Written in Red Page 56

He sat back. “Karl? Has a shield ever shown up at that cairn in the park?”

“There wasn’t a specific place to look for identification on a DLU until Daphne Wolfgard was murdered two years ago.” Kowalski stared straight ahead. “It hasn’t happened since Captain Burke took over as patrol captain at the Chestnut Street station, but there have been times in the past when an officer was reported missing and the abandoned patrol car and a blood-smeared badge were the only things that were found. There’s some speculation that the chief and the captain have an . . . understanding . . . because if Captain Burke wants anyone transferred out of the Chestnut Street station, that person is gone the next day, no arguments made or questions asked.” A hesitation. “There’s a saying among the officers: it’s better to get transferred than be a DLU.”

“Is the hazard pay for being on this team worth the risk?” Monty asked.

“Lieutenant, if things go really wrong between us and the Others, no amount of pay will be worth the risk. But there also won’t be any place in Lakeside that is safe, so maybe taking those risks is what will make the difference for everyone.”

Since Kowalski didn’t seem inclined to add anything else, Monty got out of the car and went into A Little Bite.

Tess was behind the counter. The smile she gave him made him feel as if someone had sliced his back open, leaving him weak and trembling.

“Lieutenant. Coffee is fresh; the pastries are from yesterday. Everyone seems to be getting a slow start this morning.”

“Coffee would be appreciated,” Monty replied. “But I stopped by to see if I could have a word with Mr. Wolfgard. I noticed Howling Good Reads isn’t open yet, so I wondered if you had a way of getting in touch with him.”

“Regarding?”

“A discussion we had yesterday.”

Black threads suddenly appeared in Tess’s brown hair as it began to coil.

“This way.” Her voice hadn’t been warm before. Now it was brutally chilling.

He followed her to the lattice door that separated the two shops. She opened the door, went into HGR, and said, “Vladimir. Lieutenant Montgomery wants a word.” Turning to Monty, she added, “The members of the Business Association know all about your discussion. Simon isn’t available right now, so you can talk to Vlad.”

She walked back into her shop and closed the lattice door, leaving him with one of the Sanguinati.

Vladimir’s smile was as brutally chilling as Tess’s voice had been a moment before. It took all the courage Monty could gather to approach the book display the vampire was rearranging.

He did not want to tell the Others anything about Meg Corbyn they didn’t already know, but not telling them enough could lead to a slaughter. And maybe—maybe—there was one bit of information that might persuade the terra indigene to let humans deal with humans.

“I wanted Mr. Wolfgard to be aware that the poster I showed him yesterday has been distributed to all the police stations in Lakeside—to all police stations throughout the eastern part of Thaisia, in fact.”

“Is that significant?”

Vlad sounded like he was making an effort to show polite interest, but Monty wondered how long it would take for that tidbit to reach the farthest Courtyard on the eastern seaboard—and what it would mean to the police in those other cities. “I also wanted to make him aware of some details I came across while checking the information on the poster.” He paused to consider his words. “There is a small segment of the human population that is considered at risk. Their deaths are mostly caused by self-inflicted wounds, so a provision was made in human law to allow another person to have a ‘benevolent ownership’ of such an individual.”

“Wouldn’t this benevolence be called slavery if it was forced on any other kind of human?” Vlad asked, now sounding a little puzzled. Before Monty could respond, the vampire continued. “What about the segment of your population that chooses suicide by Wolf? As a defender of your people, you know it happens. Does your law insist on this benevolent ownership for them if they’re stopped before they throw themselves in front of a pack?”

Suicide by Wolf. The phrase chilled Monty—and the vampire noticed.

“No,” Monty said. “Our law has no provision for that.” He didn’t think explaining about the mental wards in city hospitals was a good idea, since he wasn’t sure Vlad would understand—or care—about the difference between being held in such a ward and benevolent ownership.

Vlad looked more and more coldly delighted. “There are always the stronger and the weaker, the leaders and the followers. Don’t you force the weaker among you to accept the scraps that are left when the stronger have eaten their fill? Don’t they wear the worn-out rags instead of warm clothes? Stronger and weaker exist in any group, but you’ve clearly decided some kinds of humans are more important than others. Some kinds of humans are human and other kinds are . . . property? Is that how it works? I didn’t realize you monkeys had such savagery in you. Next you’ll be eating your weak in order to keep the strong healthy.”

“No.”

Monty knew the look Vlad gave him would haunt his dreams for years to come.

“How long will that attitude last if there is no other food?” Vlad asked softly.

For a moment, Monty couldn’t breathe. Was this a real threat to cut off food as an experiment in cannibalism or just the peculiar intellectual workings of a terra indigene mind?

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