Written in Red Page 15

Harry looked at her clipboard and let out a happy sigh. “Warms the heart to see someone behind the counter doing the job proper. The last one they had here?” He shook his head. “I’m not surprised they gave him the boot. I’m surprised they kept him as long as they did. Couldn’t be bothered to care about anything, and that’s just not right. No, that’s not right. Say, it can get pretty chilly out here with that door opening and closing all the time. You might want to get a pair of those fingerless gloves. The wife wears them around the house and swears they help her stay warm. You should look into getting a pair.”

“I’ll do that.”

“You take care, Miz Meg.”

“I will. See you on Moonsday, Harry.”

He gave the Crows a friendly wave as he walked to his van.

Meg put the ceramic pen holder on the counter but put the clipboard on a shelf out of sight. Then she returned to the sorting room.

Jester grinned at her. “He’s not peculiar, if that’s what you were wondering. He’s just relieved to be dealing with someone safe. So being concerned about you catching a chill is as much for his sake as yours.” He eyed her. “Besides, he’s got a point.”

“Does he?” She didn’t like the way he was eyeing her, especially when he grabbed her arm and gave it a squeeze, letting go before she had a chance to protest.

“You’re not fat, but you don’t have much muscle. You need to work on that. Run and Thump has treadmills and—”

“I don’t like treadmills.” She heard panic rising in her voice. Don’t think about the compound. Don’t think about the Controller or the treadmills or anything else about that place.

“Plenty of places here for you to walk.” His voice was mild, but something sharp filled his eyes as he watched her. “But you couldn’t get over the counter, so I’d say you could use some exercise to strengthen muscle. And the second floor of Run and Thump has classes for dancing or bending or some such thing.”

“I’ll think about it.”

“Sort by gard, then by individuals,” Jester said after an uncomfortable pause. “I’ll be back with some of the ponies in a couple of hours.”

“Ponies?”

“They act as couriers around the Courtyard when they feel like it.”

He left her—and she wondered if she had already said too much.

* * *

Jester quietly closed the back door and looked around. The Crows were on the move, spreading out to watch and listen—and to hear what the regular crows had to tell them. The Hawks were soaring high above, also watching.

And inside the Human Liaison’s Office?

Secrets. Fear.

He wanted to poke his nose into the reasons for both.

Couldn’t talk to Simon. Not today. Henry had already warned him about that. But Tess? Yes, Tess might know how they had acquired their new Liaison. And she kept a supply of long-grass tea for him. A Little Bite wasn’t open to human customers yet, so she might have time to gossip—if he phrased his comments and questions in the right way.

He was glad Henry had told him that Meg didn’t have the prey scent that was typical of humans. He would have felt a lot more wary of their Liaison if the Grizzly hadn’t already known there was something peculiar about her.

He wanted to know how and why Simon hired Meg Corbyn. And, most of all, he wanted to know what it was about her that made him feel she could be a danger to them all.

CHAPTER 3

Monty paid the cab driver and got out at the corner of Whitetail Road and Chestnut Street. Taking a cab wasn’t a luxury he could afford every morning, but he didn’t want to be late on his first day. He’d have to check out bus routes and schedules until he had time to consider if he needed to purchase some kind of car.

He looked at his watch and hesitated. The Chestnut Street Police Station was in sight, and he had half an hour before his meeting with Captain Burke. Across the street from the station was a diner, the kind of place that served hearty meat-and-potatoes meals and coffee strong enough to help a man stay upright when he was too tired to stand on his own. In the middle of the block was a small Universal Temple.

Checking his watch once more, Monty crossed the street and walked to the temple. Whether it was true or not, it eased his heart to think there was something beyond the physical plane, something that felt benevolent toward humans, because the gods knew there wasn’t much on the physical plane that felt benevolent toward them.

He opened the door to the entranceway, stomped the snow off his boots, then went into the temple itself.

Soft natural light filtered through snow-dusted windows. Vanilla candles delicately scented the air. The random tones of meditation bells drifted through the temple from the hidden sound system. The padded benches could be arranged in various patterns. Today they were scattered to provide seating at each of the alcoves that held representations of guardian spirits.

Mikhos, guardian of police, firefighters, and medical personnel, was in an alcove nearest the door, which made sense with the temple being so close to a police station.

Taking a match from the holder, he lit a candle in front of the alcove, then settled on the bench and practiced the controlled breathing that would clear his mind of busy thoughts in order to hear the quiet voice of wisdom.

It wasn’t wisdom but memory that filled his mind.

You shot a human to protect a Wolf.

I shot a pedophile who had a girl imprisoned in his house. He had a knife and threatened to kill her.

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