Written in Red Page 32

She shook her head and started to close the door when the other woman called out, “Let him in, Merri Lee. He can take some of this coffee and food. He is police. Tess said we should be polite to him.”

Merri Lee pulled the door open enough for him to slip inside, then locked it again.

“Sorry,” she said, keeping her voice low. “There was an . . . upset . . . earlier, and it’s better for humans not to be around here today.”

“What about you?” he asked.

“Julia is a Hawkgard, so I’m okay.” She raised her voice to a normal volume and addressed the woman pouring coffee into two large travel mugs. “I’m supposed to bring some of the food to Meg.”

“Already have everything set aside for her,” Julia replied. “For you too. And me. You have a carry sack?”

It took Monty a moment to realize the question was aimed at him. “No, ma’am, I don’t.”

“We usually sell them, but you are the police, so I’ll give you one,” Julia said.

The heavy fabric sack had two sleeves with stiff bottoms that were sized for the insulated travel mugs, plus a zippered compartment that could hold sandwiches or containers of food. There was even a section to hold cutlery.

He watched her fill up the sack with sandwiches and pastries. It looked like they were cleaning out anything that was intended for sale that day and wouldn’t be held over for tomorrow.

“What happened here?” he asked.

“Jenni said Simon upset the Meg and made her cry,” Julia replied. “Then that Asia came into Howling Good Reads and yelled at Simon, and then Tess and Simon yelled at each other over what happened with the Meg. That’s when they closed the stores. It’s not safe when Simon and Tess yell at each other.”

“Is Ms. Corbyn all right?”

Merri Lee nodded. “Just upset.” She watched Julia zip up the sack and added, “You should go now.”

Concern mixed with a warning. Whatever had happened today had happened before. The humans—and the Others—knew how to ride it out.

And hoped they lived through it?

Nothing he could do, so he accepted the carry sack and food with warm thanks, and slipped one of his cards to Merri Lee when she let him out of the shop.

“Lieutenant?” Kowalski asked when Monty got in the car.

“Pull into their parking lot. I’d like a few minutes to think while we have something to eat.”

Once Kowalski parked the car, Monty handed out coffee and food.

Merri Lee, being human, might not say anything about him being in the shop, but Julia Hawkgard would report his presence to somebody. So he couldn’t stop by and talk to Meg Corbyn and reassure himself that she was just upset, but there were other ways of checking on things that weren’t officially his concern.

Telling himself to be satisfied with that, he enjoyed the unexpected meal.

* * *

Someone knocked loudly on the office’s back door, then knocked again before Meg could reach it.

“Hi,” the woman said when Meg opened the door. “I’m Merri Lee. Can I come in far enough so you don’t lose all the heat?”

Still feeling raw about Simon’s reaction to Asia—and feeling a touch defiant because this woman was holding up a pass that said she was allowed to be in this part of the Courtyard—Meg stepped aside.

“I brought your midday meal,” Merri Lee said as she came in. “Things are churned up today, so . . . Wow.” Her eyes widened as she looked around. “Is the other room any cleaner?”

“A little. Not much.” Meg looked around too. “It is pretty dirty, isn’t it?” She thought it was, but she hadn’t been sure other humans would see it that way.

“Here.” Merri Lee handed her the carry sack. “Look. No one but the Liaison and the terra indigene are supposed to be in this office, but I wouldn’t want to work here until it’s clean.”

“There’s a lot of mail that needs to be sorted,” Meg said.

“And you have to do that,” Merri Lee agreed. “But A Little Bite is closed today, so I could put in my work hours by helping you clean this room at least.”

“If you’re not allowed to be here, you’ll get in trouble.” There was a natural warmth to Merri Lee’s friendliness, so Meg didn’t want her to get hurt.

“Not if I get permission from a member of the Business Association.” Merri Lee looked nervous. “Can’t ask Simon or Tess, and I’d rather not ask Vlad or Nyx.” Her face cleared. “But if Henry is working in his studio, I can ask him. Are there any cleaning supplies here?”

“Not that I found.”

“Not even for the toilet?”

Meg shook her head.

“Oh, gods. Well, I’ll pick up some supplies after I talk to Henry.” She glanced at Meg’s hands. “What did you do to your finger?”

“I was cutting up carrots for the ponies,” Meg replied. “Got a little careless. It’s not a deep slice.”

Merri Lee nodded. “I’ll get some cleaning gloves to protect your hands. The cleansers will sting if they get in that cut.” She held out another carry sack. “That’s my food. Could you stash it someplace until I get back?” Giving Meg a smile and wave, she darted out.

Meg put the carry sacks on the sorting table. It felt uncomfortable to lie to someone who was being kind. She hadn’t known a lie could have a physical weight. But she wasn’t going to tell anyone the truth about the cutting and the prophecies until she had no other choice.

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