Chapter Seventeen

Housekeeping tends to do checkouts first, to get the rooms ready for new arrivals, then stay overs later in the day. It’s only eleven, carts are down the hall, we have time to work before they come knocking but I stick the Do Not Disturb on both doors anyway.
Janah’s on the IPad4 talking with Daria and reviewing what they’ve uncovered.
Daria, “Apartment is owned by a private company called Friendship LLC, Caribbean. No useful records, no other activity or business, no financials. Findley and Bishop photos are on screen. Underneath are real Findley and Bishop, both dead.”
“They bear a resemblance to our live ones, I assume they found dead guys, and are using their identities.”
Daria, “Men die within a week of each other, one in Baltimore, one in Detroit, they have no connection. Shadows kill them and take identity. Passport records show your Findley and Bishop spent ten years going from US to China and Tibet. Business travel sometimes, vacation travel sometimes. Long stays each trip. No documentation on where they went yet. We are hacking Chinese tourist bureau. Tibet doesn’t follow tourists around so much. We can find out how many times they cross the border if they went legally. They entered both countries legally, the file has entry and exit dates. We may find out where they went in China, but it was not so recent, fifteen years ago, records not so good.”
Janah, “That’s where they learned the skill no doubt.”
Daria, “Da. Eloise has idea that they may be working with Chinese government. They obtain training, then are plant in US.”
Janah, “Fifteen years is a long time to keep them on ice.”
Daria, “May have been doing something else, just moved to Wichita Falls last year, before that, don’t know. Eloise says they could have used Findley and Bishop to travel to China, then become someone else, and now back to Findley and Bishop. We change our identity all the time. No reason they cannot do the same thing.”
Janah, “True. Unless something else comes along from your China search, don’t spend more time on it. We already know all four apartments contain Shadows. Something ugly is bound to happen, and they are aware of us. We are hoping it puts them in gear. They have a year’s worth of something invested here, I can’t see them giving it up and going to ground elsewhere. More likely they will attempt to deal with us as a minor inconvenience and get on with whatever.”
Daria, “How many?”
Janah, “We don’t know, I’ll have a better idea tonight. We can’t go too close ourselves, Daphne’s going to find an owl.”
Nikko is online, We’re flying out tomorrow.
Janah, “All of you are flying out tomorrow, Daria.”
Daria, “Of course, I will be with sister for this. Eloise will come.”
Janah, “Is that necessary?”
Daria, “Drone is ready for field test. Only one, but good chance to see what it will do. She is better to operate, repair.”
Janah, “Okay, I’ll have rooms ready, send us arrival times.”
Daria, “Da, bye-bye now, have a nice day, thanks for your calling, blah, blah.”
She clicks off, Janah giggles, “She’s too much.”
“The hunt is on, tonight…we ride.”
We have a light lunch of cold cuts, granola and yogurt we’d picked up from the grocery. The rooms have a nice touch, a full kitchen, if we want to cook in, we can. We watch a movie, Django Unchained, a Tarantino flick chock full of cowboys, plantation owners and violence. Dasha and I go to our room to chill before tea. We aren’t sleepy, and aren’t in the mood for a workout, so we opt for an intimate workout. I enjoy fondling, tasting and kissing all the parts, go slowly until the part that requires more energetic application, she responds in her own energetic quiet way, she doesn’t verbalize much, but her body vibrates with the loveliest slow groan of release.
Dasha, “Now I will orgasm you, Dahfoney.”
Okay, I can handle it, lay on my back, she lays where she needs to and starts to play. And play she does, I explode a bit more noisily, but none of us are screamers, seems tacky.
Her head pops up when it’s over, “Dahfoney makes gud sex.”
“Dasha makes wonderful sex, have you been practicing?”
Dasha, “I decide to make sex for Daria. I am full blown up lazebian girl now.”
“Was Daria surprised?”
Dasha, “Sister ees happy if sister ees happy. I told her I want to give back sex to her, she makes big orgasm.”
“Then she was happy twice, for you and for her.”
Dasha, “Da. Now she turns Eloise into sexy fiend also. Lazebian girl everywhere in fahmahley. Eloise would make sex with Dahfoney, but shy, no ask.”
Really? Well, that’s dumb Daphne, she’s the shyest person on Earth, duh, “Should I ask her?”
Dasha, “No ask, go to her, take off clothes, make sex, seemple.”
“I’m flattered, she’s such a tiny sweet, delicate.”
Dasha, “Sweet, Daria sayz she taste sweet, like candy, no so delicate. She want sister to do her with strapping on toy, she sayz ‘harder, harder, fuck me Daria,’ over and over.”
Wraps up that subject, I make tea, Dasha opens a couple of crunchy granola bars and we sit on the couch, sip and drop crumbs all over ourselves. It works out great, we didn’t dress, so when we’re done, I stand and brush my crumbs onto Dasha’s crumbs and lick them off  her. That leads to me doing you can guess what, I mean, I’m already on my knees in front of her. I wonder if we have more granola?
Dasha sighs, “Dahfoney ees gud. Next time, you will spread crim yogurt on me.”
The girl is brilliant.
Janah, You got me heated up, I took it out on Zi, she seems pleased.
I imagine she seems comatose.

Janah giggles, Well, she is taking a nap. We’re not going over to the apartment until ten o’clock, you need to rustle up an owl before then.
I’ll do it when we’re over there. What do you want for dinner?
Doesn't matter, pick up something or find a restaurant.
Suppose we go over earlier, right at dark, I find an owl, we get a reading, hit a grocery or stop off at one of the steak joints?

Janah, No reason not to, might miss a couple though.
If an apartment is empty, I’ll get the owl to hang out and check, he’ll find me and update.

Janah, Good idea.

Chapter Eighteen

They drop me two blocks from the apartment, then drive by, Janah, “Lots more cars, I’m going slow, window down, Zi is getting the best read she can, hang on, we’re pulling away, I’ll be driving in the area, let me know when you’re done.”
You’re wondering how I just find an owl, fair question. The same way we do much of our weirdness, intention. I am fully engaged and focused on having an owl find me. The birds can read us, see in ultraviolet and some even in infrared, just like I can. The eagle and owl honed my skills in the Canadian woods. I can see detail at distance thanks to the eagle, and I can see objects in pitch black courtesy of the owl. Infrared senses heat, not light, like night vision goggles. Ultraviolet delineates more colors and heightens detail
It takes a quarter hour, I hear the bird swoop in on a branch over my head. Owls are common in Texas, tonight I’ve drawn a great horned, the biggest, two feet high, wingspan of four to five feet. I’m three blocks from the apartment now, well out of the target’s range.
Owl, “Who are you human, that you can reach out to us?”
“I was taught by your cousin in the north, he gave me his vision, and gave my hands the strength of his claws. You are female, even bigger than he.”

Owl, “You speak to other animals?”
“Some of my friends can, I am best with the owl and eagle.”

Owl, “I have heard of humans who understand, never met one. What is it with your kind, killing for sport. Humans are insane, most of them.”
“That’s why I am here.”

Owl, “Tell me.”
“Down the street,” I point in the direction of the apartment, “lives what my people call Shadows. They are evil to the core. We are obliged to root them out, they are not fit for society.”

Owl, “Your society is not fit for much anyway. Humans destroy everything, destroy themselves in the process, good riddance.”
“I can’t argue with you, we are a greedy lot. It will take a long time to kill us off, more of us each cycle of the seasons. In the meantime, Shadows do harm wherever they go, we are their prey, as men with guns prey on animals.”

The owl is staring at me. She’s not being impolite, it’s how she sees. Her eyes cannot rotate to see to the side, she must turn her head, that’s how I learned to nearly turn my head a hundred eighty degrees. Her blank stare reminds me of Dasha.
Owl, “What do you see down the street?”
Instead of turning my body around, I just turn my head, “There is a cat slinking along the side of a house, he’s stalking a mouse, I hear it rustling in the grass.”
Owl, “You turn your head as I do.”
“Your cousin enabled me.”

Owl, “Must have hurt.”
“I passed out.”

Owl, “He liked you, you endured. What is it you wish to know?”
“The Shadows, how many, how bad, you can tell in a glance.”

Owl, “Do you think I am ignorant of my territory? I have young, a mate to protect. We already know of your Shadows.”
“Kind of figured that, the birds in my hometown in the north spot them there as well. They tell us and we remove them.”

Owl, “Dangerous work. The ones you speak of are black. I see grey or brown frequently, as I said, humans are mostly insane. These are beyond, we all watch them as we watch for any predator. If you are hunting them, human, beware. They felled a raccoon with the wave of a hand, kill the stupid sparrows for pleasure. Sparrows are impulsive, fly around idiotically, trust their speed too much.”
“How many are there?”

Owl, “Nine, sometimes two or three more come to visit, but they do not make their nest there.”
“All men, males?”

Owl, “Five male, four female, the visitors are two female and one male. There are no others.”
“I am in your debt, thank you.”

Owl, “I will be observing, perhaps the Peregrine and the Eagle when I tell them of the humans who understand. They are warriors, like you and I, they will appreciate your hunt.”
“Will they help?”

Owl, “I would, I do not speak for the others, but the Peregrine likes battle, the Eagle likes the hunt, not so much being around humans, they are always trying to kill him for a prize.”
“We are a sad lot, aren’t we?”

Owl, “Ignorant as lizards, malicious as jackals.”
“I hear the mouse cry out, cat’s got him?”

The owl blinks, cripes she’s just like Dasha, “Cat eats mouse, I eat cat, get mouse as well.”
She raises her graceful wide wings and with one thrust flies upward. On the way back to the car, I hear a short screech, then nothing.
My crew picks me up, my information is more detailed than Zi’s but the conclusion is the same. Why they’re in this little town is vague, but that they’re here, and powerful, is clear. Bringing in the rest of the crowd may not be enough. I’m driving, Janah’s mentaling Nikko.
Add Black and Chan, we have a Shadow Convention in this town, and none of them are lightweights, bring all David Li’s most current pharmaceuticals, all the weapons.
Nikko, On it, I’ll confirm asap.
Janah, “Okay, we have the entire force coming, I’ve pulled Surveillance, I don’t need these jokers playing havoc with our people.”
“Why not get David Li to come, he can coordinate better bird surveillance than we can.”
Janah, “Crap, I must be losing it.”
Nikko, add David Li.
Chan already thought of that, we’re scheduled, just book a bunch of rooms, and two more cars.
“aking care of it, see you.

Guess we’ll be staging a war room at the Homewood Suites.
The need for quick and dirty arises, we stop by Ronnie’s Burgers, load up on burgers, fries, onion rings and grilled cheese sandwiches, hustle it back to the room. I get everything re-warmed and crisped while Dasha makes herself a drink and a red wine for Janah. We ease into slow mode, let the facts germinate, something will make itself plain. Pile into our beds and rest.

Chapter Nineteen

We didn’t talk to Nikko until last evening, since they had preparations to make it’s nearly five this afternoon before they arrive. Chan, Nikko, Black, David Li, Daria, Eloise, Chloe and Amaya, two more cars, five more rooms. They get settled in; since Black has a room to himself, we use that as the gathering spot.
Nikko already briefed them, it’s time to start figuring out what’s next.
Nikko, “Why not pick them off on their way to work? Do the two stay at homes there.”
Janah, “I want to know what this is about. We’re getting this differently from Society work, we know what’s gone wrong already, wife beater, child abuser, both. Here, we got information about two people being annoying and reason to suspect they are Shadows. Then we get in town and find seven more and three who come and go. Now, it’s twelve. What are they up to? We’ve never heard of that many in one place.”
“And to keep Surveillance at a distance, we didn’t assign them do to listening, they had no idea the others in the apartments were Shadows. If they caught on, we put Surveillance in a situation they aren’t remotely equipped to handle.”
Janah, “The visitors, we need to know who they are, where they are, and what this conglomeration of psychotics is up to.”
David Li, “Birds will follow everyone, bring back reports. They will follow the visitors.”
Zi, “What if the visitors fly in from someplace else?”
Janah, “We’ll know what time they arrive, Wichita Falls can’t have that many flights. We can figure out where they came from and monitor them on the other end. Surveillance can track them at a distance from the home airport, the team doesn’t need to get close, we just want to know where to find them.”
Daria, “Drone will listen from outside apartments.”
Black, “Drone?”
“Daria and Eloise have constructed a mini drone. It can record audio and video in real time and send it back to our IPad. This is the first field test, they’ve flown it off the roof and around the neighborhood at home.”
Black, “Welcome to the twenty first. What’s the range?”
Janah looks at Daria, she says, “Does not matter, signal goes to satellite, then to drone.”
“How long can it stay up?”
Daria, “Two hours, less if it records audio and video, we will improve battery later.”
“It’s going to fly close to the building, is it noisy?”
Daria, “Housing for turbo-jet is solid, slight hum like an insect maybe, or a fan.”
“Wow, not bad.”
Amaya, “They gave us a demonstration, the thing is amazing. Eloise operates it like a video game, apparently she plays a lot of video games. It zips around corners, she can do a loop de loop, it hovers as well as it flies.”
Janah, “Good job ladies. David, what’s in the drug arsenal?”
David Li, “Near instant anesthesia, memory deterioration, hallucinogen, maxi amphetamine, barbiturate, injectible trust solution and a chemical toxin that will stop a charging rhino in its tracks, dead in seconds. Deal with it carefully, if it gets on your skin, no big deal, just wash quickly. If it gets in a cut, big deal. I am working on an anti-toxin to inject before you use the toxin. The difficulty is I can’t test it, we don’t use animals, can’t do humans for obvious reasons.”
Nikko, “Why not just shoot them with the toxin and go home?”
Nikko in samurai mode is different from the Nikko in business mode. In business, she can wait for centuries, in samurai, she’s an action figure.
Janah, “For the reason I mentioned. I want to know what they’re up to, and if they have links to others around the country. This is only the second time we’ve seen them cooperate, all the others have either been alone or had disciples in training. The experience of the Shaolin is that they’re almost always loners. Now the ability has spread, more extensively than we thought.”
“It’s getting close to dinnertime. I can fetch pizza.”
Black, "Good by me, I'll take a ride with you."
Multiple pizzas, our two guys are big and need fuel for things to come. Black asks Amaya about her movie.
Amaya, “Chloe is going to do the movie. Plot summary is the story of a young American girl kidnapped in Japan, her parents are killed. She is only six, but brave and resourceful. She manages an escape, lives by her wits for a while, then is taken in by a samurai. It is modern day, he is a kendo master, does not call himself samurai, but that is his family history, which is revealed as the story develops. The surly type, charmed by the feisty young girl. He teaches her the sword, cut to teenage girl, and Chloe takes the part. He has learned who kidnapped her and killed her parents, a nasty subset of a yakuza clan. Revenge is extracted. She must leave Japan or face retribution, off she goes to America. It turns out she has a half brother, a small time con artist and gambler up to his neck in debt to the wrong people. She saves him, but now has both the yakuza in America looking for her, and the gangster loan shark from whom she rescued her half brother. From start to finish there is lots of action, slick dialogue, smarmy bad guys and a hot, talented freckled faced heroine. The movie ends at the point the two sets of criminals are separately out for her blood.”
Black, “Chloe doesn’t have many freckles.”
Amaya, “Twenty three.”
Black, “You know how many freckles she has?”
Amaya, “I know everything about Chloe, eve-er-e-thing.”
Black laughs, “Bet you do. The story sounds like fun. I presume the ending opens up the sequel.”
Amaya, “Of course, Chloe may have work for a thousand years, which means I have twice the work thinking up stuff and making her look smart and adorable doing it.”
Black, “I’m sure you’re up to the task.”
Amaya, “Dear Black, there is no task to which I am not up.”
Dasha, “Eemaya ees excite to make Vesnushki famous movie star.”
Amaya, “Chloe is already famous, I am creating a legend. If that chunky girl can do the ridiculous Katniss of the Insecurity Games, Chloe will demonstrate to women everywhere both how to be decisive and brave without being plus sized.”
Black and I laugh, Black says, “Not worried about creating anorexic teens across the planet?”
Amaya, “Chloe eats like a horse. She has to constantly explain that on her an site, and she admonishes the girls to eat sensibly, plenty of healthy food. She talks about what Dasha and Daphne make for dinner, the places she eats out and what she had, with photos as verification. It is hardly her fault she has the metabolism of a hummingbird.”
“She has lots of comments on her page from moms thanking her for it, and when girls post photos of themselves, she is careful to compliment them, adds stuff like, ‘I wish I had those curves,’ encouragement to accept their genetics instead of fight with them, permission to eat well and enjoy it.”
Black, “Must keep her busy.”
Amaya, “Hah!”
Black looks perplexed, Dasha says, “Eemaya post everything, takes photo of food, vitamin, eat right, be curvy girl.”
Black, “Ah, you are the ghost in the machine.”
Amaya, “It would never occur to Chloe to take a vitamin, I have to shove the thing in her mouth every day. Nor would it occur to her to say she wanted to be curvy, she has no desire to be different than she is. She does not want other girls to desire to be her. I juggle it around, otherwise she would come off as the typical idiot with trite comments about ‘be who you are, love yourself,’ smarmy self-help crapola.”
Black, “I’ve seen that stuff, never did figure out what be who you are means, other than to not try to be someone else. That doesn’t make much sense, we can’t help becoming like those around us. You guys are extreme examples of it, with merging and whatnot, but everyone becomes who they are by mimicking and interacting with family and friends. Even if we don’t like someone’s behavior, we are influenced by it.”
“People don’t become and stop anyway, there are always personality adjustments. Not to mention people frequently don’t like somebody because they see their own bad behavior in them, can’t face that, so they get all huffy.”
Amaya, “Exactly. I am, of course, the exception. Having achieved the pinnacle, there is nothing left to turn into. Everyone is trying to be me.”
Dasha, “Dahfoney, what ees peenicul?”
“The top.”
Dasha thinks this over, “Always can go back to bottom.”
Black and I laugh again, Amaya flutters her hands in exasperation, “Typical communist mindset,” she looks and Black and me, “I try to educate them, progress is miniscule, but I shall never surrender.”
Dasha, “Eemaya teach us how to be fake. Sister and Dasha not care to be deeferent, chitting chatting, blah, blah, blah, ees gud for work, so we learn. Enough of talking, Dahfoney, we will go to room and make sex.”
Black laughs again, “Daph, you are the luckiest woman on the planet. I’m going to go to the room and plot about Shadows, call my woman, then read a book, Amaya’s book that is becoming a movie.”
Amaya, “I am flattered, you have read my work?”
Black, “Every one. I read Chris’s stuff and loved it, then you took it over, I’m no authority, but I couldn’t tell the difference. Looking forward to the new novel.”
Amaya, “Thank you, Black, Chris gave me a splendid start and I am determined to live up to her standards.”

Chapter Twenty

Post orgasmically, we’re lying in bed recovering our minds, Dasha says, “No sleepy, you will make vodka cocktail, I will find moovey.”
She finds a classic selection, I make her drink, we cuddle on the couch and watch Cruise and Nicholson go at it in A Few Good Men. After that, we’re tired, scrunch together in bed and are out for the count.
Gather at the breakfast buffet, I give the Wichita Falls Homewood two thumbs up, then back to Black’s room to figure out what’s next.
Chan, “We are going to have to track these people, see where they work, and listen in on their conversations.”
Janah, “Surveillance got part of it. Some are involved with Sheppard Air Force base. I hope whatever they’re up to doesn’t involve the military. Five went to the base this morning, the birds confirmed the Surveillance report, our two original targets are still at home, two others work at local companies. One is an accountant, the other a nurse. The second biggest employer here is the city, but the next is the medical community.”
Zi, “I’m not getting the connection.”
Janah, “Neither am I. Our past experience is that Shadows live off others, why do seven of them have jobs?”
It’s quiet for a bit, then Janah says, “Daria, Eloise, try out the drone today, at the apartment. Our original two targets hang out there most of the day. Zi, you and Chloe should wander around the workplaces of the accountant and the nurse. Black, you’re with them. Don’t get too close, just get a feel, may be more we don’t know about. I’m going to interfere with reception of the two at the apartment. Daphne, Nikko and Chan will break in and plant bugs in the vacant three apartments. If they find them, tough, might spook them into something dumb. Dasha, you will stay with me in the SUV, we are backup in case something screws up. Amaya, take Zi and Chloe, if there’s any problem get them disappeared and quickly. Black will deal with any extraneous issues. Does everyone understand their mission?”
We do. Time to gear up and break out.
Chan and I are inside the first apartment, top left. It’s not bleak, nor is it messy, it’s more like a corporate apartment, nothing is personal, no photos, no knick knacks, generic landscape on the wall in the living room. We bug it, the kitchen and bedroom, Nikko’s in the place downstairs.
Nikko, There are a couple of photos in here.
Take a picture of the pictures, don’t mental Janah, she’s keeping the two bottom right from sensing us.

Planting the bugs is quick work, we’re not trying to bury them in sheetrock, ceilings or baseboards. One goes underneath an end table, another over the fluorescent light in the kitchen, one each behind headboards on each bed. We’ll get something and, as Janah said, if they find them it will send a message.
While I’m trying to figure how to get to the top right apartment, the floor squeaks under my foot. Both sets of stairs pass windows, I have no easy way to tell where the targets are in the bottom right apartment and we’ll be walking around on top of them. Silent as I can be, a creaking floor is unpredictable.
I motion Chan to the bedroom farthest away from the common wall, explain the problem.
Chan, “Are more devices essential for now? We can skip it or wait to see if they leave. Perhaps the drone can serve later.”
“Good enough, let’s get gone.”
Chan leaves first, I lock the door as I ease out the back behind him, we scoot across the corner of the lot next door. I hear a whispering, look up and see the drone, only a slight hum and hiss of air. Janah’s parked on the corner, Nikko already there. Eloise and Daria are behind the SUV staring at an IPad, Eloise’s fingers are tapping the surface. I take a look.
The drone is circling the building, then it hovers over the occupied apartment’s rear window. Picture is excellent, I hear voices.
Dark 1, “I felt a distraction, it’s gone now.”
Dark 2, “I noticed nothing, but I was absorbed in project details. Should we do a search?”
Dark 1, “It may be nothing, keep working, I’ll take a walk outside.”
“Eloise, get that thing back here, we need to get moving.”
Daria opens the back hatch, the drone comes into sight, down the street away from us, then a tight one eighty. She lands it smack on the floor of the SUV. Geez, she’s good. I close the hatch, the others are already in the car, Janah’s parked on the cross street, pointed away from the target’s street. She eases out and drives away. As we turn the next corner, I look back and see Dark 1, he glances our way but turns immediately, looks down the block the other way.
“He’s either a good actor, or he didn’t sense us.”
Chan, “He sensed nothing, didn’t even see our car, to him the street was empty.”
“That’s cool, an invisibility shield." 
“Girls, that sucker works better than I could have imagined. Eloise has her game on, she could whiz it through Manhattan traffic.”

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