Written in Red Page 48

“Anyone else?” Vlad asked quietly.

He knew why Vlad asked the question, just like he knew which group of terra indigene was being left out of this discussion. But they were never interested in such things.

“No, that should be sufficient,” Simon said.

“In an hour, then. But, Simon, we still need to talk. It’s important.”

Simon hung up. Then he shouted for Heather, passing her on his way to the stockroom. “Man the register and work on filling the orders. Call John. Tell him to come in.”

He put on his coat and boots for the walk to the Liaison’s Office. That was acting civilized and controlled. If he didn’t stay in control . . .

She lied to him.

. . . he was going to shift to Wolf, and they would never be able to clean up the blood well enough to hire someone else after he tore her throat out so she couldn’t lie to him anymore.

The office’s back door wasn’t locked, so he slipped inside, removed his boots, and padded across the back room in his socks. He could hear low music even through the closed door that connected to the sorting room. As he entered the room, he saw Meg take a CD out of the player and say, “I don’t like that music.”

“Then why listen to it?” he asked.

She whirled around, wobbling to keep her balance. She put the CD back in its case and made a notation on a notebook sitting next to the player before answering him. “I’m listening to a variety of music to discover what I like.”

Why don’t you know what you like?

“Is there something I can do for you, Mr. Wolfgard? Today’s mailbag hasn’t arrived yet, but there are a few pieces of old mail. I put them in HGR’s spot.” She indicated the cubbyholes in the sorting room’s back wall. “Also, I’m still not clear if the ponies deliver mail to the Market Square businesses or if someone from the businesses is supposed to stop in for that mail.”

Right now he didn’t care about the mail or packages or any other damn monkey thing.

He took the poster out of his pocket, opened it, and set it on the table. “No more lies,” he said, his voice a growl of restrained menace. “What happens next will depend on whether you answer two questions honestly.”

She stared at the poster. Her face paled. She swayed, and he told himself to let the bitch fall if she fainted.

“He found me,” she whispered. “I wondered after the other night, but I thought . . . hoped . . .” She swallowed, then looked at him. “What do you want to know?”

The bleakness in her eyes made him just as angry as her lies.

“What was your name, and what did you steal?” Couldn’t have been a small thing. They wouldn’t be hunting for her like this if it was a small thing.

“My name is Meg Corbyn.”

“That’s the name you took when you came here,” he snapped. “What was it before?”

Her expression was an odd blend of anger and pride. It made him wary because it reminded him that she was inexplicably not prey.

“My designation was cs759,” she said.

“That’s not a name!”

“No, it isn’t. But it’s all they gave me. All they gave any of us. A designation. People give names to their pets, but property isn’t deserving of a name. If you give them designations instead of names, then you don’t have to think about what you’re doing to them, don’t have to consider if property has feelings when you . . .”

Her eyes stayed locked on his, despite her sudden effort to breathe.

Simon stayed perfectly still. If he moved, fangs and fury would break loose. What did they do to you, Meg?

“As for what I stole, I took this.” She pulled something out of her pocket and set it on the wanted poster.

He picked it up. Silver. One side was decorated with pretty leaves and flowers. The other side had cs759 engraved into it in plain lettering. He found the spot that accommodated a fingernail and opened the thing to reveal the shining blade of a thin razor.

He had seen one of these twenty years ago. Seeing another one now made him shiver.

“It’s pretty, but it can’t be worth all that much.” His voice sounded rough, uncertain. He felt as if he’d been chasing a rabbit that suddenly turned into a Grizzly. Something wasn’t right about this. So many things weren’t right about this.

“By itself, it probably isn’t worth much,” Meg replied. “The second thing I stole is this.” She pulled off her sweater and tossed it aside. She pushed up the left sleeve of the turtleneck until it was above her elbow. Then she held out her arm.

He stared at the evenly spaced scars.

An old woman, her bare arms browned by the sun so the thin scars showed white, sitting behind a little table where she set out cards and told fortunes to earn the money that paid for her room and board. A little community of humans who eked out a living at the edge of an earth-native settlement that amused itself by taking tourists into the wilds for pictures and stories and sometimes even movies that would be shown in theaters. Some taught the Others basic skills like weaving or carpentry. Some assisted with the tours. And there were always a few who were looking for an excuse to die and were just biding their time, knowing the Wolves and Grizzlies would oblige them eventually.

She sat there in the baking sun, her head covered by a straw hat, smiling at the youngsters, human and Other, who laughed at her as they went by in their various groups.

But he hadn’t laughed, hadn’t walked by. The scars intrigued him, bothered him. The look in her eyes unnerved him. And then . . .

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