Bumble(Legend of the Ir'Indicti,Book 1)(16) by Connie Suttle
"Mom," Ashe disentangled Cori's arms and stepped away from her as she wiped her eyes and offered him a pitiful expression. "It wasn't hard to figure out, was it?" Ashe lifted his shoulders in a shrug. "I mean, everybody was in an uproar over Randy Smith's letter, right after I got the note from Principal Billings. It didn't take a genius, Mom. I can add two and two, just like anybody else." Ashe's voice was grim as he grabbed a still-sniffling Cori's hand and led her to a chair at the kitchen table. After getting Cori seated, he sat in the chair next to hers.
"We're in the clear, everything was just as Cori described it," Nathan sighed, taking a seat across the table.
"Cori, can I get you a soda or something?" Ashe's mother asked.
"A soda would be nice. Do you have more orange?" Cori wiped the last of her tears with the heel of a hand.
"I do." Adele pulled two bottles from the fridge and handed one to Cori and the other to Ashe. "Ashe, you don't need to let this worry you. I think everything will be fine and you won't be sent off to that school." Ashe noticed his mother said that school with distaste.
"Mom, humans are okay. They're like us. Most good. A few not." Ashe twisted the cap off his bottle of orange soda and drank.
"That's an insightful opinion from a twelve-year-old," Nathan observed.
"He's twelve, going on forty," Adele laughed.
"I read books all the time—humans write them," Ashe pointed out. "They write about werewolves and vampires and witches and wizards. While most of their stuff isn't based in actual fact, there's one theme running through all of them." Cori was now staring at Ashe as he spoke.
"What's that?" she asked. Cori didn't like to read, much like Sali.
"That even though you're different, you don't have to mistreat other people because they have differences, too. The bad ones need to be removed from society, but that's true for every race and culture."
"He is forty," Nathan laughed. Ashe smiled. A laugh from a vampire was a rare occurrence, indeed.
* * *
Ashe knew something was wrong the moment he walked into the school building Tuesday morning. Teachers were lined up outside Principal Billings' office and whispering. They became quiet whenever a student walked past, but Ashe could hear them perfectly before and after he walked by. The whispers concerned Old Harold. He hadn't come to clean the school the night before.
Ashe knew nobody could check on the school janitor until after nightfall, unless his home had been broken into. Right then, Ashe was wishing for the cell phone his parents said he was too young to have. He wanted to call his mother and tell her. He desperately wanted to tell his dad so he wouldn't have to worry about the old vampire caretaker alone, but his father was asleep. Ashe began to notice the trashcans that needed emptying and shoe streaks on the tiled floor that hadn't been cleaned away. Old Harold never got sick and never shunned his duties. Ashe's worry ramped higher the more he thought about it.
"I already know," Ashe held up a hand to keep Sali from bursting with the news. Ashe dropped his book bag beside his desk and gave Sali a helpless look. "What if he's dead?" Ashe had to concentrate to keep his emotions under control. Old Harold had come to the house many times to talk with his dad. He'd always treated Ashe kindly. Ashe had also listened while three werewolves admitted that they thought Old Harold killed James. Had someone gone after him when they knew Radomir, Nathan Anderson and Aedan Evans would be elsewhere? Ashe didn't like where his thoughts were going.
"Oh, my gosh," Ashe stood up and then sat down again.
"What? What is it?" Sali was concerned, now.
"Old Harold. If he's dead, he could have died anytime during spring break, after he cleaned the school the Friday before. Oh, my gosh." Ashe rubbed his forehead. He felt a headache coming on.
"Wait, didn't your dad and Radomir talk to him sometime last week?"
"They may have, but I didn't hear about it," Ashe muttered. There wasn't any way to question any of them until nightfall. Once again, Ashe felt out of his depth, with too many questions and too few answers.
"The autopsy is happening tonight, too," Sali said. "And that ties up the Enforcer and the investigator."
"Yeah. So if anybody goes to check on Old Harold, it'll be Dad and Nathan."
"Dude, won't he just be ash or something, if he is dead? I mean, there won't be a body to look over so we can figure out what happened, will there?" Sali was right, Ashe knew. When a vampire died, their bodies turned to a dusty ash. His father always said it was nature's protective measure, so the humans wouldn't have a vampire to dissect and prove they actually did exist.
"Pat Roberts has disappeared—Marcus can't find him anywhere," Ashe heard Mrs. Rocklin's voice from outside the classroom as clearly as if he'd been standing next to her. He didn't know to whom she spoke, but Ashe was now doubly worried. Pat Roberts certainly thought a vampire killed James. Did he kill Old Harold in retaliation and then run away?
"Dang," Ashe whispered.
"What is it?" Sali hissed.
"Shhh, Mrs. Rocklin's coming," Ashe warned. Most of the class heard and turned away from gossiping with their neighbors.
Class resumed once Mrs. Rocklin took her seat, but Ashe thought she looked pale and wasn't as attentive as usual during the transformations. She didn't call on Ashe, and he was fine with that. He just picked up clothing after the others.
"What are we going to do?" Cori was almost in tears at lunchtime. She'd sat next to Ashe, who noticed that her hands shook as she held her fork. The entire school had done nothing but gossip and speculate all morning about Old Harold.
"Cori, it'll be all right, just don't go out alone, okay?" Ashe was becoming very worried. Cori held secrets that would certainly result in punishment if they were discovered, and Ashe knew that was eating away at her. Radomir hadn't asked her anything about Randy Smith, and the werewolves would be furious if they found out what Cori knew.
"I don't think that's a problem, dude." Sali jerked his head toward the cafeteria door, where Denise DeLuca stood, keys in hand. Spotting Sali, she walked right over.
"I'll be taking you three home this afternoon, with Wynn and Dori," Mrs. DeLuca said.
"Mom, do they know anything yet?" Sali was about to burst from curiosity.
"Not yet. Your father went to Old Harold's house, but the place is still locked up so we won't know anything until sundown. He's tried to call Pat Roberts over and over again, and gets no answer. Micah and Mr. Winkler have gone to Pat's house, but they haven't found anything yet. Your dad is thinking about pulling Marco out of school to go sniff around with some of the others. Ashe, I've talked to your mother, and she says under no circumstances are you to go outside unless an adult is with you, and to call her the minute you get home."
"Okay." Ashe couldn't help it; he gripped Cori's hand under the table. Cori gave his fingers a grateful squeeze.
"I'll be waiting outside in the van when school lets out." Denise DeLuca rose from the bench beside Sali.
"Thank you, Mrs. DeLuca," Cori remembered her manners.
"Sweetie, it's no trouble." Mrs. DeLuca walked out of the cafeteria.
"Where are you going?" Sali asked when Ashe didn't walk directly to history class after finishing lunch. Cori separated from them, heading toward tenth-grade English with Mr. Harris.
"To check something," Ashe replied, heading directly for Mr. Billings' office. Principal Billings was standing outside his doorway, brown eyes watching intently as the students went this way and that, most focused on getting to their classrooms to talk for a while before the bell rang. Ashe ignored the deep frown Principal Billings cast in his direction as he looked over the list of essay contest winners. First, second and third place was listed on each strip of engraved metal, along with the year the students won.
Ashe found the one he wanted. There it was—it hadn't been altered. Seven years earlier, the winner had been Randy Smith, a seventh grader at the time. Barely three months later, Randy had been sent to a human school and shortly after that, he'd been banished for spilling secrets. Ashe wanted more than anything to read that essay—he just didn't know what happened to any of them after they were submitted. He knew he'd never gotten any of his back. Maybe they went into the recycle bin after the judging; he'd never thought to ask.
"What were you looking for?" Sali whispered on the way to history class.
"Just what I found," Ashe replied, making Sali snort.
After school let out, Denise DeLuca waited in the school parking lot as promised, but Ashe was shocked to see the number of other vehicles parked on the wide strip of gravel beside the school. Even Mr. Thompson, in buffalo form, was standing in a field nearby, keeping watch over the students. Every child had a ride, however. Ashe thought it safer, if he were honest, climbing into the third row of seats inside the van. DeLuca's Locksmith Services was painted in red on the outside of the white van and that meant Marcus DeLuca must be driving the Honda so Denise could drive the kids. Sali was already inside and scooting over to give Ashe room.
"Everybody in? Anybody forget anything?" Mrs. DeLuca asked. "Good," she said at the shaking heads. "Let's go. We'll drop Dori and Cori off first." She navigated around two other cars that were pulling closer to the school before going down the dusty dirt and gravel road that ran between fields in Cloud Chief.
"Anything new, Mrs. DeLuca?" Cori asked.
"No, sweetheart. And your mother said she'd be in from the fields early. She drove the tractor out to check on fences but she'll be back before dark," Denise kept her eyes on the gravel road as she answered Cori's question.
"Dad is supposed to do the plowing for the community vegetable garden tonight," Cori sighed.
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