Vendetta(Legend of the Ir'Indicti,Book 4)(6) by Connie Suttle
"I could write a few words about dead rats and the mystery of exploding hearts and put up a few pictures, but what good will that do? We don't have a reason and that might cause people to panic. I can go back to the city and see if they're willing to send more of their work crews down there."
"Sounds good," Dawn replied absently, buttering French bread and spreading cheese over it. She then sprinkled garlic powder and a bit of basil on the top. That went into the oven for a few minutes. "Would you get the plates, Randy?"
Randy sighed and pulled two plates from the cabinet inside his small apartment kitchen, then scrounged for forks. Paper napkins came next. Aunt Mary had cleaned out her cabinets to give him enough dishes to get by until he could afford his own. A junior reporter's pay wasn't that great, after all.
"Too bad somebody can't do anything about the bugs; I saw a huge cockroach in the hallway this morning," Dawn muttered.
"I'll call maintenance. They spray once a month," Randy said. "It's not easy getting an apartment in this part of town. I don't have a car and this place is close to the train."
"You could come back to New Mexico with me. Newspapers are published there, too."
Randy didn't answer for a few seconds. They'd had the same conversation several times. In fact, he was sure it was why his mother had come to Chicago in the first place—to talk him into going home with her. New Mexico didn't have anything for him. A position at a Chicago newspaper might get him something better later on. He'd been fortunate to get the job he had.
Besides, if he wanted to move anywhere, he'd go straight back to Texas. He loved spending time with the paranormal community. His mother probably wouldn't stay there, though; New Mexico was home for her. "Mom, let me do this for myself, all right?" Randy pleaded. "Let me make my own way. Besides, Uncle Ted is close if I need anything."
"But your Uncle Ted isn't your father. And Aunt Mary isn't your mother." Dawn sounded hurt.
"Don't you think I know that? I miss Dad every day. And there isn't a day that goes by that I don't curse Paul Harris for killing him."
"Randy, you know not to mention that name to me."
"Yeah. Sorry, Mom. I think the bread is ready." Randy nodded toward the oven. Dawn rushed to get the toasted bread out before it burned.
* * *
"Ashe, I'm sorry Dori hit you. She was upset that you didn't tell her." Cori stood beside Ashe's makeshift desk—he'd fit the tiny thing in a corner of Andy's office. Ashe had spent the day going over accounts for Andy, checking figures for him. The task had turned out to be extremely dull work. It was nearly time to go home, too, when Cori arrived.
"I know," Ashe acknowledged Cori's sympathy as he checked another line of figures against what was written on a page beneath his hand. Ashe knew it was payroll for one of Winkler's businesses. Andy hadn't said anything about it, but Ashe figured he suspected something. Now, Ashe was looking for the sewing implement in the traditional pile of hay. "I'd be mad, too, if somebody did that to me. I know she doesn't want to be together anymore but the truth is, Dori always wanted Sali. I can't do anything about that."
"Ashe," Cori walked away from his desk to stare out Ashe's window. It overlooked the small deck and backyard. "Things are never fair. But you know more about that than I do."
"Yeah. Is she gonna hate me when school starts? Like she used to hate Sali?"
"I don't know. But you could try an apology or something."
"I can send more flowers."
"No, do something else this time." Cori turned around, her arms hugging her waist. "Marco says there'll be burgers, cake and ice cream for Sali around six tonight."
"I'll come if it won't make Dori uncomfortable."
"What difference will it make? Ashe, Sali is your best friend. You can't go around worrying what other people will think."
"Dori's your sister, Cori."
"And if Dori would use her sense, she'd know she's alive because of you. I know that," Cori tapped her chest. "Dori's letting her emotions get in the way."
"It wasn't meant to last, Cori. I have to deal with that." Ashe put his finger on another set of figures and it tingled. "Wait." Ashe went back to double check the numbers. "Cori, will you go find Andy?"
"Sure." Cori went off to find Andy, who'd taken a coffee break.
"What did you find, kid?" Andy was back and looking over Ashe's shoulder.
"These figures don't match." Ashe pointed out the numbers. "I mean the totals here do," he tapped the bottom line on the computer, "but these numbers in the middle don't."
"I see that. Looks like somebody got overpaid. A lot," Andy scooted Ashe away from the chair and sat down. "I'll take care of this. Go ahead and go. We'll see you tomorrow morning. At breakfast."
"Okay. Come on, Cori." Ashe draped an arm over Cori's shoulder and they walked out together.
* * *
"Caught it right off the bat," Andy handed the paperwork to Winkler. "The accountant is overpaying one of the secretaries in Little Rock."
"I'll get somebody on it," Winkler took the folder. "I told you he'd find it right away."
"Yeah, but I thought you were exaggerating."
"Not about this one, Andy. Want a homemade burger with cake and ice cream?"
* * *
"Look, dude," Sali waved his new license.
"Yep," Ashe took the license away and examined the photograph. "Too bad, man. It looks just like you." Sali elbowed Ashe in the ribs for the jab.
"Come on, let's eat," Sali walked toward the patio doors. Marcus was grilling burgers there. Sali and Ashe grabbed plates, put burgers together and loaded any space left with potato salad, baked beans and chips.
"This is good, Mr. DeLuca. Mrs. DeLuca," Ashe said. He loved potato salad.
"There's plenty here, Ashe."
"Am I late?" Adele walked onto the deck carrying a bowl of fresh fruit.
"You're right on time," Denise found a place for the fruit. Ashe and Sali were dipping out strawberries and grapes immediately. Wynn, Dori and Cori showed up at the same time, escorted by Marco. Wynn held a nicely wrapped gift in her hands. Ashe's small box had already gone into the pile at one end of the folding table. Wynn set hers down next to Cori and Dori's gift—they'd brought one together.
Throughout the evening, Dori stayed as far from Ashe as she could. Sali opened his gifts, admired the key ring from Ashe and then followed his parents outside. A nearly new import sat in the driveway. Marcus handed Sali the keys to the small, red car. Ashe sighed.
"Look at it this way," Marco dropped a hand on Ashe's shoulder. "Sali won't ever be able to travel the way you do."
"But wheels impress women," Ashe muttered.
"There's that," Marco agreed.
"It was really cool driving Winkler's Mercedes." It was—Winkler had a new Mercedes SLR McLaren in black. Ashe thought it drove like a dream.
"I've never gotten to drive it," Marco muttered.
"I think Winkler was hanging onto the handle the whole time," Ashe joked.
"We'll drive to Oklahoma in a few weeks to finish the sale of the store—Marcie and Jason are buying it," Adele hugged Ashe. "I'll let you drive if you want."
"So that's where they went," Ashe said. "That's too bad. I like Jason."
"We all do. But Marcie doesn't want to stay after Jackson died."
"Yeah." Ashe watched as Sali, Wynn and Dori loaded into the car and Sali backed out of the drive. They hadn't even asked him to come along. The sun was going down and Aedan and Nathan joined the crowd shortly afterward. Ashe started walking toward his home.
"Son?" Aedan was beside him in a moment.
"Sali didn't even ask me to go." Ashe told himself that he shouldn't be upset over such a trivial thing.
"Ashe, you can't take this personally. You've been separated from them for weeks now, working for Mr. Winkler, and then we thought you were dead. Things will smooth out."
"Mr. Winkler told me last night that you have something on your arm. I'd like to take a look at it."
"All right, but it gets itchy and burns if people handle it very much," Ashe said. "And when I tried to scrape it off, I got really sick. So don't try, Dad."
"I won't. I just want to see it for myself."
Ashe sat on a kitchen barstool later, having a glass of water while his father looked at the medallions circling his arm. "That's extraordinary, son," Aedan sighed. "And they just appeared?"
"I woke up and there they were," Ashe said. "I don't have any idea how, why or when."
"Perhaps all the Elemaiya get them—I don't recall ever seeing their bare upper arms."
"I wish they'd given me more information than those three pages," Ashe grumbled, lowering his sleeve. "Maybe that would explain how this got here."
"How are you feeling? Still queasy?"
"No, stomach's fine."
"Just the heart, then," Aedan allowed the accent to slip into his voice.
"Yeah. I hope it goes away soon."
"Ashe," Nathan walked into the kitchen with Lavonna and Adele. "I'd like to see the arm, too, if you don't mind."
Ashe peeled back his sleeve for the second time while Nathan, Lavonna and his mother all looked. Aedan warned them not to touch, so they didn't. Ashe was glad when he could pull the sleeve down again. Another discussion took place, much like the one he'd already had with his father.
"I'm sorry Dori hit you last night," Lavonna sighed.
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