Written in Red Page 24

“That’s close enough to what I was thinking,” Monty said. “They have learned a human shape, but there is no humanity in them, nothing that recognizes us as more than meat. More clever than deer or cattle, but still meat. And yet, when they couldn’t find the men who killed one of their own, they understood how to punish everyone in the city by tacking on a tax to the water rates. Which means they do have feelings about their own kind.”

“Okay. But what does that have to do with Wolfgard offering to let us see something that’s usually off-limits or making sure I knew they recognized Ruthie? You were polite and got back threats.”

“I don’t think it was a threat. I think Simon Wolfgard was trying to be friendly. But the terra indigene line he comes from has absorbed the wolf for thousands of years and the human side for a few centuries at best, so he sounds threatening even when he isn’t trying to be. He has his own motives for opening those stores to human customers and inviting us to see a market I’m guessing has been seen by very few visitors.”

“So?”

“So we’re going to take him up on his offer,” Monty said. “We’re going to tour the market. Ruthie too, if you’re comfortable asking her to join us. We’re going to stop in and have a cup of coffee on a regular basis. We’re going to be faces the Others recognize. We’re going to try to change the dynamic, Karl. They aren’t human, will never be human. But we’re going to try to get them to see at least some of us as more than useful or clever meat. Then maybe—maybe—the next time adult men act like fools and enter the Courtyard uninvited, we’ll get a call instead of having to fill out a DLU form.”

“I’m not sure anyone ever tried to change the dynamics between us and the Others,” Kowalski said cautiously.

“Then maybe it’s time someone did.” Monty sighed. “All right. One more stop, then I’d like to drive around for a bit to get the feel of the area.”

“Where to?”

“To introduce ourselves to the person who could be our best ally—the Human Liaison.”

They pulled out of the parking lot and turned left at the intersection of Crowfield Avenue and Main Street. They passed one storefront before turning into the delivery area for the Liaison’s Office and the consulate.

“That store is called Earth Native,” Kowalski said. “Terra indigene sculpture, pottery, paintings, and weavings that are pricey but available for sale to humans. A sculptor who works in wood makes something called garden totems from the trunks of downed trees. Big things that can weigh a couple hundred pounds, or pieces small enough to be used as an accent table. Ruthie wants to buy a piece for our new apartment.”

Monty filed all that information away as they pulled in and parked.

Kowalski pointed to their right. “That building is the consulate. Elliot Wolfgard has an office there, and the meeting rooms are usually as close as any city official gets to being inside the Courtyard.”

“Stay here,” Monty said. The moment he stepped out of the car, half the Crows perched on the shoulder-high wall took off and the other half began cawing at him. Someone on the other side of the wall had been working with some kind of hammer, and the rhythmic sound stopped.

Monty walked to the office door and pulled it open, pretending he didn’t see the Crows—pretending there was nothing ominous in the silence coming from the other side of the wall.

As he walked up to the counter, the first thing he noticed was the woman’s hair. It made him think of one of Lizzy’s dolls whose hair was made of orange yarn. Then he noticed how her smile slipped when she looked past him and saw the police car.

“Good morning, ma’am,” he said, pulling out his ID. “I’m Lieutenant Crispin James Montgomery.”

“I’m Meg Corbyn,” she replied. There were nerves—maybe even fear—in her gray eyes, and her hands trembled just enough to be noticed. “Is there something I can do for you?”

He’d seen the sign over the door. He knew what HLDNA meant. In his experience, women usually weren’t afraid without a reason. “No, ma’am. I’m the police contact for the Courtyard, and I just wanted to introduce myself.” He pulled out a business card and set it on the counter. When she didn’t reach for it, he gentled his voice more than usual. “Ms. Corbyn, are you here by your own choice? I can’t help noticing that you seem nervous.”

She gave him a wobbly smile. “Oh. It’s my first day. I want to do a good job, and there’s quite a bit to learn.”

Monty returned the smile. “I know what you mean. It’s my first day on the job too.”

Her smile firmed up and warmed, and she picked up the business card. Then her forehead puckered in a little frown. “But, Lieutenant, human law doesn’t apply in the Courtyard.”

“I know that, ma’am. Even so, if you need my help, you just call.”

Meg hesitated, then said, “Do you know anything about ponies?”

Monty blinked. “Ponies? Not particularly. But I rode horses when I was young. Used to bring chunks of carrot or apple with me. The horses weren’t much interested in being saddled, but they would come up to the fence for the carrots.”

“Maybe that will help,” Meg muttered.

“Well, then. I have been of service today.”

She laughed as if she didn’t quite know how, as if it wasn’t a familiar sound. It bothered him that laughter was an unfamiliar sound.

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