Home > Lake Silence (The Others #6)(6)

Lake Silence (The Others #6)(6)
Author: Anne Bishop

“Those are Sproingers, from which this village takes its name,” Julian said.

“But what are they?”

“That’s a question. I’ve collected books about places all my life, especially books that have photographs of wildlife and plants from other parts of this continent as well as other parts of the world. My best guess is the template for the critters we know as Sproingers came from the continent of Australis.”

“That’s so far away it might as well be another world,” Grimshaw protested. How many weeks on a ship would it take to reach such a place? “How could a critter from . . .” Then what Julian had said hit him. “The template?”

“Among the odd things about Sproingers, besides the fact that they’re here at all, is that there are always about a hundred of them, and on this continent they can only be found around Lake Silence,” Julian said. “They have no natural enemies—they’re big enough to take on any domestic cat, and dogs back away from them—but there are never more than a hundred. There are bobcats who live in the woods, as well as coyotes—both ordinary animals and terra indigene. Nothing touches the Sproingers. So they’re a bit of a tourist attraction with their happy little faces and the way they hop around and stop at various stores for treats. And while they stuff their faces, they listen to everything that’s going on around them.”

“But they’re not predators,” Grimshaw said. “There has never been a known form of terra indigene that wasn’t a predator.” The terra indigene, the earth natives, the Others, were, as a group, the dominant predators throughout the world, and they could be a terrifyingly efficient killing force, as humans had learned last summer.

“That’s true,” Julian agreed. “Sproingers aren’t predators. I doubt the same can be said about their other form.”

“Do you know what that is?”

“Something dangerous.” Julian hesitated. “Did you wonder about the name of the store?”

“I thought some froufrou idiot owned the place.”

Julian laughed softly. “I opened the store last fall. After the terra indigene swept through Thaisia last summer and killed so many humans during the Great Predation, a lot of stores in Sproing were suddenly without owners, either because the owners died or the people packed up and ran. The bookstore, such as it was at the time, was one of those places. The owner’s heirs wanted to sell fast and get to anyplace that was human controlled. I bought it.

“It was around dusk one day before I officially opened, and someone stepped into the store. She looked small enough to be a child, but she never came all the way into the store and the light was such that I couldn’t see her clearly. She asked if I was going to open the story place, and I said I was. She asked what the name would be, and I told her I hadn’t decided yet and maybe she could help me pick a name.

“I didn’t think anything of it; just a curious child. But two days later, she walked into the store at dusk and placed a scrap of paper on the counter with two words carefully printed out: Lettuce Reed.”

“Let Us Read. She chose words that sounded correct.”

Julian nodded. “Either she didn’t know better, or she was testing me. Either way, that’s how the store got its name. Now five of her kind come to the store once a week, at dusk. In fading light, you could mistake them for human. They have the right shape, mostly. But they’re not human. I’m not sure what kind of terra indigene they are, but I am sure they’re predators of the highest order, and they live somewhere around this lake. They come in and each of them buys one book. Sometimes they return a book for a used-book credit and tell me why they didn’t like it. Other books they like a lot, so I suggest other stories that might appeal to them.”

Grimshaw thought about that. “Five Sproingers come for carrots every day?”

“Most every day. They don’t show up on Earthday, when the store is closed. But I don’t think my book buyers and the Sproingers are the same beings—although it’s possible that one kind of terra indigene has chosen to take two very different forms in order to keep an eye on things around this part of the Northeast.” Julian looked at Grimshaw for a long moment. “Wayne, something is going on in Sproing. You should be careful about who you choose as allies.”

A shiver went down Grimshaw’s spine. No idle warning. Not when it came from Julian Farrow.

“What do you know about Victoria DeVine?”

Julian thought for a moment. Too long a moment?

“She’s a nice woman,” Julian finally said. “Smart with a sassy sense of humor; she doesn’t hurt other people’s feelings in order to be funny. The Jumble was part of her divorce settlement, along with a cash payment. She sunk the cash into the property, which needed repairs as well as new windows, new wiring, plumbing, septic tank. You name it, the place needed it. She managed to fix up the main house and three of the guest cabins. Now it’s a game of wait and see if she can get enough guests on a regular basis to be able to keep the place going. I haven’t witnessed one, but I gather she’s experienced mild anxiety attacks since her separation and divorce, but for the most part has handled the challenges of living in an isolated spot like The Jumble. As far as having paying guests, she has a prime beach, which is available only to her guests—something some of the villagers resent because it’s bigger than the public beach area at the southern end of the lake. I guess people got used to using The Jumble’s beach as if it was public land and don’t like it being off-limits.”

“You like her.”

Julian gave Grimshaw a sharp look. “I usually like people I call friends. That’s why they’re friends.”

“Have you asked her out?” She wasn’t his type—too nervy for one thing—but Julian had always had his own rules when it came to relationships.

“What are you, the dating police?” Julian demanded.

He grinned. “Just asking.”

Julian looked away, making Grimshaw wonder about scars you couldn’t see—and wonder if he’d just scraped across one of those scars.

“Julian?”

“My impression is that Vicki DeVine had a train wreck of a marriage and a car wreck of a divorce, and there are some deep wounds that haven’t healed yet.”

Grimshaw thought about her reaction to him, the way she had flinched a couple of times as if expecting a blow of some kind. “She has trouble being around men?” Owning a resort was a bad choice of profession if that was the case.

“Friends are fine. I didn’t hear of her having problems with any of the contractors who did work at The Jumble. But when it gets too personal? The anxiety attack that follows can’t be described as mild.” Julian hesitated. “Vicki boarded with Ineke Xavier while The Jumble was being restored. One night one of the other guests tried some moves. I don’t know any details except Ineke kicked the man to the curb and called the doctor to deal with Vicki’s reaction.”

“Crap,” Grimshaw said softly. Nervy didn’t begin to describe someone like that.

“We meet up for lunch sometimes or go to a movie with other friends. As long as no one calls it a date, with whatever physical demands that word conjures up for her, she’s fine.”

“And you’re okay with that?”

“She’s my friend. I’m okay with that.” Julian blew out a breath. “There is a rumor that the dead man was connected to a developer who is going to build a significant lakeside resort.”

An abrupt change of subject. Grimshaw took the hint. “You figure someone is looking at The Jumble for that?”

“That’s the only land available, and it isn’t really available.”

“Unless a dead body shows up on the property and the investigation scares off the current owner.” He thought for a moment. “What about the other side of the lake? Could someone be looking at that?”

Julian huffed out a laugh. “Silence Lodge is the home of the local group of Sanguinati. No one with brains, or any desire to live, would approach the vampires about developing land around the lake.”

   
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