Destroyer(Legend of the Ir'Indicti,Book 5)(18) by Connie Suttle
"Meat loaf sounds good to me. I guess the days are gone when I could invite myself to your house for dinner."
"Yeah. Life sucks, sometimes, doesn't it?" Sali shook his head at Ashe.
"It sure as hell does."
* * *
"Is it okay if I take a nap for an hour or so?" Ashe's hair looked a bit wild, as if he'd raked fingers through it several times before walking into Winkler's study. Winkler tapped figures into a spreadsheet on his computer as Ashe stopped beside his desk.
"Not a problem," Winkler looked up from his work. "I'll order pizza around that time, so you can get up and shower before we eat. The Thompson's will be here tomorrow, so you'll get decent meals during the week. We'll go out to eat on weekends if the vamps haven't hauled you to another state. Make sure they remember to feed you if you're gone overnight."
"I'll do that," Ashe replied dryly.
"I have something else, too." Winkler lifted a folder off his desk and offered it to Ashe. "An investigation into unusual expenditures. Not mine," Winkler added as Ashe took the folder and opened it. Ashe's eyes unfocused briefly while Winkler watched.
"Mr. Winkler, this one is playing with fire." Ashe handed the folder back to Winkler.
"What does that mean?" Winkler took the folder with a puzzled frown.
"It means he has known criminals on his payroll. From everywhere. The criminals get a big payday for information, because they know they'll be protected by the one paying them. That he won't reveal information on them to anyone else, and he'll let them know if other authorities are getting close. In other words, he's keeping them in business, for the few pieces of useful information they might be willing to hand over. People are still getting killed, kidnapped, drugged, raped and enslaved, and they're getting a bonus for doing it."
"You're joking?" Winkler was stunned by this revelation.
"Mr. Winkler, he's playing with fire." Ashe misted from Winkler's study, leaving a worried werewolf behind.
* * *
"Matt, that's what Ashe said. That he's playing with fire, and paying criminals big money for small amounts of information while protecting them. You didn't give me any pertinent information so I don't know who this is, but if the kid's right, it sure doesn't sound good." Winkler had shut his study door so his call to Matt wouldn't be overheard or disturbed.
"Damn. It's too bad my vamps can't work during the day. I really need my best investigators on this. I think I'm inclined to believe the kid—I just got good information from this source, after I'd exhausted all avenues. The incident in South Carolina was looking like an unsolvable crime when bingo, this guy hands me pure gold. This makes more sense than you might think. Damn, I need that kid."
"The vamps sort of have him for the moment," Winkler grumped.
"I heard. I also heard the Grand Master forced them to share. Wish I had that much clout."
"If you need him for only a day or so, we might be able to work that out. The kid doesn't need a jet to get around anymore."
"True. That boggles my mind. It makes me wonder if this guy knows anything about Ashe." Winkler easily heard Matt Michaels tapping a pen on his desk as he considered the thought. "I don't want him to know about this kid. If he has contacts with criminals, how much damage do you think he might do if he tells them?"
"That doesn't sound good at all," Winkler growled. "I'm concerned, now. How highly placed is this guy?"
"High. Too high. Has too much authority, without enough controls. I only got wind of this when our esteemed congressman let something slip in a vampire-assisted questioning session. It always pays to follow the money."
"Doesn't surprise me that Jack Howard was involved. This makes me think that Zeke Tanner is on the payroll," Winkler speculated.
"That's a frightening thought," Matt agreed. "We never could discover how all those drugs were funneled across the border from Juarez. The kid figured it out quick."
"Yeah. Just drive werewolves a few miles south, strap a backpack on their wolf and send 'em across. No problem."
"Too bad we didn't get Zeke when the Grand Master sent his trackers and those vamps. We didn't know Zeke wouldn't be at home when they came to call."
"Somebody may have. Jack Howard comes to mind."
"Now it all makes sense. Howard is in this guy's pocket. Information is passed to Howard, Howard passes it to Tanner. Tanner makes the move he plans to make anyway, going after the shifter kids and Ashe in Star Cove. Leaves only a few of his behind, just to make it look good. Man, this gets worse as it goes along," Matt said. "At least Obediah didn't see it coming."
"Obediah had his own source of information, who only failed once," Winkler stood abruptly. "The source managed to escape, too, and is probably working for somebody else right now."
"Wildrif," Matt's voice was flat. "He had the best security we could provide around him, and he still managed to get away. He's like a ghost. If you manage to catch him, you can't hold onto him."
"Trouble seems to follow him, too. Do you think that maybe—yes. That has to be it. Wildrif can't sense the kid. That's what this is. The best informant ever can't sense the kid. I'd bet money that he can sense those around the kid, though." Winkler muttered a string of expletives. "What the hell is going on here, Matt?"
* * *
"Six of the Dark King's subjects were murdered by the Ir'Indicti. For no reason. How soon do you think it will be before he begins to murder yours, too?"
Wildrif's poisonous lies poured forth as Friesianna listened on her cell phone; the cell had been a gift from her Jewels. All four were now dead—at the hands of that hateful boy if her sources were correct—and she still mourned their loss. At first, she'd been unwilling to believe the boy responsible. After the events in Canada, that was no longer true.
"He is after your crown, Bright Queen, and he will stop at nothing to obtain it," Wildrif continued. "The six who died blocked his path to the Dark Crown, and paid for their protection of Baltis with their lives. If the boy is not stopped, he will achieve his objective."
"I curse the day he was born," Friesianna paced inside her tent as Parlethis and Rabis looked on. "Why is this happening to me? Why?" She flung out an arm in frustration.
"You must send your best after him. He must be stopped before he attacks. He appeared in Canada, with none the wiser. Your captains tell you this. How simple will it be for him to come for you? How easy will he find it to wrest the crown away while he grinds you into the dirt beneath his heel? My Queen, I have read the H'Morr, and I have seen much. Your Miriasu cannot see him—he depends upon the H'Morr for guidance. Yes, parts of that book are true, but it is not completely accurate and has not predicted everything. You think to stay alive if the Ir'Indicti comes after you?"
"I will gather my best. The boy will die." Friesianna jerked her head at Parlethis, who took the phone and ended the call.
"Rabis," Friesianna snarled, turning to her Miriasu. "Tell me true. Will the boy have my crown if I do not stop him?" Friesianna employed le'meruh as she commanded Rabis. Le'meruh was a gift few Elemaiya had ever possessed. It was extreme coercion, and by nature had to be used sparingly. While several among the race might hold the gift of compulsion, le'meruh could not be denied—even among the strongest and most talented. Friesianna had gained the Bright crown by employing her gift. Rabis, as strong as he was, was unable to deny Friesianna's order.
"If the boy survives, he will take your crown," Rabis muttered unwillingly.
"Talked to Sal earlier." Ashe elbowed Marco as Marco took a seat at the kitchen island and snagged a large slice of pizza.
"How?" Marco blinked at Ashe for a moment. "Never mind. He's grounded, but you can get around that, can't you?" Marco bit into his pepperoni pizza with a sigh.
"Took him a couple of burgers. I heard he was starving himself," Ashe grinned. Marco almost choked as he laughed with a mouthful of pizza.
"What's that?" Winkler strode into the kitchen and opened a box containing a sausage and mushroom pizza. Pulling out a slice, he folded it in half lengthwise and took a bite.
"Sali got grounded," Marco swallowed and chuckled.
"Heard that already," Winkler grinned. "Kid, the vamps are up in England. Wlodek had money transferred into your account. You'll have an extra hundred grand to spend for helping take down Rydley. I can put half that in your savings and let you decide what to do with the other half."
"Mr. Winkler, I'd like to buy a car," Ashe said right away.
"You serious?" Marco stared.
"Yeah. And I know what I want already. Price might be right, too."
"What is it?" Winkler took another bite of pizza.
"A classic car. A red, 1959 Cadillac convertible. The fins are awesome."
"Where is this car?" Winkler asked.
"It's in Austin. Belonged to a collector there, who died recently. His heirs are selling his collection. The price they're asking is seventy-five thousand, but I might get it for less."
"All original?" Trajan walked in and grabbed a slice of pizza. He'd heard the conversation as he walked to the kitchen.
"Yep. The price is a bargain. Others are selling for more," Ashe grabbed a slice of sausage and mushroom before Winkler could get it.
"I'll let you buy the car for whatever you can get it for, and put the rest in your savings account," Winkler agreed. "You deserve it. Planning to drive much?"
"Nah. It's just to show off," Ashe grinned.
* * *
"I'm not kidding, Sara. Mr. Winkler will lend us his condo in San Antonio. It won't be the beach, but I know things didn't go so well when you were here. You trusted me with something, and I feel like I let you down." Randy gripped his cell tightly as he spoke with Sara.
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