Written in Red Page 33

Having decided that much, she unzipped the compartment that held her food. Before she could remove a sandwich, something small and brown ran across the floor and darted into the pile of packages that still needed sorting.

When Merri Lee returned a few minutes later with Henry Beargard and two females, Meg was kneeling on top of the sorting table, staring at that corner of the room.

Merri Lee stopped in the doorway and looked ready to run. Henry and the females stepped into the sorting room.

Meg pointed a shaking finger. “Something is hiding in that corner.”

Henry moved silently to that corner and sniffed. “Mouse.”

“Oh, gods,” Merri Lee said.

“They’re easier to catch if you leave food in the middle of the floor,” the brown-haired woman said.

“Why would you do that?” Meg asked.

“Fresh snack,” the black-haired woman replied brightly.

Merri Lee said, “Oh, gods” again before clamping a hand over her mouth. Meg just stared.

Henry studied Merri Lee, then Meg. “Humans don’t like mice?”

“Not in the building!” Meg said.

“And not around food,” Merri Lee added.

The three terra indigene looked baffled.

“But it’s fresh meat,” the brown-haired woman finally said.

“Humans don’t eat mice,” Merri Lee said. “Or rats. We just don’t.”

Silence.

Finally, Henry sighed—a big, gusty sound. “We will put aside other work today and make this place human-clean for the Liaison.” He pointed at Merri Lee. “You will show us how this is done.”

“I’ll go to the Market Square and pick up the supplies we’ll need to put some shine on these rooms,” Merri Lee said.

The black-haired woman cawed. “You can make things shiny?”

“In a way.”

So the Crow went with Merri Lee while Henry began excavating the mailbags and boxes piled in the corner of the sorting room.

The brown-haired woman was an Owl named Allison. She was quite pleased to catch two mice—and less pleased when Henry made her go outside to eat them.

When five people cleaned three rooms—and one of them was a man as strong as a bear—the work went quickly, even with Allison taking two more breaks to devour mouse snacks. Some of the packages in that corner had been nibbled; others were smashed. Meg noticed how many of them were addressed to people living in the Chambers, which made her wonder who the Sanguinati were that the previous Liaisons wouldn’t deliver packages to them.

On the other hand, Jester had said the previous Liaisons hadn’t been encouraged to make deliveries to anyone in the Courtyard. But something should have been done to get the packages to the people waiting for them.

She had made excuses for not eating while they were working—especially when there was still the possibility of finding another mouse. Since Merri Lee was also making excuses, despite a growling stomach, the Others accepted the strange behavior.

Finally, all the old packages were neatly stacked on one of the hand carts; the counters, tables, cupboards, and floors were washed; the wave-cooker and fridge were clean; and the bathroom didn’t make her shudder when she used the toilet. Allison went back to the Owlgard Complex to report this peculiar aversion humans had to mice. Crystal Crowgard ran off to Sparkles and Junk with rags and the spray bottle of cleaner that would make all their display counters shiny.

Henry pointed at Meg. “The rooms are clean. Now you will eat.” He pointed at Merri Lee. “You may sit with her in the back room and visit.”

Meg looked at the clock on the sorting-room wall. “It’s almost two o’clock. I need to take deliveries.”

“You will eat,” Henry said. “I will watch the counter until you are done.”

Meg went to the back room and frowned at the small round table and two chairs. “Those weren’t here this morning.”

“No, they weren’t,” Merri Lee replied, pulling food out of the fridge. “But I mentioned to Henry that it would nicer if you had a place to eat when you didn’t want to go out during your break, and he got these from somewhere.” She looked around the room and nodded. “This is much better.”

“Definitely better,” Meg agreed. “Thank you.”

They didn’t talk much. Maybe they were both too hungry to focus on anything but food. Maybe they had learned enough about each other for the moment. Whatever the reason, Merri Lee left as soon as she had enough to eat.

Meg stored the rest of the food, then went out to the front room in time to greet the two deliverymen who had taken one look at Henry and were backing away.

When the men gave her the packages and drove off, Henry nodded as if he was pleased about something.

“I don’t answer the telephone when I’m working with the wood,” he said. “But if you need me, you tell the Crows and I’ll come.”

“Thank you for all the help today,” Meg said.

He left, saying nothing more.

Meg went back to sorting mail for the remaining time in her workday, but she kept glancing at those old packages. She would do something about them tomorrow.

She was about to close up for the day when a patrol car pulled into the delivery area.

He found me, she thought, her heart jumping. The Controller has found me. That’s why the police are here.

She hadn’t seen these men before, but they seemed to know something about the Others because they both got out, removed their hats, and looked straight at the Crows before entering the office.

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