Written in Red Page 137

“Yes, sir.”

He turned back to Simon. “Do you have any idea who might have done this?” He’d received one of the flyers banning a woman named Asia Crane from the whole Courtyard, including the stores. And he’d heard the whisper that an employee had been fired for breach of trust, whatever that meant.

Simon hesitated. “No. No one had a reason to hurt the ponies.” He shifted from one foot to the other. “Lieutenant . . .” A deep breath before words tumbled out. “Skull and crossbones. A skeleton in a hooded robe. Screaming children with black snakes pushing out of their bellies.”

“What?” Monty braced his hands on the counter. Was that a threat?

“We think that poison was used to kill some human children. Or it will be used.”

“Here? In Lakeside?”

“Don’t know where. Don’t know when. Maybe it already happened. Maybe it’s something that can be stopped.” Simon took a step back from the counter. “I’ll open the back door for your man.”

Staggered, Monty stayed at the counter until Kowalski drove back to the delivery entrance. Simon Wolfgard didn’t come back to the front room, so Monty left.

“Back to the station?” Kowalski asked.

“Yes. Where is the box?”

“In the trunk. Figured that was better than having it in a closed car with us.”

Monty nodded. Keeping his face turned to the passenger’s-side window, he said, “Karl? Do you remember hearing about children being poisoned by someone dressed up like a skeleton or a death’s head in a hooded robe?”

Kowalski hit the brakes, then fishtailed the car before he regained control. “Sir?”

“We might have a line on another crime.”

“Gods above and below,” Kowalski muttered.

Neither of them spoke again until they reached the station. With Kowalski starting a search for a crime that matched those clues, Monty reported to Captain Burke.

Burke’s eyes turned a fiercer blue while his face paled. “That’s all he gave you?”

“I think he gave me all they had,” Monty replied. “He didn’t have to say anything.”

“Most of them wouldn’t have.” Burke sighed. “All right. We have only one lab in Lakeside set up to handle and identify poisons. Have Kowalski drive over and deliver the box personally. I’ll put in a call and see what I can do to bump our request to the top of the queue. You see what you can find out about children being poisoned. And as sad as it would be to find it, let’s hope you do find a report. If it already happened, we know where and when, and maybe even what kind of poison.”

“If it hasn’t happened, how do we warn the rest of the cities in Thaisia?” Monty asked.

“I’ll have to think about that. It may surprise you, Lieutenant, but not everyone likes me. And not everyone who does like me likes my stand with regard to the Others. We didn’t empty the precinct’s coffers to buy a prophecy, and anyone who has heard one will recognize that clues like that tend to come from a prophecy. If we admit it was a footnote in a prophecy done for the Lakeside Courtyard, we’re telling a whole lot of people that the Others have a resident blood prophet.”

“Putting a target on Meg Corbyn, with no certainty we’re doing our own people any good.”

Burke nodded. “I’ll make some calls and spread the word as best I can—after you run the search to find out if this already happened and was, may the gods be merciful, a tragic reference rather than a future possibility.”

“Yes, sir.”

Monty sent Kowalski to the lab and took over the search. How old were the children? And where were the children?

Lizzy, he thought, looking at the picture of his daughter that sat on his desk. Be safe, Lizzy.

* * *

When it started snowing in Simon’s office, he yanked off his sweater and shirt to cover the computer. Vlad knew more about the things than he did, but he did know that snow and anything that plugged into an electrical outlet weren’t a good combination. Hearing footsteps in the hall, he leaped for the doorway before Winter and her fury actually entered the room.

His torso and arms furred as a defense against the cold that surrounded her. Her gown fluttered despite an absence of wind. As bits of it flaked off, it became snow that rapidly covered the floor around her.

“Who tried to poison our ponies?” Her voice added an icy glaze to the frosted glass on his door and rose to the volume of a storm. “Who dared raise a hand against our companions and steeds? Who?”

“I don’t know,” Simon replied quietly, looking into her eyes. “Meg saw enough to protect them and to warn us, but she didn’t see who poisoned the sugar.”

An awful silence. The Elementals were dangerous enough when they gave passive guidance to Namid’s weather and seasons. When they were capricious and cruel, they could cleanse a piece of the world of everything but themselves.

“Should I ask Meg to try again?” Simon asked.

Winter touched the green scarf around her neck. “No,” she said, her voice quieting. “No. Jester says our Meg bled to protect the ponies. He says there was pain.”

“Yes.”

“She has done enough.” Winter started to turn away. Then she stopped and didn’t quite look at him. “Her leg. It will be difficult to walk over snow-rough. It might cause pain.”

“It might,” he agreed, not sure where she was headed with this.

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