Forty Five

Atlanta. We fly in private, but Hartsfield is close to Buckhead, we are taxied to the executive jet area, skipping the TSA and baggage claim. The target lives in Sandy Springs, just north of Atlanta, population just over a hundred thousand. It’s wealthy, upscale apartments and McMansions with fat mortgages.
Zoe C, “Check in is at three, we can cruise past his place of business and his home.”
Elle, “Who is this guy, what’s he do?”
“Frank Dunwoody, he’s a construction supervisor for the county. That’s not related, he’s a Jesus freak, like most Christians the kind that has no conception of what Jesus actually taught. I doubt he spends time in the office, always lots of construction in this part of Georgia, he’ll be out ticking off boxes for his reports.”
Elle, “Bad for the girl, the Jesus freak part.”
“At least the mom has had her eyes opened, if her description is accurate and the video wasn’t faked.”
“Why would she fake the video?”
“To get us or people like us to kill her husband. We never assume what we’re told, or even what we’re shown online, is the truth. In the cut and paste world of the internet, anyone can make up a story and it can appear real. Before we take out daddy, we need to know that daddy is the problem. We aren’t getting paid to kill people, that’s a different line of work, we’re in the vigilante business.”
We do pass by the county office that handles permits, it’s a sizable place. There’s residential, commercial, everything from sewage and septic tanks to roofing, small projects and large. I didn’t study the issue, I assume that different inspectors have different specialties.
His car isn’t in the first two rows, he drives a fairly common Acura.
“Does he have a work vehicle, like a truck or whatever? How much equipment does a construction supervisor haul around?”
“The woman didn’t mention a work vehicle, but it’s a good question. We need to hang here until closing time. If he shows up, that will tell us.”
Zoe C, “If he drives a different vehicle to do his work, then his personal car should be here someplace. Or do they let him take the work truck home?”
“Beats me, lets tool around and see if we spot the Acura, dark red, two years old, we have the plate.”
I circle the lot, meander between rows.
Elle, “Look, to the right, far end of the lot, can’t see the plate but it’s a maroon Acura. Another one of those guys paranoid about dings and scratches, see how it’s off to itself?”
Turns out to be his, Zoe C pops out, sticks a GPS tracker on the bumper strut behind the plastic bumper cover. We drive off to wait for his return.
Parked on a hill overlooking the lot, nothing happens until four forty. There’s a parking area surrounded by chain link fencing, truck of various sizes are parked, others pulling in for the end of the workday. A few men stand around batting the breeze, one gets out of a small pickup with a county seal on the door. He ignores the others and walks to the employee lot. It’s our boy.
I’m studying the Acura through our binoculars, “Got one of those fish symbols on the tail end, the Jesus thing, a bumper sticker, ‘Do you know where you’ll spend eternity?’”
Elle, “In hell if I have to spend it with a bunch of Christians.”
Zoe C giggles, “Good point.”
“He appears to be on the phone, wait, he’s put it away.”
The car pulls out from its space.
“If he’s going home, we need to be there with the listening device set up.”
“Then get moving Chef, if the girl’s locked up, we need to fix that.”
“Turn on WAZE, maybe there’s traffic crap along the route we can avoid.”
There isn’t, we wind up arriving at Dunwoody’s place just as he’s pulling up the drive. He’s got one of the minor McMansions, appears to be a decently large place, with more rooms than he needs, in one of which may have his daughter imprisoned.
Elle, “Did the door on the video give you a clue about which room?”
“No, an off white door with two deadbolts. I suspect a basement, bedrooms have windows, she could escape. Or maybe he has them barred from the outside. I’ll drive around and see if we can find out, Zoe C, get the listening device cranked.”
One street over, I can just catch the back of the house. An inspection through the binoculars shows nothing unusual, no burglar bars on the second floor or the first. Burglar bars are a dicey business. To be effective, they have to prevent exit as well as entrance. That leaves fewer options, in a fire for instance.
“She’s not locked in any of the rooms on either the first or second floor. There’s no pool, no pool house or guest house. That leaves a basement.”
Zoe C, “Any sign of a dog?”
“There are hedges, no fence, if there’s a dog they walk it on a leash.”
“Okay, let me out here. Drive around to his street and find a place where Elle can use the listening device. I’m going to creep through the hedges and see if I spot anything useful.”
“Go slow and stay aware of your surroundings, we don’t need some homeowner spotting you, or a curious mutt picking up a scent and barking.”
Ten minutes of not much, a brief exchange between the husband and wife, which sounded tense, but we’re listening from two hundred feet away so who knows?
Zoe C returns, “The white door is in the kitchen. It doesn’t go to the garage. It could be a laundry room or a basement door.”
“Go back…if you have a safe vantage point, we may find out more if he goes to the door.”
“Crap, didn’t think of that, I’ll text you what I see,” she’s gone again.
Fifteen more minutes, then Dunwoody’s voice, “She been fed yet?”
Woman’s voice, obviously the Mrs., “Yeah, sliding a tray through that little door seems so cruel.”
Dunwoody, “Better than eternity in hell, where she was headed. You pray over her today?”
“I prayed for her, there’s no over, I can’t get in the room.”
“You’re too soft, she’d talk you into letting her out, then she’d be gone, on the street alone, turned into a whore, that what you want?”
“Sometimes I wonder if that wouldn’t be better than being locked in a basement.”
We hear a slap and a groan, Zoe C texts me, ‘he backhanded her, now he’s got keys out opening the door’
I tap out, ‘we heard, see the girl yet’
‘hang on, she’s a little thing, can’t be but five feet tall’
We hear mumbling, Zoe C types, ‘she’s kneeling his hand on her forehead, like TV preacher’
The Woman, “Let her out for awhile Frank, she hasn’t seen daylight in a month, or the moon and the stars either.” 
Dunwoody, “And what is a wife supposed to be woman?”
“Obedient.”
“Then be”…something hits something,…”fucking,” another something…”obedient,” a third something.”
Zoe C texts, ‘he grabbed her hair and slapped her three times’
We hear, “Don’t hit momma daddy…come on down with me…come on…I’ll do what you want daddy..”
Zoe C, “she’s taken his hand and is pulling him inside…ah…this  door is to the laundry room…door on far side is to basement’
Elle’s looking over my shoulder at the texts, “Jaysus, he’s sexing his own daughter.”
“How do you know that?”
“Come on Chef, ‘I’ll give you what you want?’ what do you think that means?”
“Maybe they…never mind…I get it, sheesh.”
Zoe C climbs in, “They went downstairs, the door closed, the woman is sitting on the floor crying.”
Elle, “She’s crying because Dunwoody is downstairs fucking his daughter.”
Zoe C, “You heard that?”
Elle replays the conversation.
Zoe C, “We need to bust in and cap his ass right now!”
“I feel the same, but that makes the girl’s problem worse. Obviously this has happened before, the girl is resigned to it. We go in, off dad, then it’s cops and a long story, interviews for the girl…”
Zoe C, “I know, just blowing off steam. But we have to get this resolved tomorrow.”
“Let’s go to the hotel, then you hack into the county planning and permits site and see if you can get his work schedule, I have an idea.”

Forty Six

We decide to pick up finger food from the supermarket, chicken tenders, couple of sauces to dip them in, they have beet salad, I get that too.
In the room, Zoe C, “What’s the idea?”
“Before we forget, get his work schedule.”
She goes to the county site, drills down, it turns out inspectors’ schedules are posted. 
“I assume that’s so people can find their inspection dates and be available at the property. See Dunwoody?”
“Hang on….yep, here he is. Renovation of a commercial warehouse to condos. There’s a photo. It isn’t listed as a historic site, but it’s been around for years, see, brick, most new buildings are basic block or some form of composite overlaying the exterior walls. This one has a fifties feel to it, maybe some people see it a authentic, antique even. Enough architecture, what’s the plan?”
“In the morning, early, we scope out the building and the surrounds. If there’s a place Elle can take a shot with the rifle, we do that. The problem is, does he just park out front, pull into a lot, I don’t see parking, which might mean there’s parking underground. A building that old will have a basement that could be converted to underground parking, no sign of it in front though. We need to get a look at the back and the left side we can’t see from the photo.”
Zoe C, “It’s called The Renaissance, let’s see, Google it….ah, a description of the project. Thirty ultra modern two and three bedroom condos, on floors two through five, two sixth floor suites with large living area and fourth room for an office or guest room. All bedrooms have a separate bath, Jacuzzi tubs and rainfall showers. It goes on to tout kitchen appliances, spacious laundry room, private storage lockers in the basement, which includes ample parking. Personal mailboxes in the rear of the first floor, which will have a library, business center and fitness area. Touch code entry from both the parking lot and the front entrance, your security is paramount…a bit more blah, blah.”
“Good, now we know there will be basement parking, perhaps Dunwoody uses that while the building is still under construction. What that means is a shot from someplace distant isn’t likely unless he decides to walk around the exterior.”
Zoe C, “If I can get in the basement and he shows up, I can take care of him then.”
“Depends on worker traffic, we can’t really know much more until we’re onsite.”
Elle, “Food’s ready, have a glass of wine and chill, what time do we need to get going in the morning?”
“Six. I’ll have coffee ready, you guys make sure the guns are prepped.”
We sip wine, turn on the TV, CNN feeds with the sound off. Zoe C fires up her laptop and we sit on the couch to nibble and watch the Netflix thing, Black Mirror, shift between headlines about real life political insanity and the fictional insanity of Black Mirror.
Elle has more than insanity on her mind, her hand wanders along Zoe C’s bare thigh and an occasional neck nuzzle. Steamy, I could use Natalie right now, but she’s two thousand miles to the west. We don’t call or text much, it isn’t that kind of thing, besides, I’m not interested in cyberspace contact, it’s not silky smooth and warm.
The program ends, “I’ll clear up girls, you’ll want to get a bit of sleep…say your prayers first, tomorrow we kill a fake Christian.”
Zoe C laughs, “They’re all fake, believe in a fake god, fake miracles, a fake resurrection, silly ass people.”
She and Elle go off to….hell, how would I know what they’re off to do?
Everything we used was paper or plastic, I dump it in one of the trash cans lined with plastic bags, tie it off and stow it by the door. Long day, I’m flagging. Hot shower, brush and flush, bed.
Up at five thirty, make coffee, check the tracker on Dunwoody’s Acura, still parked at his house.
The girls come in, grab a coffee, Zoe C has the Glocks in one case, I take the case with the two Rugers. We have enough stuff to start a terrorist attack, which is likely what the cops would conclude if we’re busted. Thirty minutes of early traffic to the building site.
We drive around the building, there’s nothing in the rear but a service alley, which I suppose Dunwoody could use to park. There’s no obvious place for Elle to take a rifle shot back here though. Round the block, the building is the block, the front faces a row of commercial spots, bar and grill, a martial arts studio, Subway and a dry cleaners. 
Elle, “Not seeing how to take him with the rifle even if he parks out front. The doughnut shop is open, so is the dry cleaner, there will be cars coming and going, at least the other places won’t be open until later.”
“You can’t even stand alongside the strip center, right or left, you’d be wide open.”
Zoe C, “Okay, now we know what we can’t do, let’s see what we can. Is he still at home?”
I check the phone, “Yeah, he’s not coming down here until eight or nine. I wonder if the doughnuts are any good? Too bad we can’t find out.”
Zoe C, “The ramp to the basement is wide open. I’ll go down and see what’s what,” she gets out, walks down the right side of the building. She’ll make her way through the service alley, the ramp is on the left side rear.
I get a text, ‘good here i can snuggle between stacks of wooden block flooring and catch any car coming down’
‘ok sending elle for backup will text when he leaves house but he will go to the offices first and get a work truck it could take a while’
‘good point, suppose I come back, we find a mcdonalds and get something to eat?’
‘ok’
Steak and egg biscuits are actually quite good, while I have no objection to McDonald’s coffee, we opt for Diet Cokes to wash down the heavy biscuit. 
At seven forty, the girls take positions in the basement. I drive the car to the cross street and park opposite the right side of the building where I can see down the rear alley.
My phone dings, I text Zoe C and Elle, ‘target on the move, appears to be heading to the office’
‘twenty minutes to here?’
‘depends on whether he goes inside to collect paperwork, could even be a meeting turn off sounds on your phones keep an eye on the screen for update’
‘done’ from Zoe C, ‘got it’ from Elle.
Now we wait. Pickup trucks, the construction crew, nobody drives a sedan. Apparently to work on the building you have to have an F-150, the bigger the tires the better. It looks like grimy yellow hard hats are the fashion code, thick, equally dusty work boots and rugged canvas pants and shirts complete the look. The property is surrounded by a chain link fence, which the girls just hopped over to get to the basement. A guy unlocks the gate on the left, uh oh.
I text the girls, ‘some of the crew are driving down the ramp to the basement’
‘we’re hidden service elevator is open waiting to take them up’
That’s a relief. Even though the girls are well disguised, it would be impossible to explain their presence, particularly with Glocks on their hips.
Before long the sounds of renovation begin. The place has been gutted, this crew is doing basic prep to build out the condos. New wiring, plumbing, the guts of a building nobody thinks much about. Next the cabinet, wall and flooring people, then the finishing crew. All of which is a few weeks away, maybe a few months.
‘target car has been at the office for twenty five’
We don’t know if he takes the same truck every job so we couldn’t stick a tracker on it. I back up so as to see the front of the building. I’m the eyes on the street looking for him. 
Nothing for another twenty, I check in again, ‘not yet…wait…man getting out of a flash truck in front, a suit, bet he’s here to meet our target, can you or elle surface our guy may just park out front and go in with the suit’
‘on it’
Elle has the sense to go up and out down the alley to the right avoiding any new vehicles coming in. I see her at the corner, she crosses the street and is facing the building from the strip center side, takes a spot on the edge next to the drycleaners, which is now open. She’s not going to take a shot from there, it’s a precaution should our target skip parking in the basement.
Dunwoody and the Suit lay out blueprints on the hood of Dunwoody’s truck. There’s conversation and fingers pointing out whatever on the blueprint. Then Dunwoody shakes his head. Then something interesting.
Suit takes an envelope out of his inside jacket pocket. He slides it under the blueprints. Dunwoody folds the prints so the envelope is tucked inside, walks to his truck, opens the passenger door and climbs in. Door shuts, Suit goes in the building, Dunwoody is fiddling with something in his lap, the envelope no doubt.
I text, ‘take him here elle, give me a sec to text zoe c’
Zoe C pops in my head, ‘got it, clearing out now’
Damn, the girl’s in my brain again.
‘elle, go’
I watch Elle cross the street, she heads to Dunwoody’s truck. He’s still head down, she walks up and taps on his window.
I see him startle through my binoculars, he turns, sees it’s a young woman. He makes the big fatal, rolls down his window. The Glock pops, good load, no blood spatter across the windshield or the driver’s side of the truck. That means the bullet went in, didn’t come out. I can’t see Dunwoody, he must be slumped to the side. Zoe C comes alongside Elle, reaches in and another pop. They turn and walk away from where I’m parked, smart. No possible association between our rental and them. 
I crank up, go down to the next street, take a left and go two blocks, another left and back to the street the building is on. I sit and wait on the cross street, see Elle, where’s Zoe C?
In my head again, ‘one block over, collect Elle then go straight’
I laugh thinking, ‘I’m already straight, it’s you two who are lez.’
Another surprise, ‘very funny hetero-man’
Maybe I should quit thinking.
Elle hops in, she’s flushed, excited, doesn’t say anything, we have to get Zoe C and get gone before she’ll relax.
Zoe C is where she said she’d be, hops in back, we take off.
“One of you get on the Sat phone and call 911, he’s been taking payoffs and if the Suit spots him dead in the car he’s going to make the money disappear.”
Elle holds up an envelope, “The cash is here, there’s no reason to leave it. The contractor isn’t going to admit to giving it to him, and the dead guy isn’t complaining. I’ll call anyway.”
We use Sat phones for obvious reasons, they’re encrypted, the 911 operator will get a number from somewhere else in the world. 
Zoe C, “There’s been a shooting at,” she give the address of the building, “man in a work truck supplied by the county, something about building inspections.”
We can hear the operator asking her if she saw the shooting, is she in a safe place now, then asks for a name.
Zoe C, “Hurry, he may be alive, I don’t want to get closer, I think I hear more shots, hurry,” she hangs up.
“That should get them moving.”
We finished the job in the morning, no need to hang in Atlanta, Zoe C calls Blue Sky, they can take us at Hartsfield executive jet in two hours.
As we buzz to the hotel, we lose latex gloves, hats, sunglasses, and the girls’ wigs along the way. We have a little time, stow the guns, pack up the few other things we brought and to the plane. Blue Sky will deal with the rental car. Same four hours home, at least this time we pick up two in time zones. We took off shortly after eleven, four minus two means a one o’clock Malibu time arrival. I hope Zelda isn’t too pissed, we’ve never left her for even a day. 
Our Santa Fe awaits, a crew takes our gear from the plane and stows it in the back of the SUV, time to get home.
Zoe C, “Go to the kennel first, I need my mutt.”
We put Zelda in an exclusive dog hotel. I made sure. I saw the quarters, plenty of room and her own run. My instructions were to feed, clean up and let her be. Zoe C introduced one of the staff to Zelda with a Japanese command that she was a friend. Then she had the woman feed Zelda with the dry she always gets. She said nobody else should feed her, and she is to get no food other than her own, she won’t eat anything else offered. Don’t attempt to walk her, the run is enough.
We all go in, anxious to see how our hundred pound baby is doing. 
“She’s been a perfect angel, walks herself up and down the run, ate well, plenty of water, nobody but me has had any interaction.”
When Zoe C goes to Zelda’s, well, it’s a cage, but not cage-like. Zoe C brought one of her beds when we checked her in, I take it while Zelda plops her paws on Zoe C’s shoulders and sniffs, then she checks me, we’re the same people, she’s happy.
Outside Elle opens her arms, “Zelda! Hey precious, did they treat you well?
Zelda does her thing, scent check, yep it’s Elle, she hops in the back seat, Elle slides in next to her, we take the big little girl home.

Forty Seven

Zelda is exuberant, she’s home with her mega yard to wander. Zoe C and Elle take her for a walk, I put away our luggage and the guns. It’s early afternoon, too soon for tea, we had sandwiches on the plane. Now I need to think up dinner.
I see the three girls come down from the hills. Zoe C and Elle strip and dive into the pool. Zelda eases herself down the steps to her spot chest high in the water.
I go outside, “Any dinner ideas?”
Zoe C, “Don’t get tied up in cooking, lets grab Chinese later and chill.”
I nod and go in, the two girls start laps, best way to loosen up from a four hour plane ride and the tension of popping Dunwoody.
I plop down on my bed, stare at the ceiling, then next thing I know Zelda has her snout on the edge of the bed staring at me.
“Is it dinner yet?”
Zelda huffs, I give her the head scratch, roll out of bed and pad into the living area.
Zoe C and Elle are in loungers by the pool, deliciously nude, I go out to get a close-up.
“There are no more elegant long legged sylphs on the planet.”
Elle giggles, “There’s Natalie.”
“True, but she’s not here at the moment.”
“Is she coming tomorrow, or Saturday?”
“Haven’t heard yet, I’ll send her a text tease.”
Pull out my phone, take a pic of the two girls then message Natalie.
‘girls send their best, can you get here Friday or Saturday’
“It’s late for tea, how about a glass of Champagne?”
Zoe C, “Absolutely.”
I open Gosset, pour and take the three glasses out, my phone dings.
‘you do know how to get my attention, those two should be illegal’
‘they say the same thing about you’
‘think friday will work, definitely sat’
‘cu soon’
We click off, she’s a busy girl, figuring out how to extract fees from corporate poobahs or ultra rich clients.
“She may make Friday, if not then Saturday.”
Elle, “Great. See any news from Georgia?”
“Haven’t looked,” I pour fresh Gosset, my ploy to keep the nude splendids in sight.
Zelda pokes me on the knee, I’ve been remiss, no treat. Inside I find deli roast beef, roll up a slice, Zelda is next to me, I pull it in two, drop one into the vast jaws, gulp, gone. I hand her the second, she licks it from my fingers and gives it a couple of chews. I pat the massive head.
“You’re the best Zelda.”
She ambles back to the girls, Zoe C and Elle stand, bring in the glasses and head off to shower. Zelda follows them to Zoe C’s room. I go off to our Chinese favorite for hot and sour, tonight orange chicken, vegetables in garlic sauce, crispy egg rolls.
When I return the girls are on the couch surfing for something to watch, they have a Russian Standard on the rocks, garlic olive, parked in the fridge for me.
“Thanks ladies.”
Elle, “Thank you for collecting the food. I think we found something worth a couple of hours, we found an oldie, the BBC Hercule Poirot thing, fussy little Belgian detective.”
“Yeah, I remember, I’ve seen a couple but it was years ago. Want to eat and watch, or eat first?”
Zoe C, “We need to refresh drinks, we wiped the Gosset.”
“How about a crisp white, I have a tangy sauvignon blanc that would work with Chinese.”
“Go for it.”
Soon we’re piled on the couch enjoying the fussy Belgian, tasty soup and crisp egg rolls. We take a break after an hour to refresh wine and fill plates with orange chicken and stir fried vegetables. Poirot eventually rounds up the suspects, explains how each of them wanted the dead guy dead. After protestations from the assembled characters, he singles out the murderer. Inspector Jap has her accompanied off to prison.
We’ve had enough TV. While we watched, I surfed the Atlanta news on my phone.
I read it to the girls, ‘A story is developing, county building inspector found shot at the Renaissance project in Sandy Springs. The shooting doesn’t no appear to be a robbery, the victim had his wallet, keys and phone. Police will only say they are still investigating.’
Elle, “I wonder how they’ll boil it down, I mean how do they sort it out?” 
Zoe C, “Do we care?”
Elle giggles, “We’re just speculating, as long as we aren’t in it, you’re right, it doesn’t matter.”
I collect plates and glasses, trash the food containers, turn on the dishwasher. Yawn, even with an afternoon nap I’m winding down, do I want another drink? No, time to put my lights out for the evening. I peck the girls on the cheek, bid them goodnight. Not going to dwell on what they get up to in Zoe C’s room, I don’t need the excessive stimulation.
Next thing I know, it’s morning. Must have burned a lot of energy in the tension of a hit. If it had just been me, no big deal. But I worry about the girls, not their psyche regarding the actual kill, they have no conscience about that. I worry about them either getting caught or caught in a shootout. We didn’t know, for instance, that Dunwoody wasn’t armed. We didn’t see him carrying, but anything could have been stowed in his truck.
Zoe C comes along as I’m getting the day’s first caffeine burst, I pour her a cup.
“We need to start asking if the target carries, or stows a gun in the car. Maybe the contact doesn’t know, but if they do, we need to be aware of that.”
Zoe C, “I didn’t think of it either, I can add it to the website questionnaire. I’ll do it today.”
“Elle still out?”
“Awake but reluctant to jump out of the warm bed. Where’s Zelda?”
I nod to the patio door, it’s open as is the screen door.
“Maybe I should teach her to close the door too.”
“Don’t worry about it, she gets any smarter, we’ll be out of work.”
Elle comes in, dang, she’s forgotten to dress, I’m not reminding her.
“I refuse to put clothes on today, unless one of you demands it.”
Zoe C, ‘Like Chef is going to complain about a nude hottie wandering around.”
“I believe in freedom of speech, nudity is speech, I read that in a Supreme Court ruling.”
Elle giggles, “Good enough for me.”
I pour her a coffee for caring and sharing.
Zoe C, “Anything more on Atlanta?”
“Didn’t look, the target is dead, the aftermath has no meaning for me.”
“Can we get poached and bacon? I need sustenance, Elle was…active…last night.”
“Take your coffee outside, it’s a beautiful Malibu day. I’ll whip up eggs and bacon, Zelda will thank you, she loves poached eggs.”

Forty Eight

Friday arrives with good news, Natalie will be over at six. I made seafood okra gumbo, which took much of the morning. Girls swam and let Zelda haul them around the hills, we all took a snooze around two until three thirty. I put the gumbo in the refrigerator earlier to mix flavors, after tea I’ll take it out and put on a just warm burner. 
Zoe C, “I’ll run over to the bakery and get us a couple of loaves of French bread.”
Elle goes outside to let Zelda free roam, I bring her a cup of tea, plop down with mine.
“AI update?”
Elle, “So far okay, not knocking the ball out, not losing. This bull market is making performance comparisons difficult. The stocks my program is selecting are half fairly well known companies, the rest are midcap or small cap relative unknowns. Right now investors are chasing big names that can take better advantage of the tax law. I can only see if the program is uncovering hidden gems or my algorithm sucks.”
“No problems buying or selling?”
“None, it takes out illiquid stocks, everything has good to substantial liquidity, selling will be easy presuming no black swan.”
“When buyers evaporate, nothing helps, prices will slide precipitously. Lack of buyers is the cause of all market crashes, from tulip bulbs, to bitcoins, including stocks and bonds.”
“Your million is a million one, ten percent in six months.”
“Good enough, and if we’d just bought the Dow 30?”
“A million two, just about, not quite, eighteen percent.”
“Yeah, well eighteen percent in six months is way skewed compared to normal returns, what, two standard deviations?”
“About right, and I suspect, particularly after last year’s near twenty five, the whole thing is just cruising for a black swan. The world is awash in money, that the global markets are creating outsized returns and that bitcoins have attracted massive inflows on top of that is the proof. It’s getting preposterous.”
“Interest rates are crazy low, that’s given the big money massive amounts of near free cash to plow in. I could borrow fifty million easy, and at a couple percent interest all I need is a four or five percent return to clean up.”
“Why don’t you do it?”
“I have too much money already, to play that game I’d have to sit on top of the markets all day and into the night. Goldman could probably handle it, Natalie would see that it was done judiciously, but that brings on other problems.”
“Like?”
“Like a crash, or even a steep recession, then she’s going to feel bad, on top of which I give people I don’t know or trust some insight into my net worth. I’m not interested in them knowing that much about me. The alternative is to do it through a shell, which is fine, but I’m just not inclined to chase money that hard.”
Zelda’s head pops up, must be Zoe C. Thirty seconds later she comes in with two loaves of bread and a box.
“Louisa made a gorgeous cherry pie, standard crust with a lovely butter crumble on top, it was not to be resisted.”
She puts down the bread and shows us the pie.
Elle, “Damn, going to have to run the property and swim tomorrow.”
“It’s Louisa’s, it’ll be worth it.”
Zelda goes to the door, that must be Natalie, I follow her and open it. Natalie is just pulling her RLX into the garage, I go out trailing Zelda.
Natalie opens the door, before she can get out Zelda has her snout in Nat’s face, gets a healthy scratch and a hug. 
“She gets bigger every week, gorgeous creature.”
“One gorgeous creature knows another,” I lean in for a kiss, take her overnight and we go inside.
Zoe C, “Hey honey, how’s the ride?”
Natalie, “I am in love with that car, one day I’m getting a Bentley Continental like Chef has, but I’m hardly suffering with the Acura. What’s everyone been up to?”
We’ll skip the part about killing the construction inspector, the girls dive into swapping stories about work, algorithms, Elle and Zoe C’s classes.
Natalie, “Chef, I need a word.”
“Let’s go to the office, excuse us girls.”
If Elle and Zoe C are curious, they don’t show it. Of course, Natalie doesn’t know Zoe C read my thoughts. But Zoe C is not going to track me when someone has asked for a private conversation, she’s trustworthy that way, in all ways really.
I take one chair, Natalie the other, I don’t sit behind the desk, this isn’t an interview.
“Something’s come up, I need a bit of advice, or maybe not advice, just to talk it over.”
“Of course,” I don’t ask what, when, why, she’ll tell me the way she wants to tell me.
She’s quiet for a bit, “I have, had, a sister. We weren’t close, she was a half sister and older than me. When my father married my mother, he’d been divorced a couple of years. He had a child earlier on, she grew up on the east coast, I’ve been out here the whole time. The woman passed away, untended breast cancer. She never remarried. She never remarried in part because she has an autistic daughter.”
“Um, and the daughter has no place to go, or are there other relatives?”
She looks at the floor, bites her lower lip, “Nobody wants an autistic child, none of the relatives anyway. I don’t really know them, or that she was close to any relatives.”
“Not good, where’s the girl?”
“Connecticut, Stamford. Right now she’s in a center under the care of the state.”
“Not good either.”
“No, as I understand it, she’s not doing well. She has no tethers, no connections like she had with my half-sibling. I have no clue what sort of mother she was, I was only vaguely aware of the girl, stories my dad told me and not many of those.”
“Her father isn’t an option.”
“Her father is a mystery. My dad isn’t old, but he’s an archeologist, and seldom in the states, my mother moved on, tired of a missing husband. Can’t say I blame her, but she’s not around. She lives in Oklahoma, married some oil asshole, we don’t even exchange Christmas cards. They’re born agains, all up into religion, waving their hands in the air at a non-existent god.”
“I’ve seen the movie. How’s the girl?”
“I’m rather ashamed to say I don’t know.”
“How can I help?”
She hesitates, “I want to bring her here, to LA I mean….I can at least make sure she’s in a good place.”
“Can you get a few days off?”
“Yeah, Goldman is good about family things.”
“Suppose I get Zoe C to fly out with you, talk to the social worker, whoever handles this kind of thing. After you connect with the girl, call me and let’s see what’s what.”
“She’s only sort of my relative, I have no idea who pays for what, what I don’t know could fill volumes.”
“Let’s not make problem we don’t know exists. Get time off, we’ll book a flight, things will unfold from there. We won’t leave a child to flounder in the system. You’ll need to bring some sort of proof of relation, something the people there can’t question, although given the situation, they may not look too deep.”
Natalie, the cold financial calculator, tears up, “I’m sorry, I feel…”
“Never apologize for trying to help someone in need, is the child okay for now?”
“I researched the facility, at the least it isn’t a hell hole where kids are parked and forgotten. They seem to do what they can given staff and resources.”
“So she’ll be okay for a couple of days.”
“Yeah, best I can tell.”
“Have you talked to them?”
“Sort of, they’re cautious because they don’t know how I fit in except for what I told them.”
“Fuck that, can you get enough evidence?”
“I’m pretty sure, yes, I can show my father is the birth father, it will be on the girl’s birth certificate. That’s he’s my father will be on mine.”
“ Fly out Sunday afternoon, I’ll call one of my lawyers, get the scoop on how things work in Connecticut and here in California. By the time you land, we’ll be on firmer ground.”
“God Chef, I don’t know what I’d have done without you.”
“Come on, Nat. You’re bright, you know how to get stuff done. Go check on the girl, that’s primary. I need to bring in Zoe C.”
“I don’t mind, I just wanted to run it by you without making a drama in front of the girls.”
We go out to the pool, I bring a tray of cocktails, pass them around. Then I explain the situation.
Zoe C, “Damn right we fly out Sunday. Don’t worry Nat, the girl will be taken care of, Chef won’t have it any other way, and if he did, I’d give him shit for the rest of his life.”
I sip my vodka, she’s not bluffing, Zoe C is unstoppable when her mind’s on a project.

Previous     Next