Bumble(Legend of the Ir'Indicti,Book 1)(11) by Connie Suttle
"Yes. Tonight or tomorrow, after the Enforcer looks at the body, I think."
"Mom, we're calling James a body. That has to be wrong, somehow."
"I know, honey. But we have to believe that James is somewhere else. That what he left behind is just a shell."
"Yeah." Ashe's appetite had suddenly deserted him.
"Go brush your teeth and let's get to work."
* * *
"The witch is coming to renew the concealment spells," Adele said during the drive into Cordell.
"I forgot about that," Ashe huffed out a breath.
"Not a surprise, with everything else that's happened," his mother agreed. "I almost forgot about it until Marcus mentioned it when he called your dad last night."
Ashe nodded. Every spring a hired witch came to renew the spell that hid all the aboveground structures from the outside world. Anyone driving by would only see empty fields. Non-residents would have to breach the spelled area and come within a few feet of the structures in order to see them. It kept Cloud Chief safe from the outside world. Aedan explained it to Ashe when he was eight.
"Son," he'd said, "With the weapons and technology available now, we wouldn't stand a chance if somebody truly wanted us dead. They have machines that can even detect things underground. They have radar, sonar and any other number of things to locate us, and any number of deadly weapons to kill us after they find us. That's why we remain hidden. We can't afford to expose ourselves."
Ashe understood that better as time passed. It terrified him to think that a hunting rifle could shoot his mother out of the sky during one of her flights. Shifters and werewolves healed notoriously fast, but a shot to the head or heart and they'd be just as dead. He shook himself to eliminate such morbid thoughts. "When will the witch do the new spells?" he asked.
"Next week, I think. She'll have to do the prep work, walking the perimeter and such." Ashe nodded at his mother's words. He had no idea if a witch might be able to detect him while he was mist or bat, and that concerned him for some reason. Leaning his head against the worn upholstery of his mother's truck, he stared out the window the rest of the drive into Cordell.
Fifteen tomato plants and six pepper plants went into a box later as Ashe rushed around helping customers. Everybody wanted to plant over the weekend, so they were buying plants that Thursday in preparation. Ashe figured Friday and Saturday would be even busier.
It was a good thing he and Sali had gotten all the seed packets out and stocked; those were flying off the shelves, along with gloves, trowels, hoes and hand plows. A few customers bought more expensive gas or electric tillers. His mother liked making those sales; they were a good return on investment, as she called it.
Adele was on the phone to her supplier right after lunch, ordering replacement supplies. Most of that would come in early the following week. Ashe realized he'd be back in school by then and he’d have to make a decision. Turn in class or not. A tough choice. Somehow, he didn't want to let anyone know he could become mist. That was a secret he wanted to keep.
"Tired honey?" Adele locked the door to the shop behind her.
"Me, too. Let's go to Betsy's and order takeout."
"Okay. Sounds good." It did. Betsy's Diner made chicken and dumplings as a regular menu item. Ashe intended to get that if they hadn't run out of it. Five minutes later Ashe and his mother sat at a table in Betsy's, looking the menu over.
"I'll have the roast beef-dinner with mashed potatoes, spinach and a dinner salad," Adele handed the menu back to their waitress.
"I want the chicken and dumplings, with two pieces of cornbread and a side of fried okra," Ashe gave up his menu.
"Are you growing again?" Ashe's mother teased as they waited for their order to come. Adele asked for it to go, first thing.
"Maybe," Ashe shrugged and sipped the complimentary glass of water the waitress brought when they arrived.
"We'll have to shop for more jeans," Adele said absently.
"Can I get cargo pants?" Ashe asked hopefully.
"Maybe a couple pairs."
"We can go to the city sometime next month I think." Adele turned her attention back to Ashe.
"What's wrong, Mom?" Ashe knew his mother was worried about something.
"The Council's Enforcer? Your dad said his name was Radomir," Adele said.
"What about him?" Ashe asked.
"He'll be staying with us while he's here," she sighed.
Later, Ashe carried the last box of Christmas decorations up the steps leading to the second bunker beneath the basement. His mother was already vacuuming the carpet in the nine-by-nine room, preparing to dust the dresser and bedside table. His father's bunker was a twelve-by-twelve square beneath the master bedroom. This second bunker had never been intended for anything other than storage and the occasional visiting vampire. In all his twelve years, Ashe had never seen a visiting vampire. He guessed his father's foresight was a good thing, since that's exactly what they were getting. Radomir wasn't just any vampire; he was an Enforcer for the Vampire Council.
"Bring clean sheets when you come back," Adele called up the steps. Ashe was headed toward the attic in the garage with the box of ornaments. His mother didn't like to keep things up there; Oklahoma summers could be sweltering in their intensity.
"Okay," Ashe called behind him and kept going.
"Will these do?" he brought the best queen-sized sheets he could find, with matching pillowcases.
"These are good," Adele nodded, unfolding the fitted sheet onto the bed. "Get the comforter out of the closet." Ashe pulled the comforter out of the protective plastic sleeve and unfolded it, grateful that his father had installed plenty of lighting. Otherwise, the bunker would be dark as a tomb. That might not matter to a vampire, but Ashe needed light to see while he was human. Ashe went still for a moment. While he was human. He'd never had that thought before. It comforted him in an odd way.
He helped his mother get the top sheet and the comforter on the bed, then set about slipping pillows into pillowcases and two additional pillows into shams that matched the comforter. "There." Blowing a stray strand of honey-blonde hair away from her face, Adele Evans smiled at her son. "And just in time for your dad to wake, too. Come on." Ashe followed his mother up the steps and watched while she let the trapdoor down. If someone went inside the bunker, the door could be locked from there and nobody would be able to get in unless a grenade or something stronger was tossed inside the bedroom overhead.
"Son, you've got dust in your hair." Aedan found them closing the trap door leading to the second bunker. He ruffled Ashe's hair affectionately for a moment.
"He's been hauling Christmas decorations into the attic," Adele said.
"I could have taken those up."
"It wasn’t a big deal, Dad. Everything is up there and the bunker's clean and ready to go."
"So, your mother told you." Aedan searched Ashe's face.
"It's kinda hard to miss, Dad."
"He'll be here sometime before dawn tomorrow morning." Aedan leaned over to kiss Adele. "Go clean up, son. You look like you've walked through a haunted house."
* * *
Ashe awoke the moment the door opened to the stairwell, and then listened while his father showed their guest where the trapdoor was located leading to the smaller bunker. Shivering in the cool morning air, Ashe checked the time on the clock—six-thirty was displayed in big, red, digital numbers. They wouldn't have time to search the field behind the house—sunrise came at seven-fifteen. Unless the Enforcer arrived earlier and he and Aedan had gone out to look first. Ashe resolved to examine the site as quickly as he could.
* * *
"It'll be busy today and tomorrow," Adele set a plate of ham and eggs in front of Ashe.
"Is Sali coming?"
"Not today. Denise called and said she's keeping Sali at home. The investigator is staying there with them, so Denise needs Sali’s help at the house."
"Is Marco doing any better?" Ashe cut into his ham.
"Not really. No."
"Did you meet him?"
"The Enforcer." Ashe bit into a chunk of ham.
"He seems nice enough. Taller than your father by a couple of inches. Dark hair, dark eyes. Looks strong."
Ashe was chewing so he nodded at his mother. He figured the nice comment was to keep him from thinking that an Enforcer was scarier than anything he'd ever met before. "What about the investigator?"
"Denise says it's somebody from Dallas named William Winkler. I think she knows more than she's telling, but that's Pack business."
"Mom, the Pack has a Grand Master and the vampires have a Council. What do the shifters have?" Ashe stopped eating for a moment to ask the question. He'd never really thought about it before.
"We don't have anything," Adele sighed regretfully. "We're too scattered and disorganized. The vampires are all vampires, the werewolves all werewolves. Shifters can be almost anything. We're all different, so there's never been any movement to band together. Can you see all the lions getting together, or all the horses or caribou?"
"There are shapeshifting caribou?"
"In the north. They're quite common there. We're so scattered it would be extremely difficult to organize. These paranormal communities have been the best we could do so far."
"How many communities like this are there, Mom?"
"Not a lot, and they're all here inside the U.S. Europe still hasn't tried it; I think they're waiting to see how we do."
"Sounds like an experiment." Ashe was turning Nathan's words around, making them sound like idle curiosity. He was rewarded with an answer.
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