Chapter Seventy Seven

Yay, the twins are here.
Dasha rolls in her suitcase, I take it from her, "Dahfoney, we will haf vodka now."
"Already made, go to my room, I'll unpack your stuff and join you in a minute."
"Da, thanking you, you will kiss me now."
I do better than, hug her tight, cover soft cheeks with kisses.
Daria, "Where is Vesnushki?"
"On the way, they had an early evening shot, but it's finished, be here in fifteen."
They go down the hall to our room, I deal with suitcases and clothes. Hang up and put away, store the suitcases, lay out their toiletries and makeup on the bathroom vanity. Open the balcony door so the ocean breeze can float through.
In my room, they're spread around the balcony, Eloise is recounting our adventure, "I wasn't sure what to do. I could see Janah dealing with the woman, the two teens caused me to hesitate. Daphne called and cleared that up instantly."
Janah, "We haven't talked about it, how are you doing?"
"Once Daphne told me to shoot, it was no different than the video games I play. A monster or a bad guy, blow them away. I feel stupid now, for hesitating."
"Don't, it was your first time and we didn't give you instructions. Remember, we were still deciding that they were Shadows, all we had was the crow's observation. Janah could have dealt with them, it just would have been messier. Better to drop them with a dart than have them explode. And she doesn't have to generate so much qi. It's exhausting, even dangerous, at that level."
Janah, "That's right. To destroy three, I'd need a week to recuperate."
Daria, "The drone performed well?"
Eloise, "Perfectly, sighted the laser, tapped the key, next dart loaded instantly, no jam, no hang up."
"Speaking of which, if this goes much further, we're going to need more darts and drugs."
Janah, "Good thought, one of us will call David Li in the morning."
Dasha, "Ees already more Shadows?"
"That's what the owl said. And the birds are passing the message along. We may not need anything or we may be on less than a vacation."
Daria, "Eloise said she ordered GPS to fit bird."
"Yes, should be here tomorrow. If we don't need them here, we can use them lots of places. Fortunately, a crow is a tough intelligent bird. I wouldn't want to trust a pigeon with the quickie system we used with the crow. Good thing we did, we thought they were going to kill the boy. After we saw the videos, Janah thinks they would want him alive, a lifetime of psychological problems, agonized parents, the kind of thing that turns on a Shadow."
Janah, "I need food, we skipped lunch and tea was just tea."
Amaya and Chloe knock, I let them in, Amaya, "We are starved, I need a drink this instant, hello dear ones," she hustles to the twins, kisses and hugs,
Daria goes to Chloe, long hug, Chloe kisses her cheeks, whispers something, Daria nods, another hug.
I check in with Nikko, "Twins are here, I felt you following the events today, hope we didn't interrupt business."
Nikko, "No, Zi was walking prospects through the property, I was just tagging along, we were at lunch when most of the action happened, I passed along the story to Zi. Figured you guys would want to tell the twins. Dasha and Daria were occupied. They did a splendid job. Clients, both owners and tenants are crazy about Dasha. She has a line of crap a mile long and they eat up the accent. Daria got the pleasure of explaining to a prospective client, an owner, that if he thought he could get comparable results cheaper, he should take off and quit wasting everyone's time."
"Lose the client?"
"Just the opposite, his lawyers stared at her, they clearly thought the owner was going to lose it, started huffing, slammed their briefcases shut and stood. One of them said, 'Management companies are a dime a dozen, we don't need insults,' they started to leave. The building owner snapped, told them to sit their expensive asses down, that direct honesty is a far more valuable commodity than lawyer bullshit. He signed on the spot. His stiff-neck lawyers looked like they'd eaten a crap sandwich. He made them apologize to Daria, I've never seen that shade of red."

I laugh, "What did Daria do?"
"Nothing, Dasha told them, 'Ees okay for you to act tough, law persons always argue. We are understanding. Boss ees smarter, he knows top manager when he sees, you haf learn gud lesson, we will fix building and get many new tenant. Boss will make lots of money. We appreciate beezness, you haf a nice day, bye now,' then she and Daria stood and left."
"Splendid, what did the owner do?"
"He laughed his way through the whole thing, actually thanked me for taking him on."
"I have to feed the troops, then everyone needs to rest, tell Zi hi from all of us, we miss you guys."

Nikko, "Same here. We've had dinner at least, time for another glass of wine then we're out of it."

Chapter Seventy Eight

"Let me get room service, you guys can shower and the food will be here."
I look over options, order two shaved roast beef sandwiches, two lobster roll, vegetable burger, add spaghetti Pomodoro and ravioli Bolognese. There are sides of chips and fries.
Everyone's back in our room, drinks refreshed, girls make selections sit around the table to eat.
I recount Nikko's story about the twins, Amaya says, "Congratulations, it seems  Murakami Sylk is growing exponentially."
Daria, "Nikko says after this, we put a hold on new properties to manage. We have to refurbish two and find tenants. She thinks a year at least."
"How's the west coast manager working out?"
Dasha, "She ees Shaolin from New York. Working already five years, we move her to San Francisco, promotion and raise. What ees movie doing?"
Chloe, "Movie is wearing us out. Childers is efficient, which includes doing as many scenes a day as possible. We've been all over Los Angeles, sometimes we spend more time driving than shooting. He's on schedule though. I think I've killed ten people and we're a quarter of the way through."
Amaya, "It is going to be great, it moves from action to action like the Jason Bourne movies. Bad guys thinking up ways to find Chloe, Chloe finding ways to avoid them. She had to jump off a building today."
"I assume it went okay, you're here in one piece."
Chloe, "It was fun, and scary. They set up a big air bag, I jump, land on my butt, then they take a shot of me coming down five feet from a ladder and landing on my feet. It looks like I jumped thirty feet and landed like a cat."
"When do you need the twins?"
Amaya, "Five days, maybe a week. They can vacation until then."
"Maybe not," I recount our day.
Chloe, "Janah, you're okay?"
"Daphne did an hour of qi, another half hour of gel packs. May work on it again before bed."
Amaya, "Creepy people. I know they must be dealt with, I hope it does not interfere with the production schedule."
"It won't, Nikko and Zi will be along about the time the twins are needed on the set. Maybe the birds don't find any."
Amaya, "If the owl is right, it does not sound likely."
It's going on ten, girls are yawning.
"Dahfoney, you will take us to room, Vesnushki also."
It's right down the hall, that's not what she's asking of course. They want us there like the early days, to be with them while they fall asleep. Two weeks away was not going to work, Chloe and I don't mind a bit of attachment, it's a privilege.
"Go to the room and do bedtime things, Eloise and I will get her stuff and bring it over."
Everyone goes off, Janah calls room service to collect carts and dishes.
Chloe is one side of the bed, sitting next to Daria, I'm next to Dasha, Eloise is landlocked in the middle.
"Give me your glasses, Eloise," she pulls them off, I lay then on the nightstand.
Chloe and I do our relaxation thing, hands on cheeks, soft kisses, stroke brows. I lean over to kiss Eloise, girls fading after a long busy day. When they've nodded off, Chloe and I go to our rooms.
Janah is on the bed in a sleepy twilight, "Don't worry about the qi, come snuggle."
Dealing with Shadows even for a short time has her frazzled. I wrap her up, kiss soft shoulders, don't know who conked first but we are gone in minutes.
Everyone sleeps late, Chloe and Amaya excepted. It's eight thirty when I start stirring, get up and make coffee, go downstairs to round up breakfast pastries, we had a late dinner, I doubt anyone is starving.
Janah's up when I return, "Oh, good, food. I shouldn't be hungry but I am a little."
"It's just pastry and fruit."
"No problem, we'll try and actually have lunch today," she plops jam into a croissant, "yum, warm even."
I have a bran muffin, they make them with and without raisins, I'm without, not a raisin fan. I peer out to the balcony, bird free, good, we don't need another project today.
The twins and Eloise come in, "Coffee over there, have to heat water for tea, the bags are next to the microwave."
Dasha leans in for a kiss, I deliver, she sits next to me, looks over the offerings and peels a banana, takes an almond poppy seed muffin.
"Muffin ees gud, what are we today Dahfoney?"
"Today is hopefully nothing, walk to Venice Beach, maybe circle around to the Santa Monica Promenade for lunch. You and Dasha will be up early with Chloe and Amaya in a few days, then working all day. "
Dasha, "Eemaya give us script for moovee, we are to learn it."
"Daria will have it memorized after reading it once, she can help you with yours. Are you supposed to have an accent?"
"We are to haf small one only, easy, we do not anyway haf much dialoging, only keeling."
Eloise, "Did you call David Li?"
"Cripes, no, thank you, let me get that done," I find a phone, call and tell him what we need and to overnight it.
Janah, "I trust he knows to disguise it."
"Yes, drugs will be in a locked acrylic box inside another regular box. If they X-ray it, we don't want to arouse suspicion with a metal box. The drugs will be in vials labeled insulin. They're coded by strength. U-40, U-100, U-500. Forty is Trust, one hundred is Forget, five hundred Oblivion. We have a fair number of darts, he's sending fifty more in a separate package."
Janah, "Hope we don't need fifty."
"I only brought one air gun, plus the drone, wasn't supposed to be a hunting trip."
"We'll figure it out."
We hit the street, take a slow mile and change down to Venice. Same as always, a medium crowd, sunny. I decide to stroll past Jose and Jimmy, they're jiving some tourists and pay us no attention. Since the Shadow business came up, better not to make pals that recognize us. It's a perfect nothing morning, we look over the souvenir junk for sale, endless t-shirt shops or get a scrip for marijuana, we don't buy anything, don't want any dope.
On the way back we pass a beach park with sets of hanging bars and still rings, Dasha says,
"We will parkour here Dahfoney."
She jumps up to a bar, they're spaced apart so you can't hand to hand, you have to fly to the next one. She's back and forth, then standing on the bars, walking up and down the length. It's on the beach side of the walk, we're on sand, maybe not as good as a mat, but good enough. I join her. We flip between bars, back flip off them, Eloise is walking the bars, a small group stops to watch us, I hear mobile cameras click. We play for fifteen, get a round of applause, smile and wave, continue down the walk. There’s another park with large egg shaped rocks dotted around. Dasha sprints to one, lands on it and leaps into a forward flip, back flip off the next one, Eloise is chasing her around, I can't resist the fun and Dasha leads us around the eggs, flip and one eighty, flip and three sixty, more cameras. Down a bit, there are railings, a wall, we leap from the railing to the wall, must be a ten foot jump and the wall is higher than the railing, I wonder about Eloise, she's small, the jump isn't simple. Turns out she's like one of those fleas that leap across the room. The jump back is hard, it's only a two inch railing but we manage to stick it. All the years of leaping around our roof have taught us something.
Dasha looks up at me, we're winded in that happy way, "Sister says enough for now, no broken bone for making moovee."
"She's right, on sand not so bad, this rail and wall are on concrete and qi isn't going to fix a broken bone a couple of days. Still, it was fun, felt good to play."
Janah is on the beach with Daria doing a variety of yoga poses, Eloise, Dasha and I find a place to buy Cokes. We sit and sip while they spend a half hour in bend and twist. Three women are watching, when Janah and Daria wrap up, they approach Janah, ask a few questions. Janah taps something into her phone, smile, nod, walks over to us.
"Going to start a Santa Monica yoga school?"
Janah, "Visitors, they asked if we were going to come again tomorrow. Since I don't know, I got one of their numbers and said I'd text them if we do. They spend the mornings hanging out here, in town for another week."
"It's just after twelve, let's get lunch."
Dasha, "We will go to beach restaurant at hotel."
Since we did Coast last night, we opt for the Living Room, Eloise and Janah beer, Stone Levitation Ale from a brewery in San Diego.
Dasha and Daria have a taste, they order two more, guess we're going on a beer tasting when we get home. Not to be a complete pooper, I have a Beck's non-alcoholic, not bad.
Lunch arrives, Janah has roasted beets with capers, apricots, watercress and burrata, an Italian cheese of mozzarella and cream. She adds sweet corn soup with jicama, Mexican yam.
The girls have burgers with caramelized onions, roasted tomato, truffle pecorino, that's sheep's milk cheese with bits of truffle. I have griddled halibut with caper berries, andouille sausage, snap peas and roasted shiitake mushrooms, fabulous.
Dasha helps me with the halibut, for which I earn a piece of burger, troublesome, deciding which is better.
"How's the soup and salad?"
Janah, "Wonderful, such a great blend of textures and flavors, I like everything about Shutters, and we've come, what, three times, never a disappointment."
Dasha, "They haf gud caramel ohnyon, we will get pecorino wiz truffle Dahfoney, add to burger sometimes instead of chiz blue. We will bring Vesnushki and Eemaya for burger here."
I also am so proud of her, thinking of the others, what they will enjoy. Make no mistake, the feelings they have are for our family, the rest of you are on your own. Screw with them and they will eat your heart, perhaps with truffle pecorino.

Chapter Seventy Nine

Our next three days are repeats, dinner with Chloe and Amaya, one night they filmed until ten. Janah met the three women for yoga while we played, after two days of parkour, we joined the yoga group on the third. The women were pleasant, married, at the beach for a girl getaway.
This morning, however, there is a falcon on the balcony, I bring a cup of water, set it on the railing, "Greetings."
"You hunt the shadow humans."
"Yes, you know of some?"
"I know of many, you kill them."
"If they prove to be what we call Shadows, yes."
"There is a nest of the vermin near the ocean."

I explain the procedure, she has to agree to let Eloise attach a tracker, that we will remove it when we find the location. She has no objection, I call Eloise, she shows up with the device, the falcon drinks water and sits patiently while she attaches it.
"It's set."
"Try a test flight, see how it feels."
Falcon, "Weighs almost nothing," she takes off, circles over the hotel, high, just a speck in the sky.
Then the speck starts to enlarge, cripes, she's in a dive. Looks like a missile, wings flat against her body, legs tucked tight, just a black oval. The wigs come out, she swoops up, circles, lands on the railing.
Eloise, "That was beautiful."
"What is your fledgling saying?"
"The same thing I'm thinking, your dive was beautiful. Your prey has no chance."
"We miss, not often. How will you know I am at the nest?"
"When you arrive, stay in the vicinity for a time. Do not get close to the shadow humans, they are dangerous."

She takes off, wonder if she knows Joan Wayne, she doesn't say goodbye either.
The others are watching the IPad, the green dot sails along. The signal trails the actual flight, it does have to get to a satellite and back. Doesn't matter, we're only interested in the destination, not the journey.
"We need to saddle up, breakfast will have to be on the go."
Stop at McDonald's, it's quick and gets the job done, back on the road. Daria and Eloise are piddling with the drone. Dasha has the air gun. We haven't loaded them yet, today may only be surveillance.
Nikko is online, "You have all the fun, we're leaving day after tomorrow. Time to let our manager and her people do what we hired them to do. Daria may have told you we're putting the brakes on new business, thing is already bigger than I anticipated."
"Wouldn't worry about missing out, all the birds say Shadows have infected southern California. David Li has birds looking for them in New York, we don't get this much action in months."

Janah, "Congratulations on your business success, look, see the IPad, we have a falcon taking us to the location."
"Eloise is a piece of work. I don't know anyone who can get electronics figured out like she can, I'd still be trying to understand the operating manual."
"I doubt she even looked at it, I saw Daria flipping through it, probably has it memorized."
"Got to run, take care of everyone, oh, I called Shutters and moved our arrival up, bye for now."

"Nikko and Zi will be in day after tomorrow," I pass along Nikko's comments.
Eloise, "Good, if this keeps up it will be better to have a Sensitive along."
Dasha says to no one in particular, she's looking at a dart, "We keel Shadowy person wiz dart, one shot, already dead."
We're driving up Pacific Coast Highway, scenery here is gorgeous, mountains to the right, blue ocean to the left. Wonder homes dot the hills. Twenty five or so miles from Santa Monica, we take a right on Encinal Canyon Road, six miles of winding two lane to Lechusa. Down a bit, the tracker is stationary. I stop and get out. A minute later the falcon appears.
"Three nests down."
Eloise removes the tracker, I tell the falcon, "Fly over it and circle once, thank you for your help."
The falcon hits the air, I watch her over the target house, she circles, flies off towards the ocean.
Janah, "Drive by and get the address, we can look it up and find out who lives there."
Even better than an address are three cars parked out front, garage has the door down, can't tell if there are more. It's a deserted road, houses are spotted around, most of them big, swimming pools, landscaping. We decide not to hang around, I drive back a couple of miles, lots of spots to pull off.
Daria is busy on the internet, I take another IPad, she's tapped into a site that will give her names of who the car is registered to, it costs a few bucks, but it's faster than hacking the DMV. I'm looking for the owner of the house from the address. Interesting, the owner is deceased, the property is in probate but is being rented until the estate settles. Must be messy, probate started three years ago.
I relay what I've found, "Either a relative is parked there, or some third party rents it while the heirs fight over the scraps."
Daria, "Cars are owned by three different names, two male, one female. I will hack the DMV and get driver license photo."
"We need to figure out if we're dealing with Shadows. I'm going to do a sneak up, Eloise, fly the drone and see if you can get any conversation, if anyone is outside. Video or photo anyone you can."
I get us within a couple hundred yards, back the Escalade into a slot between two boulders, good enough for now. Eloise parks on the rear hatch, fires up the drone, I walk up the road.
A hundred yards from the house I leave the road and walk to a spot behind the place. There's a six foot stucco wall around the rear, good, can't see me. I pull out my phone, load up the drone visual. It's a hundred feet over the house, someone is swimming. She circles it enough to see the entire rear, another body face down on a recliner tanning. Mustn't want tan lines, she's nude, some people don't need to be nude, she's one.
"Janah, I'm going to get to the wall, should be close enough to see Shadows. I need the drone to keep covering the pool so I don't peek over the wall at the wrong time."
I move to the side, if someone is in the house, they won't see me doing my sneaky peek. I'm not six four and I don't want to peer over the wall by hanging on to it. Fortunately, it's the mountains, which means rocks. I silently stack a few, make myself a stool, test it with my foot, then stand on it. I check my phone, swimmer is swimming laps, suntan is tanning.
I lift my head, sheesh, Swimmer is deep dark, Suntan is too, and not from tanning, auras don't tan.
Janah can see what I see, "Good enough, that's two. As far as we know, Shadows don't live with non Shadows unless they have prisoners or concocting a plot of some kind. Get gone, Eloise will snoop for a while, but we found out what we needed to know."
"Is the drone equipped?"

I'm referring to the darts.
"Yes."
"Then take out the two now. We aren't getting them all at the same time anyway, maybe more come from the house."
"Hang on."

The drone maneuvers, pop, Swimmer stops swimming and floats, pop, Suntan is still tanning, she just doesn't know it anymore.
"You saw?"
Janah, "Yep, stay put. let's see if anyone else shows, I'll get Eloise to drop down and check for voices."
The drone circles the sides of the house, upstairs first, then downstairs. I've muted the audio on my phone for obvious reasons so I can't hear what the drone is picking up.
Janah, "Music is playing in one room, the rest of the place is silent."
"Ask her to zoom in on the window."

I'm staring at my phone, she's got the window, keeps the drone off to one side out fifty yards from the house. The camera zooms to the window, nothing. She shifts to the other side, a body at a desk and a computer screen.
"Okay, have her check the other windows."
She goes from room to room, lights off except for downstairs, light in the kitchen but nobody in it.
"I'm going to shut off the power, that'll bring the occupant out. Let's see what we have."
I jump the wall, find the box, open the lid and click off the breaker. Back over the wall, to wait.
"Pull the drone up so I can see which way he or she comes out."
Now I have an overhead view, a minute passes, nothing, another minute, more nothing.
"Get Eloise to go back to the occupied room."
I follow on my phone, she eases around slowly, we'd rather not let anyone see the drone. There's a face in the window, oh geez, it's a child.

Chapter Eighty

"I'm going in, ask Eloise to monitor the house but from a distance."

I hop the wall again, turn the breaker back on, walk past dead Suntan, Swimmer has sunk. The patio door is open, I'm inside, place is big. Stairway on the right, I pass three bedrooms, the one I'm looking for is fourth left, there are two more across from each other down the hall.
Well, well, door is locked from the outside, I knock. Don't want to kick it in and scare her to death. Don't know if she's a Shadow, but it isn't likely, why lock her in?
No answer, "Honey, I know you're in there, saw you at the window. Nobody is going to hurt you, you shouldn't be locked in a room, who's idea was that?"
I hear a small voice, "Mistress Agnes, the others. I must not leave the room unless one of them is with me."
"What's your name?"
"Girl."
Janah, "I'm coming up."
She appears at the top of the stairs, "I found a set of keys."
I try two, then hit on the third, the door eases open.
"Are you here to buy me?"
Janah, "Crap, this never ends."
I sit on the bed, Janah relaxes the girl's mind with gentle qi, "No, children are not for selling. Have they sold other kids?"
"Yes."
"How many people live here?"
"Five and me. There were two others, boy went away first, then girl."
"How long ago?"
"I don't know, it rained."
"Do you want to leave here, find a real place to live, where you aren't locked up?"
"They can do magic things, they will find me and I'll be punished."
Janah kicks in some trust, holds her, "They will never find you. We have experience with them, we know what to do."
"I can leave?"
"And you will be taken care of. But we need to go before the others return, we don't know where they are, they don't know us. Better to keep it that way."
"What of Mistress Agnes and Master Jim?"
"We took care of them, they won't bother us, or you."
"They kill people, they said they would kill me," she says this as a statement of fact, her tone of voice is neutral, not fearful.
"Isn't happening. Let's go."
Girl, "A man almost bought me last week, but he didn't have enough money."
She and Janah go downstairs, I cop her computer to see what sort of 'lessons' she's learning.
"Daria and Dasha, come in, we'll do a quick search."
We scour the place, take all the laptops and two netbooks. I retrieve underwear, socks, a pair of sneakers, pair of jeans and two nondescript t-shirts from her room. Don't want anything recognizable, we'll buy clothes later. One closet has a locked suitcase, my knife takes care of that. I peek through the slit, it's stuffed with bills.
"Daria, I found money in a suitcase, go through the other rooms, check boxes, suitcases, look for a safe."
A safe and another suitcase later, we leave, Eloise is watching the road with the drone, nothing came our way, but we can't get lucky forever.
"Janah, we're wrapping up, bring back the drone."
The car is outside, backed against one of the others so the plate isn't visible. Eloise and the drone are in, Janah left through the front door, the girl didn't see our handiwork by the pool.
Dasha moves to the passenger seat, Janah and the girl slide in the second row with Daria. I fire up the Escalade and we get gone.
Janah makes the girl sleepy, she's out before I get to the Pacific Coast Highway and sleeps until we arrive at Shutters.
She blinks awake as I pull to the hotel, she’s curious but says nothing.
"We're staying here for now, you'll stay here too, are you hungry?"
"No, I'll get fat and fat girls don't sell for as much."
"Good Lord."
"They're Shadows, you expect kindness and compassion?"

Janah and I have a suite so we have a gathering place for everyone. The girl wanders the rooms, goes out to the balcony.
"It's beautiful, so much water, what is it?"
"The Pacific Ocean, you've never seen the ocean?"
"I've never seen anything but the inside of that house and the swimming pool. I swim a lot."
I can see she's tan, not dark, but she's at least been out in the sun. Don't suppose pasty complexions sell for as much either. I call room service and have sandwiches sent up, we already have diet drinks and tea.
While we wait, Dasha is showing her how to operate the TV, she's never seen television. There was a flat screen at the house, but she said she never saw it on. There was music coming from her room, must have been stuff downloaded on the laptop she had, I'll check it later.
She watches a Disney something, the food comes and she's more interested in burger than Disney. Fries are a big hit, ketchup too.
I called Transportation on the drive back, change the car. We'd get another Escalade, different color, plates from elsewhere, GPS disconnected. It's standard operating procedure when we work, can't assume nobody saw us, it's a camera ready world and privacy a rare commodity.
Dasha, "Dahfoney, sister and Dasha will take girl for walk. She ees never see ocean beach."
"Get her a hat, some kid sunglasses, a couple of pairs of underwear, shorts, shirts. You have money?"
"Da."
"And don't take your eyes off her for a second. Nobody knows where she is, don't take any chances anyway."
Dasha blinks at me, "Dahfoney, we do not take girl to lose girl, do not make ridiculous."
Janah laughs.
"Go."
I can mental the twins, keep tabs on things while I dig in the computer and see what's what.

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