Home > Wild Country (The World of the Others #2)(7)

Wild Country (The World of the Others #2)(7)
Author: Anne Bishop

She handled each stone before putting it back in the bag. Then she picked up her deck of tarot cards. But she didn’t unwrap the silk scarf she kept around them.

What if the cards indicated that she shouldn’t leave? What if they indicated she should go but danger would be waiting?

Of course it would be waiting. Sooner or later, her father would find her—and kill her if he couldn’t bring her back under his control. The Blackstone Clan didn’t tolerate anyone whispering its secrets, especially one of its own.

No choice. Not really. She would go with Kelley and hope she wasn’t found for a long, long time.

Sighing, she tucked the decks of cards and the bag of stones back in the box, fetched her suitcase, and packed what she didn’t want to leave behind.

CHAPTER 7

Windsday, Messis 1

Jana Paniccia opened the bottle of wine and filled a water glass. Getting drunk wasn’t the answer. Wasting money on wine instead of buying food wasn’t the answer.

But what was the … frigging … answer?

“Insufferable bastards.” She swallowed too much wine and choked a little. “ ‘Too much turmoil in the world right now, Ms. Paniccia.’ ” She perfectly mimicked the prissy voice and smug attitude of the administrator who ran the Hubb NE police academy. “ ‘Can’t be rocking the boat now and upsetting the status quo.’ Status quo, my butt.” Jana waved the glass in a sweeping gesture. “You should be grateful to have anyone want to be a cop right now. Uphold law and order? You and my great aunt Fanny.” That had been one of Martha’s sayings. Jana had never known what it meant, but it fit the occasion.

The academy had taken the tuition and fees quick enough. The instructors had let her take the classes—and take the bruises, both physical and emotional, that the other cadets dished out because she had dared want to work in a field that was exclusively male.

Smaller didn’t mean incompetent. Not as muscular? So what? She had brains, and she wanted this. Hadn’t wanted to be anything else but a cop for as long as she could remember.

“You’re romanticizing the job, honey,” Pops had told her. “You’ve read too many stories about the frontier and a kind of law that didn’t exist even then.”

“So I should be a waitress or a secretary?”

“I didn’t say that. You’re choosing a hard road, and there’s no certainty that you’ll succeed. But if that’s what you want, you give it everything you’ve got. If spunk and attitude can make up for you being a girl in a male-dominated field, then, by gosh, you’ll make it and you’ll wear that badge with honor.”

She had survived the loss of people she loved. She had survived the academy. But she’d used up her savings, and there was almost nothing left. No hope of a job as a police officer, despite her qualifications. And with everyone in Thaisia reeling from the terra indigene’s slaughter of humans across the continent, she wasn’t sure there was much hope for anything.

She was feeling a little light-headed from the wine and lack of food when her mobile phone rang. She didn’t recognize the number, but it was a Northeast Region area code. Had to be since calls couldn’t cross regional boundaries anymore.

“Hello?”

“I have a message for the person at this phone number.” A male voice.

“You found her.”

“Do you have something to do with law enforcement?” he asked.

“Is this a joke?”

“No. This is … The message was cryptic, but I believe an opportunity to work in law enforcement will be coming up soon. A badge. A six-gun. Hills. If this means something to you, get to Lakeside as soon as you can.”

“And do what? Go to every police station asking if I can have a job?” Jana’s hand tightened around the phone. “Who put you up to this?”

“Not the police stations. Go to the Courtyard. That was the message.”

“Who gave you this message?”

“That’s confidential and, as I said, cryptic. But the last piece of information was this phone number. That’s all I can tell you, except … If you’re going, go tomorrow. By bus. If you take the train, you won’t get there in time.”

In time for what? “Wait. Wait. Who are you?”

He’d already hung up.

Jana’s hand shook as she ended the call. Had to be a prank, someone setting her up. Her classmates most likely. The gods only knew, she didn’t have much to take with her. A bus ticket to Lakeside, with the extra charge for baggage, would leave her with barely enough money to rent a room for a week, and she’d only be able to do that if she scrimped on food. If she went, she’d be stranded in an unfamiliar city, and her classmates, who should have been her colleagues, would be laughing their butts off at gullible Jana.

But what if it wasn’t a prank?

She checked the recent call log on her phone, wrote down the number of that last call, then tried calling it. No answer. That didn’t surprise her.

Jana put the phone on the tiny table in the kitchenette of her rented room, then went to one of the boxes that held the books she didn’t want to part with, the ones that were her favorites, her comfort reads. She looked at the covers of the frontier stories that had belonged to Pops or that Martha and Pops had given her over the years. She lifted a few out of the box, then stared at the cover of the next one—the frontier story that Pops had returned to over and over.

The background was a landscape of rugged hills unlike anything she knew. The main focus of the cover was a sheriff’s badge and a six-gun.

Jana shivered.

After the compounds where the blood prophets lived were exposed as being little more than prisons where the girls were trained and then exploited for their ability to speak prophecy when their skin was cut, officials in government and law enforcement had scrambled to find out more about these girls. That wasn’t an easy task because the terra indigene had scooped up the girls who had survived being thrown out of the compounds in order to hide the worst of what was being done to them. So the instructor who had talked to her class about the cassandra sangue hadn’t been able to tell them all that much except to say that prophecy could be cryptic, often revealed in images that didn’t make sense.

The caller said he’d been given a cryptic message that had included her phone number.

What if the phone call wasn’t a prank?

She had spunk, and she had enough attitude to hold her own and be a cop. And she didn’t have anything to lose.

Jana poured the rest of the wine down the sink, washed the glass, then hauled out her two suitcases and packed so that she could get to the bus station at first light.

To: Tolya Sanguinati, Urgent

Received your request for workers who are willing to migrate to Bennett. The Lakeside Courtyard will hold a job fair and will interview Simple Life folk and Intuits for the positions you indicated were the most urgent to fill. There may be some terra indigene who will also travel to Bennett. The fair will be held from Messis 6 through Messis 8. We will send you the list of potential employees so you will know what humans to expect and what jobs they can do.

—Vlad

CHAPTER 8

Firesday, Messis 3

Relief filled Tolya as he read Vlad Sanguinati’s e-mail. He didn’t know how many humans would be arriving or what professions they would fill, but this would prove to Jesse Walker that he had taken her concerns seriously. And it would balance the invitation he’d asked the Elementals to send to the terra indigene living in the Midwest to come to Bennett and participate in a mixed community. There were already several shifter gards here, along with the five Sanguinati who had joined him from Toland, but more terra indigene would be needed to keep the Elders from reacting harshly to an influx of humans.

He placed a call to Jesse Walker, doodling on a message pad while he listened to the phone ringing. Doodling was a new human activity, one he found surprisingly enjoyable. He filled the top part of the paper with crosshatching before a female voice said, “Walker’s General Store.”

“Good afternoon, Rachel. This is Tolya Sanguinati. May I speak to Jesse Walker?”

“Are you sure you want to?”

Not anymore. “Is there a reason why I wouldn’t want to speak with her?”

“She’s growling at paper. I don’t know why. Well, a piece of paper cut her finger and she said words I’m not supposed to learn. I offered to bite the paper because I have better teeth, but she said she didn’t need help. I was on a ladder, dusting the top shelves in the store. That’s why the phone rang and rang.”

That made sense, except he was fairly sure Jesse Walker also had a phone in the back room, where, presumably, her desk for paperwork was located. Could she be so injured she couldn’t answer the phone? Or was she ignoring the thing?

Some background noise, then Rachel said, “It’s Tolya Sanguinati. He wants to talk to you.”

“Mr. Sanguinati,” Jesse said once the phone exchanged hands.

She sounded cornered. No. Stressed? Prey was so difficult to gauge by just a voice coming over wires.

Not prey. Not edible. But the courtesy he didn’t hear in her voice suggested he should skip the back-and-forth words that usually began conversations with humans. “The Lakeside Courtyard is holding a job fair next week. Hopefully the new citizens will start arriving by the end of next week and early the following week. I don’t know how many they will find that they consider suitable, but they will try to find the humans—”

<Tolya,> Virgil called. <You’re needed outside. Now.>

“—you indicated were a priority,” he finished.

A beat of silence. “Thank you.” Jesse sighed. “Thank you.”

Her relief sounded excessive and he wanted to ask what was wrong, but Stazia Sanguianti, who was the manager of the bank, said, <Tolya! What should we do?>

“I have to go. I’ll call with more information when I have it.” He hung up and hurried out of his office. <Virgil? Where … ?>

<Town square, at the spring. Barbara Ellen is also there.>

<Who else is there?>

Instead of answering the question, Virgil said, <Hurry.>

The mayor’s office looked out over the square, but trees blocked his view of the spring. He opened the window, shifted to his smoke form, and flowed down the side of the building and across the street, moving at a speed he couldn’t match in his human form.

As soon as he was in sight of the spring—and the two females, one of them being Barbara Ellen—he stopped to assess the danger. Virgil was there in human form, Kane in Wolf form. Stazia was in human form. Isobel, who was in charge of the post office, was a column of smoke partially hidden by one of the trees.

“Do you need help?” Barbara Ellen asked the female who was drinking spring water out of cupped hands. “Have you had anything to eat?” A hesitation. “Do you understand my words?”

   
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