Sitting in the Tahoe with coffee and tea, watching a silent house in a near silent neighborhood. It’s early, six thirty, a few cars and trucks fire up and head off to work. Still a bit early for the school buses.
It’s not a new development, I’m guessing aged houses in the thirty to forty year range. Lots of trees, not usually found in newer tracts, they level those, you have to replant trees if you want them. It’s a single story, the neighborhood is mixed, some split level, a few full two story, most one. Two car garages are sparse, primarily singles or a carport. Cars in driveways or on the street. When these places were built, two cars was unusual, now families have three or four.
“America, people have mediocre homes and brand new trucks, SUVs and minivans. The Great Vehicle society. We don’t see it in Manhattan, but when we get to regular America, I’m always amazed at cars lined up at the drive through with the store inside half empty.”
Dasha, “America person ees too fat to get out of car and walk. Sit in car and text.”
“And throw out extra carbon dioxide while the engine idles, more greenhouse gas for the atmosphere.”
Janah laughs, “You have those same concerns when our crew is racing karts, formula one or dirt bikes around our place in Arizona?”
“Um…well, it’s Arizona, they have more air there, I read that someplace.”
“We need to move, Daria, is the drone ready?”
“This is the house the owl circled, presume she got it right but it won’t hurt to check out anyone who leaves from the surrounding places. She might be off, the houses are pretty close together.”
Janah, “Drive us to someplace where Daria can launch the drone. Daria, fly it to the back of the house. This stretch of houses have privacy fences, we may be able to see more from the rear.”
I exit the subdivision, find a spot next to a convenience store, back the Tahoe up to a fence and open the rear hatch. The drone goes aloft, we stay parked while it flies to the house. The back yard is neat, minor landscaping, a few shrubs, no flower garden, what must be a fairly recent oak tree, maybe fifteen feet tall with a small canopy. A couple of sheets of plywood painted dark blue lean against the wall next to the patio door . It’s closed but the curtain is pulled and the drone cam zooms to let us see inside. No activity, we have a view of a living area and partial kitchen, the island counter and two stools.
“Daria, check out the house on the left, the one on the right is for sale, I can’t tell if anyone is living there. There’s no car in that drive.”
Janah, “It’s vacant, one of those real estate agent locks on the front door.”
“Didn’t notice, okay, place to the left then.”
We sneak a peek, the patio door is open, and there’s a woman and man drinking coffee while a kid eats a bowl of processed something with sugar. Apparently he eats a lot of it.
Dasha, “Fat fahmahley ees no Shadow peerson. Why let kid get so chunk?”
“Look at mom and dad. I’m surprised they found the energy to walk outside. Slim parents don’t have fat kids.”
Janah, “Back to the target house, we need to know who’s in there and figure out if it’s a Shadow.”
Our drones can zoom from a hundred yards and make it appear ten feet away. We do, however, have to be close to use the drop down microphone to pick up conversation. As an alternative we also have high grade grade listening devices that can pick up conversation in a house from forty or fifty yards.
“You want me to fire up the dish?”
There are several versions of parabolic dish portable listening devices. We bought commercial, then our hardware guru Eloise upgraded the reception and sound quality.
Janah, “May as well, with your owl hearing and that dish you could hear conversations in the Oval Office from Pennsylvania Avenue.”
“I wonder why nobody does that?”
Daria, “Signal is jammed, external listening device no good, they sweep for internal bugs twice a day, more if there have been outside visitors.”
“Guess I won’t be getting the goods on the President.”
“They wind up outing themselves, like the Lewinsky tramp who couldn’t help running her mouth to Linda Tripp. I don’t care if the guy gets blow jobs from fat girls, the country didn’t need the distraction of finding out about it. Presidents have had hookers to movie stars snuck in the back door since we’ve had Presidents. Washington is overrun with babe lobbyists in tight skirts sucking off Congress as fast as they can whip out their little white dicks.”
“They have black representatives too.”
“Yeah, but none of them have any power.”
“Maybe when the babes have had enough cocktail weenies they grab a fat bratwurst for something more…filling.”
Janah giggles, “Well, you’ve dissected Washington, anything going on inside the not White House down the street?”
I have headphones on, dish pointed to the house, nothing, then, “One more video, then you can go home.”
A small voice, “Okay.”
Daria, “Here we go.”
The IPad shows the patio door opening, a naked girl, maybe nine, comes out followed by a man with a camera. He’s dressed, some small relief, fiftyish, hair halfway to grey, maybe five ten and medium build. He’s in jeans, sneakers, black t-shirt and black sport coat. Willoughby looks like lots of mid-size fifty year old American males.
The girl is pretty, even beautiful, full head of dark brown hair past her shoulders. Lanky, coltish as they say, long legs and ironing board tummy. She parades along the patio to the painted plywood, turns and dances for the camera, gyrates seductively, then her hands roam her body. The kiddie dance goes on for several minutes, one hand winds up between her legs. She leans against the boards and masturbates, grinning and licking her lips. She has a narrative with it, ‘do you like me, I love my pussy, I like it when you look at me, it feels sooo good,” like that until she has an orgasm, finishes up licking her fingers smiling at the camera.
They go inside, patio door slides shut, twenty minutes later they walk to a Ford Tarus parked in the carport. Dasha stuck a Spark Nano GPS tracker underneath the bumper while the girl performed. It’s near nine o’clock.
Dasha and I are following, Daria and Janah stay at the house. Daria breaks in the absurdly simple patio door, Janah searches for video copies while Daria looks through papers for an identity. The man is Peter Willoughby, no evidence of employment.
Janah, “He’s a Shadow, his aura is coal black. I wonder what the point is? Some research says kiddie porn can make money, others say it’s mostly swap value, you get some if you give some. I don’t know which it is, both I suppose. In any case, if parents got copies they’re keeping quiet about it.”
“Why would they announce it? The child remembers zip, they have video of their kid doing what they do up against a background that tells them nothing about the man or the location. If he went to the trouble to blank the background outside, he did the same thing inside.”
Dasha, “Point ees to make parents humiliate?”
“Maybe. He must blank the kids, otherwise they would remember details.”
Janah, “Not necessarily, if he’s good he could substitute memories, he wouldn’t look like himself to them, different house, different car. They could know what happened with no memory of who or where.”
“That’s double ugly.”
“Yes, it is. The question is, do we capture him and find out?”
I can hear Daria through Janah’s ears, “If we do, and the child does remember, what do you propose be done? I do not see a fix that leaves us out of it.”
“Daria’s got a point, even if we out ourselves, what do we tell them, the guy’s a Shadow? Better to let then think she was drugged or hypnotized. Besides, it doesn’t apply to this girl, we’re going to kill him and take the video.”
Dasha, “He ees pull into grocery parking lot.”
“Janah, he’s dropping her. We’re going to stay and make sure she’s safe until cops show up. Follow the tracker, he may return to the house.”
“You have the drone and dart gun.”
“Ah, well, we still have to stay…no, I’ll send Dasha back, I’ll make sure the girl is collected safely. You can get me when you’re finished there.”
“Don’t worry about it, if Daria and I can’t handle one Shadow we need to have our credentials revoked. He might sense me with my ties to Shaolin, but he won’t see Daria coming.”
I call 911 and report the girl anonymously, the operator tries to get my name, I click off. My number is blocked, all they know is a woman called in who spotted a confused looking young girl alone. I don’t say anything about being dropped off by a man. If we turn the guy in, that is, send our drone video of him and the girl, the cops have a Shadow to arrest. That won’t go well. The Shadow has too many alternatives, take the cop’s mind, make him shoot himself for instance. We don’t even know if Peter Willoughby is his real name or a made up or stolen identity. Shadows seldom remain in one town, and they use multiple identities.
Our boy has to go.
We’re parked in a section of the lot that runs alongside a pizza place, then a barber shop, the grocery is next. I can see the girl standing in front of the store, she’s looking around, trying to get her bearings.
Houston police car cruises by slowly, I see the passenger cop, a woman, point to the girl. She gets out and approaches. I point the listening device at them.
“Are you Mindy Patterson?”
“Yes,” she raises the front of her dress, nothing underneath, “do you like my pussy?”
The officer stays calm, pushes the dress down, gets the girl in the back seat and sits alongside. Three other cruisers appear.
“Get going Dasha, they’re going to start questioning people, we don’t want to be in the mix.”
She backs down the side, away from the main lot, we take a side exit and return to Willoughby’s.
I’m following events through Janah, Dasha is in her sister’s mind.
I see him come through the front door, he spots Janah in a chair in his living room.
“Who are you? What are you….ahhh, I sense the self righteousness of Shaolin. You aren’t one, not a priest, you’ve been around them. So, what do you think you’re going to do?”
Bad news for Pete, I see over his shoulder, Daria is behind him. She taps his shoulder, he spins, her titanium capped knuckles rearrange his face, a second hard punch drives up just underneath his sternum, the third shot, curled finger knuckles to his windpipe. He won’t be using that to breathe again. He won’t be using anything to breathe again, he’s face up, dead on the carpet.
“That was efficient.”
Janah, “That’s Daria. I have his computer, I need you to use those ears to open a small safe. If he has video or photos stored on something, it will be in there. There’s nothing else in the house, no thumbs or external drives. If he’s dumb enough to put them in the cloud Daria can dig around his computer and find them.”
We back in the drive of the vacant house next door, I go to Willoughby’s place, Dasha waits and watches.
Inside, I step over a flattened Shadow, “Quick work Daria, where’s the safe?”
She points down the hall, there’s a bedroom with a double bed on a metal frame, nothing on the walls, nothing to distinguish the room. Must be his film studio. The safe is on a closet shelf. It takes me a few spins to catch the tumbler click, the safe isn’t expensive, three minutes and it pops open. Good to have my ultra sensitive hearing enhanced by my owl sensei in Canada.
There are three Iron Key encrypted thumb drives, a few stacks of wrapped hundreds. I put the drives in my pocket, stuff money in a plastic bag and return to the main room.
“Got what he had, time to vanish.”
Janah, “I have his car keys. If we go out the laundry room door to the carport, we can take his car and dump it someplace. Less likely anyone will see us leave.”
“I’ll turn down the AC to freeze, slow down decomposition. With the car gone, anyone would assume no one’s home, must be traveling or whatever.”
It’s possible some passing car saw us go into the house of course. But people don’t pay that much attention. Even if they noticed, they saw a couple of people in loose jeans, sneakers, caps and sunglasses. Could be anything. By the time there are cop cars and the meat wagon outside, we’ll be in Manhattan, it isn’t like Willoughby has a gaggle of pals looking for him. It could be weeks before they find him.
Janah, “We’ll call it in when we’re back in Manhattan. No reason to stink up the house. Also no reason to linger in Houston, it’s only eleven. Let’s call Blue Sky and check out of Zaza. They can get us in the air by three, we can be home by quarter to eight.
At the hotel, the owl is on the balcony railing.
“Your prey is dead.”
“Yes, thanks to you he won’t be abusing the young any longer.”
“You will go to your nest now?”
“To the north and east. We will be there by nightfall.”
“The others will be happy to know one Dark One will not be killing us for pleasure. You will find others?”
“Yes, and they will meet the same fate.”
She blinks, flips on the rail facing out, turns her head clean behind to look at me, I thank her again and she’s gone. Good to have friends in high places.
Houston’s a big executive jet market, Blue Sky is ready in two hours, not four, which gets us back for quarter to six, yay.
Amaya collects us at Teterboro, twenty minutes home and the twins have a crispy cold vodka by six thirty. Sloane jumps in my arms, wraps spindly legs around my waist and licks both my cheeks, her wolf greeting.
“Just don’t start sniffing butts.”
Amaya, “Eeewww Daphne, you are disgusting, Sloane, your mother needs medication.”
Sloane creeps over, starts sniffing down Amaya’s neck, “Take that snout off me, fangs! Daphne, kindly have a word with your daughter regarding civility or return her to the wild. I am in need of a large cocktail.”
We don’t need to discuss events, Amaya and Nikko can mental me, Nikko with Janah as well, they recapped to Chloe, Zi and Eloise as things unfolded. Oceane and Cassie were off in space, likely had no clue we were gone.
Oceane descends the circular staircase and joins Janah in a glass of Gosset, “Death by Daria, an owl helps,” she floats to the couch, Cassie appears and plops down next to her. They channel surf and settle on PBS, watch with the sound muted.
Amaya, “I have no clue why they watch TV, there’s no sound and neither of them could tell you what they saw five minutes after it is over.”
Chloe, “Living in the now Amaya, and it’s a news program, why would they need to know the Middle East is tense.”
Zi, “It’s the pictures, they have no interest in what’s being said. Actually, they know what’s being felt, and that’s more information than we get with the sound on. Talk is obfuscation, to muddy the water, not to clear up anything.”
Amaya, “Excellent point. I use dialogue to send readers and my characters into confusing situations all the time.”
Janah, “Our chefs have been traveling, is there a food plan?”
Nikko, “Marconi’s will be…,” Paladin Security calls to tell us there’s a delivery “scratch that, traveler’s refresh, Zi and I will fetch.”
Tasty Italian, girls enjoy while a movie plays on the four flat screens that dot the living area. It’s great, get up for more osso bucco or another slice, not miss anything in the flick.
Been a long stretch for the twins, Janah and me. After The Assassin is done killing people, we’re up the steps to our rooms to assassinate consciousness.
Today Daria and I hack the drives and take a tour of naked children flashing, up-skirts, stripping, dancing and masturbating. Three boys offered similar performances. The Shadow did a good job of keeping anything extraneous out of the video and photos. There is no way to tell where they were made.
During cocktails, Amaya says, “Appears the Shadow had his fun turning the children into sexual aggressors.”
Janah, “His amusement was capturing, video and filling their heads with not so much sex as exhibitionism. There was no evidence he did anything himself. Doesn’t mean he didn’t, just didn’t want himself on record.”
Chloe, “What happens to them I wonder?”
“I doubt the behavior is permanent, he didn’t keep any of them long, three days seems to be his limit. That includes capture day and return day and he returned the one we saw in the morning. It wouldn’t allow for a permanent reconstruction. He would be too exhausted to do so much recording.”
Daria, “True. Brain to brain work is tiring.”
Amaya, “So he does just enough to get them to do his thing, the remaining mind fuck spills over for a time.”
“A few days at most, maybe even just hours. Then they face rejoining the normal world where the behavior is unacceptable.”
Chloe, “At least there was no recorded sex, him doing whatever.”
Janah, “I thought it over, to maximize his thrill and parents’ misery, I’m betting he sends a thumb drive to the parents. It occurred that he might have even given it to the child, but the police come first and they would take it. Too messy. He wanted them to know though.”
“Seems almost more cruel to have them in the dark and imaging worst case scenarios.”
“Perhaps, but the video could also be seen as a teaser, like a trailer for a movie, where the rough bits are left out. And we can’t know if the kids recall much. I do know they’re in for long bouts of therapy. And all too often kids are pushed to recall things that never happened. Once the dolls come out, then the questions, ‘Did the man touch you, where? What else did the man do, did he take his clothes off, kiss you?’ If it goes like that, the child is easily led into remembering things that never happened. The kid can’t win, if they say nothing else happened, they’re in denial. If they say it did, then they have to guess what the therapist wants to hear, so they make up stories that can’t be verified.”
Amaya, “Dicey business, getting at facts versus assumptions.”
“Exactly, after seeing the video most adults will assume that more went on than dancing and masturbation. They’ll keep digging at the child until they validate their biases.”
Chloe, “This Shadow may have been more sophisticated. If he concluded what we did, his plan was far more malicious than just video of nude kids.”
“That’s a scary thought. Shadows we’ve encountered have been straightforward, less creative in their perversions. If we’re guessing correctly, this one plotted a way to extend his twisted influence, not as collateral damage, but on purpose.”
“We’ve seen that before, recall the sheriff in Alabama, he rubbed it in parents’ faces, forced some of them to participate.”
Eloise comes from the workshop, pours herself a shot of vodka and downs it, then another. Something’s up, she never does that.
Amaya, “Before you go comatose Eloise, what is going on?”
“It’s the program, the Shadow Hunter.”
“Is it buggy, something screwed up?”
“I hope so, or there are dozens of Shadows in action across the country.”
“That’s not good.”
“It gets worse, they appear to be networked.”
Nobody says anything, we’re processing. Shadows seldom network, there’s no Facebook page.
Janah, “How do you know?”
“The dark web. Posts and reposts, comments on posts that sound like Shadowspeak, everyone calling everyone asshole, fuckhead, dipshit, but like Shadows do, like psychopath locker room banter.
“Send it down here, let’s take a look.”
She taps a few keys on one of the laptops, the feed goes to our flat screens.
‘need to do something bitches are at it again’
‘beat one of us to death in texas, he made great kidvid too’
‘fucking cunts one or two shaolin why the others’
‘who cares asshole we have to find and kill’
‘not easy used swords throwing stars with poison now fucking darts’
‘pussy if it was easy we wouldn’t be having this chat dumb fuck’
‘any of you shits have tech skills…hacking tech skills’
‘dumber fuck what do you think we are looking not finding’
‘even no where they base’
‘wherever they move around quick killing us all over the country’
‘they melted one in a parking lot for fuck’s sake’
‘you pervs can do whatever this perv is going south way fucking south adios motherfuckers’
‘batshit22 may be onto something the hunters only operate in the states’
‘i have business here and have no intention of learning spanish or any other goddamn gibberish’
The tread goes on like that, typical of Shadows, no decision is reached.
Janah, “Most of them will stay disorganized and no threat to us. Some, however, will band together to try and find us. The smarter ones will use that to expand their operations.”
Nikko, “How do you….oh, of course.”
Sloane, “Of course what?”
“If we’re occupied with potential threats from a group, the non-joiners will see it as a chance to do their thing undisturbed. A version of distract the cops in one part of town so you can loot and pillage another part.”
Sloane, “They’re getting smarter.”
“In a way, we’re forcing them to get smart, it’s get smart or die.”
Summer in Canada, almost all of it, nearly three months. We return to Manhattan mid September for a month, then to our stretch of mountain and valley in Arizona, a few miles northwest of Prescott. Nikko bought several hundred acres, we built a twenty thousand square foot home with a detached four bedroom guesthouse for another six thousand square feet. Behind the house is an Olympic pool with two diving boards, one and three meter, guesthouse to the right. To satisfy our need for speed, we subsequently put in a racetrack suitable for formula one. There are three go karts, three Mazda formula one cars, our SUVs, Amaya’s Corvette and a Ford Ranger for hauling this and that.
We practice evasive driving, skids, one eighty and three sixty spins with the SUVs, techniques we learned at Bondurant school just south of Phoenix. Amaya, the twins and I have taken the tactical executive protection course. Then she took formula one with Dasha and Daria, and the racing course. That’s when she decided on a Corvette.
As if that wasn’t enough, Dasha got into dirt bikes, which led Sloane into them, followed by Cassandra. We added a dirt track with the requisite hills and turns, far enough from the house to cut down the noise to a livable hum.
We hired two monks, Danika and Su, to live here full time. Better to keep the place open and functioning all year rather than shut down for six months then crank it all up again.
Danika is a mystic monk, Su a Contemplative. Mystic means highly advanced qi skills, contemplative means just that, overlaid with academic. What Su doesn’t know about Buddhist tradition is unknowable. They jumped at the chance to live here, ideally suited to their temperaments.
Chloe, Amaya and Dasha are returning from Japan. Nikko, Zi and Daria had a couple of days in Chicago at one of our property management companies, then three more in San Francisco.
Danika and Su have the place stocked, I didn’t have to do a massive grocery run. Sloane and Cass spent the morning between karts and dirt bikes, Oceane in the pool, then soaking a bit of sun.
“Turn over Oceane, no sunburn,” I put a light coat of sunscreen on her back, butt and legs, a most pleasant duty, my fingers tingle.
“Come to me after lunch, we will play.”
Ahh, you bet we will.
Janah, “I see you put a touch of qi into sunscreen application.”
“Got the desired result too.”
“While Oceane’s occupied, I’ll ask Sloane to take advantage of me.”
Oceane has intimate relations with Sloane, our girl with a boy part. Then out of curiosity, Janah gave it a go. She discovered she likes it, oral and intercourse. We allow them to retain gold star lesbian status, a girl who has sex only with girls. Sloane is a girl through and through, just differently equipped. We accept dissonance as part of being human. I can hold three or four contradictory thoughts in my head at the same time. We feel no obligation to explain ourselves to anyone.
Amaya, “We are on approach to San Francisco. We’ll stay overnight with Nikko and the others, fly to Arizona tomorrow.”
“Trip went well? I didn’t follow, busy getting us here.”
“Splendidly, the Japanese are most gracious hosts. We were wined and dined, whisked here and there for the commercial shoots, Chloe did one of the insane Japanese talk shows. She had a live kendo match on another. Her opponent excellent. They each took a match by one point and tied the third. No face lost, plenty of smiles. Dasha managed to mangle Japanese just like her English, the hotel staff was enamored. It is good to have her looking out for us, fortunately she did not have to assault anyone. See you soon.”
Dasha, “I am seeing sister today Dahfoney, you will see me tomorrow.”
She’s reassuring herself, the twins don’t like being apart, and she misses me but she has to phrase it like I miss her. Which is fine, I always miss my duplicate angels when they are gone.
“I will be glad to have you home. We are anxious to see all our family, thank you for taking care of Chloe and Amaya.”
We blink off, I have a light lunch prepared, cold cuts, cheese and crackers. Sloane and Cassie are just out of the shower, come down in t-shirts with still damp hair. There are eight of us today.
Danika, “The others come tomorrow?”
“Yes, the business girls will need to chill. Chloe and Amaya have been to Japan enough they’ve acclimated to time zone differences. It’s a ten hour flight, they leave at five thirty in the afternoon, arrive at ten thirty on the same day. Lose a day flying over, gain one coming back. The twins don’t like being separated for long, they manage a few days okay. Can’t blame them, I don’t separate from Janah for even a day. We’re multi-dependent.”
“Doesn’t appear to have hurt anyone.”
“No, it seems like an empty spot in the day though.”
Su, “I think it is incredibly touching. I never hear a cross word from any of you, Amaya’s posturing is all act.”
“Besides author, she’s a performance artist, drama is her Buddha nature.”
Danika, “To hear her impersonating voices is mystifying. Last year I would have sworn, oh my, what’s his name? The AC/DC singer.”
“Angus Young, no, he plays guitar, Brian...um...Johnson.”
“Yes, I heard her blasting something called Back in Black. I went to YouTube, she sounded exactly like him.
“You should have heard her do Smells Like Teen Spirit with the Pamela Andersons. They killed it, the Chapman’s girls went berserk.”
Janah, “And when she did Radiohead, the whole place was in tears.”
“I remember that, she did Creep, it broke your heart.”
Danika, “I have to look up these songs, I never heard of them.”
“It was a nineties thing, you and Su were in the temple.”
“It wasn’t like we were cloistered, monks had the internet and music, we just weren’t paying attention. We were children then, it’s been more than fifteen years since the end of the nineties. But Amaya was practically a baby then, how did she come across this music?”
“She looked for interesting songs, on YouTube one thing leads to another, she spent hours surfing. The groups caught her attention, they were different, unique, not manufactured boyfriend breakup stuff like Swift or Cyrus. Those performers are about the show, big stage, dancers, lots of sexy clothes and sparkle appealing to twelve year old girls. Superficial pop singer relationships are dramatic and entertaining as girls drift into the hormonal white water of adolescence, superficiality is the best they can do.”
Danika laughs, “Humans just aren’t capable of deep, maybe there is no deep.”
“It sure isn’t religion, religion is plainly childish. That leaves people fishing for spirituality, I don’t know what spirituality means. The ones not into God or spirituality think they’re rational. What a laugh, nobody is rational, not for any extended period of time.”