Target(Legend of the Ir'Indicti,Book 3)(33) by Connie Suttle
Winkler pulled into the parking lot of the Port Aransas Dairy Queen minutes later. Only six cars were in the parking lot. Ashe smelled the familiar scent of hamburgers, fries and other fast food when they walked inside the small eatery. Before making his selection, Ashe examined the freezer filled with frozen treats, deciding he wanted a soft-serve cone after all.
"What made you want a Dilly Bar, boss?" Trajan grinned as they loaded into the SUV again. Winkler was munching on his ice-cream bar, so Trajan was driving. He'd settled for a limeade drink.
"Because Ashe is too young to go to a bar," Winkler said. "Take us to the beach. We'll drive on the sand for a while."
"Charles, did you find anything?" Wlodek eyed his vampire assistant. Charles had several aliases, but in each of them, the first name was always Charles. He'd been Wlodek's personal secretary/assistant for three hundred years. As a vampire, and even as a human before that, Charles was eternally curious. He was also discretion itself and capable of doing at least five things at once. Plus, since the invention of typewriters and then computers, Charles was most likely the fastest typist anyone had ever seen.
"I did, Honored One." Charles stood before Wlodek's antique desk. It wasn't Louis XIV—it was older, heavier and made of darker wood. Rumor had it that this was the fifth antique desk that Wlodek had used since becoming Head of the Council—he'd destroyed the other four in fits of anger.
"And what does it say?" Wlodek lifted an eyebrow at Charles.
"You should read this for yourself, Honored One. I need to sit down, I think."
"Feeling faint, Charles?"
"No, Honored One. Feeling frightened."
"Anthony is already in the states, Honored One," Gavin Montegue wasn't expecting a call from Wlodek so close to dawn. He was in Barcelona, tracking a rogue vampire.
"But your vampire child is on another assignment. I want you to bring this Dark Elemaiya to me. I wish to question him before he dies. He is already causing havoc among humans, werewolves and shapeshifters. I can trust you with this. Tape his mouth shut if you have to. Select two others to go with you; I want this done within the week, quickly and efficiently. No trail. Understand?"
"Of course, Honored One. Russell and Will are available, and Dmitri can take over this assignment."
"Good. Keep me advised." Wlodek terminated the call abruptly.
"You wanted to come along, you get to change the tire." Ezekiel didn't have much patience with Jack Howard. The former congressman thought of himself as an outdoorsman and hunter. He was soft in Zeke's estimation. When a tire had blown on one of the trucks, Ezekiel ordered Jack Howard and two others to change it. Howard grumbled about it the whole time. Sweat dripped off the end of Howard's nose as he rolled the replacement tire toward the front of the transport vehicle. It resembled those the army used to haul troops, with canvas covering the back portion. The canvas sides had been rolled up to provide airflow for those riding inside. Now, all the passengers stood on the side of a dirt track in jungle conditions, while Jack Howard and two others worked to change the heavy tire. Insects buzzed around Jack Howard's sweaty face, making the situation worse.
"How long will we be at sea?" Jack huffed as he and a werewolf positioned the tire on the wheel bolts.
"Three days," Ezekiel said, watching as the other werewolf placed lug nuts on the bolts and screwed them on. The truck was let down after the bolts were tightened, then checked one last time before everyone loaded up and resumed their journey.
"I don't know which direction Pruitt went—he won't answer calls from his Second, but I've ordered him to keep trying," Weldon Harper, Werewolf Grand Master, informed Winkler over the phone. Winkler had walked down the beach a little way so the others wouldn't be privy to the conversation. Winkler could see Ashe wading in the surf near the SUV while the others watched nearby. A half-moon hung low over the water, lighting a pale path toward the east. It would become full in five nights. Every werewolf felt it—it pulled at them the entire week.
"I don't want to send my trackers across the border after him if I don't have a specific location to send them," Weldon added. "If we catch scent of him, we'll go after him for the murders he's ordered."
"I may have some ideas on that," Winkler said. "What are you planning to do about the Phoenix Pack in the meantime? It's obvious Pruitt has abandoned them. If he sticks his nose back in the U.S. now, he knows we'll be all over him."
"I've left the Second in charge for the moment, but I've asked to borrow Dalroy and Rhett again—they're on standby in case we get a hit on Pruitt. We need to find out if anybody knows anything. I'm getting itchy about this, Winkler. You and I know that Ezekiel Tanner disappeared years ago. There was never any concrete evidence that he died in the attack against his father, Zachariah."
"I know," Winkler raked fingers through his hair, unsettling it. "And Obediah always insisted that Zeke was dead, but I never believed a word he said. And that was when he was still an official member of the community. I think Zeke and Pruitt are together and working that side of the drug and smuggling ring. Marcella said that Pruitt was going to Mexico at least once a month, remember?"
"That's what got me worried about this to start with. If I had my hands on Pruitt right this minute," the Grand Master growled.
"I'd like to hear a few answers myself," Winkler agreed. "We've gotten a couple of hits on one of his bank cards—he pulled cash from a machine in El Paso shortly after he disappeared," Winkler added. "That spells Juarez to me."
"Home of Drug Cartels R Us and anybody will take a bribe to do anything," Weldon sighed. "I'm afraid to send wolves down there, that's how violent it is."
"I wouldn't go unless it was night and I had vampires at my back," Winkler agreed. "I think Pruitt and Zeke Tanner have been partners for a while, even if Tanner didn't know about Pruitt's attempt to kill me. He could have gotten his son out and left me alone. Something about this bothers me, but I can't put a finger on it. Matt has people working out of El Paso, but if they haven't uncovered Obediah's supply trail before now, they're not likely to. If it's Zeke, he's way too smart for that. They're getting stuff inside the states and not using any conventional means to do it." Winkler toed bits of shell with his snakeskin boots.
"He may be running the risk of exposing all of us."
"Like I haven't thought of that?" Winkler bent to pick up a small bit of shell, tossing it far into the water. The half-moon was rising higher overhead. Ashe, as mist, hovered overhead as well, listening to Winkler's conversation with the Grand Master. The illusion he'd left behind of him wading in the water was working perfectly. Nobody suspected a thing.
"If he can shapeshift and mist, then it is only logical that he has mindspeech." Rabis bowed before the Bright Queen. She thought herself beautiful, but the Queen before her had been more so. Friesianna was subtle and devious. She'd betrayed her way to the throne, courting those useful to her, casting away those weak and ineffective.
She was also gifted with Le'meruh, a particularly strong form of compulsion, which few could deny. Only a handful had known of her talent before she cast away the former Queen. Friesianna also wasn't above killing here and there, when it suited her purpose. Rabis had been away, tending to other matters when the former Queen fell, fleeing from Friesianna and her newly acquired Sentinels.
The Jewel brothers, who'd secretly supported her in her efforts to take over the Bright race, were hers to command. Now, under Friesianna's rule, the Noble Houses were nearly gone, the Middle Caste wasted in battle against the Dark Elemaiya and the Lower Castes viewed as nothing more than fodder in any skirmish. Children had become rare. Hilbah had suggested the fertility clinics, with unsuspecting human parents raising the half-Elemaiyan children until the Call went out. Then the Dark Elemaiya had uncovered the plot, with disastrous results.
Rabis sighed at the thought. So many innocents had died, thinking they were as human as their adoptive parents. Now, only one remained who had not been gathered or killed. One, who seemed to be particularly talented. Rabis was afraid to voice his fear—and his hope—where that one was concerned.
"So, mindspeech. That's logical," Friesianna struck a pose as she repeated Rabis' words. Rabis wondered whom she thought to impress. No Nobles were present and only Diamond stood in attendance. The other three Jewels were on some errand or other. "Which of the lower talents do you imagine he might possess?"
"That I cannot see, my Queen. You know I cannot see if there is a cloud of uncertainty about any of those I track with Foresight. We know the Dark Ones seek him out. Now we know that they may take him for their own purposes, since they have no living misters. The uncertainty surely comes from that—which side will end up with our quarry."
"Then we must ensure that he comes to us. Diamond, have you devised a plan to accomplish this?" Friesianna sounded bored as she addressed her oldest Sentinel.
"Yes, my Queen. My brothers are making preparations. Do not fear, we will have this one and he will serve you gladly. I will see to it personally."
"Very good. We haven't had a misting spy in a long while. This pleases me."
"My brothers and I know to place compulsion first. He will come willingly."
"Rabis, do you see this?"
"My Queen, I cannot see past the uncertainty. I regret that I may not be as talented as Hilbah." Rabis bowed again to hide his face. Hilbah was particularly inept. Friesianna had listened to his small lies and flattery, accepting them as true prophecy and foresight.
"I regret that as well. Leave me. I must think on these things. Please keep looking. Let me know if anything changes." Friesianna waved Rabis away.
"As you will, my Queen," Rabis turned and walked quickly through the field. North Dakota was normally Friesianna's choice to place the camp. Many places remained in the wild where none would detect them, but North Dakota was Friesianna's choice. It was also two jumps from the nearest gate. Perfect for the Bright camp.
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