Bumble(Legend of the Ir'Indicti,Book 1)(14) by Connie Suttle
"Ashe?" Ashe turned quickly to find Cori standing ten yards behind him.
"Cori? Are you all right?" Ashe walked toward her, leaving Sali behind, the Frisbee still dangling from his mouth.
"Ashe, I have to talk to you." Cori's green eyes were worried, the ever-present Oklahoma wind blowing blonde hair into her face. Her hair was past her shoulders long and pretty when she left it down. It was down now.
"Sali, let's go to the house so you can change," Ashe turned to his werewolf friend, who’d trotted up. Ashe took the Frisbee from Sali's mouth.
"Ashe, I'd like to talk to you alone," Cori said softly as Sali raced toward the house, tongue flying from his mouth in joyful abandonment as he ran.
"I'll think of something," Ashe promised, opening the kitchen door to allow Sali to slide inside. Sali's paws and toenails always slipped and slid on Adele Evans' tiled kitchen floor and he nearly collided with a cabinet before righting himself.
"Sali, your mother called. She wants you to come home," Adele was there, the phone in her hand, staring down at Sali's half-grown wolf who flipped a paw over his nose in embarrassment. He gave a whine at Adele's words but rose and trotted obediently down the steps to get to the basement and Ashe's bedroom.
"We'll give you a few minutes to change," Ashe yelled at his retreating friend.
"Cori, honey, is there something I can get for you?" Adele sounded tired.
"No, Mrs. Evans. I just came to talk to Ashe for a little while. If that's all right with you."
"Of course it is," Adele offered Cori a weak smile.
"Mom, do you need some ibuprofen or something?" Ashe asked. He was ready to run down the steps to the bathroom and get the bottle of pain reliever for his mother.
"No, honey. I need to get up and get around. I feel sluggish for some reason."
"Sit down. I'll make coffee for you."
"That sounds good."
Ashe busied himself at the coffee pot. Once he had that going, he offered a soda to Cori, who took an orange. Sali clambered up the steps and looked expectantly at Ashe, who sent him on his way with an orange soda as well. "See you tomorrow," Ashe called as Sali went out the back door. Sali waved and disappeared, hitting the button to close the garage door behind him. As soon as Ashe poured out a cup of coffee for his mother, he and Cori went downstairs.
"What is it, Cori?" Ashe shut the bedroom door.
"Ashe, you're the only one I can trust with this, I think." Cori at sixteen was five feet, two inches tall—two inches shorter than Ashe and not likely to grow any taller. Her mother, Lavonna, was around that height as well.
"Trust with what?" Ashe sat on his bed, gazing expectantly at Cori Anderson. Choosing a corner of Ashe's bed to sit, Cori scooted next to the wall that bumped against it.
"Randy Smith didn't write that letter to Mr. Harris." Cori hugged herself tightly, her eyes cast downward.
"Cori, how do you know that?" Ashe put his back against the solid wood headboard, kicked off his shoes and drew his knees up as he stared at Cori.
"He wouldn't. He knew better." Cori met Ashe's puzzled gaze.
"How can we know that for sure? Nobody has been in contact with him or his family for seven years." Ashe shook his head.
Cori heaved a ragged sigh. "I know for sure," she said. "You didn't know Randy because you hadn't started school yet. But I did. And James did, too."
"But it's been seven years," Ashe was still trying to make his point.
"Ashe, Randy doesn't write letters. He makes phone calls. Or did. To James. And James made calls to him. They were best friends, before. James never stopped calling Randy, Ashe. They just had to find a way to do it. Why do you think I asked you to hack Billings' computer? James wanted to know what was going on and if he and Randy were in trouble. When I told James what you said, he called Randy and told him. Randy worried that somebody would come for him and he'd be killed by the Cloud Chief Pack. But that's not all, Ashe. Randy never said anything to anybody about any of us. Not intentionally, anyway. James knew but he wouldn't talk about it. All he'd say was that Randy was framed, somehow. I think this is tied up with Pack business and we could get into the worst kind of trouble if we tried to get in the middle of it."
"Cori, what do you think I can do about any of this?" Ashe chewed his lower lip and wished he were older. Perhaps he could deal with it better, that way. Now it all seemed a muddled mess and he was helpless against it.
"I'm telling you this in case something happens to me. What evidence do they have that the letter came from Randy? Do you know? Where was it mailed? Was it in his handwriting or typed on a computer? Were his fingerprints on it? Or his scent? Somebody has the answers to these questions and if they're sharing, it's only with the Pack. I don't like it when they set themselves up as judge, jury and executioner and the rest of us have no say whatsoever." Cori angrily brushed a tear away. "What are we going to do?"
"I don't know." Ashe was afraid to tell Cori what he knew; that Randy Smith was scheduled for execution during the next full moon. And what if Cori was right? What if Randy was framed? The wolves would execute an innocent. Who would do this? Who? "Cori, why would somebody do something like that to Randy? He was thirteen at the time."
"I don't know. James refused to tell me anything, and now he's dead."
"This is so messed up," Ashe muttered.
"Yeah." Cori wiped another tear away.
"Who has the letter now?" Ashe thought to ask. "The one Randy Smith supposedly sent to Mr. Harris?"
"James asked Marco. He said his dad didn't have it now, but Packmaster DeLuca saw it after it came in. Mr. Harris turned it over to Principal Billings, and Billings called Mr. DeLuca."
"You think Billings has it?" that hadn't been on the Principal's computer—it only said it was authenticated by Marcus DeLuca, not what happened to it afterward.
"He might, but I don't think he'd keep it at the school."
"I wasn't thinking when I asked you to go into Principal Billings' office, both times. He can scent you, you know."
Fear washed over Ashe and he muttered a word his mother would ground him for saying. "Cori, I believed you when you said he wouldn't know," Ashe's hiss threatened to become a full-blown shout.
"Ashe, I'm sorry. I said I wasn't thinking."
"No wonder he was smiling when he handed me the note to give to my parents." Ashe was so frightened and angry he thought he might explode.
"What note?" Cori's confusion showed on her face.
"He can't wait to ship me off to Cordell Junior High because I can't turn," Ashe snapped. "He had a file on me, just like the one on Randy Smith. Mom and Dad haven't told me everything in the note because they don't want me to feel bad. But the whole thing was right there on Billings' computer. He's known since the first time that I hacked his system. Now, he's going to punish me in the worst way he knows." Ashe shifted angrily on the bed. He wanted to punch something. Wanted to shout as many obscenities as he knew, and with Sali's help over the years, he knew quite a few.
"I didn't know. I wasn't thinking. James knew you did it the first time—I told him. James convinced me to get you to do it a second time."
"Did you intend to get me killed too? Did you?" Ashe slipped off the bed and tugged wildly at his hair.
"I never meant to hurt you. Ever. I was stupid. James and I both were stupid."
"And now James is dead." Ashe didn't mean for his words to be accusing. Cori began to sob.
"Don't cry," Ashe pleaded. "I don't know what to do about it."
"I know. And I deserve every bit of the blame in this," she wept. "I asked James to meet me in the grove behind the DeLucas' house. Only he never came."
"Cori, somebody else killed James. You didn't. Stop blaming yourself for that."
"Then find somebody to blame for it. Find the guilty one, Ashe. You're smart."
"I don't know if the best detective ever can solve this mess. I mean, your dad and the others went out and checked the area where James was found. They didn't find anything. What do you think I might do?"
"I was hoping you'd have some ideas about all this. I didn't mean to upset you by dumping it in your lap. Besides, you're the objective one. You even call Sali out when he's wrong or teases Dori too much. I don't know," Cori tossed a hand up in a helpless gesture. "Somebody needs to save us, Ashe." Cori slid off the bed. "I'll go home, now. Mom will be frantic, and I sure don't want to be out after dark. Ever again."
"I'll walk you up," Ashe sighed. "I want to check on Mom anyway. She's not doing too good since Dad's been gone."
"When is he coming home? My dad said he went to run an errand."
"Don't know," Ashe shrugged.
"Cori, I told your mother I'd drive you home," Adele said when Ashe and Cori walked into the kitchen. "She called and said she was worried."
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Evans. Thank you for offering." Ashe and Cori loaded into the old Ford for the drive to the Andersons' home. Cori didn't say a word on the way, giving a half wave after she closed the passenger-side door and turned to walk toward the house. Adele waited until Cori was safely inside.
"She's afraid something will happen to her, now," Ashe confided softly to his mother.
"I know," was all Adele said.
Two things happened before dawn on Monday, April fifth. Aedan came home with Radomir and Ashe decided not to reveal the tiny bat in class. Perhaps he'd play that card later, but for now, he'd pretend it didn't exist. His father slipped into Ashe's room a few minutes past five that morning, waking Ashe. Ashe's arms were wrapped around his father immediately, hugging him as tightly as possible.
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