Bumble(Legend of the Ir'Indicti,Book 1)(19) by Connie Suttle
"How many times do I have to tell them not to shift in class," Billings muttered as he sat in his leather chair. It creaked a little under his solid body. "Now, where were we?" Billings leveled a frown at Ashe and Sali.
"We promise not to do it again," Ashe said meekly, ducking his head.
"Besides, he won't be here next year," Sali said, jerking a thumb in Ashe's direction.
"True." Principal Billings suddenly seemed in a better mood. "Do this again and you'll have detention. Now get to class." Ashe and Sali scooted out before Billings could change his mind.
"Good job." Ashe grinned at Cori when she sat beside him at lunch.
"It wasn't hard. If I turn, then idiot Jeremy has to turn, too," Cori buttered her roll before taking a bite. She was right; Jeremy Booth was a shapeshifting wildcat and couldn't stand that Cori was a larger cat when she turned. Usually they hissed and yowled at one another after shifting. Ashe figured Jeremy was too much of a coward to take it farther than that.
"And I didn't even get into trouble," Cori grinned. "Principal Billings already had two culprits in his office."
"I didn't find the essays," Ashe said, disappointment thick in his voice. "So Billings must have them at his house. That sucks."
"Yeah. I didn't think to look at the winners," Cori said. "This might give us some information on Randy that we didn't have before."
Ashe had gotten Sali and Cori on board with his plan on their way to school. Wynn's mother drove and she busily chatted with Wynn and Dori in the front seat while Ashe, Cori and Sali hatched their plan in the back. It had worked perfectly. "We won't have the chance to see it now, if Billings has all of them locked up at his house," Sali groused. He'd been just as curious as Cori, once Ashe pointed out that they might get something out of Randy's essay. Of course, Cori and Ashe held more information than Sali and didn’t intend to share.
"Yeah." Ashe made tracks in his mashed potatoes with the tines of his fork.
"Dude, you don't have enough there to reenact Close Encounters," Sali observed, tilting his head slightly to make the assessment. "And I'll eat it if you don't want it."
"You can have the potatoes, but I want the chicken." Ashe shoved his tray toward Sali, who happily accepted the offered mashed potatoes.
"You think we can ask to see the essays?" Cori said.
"You have English coming up, why don't you ask Mr. Harris?" Ashe suggested.
"I will," Cori nodded.
"Tell me what he says after school," Ashe said.
* * *
"Mr. Harris said they won't consider it, because it might tempt us to use the same subjects or benefit from the essays themselves. It's to discourage copying," Cori heaved an irritated sigh later as she, Ashe and Sali squeezed into the back seat of Sharon O'Neill's small import. At least they weren't forced to share a seat, like Dori and Wynn.
"Dang," Ashe muttered.
"So, there's no way now," Sali leaned back and sighed. "Could Miss Patterson load us down any more with homework?"
"Come on, dude, it's just a reading assignment."
"You make it sound like a lot."
"I'll fall asleep after three. Guaranteed."
"The text is a little dry," Ashe admitted. He'd wondered if there weren't a better science textbook available from somewhere.
"Dry? I dumped a glass of soda on it once and it soaked right in and disappeared," Sali joked.
"That's so funny," Dori turned in the front seat and glared at Sali.
"Hey, nobody asked you," Sali snapped back.
"Children," Mrs. O'Neill cautioned as she drove away from the school building.
"At least tomorrow is Friday," Cori wiggled her way between Sali and Ashe so she could lean back, too.
"Cori, are you coming to the service?" Ashe asked quietly.
"Yeah. I'll be there."
Cori and Dori were dropped off first, before Sharon O'Neill turned toward Sali's house. Denise DeLuca was waiting in the front yard when they drove up. Sharon rolled her window down as she pulled to a stop in the DeLuca's driveway.
"What is it Mom?" Sali asked, climbing from the car. His mother hugged herself as she leaned down to talk with Mrs. O'Neill.
"Mr. Thompson and I went out to check the boundary with the witch today," Denise quavered. We found Pat Roberts' body."
"The doctor is doing an autopsy now," Ashe's mother said after hanging up the phone. Ashe hadn't gotten much information from Sali's mother; she'd told Sharon O'Neill that she'd call her later with details, leaving Ashe in the dark until his mother got home. Now he knew Pat Roberts' body had been buried outside the boundaries of Cloud Chief. The witch, having her senses open to any flaws or gaps in the previous year's shield, felt the presence of the body. Denise DeLuca and Amos Thompson had sniffed out the grave. Now Mr. Winkler, Marcus DeLuca and the werewolf physician had taken charge of Pat Roberts' remains.
"But how?" Ashe was at a loss to put exactly what he wanted to know into words. "I mean, if he killed Old Harold, then who?"
"I know, honey. Micah is out at the site, trying to find any scents left behind. Maybe he'll pick something up. I'm sure your father, Nathan and Radomir will all go out when they wake."
"The garden isn't going to get planted this year, is it?" Ashe's eyes were level with his mother's.
"You've gotten taller," Adele said, patting his shoulder. "You could end up being taller than your dad. And we will plant the garden. I'm bringing the tomato, onion and pepper plants home tomorrow. The seed packets are here already." She nodded toward the cardboard box sitting on the kitchen table. "Feel like sandwiches tonight?"
"Yeah. Do we have ham?" Ashe scooted toward the fridge.
* * *
"Adele, how would you feel about flying overhead?" Ashe's father asked her later when he and Radomir came upstairs. "Maybe you can see something we can't," he added. Ashe studied his father—Aedan's face looked grim at the news of Pat Roberts' death.
"I will, and I'll go out again early tomorrow if I can't see anything tonight," she offered. "Ashe, while we're gone, you need to make sure the alarms are on and you're downstairs, locked in," Adele cautioned. "I shouldn't be gone long."
"Sure, Mom," Ashe agreed. He fully intended to mist along behind his parents, but only he knew that.
Later, Ashe watched as his mother carried a robe with her out the door. She'd hang it on a peg outside the garage and slip into it when she flew back to the house. Ashe dutifully locked the door after his parents left with Radomir. When he heard the garage door sliding down, he closed the door to the lower section behind him, locked it and set the alarm before turning to mist and zipping right out of the house.
This time, Ashe followed his father's SUV as it drove away. Pat Roberts' body had been found on the eastern side of the boundary, so Ashe flew higher still; the dust and debris raised by the vehicle was flying through his mist and obscuring his vision. Ashe hovered as his father, mother and Radomir exited the SUV roughly ten minutes later, outside the barbed-wire fence marking the edge of the property. Micah Rocklin was still there, waiting.
"It's the damndest thing," Micah said. "Same as with James. No scents, other than Pat's, around the grave. Denise and Amos Thompson found the body after the witch said there was something here."
"How long do you think he was out here?" Aedan asked.
"Two, three days maybe," Micah replied. "Sounds like he may have died around the same time Harold did."
"This doesn't make any sense at all," Nathan grumbled, running fingers through his short, dark-blond hair.
"I'll change in the truck," Adele said and walked toward the SUV. Moments later Adele's peregrine falcon flapped away from the SUV, her wings catching the winds and flying gracefully into the night sky. Ashe watched as his mother flew widening circles around the area, looking for any clues from above. Her call, piercing when she gave it, put everyone on alert. What had she found? Ashe blazed through the night air in her direction.
Sure enough, his sharp ears caught the noise of something moving, but it was moving swiftly through the trees that ran along the eastern edge of the boundary and he couldn't pinpoint the source. Ashe increased his speed, desperate now to find whatever it was. Still he wasn't catching up. It was running away, that was certain, and Adele had been left behind long ago. Images of trees and fences blurred past as Ashe flew by them, still no closer to his quarry. Was there any way to tell what it was? How large it was? There might be. Echolocation. Ashe's clothing dropped away when he became the bumblebee bat in mid-air, his jeans, shirt and underwear falling onto a tall tree as he flapped tiny wings, still in determined pursuit of his prey. Ashe sent out a high-pitched call. Wondrously, it took a few seconds but it bounced right back to him. His mother always said instinct would take over. It did. Ashe knew his quarry was large. He could almost feel the shape of it. The bulk of it. Man-tall it was. Perhaps larger. But what man might move that fast, besides a vampire? Somehow, Ashe knew it wasn't that. A vampire could move more swiftly than this. It was traveling at top speed, whatever it was, and leaving Ashe's tiny bat behind. Ashe sent out one last call and waited interminable seconds for the echo to return. He'd lost this race, but he'd learned the size of the quarry.
Misting back to the tree, Ashe wondered how to pick up his clothing again. He couldn't materialize in the treetop; only thin branches sprouted there, with newly formed leaves budding from them. He couldn't lift anything as the tiny bat and he didn't want to leave his favorite shirt in the tree, waiting for someone to find it and point an accusing finger. Ashe moved closer until his mist touched the shirt. Incredibly, the T-shirt disappeared once he came in contact. Ashe drew back—the shirt reappeared. Lowering himself, he touched it once more. The shirt vanished.
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