Thirty Three

We follow the van to the jail, short trip. It goes through a gate and the prisoners are let out around back and out of sight. Here is no option. We drive to Berkeley and check into the Hotel Shattuck. It’s not particularly convenient to our mission, but I’ve stayed here before and I know it’s first class. I get Zoe C a Shattuck suite and me a king room next door. I also know the room service menu is reliable.
We settle ourselves, then I go to the concierge and order a car, any SUV, and tell him I’ll collect it in the morning, just have them park it in the garage. A twenty secures his attention, I’m assured it will be taken care of. We’re here in a corporate name, they have a driver’s license that kind of looks like me and is completely fake. 
Back up in Zoe C’s suite, “What do you want for dinner?”
“I looked over the room service menu, pour us a glass of red, I think we go with simple, grilled fish and whatever vegetables accompany, or burgers.”
“Get both, we can cut stuff up and share.”
Zoe C disappears when the waiter knocks on the door, I open up, sign the check and give him a twenty, tell him I’ll wheel the cart inside and call down when I’m done. A grin and a ‘yes, sir’, he disappears.
We enjoy quite good grilled sole, mixed vegetables and potato. I put together the burger, I requested the bun and additives to be separate. They did well, sliced onion, pickles, a ramekin of shredded cheese, tomato, little bottles of mayo, ketchup and mustard. I substituted baked for fries, it’s hot and includes sour cream, soft butter and chives. Saw the burger in half and pass Zoe hers. I take a chunk of the sole, pour a bit of lemon butter sauce over it.
Zoe C, “They did a nice job.”
“I’ve been here a couple of times, as a guest on somebody else’s card. A good bar and restaurant, the rooms are comfortable and spotless. It has a good rep for a reason.”
I wheel the cart out, ring down to room service for the pickup. Zoe C and I have a vodka, olive, lots of crushed ice. We sit on the couch and watch CNN with the sound off. By ten we’re yawning. I go off to my room, hot shower, quick dry, brush and flush, into the soft sheets and warm comforter.
Cripes, I nearly died. The long drive and subsequent surveillance left me tired enough for a good night’s rest. I make coffee, it's seven thirty, we need to get north to the courthouse and see the prisoner parade.
Zoe C comes in, “Morning, sleep well?’
“Yep, like a bad girl should. You about ready?
We take the weapons, two Glocks, our subcompact slimlines, a Ruger Precision rifle, 308the Ruger .308, US Optics scope and integrated suppressor. We’ve taken it to our piece of dirt near Barstow, the suppressor makes it near silent. Zoe C is deadly at a hundred yards, excellent at two hundred.
The hotel came up with a black Tahoe, good enough, no extra bling, just another SUV on the road.
Must be a slow day, one prisoner who was in and out under an hour, hauled back to jail. Wasn’t our guy. I wonder if they shuttle prisoners back and forth all during the day.
Zoe C, “That’s inefficient.”
“What’s inefficient?”
“Bringing prisoners at different times. They would bring them all in the morning, let them sit in some room until their case is called, then bring them back.”
I study her, she’s been in my brain, “Do you read everyone’s mind, or just mine?”
“Just you, and you have to be nearby, at least I think so. It doesn’t happen when you’re in your bedroom and I’m in mine for instance. And before you ask, I don’t know how, something pops up in my brain. For all I know you’re putting thoughts in my head.”
“Not making any effort to, could be subconscious I suppose, but I don’t think it’s me pushing thoughts towards you. Maybe we should see if practice helps.”
“You don’t mind me reading your mind?”
“It’s a short book with one syllable words.”
She laughs, “Baloney. Anyway, what now?”
“We need to figure out the docket, find out when Ramon is due up.”
Zoe C taps her phone, “Well look at that, they’re online. We can search by name for a small fee, or go to the court, they have kiosks where we can search for free. We can’t do that, they’ll have cams and crap.”
“Search it with a corporate card, they won’t know who is searching.”
She does, it takes a few, then, “Hearing tomorrow, nine a.m.”
“We’re learning. We need to take out the woman sometime today then.”
“In the evening. I don’t know if the monitor is fine tuned to walking around the house, or if she needs to go some longer distance before it registers.”
Another search, “They can set a perimeter, go beyond it, the monitor goes off  and informs the system that the monitored has breached the perimeter. I doubt someone sits there and watches for minor movement within the perimeter, even if it would register such a small distance.”
To the hotel, which is just off Shattuck Avenue on Allston way. We decide to walk the town, I’ve been to the university for talks, but haven’t explored the city. Zoe C has never been in Berkeley.
“So many homeless people.”
“It’s sad, but at least they’re pretty much left alone, not rousted every other day. They can’t build encampments on the street. There are shelters, it gets butt numbing cold here in the winter and it’s cool to cold almost every night regardless of the season.”
“So they hang because nobody gives them a hard time.”
“Yeah, and it’s relatively safe.”
We roam up and down Shattuck, we aren’t shoppers, just out in the fresh air and on the move. We wind up schlepping around residential areas, a bit of the Berkeley campus. We come across Nation’s Giant Hamburgers, a small diner-ish chain.
They serve breakfast all day, good, we skipped breakfast and we’re hungry. I get the three egg over easy, crispy bacon and French toast. Zoe C gets a chili omelet and hash browns
The food comes, it looks as advertised, we dig in. 
Zoe C, “I love comfort food,” she cuts of a chunk of omelet topped with chili and passes it over, “and take some hash browns, they gave me a lifetime supply.”
I cut a slice of French toast for her, we settle into silence, enjoying the well prepared food.
When we’re done, we move on to the hotel, nap time. After I shut all the curtains, I plop on the couch in the suite, Zoe C to her bedroom. It’s quiet, the do not disturb has been on both or our doors since we left. We have enough towels to dry half of Berkeley.
I really zonk, it’s near three thirty when I blink awake, a nap for me is usually an hour, not two and a half. I check on Zoe C, she didn’t shut her door, she’s under the comforter but on the blanket and sheets. I turn to the living area and make coffee. While it brews, I go out and spot a housekeeper, ask for more coffee packets and half and half, give her a ten and get enough coffee to fuel a revolution. I smile and thank her, she nods, I have no idea if she speaks English but everybody speaks money.
When I return, Zoe C is pouring coffee. Fortunately for me, she’s nude.
“Wow, what you ain’t go ain’t worth havin’.”
She giggles, “Should I dress?”
“Only if you want to see a grown man cry.”
More giggle, she even giggles sexy.
We sit on the ends of the couch facing each other.
“What time do we visit the Mrs.?”
“I don’t know, seven, eight? It’s my duty, you’re going to take the shot at Ignacio. In fact, you can stay here and chill if you’d rather.”
“Better if you have another set of eyes on the street. I have nothing much to do here anyway, watch inane TV, read a book, fiddle on the web.”
“That’s what you’d do if I was here.”
“The difference is, you would be here. We could make fun of the TV program, discuss the books, talk over junk we found on the web. I like my employer around.”
“Your employer likes you around. And I know I pay you, but we’re hardly employer and employee. We’re friends, good friends, friends without benefits except the without seems irrelevant. The relationship is more important.”
“You know, this sounds stupidly spiritual, but it’s like we’re one…person is the wrong word, I don’t know the right word, more than soul mates, although I suppose that works as well as anything.”
“Our ‘us’ is more than me and you.”
She bites her lip, “It is, isn’t it?”
We’re quiet for a time.
Zoe C, “Turn on the news, mute it, then hold me while we watch the stupidity unfold.”
We spend the next two hours stretched out on the couch, Zoe C in front of me, curled together, our heads on pillows. One arm under her neck, the other over her tummy. We watch the ignorance and hate, none of which has anything to do with us. I think it’s the most relaxed I’ve ever been.

Thirty Four

We’re parked down the block from the house. Our listening device picks up Spanish TV, otherwise nothing. Zoe C chills in the Tahoe while I go snooping.
I can see nothing from the front, blinds and curtains closed. Down the right side I peek through the edge of the blinds, see the flicker of the TV but not the woman.
Just as I’m about to creep around to the rear, she comes lumbering into the kitchen. There’s a bottle of cheap whiskey open on the counter, she pours three fingers in the glass she’s carrying, waddles back out of sight. It’s the woman in the police photo, no doubt.
The back patio door is closed, as are the vertical blinds. I pass and go up the left side where the bedrooms are. Windows are all dark. Enough. I snap on latex gloves.
To the front door, knock. I’m wearing a cap vaguely similar to a UPS driver.
A voice, “Who ees?”
“UPS, package for this address, Ignacio Ramon.”
The door opens a crack, all I need. I kick it hard, it thumps against the woman, she must go two twenty and she’s only five one or two.
Her nose is bloody, she’s got two hands up to check it. I grab one hefty arm and spin her, Glock to the base of her skull, soft Pop! She thuds to the floor face first.
Another round in her head, grab the two casings, turn and walk out, close the door behind me.
Short walk down the block, a car passes, rap thumps from inside, whoever is in there isn’t paying attention to jack. Climb in the Tahoe, crank it and drive off.
Zoe C, “Well, you weren’t running and no gunshots chasing you, must have gone okay.”
“Easy, I played UPS, she opened the door just enough for me to give it a shove. Double tapped to be sure.”
“You got the casings.”
Tap my jacket pocket, “I’ll dump them someplace, get rid of the gloves too.”
In fact, there’s a storm drain, in go gloves and shells, don’t even have to get out of the car. Crack open the door and lean down, nobody’s ever seeing those things again.
“Back to the hotel…you hungry?”
“Keep it simple, there’s a Wendy’s, the spicy fried chicken sandwich is good, just the sandwich for me, I don’t care about fries.”
Two sandwiches, I get an order of fries, the big one in case she changes her mind. We continue to the hotel. 
We have a glass of wine with our gourmet fast food, “Never had Wendy’s anything, you’re right, this chicken is tasty, crispy fried, not dry inside.”
“Everyone likes their chili, but we had chili at lunch. I’ve gotten a few meals, usually wind up with the chicken.”
It’s almost ten by the time we finish, need to be up and in place by eight thirty. 
“See you in the morning, seven good?”
Zoe C, “I’ll be here.”
Read for a half hour, get snoozy, turn off the light and fade away.
Went down this morning and got croissants and oat bran muffins, stick them in the microwave for a few. We slather on butter and have them with coffee. At seven thirty we’re on the way to the court house.
Zoe C, “Do we park in the lot, or park elsewhere and haul the rifle up? There are cams on every floor, including the empty one being repainted.”
“You think of that just now?”
“Sorry, I saw them and….fuck, popped in my head just now.”
“How many?”
She scrunches her lips, closes eyes, “One covering the elevator, who gets on and off. One covering the lot, in the right side corner, street side. If there is one on the far side, I didn’t register it.”
“We have a few, I’m going to check it out, take the car down the block and wait.”
I get out and cross the street to the lot. Three stories, I go in. Like she said, a cam over the elevator door, and one over my head but pointed to the parking spaces. I edge the wall, hold up my phone. Don’t see any cameras over there and the phone registers nothing, no led lights beaming out at me. I go to the second, same story, up to the third, same again. Reverse my trail and out to the Tahoe.
“Like you said. I managed to get to all three floors out of the cameras view, I think.”
No way to be sure. At least I’m unrecognizable, watch cap with a bill, fat sunglasses, cheap black nylon jacket, black jeans and sneakers. Zoe C is the same excepting a black wig that comes to her shoulders.
“We can’t park inside, we can avoid the cams, but the car can’t.”
“I spotted a lot a block over, we can park it there.”
“Is it self-park?”
“Yes, collect a ticket, there’s an attendant at the exit.”
“Cripes Chef, wasn’t one yesterday.”
“Beats me, could have gone to pee, grab a coffee, whatever. Doesn’t matter, keep your brain locked in on the shot, I’ll deal with the other stuff. Just go to a meter, pay for two hours, if he’s not dead before then, today’s not the day.”
Park, head to the lot. The Ruger is in a case that resembles a valise with a shoulder strap, the stock folds so it doesn’t need something long enough to carry a rifle.
We make it up to the empty floor. The only thing left to worry about is that the floor is being dressed up like the lower floors which have been completed. It’s just a bit of lipstick. Paint the walls, patch spots on the concrete, repaint the parking lines. Why the third floor is halfway done I can’t say. It doesn’t appear that any work has been done recently. The walls are partially complete, one quarter of the parking lines finished in the far corner. There are no tools, saw horses, scaffolds, no machine to paint the lines, no paint. I can only imagine there was a payment problem and whoever was doing the work stopped until the matter is settled.
“I’ve got the perimeter covered, you line up the scope.”
It shouldn’t require much adjustment. I estimate the distance at a little under a hundred yards, that’s what the scope is set for. Zoe C knows all that, probably more, she’s studied rifles, ammo, sights and suppressors. She’s satisfied with the weapon, good enough for me.
I binocular every inch of the street and courthouse. There’s nothing behind us but a wall at the opposite side of the lot. The stairwell is on the street side, the ramps on the far side. The final leg to our floor is blocked off on the second floor.
My only concern at the moment is someone coming up the stairway or the elevator. It’s not likely, there’s no reason to come up here unless you’re a painter going to restart the job….or an assassin.
Zoe C is fiddling with scope, “Ninety five yards at the bottom of the steps, One oh four at the top. No reason to make adjustments. I’ll split the difference and shoot him halfway up.”
“If you can, but the first time he’s clear, getting out of the van, the first step or the last one, take the shot.”
She looks at me, rolls her eyes, “I thought I’d wait for a trick shot, you know, ricochet the bullet off the steps so it hits him in the balls, my signature for child abusers.”
I concede, “Okay, I get it, you’re the shooter, just talking through the scenario.”
She returns to her shooting position, one knee, elbow on the wall. The barrel will poke out a bit, there’s nothing up here to provide a platform and taking the shot from a standing position is dicey. I think it over.
“I don’t like the barrel visible. Try standing and using the support column to steady yourself. I’ve watched you take harder shots than this with no support at all.”
“Your confidence is appreciated,” she stands, leans against the column, the rifle is against her right shoulder.”
“Feel solid?”
“Just watch me boss.”
Eight forty five, the prison van rolls up. One news van from the local station but a decent crowd of fifty or so ordinary citizens. A child dead largely due to a sloppy social services system. Signs about child protection, agency incompetency, at least nobody has started a chant. The monster known as Ignacio Ramon is coming to his latest judicial hearing. 
He gets out of the van, shackled hands and feet, nobody looks good in orange, Ignacio doesn’t look good in anything. Head too big for his body, which isn’t small. Black bushy eyebrows, skin like rust and some sort of tattoo up the side of his neck. 
I study the crowd through the binoculars, at this point I’m only searching for a reason to call her off. I don’t see one, and the crowd is yelling now, ‘murderer’ is popular, ‘child killer’ another, others for the death penalty. The reporter is interviewing one of the crowd, I return to Ramon, up to now he’s been stalled at the door of the van pointing at his feet and talking to the big cop between him and us. Looks like he wants the shackles off . I don’t know why he’s shackled at all, there are four cops, one on each side, the one in front of him and the fourth one step to the right of the group.
The big cop pulls something from his jacket pocket, must be keys, he bends down to the leg shackles.
I hear a soft Pop! Then I see a hole in Ramon’s forehead, he sways back, the back of  his neck hits the roof of the van, a second hole appears in his throat. All eyes are on Ramon except ours. I snatch the cartridge casings, Zoe C folds the stock and fits the rifle in its case. We scurry down the stairs and exit from the side of the lot. Turn the corner, two blocks later we’re in the Tahoe headed away from the scene. I hear sirens, a patrol car shoots past towards the courthouse.
We lose the gloves, the casings, her wig and my cap on the way to the hotel. In long enough to return the Tahoe and collect our suitcases. The NSX is waiting, tip the kid, toss the suitcases and gun case in the trunk, we’re on the I-880 to the 580 to the 5 going home.

Thirty Five

Once we’re out of San Francisco, I zip through a McDonald’s drive thru, coffee, Diet Coke, egg white Mc Muffin for Zoe C, steak, egg and cheese biscuit for me, two hash browns, we zip out and on the freeway.
Zoe C is sprinkling powdered ketchup on the hash browns, “They should have powdered ketchup like this stuff I bought on Amazon, sprinkle it on like salt and pepper, no drippy ketchup in the car.”
“That is a really good idea, wonder why fast food places don’t use it?”
“Beats me, I think it tastes fine and I sure don’t miss the sticky ketchup drip.”
She passes the hash brown over, I bite, “Tastes like ketchup to me.”
“Exactly, the same company makes sour cream and onion powder, I haven’t found a reason to use it, but it might be good on fries or hash browns.”
“Order some, can’t hurt to try it.”
She diddles the phone, “Be at the box in two days, it’s ten bucks but I checked the company site one time, the product is four bucks cheaper but they charge ten bucks just to ship it.”
“That’s dumb. I suppose if you ordered half a dozen bottles the shipping would be the same.”
“Yeah, maybe, we’d have to order three bottles to cover the difference. Think I’ll stick with Amazon. They let us use points we build up on credit cards to offset the price and considering the charges we run up, I get a lot of Amazon orders free.”
“Glad to see you’re looking out for our expenses.”
“I know you can afford anything, but that’s not the point. I see no reason to cough up more than necessary for products and services. It’s a girl shopping thing.”
“I notice you don’t have any thousand dollar shoes or three grand handbags.”
“That’s just stupid, to tote around makeup and a wallet? The kind of crap Saudi princes do, or their wives and mistresses. I like quality, but with a purpose. If I’m going to kill people, I want to know my rifles and pistols won’t fuck me over.”
“I blew two hundred on a Bentley.”
“Chump change for you, and unless someone knows cars, they have no clue what yours is worth. You got it for the joy of driving, not to flash you cash.”
She’s right, in fact, if the Bentley drew too much attention, I’d unload it, but this is California, lots of wealthy people with high end wheels.
“Speaking of driving, we need to go back to Bondurant for a refresher. It’s not like we drive executive protection every day.”
“Can Elle come? I’ll pay her freight.”
“Of course, and charge it to one of the corporations, Elle’s a friend.”
“What about Natalie?”
“She’s tied to Goldman for now, there’s no week off  to take a tactical course in Phoenix.”
“No, I guess not, I don’t even know if she’s interested.”
“I’ll tell her we’re going, if by some mystery she can make it, great. While I peddle along, check dates and whatnot, make sure Elle can take the time.”
We sail along, Zoe C’s fingers are busy arranging schedules with Elle.
“Next month, tactical refresher. Same hotel?”
“Whatever you like, it doesn’t need to be a palace, we aren’t there but to sleep. So many restaurants in Phoenix we won’t be doing room service much. It’s not like we’re going there to assassinate anyone.”
“I’ll get us a Hampton or Embassy, rooms are reliable, the breakfast buffet acceptable, we didn’t eat lunch last time, we can explore new spots for dinner.”
She’s having fun checking out restaurant possibilities, booking a couple of rooms, “Are we driving to Phoenix?”
“No, call Blue Sky and get us scheduled, we’ll be driving the whole time we’re there. Any kind of car rental you want, Blue Sky will arrange that too. Fly in the day before class starts, out the day after. No reason to rush home and we can give one more restaurant a try.”
The ride down I-5 is mostly nothing, ton of agriculture California is known for. It’s a six hour drive, four hundred miles, Zoe C falls asleep two hundred miles out.
Click the remote to open our gate. While it parts, I tap Zoe C gently on the shoulder.
“We’re home angel.”
She blinks awake, “That was refreshing. I should have driven some of it though.”
“Not to worry, I stuck buds in my ears and listened to NPR. The world is still chaotic on the political level, everyone else is still plugging along with their daily lives…except Ignacio and what’s her name.”
“Manuela as I recall from the cop photo.”
Elle’s at the door with Zelda, the now nearly sixty pound puppy lopes over to Zoe C, puts her paws on her chest and sniffs, satisfied it’s Zoe C, she does the same thing with me, earns scratched ears and pats, then plops down and trots into the house.
“Guess we passed.”
Inside, Zoe C takes the suitcases to the laundry room, I take the rifle and gun case to the office, open the mirrored wall at the back of the closet and put the case in. Zoe C will clean the rifle later, not something we want to do in front of Elle. 
Elle, “Trip good?”
“Fine, nothing of interest in the property market though, nothing that I’d care to manage from Malibu.”
I don’t mention a city, not sure what Zoe C told her.
“Do you need her to drive you home? You’re welcome to stay here…’s Friday, you’re due anyway. Good.”
Elle, “You guys hungry now?”
Zoe C, “We can wait on dinner, no cooking, you and I will pick up chicken and a side or two.”
“You want to get back in a car? I can drive.”
“Chef drove down, I slept half the trip. How’s Zelda’s food holding out?”
Elle, “Needs another bag soon, I think there’s enough left for her dinner bowl.”
They go off to forage, I hear the Hyundai crank up, she’s going to give the NSX a rest. Tomorrow, if Natalie can make it, I’ll collect her in the Bentley and give it a little exercise. Think I’ll text her.
‘Can you come this weekend? Tonight if you can make it, or tomorrow.’
Nothing for a few, then, ‘going to be stuck tonight, can drive over tomorrow in my spanking new Acura RLX, not the NSX sadly…one day.’
‘great car, excellent choice, cu when you get here’
That settled, and I don’t have to drive to Pasadena. I’ll think of some other reason to tool around in my new toy. Right now, Zelda is poking my leg with her snout, I pour her bowl full, she devours it, gets a drink of water then to the patio door, which is closed. She turns and looks at me, I got the message, open the door, slide the screen door, she’s out a few steps and turns again to look at me, a few more steps, then turns again. She wants company, I follow her across the back half of the property, then she walks me around the perimeter. One stop to do her biz, I turn away and give her privacy, ridiculous I know, she doesn't care, then we complete the tour. 
We’re sitting poolside when the girls return, Zelda goes to the screen door, her nose in the air. Popeye’s always gets her attention, gets mine too.
Zoe C, “Chicken, red beans, coleslaw, Elle is putting things in the oven and rinsing the coleslaw.”
“Want wine, a frozen margarita?”
“Margarita is just the thing.”
I go in to fire up the blender, ten minutes later we’re out poolside slurping orange margaritas out of salt lined tumblers.
Elle, “This is turning into an amazing life. That sunset is priceless, the ocean even more so,” Zelda rests her chin on Elle’s leg, “and you are even more priceless than that sweetie, “ she scratches ears, the mastiff flops down in front of us, keeping an eye on her family.
“She’s so protective.”
“Zelda took me for a walk while you were gone, she’s been fed by the way.”
Zoe C, “She’s growing up fast, going to be a big girl, a real big girl.”
“Keep her exercised, I want her to learn, to be busy. If we don’t require it, she might lapse into napping most of the day.”
“How do we teach her to attack, and not to attack?”
“How many commands does she know?”
“Sit, come, lie down, stay, all in Japanese.”
“Buy a dummy, something that can withstand her bite. Very slowly irritate her with the dummy, poke her snout for instance. She will bite it eventually. Keep saying attack, in Japanese, kōgeki. Eventually she will attack the dummy on the command. Oh, and point to the dummy when you use the command, she needs to know who to attack in a live situation. Lots of pats and love, even a treat when she responds correctly. Like I said, go slowly, after twenty minutes, drop it.”
Zoe C, “Let her relax over the weekend, she has friends over and doesn’t need to be distracted by training, I’ll get her on it Monday.”
Elle goes inside, “Food’s ready, shall I bring it out?”
Zoe C, “I’ll help.”
Plates, napkins and utensils appear, I pour another round of margaritas. We sit at the patio table with crispy fried chicken, red beans I splash mine with habanero sauce, crunchy coleslaw.
I tear off a piece of breast, Zelda is next to me, she knows her sucker, I drop the hunk of breast and it never hits the ground.
Zoe C, “You spoil that girl.”
“I spoil all the girls, you most of all.”
Elle giggles, “So true.”
Sun gone, I crank up the heaters, we keep nibbling. Zelda is laying quietly, she knows there’s one treat only and is entirely too dignified to beg.
Elle, “The algorithm is performing better than expected. Not knocking the ball out of the park, but is ahead of the S&P. I’m working on the short sale side now, nothing to report yet.”
“Ready to try real world? On the long side.”
“If I had the seed capital.”
“How many stocks?”
“So far, thirty to fifty. There’s not that much churn, it isn’t a trading program it’s an investment program.”
“Can you run it in real time, plug it in and let it buy and sell.”
“I’ll wire a half million, give me account instructions, let’s find out what happens. It is all automated, no human interference?”
Elle, “No, none, that would defeat the purpose.”
“Just checking, it has to be entirely self taught.”
“It is. My instructions are basic, stocks that will outperform the S&P, nothing else, no financial parameters, nothing to bias the mission. The program has the S&P stocks, out of that it is instructed to find stocks in the S&P that have the potential to do better than the index itself, that’s it.”
“So it’s not searching the entire universe of stocks.”
“No, not yet, this is the initial baby step. I know it found others originally, should I have expanded it?”
“No, your system is simple and direct. Out of five hundred stocks, can the algorithm find thirty that will do better than the index itself? The goal is clear, measuring results is easy, it works or it doesn’t. Your approach is an orderly intelligent way to test the program.”
Elle blushes a bit, she’s too cute, and sooo smart.
We enjoy the evening, black ocean, ships’ lights off in the distance, silence. Zelda trots off for a final pee, we clear up the remains, Zoe C fires up the dishwasher and we head to our bedrooms. Zelda has a bed in Zoe C’s room as well as the one near the fireplace. Sometimes she chooses one, other times the other. I can’t figure out why, but they’re her beds, she can flop down where she wants.

Thirty Six

Natalie texts, “On the way, be there in thirty.”
It’s ten now, I hope she took the time to sleep in, she has crazy hours at work.
I’m thinking up lunch when I hear the ‘ding’ an audio notification that the gate needs opening, I click the code in. Zelda is on the patio with the two sunbathers, her head pops up at the sound. She trots into the kitchen, looks at me, looks back out at Zoe C and Elle, goes to the front door and sits.
She’s checked her family, we’re all here, that means someone else is coming. She won’t leave her spot until she verifies who it is.
I go to the door, open it, Natalie’s RLX, pearl white, makes a right to the circular drive and parks.
Zelda lopes over as Natalie gets out, paws on shoulders until she passes the sniff test.
Natalie pats and scratches, “Good girl Zelda,” she pulls a dog bone from her jacket pocket, Zelda sits but doesn’t take it, Natalie looks at me, “doesn’t like treats?”
“Hai Zelda.”
She gently bites the free end of the bone, Natalie lets go, Zelda goes inside, she’ll crunch it by the pool.
“She doesn’t take food by hand unless she’s given the permission code, hai, Japanese for ok.”
Natalie kisses me, “Should I have a permission code too?”
“You can do whatever you want, no permission necessary, give me a tour of the new wheels.”
The RLX is more a sedan than the racier NSX, hers is gorgeous, like Natalie.
“Seacoast interior, it has all wheel drive, the tech package and advance package, I can start it remotely. Real time traffic reporting and alternate route display, bunch of other stuff, just over sixty thou.” 
“Damn, car is almost as hot as you are.”
Elle and Zoe C appear, Elle, “Wow, nice ride girl.”
They take the visual tour, “We’ll find a reason to take a ride later, come in, we’re poolside.”
Natalie, “So I see,” they’re both nude.
I take her valise to my room, she follows and unpacks, easy stuff, jeans, pullover, separate kit of girl things. She keeps a couple of casual dresses, pants and three blouses here in case we decide to eat out someplace.
Strips off the shorts and t-shirt she’s wearing, “Might as well join the girls.”
I look her over, lean as a whip, tight, bare everywhere but her head.
She grins, “Thank you,” she bounces out to the pool.
When my brain regains function, I go to the kitchen to deal with lunch. First, I pour sparkling wine, then add two tablespoons of cranberry juice, bring the drinks out to the girls.
“I don’t know what to call these, cranberry mimosas will do, lunch in a bit.”
“Thank you Chef.”
Let’s see, open the drawer where we keep cold cuts, Zoe C got adventurous, liverwurst slices, roast beef and buffalo chicken. Cut the crusts off tasty Sara Lee Golden wheat, save them to make croutons. Sprinkle garlic, onion powder, paprika and salt on the crusts, put them on a baking pan. Set the Breville to two thirty and convection. When it beeps ready, put the pan in, turn the timer to an hour. When it dings, I’ll have seasoned croutons for salads, they work well in seafood salads and soups too.
Yellow mustard on some slices, spicy coarse mustard on others, olive oil mayo on the rest. I make three with liverwurst, three with roast beef, three with buffalo chicken, cut them in half, voilà, eighteen finger sandwiches. Salt and pepper chips, bread and butter pickles, lunch.
Bring a platter out to the patio table, refill drinks. I get to eat lunch with three sylphs, the oldest of which is twenty two, none of them wearing a stitch. Happy days.
Zelda eases over to me, sits next to my chair, the slightest groan making sure I know she’s there. I have a special, a hunk of liverwurst I slide off my plate. My aim is good, or her reflexes are, right into her mouth.
“Lay down sweetie, that’s it.”
‘Huff,’ but she thumps out to the pool, turns and lays down facing the open space behind. She can spot alien invaders from there.
Natalie, “These things are good Chef, I haven’t had liverwurst in a few, tangy yellow mustard, yummy.”
“Thank Zoe C, I didn’t even know the stuff was in the refrigerator until I searched the meat storage drawer. She must have been at Sprouts, that’s where she buys buffalo chicken.”
Zoe C, “I was shopping the prepackaged meats, I bought the liverwurst on impulse, it’s like cheap pâté. I get the real thing sometimes, we have it on crackers, except Zelda, she has it in the air.”
Elle, “I’ve never had either, it’s addictive,” she takes another sandwich, “what a piggy.”
“I doubt two liverwurst finger sandwiches will fatten you up any.”
“Doesn’t matter, I’ll swim it off later today.”
“It gets worse, I’m frying catfish, oysters and shrimp for dinner. Do you want it like a seafood platter, or on French bread like a poboy?”
Zoe C, “I’ll skip the bread.”
That’s unanimous, saves me a trip to the market.
“I’ll make steak fries then, is that enough, do you want salads? Never mind, I know just the thing, healthy and tasty.”
I have beets, chopped onion, shredded purple cabbage marinating in the refrigerator in red wine vinegar. Tons of vitamins, no fat, no sugar.
Zoe C and I clear the platters and plates, we ate under the umbrella, girls want sun, but moderate sun, and SoCal sun can creep up on you. I assume they’ve had enough until they decide to swim, the three go off to Zoe C’s room chattering away as only young women can.
My dinner production is hours away, I get the sense I won’t be seeing the girls for a while, it’s down to me and Zelda.
“Come on Z, let’s take a walk.”
We circle the property twice, a shade over two miles, it rolls, some is up, then down, then up again. I left as many boulders as I could, our perimeter walk is more like a hike over or around the big rocks. When we return, I strip and shower under the pool shower, use the wand to cool off Zelda and give her a few minutes of belly  massage. I dry, she shakes. I leave her sunning, go to my room, slip on boxers and stretch out for a nap.
I’m awakened by the sense we get when the atmosphere has changed. Open my eyes to a wrinkly snout resting on the edge of the bed. Stroke the ever growing head.
“You’re getting to be the biggest girl in the house,” sit up, hit the bathroom, then the closet for black slacks and socks, skip shoes, we don’t wear them in the house. Button up an ivory casual shirt, polyester, rayon cotton blend, nice and loose, super soft.
Zelda and I go to the kitchen, ah, empty water bowl. Rinse and fill, soon as it hits the floor she’s drinking. I wait until she’s full, then open the patio door, she’ll want to go out and I’ll have less slobber on the floor.
I check the time, three thirty, make tea. Natalie comes from the hall on the other side of the living area. She’s in a t-shirt. I try to decide which is sexier, the shirt that barely hits her thighs or naked. I’ll need more research.
She steps to me and delivers a kiss on tiptoes. Natalie is five six, I’m six four, I lean down so we meet halfway.
Natalie, “Some guest I am. Check in, eat lunch, go off to play with the girls.”
“I’ll skip asking if you had a good time.”
“It would be a rhetorical question anyway, how could I not?”
“Black tea or green, or like mine, both?”
Zelda’s back, ambles up to Natalie for her required pat, which she gets, then we’re outside under the umbrella. It’s warm-ish, Zelda flops down in the shade next to Natalie.
Natalie, “Thank you for having me up. This is such a respite from high finance. God some of those clients are sooo pretentious, and demanding, expect us to do everything, like we’re the concierge.”
“We talked about that, it’s a test, eventually they’ll back off.”
“Yeah, I know, it’s helpful to bitch, and we rack up a ton of revenue from them. I suppose a dose of TLC isn’t such a high price.”
“They leaving you alone otherwise?”
“It’s a boys’ club, when I’m at work I play one of the boys. I can tell guys to fuck off just as well as they can tell each other. Bad language is just language, it doesn’t kill anyone. The clients hit on me more than the Goldman boys. They’re easy to ignore, most of it is random flirting, old guy young woman, harmless. And I dress conservatively, no heels, no tight skirts or tops, no cleavage, not that I’m much on cleavage anyway,” she giggles, “a lot of pants.”
“Good then, you aren’t dodging power hungries looking to mark their territory.”
“Not so far. Going to New York Monday, maybe it’s different on the east coast.”
“Flying first I hope, commercial air is a pain.”
“Client’s private jet, not sure why I’m included, one of the partners out here, a senior associate and me.”
“You know the partner, or the associate, or the client?”
“That’s the strange bit, I know who they are, met the partner and associate, been in a meeting with the associate once. Don’t know the client, not to have met, I know the name, biggie tech.”
I don’t ask, she’d probably tell me but better to keep business private.
“Thanks for not asking.”
“You can’t say much anyway, I know that. We don’t need to get hauled in for insider trading. You gone all week?”
“No, back Tuesday, maybe Wednesday. Depends on whether we have a reason other than the client. I know he’s returning Tuesday afternoon. If we stay it’s commercial flying home.”
“Well, it’ll be first anyway, Goldman partners don’t go coach.”
“Won’t stop them from putting me on the back of the bus. It’s under six hours, I’ll live.”
I start to offer to fly her back on Blue Sky, screw the partner. Something tells me to wait, I can always book the flight later. 
“I’m of two minds on the thing. I can’t say who, or name any companies, but the firm is trying to talk him into a takeover, with Goldman managing the transaction of course.”
“You aren’t sold.”
“Not even. First, they want to use Treasury stock, the stock companies keep in the company, not issued publicly, I guess you know that.”
“Ah, and you think they are paying with stock more valuable than the stock they are buying.”
She grimaces, “You catch on quickly.”
“I read Buffett, his annual letters to shareholders. He doesn’t like to pay for acquisitions with Berkshire stock, he’d rather pay cash. It’s never smart to use stock. First, the buying company is sending a message that it thinks its stock is overpriced, so cheaper to use it than money. I would be suspicious of any company buyout where I was offered an all stock deal. I got a small part of my deal in the takeover company’s stock, but most of it was cash. I got lucky, the stock went up in ensuing years, in part because of my former company.”
“What got you started on Buffett?”
“I put some of the cash into Berkshire, it was over a hundred grand at the time. I bought a hundred shares for just over ten million. Today it’s worth thirty million. Buffett made me twenty million bucks for doing nothing.”
“You invested ten million dollars, that’s nothing?’
“I mean like work, I punched a few keys on my laptop.”
“You lead a charmed life.”
“Can’t deny it, plus I have you for a pal.”
“Flattery will get you laid.”
“I meant to say stunning and stunningly intelligent pal.”
“The sex won’t get better with overkill.”
“I think of it as fuel, keep the flame hot.”
Elle and Zoe pass, must be headed for a swim, they’re still nude.
Natalie strips off her shirt, “Me too.”

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