Written in Red Page 70

“It’s advertised so that the relatives of anyone who starts trouble can’t claim the meat didn’t know they were messing with the Courtyard’s vehicle. Besides, the plaza blocks off those four spaces to give the terra indigene plenty of room. Safer for everyone that way.”

Absorbing the significance of the word meat, Monty felt his stomach twitch and suddenly wasn’t sure he wanted lunch.

Burke got out of the car and moved toward the bus. Hurrying after him, Monty saw the reason. Meg looked at both of them as she stepped off the bus, her face turning pale. Moving to one side to let the rest of the terra indigene exit, she stayed close to the bus. A big man whom Monty recognized as the sculptor and assumed was Henry Beargard stepped down, looked at them, and growled—and the rest of the Others, who had been heading toward the stores, all turned back to stare at him and Burke.

Beargard took a step to the right. Vladimir Sanguinati stepped down and, somehow, slid between Meg and the bus to stand on her left.

Feeling the tension, Monty wasn’t sure what to do. They had called him, so why this hostility?

Because she’s afraid, he realized as he looked at Meg. She’s afraid, and the Others are waiting to see what we do where human law could apply.

“Ms. Corbyn,” Monty said, forcing his lips into a smile. “May I introduce my captain, Douglas Burke?”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Corbyn,” Burke said, extending his hand.

She hesitated, and Monty didn’t dare breathe until she shook Burke’s hand.

“Thank you, Captain Burke,” she said. “If you’ll excuse me?” The rest of the terra indigene except Vlad and Henry scattered to take care of their own concerns while Meg hurried to the stores on the other side of the parking lot.

“When we called Lieutenant Montgomery, we weren’t expecting to see an officer of such high rank,” Vlad said, looking at Burke.

Burke’s smile might have passed for genial if you didn’t know the man. “I’m taking the lieutenant to the Saucy Plate for lunch to introduce him to some of the best red sauce in the city.”

“An excellent choice for dining. I, too, enjoy a good red sauce,” Vlad said.

Burke’s smile froze.

“Captain?” Monty said. “We should get a seat before the lunch crowd arrives.”

With a nod at Vlad and Henry, Burke turned and led the way to the Saucy Plate. Monty said nothing until they were seated and the waitress handed out menus and took their orders for coffee.

“Captain, I don’t think he meant it to sound . . .” Monty trailed off, unwilling to lie to the man.

“To sound threatening?” Burke asked. “Oh, I’m sure he did. They floated that phone call to see what we would do, but they don’t trust us—not in general and, specifically, not where Meg Corbyn is concerned.” He smiled at the waitress when she brought the coffee and took their orders. “You’ve met Vladimir Sanguinati before. Any reason why you didn’t introduce me?”

Monty shivered and rubbed the palm of his right hand. “I didn’t want to put you in the position of having to shake his hand.”

Burke gave Monty’s hand a long look, then turned the conversation to small talk and stories about Lakeside.

* * *

When Meg reached the Pet Palace on the other side of the plaza, she glanced around. The Others who had been on the bus with her weren’t in sight, but there were birds on most of the parking-lot lights. She couldn’t tell if they were crows or Crows. Not that it mattered. If this worked, everyone in the Green Complex would know about her purchases.

Hopefully the Others would realize she was just trying to help Sam and not eat her for doing it.

“Can I help you?” the clerk asked as soon as she walked in the door.

Meg gave the man a bright smile. “I’m looking for a dog harness and a long leash.”

He led her to an aisle that had a bewildering assortment of leashes, harnesses, and collars.

“What size dog?” he asked.

She chewed on her lower lip. “Well, he’s still a puppy, but he’s a big puppy. At least, I think he would be considered a big puppy.”

“Your first dog?” The clerk sounded delighted. “What breed is it?”

“He’s a Wolf.”

She thought the movie clips of someone’s skin turning a sickly green had been make-believe. Apparently not.

“You want to put a harness on a Wolf?”

There was something in the clerk’s voice—shock? fear?—that made her wonder how much trouble she was going to be in until she could think of some other way of getting Sam safely outside. “He’s young, and I don’t want him to get hurt if I take him for a walk.”

She didn’t see anyone else in the store, but he leaned closer. “How did you get your hands on a Wolf pup?”

“I’m the Courtyard Liaison. He lives in the apartment next to mine. Are you going to help me or not?”

She wasn’t sure he would, but he finally reached for a harness. His hands shook and his voice cracked, but based on what information she could give him, he found a red harness that he thought would fit and a long red leash that would give Sam room to roam.

“Will there be anything else?” the clerk asked.

Meg thought about it. “What kind of toys would a puppy like?”

She ended up with a ball and a length of knotted rope. Then she spotted dog cookies and picked up boxes of beef flavor and chicken flavor.

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