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Bumble (Page 40)

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"Ashe?" Denise DeLuca had taken the phone away from Sali. "How’s your mother doing?"

"Okay. She looks pale and she said she felt weak. Mr. Winkler got something for us from Betsy’s for dinner. She ate but went back to bed."

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"If you need something, call the house, all right? Somebody will come over. And I’ll cook enough for you tomorrow night, so don’t worry about dinner."

"Thanks, Mrs. DeLuca."

* * *

"Dad, I found the folder with the tax stuff in the truck," Ashe said later when Aedan and Radomir walked into the kitchen. "It needs to be mailed off tonight."

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"I’ll take it by the post office," Aedan said, lifting the envelope off the kitchen table. Staying late to take care of taxes was the reason Adele had been attacked; Ashe was sure of it. Somebody had wanted darkness and privacy to do what they’d done, and someone had known she was staying late in Cordell. They’d also known that most of Cordell’s population would be at the candlelight service for Megan. Ashe itched to ask if there were any information on Megan’s murder but held back.

"Why don’t you do your homework in the TV room?" Aedan asked. "That way you can hear your mother if she needs anything. Radomir and I will mail this off and run a few errands." Aedan patted Ashe’s shoulder before walking out the kitchen door. Ashe heaved a frustrated sigh as he watched the door close.

He couldn’t leave his mother alone; else he’d be out the door with his father, following along as mist. Instead, he set the alarm and clumped down the steps to the lower level, hauling out his English and Math homework, muting the television and setting to work. He didn’t look up again until nearly two hours later, when the evening news was on. Something was going on in Fort Myers, Florida; Ashe saw the banner across the bottom of the screen. Flipping on the sound, Ashe listened to the newscast.

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"They were only gone for a few minutes," a mother wept on camera as she described the deaths of her twin sons. The journalist took over then, explaining how the two eighth-graders had taken their bicycles to visit a friend down the block. They’d never arrived. Three days after their disappearance, both bodies had been recovered from swampland on nearby Sanibel Island. The murder victims were only a year older than he, Ashe thought, shocked at the news. Someone had killed both of them and they were the only children their parents had. Both parents were extremely upset, Ashe could tell.

"Mom?" Ashe knocked lightly on his parents’ bedroom door before going to bed later.

"What is it?" Adele called out.

"Do you need anything before I go to bed? A glass of water or something?"

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"I’m all right. Go to bed. Is the alarm set?"

"Yeah. Everything’s cool."

"Good. Goodnight, Ashe."

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"Goodnight, Mom." Ashe closed the door quietly and walked toward his bedroom.

* * *

"Grand Master, Radomir showed me photographs of the site," Winkler spoke quietly on his cell while driving along Cloud Chief’s perimeter in the darkness. The van bumped over uneven, grass-covered prairie as Winkler followed the fence line, searching for breaches in the barbed-wire enclosure. After he’d seen the footprint that Radomir photographed, Winkler’s suspicions and his hackles had risen. He’d seen something similar twenty years earlier.

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"You think they’re back? The Dark ones?" Weldon Harper, Grand Master of Werewolves asked.

"I think it’s possible. I’ve talked with our friend in Washington, but he’s too concerned with all those child disappearances across the country to investigate."

"All my trackers are out," Weldon Harper sighed. "Or I’d send a few to look. You may have to handle this yourself."

"If the Dark ones are here, the Bright side may be as well—I understand they’ve been fighting one another for a very long time. I may track down the Bright ones and see whether they’ll help with our little problem here."

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"If the Dark ones are involved there, the others may certainly be interested, although I can’t figure out why the Dark ones would be attacking us or the vampires—they know we can take them down should we band together. Surely they don’t want a war with us as well."

"I’m working on this, Grand Master. If the Dark ones killed James Johnson, then someone from this community led them past the witch’s shields. We’ll have to find the Cloud Chief collaborator as well. I’ll keep you updated as things develop." Winkler ended the call and concentrated on driving across the Oklahoma prairie.

* * *

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"This is Trace Gibson, my Second’s younger brother," Winkler’s black eyes twinkled as Ashe was introduced to two werewolves the following morning. Ashe should have known they’d be werewolves—Mr. Winkler wouldn’t send anyone he couldn’t trust. "And this is Jason Landers," Winkler introduced the second werewolf. Trace was tall. Basketball player tall. Nearly seven feet, with brown hair, an easy smile and a slow grace when he moved. Jason Landers had nearly red hair, a square face and was shorter than six feet with a stocky body and powerful build.

"I was raised on my parents’ farm outside Denton," Trace said, accepting Ashe’s offered hand. "I know a lot about farming."

"I worked for Mr. Gibson, Trace’s dad," Jason said, solemnly shaking Ashe’s hand next. "So I can still teach muck for brains here a thing or two." Ashe realized then that Jason Landers was much older than Trace Gibson.

"Nice to meet you," Ashe said. He spent the morning showing both werewolves where everything was; Winkler left shortly after dropping Ashe off. Trace and Jason had a van, so they didn’t need Winkler’s transportation. Trace mastered the register in very little time, but Jason worked best with customers, confidently telling them what each piece of equipment would do, what brands of seeds worked best and which plants to buy. Ashe blinked at how well he knew those things.

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"He’s nearly a hundred and fifty," Trace leaned down and whispered to Ashe at one point. "He’s been a farmer since he was young."

Ashe gulped nervously and nodded. Jason probably knew so much and Ashe wanted to ask so many questions, but felt that might be rude. The day went well, no customer showed up that looked capable of drugging anyone and the werewolves didn’t smell anything amiss. Ashe had to sign for shipments, and before the day was over, he and Jason had gone through the inventory so an order could be phoned in to the suppliers.

"You’re a pretty good hand," Jason complimented Ashe as he loaded into their van, ready to drive toward Cloud Chief. The two werewolves were going to stay with Micah and Greta Rocklin until they left. Mr. Winkler thought it best that they’d be guarded somehow while they slept. Ashe knew Mr. Winkler was as worried about what was attacking everyone as he was.

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