Bumble(Legend of the Ir'Indicti,Book 1)(22) by Connie Suttle
"Son, what happened?" Marcus now gripped a panting Marco's shoulders in strong hands.
"Dad, somebody killed her. Somebody shot Megan." Marco sobbed in Marcus' arms. Cori's arms were around Ashe quickly, and she was crying as well. Ashe blinked as he awkwardly patted Cori's back. Megan was the girl Marco went to see at the Burger Hut. She was human and she'd been killed, just as Terry Smith had. Whatever this maelstrom was, it was pulling humans into it, too.
* * *
"Early this morning," Adele explained the circumstances surrounding Megan's death as Ashe picked at his dinner that evening. School was let out in Cloud Chief after Marcus and Principal Billings had come to the cafeteria. Rides were found for all the children, even if two trips had to be made. Nobody was allowed to walk home. They all waited, holding their breath to see whether Megan Lindley, the seventeen-year-old human girl, had been shot with the same gun that killed Terry Smith.
"Where?" Ashe asked as he watched his mother. Her head was down, her eyes staring at her plate as she grimly dipped into the enchilada casserole she'd made for dinner.
"On her way to school. She was walking through a neighborhood when the shot rang out. Nobody saw anything. The sniper had to be on foot; there wasn't a car driving through."
Ashe had watched the six o'clock news before his mother came home, and all they'd said was the girl had been gunned down by an unknown assailant. The journalists were waiting for a statement from the authorities, who couldn't make a comment at the time. Ashe had seen Megan many times at the Burger Hut; she worked there after school. Had even seen Marco talking to her often during the previous summer, when school was out and he'd been helping his mother at Cordell Feed and Seed. Ashe worried about his mother, working in Cordell as she did, six days a week.
Aedan found them still sitting at the kitchen table when he walked through the middle door later. Neither Ashe nor his mother had cleared the table. "Adele?" the question was heavy in his father's voice.
"That girl that Marco liked in Cordell? She was shot and killed this morning." Ashe heard his father curse, and Aedan's eyes were red. Ashe dropped his head into his arms at the kitchen table. Radomir came up the steps and stared at the family sitting at the table. Aedan growled as he explained what happened to the vampire Enforcer.
"I am glad that the Honored One and the others kept their visit a secret," Radomir said, causing Ashe's head to jerk up in surprise. Radomir suspected that those vampires might be targets if the community had known they were coming? This bore thinking about. Ashe rose and started clearing away the dishes. Adele rose to help.
"I'll do this, Mom, if you and Dad want to talk."
"We'll go outside for a bit, son. Do you have homework?" Aedan asked.
"No, Dad. They let us out today at noon, when we found out about the murder." Aedan nodded at Ashe's statement.
"Just get the dishes into the washer, I'll get it started when I come back inside," Adele caressed Ashe's head, her fingers bringing a little order to Ashe's slightly curly hair.
"All right." Ashe nodded and emptied uneaten food down the disposal.
* * *
"Sali, Mom has to go there to work every day. What if they come into the store?" Ashe poured his fears into the phone later as he talked with his best friend.
"Can't we hire bodyguards?" Sali asked.
"Who would you hire? Sali, the one you hire could be the bad one." Ashe wanted to talk to Sali about what he'd chased the last time he'd gone out as mist; he just couldn't. If he revealed those secrets, he'd be in trouble for sure.
"Mom has to take the doctor back to Oklahoma City tomorrow, so Marco is supposed to drop us off at your mother's store," Sali said.
"How's Marco doing?"
"He won't talk to anybody, dude. He barely nodded when Mom told him to take us to Cordell tomorrow after school."
"At least he's taking us. What about Cori and Dori?"
"Wynn's mom is taking them home."
"All right." Ashe rolled over on his bed. "I wish I knew who was doing this," he said.
"Dad just growls every time somebody mentions it," Sali said. "I don't think they'd last long if Dad got his hands on 'em."
* * *
"Everyone should be thinking about the essay contest," Mr. Harris said during English class the following morning. Shorter and thinner than most werewolves, Mr. Harris had light-brown, nearly blond hair—another anomaly. Devoted to his subject, Mr. Harris always made sure the rules were followed as written in his English classes.
"Think about it, choose a topic and start writing," Mr. Harris went on, pacing before his seventh-grade class. "Remember, anything between one and five pages, handwritten, is acceptable. The shorter ones must be exceptional, if you recall. And your writing must be legible," Mr. Harris lifted an eyebrow in Sali's direction, causing Sali to sink uncomfortably in his seat. Ashe knew how much Sali coveted the prize money; he desperately wanted a cell phone. Ashe figured it was because Marco had one; Sali constantly struggled to compete with his older brother.
"I love lasagna days," Sali blissfully cut into his rectangular wedge of lasagna later in the cafeteria. Three shapeshifter women cooked for the school and all were good cooks. There weren't many complaints over what was served in the lunchroom.
"Look, it’s the empty." Chad Daniels pointed at Ashe, who had his fork halfway to his mouth. The bite of lasagna dropped off and landed in the tray as Ashe froze. Empty. It meant completely human. Not having any nature other than that. Ashe hadn't heard it since James was murdered. Jeremy Booth, Chad's friend, snickered as Ashe went red at the insult.
"Chad, get out of here or I'll go straight to Mrs. Rocklin," Cori hissed, setting her tray beside Ashe's. Mrs. Rocklin was on cafeteria duty but she was far enough away and the noise level was such that she hadn't heard.
"Look, it's the one who got her boyfriend killed," Jeremy couldn't pass up the opportunity to dig at Cori.
"That's enough," Ashe stood and snarled at Jeremy, although his face still bore the flush of embarrassment.
"Mrs. Rocklin's coming," Sali snapped, beginning to rise as well. Jeremy and Chad walked away quickly, carrying their trays to the far side of the cafeteria.
"What's going on?" Greta Rocklin stopped at Ashe's table.
"Nothing," Ashe lowered his head.
"We don't need a division in the ranks," Mrs. Rocklin muttered as she walked away. Ashe knew what she meant. This was the time for everyone to stand together; he just didn't think Chad and Jeremy knew that. Sali growled low when he saw Chad and Jeremy sitting at the end of Marco's table. Marco ignored the newcomers as he toyed with the food on his tray. Ashe couldn't understand why Chad and Jeremy had chosen now as the time to dig at him.
"It's my fault. I should have kept my mouth shut," Cori hung her head.
"Cori, it would have come eventually—they all knew I couldn't change," Ashe heaved a distressed sigh. He kept telling himself that Chad and Jeremy didn't know that things were different now. A part of him knew that it shouldn't make any difference, but it did.
Marco was silent while driving Ashe and Sali to Cordell Feed and Seed after school. "Dad told him he couldn't go to Megan's funeral last night," Sali said as Marco did a U-turn in the street and screeched away.
"That's gotta suck," Ashe said. "Come on, dude. Let's go inside before Mom comes looking for us." Ashe grabbed Sali's arm and turned him toward the glass door leading into the shop.
"Ashe, Sali, can both of you help customers?" Adele looked frazzled and there were several people inside the store, gathering supplies. Ashe and Sali hauled out plants, fertilizer and gardening tools. Both put in more than two hours of work and were looking forward to six o'clock when Adele would close up and lock the doors. At ten minutes before six, a woman walked in. Sali elbowed Ashe—hard.
"Adele?" the woman walked toward Ashe's mother, who was busy filling a display with gardening gloves.
"Dawn?" Adele straightened and blinked at Randy Smith's mother.
* * *
"What is she doing here?" Sali hissed as he and Ashe moved the newest shipment of plants onto slatted tables inside the greenhouse. Adele had told them earlier that this job could wait until the following day. Now, she and Dawn Smith were locked inside Adele's office while both boys set out the small plastic containers of seedlings. Ashe couldn't hear from this distance and he chose not to tell Sali what he'd seen when Dawn Smith walked inside the shop. She was wearing a green blazer with gold buttons at the cuffs—buttons that matched the one he had at home. One of Dawn's buttons was missing.
"Dude, her husband got killed south of town. Why wouldn't she be here somewhere?" Ashe mumbled, carrying another flat of petunias to the table.
"Yeah. I guess you're right."
"I'm sure they're still investigating, and since Megan got killed, they'll probably compare the two deaths," Ashe said. Sali hadn't noticed the buttons; he'd just noticed the scent. Sali's nose had told him the woman was werewolf; he just hadn't known who she was until Adele called her Dawn.
"Your mom knew her before?" Sali blinked curiously at Ashe.
"Everybody did. Think about it, Sali. Everybody in Cloud Chief knows everybody else."
"Yeah. You gonna tell your mom and dad about Chad and Jeremy?"
"Would you?" Ashe stared across the table at Sali. Sali hefted a tray of periwinkles onto the table before answering.
"I guess not," Sali went to get another tray.
"What good would it do?" Ashe said, following Sali. "It'll just get worse if somebody says anything." Ashe's burden of plants plunked down beside Sali's.
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