Murder of Crows Page 51

When they reached the Lakeside train station, the Courtyard’s small bus was waiting for them. Monty called Captain Burke to let him know they were back.

He’d expected the bus to go to the Courtyard, where he and Lorenzo would have to decide what to do with the girls. But Blair Wolfgard left the train station and headed north on River Road.

“Mr. Wolfgard?” Monty said. “Where are we going?”

Simon, sitting up front with Blair, just looked at him for a long moment before turning away.

Uneasy, Monty sat back, not sure what he could do if the Wolf had stopped trusting him. The girls looked frozen in place. Even Jean, who had maintained some ability to function throughout the journey, looked as if she’d reached her limit of new experiences. And he didn’t think he and Lorenzo could stop whatever the Others decided to do.

When they reached the mainland half of Ferryman’s Landing, Monty suddenly realized what Simon intended. The barge waited for them, and they left for Great Island as soon as the bus was secured on deck.

They didn’t stop at the docks. They drove to a bed-and-breakfast and pulled into the lot.

Simon pointed to the five girls, then at the building. “Look at that place. Could you stay there for a while? This is outside, so you have to mind the adults looking after you or you could get hurt.”

After some hesitation, the girls moved to look out the windows where they could see the B and B. Monty watched them rub their arms the way Meg did when a potential prophecy prickled her skin. But after a minute, they looked at Simon and nodded.

“Jean?” Simon asked.

She wrapped her arms around herself, shook her head, and closed her eyes. “Too much,” she whispered.

Nodding as if that wasn’t a surprise, Simon herded the girls off the bus. They were met by Steve Ferryman, who introduced everyone to Margaret Seely and Lara Herrera, the owners of the B and B.

Lorenzo made one effort to maintain control, but a warning look from Steve Ferryman silenced him, and Monty was well aware of the Crows gathering in the trees around the B and B—and Blair Wolfgard standing at the bus’s open door, on guard. So it was only the two women and Simon Wolfgard who escorted the girls into the building.

Steve made a “follow me” motion at Monty and Lorenzo before walking to the other side of the parking lot.

“You have a problem with this?” Steve asked. “Because I can tell you, you won’t be taking those girls off the island. Not right now, anyway.”

“You’re not equipped to deal with cassandra sangue,” Lorenzo said.

Steve snorted. “Are you?”

“No, we’re not,” Monty said before Lorenzo could argue. “But I don’t think you realize how difficult this will be.”

“Namid’s creation, both wondrous and terrible,” Steve said softly. “You could say the Intuits were the original breeding stock that produced the blood prophets. And, no, we aren’t any better equipped than you to deal with them. If we were, we wouldn’t have lost a girl last year. But we’re all going to have to think hard and fast about what can be done.”

“I’m not easy about the girls being taken out of our hands,” Lorenzo said. He wagged a finger between himself and Monty. “We brought those five girls out of the compound. We had to leave dozens behind, dozens of girls who …” He shook his head. “We’ll find someplace for the girls.”

Steve gave them a strange look. “You don’t understand how the terra indigene work, do you? They’ve taken this out of your hands—and I’m not just talking about the girls you brought back to Lakeside. Now that they know what to look for, you can bet the Others are out there now, hunting for cassandra sangue in every human settlement.”

We showed the Others the likeliest places for the girls to be kept, Monty thought, feeling chilled by the amount of blood that was about to be shed. “All of those children, killed.”

Another strange look. “It’s possible that whoever runs the compounds will kill the girls rather than let someone else have them. But that’s not what you meant, is it?”

He hadn’t considered that. As a police officer, he should have considered it. “No, that’s not what I meant.”

Steve said nothing for a minute. “I expect a lot of people are going to die over the next few weeks because of this. And I have to figure that not all the girls will be able to survive when their lives are no longer so restricted. But I can tell you that Intuits have coexisted with the Others ever since humans set foot on this continent, and we have never known them to harm a child.”

Monty watched Simon walk out of the B and B alone. “So we let them go.”

“The Others aren’t going to let you keep the weapons, so, yes, you have to let the girls go.”

Jean kept her eyes closed, sufficiently overwhelmed by the quiet sounds of the Wolves and men returning to the bus. Engine turning over. Movement. Where were they going now? Could it matter? Did anyone else on this bus understand what was coming?

The terra indigene would move fast and strike hard—and Thaisia would never be the same. As for the cassandra sangue who would be caught in the whirling images of these fights …

Blood. Desperation. Terror. The flash of razors as a way to silence fear of the future, only to see the truth in a prophecy that comes moments too late.

Not for me to know, Jean thought. Not much of me left to use.

She had lived too long in that restricted life. She had yearned to be outside since the day she’d been taken from her parents, a little girl who had held on to memories as proof that there was something more than the cells and the lessons and the men and women who looked at all of them and saw nothing but the value of skin.

Now that was over. But outside was too big, too much. She’d sent Meg outside with nothing but her childhood memories as proof that the cassandra sangue could survive. And yet, Meg had survived and would make things better for all of them.

She must have dozed off, because when Simon Wolfgard said, “We’re here,” she opened her eyes and realized the bus had stopped moving.

She slowly made her way down the steps, assisted by Simon and Lieutenant Montgomery and followed by Dr. Lorenzo and Steve Ferryman. A man and woman waited for them in front of a comfortable-looking house. There were other buildings nearby—a barn and … chicken coop … and another, smaller building that looked similar to the house. Cottage? Guesthouse? She couldn’t recall an image that quite fit the look of the structure.

“This is James and Lorna Gardner,” Steve Ferryman said. “They’re Simple Life folks. That means they make use of some practical technology, but they prefer to keep their lives uncluttered.”

“The guest cottage is empty,” James said. “We had a cousin living there for a while, but she met someone at our last gathering and went to live in his community. Mr. Ferryman sent word that you might be needing some quiet, so you’re welcome to stay if it suits you.”

Jean looked at the cottage and the land and the two people waiting for her answer.

Then Lorna stepped forward and handed her a jar. “You can take your meals with us, of course, but this is our traditional welcoming gift.”

Jean looked at her own scarred hand, holding the jar of honey.

“Could you stay here for a while, Jean?” Simon asked.

She swallowed tears and smiled. “Yes, I’d like to stay.”

Monty sat in the visitor’s chair in front of Captain Burke’s desk and waited.

“Choosing the lesser of two evils is never easy, Lieutenant,” Burke said quietly. “If we hadn’t provided assistance in locating that compound, the terra indigene would have torn the Midwest apart. Make no mistake about that. And now the Others throughout Thaisia have grabbed the human governments by the balls with an ultimatum: voluntarily reveal the places where cassandra sangue are sheltered or lose that human settlement—the whole village, town, or city reclaimed immediately if the Others go in and find even a single girl hidden away.”

“What about all the politicians and businessmen and whoever else bought prophecies?” Monty asked.

“As I understand it, the terra indigene aren’t going to stop anyone from buying a prophecy. At least, not immediately. I think the compounds will have new staff to look after the girls and the security will be handled by the Others. So they’re going to know everyone who goes in or out of those places. They’ll know if anyone tries to smuggle out blood or a girl—and may the gods help anyone foolish enough to try it.”

“So even with the compounds revealed, nothing will change for the girls.”

“Everything will change, Lieutenant. The breeding farms will be shut down. The girls living in the compounds now won’t be forced to leave a familiar place, but those places will be run more like supervised housing. And if they want to leave, they can. The blood prophets will make their own choices, live their own lives. And that will include deciding to make a cut for someone who wants a prophecy.”

“With the terra indigene watching and knowing exactly who is buying prophecies.” Monty sighed. “That will give power brokers more reason to support the Humans First and Last movement.”

“Probably,” Burke agreed. “We’ll just deal with one problem at a time.”

“Sir? How do you know all this?” It didn’t surprise him that Burke knew. He just wondered how the man had found out before anyone else.

“I stopped at the Courtyard, intending to give you a lift home and get your report. But you were on your way to Ferryman’s Landing, so I had a brief chat with Elliot Wolfgard. I think he was so forthcoming because he wanted to see how humans might react to the news. The next few weeks should be interesting.”

I could do with a little less interesting for a while, Monty thought as he pushed out of the chair. “I’m not sure Dr. Lorenzo is going to keep his office in the Market Square. Realizing the Others don’t let you pick and choose how you help them … I ‘m not sure he’s going to get past what he saw in that compound.”

“Are you?” Burke asked.

He didn’t know, so he said, “Good night, sir.”

“Have someone drive you home, Lieutenant.”

“Yes, sir.” Monty called MacDonald and Debany since they were on duty and arranged for the ride home. Then he sat at his desk to wait for them to return to the station.

He looked at the book about Thaisia’s history that Simon had given to him and wondered how much the Others’ version of recent events would differ from the human account. Then he pulled an envelope out of his pocket and opened it. Simon had given it to him when they got off the train.

The single sentence read: “Unlike humans, the terra indigene do not harm the sweet blood.”

He suddenly understood the task the Midwest Wolves and Sanguinati had undertaken. They wouldn’t leave the girls in that compound. Not that one. No, they would scatter those girls among the small human settlements under their control, most likely the Intuit villages. The Others would give the girls a chance to live—or allow them to die if they were too wounded in mind and heart to survive. Not all of them would have Meg Corbyn’s strength and will to live, but he hoped enough of them would.

Monty folded the paper, put it back in the envelope, and tucked it in his desk drawer. Then he opened the history book and began to read while he waited for Debany and MacDonald.

You couldn’t choose to step away once you got entangled with the Others. He just hoped that humans would gain something from the bloodshed that was coming.

Simon looked at the windows of his dark, empty apartment and wanted to howl with loneliness. He wanted company, companionship, but not … Wolves. Yes, he wanted them too, but being around his own kind wouldn’t take away this particular feeling of lonely.

He wanted his friend. His Meg. Her phone message had meant something. Hadn’t it?

He’d found her cell in the compound, the place those humans had kept her for all those years. It still held her scent and looked untouched, as if they’d been waiting to lock her back in that place. That had horrified him in a way the slaughter of the adult humans in the compound never could.

Even with the Sanguinati on the inside to open the doors for the rest of them, the Others hadn’t been able to save all the girls. The Controller and his people had seen to that. But that wasn’t something Lieutenant Montgomery or Dr. Lorenzo had needed to know then or now. It was enough that they had seen what the terra indigene could do. Now he would wait and see what they did with that knowledge.

“If you keep standing there, you won’t find the note I left for you.” Meg’s voice came out of the darkness, a light that banished the shadows of lonely.

He walked over to the stairs that led to her porch. “What note?”

“The one that said to drop off your carryall and come up for dinner.”

“Oh.” He climbed the stairs, bringing the carryall with him. “You have food?”

She smiled at him, a glee that invited him to play. “I made spaghetti.”

That didn’t sound right, but he’d caught the scent of something tasty, so he followed her to the kitchen, leaving his carryall by the door.

“Merri Lee taught me,” Meg said as she lifted the lid on a pot and carefully stirred. “The sauce has ground beef and some vegetables. The beef was thoroughly sniffed before Boone Hawkgard ground it fresh for me, so it’s fine. And the pasta is almost ready.”

He felt like his paws weren’t on firm ground, and he didn’t know how to move. The food scents were too strong, so he couldn’t tell if she’d cut herself recently. “How did you know when to …?” He trailed off, certain he would spoil things if he asked.

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