Written in Red Page 67

She turned the sign on the office door to OPEN one minute after nine o’clock. As she poked her head out the door to say good morning to the four Crows on the wall and the Hawk who had claimed the top of the wooden sculpture—and the best view inside the office—she noticed Elliot Wolfgard coming out of the consulate.

Good clothes. Power attitude. Most of the men who had come to the compound and looked at her skin with a greed that was almost sexual had good clothes and that attitude.

Giving him a brisk nod, she withdrew and went back to the sorting room, closing the Private door partway. Then she braced her hands on the table and closed her eyes.

It had been a week since her last cut. Fear of making a bad cut with an unfamiliar blade had sufficiently dulled the craving for the euphoria. Fear and remembering things Jean had told her.

“They cut us so often for the money. I remember my ma saying that the more you cut, the more you want to cut. But Namid gave us the good feelings as a reward for cutting when folks need help.” Jean paused. “Of course, when cutting is the only thing that makes you feel good, most girls won’t fight when they’re put in the chair.”

Was this what withdrawal felt like? The Walking Names always said the girls needed the cutting. Truth or lie? Did she really need a cut or did she just want the euphoria? Since she could make her own choices about her body, did it matter?

Top side of the arms would be the safest place without a watcher. Or the legs, as long as she stayed away from the inner thighs.

Slipping her hand in her jeans’ pocket, Meg caressed the razor, her thumb running over the cs759 engraved in the handle. A designation, not a name. And that did matter.

She heard the thump of boxes being set on the counter. Pulling her empty, trembling hand out of her pocket, she went out to take the first delivery.

* * *

Asia bought two takeout cups of hot chocolate at A Little Bite, then walked over to the Liaison’s Office.

She’d spent an evening at Lakeside University, hanging around the girls who liked taking a walk on the wild side. She had hoped to glean some ideas for getting that kind of interest from the Others, but after an hour, she realized there were boys out there claiming to be what they weren’t, and the girls who thought they had romped with a Wolf or a vampire had never seen a real one.

That gave her an idea for a way to get in by a side door, so to speak, but it still meant becoming pals with Meg. She was bound to learn something of interest by hanging around the Liaison’s Office, and she’d also be able to scope out any possibilities working at the consulate.

And there had been that interesting phone call from her backers, who had heard from their contact in the mayor’s office. Apparently, Meg had been a naughty girl, and White Van was looking for a thief, not a runaway spouse. So keeping tabs on Meg could be profitable all by itself.

A deliveryman held the door for her. Asia flashed him a smile, but she didn’t bother to flirt because Meg was at the counter, looking baffled, and that made her curious.

“Problem?” she asked, setting the cups of hot chocolate on the counter.

“This store sent me eight catalogs,” Meg said. “Why would a store send me eight of the same thing?”

“So you could distribute them?”

“For what?”

Just where did you come from that you don’t know about ordering from catalogs?

“Haven’t you noticed the ads in the Lakeside News? There are only so many newspapers that can be printed each day, and they’re allowed to have only so many pages. When a store is running a special or a sale, they list the page number of the catalog where you can find the description. Even when there isn’t a sale, lots of people check catalogs before going to a store and using up gasoline for the trip.”

Meg’s face went from baffled to excited. “This is good! Or it could be if the Others understand how to use catalogs. I can send one to each complex and can keep one for reference.”

“There you go.” Asia nudged the hot chocolate closer to Meg.

“What happens to the old catalogs?”

“They get collected and returned to the stores. A store’s paper allowance is based on the amount of paper it’s returning for recycling. The fewer catalogs the store returns, the fewer new catalogs it’s allowed to print. When the spring catalog comes out, it will be an even trade—you’ll get as many new catalogs as you hand in.”

“I’ll make a note of that so I can get the old ones back. Thanks, Asia.”

“Glad to help.” Asia hesitated, then decided the timing was good. “Say, Meg. Have you seen Simon around lately? Taking even a couple of classes at the university is expensive, and I’m still looking for some other work to help pay the bills. I wanted to see if he could use someone for one or two evenings a week at HGR. Preferably evenings when he’s not on duty. He makes me nervous, so I act like a dummy around him, but I am a good worker. I really am.”

Meg hesitated. “I don’t think Simon will be in the store for a few days, but you could talk to Vlad. He’s polite.”

Asia didn’t have to fake a shudder. “No, thank you. I like my neck just the way it is.” Seeing Meg’s blank look, she added, “You do know what he is, don’t you?”

“Oh. Yes. I haven’t had a lot of contact with him, but he’s been courteous. He’s certainly not as grumpy as the Wolves I’ve met.”

Good to know, Asia thought. Maybe that meant the vampires considered the Liaison off-limits for dinner. She would be willing to have sex with a terra indigene, but she wanted some assurance that she would survive the experience. Maybe her mistake had been to target Simon. Maybe Vlad would have been a better choice for a lover. Donating a little blood for some useful pillow talk would be a fair exchange.

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