Ninety Seven

The problem with killing them isn’t that we create a problem killing them. They’re scum and deserve it, slow and painful, but we would have to make the bodies disappear to avoid scrutiny. That doesn’t reassure the public since as far as anyone would know, the killers are still out there. Better to have the Mounties round up the dangerous criminals after an anonymous tip.
A hot shower later, we’re around the fireplace.
Sloane, “I didn’t even have to bite anyone,” Morshchiny is sitting next to her, she gives the mastiff a squeeze, “Morshchiny had that puke totally under control, good work girl.”
Kota B, “She is easy to train, her attention has attention.”
Nikko, “Probably shouldn’t have taken his ear, it’s going to be difficult for the police to explain.”
Janah, “They’ll figure out something, one of the others had a big knife for instance. They can say there was a scuffle going on when they arrived. The knife is toast though.”
Katya, “Laser hit mostly hand, anything on the knife can be chalked up to some other cause, banged on a rock for instance.”
Whatever story the police concoct will be believed. We’re out of it, nobody is going to take the word of four psychopaths, particularly about a samurai and a katana. 
I notice Oceane stroking Ellen’s elegant thigh, lucky girl. She whispers something, Ellen grins, she, Oceane and Cass stand and head to the stairs.
Oceane turns, “Sloane.”
Sloane’s turn to grin, she follows them up. Too bad I don’t mental with any of them, that’s a show I’d love to peek in on.
The evening passes quietly, the rest of us watch a detective program with a Sherlockian character and a female sidekick with a genius IQ. The children discovered a couple of holes in the plot, and a clothing change that made no sense, the woman got in a car in a blue skirt that miraculously changed to brown by the time she exited.
Amaya, “They shot the scene entering the car on one day, then the ride and exit on another, somebody fumbled the continuity ball. The bulk of the audience will never notice. The dialogue was good though, snappy without being cynical.”
Nadia, “The reason for the murder seemed lame.”
Amaya, “It was, who kills someone over an insult that took place twenty years ago?”
“Well, he did convince a girl that the insulted boy was gay, and took her for himself.”
“But he was gay, bi anyway. He did try to hide it. It was fiction, and as you pointed out, the repartee between the main characters was entertaining.”
Dasha, “Children will go to dorm now, you do not anyway haf to go to slip just yet. Kota B will tell you.”
“Da Mama, you and Mama Daria will be up?”
“Yes, maybe a few minutes.”
They rise as one and zip up the steps, Morshchiny and Kota B right behind. One thing you never have to persuade a mastiff to do is lay down, they’re experts.
Janah yawns, “Come along Daph, I need a cuddle, then sleep.”
Even with the excitement, or perhaps because of it, our cuddle lasts about ten minutes, then it’s blessed black until morning.
Days pass, blissful nothing, another hike to the falls, the children keep Morshchiny busy following them around the woods, Sloane’s wolf buddy trails along with them. I suppose the two animals bonded in the adventure.
Janah, “We’ve escaped detection, the four men gave a shot at an attack by a wolf and a dog. As we suspected, they avoided saying they were corralled by women, one a Japanese with a katana. They would be chalked up as lunatics as well as psychopaths. The Mounties played it smart, treated the injuries and kept them separated. They never got the chance to coordinate their stories and the police who interviewed them used that to feed them false versions. That Fontenot said X, but Cannon said Y and the two Rendells told it completely differently. In the end they were all completely confused.”
“What happens now?”
“Their DNA is all over the crime scene, including sperm, hair and clothing fibers. Blood sample on the knives match the victim’s blood, they have no defense. Canada doesn’t have the death penalty, they’ll spend the rest of their lives in a cell. I understand the intention is to put them in four different prisons across the country.”
“If I was doomed to life in a cell, I’d want to be executed I think.”
“I have no plans to find out. We need to get back to Malibu though, Grace B thinks there’s Shadow activity.”
“In Malibu?”
“No, I’m not clear where, we have a video confab in an hour, we can take it in the office, you, me, Nikko, Daria and Dasha, no point in involving the others until we have something more concrete.”
An hour later, we’re in the office with cups of coffee or tea, Grace B is on the screen, we see her through one of the home cams. On another screen is a video.
Grace B, “You are watching an elderly woman, Alice Davis, entering a local bank branch. Notice the carry-all folded under her arm.”
The screen jumps, “Now Alice Davis is leaving the bank, notice the carry-all is full. In it is fifteen thousand dollars in twenties, and the contents of a safe deposit box. What used to be in the box according to Davis is something in the neighborhood of  twenty thousand dollars worth of American Eagles and two hundred grand worth of various jewelry, most of the pieces include diamonds, sapphires, other valuable gemstones. In and of itself, it doesn’t imply Shadows. However, it is the fifth in a series along the west coast. Older woman goes to a bank, withdraws cash and empties a safe deposit box. They have no recollection of going to the bank at all, much less taking out cash and valuables.”
Janah, “Time frame?”
“Last six months.”
“And the jewelry and gold are nowhere around.”
“Of course not.”
“What do the cops have it chalked up to?”
“First three were spread all over, Oregon to San Diego, nobody matched up one and the other. The fourth was in San Francisco and a detective there recalled similar theft reports, bank, safe deposit box, old lady, no memory of the bank or of handing anything over. At first, just briefly, they went with old people, memory problems and coincidence. The detectives’ motto, not investigating is easier than investigating.”
“But too many similar threads to ignore.”
“Even for the constabulary. Someone thought to test for drugs, but the prior three had time for any drugs to clear the system. They got Davis to agree to be tested, nothing suspicious. She takes blood pressure meds, statins, despite research that says they are useless for seniors. In any case, there were no other significant drug traces, nothing that would make her robotic or obedient. The other women were interviewed, common meds for older people, one is diabetic, one woman refused to answer.”
Nikko, “It doesn’t matter, they weren’t controlled by any drug.”
Grace B, “Agreed.”
“So, what do we do? We can’t watch every old lady that goes into a bank.”
Grace B, “Banks have been notified to ask questions. The patterns are the same, a cash withdrawal under the reporting requirements, which used to be ten thousand but has moved up to twenty. No one but the owner knew what was in the boxes.”
“Any leads from the banks? Once they got a heads up?”
“One. Undercover police followed the woman home. She met with no one on the way. They knocked on the door, explained why, she had everything, cash, in this case the safe deposit box was light, bit of jewelry, a will, an expired passport. She also seemed confused, unable to explain how any of it had wound up on her dining room table.”
“The Shadow then, if it’s a Shadow, got suspicious and waited to see if anyone followed her. He may have been doing that all along.”
Daria, “Now we have a different problem.”
“What?”
“He’s figured out banks are on alert, he’s going to drop the activity, or maybe move it further east, or maybe adopt a completely new strategy.”
“I see your point. There’s nothing we can do about it until some other scheme shows up.”
Daria, “Maybe. I think we examine the patterns, what if any commonalities did the victims have besides being seniors. The police may have done some of for us. Grace B, can you dig into what they have done so far?”
She’s quiet, which means she’s searching police reports, summaries of interviews, anything a cop stuck in a file.
Then she’s back, all of thirty seconds has passed, “No personal relations, no family relations, no business or financial advisor relations in common. One woman in San Diego mentioned her astrological readings, that she should have been careful as her moon was in Saturn or some nonsense. The detective wrote it up as a kind of joke.”
“You have the names of all the victims.”
“Duh, do you think I’m as dumb as Watson, only good for crushing humans at chess or Go?”
“That was a long time ago, Watson is doing surgery now.”
“Cut and fucking paste, a moron can do that crap. You want me to find out if they were all into astrology, hang on bitches.”
Grace B is not going to head up HR anytime soon.
“Ta fucking da. Yes, all five, and not part timers, attendance at conventions, one of them throws charts. Pay attention, that is what is called a lead. Now to find out if they crossed paths…..I checked attendance lists at the last three big gatherings, two were there, not the others. No sense that they had any dealing with each other and neither was the astrologer.”
Janah, “If one victim was an astrologer it’s not likely the women were sucked by an astrologer.”
“You mean a professional astrologer isn’t going to consult another astrologer.”
“Exactly, why would they? They might chat up at gatherings, but not for consultations.”
Dasha, “Astrology ees bullsheet, what ees professional about it?”
Janah, “The definition of professional anything is someone who gets paid. They don’t have to be good, or even competent, if you get paid for your time, you’re a professional, if you don’t, you’re an amateur or hobbyist. A kid at the supermarket checkout is a professional.”
“Da, okay, I am understanding. Katya ees professional assassin, when we keel Shadowy peersons, we are amateur assassins.”
“Good point. We’re also highly competent amateur assassins.”
“I weel pay you one dollar for every Shadow you keel, you will pay me a dollar, then we will be also professional.”
“Problem solved.”
Nikko, “So now that we’re professionals, how do we go about professionally tracking down whoever is jerking around old ladies?”
“Remember when Janah played a gypsy called Vedona and convinced a Black Widow her dead husbands were making her see visions? It was before Dasha and Daria.”
Nikko, “Was I even around?”
“No, we were young, before the temple even. Dr. Epstein was consulted by the police, frustrated that the woman had killed of three husbands and they couldn’t pin it on her. Janah looked at the interviews and figured out something was strange about her demeanor, but there was still no hard evidence, she had excuses or alibis for each. Turns out it wasn’t murder that lit her fuse, she got turned on by being suspected. She was practically orgasmic while she was being questioned. We had her followed everywhere, bugged her condo, audio and video. Then Sis and I rearranged the video and ran it on her computer. We co-opted her email. Like lots of people, she talked to herself when she was alone at home, and lots of her self-talk was about her stupid husbands and the stupid police. Our reenactments had her saying what she said at home to the clerk at the dry cleaners, or we made it seem like she was nude in the grocery store. The rest was a piece of cake. Janah posed as a gypsy, told her she was in mortal danger, the spirits of her dead husbands were going to torment her forever. In the end, terrified, she agreed to attend a church every day, pray for forgiveness and donate a hundred grand a year to any charity she wanted. Only then would the spirits leave her in peace. As I recall, there was also a caveat of no more husbands, or even men in her life. Essentially, she became a nun without a habit. The Society followed her around for a couple of years, she was never quite the same, kind of batty but harmless.”

Ninety Eight

“Okay, theft by astrology, but not by an astrologer.”
Janah, “We can’t assume it isn’t another astrologer, probably not a pro, but it has to be someone who speaks the jargon. Have you heard two of them in conversation? It’s like a foreign language.”
“An alien one, from Mars, with Venus rising.”
“An actual quote from a talk, ‘we'll explore the significance and practical application of antiscia – a symmetrical technique and way of looking at the chart. Antiscia and contra-antiscia are points reflected equidistant around the cardinal axis or Aries point, the solstice and equinox points. Favored by Uranian astrologers and used by Hellenistic, Persian, and Medieval astrologers, planets in antiscia indicate connection and undeniable expression in the world.’ Sounds right.”
“What’s an antiscia?”
“A planet that shadows another planet or an astrological sign that shadows its counter sign.”
“Shadows again.”
“According to Wiki, a planet can receive a transit, progression, or direction from another planet, and this is said to bring about covert kinds of events—backroom meetings, secret doings, discreet happenings. Whenever a planet's antiscion is aspected by transit or progression, it indicates that something that is hidden or working behind the scenes will occur in the life of the person.”
“Interesting convergence of shadow and Shadow.”
“All kinds of things are behind the scenes in people’s lives, including the subconscious, group influences, partial or incomplete memories, ‘something hidden’ is meaningless jargon.”
Daria, “To the point, attendees at the conventions is a place to start, are there a lot of bodies to comb through?”
Grace B, “Eight conferences around the world last year, only two in California of any size. In California, there is also the Southern California Astrological Network, in Oregon the Oregon Astrological Association. There is a merchandise site for the California Astrology Association, in case you need spells, charms, or voodoo dolls.”
“I make my own voodoo.”
“They have contacts listed?”
“Yes, which means they have membership lists, give me a minute….our San Diego victim attends, Rose Laurel.”
“How many members?”
“Four hundred and a few. I have to check Oregon.”
“Search them all, maybe a few stand out as odd.”
“They believe the stars control destiny, they are all odd.”
“You know what I mean. Try the obvious, elderly woman, no husband, who is she most likely to be suckered by?”
“A man.”
“Yep. But if this is Shadow activity, it could be a genteel old woman. The last would be a young person, female, pretending to value the advice of someone with a deeper knowledge of astrology, looking for a mentor.”
Grace B, “So the whole list? That narrows the crap out of it.”
Janah giggles, “Start with the men, I doubt there are many of them, astrology is a female thing.”
We break up for lunch, Ellen made tomato soup with leftover grilled crappie.
Ellen, “Any progress?”
I replay the discussion for the others.
Sarah, “These guys think of more ways to screw with people, at least it isn’t child abuse. And it seems like a lot of trouble to steal money from old ladies.”
Janah, “It’s not about the money, it’s about screwing with people. Cause someone to cough up money and valuables by messing with their minds. If the Shadow is this talented, there are far simpler ways to get people to give him or her money, they don’t have to mingle with the astrology crowd.”
Mani, “Well, they’re already gullible…like they come prepackaged.”
“True, but Janah’s right, our experience is it’s about the misery they create. Until the detective looked into similar victims, they were willing to write it off to senility. The family, if there is one, thinks mom or gran is starting to lose it, the poor old dear starts to wonder herself. She’s enjoying her hobby, it doesn’t matter if it’s delusional, lots of stuff people do is delusional, religion for instance. Then along comes the Shadow and she’s robbed without knowing how or why.”
We leave it there for now, time to prep the house for shutdown, we fly to Malibu tomorrow. 
Just before tea, Grace B calls the five of us for another meeting, “Something screwy that got overlooked. One victim said she noticed her bank account had been cleaned out because a debit was denied. That was Tuesday the twenty fifth. You will recall that they do not remember going to the bank at all. The bank of course had the record of the cash withdrawal, which was on the prior Friday.”
“So she didn’t use a card until Tuesday.”
“Actually, it was a credit card auto-payment, but the outcome was the same, it was denied. That is not the point however. This was the woman in Oregon, Portland. The second woman was in Ventura, the third in San Diego. The San Diego victim made her withdrawal on the same day, within an hour of the Portland victim. Ventura was a week later, San Francisco not quite week after that.”
Daria, “Then it isn’t one Shadow, he can’t be in Portland and San Diego on the same day, not within an hour.”
“Exactly. You have at least two involved.”
Janah, “Or more. And now that the astrology lady scam isn’t operable, what do they get up to next?”
Nikko, “Put the search program on alert for any unusual financial transactions on the west coast. Individuals, business transactions aren’t out of the question, but I say stick with individuals first. It will have to be something that doesn’t involve going to the bank.”
Daria, “Better hope Shadow does not understand virtual currency. If they clean out an account and make the victim send money to a virtual site, tracking it is a bitch.”
“And it accomplishes the same misery component without the aggravation of selling off jewelry or gold coins.”
Nikko, “So how do we stop it?”
“Prowl the conventions, and association meetings and see if a Shadow shows up.”
Janah, “Tedious maybe, but I see no alternative, I don’t know, might be fun. Maybe I’ll get my chart thrown and find out I’m really straight but my antiscion Daphne is messing with me.”
“If you’re straight then the sun circles the Earth and we’ve gotten it all wrong.”
Nikko, “Cut the crap, when is the next one of these things? Zi and Chloe will have to go, with appropriate backup.”
“A Shadow will spot Zi and Chloe is famous. I also doubt she wants to give cred to an astrology meeting by showing up. We’ll have to disguise her. I should go as well, two Shaolin might confuse a Shadow and give us an edge.”
“That leaves Janah and the twins as the only other ones that can recognize a Shadow.”
“Then Daria, Dasha and Janah mingle, the rest of us will lurk outside as attendees enter and exit.”
Janah, “And we don’t want a confrontation, just identify and track the Shadow, we want the other one, or ones. If you can stick a tracker on the car, good, if not, get the make and plate, we can find him or her later.”
“Drones are troublesome in the city, we fly it low it can be spotted, altitude risks getting into aircraft airspace.”
“Don’t worry about drones until we have a location to surveil, just follow them by car.”
We break up, I go to find Amaya, the twins, Chloe and Zi. The first lecture in Portland is in a week, Emma B will take care of signing up Janah and the twins under fabricated names. 
I relate our strategy, then, “Amaya, inside girls and Chloe need a solid disguise, Zi and I can do our own disguise lite.”
“Got it, they will not recognize themselves, when do we travel?”
“Thursday, the meeting is Friday evening.”
“Travel in disguise…no, no point, they would have to wear the stuff all day Thursday and Friday for a Friday night event. I will take care of it just prior. It will be amusing to see Dasha as an astrology airhead. Kota B will teach them the jargon, it will be educational for the children.”
Her Magnificence leaves to inform Kota B of her project, the rest of us off to various duties. Mine is to help Dasha plot dinner.
“We will haf filet steak wiz marching sauce, Ellen will make, you will grill. I am for creamy speenach and maybe potato. What do you think, baked, scalloped, gahrlik mash?”
“Garlic mashed sound right with marchand du vin. French bread. Any dessert?”
“Een oven, devil’s food cake wiz marshmallow top and hard chocolate shell.”
“You’re going to be the family heroine.”
“Ellen’s idea, she saw your recipe on computing file, from a long time ago.”
“I used to make that for the Epsteins, it can be tricky, get the shell on without it cracking up.”
“Ees for Ellen to try, recipe ees specific, she ees excellent chef. Steaks are in refrigerating wiz marinade already. Time now for tea.”
Girls are circling, today is an elegant Chinese green long leaf.
Janah, “Tea is lovely, are there sweets?”
“No, butter crackers and a mild Havarti. We’re having a special dessert tonight.”
“Give me a clue.”
“Epstein.”
“Yay, chocolate marshmallow cake, can I dessert before dinner?”
“No, but you can find a way to show your appreciation to Ellen later.”
Janah grins.

Ninety Nine

We’re in Portland, checked into the Hotel Lucia, two bedroom , two bath Gallery Suite for the twins, Amaya and Chloe. Janah and I are in one Junior Suite, king bed also two baths, high ceilings, feels roomy and comfortable. Nikko and Zi are in a second Junior Suite. The Gallery Suite has a dining table, wet bar and fireplace. We can meet there with lots of elbow room.
Nikko came along because she’s protective of us. We’re potentially dealing with Shadows and Shadows are dangerous. They hate Shaolin, and would kill Zi or me without hesitation. Fortunately, they are also full of themselves, which means they like to jawbone first. If you’re going to kill someone, kill them, don’t waste breath on a speech beforehand.
We didn’t fly out until noon, had a light lunch on the plane, only a two hour flight and no time zone change.
Amaya, “Nice suite, suitable for Chloe, who is accustomed to adjusting her simplistic needs to my exquisite ones. Chloe would be happy in a Motel 6.”
Nikko, “Chloe would be happy in a box on skid row, she’s incapable of unhappy.”
Chloe comes from the bedroom, “This place is lovely, and there’s a ton of room.”
Amaya, “Which bedroom do you want Commies?”
Dasha, “Ees no important, we are travel, you will slip wiz one sister, Chloe the other, we will haf sexy time, then find Shadow and keel.”
Chloe, “Succinct, I’m on board.”
Amaya says to Chloe, “They’re identical, I suppose it doesn’t matter which crazy Cossack we bunk with.”
Chloe, “They can decide later, surprise us so to speak.”
Janah and I park luggage and join them in the Gallery Suite.
“Nice digs, satisfactory?”
Amaya, “Not home, but nothing is. All in all, first class, home is ultra first. What shall we do for dinner?”
Janah, “Imperial, here in the hotel. I checked the menu, enough variety, we don’t have to drag ourselves someplace. In the morning we can check out the venue for the lecture, wander around Portland. Need to allow for Chloe and Zi to get an early read on attendees.”
“We’ll go at five thirty, an hour and a half prior, You and the twins show up just before.”
Amaya, “I need an hour and a half to make up the attendees.”
“Okay, twenty minutes to the venue, arrive a few minutes to seven, you do disguise starting at five. The rest of us can do with odds and ends, big sunglasses, watch caps, ball caps, fedoras, dull baggy clothes.”
Zi, “What happens if we spot a Shadow, I mean right off, like when they go in?”
“We photo and send the picture to Janah and the twins, they can verify the dark aura when they locate the target inside. Then we wait. If we get lucky and catch him getting out of a car, we can tag it with a GPS, otherwise we follow when he or she leaves.”
Janah, “We may be chasing nothing, since the bank game is over, they may have moved on to other opportunities. I’m gambling on astrology because they had success there. They may also have figured out the same thing we did, that even the normally dull police might have made the astrological connection and will abandon that as an avenue for victims.”
Nikko, “Shadows have unwarranted self confidence, plus the police don’t have infinite time or resources to stake out a series of astrology conferences or talks on a hunch.”
“Yes, and that’s what we hope, the Shadows stick to the playing field they’ve taken time to understand.”
Diner at Imperial is excellent, a nice variety of steak and seafood, plenty of vegetable options. Raw oysters, fettuccine, Nikko demolished a rib eye, the twins split one, fried chicken, grilled mushrooms, a sampling of Oregon brews on tap, we’re good to go.
Back in the big suite, drinkers have a Cognac, Zi and I have sparkling water, even after so many years, we still honor our Shaolin vow about intoxicants. Good thing they didn’t include my personal intoxicant, Janah, I’d have had to break that vow while we were still in the temple. Now I have a bevy of girl intoxicants. 
Zi and Nikko go off the their room, Janah and I to ours, we leave Amaya, Chloe and the twins to get up to girl follies in whatever combo they decide. I can be in either of the twins’ heads, or Amaya’s, tonight I skip it and focus on Janah. She gets extra warm in a luxury hotel, I think we steamed the windows.
This morning, we keep it simple, same restaurant for breakfast, typical American, eggs to order, potatoes, crispy bacon, the twins add an order of pastrami hash which is tasty, so we got a second. 
We meet downstairs at ten and take off to pass by the meeting site, then tour around Portland. The talk will be held at a downtown hotel, the Hotel Monaco, we park and take a walk through the lobby.
“Upscale place.”
Chloe, “Zi and I need to take a look outside, find a spot to observe people going in and out.”
“I’ll go with them, cruise spots with a vantage point of the entrance.”
They come out ten minutes later.
Janah, “Two talks half hour each starting at seven. It’s a reservation thing, chairs are set for a hundred. There’s an open bar afterwards, light hors d'oeuvres, our ticket price was a hundred bucks per, it isn’t for impoverished astrologers.”
Nikko, “If the Shadows are looking for suckers, this is the place.”
“There’s a bank across the street, it will be in the evening after the bank closes, but the atrium has ATMs, couple of us can hang there and pretend to be staring into a phone. Next door is a cosmetics place, upscale, open until eight.”
Amaya, “I’ll be with Chloe and critique the ridiculous and useless creams and lotions. Then I’ll buy a few hundred dollars worth, Chloe and Janah are total suckers for beauty crap.”
“Good, just don’t distract her, she’s looking for Shadows. Zi and I will diddle around the bank atrium. If anyone comes in to hit the ATM we can jabber in Chinese. Nishiko needs to patrol the area. If Chloe spots a Shadow, Amaya can mental me, I can mental Nikko. If Zi does, same deal in reverse, plus I can clue in Janah and the twins. Given the location, photos may be difficult. I suspect most participants will come on public transportation or hire cars, like Uber. Parking downtown is a bitch and expensive. Portland discourages private cars.”
Janah, “Our cars need to be available, not stuck in some lot waiting on a dweeb to fetch it.”
“Not a problem, we’re going to park on the street nearby, Nikko will monitor the cars. If the parking police come by, she’ll flash a Homeland Security badge, they’ll go away.”
Janah, “When did you get a badge?”
“I haven’t yet, Grace B is concocting an ID, a legitimate one, it will be at the hotel when we return. Nikko is officially a secret agent, her name is Samantha Urai, she goes by Sam Urai.”
Nikko, “You are a strange mammajamma.”
Amaya, “That is news? You have known her for decades.”
Nikko shrugs, “She gets stranger all the time.”
“I have to, Janah keeps expanding the family, one that can levitate, one wolf girl, twins that can lift a Humvee, a water baby that gets instructions from floating pencils and children that travel the multiverse.”
“You have a point. So, what now?”
“Let’s ride around, when we get hungry we can take pot luck on lunch, maybe at one or two, after dinner last night and breakfast this morning, we may only need caffeine.”
Amaya, “Good idea, I’ll drive.”
We have a fat electric SUV, it glides near silently. Portland is inland, the nearest connection to the Pacific is Cannon Beach, about eighty miles west. We have a home overlooking the Pacific, no need to get another view. I won’t bother you with a travel tour, suffice it to say we took in the Columbia River Gorge, about fifteen miles east, spent a pleasant hour gawking at the falls then returned to tool around the rest of Portland. 
Janah, “I’m feeling doughnutty,” she flips around the phone, “Coco Donuts is a mile away, take a left here Amaya.”
We load up on a variety, coffee and tea and hop the three miles back to our hotel.
Nikko picks at a chocolate cake, if she eats more than three nibbles she’s gorging.
I, on the other hand, am halfway thru a vanilla crème filled glaze, they did it right, it isn’t overstuffed, enough to add a sweet gooey without the filling gushing out all over the place.
Janah finishes off a sugar twist, “Pretty good considering we go them late in the day. I wonder what Katja’s take would be?”
Amaya, “Katya Donut may be the finest on the planet. I hope the people she sold it to are maintaining the quality.”
“Katya sold it and left them alone, she hasn’t talked to Maria or the others in years. Maria would be in her forties by now.”
Zi, “If Katya and Katja showed up looking the same as when they left Houston, Maria would have a heart attack.”
“That’s why they don’t keep in contact, and I think they changed the name over ten years ago, it’s Maria’s now. She’s probably got five kids by now.”
We take an hour and change to chill, the evening may go quickly or be a long night. At five, Amaya is doing makeup and hairstyle changes to Janah, then the twins. Daria will be the tall one tonight, three inch platforms, Dasha in sneakers. Janah’s hair is dull brown, she plops in color contacts that morph her sparkly blues to flat brown, she and Daria will wear lightly tinted glasses. In a burst of inspiration, Amaya fits Dasha with an eye patch.
“You’re officially a pirate, too bad we don’t have a parrot.”
Chloe, “She looks mysterious, dangerous even.”
Amaya, “She is dangerous without the patch.”


One Hundred

We take our places outside the Hotel Monaco, Zi and me in the bank atrium, Amaya and Chloe walk the street up and down, window shop, they can’t spend two hours in the cosmetics store. Chloe is in a long dress, headscarf and biggie sunglasses, we don’t need our resident star recognized. Amaya’s famous as an author, screenwriter and producer, and she’s had bits in a couple of her films, but she’s not face famous like Chloe. She is, however, stunning, so she’s put touches of eye shadow and dark blush to drab herself up. Her blondness is in a ponytail, head half covered by a common watch cap.
Amaya, “It is almost impossible for me to be plain, but I got fairly close.”
“A ratty overcoat and you could be a bag lady.”
“Oh please, I would make bag lady the new Versace.”
Amaya isn’t short on self esteem or self confidence, in her case she’s proven to be worthy of both.
Time passes, the first hour is zip, I see Amaya and Chloe pass on the opposite side of the street and go into the cosmetics shop. It’s not just cosmetics, it’s one of those lotion, bath oil, high end shampoo boutiques. I’m certain everything is natural, organic and fair trade, we’re in Portland after all. I’m also certain you can’t get anything for twenty bucks except a patronizing smile from the ‘aesthetician’.
At six, a hire car pulls up, not a ride hail, more like town car. A man steps from the rear door street side, walks around and opens the rear door on the pedestrian side. A woman exits, I guess, it could be a potted plant, she’s barely taller than the roof of the car. Mostly I see what appears to be a flower arrangement on her head.
Zi giggles, “That is a hat.”
“It’s an entire florist shop, it must be nailed to her head.”
Zi flips through her phone, up pops the site for tonight’s talks, “She’s billed as Azalea Starlight, good gravy.”
I click on the direct line to Grace B, she pops up onscreen, “I knew you could not function without me.”
“Find out the deal with an astrologer named, don’t laugh, Azalea Starlight.”
I see her face break up, “Wait, I have to include Emma B,” another screen appears.
Emma B, “Azalea Starlight, you surely jest.”
“We never looked at who the speakers are. Now I need to know who in hell calls themselves Azalea Starlight. Let’s see, who is speaker number two?”
Zi, “Boring, a lightweight physicist named Eric Paul.”
Emma B, “Azalea Starlight is Helga Frobisher, failed author, failed healer, never married, the woman with all the cats, has wandered the woo-woo community for thirty years. Got a reasonable following in the astrology game, has lived the last few years on her two reasonably correct guesses, a close Presidential election and the eventual success and ultimate demise of a child star who went on to do a couple of major films. Almost made it to twenty one when he went out in a burst of flames on the Pacific Coast Highway doing one fifty in a Lamborghini.”
“That a child star comes to a bad end is almost a given.”
Grace B, “Eric Paul, undergraduate degree in physics, lasted a semester in grad school, was tossed for proposing a thesis on astral projection. Since then, he’s wandered the wilderness of noetic conferences, those science and spirituality things, consciousness confabs and the astrology circuit.”
“Well, he does have a goatee.”
Grace B, “Practically a fucking PhD then.”
The stars of  the astrology show disappear into the hotel, we watch. People are starting to appear in a trickle, Janah and the twins show up and go in. Now Chloe and Zi are shut down except for intense focus on every person they can get their eyes on. Cars pull up, more people filter into the hotel, pedestrians pass and enter.
Zi, “The man, tall, dark hair and a beard, long over coat, you see?”
“Yeah, guy must go six-six and still not hit two hundred.”
“He’s dark as it gets.”
I mental Janah and the twins, “Ichabod Crane, long coat, dark hair.”
Janah, “I have him.”
Dasha, “Where ees…never mind, he ees tallest een room.”
It’s quarter to seven, show’s starting promptly at seven if you believe the blurb.
Amaya gets in my head, “A woman closing on the hotel entrance, absurd jacket hangs to her butt two sizes too big and a skirt so short she makes yours look demure.”
I haven’t worn miniscule skirts for a decade or more, but Amaya never forgets, “Got her,” I’m back on our ethernet, “Female, short black hair, big leather jacket, tiny skirt, nice legs, like a mildly Goth fashion model.”
Daria, “I have her, she knows the tall one, but they are intentionally keeping their distance. The glance of recognition was obvious.”
“Amaya, make sure Chloe keeps at it, let’s not assume only two.”
“She hasn’t left the window.”

“Zi, stay with it until the program is fifteen or twenty along, I’m going for a stroll, if there’s another Shadow, maybe I can stir the pot.”
I take a walk down the block, cross the street and up to the hotel. I pass the entrance and go in the boutique. Amaya has two bags, large ones.
“We couldn’t hang here and not buy something.”
“Janah and Chloe will have fun with it, how much damage did you do?”
“Not bad, just under seven hundred.”
Nikko will have a field day, maybe not, Amaya will have spent her own money on it, she’s made kazillions in the movie and book biz. She buys all our clothes and accessories, refuses to take payment. She also buys all the children’s outfits on her dime. Nikko shifts assets into Amaya’s name once in a while, conveniently forgets tell her. It doesn’t really matter, our money pile is massive all over the ledgers, it’s just Nishiko’s way. Amaya knows she does it and would never say anything, but she’s as meticulous about finances as Nikko. She looks after her book royalties, Chloe Couture revenue, and every dime of Chloe’s film royalties, Chloe has no idea how much money she has. That extra cash shows up in Amaya’s accounts out of the blue would never escape her sharp eye.
“I didn’t stir up anything on the street, Chloe?”
“Nada, there are unhappy people and happy ones, but no more Shadows.”
I go back to the bank, “Anything?”
Zi, “Nope, auras are all over the lot, but not Shadow auras. Unless they have a watcher, two is it.”
“Okay, and neither of them came in a car, so we’re going to have to sneak around them when the program is done. You and I have to keep our distance, twenty yards at least, thirty is better.”
Zi, ‘If two Shaolin priests can’t track someone from thirty yards, we need to start over as students.”
“True. Let’s see, we put you, Janah and Daria on the guy, Chloe, Dasha and me on the girl. Amaya will drive, Nikko should get out ahead of them, I can mental her if they change direction, get into a car or take the bus. All we do now is fiddle around until the show is over.”
I watch through Janah’s eyes, Nikko, Amaya and Chloe have joined Zi and me in the bank atrium. This time of night, there are few ATM customers, the couple who come and go pay us no attention. I fill them in on our upcoming surveillance.
I’m relating the scene, “Azalea is babbling about grand trines and glyphs, natal charts, orbs and part of fortune.”
She also manages to work in her two lucky guesses to remind the audience of her astrological bona fides. Wow, now there’s a slide on the screen, table for calculating planetary values.”
Amaya’s following the scene in my head, “Gee, makes it all look so exact.”
“Throw math on the screen, instant cred.”

Zi, “What is it?”
“Hard to describe, Grace B, put one up on the screen please.”
Blink, there it is, Zi, “Amaya’s right, it looks like science.”
Eric Paul takes the mike, Janah’s in the back of the room with her phone, the talk plays out to us. He trots out the same pseudoscience quack physicists cite since quantum physics became a thing. Spooky action at a distance and the two slit experiment, as if the behavior of energy on the quantum level somehow magically transfers to the Bayesian probabilities that govern cause and effect of matter and human behavior. Not an inch of progress has been made for thirty years, leaving me wondering how it is physicists of any caliber continue to make a living.
There’s a half hour of Q&A, then break out to the bar. Waiters trot out trays of canapés. Azalea Starlight is at a table offering to do charts for a mere fifty bucks. There are no takers. Janah’s video shows a smiling over rouged lady in a ridiculous hat bravely seated having desultory chat with the odd attendee. The price of admittance includes a signed copy of her book, nobody picks one up from the stack on the table.
The crowd is well to do, ninety percent women, the few men in attendance are being sought out by grinning piranha dowagers circling for the kill.
Janah is close enough to Ichabod to hear him charming two women, he’s talking house in the south of France, which opens the door to their exploits in world travel. He’s ferreting out details, favored hotels and restaurants. If they can talk upscale and luxury, they may prove to be worthy targets.
Goth has the ear of another well dressed elder, Daria just behind them. The conversation is different, Goth appears to be playing the astrology newbie while elder holds forth on her extensive knowledge of the power of the stars in her life. Questions elicit details of her experiences, answers demonstrate her ability to name drop and mention exclusive hotels and luxury travel, naturally all a consequence of her moon being in some juxtaposition with Cancer or Venus. Goth plays suitably amazed, gets a name and an offer to toss off a reading in the future. Whether Goth has captured elder’s mind, or is just a good actress we don’t know, but she now has a name and phone number. A bit of research will determine the woman’s potential.
After an hour, the lights dim, the bar closes, staff is gathering chairs. Food and drink disappear, the crowd along with it.
Janah, “You set?”
“Good to go, you guys hop in with Amaya, she’s out front. If they have a car waiting someplace, Amaya will follow.”
“What about the rest of you?”
“We’ll hail a hire car, you or Dasha can keep me posted on where you are. All we want for this evening is to know where these two wind up. You sent the photos to Grace B?”
“Yep, she’ll find them. Dasha also stole the wineglass Goth used, I have Ichabod’s cocktail glass. Soon enough, we’ll have prints and perhaps even DNA.”
“Dang, good work.”
“Daria thought of it.”


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