It's a Columbine guard, the bossy one who stopped Cord and me when we were smuggling Bud out of my yard.

"Officer," Mr. Schneider says with confidence. How is his voice not shaking? "I beg your pardon, but we must get Lemon Paintbrush's nutrient donator to the hospital for surgery. We're late as it is."

"Who is the donator?"

"Cord of Arnica tribe is," he lies. Why, I'm not sure.

The guard studies him. "That so? Well, what are the little lady and the mummy doing with you if it's so urgent?"

Cord answers. "My little brother has a play to get to, and my - girlfriend - is going to take him."

My heart sings for the second it takes Cord to say the word. But am I really his girlfriend, or just part of the lie?

"On a school morning?" The guard crosses his arms.

"It's a school production."

"A school play about mummies?"

Cord shrugs at the hasty wrap job. "That's right."

The guard saunters up to Bud and squats in front of him. His spurs stick out like knives. "Hey there, young man," he says. "So you from Arnica Tribe too?"

Bud winces as Cord squeezes his hand. Yellow hair spills over the mummy wrap and I thank God that he and Cord share this color."Moma!" he cries.

"Well, I never heard of Moma tribe but where is your mamma?"

"She's a Forever in the sky," Bud answers.

"She's at the hospital too," Cord covers. "That's a game they play, pretending to be other creatures."

"Ya don't say? How was the swim meet? Did your little song and dance work? I sure hope so."

"Yes!" I pipe up. "We won all our events. Well we did - not everyone on the team did - but we did." I can't stop the rambling coming out of my parched throat.

"Good to hear." His face softens. "Well, we don't want to delay a donation to Judge Paintbrush's granddaughter, do we?" He looks at Cord. "Your family has already sacrificed so much by moving here to the Grove. Unlike some people selfish enough to harbor Toadflax on their own property. You may go, and Godspeed."

Now I know why Mr. Schneider said Cord was the one making the donation. He holds higher rank, and he's not the one whose parents are under the microscope for supposedly harboring the TP'd Toadflax kid that's right in front of us.

"Thank you Officer," Mr. Schneider says. We head together in the direction of the hospital, but the officer is still standing, looking down into the earth we kicked over the hatch. He takes a large spurred boot and knocks on the cover.

The echoing chills my veins.

He stoops and digs at the earth, then pulls the cover up and peers into the dark space. If he discovers Cord's grandmother is alive down there, we're all toast.

"What cha got here, a hide out?" He looks directly at Bud.

"It's nothing, a play space my little brother likes." Cord is sweating and so am I.

"Nothing, huh? Well, orders are to torch any place where Toadflax can hide, so sorry little buddy, you won't mind if I create a cool volcano in there, will ya? You all get on with your day and I'll take care of this." He dismisses us like he's going to do the dishes.

With horror I see him reach for a matchbox from his pocket. He strikes it and the flame sizzles and glows. He's about to drop it into the hollow.

I look at Cord as he's starting to reach for the flame, but a black shadow stops him.

A blood-curdling scream punctures the air. The Columbine guard's head is ripped cleanly from his body, and for once, I'm grateful for the Hand of God.



A/N:
Dedicated to
henry_scott who has a keen eye for editing and is a super supportive fellow writer. Check out his Mystery/Thriller, Revenge, about the ties that bind us in the form of old flames and friendships when two worlds collide.

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