Vision in Silver Page 29

“Mr. Wolfgard?” she said.

First things first. Get the stinky children outside without upsetting the parents since he wanted them to look at the buildings that were for sale across the street. Then he’d deal with the thump and yelp.

“This is Ruthie Stuart, Officer Kowalski’s mate. She will show your pups around the Market Square,” Simon said.

Sarah giggled. Robert said, “We’re not pups; we’re kids.”

Simon looked at Robert and Sarah, then at Ruthie.

Kids. He’d heard Merri Lee say something about when she was a kid. But the word didn’t apply to her now because she was an adult, so it had never occurred to him that, maybe, humans had a little shifter ability that they outgrew as they matured. When she had said kid, maybe she had meant kid?

He eyed Robert and Sarah with more interest. “Little humans can shift into young goats?” Kids were tasty. Would human-turned-goat taste different from goat-goat?

“No,” Ruthie said firmly. “Humans can’t shift into any other form, and while human children are sometimes called kids, they are never goats.” She took a breath and looked at Robert and Sarah. “It would be better not to use the word ‘kid’ in the Courtyard because goats are edible and children are not.”

Simon watched all the color drain out of Eve Denby’s face.

“What time are you supposed to look at the buildings?” he asked.

Pete hesitated, then looked at his wristwatch. “We should go now.” He pulled a five-dollar bill from his pocket and held it up as he looked at his boy. “Share that with your sister and get a treat.”

Robert took the money.

Another thump from the back room followed by a loud snarled curse. Then Skippy Wolfgard bolted into the front of the store and spotted the money in Robert’s hand.

<Cookie!>

Before Simon could grab him, the juvenile Wolf with the skippy brain snatched the money out of Robert’s fingers, took a couple of quick chews, and swallowed.

Shit, fuck, damn, Simon thought. Grabbing Skippy’s tail, he hauled the Wolf toward him before glancing at the boy. No blood, no screaming, no missing fingers.

As Simon changed his grip to hold Skippy by the scruff, the juvenile’s eyes widened in surprise just before he barfed up the money and half a mouse.

Sarah squealed and jumped away from the mess. Robert leaned forward to get a better look.

<Blech cookie,> Skippy said.

“Sorry, sorry.” John Wolfgard rushed to the front of the store. “He got away from me.”

“He ate a mouse,” Robert said, sounding intrigued.

“You ate a worm once and barfed up the worm and a penny you must have swallowed along with it.” Eve sighed and looked at Simon. “Do you have any rags or something to clean that up?”

“I’ll take care of it,” Tess said, coming through the archway from A Little Bite.

Simon didn’t bother to swear. Tess’s hair was solid green and curling, a sign she was agitated about something.

The Denbys stared. Ruthie stood still. Skippy tried to squirm out of Simon’s grip and eat the regurgitated mouse.

“You. Go with her.” Tess pointed at the children, then at Ruthie. “You two go look at the apartment buildings.” She pointed at Pete and Eve, then turned to John. “You take Skippy outside. And do not tell Meg he ate a mouse or she won’t let him stay with her in the Liaison’s Office.”

Everyone rushed to obey, leaving him facing Tess over a puddle of barf.

“Find something to do,” she said.

This wasn’t the time to remind her that he was the leader. He edged around her and headed for the stairs. But he looked back and saw Tess watching him. She did not look happy.

Of course, he wouldn’t be happy either if he had to clean up the barf. It smelled worse than the Denby children.

*   *   *

Leaving Jake Crowgard perched on the front counter in the Liaison’s Office, Meg dashed over to the Three Ps, the Courtyard shop for paper, postage, and printing. When she’d opened the back door of her office a few minutes ago, she’d seen the lights go on in the shop, so she knew Lorne was getting ready for his workday.

Just need a couple of minutes to check on Lorne and make sure he’s okay with being here today, Meg thought as she stepped into the shop. Just need a few minutes to . . .

She hadn’t been inside the Three Ps. Everything she’d needed to do her work at the Liaison’s Office had been provided, from the pens and pencils to the clipboard and pads of paper she used for it. Now she stood frozen just inside the doorway.

No prickling. No pins-and-needles feeling. No sense of prophecy. But as she looked at the sheer number of items on display, she knew entering the shop had been a mistake.

Then Lorne walked out of the back room and saw her. “Meg?”

He started to hurry toward her, then stopped, and she wondered what he saw in her face that made him look so worried.

“Is something wrong?” he asked.

There’s no danger here, no threat, Meg thought, feeling panic start to bubble inside her.

“I’ll call Simon.” Lorne turned toward the counter and the phone.

“No!” Her vehemence surprised both of them. “No,” she said again, struggling for control. “Don’t call Simon. Not yet. I just need a minute.”

She didn’t talk to Lorne the way she talked to Merri and Ruth about images and how she and the other cassandra sangue had been trained in the compound. If she tried to explain, would he understand?

Only one way to find out.

“I’ve seen images of office supply stores,” she said. “If this was a lesson, I would be shown an overall picture of the inside of the store. Then there would be images of the merchandise—one image to represent a particular kind of thing.”

“So you would be shown the outside of an appointment book and maybe an inside page that would show a date?” Lorne asked.

Meg nodded. “We only had the images that the Walking Names wanted us to have, instead of everything.” She gestured to indicate the shelves of merchandise that filled the walls and the two chest-high units that provided more display space.

Running out of time. She couldn’t leave Jake on his own for too long, especially when it was her job to take deliveries.

Lorne looked around. “So without someone setting boundaries, you would try to catalog everything in the shop as different images?”

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