo had insisted they preferred the chicken sandwiches, leaving the beef ones for him, so they’d all eaten their fill.

No, it didn’t matter to him if there was a fancy car, but someone was going to feel Elliot’s wrath—and his teeth—when Lakeside’s consul found out he’d been relegated to regular passenger cars with all the stinky smells while human government officials rode in this special car that had the pleasing scent of leather and food whenever you wanted it.

As far as Simon was concerned, the value of this private car was the fact that the passengers would be easy for the terra indigene to track even if they tried to hide their faces or lied about who they were. You might get away with lying to some kinds of earth natives, but that just gave the rest of them more reason to pay attention.

Couldn’t always ask the Crows to keep watch. That would be too obvious, and they were more vulnerable—and easily distracted by shiny. The Sanguinati? Definite possibility. After all, train stations were good hunting grounds for Vlad’s kin.

After the meal, all three of them pulled books out of their bags. Simon noticed that Montgomery had a book by Alan Wolfgard. Considering where they were going, he wasn’t sure that was the best choice of story for a human, but he offered no opinion. Humans had remarkably shallow memories. Whenever the terra indigene destroyed a city and reclaimed the land, humans wailed and claimed they didn’t understand. How could they not understand something so simple? If you break the agreements with the terra indigene, the terra indigene will strike back and strike hard. When would humans realize they always started the fights that would kill them?

He glanced at the two men sitting on the other side of the aisle. He didn’t think either of them had shallow memories, so maybe it was good that they would see what the Others could do. Maybe it was smart to let them see exactly what stood against them if their people started a fight.

Meg stared at the silver razor she’d placed on the sorting room table. Cs759. A designation for disposable property. Except cassandra sangue shouldn’t be property, shouldn’t be disposable.

“Meg?”

She looked up when Merri Lee walked into the sorting room.

“All this trouble started because I didn’t want to go back to the compound, because I wanted to be more than property,” Meg said.

“What, nobody made any choices but you? You know better than that.” Merri Lee pointed at the razor. “What choice are you making now?”

“I don’t know. I want to help Simon.”

“Do you need to cut? Is there some prophecy pushing at you that you think is about him?”

“No, but …” Simon wouldn’t want her to cut, not without a reason. Was being worried that her friend might get hurt enough of a reason?

Merri Lee walked over to the phone and picked up the receiver. “Do you know the number for his mobile phone?”

“Yes.”

“Call him, Meg. Leave a message on his voice mail. Then come over to the apartment. I’ll show you how to make spaghetti. That will help distract both of us. Ruth and Theral are bringing ice cream and chocolate to my place this evening, and we’ll all watch movies that give us an excuse to cry.”

Meg took the receiver. “What do I say?”

“Tell him you called because you were thinking about him. I think he would like that.” Merri Lee smiled. “I’ll wait outside.”

When she heard the back door close, Meg dialed Simon’s number. She knew she’d gotten his voice mail when she heard the growled order to leave a message.

So she left her message, closed up the office, and joined Merri Lee for an evening of distraction.

Lorenzo was asleep on one of the padded benches that folded out to a bed. Simon had spent the past few hours staring out the window and occasionally pretending to read. And Monty, halfway through the thriller by Alan Wolfgard, wondered how many humans had read terra indigene books. If nothing else, the story, with its devious, murderous human villains, provided insight into how the Others perceived people. After meeting the humans who worked in the Courtyard, would a different kind of human appear in some of Alan’s stories? How many times would a human female beat off an attacker with a broom or a teakettle?

At a station about an hour away from the Midwest border, a man entered the executive car. Three-piece suit and briefcase. A little portly and very well groomed. He jerked to a stop when he saw Monty and Simon.

“I think you’re in the wrong part of the train,” the man said. The pompous tone produced a growl from Simon. Instead of backing down, the sound seemed to goad the man into adding, “This is a private car.”

“Yes, sir, we’re aware of that,” Monty said courteously. “And we are in the correct car.”

“Are you? Are you indeed! Let’s see your tickets.”

Monty stood, stepped into the aisle, took out his ID holder, and opened it. And watched the man pale. “Now, sir. I’d like to see your ticket.”

“Mine?” the man blustered. “Why should I show you mine?”

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