Bumble(Legend of the Ir'Indicti,Book 1)(21) by Connie Suttle
"Dude, did you say something?" Sali carried the hose past the end of the tomato rows. Ashe smiled. Sali liked to water; he didn't like to plant.
"Just talking to myself," Ashe replied and placed another tomato plant.
Ashe was tired and covered in dirt and mud by the time the planting was over Saturday afternoon. Sali was worse off, since the wind had blown water back at him as he sprayed newly planted seeds and plants. Someone brought sandwiches and sodas for lunch and now Ashe was looking forward to dinner after a long, hot shower. His muscles ached from exertion in the cool, spring air. A brisk, freshening breeze had blown all day, although sunlight had shone in abundance while they worked.
"Take your shoes off and put them inside these bags," Denise DeLuca handed garbage bags to Ashe and Sali. Marco had come but hadn't contributed much, Ashe noticed. He'd also driven himself and left before the others. Ashe wondered if Marco would come out of his depression at all. Muddied shoes went inside the bag and Ashe tied it before sliding into the back seat of Denise's Honda as carefully as he could, grateful for the leather seats. They'd still need cleaning after he and Sali sat on them.
"Be sure and lock the doors and set the alarms," Denise called after him as Ashe walked in his socks through the garage door. Ashe waved at Sali while the garage door closed. He immediately turned to mist and zoomed downstairs, going straight into the bathroom. Shucking his clothes once he rematerialized, he turned on the taps and went to pull the cordless out of its cradle.
"I'm home, Mom; the garden's planted," Ashe told his mother while waiting for the water to warm up. "I'm getting in the shower—I got covered in dirt."
"I'll be home in a while, hon," Adele hung up. After dumping the phone on top of his towel, Ashe climbed into the shower.
* * *
Ashe had never been to a funeral before, and since it was held in the afternoon, the vampires weren’t able to attend. Ashe got a good look at the werewolf physician, though. Sali said he was scheduled to fly back to Chicago on Monday. He had reddish-brown hair curling thickly around his ears, golden-brown eyes and wore a dress shirt with gold cufflinks. Ashe decided he was wealthy.
Mr. Winkler, who accompanied the physician, wore a black polo, black jeans and black boots. If Mr. Winkler challenged Sali's dad, Ashe had no doubt as to who might win that fight. Mr. Winkler appeared easygoing, but Ashe felt there was power there, and he certainly wouldn't want to aggravate it. Radomir, the Enforcer? Ashe shivered just thinking what Radomir might be capable of if angered.
Micah Rocklin, Marcus DeLuca's Second, delivered the eulogy at James's funeral. "We have to believe there is love," he said, "Although love is lost. That there is hope, although hope is lost. And that there is faith, although faith is lost. We have to believe that what we lose, we will find again." A carved wooden box lay at the front of the meeting hall inside the school. Ashe knew that James, as werewolf, lay inside it while Micah spoke quietly and eloquently over his remains.
"That's what Mr. Winkler left to get," Sali nodded toward the wood box later. It looked to be made of oak and was polished, with delicately carved trees across the top. "He brought it back in a van."
"And now they'll stick it in the ground," Ashe sighed. Is this what there was for all of them in the end? He'd never had those thoughts before. Now, three deaths had come to Cloud Chief and Ashe worried that more might come.
James was buried beneath the tree that Ashe had sat in to spy on the Pack. Sali cast a covert glance at Ashe while the box was lowered into the ground. Someone had already dug the grave before the body was carried out of the school and transported to the site in Mr. Winkler's van. James's parents were visibly upset and Ashe felt sorry for them. Most of the adults were attempting to comfort, but Ashe decided that grief was a personal thing; something you had to come to terms with and find a way to get through somehow.
"Dude, there's food at Mom and Dad's; that's where everybody's going afterward," Sali said. Ashe nodded and followed his friend. He and Sali rode with Ashe's mother; Mr. and Mrs. Johnson went with Marcus and Denise DeLuca. Marco hung at the perimeter, never said anything and disappeared before anyone could stop him. Cori, wiping away tears and trembling, leaned on her mother the whole time. Ashe worried for her, too.
"Ashe." Cori only said his name as she sat beside him later. Ashe hadn't wanted any food, grabbing a bottle of soda instead and heading toward Sali's bedroom to avoid the gathered crowd. Cori found him sitting in the floor, his back to the wall and staring at Sali's posters of the Oklahoma City basketball team.
"Cori," Ashe picked at the plastic ring that remained around the top of his soda bottle. "I'm really sorry."
"I think I've drank more soda in the past two weeks than I did all last year," Ashe said.
"Me, too." Ashe and Cori sat silently for a few moments, shoulder to shoulder and lost in thought.
"When are they holding Old Harold's service?" Cori finally asked.
"Around nine tonight."
"Dad says they'll bury Pat Roberts tomorrow morning. I think only the werewolves are going."
"I can't recall anyone saying much about him," Ashe observed.
"He was a bigot." Ashe stared at Cori, thinking for a moment that he hadn't realized Cori knew what the word meant. "James told me some of the things he'd say in the Pack meetings," Cori added. Ashe just nodded his head. He'd heard Pat Roberts say some of those things himself.
"He was old." William Winkler walked in silently; sitting on the edge of Sali's bed and making it creak a little beneath his weight. "The older the werewolf, the better they remember the race war," Winkler added. The Dallas Packmaster held a cup of coffee in his hand and sipped it thoughtfully for a moment. "But like every major shift in history, there will be those who find it difficult to deal with the changes," Winkler observed. "It's like a rising tide. The water comes in and then recedes. Floods in again and recedes. But each time, it rises a little higher. We have to keep our eyes on the place that marks our highest goal and refuse to let the receding waves drag us away from it." Winkler brushed Cori's blonde hair away from her face and smiled kindly at her before standing and walking out of Sali's bedroom.
The werewolf students were noticeably absent from school the following morning. Ashe knew why. He and Cori huddled together at lunch—they'd had substitute teachers in many of their classes because the regular instructors were werewolf, too. Ashe had never put that into perspective before, only now coming to realize that Cloud Chief was very much involved with the werewolf race. He also wondered how Lawrence and Clarice Hoff had taken the news of Pat Roberts' death. It was certain Old Harold hadn't killed him. Surely, too, they couldn't point the finger at his father, Cori's father Nathan or Radomir.
Old Harold's service the night before looked to be a poorly attended affair, too, until the multitude of expensive automobiles had driven into the schoolyard. Ashe, Cori and Sali had gaped at the well-dressed vampires whose limousine doors were opened by vampire drivers. Radomir had walked up to one of them, dipped his head respectfully and called the vampire he spoke with "Honored One." Ashe didn't know what that meant until after Old Harold's service was over and he and the others watched the vehicles drive away.
"Son, that was the Head of the Vampire Council," Aedan had pulled Ashe against his side. "His name is Wlodek, and he knew Old Harold longer than any of us."
"He was a friend?" Ashe had searched his father's face, watching as Aedan grimaced. Ashe realized his father had been surprised by Wlodek's visit. Radomir may have known and kept the information to himself.
"A good friend to Harold. He was much upset over this. Come, we will take Salidar home." Sali's parents hadn't stayed for Old Harold's service, and Aedan had promised to see Sali home safely. Ashe thought it a shame that the Cloud Chief Packmaster hadn't stayed; Marcus might have been surprised to see the Head of the Vampire Council.
Now, Sali wasn't at school to talk about the night before. Cori, too, had been shocked that so many important vampires had come. Another visitor had been a member of the Council. He, Radomir and the Head of the Council had talked at length before the visitors drove away.
"What do you think this means for the peace agreement?" Cori pushed peas around her tray with a fork.
"What?" Ashe was pulled away from his thoughts by Cori's question.
"That somebody—maybe a werewolf—killed a friend of the Vampire Council's chief."
"I don't know, Cori." Ashe sighed and pushed his tray away. The food suddenly tasted like dust. "But I'm worried that they'll break up the supernatural communities, and that means we won't get to see our friends."
"Yeah. Something like that would definitely break up a lot of friendships. Ashe, I miss James."
"It was nice of Mr. Winkler to come talk to us last night."
"Yeah. Cori, there's a bunch of people coming down the hallway outside." Ashe heard more footsteps than usual. Principal Billings strode down the hall, leading a group of werewolf parents and their children, smallest to tallest, as they walked inside the school cafeteria.
"Has anyone seen Marco?" Marcus DeLuca stepped around Principal Billings and looked about Cloud Chief Combined's cafeteria. Ashe saw Sali, partly hidden behind his father. Sali looked frightened and Sali didn't frighten easily. Heads were shaking all over the cafeteria now; none of the students had seen Sali's older brother.
"Oh, no," Cori's hand went to her mouth and it was shaking.
"Cori, don't jump to conclusions," Ashe grabbed her fingers and held them.
"Ashe," Cori wiped tears away with her other hand.
"Dad! I'm here, Dad!" Ashe heard Marco's voice from the front doors of the school. Marcus heard it too, a bare second after Ashe did. Marco was running.
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