Bumble(Legend of the Ir'Indicti,Book 1)(7) by Connie Suttle
"Mom says it's okay."
"Good. Maybe we can go to the Burger Hut for lunch."
"Yeah. That would be great." Sali pulled Ashe toward him. "Dude, I want to talk to you," he said so quietly that Ashe barely heard.
"Tomorrow morning? Mom leaves early," Ashe covered Sali's whisper as his mother walked into the kitchen.
"Sali, are you sure you want to come?" Adele brushed Sali's thick black hair away from his forehead. Sali blinked nearly black eyes at her before smiling slightly.
"Yeah, Mrs. Evans. I want to come."
"He'll just mope around the house if he doesn't get to spend the day with Ashe," Denise observed.
"Then be at the house at seven-thirty," Adele said. "I'm expecting azaleas, onions and more petunias. Plus a load of feed."
"I get to water the plants," Sali put his bid in right away.
* * *
"Mom, what do you think happened to James?" Ashe asked as his mother drove home.
"I don't know," Adele reached out to pat Ashe's arm. Ashe nodded. He didn't either, and it bothered him. He had so little information, outside the conversation his father had with Nathan Anderson the night before. Now, the Grand Master of the werewolves was sending someone and the Vampire Council could send someone, too. Ashe itched to ask his mother about Nathan's comment the night before—the one regarding Cloud Chief being an experiment. He couldn't. He'd be in trouble for listening to a private conversation and getting information he wasn't supposed to have.
* * *
"Dad," Ashe sat next to his father on the sofa after helping his mother clear away dinner dishes. Aedan had wakened only a few minutes earlier.
"What, son?" Aedan settled an arm over the back of the sofa.
"Dad, Sali told me that the Grand Master is sending someone to investigate."
"Your mother told me."
"What will they do? This sounds scary."
"Son, it's already scary. A boy died who shouldn't have. Now we have to solve this, somehow. You'll find out soon enough, so I'm telling you now that the Vampire Council is sending an Enforcer."
"An Enforcer?" Ashe stopped breathing for a moment.
"They know it's only an investigation," Aedan replied. Ashe realized his father clearly heard when his breath caught. "I hope the Grand Master's man and the Council's Enforcer can work together on this. It will make it easier on everybody," Aedan added.
"When will they get here?" Ashe asked.
"The Grand Master's investigator will arrive on Thursday. That's what Mrs. DeLuca told your mother. The Enforcer will get here on Friday or Saturday, according to my source."
"Where did they put James?"
"That's a morbid question, but if you must know, he's in the O'Neill's barn, locked inside their walk-in refrigerator. Marcus has the keys so nobody else can get in and disturb the body."
Ashe knew the investigator and the Enforcer would examine James's body to see if they could determine how he'd died. Both would have good scenting ability, so they'd look into that as well. Ashe hadn't done it in a long time, but he leaned his head against Aedan's shoulder.
"Son, it'll be all right," Aedan said softly. "Why don't you go read one of your new books?"
"Okay." Ashe slid off the sofa and walked toward the stairs. His bedroom, like the others, was below ground. Once the door was shut at the top of the stairway that led downward, Ashe leaned against the door and listened.
"They're sending someone named Radomir," Ashe heard his father say. "The Council has to find someone older than Harold, and Radomir couldn't get here before Friday at the earliest."
"So the Grand Master's investigator will have a full day ahead of the Enforcer," his mother replied.
"Adele, don't read more into this than necessary." Ashe didn't hear anything else, so he slipped down the steps as softly as he could.
* * *
"Sali, I don't know why they needed to send a vampire older than Old Harold," Ashe said for the third time. Adele had driven them to the Burger Hut for lunch Monday, warning them not to mention anything about James. It was understood—you didn't talk about James's murder unless you wanted human authorities involved and Cloud Chief didn't. Adele hadn't stayed; she normally didn't close the store during lunch so she went back, promising to pick up both boys around one-fifteen.
"Well, there has to be a reason, don't you think?" Sali was still curious about the vampire.
"Yeah, but I don't know what it is." Ashe was beginning to feel grumpy. There were too many questions and he didn't have any answers. He hated that. Ashe wanted problems that he could solve. He wasn't sure he could solve any of this, beginning with James's death. "What did you want to talk to me about?" Ashe asked to steer Sali away from incessant questions.
"Dude, I really wanted to listen in on the Pack meeting tomorrow night," Sali said, biting into his double meat, double cheese with bacon burger. A pile of fries occupied the remaining space on his plate. Ashe knew Sali would eat every bite. "And I would listen in, but Mom has a sitter coming," Sali continued.
"A sitter?" Ashe didn't understand. Cloud Chief would empty on the night of the full moon. Any adult would go through the shift or the turn and hunt or run or fly. Who would be babysitting Sali?
"Nathan, Cori and Dori are coming to stay with me," Sali muttered. "And Staci, Brad and Timothy are coming over, too." Sali named three werewolf children younger than he was. Six other young werewolves were old enough to hunt with the Pack, although they hadn't finished school yet. Fifteen was considered old enough and Marco was one of six remaining teens that met the requirements. James Johnson had been the seventh.
"Wait, did you say you would listen in if you didn't have a sitter?" Ashe's eyes narrowed at his best friend. He'd never heard this before from Sali.
"I've done it twice before. Almost got caught, too, but I didn't." Sali grinned, preening over his apparent prowess. Somehow, he'd spied on the Pack when he should have been at home.
"Sali, how did you do that? And why haven't I heard this before?"
"You think I want to be grounded for the rest of my life? Dad will shout the house down if he ever finds out. I know where to go and that's where you'll be tomorrow night while your dad is out with your mom on the full moon." Sali's smugness washed over Ashe. Sali had not only fooled the Pack twice but had kept the secret from Ashe for who knew how long. Ashe blinked at Sali in surprise, listening while Sali explained how and where.
"That's where they meet? In that clearing?" Ashe recognized the spot Sali meant as he described it. A small stand of trees stood a quarter mile behind the DeLuca home. There weren't many patches of trees in that portion of Oklahoma; most of it was farmland or prairie. Marcus had chosen the property with trees and the Pack hunted on his land during the full moon.
"Yeah. But you have to get in that old oak tree on the eastern edge. You won't be able to see much but you'll be able to hear. Probably better than I can. I want to know what they're saying, Ashe. About James and Randy Smith."
"Dude, if you get caught doing something like that, you'll get grounded. There's no telling what they'd do to me if I got nabbed." Just the idea of being caught by angry werewolves frightened Ashe.
"Dude, it's the only way we'll know," Sali shot back. "I think Cori still wants to know, too."
"And what if I say no?"
"Then we may never know what's going on."
"What time do I need to be there? I'll have to wait until Mom and Dad are out of the house," Ashe pointed out.
"The wolves won't be there until nearly ten. You should have plenty of time to sneak away and get back."
"This sounds like imminent disaster," Ashe grumped, gathering paper wrappers and napkins to dump on his way out of the restaurant.
* * *
Ashe and Sali spent the afternoon cleaning up the back room of the store before unloading onion sets and the rest of the plant deliveries, and then unloading a shipment of seeds, gardening supplies and bags of chicken feed. Ashe was tired and ready to go when six o'clock rolled around.
"Sali, do you want to be dropped off first?" Adele smiled at him as he climbed into the old Ford.
"Yeah. I think I can grow plants from the dirt on my jeans."
"And you smell like onions, dude." Ashe grinned and poked Sali in the ribs.
"And I smell like onions," Sali admitted. "But I'll be at your house again tomorrow morning."
"Glutton for punishment, Sali?" Adele laughed.
"I guess." Sali ducked his head to hide the grin.
"We'll clean the store and put those new seed packet displays together tomorrow," Adele started the truck and put it in gear. Ashe sat quietly next to Sali on the way home. The work had taken his mind off James's death, and James's death had taken his mind off his own problems. Those problems now seemed insignificant next to the other things.
* * *
Sali studied the diagram for the cardboard display the following morning while Ashe helped a customer at the register. Adele had gone to the back to inspect another shipment of plants and gardening tools before signing off on it. "These good gloves?" the old man placed a pair of leather gloves on the counter. Ashe knew he was one of his mother's regular customers. Stooped slightly, the man had thinning gray hair, plenty of wrinkles and twinkling blue eyes.
"Yeah. Mom wears this brand all the time," Ashe said.
"I'll take 'em, then." The man drew his wallet out of a back pocket slowly and deliberately. Ashe wondered if the older ones pondered things before expending the effort. At the moment, it made sense to him, somehow. And then James came to mind. James, whose life was over after seventeen years. Most werewolves lived two hundred years or more. That life might be cut short if you were a Packmaster and didn't survive a challenge.
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