Ninety Seven

The girls didn’t try to in-and-out, too much flying for one day. Four and a half hour flight, leave at nine, arrive at three thirty central time. Car ready courtesy of Blue Sky, check into the Doubletree.
Natalie goes alone to pick up the boy, he has a name, Zackary. She visits the aunt for an hour, Natalie grasps that what Aunt wants is to hand him off. 
Aunt, “I can’t supply what he needs, from what you told me, you can.”
Natalie, “I’m home almost all the time,” not too much of a lie, “my business can be done anywhere there’s an internet connection. I have friends close who are more than willing to help out if the need arises. I’m glad you thought of me.”
“Good, I’m relieved. He’s a lovely child, but a child. And there’s no place around here where he can thrive, get outside, experience the world directly. He knows enough Braille to manage simple things but it’s my understanding he has a ways to go.”
“Not a problem, I can afford any kind of assistance he needs, and it’s better for him to start adjusting to a different house. It must be confusing for him to keep changing homes.”
In the end, she takes his meager collection of personal belongings in a small suitcase and gym bag. Natalie promises to keep Aunt updated, which is one of those things one says. Her impression is Aunt has a reasonably full life. A short email now and again will suffice. She returns to the hotel with Zackary.
Natalie, “Zackary, one of my friends, Zoe C is here, and her daughter Mickey. Mickey is almost nine. There are two more girls at home and our benefactor Chef, you will meet them tomorrow.”
Zackary nods, this is still a bit of rush for him.
Mickey takes his hand, “Come with me, we’ll watch TV.”
Zackary, “I can’t watch anything, but I can listen.”
“Oops, sorry, I didn’t mean….”
“It’s okay, I hear it all the time.”
Natalie, “Are you hungry?”
“Kind of.”
She takes that for a yes.
Zoe C, “I’ll fetch dinner, back in a few.”
When she returns, Nat, Mickey and Zackary are engrossed in, not the news, which is running, volume on low, but in conversation. Zackary might not see, but it hasn’t interfered with his ability to talk.
Natalie, “Our new friend’s curiosity is unlimited, we’ve been interrogated as to who what where when and why. And he’s never flown before.”
Zoe C knows Natalie and Mickey didn’t reveal much, and nothing about the crude, more violent side of our lives.
“Curiosity is good, makes for good scientists, or detectives.”
Zackary, “I wonder if I could be a detective? I could sniff out clues,” he laughs at his joke.
Mickey, “We have Zelda to sniff things out, she will welcome your help.”
Zackary, “You have a giant dog and an ADD cat.”
Zoe C, “Market had fried chicken and chicken tenders. I got both, also dipping sauces and fresh coleslaw.”
She doesn’t have to press food on them, Mickey asks Zackary what he wants, leg and tender, serving of slaw. She fixes his and her own. I know these things even though I’m in Malibu, I can see and hear what Zoe C does.
After demolishing dinner, back to the couch for TV until little tired eyes manifest.
Zoe C, “Okay kids, Nat and Mickey take this room, Zackary and I are going to the other.”
In her room now, “We don’t do baths at home, showers instead, is that good? I don’t trust hotel baths to be as sanitary as I like.”
Zackary, “Good, I don’t like them either.”
“If you don’t mind, let me get the water going, I’ll wash your hair, you do the rest.”
After the boy is scrubbed, he towels himself, Zoe C takes a quick shower. He’s blind, it’s not like she has to wrap herself in a towel then a bathrobe. She puts him on one of the queen beds, gets him covered and snuggled.
It’s not late, but they’ve had a long day, she reads for a half hour, turns out the light and falls away.
Morning, no problem to get the kids moving, Zackary is understandably excited, Mickey is excited about everything, particularly another ride on a private jet. Breakfast omelets on the plane, the boy is all ears, his head swings from side to side so as not to miss anything. Mickey gives him a moment to moment update on what’s happening while they eat cruising through the sky. After two hours the engine drone makes the kids drowsy, they curl up in adjoining seats, which ease back to near flat, cushiony and comfortable.
Natalie covers them in blankets and slips a pillow under each head, returns to the seat next to Zoe C.
Natalie, “He’s a cute kid, long black hair, I bet he’s part Indian somewhere back on the genealogy chart. Evansville and surrounds have several tribes.”
I’m at the airport to collect my tribe, Zackary sits up front in the Hyundai, Zoe C has him strapped in tight. I take the 1 up to Malibu, the weather is splendid, seventy two degrees. 
Zachary, “The air smells different, salty.”
“We’re driving up the highway that runs next to the Pacific Ocean, you’ve caught the sea scent.”
“Is there a place to stop, just for a minute.”
“Sure,” I pull into one of the parking inlets, we climb out. He faces the ocean, his hair blowing back, hands out in front of him, fingers spread like he’s feeling the breeze.
“This is beautiful, I hear the ocean, smell the sky. Is there sand, a beach?”
“It’s beach all the way to Canada.”
Mickey, “Kick off your shoes, we’ll visit the ocean, leave your stick with Chef,” he has an expandable walking cane.
They climb over the small seawall, hop to the sand. Mickey takes his hand, they walk to the edge of the surf. Waves wash over feet and ankles. We hear Zackary howl in delight, stomping his feet in the water.
Natalie, “Mickey may have created a sea creature, that is one happy little boy.”
Mic walks with him along the shoreline but leaves him to navigate for himself, then back to us.
Mickey, “Water is cold, my toes are freezing.”
I keep towels in the storage compartment, pull one out, dry and brush off sand. We get on the road again. Zackary is quiet. I can’t read his mind but I suspect he’s lost in the moment, his first encounter with the ocean.
Home, Zackary meets the family member everyone meets first at the door, Zelda. Zelda doesn’t need a friend command, the boy is a child, hardly likely to attack anyone. 
Mickey, “Meet Zelda, she’s pretty big, bigger than me. She’s going to sniff you so she can remember your scent, she won’t hurt you.”
Zackary laughs while Zelda sticks her snout in his neck, his hands go to Zelda’s head, “Gee, she is big…and wrinkly.”
Zelda backs off, she sits and studies his face, her head metronomes back and forth, trying to understand something. Then she turns and stands next to him, takes a step forward and waits.
Zackary, “What is she doing?”
Mickey, “She wants you to go with her. Put your hand on her back, I’ll hold the cane, just go along with her.”
Damned if Zelda doesn’t walk him inside, how in…?
Zoe C, “How’s she know he’s blind?”
“How does Zelda know anything? Her radar is far more finely tuned than ours.”
Natalie wipes a tear, “How beautiful is that?”
Inside, Zackary meets Elle, Zelda goes off to McKenzie, she must be in the office.
They return together.
Mickey, “Zak, this is McKenzie. She doesn’t talk much, she’s…a little different.”
Zackary, “I’m a little different.”
We laugh, McKenzie studies him, “Blind.”
Zackary, “Yes, totally, can I touch her face?”
“Is that okay McKenzie?”
She answers by taking the boy’s hands in hers, then places them on her cheeks. Zackary slides his fingers over her face, “She’s pretty, like Mickey.”
McKenzie, “McKenzie made one thousand six hundred forty three.”
Zackary, “What does that mean?”
Mickey, “She likes numbers, and likes things orderly.”
Mac backs away, rocks gently, processing what she sees.
I look to the stove, there’s a pot with something, lift the lid, oooh, “Want to add anything with the soup McKenzie?”
“Grilled cheese, caramelized onion.”
“Perfect, help Mickey get Zackary set up in a bedroom please.”
Zelda goes to the boy, bumps him slightly, he reaches for her back and goes with her upstairs, Mac and Mickey trailing behind.
Zoe C, “I’ll go with, I need some quickie measurements to order a few more things for him to wear.”
While they’re off I take out the cheese and, let’s see, ah, we have a loaf of fat sourdough, makes great grilled cheese. By the time they return, the onions are caramelized and I’m set to put the sandwiches on the griddle. Sometimes we fancy up grilled cheese with sexier cheeses, but the fact is, plain old Velveeta has the right gooey melting consistency, which is what I use today.
The day remains perfect, they troops gather around the patio table. McKenzie ladles soup into bowls, I bring a platter of toasty sandwiches. There’s a half dozen bottles of cold sugar free Coke and insulated tumblers with ice.
Mickey cuts Zak’s sandwich in half, lays it on his plate, “Plate’s to the left of you, the bowl of soup in front. I checked, it’s good and warm but not hot. Can you manage?”
He lays his hands flat on the table and spider crawls his fingers to the bowl.
“Spoon is in the bowl.”
He eases his hand, finds the handle, scoops up soup and directs it to his mouth. Touchdown! Didn’t spill a drop, which is better than I’ve been known to do.
Next he find the half sandwich with his left, takes a bite, chews and swallows, “It’s good, what do you call it?”
Mickey, “Grilled cheese, this one has sautéed onion.”
The rest of us dig in, Mickey keeps an eye on Zackary’s movements, realizes he doesn’t know where his Coke is. She hands it to him, it’s got a straw which I figured would be easier.
He gets through lunch with only minor drips, none on him.
He asks, “Did I make a mess?”
Mickey, “No silly, Chef spilled more soup than anyone, besides, things drip, no biggie.”
McKenzie, “Walk Zelda.”
Zackary, “Can I go?”
Mickey, “Of course, you have to get familiar with the property. And don’t worry, the whole place is fenced, you can’t get lost or wander off.”
He grins, they get up, Zelda is already anticipating. She loves traveling the fence line sniffing out spots she’s sniffed a hundred times before. Burma races out from the house, not content to be left behind. Zackary stands next to Zelda, Burma hops on Zelda’s back and plops down on Zackary’s hand.
“What that?”
“That’s Burma, the smartest cat in the world, Zelda is the smartest dog. You can pet her, she adores attention.”
He gingerly strokes the hyper-soft fur, and moves his head close. Burma does her thing, paw in the air, waves it back and forth then the gentlest tap on his nose, then a second. Zackary’s smile glows.
“She tickled my nose.”
Mickey, “She has a cat tree, twelve feet tall next to the stairway. Her favorite game is to leap off the tree and thunk us on the back, like she’s jungle cat. She won’t scratch, she’ll just run back up her tree to lurk for her next victim.”
“I’ll be ready.”
They go across the pool deck, down the hill, it usually takes a half hour, but if they decide to sit on a bolder and watch the ocean sunset they could be gone an hour or more.

Ninety Eight

Zackary has been with us a month, his protective big sister Mickey, all of nine with an outsized level of maturity takes care of familiarizing him with the house. She must have walked him through it a hundred times. Zoe C helps him learn to swim.
Now, during his activity time, he’s either in the pool or hiking the property sometimes with Zelda, other times on his own. It’s heartening, watching him go off, cane tapping, every so often a scraped knee. Zoe C got him a bicycle helmet, if he falls he won’t bust his skull open on a rock or bolder he didn’t see.
Natalie, “Glad to admit I was overly cautious,” she didn’t want him going it alone.
She tried following him at a discreet distance, he called her out on it, laughing, “You don’t understand, I can hear your steps, clunk, clunk, clunk.”
That was the last time Nat tried to hover. I resisted the temptation to nickname her Clunk, I value my continued existence.
Elle gets him started on education basics. He’s just six, he doesn’t need to know algebra, he does need to learn add subtract. There are programs available online, and it becomes apparent he needs more advanced Braille skills plus a math specific Braille called Nemeth Braille Code.
She also got him an abacus, recommended as it’s primarily tactile. It’s going to be a long learning curve, but that’s immaterial, he starts and learns in small increments with lots of review. Along those lines, he needs objects he can feel, to internalize round, square, triangle and tons of other shapes. Mickey is particularly helpful, it’s like playing blocks and with no pressure they make it fun, not work.
I’m reviewing the website, call in Zoe C.
“Check this one.”
She reads over my shoulder, “Another one? Christ, what is it with people? It seems like once a week some couple beats a child to death. Give him up for adoption, it isn’t hard. The boyfriend didn’t want the kid around so their solution is to torture him, or smother him, or whatever pain they can otherwise inflict until he dies? That takes a special kind of evil.”
“America bombs kids all the time. Half the world sticks twelve or thirteen year old girls with marriages to an old asshole for the price of a cow. I doubt the abuse until death meth-heads read the world news, they aren’t learning it from the New York Times. They can’t spell New York Times.”
“Read further.”
She scans the paragraphs, “Oh fuck, turned out the nine year old sister, made her a prostitute…what, to pay for oxy? Then sold her, to whom?”
“Unclear.”
 “We going to take out the two? Last time we did a courthouse assassination, it went well, getting set up was more of a problem than the kill itself.”
“I don’t want to have to do a courthouse steps job again. I’m thinking of alternatives.”
“Such as?”
“I said I was thinking of them, not that I had any.”
“So what, maybe get a message once they get in prison, pay a bounty?”
“Death row inmates got nothing to lose, but they’re on death row, locked down. Other lifers however…”
“Ah, I see your point, make a deal, lifer takes out the man, we pay his family.”
“And there are lots of violent women in prison, certainly women who take exception to what our targets did.”
“They might off them without us doing anything.”
“So we wait, it goes to trial, they go to prison, we monitor. If the inmates take care of it, good. In the meantime, we find out who bought the girl.”
“Who tells us that?”
“The targets. The DA is going to press for names, maybe promise better accommodations, something. Our network has a couple of lawyers, the one who helped us set up the vigilante program and coughed up a million for expenses for instance. I call him, he noses around, we take it from there.”
“I’m ready to travel when you are, where is this?”
“Chicago, near there anyway.”
I log out, the site disappears. Zoe C goes off to her household duties, busier now with one more bedroom to take care of. Elle helps and Natalie takes care of McKenzie’s room. She’s also required the girls to haul their laundry down to the laundry room. I’ve seen Mickey help fold clothes and take them to whichever room they belong in. This place is big, no end to dusting and washing. The Roombas, we have six, take care of vacuuming reasonably well. Zoe C and Elle do wet mop every week or two, every quarter they do hands and knees baseboards, there are a lot of baseboards.
I go to the kitchen to find Mckenzie, it’s near dinner, past ‘feed Zelda’, “What are we making tonight?”
“Ribs..in the oven.”
“What can I do?”
“Potato.”
I see six fat Idahos on the counter, “How do you want them?”
“Mashed.”
I take a peek in the pot on the stove, creamed corn. Should be more than enough, three of our family are kids. I know from experience that McKenzie has enough ribs baking to feed us and a troop of basketball players. The one we don’t get to will make lovely poboy sandwiches tomorrow or the next.
McKenzie, “You will go to Chicago, kill bad people.”
There’s no one but us at the moment, Mac would never bring up business with anyone around. How does she know we’re going anywhere, much less why? Nobody but McKenzie can answer that and she’s not going to say, or it could be she doesn’t know.
After cocktails Zoe C pours a fat cabernet, one that can handle the fall off the bone ribs bathed in Trader Joe’s Sriracha and roasted garlic barbeque sauce. It’s the only BBQ sauce we like as much as the one we make from scratch. 
Elle, “Zoe C mentioned you might have a road trip soon….to, um, look at property.”
We don’t want the kids to get tainted by our exploits, although McKenzie has gone on a trip or two, she says nothing to Mickey, and now nothing to Zackary.
“Maybe, waiting on more detail. Might be a couple of days, might not happen.”
“Who goes?”
“Zoe C and I, we need you and Nat here, you both have big projects and there are the kids to look after.”
Natalie, “The chess club called, wants to know if McKenzie would have another match, McKenzie said no when I asked her. She’s into Go, but not to compete aside from playing you. I think it’s her relaxation, at matches fussy parents and hyper opponents are hardly relaxing. The other bit is that, if she continued, some media flunky would decide it’s a great human interest story, ten year old girl demolishes opponents, blah, blah. They even tried guilt. Wouldn’t it be inspirational to other girls to see?”
“I’ll bet that went over well.”
“I was nice, I politely told them my daughter isn’t obliged to be anyone’s role model.”
“Good, we could refuse interviews but that just fuels speculation, Mac doesn’t need it.”
McKenzie, “Wire in the Blood.”
“You can watch that kind of gory show, we need to give Mickey and Zak a few years first.”
“Poirot.”
“Better, it’s a more genteel kind of mystery, people get killed but not with the kind of visual slaughter that Wire portrays.”
She doesn’t reply, doesn’t need to, she understands, from her point of view further discussion is pointless.

Ninety Nine

I decide to wait out verdicts on the two Chicago scum suckers, and we haven’t gotten clear detail on the gang or it’s boss. Our contacts have two possibilities, Russians or Salvadorans, which one is nastier depends on what day of the week it is. 
Zoe C, “We just wait around while the girl is turned into a zombie?”
“It’s frustrating, but the girl is already a zombie, she was a zombie when they sold her. What we might prevent is upending one gang so more girls aren’t brutally abused. When we have which one it is, we are going on a vigilante rampage. With a clear message…pimp children, you’re dead.”
“What if the gang is, like, thirty or forty people?”
“We’ll need to bring extra bullets.”
“Not going to be easy.”
“If it was easy, we’d leave it up to the cops and the justice system. They talk a good show, but they have no intention of taking on a vicious gang in any serious way. They have families, and a gang that has no conscience about selling children has no conscience about threatening a cop’s family. Frankly, I understand the concern. We, on the other hand, are invisible.”
I see McKenzie following the stock transactions as they scroll by, her right hand is over the desk palm down, fingers curl under then back out, not fast or slow, just under, out, under out. I move to the side, now I can see the desktop. A pencil rolls forward when she straightens her fingers, back when she curls them. She stops, enters a buy order for a thousand shares of MSFT, gets an instantaneous confirmation. 
I watch, four minutes, five, she enters a sell, the stock is up seventy cents. Gets another confirmation. She nets six hundred forty bucks. The pencil starts rolling again while she waits on a fresh opportunity. 
I’m living in a science fiction novel.
Now she’s dropped the pencil game and has her elbows resting on the desktop, palms facing each other. Her index finger are bent towards each other. A visible spark, like a mini lightning bolt, comes from her left fingertip, shoots to the right fingertip, then a second bolt shoots from the right to the left.
It’s fascinating to see, I stand mesmerized. Out of the blue she quits, enters a sell short order for ten thousand shares of JPS. The confirm pops up, thirty seconds passes, a buy to cover twenty cents less than the sell price. Seventeen hundred seventy dollars to the good. Crazy.
She stands, “McKenzie made two thousand four hundred ten dollars,” turns and walks out of the office.
Natalie comes in, “She’s had enough for one day?”
“I guess, she made near twenty five hundred on two trades. A normal day is fifteen hundred to two. Have you seen her energy tricks?”
Nat smiles, “Now what?”
I recount the pencil and the electric fingers.
“When she was rolling the pencil, were there the same shots of electricity?”
“No, there was nothing but bending fingers and a rolling pencil.”
“Curious, two kinds of energy, one visible, one not. I’d ask what’s going on, but that goes noplace.”
We return to the main room, Mickey is outside swimming with Zackary, McKenzie strips off her shirt and legging and dives in. Zelda parks on the steps, Burma leaps off the edge and lands on Zelda’s back. She can’t see over the mastiffs giant head so she leans left to look past, then right, left, right, left, right. If it’s bothering Zelda she doesn’t do anything about it. I’ve concluded nothing bothers Zelda unless there’s a threat to the kids.
Zoe C, “What’s lunch?”
“Pulled pork poboys, tonight is fried catfish, oysters and shrimp, with shredded red cabbage, carrots and Goddess dressing.”
“Yum, Elle may orgasm when she hears.”
Elle comes from upstairs, “I’m getting an orgasm? Lucky me, when?”
Zoe C recaps lunch and dinner offerings.
“Ooohh, gets one tingly anyway, can I do anything?”
“Find a spot on the patio and watch the kids motorboat, want a beer?”
Double yesses, they go to the patio table, I crack open three, pour them into insulated tumblers from the freezer, squeeze in lemon slices and take them to the table.
Natalie steps out, “Chef, I’m off to lunch, meeting a prospect with a fresh ten million just waiting to be invested. Be back by two or two thirty, she’s in Thousand Oaks and I may have to dance around traffic.”
“She?”
“Yep, and she likes the fact that a she is running the money. Her name is Grace Gardner, an attorney, a bit of corporate and a load of defense work.”
“I’ve heard of her, didn’t she do a big bucks harassment case recently?”
Natalie laughs, “She does a harassment case practically every week, and she gets ultra-fat settlements, no hundred thirty grand Stormy Daniels junk. If Stormy had Grace for counsel, she’d have walked away a millionaire.”
“Remind me not to harass you.”
Natalie leans over and kisses my cheek, “I’ll sue if you don’t harass me. See you later.”
I figure that’s a threat I can live with. My phone dings.
“Chef, I got names for those two organizations in Chicago. Ten on the Salvadoran side, eight on the Russian side. There are others but they’re gofers, deliver drugs, collect money, run prostitutes, at least on the Salvadoran side. The Russians don’t have street whores, they run high end escorts. Same job, different class of customer. Other than escorts, they have a couple of strip clubs and a nightclub, one of those strobe light and girls in cages things.”
“Good work, send details to the site.”
“Will do, and….”
“You’re out of it, nobody knows your name, you exist in another dimension.”
“Pleasure working with the best.”
We click off. 
The kids are out of earshot, “One Russian gang, the other Salvadoran. I have the names, or will have when I check the site.”
Elle, “Wouldn’t the two know a name, who bought the child, at least an ethnicity?
Russians don’t look like Salvadorans.”
“Right, the next step is to get one of the two to describe the buyer.”
“What if they claim the girl wasn’t sold, was abducted, that’s surely their defense, girl is gone, no body has turned up.”
“The man tortured the boy until he died, the woman was present and complicit. Her direct participation remains unclear. She will doubtless claim she was afraid of the man. That the girl was conveniently abducted around the time he’s torturing the boy makes no sense, that part is just bullshit.” 
“Understood, but then she can also say she never saw any buyer.”
My lips scrunch, I see the problem, constant deflection, ‘it wasn’t me, the bad man did everything, I was a victim too.’
“I’m going to make a call. Right now both of them are in jail, not prison. Prison happens when they’re convicted. I can’t fathom that the local cops haven’t pressured one or the other into a name, at least a description. They can try the abduction defense but it’s stupidly lame considering what they did to the boy.”
“Are you sure it’s one or the other gang?”
“No, my sources think that’s what happened. In fact, they believe she may have been sold before the boy killed. None of it is certain.”
“My dilemma is, we go out and start picking off gang members, which means we have to capture one, haul him off and convince him to talk.”
“And what if he has no knowledge of the girl?”
I ponder the dilemma, “We capture one of the names from the second gang, same drill. If I had to pick one, I go with Salvadorans, the Russians operate a different sort of prostitution ring, a kid does nothing for them…unless…”
“What”
“They were simply a conduit, buy the girl, sell her immediately for a profit.”
Zoe C, “Christ, this tangle may be impossible to unravel.”
“Only if neither the woman nor the man talks.”
“How does that happen?”
I shrug, “Before we start gang wars in Chicago, we have to wait out the trial unless the DA manages to turn one against the other. And it doesn’t matter who did the actual torture, the woman was there, she’s complicit. I don’t care about her alleged fear. She should have smashed a cast iron pan on his skull. No jury on the planet would convict her of murdering her boyfriend…it was self defense, for her and protecting the boy.”
Zoe C isn’t happy, she wants to take it out on everyone, but she’s not irrational and sees that waiting is all we have without more information.

One Hundred

Natalie returns at two forty, “I was going to send Zelda to track you down.”
“I got the money, wasn’t even a sales pitch, we hardly talked about investments, she just wanted to meet me in person. I don’t talk about my fund anyway other than a paragraph concerning the kinds of companies I’m looking for. Owners who want to cash out but keep running the company. I’m not buying any company only to have to supply new management, if I like the company, it’s because of the management.”
“I should think they find it flattering, and eliminates the possibility of a takeover by some outfit they can’t stand.”
“I would never do a hostile takeover, they want in or they don’t. Anyway, I asked most of the questions, about her legal career. She is a ball buster and takes great pride in the label. All of her juniors and staff are women. Her revenue is steady to gynormous. She didn’t broach the subject, but my radar says she may want to sell her practice to me.”
“Something she said?”
“Implied, the complications of difficult and lengthy legal challenges along with partner and staff management. She’s bumping up on sixty, looks good but the work must be grueling. She talked about backing off of her direct representation in cases, bringing her considerable skills to pure management and leaving the legal negotiations to her subordinates. She even said, ‘I trained them, they’re good, maybe better than me, bitchy bulldogs all.’ 
The fact is, she’s got so much work she can’t personally handle anything but the majors. The problem with that is, they’re hugely time consuming and can involve weeks out of the office. She says she loses touch with the other smaller but equally important cases.”
“My bet is six months to a year, your fund owns a legal practice.”
She grins, “And do you have any idea of the impact of such a powerhouse throwing in with me?”
“Any new prospects, companies I mean?”
“Almost done with a scooter outfit. Electric scooters that look like, what? Razor scooters but with more tire and a fatter standing surface. Perfect for the city, no outrageous parking fees, nimble, easy to maneuver. The usual problem with open air vehicles, weather. Doesn’t seem to impede sales, which are brisk. They want money to expand into regular riding scooters, high end quality that can handle city or open road.”
“Maybe we should get a couple, for easy stuff, run to the bakery, small grocery purchases.”
“Yamaha makes good bikes, some of their scooters can brush up on eighty.”
Zoe C, “Elle and I will take a ride tomorrow and scope them out, don’t we need some extra license?”
“A written test, pass a certified motorcycle course, pay a fee of course. There’s a lesser scooter license, but it’s pointless. Same amount of paperwork, may as well get the grownup license.”
The kids have had enough swimming, they’re out and under the pool shower, then wrapped in big fluffy towels. Natalie and Zoe C herd them inside, up to their rooms to dry hair and dress.
Zackary comes down first. He’s always got his cane, but seldom actually uses it around the house anymore. Outside when they hike the property, he takes it, it’s a lot of property and full of small and large boulders. Mickey won’t let him forget his helmet, as far as I know he’s never fallen and banged his head. Like Murphy’s Law, that would only happen if he wasn’t wearing it.
Zoe C, “We should get a dog for Zak, Zelda has her paws full.”
“Get a Great Dane, slightly taller than the mastiff, bit heavier. Great guard dog, loyal like the mastiff. If you get a puppy, Zelda will be motherly, not jealous, and likely glad to have the help. And the Dane needs less vet maintenance than the wrinkly Neapolitan.”
“I’ll get online and see what’s what.”
Time to get busy with our fried seafood extravaganza, I go inside, look over at McKenzie. The kids are lined up on the mat, backs against the couch. The TV is on but I don’t know what they’re watching. 
As I arrange my seafood fry assembly line, I get a snout in the hip.
“I’ve got some for you Zelda, the seafood is raw, you have to wait until it’s cooked.”
I smile, Zelda’s throaty groan is pure drama. She can’t be hungry, McKenzie fed her an hour ago. Of course, with a dog her size, eating and actual hunger aren’t the same thing. She flops to the floor in case I mistakenly fumble a raw oyster.
McKenzie pulls her stool up, “You batter, McKenzie will fry. Oven is ready?”
“Yes, two hundred, keep the food warm without more cooking.”
Doesn’t matter if we do the fish or the shrimp first, so long as we do the oysters last. Once we let them drain on a stack of paper towels, they need to be served immediately.
The big girls file down from upstairs, showered and shampooed, a girl bouquet of fresh orchids. Nat and Ellie park on the couch, Zoe C handles the bar. Makes everyone’s cocktail preference, we’ll have beer with the seafood.
Between supplying McKenzie with battered shrimp and fish, I sip Russian Standard perfectly freezer cold over a stack of cracked ice.
“I promised Zelda a bite or two.”
McKenzie, “Two shrimp, two oysters.”
I set the table, this is an inside meal, with so many condiments, new potatoes and three kinds of seafood, it’s too much to haul to the patio table. 
Nat is at the island watching McKenzie’s laser focus, she looks over at me, “Ready?”
“Yep.”
She rounds up the others, I have the fried on platters, they can take whatever variety the like.
Mickey, “Zak, what do you what? There’s fried catfish, oysters, shrimp and those little potatoes.”
Zak, “Yes,” he grins and inhales the scents.
She makes a puddle of ketchup in the middle of the plate, circles that with fish, shrimp and a couple of oysters, all goldeny crisp.
Zak, “What’s the mushy one?”
Mickey, “A fried oyster, you have another but if you don’t like it I’ll take it.”
“Can I have a couple more?”
She smiles, “Sure,” she picks up the tongs and adds three.
We sip cold beer, dip fried food in our selected concoctions, ketchup, a dab of mayo and horseradish. There are fresh lemons slices to squeeze over the food, butter and sour cream for the potatoes. I boiled them, added a healthy dose of Zatarain’s liquid shrimp and crab boil. Gives plain potato an added Cajun kick.
Elle, “Chef even makes the lowly potato sexy, these are tasty, and Mac has her frying technique down, crunchy coating and grease free. Do we have enough for that other thing, the New Orleans breakfast from…what’s the restaurant?”
“Brennan’s, you mean Eggs St. Charles.”
“Yeah, that’s it.”
“McKenzie left six filets, heat them in the morning, crank out poached eggs and whip up Hollandaise.”
Zoe C, “Elle contemplates breakfast even as she gorges on dinner.”
Elle, “Mac must have, she saved pieces of catfish.”
“Oh please, Mac has to think ahead to make sure the pantry has what she needs, not to mention what to make. You just eat.”
“I’m demonstrating my appreciation to our chefs.”
I laugh, “Nice save. And don’t worry girls, if any of you gain an ounce, McKenzie will be quite direct, you may even get a special diet.”
“As much as we swim and gym, non-fat chance.”
She’s got a point, and they do use a load of energy during the day along with nineteen and twenty year old metabolisms.
“Nobody is getting plus sized, the three of you are what, size four? You’re all a long way from double digits.”
Mickey, “I don’t even have digits.”
We laugh, she’s a stick, but gymnastics is producing curves in legs, arms and a hard tummy.
Zackary, “Zoe C is going to teach me to dive.”
Mickey, “Just make sure there’s water in the pool.”
Zak’s turn to laugh, “You have a handicap, you need to see it. I can tell by the sound.”
He moves around the house like he’s sighted, if you didn’t know you couldn’t tell he’s blind. His eyes aren’t unusual, not frosted or out of synch. When he looks at you, it’s no different than any sighted person looking.
Mickey, “And he’s getting scary on our hikes, yesterday he ran and jumped on a boulder, no cane first, stuck the landing too, both on and off.”
Natalie, “That’s interesting, can you explain?”
Zackary, “I don’t know how it would work outside the compound, probably not at all. But I’ve hiked it so much, I’ve learned the sounds, the wind, the scents of different parts. It sort of comes together.”
“What, like, if it rains?”
“I’d get wet.”

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