Twenty Nine

Easy flight, home by eleven thirty, Mrs. Pearson calls, Katya answers, “551389.”
“Thank you. I have an indelicate question. Occasionally a different kind of work comes up, work that involves a more final solution. Is that a problem for you?”
“Nyet.”
“Good. As you know, we use a certain level of physical persuasion in the normal course of business. However, there is a growing group of people we are required to deal with, people who coerce and manipulate that are beyond redemption, even painful redemption. We call them Shadows, as in a shadow of a human. I know it sounds incredible, but they can reach into another’s mind, control them, make them give money, sex or anything else on demand. My group usually handles them, we have a wide variety of skills to cope. You have heard of qi?”
Commonly spelled chi, as in life force or energy, Q is a ‘ch’ sound in Chinese, so it’s pronounced chee.
“Da, we use in training.”
“Even better, so you have some control of the energy?”
“Sister and I, not the others, we have not introduced them to it. We are also telepathic.”
“Ah, of course, twins. My partner and I can talk mentally, some of our friends. As for qi, we were fortunate to be guided.”
“Who?”
“Dead now I’m afraid. Which brings me to another point. Qi can be transmitted mind to mind. Takes a skilled expert with many years of training. It is painful at first, it must go very slowly. What happens with Shadows is greed for more faster. The mind breaks, a brutal kind of psychopathy results. What is meant for healing, energy and focus becomes a tool for mental manipulation. If you encounter a Shadow, they may sense your intent and will try and access your mind. Developed qi skill is the only thing that prevents it. The good news is they can’t keep it up for long. They have to be in the presence of the controlled as well, within ten or twelve feet to take a mind, fifteen or twenty yards to sense your intent, good, bad or neutral.”
“Understood.”
“And Shadows can deliver blows using qi only, they don’t need to physically touch you. Fighting them isn’t a matter of going head to head. The better ones are also telekinetic, you will find yourself dodging physical objects that nobody threw. Approach carefully.”
“We will be cautious.”
“To my point, we can’t always get to Shadows. Like you, we have other lives and other businesses. Until recently, the ones we come across have been manageable, but as I mentioned, they are either growing in number or we are simply more aware of them. Our network has been trained to watch for behaviors or hear stories that lead to suspicion of a Shadow. For instance, a Shadow will walk into a convenience store, the clerk finds herself handing over money, or letting the Shadow take whatever he wants. Afterwards, victims say they have no idea why they did it, felt compelled to hand over money or allow the theft, or swear they didn’t see anything. More sophisticated Shadows pose as insurance agents, financial advisors, accountants. All Shadows are antisocial, but some learn to fake sociality enough to swindle and defraud. Broken minds develop sexual perversions, children are a favored outlet, forced incest is another. Fortunately, controlling more than one person at a time takes more energy than the average Shadow can generate.”
“We will go and kill Shadow, what is the pay?”
Mrs. Pearson smiles to herself, thinks of two of her family intimates, near sociopathic twins. They are as direct and no nonsense as the one on the phone. She wonders if the twin she’s talking to came from a similar experience. And both from Russia, weird coincidence.
“Fifty thousand, same travel arrangements, first class air, any hotel you wish. If you get access to their accounts, the usual split. Shadows are sometimes quite wealthy, most are not. Being able to get money any time they wish makes them lazy. The high pay is for high risk. Shadows will make you shoot yourself if they get in your head. Until you have seriously developed qi, keep your distance, always have backup, drop them and leave.”
“Understood. One thing, we have to carry weapon. We fly privately for our business. We can handle it this way, you pay us whatever first class would cost, we eat difference.”
“Just bill us for the flight. How many on your team?”
“Four.”
“Then we would pay for four first class tickets, private is by the hour, not by the passenger. Still more expensive but cost is not an issue, and, as you say, you have certain additional baggage to deal with. Frankly, my crew does the same thing. We don’t use the same weaponry, and, of course, there are the drones. Which reminds me. Use weapon of choice, but for Shadows, I can send more Oblivion. That will allow you to do it from a distance.”
“Good. We will not use drug for any other business, we have agreed. You will not read about some unknown person and dart.”
“Collect the used dart if possible and dispose of it, take the antitoxin in case you stick yourself accidentally.”
“We did in Miami, did not have an accident anyway.”
“I have name, location, home and car details. This one lives alone, quite reclusive. He generates income by selling fraudulent insurance policies. Collects as big a check as he can demand without it bouncing, implants a temporary memory that they bought the policy willingly. He has accounts overseas, a big score is when he gets them to wire funds from a brokerage or savings account. Eventually, they discover they own no policy, by then it’s too late. A pattern of stories emerged as the implanted memory faded, reality came crashing in. It took us a while to find him, he lives in Sausalito. Details forthcoming.”
Katya, “You will ship Oblivion and antitoxin?”
“And more darts, tomorrow, overnight. Same address?”
“Da,” she clicks off.
Janah smiles, such a chatty thing, she tells Daphne, “I think we have dual Russian sociopaths, she sounds like Daria, never talked to her sister, I wonder if she kept her accent like Dasha.”
Daphne, “I followed your conversation. It’s a big world, Russia is a big country, rare coincidence but not impossible. Would be fun to get them together, fun for us, our twins don’t do fun unless you count sex and death.”
Janah, “Actually, I’m considering it. If their own training has reached an appropriate level, we may be able to transmit to them. I’m mulling it over, didn’t want to get into the conversation now, I dumped a lot on her plate.”
Katja got the conversation while her sister was having it, “Do we approach the others?”
“Not now, maybe Ellen, not Mani, Sarah knows nothing of any of it. We will take care of this Shadow as if it is a normal conflict resolution. After, we can figure out what to do. Girls do not question our decisions, we offer no explanation.”
Katya goes to the encrypted file, there’s a name and address, a photo of the man, photo of a year old Lexus and the plate.
“Maybe rich. We will take him, then search house and find account information. Society can hack accounts and take money. They are going to first find out who got scammed and will return money to them.”
“She did not say that.”
“Nyet, but I know enough about Pearson, she has rules, one will be to provide restitution when possible. They will not be able to find everyone, if there is extra, we get our half. Besides, job anyway pays well and we can fly private to nice hotel in San Francisco.”
The twins go to the living room, Ellen is cutting chicken, “Gonna try my hand at sesame chicken with Chinese vegetables. I’m making shrimp fried rice, a healthy amount of shrimp.”
Katja, “Sounds good, everything you make ees good.”
“Thank you sweetie, you were in there a while, got a business call?”
Katya, “Da, we will travel, not tomorrow, next day or day after maybe. Short trip only. You should have fun with the girls, fly to Destin or Seaside, stay in condo, wear nothing bikini. We will come after. No, better, go to St. Martin in Caribbean, we will haf holiday.”
Ellen, “Great idea. I’ll make arrangements. We can leave together, car can stay at the airport. Just tell me when you want to go.”
Mani and Sarah come downstairs, “What’s up?”
Ellen, “Twins have business, we are going to St. Martin’s and shamelessly display our amazing bodies on the beach. They’re gonna meet us a couple days later.”
Sarah, “St. Martin’s! Awesome! Oh God, I gotta get my passport. When do we go?”
“Undecided, either day after tomorrow, or the day after that. Twins are still working out their schedule.”
“Cripes, I have to bikini shop.”
Ellen, “We all have to bikini shop, we’ll do it tomorrow. We need wraps, big hats too. Thank Katya, she thought it up.”
Sarah and Mani, “Thank you Katya,” they laugh, Mani says, “We’ve started saying the same thing at the same time,” then they both say, “she’s making me weird.”
They screech, “See! We did it again. I’m turning into her!”
Ellen, “What the flip?”
Katja, “Now we haf to leesen to teen girls in stereo,” she walks off talking to herself, “we haf crazy house, sisters can be in each other’s brain, Mani and Sarah are saying same thing at same time, maybe we are on drugs except nobody takes drugs, must be vodka, but Sarah ees not drink vodka.”
Mani and Sarah flip open a laptop, one of several around the house, Katya likes to be connected. They surf for hotels and restaurants, a lot of dual ‘ohmygods, and look at the beach, this is going to be so amazing.’
Ellen, “You created beach monsters.”
Katja, “Sarah ees start college, she did not go to graduation, she will haf graduation treep instead.”
Sarah’s on the phone, “Mom, we’re going to St. Martin’s in a couple of days, I need my passport. I am so pumped.”
“I’ve got it in the safe, when did this come up?”
“Just now, I may have a heart attack, we’re looking at websites and photos, the place is gorgeous.”
“You lucked into some remarkable friends.”
“It’s kind of due to you, they came into your boutique. If you hadn’t opened it, I’m sitting on State St. all summer, thanks.”
“And I’m not even going to St. Martin’s.”
“Make dad take you.”
“Perhaps, he’s kind of wound too tight for the beach. Anyway, I’ll put the passport on your desk, or, no, I’ll bring it to the shop tomorrow.”

Thirty

Mani, “Look at these villas, they all have way to much room for us, but they have their own pool and spectacular views, maybe a cottage instead, or a suite.”
Katya, “Get villa, better to have lots of room.”
Mani, “Oooohhhh, I’m on it, when do we go?”
“Check availability. It is the low season there, summer, maybe we can get a villa on short notice.”
Mani punches in dates, “First available is next week, Monday, open for six days.”
“Take it. Sister and I will go on business trip tomorrow afternoon. I have to collect a package first, but it will be in by ten, then we buy swimsuit, we can fly out at two.”
Katja, “Where ees bikini place?”
Ellen, “I think a department store, Macy’s by the Superdome will do. If we can’t find much we’re going to a Caribbean island, they sell bikini’s.”
Mani and Sarah streak up to Mani’s room, Katya asks Ellen, “Drone is ready?”
Ellen, “Probably should charge it tonight if you plan to use it right off.”
Katya relates the story of Shadows, “Do not mention to Mani, Sarah does not know anything of our outside business.”
“No, they should be protected, these things, Shadows, sound dangerous.”
“Which is why we will use drone if possible. Package tomorrow is more of poison drug and antitoxin.”
Ellen, “Good, do it from a distance, you aren’t getting’ paid to have a chat with the asshole.”
Sesame chicken turns out nicely, crispy chunks of fried white meat, add sauce just before serving.
Sarah, “Fried rice with jumbo shrimp, neat idea.”
“I was being lazy, it’s too much trouble to boil and peel small shrimp, and I refuse to live in New Orleans and use frozen.”
Katja, “Ees good Ellen, you will make again, next time shreemp wiz garlic sauce, steer fry vegetable and hot beeter zoup.”
Sarah, “Hot bitter? Oh…duh me, hot and sour, yeah, who doesn’t like that?”
“Da, hot and sour zoup, also wanting zoup.”
Ellen, “Katja likes the wontons and the silky texture of the broth.”
Sarah whispers to Mani, “Katja’s accent is adorable, I’m glad they need to tell each other apart. When she gets going, I want to jump her.”
Mani, “She knows the effect, Katya sounds brainier, but that’s not right. It’s the same brain, if Katya can do it Katja can do it.”
Katya, “While we are gone, I want you to try something. First, surf internet for qi, they will probably spell it c-h-i, but maybe also q-i. Then you must learn to be still. Sit someplace, think of your blood flow, your internal energy. Start with a half hour, over the next few weeks go to an hour. You do not need to do anything else.”
Mani, “Qi energy is common practice in Thailand, all over Asia. It’s part of tai chi.”
Katya, “Da, good thought. Even better. Find a tai chi program, then practice. Qi will find you, no need to look for it. There are other videos about qigong. Sister and I watched them when we were young, then we keep in practice when we are alone.”
Sarah, “Cool.”
Ellen, “Even I didn’t know you did it.”
“We did not want to make anyone sit for long hours of nothing. Now, things have changed.”
They don’t know why the twins want them to do it, they know the twins, who don’t do things out of whim or frivolity. Mani has explained to Sarah what she and Ellen learned by being with them. Do as you are told, it will be good for you, good for the group. You don’t need to know why, do it and over time the why will be obvious.
At bedtime, Ellen goes to Katya and Katja to provide sensual relaxation, then to her room.
Sarah comes in, slips under the covers, “I took care of Mani, then she fell asleep, now I’m going to take care of you, legs. Just spread and enjoy.”
Ellen grins in the dark, feels Sarah’s slippery soft tongue fulfilling her promise.
When she wakes, Sarah’s gone, back to Mani she presumes. Does the usual morning prep, then downstairs. Sarah’s already there, coffee dripped, Ellen pours a cup and joins her at the table.
Sarah, “Sleep well?”
“Like a brick thanks to you. Did you ever get to receive?”
“When I went back to Mani’s room I took matters into my own fingers. It was great, I relieved her and you, got off wonderfully.”
“Then tonight, Mani and I will double you, be prepared.”
Sarah’s eyes twinkle, “Really good to be me.”
Katja comes down the steps, “Ellen makes sex with sisters, who makes sex with Ellen?”
Sarah, “Guilty, but I don’t feel guilty. She was ready to go after being with you two. I stalked her to her room and made her submit to my tongue.”
Katja, “Ellen ees most beautiful girl, we are glad to haf her for sex even if she does not make such good food.”
Ellen, “Awww, so sweet baby girl,” she leans to kiss Katja, “tea up in a minute, water’s hot, just need to steep for a few.”
Mani and Katya appear, Ellen starts on breakfast, “Pancakes and eggs, no meat.”
Sarah, “Pancakes, yay. I read that maple syrup is good for your immune system, fights of hard to kill bacteria.”
Mani, “Is that true?”
Katya, “Da, I read same article in Washington Post. Also honey and agave. We use agave in tea sometimes, when Ellen makes tea in the afternoon.”
A call to one of their mail drops confirms the packages are in. On the way to Macy’s, a quick stop to collect them and they get to the store as it opens. The girls try three or four suits, buy a couple each. Everyone gets Brazilian cut, the kind that shows half a butt cheek and enough fabric in front to just cover the necessities. Ellen tries on a thong for fun, decides to give it a pass.
The woman who helped them says, “You’re gonna make men leave their wives, and wives want to kill their husbands.”
Katja, “No point, we are lazebian girls, no men.”
The woman laughs, “Then women will leave their husbands and the husbands will want to kill them.”
Ellen, “How nice, thank you. Course, we don’t want to be responsible for anyone dying.”
Woman smiles, “Nice to hear, enjoy your trip, where are you going if I may ask?”
Katja, “Caribbean, island hop maybe,” she keeps it vague on purpose, a clue to the others not to offer specifics.
Purchases complete, the girls are home by eleven fifteen.
Sarah, “Mani looks so good, getting implants was a great idea.”
Mani, “I had to do something, all you guys have apples, I was a plum.”
Ellen and Sarah laugh, even the twins manage a half grin.
Ellen, “I have cold cuts for lunch, be ready by twelve thirty. Katja, Don’t worry about packing the suits, I want to wash them, we’ll bring yours. If you want to lay out your other things, we’ll deal with those too. No reason for you to haul stuff you aren’t gonna use.”
Katya and Katja head upstairs to finish packing, lay the things they want for St. Martin’s on the bed. The drone is in a case constructed for it, they leave the drugs in the shipping boxes. A light lunch and it’s time to go to the airport.
Ellen, “I’ll take ‘em, Mani. Maybe you and Sarah can find tai chi videos someplace, got to be stuff on YouTube.”
“Will do,” kisses for the twins and off they go.
Sarah’s clicking keys, “Let’s see, tai chi.”
They check several programs, the most popular is by Paul Lam, but when they watch, it’s a come on small introduction to drive people to his website.
Mani, “I know tai chi is supposed to be slow, but his instructions are painfully slow, let’s search some more, if there’s nothing we can buy DVDs.”
They find a four hour tutorial, the guy seems to know what he’s doing and doesn’t take forever to explain it.
Mani, “When did YouTube start interrupting videos to run commercials?”
“Beats me, must be recent, but I don’t do a lot of YouTube.”
Mani, “We’ll pick this up when Ellen returns, I have to change sheets on the beds.”
Sarah, “I’ll do your room then help with the others.”
By the time they finish, Ellen’s back, first load of sheets is in the washer.
“We found a program. Want to do it now, or have a rest first?”
Ellen, “I’m good if you are, let me lose these jeans,” she bounces up the steps, down in five, they begin.
“I see what Katya means, it’s slower than slow, not our normal exercise.”
Mani, “The idea is to stay in the moment, notice what’s happening to your body, how it feels.”
They go for an hour, take a tea break.
Ellen, “I need something a bit more active, gonna hit the rowing machine.”
Mani, “I’ll keep you company on the treadmill.”
Sarah, “I need to get in three or four miles, catch up to you in the gym in a bit.”
It seems to Mani like she just started and Sarah’s coming in the slave quarter door.
Mani, “Done? It’s like twenty five minutes.”
Sarah smiles, “I run, don’t jog, I clocked three and a half, people look at me like I’m being chased. Would have been back sooner, but intersections slow me up.”
She sits cross-legged and guzzles a bottle of water. Ellen is stroking away, the news is on the flat screen, Mani trots rhythmically on the treadmill.
Sarah hops up ten minutes later, “Shower, I’ll get the first load in the dryer and start the second wash,” out the door, across the courtyard to the main house.
Ellen, “She carries her end.”
Mani, “Yeah, I want her to move in, but I need to clear it with the twins.”
“You think she’d want to?”
“I know she’d want to. Her parents are great people, but to grow up kids need to move along. She’s going to Tulane, it isn’t like she’s going to Stanford and her folks wouldn’t see her much. She can still help at the boutique on Saturdays.”
Ellen, “I’ll ask Katya while we’re in St. Martins. She gets very cooperative when we travel, I can catch her in a moment of passion.”
“Katya isn’t falling for that.”
Ellen giggles, “I wouldn’t try to manipulate them anyway, I got a charmed life, going to work at the donut shop, almost accidentally. I stopped in the first store on a whim, saw the sign and decided a donut would be good. I was coming back from the gym. When I met Katya, I found myself asking if they were hiring. Fortunately, I had on rather snug stretchy shorts. Katya’s eyes toured the territory, must have seen something she liked and I had a good job. Blind luck.”
“Luck maybe, but Katya’s not blind, you were too hot not to hire, part of her business plan. The shops all have cute clerks.”
“Yep, and I don’t mind being objectified at all, or sexually harassed if it’s the twins. Those two can harass my ass all day long.”

Thirty One

The three girls are eating dinner about the time the twins land in San Francisco, private car takes them to the Fairmont. They have a balcony suite from which they can fly the drone. Katya’s plan is simple, Emerson Mortimer is the target, usually at home or on the prowl for cash. He has no need of an office, he doesn’t see his victims but once. When he narrows down a prospect, he waits for an opportunity to make physical contact, anything will do, an elevator, parking lot, driveway at home, knock on the front door.
If it’s at home, what’s most important is that he and the target are alone. Controlling two is beyond his capability. It happened once, he got ambitious, only to waste a week of planning and stalking a victim. One he thought particularly wealthy, and when Emerson took his mind, he said he kept a million in a safe at home. The wife was there when they showed up. Mortimer gave it a go, but it didn’t work. He had control of the man, the spouse started asking questions. He got her under control, but his connections would break liked dropped calls. He had to invent a story of a forgotten appointment to dance out the door.
So he sticks to what he can do, one at a time, takes their mind, then takes their money, any in the house, a trip to the bank to cash a check, ATM the credit cards empty. And the only person on the bank video is the owner of the card.
Katya, “Put in address of his house, then fly the drone to it, we will take a look. Add a tracker to stick under his car, maybe he doesn’t garage it.”
The drone flies to the address, a wealthy street with most homes having at least a partial view of San Francisco Bay. Nearly all of them have outdoor patios, with the additional privacy of tall trees and shrubs. Some so private residents can sit outside nude. As the drone tours the street, some man actually is, one who shouldn’t be.
Katja, “Did not need to see that, ah, here ees house. Look, person ees on upstairs balcony in a robe, smoking cigarette.”
“Zoom it.”
Katja taps the screen, it’s Emerson himself, “I can set laser and take him, no, wait, movement just inside.”
A young girl, maybe six or seven comes out with a glass of something, hands it to Mortimer. She’s naked.
Katya, “Mortimer does not have children, is the video also recording?”
Katja taps the screen, “Ees now.”
They watch as the girl climbs on his lap, his hands roam over bare body, he kisses her. She spreads her legs, he touches. She lays against his chest, pulls the robe open. His cock is hard, she strokes it while he sips his drink.
Katya is on a second IPad, “Amber Alert for Sarah Jenkins, seven, last seen in shopping with her mother in Old Town Sausalito at three this afternoon.”
Katja, “She ees suck him. We maybe keel this one slowly.”
His eyes close, a shudder, the girls opens her mouth, cum drips down one side of her chin. He holds her head, strokes her neck, she swallows. He uses a finger to swipe the excess into her mouth, then rubs the tip of his cock against her lips. She kisses the shaft as it loses the erection.
The twins are silent. They aren’t seething, they don’t seethe or simmer, faces are blank. If you were good at reading faces, you would read resolution. As children, men bought them to sell. First they planned to take the twins sexually, train them to provide pleasure. Before they got that far, three men had slit throats. One in the kitchen, one in the living room, the last in the garage. The twins were eight.
Katya, “That will not be his first time. Even a child, he can only control for so long. I need to talk to Pearson.”
She punches the keys on the sat phone, “Pearson.”
“551389.”
“Go ahead.”
“Check video, just sent to site.”
“Hang on….here it is….crap. Shadows are known for this kind of thing. What do you need me to do?”
“Resolution will be messy. Maybe you can find a way to help girl, she is on Amber Alert now, I am sending link.”
“If he doesn’t kill her, the target will erase her memory of it, of him. Erasing is better for him, there is always the possibility of a piece of them together on CCTV someplace, even if she just got into his car, it’s still his car. If she’s found wandering the street, she won’t recall what happened. The only way it gets worse is if he has intercourse with her and leaves a sample. Even if he douches her and she pees, there can still be residue. Lost for more than a couple of hours, most parents are going to want her checked. They will think the worst because she can’t remember anything.”
“Da, makes sense. We are not content to just stick him with a dart, but maybe it is the best way.”
Pearson, “It is. Cutting him up is fine with us, but that leaves potential DNA no matter how careful you are. A brutally murdered body is going to bring out forensics like fleas. He’s dead either way. And he’s a Shadow, getting him cornered to make him suffer will not be simple.”
“And if he makes her forget, no point in tying him to her.”
“None. We can monitor her for a year. If she has flashbacks or psychological problems, then we might use the video, enough of it to show them together, not the whole thing. Versions of this have happened before, my partner edits it so the nasty bits don’t show. Still, using even edited video is a last, last resort, I have trouble seeing how it helps her in any way. Target’s going to be dead. We have the video, delete it from your file. You don’t want to get caught with it and a dead Mortimer.”
“Da,” she clicks off.
Daphne, “Christ, there is no limit to Shadow perversity.”
Janah, “Come on, doesn’t take a Shadow. People do this stuff all the time, even make videos with their faces in them and share them with other pervs. Most are never caught.”
Daphne, “Sadly true. Well, this one’s cooked anyway. I have to get Oceane out of the pool, it’s tea time,”
Daphne, Janah and the extended family are in their home near Prescott Arizona, not New York.
In San Francisco, Katja asks, “What ees next?”
“Car is in garage. He might keep her for days, although she will go in and out of his control if I understand how this works. We need to keep an eye on the house, but the drone will lose power. I want to know what he does with the girl, when he’s finished with her.”
Katya calls the concierge for a car, an SUV. Alongside an abandoned convenience store, Katja changes the plates. An hour later they’re on Mortimer’s block. The drone kept a visual the whole time, he hasn’t left.
“Bring the drone in,” Katya taps the key fob and the back hatch raises, the drone hums in slowly, settles on the rear floor.
“Charge it, keep the car engine running.”
They have a simple cigarette lighter adapter that accepts a common 110v plug. The charging light glows on the drone.
Katya, “Whoever built this thing is a genius. The workmanship and capabilities of something two feet long is incredible. I would like to meet that person.”
She has no way of knowing, one of the two that built it is one of the twins that live with Janah and Daphne, the Mrs. Pearsons. The other is their tech hardware superstar, Eloise.
The twins don’t make patience a virtue, they are patience. If they didn’t have to move the car occasionally, they could sit for hours waiting for Mortimer to move. They know he’s likely abusing the girl, but he’s already done that. To knock on his door, or even break in, risks having her come out of it, aware of what’s happening. The worst outcome is he kills her, then takes her body someplace, likely the bay. After talking to Pearson, Katya thinks killing her is more trouble than it’s worth. He blanks her memory, he’s out of it entirely.
Katja, “Garage ees open.”
A beige sedan backs out. He’s got a nice house, but he’s not into cars.
Katya, “Three or four year old Buick LaCrosse, he doesn’t want attention on the street. Looks like he’s decided keeping her under control is risky.”
He drives, not near where he took her, but not that far, a mile further along, to the Hotel Sausalito. They see her get out of the car, he turns in the public lot and drives off. She pays no attention to him, looks a bit dazed, blinking. It’s a busy public area right on the bay, lots of traffic flow, people going to and from local bars and restaurants.
Katya, “He changed his plates, cautious man. He has Nevada plate, not the California plate we had for him.”
Katja calls 911 on the sat phone, no number will show up on the service’s caller ID, no GPS can track it.
“911, what’s your emergency?”
“Missing girl, Cassie Samuelson is in the parking lot across from Hotel Sausalito.”
“What is your..”
Katja clicks off.
“Follow him while I launch the drone.”
The SUV hatch opens, Katya sends the drone airborne while they follow Mortimer.
“Got him, pull over someplace quiet.”
Katja finds a motel parking lot with a half dozen cars, parks away from the building, on the edge of the lot.
They watch the screen, Katya has to fly the drone, they weren’t able to attach a GPS tracker to his car. It’s a tricky maneuver when the car is stationary, they don’t have enough experience to attach one while the car is on the move. It isn’t lost on Katya, they will practice when they get home.
“He is going home, no, turning.”
A strip mall, he parks near a small Chinese restaurant, gets out, goes inside. The drone shows him standing at a counter, looks like he’s getting takeout. They wait.
Katya, “Drive to the restaurant.”
Ten minutes later, Mortimer’s handed a plastic bag. No money changes hands.
“He ees too cheap to pay for Chinese takeout? We should keel him for that only.”
“Keeping in practice probably. Look, lot is empty, let me see.”
Mortimer puts the bag on the top of the car, pulls keys from his pocket, “Pop!”
He stiffens, as he reaches for his neck where the dart is lodged, he falls forward, face bangs the roof of his car, he sinks to the asphalt.
Katja, “Get dart, wallet and keys, also car registration. Cop will have nothing but a bad license plate.”
Katya pulls on latex gloves, scoots to the dead Shadow, snags the dart, flips him over and empties him of identification, unlocks the car, pulls the registration. On a whim she takes the bag of food. She’s back in the SUV in under a minute. Katja drives to his house. Parks down the block.
“What if he haf alarm system?”
“We don’t get to search, just leave.”
Katya opens the door, nothing, no alarm system at all.

Thirty Two

Hour and a half later they’re in their suite, ten minutes after that, she’s searching his files.
Katja’s digging through the bag of Chinese food, “Looks good, shrimp, Szechwan sauce, fried rice, hot and sour zoup. He made them give him extra shrimp, more than enough for both of us.”
Katya, “We will have vodka, microwave food later,” she clicks on the TV.
Some cop show is on, there’s a scroll at the bottom of the screen, ‘Breaking news… missing seven year old Cassie Samuelson has been found…full story at ten.’
They eat, settle on the couch together for a nightcap, the news reports someone anonymous called 911and reported seeing the girl in a parking lot by the bay in Sausalito. Police spokesman said the girl doesn’t remember anything, she was shopping with her mother and then was in the parking lot several hours later. Cassie is uninjured and reported to be in good condition. There is no evidence she was abducted, speculation is she had temporary amnesia and wandered off on her own.
 Katya, “Good enough, they will blood test and maybe do a brain scan.”
The next morning, Katya calls Pearson, “Laptop, cell phone, some cash, five hundred off him, another thousand in the house. No paper records, accounts are on the computer.”
“And the Shadow?”
“Dart.”
“Good job, he left his computer on, or no password?”
“He had a password, I know simple work around, takes two minutes.”
“System 32?”
“Da. I will send account data, no simple way for us to hack bank or brokerage account.”
“We can get in, if you have account numbers even better. Social security number helps, even Shadows need the number if they open a financial account.”
“You have experts.”
“We have experts.”
“Laptop had video files, maybe twenty children. He did not record the last girl for whatever reason.”
“Probably caught up in the moment, they were outside. Send us the laptop and phone, we can dig out lots of data from them.”
“Da, okay, FedEx this morning by ten tomorrow. Same address?”
“That will be fine.”
They click off.
 Daphne, “They finished the job, she knows how to skip over annoyances like passwords.”
Janah, “The method is on YouTube, but still, she’s taken the initiative.”
“They live in New Orleans, maybe we should take a vacation.”
“Ask them, they may not want personal contact. We don’t face to face with other teams, but this crew is different. If I meet them, I can get a read on their intent, maybe we bring one of our Sensitives, Chloe or Zi.”
Sensitives are usually Shaolin, Daphne is a Shaolin priest, but not a Sensitive. Zi is a priest and a Sensitive. Chloe was rescued by Janah and Daphne from her Shadow father and sister. Dad and the older sister lived incestuously, and the sister, fearing dad might take an interest in her sibling, abused her. Slaps, kicks, made her eat cold leftovers from a bowl on the floor. She was eight when Daphne, Nikko  and Zi killed the two Shadows and brought Chloe to live with them.
Her abuse gave her a gift, learning to anticipate her sister’s intent. Sensitives can also tell, without seeing it, if there are people in a room and how many. They have to be in proximity, ten or fifteen yards. It comes in handy, for instance when they need to know where people are in a house, Chloe or Zi can stand outside and tell which rooms are occupied. Helpful for avoiding surprises.
You have a built in advantage when you can read someone’s intent and character. Some people are good at it, all of us have some of the skill. That feeling you get when someone feels ‘off’ to you, or a situation feels dark, or the happier occasion when you meet someone new and know it’s going to click.
Shadows do it as well, and they are particularly good at spotting Shaolin, who, in America, don’t wear robes except in the monastery. They look like everyone else, which is the idea. Shaolin are mortal enemies of Shadows and duty bound to kill them, several have died trying. Shadows take delight in killing priests, and when you can deliver fatal blows with your mind, it makes it difficult to fight face to face. Some Shaolin, like Janah and Daphne, have qi skills to match or exceed even the best (worst) Shadow. But most Shaolin don’t have the radar to pick up a Shadow, and it can cost them their lives.
Katya, “We need to FedEx laptop and phone, we can ship them off through the concierge and go to breakfast. I scheduled our flight for noon.”
They get the packages out of the way, head to Laurel Court for the breakfast buffet. Cut fruit, Eggs Benedict, pancakes, black tea. Sounds like a lot, but the twins do it more like a tasting menu, small bowl of fruit, one pancake each, Katja adds three slices of bacon, two poached on a slice of ham topped with Hollandaise.
Katya, “Good to be rich, buffet is thirty two, with tax and tip we spent eighty bucks for breakfast.”
“Poor person does not anyway eat here. Price ees to keep poor people out, if buffet ees fifteen bucks, fat people will come in off street and stuff themselves.”
On the plane, Katya texts Ellen with an arrival time, gets a simple okay a few minutes later. Another nice benefit of private flying, wifi.
Ellen, “Short trip.”
Katja, “We haf good lucking.”
“Sarah’s been good, she hasn’t asked us where you went or why.”
“Girl ees no dumb. She sees first class shooting range, what for? We do not hunt, except only one kid of animal.”
“Something interesting came up though. Local news reported a child abuse story, picture of a registered sex offender back on the prowl.”
“We will maybe kill him.”
“That’s the something, she asked us if she borrowed a gun, would we turn her in if she shot him.”
“What did you say?”
“No, but she didn’t ask for a gun. I think it was a test question.”
Katya, “Da, she is exploring by the back door. Good, she is smart.”
Ellen pulls in the courtyard, the gate rumbles shut.
Mani, “Katya, Katja, welcome back, I’m happy it was only two days, day and a half really. Plane ride good?”
Katja, “Easy, they geev us tea and sandwich, good deli tourkey, chiz wiz cracker. We haf  breakfast at hotel, eighty bucks.”
“Cripes, you have caviar?”
“Nyet, egg, bacon, waffle or pancake, bit of fruit. Fancy hotel always have expensive food. It was anyway good.”
“Better be, all of us can eat at En Vie for eighty dollars. We were just there this morning. Gerard wants to talk to you, no rush, tomorrow. He didn’t say why.”
Katya, “I will call him, it is time for cocktail.”
Sarah, “I’ll do it.”
Mani, “I’ll take your stuff upstairs.”
Katya, “We can do it, going up to refresh, get out of travel clothes.”
While they’re undressed they decide to hop into a warm shower, then throw on t-shirts and, after brushing, let wet hair air dry. Their thick dark blonde hair is shoulder length and snipped exactly straight across, no bangs. Sometimes they part left, sometimes right, sometimes down the middle. Easy to ponytail if they’re in the gym.
They go downstairs, Sarah opens the freezer door, she parked the vodkas in there when the twins didn’t return right away.
Katja sips, “Ah, very cold, peerfect. You will come to twins tonight and we will make you feel good. Then you can go to Mani make her feel good.”
Sarah smiles, “Mind reader.”
Ellen, “What about me?”
Mani, “Silly, I’ll be making you feel good while we wait on Sarah.”
Ellen, “I’m up with that. Who makes the twins feel good?”
Katja, “We will make each other feel good. We did not haf sex on treep, busy and tired. Tonight ees for catching up.”
Sarah steps to Katja, kisses her, finger swipes the softness, “I get squirmy hot when I think of you two together.”
Mani, “Then think about it when you join Ellen and me, squirmy hot sounds just right.”
Katya, “What is dinner?”
Ellen, “Pot roast, creamed corn, mashed and gravy. Didn’t do salad, but I have romaine in the chiller if you want one.”
“No, entrée sounds good, enough with corn and potatoes.”
“I made apple cherry crumble, you can have it plain, or with crème fraiche, or vanilla bean ice cream.”
After dinner, Katja fishes around for entertainment, they watch one of the Inspector Lewis segments of the old BBC series that follow Inspector Morse. They bumped him off with a heart attack on the final episode, a short time after he’d retired.
While they enjoy crumble, they watch people connive, someone always dies, sometimes more than one. Lewis and his sergeant, the reticent Hathaway, have seen a lot of murder in Oxford.
Katja, “British TV ees always better, interesting character, good talking, sister, what ees word?”
“Dialogue.”
“Da, good dialoging. Now we are for going to bed and making sex wiz Sarah.”
Sarah giggles, they collect plates and glasses, Ellen says, “We have it Sarah, go do your duty and get sizzled by sizzling twins.”
The evening degenerates pretty much as planned, by midnight, hormones have returned to baseline, hearts done racing, twins wrapped in each other, Ellen wrapped between Mani and Sarah.

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