Twenty Nine

Tonight we have seafood tomato soup for dinner, shrimp and crab with chopped peppers, stir ingredients in the soup and let it simmer for an hour. Goes well with bread loaf croutons. Coat slices of bread with seasoned olive oil, we like salt, garlic powder, onion powder and paprika. Put the slices directly on the rack in the toaster oven at no more than two hundred forty degrees. In an hour or less they’ll harden like croutons, good for dipping.
Friday arrives, Zoe C and I have a Krav session in the morning, light lunch. She decided on a devil’s food cake with white frosting, plus four turnovers. I have flank marinating in the refrigerator. Instead of creamed corn, Zoe C wants the corn on the cob I made a while back. I’ll bake the potatoes and turn them into mashed right before we eat. 
Zoe C collects Elle, it’s a twenty five mile drive and takes forty minutes each way on a good day.
“Welcome Elle, drive good?”
She smiles, “Better than, Zoe C came in the NSX, I was feeling all that as I climbed in.”
“I’ve decided to get this,” I point to the screen on the laptop.
Zoe C and Elle peer over my shoulder, Elle, “Holy fudge, that’s a flipping Bentley Continental, is that the color and all? It’s gorgeous.”
“And it cranks to one eighty.”
Zoe C, “Wow, not to be too tacky, but what’s it go for?”
“Two hundred and change.”
“I’ve never ridden in a two hundred grand car.”
“The NSX is a buck and a half.”
“Wait, I’ve been driving around in a hundred fifty thousand car?”
Elle giggles, “And ion LA freeways, Chef must trust your ass big time.”
Zoe C and I exchange glances, little does she know how much. And she me, when you’re sideline is killing jerks, trust is essential.
Zoe C, “Wait…you’re selling the NSX?”
“Not exactly, it’s yours now. Not in your name, the cars are in corporate names, but it’s yours to drive whenever you want. You don’t have to ask if it’s okay to take the Acura anymore.”
Zoe C isn’t normally emotional, she bites her lip, gets misty.
“Gee, I thought you’d be happy.”
She punches my shoulder, “Jerk,” then she sits in my lap and hugs me.
I can live with jerk.
Elle, “You are sooo spoiled.”
Zoe C, “I am, I am also filled with gratitude. You are the best, Chef.”
“Aw shucks.”
She looks at Elle, “Having an adoring man around has certain benefits.”
Elle, “And he doesn’t demand sexual favors, are you sure you’re a SoCal man?”
“Ask Natalie tomorrow.”
Elle, “Time for a swim?”
“Anytime you want. I have a few dinner things to prep. When I see you get out or go to the Jacuzzi, I’ll bring wine.”
A few minutes later, two nude lovelies scoot by and dive in. The potatoes are ready, I cut up the three Idahos, then drop clarified butter in, sprinkle with garlic powder. Squish around the potatoes in the bowl until they’re suitably mashed. Mine are lumpy, on purpose, not the even textured stuff you get when you use a beater or make them from a box. Should I add cheese? No, let’s go cheese free. At the table there will be sour cream, chives and bacon bits. Put the bowl in a warm oven along with the con on the cob. Fetch the flank steak from the refrigerator. Outside, fire up the grill to ten thousand degrees, an exaggeration, but hot as it will get.
Inside, I open a chilled bottle of cabernet, I don’t like wine at room temp. Let it sit open in the refrigerator to suck up a bit of oxygen. What else? Ketchup and horseradish, olive oil mayo. Not a steak purist when it comes to flank. A filet or juicy ribeye, no ketchup, flank, fine, like a burger for instance.
Girls move to the Jacuzzi, I pour Champagne and take out three glasses. While they marinate, I park by the patio table and enjoy the cool ocean breeze. Sun is down, the Pacific is a dark expanse, calm in the evening, like it needs to rest after a hard day of crashing up against the rocks.
Ten or fifteen minutes pass, Zoe C calls over, “Are we holding up dinner?”
“Nope, I still have to grill the steak but that’s five minutes. Buttery mashed and corn on the cob are resting in the oven.”
Elle, “Geez, enough bubble, let’s get rinsed and chow down. I had an oat bran muffin this morning, nothing since.”
I chivalrously go inside while they exit the Jacuzzi and take a shower. They wrap in big towels and scoot past me to Zoe C’s room. When they come out, I give them seconds on Champagne.
“There’s caviar and toasted rounds, sour cream if you wish. The steak will be a few.”
I sear that sucker on both sides, let it cook for two minutes, cut it at the fat part and peek, just red, perfect. Take it inside and use the electric knife to cut against the grain into thin slices. Potatoes and corn on the table, ready, set, eat.
Elle, “What kind of steak is this?”
“Flank, cut from the cow’s abs or lower chest muscles. Very lean, pure protein. That’s why it’s cut in thin strips, otherwise it’s chewy.”
“Well it’s damn good, this corn is the bomb, same procedure you used last time?”
“A bit of lemon juice and molasses, when the water is boiling, drop in the corn, cover, turn off the heat, ready in ten minutes.”
Girls were hungry, there’s no food left, steak gone, potatoes and corn too.
Zoe C, “That was delightful, we have devil’s food for dessert later Elle, or I can cut a slice now if you want.”
“I’ll wait, let my body appreciate this dinner, thank you Chef.”
“My pleasure. I’m glad my friends enjoy the food, and none of you are picky, makes it easy on me.”
Zoe C, “Tomorrow is enticing, Chef is making a New Orleans dish, barbeque shrimp. Wait for the surprise, there’s no barbeque grill involved.”
Elle, “Won’t be any problem getting me to eat shrimp, no matter how they’re prepared.”
Zoe C, “Take a glass of wine outside, Chef. Elle and I will clean up.”
I enjoy the black ocean with one eye, girls in t-shirts and nothing with the other. The girl eye seems happier, I skip the ocean and turn towards the kitchen.
They wrap the cleaning, start the washers, Zoe C holds up the Russian Standard I keep in the freezer. I nod yes.
She brings me the drink, “Thank you,” they park at the table with me, still working on the wine.
Elle, “Okay to talk financials now, or wait until tomorrow?”
I can see she’s wanting to give us news, “Now is perfect.”
“The program is picking stocks I never heard of, well, not all of them some are brand names. Others are mid-size outfits. Mid cap stocks are usually two to ten billion in market capitalization, small cap is under two, large is over ten.”
Zoe C, “What’s market cap?”
“The value of outstanding shares times the price per share. A stock with a thousand shares outstanding priced a twenty five a share would have a market cap of twenty five thousand dollars. Obviously publicly traded stocks have much larger capitalization.”
“Got it.”
“Anyway, it’s staying just ahead of the S&P 500 and ahead of the other indexes for small and mid cap stock. Right now the tech stocks are soaring, my program is running behind the QQQ. That’s the index that tracks the largest 100 NASDAQ stocks which tend to be tech oriented. Sixty percent of the stocks in the index are IT. This year it’s blown away the S&P.”
“Which might mean froth, like with bitcoin?”
“Yes Chef, exactly, not exactly, bitcoin has gone berserk. I can never predict markets or interest rates.”
“Nobody can, but people waste enormous amounts of money trying.”
Zoe C, “If your program can figure out which sticks might be good buys, can it figure out stocks that have run their course? Stocks to sell?”
“I’m creating a second algorithm for that. Still in development.”
“You’ve been busy.”
“Another reason to keep classes minimal, it’s more fun to try and decode the market. Plus, the CS course I’m taking is a beyatch, full of Indians and Asians who already know much of the material.”


Saturday morning, get a text from Natalie, ‘be there in an hour’. Good thing, a night of looking at Elle and Zoe C, and they’re out by the pool now letting the blue sky and sunlight enjoy them.
“Going to get the shrimp, need anything?”
Zoe C, “I checked the pantry, we’re good. Where are you getting the shrimp?”
“Seafood market, I want the heads on.”
“Oh, good, how about burgers for tomorrow, you can get the prepared ones, blue cheese and something.”
“Onion, will do, text me if you think of anything else.”
Off I go to do battle at Sprout’s, Saturday morning generally packs the place. I wait my turn at the butcher counter, it seems to move along, they have three people working it since it’s busy, my phone dings a message, ‘tomatoes,’ I reply ‘ok’.
Pack of burger buns, grab a few bottles of kefir and packs of frozen mixed fruit, another two packs of frozen cherries, let’s see, oranges, I’ll make orange margaritas. Then to get the shrimp, the fat jumbos, fresh, not frozen.
Back home, put away the food, girls have disappeared. I wonder….
Twenty minutes later they come out of Zoe C’s room, Elle is still flushed and giggly, Zoe C has a smug smile on her face.
“Sort of, we lost ourselves anyway.”
Elle giggles again.
Lesbians, my favorite fantasy. Natalie buzzes from the gate, I click the button to open it.
Natalie comes in two minutes later, after a sweet kiss, I take her overnight to my room. She parks at the kitchen island and the girl chatter cranks up.
When I come back, Natalie, “A flipping Bentley?”
“Yeah, couldn’t resist, maybe my mid-life thing has kicked in early.”
“Never too soon to own a Bentley. You have to take me on a road trip.”
“Short road, you work all the time.”
“No sweat, pick me up when you have it and take me to Shutters for a night, if you get me on a Friday, two nights.”
Zoe C, “Can we get in on that?”
Natalie, “Of course, Chef will be the most envied guest, I get him and a girl buffet. Is my greed showing?”
“It’s only greed if you take and don’t give.”
“Good point,” she kisses Zoe C, then Elle,” my boy part quivers.
Natalie turns to me, slides her hand across my pants, yes it’s hard, she grins.
“You are evil.”
“Your own personal devil.”
Zoe C, “What are you talking…oh, never mind, Earth to Zoe C.”
Elle, “What am I missing?”
“Chef’s erection.”
She laughs, “You are evil, in a good way.”
Natalie, “Thinking of going bi?”
Elle, “I…well…, no, I don’t know, Chef is pretty studley.”
“True. If you want to explore, you don’t need my permission.”
Elle blushes, Zoe C’s turn to laugh, “Having hot flashes?”
“Alright, leave her alone, likely a momentary thought bubble and I’m flattered.”
Change of subject, I ask Natalie, “How’s the job?”
“A grind, still getting a chance to meet some of the clients, one old guy hit on me. He has a three million dollar account, implied there is a lot more, maybe we could discuss it over dinner. I wiggled my fake engagement ring, he lost interest thankfully.”
“That usually work?”
“Yes, when I was a student guys would persist, until I told them it’s five thousand for the night. A couple got pissed and called me a whore. I smiled and nodded, told them it was still five grand and they could call me anything they liked. One guy called me a slut, I explained that a college student with half a brain knows a slut does it because she likes it, a whore does it for money, I’m a whore, not a slut. I left him with his mouth open trying to think of some snappy rejoinder. He couldn’t come up with anything.”
Elle, “Why don’t girls, like in high school, get it? Just agree, go along, tell the guys they aren’t getting any, tell the mean girls you fuck their boyfriends all the time.”
“High school girls are obsessed with fitting in, they don’t have the self assurance to use your approach. Maybe some do, the Goths don’t much care what people think.”
“I went to an all girls’ high school, and we had uniforms so it was hard to try and outclass each other. Girls went on and on about boyfriends, one day the pack leader asked me about my boyfriend. I laughed, said I’m a lesbian, but don’t worry, you don’t make the cut. I never saw a girl get so steamed.”
“You ever get crap in high school Zoe C?”
“If you don’t get crap, you aren’t in high school. I only had one bit, when I was a sophomore. The Alpha girl kept fucking with me, for a reason I cannot explain. Her tribe standing behind her giggling. It wouldn’t have bothered me, but when I never responded, she got pushier. So I waited until she went into the girls, followed her in. She was primping. When she saw me in the mirror she turned and started to mouth off. I hit her smack in the face with a history book. Crushed the crap out of her nose, split her lip, she chipped a tooth. Then I grabbed her by the hair and told her if she even looked at me again, it would be worse, and if she tried to rat me, I’d fucking kill her. Then I swiped my foot across her ankles and let her drop to the floor.”
“No repercussions?”
“Nope, I went out to the hallway and started yelling that Cherie had slipped and banged her face, somebody get the nurse, blah, blah. Cherie never said a word, her gophers avoided the hell out of me. The rest of high school was smooth sailing.”
Natalie, “Good for you, in fact, you may have saved her from worse, one day she’d come across someone more lethal, like with a knife or a gun.”
Zoe C, “Thank you, never looked at it that way, but it’s certainly possible.”
I’m thinking Zoe C doesn’t care if that girl had been hung from a flagpole. In fact, she could have done it herself. Not going to get into that now, Natalie and Elle think we’re more or less normal people. I wouldn’t want to give them reason to believe otherwise.
“Okay girls, what’s on the menu for this afternoon? Tonight is barbeque shrimp. Lunch has slipped by. Suppose I make up nibbles, you guys can figure out how to kill off the afternoon.
Natalie, “I know exactly how, chill. I’ve busted my butt all week and my brain is fried.”
“Tell you what, get comfortable, I’ll make orange margaritas and, let’s see, I have enough stuff to whip up nachos. Will that work?’
Three grins, it will. I shoo them off to the patio, pull out the blender and get busy.
In fifteen, they have a insulated tumbler of frozen margarita, salted around the rim, a platter of nachos, melted cheese, guacamole and sour cream, a sprinkle of chopped jalapeno.
Elle, Zoe C and I sit under the umbrella, they’ve had their sun allotment for the day. Natalie stretches out nude on a lounger. My job is to feed her nachos and make sure her margarita stays chilled…and full. She flips after a half hour and falls asleep. I give her thirty more, them pull the table over so she’s out of the sun. Elle, Zoe C and I chat aimlessly, Natalie sleeps until four thirty.
We aren’t plastered, I made the drinks light on tequila, Natalie stirs, rolls to her side and sits up.
“God that felt good, I didn’t realize how flagged I was.”
“Get a shower, want coffee…tea?”
“Got a Diet Coke?”
“Sure, I’ll bring it to you.”
She stands, stretches, damn the view is splendid. I get up to fetch the Coke, take it to her. 
“Coke’s on the vanity, see you outside.”
“Thanks, be out in a bit.”
I go off to think up appetizers, Zoe C and Elle are cross legged on the mat on the far side of the room. We meditate there sometimes, other times outside. They’re zoned out to another dimension, a thunder and rainfall video plays on YouTube, it’s nice. We don’t get much thunder and rainfall, the sound is relaxing and refreshing.
Everyone likes smoked salmon and the additives, chopped egg, onion, capers, flaky butter crackers. I arrange that, Natalie comes along, I earn a hug and a kiss.
“What can I do?”
“Sit at the island and inspire me with long legs. How about Champagne with the salmon?”
Pop the cork on a bottle of cold Gosset, that gets the attention of the meditators. 
Zoe C, “No enlightenment yet, maybe Champagne will help.”
“Nirvana with bubbles.”
Elle, “Oooh, smoked salmon, yum.”
I put the jumbo shrimp, heads on, in two Plexiglas baking dishes. Six sticks of butter, chopped garlic, a buttload of black pepper, sprinkling of salt, Worcestershire, lemon slices, paprika and a teensy sprinkle of habanero powder. It goes in a three fifty oven.
I have two loaves of crusty French bread, only need them to be warm and toasty, there’s plenty of butter for dipping while we enjoy the fat shrimp.
“It’s messy, take several napkins, and forget being neat. This is finger food, pull off the head, peel the shell off, the empty platter is for shells. Tear off a hunk of bread and dip in the butter sauce, it’s almost the best part.”
Natalie, “Awww Christ, this is entirely too good.”
Zoe C, “Where have you been keeping this secret recipe?”
“I wasn’t, I was surfing around New Orleans recipes and this was one of the frames pictured. When I read it, it seemed simple enough, basically baking shrimp drowned in seasoned butter.”

Thirty One

Natalie was kind enough to demonstrate her sexual prowess last night. I’m proud to say I matched her stroke for stroke until we both collapsed in a steamy twilight followed by utter blank until morning.
I’m in the kitchen first, I get coffee duty which is simple since I made up the pot last night. We’re drip people, nothing fancy, I don’t own an espresso machine. I do use Lavazza espresso grind coffee. If I’m feeling fancy, I heat the milk, zap it with a frother until the bubbles are tiny. Wait a minute for the milk to separate from the froth, pour the milk into the coffee cup and spoon out froth on top.
Elle and Zoe C appear, I make them a cup, we noodle around the Sunday online papers, New York Times, LA Times, Washington Post.
Natalie shows fifteen minutes later, another cup for everyone.
Natalie, “What’s in the news? Skip political and the Middle East, those headlines just repeat every day.”
Elle, “I don’t suppose new LA gang shootings are of interest.”
“That’s more of the same too. Oh well, coffee poolside is its own reward, all the news I need for one Sunday morning and it’s good news,” she sips, “and damn good coffee. I say that every time I’m over.”
“Compliments are never out of style and always appreciated.”
Zoe C, “After last night I’m ashamed to ask but are we having breakfast?”
“What do girls want?”
Natalie, “Mimosas? Bloody Marys?”
Elle, “Bloody Mary.”
“Done,” I go inside, pull out the spicy V8, pickled okra, cocktail onions, Worcestershire, dash of lemon juice, sprinkle of black pepper, vodka. 
Bring out the tray, “Pay attention, the tumblers have a patch of frozen water on the bottom to keep the drink chilled. It will thaw a bit and pop up in the drink.”
Natalie, “You put the water in the tumbler, then in the freezer?”
“Yeah, the big tumblers for Bloody Marys or just for Cokes and cranberry juice. We aren’t big juice drinkers but I can get Trader Joe’s cranberry not from concentrate, it’s quite tart, which is good for us.
“So, I’m thinking basic, I’ll fry up bacon and sausage, scramble eggs, toast or biscuit?”
Biscuits win. Today I cheat and use the Grand’s frozen buttermilk. If I slather the frozen biscuit with clarified butter, they pop up rather nicely.
Zoe C comes in and takes the jams and jellies, plates and utensils to the patio table. 
We switch to mimosas, I bring out a tray of the meats, half a dozen biscuits and fluffy scrambled. Eggs, bacon, sausage and the biscuits are in a steam tray, I light a Sterno underneath, the water is already hot, the flame is to keep it that way. Girls get to work, but slowly, the food will stay warm, we can sip mimosas and take our time.
Natalie, “This is such a great spot. Chef spoiling us, the ocean cracking blue. Is it the same if you live here every day?”
Zoe C, “We never tire of it, don’t ignore the beauty of the ocean and the mountains just because they are there every day. Maybe in fifty years, but I doubt it. The ocean is always different, crashing the rocks one morning, calm as glass in the afternoon. Thunderstorms, windy, still. The mountains don’t change much, but they are still somehow inspiring. Sunrise and sunset are never exactly the same.”
Elle, “When are you up for sunrise?”
“We’re up every day for sunrise, we meditate then, followed by caffeine and food.”
“You don’t when I’m here, or Natalie.”
“Then we get to meditate on how lucky we are to have you as friends, not to mention sensual sexual antics.”
They laugh, Natalie asks, “It is exactly none of my business, so ignore me if it’s too nosey, what do you two get up to when we aren’t visiting?”
“We kill people we don’t like.”
Natalie rolls her eyes, “Okay, my bad, not my concern.”
Zoe C, “Suppose, for argument’s sake, that’s actually what we do. I mean, there’s Krav, swimming, I clean and it’s a big place, Chef cooks, often all three meals. We do meditate, work out in the gym. I have a couple of classes. We aren’t sitting on our hands.”
Natalie, “But in your spare time you kill people.”
“For argument’s sake, suppose you are friends with two assassins, then what?”
Elle, “Who, hypothetically, would you kill, is it for money? Kill someone because you’re paid, or vigilante murder?”
“Go with vigilante murder. There’s a colossal pain in the ass out there, what would that be? A wife beater, child abuser, child rapist, ugly assholes you read about all the time.”
Natalie, “If you’re killing them, nobody cares, maybe the no death penalty crowd.”
“And you, how do you feel about it?”
“A quick death is more than they deserve.”
Elle, “Exactly.”
I enter the conversation, “So, for a hypothetical, if Zoe C and I got into the vigilante game, you wouldn’t find that objectionable.”
Natalie, “I’d find it just the opposite, society cuts those types way too much slack.”
Elle, “Same.”
Zoe C, “Well, if we do ever decide to go vigilante, it’s good to know our closest friends won’t bail on us.”
Ellen, “If you ever go that route, I’ll be disappointed if you don’t include me.”
Natalie, “I don’t think I could do it, but I have no problem with you doing it.”
Zoe C, “It’s an interesting discussion, fun to kick around ideas and how we’d feel about it as a reality. I suppose we can’t really know the reality until we’re pointing a gun at the target, the abuser, rapist, the bad guy.”
Elle, “True, talk is talk, anyone can talk.”
Natalie, “As long as you aren’t going to assassinate me, I need to swim, don’t get nearly enough exercise during the work week.”
“You’re tight, you must be doing something.”
“Early yoga and a run after work when I get home before eight or nine. Two days a week maybe. Goldman is another year and a half, maybe less. I want my own company and I’m not waiting five or ten years to get started.”
“Before you hit the pool, we have enough shrimp left for lunch today. The question is, do I peel them and make shrimp cocktails, or do you want me to heat the dish and have it like last night?”
Zoe C, “I vote more barbeque.”
Elle and Natalie agree.
“Good, I need to hop out and get fresh French bread. Enjoy your swim.”
They go outside, strip off t-shirts and find a lounger. I assume they want to let breakfast settle before laps or diving. I fire up the Hyundai and head to the store.
On the return trip, I spot a puppy, a big puppy, on the side of the road. It seems uncertain where to head next, it puts a paw onto the road, then a car passes and it withdraws. I don’t want to see it try and cross the street it’s not crazy busy but busy enough.
I pull up, the dog is on my passenger side. Open the passenger door and pat the seat. Dang, it’s a Neapolitan Mastiff puppy. Who in hell let such an animal wander off?
“Come on, hop in, it’s alright,” a tentative paw on the edge of the floorboard.
I reach over and let it sniff my hand, then I stroke the sizable brow. Apparently it’s convinced and hops in. It’s a female. I pull the door too, scratch her ears, no collar, no nothing. She seems tired, listless.
“Lay down girl, it’s okay now,” what to do, I drive to the closest grocery, grab a big bag of dry food, toss it in back and we go home.
I pull the Hyundai close to the front door, grab the bread and the sack of food. She seems hesitant. I rip open a corner of the bag and pour a bit of the contents in my hand. I hold it out to her, it’s not much a couple of tablespoons. She licks it off.
I back away, open the front door, “Come on girl, you need to eat,” I shake the bag.
She hops out and follows me inside.
The mastiff trails me to the kitchen, I find two big bowls, fill one a third full with food, fill the other with water. She goes for the water first and empties the bowl. Then she’s in the food bowl. She doesn’t chew, it just evaporates.
She looks up at me, then to the bag, smarty.
“More later, I don’t want you getting sick.”
She flops down with big paws in front of her, a big ‘HUFF,’ like she’s resigned to waiting.
“Come outside, you can meet new friends.”
She follows me through the patio door and out to the pool deck.
I don’t know how much they swam, they’re sitting in the Jacuzzi. I walk over.
“Look what I found.”
Three simultaneous aaawwwwws, then lots of pats and scratches. The mastiff rolls over on her tummy and Zoe C gives her a belly scratch. This appears to provide perfect contentment. 
Elle, “Where was she?”
I explain, “Do we put a notice in whatever, look for the owner?”
Natalie, “Anyone who let this pure bread escape doesn’t deserve her. And she may have just been dumped. If you don’t want to deal with her, take her to the humane society.”
Zoe C, “Not happening, we just had our first baby Chef.”
“Then you get her a big bed, she’s not going to be a puppy long. Mastiffs get to a hundred thirty pounds, more for males.”
Elle, “Wow, I knew they were big, but that’s supersize.”
“And, it’s you job to train her, to find a spot around the property to do her potty stuff so she goes in the same area all the time. We can both make sure she’s fed and watered. I know a bit about mastiffs. They are extremely loyal, they are not dumb. She’ll need training, commands to keep her from ripping someone’s head off unless she’s given permission. Use Japanese for her basic commands, not just English sit, stay, guard, attack. Then go online and find out what other stuff she needs. Right now she needs a little more food, I only gave her a tiny amount. Don’t overfeed, she may get sick.”
Zoe C, “She’ll get the best, not to worry.”
The beast is dead asleep, poor baby must have traveled far with little to eat or drink. Other than that, she doesn’t have injuries.
Elle, “Should you take her to a vet?”
“Yeah, but give her a couple of weeks to acclimate. I don’t think she needs more unfamiliar people poking her right now, she needs to be cared for and comforted.”
The girl has come to the right place, my three compadres are enamored. Maybe I could be reincarnated as a mastiff.

Thirty Two

Three months zip by. Zoe C and I haven’t been in the killing zone, but she tells me one has come up we need to look into.
She named the mastiff  Zelda, and she’s been diligent about training. They walk the property together, Zoe C practices commands, I’m surprised at how fast she learns things. Zelda is primarily Zoe C’s, I supply illegal treats to bribe her loyalty. Zoe C earned it with lots of love, showers outside with the pool shower wand. Zelda loves to get squirted down, then lays on her back for a tummy water massage. When the other girls are over, Chef is an afterthought. I don’t mind, they’re having fun. When they swim, Zelda sits halfway down the steps into the pool keeping an eye on her charges. She also tours the property at least twice a day on her own, sniffing her way along, looking for anything that smells different.
Zoe C got her a giant bed, two actually. One in her bedroom and one near the fireplace in the living area. She’s quiet, never barks, if Zoe C moves from the big room to another room, Zelda follows from a discreet distance. She also comes around looking for me, I give her a scratch and a bit of dog biscuit, once she’s satisfied that I’m still upright, she goes off to Zoe C again.
We’re at the kitchen island with wine, Zelda is looking up at me, she knows there’s a salami and cheese board on the island. If she put her paws up on it, she could reach the food herself but she’s too dignified for that. I pass down a hunk of salami, she takes it and swallows.
“That’s it girl, Zoe C fusses if I give you too many treats.”
She actually groans, but flops down on her tummy, watchful for a slip. If a piece of cheese falls off the table, it will never hit the floor.
Zoe C, “You spoil her.”
I grin, “Who showers her three times a week and spend a half hour brushing while she zones out in ecstasy?”
“That’s different.”
I don’t argue, although she never explains how it’s different. I spoil Zoe C too.
“We need to get up to Oakland.”
“Yeah, I know. What do we do with Zelda?”
“Elle will come up. She knows the commands, knows what to do. Zelda likes her, part of her family.”
“Can she come tomorrow?”
Zoe C calls, Elle is fine with it, even excited when Zoe C explains she’s here on her own, that we have a short trip to take. She knows the gate procedure, how to lock down the house, plus Zelda will be here.
My Bentley came in last week, I’ve been babying it until it gets a few hundred miles on it. While Zoe C studies this afternoon, I take it up the PCH fifty miles, turnaround and return home.
Zoe C, “How’s your new baby?”
“I think it would like more of a run. We should take a road trip. Let’s take it to Oakland, then we’ll rent a plain jane to check out the target.”
Who’s the target this time? A nasty piece of work, Ignacio Roman, pronounced ro-mahn. He’s been arrested for beating a seven year old boy to death, the child of the woman he’s shacked with, apparently she had a hand in it. The incompetents at Child Welfare visited the home six times, saw signs of abuse but left the poor kid with his mother. It seems so simple, kid is abused, take the kid away, but they didn’t for reasons left unexplained. There’s some sort of ‘inquiry’ going on at the department, won’t help the dead boy, maybe it will keep the next kid from being tortured. The boy was clearly tortured, then Ramon caved his head in after breaking ribs and shooting bb’s into his testicles. Zoe C got really quiet when she read the article, then she cried.
We’re up early, since we have a long drive north Zoe C told Elle to get an Uber to the house, only as far as the gate, we don’t have strangers inside the compound. 
“Hey Elle, thanks for taking over.”
“Living here for a few days? I should thank you.”
She doesn’t ask where we’re going or why. Although I don’t know what Zoe C told her, I do know she wouldn’t have told her where we’re really going, and certainly not why.
I have the Bentley packed, should be enough groceries to hold Elle until we return. She can use the Hyundai if she needs to run an errand. We hit the road once Elle is situated, knows when to take Zelda out, when to let her out on her own. The feeding schedule is simple, bowl full in the morning, bowl in the evening, out for a walk after each. Plenty of fresh water all day.
We drive along for a hundred miles. Zoe C has earbuds in listening to something, podcast probably, she’s not a big music fan.
She pulls the buds out and clicks out of the program, “Have a game plan?”
“Ignacio is in jail waiting on a trial date, no bail. There will be a series of hearings and defense motions while they see if they can find some way for him to wiggle out of it. If we’re going to hit him, it will have to be from a distance and while he’s being transferred from jail to the court or the other way round.”
“Sounds dicey.”
“It is. Obviously we need to figure out the schedule, find a place to take the shot. We’re going to the courthouse first, see what time court closes for the day and how the prisoners are returned. Might be better to take the shot at the jail. In the morning, we follow from the jail to the court.”
“And the woman?”
“She’s out on bail. She has to wear an ankle monitor and stay in the apartment. I think we hit her first, once we take out the man, the cops would go straight to the apartment figuring the shooter might do her too.”
We have photos of both, they were in the papers along with a photo of the boy.
“It should be easy to get to her, what if we miss Ramon, either miss the shot or don’t get a chance to take one?”
“Then we go home. Once a trial date is set, we can return and give it another go, it will be harder then, after they find the woman they will assume he’s next.”
“What if we make the woman disappear?”
“Maybe. Here’s the thing, people will assume she’s bolted, cut the monitor and ran. They waste a lot of time and resources looking for a woman who will never be found. Apart from the fact that hiding a body isn’t that simple. It has to be buried deep, or cut up and fed to the sharks.”
“I get it. And we lose sending the message if she’s just gone.”
“Which is why I don’t plan to make it look like suicide, I want people to know she was murdered.”
Zoe C settles back, we cruise along, stop for coffee, hit Oakland at three fifteen, then to the courthouse for three thirty. We’ll have to get the rental after we see what time court recesses for the day.
There’s a prison van outside, guards standing around. While we wait, we look for spots to park with a clear line of sight. 
Zoe C, “Parking garage across the street, to the right.”
“Okay, scope it out with the binoculars. It’s nearing quitting time, how busy does it look?”
“I can’t tell, it’s dark in the lot. A couple of cars just exited. I’m going to walk over and see what’s what.”
While she’s climbing up the ramps, the doors to the courthouse open. Whoever is being tried isn’t attracting a crowd, there’s no press. A shackled man in an orange jumpsuit is led down the steps and helped into the van. Two others follow, one at a time, escorted by prison guards. Nothing particularly noticeable about the prisoners, one is skinny, one is heavy and bald, the last is Joe Average. All three have facial hair, only one has what I’d call a full beard. The other two have that scruffy look, more like they haven’t shaved in a few days. I doubt their trials have begun or the lawyers would have them cleaned up. Right now they all look guilty.
If this is how they handle Ramon, he’ll be dead halfway to the van.
Zoe C climbs in, “The third level is mostly vacant, no cars parked, it appears to be undergoing some sort of renovation, simple stuff, resurfacing, half of the parking lines have been repainted. If we park elsewhere, we can get up the ramps, or just use the stairs or elevator. From the left side, there’s a clear view of the courthouse.”
“Let’s drive around, our target is in the news. I imagine a crowd, reporters and pissed off citizens, the crime was ugly, some group is going to show up demanding the death penalty. They may take him in and out a rear entrance. California hasn’t executed anyone since 2006, and the law was deemed unconstitutional in 2014, but they are close to having it reinstated. Our guy will surely try to plea down.”
“I can take him from the lot, you spot, make sure it’s our boy, he won’t get his day 

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