Written in Red Page 100

Meg. One of Namid’s creations, both terrible and wondrous.

That was something he was going to have to think about.

Dear Ms. Know-It-All,

The other night, I had a friend over for dinner and a walk on the wild side (if you know what I mean). Everything was going fine until the kissing and petting part. I got a little excited when he began to play push-away after I nipped him and, well, I ended up biting him on the thigh. It wasn’t a big bite—didn’t even need stitching—and despite what he claimed, it really wasn’t all that close to his chew toy. Now he won’t return my calls. What should I do?

Signed,

Puzzled

Dear Puzzled,

First, young terra indigene often get confused when food provides more than one kind of stimulation. But when you invite a human over for dinner, he expects to be served dinner, not be dinner. Second, even though humans claim to enjoy biting as foreplay, they only mean it when their partners don’t have teeth of any significance. Third, no male, human or Other, feels easy when teeth get too close to the chew toy. So chalk this up to experience, and the next time you invite a human to take a walk on the wild side, stick to a jog in the park.

Trying to breathe and swallow at the same time, Meg spit peppermint tea all over the counter.

Ms. Know-It-All. The newsletter’s dispenser of advice for interactions between humans and the terra indigene.

Gods above and below.

She wondered whether Lorne found the column humorous, or if knowing the Others thought this was sound advice for dealing with humans was the reason he preferred to keep a counter between himself and most of his customers at the Three Ps.

She was still wiping the tea off her counter when she spotted Harry walking up the narrow path from the street. She opened the go-through and reached the door at the same time he did. Pushing it open until he could brace it with his shoulder, she grabbed the top package and hurried back to the counter.

On second thought . . .

Putting the package on the handcart, she waited for him.

“Had a spill, Miz Meg?” Harry asked as he set the rest of the packages on the cart. There was an odd tone in his voice.

“Enough of one that the counter is still wet,” she replied, looking over her shoulder, then back at him. “You go ahead. I’ll fill out my notes as soon as I finish wiping the counter. I’ve seen cars slipping and sliding out there this morning, and you don’t want your truck to get hit.”

“That I don’t. You keep warm now, you hear? And watch out for those spills.”

“I will. Drive safe. See you Moonsday.”

Harry waved at the Crows as he pushed open the door and headed for his truck. Meg finished wiping the counter, folded the newsletters, and put them in the paper-recycling bin in the back room.

When she went into the bathroom to wash her hands, she looked in the little mirror over the sink. Then she stood there, stunned.

Harry hadn’t been commenting about the wet counter. He’d been staring at her face when he’d asked about a spill.

She’d forgotten about the bruise. She’d been so rushed to get ready for work, with Simon and Sam showing up and disrupting her routine, she hadn’t looked in a mirror that morning, not even when she dragged a comb through her hair.

If Harry or one of the other deliverymen called the police and told them about the bruise . . .

She had to tell someone. Had to tell Simon. Just in case.

As she passed through the sorting room on her way to use the phone at the front counter, she glanced at Sam, who was still happily gnawing on his stag stick.

Meg’s stomach did a funny little flip. While she waited for someone to answer HGR’s phone, she promised herself that, from now on, she would make sure the stag sticks Boone was leaving for Sam really were made from deer.

* * *

Monty stood outside the Chestnut Street station, waiting for Kowalski to bring the patrol car around. Last night’s storm provided a good excuse to make a courtesy call at the Courtyard without being too obvious that they were checking up on the Courtyard’s leader—and hoping for some information about what happened in Jerzy.

“I could use some coffee this morning,” Monty said after he got in the car. “Do you think the Courtyard stores will be open?”

“Hard to say,” Kowalski replied, pulling into traffic. “The Others don’t run their stores for profit. It’s more of a hobby and experiment for them, and it’s a way to get merchandise and services without going to human-run businesses.”

No, they wouldn’t need to be concerned about profit. When you were the landlord and an entire city was your rental property, any other business run by a Courtyard was an accommodation.

But when they reached the Courtyard, Monty saw the Others busily removing the snow from their parking lot, using a small bucket loader to scoop up the snow and dump it in the bed of a pickup truck. There were some lights on in A Little Bite and Howling Good Reads, but not enough to give an impression that the stores were open.

“Let’s check the Liaison’s Office,” Monty said.

Meg Corbyn was open for business. Judging by the lights in the windows, so was the consulate. And this access to the Courtyard was already plowed.

“Wait here.”

Entering the office, he walked up to the counter. The Wolf pup stood in the Private doorway, watching him.

“Good morning,” Monty said. “Is Ms. Corbyn around?”

Since he didn’t expect an answer, he stepped back, startled, when the pup suddenly shifted into a naked boy who shouted, “Meg! The police human is here!”

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