Written in Red Page 17

“No. It’s not.” Burke picked up a letter opener from his desk, turned it over and over, then set it back down. “My grandfather was in one of the rescue teams that went to find the survivors. He never spoke of it until the day I graduated from the police academy. Then he sat me down and told me what happened.

“From what was pieced together afterward, three young men, all full of loud talk, decided getting rid of the Others would put humans in control, would be the first step in our dominating this continent. So they dumped fifty-gallon drums of poison into the creek that supplied the water for that Courtyard.

“The Others caught the men on land that was under human control, so they called the police. The men were taken to the station, and their punishment should have been handled by human law and in human courts.”

Burke’s expression turned grimmer. “Turned out that one of those young men was the nephew of some bigwig. So it was argued that while those boys were standing next to the drums, no one saw them dump the poison into the creek. They were released, and the city government was foolish enough to let them publicly declare their ‘actions without consequences’ as a victory for humankind. And the terra indigene watched and listened.

“Late that night, it started to rain. The skies opened up and the water came down so hard and so fast, the underpasses were flooded and the creeks and streams had overflowed their banks before anyone realized there was trouble. Precise lightning strikes knocked out electric power all over the city. Phone lines went down about the same time. Middle of the night. No way to see in the dark, no way to call for help. And it kept raining.

“Sinkholes big enough to swallow tractor trailers cut off every road leading out of the city. Bridge supports that had held for a hundred years were torn out of the ground. Localized earthquakes shook buildings into pieces, while sinkholes swallowed others. And it kept raining.

“People drowned in their own cars trying to escape—or in their own homes when they couldn’t even try to get away.

“The rain stopped falling at dawn. Truckers coming into the city for early-morning deliveries were the first ones to realize something had happened and called for help. They found cars packed with women and children floating in fields on either side of the road.”

Burke cleared his throat. “Somehow cars that just had women and children got out. And most men who were around the same age as the ones who had poisoned the Others’ water supply didn’t die of drowning.”

Monty watched Burke’s face and said nothing. This was nothing like the version of the Drowned City he’d heard.

“As the water began to recede, rescue teams in boats went in to find survivors. They weren’t many beyond the ones who had been washed out of the city. There wasn’t a government building or a police station still standing. My grandfather’s rescue team got close to the Courtyard and saw what watched them. That was their first—and only—look at the truth about the Courtyards and the terra indigene.”

Burke took a breath and blew it out slowly as he returned to his chair behind the desk and sat down. “The Others, like the shape-shifters and bloodsuckers? The ones who venture out to shop in human stores and interact with humans? They’re the buffer, Lieutenant. As lethal as they are, they are the least of what lives in a Courtyard. What lives unseen . . . My grandfather said the term used in confidential reports was Elementals. He wouldn’t explain what they were, but a lifetime after he saw them, his hands still shook when he said the word.”

Monty shivered.

Burke linked his fingers and pressed his fisted hands on the desk. “I don’t want Lakeside to become another Drowned City, and I expect you to help me make sure that doesn’t happen. We’ve already got one black mark. We can’t afford another. We clear on that, Lieutenant?”

“We’re clear, sir,” Monty replied. He wanted to ask about that black mark, but he had enough to think about today.

“Stop by your desk to pick up your cards and mobile phone. Officer Kowalski will be waiting for you there.”

He stood up, since it was clear that Burke was done with him. With a nod to his captain, Monty turned to leave.

“Do you know the joke about what happened to the dinosaurs?” Burke asked as Monty opened the office door.

He turned back, offering the other man a hesitant smile. “No, sir. What happened to the dinosaurs?”

Burke didn’t smile. “The Others is what happened to the dinosaurs.”

* * *

Officer Karl Kowalski was a personable, good-looking man in his late twenties who knew how to handle a car on Lakeside’s snowy streets.

“Hope the salt trucks and sanders make a pass pretty soon,” Kowalski said as they watched the car in front of them slide through a traffic light. “Otherwise, we’re going to spend the day dealing with fender benders and cars that spun out and are stuck.”

“Is that what we’re checking out?” Monty asked, opening the small notebook he carried everywhere.

“Hope so.”

An odd answer, since their first call was to check out a car abandoned on Parkside Avenue.

Monty checked the notes he’d made. “A plow spotted the car late last night but it wasn’t reported to us until this morning? Why the delay?”

“Car could have slid off the road and gotten stuck,” Kowalski replied. “Owner could have called a friend and gotten a ride home, intending to deal with the car in the morning. Or he could have called a towing service and found shelter somewhere, since every towing business would have lists of calls in weather like this, and it could have taken the truck hours to get to the owner of this car.”

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