Chapter Eighty One

Janah, “We have work, clear the schedule next week, starting Monday.”
It’s Friday morning, I’m leaving for the temple with the twins to work with Chan, Janah has Society arrangements to make and will do it from home.
“Who goes?”
“I think you and me for now, the twins can go if they wish. We're looking into a small town sheriff with a God complex.”
“You making travel arrangements?”
“Yes, we'll fly out Monday morning. I need to do a bit more digging, something about this doesn't sit right. Take the girls and do your thing, we'll flesh it out later.”
Dasha, “We are ready.”
“Do you want to go with Janah and I next week? We're doing a Society trip, just Janah and I, you and Daria if you wish.”
“Da.”
I check in with Amaya, “Leaving for the temple, Janah, the twins and I are traveling Monday for a couple of days, don't know details.”
“I have an appointment Tuesday with one of America’s pop diva fashion disasters. Her manager is one of the Chapmans dads, I dress his wife. He has scheduled her for a makeover, and it is a challenge. The girl got herself a boob job just shy of Pamela Anderson and managed to put on thirty pounds on top of that.”
“Geez, does sound challenging.”
“ I warned him I do not do miracles, he will be happy if I get her in something that does not have half her bulbous bottom hanging out.”
“I get it, stay out of trouble, Shadows appear to be multiplying.”
“I will be safe with Chloe, she is a kendo 6th dan and can beat hell out of a dork with a mop handle.”
“Good, and post your schedule so the others know where you are, keep the GPS engaged on your mobile.”

“Always. Chloe has sensed the presences. She's been hyper vigilant.”
“We're back around three, see you then.”

Identical adorables are staring up at me, it’s chilly out, they have long leather coats, fur hats, gloves, woolen scarfs and boots. No snow yet, windy. In Manhattan that means the chill cuts through, making forty seem like thirty.
I pull on my coat, wrap a scarf around my neck and slip on gloves, down the elevator and out to the street. It's already ten, people are bundled up everywhere,
“Amaya, this wind is freezing, can you drive us?”
“Sure, hang in the lobby, be around in a bit.”
Amaya pulls our Mercedes around, Chloe is with her, we climb in, “I didn't account for this wind, the walk over would be miserable.”
Amaya, “I didn't realize how hard it was gusting, when you're finished, mental me and I'll pick you up, we're home for the day.”
She takes the alley to the kitchen delivery door, better that than wait for someone to unlock the front door. Amaya backs out of the alley as we go into the warm kitchen.
Disciple Armando is stirring a big pot of soup, I hear students in the practice area. While the wind gusts outside, the temple's walls keep the gusts from blowing though the grounds. It is quite still inside, cold, but not the wind chill of the street.
Disciple Armando, “Ah, Master Sylk, greetings, and your twins, hello Dasha, Daria, can I offer you tea?”
Dasha, “Nyet, we go now for chee,” face blank, her natural serious as death countenance. Daria takes her hand and they walk off together.
Armando smiles at me, the monks are used to the twins’ blunt replies, “Never have to guess their intent.”
I laugh, “Nope, I just follow the simple directions, no guesswork, no mystery.”
Armando, “It is really quite charming in its way. I wonder how they would have gotten along with Master Tan? I never knew him to talk to.”
“Tan would have suggested they give non-talks before meditation. He thought we spent too much time talking in circles, or even just talking.”
“Guilty as charged. I favor dialogue, my Latin heritage I suppose. It’s one reason I choose kitchen duty, I am the world’s worst meditator. I get time off in order to prepare meals. Maybe I’ll work up to still mind in the next life.”
“You understand yourself and accept, forced meditation would only create internal conflict. Besides, cooking is meditative, at least that’s how I rationalize it.”
“Perfect, I’m going with that. I’ll throw in a few ohms while I stir.”
“See, our dialogue has led to an insight, no doubt enlightenment is just around the corner.”
Our dharma talk over, I walk to the gardens to check on David Li and Manolo. They’re inside today, boiling and chopping, on the walk a few meager snowflakes drift around, the sky is clouding. Snow in Manhattan in November, climate is changing here anyway.
Manolo bows and goes outside with a bucket of grain, David Li says, “Master Sylk, we have a bit of weather coming. The birds are retreating to warm spots and Manolo spreads grain around to keep them fed. The twins came through earlier, silent ghosts.”
“Chatty they aren’t. Going to spend time in the hut, they like exploring their developing qi.”
David Li, “The birds tell me they are formidable.”
“Have they noticed any problems, darkness?”
David Li is thoughtful, “Yes. I didn’t press for details, they have trouble explaining, but they appear to perceive some difference between the girls and Shadows. They can’t describe the differences, all I could catch was ‘dark not like Shadows.’”
“Chloe says it’s more like cloud cover.”
David Li, “And all of you are watching as they grow in it.”
“Yes, carefully. They aren’t fragile fortunately. They aren’t friendly but they carry no anger.”
David Li, “They don’t need anger, it would be emotionally inefficient.”
“That’s it exactly, they are blindingly efficient.”
Manolo returns, “There is light in the hut.”
“I’d better get up there and see what’s what.”
David Li, “When you return, take the bag over there. It is a jar of our newest paste for shuriken. Do not cut yourself, the mixture leaves an intense burning sensation. Like being badly scalded. It goes straight to the nearest nerves. It will not actually create a burn, but the feeling of one will be there. It’s a form of Trinidad Moruga, scorpion powder, hottest pepper in the world. You can touch it but don’t get it under your skin, or touch sensitive areas like eyes. If you do accidentally, there is a second bottle of liquid, apply a small amount to the affected area, it will relieve the feeling quite quickly. Lidocaine will also work, but the area will be numb for a time. The liquid is an antidote for the paste, it won’t numb you and make it temporarily useless like Lidocaine.”
“Cool. The last two anesthetics you gave us work splendidly, the most powerful is virtually instantaneous, a great help. Our recent work involved Shadows, and they were a handful. You saved us from worse injury at the very least, may have saved a life.”
David Li bows, returns to his work, I go through the bamboo to find out if the twins have created nuclear fusion yet.
The interior of the hut is awash in light, and while it’s cold outside, I can feel heat radiating out the door. Tan’s hut has no power, when he wanted light he used candles. Inside, I see one body, not two, they have merged and unlike Janah and I have no significant physical differences. When we merge, we shift from sort of like Janah to sort of like me, or my hair but her blue eyes. The girls don’t have those distinctions and they had changed into identical monk’s robes before coming up to the hut.
I don’t want to interfere, I don’t enter their mind, just wait outside on the bench to see what happens.
There is nothing but the light and the shape within it, then the light begins to fade, no, not fade, to implode. Not violently, rather fold in on itself, slowly at first, then suddenly to a small point, and Pop! it’s gone.
I blink out the brightness in my eyes, like a flashbulb afterimage, and there are the twins seated cross legged facing each other. They stand and come out of the hut.
“Care to tell me what was going on?”
I get the dead eye Dasha blink, “We make chee.”
“Oh….well then, that explains it.”
They walk off through the bamboo, Dasha says, “We will haf tea now, Dahfoney.”
Janah, “You sure know how to get them to open up.”
“Cripes, maybe Daria will tell Chloe something.”

Janah giggles, “They make qi, they have tea. What else do you need to know?”
“Nothing I suppose. Might be nice to know if it was intentional, did they expect it? Or was it something that happened spontaneously? If they intended it, what was the purpose?”
“Twin mysteries. See you soon.”

We stop by David Li’s herbarium to pick up the newest paste and the bottle of antidote, Manolo raises his arm to get the bottle off a shelf, I notice a bandage.
“What did you do to your arm?”
Manolo, “Burn. I reached for a bowl over the burners. The flame wasn’t on, I didn’t realize David had just turned it off. My arm rested against the burner and it sizzled me.”
“Badly?”
David Li, “Quite, along the outside of his arm. I got it numbed up right away, then cleaned, the skin is rather messed up. He didn’t want to go to the hospital. I’m afraid he will be scarred.”
Daria takes Manolo’s arm and studies it, Dasha says, “Dahfoney, you will take off bahndage.”
So I do. David is right, it’s messy. There’s no sign of infection, but the skin is covered in welts a couple of inches up from his wrist to a couple below his elbow.
Manolo, “Not too pretty is it?”
Dasha, “Dahfoney, hold arm out straight, keep still.”
I take Manolo by the wrist, my other hand holds his upper arm at the elbow, Daria looks over the injury.
Dasha looks at Manolo, “You will feel pain, do not anyway move arm.”
“You sure about this?”
Dasha blinks.
Daria lays her open palm near the injury, doesn’t touch it, Manolo jumps but he’s in my owl grip, the arm doesn’t move. I see the strain on his face.
“Manolo, tell me, for practice, in what do you take refuge?”
He repeats the well known verse, “I take refuge in the Buddha, I take refuge in the teachings, I take refuge in the Order, I take refuge in myself.”
While I have him distracted, Daria is freezing the flesh on his arm, I see ice crystals, then chips of ice and skin fall on the floor.
“And why take refuge in the Buddha?”
Manolo grimaces, “To follow the path towards enlightenment and recognize the reality of suffering and come to my own Buddha nature.”
“And why take refuge in the teachings?”
“So that I may follow the eightfold path and the principles on which our order was founded.”
“And what is the eightfold path?”
Manolo, “Right action, right attention, right effort, right livelihood, right meditation, right resolve, right speech, right views, Master Sylk.”
More frozen skin sheds. Manolo shudders, but maintains his focus.
“And why take refuge in the Order of Shaolin?”
“To give and receive help from my brothers and sisters.”
Daria is waiving her hand over the injury, the skin has quit peeling away, the ice is now water dripping off his arm.
“And why take refuge in yourself?”
Manolo exhales relief, “I must discover truth for myself, not on faith but through direct experience, I am responsible for myself and must listen to my own heart.”
“You have borne much Disciple Manolo, yet remain cheerful and industrious. May your Buddha nature bestow many blessings on our temple and all beings everywhere.”
Manolo looks at his arm. The skin is red-pink, no twisted black flesh, no bubbling blisters.
Manolo is speechless, as is David Li, remarkable for one who thinks nothing of talking to birds, or any other creature. I bow to Daria, then to Dasha, they know nothing of recognition, it doesn’t matter, it is our duty to acknowledge skill, to respect and honor it.
Janah, “Dang, that was slick.”
“Maybe I should give them saffron robes.”
“They wouldn’t understand why. But it’s a nice thought.”

Manolo, “Daria, thank you, it is a miracle, your skill. I don’t know what to say. Master Sylk and Master Nikko taught me how to regain my balance and speech, and now you have healed my disfigured arm. Manolo is covered in blessings.”
Dasha, “Better do not burn arm, no need blayssing.”
Without another word, the girls turn and walk towards the kitchen, guess they’re ready for tea.
I leave Manolo and David Li staring at the smooth skin, Manolo gingerly touching it, as if to confirm it’s real.
We’re in the dining hall having a hot cup of rose Oolong, I tell the twins, “You did a wonderful thing for Manolo, he had a severe head injury, came back from it and recently became a disciple, a difficult struggle on its own. Then a bad burn from out of nowhere.”
“We collect chee, ees free. Why not feex arm? We are tired, you will tell Eemaya we go home now.”
I mental Amaya, she’s here in fifteen, the girls back in their room for a nap in fifteen more. Mega energy flow in Tan’s hut, they used a great deal in healing Manolo. The exchange is tiring, as Janah and I have experienced, things worth doing generally are.
Amaya, Chloe, and Janah are occupied with projects, I’m piddling around with afternoon tea arrangements, getting snacks prepared. Ginger cookies, Chinese almond cakes, today we will have Sencha, a Japanese variety with bite. I’m waiting to brew until Nikko and Zi arrive, they come in fifteen minutes later, go to deconstruct while I set the table.

Chapter Eighty Two

Most of our family is around the low table, it isn’t a ceremony, we just like taking tea here, more intimate than our huge dining table. Chloe turns on the radio, Nikko’s favorite, jazz standards. The girls are still in their room. I pop into Dasha’s head, she’s blinking from her hour nap, I see Daria’s head on her chest, Dasha running her hands through her sister’s hair.
“Tea is ready if you want to come down.”
“Gud.

Sometimes tea is observed in silence, sometimes conversation, we don’t have a rule, today is conversation.
Janah, “We travel Monday, Daphne, the twins and I. There’s a small town sheriff who’s been watching too much American Gothic.”
Zi, “What is American Gothic?”
Amaya, “TV show, quite interesting. Small town where the sheriff is a bully extraordinaire. It involves him using supernatural powers to make people do things, evil things. It’s sexual, perverted and murderous.”
Nikko, “Sounds like a supernatural version of Shadows.”
Janah, “Yes, it does. I’d never seen the program, Daphne’s watched some of the episodes.”
“The program originally aired in 1995, it won several awards and was cancelled naturally. We didn’t understand Shadows until well after, but I’d never heard of the program, I was nine when it first appeared. I saw it on Amazon a year or so ago, then Amaya got into it.”
Amaya, “It is quite brutal, I was struck by how the bad sheriff resembles a Shadow. I even wondered if the creator had some experience with them, more likely just coincidental of course.”
Nikko, “I’ll check it out. What has our actual sheriff been doing to rise to your attention?”
“Too many coincidences. He’s generally in the vicinity of violence,  misfortunes and suspect, sudden behavior changes. A typical high school girl suddenly seduced a teacher, an off the rack boy set fire to his home, a straight arrow father was found with a male prostitute, a quiet, introverted, pastor’s wife starts doing every man she knows, soliciting them right in front of her husband.”
Amaya, “The very sort of thing that happened in the TV series.”
Janah, “So Daphne tells me. I suppose I should take in a few episodes myself. Perhaps our sheriff is copycatting, or perhaps he’s a Shadow, or for all I know, the drinking water is polluted and the whole town is affected by some go-crazy toxin.”
Amaya, “Then stick to bottled water.”
“Good point.”
Dasha and Daria drift down, join us, I pour their tea, they take an almond cake to split.
Chloe, “The twins made new strides today I hear.”
“It was remarkable.”
Zi, “What happened?”
I look at Dasha, she’s absorbed in a piece of cake, guess we aren’t getting details from her, “Manolo burned his forearm a couple of days ago, quite badly. The skin was a mess, sure to leave twisted scars. The girls applied cold qi, very cold, froze the top layer of damaged skin, which fell off like chips of ice. Then they sealed it over, leaving only a dark pink layer, smooth as a child’s cheek.”
Zi, “That is remarkable. From where did the skill arise, Dasha?”
Dasha feeds a piece of cake to Daria, “Ees chee. Dahfoney says chee is there, we can get, so we get. Manolo needs to be feex, we feex. Ees more tea, Dahfoney?”
I fill her cup, then Daria’s, “They were in Tan’s hut prior to that. They merged and the one was surrounded by bright white light and heat. Then the light was sort of sucked into them,” my hands push together like squeezing a balloon, “and popped off in a bright flash,” my fingers splay like the balloon burst, “I have no idea how it came about, but that’s what happened.”
Chloe, “Daria, did you do anything special while in the hut?”
“Nyet.”
Chloe, “Daria, I would like to know the sequence of events. You went in the hut, then what?”
Daria looks at her sister, it is quiet for a bit, Dasha says, “We make one girl, then make…” she looks at Daria, “what is namereniye?” (prn. nah-meernia.)
Daria, “Intention.”
“We make eentention to get chee. Janah says eentention ees number one to haf.”
Chloe, “So you merge, have intent, then what?”
“Then we get chee, Janah says, we do, seemple.”
Chloe, “Simple.”
“Da, seemple.”
“Nisargadatta says to trust in the guru, that he or she will not mislead you. He says we want proofs before we trust, that’s why we never get to realization and remain trapped between desire and fear. Trust comes first, proof follows. His complaint is that the disciple never goes all in, doesn’t release and obey, instead shuffles from guru to guru, none of whom can help because the disciple won’t take the plunge. The guru opens the door, we have to walk through.”
Chloe, “And the girls didn’t doubt, they walked right through.”
Dasha, “Seemple.”
Nikko, “It is. I asked Daphne to instruct me years ago. I vowed to follow instructions, not endlessly question this and that. She was my martial arts guru, I was the student. Simple, as Dasha says. The training was hard, but less so because I didn’t fight it every step.”
Amaya, “You all did that with Hanshi, and now you are expert with the sword. Dasha and Daria did the same thing, just with qi instead of kendo.”
Janah, “You’ll note it required trust, not their normal mode of operating.”
“Yeah, I get it, a little surprise, but they clearly have come to trust us. I’m not much concerned that they don’t trust anyone else. They do okay with Chan, good enough.”

Dasha helps me clean up, everyone goes off to various projects, dinner is two hours off, no need to prep just yet.
“Dahfoney, you will wash hair and paint us.”
Good, don’t have to think up what happens next.
I follow the girls up to their room, stop by and see Chloe along the way, “I’m doing hair wash duty, then the girls want their nails done.”
Chloe, “Amaya wants to do Daria, I’ll watch and chat, or not chat, depending on Daria’s namereniye.”
After I’ve done my part, the girls shower, dry off while I collect the buffers, files and polishes. Amaya and Chloe appear and the girls sit in chairs while Amaya and I do fingernails, then kneel and do toes. Amaya and I stay absorbed in application, the only distraction is our two naked nymphs. Shy isn’t in their repertoire, most enjoyable from my point of view. I feel Janah looking at Dasha through my eyes, I go into her head, she’s on our bed with a toy, vibrating her little heart out. Dasha’s smooth tight self is inspiring.
After they’re dry and diamond hard, Dasha straddles me and offers her lips for kisses. I take advantage, taste her cherry flavored tongue in my mouth, yum.
“We will make dinner now, Dahfoney.”
Sheesh, where had the time gone? Got lost in the succulent scenery.
“You like always to watch me.”
“I appreciate your beauty, I’m glad you don’t mind.”
Dasha, “Why mind? Ees feel sexy to show you us.”

Chapter Eighty Three

We’re a hundred miles from a small town on the Alabama border, near Mississippi, down a two lane, place is insular and chock full of rules. It’s called Popper, not really, made it up to avoid making the residents any more paranoid. Sherriff’s called Jackson, JK, Justice Kane Jackson, he’s the big dog and lots of folks in town owe him favors. Kid got caught with pot, Jackson cut a deal with the parents, after the boy spent a couple of nights in Jackson’s jail. Whatever happened to him while he was in, he wasn’t the same kid when he got cut loose. He was not just aloof or distant, he wasn’t there at all, spends his time wandering around, around anyplace the sheriff isn’t.
Variations of that happen frequently, and the people are either scared of or indebted to their freak sheriff, sometimes both. What he doesn’t know about husband or wife straying, booze problem, drug use or internet porn addiction isn’t worth knowing. There’s a mayor, sort of, a volunteer from the high school, and a town council, half a dozen locals, all of whom hide embarrassments and humiliations they would rather stay hidden. Jackson knows exactly what they are. Some of them are his doing.
How did Janah come across this nest of mice and vipers? A story from a former resident, teenage girl, a victim of JK Jackson’s. Sheriff had his way with her, while her father watched and did nothing. Daddy brought the girl to Jackson, he didn’t know why. Afterwards, he killed himself. She took his car, what cash he had, and made it far enough to get within a mile of the interstate before she ran out of gas. She found a ride at the truck stop and beat hell out of Alabama.
The story oozed up through the layers, Janah had her contacts vet the girl, she told them what happened on the condition it was not recorded in any way and that she would never have to testify. The Society found a place for her with a physician’s family in Missouri, got her a new name, new social security number, and informed the county encompassing Popper that Darcy Wells had died of a virus, sent them a death certificate. That girl no longer exists. The girl she is today seems to be doing okay.
We’re holed up at a Hampton Inn, sitting around the living area of the small suite.
Janah, “I’m taking a different approach. We couldn’t let Surveillance linger, just pass though for pictures and video. The place is too small for unknowns to be wandering around, and our sheriff has eyes around for newcomers. There are two motels, we’re skipping that. Our pseudonyms rented a house smack in the best residential neighborhood. None of the neighborhoods are upscale, there aren’t many neighborhoods. There’s the poor, the lower middle, a trailer park, the rest is middle class, no gated enclaves, no private mansions. People with that kind of money don’t live in Popper with the sheriff from hell.”
I fill in for the twins, “I’m an artist, looking for a quiet, unobtrusive place to paint. Janah is a fugitive from an abusive relationship, another reason to go off the grid. You and Daria will be only one girl, no twins. When one of you is out with either Janah or me, the other is at the house. It may also serve to have the same girl seen in two places, makes people tell conflicting stories. You cannot be seen together from now until this is done, do you understand?”
“Da.”
“And we brought identical outfits. Starting tomorrow, you will be mirror images. One of you will be hidden in our van until we get to the garage. Pay close attention, it could get boring.”
Dasha, “We are never boring, can always get chee, or be in sister’s mind, or Dahfoney mind. We haf eenternet, yes?”
“Yes, the house we rented has a satellite dish.”
“Gud.”
“And lose accents, American only, generic Midwest, like Amaya has been teaching.”
Dasha, “Plain vanilla American, we will be like blonde cheerleader in sorority, or girl on the weather channel.”
Dang, Dasha has this cold, good for Amaya. Daria doesn’t lapse into accent much anyway, but Dasha has been keeping her Americanization under wraps.
“Perfect, good job, Dasha.”
Dasha smiles up at me, a big toothy grin, “I can even smile like idiot sorority girl, look, so can Daria.”
Daria matches idiot girl.
Janah and I laugh, Janah says, “Excellent, just play your roles, stay in character, I’m sure Amaya has drilled you on it.”
Dasha, “She is a good teacher, despite all her bullshit. She made me pronounce over and over. Daria had no problem, I kept at it because of this work. I prefer my accent, much easier, and Daphne likes it.”
“Where’s my Dahfoney?”
Dasha, “She returns after asshole sheriff fixed.”
Janah’s impressed, “Amazing. Thank you girls. I very much appreciate the hard work.”
Dasha, “dobro pozhalovatʹ” (prn. dhobro provalovich, you are welcome.)
“No Russian either.”
Our house is brick ordinary ranch, one floor, three bedrooms, basement. One bedroom we transform into an artist’s studio, basic, inks for calligraphy, a standard easel and a few canvasses, tubes of oil paints, cleaning materials. I’ll do a bit of calligraphy, Daria is a passable artist, she and I slap together a couple of works in progress.
The girls have auburn hair, Janah is dark blonde, not much to do with my black, I keep it in a ponytail. We have color contacts, the twins use Geo Hurricane Brown, Janah’s blues are green, my dark green goes darker, black. Now, besides seeing like an owl, I look like one.
The twins dress identically, same makeup even if they are only at the house. Other than the art room, we keep the windows curtained, only one twin at a time in the art room. I go for a somewhat Goth look, dark eye shadow, lipsticks, Janah swaps up looks, nothing dramatic. She’s supposed to be recovering from an abusive boyfriend, her demeanor between flat and frightened, no smiles, little warmth. One of us roams town from time to time, grocery, drug store, gas station
True to form, a neighbor shows up, Dasha stays in the basement, which is also our command center. It’s where the sat phones and computers hang out, behind a temp wall. If someone happens on the basement, they’ll see storage junk. The door to the smaller room pushes open, there’s no handle, it looks like a paneled wall.
Our visitor is, “Tricia Evanston, I live across the street, I hope I’m not intruding, just want to say hello, and welcome.”
Daria is playing a video game, Janah plays shy, I do the intros, “Hi, come in, I’m Darlene, this is my friend Janette and her daughter Fran. Would you like coffee?”
Tricia would, I get us cups, we make conversation light. Tricia is married with two kids, not as old as Daria, who is sixteen-ish in appearance, more like eighteen but not aging will create that illusion.
Tricia is a fount of information about schools, the social network, who is acceptable and who isn’t. I reciprocate with our art story, and the suggestion that Janah is recovering from a ‘difficult’ marriage to a man with anger issues.
That opening leads Tricia to tell a couple of abuse stories that are more like gossip, one implying the wife wasn’t undeserving of her treatment.
Janah reacts in character, flares up, “They always say the woman did this or that, is that an excuse to get beat up once a week?”
Tricia, “Oh my, dear, of course not. What I meant was, in this one case, she was known to be having one affair after another. Her husband just lost it, he didn’t have a history of abusive behavior.”
Janah sulks off to her room.
Tricia, “I wish I hadn’t brought it up, she’s still delicate.”
“Don’t worry about it. She’s coming around, but she is coming around. We know not all instances are a pattern of ugly behavior. She told herself just that at first. She’s heard all the I’m sorrys, and I’ll never do it agains, she could take.”
Tricia, “You must be good friends. I mean, you moved here from, where did you say?”
“I didn’t, Milwaukee.”
“Milwaukee, a long way from here. You changed your life in a big way.”
“That’s the idea. I’ve known Janette most of my life. She needed out, I thought a change of scene might take my art in a different direction. We lived in a big northern town, we decided on a small southern one. My work sells okay, she had a house she sold, got a money cushion from that. We aren’t rich, but we make out fine. After things settle, Janette may try to find work, she needs to reset first.”
Tricia, “The husband is not a problem now?”
“No, he’s in rehab.”
“Oh, he had a drug, alcohol, problem then.”
“No, he has physical problems. I beat the shit out of him with a baseball bat. The docs say he might walk again, can’t be sure at this point.”
Tricia’s mouth opens, closes, opens, she looks like a fish.
“Janette called me, I went over, he’d just finished wailing on her. When I started to take her with me, he objected, slapped me. I grabbed the first thing I saw, his softball bat. Cops came, Janette backed my story, her husband attacked me, it was clear he’d beaten her. They busted him, took him to the hospital. We sorted out the property, decided to move on.”
Tricia, “Wow. You could have wound up on the other end of the bat, Darlene.”
“Not once I cracked his ribs, then I took out both legs right above the knee. He was on the floor, I wanted another swing, but he was cooked, so I left it there, then I called the cops.”
Tricia, “And you got no trouble, from the law?”
“They asked questions, our story held up. Janette had reported him once before, then dropped the charges. She’d been to the emergency room more than once, all of it was on the record.”
“You might want to let Sheriff Jackson know, in case her husband comes around. He’s a good man, he’ll keep an eye on things.”
“Freddie’s still trying to learn how to navigate his wheelchair, but it can’t hurt the tell the sheriff, just in case.”
“I know him, I can call him if you want.”
“No, I think I’ll introduce myself, take stock, give him the story. Small town, sounds like someone I should meet.”
“Sure you should, and he’s quite handsome, you’re a pretty girl, you never know.”
I grin, “Men are off the radar for the time being. I had a casual pal in Milwaukee, but nothing I was hanging the future on. Maybe once Janette sorts out, like you say, you never know.”
Tricia thanks me for the coffee, says we should visit again soon. I thank her, intimate we might, after I think Janette is ready. Tell her not to be offended if we stay to ourselves while we acclimate, she is all understanding and graciousness.
When she’s gone, Janah returns, “What do you think?”
Janah, “Not sure, Daria, what did you see?”
“She is full of baloney. Her pal the sheriff already knows we’ve moved in. She was here to snoop.”
Janah, “He’s going to check our story in Milwaukee. It was telling that Tricia didn’t ask our last names, he going to get that from rental records.”
The Society has the incident planted in the police reports, the office Jackson will be referred to will back up my story if he bothers to take it that far. There is a basic website with Darlene Dawson’s art on it, and a couple of newspaper articles on my ‘work.’ That’s what shows up if he types my name into Google, Janette Singleton and her daughter Fran don’t show up at all.

Chapter Eighty Four

Two days after Tricia’s visit, I go to Jackson’s office. The sheriff’s office and jail is attached to the courthouse, common in small towns.
“Sheriff Jackson, excuse me, I wanted to introduce myself, we just moved here.”
I get a slow once over, I’m in baggy jeans and a pullover, nothing enticing.
He gives me a small smile, “Welcome to Popper Miss, um…”
“Dawson, but call me Darlene. Do you have a moment? Tricia Evanston said it might be a good idea to talk to you.”
Jackson, “Trisha’s a good woman, if she said so, it probably is. How can I help you?”
Tricia says Jackson’s a good man, now Tricia’s a good woman, so far, everyone reeks of good.
“Maybe not here on the street.”
Jackson, “Serious then, come on in,” he opens the door, the entrance is cop standard, a desk with a woman handling paperwork and a dispatch radio, one door leads off to what must be the jail, filing cabinets, a computer, phone. It’s neat and orderly.
Jackson, “This is Felicia, she does the administrative stuff, we’re a tiny force of three, four with Felicia, couple of volunteer backups we hardly use, lessen’ there’s a bad wreck, or somebody’s sick. Felicia is also deputized, but we rely on her organizational skills more than her arrest skills.”
I look around, “If she’s responsible for this office, her organizational skills are excellent.”
Felicia takes the bait, “Why thank you Miss…?”
Jackson, “Oh, Miss Dawson, Darlene Dawson. She and her friend and friend’s daughter just moved into the Phillips house, over on Montgomery.”
Looks like Tricia had made the call after all.
Jackson covers, “I check all the new move-ins, we like to know our neighbors, be of service when we can,” lays on his best fake smile, smile.
“That’s good, friendly. If Felicia is a deputy, I’m happy to tell both of you why I’m here.”
Jackson, “Care for coffee? Felicia keeps it fresh, it’s not cop coffee like you see on TV.”
“I appreciate it, just black.”
I don’t drink it black much, but I want to get my spiel out and get a sense of their reaction. Janah and the girls are watching though my eyes.
I take a sip, “Good, thanks.”
Jackson, “So….”
“Yes, here’s the thing.”
I tell the same basic story to them I told to Evanston, scale down the part about beating the crap out of Janette’s imaginary husband. I’m certain Tricia has already spilled.
Felicia, “That’s always ugly. Men lose it, it’s mostly men. Don’t sound like your pal did nothing to bring it on, that happens too, sometimes.”
“I’ve know her for a long time. I never cared for him, but you know women, something clicks, then they’re setting up housekeeping. He alternated between nice and nasty the whole time they were together. The girl with us, Fran, is not his child, Janette had Fran when she was fifteen. Janette is thirty four, doesn’t look it, good genes. Her mom is still a beauty at fifty. She didn’t want another child, her daughter already in her teens when she met Freddie, the abuser.”
Jackson, “Want to give me a description, I’ll pass it along. Anyone shows up answering it, we’ll check out.”
I hesitate.
Jackson, “Problem? Can’t look for just anyone.”
“No, not that. Look, he attacked me the last time he beat up Janette. I took a ball bat to him. He isn’t going to be mobile for a while. I never hit anyone ever, but when I saw Janette balled up on the floor, and Freddie grabs me and slaps me across the room, I grabbed the bat and went at him. His legs won’t work for a good long time, maybe never, but maybe they do.”
Felicia, “Just don’t be takin’ a bat to folks round here. That won’t be good.”
“No, no, I surprised the hell out of myself, but I was scared he was going to beat me like he did Janette. He was way out of control.”
Jackson, “Can’t say I blame you if it went down like you say.”
“I could have made it much worse, I didn’t. I don’t beat people up for fun.”
Janah, “Liar.”
“Don’t make me laugh, I have a roll going.”

Jackson, “You don’t mind if I check with Milwaukee then,” it isn’t a question.
“Of course not, I expect you should. I can give you the name and number of the cop who came, and who wrote up the report. He can even send you a photo of Freddie, a mug shot.”
Jackson, “That will be helpful.”
I go for a mild flirtation, “Just so’s you know…Sheriff, I don’t hate men, we just want to have a quiet life, that’s why we’re here. If you have any other questions, or whatever, come by the house, I’ll have the coffee on,” I flash a smile, not a blazer, just friendly, hold his eyes for a second.
Felicia’s lip curls up an half inch, she figures she’s on to me, flirting with the big dog.
Jackson, “Well that would be just fine, Darlene. We appreciate you coming by. We have a clean, friendly town, good folks, don’t want troublemakers. We weed ‘em out quick and send ‘em down the road.”
It’s clear he’s not just referencing Freddie, my ball bat story has him guarded and curious. He’s not used to women taking matters into their own hands. That’s fine, I want him wary, it will make him nosy. He and Felicia will have a nice chat when I’m gone. She’s not his girlfriend, not unless he’s into short and squat, I don’t get that impression.
Janah, “She’s part of his little empire, he’s King of Popper, she’s not the Queen, more like king’s counsel maybe.”
I’m back in our new not home, Dasha and Daria are bookends on the couch. Janah and I are cross legged on the floor, it’s carpeted, I don’t like carpet, we’re sitting on throw pillows. Carpet is a dirt magnet, you never get all of it gone.
“So, Daria, what did you see?”
“Jackson is scum, the woman not much better. The auras are typically dark, theirs are also bloody.”
“So they’ve killed.”
Dasha, “Sometimes, the mix says they get others to do the killing as well.”
“Are they Shadows?”
Janah, “Not in the traditional sense. I doubt they know qi from third base. The Society says Felicia grew up here, has been labeled passive aggressive, but more aggressive when Jackson showed up. He’s a military reject, mustered out as a sergeant under vague circumstances. Too young for Vietnam, caught the beginning of Iraq, nothing distinguished, suddenly yanked prior to the end of his tour and quietly sent home. He took a job here as a deputy six years ago, two years later, the sheriff is dead in a car wreck, a strange one. Drove the car into tree, no seat belt, he was halfway out the windshield near cut in half. Council made Jackson sheriff.”
“We can’t stay forever, how do we deal from here?”
“I’m giving it a couple of days for him to nose around, let him marinate on a woman who bludgeoned an abuser in Milwaukee then shows up in nowhereville. He’s maybe got no conscience, but he knows he’s created fear and pain, and he knows you don’t deal with that well. If nothing breaks in a day or so, you’re going to the local watering hole and take offense at something, he or his deputies will be on the lookout for you. We’ll see how it shakes out.”

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