Thirty Seven

When I wake up, luscious Natalie is sleeping next to me. We had delightful intimacies last night, but she generally goes to her bedroom when she’s done with me. I ease out and head to a morning shower.
As I get to the bathroom door I hear, “Don’t have to tiptoe, I’m up, trying to convince myself I don’t have to pee, I’m losing the debate.”
I get the shower going, there are dual shower heads in my shower. I don’t know if it’s because Zoe C thought I’d be extra dirty or just that I’m a big guy. Natalie climbs in.
“Two shower heads was a stroke, we don’t have to keep shifting positions.”
“Zoe C’s doing, she has dual heads in her bathroom because she shares with Elle.
Gives us a spare bedroom, Elle doesn’t use hers except to store a few clothes.
Mac is already in the kitchen, Akiko on a stool at the counter, she’s made coffee, bless her. I lean in and give the white haired wonder a kiss on the cheek, then snag McKenzie. 
“Good morning angels, what do I need to do?”
McKenzie, “Akiko will make pancakes, I am making scrambled, you will cook bacon.”
We do bacon in the oven, grease a slotted broiler pan, set it in a foil lined baking pan, four hundred degree oven for twelve or thirteen, turn the oven off and let it sit in the hot oven. Fat drips down, bacon comes out perfectly crispy.
Zak comes in, he has infallible food radar, “Pancakes…yay!”
Everything is a yay for Zak, if people had his attitude there’d be world peace. Obviously most people don’t have his attitude, which is why we interact with people so seldom. It isn’t that we don’t like them, well, it is actually, they get so tedious with their opinions, prejudices and whatnot, it simply isn’t worth the effort.
I think lots of people see it our way, they just aren’t rich or self sufficient enough to withdraw from the world.
Shortly after breakfast cleanup, a boat motors up to our dock. It’s marked with an insignia indicating it’s Alberta park rangers. I go down to the dock after telling the others to stay inside, no point in making them nervous about two gigantic dogs.
“Morning.”
“Morning sir, I’m Jack Davidson, this is my partner Pete Jankowski. Checking up on fishing licenses.”
“On the houseboat over the sink in plain sight, take a look.”
Jankowski boards the houseboat, goes in the cabin, out fifteen seconds later.
“He’s got eight of them, all current.”
“Eight, got a houseful then.”
“Pretty full, I told them to stay inside, we have two dogs, not mean dogs, but big, a Mastiff and a Great Dane.”
Davidson grins, “You own a pet food company?”
“Practically, we buy in bulk.”
“We picked up a couple of hunters, illegal hunters, after an anonymous phone call. The call was spot on, illegal guns, two protected birds shot.”
“Glad you caught ‘em. I don’t know what gets into people, there’s plenty of legal hunting, stupid really.”
“Well, it’s going to cost them, guns will be destroyed, hefty fine, Americans, always seems to be Americans.”
“I’m not proud of my country, guns everywhere, primarily due to a misinterpreted second amendment.”
Davidson looks surprised, “Don’t get many Americans up here with that attitude, most of ‘em think the right to bear arms was sent down by God as the eleventh commandment.”
“We don’t mind guns, but they need to be much more strictly regulated and tracked, like Canada.”
“Heard that. Did you hear gunshots day before yesterday?”
“We heard a pop, didn’t connect it with gunfire, partly because there’s a no hunting rule for this stretch of mountain.”
“So you didn’t call it in?”
“Nope,” a little lie, Zoe C called it in, not me.
“May I ask where you’re from?”
“Come on, you checked the ownership before you showed up here, be stupid not to and I don’t get the vibe that either of you are stupid.”
“It says it’s owned by Hypatia LLC, domiciled in the Caymans.”
“There you go, that’s our company. I’m Chris Carlyle, we live in California.”
“Most of the year, now that we built this place it will be less of the year, we like Canada.”
“What’s Hypatia do if I may ask?”
“Investments, it’s a holding company, one of the family runs it. Hypatia buys companies, smaller ones, we can supply capital, money for expansion or product development. The owners get to cash out but keep running the business they created. Plus the principals have extensive business experience, some small companies have good products or services but not much in the way of financial or economic backgrounds.”
“Sounds complicated.”
“The CEO is whip smart, complexity isn’t a problem, we even have computers.”
Davison laughs, Jankowski looks confused.
Davidson, “You wouldn’t happen to own a drone?”
“Me? Nope, I can’t even play video games,” the drones are mostly McKenzie’s thing, so I don’t technically own them, “but maybe I’ll buy one, I hear they’re fun.”
“Whoever sent the heads up about hunters appears to have taken the video with a drone.”
“Don’t you guys have drones, seems like a good way to cover the territory, keep an eye on things.”
“We have one, budget says we might get another next year. We could use a half dozen.”
“Can you accept donations?”
“Gee, I suppose so.”
“Send me specs on what kind, I’ll see what I can do.”
“You want to donate a drone?”
“Why not, we live here part of the year, or will from now on. Be nice to know the area is covered, people get lost, hurt, you can’t drive trucks or even snowmobiles some places. A drone could be a big help.”
“Can I get back to you?”
“Of course, take this number, text or voice, your choice.”
“How many people live here?”
I smile, “All of them. Sorry, we are private sorts, look me up you won’t find much. Nothing untoward, I’ve found when people think you’re rich, it creates problems. We live a relatively quiet life, here and in California, we don’t seek or want attention.”
“So you’re not the Kardashians?”
I laugh, “Sounds horrible.”
They laugh, Davidson, “Does, doesn’t it? Anyway, we’ll be on our way, hear anything like gunshots, call.”
“How about a coffee to take with you?”
Zoe C is in my head, following the conversation.
Jankowski, “Damn, that would be great.”
“How do you take it?”
“Black, Davidson likes cream and sugar.”
Thirty seconds later Zoe C comes out with two paper coffee cups and lids, “Who gets the black?”
Jankowski, “How in hell?”
She hands them the coffees, dazzles with a smile, heads back to the house.
Davidson, “Mr. Carlyle…”
“Chris, or Chef, my tribe calls me Chef.”
“Chef, no offense meant, but that is the most gorgeous woman I’ve seen live…ever.”
Jankowski, “Ditto.”
“I’ll pass along the compliment, she’s my right and left hand, and before you get your knickers in a knot, she’s into girls….exclusively.”
Davidson shakes his head, “I’m gonna lay awake tonight digesting that.”
“Enjoy the coffee gentlemen.”

Thirty Eight

Two weeks pass, between hiking, fishing, visits from Akiko’s owl, and her bear, we stay engaged without getting hyper-active. Mickey and Zak do Krav and bang each other with sticks. Zak is blind but he’s overcome that when they spar, his attacks and defenses are as efficient as any sighted person. 
Elle, “Zackary is good, not just adequate, how’s he doing that, blind?”
McKenzie says he has blindsight.”
“Which is…?”
“The ability to see, sense, things he can’t see with normal sight. I looked it up, in general the blind sighted can distinguish edges, contrasts, and motion. Interestingly, Wiki says blindsight challenges the belief that perceptions must enter consciousness to affect our behavior, rather showing behavior can be guided by sensory information of which we have no conscious awareness.”
Elle, “Sheesh, there’s a lot going on up here,” she points to her own head.
“Which explains why the brain distills, selects, the information that is relevant to what we need to know in the moment and hides from consciousness what it deems irrelevant.”
It’s morning, post breakfast not yet lunch. Mickey and Zak are on the houseboat, it’s docked but they like to sit on the stern, which is lakeside. The dogs are with them, circling the deck and peering into the water, Burma parks in Mickey’s lap waiting for them to catch something. They get a bite occasionally but it’s mostly just soaking up atmosphere with minimal conversation. I find myself thinking they’re like Zoe C and me, in tune, synchronized mind to mind.
I’m chilling on the porch, the others are somewhere, everyone has to be somewhere, I just don’t know where at the moment.
I spot a boat, the park rangers, I go down to the dock.
“Kids, park rangers are coming, go up to the house and hang until I know what they want.”
Put the poles up, hop to the dock and go up, Mickey is carrying Burma, the dogs follow. I don’t care if they spotted the two kids, or the dogs, I just don’t want them involved in whatever. Another five and the boat eases to the dock, “Hello Davidson, Jankowski, to what do I owe the pleasure?”
“We came for coffee, think the young lady could….”
“Sure, step out, we can sit on the houseboat, deck chairs are comfortable enough.”
This time, Elle brings the two cups, I’m sufficiently caffeinated. I watch the reaction. Elle is in a pair of tiny, snug cotton stretch shorts and a half t-shirt top, essentially a vision of perfection.
She hands them cups, “Nothing for you Chef?”
“I’m good, thanks.”
Her blondness smiles at the rangers, turns, they watch her step off the boat and walk up to the house.
Jankowski, “Oh please, she’s a model right, like a fitness girl, an actress?”
I grin, “A computer genius, and the girlfriend of the other one,” I haven’t used names and didn’t introduce either girl, they don’t need to know names.
Davidson, “I thought the first one was unique, now this.”
“They’re both unique, in different ways. So, how can I help? Find out about the drone?”
Davidson, “Yeah, the one we really want is fifty grand though, so thanks for the offer but that’s steep.”
“You have the name, specs?”
“Sure, not with me though, I figures it was a pipe dream.”
“Send me the specs, and the place where you want it sent.”
Jankowski, “You gonna buy us a fifty grand drone?”
“Sure, we need the area safe. And if I see it flying overhead here, it will be fifty at the bottom of the lake…privacy, remember? If you have to use it in the area, I expect a text saying so, or, like I said, it’s junk.”
Davidson, “Got it, and thank you in advance, this will save lives and I’m not being dramatic, we’ve lost folks up here for a lack of surveillance capacity.”
“Good, one other thing, thanks is enough, nothing to indicate how you got it, understood?”
“Is a case of the best maple syrup on the planet acceptable?”
“Not only acceptable, most appreciated, my tribe likes pancakes, and we use syrup in a few recipes, they’ll be even better now.”
Davidson sips coffee, appears to be trying to put a question but can’t figure out what the question is.
I wait, they sip coffee, Davidson is the lead dog, Jankowski an ordinary park ranger, I didn’t get ranks and don’t ask for them, their rank means nothing to me.
Davidson, “This is gonna sound squirrely.”
“Try me, I hardly ever laugh at cops, or park rangers.”
He nods, “Okay. We’ve had…incidents…incidents that make no sense. “
“Just tell me what happened, or what was reported to happen, don’t twist it this way or that.”
Now that I’ve taken away the stigma, he proceeds, “Three locals have acted out of character. A bartender, a bait shop owner and a nurse, they are only acquainted because this isn’t a big town, aside from tourists, everyone has at least a nodding acquaintance with everyone else. The bartender and nurse are as straight as they come, I don’t mean anything sexual, just citizens. Jefferson, who owns the bait and tackle, he can be…unusual, he’s into conspiracies, you know the type?”
“I do.”
“But other than vague references to secret cabals, fake money and people spying on him, he’s harmless.”
“Not walking around armed, or talking to the sky.”
“Exactly, the townspeople treat him as local color, frankly I think it’s mostly a lonely old man.”
“It bolsters his self-esteem to pretend that powerful people are trying to control him, he must be important if they need to keep an eye on him.”
“You do know the type. Anyway, Jimbo, the bartender, gave away all the cash in the till on a busy Friday night. The nurse, with an impeccable record I should add, got caught lifting drugs from the hospital and Jefferson went to the sheriff complaining that someone was stealing stuff from his shop.”
“Could you tell if things went missing?”
“Yeah, the place was half empty, Jefferson likes to stay stocked, I’ve never seen the place with half empty racks and shelves. Jefferson has weird ideas, but he isn’t stealing from himself.”
“An none of them knows why they did it, or if anyone else was involved, they’re blank.”
Jankowski, “You’ve seen this before, where, California?”
“Several places, all in the states, I haven’t been to Canada until we built, remodeled, this place.”
“What can you tell us?”
“That you do not want to confront this person.”
“Violent?”
“Only if provoked, they like to stay under the radar. The kind of thing you’re talking about is just for their amusement. Getting money isn’t a problem, getting anything isn’t a problem. They fix a mind, take what they want, leave the victim with no memory of it.”
Jankowski, “Come on, you sound like Jefferson, different conspiracy I admit.”
I ignore his comment, “The victims all in town, or nearby?”
“Bar is across from the bait shop, the hospital is on the west side of town, more like an emergency room. They do patch up from ski falls, or someone gets a fishhook in their finger, triage, no surgeries, deliver babies, nothing complicated. They chopper the serious stuff to Banff.”
Davidson, “Who can do that? You’re telling me they stand in front of the vic, tell them to give up the cash, and they just do it…and forget about it?”
“That’s what I’m telling you. And he, or she, is just warming up. Unless they move on, things will get more bizarre. You get a lot of tourists, even now, in the summer?”
“Not like the ski crowds, but yes, summer is fishing, hunting and hiking. Hunting is to the east and across the lake, there’s no hunting on the town side. We intentionally made it a pain, got to hire a boat, haul camping gear, guns checked in and registered in detail, we even take photos of the hunter and his guns.”
“Essentially trying to discourage hunting at all.”
He smiles, “If we never saw another hunter it would be too soon. Drunk fishermen is enough grief, at least they don’t shoot anything. We don’t want any of our wildlife shot, there are times when we need to corral coyotes or wolves, the deer can get overpopulated, but we could take care of that on our own. The province politicians want the revenue, so they issue limited hunting licenses. Not everyone obeys the rules, as happened the other day. When it does, we bust ‘em and send ‘em back home poorer.”
Jankowski, “Mr. Carlyle, we respect your privacy, and your family’s, despite our suspicion that you called in the hunters.”
“Thank you.”
Davidson, “In exchange for that, come clean with us about these…whatever they are. We need to get him, her, whoever, nailed and out of circulation. Who is this person? You say there are more so I guess the question is plural, who are these people?”
“We call them Shadows, as in a shadow of human. Think of a psychopath, then think of a psychopath that can literally take your mind. You never know how it happened and what you did, like the folks you came to me about.”
“This is sounding like…what…science fiction?”
“Does, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, that’s what’s going on and it’s not fiction.”
“You said this could get worse, the behavior of the..um..Shadow.”
“If you learn to ski, you fall down a lot, then you get steady and you improve, then you want steeper, a little more speed. Put another way, if all the slopes were greens, people would lose interest.”
“Ah, I see, this…Shadow amuses himself, but gets bored, so it’s on to something more enticing.”
“Yep, and because they are what they are, more enticing means increasingly depraved. Think of a daughter in a store minding her own business, then she’s gone, when she shows up again she recalls nothing.”
Jankowski, “You mean this puke could do whatever he wanted and she wouldn’t remember?”
“That’s almost the best outcome. Sometimes a Shadow will want them to remember, it causes more pain that way. The worst is capturing the girl’s mind, take a video of the subsequent humiliation, and send it to the parents. Naturally, they go ballistic, the girl swears she remember zip, they show her the video.”
“Crap on a cracker, now the whole family is shredded, is she lying, is she just blocking the memory? Send her off to therapy, which signals to the girl she’s broken somehow. It compounds her confusion.”
Jankowski and Davidson look at each other, dubious, but my story conforms to the three victims’ experience.”
“Look, I don’t need you to believe me, I get that I sound like the bait shop guy, but you already have testimony, had it before you came out here.”
Davidson, “What do we do?”
“Nothing but keep me informed. And don’t get brave. If you figure out who it is, what happens when you go to arrest him?”
Jankowski, “He gets arrested.”
Davidson, “No, what Chef is saying is that the Shadow starts fucking with us.”
“Right, and a talented Shadow can make you shoot your partner, or yourself, you will have no control over it. If you get him to jail, he starts in on the guard, before long he’s on the street and nobody knows how he got gone.”
They go quiet, it begins to sink in this is out of their league.
“Let me look into it, off the books, between the three of us. I can stop him, or her, or even them, although Shadows tend not to herd, they don’t like other Shadows but they will work together to remove a threat.”
“And you’re willing to be the threat?”
“Yep.”

Thirty Nine

The rangers left, probably a bit confused but there’s nothing they can do. They’ll report to whoever, then the questions will start. My guess is phone calls will be made to other police departments, do they have any experience with similar situations. 
Since we have no idea how widespread Shadows are, they may get nothing. I could also be written off as another crazy American with a unique conspiracy theory.
We spend another few days doing our thing, soaking up crisp clean mountain air, seeing no one but each other. 
It’s just past tea, five thirty, I walk out the back door, stand on the porch, where we have a long table with a sink and a hose with a spray nozzle, our fish filleting area. This porch has wooden slats, not concrete like the front, it lets the water run through. Guts, scales and heads go in a bucket that gets dumped in the lake. Fish parts become fish food.
The rear fence is about fifty yards farther up the mountain. I spot the kids with the dogs, Burma must be with them, she doesn’t like being left out. A closer look shows the bear on the other side of the fence. Akiko opens the gate, which is always locked, a titanium chain and bullet proof combination lock, water and rust resistant. 
The dogs stay put, Akiko goes to the bear, she seems satisfied with the little white haired girl stroking her head and scratching behind her ears. She actually lays down, Akiko sits next to her. Then she waves her hand, the others go out and join her around the bear, including the two dogs. They sniff, then sit, not a sound of hostility or fear that I can hear, the scene is almost idyllic.
I check in with Zoe C, 'Tell the others to come out here for a minute.'
The trois lovelies appear, I nod in the direction of the kids.
Natalie, “Is that the bear!”
“Yep, it’s a kumbaya moment, or McKenzie might say, ‘we are connected to the bear no less than each other.’
Elle, “Thought I’d seen everything, I was wrong. Akiko has an owl pal and a bear pal, before long she’ll have her own wilderness zoo.”
“They send the right vibe, curiosity, not fear, the creatures are simply more life connections.”
We stand and watch, silent, letting this yet another amazement settle in our minds.
Nearing six, the children stand, the bear stands, not just on all fours, on her hind legs. The roar is loud even from here.
Natalie, “What it doing, is there a problem, go see Chef!”
Akiko is about half the height of the bear, she hugs it, a quarter hug, Akiko is small and the bear is big. She thumps to the ground, turns and lumbers up the mountain.
Zelda and Cilia stand on either side of the gate until the children are safely in, then come in behind them. I see Mickey replace the chain and lock the lock. 
Zoe C, “Those two mutts are the best bodyguards, how do they know to flank the gate until the kids are in?”
“McKenzie I think, maybe Mickey, or both, it’s like the dogs can read minds.”
Elle, “I need a drink, what’s dinner anyway?”
“Fried trout, cornbread, baked potato with a load of additive options, mushrooms, sour cream, butter, scallions and grilled peppers.”
“Dang, making me hungry.”
“Let’s have a cocktail, the cornbread is ready, the potatoes are in the oven, I need to batter and fry the fillets.”
The kids come up the steps.
Zak, “See that? Akiko and Mac are awesome, what’s for dinner?”
I laugh, “All of you get clean and shiny, dinner will be ready by the time you’re done. And Mickey, before you go, hose off the dogs’ paws then dry them.”
“Will do.”
Old towels are stacked in a cupboard next to the cleaning table, something always needs to be wiped or dried or both.
Natalie, “Come on Mik, I’ll help, you spray while I hold the paws up.”
Thirty minutes later we’re scarfing fried trout, caught this morning, loaded baked and buttery cornbread, life is better than merely good.
Zak, “Anything from the rangers?”
“Still checking us out maybe. Tomorrow McKenzie and I will the area, see if she picks up anything Shadow related.”
“You mean like black auras?”
“Yes, or leftover smoky spots indicating one was around recently.”
“I want to go, can I?”
“Sure, but not the whole crew, attracts too much attention.”
Natalie, “You take Zelda or you aren’t going.”
I smile, she knows McKenzie is her own weapon, but she’s also one of the moms, she has no conception of overcautious.
Zoe C, “We have one vehicle, something goes sideways, we have no transportation to come help. Tomorrow I’m buying a scooter, maybe a dirt bike”
“Hadn’t occurred, good idea. If we come in the winter, we’ll need a couple of snowmobiles too, but that can wait, can’t do anything with them now.”
Zak, “I want to drive a snowmobile, do they come with canes for blind people?”
Mickey pokes him, “Idiot, I’ll ride passenger, then you can see what’s in front of you.”
Zak, “Cool.”
“Make sure everything has a muffler and is relatively quiet.”
“Of course, I don’t want my eardrums blasted anymore than you do. Scooters are quiet, I’ll get one of those, any dirt bike is going to be annoying, so a scooter, maybe two. Mickey and Zak can make grocery runs.”
Zak, “Yay! Ready to ride Mik?”
“Sure thing.”
We do less evening TV here, the kids like to be on the dock, or on the docked houseboat at night. Mickey, Zak and the dogs sleep on it frequently. Burma prefers the house and her various hiding places from which she leaps out when someone passes, like we’re prey, except she doesn’t bite, preferring to boink us on the nose with a soft paw. We call it Burma Tag, like hide and seek except Burma is the only one that hides.
Tonight there’s a meteor shower, just gorgeous, a dozen rocks from space burning up leaving a trail across the sky.
The evening is so enticing we stay out until near midnight, Mickey and Zak have settled, Zoe C goes to the boat the make sure they are suitably blanketed, it gets cold at night, the mountain doesn’t know much summer. Time to retire, Natalie graces me with her presence, we make gentle love then fade away so relaxed we might be liquid.
When I wake, Natalie is elsewhere, I get moving, quick shower and shave, out to see who’s moving. McKenzie and Akiko are having tea, coffee is made thank you Mac. I start to get functional after the first cup, seems right to have a second.
“Need help with breakfast?”
McKenzie, “Akiko will make pancakes, Canadian bacon, which here is called back bacon or peameal bacon, and the maple syrup they brought us.”
“Why peameal?”
“Before refrigeration they used to pack dried ground yellow peas around it for preservation. It isn’t from the fat belly like bacon, instead from the loin, and it isn’t smoked like American bacon.”
How does she know that? Oh well, they don’t need me to make pancakes and grill peameal bacon. I go out the check on Mik and Zak. 
First thing I see is two monster mutts circling the houseboat studying the water, or the fish in the water. I board the boat, give the dogs a pat.
“Go to the house girls, McKenzie will feed you,” don’t have to tell them twice, they hop to the dock and hot-paw it to breakfast, McKenzie might dice up a bit of peameal to add to their dry pellets.
In the cabin, through the galley, the door to the beds is open. Mik and Zak are curled together, Mickey’s back to Zak’s front. It’s chilly but they’re under a thick blanket. I can see the top half of faces, everything else is snuggled in.
I’m about to leave when I see Zak crack open one eye, “Is it breakfast?”
“Sure is, pancakes, peameal bacon and maple syrup, actual Canadian maple syrup.”
He throws back the covers, Mickey groans, “It’s cold doofus.”
“Wrap yourself in the blanket, breakfast is ready and I’m starved.”
Mickey, “I’m waiting for the hour you’re not starved.”
“It’s the hour right after we eat.”
“Uh huh.”
Mickey relents, they come with me to the house, go to their rooms to do morning things, then we’re all around the table with pancakes in a puddle of delish maple syrup and peameal bacon.
Elle, “Damn this syrup is silky sweet, who made the pancakes? Doesn’t matter, they are perfect and fluffy. If I made them they’d have the consistency of flatbread.”
Zoe C, “You cook sometimes.”
Elle, “I’m the emergency assistant. Like if Chef needs another set of hands.”
“I enjoy your…assistance.”
Elle giggles.
Zoe C, “Such a Slutsky.”
“Do what you love, that’s my motto.”
Zoe C rolls her eyes, “Today we scooter shop, Elle will drive, do you want to go Zak, Mickey?”
Zak, “Yeah, maybe I can test drive one.”
Mickey, “Sure, like, is it okay for my blind friend to buzz around on one of your scooters.”
Zak laughs, “Let’s do it, I’ll sit on the scooter and you pop the question.”
“Freak.”

Forty

We are the proud owners of two Vespas, simple to drive, no shifting to fiddle with, windscreen, boot bag, top speed eighty. ABS brakes and an anti-skid system. One is white, the other a slate grey. We can’t keep the kids off of them. The kids aren’t legal, as in eighteen, but the area is loaded with scooter rental shops and it’s a fairly freewheeling place. To top it all, McKenzie almost smiles when she’s cruising around.
Natalie the Sentimental weeps when she sees Mac’s delight. You’d have to know her well to see delight, we know her well, Natalie in particular.
“It is rather touching, isn’t it?”
Natalie, “It’s soul lifting. I know McKenzie is happy with us, her demeanor is generally serious but I can tell. With her on that scooter, it’s even more obvious. I’m thrilled that Zoe C thought of it, I’ll give her extra thanks…later.”
Lucky Zoe C, lucky Natalie…lucky me, Elle’s coming my way tonight, this scooter thing is working out great.
The kids pull in, Akiko adorably riding behind McKenzie, helmet on, pure white hair hanging from underneath. They park in the storage shed, which isn’t much full of anything.
“Have fun?”
Zak, “More than, riding is awesome. And since our private road is five miles from the main road, we had lots of nothing traffic to deal with. Mickey and I practiced with me driving, easy as long as she watches the road.”
Mik, “Of course I’m watching the road, think I want you to drive the thing into a tree?”
“What happens if she doesn’t watch the road?”
Zak, “We worked that out, I stop immediately. Maybe worry more about Mac, she and Akiko went flying by and we were doing fifty.”
Natalie, “That’s our girl, McKenzie knows one speed, flat out, but she would never endanger Akiko. If you go through town, she’ll be the safe scootering poster child. The private road is safe, nobody can come that way except firemen or police. They have the codes to the gate near the main road and the main gate to the property.”
Mickey, “Just avoid the trees, we’ll go to town soon and do a little practice.”
Zak, “I still think I should have a white cane sticking out from the front fender, freak out the tourists.”
“Uh huh, keep that fantasy.”
Zackary has a white solid titanium cane. Titanium is light enough, and virtually indestructible. We got it made so he could use it as a defensive weapon should the need arise. It can bust a brick and not leave a mark on the cane, we know, he’s done it several times as practice. Cane is not exactly accurate, there’s no curved handle, only a rubber grip, and the cane is the same size from top to bottom, not tapered. If Zak cracks some dork on the head the score is, Zak 1, Dork 0.
I’m on the porch contemplating my evening with Elle while I contemplate her long tight legs as she leans over the railing. I know what she’s doing, and she knows what she’s doing, the tease is part of the prelims. She turns her head, sees me appreciating, smiles. I’d jump her now but I’m a Master of Self Control, although my cock has different ideas and strains inside my jeans, settle down bad boy, anticipation is part of the fun.
I get a call, it’s Davidson, “We have another…incident.”
“Tell me.”
“Little girl, nine, Parents thought she was playing along one of the trails, she likes the woods. Her parents say she understood how far she could go and in their experience she had never gone further except when mom and dad went. In short, they don’t believe she’s lost, we had volunteers and cops all over the area, even used the drone, nothing.”
“She’s not lost, she’s abducted. Like I told you, Shadows are like most people, need a bigger thrill to top the last thrill. I’ll drive in, tell me where she was last seen, I’ll meet you there.”
He gives me the address, she was last seen going up the trail only thirty yards east of her home.
I show up with McKenzie and Zelda. Davidson is waiting. Before I can introduce Mac, she and Zelda are off towards the trailhead.
Davidson, “Who’s that? And that’s the biggest dog I’ve ever seen.”
“My daughter,” Natalie adopted her, not me, but all the kids are all our kids.”
“What’s she doing?”
“Looking, feeling. Can you get something of the girl’s, preferably worn recently but not washed.”
“She does search and rescue?”
“She does whatever the girl tells her to do.”
“You’re not big on names are you. Didn’t introduce the two women, now the child and the dog are nameless.”
“Sooner I get something of the girl’s, the sooner we can get to work.”
Davidson shrugs, “Back in a bit,” he heads to the girl’s house, comes back with parents in tow.
“Hi, Milton, Art Milton, this is my wife Jan, our daughter is Lisa,” I nod, no name.
“Who we are is not important, what’s important is finding Lisa, is that her pullover?”
Jan hands it to me, “She wore it yesterday, hadn’t hit the laundry bin yet,” she holds it up, sniffs it, starts to cry.
I take it from her, “I’ll return it later today.”
She shakes her head to acknowledge, dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief. 
McKenzie comes back with Zelda, when Art sees the dog he instinctively backs up, but only a step.
“Don’t pet her, she won’t attack without a command, but she’s trained to take care of the girl.”
Zelda sits on her haunches, even then over waist high to me and I’m six four.
Jan, “She can find my little girl?”
“She can find where she went, the last location. If she eventually got in a car, the trail goes cold at that point, but it tells us more than we know now.”
“Lisa would never get into someone’s car if she didn’t know them.”
I decide not to get into Shadows, it would just scare them more than they’re scared already. I glance at Davidson and shake my head just enough no that he catches on. He clearly hasn’t brought it up or it would have been the first thing they asked about.
“Davidson will be back to you, we need to get moving.”
I give the pullover to McKenzie, careful to hold it by the hem only, she does the same and says something in Japanese to Zelda. Mac turns it inside out, Zelda sniffs front and back, they return to the trail.
Apparently the girl didn’t get far, Zelda gets about twenty yards up, turns around and back down, then out to the road. Davidson and I follow. The scent lasts for what I estimate two or three blocks then gone.
Davidson, “So whoever got her in a vehicle at this point.”
“Yep, he isn’t going to carry her, too noticeable. I’m glad you didn’t get into Shadows with the family.”
“No, they’d freak.”
“You made the right call.”
“Now what? He could have gone east or west, could be miles away by now.”
“All true. I’m taking them for a ride around the area, I’ll check in if we spot anything useful.”
“Mind if I tag along?”
“Not at all.”
McKenzie sits in the second row, the seat next to her is folded down to make room for Zelda, I drive east first.
Five miles along there’s a lot of space between residences, McKenzie hasn’t picked up anything., I u-turn and head back.
Davidson, “What are we looking for?”
“We aren’t looking for anything shy of spotting the girl in someone’s yard or walking down the road. My daughter is looking for signs of a Shadow.”
“What signs?”
“She reads auras, the energy field surrounding every living thing. Shadows are black, as you might guess. If one has been in the area, it leaves a remainder for maybe an hour or so. The remainder is like smoke, a dark patch. She sees that as well. The Shadow could be gone, but we’ll know one was in that location recently.”
“How does…what is the young lady’s name anyway?”
“No names, you know mine, that’s it.”
“Very protective.”
“She has unique skills, she doesn’t like crowds, the worst thing for her would be to be known publically. All sorts of people want their auras read, find out what emotions are driving them.”
“Sounds like she could get rich doing it.”
“She’s already rich.”
“Ah, must be nice.”
“It is splendid.”

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