Mani, “Stoneridge, gee, they have a golf course here, wonder why he joins a club across town?”
“These houses are new, probably moved here recently. They aren’t likely to make him board chair and that’s gonna lower his profile. I image he plays golf here, the course runs past his backyard.”
Mani, “Take the wheel, I’m going for a sneaky peek.”
She walks across the front of the house, pretending to take pictures with her phone. Moves down the left side like she’s supposed to be there. If Mrs. Elvis is home and confronts her, she’s a real estate agent with the wrong address, so sorry to disturb, bye now.
Mani peeks cautiously around the back corner. There’s a patio of paving stones, furniture and a grill. A four foot high brick wall runs behind the patio and squares off to each side of the house. Looks like a little sunbathing privacy perhaps, or just to avoid gawking golfers.
A boy maybe sixteen leans against the wall, no shirt, shorts half down his legs. Mrs. Elvis is on her knees giving him quite a thrill. Mani takes ten seconds of video, backs up and returns to the car.
“His wife may want him dead, but she isn’t the one who hired us.”
“What did you see?”
She hands Ellen the phone.
“Appears Mr. and Mrs. are both youth oriented, all about the children. That boy is too pretty to be handsome, blond hair to his shoulders.”
“Maybe a cup of coffee, go back towards the highway, there’s a drive through coffee place, Yellow Leaf at the next big intersection.”
Two double shot cappuccinos, they kill time walking through Fry’s supermarket. Pick up bourbon and red wine, red pepper hummus and crackers, at the deli they get a half dozen chicken fingers and coleslaw for later.
“Let’s drop it off at the hotel, we’re gonna need to try Snyder tonight, the tracker will ding us when he’s on the move.”
At the hotel, Mani sticks the booze, wine and deli stuff in the refrigerator. They take a walk around the vicinity of the hotel to stretch, then back to the room. Ellen clicks on CNN, they hang out and watch the endless political wrangling and Middle East turmoil that plays like a loop on every news outlet in America.
Ellen, “Christ, I’m glad we’re not political. I’d have to start killing politicians, my jihad against stupidity.”
Mani’s phone dings, Elvis is on the move.
They pick him up coming from Prescott, the old town, houses look like houses with character marks and colors. Not like cookie cutters with an emphasis on beige in subdivisions where you grovel before the HOA to make the slightest exterior changes. He’s headed home.
Mani, “Well here we are again, stalking the Snyders.”
“Do another creep and peep, is the woman there? Garage is closed up and he left his Lexus out front, maybe he’s going out again.”
Mani is gone five minutes, then back in the car, “The kid who got the blow job is her son.”
Ellen, “Get out, what makes you think that?”
“It’s cool tonight, windows are open. Mom was in the kitchen in a short silk robe, not tied either. He asked where his black jeans are. As in, ‘mom, where are my good black jeans?’ Then walked up to her and while he felt her bare boobs, she had one hand fondling his smooth butt, the other holding his dick. Mom said laundry room. I only saw the back of her head earlier, this time I got a look at her face. He’s got her features. We couldn’t tell from the video, he’s hairless everywhere except his head. He had on hot pink over the knee stretch socks. even his legs are pretty.”
“Wonder how tubby dad procreated that?”
“I doubt Elvis is the father, sonny looks nothing like him.”
“But Snyder’s home, he must know.”
“Guess so, that is one strange family.”
“We should know.”
They wait an hour, it’s gotten dark, they’re just a car parked on the still street. A patrol car drifts by, he doesn’t stop, continues up the block.
Ellen cranks the engine, “Let’s get out of the subdivision and onto the highway. Cop didn’t seem to take any interest, but we don’t need to be here if he comes back.”
By eight, it’s apparent that Snyder is sticking around. Ellen drives back to the hotel.
“God, I’m famished.”
Ellen, “Open the wine, pour me a bourbon please, I’ll get the chicken crisped,” she opens the coleslaw and uses a plastic fork to taste, “Fry’s did a good job, not mayo saturated. And it’s still crisp, wasn’t made two days ago.”
Ellen’s phone dings, “Damn the car is in motion, we need to get going.”
Mani, “Wait, let’s see where it goes.”
A half blip and it stops, “He’s just garaging it.”
Ellen, “Good, if I had to dump my drink and skip eating I’d have killed his fat ass.”
“You’re going to kill his fat ass.”
“Yeah, but I won’t be mad at him when I do. We never decided who goes first, you or me.”
Mani, “The way these things go, there’s no point. It’s not like we dictate where he goes. I could be driving and you can get to him quickly, or the other way around. Unless we get a shot when he’s home alone, one of us takes him when an opportunity presents itself.”
After cracker and hummus appetizer, Ellen makes up plates of chicken fingers, warm sesame sauce, split the coleslaw. They eat on the couch and watch Divergent. It crawls to the end, the girls are yawning.
Mani, “That was as lame as Hunger Games.”
Ellen, “The girl who has to hunt with a bow and arrow to feed her family, but is mystically chunky. Must have been the bread Peeta sneaked her, maybe Katniss is gluten intolerant. Then she dithers about which boy to fuck. A real heroine would have fucked them both.”
“You didn’t have a preference? Peeta or whathisname?”
“Gale something. They’re boys, I don’t do boys.”
“I always thought Gale should have done the sister, forget flabby Katniss.”
“She was a little young.”
“Not then, later, it could have been implied by them developing a close friendship.”
“Who played that girl?”
“Willow Shields, who I’d never heard of, turns out she has a twin sister. She’s like fifteen now. We never watched the rest of the series, I have no idea what her role was in two and three.”
Mani, “I need to sleep. Let’s get going early, maybe we can get this done and go home.”
Mani is up, she gets coffee and brings a cup to Ellen, “We can’t go back to his house. That cop probably ignored us, but if he wrote down a plate…”
“He what? Finds out it’s a rental, then goes to the trouble of getting a name from the agency that’s fake?”
“Not the point sweetie. It’s not a neighborhood where people park on the street. Let’s pretend he’s diligent. He writes up a car with a description and the plate, just to show he’s actually doing something on patrol. He goes off shift but the next cop reads his notes, I know, it’s a ridiculous long shot, but still. Now the same car is either parked or wandering the hood. That cop is going to check us out. We could come up with some bullshit, but now he’s seen us, and a guy down the street is found dead.”
“I take your point. We can’t really do him at home now anyway. Despite mom and sonny’s sexual antics, we can’t have the kid coming home to dead daddy. At first, I thought it couldn’t be the woman who hired us, new information about mommy and pretty sonny changes the equation. She or she and sonny both might want him gone, permanently.”
“A male contacted Penny, could have been the kid. The do-it-by-Friday bonus is still confusing, and if it’s mommy, she should have created an alibi. Maybe she thinks the kid will alibi her.”
They have the Springhill Suites breakfast buffet, on the way back to the room the phone dings, “He’s leaving.”
The dot moves west, “The route to the country club. Let’s pick him up along the way, maybe he stops someplace.”
Ellen drives towards Snyder, it’s about nine miles from his place to downtown Prescott, a couple miles further on to the club. When they’re a mile apart, she turns and travels ahead of him, just under the speed limit. Most people drive slightly to wildly over, Snyder is no different, he passes them two minutes later.
They follow him through town, he takes a right on Miller Valley then left to Iron Springs.
Ellen, “How ‘bout that, Prescott Gun club.”
Snyder gets out of his car, he’s carrying.
Ellen, “Aww, this is too providential. Fat Boy has a Colt 45 holstered to his hip. An old fashioned guy, how cute.”
Mani, “This will be interesting. Pull over.”
Ellen stops at the edge of the strip mall. It’s nearly nine, the place will open in a few minutes. Apparently only Elvis wants to pop paper this early, he’s got a hefty haunch resting on the front fender of his Lexus. His right hand is resting on the Colt, just in case he suddenly fears for his life in laid back pressure-free Prescott.
Mani comes up from behind and transfers a nine millimeter from the chamber of her Glock to his brain. He stuns for a second, then slides off the fender to the concrete. Blood streaks the side of his car, his Colt leaves an ugly deep scratch on his expensive paint.
Ellen is behind her, the passenger door is open, Mani hops in.
Two minutes later the gun club door opens, there’s Elvis, permanently out of the realm of the living soon to a morgue housing the dead.
Two hours later Ellen and Mani are on a flight from Prescott Municipal to Houston where the twins were touring Katya Donut shops. Good thing they fly private, the only commercial flights from Prescott go to LA.
Ellen calls Katya from the plane, “Conflict resolved honey, see you in a bit.”
Katya calls Penny, “Completed,” she disconnects.
“Half of a hundred and twenty thousand payday. We never did figure out why doing it by Friday was such a big deal.”
Katja, “Maybe news will haf a clue, some event involving the target. Not anyway important. In killing beezness, only dead target and money ees important.”
It’s a bit cheaper for Ellen and Mani to fly to Houston and pick up the twins. Blue Sky charges by the hour, not by the number of passengers. Bigger planes naturally have higher per hour costs, but for four, only a light jet is required. This one is a Citation Mustang. An hour in the air and Sarah picks them up at New Orleans Lakefront airport.
“I see you made the bonus.”
Ellen, “With three days to spare. You flunk out yet?”
“I’d be on the Dean’s List if I was full time. Kanji are a bitch, but Katya helps, speaking isn’t problem, we practice enough at home. Katya makes me write down phrases, then helps me translate text. It’s coming along, I’m starting to recognize basics like menus, what signs indicate, things to help navigate a Japanese city. She got me a Murakami novel in Japanese, after an hour my brain hurts.”
Back at home, Mani and Sarah take care of luggage and put away the guns. Ellen makes tea and they take it around the dining table with ginger snaps and sugar cookies.
Two weeks on and Katya’s crew is in New York, Manhattan specifically, West Village more specifically.
Janah, “Hey girls, come in, we’ll introduce you to the others as we come across them. Sloane, help with the luggage, you know who is staying in what room.”
Daphne, “Let’s sort out the rooms, then a tour.”
Amaya’s office is down the hall, she takes them there first, it’s where Sarah, Mani and Ellen will home base, but there will be lots of bed swapping when assignations are arranged.
Upstairs to the spare bedroom where Katya and Katja will base. They stay to unpack and refresh, the others go downstairs.
Sarah, “This place is huge, and gorgeous.”
Amaya comes along, “Thank you.”
Daphne, “Amaya is responsible for our furnishings, paint, the whole place really, also our clothes, hairstyles and makeup selections.”
Ellen, “Hello Amaya, I’m Ellen, this is Sarah and Mani, the twins are still upstairs.”
Sarah, “Ohmygod…it’s Chloe Sylk…this is sooo cool, I’m like the biggest fan ever.”
Chloe grins, hugs her, “Always great to meet a fan.”
Sarah turns to Mani, “I’m hugging Chloe Sylk, so there,” she sticks her tongue out.
Chloe releases her, hugs Mani, then Ellen. The twins come down, after introductions they get hugged too.
Ellen leans into Daphne, whispers, “Amaya is….um…I can’t think of a word.”
Daphne smiles, “Me neither, just appreciate perfection of the femme.”
Amaya grins, she can be in Daphne’s head, hear what she hears.
Dasha, “Tea will be on roof today, go up, Nikko and Zi should be home soon with sister. They haf beezness een Murakami Sylk Property to take care of so we don’t anyway go broke and become homeless peersons.”
She turns to the steeping tea, talks to herself, ‘now, what ees snack? Ah, we will haf wagashi, I will see,’ she prepares a platter.
“Sloane, take upstairs, I will bring tea, cups are out?”
“Yes, napkins, forks and small plates as well.”
Sloane offers the sweets, a plate and fork to the girls, “We have Daifuku, a glutinous rice cake stuffed with sweetened red bean paste made from azuki beans.
This one, Dango is a dumpling and sweet made from rice flour. The last is Yōkan, a thick, jellied dessert made of red bean paste, agar, which is the jelly part, and sugar.”
Ellen, “Looks beautiful….and tasty.”
Dasha serves green tea. The New York girls have unsweetened tea in the afternoon, usually green. Matcha can be bitter, not like lemon, but tart. The sweets are to offset.
Mani, “What a splendid rooftop, you are far from the bigger buildings, the privacy is nice. I see Oceane’s endless pool, where is she…and the younger girl… Cassandra?”
Daphne, “Probably in Oceane’s room. Their schedule is not always ours, she’ll be along eventually.”
Nikko, Zi and Daria arrive, the New Orleans girls already know Daria from St. Martin’s, Nikko and Zi are introduced, then find spots while Dasha fills teacups.
Janah, “Oceane and Cassie will show up for dinner perhaps.”
Sarah, “Oceane had fish following her when she was in the ocean.”
Sloane, “She had a shark one time, she’s popular with dolphins too.”
“A shark, like a big shark?”
“Six or seven feet, bigger than her, he took her for a ride.”
Sarah, “Criminey, I would have wet myself.”
“She says ocean creatures would never hurt her. I don’t know how she does it, some sort of inner magnetism, pheromones, maybe she has gills or whatever.”
Janah, “Speaking of which, any decisions on the protein markers?”
Katya, “Sisters will begin as soon as you can arrange.”
Ellen, “Ditto for me.”
Mani and Sarah opt to remain teenagers forever, Sarah seventeen, Mani nineteen.
The twins will be twenty three, Ellen twenty for a long time. Janah and the others have no idea how long it lasts, so far she and Daphne have been twenty five for just over ten years.
Sarah, “How does it feel? Maybe feel isn’t the right word, what’s it like?”
Janah, “You become accustomed and don’t notice that you aren’t aging, you can’t pay attention to something that isn’t happening. You can see acquaintances aging, which can be a little bizarre, for them, at some point it hits them that they’ve changed but you haven’t.”
“Do they ask?”
“Some do, we tell them we have no idea, just lucky gene pool. There’s nowhere to go with that, they generally drop it. Probably out of courtesy, none of us are blood related except the twins so gene pool makes no sense. In any case, you should tell no one, nor admit to any genetic alteration. I can’t stop you of course, but it’s like lottery winners that come forward and make their names public, all of a sudden you have hundreds of new friends and a few enemies.”
“Understood, and what a happy coincidence for us, we come across you guys through our friend and are offered a way to quit aging.”
Janah, “There are no coincidences.”
It’s quiet on the roof, girls pondering what Janah means. It sinks in to Katja and her sister first.
“Janah ees saying she makes eentention, like when we go for Qi meditating with a purpose, eentend to gather Qi, like that.”
Ellen, “Ah, still lucky for us. What is the purpose Janah, not that I’m complaining.”
Janah, “I have no idea. Usually the purpose becomes evident after girls join us, not before. I meditate, the only intention is to open myself to the perceived and the unperceived. The wheel rolls, at some point a new person or persons are introduced. How the subsequent collaboration occurs depends on circumstances, what life delivers as we travel the road.”
Katya, “What is necessary becomes evident.”
Janah, “Yes, thank you, a better way to put it. What most people call right and wrong is merely the necessary and the unnecessary. Do the necessary, don’t do the unnecessary and all comes right.”
Mani, “Now there’s something to meditate on.”
So they do, a circle forms, girls cross legged in the roof, silent.
Amaya, “What is the dinner plan Dasha?”
“Osso buco, rotini, sauté peppers wiz Tonkatsu. Dahfoney haf made specialty cake.”
“That chocolate thing, with marshmallow?”
“Why goody, you haf only teensy slice always worried to gain one ounce.”
“I like to watch Chloe enjoy it, her stick body never changes and she eats like a crazed zombie.”
Dasha rolls her eyes, “Chloe eats like the rest of us, only you and Nishiko are tiny portions girl.”
Daphne, “I’ve tried to get Nikko fat for years, it doesn’t work. She and Chloe go at it in kendo, we spar, endless forms, they stay willowy and supple year round.”
Ellen, “Kendo? The sword thing?”
Chloe, “Yes, Daphne practices with us, Nikko is Master of the sword though, her samurai blood.”
Ellen, “If you have a session while we’re here, can I watch?”
Chloe, “Sure, family drops in if they’re around, Sloane and Amaya like to call points.”
Daria, “Cocktail hour Amaya.”
“So it is, okay, I am behind the bar, place your orders, guests first. I have Russian Standard of course and Elijah Craig, managed to snag a couple bottles of the twenty three, when that goes there’s the twelve.”
Ellen, “How nice, it should last, those of us who drink it have one and shift to something else.”
“Three fingers, lots of cracked ice, splash?”
“How’d you know?”
“It’s in Daphne’s brain from St. Martin’s.”
Ellen shakes her head, “Re-friggin-markable.”
Dasha, “There are meexed nuts, chiz and cracker only. After sweet wiz tea and pasta wiz dinner, I figure enough.”
Zi, “Quite enough, plus I see boule on the counter.”
Half a dozen bread rolls, crusty exterior, porous and fluffy inside. Dasha will slice the rolls vertically, serve warm with ramekins of clarified butter to slather on or apply lightly as personal taste dictates.
“Bread is necessary for extra sauce, I make osso buco wiz plenty sauce, everyone likes.”
Girls are spread around the living area, which is similar to an old world hotel lobby. Not that the furniture is old world, rather that there are comfortable chairs around a coffee table in one spot, a duplicate across the room. The center of the room is a sectional sofa of monstrous proportions, end tables and a mega coffee table in front. More lounge chairs dot the area around the sofa, and there are fat throw pillows on a padded rug that fills the floor in front of the coffee table.
A flat screen is on the wall facing the couch, another lower for anyone laying on the pillows, a third in the kitchen. Dasha runs it on the news during the day, CNN or MSNBC, but she does it with the sound off to avoid talking heads and commercials.
Oceane and Cassie show up as girls are filling plates. They park at one end of the dining table, Sloane brings a glass of Champagne for Oceane, sparkling water for Cass. Then she fixes a single plate, the two will share, and one side of split boule with a hint of butter.
She sits next to them, Sloane’s plate is twice the size of theirs. Sloane is part wolf, no, not covered in hair. Her incisors are pointed and her bite is powerful. She doesn’t mind chomping on a bad guy’s arm and drawing blood, she’s done it several times before…except for the one she got in the throat, really messy.
She also has wolf speed. Sloane can hit forty mph and maintain it for over a mile. The fastest human, Usain Bolt, tops out at twenty eight and only for a part of the hundred meters.
The point is, calories are meaningless to Sloane, she burns more sitting still than most athletes do running flat out.
Ellen, “The veal is magnificent Dasha, the sauce shimmery perfect.”
“Spasibo, I haf Dahfoney for helping, she was main chef until family grew. Now she haf many responsibility. The two of us handle it, if we need more hands, Chloe will join in.”
“Mani is my backup, and Sarah has taken an interest. We are spoiled in New Orleans, so many places to eat.”
Dasha puts the cake on the table, “It haf to stay een refrigerating or marshmallow gets mushy. It can sit out for a half hour or so though, it will not be cold.
Ellen, “I see the hard chocolate coating, what’s underneath?”
“Beeg pile of marshmallow crim on top, then devil’s food layer, vanilla frosting, another layer of devil’s food, repeat for a third layer.”
Daphne, “Nikko calls it Death Cake, but she manages a slice anyway.”
Ellen laughs, “When you’re ready, I want to see you cut it, it doesn’t come apart?”
“Nyet, sharp clean knife for each cut, the chocolate coating might break up a bit, but sticky marshmallow keeps it in place on the top.”
Nightcaps on the roof, then girls slip away to either arranged or spontaneous assignations.
In the morning, Ellen, who slept with Daphne, is in the kitchen with her last evening’s play-pal.
“Think girls will get up early enough for us to make breakfast?”
Daphne, “My guess is no, if Dasha isn’t down by now, I suspect some of them played hard. I’m good with coffee and toast. If any come along wanting food, I’ll scramble eggs, crank up the toaster and spoon out bowls of berries and crème fraiche. In fact, I’ll serve me a small bowl right now, how about you?”
Ellen, “Sounds good, more coffee?”
Daphne puts the bowls down, sits and sips her freshened coffee, flips open the laptop and clicks on the New York Times bookmark.
“Hmm, got a creep roaming around the Adirondacks.”
“What’s he doing, I suppose it’s a he.”
“Probably, what he’s up to doesn’t sound like a woman. Third body found in the woods, hung on a tree branch, not very imaginative. Descriptions of the women, one a thirtyish teacher, the second a convenience store clerk, younger nineteen, the third in between, twenty four, photos and names of the first two, not the third.”
Ellen is peering over her shoulder, “The two don’t much look alike, he’s not after blondes of a certain age. Could it be copycat suicide, not murder? There’s a suicide forest in Japan, maybe we have a new one going.”
“Janah will be curious, we can let her fish around for details. Mrs. Pearson can wade though a lot of ‘no comment’ and ‘we’re still investigating’.
Janah pads in, “What’s Mrs. Pearson up to?”
Daphne pours her tea, “Take a look at the story,” Ellen turns the machine towards Janah.
She click clicks down to the end, “Not enough here to draw a conclusion.”
Ellen laughs, “You’re just like Katya, blaze through a string of web pages with no apparent time to read it. But you know what it says, to the word.”
Janah, “A gift I got from out of nowhere. My dad is smart, a diagnostic psychiatrist, and mom is an artist with a healthy following, neither of them are eidetikers.”
“You musta been a real pain in school, upping the game for As.”
“Not really, Chapman’s doesn’t give grades. We did have to pass a basic high school grad test, it was pass/fail, no grade, but you could take it anytime, not just before graduation.”
“When did you take yours?”
Janah doesn’t answer, Daphne says, “She took it the day she started Chapman’s, in effect she graduated in one day. I took longer because Janah wouldn’t let me cheat, I couldn’t go into her head for answers on school matters.”
Janah, “Chapman’s girls are wicked smart or wicked talented. Some are annoyingly both.”
“How did you pass the time then, doesn’t seem like any point to class.”
“I tutored, the athletes don’t always come versed in statistics and probability. The math geniuses aren’t always socially adept or particularly good spellers. I got them shored up enough to keep the weaknesses manageable so they didn’t interfere with their strengths.”
Daphne, “I’ll start eggs, plop down bacon and sausage patties. Ellen, you feel like doing pancakes?”
“On it. Oh, can you make blinis? I’ve never tried.”
“Right, we can have blini instead of pancakes, I have caviar and sour cream.”
Blini is merely a thinner version of a pancake, more doughy, not cakey like a pancake. That’s mostly because there’s no baking powder in blini, which is what makes pancakes and biscuits rise.”
“Cool, show me.”
Janah’s phone dings, she goes to the office.