Sixty One

Nat left this evening, Sunday, she needs to pack a couple of work outfits and be at LAX for seven in the morning. McKenzie has been studying the Go rules, I ordered a board from Amazon which will be in tomorrow. Since we don’t get mail or packages here, Zoe C can pick it up at our mailbox when I get the ‘delivered’ text.
Tonight is pizza, nothing elaborate, one margherita, which means not tomato sauce, real sliced tomatoes, mozzarella and provolone, I add chopped red and yellow peppers for a veg hit, a second identical except with pepperoni and anchovy. Pizza seems better with sliced tomato than sauce, but one has to be careful, tomatoes carry a lot of water and if you just slice them straight on, you risk a squishy pizza. I slice them, then quarter the slices, let it sit on a couple layers of paper towels in a pan, water goes, tomato stays.
Elle, “McKenzie going for both games? Seems like a lot to remember.”
“It does, don’t worry, she’s not being tested or experimented with, she doesn’t like it, we drop it.”
“I suppose we can continue with Sherlock, or Poirot or other less violent movie or TV show.”
“McKenzie doesn’t care, pick out anything, as long as she can lay on the mat with Zelda as a pillow, we could be watching a blank screen.”
I slide the pizzas in the oven, “Refresh wine, pizza will be ready in fifteen. Fix McKenzie one of her seltzers too please.”
The timer dings, I check the food, nice bubble of cheese on top ready to rest for a minute then cut, I turn off the heat and open the oven, leave the pizzas to cool before putting them on pans.
“McKenzie, pizza needs cutting, will you do the honors?”
She shows up at my side, Zelda next to her, “Here, I saved a few slices of pepperoni for her.”
She feeds the mastiff piece by piece, four is enough, Zelda huffs when McKenzie says, “That’s all, lie down,” but she does, with eyes rolled up at us just in case a stray piece of food falls off the counter.
“Okay, pies are ready to slice, whatever way you want them.”
She opts to cut them in quarters, then cut the quarters in half, need I say perfectly even? Not that I’m going to measure, they look exact, good enough.
“You take one pan, I’ll take the other and the crushed red pepper and dried cheese to sprinkle in case anyone wants some.”
Soon enough, we’re enjoying a slice, wine and Poirot politely explaining to Hastings that he’s an idiot, not in those words, Hastings always looks like he’s baffled, doesn’t matter what, women, food, clues, his grasp of any of them is elementary or nonexistent. Poirot, though, is persistently polite and instructs Hastings without belittling him.
Zoe C, “Agatha Christie was quite the author, we need to catch Mrs. Marple. And I saw a piece of a program called Midsomer Murders that looked fun, oh, and Inspector Morse, crotchety old detective who badgers his subordinate Lewis a bit more directly than Poirot badgers Hastings.”
“I’m good with whatever, a stiff cocktail, gorgeous girls, I could pretend to study a blank screen as long as you two were around.”
They giggle, not McKenzie, she’s occupied, having decided to take Zelda for a walk when Poirot ended.
Zoe C, “Anything sweet Chef, besides us I mean.”
“How about an ice cream cone, we have Hagen Daz chocolate, Ben and Jerry vanilla, I can add sprinkles.”
“Yay! Go for it, and here’s McKenzie, what kind of ice cream cone do you want? Vanilla, chocolate, with or without sprinkles?”
“Chocolate, chocolate sprinkles.”
“Perfect, want to help me make them?”
I love this part, McKenzie counts the sprinkles on all the cones, there has to be an even number. She simplifies the process by counting them out, forty, then rolling the cone until all the sprinkles are stuck to the ice cream. For a couple, she has to stick the few remaining on manually, that’s okay, she washed her hands thoroughly. She doesn’t mind feeding Zelda with her fingers, but before she touches any people food she has a hand washing ritual reminiscent of a surgeon prepping for an operation.
We take the girls’ cones to them, vanilla for Zoe C and Elle, chocolate for McKenzie and me. While the news drones, well we have the sound off, we just watch the scroll and lick cones. McKenzie brought a small scoop of vanilla in a plastic bowl, sets it down for Zelda, she actually licks it into submission, doesn’t swallow the whole scoop at once.
Elle, “McKenzie sure takes care of Zelda.”
McKenzie, “Zelda takes care of McKenzie.”
We grin, that much is true, Zelda looks out for all of us, she just looks out for McKenzie first, which is exactly how we want it.
Bedtime, McKenzie is already asleep on the floor, I pick her up and take her to her room, Zelda is right behind. McKenzie in bed, I suppose waiting until morning to brush her teeth isn’t the end of life on the planet. Then her eyes pop open.
“Brush before bed.”
I turn on the bathroom light, she goes in, probably needs to pee so I close the door and wait. I hear running water, a flush, more running water, she comes out and heads straight to bed. I arrange the covers, make sure she snuggled and comfortable, Zelda on her bed next to Mckenzie’s. When I leave I only close her door halfway, our interior doors slide into the walls, gives us extra space. An hour later the rest of us trail off to slumber.
Surprised to find Zoe C downstairs when I emerge this morning. She’s not a late sleeper, but generally hangs longer than me. One good thing, the coffee is ready.
“Morning angel, you can’t sleep?”
“No, I was fine, one of those morning when you just wake up awake and know there’s no chance of going back to sleep. I’d just have tossed and disturbed Elle.”
“That happens to me, everyone I suppose, brain gets in gear and there’s no stopping it.”
“You check on our girl?”
“Just took a look when I passed, left her door open halfway, Zelda looked up at me, then lay back down, McKenzie was just a lump under the blanket.”
“Good, she was busy over the weekend, chess, studying Go rules, swimming, hiking around with Zelda, she has full days.”
“I’m no autism expert, my observation is that we supply her with a balance of physical and mental activity. She takes advantage of all of it. What do you want for breakfast?”
“Poached and toast,” she pours kefir over cranberries, our standard breakfast accompaniment, kefir good for the gut, cranberries good for the urinary tract.
“Bacon, sausage, ham slice?”
“No, I’m good, probably ought to make bacon or sausage for the fairy princess and her dragon doggie.”
I start in on Zoe C’s request, then lay a dozen strips of bacon on the griddle. Get her eggs right, multigrain toast pops up, put her plate down, point with the spatula, “soft butter or mascarpone, blackberry jelly.”
While she eats, I flip the bacon, when it’s crispy put the strips on a pan with paper towels, slide it on a low oven. Have to wait to see how the others want their eggs, or if they want eggs at all. Poach two more for me and a couple slices of multigrain, pour us both more coffee.
Zelda thumps down the stairs, I have the patio door open already, it’s a lovely cool Malibu morning. Zelda pushes through the split screen door and trots around the corner and up the hill. McKenzie can’t be far behind, otherwise Zelda would still be in her room.
Pit-pat, little feet come down the steps, McKenzie comes alongside.
“Bacon in the oven, do you want eggs? Toast?”
She points to my eggs, “Okay, poached then, get yourself a glass of milk or V-8, I’ll have your food up shortly,” normally we only use V8 to make Bloody Marys, then McKenzie decided she likes it.
I put four slices of bacon on a small plate, put it in front of McKenzie, “Two for you and two for Zelda when she comes back, but first she needs her breakfast bowl.”
Our auburn sprite pours the dry pellets in the bowl, “I’ve already freshened the water, sit and have breakfast.”
Zelda pushes in, she goes to McKenzie, nose sniffing bacon. The girl points to the bowl.
“Eat Zelda.”
The big girl turns, spots her full bowl, two steps over and empties it, then right back to McKenzie. She earns a pat, then gets her two strips of bacon, broken in chunks and hand fed.
“No more, lay down.”
She flops next to the girl’s stool, we’re eating at the island, not the dining table.
Just as the three of us are wrapping breakfast, Elle appears.
“Geez, everyone fed, I just died for whatever reason.”
“Here’s coffee, want eggs, poached seems to be popular today.”
“Oh, please if it’s not a bother, I’m hungry.”
I hand her a bowl of kefir and cranberries, “Work on that, eggs and bacon in a few, toast okay?”
“Perfect, thank you Chef.”

Sixty Two

The Go board and accessories arrives, Zoe C collected it from our private mailbox along with a couple of pairs of jeans and new sneakers for McKenzie.  She’s growing, that’s what kids do.
Zoe C, “Her dresses are okay for now, shorter since she’s grown but they still come to her knees. Her feet are big, which means she’s going to be relatively tall by the time she grows into them. And she wears my t-shirts like a nightshirt to hang around the house.”
We open the goban, one side of the board is 13x13, the other 9x9 with melamine stones, a hard plastic that feels like porcelain.
“If she likes the game, I’ll get the full 19x19 board.”
“McKenzie, here’s the new game, an instruction booklet is included, but I know you’ve been studying the rules already. Check it out and I’ll play a game with you later if you want.”
I hand her the box, she blinks up at me, walks to the couch with Zelda in tow and sits cross legged on the mat. She takes the board out, opens it, pours the stones out next to the board, black left, white right. It’s ten in the morning, she stays there until lunchtime and shows no inclination to move. I fix her a few finger sandwiches, put a couple extra that will wind up inside Zelda, put a glass of V8 on the coffee table. I use V8 to make Bloody Mary’s, we always have a bottle in the refrigerator and spares in the pantry. We use the low sodium kind, there’s enough salt in food already, we don’t need more in our vegetable juice.
Elle, “She hasn’t budged, well, she got up once to pee, but that’s it.”
“I think if we put pickup sticks in front of her, she’d play that all day. McKenzie gets intense about solving problems.”
Zoe C, “When do we let her look at stock market trades?”
“I was going to this morning, but she got her new game and she’s been occupied, maybe tomorrow, no rush.”
Elle, “I’m for a swim, it’s a gorgeous day, catch a few rays too.”
When McKenzie notices the girls going to swim, she stands, strips off her t-shirt and goes out with them, Zelda thumping along behind.
I’m simmering white beans in a big pot, add spicy pork sausage, sautéed onion and peppers. The sausage isn’t cooked, it will cook in the beans and bleed out flavorful fat and spices while it does. Drip in a bit of Steen’s Cane Syrup, white beans do well with a hint of sweet, Worcestershire sauce, black pepper and a couple of bay leaves complete the seasoning.
I stick my head out the patio door, Elle is just coming up the pool steps, she’s been diving, “Going for French bread, need anything else?”
“Something from Louisa would be nice.”
“Got it.”
Check the refrigerator, best get eggs, we run through a lot of eggs, let’s see… English muffins, that appears to be it. Zoe C keeps the pantry full and organized, I don’t need anything else. Saddle up and hit the grocery followed by the bakery.
I fiddle around in the supermarket, on the lookout for interesting things we haven’t tried before, pick up a couple packages of truffle pâté then pass by Louisa’s.
“Need a couple loaves of your French bread and the girls want something for dessert.”
“Ola Chef, sure thing, I have beautiful devil’s food cake with buttercream frosting, always welcome, or perhaps fruit crumble, today is blackberry, cherry and apple.”
“Both.”
“Excellent, you will be big favorite with the family.”
“You’re the big favorite, I’m just the delivery boy.”
Louisa laughs, “Let me box the cake and the pie, two loaves of bread, si?”
“Yep, if we don’t go through it I can make French toast tomorrow, they like that.”
“You take good care of girls, how is little McKenzie?”
“Amazing, she’s unbeatable at chess and is starting to learn Go, a more complicated board game than even chess.”
“Good, she is not always staring at computer game then.”
“Doesn’t care for them, not sure why, McKenzie doesn’t explain much.”
“Zelda is good?”
“She has her family to watch over. Zelda and McKenzie are inseparable, and anyone who intends harm is in for a horribly unhappy experience.”
I stack the crumble box on top of the cake box and the bag with French bread on top of that.
Louisa, “You need help? Manuela, come out here and get Chef’s things to the car.”
Her daughter appears, fifteen, totally adorable, “Señor Chef, give me the top box and the bread, can’t have you dropping the cake.”
We get the goodies situated in the Hyundai, I make my way home, pull up to the front door and haul the groceries inside.
I take in the bread and crumble, go out and fetch the cake. Beans are simmering beautifully, another hour and I’ll add the sausage. We don’t eat much rice, I’ll make a bit of brown, they won’t add but a serving spoonful but rice does make a nice juxtaposition to the creamy beans and sausage.
Elle spots me, comes in the patio door, “What can I do?”
“Standing there healthy, gorgeous and nude is enough, but, if you insist, you can stow away the muffins, eggs and desserts.”
She opens the cake box, “Oh God, it smells divine, and what’s this…ah, crumble.”
“Blackberry, cherry and apple, and she never adds sugar, she uses granola for the crumble, that’s sweetened, but not sugar loaded, it could be breakfast.”
Elle puts away the two cartons of eggs, “Two loaves of French bread? It doesn’t last more than a day.”
“And it needn’t, tomorrow morning, French toast.”
Elle grins, “Yum-eee, everyone loves French toast. Maybe a little warm crumble with tea today, what do you think?”
“I think Louisa would be proud, the rest of us can enjoying her artistry.”
“Anything else?”
“We’re good, thanks, soak up a few rays for me, lunch will be simple, beet salad, crackers and hummus. Tell them in an hour.”
Kitchen squared away for now, I go to the office and check the website, damn, another abusive asshole.
Zoe C, ‘We have work?’
She’s in my mind, I wonder…. ‘Come check it out,’ can I talk to her like she talks to me?
She shows up a minute later, “Heard you in my head, this is so cool.”
“Good thing I’m pure of heart.”
“Yeah, good thing, so what’s up?”
“An eight year old girl found wandering a mall in San Diego around six p.m., mall cop talked to her, doesn’t know how she got there, no memory of the entire day. Hysterical parents, took her to get checked out medically, no sperm, but she had clearly been violated. No suspects, cops are running through local sex offenders, neighbors, relatives, nothing.”
“Feel for the kid, but what are we supposed to do?”
“No idea, someone who heard about our site sent the message, I haven’t replied yet.”
“We’re not finding out anything sitting here, reply, ask for more detail, any information at all.”
I type it in, hit the send, wait.
Just as Zoe C and I are about to give it up, a message appears, ‘child unresponsive, not unconscious, just blank…no idea of who, not much when. She left school and was walking home last anyone noticed, never got home, found at mall, parents frantic.’
‘Send physical description and photo, does the child have health issues?’
A photo shows up, black jeans, grey pullover, sneakers, could be one of a thousand SoCal kids.
‘No health problems, at least prior to this.’
I reply, ‘Will look into it, any new information, contact immediately.’
‘Thank you.’
Nothing else.
“Get on the news feeds, see what’s been reported, bring in Elle to search too.”
Zoe C goes out, I surf for more detail, not much, call one of my contacts.
“Leon, Chef here, what can you tell me about the girl in San Diego, the one dropped at a mall?”
“Heard about that did you?”
“All over the news, which I don’t much watch, one of my colleagues pointed it out.”
“I’ve already had calls from our resources, the details under wraps until the cops think they have a good lead.”
“What details? The girl is uncommunicative, nobody reported anything further.”
“That’s the public version, the girl is talking but has no recollection of the events prior to being taken. Her memory blanks at leaving school and is blank until the time she came to in the hospital.”
“Those are details? That’s nothing.”
“Tell me about it. Naturally they hope rest and a visit with a therapist will open up her mind enough to get a description, the car, the man, how things smelled, sounded, places she passed, anything tangible.”
“So wait, there is something, that something is nothing… you see where I’m headed?”
“They chalk that up to trauma, Chef, the kid was clearly violated.”
“I get that, but nothing? The time before she was raped, forget the vehicle, but the man, why she got into a strange car? That doesn’t wash.”
“She could have been forced, she’s eight. They don’t know that she was raped, she had been physically molested, she was bleeding, broken hymen.”
“That’s rape, in our private legal system, any forced or unwanted physical contact is rape. We don’t give a crap if it’s a kiss on the cheek, keeps thing clear and simple, she don’t want it, you don’t do it, not to mention this is a child.”
“Well, there’s that. And you have a point, I can only speculate that she thinks she’ll be in trouble for getting into a strange vehicle, which her mother insists she would never do voluntarily.”
“Any traces of drugs in her system?”
“Second thing they did, after she was checked physically, nothing.”
“Keep me posted, if I come across anything useful, I’ll call.”
We disconnect. 
Zoe C returns, “There’s the same story repeated over and over, basically the press release and comments by the lead detective that don’t say anything.”
“You know what this sounds like.”
“All that’s left is hypnosis, or psychoactive drugs.”
“No drugs, nothing that showed up in blood or urine.”
“As I was saying, all that’s left is hypnosis.”
“Yeah, still…something…a little girl is snatched, not drugged, not knocked out, but she sits quietly while an asshole she doesn’t know tells her she is getting sleepy. I don’t buy it, she would have been scared, a stranger feeding her a line of crap, terrified is more like it. How do you get a scared little girl hypnotized?”
Zoe C, “Suppose…go with me here…the abductor can do a version of what we do, talk mentally. What if…big if…he gets in her brain, in without her even knowing, or at least not understanding how there’s a voice in her head, one giving her instructions?”
“You’re saying that since we can chat on our private line so to speak, maybe somebody’s learned how to do it with anyone, anytime?”
“Sounds nuts, but yeah, that’s what I’m saying.”
“You know, we do what we do mind to mind, Zelda knows what McKenzie is up to, McKenzie knows who knows what? I don’t think I’m in any position to say that can’t happen. We go with somebody took her mind, it’s as good as anything else, so, presuming that there’s a magic man out there, what do we do now?”
Zoe C, “We’ve scooted past tea, Elle and McKenzie had a cup, and got into the crumble, which Elle raved about.”
“Did somebody stir my beans?”
“McKenzie took over, everything’s cool, or hot as it were. We deserve a cocktail and need to turn off our heads for a while.”

Sixty Three

Which we do, she’s right, too many tangled thoughts arise, let the subconscious throw out irrelevancies and see how the pieces fit in the morning.
“McKenzie, thank you for taking care of dinner, I got caught up in a project.”
I get the blink, she stirs the beans again. The bread is prepped for the oven, she’s sliced it lengthwise and buttered it.
“Rice is ready?”
She points to the oven, I open it. She’s got it on warm, the rice in a ceramic pot covered in foil. I slide in the tray with the bread.
“We can give it ten or fifteen, oven isn’t hot enough to burn anything.”
McKenzie hands me the stirring spoon, climbs off her stool and follows Zelda out the patio door.
“Did she really take care of these odds and ends herself, the rice, the bread?”
Zoe C, “It wasn’t me or Elle, Zelda was sitting next to her hoping for something to drop, we were surfing for any detail on the little girl.”
“Wonder where she saw the bread thing, I cut it crosswise.”
“She’s all over the internet, I peeked while she surfed the other day, she was looking at recipes, didn’t see what recipes, just one of the food sites.”
“Cooking is orderly, or can be, she likes orderly, focus on the task at hand with specific ingredients in specific proportions and cooking times and temps.”
“When I looked over, she seemed….content, maybe I’m making it up. Do you know she talks to Zelda while she cooks, it was hilarious. She described slicing the bread, then the butter, Zelda’s head swiveled between the food when she wasn’t talking and looking at her when she was. I swear, it was like the dog understood the whole bit.”
“Tomorrow I’m turning breakfast over to her so I can drink coffee and watch what happens.”
Zoe C, “This place is getting wonderfully bizarre, be interesting to see how Natalie reacts.”
“You haven’t told her anything.”
“Nope, she called, talked to McKenzie.”
“What did McKenzie say?”
“Nothing…to Natalie, she told Zelda who it was, I got on when she was done and told her McKenzie listened, that she wasn’t just talking to the air, Nat thought it was funny.”
“Natalie is a cool head, probably the best possible mom for McKenzie.”
“Agreed, now, a drink then dinner, Elle and I burned a lot of calories surfing for information on the San Diego thing.”
“I can see how that might happen, tapping finger and all, plus we had a light lunch and you guys lapped the pool all morning.”
“McKenzie too, I’m teaching her how to dive. We started the normal way, edge of the pool, bend over, fall in. Then she watched Elle and I dive…so cute, her sitting on the steps next to the Monster Mutt halfway in the water. Tomorrow the board, not to spring, just get to the end and roll off like from the edge of the pool. She’s not a scary kid, we’ll see how she does and go slow.”
“Good, I’m glad she’s not exercise shy, wanting to park on the mat and surf the web or play chess or Go. My understanding of most autistic kids is they aren’t that active, unless you count rocking back and forth half the day.”
Elle, “I think we can take a bit of credit, she watches us do stuff, we include her but don’t make her. So far Chef, I think we’ve played it right, spoken to without requiring an answer, leave her be when she’s engrossed in one thing or another. Nobody pressures her to socialize.”
Red wine with spicy beans and crusty garlic bread, if McKenzie has food issues, we’ve never seen them, she eats what we do. She tossed Zelda a hunk of cooled sausage before we sat, the rule is no feeding from the table, outside at the patio table the rule doesn’t apply. McKenzie is careful about it, she’s not tossing extras to the mastiff all day, a treat per meal is the limit.
Natalie calls me, “Finished dinner Chef?”
“Close enough, white beans, sausage, ham pieces, garlic bread. You daughter ate well, Zelda got her hunk of sausage, all is right with the world.”
Natalie giggles, “You have quite a crew there. I have a question, my patience is running low with the machinations of these investment bankers. So much bullshit, I have no clue how some of these clients and prospects got so much money, it wasn’t financial acumen. I wonder if some of them can do simple arithmetic.”
I laugh, “And when did bankers start using simple arithmetic? When they’d come try and snooker me, I got reams of statistics, financial mumbo jumbo about EPS, EBITDA, Sharpe ratios, ROI and a bunch of other junk that only described the past and had nothing to say about the future. They just imply that the same thing will happen again because it happened before.”
“My point exactly, they go in to see a prospect with great skills at making widgets economically and profitably, a company that would make Warren Buffet proud. The bankers attempt to entice them into stupid mergers and buyouts.”
“And puff up the client about what a big deal he’ll be when he expands his empire with debt the bank will manufacture to pay for it.”
“You’ve been there.”
“I’ve been there listening, fortunately I had no interest in paying interest. My company had no debt. If I’d listened to them it would be drowning in the stuff. I grasped that borrowing at a low rates and making a profit big enough to pay the debt plus add to the bottom line would be great. That implies that all the other parts will work, that my business would continue to make money, that competitors wouldn’t jump into my markets. They also wanted to take the company public, which was out of the question. Instead, I sold it for an unconscionable amount of money and retired. I don’t know what the new owners did with it and I don’t care.”
“I do, I looked into it, they leveraged themselves way over common sense to buy it, competition from new games and apps crushed them. Their stock has lost half its value and shows no signs of recovering.”
“Oh well, that’s capitalism.”
“It is, and I’ve had enough smoke and mirror capitalism. I’m going startup in a month.”
“What’s the plan?”
“Pasting it together, fortunately my expensive car is paid for, the apartment rent is a killer but I can manage if I get off the ground in a few months.”
“There are incidentals, health insurance for one.”
“I can Cobra, I’m young, it isn’t cheap, but I can handle that too, for a while.”
“I have a thought, move, move here, the rent is cheap, free, as are utilities, food and insurance. The girls have health insurance through the school for now, if McKenzie needs any treatment, I’m paying out of pocket, so far she’s amazingly healthy.”
I hear a sniffle, uh oh, did I hurt feelings?
“Chef, you’re too good…I have no idea what to say.”
“Don’t say anything, quit, pack your stuff, we’ll be here. Zoe C and Elle will show up and help, Zelda would probably be in the way. You focus on creating a devastating hedge fund, that’s it, my price is watching your brain sweat while you figure out the best deals. Elle will die to help with fresh algorithms.”
“Before I bawl like a two year old, let me get off the phone, it’s going to be a busy few weeks.”
We click off, I go to the living area, “Elle, Zoe C, McKenzie, Natalie will be moving in soon, she’s dumping Goldman, anxious to get going on her fund. You guys help her pack, don’t haul boxes around, we’ll get a mover if she needs one. I don’t know how much stuff she has, we don’t need furniture. If there’s stuff she wants to keep, store it in the garage, there’s plenty of space. Get one of the extra bedrooms in order, she can operate out of my office for now.”
Elle beams, “Yay! Natalie’s coming, McKenzie, Natalie is moving in with us, she’s going to be so happy, she can see you all the time now.”
McKenzie cross legged on the mat, pats Zelda’s basketball size head, “Mommy is coming,” her pal looks up, then returns her head to McKenzie’s lap.
Zoe C chokes up, McKenzie has never referred to Natalie as mommy. I’ll wait to tell Nat, she might breakdown completely.

Sixty Four

Oh goody, now we have two projects, one pleasant, Natalie moving in, the other…I have no idea how to find a man who can take a mind. Not like TV preachers, or other child brainwashing, that’s different. A kid gets into a car with a man she doesn’t know, a situation her parents insist she’s been warned about. That’s weird unless he just swept her up in the parking lot and stuffed her in his car.
Zoe C, “It happens, maybe not every day, but it happens, there are zillions of missing kids.”
“Yeah, but this one isn’t missing, she’s missing some memories but not missing as in not there.”
“Not sure how we chase that one down Chef. Go to San Diego and look for strange men? Strange men are everywhere, some in Congress, one, maybe the strangest, is even President.”
“Look. Let’s monitor things while we get Natalie situated. I need to noodle on the problem. Obviously, I got nothing so far.”
Over the week, Zoe C and Elle go to Natalie’s place and start boxing. Natalie gave notice but brokerage firms don’t want resigning employees hanging around, she boxes the few odds and ends she had at Goldman and moves on. Three days later, she’s unpacking necessities in her room at my place. She had a couple of bits of furniture she likes, books and bookcases, the rest is wardrobe and toiletries.
Natalie plops down on the couch, “Christ, even a little move is trying. Thanks to Zoe C and Elle, shortened the process to a couple of days, and we had fun gossiping while we packed.”
I don’t ask, don’t want to know what they gossiped about, “Perhaps tonight’s Muffuletta pizza and wine will help unwind the knots. Your daughter made it, singlehandedly I might add. She’s been making breakfast for us on her own, and she’s my right hand girl for lunch and dinner. McKenzie is off the charts smart.”
“Zoe C said you have her playing Go, that’s not simple.”
“I don’t have her playing anything, we got her a board and the rules, she took it from there, I’m no Go expert, she kicks my butt. Next weekend, she has a chess tournament in LA.”
“So I heard, I also heard you want her to follow the markets.”
“She gets to use all her brain power, we got the Bloomberg, she stares at the stock price feed streaming across the screen, no comments on buys or sells yet. I’m not sure she knows what’s going on, but she likes the changing prices. She and Zelda look like they’re on a trading floor someplace, well, McKenzie, Zelda doesn’t appear to care about the stock market.”
Natalie grins, “Zelda cares about McKenzie, what else do I need to know?”
“Exactly, girls are gathering around the patio table, cocktail hour approaches.”
We’re outside enjoying beverage of choice. I laid out the ingredients for pizza, McKenzie is in the kitchen meticulously arranging salami, ham, pepperoni, two cheeses, and olive salad. I go in to find nibbles. McKenzie is describing her pizza process to Zelda.
“Looks good McKenzie, perfectly organized.”
McKenzie, “Crusts in oven to crisp, then make pizza. Twenty three minutes.”
“I’ll tell the others.”
I go out with a couple bowls of nuts to nibble with cocktails, “Dinner in twenty, well, twenty three according to our brain trust.”
Natalie, “She doing okay?”
“Decide when you taste the pizza.”
Elle, “Do you think McKenzie is going to figure out the market?”
“No, that’s not what I’m interested in. We have you doing algorithms, Nat is into fundamentals, what looks lousy, what might be cheap. McKenzie is to, if she wants, follow the prices, that’s it, a symbol and a price.”
“What about trading volume, buys and sells?”
“Don’t care about that, and I have no idea if she gets any patterns out of it. If she does, great, if she doesn’t, that’s okay too, maybe she just likes the stream of symbols and numbers.”
Zelda comes through the split screen, stops next to me and pokes me on the thigh, turns and goes back inside.
Natalie, “What’s that about?”
“Dinner’s ready.”
“Wait, you’re saying that Zelda…”
“Let’s go in before things go cold.”
Natalie shakes her head, asks Zoe C, “Is this for real?”
“Come in and see…well, just see.”
Two perfectly cut pizzas sit on the kitchen island, plates, napkins and utensils stacked neatly alongside. McKenzie ignores us and is cleaning up.
I tap her shoulder, “I’ll deal with that later angel, have dinner with mommy.”
She turns, the others have taken slices and moved to the dining table, McKenzie gets a slice and joins them, looks over at me.
“Chef too.”
I smile, take two slices and put them on my plate and sit. Elle pours wine, adds a dollop to McKenzie’s glass of Perrier.
Natalie, “McKenzie, this pizza is perfect, thank you.”
McKenzie is cross legged on the mat in front of the couch, Zelda stretched out next to her, “Thirty squares of soppressata, thirty squares of mortadella, thirty squares of provolone, thirty squares of mozzarella, two cups Boscoli olive salad.”
Natalie, “Perfect.”
McKenzie strokes Zelda’s back, “Mommy likes my pizza.”
Zelda turns her head to Natalie, then back between her paws.
Natalie stares, McKenzie has her back to us, it’s quiet…Nat looks at me, tears fall.
I hand her my napkin, “She mentioned mommy the other day, when you were traveling, I decided to let you hear it first hand, not second.”
She sniffles, pats her eyes, “What a wuss I am.”
“Bullshit, you took on a challenge with no guarantees. It’s working out.”
“Thanks to you, Zoe C, Elle, and Zelda.”
“I’m pretty sure Zelda did most of the work.”
Natalie giggles, “I wasn’t here, I don’t know, I also don’t think Zoe C and Elle ignored her. She’s swimming like an otter, can dive off the springboard, and cooks. She’s smart, but she didn’t think up all that herself, even with Zelda.”
“Zelda reassures her, even encourages her, the dog helps her feel safe whatever the activity.”
“God, I hate to think…”
“Stop. Zelda is healthy and happy, and she and your daughter understand living in the present, hell, they’re both practically Zen masters, yesterday is a dead thing, the future is a dream.”
Natalie stares out towards the ocean, is quiet…., “It never occurred, damn Chef, you’ve opened my eyes.”
“I cheated, I had Zelda and McKenzie as my gurus.”
Everyone is silent, bites of pizza, sip of wine, the flat screen is blank, it hasn’t occurred to turn the thing on.
McKenzie, “Sherlock.”
Now it occurs, Elle clicks on the next episode of the BBC series, something about a man on a bicycle. I get up to pour Cognac, snifters filled, I settle in, not to watch Sherlock, I prefer to stay focused on Natalie’s long elegants stretched out next to me.
Natalie, “If you rest you hand on my thigh, you could get lucky.”
“I’m lucky just to be sitting next to you, luckier to touch the silky soft, any luckier I’d have to run out for a Powerball ticket.”
“Just follow instructions and relax.”
Easy duty, God she has slick smooth satiny skin. I’ve never touched Zoe C or Elle, but from my close observation, they’re much the same.
Sherlock does Sherlock, The Solitary Cyclist turns out to be a friend and protector of the ingénue, Violet is saved from a fake marriage. As usual, but not always with Sherlock, the bad guys go to jail and justice prevails.
Natalie, “McKenzie, are you ready for bed, let’s go up,”
McKenzie, “Zelda goes out first.”
Zelda stands, geez she’s big, lumbers to the patio door, which is open, then pushes through the split screen. I collect glasses and bring them to the kitchen, stick them in the glass washer and crank it up. When I’m done, Zelda pushes back inside, McKenzie takes Natalie’s hand and the three go upstairs to her room.
Fifteen later, Natalie returns. We’re catching up to a wonderfully weird and nasty Netflix thing called The Fall with Gillian Anderson as DSI Stella Gibson and Jamie Dornan as serial killer Paul Spector.
Elle, “That is the creepiest guy on the planet, and this is just the first series, there are two more and a planned fourth.”
I settle in to finish the program. Like BBC everything, it’s well done, actors, dialogue, visuals, the whole package. When you can work up a hatred for a fictional character, the writers and actors have done their jobs.
Zoe C, “Why aren’t more movies or TV series like this? It’s believable, not Marvel crap with superheroes, lots of explosions and horrid dialogue.”
Natalie, “Marvel is for teenage boys, or like the Fast and Furious car movies. This is for grownups.”
Elle, “Enough excitement for one day, I’m cooked, coming up Zoe C?”
She yawns, “Right behind you,” kisses for Natalie and me, they head up the stairway.
Natalie, “Got enough energy left to meet my demands?”
I grin, “For you, I have enough energy to send a Saturn rocket into space, and a booster for round two.”
She smiles, “Let’s see what you got big man.”

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