Written in Red Page 141

“I’ll tell him the truth. The lab will do the tests as soon as they can.”

“You think he’ll believe that?”

Monty didn’t bother to respond.

“Wolfgard will know the lab is trying to screw him without buying him dinner first,” Burke said quietly. “Let’s hope he continues to believe in your sincerity.”

* * *

When Vlad, Henry, and Tess came into HGR’s office, Simon didn’t waste time. “The monkeys aren’t going to help us. Montgomery gave me excuses, but the end result is we aren’t going to know if the sugar was poisoned.”

“The lieutenant had seemed honest in his dealings with us,” Henry said, sounding disappointed.

Relenting a little, Simon pushed back his own anger. “He sounded frustrated, even a little angry. The police lab doesn’t want to help us, and they aren’t interested in helping him either.”

Vlad shrugged. “A strike against the monkeys, and something that won’t be forgotten.”

“No, it won’t be forgotten.” Especially after Elliot’s report earlier this morning about the mayor’s efforts to court supporters of a humans-only policy for Lakeside.

Fools had tried that before in other parts of Thaisia. The wild country was still reclaiming the last town that had such leaders, so it wasn’t all that many years ago.

Tess stirred. Or, more to the point, Tess’s hair stirred, curling as it changed from brown to red.

“There is another way to find out if the sugar was poisoned,” she said.

“How?” Simon asked. As he studied her, he realized that Tess wouldn’t look any of them in the eyes when she was angry.

“Get Darrell Adams’s home address for me. Elliot should have it in the consulate’s employee files.”

* * *

Tess waited until evening before she walked to a bus stop a couple of blocks away from the Courtyard. As part of the agreement with Lakeside, the terra indigene could ride any public transportation in the city for free. But using that bus pass would bring attention she didn’t want, so she paid the fare, putting in her coins like the humans before taking a seat a few rows from the front. She kept her hair bundled under the wool cap, but she loosened the scarf she’d wrapped around her neck and mouth.

She transferred to another bus, finally getting off at a stop a few blocks from the apartment complex where Darrell Adams lived. She walked briskly, fighting her own nature with each step. She wanted to shift closer to her natural form, but it was important to remain recognizably human. No one who looked upon her true form could survive. Since she was here to test someone else’s weapon and send a warning to the police, an apartment building full of corpses would be overkill.

When she reached Darrell’s apartment, she heard the television through the closed door. Were the neighbors annoyed by the volume? She cocked her head as music suddenly drifted out from another apartment. Or did they all turn up the sound to hear their own choice and drown out the competition?

She knocked on Darrell’s door, then knocked again loudly enough that the door across the hall opened and an old woman peered out. Tess ignored the woman and knocked again.

Darrell finally answered, the television program now blaring into the hallway almost muting the sound of the door across the hall being vigorously shut.

“What do you want?” Darrell asked when he recognized her.

Tess let the tiniest bit of her true form show in her eyes as she looked right at him. “We have something to discuss.”

He staggered back from the door, and she followed him inside, catching him by the arm and leading him to the recliner that was clearly his preferred place to sit.

Only a momentary heart flutter, only a temporary weakening of the limbs from that brief glimpse of her. He needed to be in good health for the test.

She pulled off the wool cap. Her hair—black with threads of red—tumbled around her shoulders, coiling and moving. She removed the small jar from a zippered inner pocket of her coat, unscrewed the top, and held the jar out to Darrell.

“Take two,” she said. “Eat them.”

“Why?”

“You can choose between the sugar or this.” Looking into his eyes again, she let the human mask fade from her face a little more.

Darrell wet himself.

She shook the jar. “Two.”

He took two sugar lumps, popped them in his mouth, chewed a couple of times, and then swallowed. She brought her face back to the image her customers and the terra indigene were used to seeing, but her hair remained the death color with those few threads of red.

As she watched him, she tapped two sugar lumps onto the floor near Darrell’s chair. She didn’t have to wait long. Twice she turned up the volume on the television to drown out his screams, and twice those screams eclipsed the sound.

Someone began pounding on the door, shouting, “What’s going on in there? We’ve called the police!”

Busybody, Tess thought, annoyed. And because she was annoyed, she stuffed her wool cap in her coat pocket and walked out of the apartment, leaving the door open. She kept her eyes averted, but her true form was close to the surface and her coiling hair drew the eyes of those she passed. She savored the little bit of death that touched every person who looked at her.

She walked and walked, her hair still black but starting to relax. She still kept her eyes averted, although it was doubtful any of the people in the cars even glanced her way, and there were very few people on foot.

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