Shadowed(Legend of the Ir'Indicti,Book 2)(15) by Connie Suttle
"Here's where she died," Nick Lawford knelt to examine the worn carpet. Ashe was no longer listening; he stared instead at the photographs on a shelf just inside the door. Smiling back at him was the image of Amy Long, cashier from Jerry's Super Saver Market and Bakery.
"Mr. DeLuca," Ashe's voice was barely a whisper.
"What is it, Ashe?" Marcus and Jason both came to stand next to Ashe.
"I know this person," Ashe pointed to the photograph. "When did she die?"
"Monday night, shortly after she got off work," Agent Lawford replied.
Ashe gulped. "Uh, Mr. DeLuca, I have a confession to make."
"You sneaked into Cordell to buy snacks." Aedan growled as Ashe hunched miserably on the sofa inside their belowground living room.
"The cashier said she recognized me—from Cordell Feed and Seed," Ashe muttered unhappily. "She knew Mom's name, too. I didn't give her mine—I don't do that," Ashe hurried to say.
"And this happens just before she's killed," Marcus said, pacing behind Aedan. Ashe was forced to admit that he and Sali had gone to Cordell at Ashe's suggestion—he made sure they knew that—to get snacks.
"A man was in the line ahead of us, buying a few things," Ashe said. "He wore a leather jacket, with those sharp studs on the shoulders," Ashe tapped his arm. "One of those could have caused a gouge in the doorframe at the Mayor's house."
"Son, why didn't you tell me this before?" Aedan frowned at Ashe. Ashe knew he was in enough trouble as it was.
"Because Sali and I were talking and I wasn't paying attention. I only thought of it now, while you were asking questions."
"Did he pay with a credit card?" Agent Lawford asked.
"No—he paid cash, just like we did."
"See if the grocery store has a security camera," Nick Lawford told Agent North. "Kid, do you still have your receipt or remember the time you were there?"
"I think I have the receipt. Let me check my pants pockets," Ashe said. Adele, who'd stood quietly in a corner while her son was questioned, followed him silently down the hall toward his bedroom. Searching through his hamper, Ashe pulled out the jeans he'd worn Monday afternoon and stuffed his hand inside both front pockets.
"Here it is," Ashe handed the crumpled receipt to Agent Lawford a few minutes later.
"The time is stamped on it; ask them to pull up the images around that time," Nick Lawford handed the paper to Derik North, who walked toward the stairs and the upper portion of the house.
"Dad, how would anyone connect me to anything?" Ashe thought to ask. "I think that man might have realized that Amy knew just about everybody in town. He may have tried to get information from her."
"That's true," Agent Lawford agreed. "Do you think she knew that you don't attend any of the schools in Cordell?"
"I don't know," Ashe shrugged. "Would that man be asking about me or about the others?"
"Good question," Agent Lawford nodded. "If he asked about the mobile homes from the other two victims, it stands to reason that he'd do the same, or ask about those children," he added. "And this is all speculation on our part. It could be completely unrelated."
"Do we know for certain that all three victims knew one another?" Marcus asked.
"Pretty sure—like Ashe pointed out, Amy knew just about everybody in the area, because of her job."
"Yeah. She said she recognized me from Cordell Feed and Seed," Ashe repeated. "So maybe they were hoping she'd recognize and remember somebody else, or would have heard something. They must really like killing, because she would have told them anything they wanted to know in the checkout line."
"Kid, you scare me sometimes," Marcus muttered.
* * *
Director Bill Jennings watched the entire scene play out before him. He'd asked Agent Lawford to attach a button camera to his shirt and he'd seen everything Nick witnessed and experienced, even while Ashe had everyone turned to mist. Going right through the front door of the latest victim's house had been disorienting but more than impressive. Vince, Bill's assistant, had watched with the Director during the course of the evening, shocked that a thirteen-year-old could accomplish such amazing feats.
"You know to keep your mouth shut," Bill reminded Vince before Vince went back to his duties.
"Of course I do, Director," Vince replied and walked out of Bill's office, closing the door softly behind him.
* * *
"I don't recognize him, but the image is so blurry," Jerry Southard, owner and manager of Jerry's Super Saver muttered as Agent Derik North pointed out the image of the man in the checkout line.
"You should upgrade your system and clean the lenses on your cameras," Derik grumbled. He could see—barely—the images of two teens behind the man in question, but it would have been difficult to use those images to identify Ashe and Salidar.
"And you say the two boys saw the man's leather jacket, decorated with studs?" Jerry asked. Jerry, a bit overweight with thinning brown hair, had owned his business for twenty years, taking the supermarket over when the previous owner had retired and put it up for sale.
"That's what they say. I can sort of see the black jacket, but I can't make out any details," Derik squinted at the screen.
"I'm sorry. If I'd known that this could have led to the arrest of Amy's killer," Jerry sighed regretfully, pointing to the images on the small monitor. Amy was a popular cashier at his store. Everybody knew and liked her and now she was dead.
"We don't know that; he's just a suspect at this point. But if he comes in again," Derik said.
"I'll call right away. I'll have the staff on the lookout as well."
"Tell them not to give themselves away—this is a murder suspect," Derik pointed out.
"Then I'll only tell my assistant manager; he's here if I'm not," Jerry said.
* * *
"Grounded," Aedan said as soon as Marcus and the others left. "You will come straight home every day and study, read or do homework. For two weeks." Ashe hung his head as his father pronounced doom. "Salidar and the others may not visit and you may not call them. And they may not call you." Aedan was so angry his eyes were blood red. Ashe was glad his father was tight-lipped when he spoke—the fangs were likely showing.
"Sorry, dad," Ashe muttered regretfully, lowering his eyes.
"Son, we can't protect you if you leave the confines of Cloud Chief without an adult. You know that," Aedan snapped and left the room so swiftly Ashe almost didn't see it.
"The older ones get to go all the time," Ashe mumbled.
"Ashe, don't force me to add another week to your grounding," Adele stood nearby, staring angrily at her son. "Those creatures aren't hunting the other children from Cloud Chief. They're hunting you."
"What, son?" Adele's voice was clipped.
"Ask Sali if that man smelled human or not."
* * *
Marcus called Sali into the kitchen so Aedan could question him about the scent. "I was talking to Ashe when we were in the checkout line, but I think I'd notice if somebody didn't smell human," Sali muttered. He'd gotten the same treatment from his parents that Ashe had received; he was grounded for two weeks. Aedan listened carefully to Sali's words—he'd gone to the DeLuca home after getting a call from Adele on his cell phone. Ashe had thought to ask a good question.
Marcus sent Sali back to his room immediately and then followed Aedan as he walked out of the house. "I don't know, Aedan," Marcus sighed. "The boy was likely distracted, so I can't say for sure that he remembers with any certainty. It was a good thought, though. I hope those two agents can track this one down and prove he had nothing to do with any of this." Thunder rumbled overhead and a few drops fell on both their heads as Marcus gazed up at a heavily overcast sky. Lightning briefly lit heavy clouds to the west.
"Rain moving in," Aedan observed, sniffing the air. The community was still shy around thunderstorms since the tornado the previous year. He and Nathan would be patrolling Cloud Chief in a storm.
"I've got an extra slicker if you need it," Marcus offered.
"I can get home for mine before it gets too wet," Aedan replied. "Thank you for the offer, though."
"No trouble. Call if you need any help—I think I can send out a wolf or two."
"Shouldn't need it, but we'll let you know." Aedan nodded at the Cloud Chief Packmaster and disappeared in a blur.
"Wish I could move that fast," Marcus sighed and walked inside his home.
* * *
"Dad, do you think we might see a tornado?" Edward stood at the front door of their mobile home, watching as the rain began to fall amid thunder and lightning.
"Son, I hope we don't; this house will fold up like a wet cardboard box," Steven Pendley replied. "And we'd better be in a storm shelter if that happens."
"Can we go look at the storm shelter? We haven't seen it yet," Edward bounced on his toes in excitement.
"How heavy is the rain?" Steven asked.
"It's making puddles in the field outside."
"Then let's wait. I hope we won't need to get in it tonight. Come away from the door, son. That lightning is getting closer."
"Dad, I know that Director Jennings said we'd probably move away at the end of summer, but what do you think our chances would be of staying here?" Edward closed the front door reluctantly—he'd enjoyed watching the lightning and the rain, unobstructed by rows of houses or city blocks filled with tall buildings. The Oklahoma prairie was a new and welcome experience for him. He had no care for shopping or the need to be surrounded by crowds of people. The quiet appealed to him very much.
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