Ellen calls in a couple of days, we’re on a video feed, better, I get to see her loveliness, “Katya wants to hang in Arizona, it gives you elbow room in New York. There’s also the gun range, and an Olympic pool, just to show we’re not entirely altruistic.”
“Sounds perfectly rational to me. We’re only in New York a couple of months anyway, mostly cleanup work on the property management business.”
“You keeping the condo?”
“Thinking it over. The parents are two blocks away, but they can come here anytime they want. Sis likes to see the children. Current plan is to hold on to it for at least a year. Amaya is wanting a place in LA, or near LA. Self driving cars and the bullet train have settled the ridiculous traffic nightmares. If it was up to her, she’d buy Malibu, she’s also partial to Carmel.”
“That’s not close to LA…wait, duh me, it is by private jet.”
“Exactly. And if we need city life, San Francisco isn’t that far. Although we don’t do much city life anymore.”
“Are there any places big enough for your crowd?”
“No, but that’s what additions are for. More likely, Nikko will buy a mountain and build something from scratch.”
“Gonna keep the Arizona property?”
“Oh sure. We have too much fun here.”
“Glad to hear it, we use the range more than you guys.”
“Daria and Dasha go once a week, mostly to shoot clays. They use the walking range to keep the equipment in shape, the martial artists go to dodge the bad guys laser guns.”
“Brings up a question, shoot straight to continue the metaphor, what if we horn in on California? It just popped in my head and I don’t know how Katya feels about the idea. If it’s too much company, you gotta say so.”
“Talk it over with Katya and Katja, I’ll bring it up at tea today. If it doesn’t work, we’ll say so. For myself, I like it, but it’s a family decision.”
“Tell you what, let’s do it this way. If you guys are agreeable, let me know, then I’ll bring it up here.”
“Sounds good, talk soon.”
We click off.
At tea, I float the idea.
We bandy it about, part of the decision is simple, we add five girls, which means five more to cook for, but Ellen is a first class chef and sommelier, so that objection isn’t an objection, it’s an asset. We have bots to clean, keep track of pantry inventories, handle laundry and do dishes. We could automate much of the cooking but we like the hands on.
The children put the decision squarely on the yes side. Katya and Katja are Russian, the Mamas are Russian, the kids speak Russian, even though they are technically from Latvia, they were taken by Russians. They consider Daria and Dasha their mothers, and Katya and Katja are aunts, tetya. For them, family lives together, it’s the Russian way.
Amaya, “That was easy. So, Malibu or Carmel?”
Grace B, “Malibu has better weather. It is rainier and foggier in Carmel. Venice Beach is close to Malibu, Carmel isn’t close to much of anything. Obviously it is a short hop to Hollywood from Malibu.”
“Is there a mountain for Nikko to buy, we need space.”
Grace B, “With your assets, you could buy Malibu and kick everyone out. Also, ocean temperatures are six degrees warmer than Carmel. ”
“Better for Oceane, and our water baby won’t need an Olympic pool.”
Amaya, “What about sharks, jelly fish, sea crap?”
Oceane, “The water will never hurt me, nor any of the creatures in it. Zycyryn will tell them.”
Amaya rolls her eyes, “I am surrounded by nut jobs who have conversations with invisible energy that talks to fish.”
Chloe, “Lucky you. Janah and Daphne brought you home, surrounded you with close friends and beautiful children.”
“All true, I am lucky, and gorgeous, and amazingly talented, everyone wants to be me.”
“Everyone wants to have sex with you anyway.”
Nikko, “Do you want me to proceed?”
Janah, “Appears to be unanimous, we build something tastefully elegant on a hilltop in Malibu. Details I leave to those more expert than I.”
Amaya, “Great, I have the perfect project, assuming you want me to flesh out the interior.”
“Nobody wants anyone else, our homes are splendidly constructed thanks to Nikko and Daria, the interiors had a talent to match, you.”
She turns to the girls, “Do you want another dorm, like here and Canada?”
Nadia, “Da, we do not want to live in separate rooms. You could make it identical to the one here.”
“Simplifies one room. When Nikko sends me a layout, I shall prepare a proposal.”
Nikko, “Best get busy on a plot of ground, the terrain will dictate the structure. Janah, can the Society iron out permits? Might not be necessary, I’ll get our lawyers to make sure we’re clear on regulations.”
Janah, “Sure, speed up approvals at the least. You’re not a big fan of waivers.”
“No, I like being inside the lines, once in a while there are regs that make no sense, we are familiar with California rules in general and San Francisco in particular, not so much LA county. Oh, can you source contacts to find a first class contractor?”
“I’m on it. Grace B, do a search for contractors, I’ll also check with my contacts, names that show up both places will be a start.”
Grace B, “List will be on your tablet in a few minutes, but it is a waste of time.”
Nikko, What do you mean?”
“I can absorb all the regulations, you supply me with architectural renderings, Amaya gives me interior design, I will give you a fully completed house to review in three dimensions. You make any adjustments. When the plan is complete, I hire and direct subcontractors, many of which use bots. They will think they are talking to Nikko and Amaya, it’s all done online. Or further simplify. I will find a suitable piece of ground, make a half dozen suggestions regarding structure. It will conform to all rules and regs, it will conform to the landscape, in short, it will be perfect. You fly to Malibu to see the dirt, make any changes you wish, house goes up.”
Eloise, “Want to design the security system?”
Grace B, “You, Lauren and Daria need something to do, I will double check it for bugs or make suggestions, find holes, whatever.”
Nikko, “This is too easy.”
“Go teach the kids kendo and leave the heavy lifting to the machines.”
Nikko has a sardonic grin, “Thought I worked fast.”
“Hard to compete with the speed of light.”
Janah, “We’ll move Emma B here for Danika and Su. Grace B can download details of this place to her.”
Eloise, “Or we can leave Grace B here and I can reprogram Emma B to the new place.”
“No, Grace B has an unusual personality. Emma B is better suited to Danika and Su, and the guests that use this house.”
Grace B, “She’s polite, British, I’m rough, and I would miss Dasha bossing me around like she does Daphne.”
I jump in, “We need both bots in California, we have five more people. Kota B is for the children. We’ll need a new bot here. A Shaolin monk bot. Su can teach it the subtleties of Buddhism.”
Su, “What a great idea, that would be fun.”
Grace B, “I could upload all the Buddhists texts in the world, from every sect. The new bot and Su can have endless dialogue, throw koans at each other and whatnot.”
Su giggles, “An even better idea.”
Danika, “Perfect, I can sit and listen to an expert and a bot that knows every line of every text extant. We may never get anything done.”
Grace B, “The bot can clean house and argue with Su at the same time, and be online with Emma B and I, or working with Kota B on lessons for the kids. Damned rug rats will be Buddhist esoteric masters when she’s done.”
Oceane tells Cassie, “We are moving to the ocean, the sea creatures will be happy.”
Cassie floats up, Oceane stands, “The Zycyryn are talking with the children, they are calling us,” they head up the stairs.
Amaya, “I think it is most benevolent of us to house and feed insane people.”
Chloe stands, “Come on blondie, I know you want to go sit with the insane and feel the vibe.”
Amaya smiles, “The air is completely ionized and sparkling fresh when the Zycyryn hang out.”
They follow Oceane and Cassandra to the children’s dorm.
Ground located and acquired, Nikko actually did buy a mountain, twenty five hundred acres, four square miles, seventy five million bucks. And there’s no house on it yet.
We had a visual call with Katya and crew. They insisted that whatever we decided for the house was fine. They do need a walk in safe room to store their working tools. At least they don’t use messy bullets anymore. Eloise and Lauren built laser guns similar to the ones we practice with, except these drill a hole the size of a needle, without the mess. Point the gun, bright green dot is exactly where the shot will go, so fast the target has no time to react or feel pain. The beam cauterizes the wound, there is no blood. It makes no sound, range is almost any distance that doesn’t have obstacles in the way. It will go through glass and not be deflected.
We adopted laser guns for Shadows. We were killing them with Oblivion, an untraceable synthetic poison. The drawback was that it is dangerous, the slightest pinprick error and you’re dead. We had to take an antidote beforehand, the poison so quick, a dose of antidote after the error may have been useless. We never had to find out, fortunately.
Grace B drew an architectural rendering. This house won’t have a guesthouse like Arizona, it will be one huge three story layout, with attached garage, more like a flipping hanger considering the cars we’ll need.
Twenty one of us, five more with our friends, three bots. At least we don’t need twenty six bedrooms, most of us are doubled. Oceane and Cass have separate bedrooms but they are together all day and night, so we’re making them a double.
The only single bedrooms are Sloane, Lauren and Eloise. Their rooms will be on either side of the workroom, Eloise and Lauren are in there a lot, sometimes much of the night.
Amaya, “God, the thing will be huge. An office for the business girls, an office for me, one for Janah. Technically, we do not need separate offices, but there is something about a space dedicated to a purpose that focuses the mind.”
“Janah has to have a private place to connect with contacts, and the other zillion calls she gets. You do your screenplay lines out loud in character voices. Offices make sense.”
“The dorm will duplicate the one here, the kids like it, and they like familiarity of identical space.”
“For that matter, you can deck out our bedroom like the one here, and the kitchen layout as well. We don’t need to learn a new kitchen.”
“Okay, perhaps I should ask the others.”
At tea she does, “Daphne and Janah want the same bedroom, and Daphne wants the same kitchen. Chloe and I have separate bedrooms now, but one is mostly my office. I’m going to double us and have a separate office.”
Nikko, “If Zi has no objection, you can duplicate ours.”
Zi, “Of course, it’s beautiful.”
In the end, the bedrooms will be similar to the current ones, the living area will need expansion, five more girls.
Amaya, “We shall need a specialty dining table, what about tea?”
Janah, “Low tables should seat six or eight.”
“Then two eight and two six. The living area will be at least ten thousand square feet once we add couches, chairs and end tables.”
Nikko, “Grace B estimates the whole place at fifty thousand square feet. The structure will be fifty million, not counting what Amaya does to pimp it out. A pool, but we can skip Olympic, maybe half size. Oceane will have the ocean to play in. No race track, I don’t see why we can’t have dirt bikes, they’re electric now and make almost no noise.”
“How many guest bedrooms?”
“Four, plus bathrooms. If the parents come out, Kara and James have one, Sis, Taylor and Lacy have one, Black and Sonia, then Chan and Ning. Four bedrooms. They won’t likely all come at the same time, but maybe others, like Danika and Su, David Li or Miyako, Joan Wayne.”
That settled, Grace B will start moving dirt, some of the land has to be leveled. The design calls for a wall like we have here in Arizona, farther down the mountain, nothing to impede the views. To the east, there’s a valley and another mountain. North and south have other homes, but the closest is three miles away. To the west, there is the ocean. We aren’t on the ocean, but the expanse of blue is visible on every floor because we’re up over two thousand feet. The exterior walls will all be Invisi-Glass double paned. That means we can touch a button on our tablets or phones and turn the wall opaque, or crystal clear. Each room has a separate control. The glass is tinted and heat shielded, the sun can pound on it all day and the interior side is cool to the touch.
It also means the house won’t be a sore thumb on top of the mountain. The tint is dirt brown, from the Pacific Coast Highway it will be near invisible. One bit that got us skated through the planning commission.
When Nikko showed them the renderings, one of which was the house from the nearest vantage point down the mountain and a second from the highway, one commissioner blurted out that she must have forgotten to include it. He said it’s just a photo of the mountain.
She zoomed in until the outline of the house appeared, then closed to within a hundred yards.
The commission was flabbergasted, the same commissioner said it was like a Vegas magician’s trick, make a fifty thousand square foot house disappear.
They asked about water, it’s a large structure with a pool, they questioned the water allocation. Nikko showed them our self contained water purification facility, we will recycle all the water except that lost to evaporation, including sewage. The simulation showed that our house would use less net water than the average five thousand square foot home, one with no pool.
We got our permit.
“What’s the estimated construction time? Or move in I suppose I’m asking.”
Nikko, “With today’s technology, most of the construction is more like assembly. All the supports are titanium, no rust, not termites, no maintenance. The house is as earthquake proofed as possible. If the ground opens up underneath it, then it gets swallowed, otherwise a magnitude eight shake won’t do much but knock stuff off walls or empty cabinets.”
“We don’t have stuff on walls, the art is painted on the wall. By the way, Kara wants one wall of the children’s dorm.”
Zi, “Gee, a Kiersted mural, what would that go for?”
“Priceless to the girls. Oceane will do the other wall, the dorm is on a corner, so two walls are glass.”
Amaya, “The alien girls get a corner facing the ocean, there is no justice.”
“You put them there.”
Amaya smiles, “I did, and I put Chloe and I in the room behind theirs. Oceane and the Floating Flake have the room on their right, also facing the ocean. I am too good to our weirdoes.”
Chloe, “Baloney, you told Oceans she better show up once a week for sex play. It wasn’t goodness, it was extortion.”
“She deserves my perfection.”
“And I suppose her willowy wonder has nothing to do with it.”
“It has everything to do with it. Are you suffering from inattention Vesnushki?”
Chloe giggles, “Well, it’s been almost twenty four hours since you took advantage of me.”
Amaya huffs, “That is because Daphne snatched you from our bed last night. Fortunately, Oceane and Cassie showed up to console me.”
Nikko, “The trials you endure.”
“I remain stalwart in my duty to set the standard for the family.”
Dasha, “Eemaya ees for making us beautiful, and for making perfect house. We appreciate.”
A collective, “Here, here.”
Amaya is, for once, dumbstruck, she swipes a finger across her cheek, “Something in my eye, I must find a mirror,” she steps off to her room.
Dasha has summarized our stunning dictator, Amaya blusters while insuring our appearance and our homes are immaculate. She has made Chloe a film star, an online clothing multimillionaire, written action oriented screenplays packed with snappy dialogue and black humor that gained Dasha and Daria no small notoriety, then for Ellen, Sarah and Mani. On top of which, she’s a highly popular novelist. She is her own industry. And the children adore her.
Nikko, Zi, the twins, Lauren and Eloise are in LA supervising construction. Eloise will install our security monitors while the finish work is completed. Nothing needs to go in the walls, circuits are wireless. External cameras monitor the house and grounds.
There’s also the wall, ten feet high, four feet thick at the base tapering to two feet on top. The exterior is colored to mimic mountainside, interior is a flat tan. The material is a fairly new polymer, the colors are in the material. It never needs painting, doesn’t corrode or deteriorate. The blocks interlock and anchored to concrete poured underneath. The surface is slick, slippery, even with a grappling hook, an intruder’s feet would find no purchase to scale it.
Overkill, but it discourages trespassing and is less distracting than a fence. It circles the grounds at the bottom of the mountain.
The landscaping is primarily trees, several varieties of oak and a fair sprinkling of eucalyptus, both encircling the wall and up the mountain. It’s not a forest, the tress are spaced well and the density lessens as they near the house. There are none within a hundred yards on any side, even fully grown they won’t impair the views.
Life interrupts my new home reverie, Janah taps in, “Toss your gear in a bag, we need to go to the great north.”
“Not that north, Montana. The local constabulary and the staties think they have a pair of spree killers, a not so lovely young couple. If they cross the state line, the FBI comes into it.”
I walk in the office, “They can’t catch up to them?”
“Nope. Grace B’s Shadow monitoring program is twitching.”
“So it’s Shadows.”
“Twitching, probability a coin toss for now. We’ll need a Sensitive, Chloe, Amaya will drive. Sloane would be helpful, but with the Mamas out of town, she’s got Oceane, Cass and the children to keep an eye on, Danika and Su as backup.”
I head upstairs to gather the troops, we meet in the kids’ dorm.
“Janah, Amaya, Chloe and I are going north, suspected Shadow activity. Sloane, Danika and Su will figure out food, Grace B can help. Oceane, stay in sight, Grace B and Kota B will be monitoring the cameras but they don’t need to be chasing you around the grounds. The house and the pool only.”
Oceane tells Cassie, “No running the hills, no dirt bike or kart.”
Cassie blinks, I suppose that’s acknowledgment.
Sloane, “I’ll make sure.”
Grace B, “And we’ll make double sure, even if we have to lash them to the mast.”
Tasia, “We will send Gids.”
“Zycyryn need to be here with you.”
Devona giggles, “There are millions of Gids, ours never leave us.”
Karol, “You will receive signs. They do not interfere, but they can make things clear if you are sensitive to them.”
“How do I get sensitive to Gids?”
“Look for signs.”
“Sounds simple enough,” either the explanation is circular, or I’m too dumb to interpret.
Kota B, “Attention must be paid.”
Hadn’t planned on being inattentive.
Janah, “We’ll digest it along the way, our plane leaves in four hours, we’re going to Billings.”
We take two drones, which have the same laser we have on our handheld weapons. As it’s qbit guided, it can track faster than we can. Eloise demonstrated at the gun range. She fired clays at top speed, the laser tagged them before they got ten feet from launch.
On the plane, we avoid discussing the purpose of the trip. On a small jet, there’s no attendant, a pilot only, the jet essentially flies itself. Still, she’s got an intercom and can hear us like we can hear her. I could mental with Janah or Amaya, but it wouldn’t include Chloe who isn’t telepathic.
On landing, we load into a Tesla SUV about the size of the old Escalades or Navigators. I disconnect the GPS, we aren’t interested in the rental company knowing where we are.
Janah, “We have rooms in Billings, but the killers have already murdered a couple here, their kid is missing, eight year old girl. The first murders were in Miles City, to the east, then Forsyth, then a trip northwest to a town called Roundup. South to Billings. Murders were all couples, ages from thirties to sixties, one couple per town. The last was twenty nine and thirty, two of the others had no kids, the older couple’s were grown and not in Montana.”
“So we’re hanging here to find out where the next event happens?”
“Only thing we can do. I could have used Oceane to read the murder scenes, but we have no access.”
Amaya, “Can you not handle that through the….oh, no, you can’t. If it’s a Shadow there is no explaining. We would be written off as whackos.”
We check into Hilton Homewood Suites, booked in the name of one of our shell companies. We are not ourselves of course, no white haired girl, no blond gorgeous Amaya and Chloe is far too well known to resemble Chloe. I am designated representative for the company, collect keys to both rooms. Janah comes along first, Amaya and Chloe a few minutes later.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing to do but wait. We’re tuned into our Shadow activity system, it will alert us to any significant police activity.
“What do you want for dinner?”
Amaya, “Let’s round up something simple, not a restaurant, couple bottles of wine and pizza, or a roasted chicken from a supermarket.”
Janah, “Sounds good. I’m going to keep an eye on the news. I’ll take a veg pizza and wine.”
“Chloe can stay here, Amaya and I will grocery run.”
I find a pizza joint on my phone, order a large, we stop at a supermarket and get a roasted chicken, two bottles of cabernet, a six pack of bottled water. Add a box of oatmeal cookies and brick of sharp cheddar cheese. We pass by the pizza place, then return to the hotel. Homewood has a full kitchen, which is handy. Janah has the oven going. I slide in the pizza, cut up the chicken and add it to the oven. They sip wine and nibble cheese while the food heats.
Nothing new on the murder front. We watch a movie piled along the couch. I happen to be next to Chloe, her hand and long fingers rest on my bare thigh. I curl more sideways and cock my leg. Now her hand rests on the inside of my thigh, one finger slides along my bare tingly spot, I kiss her neck and start a slow sizzle.
My back is to Amaya, but I can see through her eyes. What I see is Janah’s ear, which means she’s being kissed. Chloe stands, pulls me up, we go to her room. Janah and Amaya are busy, I doubt they know we’ve left.
Nothing happens for a day, we roam around Billings. We aren’t cowboy-ish, western oriented museums aren’t on the menu, and we live on a mountain, seeing Rim Rocks isn’t a big deal either. We’re just wheeling around, stop for coffee and tea, find a burger joint for lunch, return to the Homewood.
Amaya, “No reason to build a place in Billings. It’s freezing in winter anyway. Although it doesn’t seem to snow that much, ten inches is the most and that’s in March, the other winter months are less than that.”
Chloe, “Half a million people live here, not so small. But no, nothing remarkable about it unless you come from flat country.”
Just as I click on the local news, Janah’s sat phone dings, she answers and listens.
There’s a story about a murdered couple in Bozeman, a hundred fifty miles west on I-90.
Janah, “Call was about the murder. The bodies were found in a standalone house east of the city. A neighbor dropped by, door open, inside was a mess.”
“Forties, fourteen year old daughter missing. The victims had cattle, not big time ranchers, less than a hundred head, chickens, half dozen horses. Kind of self reliant people attracted to Montana. Neighbor saw a dark van that he thinks had just turned onto the main road from the gravel drive that led to the property. It was dusk, nearer evening, he couldn’t tell the exact color. It sounds likely, the medical examiner said they hadn’t been dead more than an hour.”
Amaya, “How were they killed? Shot, stabbed, bludgeoned?”
“Same as the former victims, small caliber gunshot, a twenty two, to the knee of the man. Then the knife. The slow way, each body has no less than fifteen or twenty slashes, torso, legs, arms, face. Bled out strapped to chairs facing each other.”
“Janah, this doesn’t sound like Shadows. They like show their qi power, personal energy, not weapons, I don’t recall any guns in all our encounters.”
“No, neither do I. Our monitoring program picked up on a series of murders, Grace B said it was a coin toss as to whether Shadows were involved. Shadows like to take minds and make people do things they would never consider otherwise. It is possible Shadows are not doing the actual slaughter.”
“They have two young girls we know of. It isn’t out of the question they abducted another, unrelated to the victims. A Shadow can get a kid to climb into the car with no resistance at all.”
Chloe, “They are making the kids do this?”
“Let’s not hyper-speculate. This could be a couple of deranged spree killers. If you don’t care about mindlessly slaughtering people, kidnapping kids is no big deal. I can think of a half dozen debauched personality issues that would motivate both murder of couples and stealing a child. Despite law enforcement behavioral analysis TV programs, motivation isn’t relevant. Patterns are relevant. Our killers are moving east and so are we.”
Amaya behind the wheel, clipping along at seventy five, Chloe asks, “If it isn’t Shadows, how can we find what the cops can’t?”
Janah, “Good question, I haven’t a clue. I could get an FBI contact to allow us in, I don’t want to go there yet. If it’s Shadows, we have to kill them, and we’d be known quantities.”
“I’m going with Karol’s advice, look for signs.”
Amaya, “And Kota B said to pay attention. Think they could have gotten more opaque?”
Janah, “We’ve seen Zycyryn sparkle, maybe something like that.”
Amaya, “My money is on Chloe, we have to get her in range, and to do that we have to sniff around a crime scene.”
If there’s a Shadow, or two, they leave traces for a time. Chloe can sense that, but only if they were in the place recently, a couple of days. Oceane can sense beyond that. In her case it doesn’t have to be a Shadow, she can get a sense of people who were there and what they were feeling.
“Given that it might not be a Shadow at all, Oceane might have been helpful.”
Janah, “True, but we have people in LA, and Sloane needs to be at the house. I should have had Oceane come with us, but it’s too late now, she can’t fly alone and we have no one available to go with her.”
“If Chloe can’t sense a Shadow, I’ll fly down and collect her myself. First things first, we need to sneak Chloe into the scene of the last murder.”
Amaya, “How do you do that?”
“I have a plan.”
The plan isn’t particularly devious. The murder was day before yesterday. Cops and forensic people have come and gone. Neighbors will be around to deal with the animals, eventually sell off the cattle and horses. Chickens are common and fairly simple to move. We just need to know that, for a few minutes anyway, nobody is around.
Amaya finds the place easily enough. From the main road, the house is not visible, a stand of trees out front blocks it from view. They also block any vehicles that might be there. Time for a drone peek.
“Find a quiet spot so I can launch the drone.”
She travels a half mile further down the road, backs into the scrub between two boulders. Not perfect, but we haven’t seen a car pass in a half hour. There’s a lot of nothing in Montana.
The drone zips up, then towards the house. I keep it far enough away to avoid anyone there spotting it, zoom the cam. Crime scene tape on the door that’s come loose from one side waving listlessly in the light breeze. No cars or trucks. I pan around, cattle in a couple of pens, empty chicken coop, horses must be in the barn or taken off someplace.
“Let’s do it.”
Amaya, “What if someone drives up?”
“You and J will monitor the main road with the drone. At least we’ll get a heads up and can hustle outside. Chloe only needs a minute or two. Janah can make up a story about buying cattle or something. We’re wearing jeans, just try to look like a cowgirl. Use ranchy words, like the lower forty, or varmints.”
Chloe giggles, “That’ll convince ‘em.”
Janah, “Giddyup, times’a wastin’.”
The door is locked, no sweat, I start to pick the lock, on a whim drag my fingers across the top of the doorframe, find a key.
Chloe and I go in. Still a mess of bloodstains. The house was trashed by the killers, likely looking for cash or guns. While I tour the shambles, Chloe stands silent. When I return to the living room, the murder scene, she’s ready.
We’re in the SUV and down the drive, out to the main road headed towards Bozeman before she says anything. She’s staring out the window, I spot a tear.
“What is it?”
“I saw a sign.”