Forty One

We pass where we started, then continue west. The road isn’t busy, good thing cause I’m doing under the limit, give Mac time to search out traces of a Shadow.
About four miles out of town, Mac says, “Stop.”
Her window has been open, right and left sides to give her a better sightline. Zelda pokes her head out sniffing away, then she leans over McKenzie and sticks her snout out of the right window. Looks at McKenzie, looks out the window sniffing, then McKenzie, then window.
“The girl has been here.”
Davidson, “What? You sure?”
McKenzie has no intention of answering a redundant question. 
I handle it, “The dog isn’t wrong, let’s dismount and see where she leads us.”
Zelda sniffs around the dirt, moves towards the woods to the north. McKenzie right behind, Davidson and I follow at a distance. Zelda veers right into what looks like near wilderness. When we get deeper in, it’s evident that there is a trail, narrow, probably made by coyotes or wolves as they roam their territory. Zelda and Mac are fine, Davidson and I have to duck a few overhanging branches.
Davidson, “This started out as a wolf trail, but anything over three feet high means nothing to them, some human has been hacking at the overhang.”
“I can see scarred limbs where the branch was chopped off, nothing looks too recent.”
Davidson inspects one of the cuts, rubs it with his thumb, “Not that long ago, the tree is still covering the wound. Under a month, two at the most.”
There’s a small clearing, just knee high grass and a scattering of wildflowers. Zelda plunges in, McKenzie right behind. On the far side, Zelda stops, circles wider and wider as she has been taught to pick up a scent, then she sits with a groan of frustration. McKenzie strokes her head, down her back, letting her companion know she did well.
I hear her tell Zelda, “She got picked up and relocated.”
Zelda staring up at her like she understands. I look through the trees, shift left a bit for a better view.
“There’s a narrow dirt road, more like a wider hiking trail,” turn to Davidson, “fire road, logging road?”
“Not to my knowledge, fires up here are near unheard off, it’s wet enough to discourage fires. And no logging in this part of the world. They do clear fallen trees from hiking and ski areas, sometimes if big limbs are too close to power lines. None of that applies here, besides, this is too narrow for any forest service vehicles.”
“And there are no tire tracks, although the rain could have leveled those out. Let’s see where it goes.”
We slog up the incline, it’s not that steep, I have no clue how anyone lives up here, there’s no power lines, no sewers or running water. About a hundred yards and Zelda takes off again, nose to the dirt.
Davidson, “Damn, she’s picked up the girl again.”
“Let’s hope so.”
McKenzie, “Bits of misty smoke, Shadow has been here.”
Zelda stops at the base of a tree, nose up.
We follow her gaze, “There’s a tree house up there.”
It’s not that high, thirty feet at most, but I see no way to get to it. 
Davidson, “Somebody either brings an extension ladder or they can fly.”
“Look around for a ladder, it’s got to be nearby, nobody is going to haul a ladder back and forth.”
I take east, Davidson west, he finds an aluminum ladder laying flat only partially hidden by shrubbery. I suppose there’s no reason to believe anyone would steal it, even Davidson didn’t know there was a narrow path.
We get the ladder set, I hold, Davidson goes up.
“Fuck.”
That doesn’t sound good, “What?”
“The girl is here, asleep I think, let me get in,” he disappears for a minute, sticks his head out, “alive, bottled water, coupla candy wrappers, nothing else.”
I climb up, stay on the ladder, “Can you wake her up?”
He gives her a gentle shake, nothing, “Okay, hand her off to me.”
When I have the girl secure over my left shoulder, I ease down, feeling my way to the next rung, then the ground. I set her down gently as possible.
“McKenzie, see what you can do.”
She kneels to examine the girl, before she can start to pump a little energy in, Mac’s head snaps up, “He’s here.”
A man steps from behind the trees, “Leave my property alone.”
Davidson steps off the last rung, “Your property? Are you insane, he steps toward the Shadow, “you are under arrest, soon you will have no property of any kind.”
The Shadow raises a hand, Davidson flies backwards against the latter, it crashes sideways, he lands on top. He rolls over, clearly hurt, holding his gut, there’s a slow spreading bloodstain.”
I turn to the man, he’s shorter than me by eight inches, rail thin, balding. Appears to be on the north side of fifty.
“I obviously can’t let you go, two dead bodies up here, you won’t be found before the wolves and crows are done with you, maybe not found at all.”
I figure telling him that McKenzie and I are wearing GPS devices is a waste, he’s a Shadow, thinks he’s invincible.
“I’ll keep the new girl though, she looks tasty.”
Before he can unload, McKenzie walks straight to him, he hasn’t tried to grab her mind, too busy threatening us.
He smiles, “See…she wants to be with me, don’t you honey.”
Mac rests her hand on his chest, he stiffens, he’s sensed something, his face scrunches up, he’s angry, as in pissed.
“You’re one of the hunters, I’m going to make it…”
He’s not going to make it anything, his chest explodes, he sails backwards hard against a tree trunk. If his mangled chest hadn’t killed him, his broken spine would have.
Davidson sits, McKenzie goes over and pulls his shirt apart where the hole is.
Davidson, “God it hurts like hell, not the puncture, I feel like someone drove a sledgehammer into my gut,” he gamely tries to stand.
McKenzie, “Lay down, be still.”
He grimaces as he does, he’s flat now at least. Mac lays her hands on him.
“It’s cold, colder than a Canadian snow day, colder than a day when it’s too cold to snow. How in hell…”
“If you will be still…and quiet…it will be over with soon.”
He stares at McKenzie, then at her hands, then at her face again, but he doesn’t try to talk, a good patient.
When Mac takes her hands off, there is frost on his injury. Davidson stares, mouth agape, he’s having trouble processing what he’s seen, and felt.
He start to say something, I intervene, “No comment, no nothing. You found the girl almost accidentally. You came here because nobody ever comes here because there’s nothing here, no trails of any consequence, can’t get here from the road by car, snowmobile, only on foot. Trees’ thick canopies block anything a drone might see from above. It was a hunch that paid off.”
Davidson, “What about the dead guy?”
“He was right about one thing, in a few days there will be bones, she busted open his chest, the tender parts are already exposed. I’m going to undress him, take the clothes and burn them. You are going to follow the script, don’t know who took her, don’t have a clue where he went, the girl, Lisa, remembers nothing.”
“How do you know that? She could be horribly traumatized, we have no idea what he did with her.”
“She will remember nothing, she won’t have bad dreams, she won’t need therapy, they can hypnotize her and she still won’t remember.”
“My gut doesn’t hurt, and there’s no bleeding, a minor scratch almost…who are you people?”
“Alien invaders from planet California. Let’s go, do your bit, be humble, you had an idea, it panned out. You’re so happy the girl was found healthy. Stick to the story, do not mention us. Can you do that?”
“You saved the kid’s life, I can do that. I want to ask how your daughter does the things she does, but you aren’t gonna say are you?”
“It’s called Qi, a form of energy, she knows how to use it, that’s all. Like I said earlier, we don’t want recognition, nothing. And now we have to go, my girl will need to rest, the energy she transmits, to you and the girl, is tiring.”
I turn to Mac, “When will she wake up?”
“Under an hour.”
Davidson, “Why not wake her…oh, duh, you don’t want her to see you.”
“You’re learning.”

Forty Two

A week waddles by, Davidson calls, “Update on Lisa. Whatever your daughter did, the girl remembers nothing. She doesn’t even remember you or your daughter, at least she never mentioned either of you. Parents had her checked for STDs, nothing there either. Whatever he did, he didn’t penetrate her, is this how these Shadow guys operate in your experience?”
“Don’t have enough experience to say, there are things he could amuse himself with without intercourse, things we don’t need to mention. If she’s healthy, they should let her be, and tell them to get a GPS monitor for her, it can be a necklace, watch, bracelet, don’t just count on a phone. Any abductor will throw a phone away.”
“I’ll tell them, I need to get one for my own kids. I gotta say, I feel a little foolish getting credit. Being treated like a hero for nothing I did.”
“You do me a favor by taking credit, these things tend to blow over after a while, I doubt you’ll get a statue.”
He laughs, “When do you return to California?”
“Closing up the house today and tomorrow, leave tomorrow at two. The snows will start soon I’m told.”
“Yes, ski season in a month or so, your people ski?”
“I’ve been a few times, one of the others, everyone else is a bunny. We may come back after New Year’s, let the kids learn to board. A couple of us have projects that need attending to, but the kids will harass us into returning during ski season.”
“One of my daughters is an instructor, and she’s good, she’ll teach the kids to board in a couple of days, after that, it’s just practice.”
“I’ll check in when we decide on dates, thanks for the help, and thanks for suffering through being a hero.”
“See you when I do, you took a mighty burden off the rangers, much appreciated,” we disconnect; Canadians, what to do with people so persistently polite?
We close the house, all packed up, drive to the airport. Zoe C arranged long term parking with a garage. It’s like a storage facility with power outlets so she can hook up the battery and keep it charged. She drops us at the airport first, someone at the facility will give her a ride to the plane. 
We have near zero luggage, left our guns and the two drones at the lake house. The windows have roll down stainless shutters, upstairs and down, solid steel exterior doors double dead-bolted. Houseboat dry docked, the shed for it locked up tight. Anyone thinking to get to it would be disappointed, the sides extend down in the water ten feet, another roll down door at the entrance, also securely locked. I’m not paranoid about anyone stealing it, I just don’t want it trashed. I asked Davidson if he would do a visual when out in a patrol boat doing park ranger whatever. 
Three hour flight from Calgary to LAX, an hour to get home from there, we hit Malibu for six. 
Zoe C, “Do you want me to drop you at home first, or pass by something, a supermarket or restaurant to pick up dinner?”
Zak, “Can we get Chinese from that place? Their stuff is good.”
So we do that, hot and sour soup, won ton soup, fried egg rolls, orange chicken and beef in garlic sauce, extra vegetables.
Mickey, “I love the dumplings in won ton, squishy noodle stuffed with ground pork. I’ll split my egg roll with Zackary, then he can split his with me.”
Mickey isn’t tiny, she has, after all, a boy body and a girl psyche. And Zak is sprouting, being blind doesn’t stunt his growth. 
Elle, “It’s the same egg roll, one isn’t egg-rollyer than the other.”
Mickey giggles, “No, but the point is to share, even if we share the same thing.”
Natalie, “What a nice idea, good for you.”
I ask, “Then can I share half your egg roll?”
“Keep your mitts off my roll unless you want a fork in your arm.”
“Oh woman, thy name is contradiction.”
“Shut up Shakespeare and pass me the orange chicken.”
Zak and Mickey find us hilarious, I guess that’s something.
Our pack-up and traveling has everyone ready to wind down. 
Zoe C, “You know, two and a half months in Canada and we never watched TV and barely got online. McKenzie didn’t seem to miss trading stocks, here I flipped through a half dozen news sites, up there we could have started world war three and I wouldn’t have known. It was refreshing, and I’m kicking the morning habit here as well.”
Elle, “It’s voluntary stress. Why do we need to know what stupidity the politicians are up to?”
“I should have taken my cue from you, you never read that tripe, we didn’t just mute CNN up there, nobody turned it on at all, does anyone think they missed anything important?”
We collectively head shake, she’s right. I ran the news on the kitchen TV here, but never with the sound on, just a glance up to see in what new ways the world was fragmenting. I’m not tuning in from now on, see if anyone notices.
By ten thirty, the tribe is collapsed. Aside from Akiko sleeping with McKenzie, the rest of the family is in their own bedroom tonight. A sure sign of exhaustion.
Zoe C comes in while I’m making coffee, “You sleep like I did? As in a total blank?”
“Sure did, woke up like another person. I slept really well in Canada, but the Shadow business, closing the house and travel did me in, did everyone in apparently.”
“Did me, I know Mac was drained, the Qi she put into the Shadow, healing Davidson, then the girl, our unique darling had a drained battery.”
“You know she’s teaching Akiko.”
“Yep, but they’re doing it quietly, she’s quite protective of the little white haired girl. We aren’t likely to get any displays of proficiency, Mac doesn’t show off and Akiko follows McKenzie’s lead. If it was Zak…”
I grin, “He’d be showing us some different Qi skill every day.”
“And you would be in the front row applauding.”
“Sure would, Zak is the only other male in the house, gotta stick together, you know, bros befo’ hoes.”
She snaps a dish towel at me, “Idiot.”
We sip coffee, sun’s out, moving into fall, the weather mercifully cool. SoCal has had crappy hot days this year, one reason we bought a place in Canada, we escaped most of them.
“Natalie and I are taking Mac and Akiko for new outfits, I suppose the idea of shopping with the girls is out of the question.”
“I think my time is better spent reloading out refrigerator, out ten weeks we need all the perishables..”
“We’ll eat lunch out.”
“Elle and I will go to the grocery, with Zackary and Mickey we can be done in less than an hour. I’m just going to Sprout’s, we can get everything there.”
Elle comes in, kisses Zoe C, then me, “Cupboard’s fairly bare, give me a coffee and I’ll get the kids in gear. You still going shopping Zoe C?”
“Yep, suppose we get everyone collected and find a breakfast spot. We’ll take two cars.”
It’s a plan, we stop at Malibu Farm Café, eat at the end of the pier, order and carry your food to a table outdoors. We have too big a crew for quick service in the restaurant. Scrambled with vegetables for the girls, Zak and I get breakfast burritos, eggs, chicken sausage, black beans, cheese, peppers, onions, guacamole. It’s a hell of a burrito. We all split three orders of multi grain pancakes with bacon. 
Reinvigorated, my team heads to Sprout’s. Zoe C, Nat and the wonder girls go wherever. I don’t ask, it’s pointless, I don’t know one women’s clothing store from another.
Our grocery run would have been thirty minutes, but we slow shopped, on the lookout for things we might not normally get, something new or interesting. I push around one basket with Elle, Zak and Mickey go off with a second after I told them I’d deal with meat, milk, eggs and produce, they could load up with anything else that struck their fancy.
At the checkout, I see they didn’t get six boxes of cookies or other sweets. Instead they have a bag of dried cranberries, two bottles of Kefir each in vanilla, cherry and raspberry flavors, something we use but it slipped past me. Bags of frozen fruit, cherries, blackberries, blueberries, pomegranate nibs and açaí berries. 
They like to put thawed fruit in a bowl and cover it with Kefir, usually for breakfast.
They bought a selection of cheeses, I also spot a bag of granola, standard oats with almonds which they pile onto the fruit and Kefir. It’s really tasty, and quite good for us.
“Good call guys, I totally forgot.”
I did manage to remember bananas, two bunches of a half dozen which is a two day supply for us at best.
“Mickey, grab another bunch of bananas, mostly green.”
Mission finished, we go home. Elle washes the produce, sets it in a rack to dry. I get the refrigerator things put away, then we sort the meat, steaks out for tonight, and sausages for tomorrow, the rest we freezer wrap, mark it and stick it in the freezer.
I marinate the steaks in Worcestershire, black pepper, garlic and paprika, cover and refrigerate. McKenzie will think of something to do with the sausage.
Zoe C is in my head, ‘Need anything, we’re having sushi for lunch.’
‘Can you pass by Louisa’s and get dessert? It slipped my mind.’
‘We have guests for lunch, tell you about it later.’

Guests? Wonder what that’s about, then quit wondering, I’ll find out when she gets home.

Forty Three

The shoppers arrive, there’s clearly more than just clothes for McKenzie and Akiko.
Elle, “We bought things for Zackary and Mickey, they needed new jeans, sneakers, shirts, socks, underwear, the whole menagerie. I’ll get stuff washed later, right now I’m going to go through their things to see what’s to small.”
Zoe C, “And I brought a devil’s food cake with white frosting, Louisa said she made it this morning.”
“Hell, what’s better than cake with frosting? Isn’t it one of the food groups?”
“Yeah, coffee, bacon, vodka and cake. Everything else is filler, and I need to see you in the office Chef.”
We go in, the kids have stripped and are in the pool, something they missed in Canada. Elle and Nat decide stripping and sunbathing is a good idea, I couldn’t agree more. But, Zoe C wants to tell me something and it must be interesting or she’d be in the buff by the pool too.
“Something happen at the mall?”
“We were in one of SoCal’s outdoor malls, closer to Santa Monica. There were two girls, sixteen or so, who, at first, seemed like sisters. One had a fedora, both sunglasses, fedora was in a skirt and platforms, the other in jeans and sneakers. I have a reason for the clothing descriptions, just hang on. The one in jeans approached McKenzie while I was across the shop with Akiko. The three of them came over to us, didn’t exactly introduce themselves, not until later.”
“Later than what?”
“Stay with me. McKenzie said they knew about her, about her Qi skills.”
“Uh oh.”
“In short, the girls approached her, Jeans and Mac read each other’s aura , which is what drew the two girls. It turns out, they are twins. Once we sat down and they took off sunglasses and fedora removed her hat, it was easy to see they are identical twins, almost scaringly identical. They know all about Shadows.”
“Know about as in theoretically?”
“Know about as in intimation, she said they needed to be killed, they know what we know, trying to arrest and convict is impossible. Shadows would create mayhem in jail, in the court and everyplace in between. Didn’t come out a say they killed them, but the implication was obvious.”
“Being cautious, that’s smart. They have names?”
“Dasha and Daria, and they are nothing short of gorgeous, they look like Russian models.”
“Are they Russian?”
“Yes, but in the states since they were young. They didn’t volunteer details, I didn’t press. McKenzie was quite at ease with them, and considering how protective she is of Akiko, I figured the twins were safe.”
“What a coincidence, or…no, had to be a coincidence. Where they from, I mean now, in America.”
“I don’t know where else they’ve lived, but, coincidence alert, they live in Malibu.”
“Get out.”
“Yep, and while their outfits were basics, the labels weren’t, they aren’t poor, they aren’t even upper middle, they live in the stratosphere, sort of like us.”
“Rich in Malibu isn’t unusual, it’s common.”
“I know, I suspect their level of wealth isn’t Malibu common, but we didn’t swap financial statements. Natalie says the same thing and she’s used to the ultra wealthy.”
“Do we get to know them? Let it slide, what?”
“Daria gave Mac a phone number and Mac gave her number to Daria, they left it that they will be in touch. One thing that’s too adorable, Daria speaks English like a TV announcer, Dasha speaks it with the cutest accent. I don’t know why. I asked McKenzie when we were headed home, she said it’s so they can tell each other apart.”
“They are that identical? I suppose identical is identical, exact copies.”
“They are more identical than you can imagine. I mean, we didn’t ask them to strip, but face, hands, hair, eyes, look like they came out of a 3D printer.”
“Did Mac say more on the way back?”
“Not a word, as if we’d never met them.”
“That’s McKenzie, and Akiko said nothing of course.”
“No, although Dasha said they have a family member that has pure white hair like Akiko. As I recall, she actually said, ‘You haf already purest white hair like our friend, she ees beautiful like you, but only older.’ She’s relaxing to listen to, as if she can’t be bothered being bothered.”
“Sound like people we might want to meet. Leave it to McKenzie, she’ll get a handle on things and decide what, if anything, to do next.”
We go to the patio, Zoe C’s turn to strip, she slips in the pool and begins laps. My heart rate is fast enough sitting with nude Elle and Natalie. I’m in knee length shorts, maybe I’ll try out for the Lakers. Maybe not, I’d need to get a couple armloads of tats, and while I have no opinion about tattoos, I don’t want one.
No reason to keep our conversation about the twins private, I recap for Elle and Natalie.
Natalie, “I’m with you Chef, too many coincidences, they accidentally meet at a mall, Daria and McKenzie read auras and they both have Qi skills. I presume that includes Dasha…it’s Dasha, right, the other twin, with the accent.”
“Yes, Dasha, they didn’t volunteer a last name and Zoe C didn’t ask.”
Our day marches along through tea, then creeps to cocktails, usually in six thirty territory. I’m unwrapping marinated steaks, filet mignon tonight. 
McKenzie, “Akiko and I will grill, you will make Italian salad, Boscoli Olive Salad is in pantry, mash potato, lots of butter.”
Got my assignments, take care of the mashed, skin on, gobs of butter as Mac instructed. Don’t know why, she has her reasons.
Potatoes in the warm oven covered, I crank out Italian salad, simple since the Boscoli has all the vegetables in it along with olives and it’s packed in olive oil, I can skip adding more to the salad. Making it consists of chopping crispy cold romaine, add the olive salad, a bit of red wine vinegar, black and white pepper, toss and cover.
Ten minutes later  Zak carries in the platter of steaks and sets it on the table, I add a big bowl of mashed, bowl of salad and individual salad plates.
Zoe C, “Italian salad and charred filet calls for a bold Chianti, a case of which I just happen to have in our cellar,” she fills glasses, “taste this baby.”
Talk at dinner starts with general speculation about the twins, we don’t have much to go on, McKenzie accepts them at face value and McKenzie is the girl skeptic of Malibu. We move on to other topics.
Zak, “These potatoes are different, rich, somebody doubled the butter, and it’s clarified butter too.”
“Good nose. Remember when we watched Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain? I forget the chef, but they made potatoes with lots of butter and heavy cream.”
McKenzie, “Chef Joël Robuchon, he has Michelin Star restaurants all over the world and was famous for the light buttery mashed potatoes.”
“That’s him.”
Zoe C, “I wonder how many chefs die of heart disease?”
We cruise to a close on dinner, after Zoe C and Elle clean up, we settle in for an episode of the Amazon version of American Gothic. Typical of a series, things move along slowly, it has its moments, with too many absurd moments in between, the matriarch is quite the little psychopath. I doubt we’ll continue, the premise is pretty good but the writers make it seem like a soap opera. We don’t watch soap operas, which have insinuated themselves into too many evening TV shows.

Forty Four

I notice McKenzie on her phone more than usual. It isn’t unusual for her to be using the phone for internet instead of a tablet, but she’s been texting. Since our kids don’t have social media pages, I’m not worried that she’s being manipulated by an internet perv. If she were, and she decided to show up and meet him, it would be the last girl he stalked.
No, she’s texting the twin, Daria is it? The one with the accent is Dasha. Akiko stays glued to McKenzie much of the day, I see her reading the messages along with Mac. We don’t, under any circumstances, invade the kids’ phone privacy. Or we wouldn’t if they needed phone privacy. They don’t know anyone outside our family, not to message at any rate.
I’m in the office checking the website that doesn’t exist. There are two inquiries but before I get into them, Mac comes in.
“Twins have invited Akiko and I over tomorrow around noon. We will have lunch, meet their family.”
“Good, Zoe C will take you over, I understand they’re in Malibu someplace.”
“Four miles up the PCH, I have directions. Like us, they do not have any postal address, road to the house is private, they don’t show up on Google Earth even.”
“How’d they do that?”
“Easy, I did it for our property when we moved in, just a form to Google. If you look for our place, it is all blurry.”
“Ah, I had no idea, thank you for thinking of it, so, they are private, like us.”
“Yes, although a couple of girls are famous.”
“Would I know them?”
“The author Amaya is one.”
“Ah, I read her books, lots of action, lots of clever dialogue, little waste of space filler. Yeah, now I remember, she had a cameo in one of the Chloe Sylk adventures, dancing in a strip club, that girl is gorgeous.”
“Chloe Sylk is also in the family.”
I’m blanking on the concept, then my mind starts to work again, “You mean part of this family is both the actress Chloe Sylk and the author Amaya, no last name as I recall.”
Mac shrugs, likes it’s everyday she and Akiko get invited to see movie star royalty, in addition to literature royalty, “They are lovers.”
My brain blips, I can’t stop to dwell on Amaya and Chloe Sylk doing…fun things, I’ll have a hormone overdose.
McKenzie, “Whole family is lesbian.”
“Ah, okay, how many in the family?”
“Twenty five,” thankfully, she turns and leaves before I can melt into a puddle of adolescent boy fantasy.
Zoe C comes in just after Mac leaves, “I wasn’t in your head, in case McKenzie wanted something private, anything I need to know?”
“Nothing private,” I tell her what Mac said.
“Twenty five? Twenty five women and girls? In one house? And nobody gets murdered?
“So I’m told.”
“I gotta drop them off, sneak a peek anyway, too showy to take the NSX?”
“We aren’t being interviewed, and as you pointed out, the twins don’t dress homeless sloppy.”
“No, they were put together perfectly, either out of their own good taste or one of their housemates.”
“In the meantime, we have two inquiries,” I turn the screen so she can see.
“In Chula Vista, apparent child neglect and abuse, county has been called several times, they show up, go away, the kids remain in the home.”
“Okay, simple enough to confirm, what else?”
“Teenage girl commits a stupidity and sends the alleged boyfriend a tit pic, we did one of these didn’t we?”
“Several years back, wasn’t much we could do, the tits were out of the bra so to speak. Girls don’t register that Mr. Cool may not be all she thinks he is, insecurity compels them to comply with his desire, anything to keep the boyfriend, then Mr. Cool turns on her.”
“Why do girls care if there’s a photo of her breasts?”
“American puritanical culture, demanded of kids, ignored by adults, hypocrisy distilled down to its essence.”
“Does it sound like anything we need to pursue?”
“Some of these girls self harm, even suicide, we have to take a look.”
I return message, the usual questions, who, as in name, address, place of employment, any other relevant details, like if they drive a car, a description and a plate number if possible. Leave the office in search of fresh coffee.
Elle’s just pouring a cup, “Good timing, just made it. I need to get wired up to concentrate on the algorithms.”
“What are you up to?”
“Four, two doing well enough, one matching the market, one is on disability. Today I give it a few tweaks, if it’s not better, it goes off life support.”
“Is it like killing a child?”
Elle snorts, “Don’t be ridiculous, it’s formulas, computer commands, if this then that, if not that then this.”
“You’ve surpassed my level of expertise, you’ll figure it out.”
She smiles, kisses my cheek, “Gotta work, if you’re still sentient after dinner and drinks, maybe I’ll stop by…for more encouragement…or whatever.”
I take a long eye slide up her bare calves and thighs, tiny shorts, then a tummy you could tap dance on, “Please do, you will be the most encouraged human on the planet. I’ll likely scream Tony Robbins quotes along the way.”
“You don’t know any Tony Robbins quotes.”
“I’ll think of something.”
I keep a careful eye out as she heads off, some person catching a glance at the swing and sway of the elegant derriere could have evil intent.
Zoe C comes past, “The only person with evil intent is you. She does have a walk that commands attention doesn’t she?”
“Make a bulldog break its chain.”
“I’ve got a quickie grocery run, staples, then housecleaning.”
It’s a big place, Zoe C and Elle take care of domestics, the kids are obliged to take care of their rooms, as in don’t leave crap all over the place, put things to be cleaned in the laundry room. When you roll out of bed, pull the sheet and blanket up in a semblance of made bed. Hang towels properly. Stuff that should be in the closet is in the closet. All of which applies to the adults, it works, none of us are slobs anyway.
Nearing cocktails, Zoe C asks, “Any response yet?”
She’s referring to the two inquiries that posted, bad boyfriend and child abuse.
“You’re taking Mac and Akiko to see the twins tomorrow.”
“Elle will do it, she met the twins too, Natalie should probably go as well. My curiosity can wait. I’ll tell them later.”
Natalie rounds the corner, “Tell us what later?”
Zoe C explains the messages, one we think needs fairly quick attention.
Natalie, “Elle and I can take them, go fix the abuser down south, shoot his ass once for me.”
She’s kidding, sort of, we don’t kill abusers, we alter them. That way they become examples. I suppose if one goes off on us, then he gets a bullet, but it hasn’t happened so far. Shadows are different, we kill Shadows.

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