Sixty Five

When I make it downstairs this morning, I’m greeted by Zelda, a brief sniff, a scratch to her head. McKenzie has made coffee, a green tea for herself. We had a loaf of French bread left untouched last night, it’s laying on the counter. There are eggs, vanilla, milk and nutmeg. We’re only so-so on cinnamon and she’s left that out.
“French toast, excellent idea, do you want me to grill bacon, we also have ham and sausage.”
She opens the oven, ah, bacon on a stack of paper towels keeping warm and crispy.
“Perfect, I’ll go outside and have my coffee, the others will be around shortly.”
Ten minutes, she brings me a plate, two rounds of French bread deliciously browned, it looks just like the recipe, three strips of bacon accompany and warm maple syrup mixed with Steen’s cane syrup, a heavier, sharper taste that adds a scrumptious extra to the maple.
“Thank you McKenzie, this looks beautiful and smells divine.”
She goes inside, Zelda pokes my leg, a sign that a piece of bacon would be welcome, I hand her a half, which disappears, then the other half, which I think she might have chewed once.
“Inside girl, help McKenzie.”
She one-eighties, through the split screen, I watch her flop down next to today’s breakfast chef. Natalie appears, kisses McKenzie on the cheek, swipes her fingers down Zelda’s back, pours her coffee and comes out to join me.
“She make it on her own?”
“Was done when I showed up,” I cut a wedge off the toast and give it to Nat.
“Damn, that’s good, you sure you didn’t oversee?”
“I didn’t even find the recipe. Coffee and bacon were done when I showed up, she made mine and hauled it out here, she even warmed the syrup.”
“She’s amazing, mystifying more like it.”
Zoe C and Elle appear, now we’re all on the patio, McKenzie serves the three women.
Elle, “Did you eat McKenzie?”
“While cooking,” she turns and goes inside, returns with the coffee pot and refreshes, goes back in.
Elle, “Sheesh, she did this as well as any restaurant.”
Zoe C is chewing a hunk of French toast, “Better, this is dreamy delish.”
I’m finished, go in to see what I can do to help McKenzie, “Thank you McKenzie, everything was perfect and delicious. I’ll clean in a bit, come with me.”
I take her to my office, now Natalie’s as well, there’s a Bloomberg box tracking the stock and bond markets, I pull out the chair.
“Follow the numbers, if you get bored, quit. It isn’t a test, I want to see if it’s something you like.”
No idea how she receives it. I adjust the chair higher so she can see the screen head on, puts her elbows on the desk, hands under her chin. Zelda puts her massive paws on the edge of the desk, leans in and sniffs the machine. Must have decided it’s safe, she pushes off and settles on the floor next to McKenzie’s chair. I leave them to it.
Kitchen clean, the girls finished breakfast and took care of it, “I have to figure out lunch, probably cold cuts, headed to the store to get fresh catfish filets, you can guess what’s for dinner.”
Natalie, “I’ll go with, there’s no reason you have to schlep everything.”
“Zoe C, leave McKenzie to herself, she may get bored and show up, which is fine, let her swim or whatever, but as long as she stays in the office, don’t interrupt.”
Zoe C, “She figuring out the nuclear launch code?”
“Worse, the stock market code. I don’t want her to think about stock market, or any technical crap like charts and graphs, or anything to do with making money.”
“She’s looking with unbiased eyes.”
“Yep, and an unbiased brain. If she detects any patterns, fine, if not, then Elle and Nat have to work harder to find the magic bullet. Or there is no magic bullet, maybe there are ways to get underneath the data and develop theories, but considering that millions of dollars and lots of smart people have tried, it’s not so simple as a couple of algorithms. In the publically traded markets you are studying the collective neurosis of the entire investing world, subject to change on a dime.”
“She’s fine, go get dinner.”
“Any requests for sides?”
“Basics Chef, fries, beet or three bean salad or coleslaw, I just finished delightful French toast and now I’m dreaming of crunchy fried catfish with spicy ketchup and horseradish. Elle and I are going to let breakfast settle, haul our butts around the property for a few miles, maybe swim or just sun. Make lunch light, for us anyway.”
When we return an hour later McKenzie is still in the office, either she fell asleep or found something else to do or she’s fascinated by the rolling price changes. I go to the office and peek in.
Damned if she isn’t glued to the screen.
I knock so she knows I’m here, then step behind her, “Anything interesting?”
She pushes a pad over to the side so I can see it. There are three columns, one titled green, one red, one black. I recognize about half of the stock symbols she’s listed under each column.
“What does it mean, the colors?”
“Green means higher, red means lower, black means…nothing.”
“Did you record the price when it went one color or another?”
She shakes her head, “Do you want the price?”
“Yes, it’s a good experiment, can you write the prices when you decide if it’s red or green, or nothing?”
She points to a symbol listed as green, “This one was twenty seven point two three, then point four, then twenty eight.”
“You remember the prices when you saw it as green, or did it appear green when you first noticed it?”
“After it got to twenty seven point four.”
“Do you remember all of them, the ones you noted here?”
“Not the black.”
 “Do you want a break? A cup of tea?”
I get a head shake ‘no’.
“I’ll check in later, or if you get tired of it just come outside.”
No reply, I mosey along.
Nat has put away the groceries, she’s outside with the girls, all au natural, my favorite dress code, or undress code as the case may be.
Natalie, “Has my daughter cracked the code?”
“I don’t know yet,” I explain what she’d done.
“But you can’t tell how it worked because she didn’t make a note of the starting price.”
“Yeah, I didn’t give her more instructions because I wanted to see what she did with none. I hesitate to say just yet, but it appears that she remember all the prices, up or down, at least for red or green, she says black doesn’t matter.”
“What? She remembers all of them?”
“Not sure yet, I only asked for the one example.”
“Ah, you’re treating her like a bot, AI, like Alpha Go Zero.”
“Sort of, Alpha Go Zero at least got the board, the stones and the rules, she didn’t get jack but a screen with changing prices.”
“You’re mean.”
“Baloney, I did ask her to write down the price when she decides one is green, red or black. If she comes up with other colors, I’ll decipher them then.”
Zoe C, “She must have something in mind, otherwise why make the categories?”
“Again, I don’t know, it may take time, presuming she remains interested, to figure out what’s what.”
Natalie, “I need a dozen laps, then a shower, Chef’s light lunch, after which I need the office, the second desk anyway. I have to design my fund, oh, I need a crack securities lawyer to do the paperwork.”
“Good, if she decides to stick with the Bloomberg, maybe a bit of mother daughter bonding, in the same room anyhow. I’ll make a call about the lawyer this afternoon.”
I crank out cold cuts, Buffalo chicken, roast beef, pepper turkey, roll up the slices with a strip of cheese inside and a dash of Tonkatsu for some, others get various bottled sauces, Trader Joe’s Sriracha barbeque, PF Chang’s Mongolian or Sesame, multigrain crackers accompany.
I bring a plate to McKenzie along with a Diet Coke, she’s fixated on the scroll, I set the plate down and the Coke. I give Zelda a rolled up slice of chicken which disappears instantly. Then she plops down again, I scratch her belly, she’s been so good, I know she’d like a walk around the property but she isn’t leaving the girl.
An hour later, I check in again.
“McKenzie, take Zelda out, she’s been in here all morning and past lunch. Won’t hurt for you to stretch your legs, the market is closed for today, if you want to, you can do it again tomorrow.”
She gets up, goes to the living area, Zelda follows. I hear the patio door open then silence. I pull her pad to me, she’s dutifully written prices next to the symbols in each column. I check the closing prices.
Damn and double damn. Greens closed up from her initial price, reds close down, blacks are a bit of both, but no significant changes. I make a few notes, if I’d bought all the greens and shorted all the reds, I’d have made a percent. That doesn’t sound like much, but a percent in a couple of hours. At Fidelity’s trading rates, if I had put a hundred thousand spread equally across the twelve stocks, I’d have made a thousand bucks….in two hours, with zero losses. Luck, coincidence, or something else? I check the indexes, the Dow and the S&P 500 were up about a half percent during the same time frame. So, to be accurate, I’d have made five hundred just investing in one of the indexes. If McKenzie remains interested, we’ll see how things go over a couple of months.

Sixty Six

Natalie and I take McKenzie to the chess tournament. She isn’t entered, she’s here to play two adults with master’s points, technically candidate master’s, next level is FIDE Candidate Master, a few more points required. I looked at the rating system, it seems overly convoluted, but we don’t care about rankings or ratings so I skip details of the linear equations used to calculate rank.
Natalie and McKenzie stroll around the tournament area, I meet her two opponents.
To simplify, I’m calling them Chess and Chester, not to their faces, just as reference points in the story.
Chess looks to be thirty four or five, imagine a geek, down to the Zuckerberg t-shirt, plain black frame glasses, white short sleeved shirt. I shake a limp hand, he’s not a look you in the eye type.
Chester is younger, he’s outgoing to the point of brash, “A nine year old girl huh? When the Director asked me to play her I thought he was kidding. He said she played him to a draw, I assume he took it easy on her since I’ve only beaten him once, two draws. I promise to do the same thing for her, take it easy and not crush her. I will win though.”
“We expect you to play your best, otherwise it’s just patronizing. If you think you can’t do that, we’ll play someone else and you can skip it.”
“Whoa dude, you want her demoralized? I’m glad to do that instead.”
“Good, go for it cowboy.”
He’s nonplussed, can see his surprise, he recovers, “Trying to play with my head, I get it, okay then, full on it is.”
They flip a coin to see who goes first, it’s Chess, takes his seat, McKenzie appears and takes the opposite side. This time she’s white and makes the first move.
The average number of ‘moves’ in chess is forty, those records are from tournaments with skilled players. A move includes one player’s move and the responding move as one move. 
The initial game is thirty five moves, with a resignation by Chess, which is a win for McKenzie, but not a capture of the king, just a recognition that the capture was inevitable.
She takes a coke break, then demolishes Chester in twenty six moves. Neither player can fathom how, as soon as they hit the timer she moves her piece and taps the timer herself. If you counted seconds, she took all of thirty seconds to make all her moves, the game ran seventy eight minutes, which means Chester averaged three minutes for each move. That’s fairly quick in chess, maybe he should have taken more time.
 Chester, “Impossible! Is she wired? Somebody feeding her moves? This is bullshit.”
The Director watched both games, “You got butt-kicked Chester, fair and square, maybe you need to go back and study where you went wrong.”
Chess, who is good at saying nothing, speaks up, “She’s better than me, and she’s better than you, get over it,” he again shakes McKenzie’s hand, she has no idea what hand shaking is about but she doesn’t protest. In fact, she hasn’t said a word since the start of the first game.
She says a word now, “Home now, forty two minutes.”
Director, “What happens in forty two minutes?”
“Feeding time for Zelda.”
He doesn’t ask, I thank him for arranging the matches, he asks if he can do another next week.
I ask McKenzie, “Do you want to play again next week?”
She looks at me, “Can he get somebody better than today?”
I look at Director, “You heard her. Tell you what, call me if you can up the level of opponent. No trick stuff, she’s not playing ten people at once, or blindfolded or speed chess, as you have seen, she’ll destroy anyone at speed chess.”
“She would be a big draw playing multiple opponents.”
I don’t smile, I do cock my head, “She’s not here for your entertainment, or to impress anyone, we aren’t going for any notoriety. In fact, if there are any people with cameras, or worse, the media, we walk.”
He nods, “Of course, of course, nothing like that. Too bad you aren’t a stage mom, McKenzie could have this place buzzing, then all of LA buzzing, the chess world anyway,” he tries the old ploy, “and she could make a lot of money.”
“She has a lot of money, far more than she will ever need, money and fame are no inducement to anything. Highly talented players, in a secluded area, that’s it, that’s final.”
To his credit he nods, “Understood. One thing, we do document the moves, so both the winner and the loser and other chess players can learn.”
“We have no objection to that, keep her name out of it. No child chess prodigy, no mention of her age, absolutely no pictures or video. What her opponents talk about afterward we can’t control, I don’t want to make them sign a confidentiality agreement, but if she’s outed, we don’t come back.”
“Done.”
We take our prodigy home, she wants to sit in back with Natalie, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Nat smile so big. 
Zelda greets, sniffs, follows her charge inside, Zoe C and Elle are outside, I go out.
Zoe C, “She beat everybody.”
“She beat two guys with master’s points, not near the top but good. One guy took it in stride, the other arrogant twerp she demolished.”
Elle, “Yay McKenzie! She going to get serious…in competition I mean?”
“No, none of that. The director may arrange a match or two with better players, but he had to agree to no advertising, no press, no photos or video. I think he wants a record of her moves as instructional, that’s okay.”
“Same for Go?”
“Of course, besides, we don’t know if she’s a Go prodigy or even a particularly good player, beating me counts for zip. Nat and I have to discuss it, frankly we don’t care if she ever plays these games, it’s up to her to continue or not.”
Zoe C, “She’s likely to prefer being here with her dog, you can play Go with her. Of course, if you accidentally win, Zelda may eat you.”
Elle giggles, “I hope not, if I have to start cooking for us we may all die.”
“Your job is to supply me with sex, and to keep that bod tight. Firm satin thighs around my ears are my lezzie girl dream.”
Natalie, “Agreed, both of you, and me…tight is right, and now that I’m not sitting on planes or avoiding power drinks with my former colleagues, I can spend time productively. Taking care of McKenzie…and Chef…and my two sizzling friends.
“Cocktails Zoe C.”
She looks at me, “What’s for dinner?”
“Going for Chinese takeout, we chewed the day with chess. Any requests?”
Natalie, “What’s the usual…when I’m not here?”
“A mix, two soups, won ton and hot and sour, egg rolls. Then chicken with vegetables in garlic sauce, chicken breast, not battered. I usually add something sweet-ish, like orange, sesame or Gen Tso chicken. We don’t do pork or beef with Chinese, but if you want one or the other, I’ll get it.”
“No, sounds perfect. Come on Zoe C, let’s arrange the wine and cocktails.”
Elle, “I’ll ride with Chef and help tote…can we take the Bentley? I want to feel superstarry.”
We make the run. Elle is in snug stretchy shorts, short snug stretchy shorts, and a half t-shirt top. I wonder if her legs or her washboard tummy are her finest assets, but then there’s an angelic face and shoulder length hair so light it seems white.
She attracts lots of eyes as we wait for the order but if she notices, it isn’t apparent.
We take the goodies to the car, a man, maybe forty, passes on the way in, stops and enjoys Elle climbing into the Bentley. His mouth drops, sighs audibly and shakes his head, he gives me a thumbs up. I nod in acknowledgment. Elle misses it dealing with the bags, I don’t tell her anything, the guy was simply appreciating perfection.
Home, Elle arranges the food, we’ll have egg roll appetizers, enjoy the early evening and get to the food later. Maybe McKenzie is hungry though. I give her a plate with an egg roll and sweet and sour sauce, then a cup of won ton soup. She has it with us at the patio table. The sun is gone but it isn’t chilly, don’t need the outdoor heaters.
I take a minute to call one of my attorneys, “Phil, it’s Carlyle, got a sec?”
“Shoot.”
“I need a crack securities lawyer, a colleague of mine is starting a hedge fund and she needs the client paperwork written up.”
“Easy, I know just who you want, I’ll have her call you, probably tomorrow, not sure where she is now, her life is in the air, Washington and the SEC, New York, San Fran and LA.”
“Not too overwhelmed is she? I want airtight paper, it doesn’t need to be done tomorrow.”
“Adelaide is a perfectionist, waste of time to worry or second guess. Hedge fund paper is essentially boilerplate, only the name of the fund and the principal change. She’s going to kick it down to one of her juniors, it’s okay, even better, your stuff will look like industry standard, which is what you want.”
“Ask her to call me, I’m not the principal, she’ll be on the phone with me. If she prefers us to call her, no sweat. And not tonight, my tribe is settling in to dinner, if she’s on the east coast, it’s late there anyway.”
“Will do, talk soon buddy.”
That done, I relay the conversation to Zoe C.
“Guess I need to get busy. I’ve been tracking companies already, there are a couple that seem interesting. I have no clue if they are interested in a buyout or anything else.”
“You’re going to turn over a lot of rocks, most of what you’ll find is crap, or just mediocre, I presume you know that.”
“It’s financial detective work. Some will be private, which means more microscope, I can’t be buying pretty on the outside and rotten inside.”
“You know where to look and what to ask for.”
“I’m young, and a woman, it’s not going to be like Warren Buffet calling.”
“Time, attention, diligence and patience. What you want is a Berkshire, not a common hedge fund or mutual fund. You can offer them a way to cash in on their success, give them liquidity they don’t have now and still run their company. You don’t supply management, you supply resources, as in money. Resources at a cheaper rate than they can get at a bank, that’s your in.”
“Enough, let’s have dinner then do something interesting, like plop on the couch and watch something McKenzie enjoys.”
Tonight, it’s Midsomer Murders, the murders aren’t graphic, most of the program revolves around the strange or ditzy Brit small village types. McKenzie likes it, at least she stays with it. Good, I looked it up, there are fifteen seasons, I could be an elder with a walker before we run through them all.
Zoe C, “It’s not late, shall we try an episode of Inspector Morse?”
Natalie, “If Chef will refresh my drink.”
I do, and mine, Elle pours more wine for Zoe C and herself, then we introduce ourselves to yet another BBC production.
It’s amazing, well, perhaps an exaggeration, but I’m not talking about the program itself, but McKenzie’s reaction to it. Most of what we watch, she sits silently. Morse, for reasons unknown, makes her giggle. Always stopping for a pint, crotchety, fussing at Lewis, perpetually aggravated with everything and a total failure at relationships.
Natalie, “Whatever does she find so funny?”
“McKenzie doesn’t live in our world, or I should say, doesn’t see our world the same way we do. Morse is cantankerous, but he gets to the truth, sees motives we don’t, at first. He’s a worn out alcoholic and still sharper than the people surrounding him.”
Natalie takes her daughter to bed, Elle and I clean up while Zelda makes a final trip up the hill. When she returns, she’s up the steps to McKenzie’s room and Natalie is down the steps to us.
Zoe C and Elle go off to snuggle and sleep. Natalie and I switch to CNN, mute it, finish our drinks and do the same. No sex, gentle kisses, cuddle and crash.

Sixty Seven

Hello morning, I look over at Nat, as gorgeous asleep as she is awake. I slip out, do morning ablutions and dress. Natalie peeks out over the blanket.
“Morning studley.”
I kiss her cheek, “Coffee?”
“Yep.”
In the kitchen I see the patio door open, Zelda must be out. The screen parts, enter McKenzie and her pal.
“Morning angel, hungry?”
No answer, she gets eggs from the fridge, a chunk of ham and a brick of havarti. I pour two coffees, take one to Nat and return. McKenzie is breaking eggs, ham has been cut into five half inch slices and a smaller piece she feeds to you know who.
I sip coffee and watch her work.
Nat comes along, “Morning McKenzie, what are you making?”
“Omelet.”
“Yum, doing bagels, muffins or toast?”
“Bagel, smoked salmon, cream cheese.”
“Triple yum,” she kisses the child’s cheek.
Elle comes in, “Zoe C is dressing, yay, omelets.”
When Zoe C arrives, she joins the other two sitting around the island, I stack plates next to the griddle, put utensils on the counter. McKenzie takes the sliced bagels from the toaster. We spread cream cheese and sour cream, touch of lemon, add a piece of salmon and enjoy.
Zoe C, “Figured out anything about San Diego, the girl who can’t remember?”
“I don’t know where to go with it. You can be in my mind, me in yours, so we know it can be done. Do you think…what am I trying to say? Do you think you could spot him? I mean, it’s San Diego, even if you could, we can’t just drive around hoping to stumble on him.”
“No, that could take a few decades, and it assumes he lives in or around San Diego.”
“I wonder if we can talk to the girl.”
“Under what pretext? We don’t know her or her family.”
“I’ll make a call or two, you guys track San Diego news, look for stories similar to the girl’s, or people who acted out of character for any reason.”
Elle, “Like what?”
Zoe C, “Chef means something they can’t explain, like, I don’t know, they give money to a stranger for no reason, not like giving a homeless person a couple of bucks.”
Nat, “A convenience store clerk hands all the cash in the register to someone she doesn’t know, never seen before, but felt compelled. She has no explanation why.”
Elle, “That would show up in the news someplace, I get it. We’ll get busy this morning, search stories for a couple of month before the little girl thing, then up to now and every day going forward.”
“That’s it, do that. I’ll make a call, we have a growing network of contacts for whom we provide information exchange.”
McKenzie’s talking to Zelda, I guess to Zelda, she’s facing the giant mutt and stroking her head, “McKenzie and Zelda will see girl.”
Natalie, “What’s that about? McKenzie, do you think you can help the girl remember?”
McKenzie shifts from side to side, like a pendulum, no reply.
Natalie, “What do you think Chef?”
“I think we put her with the girl and see what happens. I’ll get it arranged, you guys disappear so I can clean up.”
Call the attorney, “It’s Chef, did you hear about the young girl in San Diego?”
“Yes, hard to find the guy when she doesn’t remember anything.”
“Right. We have a ward, a mildly autistic nine year old girl. She is scathingly intelligent. She heard us discussing the case, she wants to meet her.”
“You have reason to think she’s capable of drawing the girl out?”
“I have no reason to think so, but she never asks for anything, this is a first.”
“Let me make a few calls, I’ll get back to you.”
Two hours pass, my phone dings, “I thought it would take a lot of convincing, but I talked to the mother, she said they are desperate enough to try a witch doctor if it will help. One question, I’m a lawyer, which means looking at things with no preconceptions, or at least as many as I can avoid. My question is, is it better to leave her blank on the incident, you see what I mean?”
“I do. If they want it that way, I can’t object, not my place.”
“They want to meet your ward, then make a decision.”
“Fair enough, should I call or you can set up a time if that’s better. We’re available any time.”
“I’ll ask, should only be a few, want to hang on?”
“Sure.”
Line goes dead, three minutes later, “Tomorrow, noon, at their house, the girl is out of the hospital and home now. They haven’t gone the therapy route yet, although a psychiatrist interviewed her at the hospital, he got nothing.”
“Give me the address.”
He does, then, “I’ll let them know you are coming.”
“Thanks, if there’s anything, I’ll let you know.”
We disconnect, I find Nat, “Noon tomorrow, we’ll take McKenzie and see what’s what. Naturally they want to meet before they let McKenzie see the child.”
“I would too. It’s a three hour drive on the sucky 405 and the 5, do you want to fly instead, I think it’s under an hour.”
“Good, let’s fly…no, we need to take Zelda.”
“McKenzie has been away from Zelda before.”
“Not for McKenzie, for the girl.”
Natalie, “Ah, of course, guess we’re going for a ride then.”
Next morning we’re on the way to San Diego, took the Hyundai of course, need lots of room for our massive mastiff. She gets any bigger I’m going to need a dump truck. As it is, she can’t stand up straight. It’s okay McKenzie rides in back with her and in a half hour they’re both asleep.
We drive a bit east after we hit San Diego, the family doesn’t live on the coast, they aren’t poor but not in coastline housing category. It’s a two story stucco over whatever it is that’s under stucco on the second level, the lower exterior is rock facing, which lends a nice, solid appearance. Car in the drive is a four year old Lexus, a minivan in the garage, all of which look the same to me.
I knock, man answers, “You’re here for Montana.”
“We’re here to talk to you and your wife. If you want our daughter to visit with your daughter, that’s your call. My name is David Jennings,” it isn’t but that’s what my license says, “this is Nancy Blalock, and the adorable redhead is McKenzie and this is Zelda, the wonder dog.”
I didn’t change McKenzie’s name, maybe she wouldn’t blurt it out, but we don’t need the complication.
He stares, I suppose he’s never seen a dog Zelda’s size, “Is she…?’
I look at Zelda, “Yūjin,” Zelda relaxes.
A woman comes along, “I’m Fredrika, you’ve met John, come in, I have coffee on but I can make tea if you prefer. Wait…that is a huge dog, a mastiff, is she..?”
“She is, not to worry, and she’s housebroken, she takes care of McKenzie mostly, and coffee’s good.”
We’re shown to a living room, the girl is elsewhere. The room is semi-modern, no thousand pound sofas or mahogany dining tables, but it’s quality, not IKEA.
“Please, sit, let me get coffee and we can talk…oh, what about your daughter?”
“Seltzer, club soda? She likes the bubbles.”
“Me too, be right back.”
Everyone served, John asks, “This is a bit…no, it’s a lot unusual. If you don’t mind me asking, what can McKenzie do for my daughter?”
“Maybe nothing, but she’s about the same age. McKenzie is, as I said, mildly autistic, no, it doesn’t bother her to mention it. We don’t see it as a problem and neither does she.”
Fredrika, “Daniela has no memory of what happened while she was missing. If she wasn’t so withdrawn, I think it might be better. I don’t subscribe to the theory that everything needs to surface and be talked or medicated through. If your plan is to try and bring up memories, I’m not sure we need to proceed, in fact, I don’t want to proceed. But my little girl isn’t the same little girl, she was energetic, funny, curious, none of that now.”
“You’re being sensible. I also have no faith in therapy or drugs. If it helps, neither Nancy nor I want to be present when they meet. I suggest only McKenzie and Zelda, of course one of you, but only one, let’s not crowd the kids. At any time you think there’s a problem, pull the plug.”
John, “It should be Fredrika, moms are more comforting than dads.”
They’ve convinced themselves, no surprise, the parents have hit a wall, if we offer a little light, they will move towards it.
“Is Daniela responsive, not about the missing time, otherwise?”
Fredrika, “Hesitant, it takes a while to get a response to a question, and she’s tentative, as if she needs reassurance to ask for something. Daniela was never introverted before. In fact there were times when I wish she was more introverted, she was lively, curious, even headstrong. Now she’s docile, cautious, slow to respond as I said.”
I look at McKenzie, she’s cross legged on the floor, her monster sitting alongside, McKenzie comes up the Zelda’s shoulder.
John, “The dog guard her like that all the time?’
“Mostly, when she’s not eating a giant bowl of dinner in twenty seconds.”
Fredrika, “How did you train her…to guard I mean?”
“Apart from a few common commands, sit, stay, friend, we didn’t. Zelda trains us is more like it.”
“Maybe we should get a dog John, and not a wee yip yip, something substantial.”
John, “We don’t have the grounds for a mastiff, something smaller maybe, let’s look into it.”
I suggest, “Go to the rescue center, take Daniela, she and the dog will find each other.”
Fredrika nods, “Shall we take her to Daniela?”

Sixty Eight

Daniela is typical SoCal, blonde, whip thin, unusual grey eyes, she’s cute, even beautiful. Today though, she’s silent through introductions.
Fredrika, “Honey this is McKenzie and her dog Zelda. They wanted to come and visit you, is that okay?”
The girl says nothing, but she’s watching, head moves slowly between McKenzie and Zelda. Her door is open, Zoe C and I can see in the room but stay far enough away so as not to distract.
McKenzie goes up to the girl, she’s sitting on the edge of her bed, she touches the girl’s neck, “Yūjin Zelda,” then to the girl, “Keep still, she wants to learn your scent.”
Zelda steps forward slowly, the mother starts, then restrains herself.
Zelda pokes her snout on Daniela’s chest, sniff…then into her neck, Daniela giggles, Zelda licks the side of her face, then plops her wrinkly head into Daniela’s lap.
McKenzie, “Pet,” she demonstrates with a hand down the dog’s head and along her back.
Daniela smiles, replicates the motion, “She’s so soft.”
“Now, scratch head,” another demonstration and another replication.
Zelda inhales deeply, then grumbles out the breath, like the rumble of a truck. 
McKenzie, “Zelda’s happy sound.”
Daniela, “Really! I make her happy?”
McKenzie, “Walk now,” she stands, Daniela scoots off the bed and follows them out the door.
Fredrika turns, comes along, tears dribble, “She hasn’t smiled in a month…ever since…”
Zoe C, “Got a great start today, is there more coffee.”
Fredrika swipes her tears, “For that smile, there’s as much coffee as you can stand.”
John, “What happened?”
Zoe C explains while his wife arranges refills.
“A dog, good lord.”
“No, Zelda….and McKenzie.”
The yard is maybe a half acre, the girls walk the perimeter next to the fence, Zelda in between. 
Fredrika, “John, do you see? Daniela is going a mile a minute, she hasn’t said that much since she got home, this is….is…miraculous.”
John looks at me, “Don’t know what to say, thanks seems so puny.”
“Nothing is necessary. Little girls and big dogs have a natural affinity. If Daniela wants a dog, it doesn’t have to be a mastiff.”
“What if that’s what she wants?
“I suggest a Shar-Pe, a big female might be fifty pounds, twenty inches tall. But they have the wrinkles, are intensely loyal and affectionate.”
“Fredrika’s cousin breeds them, never occurred to us to get any pet.”
“Then take Daniela to visit, like I said, the dog and the girl will find each other. If nothing pops with the Shar-Pe, you can always visit the rescue center. Keep going until the right mutt comes along, there’s a lot of turnover at rescue centers, the average hold is five days before someone takes them home.”
The girls come in, Zelda is poking Daniela in the back, she’s giggling like crazy. They plop on the floor, Zelda lowers her head so the girl can hug her, then she lays down and puts her head in McKenzie’s lap.
Fredrika kneels next to her daughter, strokes her head, “Do you want us to get a dog honey?”
The girl slides forward, turns her back to Zelda than lays down, head on the dog’s chest, “Like Zelda?”
“We’ll talk about what kind, our yard isn’t big enough for a dog her size, Zelda needs room, lots of room. But McKenzie’s dad gave us a good idea, look, I have a picture on the phone, see?”
She’s pulled up photos of a Shar-Pe, Daniela flips through, “So cute, big wrinkles like Zelda,” she hands the phone to McKenzie, “look.”
McKenzie, “One like that,” she points to one of the photos.
Daniela studies, “Or maybe a brown one.”
Fredrika, “Daddy is going to take us to see people who raise them, puppies that will grow up with you like Zelda is growing up with McKenzie.”
Daniela, “Can McKenzie come again…and Zelda?”
“Of course, anytime, but they came from…where did you come from?”
“LA, just north of.”
“It’s a long drive, they came all that way to visit you. If they want to come down again, we’re happy to have them.”
Natalie, “You’re going to get your new friend, you’ll be busy training her. But if you want to Skype or Facetime McKenzie and talk over training tips, we’ll be glad to tell you what we did. To make your pup belong to you, you have to feed and walk her, you have to be patient while she learns, can you do that?”
“Okay, but maybe she can come down again sometime.”
I reply, “Absolutely. Tell you what, get your puppy and start, go really slowly, always gentle. After a couple of months, I’ll bring McKenzie and Zelda back.”
Daniela brightens, “Great,” she giggles, “we had fun, McKenzie doesn’t talk much, but that’s okay, she listens really good,” she giggles again, “and I don’t have to guess what she means.”
John, “Good lesson for us, thank you McKenzie.”
McKenzie stands, “McKenzie and Zelda will go now.”
At the front door, Fredrika says, “There is no way to properly thank you, I’m getting my daughter back.”
“I suggest, only suggest, leave the other business alone unless there are flashbacks or other symptoms, don’t make a problem when there isn’t one.”
John, “The issue is dead, excepting what you pointed out.”
I nod, Daniela hugs McKenzie, then a long hug for Zelda, who gives the child a lick on the cheek, eliciting a giant smile.
“Zelda likes me,” shining eyes to break your heart.
Fredrika has misty eyes, “John, get busy on the Shar-Pe, soon as our new friends are gone.”
Our drive back means we won’t be home for Zelda’s dinner time. I did anticipate the problem and brought her bowl and enough food, plus several bottles of water. We stop at exactly five so McKenzie can take care of her best friend. While Zelda eats and drinks, then takes a walk with McKenzie and Nat on the beach, I call home.
“Hey honey, we’re another hour away, maybe more depending on the mess of LA.”
Zoe C, “You can tell us how it went when you get here. Elle will pick up Chinese, easy to heat, your cocktails will be ready. Drive safe, you have precious cargo.”
We click off. There’s the usual stop and start through LA but we break out and up the PCH to Malibu, arrive at six thirty.
Ah, cocktail, a lovely smooth Russian Standard rocks on the patio as the sun disappears.
Natalie recaps for the girls, McKenzie and Zelda have gone up the hill, it usually takes a half hour for the trip around the property, Zelda has to sniff her spots. She has the perfect walking companion, McKenzie never rushes her, it’s more like Zelda walking our girl than the other way round.
Elle, “What a beautiful story. Instead of the girl growing up convinced she had a horrible trauma, she’s looking forward to her version of Zelda. Are you really going to go back down?”
“I said I would and we will if they want or need us. McKenzie…I don’t know how she felt about the whole thing.”
She and the monster mutt show up, she gives the mastiff a shower. She’s funny, if we skip a couple of days, Zelda will sit in the shower until one of us gets a clue.
Zoe C, “McKenzie, what did you think about the girl, Daniela?”
McKenzie shrugs, “The man who took her was black.”
Holy crapitocious, what in hell does that mean?
“You saw him where? And black, like a black person?”
“In her head. No, he was like us, the air around him was black.”
I ask, “Can you describe him?”
“McKenzie will draw the man,” she walks off to her room, I guess to her room, she goes upstairs anyway, Zelda thumps along behind.

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