Murder of Crows Page 3

Oh, geez, Monty thought as he watched Heather’s eyes fill with tears.

“I’m going to pull some stock for these orders.” Heather sniffed, then hurried toward the stockroom at the back of the store.

“If you try to quit, I will eat you!” Simon yelled.

The only reply was the sound of a door slamming.

Simon stared at the display, which was nothing but a sloppy pile of books. Then he looked at Monty and snarled, “What do you want?”

No, this wasn’t the best time for what he’d come to talk about, but he needed any information Wolfgard would give him, and by sharing what he knew, he hoped to spare Lakeside from another display of terra indigene rage.

“Have you listened to the radio or television today?” Monty asked. “Have you heard about what happened in Walnut Grove early this morning?”

Simon didn’t move, didn’t even seem to breathe. “Were Crows murdered?”

“Some birds were killed,” Monty replied carefully. “Captain Burke didn’t receive many details from his contact in the Walnut Grove police force, so I can’t tell you if the birds were crows or Crows.” He hesitated. “Ms. Corbyn had a dream about this?” Or had she done more than dream? Had she taken the razor and cut her skin in order to speak words of prophecy?

“She dreamed about blood and broken black feathers in the snow.” Simon growled and gave Monty a challenging look. “She didn’t make a cut. I would have smelled blood if she’d made a cut.”

Were prophetic dreams normal for a blood prophet, or was this a sign that Meg’s mental stability was unraveling? Not something he could discuss today. At least, not with Simon Wolfgard.

“Did your Captain Burke hear anything else?” Simon asked.

Are you wondering about something in particular? Monty thought. “It appears two hunting dogs attacked the birds. They might have gotten out of their yard by accident and simply acted on instinct, but a teenage girl was also killed.” The mother, father, and younger sister of one of the boys who had been present when the dogs attacked had also been killed. But he didn’t think Wolfgard would be interested in a girl shooting a family unless it circled back to whatever had happened to the birds.

Simon stared out the bookstore’s front windows. “Haven’t seen a Crow this morning. Haven’t heard a Crow this morning.” Going behind the checkout counter, he picked up the phone and dialed. After a few seconds he muttered, “Busy signal, what a surprise,” hung up, and dialed another number. “Jenni? It’s Simon. I want to talk to you. Now.”

Monty could hear Jenni Crowgard’s protest from where he stood, so Simon had certainly heard it. The Wolf hung up anyway.

Elliot Wolfgard ran the consulate and was the public face for the Courtyard, the earth native who talked to the mayor and dealt with Lakeside’s government. But Simon Wolfgard was the actual leader of this Courtyard, and no one here challenged the leader. Except, perhaps, the Grizzly who also lived here. And the Elementals, who answered to no one.

“You will not talk to Meg about this,” Simon said. “Not yet.”

Monty wanted to ask Meg about her dream before it became fogged by whatever images she heard or saw on the news. But he didn’t argue, and he knew he’d made the right choice when he nodded agreement and Simon relaxed a little.

“If any of the Crowgard know anything about the deaths, I’ll call you,” Simon said.

“Thank you,” Monty replied. “The police in Walnut Grove are running tests on the dogs and the birds. It’s likely that every police force in the northeastern part of Thaisia will be informed of the results. As soon as I know anything, I will tell you. Frankly, Mr. Wolfgard, we’re all hoping the dogs had been riled up and the birds just weren’t quick enough to get away.” The girl certainly hadn’t been quick enough. “If that’s not the case …” He didn’t want to say it.

Simon wasn’t hesitant to finish it. “It could be the first sign of sickness in the Northeast Region. It could be the same sickness that caused trouble in the Midwest Region and provoked the fight in Jerzy last month.”

Not a sickness but a drug, Monty thought. And fight was a small word for the slaughter of one-third of that village’s population. But whether it was a sickness or a drug was a subject he would address once the police in Walnut Grove had the test results back, because he was pretty sure Simon had been dosed with the same drug the night of the storm. It was the only thing that could explain the excessive aggression the Wolf had displayed when Meg was brought to the hospital.

“Officer Kowalski was in Run and Thump earlier, running on the treadmill and using some of the weight machines, but I think he went up to the apartments,” Simon said.

As thanks for Monty and his team protecting Meg while she was in the hospital, the Others gave the team use of one of the efficiency apartments above the seamstress/tailor’s shop. With the water tax being what it was, for someone like Karl Kowalski, taking a shower away from home a couple of times a week was a benefit that couldn’t be ignored.

“He doesn’t usually use our fitness center in the mornings.” Simon gave Monty a questioning look, confirming that the Wolf knew the work schedule of Monty’s team almost better than Monty did. It also confirmed that the Others didn’t ignore anything that changed the routine of anyone who dealt with them.

“He took a couple of hours’ personal time today,” Monty said. Wolfgard didn’t need to know that Captain Burke considered personal time spent in the Courtyard as on-duty time since dealing with the Others was dangerous even under the best circumstances.

“Dr. Lorenzo is sniffing around the medical office in the Market Square,” Simon added.

“Then I’ll say hello to the doctor before I pick up Officer Kowalski,” Monty said.

Simon returned to the display, acting as if Monty were no longer there. But he said, “Go out the back door. It will be quicker.”

Something else Wolfgard wouldn’t have considered offering a few weeks ago, Monty thought as he went through the stockroom to HGR’s back door. He had no illusions that the Others thought of humans as allies, let alone equals. Humans were still clever meat. But this was the first Courtyard to be so accessible to humans since … well, since humans crossed the Atlantik Ocean centuries ago and made their first bargains with the terra indigene on this continent.

He just hoped that accessibility remained after Simon figured out he’d been dosed with the drug known as gone over wolf.

Jenni Crowgard walked into the front part of Howling Good Reads wearing nothing but a winter coat that smelled like Heather and covered the Crow’s bare legs to midthigh.

Simon studied her. Usually cheerful and curious, she seemed wary this morning.

“You’ve heard something,” he said.

It wasn’t a question. Every kind of terra indigene had its own strengths. While some called them gossips, few things sent information from one place to another faster than the Crowgard. Even now, the only thing faster than the Crows was the telephone humans had invented a few decades ago. And the computers, since Vlad said you could send the same message to a lot of people.

“Walnut Grove,” he prompted, watching her.

Jenni wrapped her arms around herself. “Something bad. Not sure what. Don’t know why.”

She knew things about the what and the why—things he was sure the human news didn’t know yet. Piece by piece, he got it out of her. Fresh food in the snow, a temptation at this time of year. Young crows and Crows flying in to grab a bite. Then dogs and death and many humans.

“Meg had a dream about Crows this morning,” he said after Jenni told him what she knew. “It scared her a lot.”

Jenni frowned. “Why would our Meg dream about Walnut Grove?”

“No reason for her to dream about the Courtyard there—unless it’s a warning for us.” He stared at Jenni until she squirmed. “You and your sisters and the rest of the Crowgard in Lakeside need to be careful. Walnut Grove is about one hundred fifty miles south of this city. If the sickness that touched humans and Others in the Midwest and in Jerzy on the West Coast has reached this part of Thaisia, we all need to be careful. It’s easy enough to travel to Walnut Grove by train. It’s easy enough for the sickness to travel back to Lakeside with someone.”

“We’ll be careful.”

“If you see Meg rubbing her arms the way she does when visions start prickling under her skin, you tell me. And you pay attention to anything she says.”

“I’ll pay attention,” Jenni promised. “Even if what our Meg says isn’t about Crows.”

Choosing to be satisfied with that, Simon sent her on her way and went back to arranging the display of new books. There had been a noticeable lack of customers since the storm, despite the unprecedented assistance the Others had given to some of the humans who had been stranded.

They’ll come back or they won’t, Simon thought as he read the back copy on a couple of books and set them aside for himself. And today we don’t want unfamiliar monkeys in the Courtyard anyway.

Hearing the rattle of wheels, he turned and watched Heather push a cart up to the checkout counter. The Lakeside Courtyard supplied goods to all the terra indigene living in the surrounding wild country. What HGR had lacked in human customers lately was more than balanced by the number of book orders sent in from all the settlements.

“You going to work on the orders?” he asked. She’d said she was when she went into the back for stock, so he was just trying to be polite and make up for snarling at her earlier.

Heather didn’t answer him. She just gave him A Look.

Grunting, Simon went back to arranging books. A bunny trying to intimidate a Wolf? How ludicrous!

As that thought took hold, he moved so he could watch her while he arranged books. Just how often these days did Heather remind him of a bunny? That comparison had always been there, an assessment of personality as well as how she responded to the Others. But he realized that he thought of her that way more often since the storm.

Something had changed in many of the humans who worked in the Courtyard. Some, like Lorne, who ran the Three Ps—the shop for paper, printing, and postage—went on as they had before. Other humans, like Merri Lee, were showing some Wolf in their personalities and, while still sensibly cautious, were more determined to work with the terra indigene. And others, like Heather, had become too aware that they would never be the predators.

He couldn’t fire her for being a bunny. Well, he could, but he didn’t want to. For one thing, he would lose a good worker. For another, it would be a hardship for her if she couldn’t find another job right away, and that would make Meg and the human pack unhappy. He didn’t want Meg to be unhappy.

Stifling a sigh, Simon forced his attention back to the display of books.

It didn’t matter if he had human customers or not. As long as Meg and her pack were in the Courtyard, he still had plenty of human behavior to study and puzzle over.

Monty found Dominic Lorenzo walking through a first-floor office space in the Market Square.

“Dr. Lorenzo.”

“Lieutenant Montgomery.”

“So you’re serious about opening an office in the Courtyard? I had the impression that you didn’t think that well of the Others.”

“I’m not sure I do,” Lorenzo replied. “But there isn’t another doctor anywhere on this continent who has the opportunity to interact this closely with the terra indigene. I’ve checked.”

“And being able to interact with a blood prophet?” Monty asked softly.

Lorenzo looked him in the eyes. “That was a big part of the reason I proposed an office here and want to be the doctor in residence, so to speak.”

“You’re giving up your work at the hospital?”

“No. I talked to the hospital administrators after the Others lifted the water tax as thanks for caring for Meg Corbyn. That’s a substantial savings.”

Monty nodded. “They lifted the water tax on the Chestnut Street Police Station too.”

“While there is plenty of concern about having the Others around sick or injured people, it can’t be denied that having a hospital that is willing to provide care to any Courtyard resident could make a big difference for all of us in the future. As you pointed out to me during the storm. Right now I’m proposing to have office hours here a couple of mornings a week.”

Winter had made Meg’s recovery a condition of the storm ending, and Lorenzo, despite his reservations about the Others, had given the Human Liaison the very best care possible. In a real sense, the doctor’s actions had saved everyone in the city.

“Basic medicine,” Lorenzo said, sweeping a hand to indicate the office. “The Courtyard’s Business Association is willing to purchase any additional equipment that’s needed, although I don’t think much will be required for the kind of medical care I have in mind. They are being stubborn about my having a nurse to assist or an office manager to help with paperwork.” He gave Monty a speculative look. “Anything you could do about that?”

Monty shook his head, then thought about it. “They have some kind of healers here already, don’t they? Maybe one of them could assist you and learn a bit about human medicine in the bargain. And isn’t there a massage therapist using part of this office space?” He’d seen the Good Hands Massage sign next to the door.

“Yes, she uses one of the rooms for her work. I don’t think she has many clients here, so her hours are limited.”

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