Written in Red Page 85

She needed to pee but now she couldn’t relax her muscles enough to go. Finally able to take care of business, she left the bathroom in time to see Sam climb up on a chair and try to snatch the lunch box.

Grabbing the pup, she dried off his feet, removed her boots, and cleaned up the floor. Then, with him dancing around her, she opened the lunch box. A container of beef and vegetable soup for her, and a smaller container of soup for Sam. Dumping out the untouched kibble, she poured the soup in his bowl, dipping her finger into it to make sure it wasn’t too hot. He began lapping up soup as soon as she got out of his way, so she opened her own container. That soup was hot, and she realized Tess must have deliberately let Sam’s serving cool off. A cheese sandwich was included with her lunch. Tearing off a piece, she gave it to Sam, then forced herself to eat a bite of the sandwich and a couple of spoonfuls of soup. Her stomach was still flipping with fear, so even that little bit of food made her queasy.

Giving up, she heated water while she wrapped up the food—and wondered if she was going to have to puppy-proof the fridge and lower cupboards.

After making a cup of peppermint tea, she grabbed the carry bag of books and headed for the front room, intending to open up early and take a better look at the books in between deliveries.

The box of sugar lumps she’d left on the sorting table was knocked over and the top of the box was torn. Drawers where she kept her office supplies were pulled open.

And there was someone making furtive noises in the front room.

Quietly turning the knob, Meg yanked the Private door open, then stared at the Crow who, flustered at being caught, almost fell off the counter.

“Jake?”

Jenni had told her that Jake liked playing the pen game with the humans who brought packages, and he intended to help the Meg whenever he was assigned to watch that part of the Courtyard.

Help was not the word that came to mind as Meg unlocked the front door. And how had Jake gotten in? As far as she knew, only a few members of the Business Association had keys to the Liaison’s Office. Well, he could have slipped in with one of the deliverymen and hidden so he could rummage through the drawers while she was out of the office.

She picked up two empty boxes from the floor, then looked at all the pencils that were scattered on the counter, along with most of the pens she usually kept in the holder. She wasn’t sure what the Crow was building, but he’d certainly gone through the drawers to find what he wanted.

“Jake, you can’t have the pencils and pens,” Meg said. She reached for one of the pens. He pecked her. “Hey!” She had had her fill of wildlife today and didn’t need a pesky Crow stealing her things.

Caw!

“I need those pens!”

Caw!

“Jake!” Her eyes filled with tears, which was stupid. It was all stupid, but she had been scared twice in the space of a few minutes, and she didn’t need this—whatever it was.

Jake tipped his head this way and that. Then he fluttered around his creation, pulled out a blue pen, and offered it to her. When she took it, he selected a red pen and offered it. Finally he gave back a black pen and began rebuilding whatever he was building on her counter.

“Mine,” she said, sniffling as she put the three pens under the counter with her clipboard.

She was about to ask about the sugar when Asia dashed into the office.

“Gods above and below, Meg. What’s going on? Is someone hurt?”

“Hurt?”

“That scream. Didn’t you hear it? I was looking at the display of pottery in the window of Earth Native and I heard that awful scream. And all the birds suddenly flying around, going crazy and making a racket.” Asia threw her hands up, causing Jake to flutter his wings and caw in protest.

Meg wanted to slink into the sorting room and lock all the doors and never come out. She would stay there until she dried up into human jerky.

Then she considered what the Wolves would happily do with that kind of jerky.

“You heard that?”

“Of course I heard that!” Asia edged away from the Crow and lowered her voice. “Do you know who it was?”

“Me,” Meg mumbled, her face burning with embarrassment. “It was me.”

“You?”

“I was startled. And even little Wolves look pretty big when they’re running right at you.”

Of course, that was the moment Sam chose to stand in the doorway, wagging his tail and licking his chops.

“Oh,” Asia gushed, leaning on the counter but careful not to have any part of herself beyond the counter. “Isn’t he the sweetest thing!” Her eyes flicked up to the doorway. “Speaking of sweetest things, you must have a mighty big sweet tooth, Meg.”

Meg glanced back. “Oh, the sugar is for the ponies. They get a special treat on Moonsday.” She looked at Jake. “Do you know how the box got knocked over and the top torn open?”

The Crow lifted his wings in a way that perfectly mimicked a shrug.

Meg leaned closer to Jake. “If someone hid a lump of sugar in order to attract bugs to eat, that someone isn’t going to be allowed to play with the pencils anymore.”

He stared at her. Then he fluttered down to the floor, pecked around the edge of the counter for a moment, flew back up, and dropped the sugar lump on the counter.

Sighing, Meg took the sugar lump—and heard something fall over in the back room.

“Asia, this isn’t a good day for a visit.”

“I can see that,” Asia replied. “You take care. Maybe we can grab some lunch in one of those places across the street tomorrow.”

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