Written in Red Page 19

“Yes, I wondered.” He’d been shocked when his landlady explained her strict rules about water usage. Other tenants in his building told him about using the water in the rain barrels for washing cars and watering the little kitchen garden. It had struck him as odd that no one wanted to tell him why there was a tax on water when they lived right next to the lake that supplied it.

“The Others control all the fresh water. Rates for water and the lease for the farmland that supplies most of the food for Lakeside are negotiated with this Courtyard. The year Daphne Wolfgard died, a water tax was added to the standard rates. Nothing was said then, and nothing has been said since, but the captain keeps the case open because what also isn’t said is that if the men responsible for the murder are caught and punished, that tax will go away.”

Monty drew in a breath. “Is that why you took this assignment? For the hazard pay?”

Kowalski nodded. “I’m getting married in six months. That extra check each month will help us pay the bills. You take a risk every time you encounter one of the Others, because you never know if they’re going to look at you and see a meal. They’re dangerous, and that’s the truth of it, but a person can deal with them if he’s careful.”

“The fence is the boundary?” he asked.

“Nah, their land comes right up to the road. The fence is more a warning than a barricade. In between the road and fence is considered an access corridor for utilities and city workers.”

“Who are watched,” Monty said, looking at the Hawk who stared right back at him.

“Always. And they watch a lot more than the Courtyard and the park.” Kowalski checked his mirror. “There’s the tow truck and another patrol car. If that team can stay with the truck, we can leave.”

As Kowalski opened his door to go talk to the other officers, Monty thought of what would happen after they checked the cairn. “When there’s a DLU, who informs the families?” Please don’t let it be me.

Kowalski paused with the door open. “There are a special team of investigators and a grief counselor who take care of that.” He closed the door.

Monty blew out a sigh of relief.

We are the tenants, not the landlords, a temple priest once said at a weekly gathering. We only borrow the air we breathe and the food we eat and the water we drink.

That was easy enough to forget in Toland. He suspected the water tax helped everyone in Lakeside remember the truth of it.

Kowalski returned and drove up to the traffic light, then back around the wide median, pulling up almost directly across from where they had been parked a minute ago.

Even with all the snow that had fallen yesterday, the pile of stones and the discarded personal effects weren’t hard to find.

Three wallets with ID and credit cards. Three sets of keys.

“There’s some cash here,” Kowalski said. “Probably not all the cash that was in the wallets to start with, but the Others never take all of it.”

Not kids, Monty thought as he looked at the IDs. Young, sure, but old enough to have known better—which wasn’t going to help their families face the loss. “I would have thought young men would carry more in their pockets.”

“Probably did. The wallets and keys are usually all that’s left here. Jewelry, weapons, trinkets, stuff like that will end up in one of the Others’ stores here, in another Courtyard in the Northeast Region, or somewhere else on the continent. Even the weapons will get sold, although not back to any of us. The Others won’t kill to steal, but once the meat is dead, they make use of everything they can.”

A sick feeling churned in Monty. “Is that how you think of your own kind? As meat?”

“No, Lieutenant, I don’t. But the terra indigene do, and I’ve seen the results when humans—police officers or otherwise—forget that.”

Better not start wondering if you should have used one more bullet after you saw that young Wolf turn back into the girl you rescued. Better not start wondering. Not here. Not now.

“Let’s get these items back to the station,” Monty said. “Families may be starting to wonder why their boys didn’t come home last night.”

“Then what?” Kowalski asked.

“Then I think I should introduce myself to Simon Wolfgard.”

* * *

Boxes and packages piled up on two handcarts as delivery trucks arrived in a flurry, their drivers nervously glancing at the Crows perched on the wall outside and visibly relaxing when they noticed the short human behind the counter. They were all quick to point out the name of their company as well as their own name, spelling out both for her as she wrote them down on her pad. Identification. Validation. Some of them had to make two trips to bring in all the deliveries, and Meg wondered whether they had avoided this stop for as many days as possible.

That first hour, the door opened and closed so often, she decided to look for those fingerless gloves Harry had mentioned and find some kind of insulated vest to wear over the turtleneck and sweater.

Wanting a little more warmth and to show some progress before Jester returned, she went into the sorting room to work on the mail.

Sorting mail turned out to be a challenge. Some was addressed to a person, some was addressed to a group, some had a street—maybe it was a street—and some had a designation she didn’t understand at all. The only thing the mail and packages she’d signed for had in common was they all said Lakeside Courtyard.

“No wonder they have a hard time getting their mail,” she muttered.

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