Home in Manhattan, yay, too long away from the rest of the family. We aren’t great with separation, we are one, a weird one, but one nonetheless.
Sloane comes racing, leaps into my arms, “You are never ever going away for a month, not without your wolf.”
“No, but we needed eyes on Oceane and Cassie and you have the best eyes for that. And Oceane provided just enough warning to keep us hyper-vigilante. Your attentiveness to her ramblings saved lives.”
“I listen to everything she says, have to, there’s no way to tell what’s a prediction and what’s just passing through her brain unless I’m tuned in. She says I’m her translator. Sure glad I caught that translation.”
“So are a bunch of good people who helped make a movie. They can’t know about her, but they benefit just the same.”
Amaya, “My next project has been right before my eyes. I shall write a scintillating story of a girl who can see bits of the future. Unlike us, her parents try to cash in, which leads to a gaggle of baddies trying to use her for everything from stock market predictions to terrorist activity. I shall proceed forthwith.”
Dasha, “What did I say, Eemaya cannot help herself. Now she will be talking to the air for six months, soft Oceane voice, greedy parents, sneaky agents, maybe even keednapping persons.”
Amaya, “My self talk produces genius novels and movies, you talk to yourself in a random jumble stream of consciousness.”
Nikko, “Where do you think all those great meals come from? She only does it when she’s in the kitchen.”
“I stand correctly corrected, keep mumbling commie, your meals are the best part of the day except when Chloe gets to make love to me. Speaking of, what’s for dinner? You and Daphne need a bit of travel recovery.”
Zi, “Marconi’s is always well received.”
“I’ll call Dom and tell him everyone is home, he’ll send stuff over. Be more fun to open up boxes of surprises.”
Dominick, “Welcome home, you made the news girl, movie making getting dangerous. Gennaro came over and we killed a couple bottles of Chianti to celebrate. Pile of assholes, one less now anyway.”
“Thanks, I didn’t actually stop the guy, our security team did. I hope people just forget about it. He was shot with handguns, which lends support to a gun crowd I’m not in agreement with. That the girls were highly trained and had been in stressful shooting situations before is different than some cracker walking around with a concealed carry.”
“No argument from me, don’t own one. Gennaro is part of the criminal element and even he doesn’t allow guns. So, what’ll it be Daph?”
“Everyone is home, surprise us.”
“Be over in maybe thirty.”
Girls are having cocktails. Oceane and Cassie float down and travelers earn hugs.
I hug her extra snug, “Oceane, your prescience saved lives, we were on high alert after Sloane told us what you saw.”
Oceane, “Man wrapped up in cloth, red truck, flash of light, picture went dark.”
She walks over to the table, snags a glass of white and parks next to Cassie on the sofa. She’s watching a cooking show, the woman who thinks she’s cute when she says, ‘Now we add the EVOO,’ followed by a cheesy little smirk. Rachel Somebody.
Sloane changes it to NCIS, which apparently plays around the clock on one channel or another. Gibbs head-slaps DiNozzo, who plays a hormonal teenage boy in a man’s body. The guy who snaps wet towels at the freshmen in high school after being towel snapped as a freshman himself. Revenge behavior is replicated throughout the world. Hazing frats haze pledges because they were hazed, daddy beats sonny because he learned from his daddy, doctors grind med students because their instructors ground them. ‘Now it’s my turn’ is the guiding principle.
And then Abby’s on screen, a thirty something twelve year old badly designed Goth-ish girl who is some kind of genius at figuring out that the paint chip could only have come from a 1987 Ford Fiesta because they only used that icky blue one year. The murderer just happens to own an icky blue Fiesta with a scraped fender, case solved. Why does a grown man allow himself to be called Ducky? And why is Gibbs building the same boat for fifteen seasons, which looks identically incomplete every time we see it. All he does is scrape a plane across one bit, then some other character comes down the steps to his basement to reveal secrets or ask about the progress of the investigation. And after the five hundredth time, the acronym SECNAV gets really tiresome, it’s just no cool anymore folks, drop it.
That’s today’s TV critique, maybe I’ll get into the weenies on Criminal Minds one day, but I have to give the writers points for the most gruesome murders.
Cassie is floating about three feet off the couch, Nikko takes a sip of wine, “Sheesh this is a crazy place, at least she hasn’t learned to fly.”
“Too bad, we could have a human drone.”
“Cassie? What good would that do, she’d just go flying off someplace and get lost.”
“Good point,” Cassie sinks back down to the couch, Sloane changes the channel.
Paladin rings up, “Delivery from Marconi’s.”
Dasha and I go down to collect the goodies, there’s a pepperoni for the security folks.
(Our place is on top of an ultra high end girls’ school called Chapmans. Janah and I went there, how we wound up with a zillion square foot condo over the years is covered in prior books. It is nice to have Paladin Security, an all female trained and talented service, downstairs twenty four seven. Chapman’s girls are talented and generally from Big Wealth. That makes them prime targets for kidnapping, then terrorism came along, now there are more threats to look out for. Paladin does a great job, nobody gets in that isn’t credentialed, men are not allowed past the reception area except on parent event days. There are no male service people, no male teachers, the cleaning crew is female. Chapman’s is a middle and high school, seventh through twelfth.
Our school, also in the Village, has first through sixth, more or less on the Chapman’s model. Little kids, though, may or may not display the kinds of talent that will make them potential Chapman’s students. That comes out as they move through tour system. Some of the girls will go on to Chapman’s, others to different pricey institutions better suited to their needs. A Chapman’s girl has to have a special talent, it might be math, languages, creativity, even dance or drama. But they have to be at the top or off the charts. Chapman’s allure is that the girls are given the very best in assistance and instruction. The course of study, once they have demonstrated mastery of basics, is up to the girl, her interest and skill set, not junk homogenized for every kid.
The best part, and what sells parents on the outrageous cost of a Chapman’s education, is that universities send recruiters to Chapman’s. Girls don’t fly to some school, mill around on visitors day with a few dozen hopefuls, shuffled along by a couple of seniors and get ‘interviewed’ for possible acceptance. If they like what they hear from recruiters, they fly to wherever and interview professors and department heads. What parents pay for tuition and donations to Chapman’s is more than offset by a full ride at a major university.)
Nikko, “Dom’s osso bucco seems to just get better.”
Nikko is a carnivore’s carnivore, and fall apart veal shank in rich brown gravy is carnivore heaven. There’s veg lasagna, mushroom ravioli, tender fried calamari and Muffuletta pizza. No tomato sauce, Italian olive salad, mozzarella, provolone, Genoa salami and ham, just like the famous New Orleans sandwich, but on pizza crust instead of the thick Italian loaf.
Chloe, “What a taste delight, I had to have a bite of everything.”
Sloane, “Pizza left mom?”
“In the oven.”
She checks, comes back to table with a generous slice, cuts it in two and gives half to Cassie. Then ladles a serving spoon of ravioli onto Oceane’s plate. Ocean is vegetarian except for fish, she has a side dish of calamari.
Janah, “Geez, there’s more vegetables than lasagna, I’m going for piggy girl tonight, pass the Chianti please.”
Marconi’s has fed us hundreds of times, and it’s always primo. A few years ago, we bailed Gennaro out of a dicey legal problem and nailed three DEA dopes playing for the wrong team, themselves. Since then, Dom, Gennaro’s brother, won’t let us pay for food. We tip generously, I guess that’s something.
Dasha, “Tomorrow Dahfoney, you will take me to Ultra Violet and Down Home restaurants for checking.”
“Okay, suppose we do Ultra Violet tomorrow, I’ll call Black day after, we can meet him and tour the Down Homes. We won’t have to cover four places in one day.”
“Da, okay. Sister haf looked over spreading sheet program, revenue ees gud, no issues, still we should anyway see.”
Dasha isn’t happy without visuals. Daria can tell from the cash flow sheets, which are updated with every transaction, how things are being managed. That’s not the same as seeing the place, inspecting the kitchen, the seating area, the bathrooms, dust on the windowsills, the sidewalks out front. Nothing escapes Dasha and the management of our restaurants know it. She doesn’t announce visits, she just shows up.
Nikko, “When you go to Brooklyn, Daria should go, she can walk our commercial property while you see the restaurant, then our Queens property while you do that one.”
We’re ready to toss in the food towel, “If someone will find a movie, Dasha and I will clear up and haul these boxes to the trash chute. Leave the wine glasses if you’re done, I’ll get them in the glass washer.”
Sloane, “I’ll do it, Amaya, there are a bunch of Netflix DVDs, we need to work our way though a few.”
She finds Hateful Eight, a Quentin Tarantino mystery-western with Samuel Jackson. Enough quick witted dialogue with Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction banter and violence to keep us interested for the three hour flick.
We’re like kittens, spread across the couches and big mat on the floor, pillows, comforters, girls snuggled into girls while we laugh our way through the movie. An intermission or two to refresh drinks and bathroom breaks, the beauty of home video.
Morning, Janah comes into our room, I’m snuggled in with Amaya, a sensational snugglette.
“How was your evening?”
Janah, “Lovely, Oceane and I played with Sloane’s boy bit, then she used it on both of us, then Oceane and I shared the creamy treat. Sloane went to her room, Cassie came in clothing free, the three of us took advantage of each other for an hour.”
Cass and Oceane are my adopted daughters, so they’re off limits for me, although Cassie gets flirty occasionally. I’ll find her in bed with Janah and I, wrapped against me naked, her hand resting between my legs. She doesn’t do anything with it, it’s just there. When I go to her room to kiss her goodnight, her kiss lingers, and she wants several. That’s the limit, she’s satisfied and I’m her adoption mom, not a bio-parent. Cassie doesn’t even register that she’s adopted, Sloane knows she is, Oceane was a ward of Janah and me, she’s eighteen and not a ward any longer. She’s also biologically sixteen or seventeen forever, like Cassie will be fifteen until the sun explodes.
Janah, however, has full access and accesses them on occasion. She surprised herself some time ago, out of plain curiosity, she went down on Sloane and found out she liked it, oral and intercourse, and she likes the end bit when Sloane comes in her mouth. When Oceane participates, they share, Oceane likes the end bit as well. Cass also has sex with Sloane sometimes, generally one on one. She has more frequent intimacies with Oceane. Sex is one of the few things Cassie initiates on her own. Excepting common physical needs, someone has to tell her to get dressed, come to meals or exercise. Otherwise she sits cross legged on her bed or Oceane’s and does nothing but breathe. She almost never initiates conversation, we have to ask her a question. If we just make a statement, one a normal person would reply to, like ‘cold out today,’ or ‘enjoyed the movie last night,’ we get nothing.
Amaya’s still blissfully asleep, she even sleeps gorgeous.
“Amaya looks satisfied.”
“She ought to be, I licked every lickable part, twice. She strapped up and screwed me silly, always a pleasure to pleasure my girls.”
I leave her honeyness to sleep, Janah and I shower, then I’m to the kitchen for caffeine prep.
Dasha comes in a minute later, I kiss her smooth lips, “What do you want to do for breakfast today?”
“We haf beeg dinner, maybe fruit, let me see,” she checks the refrigerator, “gud, smoky salmon wiz bagel or English muffin, crim chiz, I made crème fraiche last night for fruit.”
She pulls out the salmon and cream cheese, a couple of quarts of yogurt, plain and vanilla.
I pour her tea and my coffee, not much to prepare, I click on the laptop and surf the Times. Middle East tensions, didn’t I read the same story ten years ago? I hear a voice, look up, it’s Dasha but she’s talking to herself, not me.
“Janah will haf fruit and yogurt, she ees like bagel more than Anglish. I will cut six bagel and six Anglish for toasting. Strawberry, cantaloupe, grapes, blueberry, raspberry, banana on the table for peeling. Smoky salmon on platter, keep in refrigerator, what else, ah, slice lemon for feesh….Dahfoney, you will slice apples for Oceane and Cassie.”
“On it, can I get some of the lemon to keep the slices from browning?”
“Soak in honey and water for a minute, they like the sweet taste and apple will not brown also.”
Wonder where she picked that up? I always use lemon juice. I cut wedges from several Fuji apples, our preferred red. The flesh seems to stay crisper than some of the other varieties.
Janah comes in, “Tea.”
I pour her a cup of green, add the bag. We use loose tea in the afternoon, and more upscale Chinese and Japanese teas for tea ceremony. For our tea drinkers, bagged green or black is fine for waking up.
It’s a work day, girls are at the table by seven thirty, platters of toasted bagels and English muffins, butter or cream cheese, the aforementioned mix of fruit and fish.
Workday doesn’t count Oceane and Cassie, they’re still in their rooms, or in together most likely.
Sloane, “Want me to get them?”
“No, they don’t have day jobs, Dasha and I are going to Ultra Violet, probably eat lunch there. Get them ready and they can come with us, otherwise you get stuck here to watch.”
“I don’t mind, but I want to have a fat roast beef poboy, so they have to suck it up and come along. Oceane likes fried fish anyway, she can get that.”
Amaya, “I am writing today, leave me alone, take Chloe with you to Ultra Violet, she can bring me something, I know, a blue cheese burger. Dasha, make sure it is disassembled so the bread does not go soggy.”
“Da, I know what to do your highness royalty peerson.”
Eloise giggles, “Do they have meatloaf today?”
“Nyet, but they haf red or white bean wiz sausage and ham every day, meatloaf ees Thursday.”
Ultra Violet doesn’t do takeout, but if a customer wants a box for leftovers, we accommodate that. Besides, we own the place, if we want takeout, we get takeout. Although, come to think of it, this will be the first time we’ve actually done it.
Nikko, “Salmon is good, Citarella?”
“Yep, a quarter mile away and splendidly fresh seafood. In fact, tonight I’m feeling crab clawy, Wild Stone crab claws and jumbo shrimp, sound enticing?”
Chloe, “I’ll be here, get my claws on those claws, yum.”
Dasha, “Gud, we need Osetra caviar also, tomorrow blini.”
Amaya, “Yay, I knew there was a reason I lived here.”
Sloane decides to take apple slices and bowls of fruit and crème fraiche upstairs to the girls. She puts that and two cups of tea on the tray and disappears up the stairs.
Nikko, Daria and Zi are office girls today, elegantly turned out in pencil skirts, jackets and wedge heels.
Amaya is rolling a lint brush over them even though there’s no chance of Nikko allowing lint on her clothes, an invisible adjustment to Daria’s hair and pronounces them to be suitable to represent Murakami Sylk.
“Chloe, you may bring me coffee at ten, I shall see the rest of you at tea,” she disappears to her office down the hall.
“What time do you want to go Dasha?”
“Leaf eleven fifteen, keechen will be already busy, you will go to Lobby upstairs and see, at noon you will haf lunch in our private room, I will taste this and that in keechen. When we are ready to go, I will make Eemaya burghur.”
It’s only a few blocks from our place to the former meat packing district, now massively gentrified with bars and restaurants lining the street, condos in between and stacked on the upper floors.
Mariella, “Daphne, Sloane, Oceane, Cassie, Eloise, wow, and look, our resident movie stars Chloe and Dasha. Where’s everyone else?”
“Amaya is writing today, the others are at the office making sure we can pay for lunch.”
“Room is ready, scoot on back before people spot Chloe and Dasha.”
Dasha, “I am going to keechen, Dahfoney ees to go upstairs for a minute. Sloane, take everyone to room. I will eat in keechen.”
Dasha turns left to the kitchen, which is visible through glass windows from the restaurant.
As I go up the steps to The Lobby at Ultra Violet, I spot a few diners glancing at Chloe, she’s whip slim but bumps up on six feet tall, hardly invisible, violet eyes and perpetually blissful smile do the rest.
I wave at the bartender, “Mac, see if anyone’s in the men’s, I need to do a spot check to keep Dasha happy.”
“Sure thing,” he walks over to the door, inside for a bit, opens the door and waves me in, “I’ll hang here until you’ve had a look.”
As expected, both are spotless, towel racks full, toilets as pristine as toilets can get, no paper overflows the trash receptacles. I tour the room, the Lobby is set up to be a holding room for people waiting on a table. We don’t take lunch reservations, the website estimates waiting time and waiting in The Lobby is pleasant and friendly.
Amaya designed it like an old world hotel lobby. Chairs and couches are strategically placed around the room, end and coffee tables to rest drinks. Sit anywhere there’s a seat, meet a new friend maybe.
The Lobby serves beer, draft only, red and white wine, Champagne on Sundays. No food, no nuts, chips, nada. Flat screen TVs play wild Asian martial arts films that loop with Chloe’s movies sprinkled in. We recently added the first Twice as Dead. No sound, if anyone actually watches the films are English subtitled. Jazz and Dixieland play over the speaker system, but low, conversation is easy, nobody has to yell over the coffee table. We have, for Manhattan, outrageously low prices, beer is six bucks, wine is eight. You have to be on the lunch waiting list to get access, people would just sit up there and drink all day and it isn’t designed for that.
Downstairs, diners order from a tablet, which also keeps a running total of the tab, no surprises when customers settle up. There is no tipping, a much welcomed feature, servers and bartenders are paid fifteen an hour, a meal is included. Black slacks for the serving staff, long sleeve violet or ivory shirts or blouses, which we provide. As you may imagine, Mariella has no difficulty retaining staff.
Lunch is primarily New Orleans or Southern, poboys, Muffuletta, meatloaf and mashed, slow cooked green beans with bacon and ham, a veg version is available, mac and cheese. Red or white beans and rice, choice of hot or smoked sausage, or a hunk of spicy fried chicken breast. Burgers include Dasha’s deadly bleu cheese, tres popular, and standard build your own. There’s a garden burger for the veg crowd. We sell tons of fat crispy onion rings.
Dinner is more elaborate, no poboys or burgers in the evening. Steak, filet only with marchand du van, fried chicken, fried or grilled catfish, both versions of beans and rice, a nod to Italian with osso bucco and veal marsala. Seasonal grilled vegetables, mashed or fried potatoes, creamed spinach, creamed corn, or cauliflower au gratin accompany. The entrée list is longer, just giving a flavor of the place. Favored appetizers are fried okra, cauliflower and mushrooms, crispy seasoned batter with a hint of parmesan to sprinkle on top. We have a fry cook that makes only fried vegetables, nearly every table orders them.
While the décor is ultra modern, the food is ultra old south, the juxtaposition works well. We used to have a trio or quartet play in the evening, but we had to sacrifice that for the table space. The Lobby sound system now plays downstairs as well. We did retain the Dixieland band for Sunday brunch, an incredibly popular and fun, almost raucous occasion. Anyone who thinks New Yorkers can’t let their hair down hasn’t watched the entire restaurant, staff and customers, second lining around the place waving paper umbrellas in the air.
Anton delivers drinks and water, we rarely do alcohol at lunch, then he’s off to see about the entrees. Electronic ordering is efficient, diners tap in their selections, it shows up in the kitchen, food is prepared and delivered.
Don’t know if Dasha is happy, we sure are. Roast beef and fried shrimp poboys, white beans with hot sausage and assorted fried vegetables. Sandwiches are cut to share, Oceane and Cassie share the beans and give us the sausage.
Dasha mentals me, “I see you haf almost feenish, I am making Eemaya burghur.”
“We can leave anytime.”
She appears with a box and a bag with the bun.
“I will toast bun at home so ees warm, we will go now.”
Dasha is nothing if not a decision maker.
On the short walk she says, “Mariella always runs first rate restaurant. Keechen floors and counters clean, food ees fresh, plates go out orderly wiz attractive presentation, cooks are busy and happy to be busy. I told her she ees best manager for us.”
Dasha doesn’t throw around compliments, bet Mariella smiled.
Amaya leaves her work cave long enough to enjoy Dasha’s burger, she cooked a bit of bleu into it, there’s a cup of crumbled bleu, plus sautéed mushrooms and caramelized onion to plop on top.
“Oh geez, Dasha this is too splendid, and you brought fried vegetables, want a bite Chloe?”
“Tiny one of burger, I am chock full of roast beef poboy and fried vegetables already.”
We go off to chill after a delicious lunch, Janah and I curl in for an hour nap, stretched to an extra twenty. After bathroom things, to the roof, I need to get muscle in motion. Oceane and Cassie come out to the endless pool, crank it up and start swimming. Sloane races round the roof using the chairs, tables and balance beam as an obstacle course. Janah is twisting up in various yoga poses which includes a handstand from cross legged sitting, then a one handed handstand, then the bit where she folds backwards, her hands on her ankles, which morphs into her head between her feet. I keep thinking she’s going to break.
I stretch, do a dozen kata, then on the balance beam for twenty. Dasha does a tumbling routine, then we have to out sit up and chin up each other until our abs and arms are trembling.
We’re in chairs admiring Janah’s shapely form with bottles of cold water, “High protein seafood dinner?”
“Da, stone crab, jumbo shreemp, I made shredded purple cabbage slaw, black bean zoup wiz chop ohnyon, sauté tofu and mock duck for Janah and Oceane. I am also boiling new potato een crab boil meex, gud spicy addition to seafood. Enough.”
“I’ll say, sounds scrumptious, glad we did a tough workout, I can rationalize the calories.”
Business girls come home, tea comes and goes, in the break before cocktails Nikko says, “Zi thinks there’s a Shadow stalking, maybe two.
“That’s not good, what happened Zi?”
“We were coming out of a Chinatown property and headed back to the office, saw a flicker, like someone walked into an alley but I only saw the shadow. I stopped to look, there was no one, but there was a lingering sense of darkness. Then it happened again two blocks later, a dark image to my left, but it was across the street. I can’t say if the first was the second or there were two. It was unusual because there was no physical person, so I couldn’t sense him directly. Don’t even know if it was a him.”
“Daria sensed nothing?”
“She and Nishiko were in conversation about a new lease, occupied with revenue details. When I mentioned what I’d seen, we took a walk around the building, neither of us picked up on anything.”
Janah, “Drawn by the Shaolin, Zi, perhaps warned off when he caught the sense of Daria.”
Zi, “My thinking, but I don’t want to make so much of it yet, if it’s a Shadow, he or they may know nothing of Murakami Sylk, or any of us.”
“Then as Chief of Security, I’m declaring martial law. Nobody goes anyplace without Chloe or Zi and one of the twins. Janah, time to gather our search team, now, before we settle in for dinner.”
Janah heads to the roof to call in the pigeon brigade, I’m behind her looking to find an owl or peregrine.
Pigeons come along right away, it takes time for my intention to reach out to the others. Meanwhile, I call David Li.
“Daphne, good to hear your voice.”
“We’ve been in LA for a month, need to visit the temple soon. There’s another matter,” I relate Zi’s suspicions.
“Then you want me to also send the birds, easy, I’m looking at a flock wandering around the garden now, they will be happy to have a project.”
“Call me if anything turns up, if Shadows are in Chinatown, they’re going to be nosing around the temple.”
“I will have Sensitives on alert, I wonder, should we post sentries around the perimeter?”
“If they can’t spot Shadows they become targets, use the birds. No monks leave, if there are some out in town, call them in. Any visiting monks have been vetted?”
“Yes, outside admittances are tightly regulated, when they get here Sensitives quietly look them over.”
“Okay, nobody new for the time being, have you got visitors coming who have not arrived yet?”
“Only one, but she is well known to us, and is a Sensitive herself.”
“Call the car company we use, tell I am requesting an experienced driver to collect the passenger and take her to the temple. Don’t say monk or temple, just the woman’s name and the address. She won’t be in robes I hope.”
“No, none of us move about the city much in robes, never to travel.”
“Okay, you have things to do and I need to meet with an owl.”
There’s a beautiful Great Horned on the ledge, blinking at me pretty much like Dasha, except her eyes aren’t golden yellow.
“Thank you for coming.”
Another blink, guess I should get on with it, “Do you know about Dark Ones, the most evil of humans?”
“Of course, nasty animals from a nasty race. The sooner humans poison and eat themselves to death, the better.”
“We’re good at that. To the point, we have reason to think Dark Ones, we call them Shadows, are hanging around to the south, you know what humans call Chinatown?”
“The narrow eye ones live there, industrious but not to be trusted if you are not one of them.”
I skip the politics, “Will you put the word out, we want to know where the Shadows are.”
“What will you do? Your kind seems helpless against them.”
“Most humans are, we kill them.”
Another blink, got her attention, she raises her long arched wings like a shrug, “You have courage. We will seek them out, do we come here with news?”
“Yes, two girls will be on watch, they will find me when any birds return, then we will track down the Dark Ones.”
She does that adorable head bob they do when listening for predators or prey, I earn a ‘whoo, whoo, whoo,’ she spreads her wings and lifts off.
Downstairs, the cocktail hour has begun, Amaya hands Janah a glass of Champagne, I get club soda.
“Eloise, you have bird trackers charged up?”
“Yes, I plugged them when you went upstairs. I have new ones we ordered customized from Telemetry Solutions, light weight, attach to the bird’s leg, not something around her neck. It tracks to a tablet and an android. We have a dozen, if we get birds tracking more than a dozen Shadows we have larger problems.”
“Do tell, where’s Sloane?”
“Behind you, mom.”
I turn, my wolf daughter can be sneaky, “I need you to have Oceane and Cassie on bird watch, their windows look out on the roof. Janah and I will keep an eye out as well.”
Sloane, “Got it, start tonight?”
“Yes, they are up to it?”
“Mom, if I tell Cassie to sit at watch for birds, she will sit and watch for birds until somebody says to do something else. And she will come to me if she spots them. Oceane is less reliable, but I’ll explain that it’s important and she needs to pay attention. I’ll have to remind her every so often, her brain floats off on its own.”
“Good enough, and don’t make everyone lose sleep, the birds are patient, sitting on the ledge with grain scattered around will be like room service. There’s water and the heaters are on, they can sit in the warmth, like a bird spa.”
Time to eat.
Chloe, “Fantastic, crab claws, garlic butter, fat shrimp and cocktail sauce.”
Sloane feeds Cassie a shrimp, she takes a bite of slaw, then a crab claw.
Oceane is introducing a shrimp to a claw, explains that they lived in different parts of the ocean and may not know each other.
“Now you are friends, I am Oceane, the ocean that connects you and you will live in me,” she dabs the claw in butter, the shrimp in sauce and eats them.
Amaya, “This is the whack job you trust to watch for returning birds, we may as well surrender now.”
Sloane, “Don’t lose any sleep, we’ll lose some so you can get your beauty rest.”
“As if I need more beauty, pass the claws wolf girl, shouldn’t you be tearing raw meat off the bone and growling?”
“Maybe tomorrow, is there more slaw, and another potato?”
Sloane wakes me at three in the morning, “Got visitors, it’s cold on the roof, get something warm.”
I slip into yoga pants and a Patagonia thermal top, martial art shoes next to the bed, I slide them on, we go out.
Amazing, Cassie is cross-legged in the air in front of the owl, the Great Horned is bobbing her head around and letting loose hoots, calling her mate. He plops down next to her.
“Lovely couple, you have news?”
Owl, “The girl can fly.”
“Not exactly, she can lift off in gravity defiance, but not move around. This is her max height so far.”
The owls look at each other, the male says, “Amazing nonetheless, we have little respect for humans, but his child is talented and in touch with things humans cannot imagine.”
“How do you know?”
He blinks, like I’m a dope, “She is surrounded by light in colors, can you not see, it is radiant.”
“We don’t see all the colors you do, I can see ultraviolet, but that removes color, and infrared, but that detects heat. Can she communicate with you?”
He blinks again, I must be really slow, “Can a mother communicate with her child?”
“Well, sure, Cassie is mostly silent though.”
“Words mean nothing. This one is mother to all, she is the universe and all it contains. She does nothing but communicate but you do not receive.”
“We’ll work on it, thank you for your instruction. Are there Dark Ones?”
“All humans are dark, ignorant beasts. Not so much your people, surely not the girl. She says there is another, of the water.”
Sloane fetches Oceane, Her Willowyness appears a minute later. She goes to the birds, reaches out her hands, they nuzzle the palms, like she’s feeding them but her hands are empty.
“She feeds energy more nourishing than food. How did you come by these superior life forms?”
“Actually, we rescued them from Shadows. People would not understand them, here they are protected. If the world knew about Cass and Oceane, governments or other criminals would try to use them.”
“They are what humans could have been, if they had not exploited the Earth and each other. These have no use for your society, you allow them to thrive.”
“We do not instruct or demand, they live their lives as they wish. We don’t let them go wandering the streets obviously.”
“There are others like them, but your societies capture and lock them up, give them medicine that destroys their sensitive minds. These two were fortunate you found them. There are beasts you call Shadows in the south, where the narrow eyes live.”
“Are they Asian, Chinese?”
“If that is what narrow eyes are, yes. Two, male and female, they prey on their own kind. The place where men and women practice fighting and silent sitting, you know it?”
“We lived there for years, my friend is in charge of it.”
“The two watch that place, they seem obsessed with it, like they are waiting for something.”
“It is a Shaolin temple, Shadows hate Shaolin, and will kill them if they can.”
“Then you must kill them first, those Shaolin are not of society, an island of intelligence in a sea of stupidity. They are worthy humans. There is even one who speaks with us as you do. What do you need from us?”
“We have bands you can wear, if you will. They do not interfere with your flight or your hunt. If you go to the Shadows, the signals from the bands will tell us the location.”
“Sloane, round up Eloise and let’s get a tracker on one.”
Eloise attaches the tracker to the male, no point in banding the female, she will travel with him. She turns on the device and the android.
“Take a flight around the area, I will show your mate how it works.”
We must look insane, I’m sharing the screen with an owl, the dot heads south for a half mile, then turns and tracks back to the roof. He lands silently next to her.
Female, “A remarkable machine, you should build one to make you less stupid.”
“They’re working on it, it’s called AI, artificial intelligence. It might help.”
“None of your other machines do anything but make you more troublesome.”
“You have a point.”
Male, “No problem flying. We will go to the Shadows’ nest, they are there together.”
“Keep your distance, they will kill for no reason. We only need to know the building, we can locate them from there.”
Double blinks, like I was babbling the obvious again. They lift off effortlessly into the haze of night, dawn still an hour or more away.
“Sloane, I know you want to go, but I need you here with Oceane and Cassie. Don’t wake Chloe and Amaya either. Cass, you can come down now,” she stretches her legs and touches down, “I’ll get the twins and Janah, we need a Sensitive, wake Zi.”
I have coffee and tea ready, it’s near five, not that much earlier than some of us get up anyway. The android and a tablet are on the table, the GPS is stationary, Nikko knows the address.
“It’s on the edge of Chinatown, retail on the first and second, small apartments on the rest of the floors, that building is eight stories I think. Chinese families with grandparents, parents and kids in a two bedroom, converted to three by dividing the living room. Six in a two bed is a luxury, more like eight, even ten.”
“If the two Shadows are alone, a one bed or even a studio, they’ve got money or control of the landlord.”
Nikko, “How are we working this?”
“If we wait and follow, maybe the drone, but this is Manhattan. The drone needs to be within thirty yards, and preferably much closer on busy city streets. Somebody is going to spot it and the crowd could get in the way. I’m thinking dart gun. If we crash the apartment, it’s noisy and messy. The downside is, on the street, they may sense Zi or myself, even Janah.”
Janah, “The birds say the Shadows are monitoring the temple. We wait until they go there, Daphne can be Shaolin monk bait, they’ll find her irresistible.”
“As they should, I’m hot.”
“Not that kind of irresistible.”
Nikko, “Cut the crap, these assholes are deadly.”
Nikko, Zi and I have been mauled by Shadows before, it isn’t easy being irresistible.
Janah, “Shadows are generally lazy, I doubt they’re roaming the streets now.”
“The birds might want to be relieved, I’ll go down with the twins, find out where the Shadows are and get the tracker. If something happens I’ll check in.”
Nikko, “Nope, you might need Zi and I’m going as well.”
Janah, “I’m up, may as well go to the temple, I can catch first meditation and get the monks into qi meditation, give Daphne an energy barrier.”
“I’ll take all the help I can get.”
That decided, we dress for the street, including weapons. We have shuriken, Nikko can’t carry around a katana, but she’s good with nunchaka and chain whip. Don’t be within three feet of her when she zings it around, you’ll find the pointy part in your throat.
We don’t use guns except the dart guns, we have pistol versions inside jackets, won’t do to tote rifles down the street. The darts are loaded with Oblivion, we shoot up with the antidote. Oblivion kills in seconds and if we accidentally poke ourselves it kills us as fast as anyone else. We take the SUV, big bad black Tahoe, bulletproof doors and windows. That sucker cost a bundle, but with Chloe’s fame, followed on by the twins growing film recognition, Amaya has no intention of taking unnecessary risk.
I park the Tahoe in the alley next to the temple, Janah and the others go in the side door. Dasha and I to the street to find the owl.
A block east and he swoops down to a restaurant sign on the street.
“Greetings, let me relieve you of the tracker,” I unsnap it, turn it off and stick it in my pocket.
“We know the building, were you able to determine the room?”
“Top floor, back corner facing the morning sun.”
“Excellent, nice job.”
“Across the way, she has a meal for us, city is full of mice and rats.”
“Enjoy your breakfast, thank you again.”
Flap, swoosh, he’s gone to feed with his honey.
Dasha, “We will watch building Dahfoney, see when lights go on. Ees only one exit?”
“Don’t know, probably something in back, but residents wouldn’t use that. Check in with Daria, we need to move the Tahoe nearer to the building. Both of you in the car with the rifles. I have a dart pistol, give yours to Nikko.”
A minute later the Tahoe appears, Daria parks on the corner, technically a no parking delivery drive but she and Dasha will be sitting in it. They can move it if someone needs access.
Nikko and I patrol, just to scope out the building. Shops starting to open, fruit stand, convenience store/deli. A restaurant that doesn’t open until ten, there are cooks in back prepping. The resident entrance is on the right side between a nail salon and an herb shop, both closed. A narrow alley behind with a dumpster and its accompanying varmints.
This is the second line version we use. Trombone Shorty at the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis from 2000. The kid was 13, as in years old.