Home > Circle of the Moon (Soulwood #4)(7)

Circle of the Moon (Soulwood #4)(7)
Author: Faith Hunter

“A lot is redacted about his rescue and, unless Rick tells us, we may never know specifics,” Tandy said. “However, two werewolves were in jail at the time of the raid that rescued Rick.”

Occam said, “I got names and socials for those. Sending them to you. I don’t see where they are. Not in the system. Not confirmed kills by grindylows.”

“You guys have the weres covered. I’ll compile a list of witches who have interacted with Rick in the past,” T. Laine said.

“What about Jane Yellowrock?” JoJo asked.

“Jane is direct and impatient,” Tandy said, thoughtfully. “If she wanted Rick dead, he’d have been dead a long time ago. A headless corpse. She isn’t the kind for machinations.”

Occam said, “If it makes you feel better, Rick doesn’t talk to me about his past either. He’s pretty closemouthed about it all, even to the only other werecat around. I’ll have to drag anything new out of him, which might involve a major catfight and not a little blood for very little info.”

And that was the crux of the matter. Rick was closemouthed about everything. His family, his relationship with women prior to being bitten, his undercover life, which went on for far too many years. Rick protected people he felt deserved protecting, even against law enforcement agencies. Maybe even against us. If the witch circle had really targeted him, then his entire life would have to be inspected to track down the potential bad. Everything. Every detail of every case. No more secrets. Rick would hate that. And all of us were too chicken to address the issue.

“Tandy? What’s Rick feeling about the witch circle?” JoJo asked.

“Worried,” the unit empath said. The Lichtenberg lines that were part of the legacy of three lightning strikes went darker red against his pale skin. “Depressed. Angry. Tied up in knots. And now that you mention the possibility of his life being turned upside down, it makes sense.” Rick was in a lot of emotional pain lately. It was clear as day on his face. Tandy was having trouble working through Rick’s emotions. “I tried to speak to him. But he …”

“He what? He looked at you mean?” JoJo asked.

“No,” Tandy admitted. “He snarled and showed me his teeth. And he hissed.”

“That right there was relevant information,” I said, pointing with the jelly spoon. Tandy was supposed to be our unit’s therapist. Instead he was scared of his boss. “Rick must be deeply troubled that he’d introduced one security breach to the unit with Paka and now might find his personal and professional life rummaged through like a yard sale.”

The empath sighed and took a black-headed cat from Occam’s shoulder, holding and stroking it. Torquil, named for the helmet-like black head, had once been wild; now she purred. The werecats had tamed all my mousers. I still didn’t know how I felt about that.

For the first time, it occurred to me that in a lot of ways, they might have tamed me too. I scowled. “Just ’cause you don’t like one a Rick’s reactions don’t mean you get to keep it secret,” I said, sounding a little too churchy. I reined in my accent and finished my thought. “Secrets are dangerous.”

“I know,” Tandy said, seeming to take comfort from the cat. “But if I write up a report about Rick being difficult, and maybe a security risk, then what? Rick is a security risk, but no more than the rest of us. Soul went rogue and killed salamanders during the fight that injured our cats, and she might even have killed the ones in captivity at HQ. I lost it a few months back when I was exposed to abnormal energies and forced emotional changes on the humans around me. JoJo did a little drilling again.” He looked at his girlfriend.

Her eyebrows were reaching high at being outted for illegl activity. Not that we didn’t all know anyway. But no one talked about any of this.

“In the interests of protecting the public,” Tandy amended.

“Uh huh,” JoJo said, in a tone that carried a threat if he continued. But he did.

“T. Laine needs a coven and doesn’t have one yet because she keeps pissing off the locals.” Tandy’s face was turning red, the Lichtenberg lines going darker. “Occam spent months in Africa being healed and he still isn’t a hundred percent. Paka still signifies a compromise to the security of PsyLED and she vanished into the wilds of Africa, making her impossible to track. If she shows up here again we’ll have a fight on our hands, which could put our badges and careers on the table. And we have an unpredictable grindylow keeping inconsistent watch on our werecats.”

I didn’t say anything to that, though I could have. My land and magic had claimed Paka. She was no threat. If she came to the United States again, I’d feed her to the land and she would be gone, every hair, every skin cell.

As if he heard my thoughts, Tandy turned his reddish eyes to me. “And how many secrets are you willing to share if we start making reports, Nell? Are you willing to share just how powerful Soulwood really is?”

That was a low blow and hinted at a desire to argue with me. I narrowed my eyes at him but didn’t take the bait he dangled. If Tandy and I were ever gonna argue, it would be at a time and place of my choosing, not his. I’d learned that from the mamas.

I said to JoJo, “Anyone considered the possibility that Paka is doing this to Rick from afar?”

“That one’s mine,” Occam muttered. Louder he said, “I’ve got contacts in Africa trying to keep tabs on her. They got a hint of her whereabouts last month, in the middle of a tribal war. Nothing since, but my feeling is that she’s too busy trying to stay alive to deal with Rick. There’s nothing to suggest her involvement.”

So the entire unit except for me had assignments looking into Rick’s history. I scowled harder and thought more outside the box. “Or maybe the witch really is trying to call Rick so Rick will turn her. Maybe she has some terminal disease and thinks she needs were-taint to live.”

JoJo looked up from her tablet, eyes narrowed and appraising. She said, “You’re spitballing pretty good, probie.”

“I got more. We’ve all noticed that the grindys are not concerned with Rick’s unusual shifting or moods. They ain’t—they haven’t been in HQ since the witch circle. Maybe the spell is affecting the grindys too.”

“I think I hate you,” T. Laine said, slapping the coffee table.

I grinned happily, figuring that meant no one had thought about some of that.

“This is a lot to incorporate and keep straight in our individual reports,” JoJo said, “but we keep all info about Rick and Paka and the grindys off PsyLED’s informational systems for now. This is an in-office inquiry, not an investigation. I’ll update Soul when she gets free from the meetings, voice only. No way am I creating a report that’s a career-killing move for my boss.” She looked around the room, making sure we all agreed, her fingers tugging on her earrings, a personal tic that looked painful but had become endearing. She continued. “Inside this unit, we need to know everything. I expect everyone to keep apprised of all ongoing developments, and this is a good time to make use of the internal network.” That was a system of files available only within the unit itself. I hadn’t used it much, but it was handy in times like this, or when we needed to schedule meals together or send a group e-mail that wasn’t case related. “We keep Clementine off,” she added. Clementine was the unit’s voice-to-text system and when she was on, she recorded and transcribed everything. “We partition off anything that relates to Rick being a possible security threat until Soul says otherwise.”

We all agreed and JoJo turned gleeful eyes to me. “And since you brought up the grindylow, you get to research every single appearance of grindy-related deaths since they first appeared in the United States, and compare and contrast with the very rare times when the grindys didn’t execute judgment. It might give us insight into why they’re ignoring Rick’s problems.” Her tone said it served me right for spitballing so well.

“I can add that to my search,” I said. Research was my forte, and I had been updating records of recent grindylow kills since I had come back to work. Tracking para activity was a big part of PsyLED’s mandate, and this simply took my investigation deeper.

Occam said softly, “Nell, you should talk to Rick. He might open up to you.”

Because of the tie to Soulwood. “Secrets,” I sighed, my tone saying that I thought they were dangerous and stupid. But. Tandy’s accusation had been on point. I hadn’t written a report about my land. Or my bloodlust. Or killing people and feeding them to Soulwood. And I never would, that being murder and all. “Fine. I’ll talk to Rick.” I knew I’d been maneuvered into the talking-trap when everyone relaxed. But at least that little chore could wait until morning. Or later. Much later.

I studied my guests. Where once there had been ties between a few of us, but no real cohesiveness, now there were bonds forming. We were becoming a team, the five of us. But not Rick. He might be the impetus that was driving the unity I could feel around the coffee table, but he was still outside of it. It might be up to me to bring Rick into this sense of accord. And my social skills were not the best.

I flapped my hands at the unit and said, “You’uns go play at the office. This is the last of my days off and I need my hands in the dirt.”

They left, all of them departing through the front door.

• • •

   I changed into overalls and work boots and rubbed some of my homemade bug-be-gone on my exposed skin and went out the back to work in the garden. Occam was there, his back to the house, looking over my split wood supply. It was under a blue tarp to keep it dry. John had been planning to build a shed for the wood, but he died before he could knock one together. The tarp worked fine for me. Occam stood there, framed by the blue of the tarp, one knee bent, that leg out to the side, his feet hidden in the grass. He was taller than me, rangy and lean, but broad across the shoulders. The faded jeans were tight across his backside and I flushed, shook my head, and dragged my eyes away from the vision as I squashed my imagination of what that backside would look like without the jeans. It was a bizarre thought and not one I had ever had about a man. I hooked my thumbs into the bib of my overalls and walked up next to him, knowing he would hear and smell me as I approached. Espccially as I was covered in bug gunk.

“What time of year do you start looking for firewood?” he asked.

“Been looking around already. There’s a couple of guys I can call. And I toss deadfall into my truck when I find it. Split it when I get it home.”

“You split your own wood?”

I didn’t hear censure in his tone. In the church it wasn’t considered womanly for the weaker sex to handle an ax. John had said he figured that was to keep a woman from knowing how to use a weapon and I’d agreed, but I’d kept that thought to myself. John might have saved me from become a concubine in God’s Cloud of Glory polygamist cult—not a church, not really—but he still had strong feelings about a woman’s place in the home and in society. “John taught me. The same week he found out he had cancer and it was … pretty much everywhere already. He was gone a few months later, but in between, he worked on my shooting, taught me how to clean all his weapons, hunt, field dress a deer. Showed me how to butcher and clean doves and pheasants and even small hogs. Taught me maintenance on the well pump and the windmill. He made sure I was self-sufficient so that if I married again it would be my choice and not because I was starving to death and needed a roof over my head.”

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