Home > Wild Country (The World of the Others #2)(3)

Wild Country (The World of the Others #2)(3)
Author: Anne Bishop

Going into the back, Virgil studied the three cells. Not a lot of space for wrongdoers, but it would have to be enough.

Humans. Couldn’t live with them; couldn’t eat them all.

CHAPTER 3

Thaisday, Sumor 26

“Did I do something wrong?” Rachel Wolfgard asked, an anxious whine beneath the words.

“No, honey, you did a great job,” Jesse replied. “I just need time in my own place for a few days.”

“Familiar smells are good.” Rachel’s hands gathered up the skirt of her summer dress and tightened into fists that would, most likely, crease the lightweight material. “I didn’t mark territory in your store, even though it is my store too.”

“Appreciate that. Urine smell in a store selling fresh food tends to put people off their feed.”

“Why? One of the men came in yesterday and made a fart that smelled so bad Shelley Bookman left her shopping and went outside, and when she came back, she asked me to smell the food to make sure it still smelled fresh.”

It took effort not to smile. “Smelled that bad, did it?”

Rachel nodded. “My eyes watered.”

“Which man?” It hadn’t escaped her notice that the juvenile Wolf had not named the bad-mannered lout. “It wasn’t Tobias, was it?” If it was her son, she’d be having a few words with him.

“No,” Rachel replied quickly. “Tobias wouldn’t do anything that smelled that bad.”

No longer able to hide her smile, Jesse turned toward the canned goods that filled the shelves along one wall. It sounded like Rachel had a little crush on Tobias. She was too young for him, of course, just as he was too old for her—not to mention her being a terra indigene Wolf and him being a human.

Then her boy walked into the store.

“Howdy, Rachel,” Tobias said. “That dress looks nice on you.”

“Thank you, Tobias. I am wearing the underpants and undershirt too because that is what females should wear beneath the clothing that is seen.” Rachel looked at Jesse. “And I have learned how to wash them. Ellen Garcia taught me while you were away.”

“That’s good,” Jesse replied, studying the way Tobias blushed but gave no other sign that underclothes weren’t something usually discussed with the other gender.

Not a crush on her son, Jesse decided as she watched the two of them. This was a very innocent younger sister revealing things to her older brother.

It made sense. With the exception of the nanny, all the adults in the Prairie Gold pack had been slaughtered by members of the Humans First and Last movement. Heeding Tolya Sanguinati’s warning, she and the rest of the women in Prairie Gold had gathered up the children, human and Other, and headed into the Elder Hills to a spot where they would be safe from human killers.

Now the terra indigene settlement had a new leader, Morgan Wolfgard, and a new enforcer, Chase Wolfgard. Along with the Grizzly WyattBeargard they were the main contacts between the Intuits and the terra indigene—including the Elders who lived in, and protected, the hills.

Rachel continued to travel from the terra indigene settlement and work in Walker’s General Store, under Jesse’s supervision and on her own during the days when Jesse was in Bennett helping to sort things out there. Morgan and Chase weren’t happy about their lone juvenile female being surrounded by humans, but their allowing Rachel to be in town was the strongest indication that they were trying to get along with the humans who lived in their territory.

And Morgan and Chase didn’t scare her half as much as Virgil Wolfgard, Bennett’s new sheriff.

They needed workers in Bennett. They needed people to resettle the town. More than that, they needed someone Virgil would trust enough that he wouldn’t look at every human as the enemy.

“Did you come in for supplies?” Rachel asked. “I could make up a box of supplies like cans of beans and coffee and—”

Jesse watched the back of Rachel’s dress swish as the young Wolf lost control of the human form enough to regain her tail, which was wagging to indicate her eagerness to help. Fortunately, the girl was facing Tobias so he didn’t notice.

“Ellen is coming in for supplies tomorrow. I’m here to talk to my mother,” Tobias replied.

“Okay.”

When he didn’t say anything, Jesse looked at Rachel. “Honey, why don’t you finish stocking the shelves. Tobias, you come on to the back room with me.”

A little whine, followed by a human-sounding sigh. Understandable that Rachel felt anxious anytime she was excluded, but the girl needed to learn that sometimes other people needed privacy and not everything was shared by the whole pack, however “pack” was defined.

“You look tired, son.” Jesse pressed her hand against one side of Tobias’s face.

“We’re all putting in longer hours.” Tobias leaned against the wall. “Too few men for the amount of land we’re trying to cover and the cattle we’re trying to keep track of.”

“There might be relief coming.”

“If they can sit a horse, I’ll hire them. Gods, even if they can’t sit a horse, I’ll hire them.”

“Don’t set your sights too low. I think I’ve convinced Tolya Sanguinati that we need more people if he doesn’t want Bennett to turn into a ghost town.”

“You think he’ll agree?”

“I think he will. But we’ll need to be careful, watchful.” Her right hand closed over her left wrist. “We need the people. We need to keep the town alive. But what is good for us won’t be the only thing getting off the train.”

CHAPTER 4

Thaisday, Sumor 26

Parlan Blackstone sat at one of the tables in the executive car, playing solitaire and ignoring the looks from the men who were playing poker at another table. He wasn’t sure they knew who he was when they’d invited him to join them, but he’d had a bad feeling about two of the men and had declined, claiming he didn’t have much of a head for cards.

They hadn’t believed him, but no one was drunk enough—yet—to call him a liar.

At the next stop, he’d leave the executive car and retreat to his private car. He’d hoped to play a few games during this stage of the trip to balance the rising cost of train fares, but the men in the car … They wore expensive suits, but they were still thugs.

The Blackstone Clan might be gamblers and swindlers, but they weren’t thugs. Not that he was opposed to hiring muscle who liked the sort of work that required brass knuckles—or guns—but the Blackstone name was never associated with those activities.

Parlan didn’t look over at the other men, but he sensed a change in their intentions. There was no one else in the executive car. From the perfume scents in the washroom at the back of the car, he knew there had been one or more women with the men before the last stop. Since the women weren’t in the executive car now, they’d fulfilled their purpose and were no longer wanted.

He wondered briefly if they’d been left at the last station or had been tossed off the train. He had a feeling at least one of those men would find tossing a woman off a moving train amusing. Or expedient. And he had a strong feeling that they were considering doing the same to him after relieving him of his wallet and a few of his teeth.

Not that they would have a chance to relieve him of anything.

One of the men shifted on the padded bench seat. Parlan ignored him; didn’t reach for the derringer or the knife he carried because at the same moment the man stood up, the door of the executive car opened and two men walked in from the regular passenger car.

The first man didn’t look at the four men, but Parlan knew he saw all of them. Those men might be thugs, but this man was a stone-cold killer who truly enjoyed his work.

The man nodded to Parlan before taking one of the leather seats behind Parlan’s bench seat. He chose the aisle seat, where he could see the other men, who no longer found Parlan interesting.

The second man stopped at Parlan’s table. “Not your usual game.”

Parlan looked up and smiled. “Hello, Henry. Have a seat.” After Henry Hollis settled in the bench seat opposite him, he gathered the cards and shuffled. “I wasn’t in the mood for my usual game. What about you?”

Henry took out his wallet and laid a hundred-dollar bill on the table. “A farewell game.”

That was all Hollis was going to wager? Parlan looked at the bill and wondered if Henry had fallen on hard times. “Farewell? You going somewhere?”

“I’m giving up the life.”

He looked at Henry in surprise. “What’s this?”

“It’s time to quit.”

Parlan was aware that the four men had noticed the bill Henry had put on the table and sensed they were wondering how much Henry might be carrying. Then they looked at Judd McCall sitting quietly behind Parlan.

As long as those men were the first ones off the train, Henry would be safe. No one but a fool tangled with Judd.

“Why quit?” Parlan asked. He dealt two hands of blackjack. Henry hit and busted. Parlan deliberately took a card that also put him over twenty-one.

“Have you tried to do much traveling in the past month?” Henry glanced at the cards. “Stay.”

Parlan took a card and won that hand.

“The Northeast and Southeast didn’t get hit as hard as other places, but the bigger cities in those places surely did,” Henry continued. “I’ve heard at least one-third of Toland is nothing but rubble and corpses. A couple of the big cities in the Southeast aren’t much better. The people who used to look for a big game aren’t looking to play cards these days. They’re looking to buy food and repair their homes. They’re looking to restore their businesses. They’re hiding in their houses when the sun goes down.” He sighed. “The travel bans are strictly enforced, at least for the trains. And anyone foolish enough to drive at night carries a loaded gun on the seat beside him, figuring that if he’s caught, a bullet in the brain will be more merciful than whatever will be done to him by what’s out there in the dark.”

“That’s what you’ve heard?” Parlan dealt a couple more hands, not asking if Henry wanted to hit or stay. Didn’t matter. It was just something to do with his hands.

“I was in a Southeast city playing in a high-stakes game when the news reports showed all the dead shifters that were killed by followers of the Humans First and Last movement. And I was still in that city when the Others retaliated.” Henry’s voice remained calm, conversational, but when he looked at Parlan there was fear in his eyes. “Traveling from town to town for games? Not the way I want to live anymore—mostly because I realized that I wanted to live.”

“Then what are you going to do?”

Henry laughed quietly. “My sister and her husband live in a small town on the western side of Lake Honon. They own an old-fashioned general store—the kind of place where you can buy basic groceries and a bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer along with a coloring book or a toy for the kids, and the wife can look through a box of patterns to make a new dress. They even have bolts of cloth and needles and thread and whatnot for sewing. A year ago they wanted to expand but couldn’t get a loan from a bank. So I put in the money and became a silent partner.” He smiled. “I figured I was tossing money out the window, but she’s my sister. Anyway, they got the building renovations done and purchased the merchandise they wanted to add. And now? They and their old-fashioned store survived when the Others ripped through all the human towns. Now they’re an important fixture in that part of their town and need help running the place.”

   
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