Fifty Seven

The show does go on, the children are brilliant. Of course, they are our children, so we’re insanely biased. But they didn’t miss a line, the play flowed smoothly from one scene to the next. 
If you haven’t seen Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, give it a go. While there is high drama throughout, the final scenes are touching, and in a most unusual way. I won’t spoil it, if you’ve a mind, find the movie on Netflix or Amazon, or just get the DVD from the library.
Britt has Martha nailed, enjoy the opening scene:
After revelations about Nick and Honey, things start to really deteriorate, and it’s otherworldly watching twelve year olds Nadia and Britt playing angry disillusioned adults. 
The denouement is appropriately sad, almost devastating, but strangely not a scene that evokes tears, more like sympathy.
Amaya, “First rate, splendid, my acting troupe surpasses themselves.”
Susan and family in Manhattan are on the video screen, “I have no idea how Amaya and Chloe pulled such a powerful performance out of the girls.”
Black, “They didn’t seem like children at all, I saw a jaded married couple and a young married couple headed towards jaded. Britt wasn’t just Martha, she was Elizabeth Taylor playing Martha.”
Lacy, “And Nadia, how did she handle the voice? She sounded like Burton.”
Amaya, “Practice, she worked her tush off, nothing is more determined than a Russian woman.”
Kara, “And the supporting cast, Karol as Nick, Zofia as Honey, they looked and sounded the parts, Amaya did the makeup and outfits I presume.”
“I sent clips to Chloe Couture, they created the clothes. Chloe and I did makeup. We were going to have a different Nick and Honey in the second act, but the kids decided to keep the continuity. Kota B filmed it, she will forward you a copy.”
Ning, “Send me one as well please, I know David and Mayumi will want to see it.”
Sonia, “Ditto that, we have friends who will love it.”
Kota B, “Will do. Time to get children settled, good night.”
Chorus of goodnights from New York, the girls flow up the steps followed by Kota B.
Chan, “They move like a river, or a flock of birds, in perfect harmony.”
“How they don’t stumble over one another is a mystery, but they never do. We are headed to Arizona shortly, which means Malibu is available without two dozen women filling the place. You are all welcome to come when we’re here, or when we aren’t. Emma B will remain to look after things, so you have a bot to help out.”
Sonia, “I’ll get with Ning and figure out a time, we need out of town for a week. Black stays busy with the restaurants, Ning stays busy with hers. Chan and I would like them to ourselves for a stretch.”
“We’re in Arizona starting October and half of November, then back here.”
Sonia, “Susan, can you guys make it? We all live in New York but hardly see each other.”
Susan, “We’ll check calendars and make it work.”
It’s getting late in Manhattan, we sign off. 
Janah, “Glad they’re going to use the house. Emma B, when we have dates, please make sure the perishables are stocked. They may eat out, but Black is a good cook, so is Ning, they might prefer to hang at the house. They’re all carnivores, they like the same kind of dishes we like. You can also direct them to the better restaurants in the area.”
“I shall take good care of the families. Liquor preferences?”
“Kara drinks bourbon, she’ll use Ellen’s Elijah Craig. James is a Scotch drinker, any quality single malt. Black and Chan are Shaolin, they don’t drink. The rest are wine drinkers and we have a cellar full. Susan, Lacy and Taylor can use our room. Kara and James, Sloane’s room. The other two couples have the guest rooms. Have the cleaning bots change the sheets and replace towels daily, but after tea, they will likely nap a bit after lunch.”
“Of course.”
We nibbled appetizers during the halftime break, Grace B delivered wine just before the second act. Now the drinkers are having cocktails and finger food. There was no place to slot a full dinner. The children had a slice of pizza in the their dorm, then showers, then tired little actors snuggled up and were soon asleep.
Nikko, “You did a wonderful job Amaya, Chloe, the kids were excited to do such a mature and emotional play, and were nothing short of amazing.”
Amaya, “Thank you. I am always struck at how they focus, nothing like little kids, and they are one minute giggly, the next serenity itself.”
Chloe, “Remember, they practiced on Shakespeare, the language is difficult on top of just remembering the lines. The main thing is they have no fear of screwing up, that’s where the giggling came in. It wasn’t from embarrassment, they just thought it was fun to make a mistake. When they couldn’t remember a line, they would use one from another play, that it had no relevance to the dialogue made it even funnier. After one of Martha’s tirades, Nadia couldn’t recall what she was supposed to say, so she substituted ‘a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,’ from Macbeth.”
Amaya, “I almost chnaged the actual line, it rather fit.”
Lauren, “And now for the science fiction screenplay? I should like a role, the camera will adore me, not as much as I adore myself, but adore nonetheless.”
Amaya, “You are serious? Acting takes actual work, you know, thinking, not just admiring yourself in the mirror.”
Lauren, “There is nothing to which I am not up. You may recall who spends time with Eloise turning out amazing technology, like bots, laser guns, drones that can, if needed, break the sound barrier.”
Amaya, “Point taken. It is science faction, not fiction, but there is always the need for a talented geek in sci fa, my screenplay will have a gorgeous talented geek.”
“Thank you, I shall add millions to the box office, at a cost of nothing.”
“Your self admiration is exceeded only by your self confidence.”
“You should put Oceane in the movie as my lover, the audience will pay any price, the first hundred dollar ticket.”
I quash that notion, “You may be onto something, but we don’t put Oceane out that publically. Bad enough when she’s at the beach in a bikini. Amaya can make millions without her.”
Oceane isn’t voluptuous, no sloppy fat bags hang off her chest to make teenage boys even dumber than they are naturally. She’s lissome, languid, tight as a snare drum, skin is flawless, curve of muscle where there should be, fat free. Her hair is silken, and the face…there are no words. Chloe is fascinating for almost the opposite reason. Nothing is quite right, eyes too far apart, nose narrow, she’s slim to the point of skinny, a shade under six feet tall, and she has a small spray of freckles. The thing is, when you put it all together, it works, she’s adorable. Add that to her generous perpetual smile and violet eyes, she becomes irresistible.
Amaya, “No, Oceane is not going in front of millions of moviegoers. Lauren, you can handle yourself in public, Oceane would be lost and confused in all that attention. She is happy to draw, swim and be with Cassandra and the children. That is her perfect world. It will remain so.”
Lauren smiles, “As it should be. If I ever give it up, I know to whom I am giving it.”
Oceane smiles, whispers to Cassie, Cassie smiles, they head up the stairs holding hands.

Fifty Eight

Oceane made the most of the beach the next few days, Ellen and Sarah didn’t have to laser tag anyone, it’s rather nice when nothing happens.
Now we’re on a plane, three planes actually, to Arizona. Danika sent two driverless passenger vans to haul us home.
Su, “Welcome back to Arizona, geez, I see some girls have been in the sun.”
“Oceane got in all the ocean days she could, Sloane, Ellen and Sarah served as watchdogs, with not much to watch but the ocean.”
Ellen, “Except when one boy or girl had to do a mind dump on her. She’s become the beach’s silent therapist.”
Su, “Listeners with no opinions are hard to come by, she’s the perfect therapist, a therapyless therapist.”
We settle in, although there isn’t much settling to do, we leave clothes and cosmetics at each of our four homes. Eloise keeps drones at each, the gun girls only travel with the laser guns they carry everyplace. Theirs are made from a composite on a printer. The weapons don’t show up on either X-ray machines or metal detectors, there’s no metal to detect. They are powered by graphene batteries and they don’t look like guns, the ones they use for everyday look like little flashlights. 
I’m in the kitchen checking out dinner possibilities, I hear the diving board thunk and vibe. 
“Oceane didn’t waste any time.”
Danika, “She loves to dive almost as much as she loves to swim. Your board in Malibu is a one meter, right?”
“We skipped the three meter, the pool is half the size of the one here.”
In an attack of wretched excess, we’d installed an Olympic pool in Arizona, it seems oceanic after Malibu and that one is hardly tiny.
Sloane zips by, she’s on the high board, her idea of diving is to see how far she can sail. I had depth markers drawn on the bottom so she knows how far she can go. The pool is fifteen feet deep for the first quarter, gradually rising to ten, then eight, then six then four. She can spring out to the ten foot mark, which is practically flying. Maybe she could get even farther but it isn’t allowed, she has to hit the surface with ten feet of water under her. She gets such velocity she glides under the surface all the way to the end.  
Oceane is more of a diver, diver. Front flips, gainers, half gainers, back flips, twists in midair, drops into the water like a knife.
Nikko, “Oceane hasn’t done a high dive in three months and it looks like she’s been at it every day.”
“I don’t know if the water really protects her, she says it does. She has never had a problem, and we already know how she is in the ocean. Riding a flipping shark and attracting every other sea creature. Fortunately she grasped that that kind of attention isn’t good for her, or us.”
“She’s not selfish, it wouldn’t occur to her to do anything for attention. More like the shark offered a ride and she didn’t want to turn it down.”
Mani joins us, “Just got here and have to get on a plane again.”
“Got work?”
“Yes, be gone a few days at least, maybe a week.”
“Big job then.”
“And four million reasons to do it.”
“Criminey, just don’t bring your work home with you.”
Mani smiles, “Not a chance, either it’s the type of work where the only witness is dead, or we’re so disguised we don’t even recognize ourselves.”
“Who’s going?”
“All of us, there’s complicated surveillance and the point of attack has several layers of security we need to breech. There are armed guards, checkpoints, the whole song and dance.”
“And everyone uses laser guns these days, far better accuracy and adjustable to minimize or maximize damage.”
“Eloise and Lauren helped with that little problem. They created a near magical reflective fabric, like a flexible mirror. The laser bounces off, depending on the angle no different than a ricochet. We have to be careful, one of us could wind up as collateral damage. They are working on protective gear that absorbs the shot instead of deflecting it, but it’s not ready yet.”
Offering platitudes like, be careful, or that four million is not going to impact their net worth so why take the risk, is pointless. They like the risk, might even do the job for the fun of it, to them it’s just another extreme sport. 
Who pays four million to have someone assassinated? Someone with resources who stands to get a lot more resources if the target is out of the picture. And this is nearly 2035, four million isn’t what it used to be. Or perhaps someone with a serious hatred for the target, retribution for a harm inflicted, one so grievous that a monetary settlement doesn’t satisfy.
If that’s the case, isn’t it obvious who hired the hit? Yes, perhaps. But the contractor will have an alibi, perhaps on holiday in Greece, or Portugal, not even in the country. And if he or she has been careful, the idea of a hit has never come up, one person knows, a single payer, like our healthcare system. How do you spend four million and not have a substantial withdrawal show up out of your bank or brokerage account? Either it’s bounced around various shells, the transactions invisible because quantum computers are impossible to crack. Not impossible, it’s just that any attempt to hack one generates a warning, sometimes shuts down the system entirely. So they can be hacked if the sender is inattentive or careless. 
Katya accepts payment via virtual currency only. Nobody knows a Katya, or that the assassin is a group of five, nothing about twins, not even that they are all female. Contractor pays the full amount into a block-chained lockbox, when the conflict is resolved, contractor enters a code, Katya does the same, the money can only come out one way, to one of Katya’s shell companies.
Nice and clean. They have so much actual money, they keep the virtual money virtual instead. Over time, she converts, bounces it around and it shows up as payment for one business transaction or another. Nobody tracks odd amounts of money, and it’s converted long after the initial payment is made.
We go on with our lives, the five fly out, fly in seven days later. 
“Conflict resolved?”
Katya, “Terminally. There were two unhappy people, now one is dead and there are six happy people, us and whoever hired us. If we keep resolving conflicts, world peace may break out.”
They don’t discuss who or how, we don’t much want to know. Still, some things kinda sorta become obvious.
I’m in the office with Janah, “The weirdest thing…a chemical company CEO was assassinated on the day the girls flew home. He was closely guarded, there’s a zillion dollar class action suit around the company’s failure to disclose the substantial risks of exposure to Dianon, their breakthrough fertilizer. The company denied the birth defects were caused by the product, which leaked into groundwater at one of their Chinese factories. Six hundred plus children were born with a partial brain. Even with today’s medical advances, half a brain is hard to fix. Someone took exception to the company’s foot dragging.”
“How guarded was he?”
“She. And she lived in a compound near Bethesda, with an outer wall, guard gate, and half a dozen security personnel inside. She was there because it was thought to dangerous for her to go to the corporate offices. Thirty minutes before the house was invaded, a flash grenade went off at headquarters, nobody injured, just a lot of smoke. That appeared to create a distraction at the house.
The news feed I’m tapped into, which isn’t public yet, says the security people are okay, but they were stunned unconscious in different parts of the house. The woman was found with a single shot, dead center forehead. There were a couple of housekeeping people, a maid and a cook. They only saw one commando, who locked them in a kitchen pantry. Disabled security also saw only one commando.”
“Any feel for how they got in and out?”
“On a company helicopter. The guard at the gate didn’t think anything of it. He said the copters came and went a couple of times a week on no particular schedule. The company pilot was found bound and gagged at the hangar. He said he didn’t fly anyone anywhere. One minute he was getting ready to board, the next he was in a storage closet.”
“Where did they land the copter?”
Janah smiles, “Right where they took it from, which is why the pilot was a suspect at first. He’s still being interrogated, but the feeling is his story is true.”
“I had no idea one of the girls could fly a helicopter.”
“Today they almost fly themselves, put in coordinates and press Go. Katya also has an eidetic memory, if she read the manuals, she’d remember every detail. Maybe she took a course, there was lots of time before they moved in with us, it would be like Katya not to mention it.”
“Look, more info coming over.”
Early speculation is that a, or several, wealthy Chinese funded the attack. The toxic groundwater ran alongside a water line that fed a luxury high rise. All of the births in the last three years were affected.
“So it’s possible the fee was paid by several families.”
Janah, “Not out of the question, just moot. Trying to get access to wealthy Chinese executives and Communist Party members to question them about the incident is beyond the State Department’s abilities. Then again, lots of stuff is beyond the State Department’s abilities. The State Department is just the international arm of the Chamber of Commerce. Their primary job is to grease the skids for US corporations to obtain an inside advantage for contracts in foreign countries. That’s what they mean when they talk about ‘our interests’ overseas.”

Fifty Nine

Ellen, “Eloise and Lauren are genius incarnate. I got shot with a laser and the damn thing bounced off and put a hole in the wall. They guy was so shocked, he may have fainted if I hadn’t clocked him with the stun gun.”
“Everyone appears to have returned injury free.”
“Pointless to deny our participation, Janah’s news feed courtesy of Grace B makes it easy to pull together. One guy took a shot at Mani but missed, crazy Sarah let one shoot her intentionally so she could test the equipment. The twins had their guys down before they could draw a weapon. When we landed, we took off in different directions, that’s how we avoided an accurate count. We were all dressed identically, and the security guys only saw one of us each. Katya figured out how to avoid the ricochet problem by having us in different quadrants dealing with bodyguards. The target’s personal guard saw only one invader, he was neutralized, the target saw the same attacker, she’s not around anymore.”
We don’t normally get into their work, but the scope of the job prevents pretending they weren’t involved. The rest of the family won’t ask, only Janah, Nikko and I have seen the private news feed. Maybe not though, who knows what the Zycyryn told the children. And we don’t yet know how the government is going to spin the public story.
At cocktails, the children swimming, the conversation revolves around other things, then at dinner the children say nothing about assassination. Instead, they’re planning for Amaya’s scifa (science fact as opposed to science fiction) screenplay. 
Amaya, “It is a joint project, I am merely recording stories the children tell me. When I have enough material, I will turn it into a screenplay. Kota B records the stories while I listen, then she shoots a transcript directly to my computer. I read what I heard the children say and make notes. My primary job is to organize the intergalactic trips into a storyline. I do not want to revisit the worn out antiquity Star Trek, and it is not going to be a Star Wars style adventure. I have to have a unique concept, one I so far have not come up with. But as I am me, I shall.”
“You know it as factual, the children have seen these things. No audience is going to think it anything other than fiction.”
“True, my calling it scifa has no bearing on its reception. And no entertainment is going to entertain with a bunch of physics explanations, like shadow photons and the multiverse.”
“How do the Zycyryn feel about being named? I mean, I know the name is made up by us, they aren’t named, but are you going to tell the story as it happened, or present it a series of adventures, more like Alice in Wonderland?”
“I thought about a Matrix approach, but that was a plot creating a fake world to subdue humanity. The Gids do no such thing, they do not interfere or obscure, they make possible. For the moment, I am stuck, a wonderful set of events but no clear plotline.”
Eloise, “Perhaps animation, you create more possibility and don’t have to put the children onscreen, they simply read their parts.”
“It solves one problem, exposure.”
Amaya, “The smidgen may be onto something. Thank you Eloise, I may or may not animate, but I am going to make it a serious option.”
Eloise, “You could also VR it afterwards. The audience gets caught up in the children’s adventures in the movie, then they become the children in the VR version.”
“You exceed yourself Eloise. Now I am left to devise a story, I have an idea forming.”
I know where she’s going, I can be in Amaya’s head, her in mine. She’s going with the truth, that unusual children, who are immortal, are in contact with the Absolute, the energy that enabled the multiverse. They are future generations of humanity, far beyond today’s humanity. Fast track evolution. Naturally the audience sees an animated film and simply falls in with what they will see as fantasy science fiction. What she hasn’t figured out is the denouement, how it ends, or at least where she ends it for this screenplay. Since the universes never end, nothing is final. 
Chloe, “This is rather an exciting project, the children get to tell their story without revealing themselves.”
Daria, “We will create stage names for the credits, perhaps even doctored photos to show real children are behind the voices.”
Sarah, “What if they are asked to be interviewed, or invited to some appearance?”
“Make that decision at the time, we can send them as their altered pictures, or just say no, we want to protect their privacy. Perhaps that they have no wish to be famous and we are respecting their wishes. As far as audiences know, they are just voices in an animated film.”
Sarah, “From what I’ve observed, if they never saw anyone but each other and family, they would be content. They have no concept of fame.”
Amaya, “Chloe is famous, she has the temperament to handle it, she also self restrains, she never sought to be famous. We never created fake Twitter spats or celebrity clashes just to keep her name in the media. The woman, who was it, that went from C&W to pop? She did that crap all the time.”
“Taylor Swift.”
“Yes, and it was rather sad to see, she had sufficient wealth, if she had never booked another tour she was not going broke. Anyway, she settled down when she hit mid thirties.”
“I was never into her music, too poppy, but I admired her talent and tenaciousness. I thought she was hot, too bad she was hetero.”
Janah, “You think it’s too bad when any hot girl is hetero.”
“Well….yeah.”
Grace B, “Shadow activity in the first quadrant.”
Janah, “What’s the first quadrant?”
“I divided up the US into four quadrants, by adjusting time zones to reflect population.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier to just say that?”
“Stick in the muck, you never want a bot to have any fucking fun.”
“Which one is the first quadrant?”
“Eastern, except I went by population, so it’s not the traditional Eastern, which has forty seven percent of the US population. Mountain has fourteen percent. I made four columns to reflect equal population. By land mass, the Mountain quadrant has far more dirt, so it is fatter, the East coast is fairly slim by comparison. It is simply an amusement, although it explains property prices differences. And the well know fact that people will pay more to live in high population density areas.”
Janah, “Okay, you realigned the country by population. Where is the Shadow activity exactly?”
“Burlington Vermont.”
“I don’t know jack about Burlington, is it big enough for a Shadow to operate?”
“The city itself is small, fifty thousand, but the metro approaches three hundred plus as of 2030.”
“You know the next question.”
“There have been a pattern of abductions, rapes and murders. Two young women, one young man, two college students, one high school, three children, two girls and a boy. The children were six to ten.”
“That is unusual, serial killers generally have a preference.”
“It gets weirder.”
“Don’t tell me.”
Ellen, “Don’t tell you what?”
Grace B, “I shall tell you, all the murders were committed by different people, all of them confessed. Walked right into the police station and turned themselves in. Covered in evidence by the way.”
Ellen, “How did you know that Daph?”
“I didn’t, I just knew if it was a Shadow it would involve bizarre behavior.”
Janah, “How long has this been going on?”
“Six months, which means…”
“One a month. When was the last one?”
“Two weeks ago.”
“The people who did it, what do they say?”
“They felt compelled. And the victims were unknown to them, not a relation, classmate, work colleague, friend of a friend.”
“Any common experiences? Met someone new, a stranger approached and asked a question, did the six killers have anything in common, church, schools, organizations, all men, or women too?”
“Three men, three women, although one of the children was killed by a fourteen year old girl, the rest were adults with, so far, nothing in common.”
Janah, “If it’s a Shadow, and it must be, he’s getting off on misery. The family of the deceased and the family of the murderer. Lots of lives affected in one act of insanity. That’s true of any murder I suppose.”
“Being made to do it, out of your own control, another tortured soul in the mix. One who has no idea of why they would do such a thing, earning the anguish of their family and the hostility of the community.”
“How is it nothing’s been on the national news?”
“Burlington police have treated it like separate incidents and have not released the fact that people turned themselves in. They have pulled it off because the victims were killed in different ways. Which keeps the idea of a cult at bay. They are afraid of both copycats and mass hysteria. They have called in the FBI, but that isn’t not public yet either.”
“They are going to have to go public if only to warn people about…well…about what exactly?”
Ellen, “Strangers engaging in conversation that feels too personal, perhaps a drug of some sort, even hypnosis.”
Janah, “Call Blue Sky Grace B. Four passengers, the twins, Daphne and me. Find us a place to stay and a couple of cars, you know what we want.”
“Tomorrow then?”
“Yes, we need to get to the bottom of it before there’s another murder. And find out every scrap of information on the killers and the victims, we can digest it on the flight.”

Sixty

Mrs. Pearson has access to both local police and FBI records. They will have the names on both sides of the equation. Grace B and Emma B will dive down into every public and private bit of data on everyone, social media posts, school records, employment history, phone calls, texts, arrest records if any, medical records, any organizations they are members of, home address, what kind of car they drive, and family connections. Patterns, look for the patterns.
To us, you are an open book.
Conversely, it is possible the Shadow picks his victim and his victim’s victim randomly, simple availability. Then patterns don’t mean much, there won’t be any or they will be coincidental. Cops like to say there are no coincidences in a murder investigation. They don’t know from Shadows.
We check into a Residence Inn, two bedroom two bath suite, full kitchen, roomy and easy to have chats about a game plan.
While Daria and Janah plot a plan, Dash and I forage for food and drink, deli meat, tea, cheese, condiments, coffee, tea, Coke Zero, my drug of choice, Russian Standard, the twins’ drug of choice. If we have late nights or long days out, fast food will have to do, breakfast is provided by the hotel.
Janah’s pure white hair is now mousey brown, the rest of us will disguise light, enough to make any camera images useless. We’re looking for a Shadow, when we find him, or her, they aren’t going to identify anything. We only want to avoid killing a Shadow then being busted for it. 
We can easily dodge law enforcement interference with a phone call, and we’ve done just that in the past. But we’ve never had to use our contacts to bail us out of trouble and we prefer to keep it that way. The idea is for our contacts to owe us more than we owe them. Disguise avoids the messiness of getting caught and calling in favors to be released.
It was a reasonable flight, jets these days aren’t the clunky five hundred mile an hour slugs they used to be. Many are supersonic, almost all can get near the speed of sound, around seven hundred. It would have been six hours in the air, today it’s four. Still lose two hours in time zones so we arrived at two, with check in and shopping it’s near tea time. 
“Got a foolproof scheme?”
Janah, “Finished Grace B’s reports, zero obvious overlap. Perhaps tea will spring something loose, any snacks?”
“Those Pepperidge Farm thingys we like, Milano Melts and Geneva. Alternatively there is cheese and crackers.”
“Cookies.”
Tea is good, cookies are good, ideas are slow in coming.
“Let’s review our cast of characters. The victims appear to be random, so set those aside for now and focus on the coerced killers.”
Daria, “Two grown men, one in his twenties, the other forty, the younger with a live in girlfriend, the older married with two children. The younger is a mechanic with an auto dealer, no social network attachment, his girlfriend has a page, nothing remarkable. The hack shows he favors internet porn, but free stuff, he doesn’t pay for private cams or ship photos of his dick around. He follows a couple of sports teams.
The older is an electrical engineer and part time instructor at the University of Vermont. He fishes, ties flies, vanilla life with a vanilla soccer mom wife. Churchgoers, kids are too small to be in trouble, six and eight. 
The eldest male is sixty three, owns a pawnshop, lives alone, watches Netflix, likes child modeling sites. No child porn, no nudity even, the stuff like Amaya used to do. Not a predator, no evidence of stalking or chatting up girls while he pretends to be a teenage boy, no sex crimes. He likes to look at pictures of young girls strutting their stuff. The sites are ubiquitous, they aren’t illegal. He is either in his shop, doing common errands, or at home.”
Janah, “The teenage girl is a local high school student, lives with mom, divorced, dad is across the country in Washington State. Mom is an admin at the school her daughter attends. Average student, plays lacrosse, no school or social issues. She has a Facebook page with the usual photos, friends, the dog. Enough friends to justify having the page, not hundreds.
The first woman is twenty nine, a nurse and a lesbian with a few partners, students at the University of Vermont, our sole connection to any of the others. That’s where the adjunct prof works. None of her hookups is an engineering student, her emails suggest she and a couple of the students do a group thing once in a while. Nurse is athletic and attractive, there are a photos of her with females who appear to be college age, nothing explicit or even suggestive.
The last woman is forty three, married, works part time at a supermarket, husband is a welder, no kids. They live on a few acres and grow vegetables, have a small flock of chickens, very Vermont, keep to themselves.”
Daria, “There are no crossover organizations that stand out, no relatives or friends in common.”
“So the Shadow is picking them out at random?”
Janah, “Seems to be the case.”
Dasha is flipping through the computer, looking at the data, “Grace B did the research on the men, Emma B the women. Did they cross reference?”
Janah, “I don’t know, they are basically the same machine, I would have thought it was more like parallel processing, all flowing into the same report.”
Daria, “Just do it now sister.”
Dasha taps in the instructions, the screen zips along, seconds later, “They all used the Burlington Library. Ees pretty small town, not unusual for people to use same library.”
Janah, “It is unusual, most people don’t use the library at all.”
“The plot ttthhhickensss,” my Daffy Duck impersonation.
“When does the library close?”
“Ees Tuesday, let me see, closing at five today, ees almost five now.”
“How far is it?”
“Four and a haf mile.”
“Let’s take a ride.”
We take one of the cars, the SUV, glide near silently down the road. The library lot is near empty, a few straggling patrons carrying books to their cars.
“After all the electronics, and readers are more like books all the time, people still get the real deal.”
Janah, “Curling up with a tablet isn’t the same, although libraries now are electronic wonderlands, even offering VR checkouts.”
The lot is quiet, there are a few cars, obviously library personnel doing the day’s closeout. By six thirty, the cars are gone, no Shadow exited.
“Have to come back tomorrow, not all staff works every day.”
Janah, “The Shadow could also be a part time volunteer, flexible schedule, lot of free time to get up to other bad business. Let’s round up a pizza and chill, we can’t assume the library connection isn’t just a coincidence.”
We find a pizza place, get a veggie and a margherita with anchovies, thin crust, head to the Residence Inn. Dasha pulls the Russian Standard from the freezer, I pour Janah a glass of red, myself a Coke Zero. We sip and nibble nuts while the pizza reheats.
Then we’re around the flat screen surfing, the news comes on, there’s a storm running up the east coast, predicted to go inland around Manhattan.
I call Susan, “See the weather?”
Sis, “Yeah, we’re watching and waiting.”
“Can you get a flight out? Malibu is empty.”
“We’re scheduled for next week, I doubt Black and Chan can just drop everything.”
“Sis, if the storm hits, they’re going to drop everything anyway. From what I see, you have twenty four to thirty six hours. Blue Sky and get you out tomorrow. After that, they won’t be able to fly.”
“Let me make calls,” she clicks off.
Janah, “That’s a big storm.”
“Category five, New York City is contemplating an evacuation, some people are leaving already.”
“Evacuating Manhattan will be a nightmare.”
An hour later Susan calls, “We out at six a.m. and one of the last bookings, Blue Sky was jammed. I only got through because of your status as Murakami Sylk, a separate line for million dollar clients.”
“We’ve used them for twenty years, glad they were able to come through.”
“I convinced the others with your argument. They were already shutting down the restaurants, the entire temple relocated to the schools in Brooklyn and the Bronx. Students were sent home, so the places are vacant. There may be wind damage in the other boroughs, but Manhattan is an island, no way to tell how the water will stack up. I have a few thousand things to do, I’ll call when we’re in the air.”
We click off.
“Geez, glad we happened on the news.”
Sloane calls, “See the weather in the Atlantic?”
“Yes, looks nasty.”
“What about the parents?”
“Just took care of it, they are flying to Malibu tomorrow, everyone.”
“Glad I called you first, I was about to call Susan directly. We knew the storm was out there, but the predictions as of yesterday were for it to slide along the coast and back out to sea. Then they changed the forecast two hours ago.”
Nikko comes onscreen, “How’s it going?”
“We think we have a Shadow librarian.”
“That’s bizarre.”
“Tell me about it.”
“Watching this storm has me thinking. This is the third hurricane to hit New York in the last eight years. And they seem to get nastier. I think we should consider bailing.”
“The condo? What about Susan’s place?”
“Everything. Property has held value, this mess, if it happens, will give people pause. Sea levels are up along the coast, the public is in denial as usual. I doubt Manhattan is going to sink, but it isn’t out of the question that areas along the rivers become dicey, and lower Manhattan is particularly vulnerable. Besides, how much are we in town anymore? And the parents travel half the year.”
“Good points all. What about Ning and Chan, Black and Sonia?”
“There are restaurants everywhere, they can set up anyplace. If they decide to sell out, they have lots of cash to start up, maybe even on the left coast, near us.”
“They’re all traveling to Malibu tomorrow. We’re tied up, but you should  get everyone on a video call and broach the subject. If you tell them we’re leaving, they’ll give it serious consideration. Janah will also talk to Kara sometime tomorrow or the next day. We have to find this Shadow first.”
“Will do, take care of yourself, and the others. A Shadow that can pull off these murders is not a lightweight.”

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