Bumble(Legend of the Ir'Indicti,Book 1)(12) by Connie Suttle
"We sort of are," Adele lifted her fork. "That's why it's so important to find out who killed James and why. The answer might determine whether Cloud Chief stays together or disbands."
"That's possible?" now Ashe was worried. He and Sali would be separated, he just knew it.
"Ashe, don't worry, all right? Things will work out. Finish your breakfast."
The day was busy at Cordell Feed and Seed, just as Ashe expected it to be. He rang up customers. Talked about the advantages of this piece of equipment over that. Listened sagely as an old woman spoke about the different kinds of tomatoes and then sold her two dozen plants, as well as squash, zucchini and watermelon seeds. His mother worked tirelessly with the more difficult tools and plants, between helping with bags of feed and fertilizer. Both of them missed lunch and Ashe was starving by the time the workday was done.
"Come on, we'll run by the grocery store and I'll broil steaks," Adele hugged Ashe as they walked toward his mother's old truck. Dinner was finished and Ashe had eaten every scrap of his T-bone, salad and mashed potatoes when Aedan walked through the door into the kitchen, a tall, dark-haired vampire right behind him.
"How was your day?" Aedan sat down at the table just as he always did. "This is Radomir, Enforcer for the Council," Aedan invited the other vampire to sit down with his family.
"The store was extremely busy. We had a good day and missed lunch, so I fixed steaks." Ashe noticed his mother was chatting nervously, something she seldom did.
"What time do you normally rise, Mrs. Evans?" Radomir asked, leveling a dark gaze on Adele. Ashe watched as his mother lowered her eyes. She was worried and too frightened to look Radomir in the eye.
"Around five-thirty. Aedan usually wakes me," she replied, staring at her hands.
"Aedan and I may be busy, so please set an alarm clock for tomorrow morning."
"Of course," Adele whispered. Ashe didn't like that his mother felt so uncomfortable, but he felt helpless. His father couldn't say anything, because Radomir worked for the Vampire Council. He wondered if Sali were feeling the same about the investigator the Grand Master sent. Ashe itched to phone Sali, but that was impossible as long as Radomir remained inside the house. He could easily listen to any conversation, and Ashe wasn't allowed a cell phone to make a call from outside the house. His father said he could have a cell phone on his fifteenth birthday. Until then, his parents felt that Ashe was just too young to have one.
"I'll clear away the dishes," Ashe lifted his plate off the table and walked toward the sink. He could try to instant message Sali on the computer, but Sali didn't have his own computer, as Ashe did. The conversation might not be private.
"Here, honey." Adele stood and took her plate to Ashe. Together they loaded the dishwasher and wiped down the stove and countertops. Radomir and Aedan were still sitting at the kitchen table when they finished.
"Is there anything I can get for you?" Adele asked Radomir.
"I am fine, Mrs. Evans."
"Then Ashe and I will go downstairs and watch television." Radomir inclined his head slightly in acknowledgement, so Ashe went down the stairs ahead of his mother, who closed the middle door behind her. Neither spoke until they were inside the living room downstairs. Ashe's mother closed that door as well.
"Mom, is Dad gonna be okay?" Ashe had to work to keep himself from trembling.
"I hope so," Adele replied. Ashe didn’t miss the tiny crease of worry between his mother’s brows.
Ashe watched one program with his mother before asking if he could go to his room to read. Adele gave permission so he walked down the hall toward his bedroom. He'd heard the kitchen door open and close ten minutes after he and his mother walked downstairs, so Ashe knew Radomir had gone out with his father. Standing in front of his dresser, Ashe quickly turned to mist, hoping mightily that his mother wouldn't come to check on him and find him gone while he was out.
Discovering that his father's information was correct, Ashe slipped through the barest of cracks around doors to leave the house. Once outside, he lifted high into the air to look around. Spotting his father and Radomir in the pasture behind the house, Ashe zoomed his mist in that direction.
"No other scents were found?" Ashe hovered over their heads as Radomir asked questions.
"No. I wasn't here initially, but when Nathan and I went out after the others left, we only found evidence of the boy, the little female panther, Micah Rocklin, Marcus DeLuca and Benjamin Billings," Aedan explained. He stood amid knee-high prairie grass, arms crossed over his chest as he examined the spot where James' body had been found.
"Who was first at the scene?"
"After Cori, I believe Marcus and Benjamin were. Micah came after they arrived."
"Hmm." Radomir walked around the area, sniffing for scents and searching for clues with sharp, vampire sight. "Too much time has passed," he said after a while. "The scents are confused now and any clues are obliterated."
"I feel the same." Aedan sounded defeated and Ashe wasn't used to that. His father was always strong and confident. This worried Ashe more than he wanted to admit.
"Are they prepared to show us the body tonight?"
"Yes, I only have to call Marcus and they'll meet us there."
"Then we will go now."
Without a word, Aedan lifted his cell phone from a pocket and hit a number on speed dial. Ashe heard it ringing just as well as he might if he still had corporeal ears. He heard Marcus' answer, too. "We're ready to see the body, if you're free," Aedan said.
"We'll meet you there in twenty minutes," Marcus's voice was soft, but Ashe heard. Ashe followed his father as he strode purposely toward the house, Radomir beside him. Tossing good sense and caution away, Ashe misted inside his father's SUV as Aedan and Radomir loaded into it. Ashe was going to do what none of the others his age could—he was going to see James's body first-hand.
Marcus and a werewolf Ashe didn't recognize stood outside the O'Neill's barn when Aedan drove up. Ashe figured it was the Grand Master's investigator, William Winkler. Black-haired, black-eyed and taller than Marcus but not quite as tall as Aedan or Radomir, William Winkler moved with an easy grace that spoke of power and confidence. Misting away from the SUV as soon as his father opened the driver's side door, Ashe followed closely behind Aedan as the two vampires approached the werewolves.
"Aedan, this is William Winkler," Marcus introduced the investigator. Aedan offered his hand and the tall werewolf clasped it firmly.
"Mr. Winkler and I already know one another," Radomir said, shocking Marcus, Aedan and Ashe.
"We met several years ago," William Winkler explained. "And call me Winkler, everybody does." Ashe found he liked the werewolf investigator. He put everyone at ease, whereas Radomir seemed more stiff and formal.
"Come on in; I have the key." Marcus held up the key in question. Ashe followed invisibly as Winkler slid the barn door back and walked inside. The others followed the werewolf investigator's lead. The O'Neill's walk-in refrigerator had a bright light that blinked on when the door opened. Grateful for the light and for the discovery that he didn't feel the cold when he followed his father inside the refrigerator, Ashe might have gasped his surprise if he'd been corporeal; James had died as werewolf. Somehow, he expected James to be, well, James.
"So, he went down fighting, you think?" Radomir was speaking directly to Winkler, as if he valued the werewolf's opinion. Ashe realized that this was both unusual and true. Radomir and Winkler not only knew one another, they respected each other as well.
"Couldn't be otherwise," Winkler agreed. Radomir leaned in to examine the deep claw marks running across the young werewolf's torso.
"These are impressive wounds, but surely they wouldn't have killed him," Radomir observed. Ashe was sickened by what he saw. Globs of dried blood covered strips of fur and skin that had been cruelly torn from James's body. Eyes that still shone golden in the artificial light were nearly closed but not completely. The tongue was blackened and hanging from the mouth. Ashe stared at James's lengthy canines. Sali's weren't that long, but Sali wasn't fully grown as a werewolf, either.
"They didn't kill him," Winkler agreed. "But the boy died somehow. Now, all we have to do is figure out how and why. One of our werewolf physicians is coming in from Chicago next week. He'll perform an autopsy. Perhaps he can tell us what really happened here."
"I would like to be present when the autopsy is performed," Radomir said. Ashe might have gulped if he'd been solid. No way he'd want to see that. No way he could stand there and watch without tossing his lunch.
"I intend to be here as well," Winkler agreed.
"Both of you are confident this isn't the work of a vampire?" Marcus asked.
"Yes. A vampire would have shredded the boy. These claw marks aren't deep enough." Radomir pointed out the deepest of the gouges. Ashe estimated they couldn't be more than one or two inches deep. "What about the girl? The panther shapeshifter?" Radomir asked.
"We sniffed her for blood and only found it drying on her clothing when she knelt down beside the body. No blood under her nails. I've questioned her and believe she's telling the truth, but I was waiting for you to place compulsion for the whole truth." Winkler nodded at Radomir.
"I will do this Monday evening. Arrange it for me, please." Radomir spoke to Marcus.
"I'll call Nathan," Marcus said. "And I and the boy's father will be present when the physician examines the body."
"As you wish it," Radomir agreed. Ashe got the idea that it might be extremely difficult to surprise or gross out Radomir the Enforcer. He couldn't decide whether that was truly frightening or really cool. Then, anxious not to be locked inside, Ashe zipped out of the refrigerator ahead of the others and waited next to the SUV until his father opened the driver's side door.
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