Written in Red Page 14

“There isn’t,” Jester replied, disappearing into the sorting room. “You have a key to the back door,” he continued when he walked into the front room and vaulted over the counter. “I’ll show you where the office keys are kept.”

He unlocked the dead bolt, studied the Crows for a moment, then grinned as he walked back to the counter. “You’ve been on the job for less than an hour and you’re already the most entertaining Liaison we’ve had.”

“Thanks,” she said, trying not to sound sour. She could imagine what Simon Wolfgard would say if he heard about this. “You won’t tell anyone about the counter, will you?”

“Me? No. Them?” Jester tipped his head toward the windows. There were Crows vying for a spot on the wooden sculpture, and a couple were standing in front of the door, looking in. “Most of the Courtyard will hear about this within an hour.”

She sighed.

“Come on. I’ll show you the trick with the go-through.” He pointed to the slide bolt that connected the go-through with the long counter.

“I tried that,” she said.

“That one keeps it closed during the day when you might be going in and out a lot.” He reached under the wide top. A moment later, Meg heard a bolt drawing back, then another. “There are two bigger slide bolts that keep the go-through closed the rest of the time. Those are locked when you leave the office for a meal break or at the end of the day.”

Jester pushed the go-through open, then stood aside to let her enter. He followed her in, closed the go-through, and used the visible slide bolt to secure it. After showing her where the other bolts were located, he pointed out the supplies and other items that were on the shelves under the counter.

A clipboard with a pad of paper. A round ceramic holder full of different color pens. Paperclips and rubber bands. A telephone at the other short end of the counter and its directory on the shelf underneath. And catalogs. Lots of merchandise catalogs from various stores, as well as menus from local eateries.

“We have a little bit of most everything in the Market Square, but not a lot of anything,” Jester said. “There is a plaza a few blocks from here that serves the humans who live in this part of Lakeside. It has all sorts of stores and more variety in terms of merchandise. A Courtyard bus provides transportation twice a week for anyone who wants to shop there.”

“Isn’t that dangerous?” she asked, remembering training images of fighting, blood, and slashed bodies.

He gave her an odd look. “It’s always dangerous when there are only a few of us among the humans.” He waved a hand to indicate the Crows, then touched his fingers to his chest. “Remember this, Meg Corbyn. We’re the ones you can see, but we’re not the only ones who are here. Which is why we have so many catalogs,” he continued in a lighter tone. “Our shops order things directly from manufacturers, just like human stores do. Some of it stays here; some is sent on to our kin who enjoy the things but want no contact with humans. But there are plenty of other bits of shiny that are ordered from a human store and delivered here, which is where you come in.”

Meg nodded, not sure what to say. So many warnings layered in his words. So many things to think about.

“Ready to start?” Jester asked.

“Yes.”

They went into the sorting room. Jester took the top bag from a pile of bags, opened it, and dumped the contents on the sorting table.

“The mail truck comes in the morning,” he said. “Give them back their bags as you empty them. You’ll get used to sorting the mail more specifically, but to start, sort by gard or location. Then . . .”

Caw caw

Jester smiled. “Sounds like your first delivery.”

Meg went out to the front room, closing the door partway. She put the clipboard and pad on the counter, tested a pen to make sure it worked, and carefully noted the date at the top of the page—and hoped the calendar under the counter had the days crossed out accurately.

The Crows scattered, most heading out while a few settled again on the brick wall and the sculpture sticking out of the snow.

As a man got out of the green van and opened its back door, Meg wrote down the time, the color of the truck, and the name Everywhere Delivery.

He was an older man whose face had been lined by weather and years, but his movements looked efficient as well as energetic. He elbowed the van door closed, glancing at the Crows as he pulled the office door open. Balancing four packages, he hesitated at the doorway.

“Good morning,” Meg said, hoping she sounded friendly but businesslike.

He relaxed and hurried to the counter. “Good morning. Got some packages for you.”

Suddenly remembering that every face could belong to an enemy, she fought to hold on to the businesslike demeanor. “It’s my first day. Do you mind if I write down some information?”

He gave her a smile wide enough for her to think his teeth weren’t the ones he’d been born with.

“That is a very good idea, Miz . . .”

“Meg.”

“Miz Meg. I’m Harry. That’s H-A-double-R-Y. I’m with Everywhere Delivery. Not a fancy name, but a true one. I’m usually here closer to nine on Moonsday and Thaisday, but the plows are still clearing the streets and the driving is slow this morning. Four packages today. Need to have you sign for them.”

She wrote down his name, the days and time he usually made deliveries, and the number of packages she signed for.

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