Written in Red Page 23

“Since I’m closing up tonight, maybe I should take over the register now,” a man said as he approached their table.

Black hair, dark eyes, black sweater and jeans. More olive-skinned than fair, and dangerously good-looking.

“This is Vladimir Sanguinati, the comanager of Howling Good Reads,” Simon said.

Kowalski bobbled the mug and sloshed coffee on the table.

“Sorry,” he muttered, grabbing the napkins Tess had put on the table.

“This is Lieutenant Crispin James Montgomery and Officer Karl Kowalski, our new police contacts,” Simon said.

“How intriguing,” Vladimir replied.

Monty didn’t know why it was intriguing, or why Kowalski reacted to the name like that, but he did know there were things he wanted to think and say, and it wasn’t safe to think or say them while he was in that store.

“I won’t take up any more of your time, Mr. Wolfgard,” Monty said quietly as he pushed his chair back and stood up. He pulled one of the new business cards out of his pocket and handed it to Simon. “My number at the station and my mobile phone number. If you need assistance—or just want it for any reason—please call me.”

Rising, Simon slipped the card into his trouser pocket without looking at it.

“Since we’re all friends now, you should come in for coffee again,” Tess said.

“Thank you, ma’am. We’ll do that,” Monty said. He buttoned his coat as he and Kowalski walked to the outside door. “Wait until we’re in the car,” he added to his partner, feeling the Others’ eyes watch them as they walked past the store windows to the parking lot.

When they got in the car, Kowalski blew out a breath and said, “Where to, Lieutenant?”

“Nowhere yet. Just start the car so we don’t freeze out here.” Monty stared straight ahead, letting thoughts solidify into words. But he wasn’t quite ready to say what he suddenly understood, so he asked a question. “Sanguinati. You jumped like you were poked with a needle when you heard that name. Why?”

“Doesn’t mean anything to you?” Kowalski waited a moment. “Are you familiar with the term vampire?”

Monty turned his head and stared at the other man. “That was one of the bloodsuckers?”

Kowalski nodded. “As in drain their prey of blood. In popular fiction they’re called vampires, but that species of terra indigene call themselves Sanguinati. No one really knows much about them except that they drink blood, don’t seem to have anything else in common with the fictional version, and they’re just as dangerous as the shape-shifters. And there’s been some . . . evidence . . . that they have another way of extracting blood besides biting you.”

Glad he hadn’t drunk much coffee, Monty swallowed to push down his churning stomach. “Do you think they’re using those stores as easy places to hunt?”

Kowalski tipped his head back. Finally he said, “Can’t say for certain about the Sanguinati, but the shifters aren’t using the stores that way. Wolfgard wasn’t kidding about them eating a shoplifter’s hand, but we’ve never filled out a DLU because someone went into one of those stores.” He turned his head and looked at Monty. “What’s on your mind, Lieutenant?”

“I’ve been thinking that most of what you know about the terra indigene you learned because you’ve been brushing against them all your life. You probably grew up in a neighborhood that’s close enough to the Courtyard that you know the rules for the social center.”

“I’m not the only cop in Lakeside who’s brushed up against the Others at a social occasion. The terra indigene control most of the world. It’s foolish not to take an opportunity to figure out more about them. And, for the record, before I met Ruthie, I did some necking and petting with a girl who worked in the Courtyard, but we parted company after a few dates and I never used one of the rooms above the social center for a romp between the sheets.”

A silence filled the car. Monty ended it before it became a wedge between him and the younger man. “Terra indigene. Earth native. At the academy, no one ever explains exactly what that means. Maybe command doesn’t know exactly what it means or is afraid the truth would scare too many of us, and frightened men with guns would get us all killed.”

“What’s scarier than knowing you’re always surrounded by creatures who think you’re edible?”

“They really aren’t human, Karl,” Monty said. “Intellectually, I knew that. Now I know that with body as well as brain. The terra indigene aren’t animals who turn into humans or humans who turn into animals. They really are something unknown that learned how to change into a human shape because it suited them. They gained something from the human form, whether it was standing upright or having the convenience of fingers and thumbs, just like they gained something from the animal forms they absorbed.”

“You support the first-form theory?” Kowalski asked.

“That wasn’t taught at the academy,” Monty replied with a forced smile.

“Something Ruthie found in some moldy old history book a while back. There was a theory that the Others have had a lot of forms, changing their shapes as the world and the creatures around them changed so that they remained the dominant predators. But the first form, whatever it might be, is the evolutionary ancestor of all the terra indigene and is the reason they can change shapes. The theory also says they take on some of the traits of the forms they use—like that girl Crow attracted to something shiny.”

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