Written in Red Page 18

“But the car is still there.”

“Yes, sir. The car is still there, so now it’s time for us to take a look.” Kowalski pulled up behind the abandoned car and turned on the patrol car’s flashing lights. He looked toward the bushes that provided a privacy screen behind a long stretch of fence. “Ah, sh— Sorry, Lieutenant.”

Monty looked at what might have been a trail from the car to the fence. “What is it?”

“Nothing good,” Kowalski replied grimly as he got out of the patrol car.

Monty got out, testing the ground beneath the snow to make sure he wasn’t going to tumble into a ditch. Reassured, he plowed through the snow next to the indentation that might have been another person’s footprints.

Caw caw

He glanced to his right at the handful of birds perched in the nearby trees.

The chest-high fence didn’t have those decorative spikes to deter someone from scrambling over. The bushes wouldn’t be much of a wall, especially if someone hopped the fence to look for help. Noticing the broken tops of two bushes, Monty reached over the fence and parted them.

Caw caw

“Oh, gods, there’s a lot of blood,” Monty said, catching sight of the trampled snow beyond the bushes. “Give me a boost. Someone’s hurt and needs help.”

“Lieutenant.” Kowalski grabbed Monty’s arm and hauled him back a couple of steps before saying in a low voice, “That’s the Courtyard. Believe me, there is no one wounded on the other side of that fence.”

Hearing fear beneath the conviction in Kowalski’s voice, Monty looked around. The handful of Crows had swelled to over a dozen, and more were flying toward them. A Hawk perched on top of the streetlight and another soared overhead. And all of them were watching him and Kowalski.

Then Monty heard the howling.

“We need to go back to the car now,” Kowalski said.

Nodding, Monty led the way back to the car. As soon as they were inside, Kowalski locked the doors and started the engine, turning the heater up all the way.

“I thought the barrier between humans and Others would be more . . . substantial,” Monty said, shaken. “That’s really the Courtyard?”

“That’s it,” Kowalski said, studying Monty. “You didn’t work near the Courtyard in Toland?”

Monty shook his head. “Never got near it.” He noticed that Kowalski’s hands hadn’t stopped shaking. “You sure there’s nobody hurt on the other side of that fence?”

“I’m sure.” Kowalski tipped his head to indicate the open land on the other side of the four-lane avenue. “Once the tow truck arrives, we can check the cairn to find out who went over the fence.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Every Courtyard has its own policy when it comes to dealing with humans. The Wolfgard have been running this one for the past few years, and their rules are clear. Kids who hop the fence to look around on a dare get tossed back over the fence and sat on until we pick them up and arrest them for trespassing. Teenagers will get roughed up, maybe get a bad bite or a broken bone before they’re tossed back over the fence. But any adult who goes in without an invitation doesn’t come back out. And if any human—kid, teen, or adult—hops that fence and is carrying a weapon . . .” Kowalski shook his head. “The Others will leave wallets, keys, and other belongings at the cairn so we know that person isn’t coming back. We fill out a DLU form. You know about those?”

Monty shook his head.

“DLU. Deceased, Location Unknown. A family needs one of those to get the death certificates when a body can’t be produced.”

Monty stared at the bushes and thought about the trampled snow and the blood.

Kowalski nodded. “Yeah. With a DLU, we all try hard not to think about what happened to the body, because thinking about it doesn’t do anybody any good.”

How many people in Toland who had been listed as missing were actually DLU? “What’s so special about the cairn?”

Kowalski checked the trees and streetlight. Monty didn’t think there had been any change in the number of Others watching them, but his partner would have a better sense of that.

“Two years ago, Daphne Wolfgard and her young son were out running. Right around here, in fact. She was shot and killed by one man. The other man shot at her son but missed. They drove away before the Wolves reached her or had a chance to go after the men. But the Wolves found the spot in the park where the men had waited to take a shot at whatever might get within range. They followed the men’s scent, but lost the trail where a getaway vehicle must have been parked.

“That spring the Others planted all those junipers to limit the line of sight, and our mayor and Lakeside’s governing body changed the parkland directly across from the Courtyard to a wildlife sanctuary that is off-limits to people, except for guided walks and restricted hunting. Anyone caught in the park at night is arrested and fined. Anyone caught with a weapon at any time goes to jail unless it’s deer season and every person in that party has a permit for bow hunting.

“Captain Burke pushed hard to find the men who killed Daphne Wolfgard, but it looks like they left Lakeside right after that. Speculation was they weren’t from Lakeside to begin with—just came in for a trophy kill and then disappeared. It’s still an open case.”

“Why keep it open?”

Kowalski’s smile was grim. “Did you wonder about the water tax, Lieutenant?”

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