Seventy Three

Being filthy rich is great, no financial worries. Better than being rich with money is the wealth of sheer satisfaction of being with our tribe, enjoying meals, enjoying quiet evenings with a cocktail and fresh new murders on TV.
McKenzie loves mystery programs. Unlike many mystery lovers, she has no interest in figuring out who done it ahead of the denouement, the end where things are put together, like Poirot and a roomful of suspects. I don’t know. She also likes Blacklist, less mystery, more threat and conniving. She did call Agent Kean ‘stupid girl’ one time. She’s spot on with that, the woman is the most naive and dopey FBI agent on the planet except for the FBI agents that missed 9/11, the Las Vegas shooter and the fuck who massacred seventeen kids in Broward County with three armed cops cringing outside while the kids were being slaughtered. McKenzie and Zelda would have done a better job than the Broward Cowards.
Natalie, “McKenzie and Zelda to bed, it’s been a long day and our heroes need to rest.”
She follows them up the stairs, Zoe C and Elle wash up glasses, I kiss soft cheeks, they go off to their room, one of their rooms, they both have one but alternate sleeping together in one or the other.
I go to mine, I got a hot shower earlier, do going to bed things and slip under soft sheets and a cozy blanket. The door slides open, it’s my sweet.
“Don’t even think of sacking out until you’ve met my needs,” I her the soft welcome swish of clothes coming off, then the more welcome swish of my leggy babe sliding under the sheet. I bring my best game, Nat always has her game on, we tease, touch, taste, shimmy and shake. Then it’s me wrapping her up and both of us drifting into delightful unconsciousness.
I wake refreshed, something cleansing about intimacy and orgasm, the dead sleep that follows. I climb out of the warmth, humming my way through morning rituals.
Dress, Natalie stirs, “What are you so happy about?”
“I got to make love to a gorgeous young woman last night…zippidy doo dah.”
“Think the bluebird of happiness might magically deliver a coffe?”
“See what I can do,” I go down, maybe McKenzie has a pot up.
The coffee is made, I sniff check, recently too, she must be out with Zelda, I fix a cup and start to take it to Nat when McKenzie and her shadow come in. Zelda comes up for her pats, which I deliver.
“Take the coffee up to mommy please.”
Off they go, I never get tired of fat paws thumping up and down the stairs, it means the girl is safe, her companion happy.
 Elle shows, I hold up the pot, “Coffee?”
The answer is always yes, I pour, “Where’s the other princess?”
“Zoe C was sort of waking up, tai chi waking up….slowly, where’s the dynamic duo?”
“Bringing coffee to Natalie. What do you want for breakfast?”
“Scrambled and toast? Is there fruit or yogurt?”
She gets up to check, “Better, kefir and fruit.”
I crack a carton of eggs into the mixing bowl, whisk, spoon out enough for Elle and me, put four slices of multigrain in the toaster. She has cream cheese and blackberry jelly on the island, butter in a butter keeper, soft and ready to spread.
Zoe C appears, “Morning,” she pours a coffee, sits and stirs in her preferred additives.
“Mother and the two children are still in bed. Well, Zelda has her head on the bed, Nat is propped up with McKenzie between her legs, McKenzie reading out loud from something on her tablet.”
“Ah, bonding,” I spoon eggs on the griddle, two more slices of toast.
As I place the plate in front of Zoe C there’s the familiar thump, our sprite and Nat right behind. Zelda comes to me, looks at her empty bowl then me then her bowl.
McKenzie, “Eight, feed Zelda,” she fills the bowl, tosses out the old water from the water dish and refills it.
Zelda wipes out the bowl, laps up half the water, disappears out the patio door.
Natalie, “She read me four articles from the Times, New York, not LA. She doesn’t do political, one was fashion, one in health and two from the science section. Then she pulled up a site with girl’s dresses, I’m taking her shopping later.”
“Need me to go?”
“It’s a girl thing Chef, just Mac and me, unless Elle and Zoe C want to go.”
Zoe C, “I think solo mommy time together, I have housekeeping to do, laundry too.”
Elle, “I’ll take half, we can knock it out well before lunch.”
I kill the morning with a swim, a bit of sun and reading. I’m enjoying the Commissario Brunetti series by Donna Leon. She offers an unvarnished look at current Venice, where tax avoidance is the national sport, illegal street vendors proliferate, and the city is horribly full of tourists.
Natalie calls at eleven thirty, “We’re going to lunch in a bit, estimate returning at two.”
I check the phone, we have everyone on GPS, even Zelda who tolerates the device on a chain around her neck when she’s out of the compound. I remember the day we got them, McKenzie showing her pal that she had one around her neck too, so they would be sisters. I was touched, Zelda appeared to understand every word.
“You’re in Venice Beach, funny, I was just reading about the other Venice.”
“The other…oh, you’re into one of the Leon books, I’m going to get Mac to read them with me. Yeah, we’re going to James’ Beach, simple, grilled fish, side of something. She won’t tolerate being gone longer than that, let me put it on Facetime, she can see Zelda’s okay.”
What a life, free phone to phone video, well, not exactly free, it takes a relatively expensive phone. I point the lens at Zelda, McKenzie’s face show up on the full screen, Zelda top right corner.
“Tell McKenzie you miss her.”
Zelda’s head cocks back and forth, a grumble, then she licks the phone. I hear McKenzie giggle.
“McKenzie will be home soon Zelda, with treats,” she holds one up, looks like a dog biscuit to me, Zelda sniffs the phone and huffs.
“Have a nice lunch ladies, see you in a couple of hours.”
Natalie clicks off, I briefly wonder if they got around to buying things for McKenzie, she’s grown and her jeans aren’t long enough, needs bigger pullovers and sneakers.
I make the girls tomato bisque soup topped with shredded cheese, crackers on the side. They take a time out to eat.
“If you need something else, there are protein bars. Filet mignon for dinner, you want baked, scalloped, mashed or something else?”
Zoe C, “Baked, and can you whip up spinach artichoke dip?”
“Easy.”
I use less mayo than the recipe calls for, make it creamier with sour cream, use the recommended amount of cream cheese and minced garlic. I add paprika and just a hint of habanero powder. Don’t need to get going on that until later, in fact, I’ll show McKenzie how to make it. We’ll also make crispy tortillas. My method is to use the smallest corn tortillas, coat one side with olive oil, sprinkle with salt substitute. Lay them on the grill in the toaster oven at two forty for forty minutes. They get crispy like bagged tortilla chips, but bigger and the halves are just the right size to coat with dip or nacho ingredients. I make a couple dozen, they keep beautifully in a big Tupperware container.
Zoe C, “Finished today’s routine, bathrooms clean, sheets changed, wet mopped the floors. Tomorrow or Monday we’ll wade through downstairs. I never realize how big this place is until I start with the Swiffer mop, we go through the entire package.”
“Are the floors that crummy?”
“No, because we do it twice a week, at the least ten days, it’s dust, Zelda in and out. We live in a partial desert, dust just seeps in even though we run the Roomba constantly. Roomba does the floors, doesn’t do shelves, table tops or any other flat surfaces.”
“You do a damn fine job, I never notice dust, the place away smells fresh.”
“That’s the HVAC system you have. If I keep the filters fresh it sucks up a lot of dust that would show up on the furniture.”
Shoppers arrive, Zelda goes straight to McKenzie, confirms she’s the same McKenzie that left earlier, then leads her inside, through the living area and out the patio door. I don’t think she needs out, just wants a bit of quality time with her BFF.
Natalie and I haul in bags and boxes.
“You dressing her for the next two years?”
Natalie laughs, “Chef, she’s outgrown everything, and she’s decided to go girly. She wanted her ears pierced, we got her a little light makeup, and a few accessories. You just wait, I dropped off her dresses at the dry cleaners, this is just underwear, jeans, shoes, makeup and accessories.”
“What brought that on?”
“Who knows? She made her selections, I bought them. She didn’t get anything flamboyant or inappropriate, her taste is quite good actually.”
“Steak for dinner, you had lunch?”
“Grilled fish, steamed vegetables, I’m always surprised, she doesn’t ask for crap, eats what’s in front of her. I credit your time with her, she likes the orderliness of cooking, the food itself is her creative tool.”
Nat goes upstairs to unpack the goodies, McKenzie and Zelda come through the screen door.
“Go upstairs and help your mom with your new stuff.”
Thump, thump, thump, the duo go up.
Elle, “That child is a wonder, Zelda included, they’re like two dust devils merged into one.”
Zoe C, “Come on Legs, let’s do laps and bubble in the Jacuzzi, if we play our cards right, Chef will bring another kind of bubbles while we marinate.”
They go out, t-shirts drop to patio chairs, I watch the lovelies dive in.
Nat returns with the other two girls, the adorable auburn and the hairy one.
They head outside, lose the clothes and swim. McKenzie has gotten quite good, smooth anyway, she won’t break any records but she chugs along. When she gets bored, she dives, even learned how to flip. When she’s underwater, Zelda stands on the steps and stares until McKenzie’s head breaks the surface, then sits again, our helicopter hound.
I bring acrylic wine glasses, a good sparkling wine in an ice bucket. One is three quarters full of cranberry juice.
Elle, “Champagne in the Jacuzzi, ain’t life a bitch?”
I pour, hand the glasses around, a splash of bubbly in the cranberry for McKenzie.
A first, Zelda eases in, turns around and lays her head on the edge and goes to sleep.
Zoe C, “Well isn’t that just a thing?”
“If she’s going in regularly, check the filter frequently, we don’t need dog hair fouling it up.”
“Will do.”

Seventy Four

The next weeks pass blissfully, no rushing, nobody to track down and beat into obedience, not even anyone to kill.
Sounds boring, it isn’t. I’m surrounded by three lively lovelies, our young precious and a dog that can apparently read minds. Why would I want to run around the country in fancy hotels looking at whatever. We live near the top of a mountain, our views are more mountains to the north, south and east, the Pacific Ocean to the west. Nobody bugs us. While I have several legal and accounting acquaintances, none of them could be called friends in the sense of hanging out together.
If McKenzie has any interest in other children, she never mentions it. Natalie says she sees herself as a smaller adult in our made up family. Her new outfits are more…stylish teen than nine year old. Aside from a few pairs of skinny jeans and sneakers, she spends most of her days in shift dresses that hug her beginning curves and hang to mid-calf. When she’s not barefoot, she wears simple platforms, not the sky high kind, but a wedge heel. Nat took her for a hair appointment and she returned with a tres-stylish cut to her shoulders, parts to one side or down the middle. Crazy rich, thick hair, shiny, like any healthy young girl.
She got ears pierced and has two small platinum studs on her lobes. The slightest touch of eyeliner, pastel shadows and clear lip gloss. The first time she had it all on, Zelda sat in front of her, cocked her head back and forth, then sniffed around her face. I assume that since McKenzie didn’t smell any different Zelda was satisfied that we hadn’t replaced her friend with an avatar.
She talks to Zelda in Japanese most of the time. I won’t bore you with it, bear in mind that when she talks to her bud, she’s speaking Japanese, I write the English version so we don’t lose the flow of the story.
Lucky me, McKenzie hasn’t lost her taste for cooking. Unlike me, she has the recipes in her brain, a brain that doesn’t lose anything, not the ingredients, the temperature or the time. I used a timer, with Mac it isn’t necessary.
Today, after breakfast, she’s in the office following the market and marking her green, red, black selections. Over a hundred trades, all profitable. Not double your money profitable, aside from takeovers, that doesn’t happen with individual stocks except over time.
“McKenzie, I want you to do actual trades, Elle will show you how. When you find a green, buy it, if it’s a red short it, black is obviously no trade. Can you do that?”
“McKenzie will buy and sell.”
I text Elle, I have no idea where she is in the house, or she might be out grocery shopping or any number of errands.
Turns out she’s upstairs, “I’m here, upstairs changing sheets, what’s up?”
“I want you to set up McKenzie with an account so she can trade, none of that foot dragging crap, as instantaneous as you can make it.”
“No sweat, mine’s like that.”
“Good, it will be funded with a million dollars, she can buy or short any stock up to a hundred grand. Based on her notes, she doesn’t hold positions more than a day or two with a couple of exceptions.”
“I’ll sit with her until she’s got it, should we go for smaller transactions at first, twenty five to fifty?”
“No, if we’re going to make a buck, it has to be a fair number of shares. You can read her notes, we’re talking points, between one point and two or three. She needs to be aware of bid-ask spreads, they can run a quarter point which sucks money out of the trade. If she gives up a quarter on the buy and gives up a quarter on the sell, that’s a half buck out of the dollar profit, plus transaction costs.”
“Don’t worry about transaction costs, I pay pennies. If you want, I can have her follow several market makers, she can pick the lowest ask and sell to the highest bid. It can often make the spread near nothing as well.”
I stroke the auburn softness, “You’re going live Mac, pay attention to Elle, you will be following more screens now, understand?”
“McKenzie will buy and sell, Elle will show her.”
Not sure why she’s always in third person, she likes it that way so that’s the way it is.
While Elle sets up our resident genius, I log into the site where we get messages about abusers. After a dry spell, a message dinged this morning. Elle set up the system to send me a notification when there is a new message or reply.
‘don’t know who is getting this, don’t know if it’s for real i live in a crap neighborhood drugs and gangbangers cops hardly come around woman two houses down is a drug mule forced to sneak in dope to pay for her own habit she has a kid and has men over frequently not nice men they beat her senseless a week ago i have the child for now if they find out they will use him for money’
I reply, ‘Details, who, where, descriptions of the men and vehicles, if you can get photos, send them. Do NOT put yourself in danger, we can work without photos or video. Await your reply.’
At least there aren’t two or three more. Abusers are everywhere but our network of contacts isn’t, the abuse site is primarily California. Our reporting sources are growing, we’re doing it slowly, vetting sources before we let them submit reports or requests. We are expanding nationally on the shared information side, the part where we serve as backchannel between agencies that restrict swapping data with other agencies. They can be territorial, are territorial, but select individuals within the agencies can contact us and we’ll do a workaround with nobody’s name or employer attached.
I need a caffeine boost, we have a single serve gizmo that makes quite good coffee, I use that. Natalie is outside with Zoe C getting a bit of California sun with tumblers of iced tea. It’s nearing time for me to think up lunch….got it, grilled cheese with tomato and onion. When I do grilled cheese, I mostly don’t make a production, no fancy cheeses, Kraft American singles do fine. I dress that up with sliced tomato and onion, touch both to the grill for a minute only. Toast one side of the bread, lay the filling on the toasted sides, then put the sandwich on the griddle after a swipe of clarified butter. Grill it to a nice brown on both sides, easy.
McKenzie might like to make them. I go to the office, she’s in deep with Elle, maybe some other time, return to the kitchen, finish coffee while I surf online news. Politics is its eternal mess everywhere in the world, I gloss over that crap. If they want to act a fool I don’t want to participate.
Quarter to twelve, girls outside come inside fresh from the pool shower.
Zoe C, “What’s lunch, I’m mysteriously hungry.”
“Grilled cheese, chips, coleslaw.”
She turns to Nat, “Isn’t Chef the very best?”
“Flattery will get you extra cheese.”
“How about bacon? Can I get a couple slices of bacon on mine?”
“Sure, Nat?”
“Good with me, just make them all that way.”
McKenzie comes in, “McKenzie made one thousand,” Elle and the monster mutt behind her.
Zoe C, “One thousand what?”
McKenzie shrugs, takes the spatula and starts working he bacon.
Elle, “Dollars, she made a thousand dollars trading stocks.”
“Dang, great job Mac,” she giggles, McKenzie is laser focused on bacon, trading is something done and gone.
“Mac is more in the moment than a Zen monk.”
It’s true, I never thought of it that way, but Zoe C is right.
McKenzie watched me build the grilled cheese, now ready for the grill part.
“We keep the heat low medium to start, don’t want the bread brown until the cheese is melted.”
I turn the operation over to her while I put out chips and coleslaw, this one I made with purple cabbage, shredded carrots and tahini dressing instead of mayo.
Natalie, “Perfectly grilled McKenzie, coleslaw is tasty too Chef.”
Zoe C and Elle, “harrumpf, harrumpf.”
“It takes me a second, then I recognized where I’d heard it, Blazing Saddles, when Governor LePetomaine challenges one of his lackeys who didn’t harrumpf the proposed William J. LePetomaine Casino for the Insane Gambler.
“I didn’t get a harrumpf from that dog.”
We all turn to Zelda, she huffs and lays down.
We laugh, “Did Zelda see Blazing Saddles?”
Zoe C still smiling, “We watched it before McKenzie signed on or Zelda showed up.”
My phone beeps, notification of a new message. The message isn’t on the phone, the computer we use for the abuse site is encrypted and when we’re done with a case, Elle runs Ccleaner for seven passes, then at night she runs the disc-wipe feature which takes hours but it completely erases all open spots on the drive. Deleted or recycled data can sometimes be retrieved if the space hasn’t been written over by something else. The cleaner takes care of that.

Seventy Five

“I need Zoe C in the office Nat, can you and Elle handle lunch cleanup?”
Natalie, “Sure.”
We go to the office, read the message.
Zoe C, “Can’t complain about vague, she’s got details of details.”
That she does, names places, couple of cars with registration, or at least license plates, four photos of young men, if they aren’t in a gang they’re making a strong effort to appear so.
“Nasty little punks, what’s with the pussy moustaches, and that one guy with the strip of hair down his chin, sheesh, does being in a gang require bad taste?”
I shrug, “This one does, I’ve grown to despise muscle shirts and aggressive tattoos.”
“Elle gave passing thought to a tattoo, until I told her I’d burn it off with a red hot poker.”
“Not on those legs I hope?”
“Elle isn’t going to mark up those thighs, she said she thought about a butterfly type thing on her ankle.”
“That’s not so bad.”
“No, but tattoos are addictive, butterfly leads to some other cutesy bit someplace else, then she winds up looking like an NBA basketball player.”
I laugh, “Did you just say no, or talk her out of it?”
“She wasn’t that serious, I said over my dead body, she dropped it.”
“Good, she just needed someone she trusts to tell her no. I’ve done lots of stuff that I wish someone had told me no.”
“Haven’t we all?”
“So what about the case? It’s practically next door, the wilds of San Bernardino.”
“You and I go talk to the source, but not at her home, I guess it’s an apartment. We don’t need to be seen with her.”
“Set up a meeting, some motel, nothing fancy. Then get an Uber to take her to the motel….no, not the motel, to a spot near the motel, you know, like a Denny’s, a place where she can walk to the motel. That way the driver doesn’t know where she’s going.”
I leave her to get it sorted, go out to the others.
“Zoe C and I will visit the contact tomorrow. No need to drag the rest of you into it. I don’t want the contact to know any more about us than necessary. Elle, let McKenzie take another run at trading, I’m sure Natalie has work to do on her fund. Zoe C and I will go in light disguise. In fact, I may not involve Zoe C at all, she can hang outside and keep an eye out for anyone following the woman. They wouldn’t follow her, but they have an interest in the child, an ugly interest.”
Which reminds me, I go back to the office, Zoe C is on the phone, I go mind to mind.
Tell her to bring the boy, if the gang is watching, she can’t leave the child alone.’
She nods agreement, I return to the kitchen. Check the slow cooker, pot roast is bubbling along, need to make a bakery run for French bread, maybe Louisa has a cheesecake, the cakey kind with sour cream on top.
Four thirty, tea time. A pot of black, a pot of green, oatmeal and sugar cookies, Dove chocolates.
I hand McKenzie a few pieces of beef jerky, Zelda can’t have any of the crap carbs we’re having. We’re around the patio table, McKenzie slips Zelda a hunk of jerky, takes a bite of oatmeal cookie.
Elle, “Mac made fifteen hundred today Chef, she’s getting spooky.”
I look at the girl, she’s occupied with Zelda, “I wonder what she sees when the numbers go by. She says green red or black, but how?”
Natalie, “She loves calculation, perhaps she has an algorithm in her brain, a cross wiring that projects a trend and turns it into color.”
Elle, “That’s a decent theory Nat, it has to be something in her head. I can’t go with aliens or something floating in the ethernet. Have you asked her?”
“Chef did, she told him she just sees the numbers in colors, most are black, green and red are equally divided unless the market is trending strongly one way of the other.”
“More green if it’s a strong bull, more red if the bear is winning.”
“Exactly. During her actual trading for the last couple of days, the market has trended nowhere significant. Be interesting to see what happens when there’s a sharp move up or down.”
“Five, feed Zelda,” McKenzie stands, to the kitchen to dump pellets into Zelda’s bowl, I hear them clinking into the stainless steel bowl, water runs filling the water bowl.
“The markets open here at six thirty close at one thirty. McKenzie us usually up by seven or seven thirty. Let her make breakfast, walk the dog if she wants. I don’t care what time she goes to the office but she shouldn’t stay longer than three hours including a fifteen minute break.”
Natalie, “Glad you brought it up, I agree, she needs a physical life, including sunshine.”
Elle, “I’ll sit with her, at least until we sure she’s got it down. I don’t want to stare at a screen any longer than I need to either.”
Nat, “If you need a break, I’ll do it, just text me. What does she talk about when she’s doing it? Or does she say nothing?”
“Talks to Zelda, it’s totally cute, ‘Look Zelda, see the green one? McKenzie will buy the green one,’ same for red except she says sell.”
Zoe C, “Sounds like Mac. What’s her buddy do?”
“Sniffs the screen.”
Laughter, I take the pots inside to clean, Zoe C brings the empty cookie platter. McKenzie and Zelda brush past and head up the hill.
Zoe C, “Dinner? Oh yeah, pot roast, yummy. You making poboys?”
“I’ll have warm French bread, they can either use it to dip in the gravy or make a sandwich. McKenzie can make French toast tomorrow, what time do we meet the woman?”
“Noon, if we take off for nine thirty we should have plenty of time. We may not need that long, but it’s LA, always a traffic issue.”
McKenzie and Zelda show up from their walk, Zelda gets a pool shower, shakes water everywhere, plops in the remaining sun to dry off. McKenzie comes inside. She heads to the sink to wash her hands, one of my rules is the chef has to be surgically clean to handle food.
I take the roast out and plop it on a platter, hand her two forks, “You want to shred it, afterwards, scrape the meat back into the crock pot. I’ll make gravy while you pull apart the roast. I stir flour in a tablespoon at a time, stir and make sure there’s no lumps, keep adding until the consistency looks right.
McKenzie finishes the shredding, now it’s ready for a lovely poboy. In New Orleans, most poboys are made with thin slices of roast beef stacked on the bread, I prefer to have the beef pulled, then let it soak in the gravy for a while. In the end, it all tastes the same.
Cocktails, no appetizers today, dinner will be filling enough. McKenzie slices tomato, shreds cabbage in a pile. We like cabbage over lettuce, it holds up better and adds a little crunch to the sandwich. Bread and butter pickles to top off, a little olive oil mayo on the top half of the bread, the bottom slice will soak up gravy.
I peek in the oven where the French bread is heating. We do it sliced so both the inside and the crust get toasty, it prevents the bread from getting too mushy.
Zoe C is sipping wine at the kitchen island, watching us work, Zelda comes in, laser focused on the scent of beef. McKenzie cut a chunk while she pulled apart the beef, Zelda gets her treat with a happy groan.
Elle comes in from outside, “Smells heavenly in here, do they have cows in heaven?”
“They do in my heaven,” I refill her wine.
“Where’s Nat?”
“Bundled up in front of a computer creating her vision, she’s also made a dozen phone calls in the money hunt.”
“She’ll get the money, I bet in six months people will be calling wanting in.”
“Tell her dinner is ready please.”
Elle goes off, Zoe C sets the table, we’ll eat inside tonight, the weather is okay, starting to get overcast and chilly now though.
Natalie, “These things are so good, we should go to New Orleans, let McKenzie see the old place.”
“What happens with Zelda? She’s pretty big to haul around, although we fly private so the main issue is the hotel and the French Quarter is not dog friendly, not at Zelda’s size.”
“Good point, and I doubt Mac would be fascinated by the city, one place is kind of like another where she’s concerned.”
Elle, “You and Zoe C travel tomorrow, right?”
“Yes, not a big travel, San Bernardino.”
“Why are you meeting the informant? That exposes you.”
“A little disguise, people don’t recall even face to face meetings accurately without disguise. If she ran into us the next day, she wouldn’t recognize us.”
I had chips with the poboys, fries or baked are too heavy with a heavy sandwich, the salad is on the sandwich, cabbage, tomato and pickle.
Dinner winds down, McKenzie and Elle clear, Natalie asks, “McKenzie, what do you want to watch tonight?”
“Grumpy man.”
She means Inspector Morse, McKenzie giggles whenever he loses patience with Lewis.
Ah, the wind down, we fill the couch, drinks in hand, Mac and the mutt on the mat, our girl using the dog’s chest for a pillow. Every so often Zelda rolls her head to the side and sniffs McKenzie’s neck, another thing that makes her giggle, Zelda likes the sound, her charge is happy.
The program runs an hour and a half, the auburn calculator is sleepy.
Natalie stands, pulls McKenzie up, “Let’s get the genius a bit of rest, big day of whatever tomorrow.”
Zelda’s cue to go out and do pre-bed duty, Nat and McKenzie up the steps for Mac’s pre-bed duties. Zelda returns and lopes past, up the steps to McKenzie’s room. A few minutes later Natalie comes down.
“My daughter has requested my presence for the evening, do you mind?”
I smile, “I’ll take it out on you sooner or later.”
“Sooner will be good, we can anticipate.”
“I anticipate all day long.”
“I’ll have a Cognac please.”
I stand, “Anyone else?”
Zoe C, “Everyone else, we’re going to watch a Wire in the Blood, we need to be fortified to withstand gruesome murderers. Elle gets heated up by murder, I get to finish up the warming, then cool her down.”
“Tough duty, making love to a blonde sylph hottie.’
“I’m up to the challenge.”

Seventy Six

Zoe C and I are slipping slowly down the 210, most of the 95 miles is still in Los Angeles County. LA is a big place, tem million people in forty seven hundred square miles.
Zoe C is driving, we’re in her NSX, she could punch past one eighty on an open road. This is LA, there is no open road so she opts for going with the traffic flow.
“There’s the Denny’s she’s supposed to be dropped off. Days Inn is down the street.”
“She’s supposed to call after she’s dropped off, then I tell her where we are, where you are anyway. She’s only going to meet one of us.”
At noon, my phone dings, a text, ‘at dennys’.
I reply from the car, ‘days inn rm 112’. 
Nat is in the room waiting. I see a lanky frail woman with a child, sort of Hispanic, but not quite, hair brown, dark eyes with a light complexion, rail skinny like lots of small kids. They walk to the door, I can follow them, the car is hidden, it’s too noticeable. Who stays at Day’s Inn with a hundred sixty thousand dollar car? I get in Zoe C’s brain.
‘Approaching.’
‘I see them.”

Lanky knocks, Zoe C opens, they enter. I can hear through Zoe C’s ears.
‘Please, have a seat. I brought juice, do you want to watch TV?’
A small voice, ‘ok’.
“You need help with an abusive boyfriend, not your boyfriend I understand.’
‘No, but there’s another problem…the child’s mother…she’s…didn’t make it.’
‘Does the girl know?’
‘Yes. She wasn’t much of a mother, not at all really. A few days in the hospital but never recovered consciousness and…what do I do now? They know I have her, they will come soon.’
‘Can you take care of her if the others are gone?’
‘You can make those two go, you gonna stick around and deal with their replacements, one dies another rises. I got nothing to help her, she will go to foster care. If they want to, they can find out who takes her and where they are.
You are one young woman, what can you do anyway?’
‘There are others, better if you don’t know who they are’.
Lanky, ‘Another thing…one the child’s mother couldn’t understand or accept. Mickey is a boy, but he wants to be a girl. That enraged her when she was awake enough to care.’
‘Which makes foster care a problem.’
“Impossible I’d say.’
‘We can place the girl ourselves, you have to do it on trust. With foster care, the people are supposedly vetted, I mean investigated.’
‘Foster care is almost as dangerous as leaving her with me, I know, I was in foster care for six years, five homes, five schools. But, how will you do better? Nobody knows who you are, sorry, don’t mean to insult.’
‘Not insulted at all, it’s a fair question. I can’t fix that however, none of this is perfect.’
It’s quiet for a time, I can hear a TV on low, some kid’s program.
Lanky again, ‘I can’t deal with it, got no money, I seen some of them kids on TV, but they got parents who adjust, accept, it’s their kid after all. This is different.’
‘You want money, we don’t buy children.’
‘Not buy, helping me and her, I don’t want no money, but I can’t take care of him, not like he is.’
‘No other relatives?’
“Shit, who knows, if she’s got ‘em she don’t never see ‘em, nobody comes around except to sell her drugs or for...,’ she glances at the child, ‘you know.’
‘Once the child is gone, are they any threat to you?’
‘They gonna ask me where he is, if I tell ‘em the state, they might leave it, they’s kids ever-where, they can find another.’
‘Can you move?’
‘Got a sister in New Mexico, husband died, she’s alone. We talk sometimes about me goin’ out there. We get along. I’da gone sooner but her husband was a total ass.’
‘I’m going to give you five thousand, not for the boy, for you to relocate. It saves me from having to deal with the gang.’
‘Preciate it, but it don’t help with the child.’
‘I’ll take the child, I don’t care about gender issues.’
‘You’d do that?’
‘I’ll do that.’
‘Donno how to thank you. I thought this was a few days for his mom in the hospital and I’d be done, didn’t work out that way.’
I can hear the relief in the woman’s voice.
Zoe C, “Go to Denny’s and wait. A car will take you home.’
‘You want the kid’s stuff? He ain’t got much, never did.’
‘Not important.’
‘How do I get my money?’
‘Hang on, back in a minute.’
Zoe C comes out, she looks around for me, walks over. She knows I keep a cash stash, I count out fifty hundreds, she returns to the room.
A minute later I see Lanky come out the door and move along towards the restaurant, I go to the room.
Zoe C, “She didn’t even acknowledge the boy when she left, just happy to dump him on someone else.”
“She’s not young, might have addiction issues of her own, or she’s just too scared and confused to be of any use.”
“Hope you don’t mind me spending your money.”
“Our money, the family’s money. Let’s get a move on.”
“What about the gang?”
“Like she said, these assholes go away, more assholes pop up like poison mushrooms.”
We pack up Mickey, who says zip, his eyes get big when we climb into the NSX. I drive so Zoe C can hold him. She talks to him along the way, simple stuff, things are alright now, life will get better, the boy falls asleep.
Two hours and home, this should be interesting.


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