Seventeen

Busy day in the kitchen. Breakfast, light lunch, then the seafood arrives as requested. We have eight dozen chilled oysters in the shell to be shucked, twelve pounds of large shrimp to peel, eight pounds of lump crabmeat and three dozen crab claws are ready to add.
“Ready Valeria?”
“Da.”
“First a big pot of water, two gallons worth, Ellen and I will shuck the oysters, it’s harder than it looks. You can observe and give it a go after you think you’ve got the hang of it. Grace B, we need another pot to put the oysters and liquor in. Liquor is the juice inside the shell with the oyster.”
We start cracking, “ Put the oyster on this folded towel so iit stays flat and doesn’t slide. Take the other end of the folded towel and use it to protect your hand. Then wiggle the oyster knife in the fat side of the shell, the hinge, twist, open. Work the knife easily around the edge of the shell to  get the top half off. Use the blade to  loosen the membrane that connects the oyster to the top of the shell and remove it, Finally slide the blade under the oyster to release the membrane holding it to the bottom of the shell, dump it and the juice in the pot. After a dozen, I give the knife to Valeria, hold her hand while we crack open the shell and slice the membrane. She grins.
“I will try one.”
“Insert the tip of the blade in slowly, wiggle, don’t jab, when you feel it slip in, then shove just hard enough to get the blade tip in, then twist.”
Valeria has the concentration of a brain surgeon, tip of little tongue sticking out of the side of her mouth. Poke, insert, twist, crack!
“Perfecto. Do a few more then Ellen and I will finish up.”
Soon enough we have a pile of empty oyster shells, eight dozen oysters less one, Morshchiny got that one on the sly. Kota B is still upstairs with the children, I won’t be in trouble.
Grace B, “I saw the oyster escape, and sent the video to Kota B.”
“Traitor.”
Valeria joins her mom in shrimp peeling, the heads and shells go in the pot of water, an hour’s simmer and we have shrimp stock, with garlic, onion, celery, carrots and bay leaf. Stock gets poured through a strainer and cheesecloth to remove the solids, what’s left is the rich liquid for the gumbo.
“Okay Valeria, add chopped celery and onion to the roux, as it warms, then chopped garlic and okra,  followed by the shrimp stock and three bottles of amber beer. Bring it to a boil, then let it simmer for an hour, skim any foam off the top then turn off the heat and let it sit. When we reheat, stir continuously. The seafood goes in before we serve, the shrimp first for two minutes, then crab and oysters fir five more minutes.”
Ellen has the rice ready. For gumbo, a serving spoon of rice is plenty, rice is an additive not a primary ingredient.
Janah passes by, stick her head over the pot and sniffs, “Smells heavenly.”
Our two commercial vents over the stoves keep cooking odors from roaming around the place and settling into furniture and clothing. Another vent over the island for when we’re chopping onions, garlic and any other aromatic ingredients. The scents get sucked up and out of the house. 
Tea came and went, chefs took ours on the fly. Gumbo seems like a simple dish when you eat it, it’s a fair amount of busy work in preparation.
“Let’s see, butter and ghee ready, I suggest we do whole French bread loaves to warm and crusty, then keep the oven just warm and pull out more bread as needed.”
Cocktails served, we added beer today, wine isn’t quite a gumbo accompaniment. Wine aficionados will disagree, we offer hearty red blend from up north for those so inclined.
Other than bread, there are no sides, protein, vegetables and starch in the form of rice are all in the main, and only, dish.
Finally, it’s gumbo.
Amaya, “Good Lord, this stuff brings tears to my eyes, it is a religious experience. Congratulations chefs.”
“It’s Valeria’s first gumbo, she had a hand in all the prep, including making the roux like she made for gravy yesterday. Roux will freeze well, we made enough for the next few gravies so she doesn’t have to spend a lifetime stirring butter and flour. The slick liquid that separates from the okra pod as it cooks adds to the umami. I must say, this is an occasional dish, it’s a load of preparation even with four cooks.”
Zi, “For thirty people, I should think everything is a load of preparation, I am most grateful for the meals you all produce. I live in a gourmet restaurant.”
Janah giggles, “I haven’t opened a can of anything or stood over a stove, ever. I haven’t ever made toast. What a brat.”
“You were busy with other things, primarily for our vast collection of family. I’m happy you managed to add extra chefs in the process.”
Tasia, “Mama, we can have more gumbo soup please?”
Dasha, “Kota B will collect your bowls and bring new ones.”
Karol, “Is there more bread? ”
“Da, ees more bread. We did not anyway make dessert today, there are cookies if you want something later.”
“Spasibo Mama. And thank you Tetya Dafna, Tetya Ellen and Sestra Valeria.”
The children aren’t biologically related, but they consider themselves sisters, and they consider Britt and Valeria their sisters as well. They rest of us are aunts, Tetyas, except for Dasha and Daria, the Mamas.
The video screen comes alive, it’s my mom. It must be midnight in St. Martins, where the parents, Lacy and Taylor are enjoying the not winter weather. 
“Sis, strange time to call, not enough partying in the Caribbean at midnight?”
“Plenty of party, lots of sun, but something’s weird. Kara and James were having a nightcap at the beach bar, James went to the restroom and when he returned, Kara had given all her cash to a stranger. It sounded like one of those whackos you chase around, Shadows.”
“Is Kara okay?”
“Yes, of course, Kara is a cool head. She said she felt compelled to give him money, she doesn’t recall him asking for anything, and she doesn’t recall anything about him, his features, she isn’t really sure it was a man. I went online and got into the database of the Police Force of St. Martins, they call it the Korps Politie Sint Maarten. There have been six such reports in the last week. They’re keeping it quiet, tourism is the reason this place exists.”
“That would be a Shadow. I suppose he decided to have a vacation and have other vacationers pay for it. And the police can hardly announce that people should be aware of a man who can take your mind so you voluntarily give up your cash.”
“Yes, only cash. Kara had little recollection, James was collected enough to look through her purse, it appeared to have been searched, but she only had girl things, lipstick and a small makeup mirror, she left her phone in the room safe with passports and driver’s license.”
 “Kara’s not a jewelry person.”
“No, she didn’t have any on, seldom does. They don’t wear wedding rings, thieves will steal those too, anywhere in the world. He doesn’t appear to be much interested in jewelry anyway, there’s no mention of jewelry in the police reports.” 
“Okay, we’ll be down tomorrow, Grace B will find us accommodations.”
“Who’s coming?”
I laugh, “Do you think I’m going to try and tell any of them they can’t go to St. Martins?”
“Thirty girls?”
“And three bots and a big dog.”
“Why the bots?”
 “We’ll need the bots for Oceane, Cassie and the children, and you’ll have some kid duty if that works.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, all the children, I can’t wait. Too bad it has this other business attached.”
“So far, it sounds like just theft, you didn’t see anything violent in the reports?”
“No.”
“Grace B will send you our travel details, she’ll arrange cars, everything. Do not tell any outsiders your family is arriving, we won’t be traveling under our names and our cars and accommodations will be in some corporate something. I think Nikko controls more empty shell corporations than the CIA. Signing off, I have things to arrange.”
We click off, Janah and Nikko watched with me, the others need to prepare.
“Grace B, you heard, you know what to do, three planes, include Morshchiny, we can hardly leave her here.”
“Emma B, connect me to everyone.”
Girls tablets and the flat screens pop open with me in the center, I recap what I know and tell them to prepare for an early departure.
“Do not load up on luggage, take casual, it’s a beach resort place and it’s not on the moon. If you forget something, we can buy it there. Kota B, get the children’s passports in order, they should have the same surname as whatever travel name Dasha and Daria are using.”
Kota B, “Already done.”
Should have known.
“We are all in travel names, no Sylk, Murakami or Svensson. Britt, Lauren and Sloane will have my travel surname, Emma B will have your passports in the morning.”
Amaya, “How are you getting the bots through customs?”
Eloise, “In a freight box, I’ve got it covered. It would simplify things if Janah, Mrs. Pearson, called in a favor.”
Janah, “It will be taken care of. The St. Martin’s police will be most accommodating, they don’t need the bad press and it will be made plain that we are the solution. Daphne and Nishiko will develop strategy, I’ll handle the authorities.”
“Get prepped, Grace B has us flying out at six. There will be three planes as per our policy of not flying the whole family together. The Mamas will travel with the children and Morshchiny. Sloane and Sarah will be on the same flight as Oceane and Cassie, the rest of us will sprinkle around that plane and the third.”
Eloise, “How many drones?”
“Use your judgment, so far we think it’s one Shadow, but we don’t know that and once we’re there, we have only the drones we have.”
“Four then, Lauren can you come up and help me get them disassembled and packed?’
Lauren, “On the way, Britt, you come too, we need to get stuff done and get to bed.”

Eighteen

Grace B found us a five bed villa where mom is, La Samanna. Two other villas with five and six bedrooms within four miles. We have a small bus and four SUVs, which is likely overkill, most of our party will stay in the villas or on the beach. The chefs spread out, Ellen to one, me to another, Dasha and Valeria to the third. We can’t all pile into one restaurant anyway. By some concierge miracle, the places are stocked for at least a few days, Grace B booked five nights. The villas aren’t cheap, three to four thousand a night. I recall the good old days of 2016 when they were a mere twenty five hundred. Still, fifteen hotel rooms for us would cost even more and we’d have to separate the children. That would only confuse Morshchiny.
Janah, Nikko and I go to Susan’s place.
“Welcome, everyone in okay?”
“Yes, Oceane is in Oceane heaven, it took her about thirty seconds to bikini up and head to the sand.”
“Who’s with her?”
“Sloane and Sarah, Cassie of course. Kota B is getting the children arranged to hit the beach at their place, everyone else is either going to a pool or a beach. Food is stocked, easy stuff but we can do most meals at the villas and there’s a fair amount of delivery. They’ve discovered drones even here.”
“We eat out mostly, I had snack stuff and booze delivered.”
Kara appears, “Hello dears, I hope we haven’t sent you on a wild goose chase. For all we know, the guy flew out yesterday.”
“And you’re a blank on him.”
“I felt a tug in my head, I could hear a voice, also in my head, but the shape in front of me was like, I don’t know, like looking through frosted glass, just a figure. I said man, but it could have been a woman.”
“You didn’t report it I hope.”
“No, we figured it was one of your Shadows, there was no point in being grilled by the police at midnight. I had nothing useful to tell them.”
“Was the bar busy?”
“Quite, it’s a party place. James went through his memory, who was where, was there a guy alone, or a woman, anyone paying us particular attention. He couldn’t come up with anything. Like I said, it was, not overflowing crowded, but busy. Waiters shuffling drinks, the bar was active.”
“And nobody saw you giving money to someone.”
“Maybe they did. The problem was, well, James thought it best not to make inquiries given that he concluded it was a Shadow.”
“Of course, and if he starts grilling patrons, then they want to call in the cops, same problem as reporting it in the first place.”
Janah, “The police reports mentioned stolen credit cards but you keep that data on your phone if I’m remembering correctly.”
“Yes, Susan set us all up that way, the phones lock, internal data is encrypted until we fingerprint and retinal scan. All of us leave phones in the villa safes, and she has an additional lock we attach to the safe.”
Passports are on phones these days. Plug in your passport when you make your flight reservation, wave the phone at a camera when you arrive, walk right through. Some countries are moving to confirm by retinal scans, fortunately St. Martin’s isn’t one of them. We would have to travel in our real names or have Eloise create an elaborate contact lens system to alter our retinal pattern. When we visited the island in the past, we were us, like when we go to Canada. This time, we may have to kill someone, better to be somebody else.
Janah, “Extra lock works best, nobody needs the aggravation of finding their hotel room pillaged. Eloise is installing video feed in the children’s villa. Kota B will be able to see any activity around the property day and night. When they go to the beach there will be plenty of us around. Morshchiny will stay in the villa, we can’t have a mastiff her size wandering the beach.”
“She won’t pout?”
Janah, “That may be the best trained dog on the planet. She stays in the dorm when the kids go to the beach in Malibu. Stay means stay, and she won’t move until they return or one of us gives her a different command. All her important commands are in Russian, so it isn’t stay, it’s ostavat'sya.”
Lacy, “You guys have a complicated family, a mega-dog that understands Russian. How many languages in your family? English, Japanese, Russian, Chinese, Amaya speaks French as I recall.”
“Janah speaks all of them and has a fair knowledge of Spanish and German. I finally got fluent in Chinese after a zillion years, I know enough Japanese to get through kendo practice. Japanese fluency is Nikko, Amaya and Chloe, Chinese is me, Janah, Zi, Russian for both sets of twins and the children. Lauren is learning French from Amaya. Ellen, Sarah and Mani picked up a bit of Russian from Katja and Katya, Mani is our only Thai speaker and I think she’s lost most of that. The children are fluent in Japanese as well as Russian and English.”
Janah, “Kota B started the kids in French last year.”
“That too. It’s not as intense as it sounds. Our kids don’t go to traditional school. Kota B can teach anything and she’s always available. The children are more into to arts than sciences, I doubt algorithms are on the menu. Thanks to the Zycyryn, they’ve seen more life forms than any biologist on Earth can comprehend, I suppose that counts as science.”
Lacy, “I recall a time when a little white haired girl showed up at Chapmans when she was eight and almost immediately began tutoring older students in algebra and calculus.”
Janah giggles, “I was the freak of the week.”
Lacy, “Then Daphne came along three or four years later and fit right into the craziness.”
Chapman’s School for Girls starts at seventh grade. Janah was admitted because she could do all the work required to graduate high school when she was eight. Lacy didn’t know just how far along Janah was until she let her take the test required to earn a diploma. 
The school is for girls of unusual talent. It might be literature or drama, science, math, music, or even athletic, primarily dance, but I started a taekwondo class that remains popular even these many years later. They called themselves The Reform School Girls, or RSGs. Technically are grade levels, but girls don’t have to be of any particular age to be in one grade or another. When they pass the basics test, they are allowed to pursue any interest they wish. When they leave school, those that want to go to college don’t apply to them, universities applied to the girl. I didn’t college, there was no point for Janah to go, we opted for the Shaolin Temple. I would have gotten more rest at college, but far less education.
James, “How do you go about finding the Shadow, assuming her or she is still on the island?”
Janah, “The people that made police reports were fleeced at different times, a couple in the morning in Phillipsburg, a couple more during the peak shopping times in mid-afternoon. One other at a bar in a resort hotel, like Kara. I’m guessing he’s simply trolling for targets of opportunity. People by themselves, wife is shopping, bored husband is standing around outside girl watching. Grab a mind, get the cash and cards, phones if they have them, disappear. Phones, probably not, nobody reported a stolen phone. They would have to get into a phone and take time to get the lock code. If the phones are like ours, they need a fingerprint and a retinal scan. A Shadow could make the target unlock the phone, but that’s more time he chews up controlling the victim. 
Cards would need to be plundered quickly as well. People reported them missing within an hour. I don’t think he’s buying stuff with the card. A Shadow could make a store clerk just give him merchandise, he doesn’t need a card. They’re getting a pin, then hitting an ATM for whatever cash the card allows.”
James, “So there isn’t a pattern.”
“Unlikely. We will being with Chloe and Zi wandering Phillipsburg during the day. If nothing turns up, we hit bars that he hasn’t worked yet, at least there were no reports of stolen cash. We’ll split up, I can sense Shadows, so can Dasha and Daria, we send escorts with Zi, others with Chloe. Daphne is a Shadow attractor. If he senses a priest, he’ll be compelled to make a play.”
Susan, “When are you getting to work on this?”
I’m reading messages on my phone, “Grace B already has the card numbers and where they were used. She has a map of times and locations, both of the theft and where the card was used.”
Taylor, “Christ, you don’t waste time.”
“Benefit of bots, quantum bots, she was collecting data on the flight here.”
Susan, “Are the children at the beach, um, where are they staying  by the way?”
“They are at the villa here, Dasha and Daria are staying with them, Kota B and Morshchiny of course. We need you to hover and protect, particularly when the twins are out Shadow hunting.”
“Then I’m going to the beach, I bet Amaya has precious little bikinis for them.”
“Of course, some tourists have likely swooned from an overdose of adorableness.”
They’re all going, already in swimsuits. Throw on a wrap and out the door.
James, “I’m heading for a beer at the beach bar. Or do you need me for anything?”
“Nothing yet, keep a close eye on the girls, we don’t need Shadows attempting to indulge in their sidelines, child abuse and other perversions.”
James, “I’ll wear my psychiatrist sunglasses, the usual travel numbers?”
“Yes, Grace B, Emma B and Kota B are all on. If you sniff a dog that isn’t Morshchiny, message instantly, sooner even.”

Nineteen

It’s already three, we may turn up something in Phillipsburg but we don’t want to spread out the whole crowd just now. Zi comes with Janah and me, Sloane has Oceane and Cassie duty, I stop by the villas where Katya’s crew is staying. 
“I need a shooter to bodyguard while we Shadow hunt.”
Katya, “I will go, the others are getting skin cancer by the pool.”
I go out to the pool, yummy, a gaggle of delectable nudes, “A buffet of babes. Janah and I are going into Phillipsburg with Zi and sniff the Shadows. Katya volunteered to come along for protective purpose. You guys are off the hook until tonight. Just organize yourselves, but we need Chloe, Zi, Janah, Dasha and Daria in different groups. Five groups, five girls with laser guns.”
“The bots coming?”
“Not for the search, they stay with the children, Oceane and Cassie, the parents will be there as well. Oceane pays attention to Kara, they have drawing and painting in common, and the parents aren’t about to let anyone wander off.”
“Time?”
Janah, “Reported evening thefts were close to midnight, the victim is more suggestible after a few drinks. I don’t see much reason to head out before eight.”
Chloe, “I’ll come with you now, let me get shorts or something.”
Amaya, “And that big hat and sunglasses, you don’t need to be recognized Vesnushki.”
Back when Daria and Dash were kids, Amaya teased Chloe about her freckles, only a small spray over her nose and cheeks, twenty three to be exact. The twins renamed Chloe Vesnushki, Russian for freckles, Amaya liked that better. Chloe doesn’t mind, Chloe doesn’t mind anything, she’s the happiest girl ever, always. You see Chloe, you see a smile.
The five of us go Shadow searching. Phillipsburg contains the shopping stretch, practically unchanged since the twenty teens. People still buy trinkets and t-shirts and I’m always amazed at the sheer number of jewelry stores. I seldom see anyone buying, but someone must, the stores remain open. Tourists here are mostly oldsters off the cruise ships. The dock is massive, so big they run a little train around to haul the seniors from the boat to the main street. Restaurants are interspersed with boutiques and luxury brands. The trick to resort sales is understanding that people will splurge on junk traveling they would walk right past at home.
People paying three grand a night for beach villas aren’t wandering Phillipsburg in sandals and baggy shorts. They’re doing what the rest of our tribe is doing, playing in the crystal blue waters, or watching each other from a comfortable seat at the bar. The sons and daughters of the wealthy cruise the sand looking to be looked at, and who wouldn’t? They’re the pampered and gorgeous teenagers from around the world, wind surfing, snorkeling, girls in bikinis that give new meaning to wisps of fabric. There’s a clothing optional beach on the French side, the island used to be two countries, French and Dutch, I guess it still is but much of that has been mingled away. The clothing optional beach is only popular with the Germans and the Germans aren’t popular with anyone else.
We wander purposefully, Zi and I are Shaolin and if a Shadow spots us, he or she will try something, a mind snatch up to a sharp object in the back or a killer Qi shot if they have the skill. They know some of us can sense them the same way they sense us. I’m not so good at it, Janah is, Zi and Chloe are Sensitives, Katya is our backup killing machine.
Katya, Zi and I walk east, Janah and Chloe west. It isn’t a huge strip, and the streets parallel have shops, but are less crowded. Seniors off cruise ships aren’t adventuresome. 
“Janah, we’re taking the next street.”
“Good, we’ll take a left and meet you in the middle.”

Ten minutes later, I spot them walking towards us, Janah puts her hands out palms up, indicating nothing. 
“Keep going past us, we’ll retrace your route and meet you on the main road.”
It takes only fifteen, then we’re in front of a coffee shop.
Zi, “There’s no Shadow around here, I got close enough to radar every shop, we even poked our heads in restaurants like we were looking for friends, nothing.”
“Same here. Let’s go check out the beach girls.”
From one place to another on St. Martin’s is maybe ten minutes, the roads are wide and wide open, the island is thirty three square miles, which means something like six miles by five and a smidgen. Manhattan is twenty two, with many times more people and many many times more vehicles.
We spot the kids playing around in the surf, Oceane out in the distance swimming. Cassie is swimming in closer to the beach with Sloane standing in the shallows watching. 
Susan is sitting in the sand keeping an eye on the kids, “They having fun?”
She smiles up at me, “They always have fun. Paddle around in the shallows, sit in the water talking a mile a minute. Nadia is simply gorgeous, just at the bloom of puberty but not quite.”
“She’s been there for almost ten years. She seems happy to be on the child side, I think if she’d crossed over, her relationship with the others would change and she doesn’t want that.”
“I wonder what it’s like for them, perpetually children. I don’t know why I wonder, I see them all the time and they are persistently happy, engaged and active. They run on nuclear energy, or maybe solar power.”
“Kota B is our secret, she knows when to get them focused, when to let them range, don’t know why I’m telling you, you wrote the program.”
“With Daria and Eloise, no way I was getting bots to that state without Daria’s algorithms and Eloise’s quantum hardware.”
“And Amaya’s personality creations.”
“That too. You have an abundance of genius in your pack.”
“Janah’s doing. She has two requirements, talent and beauty. Her attitude is we’re going to live with our girls for a very long time, perhaps whatever forever is. No point in not having a surfeit of eye candy.”
Do I objectify? Yes, I do. I don’t mind being objectified, none of us do. The women who object to objectification are not the women being objectified. 
I turn up my eagle vision, there’s a fin circling Oceane. Not a shark, a dolphin. It wouldn’t matter if it was a shark, Oceane is of the water, the water would never hurt her nor the creatures in it. She can swim with jellyfish and never be stung.
“Kids, see Oceane. She’s got a swimming pal.”
The children stand up, shade their eyes, Oceane is coming closer, the dolphin is heading straight for her.
Uma, “It’s going to run into her!”
Just as it gets within a couple of feet, the animal propels out of the water and over Oceane, so sleek it dives in with barely a splash.
Others on the beach are staring out, one girl asks her mom, “How does she get the fish to play with her?”
Mom, “It isn’t a fish, it’s a mammal, like a whale, but lives in the sea. They are naturally playful.”
“I want to play with the fish.”
The dolphin pops up, does a tail ride, fully out of the water, splashing Oceane in the face then sinks under the surface. Suddenly, Oceane is being propelled along, she’s got her arms around the dolphin, surfing along so fast she’s creating a wake.
“Mommy look, she’s riding the fish!”
Cameras are recording, I’d rather they weren’t but I can’t much help that.
She disappears under, a few seconds later she and the dolphin are airborne, Oceane lets go and both water creatures do a simultaneous dive as if they had choreographed it. 
Geez there’s a lot of screeching, my eardrums vibe.
Oceane, Cassie and Sloane swim in, walk through the surf and are surrounded by the children.
I hear a teen boy, “Jesus that girl is gorgeous, no wonder the fish likes her, I’m in flipping love.”
A girl is next to him, “Wow, me too.”
“Didn’t know you were gay.”
“For her, I’m anything she wants me to be.”

Twenty

Susan is next to me, “I think we need to beat a retreat.”
We do, round up the kids, drape them in towels, we troop off down the beach, then onto the walkway to the villa. I wonder how long it will be before the show appears on one of the video sites. YouTube is still the big kid, but there are a half dozen others, a couple of specialty sites for ‘how to’ videos. 
We return to our respective villas, I’m the cook in ours, I check the refrigerator. Grace B, or Emma B, I don’t know who ordered for what villa, did a good job. The simplest bit is a platter of roast chicken, a selection of cheeses, crackers, and mixed vegetables that will microwave for warming. I get the chicken in the oven to warm enough so we aren’t eating cold. We’re in for a night of bar hopping in the hopes the Shadow will move on one of us. Each group of five has a shooter, designated non-drinkers along with Zi and I who don’t drink anyway. Chloe will keep it light, she’s our other Sensitive and she needs to be able to spot the Shadow if he’s around.
I go to shower, Janah is just finishing, “Roast chicken for dinner, needs thirty or forty to warm up, but there’s cheese and crackers laid out to keep you from starvation.”
“Perfect. I suppose I’ll have to suffer along without wine.”
“Decanted a bottle of white, it’s in the refrigerator. A glass of wine isn’t likely to inebriate you.”
“Thank you, I love rationalization.”
“It’s my guiding light, a philosophy that never lets me down.”
She goes off to cheese, I’m under a just warm shower, hair full of suds. At least we don’t have to shave our legs, Janah doesn’t have leg hair, those of us that did had the follicles laser tagged, no more hair anywhere but on our heads.
In the main room, there’s Janah, Nikko, Zi, Katya and Katja, Britt and Lauren, our villa mates. They’re nibbling at the cheese tray, have Coke Zero or sparkling water to sip.
“I presume you’ve figured out your pack, Sis is going along too, she’s a 5th degree black belt, which may not help with a Shadow, but she’s surely not helpless. Lacy and Taylor, and Janah’s folks have child duty.”
Nikko, “Wait, they also have to watch Oceane and Cass, and none of them are trained.”
“Sloane is staying, and Eloise. Eloise isn’t exactly a wolf or a martial artist, but she knows how to handle the lasers. And she’s going to have a drone monitoring the villas as well as the cams she installed. Don’t forget, the bots will be there as well.”
Britt, “And Morshchiny.”
“And Morshchiny, who will shred an intruder with a one word voice command.”
Nikko, “Good enough then.”
“Ellen, Mani, Sarah, Katya and Katja are spread out to the groups. How did you break them up otherwise?”
Nikko, “Chloe and Ellen, Zi and Katya, Janah and Sarah, Daria and Katja, Dasha and Mani. That leaves Amaya, Britt, Lauren, Susan and me. We each go with one of the five pairs.  You’re the odd girl out, pick your poison.”
“Amaya will want to be with Chloe, I’ll be in Janah’s pack. Wait…does that leave someone who can mental in each group?”
I do a quick visualization, “Yes, I can mental Amaya in one, you need to go with Zi, the twins one each in the other team, I’ll already be with Janah. We’re good.”
The plan is as set as it needs to be, few plans turn out as planned. It’s okay, we improvise well, been doing it for decades.
The Shadow Hunters are gathered in our villa, “There are thirty bars give or take, five teams of us. Grace B has clustered them so we don’t have to drive all over the island. I know I don’t have to say it, I will anyway, watch each other’s back at every moment. You’re looking for your mates to get that vacant stare, like hypnotism. Use cash, flash your roll. See one of your team handing money to anyone who isn’t a bartender, get in between them, that will break the Qi flow and the Shadow will move on, the last thing he wants is attention. Obviously, this might be a woman, or a pair. Any questions?”
Sarah, “I presume you don’t want us lasering people in a bar, we follow, then what?”
“One of the Sensitives, or Daria or Janah has to confirm a Shadow. You get confirmation, find a quiet spot to eliminate him. If things go south and there’s a commotion, leave and disappear. So far, this Shadow isn’t capturing children or torturing anyone, it’s just a money thing. No need to go overboard in pursuit, all of us are running a constant video stream from the pendants we’re wearing, it feeds to the bots and it’s recorded like any video. We’ll find the Shadow later.”
“Suppose the target is someone else?”
“Same drill, shove your way in between if you see the glassy stare, we aren’t trying to be polite, pretend you’re a little tipsy. Like I said, the Shadow won’t hang around. Anything else?”
Nikko, “We need to walk the area surrounding the bar, particularly at resorts. If I was a Shadow, I’d grab a mind and get the target to go someplace quiet, walk on the beach, breath of fresh air, a Shadow doesn’t even need a reason, just get in a head and tell the target to walk down the beach.”
“Good point, police the surrounds. What else?”
Nothing, we head out to pretend party.
My team is headed to the far side of the island. St. Martin’s is cut in half, horizontally, north is French, our villas are to the south, Dutch. The French side has fewer bars, two restaurants with separate bars fairly close together to the east, four more to the west farther apart, which doesn’t mean much in such a small place, it’s just not walking distance. Three are stand alone bars that serve plain fare, others are attached to full service restaurants, or in resort hotels. With a girl who can spot Shadows in each team, we don’t have to linger, just troop through the place and any surrounding beach.
The first three we hit yield nothing, nice bars though, he first is more beachy casual, the next two are upscale with full service restaurants. I anticipate that the Shadow will want to improve his odds by sticking to the flashier places.
Alas, nothing in either one.
The next spot was a peek in and go, a tapas bar, too small for sucker shopping. Yellow Beach is promising but no promise fulfilled, it’s fair sized, rustic, outdoor thatched roof place on the beach. We move on to Mr. Busby’s, another rustic look, wood everything with plastic tables and chairs. It is, however, large and spread out. A bar area with seating, the restaurant, indoor and outdoor seating. It’s a family place and the dinner crowds have come and gone, the bar is active with middle agers and seniors. A stroll through yields nothing. We wander the beach and yield more nothing.
Janah, “No alerts from any of the others either. It’s not surprising, like someone said earlier, it’s possible he’s had his fun and flown home.”
“Could have been on one of the now departed cruise ships for all we know. There are thousands of passengers coming and going.”
“True that. What now?”
“It’s eleven thirty, what do you think Britt, Sarah?”
Sarah, “Let’s reverse course and recheck the places we’ve been. It will take us an hour or so, maybe less, crowds are starting to thin.”
Britt, “Agreed.”
So we do. And we don’t get a hit. We pile in the SUV and head back to our villa. Lauren’s on with Amaya, I mental Nikko.
“Appears everyone got zip.”
Nikko, “We followed a man and a woman down the beach, they appeared to have met at the bar, but nothing interesting happened, Zi didn’t register a Shadow when she passed him. We’re headed to our place.”
Check in with the rest reveals the same result, although we knew that since no alarm had been sent via Grace B. Grace B deletes the night’s recordings, we aren’t here to spy on tourists. We would simply like to keep them from getting fleeced.
It’s late, girls didn’t drink much I gather, didn’t stay in any place long enough when our Shadow sensors got no blips in anyone’s head. In our villa, Janah has a glass of wine with Nikko and Zi. Lauren has a vodka and Britt sips some of hers. 
Britt, “What happens tomorrow?”
“We patrol, the resorts primarily, Phillipsburg again. Two cruise ships left, if he’s on one, he’s gone. Arriving ships are unlikely to have a Shadow disembark. There have been no further police reports, the local police would like it to stay that way.”
Lauren, “I am a tired puppy, ease into bed Britt, don’t flop down like a sack of grapefruit.”
Britt giggles, “I’m going too, been a rather long day, night mom, night Nikko, Zi, Janah.”
Zi, “I’m for it as well, Nishiko?”
“Right behind you.”
Janah and I have the main room to ourselves, “You’re thinking this may be a gone opportunity.”
Janah, “Only a possibility. No further police reports, and we didn’t get a glimmer of Shadow tonight. But he could have easily have collected enough cash to suit him and found some other way to entertain himself.”
“Geez, I hope not, Shadow entertainment isn’t a lobster dinner and a bottle of good Champagne.”
“No, manipulation and humiliation are more their preference. Let’s get to bed, and hope the Shadow has simply flown away.”

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