Our four vigilantes and I are on the plane to Dallas, almost up and down, just need to get New Mexico out of the way.
I ask Valeria, “Feeling protected?”
“It was nice of children to think of me. I am with you and the others, not worried about my safety.”
“Did you see the ceremony?”
“I was the center of the ceremony, surrounded by chanting children in their black and white sorceress robes.”
Sorceress robes? News to me.
“Old English, Japanese and something I did not recognize. The Zycyryn came but the girls did not travel, I was surrounded by the sparkles. It tickles, feels tingly.”
“Geez, when was this?”
“It ended just after midnight, Tasia says it is the magic hour. I was given a power.”
“Care to explain?”
She touches my arm, a quick jolt, not like sticking a finger in a wall socket, but a definite shock.
“Dang, it’s a bit like Qi, but different, you’re like a Superhero, Electric Girl.”
“That was just a small one, if I want, I am like a stun gun.”
“At thirty thousand feet?”
“I didn’t mean…,” I catch the sly half grin, Valeria’s not a smiley face, “you know what I mean.”
“You should show the others, so they know what you can do.”
Janah is in a seat in front of me, Nikko and Zi opposite, “I tap Janah’s shoulder, then say to Nikko, “Valeria has something to show you, just sit there.”
She crosses me into the aisle, taps Nikko on the arm, then Zi, who lets out a little yelp, she turns to Janah, I hear, “Cripes what’s this about?”
Valeria repeats the story.
Nikko, “What next?”
Zi, “Truly remarkable, almost unbelievable, except I felt it, mine was like an injection from a vibrating needle, what I imagine a tattoo needle feels like.”
Janah is standing behind Valeria, “Exactly. And you can turn up the voltage?”
Valeria, “Da, Kota B says it is like a stun gun. She said a taser loses most of its power traveling to the end of the wire and the barb. A stun gun is applied directly. Kota B got a voltmeter from the workshop, I can generate over a million volts.”
Janah, “How do you regulate it?”
“I did not get a lot of practice last night. I have to concentrate on increasing the energy from a baseline level, like when I touched you. I have to practice, to know how to dial it up or down. I brought the voltmeter for that reason.”
“Cool, we can watch you train and not be the practice dummies.”
“I probably will not zap anyone in the family,” she deadpans.
Zi, “Good to know.”
Nikko, “You don’t accidently buzz off do you?”
Valeria, “I do not know,” she touches Nikko’s arm, “guess not,” her other hand pokes mine, Zap!
“Ouch,” I rub my arm, “very funny Stun Girl, a stunning stun girl.”
Zi, “Wow, you can even control it left or right, like Janah and Daphne do with Qi.”
“It’s very close to Qi, yet different. Qi is more like a wave, which can gently work internally, or can be a force across a distance, a shockwave. Valeria, can you do it at distance? Or do you have to touch the target?”
“I do not know.”
“Let’s see, okay, step down the aisle, my coffee cup is empty, can you zap it?”
She’s about three feet from me, she points a finger, an arc like lightening, there’s a burn spot on the cup.
“I just did a little.”
“We’ll explore it more at the hotel, probably best not to blow a hole in the side of the plane.”
I shred the cup and dispose of it, not a good idea to let the crew find a paper cup with a hole burned in it. We’re back in our seats, time to land.
We’re at the Wormwood Mansion, executive parlor suite and adjoining deluxe room, affording us two king beds and two baths. Parlor means a sofa, coffee table, three armchairs and a desk. The connecting room skips the parlor part.
Zi, “Enough space, appears to be recently updated too.”
“I think that’s why Grace B picked it, that and it isn’t downtown where most of the other luxury hotels are, we don’t need downtown for anything.”
Nikko, “Where’s the target from here?”
Janah, “His place is about three or four miles, this area is full of apartments, condos, townhouses, stand alones run two million and up. I think something his size is under a million. With what the girls earn he could afford more, maybe he’s being cautious or simply not interested in a huge place for two adults and two kids.”
Dallas went bankrupt a while back, fifteen years or so. They offered police and firemen cushy pensions and benefits in a burst of patriotism and the belief that oil would be two hundred bucks a barrel. That didn’t work out, and today’s electric vehicles pretty much crushed the ‘awl bidness.’ Services were cut, home prices declined as people moved on. The city has recovered, not to its former Texas swagger. Cheap real estate attracted a younger demographic, jobs in the booming alt-energy industry came along and the revitalization began.
Nikko, “We taking him at home? A townhouse means neighbors one wall away.”
“I don’t know, we’re going to review the stuff Surveillance sent, then maybe the drone follows him, Zi needs to get within fifteen or twenty yards to know if he’s a Shadow. The luxury townhouse, a wife and two step-kids doesn’t sound like a Shadow, nor does a separate deliveryman bodyguard. A Shadow wouldn’t hire that out, he’d just take the mind of the customer and blank him when he collected the girls.”
Janah, “I reviewed the material Surveillance sent while we were in the air. The black guy is huge, big enough to insure customer compliance. They haven’t been able to tease out the rules, if any, about what the customer can and can’t do. The girls appear to be in as good a shape when they come out as when they went in, they aren’t trashed. You can see on the video, right there, they each have a box, the customer bought them a present. That occurs about half the time for the few examples we have, the rest of the time they leave empty handed.”
We run through a half dozen videos from the six prior days. They’re in demand.
Dressed to a customer’s taste, little girl short dress, bows and ribbons mostly, but two had them in sheath dresses and heels, makeup too.
“Stop the video, no, back up and slow mo, see, when the smaller one gets in the car?”
Valeria, “No panties.”
“I wonder if that’s a souvenir they leave, or they go in that way.”
Nikko, “Does it matter?”
I shrug, “No, not really.”
Nikko, “What about his movements during the day and evening? We know mom is at home in a stupor.”
Janah, “Most of the time, although we have them going out once, a restaurant, while the kids are gone. She appears to be under control. If she’s an opioid user, she’s built up a tolerance that allows her to function at least some of the time.”
Zi, “The girls are beautiful, blond, slim, it is hard to tell from the video, I imagine bright blue eyes.”
Janah, “The man does household errands, grocery shopping primarily, things are also delivered by drone, he picks up the package and goes back inside. He played golf once. Surveillance hasn’t been able to break in and plant cameras, the night they went to dinner there was a party next door, backyard barbeque. Listening device didn’t reveal much. They’ve apparently been at this long enough that the girls know what to do.”
Zi, “You mean there is no discussion of what’s allowed, like reminders, do this but don’t do that.”
“Yes, only ‘time to get dressed, time to leave’, like that. If the girls talk to each other about what happened, they haven’t done it while Surveillance was listening. It’s mostly TV or something streaming, otherwise they’re relatively quiet. There was a snippet where one told the other ‘Fran is passed out again’, referring to mom. They don’t call her mommy.”
“Do we know if she’s the real mom? Maybe they were taken.”
“Good question, no, we don’t. Get Grace B on it.”
I pull her up on my phone, “Things good there?”
“Getting the house prepped to shut down, the usual.”
“Find out if the two girls are the biological children of the woman. We know the man isn’t the father, we don’t know that she’s the mother, the children call her Fran, not mom.”
“Fran Masters, she took the man’s name, he is Michael. The children are, Dahlia and Clarissa, there is no record of them under the name Masters. I will get back to you. I have their photos, which may not be anyplace on the net but that is not my only option.”
The screen goes dark, guess we’re done.
Janah, “Time to check out the premises, guess we could do it by drone, but there’s something about seeing the layout first hand.”
And there is something, the condo on the right is vacant.
Janah, “Surveillance didn’t note that, not like them, let me make a call.”
She chats with one of the operatives, “Nothing to apologize for, must have gone up today, you’re inactive, still on call until further notice, the video was excellent as usual,” she disconnects, “apology, they didn’t notice anything unusual, there was no for sale sign the last time they were here, which was yesterday, it had to have gone up today.”
Nikko, “They can’t know what they can’t know, place has curtains, cars park around back, people are at work, traveling, no visible car doesn’t mean much.”
Janah, “See an alarm system, place like this, bound to be something.”
“Could be turned off while real estate agents are in and out, for sale normally indicates there’s not much to steal. I remember in the way back, when Katya and Katja slept in for sale places, they said the main problem was the real estate agent’s lock. Generally they busted a window and went in, Katya said alarms were frequently off.”
Zi, “That must have been risky, some alarms are silent, just go to the security company.”
“They would break the glass, unlock a door and leave it open, then disappear for a while. If no cops showed up in a half hour, they spent the night. Home for sale has keep the water on, gas or electric. They couldn’t turn on lights for obvious reasons, but they could shower, be warm or cool off. They took turns sleeping and left in the morning.”
Valeria, “I never heard that story.”
“In general, we don’t discuss the past, I brought it up because it might apply here. I’m going to rattle a door and jiggle a few windows, we’ll see if the cops or fire department shows.”
I exit, stroll down the block to the condo, pretend to take an interest in the for sale sigh, then walk to the front windows like I’m trying for a peek inside. I twist the front door handle, pull and push a good yank. On the side of the place I pound on a couple of window frames. In the rear, there’s parking and a low rail fence. I hop over, try to open the sliding glass door with a sharp pull. If the alarm is on, somebody will make an appearance.
Back in the car, we drive the block aimlessly, turn to the next street. Just for show we stop in front of another for sale and I take a look in the front window, then back around to where we started. Nothing.
“Time to B&E, you want to learn the lock pick Valeria?”
Easy answer, we’re at the rear, sliding glass doors are a different pick than a regular lock. The front door has the real estate lock, and while they aren’t hard to pick, it’s daytime, which precludes me fiddling with it.
“Okay, there are two ways in, unless there's second lock installed up top, then we’re screwed. First, take the handle and yank it up and down, lifting the door as much as possible.”
I do it, no dice, “They simple way is out, the good news is the door does move, which means there’s no second lock up top. Now we use this.”
I pull out my multi-purpose tool, use the flat head screwdriver to pull the door just a shade away from the frame. A second long blade screwdriver poked into the gap and push up. The locks clicks open and we’re in.
We go inside, I show Valeria how to drill a teeny hole in the wall, then insert the mike facing the adjoining condo, one in each bedroom that will match up with the living area and bedrooms next door. The tiny devices are creations of Eloise, so flat you barely notice them and placed behind pictures like we did, they become invisible.
“Final detail, everyone is home, his car is the blue Tesla. Take this, see the magnet on this side of the box?”
“Walk past the car, drop my multi-too right behind the bumper. Squat down to pick it up and at the same time, reach the box under the bumper and stick it to any metal piece, you’ll hear it click. Give it a pull to make sure it’s firmly attached, understand?”
“Yes,” she takes the tool in her left hand, box concealed in her right.
“When you’re done, keep walking in the same direction, we’ll get you on the other end. If anyone notices you, it would seem odd for you to be going one way then turn around.”
She crosses the drive, strolls along, the tool drops. Handily, it bounces just under the bumper. Squatting, she examines it to see if anything broke, what a clever girl, the thing is near indestructible but the examination is a distraction to anyone looking. I hear the click from where I’m standing. She pops up and continues on her way.
Back in the SUV, Janah, “Good job sneaky, you did the magician’s sleight of hand, draw the eye to one thing while manipulating the trick with the other.”
“The children watch video of magic tricks and try to figure them out, I like to watch with them. The box is secure.”
Nikko checks the GPS, “It’s good.”
“We had to leave the door unlocked, I think it’s safe to assume the next time the house is shown they’ll think it a screw up, someone showed the house and forgot to lock the sliding door.”
Nikko, “It doesn’t much matter, hardly going to leap to the conclusion someone broke in to install listening devices in an empty condo. With Eloise’s stuff, you can’t tell which way the mike is facing, both side of the disk look the same. She and Lauren do amazing work.”
“Britt’s hanging out in the workshop too, we have a whole electronics department.”
At the hotel, we wait for the tracker to show any life, Nikko has a drone over the condo and is letting Valeria navigate, zoom in, fade out, fiddle with the drone’s listening device. If anyone in the condo so much as sneezes, we’ll hear it.
A man’s voice, obviously Michael, “Girls, tonight is a regular, you remember Mr. Simpson?”
A girl’s voice, “The pussy licker, he gives us presents. He said to wear the last one next time we see him.”
Michael, “What was it?”
“The thing around our necks, um, chokers, with diamonds.”
A second girl, we can’t tell which is Dahlia or Clarissa, although Dahlia is six and Clarissa is eight we think. This voice sounds younger.
“He likes us dressed up, with heels and makeup.”
Michael, “Right, the black dress for Dahlia, white for Clarissa. Donovan will be here at six thirty. Simpson gets two hours, Donovan will get you at nine. Got it?”
A double reply, “Yes.”
They must leave, we hear Michael, talking to Fran, “God, those two are gold mines, do what they’re told, don’t ask questions.”
A slurred voice, “Gimmie a cig baby, and a drink.”
Zi, “Those mikes are splendid.”
“Let’s see if the kids have anything to say.”
I flip around channels, find the upstairs microphones, only shower noises for ten, then it’s off, then hair dryers. It’s quiet for a time.
Janah, “Kids aren’t chatterboxes, no music, no TV.”
Girl’s voice, “We need to do nails, he likes us to look older. I’ll do your nails, then your toes. Keep still until everything is dry. I’ll do mine after. What color do you want?”
“The dark red one.”
“Okay, I’m wearing the black dress, mine will be purple, or maybe silver.”
Dahlia, “How long do we have to keep doing this? It is almost every night.”
“We make them a lot of money, Fran doesn’t care about anything but drugs and beer. Mike wants the money to pay for his country club and car. We’re trapped, what are we going to do, call the cops and tell them we’re whores? Then we go to foster care, I looked it up. Foster care is no better than this.”
“But every day? We don’t do anything, don’t go to school, nothing outside the house, we’re prisoners.”
“We get fed, we have a gym and we practice our tumbling and dance. We have to look good, that’s what the people pay for, pretty little girls to dance, sing songs, show our pussies and let them play with us. It isn’t hard. Besides, you only have to kiss the dicks, I’m the one that gets the jizz in my mouth.”
“I know, but it won’t be much longer before they make me do it too.”
“At least they can’t stick their things in us, Mike is an asshole, but he knows better than to get us messed up down there when we’re still so young. When we’re older, when I’m twelve, we can figure out how to leave maybe. People give us extra money, I’m keeping it stashed, we have, like, eight thousand Mike doesn’t know about. And he isn’t going to find out. Now be still, I have to get you ready.”
It goes quiet, I get the impression it’s quiet most of the time. Sisters that close in age and enduring what they do, much of what is said is said silently.
Nikko, “Not good, not as bad as it could be.”
Janah, “Where’s Grace B, if Fran is a birth mother I’ll join a convent.”
Grace B pops up, “The chances of any of your horny asses becoming celibate is zero. Fran is a second cousin, the only remaining family connection. She hooked up with Masters, who the children were before is irrelevant, none of that crowd is around. She didn’t want them at all, but Masters saw an opportunity and took it.”
“Wait, when did they get the girls?”
“Unknown, it is as if the girls never existed.”
Janah, “These girls have probably known nothing else. You heard them say they’ve never been to school, except porn school.”
Nikko, “He would have introduced them to child porn via the dark net or VR. Convinced them it was ordinary, lots of kids did it. What do they know?”
Janah, “The older one has figured it out, she’s even got a half formed plan. Katya and Katja pulled it off when they were only eight. Of course they killed three Russian child sellers first, a different mindset here.”
Valeria, “It will occur to Dahlia eventually. The difference is, people know they live there. Katya and Katja were secreted into the country and nobody knew about Russian child sellers.”
“How did you find that out?”
“We are all Russian or anyway Slavic, Dasha, Daria, Katya, Katja, the children, we talk of it among ourselves.”
Janah, “They are a family within our family.”
“Yep, and they’re tighter than thumbscrews.”
We’re parked outside a hotel in downtown Dallas, The Superior, a monstrosity constructed in the last five years after Dallas showed signs of crawling out from bankruptcy, before real estate prices began to rise.
“He’ll park in the underground garage. I doubt he’s stupid enough to haul two white girls through a hotel entrance while a valet fiddles with his wheels.”
Nikko, “What if he does, just tips the guy to hold his car there rather than park it?”
“Good point. Then we have to take him either in the hallway near whatever room the customer’s in, which is messy, or wait until he collects the girls and nab him on the drive home. That’s not so great either.”
Nikko, “And the kids have one more round of…whatever the customer wants.”
Janah, “Not my preference either, but this is one more time on top of a lot of times. We bungle this, it isn’t good for the girls and it isn’t good for us. I can get us out of trouble, the girls will have the problem.”
Nikko shrugs, she gets Janah’s point, we have to hope he goes directly to the lot.
“Do we duke it out with him?”
Valeria, “I’ll stun him, even if we do it in the hallway.”
“We have to be ready to ditch the car on the street if he uses the entrance…here they come.”
He skips the drop off drive and heads to the lot. I pull in just after he collects his ticket and the gate goes up then down. I follow suit, we trail him around for two levels, he pulls into an empty spot.
Valeria hops out, “I should approach alone,” she roll up the waistband of her skirt until it barely covers her.
Janah, “We’ll be around,” she has a syringe, sticks the needle in a vial and draws down five ccs of our tranquilizer, adds three more, he’s a barn door and will take a kicker. Big boy will be out for an hour or more.
Valeria saunters slowly towards the car, dawdles, waiting for them to exit. When they do, she’s positioned herself to be walking towards them, not coming from behind.
“Those legs are plenty of distraction.”
Janah, “Reminds me of a fourteen year old you.”
Big Boy, “What’s a sexy thing like you doing wandering around down here? I be back in a few, maybe we can talk…get a drink.”
Valeria walks straight up to him, “I’m not old enough to drink, but I’m old enough to fuck.”
Big Boy is momentarily speechless, then a big grin, then he’s on his back with a heavy thud, his body jiggles and twitches.
Valeria looks at the girls, “Come with me, you do not do this anymore, it is over.”
Clarissa looks at her sister, “What do we do?”
Dahlia, “You mean you take us and we do it for somebody else.”
She’s not an imbecile, lack of formal education notwithstanding.
Valeria yanks down her dress, now it’s a more respectable three inches over her knee, “Big act. We are here to take you out of this, not put you back in it. I was in the same trap, my friends saved me, now we save you. We need to move.”
Something in her voice connects, Dahlia, “Come on Clarissa, maybe it’s true.”
She brings them to our SUV, the girls climb in, Clarissa, “All girls.”
“That’s us, and we’ve done this before, just relax, you’re safe.”
Nikko, “Do you know the room number you were going to?”
Dahlia, “Mr. Pemberton always stay in the penthouse.”
“What’s he look like?”
“Small, very dressed up, suit, dark hair with gray in it. He wears tinted glasses. He is Chinese, I don’t know why he’s Mr. Pemberton.”
“He doesn’t want you to know his real name. Anyone with him?”
Nikko turns to me, “I’m going to have a chat. I’ll get an Uber someplace else,” she gets out and heads to the elevator.
Dahlia, “What is she going to do?”
“Help the Chinese make better life choices.”
“He never hurts us, we only dance and sing, show him our…you know, he likes to feel us, lick, I use my hand to get him, um, excited. He likes us to leave our panties, then we go home.”
“She won’t kill him if that’s your concern.”
“Oh. There are some, I wouldn’t mind if they died. Always want to put their cock in us, we’re little girls, they don’t care.”
“What do you do?”
“Remind them that Donovan is coming to pick us up.”
“That would work.”
She’s silent, holds her sister’s hand.
Janah climbs in, “Donovan is resting comfortably between cars.”
“Nikko will catch up to us later.”
Dahlia, “So much for bodyguard, what did she do to him?”
I’m pulling out of the lot, “The girl used a stun gun, you know what that is?”
“I didn’t see any gun, he looked electrocuted.”
“That’s what a stun gun does. Then this girl gave him a shot to make him sleep, he’ll be fine.”
More quiet, I can almost feel her wheels turning. We drive to the hotel.
I make tea, Janah and Zi talk to the girls.
Janah, “Here’s the thing. I get the sense that you understand you are being used by Mike to get money. That is not only illegal, it’s immoral. Do you understand?”
Dahlia, “We always understood, well, not at first, it was all I knew. We saw videos of other kids, he told us lots of kids make money from it, to help their families. But we were allowed to watch TV and use Netflix. Eventually I figured it out. We wanted to run away, but how, we’re little kids. We also watched programs about foster children being moved from place to place, and even brothers and sisters being separated. I can’t let that happen to Clarissa, she would die.”
“Understood, which is why you will never be separated, there’s no foster care in your future.”
“We talk it over, then you decide, not us.”
This is dicey, kids who come to our home stay with us, we don’t want the kids at ranches knowing who we are. Most kids at the ranches come from the activities of other of our Social Workers and those kids have never seen us. Some we rescued but for one reason or another, we placed them at a ranch. Boys for instance, or girls with brothers. We have a houseful of girls and women, no men or boys, we aren’t set up for it.
Valeria, “You will come to our house, you will see.”
Clarissa finally speaks, “I’ll go anyplace I don’t have to have men sticking their thing in my mouth. My sister says we will have to do other things when we are older, let them put it inside.”
Valeria, “I told you, that is over.”
Clarissa lays her head in her sister’s lap, stretches her legs over Valeria’s. We have to wake her up by the time we hit the Rosewood.
“Kind of, Mr. Pemberton usually has snacks.”
Valeria fixes them sodas, something without caffeine. I order a couple of pizzas, good enough for now. Nikko shows up an hour later.
She’s in my head, “The Chinese has agreed to hire adult professional escorts from now on,” she doesn’t elaborate and I wasn’t in her head while she visited him.
An hour later, the girls are drowsy, Valeria sets them up on the fold out bed, pillows, sheets, a blanket. They are quiet and compliant, it’s been tense for them and they are ready to shut down.
Valeria, “I will stay here.”
We go to the adjoining room to figure out what’s next.
Janah, “Is there any point to refocusing Masters? He’s got no kids to peddle.”
Nikko, “He gets more, he’s hooked and has the money to buy more.”
“Donovan’s story may discourage him, he’ll know somebody’s on to him.”
Janah, “We have the recordings, it’s only audio, but it’s clearly him, Fran and the children. I say we get it to him, promise the usual monitoring and keep him under surveillance for a while. We’ll do the normal reminders, photos of him coming out of his house, shopping, notes on his car, keep him spooked.”
We mean Surveillance will do it, alternating teams paid to take pictures, video, leave the odd message every few weeks.
“Grace B will hack his stuff, collect his child porn and forward it to the DA. He’ll be busted with no idea what went wrong or who did it.”
Nikko, “What about the girls? They know where they lived, they know the two people and Donovan. I’m not suggesting there’s any love lost, it’s just detail that ties us to the them.”
Janah, “I’ll take care of that, Mike, Fran Donovan and Dallas will be a blurred memory. In fact, most of it will be blurred memory.”
“There’s another thing, cops will get a warrant and search the house. It will be evident that children were there.”
Janah, “Not after Cleaners are done. I’m sending Social Workers to Masters, that separates us from him. Donovan only saw a young girl. After our team has deconstructed Masters and the drunk, they will be wrapped up tight while Cleaners will remove all trace of the girls.”
Nikko nods, “You’ve been busy.”
“Kind of, Grace B has been busy at my direction.”
How will Janah, and likely me, turn the girls’ bad memories into mush? We’ll go into their minds and defrag, names, faces and places, not so much forgotten as smeared. We want them to remember what happened, but only generally, almost like a dream. They had been used, abused by adults they had no control over. We’ll go easy, not fry their brains, just a slow fade.
Janah, “Now the most important part, how did you read them Zi?”
“Confusion and doubt from Dahlia, she’s protective of her sister. Clarissa would have walked hot coals to get gone, which Dahlia knew. I got no sense of how they felt about the sexual abuse itself. Apparently stepfather doesn’t do anything, not sure how we got that idea, but I think he’s only in it for the money.”
Janah, “It might clear up later, depending on what they volunteer. Our approach doesn’t call for them to relive things, just the opposite. We get them home, let them settle, find out where they are educationally, go from there.”
Nikko, “We need to build more space. Once they see the homes and get absorbed by the children, they aren’t going to any ranch.”
“True, guess you bought yourself a project, we’re in Arizona, which means Malibu is first. Arizona has guest bedrooms, we have time to add space later.”
Nikko, “Janah, you’re up to thirty two plus bots and a dog. Can I get some idea of a cap, a limit?”
Janah giggles, “We don’t do limits, you know that Nishiko.”
Nikko sighs, “Then I’m building a giant open space in both homes that we can build out later. At least Amaya will be happy, she gets to design more rooms.”
I kiss her, “See how everything falls into place?”
Grace B sends us hoked up passports in case anyone enquires about two blondies that don’t resemble any of us.
Janah, “The bots raided his files, Emma B said the guy was ridiculously unprotected. Nothing encrypted, just stuck on his home computer. Nothing new or unusual, just typical child porn, almost all girls. I didn’t see any of it, Emma B reviewed, attached his name and address, the Dallas DA will get it after our Social Workers occupy Mike and Fran, and after Cleaners have been through the condo.”
“Good to have quantum bots, even Daria would have taken a couple of hours to track his IP and get to his computer. Wait, were there any videos of the girls?”
“Yes, but they weren’t part of the files to be forwarded to the DA and she deleted those from his drive. There were only two short videos, I assume come-ons for potential customers. The girls were dressed, more like the child modeling sites, peek of panty, dancing in their underwear, like that. Even if he has things elsewhere, like a backup drive, he’s never going to see what the DA got. They’ll confiscate his computer and any other electronics. Mike was pimping them out, I doubt he’s going to volunteer missing girls, there is no formal record of them even having kids, foster or otherwise. And there won’t be any evidence children actually lived there, our Cleaners are extraordinarily thorough.”
The girls are fascinated with the plane, they had never flown.
I hear Dahlia ask Valeria, “I’ve seen movies with airplanes, how come there are no other people but us?”
“Those are called commercial airlines, they take lots of different passengers. You have to wait in line, fly when the airline wants to fly. We fly on private planes, they take only us and we go when we want to go, not when they want to go. It is a short flight, an hour, then a half hour to our house. Have you been to Arizona?”
“We haven’t been anywhere but the condo and hotels.”
I sigh, maybe I should have turned Nikko loose on Masters.
Clarissa takes it in, she doesn’t say much, I get the sense there is communication, just not verbal, they look at each other a lot. Clarissa sticks with her sister, kisses her cheek frequently, hangs onto her hand.
Our self driving SUV waits at Prescott Municipal, I sit behind the wheel and don’t do anything except enjoy the view. The girls stare out at the mountains.
Dahlia, “We’ve never seen mountains up close, they are beautiful, like a movie.”
“We like it, today you can climb around our mountain if you want.”
“You live on a mountain?”
Then we’re home, we warned the tribe not to crowd the main room, we will introduce the girls after they have a chance to get stowed away. Not much stow, they have the clothes on their back, the sheath dresses they wore last night.
Emma B greets us, the only other visible being is Morshchiny.
Clarissa hides behind her sister, Dahlia says, “That is a giant dog, is it friendly?”
“Once you are introduced, maybe your best friend. She is trained to protect her family, so not so friendly with people she doesn’t know. Just wait.
Morshchiny rears up for my normal greeting, thumps her paws on my shoulders and sticks her nuzzle in my neck, sniffs around my head.
Dahlia, “What’s she doing?”
“That how she recognizes her family, by scent.”
Satisfied I’m me, she thunks down to the floor, I kneel next to Dahlia, kiss her cheek, give the Russian command for family, “Sem'ya Morshchiny.”
I tell the girls, “Now she’s going to get you in her memory, it’s okay, just relax.”
Morshchiny shifts her massive head to Dahlia, sniffs her neck, around her head, Dahlia giggles, “It tickles. Try it Clarissa.”
Clarissa steps out, I repeat the command and kiss Clarissa. The mastiff has to lower her head, Clarissa isn’t as tall as our resident beast, she has a grin that almost exceeds the width of her cheeks.
Clarissa, “She’s beautiful and ugly, so wrinkly.”
“Morshchiny is Russian for wrinkles.”
“Can we pet her?”
“She would be sad if you didn’t.”
Morshchiny is treated to four little hands on her head, scratching hr sides and back. Her slab of tongue hangs out the side of her mouth. She turns and heads to the stairs, takes a half dozen steps, then turns to the girls, a few more steps and turns again.
“She wants you to follow her and meet her friends.”
Dahlia looks at me, “You have more dogs?”
“I grin, Morshchiny’s friends are all people, girls like you and Clarissa.”
Dahlia is puzzled, “We never had friends.”
“You do now, go on, just follow her, Valeria will come with you.”
That settles them, they trail the hound up the steps, Valeria first, the two girls right behind.
I hear girls screech and giggle.
The rest of the family starts to wander in.
Amaya, “Things going okay?”
“Morshchiny made them welcome, little girls and big dogs have a radar all their own.”
“Nobody worse for the wear I see.”
“It was rather easy, Valeria played a teenage hooker and dropped the bodyguard in his tracks.”
“Probably the legs, she hiked her dress up to nothing and distracted him.”
“That would do it.”
“And she also got something from the Zycyryn, Valeria is her own stun gun, she zapped him into a twitching mass of fat boy.”
“Get out! Good gravy, the things people in this family can do. We’re our own science fiction, except we’re not fiction.”
Dasha kisses me, yum, “I will see to children,” she hikes up the stairs.
We noodle around, Grace B appears, “I suppose I have to be good around two more sprites.”
“That would be preferable, but they’ve heard the words before, some of them anyway.”
She takes our bit of luggage, “I’m more intelligent than all of you in a lump and get stuck being a fucking valet,” she hauls it off.
“Good to see you too Grace B.
I giggle, Amaya gave that bot a mouth like her namesake, Chloe Grace Moretz playing Hit Girl in a long ago movie. She had a mouth that would make a drill sergeant blush. Grace B isn’t Chloe B because we already have a Chloe. Grace B looks just like the thirteen year old character in the movie, without the costume.
Emma B is British, based on a young Emma Watson, post Harry Potter, about Bling Ring age. The movies are old and forgotten now, but Emma was adorable as a nineteen year old thief, and she lives on in our bot today. Kota B is based on a long ago girl who loved everything Japanese, despite being pure American. She had a strange YouTube career doing quirky fashion and makeup, as she was good in a cosplay sort of way.
Her American persona was Dakota Rose, her Japanese one Kotakoti.
Eloise and Daria built the bots, programmed them with Susan’s help, Amaya created the voices to sound exactly like their characters.
“Ellen, what can I help with for lunch, Dasha and Valeria are up with the children and our new additions.”
“I’ve got the fillings made for finger sandwiches, just need to cut bread and make them up. Just chips on the side. We haven’t had Nikko’s favorite for dinner in a while, so we’re having Osso Bucco. The shanks are tied, sitting in the cooler. We can brown them before tea, the rest of it after.”
“Sounds yummy,” Nikko comes in to get a cup of coffee, “Ellen is making Osso Bucco tonight.”
Nikko looks up, “Top of my list, something about meat on the bone.”
Ellen, “Marrow, the yellow marrow, melts in and gives it a richer flavor and umami, same reason ribs are so tasty. Bone in has no impact on grilled meats, the marrow portion of, say, a rib eye, is small and the marrow mostly melts through the grill. To properly use marrow, it has to become part of the sauce the meat cooks in.”
Nikko, “Thank you, I have little skill in the kitchen, unless you count cutting things up,” she moves on to wherever she’s headed, likely reviewing investments.
Ellen, “She does have an expertise with knives.”
“And swords. In the old days we went with katana on some projects. Drugs, drones and the lasers changed our approach. If we ever go back to more traditional methods, Nishiko will be ready.”
“She take a blade to Dallas?”
“Nikko takes a blade everywhere, you just don’t see it. I have no idea if she used it, she saw one man, a customer, alone. He may have a few nicks.”
I take a long look up and down Ellen’s legs, she’s helpfully in a short t-shirt, our home uniform.
She smiles, “Anything you’d like to enjoy privately?”
“Only everything, shall we?”
We shall, her room is vacant, at least until we get in it and lock the door. Then I take and taste the object of my lust, several times. I’d do Ellen in the middle of Times Square, on the deck of a cruise ship, at forty thousand feet on a packed airliner, on the floor of the Supreme Court. Probably add to the experience.