Forty Nine

Six thirty, a light comes on in the rear window, the streets are already active, delivery trucks offload produce, meat, canned goods, noisy garbage truck cranks by, down the alley to empty the dumpster, then beep, beep, beep as he backs out. His helper jumps out to stop traffic. In New York, the driver would never get a chance to back into the busy traffic, he’d die of old age waiting for a driver who wants to follow a garbage truck on the narrow street.
I hit the deli for coffee and rolls, take them to the car, “Coffee Dasha, I didn’t have time to fiddle with tea bags.”
“No mahter, we will haf coffee, ees black, da?”
“You and Daria’s is, if you want additives they’re in the tray, I did Nikko and Zi like we do at home. Donuts aren’t upscale, but they’re fresh, turnovers actually look tasty.”
Three of us on the street with coffee and a donut, twins in the Tahoe livin’ large. No sign of Shadows.
Between my years working with Janah at the herb shop, and Nikko’s near daily presence, we know a ton of shop owners and clerks. Handy because we can use restroom facilities unavailable to the public. I escape long conversations, it’s the beginning of the business day and everyone is a blur of morning preparations.
Despite being robe free, I’m asked to bless one shop, I bow and intone prosperity, good health and many grandchildren and leave with a gift of lychee nuts. Lychee is a fruit, not a nut, peel and enjoy, throw out the inedible brown seed inside, the remaining white flesh is quite good.
I stick some in my pocket, hand the bag to Dasha, “Enjoy.”
Now we’re peeling lychee with our pocket knives, leaning against the wall across from the targets’ building. Unless they decide to use the fire escape in the alley, they have to come out the street exit.
Someone needs the drive, Daria pulls out, a roll up door opens and the car goes down to the basement parking lot. The door stays open, there will be cars in to park for the next couple of hours.
“Daria, the garbage truck has collected from behind the target building, you can park in the alley, back in and face out, we may need a hasty exit.”
The Tahoe moves into traffic, it’s a one way, as she gets to the alley I step into the street and stop the cars so she can overshoot the alley then reverse into it. Despite it being a fifteen second maneuver, horns honk, it’s New York.
At least we’re out enjoying the pleasantly crisp air, Janah checks in, “I released the monks to practice after meditation, when I see you’ve spotted the Shadows, I’ll round them up again.”
“If you’d kept them in meditation, the world would be suffused with qi by now and you’d have eighty exhausted monks.”
“Zi is waving, you see?”
“That’s the signal, our twosome is vacating the premises. Figure I’d toss in a bit of cop talk.”
“These two are dangerous, quit screwing around, I’m gathering the monks now.”

I mental Nikko, “Going to do the sissy strut and collect their attention, doubt they will try anything out here, I’ll lead them someplace quiet.”
Nikko, “There’s another alley two blocks east one south, street’s not as busy.”
“Tell Zi to go to the temple, she’s done her part and we don’t need the Shadows sensing her, or maybe I move them along, you follow, Zi can get to the Tahoe with the twins.”
“Better, she won’t want to abandon us at this point.”

I hustle across the street, about twenty feet in front of the Shadows, they stop, I keep moving, my sensitive ears pick up the man, “What a gift, a fucking Shaolin practically in our laps. Let’s take the bitch’s mind and fuck with her. She’s a fine thing, maybe fuck her then fuck with her.”
Woman, “Then we better haul ass, she’s a block down already. Let’s just follow, we might find a less crowded place. When we get in range, I’ll test her mind. If we need to, we can double up on her mentally, then back to our place and we can double up on her physically. I want her on her knees licking my cunt.”
Nikko can hear through my ears, “She’s got a plan for you.”
“Eeewww, you’d have to remove my tongue, keep your katana sharp.”
“You aren’t losing that tongue, the rest of us have too many uses for it.”

That’s a relief, it’s good to be useful. Oops, I feel a tap in my brain, Shadow Woman is reaching out. I stop, twist my head like my neck is tight. It isn’t, I could turn my head and look behind me thanks to the owl, but I want her to know she made contact.
I pick up the pace, not a run, just long leg strides. Shadow Woman is pudgy, her head is outsize for her body, with a mass of curly red hair and maybe five two. Her companion is five eight-ish, looks Indian, slim, dark, nasty string moustache and greasy black hair. Nobody’s going to miss those two.
I’m middle of the second block east, then a right, three quarters of the way down I come on the alley and turn in.
One side is solid wall, the left side has rear entrances to the building on the corner, at the far end a Chinese man is smoking a cigarette. I know him vaguely, he has one of the zillion knick knack shops. Paper umbrellas, cheap vases, junk plastic bracelets, crappy fake jade Buddhas. If it wasn’t for tourists he’d starve to death.
I speak to him in Chinese, “Mr. Wong, your health is good?”
He brightens, he knows I’m a priest but he’s not as superstitious as most Chinese, he won’t ask for blessings. He’s also tightfisted, no blessing, no need to give me a gift. Missing his chance, I work cheap, the last blessings I offered got me a bag of Lychee nuts. Good health prosperity and many grandchildren for Lychee? How you going to beat that? Oh well, don’t know what I’d do with a paper umbrella anyway.
“Master Sylk, why hang around alley?”
“I need you inside, couple of bad people are going to try and make my day miserable. It isn’t going to happen, but they don’t know that yet. You go inside, lock the door, I wasn’t here, got it?”
He doesn’t question, drops his cigarette and stomps it, goes into his shop. I hear the deadbolt click. One thing about Chinatown, people don’t hear anything, they don’t see anything, they don’t say anything.
My new friends turn into the alley.
“Nikko, I saw Mr. Wong, he won’t tell the cops jack, but we don’t need to leave two bodies in the alley behind his shop. He might not care, but…”
“No, we’ll have to haul them off, the twins are behind me, I assume one of them is in your head.”
“Yeah, I’m going to distract one while Daria takes the other. If things get dicey, drop mine with a dart, just don’t drop me with it.”
“Very funny.”

The two are halfway to me, I turn and walk towards them, “Shadows, how lovely, out for a day of defrauding people, or is it snatch children for sex play day?”
Shadow Woman, “Shaolin, for one who is about to die, you have a smart ass mouth.”
“You planning to kill me outright, or did you have games in mind first?”
“Fuck you,” I feel the heat of her energy in my mind, an electric motor running too hot.
Janah’s got monks juicing me, she’s getting nowhere, well, my face is a bit flushed, but that’s not going to make me lose my mind.
“Chubs, you’re going to blow some neural circuits trying to take my mind, best ease off. Fat girl like you would bounce on this concrete.”
She looks at her buddy, he starts to join in when Daria taps him on the shoulder, he jumps, like one of those cat videos where they leap five feet in the air after coming on a cucumber.
Then he’s smashed against the concrete wall, so much for doubling up.
Shadow Chunkette, “Who’s the bitch? She’s no priest.”
“She could do both of you while painting her nails, paunchy. See, you thought you stumbled on a priest, whereas, you stumbled over a priest who has led you right where she wants you.”
“I’m not done Shaolin slut.”
Wonder how she knows?
She raises her hand, here comes her qi shot, sigh, I dodge Chan’s shots for practice, and he could put a hole in concrete. She gives it a go, I hear the dumpster ding behind me.
“Geez lady, is that it? I can kick the thing harder than that.”
Chunkette, “Just warming up cunt.”
Surprise, surprise, Chan rounds the corner.
“No cunt here, only fat woman with nasty mouth,” Chan puts his skillet hand on her neck, she’s stiff as a stone Buddha.
Daria parks Shadow Slick in the rear of the Tahoe, Chan drags Chunkette by the neck and dumps her next to him.
“Nikko, take Zi and go to the temple, fun’s over here, we just have to visit the river, be back in a jiffy.”
My Japanese babe is probably disappointed she didn’t get to pop one of them with a dart, her second choice. Her first choice would to behead them with her katana, not an option this time.
An hour later we’re back in the temple. Nikko and Janah followed the action in my head, kept Zi informed as things unfolded. We did actually inject them with Oblivion, the kindest way out. Over the Brooklyn Bridge, Black met us on the other side, he and Chan took the bodies, wiped them of any identification and dumped them into the East River. If the floaters don’t get hung up on Governor’s Island, they’ll be doing reverse immigration to Greenland.
Murder makes us hungry, we gather at Fong’s, Chan and Ning’s restaurant in Chinatown.
Ning is serving us bowls of spicy hot and sour soup, silken won ton, a Dasha favorite, she loves the chewy pork stuffed won ton. Platters of splendid jumbo shrimp in garlic sauce, Janah suffers through with crispy Chinese vegetables in tangy Szechuan sauce.
Black, “Glad Janah tapped me for this gig, Peking duck is amazing Ning, best anywhere.”
We have three orders, crispy skin over tender duck breast, sauce sweet blend with hints of ginger, nutmeg, orange and clove, add a few thinly sliced scallions and wrap up in a wafer thin crepe. Your mouth never had it so good.
There is no discussion of the morning, we did what needed to be done. Birds will monitor for a time, although David Li keeps the pigeons on alert for Shadows around the temple all day anyway. We need to get on with our lives.
“We’ll be doing steaks at our place soon, Black, you and Sonia carve out a week night, Ning has a hard time socializing on weekends, the restaurants are too busy. But she can usually do a Monday or Tuesday.”
Black, “I’ll work it out with Chan, give you a couple of days, that good?”
“Perfect. We’ll be going to Arizona next month, anytime this month is fine.”
Ning, “Your home there is amazing, when we went with Black and Sonia, Danika and Su took care of everything. Black and I shared cooking, your kitchen is practically commercial. And that pool, I never wanted to get out.”
“When you need a break, Arizona or Canada, just go, better to have the places used. David took some of the school staff to Canada, he said it was the highlight of the year. No meetings, no school stuff, fishing, hiking, watching sunsets. He said it took them a while to get used to a wolf on the porch, eagles and owls dropping by, a bear bigger than a side by side refrigerator freezer.”
Ning, “Were they frightened?”
“David knows to explain that the animals won’t hurt them, and not to approach, let them approach you. Our friends are sensitive, if they sense a guest is afraid, they just go on their way. They won’t raid garbage cans, or try to get in the house, food there is plentiful, they don’t want your leftovers or the empty peanut butter jar.”

Fifty

Dasha, Daria and Eloise fly to New Orleans to visit with Katya, Katja and their team of assassins. The plan is to spend a three days enjoying New Orleans food, then to Houston for more gun and rifle practice. I’m certain personal intimacies will be on the activities list. Then they fly to Prescott Municipal and on to our place north of town. The rest of us will be there the day before.
Nikko, “Eloise going to learn to shoot too?”
“I suspect it has more to do with Ellen, Sarah and Mani. Eloise is sexually voracious, our experience with Sarah is the same. Probably only get out of bed long enough to down a couple dozen oysters then hustle back under the sheets.”
“She’s not that bad. Spends most of her time dreaming up hardware.”
I laugh, “Sexually voracious makes a better story, she slips into your bed often enough.”
“She’s enthusiastic, I like enthusiastic,” Nikko crosses one lean elegant leg over the other, she’s wearing her snug white cotton stretchy shorts, the ones that create a sexually charged atmosphere.
“We have an hour before tea, I’ll enthusiastically do anything you want, maybe things you don’t even know you want until I do them.”
Nikko, “Come to my room, and get on your knees.”
Girls are around the table, Chloe’s started tea, “Sorry I’m a bit late, Nishiko and I were deep into kendo strategy.”
Amaya, “You appear flushed.”
“It was an active demonstration.”
Janah, “Flying out tomorrow, simple dinner tonight, your cooking pal is in Houston.”
“Pizza, I’ll call Marconi’s later. Did Eloise take drones with her to New Orleans?”
“No clue.”
I mental Dasha, she’s blasting away at some metal device, doing pretty well with it too.
The magazine is empty, “Hey angel, did Eloise take a drone with her or should we bring one from here?”
Dasha, “We already sheep to Arizona, three. Dart gun, dart rifle, you will bring drugs. You will see me day after tomorrow Dahfoney.”
“Good thing, six days is too long.”
“Da, we anyway haf nice time, good food, make sex wiz five girls.”
“All at once?”
“Nyet, tweens, then Ellen for me and Sarah and Mani for sister, next night other way, then tweens again. Tonight Sarah ees strumming girl for us, she will leek everyone, then two or three will fuck her wiz strapping on toy.”
“Fun, one more day at the range?”
“Nyet, enough for shooting, we can hit twenty five feefty yards, also moving targets good enough. Tomorrow we visit Katya Donut, haf nice lunch someplace, relax.”
“We’re in Arizona a couple months, they coming up?”
“Da, in two weeks, they haf work out of town, next week and week after.”
“Excellent, see you soon angel.”

“Drones are out there already, dart guns, rifles, if we get a Shadow job, we’re set. Janah, do we have pharmaceuticals?”
“Yes, I’ll pack them for the trip in the morning. We leave here at nine, depart Teterboro to Prescott Municipal at ten, in by one. Lunch on the plane, grilled fish, baked potato, green salad, mixed veg.”
“Katya’s crew is coming in two weeks, I didn’t ask how long they’re staying.”
Amaya, “Goody, Ellen and I can dazzle everyone with splendidosity.”
Zi, “Be fun to see them again, with Ellen we’re treated to three great chefs.”
Amaya, “Chloe and I have to go to Japan at the start of summer, about the time we will be returning to New York. Makes more sense for us to go to San Francisco from Arizona. Be nice to have security, but I know our businesswomen need to be back.”
“How long you going for?”
“A full week, the usual, shoot a couple of commercials, tour of talk shows, Chloe’s brand sells well there and the cosmetic companies want her to pitch for them. They stick us in first class everything, including the front of the plane. She can also do teasers for Twice as Dead 2.”
“See if Katya’s people want to go. They can’t take guns, but they’re formidable on their own. Dasha and Daria have done MMA and kickboxing with them, she says they go hard and don’t quit.”
“I shall call Ellen tomorrow. Oh, and they practice conversational Japanese, I had forgotten. A week of immersion for them.”
Cocktails, then pizza while we watch an old Ellen Page flick, Hard Candy. A teenage girl hooks up with a 30-something fashion photographer she met on the Internet. She isn't as innocent as she looks. The night goes badly for the photographer.
Oceane is curled next to Cassie on the mat, Sloane next to me, we’re propped up on throw pillows. Others are spread around the couches.
A break in the middle to refresh, then settle in again to finish up the photographer’s lousy night.
Don’t know if anyone else got frisky before bed, my playtime with Nikko was succulently sufficient. Janah and I conk out until the sun peeks in.
Takeoff and airborne, Blue Sky does its usual fast and friendly.
I’m carving out a hunk of fish, nice and buttery sauce with a hint of lemon, not overcooked. Girls are quietly absorbed in lunch, Nikko is on her tablet checking numbers no doubt. Oceane is sharing fish and vegetables with Cass, Sloane will eat her lunch and most of whatever they don’t. Flan for dessert, how nice.
Touchdown, down the steps, we have almost no baggage, we keep most everything at each of the three homes. Nikko and Zi have clothes and cosmetics at the San Francisco apartment. Only packing is when Amaya and Chloe have to go to LA. They could keep an apartment, but Amaya likes Shutters and even though it’s expensive, overall it’s no more than monthly rent. For the kind of place Amaya would find acceptable that is.
Danika, “Welcome home everyone. Cassie and Oceane, twice adorables, how lovely. Chloeee! My favorite movie star. I guess I have three favorites now that the twins are becoming an industry. Janah said you had lunch on the plane, there’s fruit and yogurt if you need a mid-afternoon pickup.”
No luggage, she ignores the pharma case I’m toting. It’s a converted pilot’s case. Drug vials, needles and syringes to load the darts packed inside, each snug in a cushioned compartment.
Four varieties, Truth, enhanced sodium pentothal. Trust, a kind of super-oxytocin, which gets the target relaxed and chatty. Sleep, an fast acting tranquilizer, and Oblivion, instant death.
A half hour to the house. Our land abuts the Prescott National Forest to the west and the Kaibab National Forest to the east. We own all of the mountain to the north and a swath of valley south, we aren’t getting neighbors, development or much of anything else.
Danika, “I uncovered the pool a week ago and started the heater, the water is comfortable for swimming.”
“Thanks you, I’m sure it will be all of minutes before the children are in.”
It takes about five before I hear the first splash, then a second. Sloane comes along in dirt bike paraphernalia.”
“Oh, and the bikes and carts have been used, everything’s in working order. Su and I even ran the formula ones around a few times. I felt quite international.”
“You are international, Latvian, then Shaolin and American.”
Chloe, “Come on Daph, let’s fire up the karts and have a few laps, Amaya’s going to want to get her Vette on the course later.”
That kills a couple of hours, we even wound up doing formula one, then left Amaya to screech around in her Corvette while we wash off engine smell. Chloe and I shower in her room, play hide the soap, then I’m on my knees making her tingle while warm water splashes down over us. After we dry off, Chloe reciprocates deliciously, I’m leaning against the vanity, hair still wet. If you haven’t had a movie star look up at you with gorgeous violet eyes while she licks you insensate, find one and give it a go. I shiver and shake, tingle and twist, geez it feels good.
Chloe, “You’re so heavenly hot, could I entice you into fucking me crazy?”
“Strap me up, then wrap those long legs around me, I’ll give you liftoff, then my booster rocket kicks in, you’ll be interstellar in no time.”
Actually, she goes interstellar, but in slow time, you don’t rush with a delicacy like Chloe.
We’re spread on the bed, mostly recovered when Amaya walks in, “Bad girls, good time.”
Chloe, “Bad girls had a marvelous time, need anything?”
“A shower. You two stay put, I’m wired from driving a hundred forty, I’m going to allow both of you to go down on my perfection.”
Chloe looks at me, “Life is very good,” we cuddle and kiss, in the shower Amaya sings High Time We Went, sounds like Cocker giving a concert in the bathroom.
And we just got here, and our twins are coming tomorrow, and more twins, Ellen, Mani and Sarah in two weeks. But let’s not live in the future, the now can hardly get better, Amaya is crawling on the bed, it’s show time.
Candle wax, warm oil and an artist’s brush, double licked to ultra-max, Amaya’s sensual groan of release.
Amaya, “Like me, perfect in every way.”
Chloe, “Not done yet, flip it over and kneel.”
“Oh god.”
Amaya on her knees, head between my legs, Chloe tongue tush tingling, then the straps up and takes Amaya anally. If you haven’t had an achingly gorgeous blue eyed blond devouring you while she’s having her butt rocked by a famous film star, find a couple and give it a go.
We’re triple post-gasmed girls lying on the bed, sheets crumpled off one side, Sloane walks in.
“Hey mom, Danika says tea is in ten,” she takes a look up and down each of us, “pure inspiration, Oceane is in for it tonight. Good thing I’m wearing panties or my boy part would be waving around,” she giggles and leaves.
Amaya, “She’s the most well adjusted of us all, I have no idea how with you as a mom.”
“She has Chloe for a role model.”
“True. And I am responsible for everything Chloe, excepting her perpetually happy personality.”
Chloe, “You’re the reason for my happiness dearest.”
“Oh my, so…I am at a loss….”
When you can put Amaya at a loss for words, her heart is truly touched.
 “Time for tea, I am famished, hope there are snacks.”
And there are, cut fruit, crackers and cheese. Everyone has been active apparently, we demolish the food, which gets me thinking about dinner. I poke around in the refrigerator.
“Ah, good, you’re ahead of me Danika, flank steak tonight, you even have it marinating.”
“Vegetarian lasagna is the covered glass pan on the left. It needs to be cooked.
There’s enough to serve as the side for the steaks, and there are ingredients for Italian salad. Ben and Jerry’s in the freezer, um, and hot fudge, whipping cream and almond slivers.”
“Great, easy duty. I’ll make a meat run before I collect the twins tomorrow, what’s frozen?”
“Burgers from Sprouts, veal, ground pork sausage, I’m hoping you or Dasha do the white beans, navy beans are in the pantry.”
“Good, when my partner gets in, we’ll start concocting menus. Tomorrow I’ll get fresh fish, Dasha will make fried catfish tomorrow night.’
“Oh, will you make those fried vegetables? And hush puppies?”
Janah, “Yeah, now I’m hungry for tomorrow night too.”

Fifty One

The small Criterion touches down, then Dasha, Daria and Eloise are out and in the car, “Right on time,” it’s a short flight and they pick up an hour from Central to Mountain time, here for eleven.
Dasha, “We did not haf food on plane, you haf lunch?”
“Ton of Boar’s Head cold cuts, bread and chips. Tonight we’re frying catfish and the accompaniments.”
Eloise, “Yum, one of my favorites, along with all the other meals you make. Ellen did a great job feeding us. We took them to a restaurant so she could catch a break, but I actually thinks she prefers cooking.”
“I’m sure she appreciated the gesture.”
“And I made sure to show my appreciation,” she giggles at herself.
Daria, “Nikko and I reviewed numbers this morning, business is good, almost ridiculous. Chicago is profitable, but growth is flat. New York and San Francisco are over the moon. Foreigners, mostly Chinese, come along and pay over the top dollar for property. Ours goes up by default.”
“She’s not thinking of selling anything is she, she hasn’t mentioned it.”
“Nyet, income is too good, particularly for what we paid back then versus today’s leasing rates. Plus some of it was inherited, before sister and I came along, family paid zero. Drone business is pouring in money, restaurants are solid earners, but we do not try to make a lot of money, most profits go to employees. But we own the property and it goes up with the rest of New York. Property management business is another cash machine.”
“So we’re filthy richer.”
“Da. Think of it, the income Murakami Sylk has earned on the properties is more than the property’s original valuation. And in a few years it will be more than today’s prices.”
“Wait, you’re saying we’ve collected more than we paid, like if the building all disappeared, we got more in income than the cost?”
“Yes.”
“Good gravy, that’s like a money miracle,” I pull in front of the house.
Danika, “Twin delights and adorable Eloise, welcome. Must be hungry girls, I’ll help Daph with cold cuts, things will be out after you’ve had a chance to settle.”
Dasha, “Thanking you but ees only short flight Danika, I will feex lunch wiz Dahfoney. We haf anyway to plan dinner and menu for the next few days. After lunch you will take Cassandra up the mountain and create a new universe wizout Shadowy peersons.”
Danika laughs, “We’ll work on it, might take a while.”
“Where ees she?”
“Floating over the pool.”
Dasha goes outside, Cass is about three feet above the shallow end, Oceane is doing laps.
Cass spots Dasha and drops into the pool, swims over and climbs out. Dasha wraps her in a big towel then rewraps her up in a long hug and multi-kisses on soft cheeks.
“Sisters are missing you and Oceane, you will shower now and I will feex lunch. Sloane, get Oceane cleaned up, they need to eat and rest.”
Sloane springs off the high board and lands alongside the swimming Oceane. They finish the lap and climb out.
Now things are right, everyone is here, making sandwiches, cranberry sauce or cherry preserves are favored condiments, bowls of chips line the big table.
Nikko, “This afternoon I can go over the businesses with anyone interested. Daria said she had a brief discussion with Daphne on the way in.”
Janah, “I’ve looked at the spreadsheets, but a verbal summary wouldn’t hurt.”
Amaya, “Chloe and I will be around, let us know when.”
“Tea is four thirty, perhaps four.”
Danika, “I’m taking Cassandra up the mountain for a couple of hours, around two I think, after she’s rested from this morning.”
“Rested from what, was she just hovering?”
Sloane, “No mom, she swam and dived, she only floated for a few minutes before you got back.”
“Oh, duh, I’m conclusion jumping.”
Oceane is having seafood salad, she’s not much on meat, will eat chicken occasionally. Sloane made Cass a chipotle chicken on toast with Kewpie mayo and Tonkatsu sauce. She’s vague on the concept of constructing a sandwich herself, but will eat what’s put in front of her. Ocean feeds her a fork of seafood salad, actual shrimp, scallop and crabmeat, not crab flavored fish. Although I’ve gotten her that too, if she has a preference she doesn’t show it.
Oceane tells her, “Later go up the mountain and find out what happens. I will be in my room painting, the brushes and paints will tell me what you see.”
Cass smiles at her pal, food forgotten until Ocean puts another fork of salad in her mouth.
Amaya, “Whatever goes on in those two heads, Chloe, what do the auras say?”
“They have no aura today, am I missing it Zi?”
“No, empty as a Zen monk, concept free, no fear, no preferences, no self reference, no self.”
Janah, “Living in enlightenment, the art will be interesting.”
Amaya, “I wish my word processor told me what to write.”
Oceane, “I told you, use a pencil. The machine is made with materials from the Earth, a pencil is closer to its natural state. If you drop Amaya, even the machine will tell you what to write.”
“I cannot begin to think of how that works.”
“Quit thinking, then it will work.”
Chloe, “She’s said it before, give it a shot, if nothing happens what do you lose,
a little time, but if it works…”
Amaya, “I surrender, I shall try it after lunch. Last time I got as far as buying pencils.”
“Oceane has a thousand pencils, every grade, she’s got number two writing pencils in there, or you may want a darker black, try out a few and see what works for you.”
Oceane, “Come to my room later, the pencils will fly and the one for you will emerge.”
Amaya, “It is not going to poke me in the eye I trust, maybe not trust, I shall wear sunglasses.”
Oceane smiles, floats off to her room, Cassie trails along behind.
After Dasha and I clear and put away, I go to Oceane’s room and peek in. She and Cassie are wrapped up and dead away, even mystical girls get tired. I close the door gently and go downstairs. Janah’s tapping away on her laptop. Danika is doing laundry and passes by with folded clothes.
“Dani, the children are blissfully asleep, if they aren’t up by two, put the hike on hold. Maybe in the morning before Cass exhausts herself.”
“Will do,” she goes off to distribute laundry.
Janah, “We have work. I know we just got here, but our other teams ore occupied or on break.”
“What’s the deal?”
“Stalker cop, it sounds like a common detective story. Cop is convinced the DA’s office has it wrong, he thinks they released the bad guy and are holding an innocent guy. He’s become obsessed with proving himself right.”
“If we’re taking it on, you must be convinced the cop has it wrong and the DA has it right.”
“I’m not convinced of anything, curious is more like it. He’s a college prof alibied tight, he was giving a lecture to a conference hall full of psychologists. It’s on tape, with the day and time referenced. He was billed as on the program, checked into his room, had breakfast lunch and dinner with the attendees. He doesn’t have a twin brother who could have covered for him or done the murder. The murdered girl was in one of his undergrad classes, the kind with a hundred and fifty students. It’s mostly taught by his TA. He barely knows any of the students, was never seen with the girl, no exchanged emails, no texts, no phone calls. If that isn’t enough, he’s a long out homosexual with a ten year partner, neither of whom has any history of violence, one traffic ticket between them over five years ago. This guy did not rape and gut a twenty year old undergrad.”
“So what’s the cop hung up on?”
“That’s why we got the call, nobody knows. I’m told he’s always been doggedly persistent, which is why his arrest and conviction record is good. Not a superstar, but a solid above average performer. Not known to be particularly violent, a couple of complaints but not rising to police brutality. They went out of their way to double check the professor because of the detective’s credibility. Nothing.”
“Why isn’t he stuck on a desk until he settles down?”
Janah shakes her head, “He concocted an elaborate story of how it’s possible for the prof to have done it. It’s reminiscent of Agatha Christie and train schedules.”
“Ah, where the perp could have taken the 10:22 and got off at Hampshire Hedgerow, caught the 11:15 to Shropsdale Withers, killed the victim, then taken the 2:13 back to Dalymire Moor in time to deliver his lecture at the Shrewsbury All England Pig Farmers co-op.”
Janah laughs, “Yes, and was having a pint and tossing darts with the regulars by 5:15. In the case of our professor, our detective’s theory is that he left the conference in Flagstaff after his talk and lunch, drove a hundred and twenty miles to Mesa, murdered the girl, then drove back to Flagstaff in time for a cocktail reception at six.”
“It’s primarily interstate, not impossible.”
“No, not impossible. And nobody saw him from around one fifteen until six. However, he had not changed clothes, so he would have had to have worn coveralls to commit the murder, it was messy. No bloody clothes were found near the scene, of course he could have ditched those anyplace. She was killed in an apartment she shared with two other girls, they were in rehearsal for a play all afternoon. His prints were not found in the room, the murder weapon, a long blade carving knife they think, is missing. No one saw his car or him in the area. No bloodstains in his car, a seven year old Volvo with fifty thousand miles, he hardly drives much. And more importantly, there is no motive.”
“Why’s the detective so stuck on it then?”
“Beats me, beats everyone else, he just is.”
“Sounds like we send Surveillance first.”
“I am, we give them a week to do their thing, follow the prof, follow the cop, take pictures, video, send us what they get. They’ll be on it tomorrow.”

Fifty Two

Nikko has her business report at four, Dasha and I are in earshot, just not paying attention, in the kitchen slicing catfish. We prefer it cut crosswise instead of frying a whole fat filet. The pieces will marinate in milk until time to fry. Dasha is organizing qa big pan of macaroni and cheese, baked beans in a low oven.
Tea time, “Sloane, get Cassie and Oceane up please, they need to be mobile not awake half the night.”
I’m placing cups, no sugar or lemon for afternoon tea. Today two options, Dragon Well Long Jing green, and Keemun Imperial black. Unlike mornings, we don’t use tea bags for afternoon tea.
Fourteen of us, it’s like a tea convention.
Danika, “Cass, Daphne wanted you and Oceane to rest today, tomorrow we will go up the mountain after breakfast for a couple of hours.”
Cassie sips her green tea, Oceane feeds her a bite of shortbread cookie. Danika’s comment is well intentioned, but Cass won’t remember jack about a trip up the mountain tomorrow, she couldn’t tell you what she did this morning.
Janah, “Fried veggies tonight, yay.”
“I’m also adding baked beans and mac and cheese, nobody doesn’t like mac and cheese.”
Chloe, “Double yay, wait, triple yay.”
Amaya, “You should be an oinker beanpole.”
Su laughs, “Non-fat chance. I’m the only chunky girl in the whole crowd. Slim was never in the cards for me.”
Zi, “I’m not as slim as the Nikko or Daphne, Janah and Amaya are curvier too. Besides, a lot of you is muscle.”
Su, “I was genetically designed to be a power lifter I think. I don’t weight lift, just my forms, stretches and splits. I was always strong though.”
Su is a Contemplative, deep into Buddhist history and philosophy. She’s friendly enough, not as social as Danika who is hardly the team leader type. It’s why they love it here. Company for a time, then alone to pursue their interests. Danika likes sex play sometimes, Su is asexual, like David Li at the temple. Physical intimacy with another isn’t on their radar.
Amaya, “Oceane, let’s go to your room and try the pencil thing, you do remember our discussion?”
Oceane smiles gently, they go up the stairs to fly pencils. Amaya skips sunglasses.
“Cocktails six or six thirty depending on when our bartender shows up, dinner around seven-ish. Heaters will be on outside if you prefer to eat there.”
Dasha, “We haf everything feex Dahfoney, only to fry, maybe start at six thirty.”
“Good, I’m in for a little diving, if you’re up for it let’s get in an hour.”
And we do. Dasha and I aren’t Oceane, but I’ve done martial arts all my life, and Dasha does gymnastics. Our proprioceptive skills are excellent, and diving is about knowing where your body is located in relationship to the water below. Front and back flips, gainers forward and reverse off both the one and three meter. We lap the pool after each dive, after an hour we’re nicely aerobic-ed from swimming and anaerobic-ed from leaping off the boards, twisting and turning.
“I’m done angel,” I step under the outdoor shower and rinse, Dasha’s in the second shower, we wrap up and go to our rooms to dry hair.
No suits to fool with, we didn’t wear any.
By the time we’re down, Amaya’s organizing the bar. “Fried fish is a beer thing, I opened white wine as well, the moonbeams do not drink beer. I will create cocktail of choice when the girls gather.”
Sloane races in, “Yay, Sapporo, how’d the pencil thing go?”
“So strange, I am sitting on Oceane’s bed, she gives me a bunch of pencils which I hold in both hands, like two dozen total. Weirdo has a conversation with the pencils about me being a writer and the pencils should help me with the writing. Also they should go slowly at first since I am used to writing on machines.”
“And then?”
“She unwraps my fingers, places her palms on my palms, the pencils are in between. She removes her hands, nothing happens for a minute, just when I am about to declare her mentally incompetent, damned if most of the pencils rise into the air and return to the holders. I am left with one in my right hand and two in my left.”
“There must be some reason, right hand left hand.”
Amaya, “The alien says I do my initial draft with one of the left handed pencils and my editing with the right handed pencil, then any final rewrite the left handed one I did not use on the first draft.”
Janah, “Your right brain controls your left hand, and your left brain controls your right. You use the left hand pencils for right brain creative activity. The right hand pencils for more linear thinking editing activity. Remember, from Oceane’s point of view, the pencils are doing the writing. It doesn’t matter which hand you write with, only that the pencil you use is a left brain or right brain one.”
“Simple enough to remember, number 3s for creative writing and an ordinary number two for editing. I labeled the two pencils first and second in order to use them in the correct sequence.”
“And did you give it a try?”
“Not yet, Moonbeam wanted to have sex, compensation for the pencil consult I suppose.”
Dasha, “Fried vegetables will be cocktail appetizer, then we haf hushing dog wiz feesh, mahcahroney wiz chiz and baking bean. There ees plenty, naslazhdat'sya,”
She puts platters of fried mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli and okra on the table, romano parmesan to sprinkle on top, spicy mayo for dipping.
Janah, “I will surely naslazhdat'sya,” she plucks a mushroom, adds cheese, “ahhh, taste bud heaven, just right Dasha.”
Girls attack, fried veggies is one of the house favorites, one of the world favorites if sales at Ultra Violet are any indication, the best selling appetizer by far.
Danika, “Good gravy, I sure miss you guys when you’re gone. Su and I do austerity with an occasional trip to town to spoil ourselves. We drop any pretense of austere when the family is here, the meals are too good.”
“Think of it as the middle way achieved by adopting extremes. You have rice and steamed vegetables when we’re gone, high table when we’re around. Since we aren’t here but a third of the year, you’re still leaning to austere overall.”
Su, “Perfect, that’s our new story Danika. We’re two thirds of an ascetic, one third gourmand.”
“Works for me, another helping of okra then, and a chunk of cauliflower.”
And so it goes through dinner. We fried enough catfish to make Eggs St. Charles in the morning. A breakfast surprise. Poached eggs over fried fish with hollandaise, a dreamy good New Orleans dish from Brennan’s.
Janah, “Daphne and I will need to travel next week, at least I think so. If Amaya will drive, that will be helpful, and Eloise with a drone. Change the plates on whichever of the SUVs you decide to use Amaya. The drone should have tranquilizer, but we aren’t after Shadows, just an obsessed cop.”
Nikko, “Care to elaborate?”
Janah relates what she knows, the group generally agrees, it appears the professor is not involved and the detective is off base.
Janah, “I’m talking to my contacts tomorrow, I don’t know why the police think the man they have in custody, the girl’s boyfriend, is the killer. They may have an airtight case, but my contacts wouldn’t be calling me if that’s the case. When I know more, I’ll do a mind dump and you can offer your observations.”
Nikko, “Unless they make a case before you need to go, I think you should take Chloe or Zi to read the players, maybe both.”
Janah, “Good thought, okay, let’s do something productive, like watch a movie and digest, I can’t move farther than the couch.”
“Somebody pick a flick or some TV thing we like. After Dasha and I clear, we’ll pass around libation of choice. A break at nine, you can create an ice cream whatever or there assorted Godiva things to fill your sweet teeth.”
Amaya decides we need to watch Leonardo get betrayed and mauled by a bear in The Revenant.
We break to make sundaes or scarf Godiva, I make Janah a Godiva sundae,  microwave a truffle just enough to soften, then plop it on top of Ben and Jerry’s vanilla bean.
Janah, “Thank you, I’ll show my appreciation later, you know how chocolate makes me.”
“Maybe I should have used two truffles.”
Janah giggles.

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