Five

After a night at the hotel, we’re on the short flight to Los Angeles. Zoe C could hack his laptop, but he didn’t use a password, nothing to hack.
'Well, well, seems our detective downloads kiddie porn. And look, there’s evidence numbers, he’s taken it from the vice collection on file. I presume he thought he could bullshit his way around it, like he was on a child porn case.' 
'You don’t suppose he was?'
'Chef, he’s a robbery and burglary cop, vice or no, he’s not supposed to have this crap on a personal computer.'
'Send it anonymously to his…no, to the DA in Las Vegas. Get your prints off it, the keys and the covers. Box it at home with latex gloves, obviously no return address.'

Elle is there to collect the vigilantes, a quick spin up the PCH and home. Mickey jumps up to hug Zoe C, McKenzie to the office to see if there are stock trades to be made.
Zackary, “Short trip, I’m guessing that’s good.”
“It is, and you understand we can’t talk about it.”
He grins, “I’m blind, not dumb, you didn’t cart home another rescue did you?”
“Nope, we’re still just us.”
“Mickey and I were headed to the gym, get in a bit of stick fighting.”
Zoe C, “And using your headgear?”
“Yep, I’m getting better, come watch, you won’t distract me, I can’t see you. Maybe you could distract Mickey so I get in a few cheap shots.”
We sit in a circle around the gym, the open area we use for Krav Maga, and the tumbling the girls get up to.
I’m, amazed isn’t too strong a word, Zack catches most of Mickey’s strikes and lands most of his own. And it doesn’t matter where she is, in front, alongside, behind him. They don’t make it a contest, except to the extent each is in a contest with themselves. They don’t keep score.
The pace started out almost as if choreographed, then speeds up. Mickey gets more in as the pace picks up, but not by much. After fifteen, they’re both laughing too hard to keep it up. We applaud the effort.
“Excellent demonstration, both of you.”
Mickey, “Zack is getting annoying, not only does he block my strikes, his follow up flows from the defense to offense without a hitch. If I fake strike, he ignores it, no idea how he knows it’s a fake.”
“In the beginning, it looks like you’re doing a choreographed dance.”
“Yeah, that’s so he can get the sense of where I am. He hears the sound of my stick in the air, direction and speed.”
Natalie, “Geez, that’s focus above and beyond focus.”
McKenzie comes in, “McKenzie made one thousand eight hundred.”
Elle groans, “She keeps this up, I’m throwing out my algorithm.”
Natalie, “Baloney, your algorithm is not for minute by minute trading, my company is not for trading at all. I’d say the three of us make a near perfect investment strategy.”
“Thank you, my self esteem is restored.”
Zoe C laughs, “Your self esteem is unassailable.”
Elle grins, “I am rather self esteemy, my full length mirror pouts if I don’t stand in front of it long enough.”
McKenzie, “Lunch.”
“Good idea, what are we making?”
“Nothing.”
“We on a diet?”
McKenzie ignores me and walks off. 
Elle, “I got Boar’s Head stuff, Sausalito turkey and Liverwurst. We’ll have either sandwiches or crackers or both. I like Liverwurst on crackers with mustard, doused with black pepper, salt and pepper chips to accompany.”
I realize I’ve worked up an appetite, we go to the kitchen. Mac has the options laid out with the appropriate condiments. We makeup plates and cart them outside to the patio table. Zack does his own, takes it to the table, doesn’t miss a step. The monster dogs flop down between him and McKenzie.
“Did you give them a taste?”
McKenzie, “No, after, they are not to sniff around while we eat.”
Natalie, “Those are the best behaved dogs on the planet.”
Burma zips out from inside and does a belly flop on Zelda, lays comfortably between her king size shoulders, nibbles lightly around her ears.
“Zelda’s like a Buddhist monk, nothing bugs her.”
Cilia rolls to one side, a big huff and she’s instantly asleep.
By unspoken agreement, the rest of the day slips by quietly. The kids even napped in a cozy pile in front of the fireplace, stacked together with two dogs bigger than the three children combined. Burma decided to sleep on Mickey’s tummy.
Natalie and I took advantage of the quiet to slip to my room. We snuggle, it’s not a sex thing, a comfortable familiarity, no need to talk.
Around four thirty I go downstairs to hustle up tea and…what today? Shortbread cookies. By quarter to the girls are up, the kids are in motion. It’s gotten chilly outside, and while we have big outdoor heaters, it’s also cloudy, we hear the roll of thunder. 
McKenzie, “Feed Zelda, feed Cilia.”
The dogs wipe out bowls of crunchy whatever they put in dry food, slurp a quart of water each and leave only a cup slopped out around the sides.
“Get them out for nature’s call, it’s looks like rain soon.”
McKenzie, “Out Zelda, out Cilia,” she opens the patio door and off they go.
We thought about a dog door, but considering their size it would take up half the regular door. I installed a screen that parts in the middle, they can push through and the screen falls back together because the edges are weighted with small magnets. 
“What’s dinner McKenzie?”
“Tomato bisque with mushrooms, macaroni and cheese, peppers and sausage.”
“You want the peppers and sausage chopped to put in the macaroni?”
“Yes, grill sausage first.”
“Will do.”
I find the package, six fat links of spicy pork. When the griddle is hot, slap down the sausage and lurk nearby to turn them regularly. As they begin to heat, the fats expand. I poke several holes in the skins so it can drain. If I was using them for beans, I’d put them in the beans whole and uncooked and let the fat seep into the beans for flavor.
Sausages cooked, I stack them to the side. They need to cool before I slice or the insides fall apart, the same as lasagna or meat loaf. McKenzie has rotini boiling, let it get to al dente, then dump in a colander to drain. The rotini will go in a baking dish with milk and three cheeses, melty stuff, mozzarella, havarti, a creamy garlic cheese we found at Sprout’s. Layer of mac, layer of sausage, layer of red and yellow peppers, repeat, repeat, repeat, a four story building of creamy spicy delight.
Tomato bisque is from Trader Joe’s. McKenzie grills onions, and mushrooms in butter and olive oil, then dumps that into the pot of bisque. 
Natalie wanders past, “Yum, smells heavenly in here, anyone for wine?”
Rhetorical question, she opens Shiraz, aka Syrah, the pungent red is not one we drink often, we lean towards Cabernet and the occasional Merlot. Reds have more tannin, which has a dry astringent quality. Tannins are polyphenols, antioxidants that preserve the wine and have the additional benefit of preserving us, as in good for us. (not a wine drinker? strong black tea is also loaded with tannins, use a couple of tea bags and let it steep longer)
She pours and delivers glasses to the others, including a couple of tablespoons in glasses for the kids topped off with mineral water.
An hour later we serve, family around the dining table.
Zoe C, our main nonfiction reader besides McKenzie, asks, “Do any of you know anything about nondualtiy?”
I ask, “What’s nondualtiy?”
Nobody knows, until McKenzie speaks up, unusual but not unheard of, “Teachings of the Buddha, Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta, Krishnamurti and Robert Wolfe. Only Wolfe is still alive, he lives in Ojai.”
Natalie, “But what is nondualtiy?”
“The only reality, not separate, all is connected.”
“What’s the point?”
“No point, it is how things are, arising from the Absolute.”
“And what is the Absolute?”
“Consciousness, the ground of everything. The Absolute never changes, everything else is transitory. Things that come and go are not real, only illusory.”
“So we’re not real.”
“Not as minds and bodies, which are temporary and changeful.”
“But we’re conscious.”
“Not the consciousness of a mind, which anyway disappears when we sleep dreamlessly.”
This is as much as McKenzie has said in one conversation since I’ve known her.
Zackary bursts out, “I SEE it!,” he laughs, “I get it anyway, not I, there is no I.”
Elle, “This is going straight past me.”
Natalie, “Is it what they call enlightenment?”
McKenzie, “Yes.”
“What happens?”
“Nothing, except a perfect understanding, a dissolution of ego, which is the cause of all suffering.”
“How do we get enlightened?”
 You don’t, you are already enlightened, you just don’t realize it.”
Zoe C, “I read something about it, I didn’t grasp what I was reading but I’ve heard the word realization.”
“Another word for enlightenment, you realize who you are in reality and put away what you think you are, which is illusion.”
“So Zackary had that realization?”
“Yes.”
“Is it a feeling, a sensation?”
“It is the casting off of illusion, a great weight, a shroud that blinds you to the Absolute.”
“Then what?”
“Then you are free, free from ego, from unhealthy desire, free from suffering.”
Elle, “So then it’s like becoming a guru or a holy man…person?”
“There is no becoming, it is the end of becoming. Becoming implies something was one thing, then became another, which is duality. In reality there is no duality.”
A silence descends, we absorb what has been said. We have heard, now let the words do their work.

Six

After dinner McKenzie selects an Amazon video, The Dog. It’s violent, at least to the extent the main character, not the dog, gets beat up a lot. He’s a former policeman, I’m not clear on why he was bounced from the force but he has a ton of enemies. The German Shepherd, seems to be the smartest character in the series.
Zelda and Cilia watched the program, a first, when the Shepherd groaned or barked, so did our two canine family members. Burma appeared bored and fell asleep on Mickey’s chest.
We’re making sleepy noises, girls and boys wander off to their rooms. I get lucky, Natalie shows up in mine, we do an hour of adult aerobics then our egos disappear into unconsciousness.
McKenzie is usually up early to watch the stocks trade. Here on the left coast, the market opens at six thirty and closes at one thirty. Doesn’t appear to bother her, she takes a break to start breakfast and the dogs get fed at eight. Afterwards, she usually returns to her screens, not always. The money itself has no meaning for her, why would it? She’s going to be rich forever.
I’m a sort of early bird, not like Mac, but I’m usually pouring my first coffee by seven or seven thirty. She’s still in the office, I decide to make omelets, chop fresh broccoli, mushrooms, a bit of spinach, sauté in butter, turn off the heat. That can sit until it’s time to break eggs. Find a package of fresh English muffins, fork them apart and lay the halves on the toaster oven rack. Sometimes I use butter, today will be mascarpone and sugar free jam. 
McKenzie appears, “You have things ready.”
“Yeah, you were busy in the office, I decided on veg omelets and English muffins. How about bacon or sausage?”
“Bacon, I will fry, take the dogs outside and enjoy coffee.”
Splendid idea, I refresh my cup, the dogs lope up the hill behind, their business area. Soon as I plop down Burma races around the table and leaps into my lap. She lays on her back and paws at my hand, the signal to gently scratch her tummy. Our four-legged family members have us trained.
Everyone appears except Elle, she’s more of a sleep-in than the rest of us, in part because she stays up later from time to time.
Zoe C, “Elle got involved in a book and didn’t turn in until one.”
I hand out omelets, McKenzie adds a platter of crispy bacon and a second of toasted English muffins.
Natalie, “Mickey and Zak still sleeping?”
“Must be, they haven’t been through here.”
The dogs return, noses in the air, bacon will do that.
McKenzie, “Later, go upstairs, wake up Mickey and Zackary.”
Thump, thump, thump up the stairs, Burma can sneak, silent and invisible, two hundred sixty pounds of dogs have a different issue.
Ten minutes later, the thumps reverse, followed by little feet.
Zackary, “I’m STARVED!”
“An omelet, bacon and an English should save you from famine,” I slide a plate in front of him, “bacon and muffin halves are on the platter to your left, use the tongs.”
For a blind kid, he makes his way around our place as well as the rest of us. Slides the tongs under a couple slices of bacon, transfers then to his plate, then a half muffin.
I hand him a butter knife with mascarpone already on it, “Cream cheese is on the knife,” he swipes it evenly, “want preserves?”
“Please.”
I drop a spoon of mountain berry on top, “You’re good to go.”
Natalie shakes her head, “You’re just teasing about being blind, right?”
Zak laughs, “In my world, memorizing where stuff is, is part of it. If we were at a hotel buffet, I’d need one of you to help.”
“Like Cilia?”
Laughs again, “She’d eat the stuff before it got to me.”
Cilia huffs, I wonder if she’s insulted, but no, she lays her head in Zak’s lap, gets her pat and flops on the floor next to him.
My phone dings, I have a message on the site. To the office, open the website. Different, it’s from a sheriff in Louisiana, message reads:
‘I’m Charlie Jeanson, my patch is a small town between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. I was referred to your website by a fellow officer in Houston. He told me you and your associates may be able to help. In short, seven people, various ages and both genders, have gone missing in the last seven months. None of them are the type of people to just run off, they have roots, folks who grew up here and live less than a half mile of other family. FBI says there’s no evidence of abduction and no indication they crossed state lines. My constituents are all over my butt, despite the fact that not a single one of them has a clue as to what happened. We aren’t missing any troublesome adults, the usual drunks and dopers are all accounted for. Can you assist?’
I reply, ‘Sure. Send copies of all files, all your officer’s notes. Photos of the missing if available, dates and times of disappearance as close as you can account for. Any known connections among the missing. I assume you have all cell calls made and received, include a month prior. I assume the calls stopped or the phones went dead at some point, when was that? Any CCTV footage in relevant areas. Include addresses of the victims, date of birth, social security numbers. I understand the urgency, we don’t foot drag, I’ll be in touch.’
‘Any help appreciated, we’re stuck…details in an hour or less.’
I call in Zoe C, “We have an opportunity…maybe. Twelve people disappeared from a small town northwest of New Orleans. Waiting on a reply from the contact, I asked for a fair amount of information but he said in an hour, what I asked for is the kind of stuff they’d collect during the investigation. You and McKenzie review the CCTV versus the photos they send. Run the facial recognition program, we might get lucky.”
“Will do, we going to New Orleans?”
“Maybe, the town is between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, I doubt we’ll stay in the city, it’s just enough of a drive to be wasting time. There will be a hotel or motel in the vicinity, you can figure it out later.”
“Who goes?”
“You, me, McKenzie and Zelda. I’d take Zackary, he’s developing his own radar, but he’s still young, there will be other opportunities.”
“Can’t wait to see the pilot when we load up Zelda, think they give us a problem?”
“No, we fly private, Zelda boards with us and finds a spot to lie down, with Mac there, she’ll have only one priority and she’s already registered as a service dog.”
Out to join the others, except McKenzie, who remains in the office staring at her Bloomberg.
Elle, “Fresh coffee boys and girls.”
“Perfect, just the thing.”
Zackary, “You going to New Orleans?”
“How do you know?”
“Little bird with freckles.”
I look perplexed, “You were out here, she was in the office with us and never left…wait, she sent a text, right?”
“Something like that,” he grins.
I go to Zoe C’s brain, ‘Think they can share thoughts, like us?’
‘If we can, why can’t they?’

McKenzie shows up, “McKenzie made two thousand forty six.”
Zoe C, “Damn, good job girl.”
I ask, “Can you and Zackary read each other’s thoughts?”
“And Mickey.”
I turn to Zoe C, roll my eyes, 'What else are they up to?'
'Beats me, they’ll reveal when they’re ready. We don’t get jack out of Mac until she feels like talking.'

Zackary, “It’s your fault Chef, when McKenzie found out you and Zoe C could do it, she was determined to try.”
Natalie, “You guys are brave, I’m not sure I want anyone in my head.”
Elle, “Me too, I admit it’s fascinating, how do you do it?”
McKenzie, “Nisargadatta said, ‘Bringing down into the brain the content of another brain requires special training. There is nothing that cannot be achieved by  training.’”
“Apparently he was right, that applies to your Qi then, you trained, practiced?”
Mac shrugs.
Mickey, “On our walks. Zelda and Cilia like it when we stop to practice, they take a nap.”
We laugh, our big girls are famous for frequent rest breaks.

Seven

New Orleans has a small municipal airport, but it’s on the east side of town. The main airport to the west, Louis Armstrong, is still almost fifty miles to Gonzales, Zoe C decided on the Baton Rouge airport, which is twenty two miles north.
Gonzales is in Ascension Parish, what other states call counties. Louisiana was largely Catholic so they went with the already laid out Catholic parishes. The messages we got were from the Ascension Parish Sheriff. 
The flight is four hours and change, we taxi to the executive area, our vehicle is waiting, Zoe C is most familiar with Tahoes, the SUV Bondurant Tactical Driving uses, what she and Elle trained on several times. Both of them can one-eighty those suckers in a heartbeat…going forward and in reverse. To top it off, they can do the maneuvers one right after the other.
We load up Zelda in the passenger compartment and the luggage in the cargo hold, including our Glocks and a drone. The drone is a precaution, we have no reason to think we’ll be sneaking surveillance on anyone, but we also don’t know that we won’t. 
Zoe C zips us down to the meeting spot. There we’re met by the Chief Deputy of Criminal Operations.
Introductions are made, our team is nothing but fake names and ID’s from states other than California. 
Chief Deputy, “Good idea, not coming to the office, deputies are curious, new faces would spark conversation. That’s a helluvfa dog, one of them mastiffs, yes?”
“Right. She’s big for a female, one fifty, males can top out a two hundred.”
“And she’s the service dog for the young lady?”
“Yep, our daughter is mildly autistic, her dog keeps her calm if she gets stressed.”
“Ah, I see. May I ask, and I know you came at your expense and at my boss’s request, but why the young lady? This could turn into…well, you know…”
(Going to use our real names for purposes of simplicity.)
“McKenzie is as likely to solve the case as we are, she will surely be instrumental, as will the dog.”
Chief D nods, “Sir, if you need an armadillo to help figure this out, let me know. The Sheriff is a good guy, works the job, no nonsense. He’s getting’ a load of grief, the damn disappearances have made the national news. A few of the early press arrivals are already stirring the shit, sorry, the pot.”
“Appreciate your consideration, but McKenzie isn’t affected by words, she doesn’t care what you, me or anyone else says. One thing, and it’s an important thing, the media can stir all the shit they want, but they cannot have any idea who we are or why we’re here. If someone accidently sees us talking, we’re just annoying tourists curious about the story. If we come up in any briefing with the media, or if one of your officers runs his mouth, we will evaporate faster than a drop of water in a lava flow, understood?”
“Good by me, even better by me, it means you aren’t looking to get your mugs on TV for free publicity.”
“No publicity. We have full plates, and we work from our own resources, no rewards, no fees, no nothing.”
“Must get expensive.”
“The pockets that support us are deep.”
Chief D, “You got the reports, that was a nightmare, seven separate missing persons in seven months. We almost don’t want to come to work, or come with fingers crossed that we don’t have an eighth.”
“Considering the variety, ages, genders, have you ruled out family, immediate family anyway?”
“Don’t rule in or out until we have evidence, and there’s none. I don’t mean scarce, I mean none. How do seven people go missing and nobody saw or heard anything? This isn’t a tiny town, it isn’t Baton Rouge or New Orleans either, people know people, but there’s a lot of passing through, interstate right here, Airline Highway doesn’t get much use these days, but you can get from New Orleans to north Baton Rouge on it. And it crosses the interstate a coupla times.”
“So there are several ways in and out.”
“Exactly, bunch of long haul trucks, farm trucks, every second car is a pickup, the rest are SUVs or minivans. We don’t have border issues so there’s no checkpoints anyplace.”
“We need to visit the ‘last seen’ sites, the reports have either addresses or cross streets. It will be best if we check those on our own, no police escort, better for you, no deputy has to escort us around.”
“You wanna talk to the deputies, most of them will be at morning or evening roll call.”
“No, and to the extent possible, we don’t want them to know we’ve been brought in. Has there been any announcement, even a casual mention in the squad room?”
“Not as far as I know, Sheriff came to me and said you would show up today, also said to keep it quiet, as in silent.”
“Perfect,” I stand along with Zoe C, “Thank you Chief. We’ve got sites to visit, did you get the other, the clothes?”
“Oh, yeah, worn only by the missing person, not laundered, individually sealed as requested. Do you want to talk to the witnesses? The ones who reported the missing, or who saw them last?”
“No, we have the statements, those folks are the least likely suspects. An abductor isn’t going to volunteer that he saw Missing Person X a half hour before they go missing.”
“Not likely. Okay then, you have my number and the Sheriff’s.”
“Anything interesting or unusual, we call you first and nobody else second.”
He nods, tips his hat to Zoe C, “Ma’am,” gets in his unmarked car and drives off.
Zoe C, “Cooperative anyway.”
“Less grief for him. Detectives on the case would resent third parties, we find out who’s doing this when they couldn’t…”
“Tarnishes the image. A credit to the Sheriff that he was willing to do an end around and not worry about images. Must have heard good things from somebody we worked with before.”
“Let’s ride, we have seven sites to check, hope Zelda’s nose is primed.”
Four sites later, Zelda confirms that three of them were abducted near to where we were directed. The fourth site she turned up zip, likely because it wasn’t an abduction site, just where someone thought they saw the woman. And the dog can’t be perfect, it’s been a total of seven months, it’s rained, lots of other people have walked the same area. I was surprised she found what she did.
Zoe C, “Is it notable that the missing are all white? All from the area, no move-ins, grew up here, went to school here, married ones married here. Two high school kids, one boy one girl, two on the other end of the spectrum, a sixty year old female and a sixty eight year old male. The other three were twenty five, thirty two and forty, two females, one male.”
“And religion all over the lot, evangelicals, Catholics, a couple heavily involved but most just Sunday church goers or even less, holiday attendees.”
“So we can rule out religion, besides a terrorist would want to make examples, these people just evaporated. We can rule out employment, schools, none of these folks even knew one another, what’s the connecting thread?”
McKenzie has been quiet, I ask, “Any thoughts, ideas on this Mac?”
A shrug, which means not much of interest.
We continue to five, six and seven. On two of those Zelda picked up a scent and like the others it disappears within fifty to a hundred feet.
McKenzie hands me a tablet, she’s got the sites mapped, numbered one through seven, in order of disappearance. 
It shows a lopsided incomplete clock, one is where one would be on a clock face, then two through seven more or less where they would appear on a clock face.
I hand the tablet to Zoe C, “Any observations?”
“Time is important to him, or maybe it’s order…um…regularity.”
McKenzie, “Time of disappearance.”
“What?...Wait, all we have is when they were reported to be last seen, which isn’t like clockwork, some of the missing we don’t have a time and the location appeared to be off. See, the three is too low on the imaginary clock face, the seven is too close to six and technically off the clock face. Nice catch McKenzie.”
She’s staring out the window.
Zoe C, “Does this mean five more?”
McKenzie, “Seventeen.”
“Oh crap.”
Zoe C, “Noooo…when he’s done with this one, he’s going around again?”
“That what your analog clock does, over and over.”

Eight

Zoe C, “Do we want to go to Chief with this?”
“Good question. For public safety, it makes sense to patrol the areas where prior abductions appear to have taken place. It may also force the abductor to make another clock elsewhere, I don’t know how smart this guy is, if he’s paying attention, he’ll have it figured out for himself.”
“Then extra patrols in the area make sense. He’ll think he’s got a step or two on the cops while they drive around areas where he won’t abduct again.”
“Hmmm, and perhaps he’ll enjoy hanging around watching the cops go in circles while he applauds his intelligence.”
All of which means we contact Chief and detail our observations.
Chief Deputy, “Got to bring in the Sheriff. I know you don’t want to come here, suppose I give him what you have and if he wants to see you, we figure out where that can happen.”
“Good. If the clock is for real, you’ll want to have a presence in areas where he hasn’t gone, eight o’clock to twelve. Not patrol cars all over the place, use surveillance tactics, and avoid unmarked cars, unmarked cop cars look like unmarked cop cars. Use personal cars and nobody in uniform. We can help with surveillance. We’re going to check into a hotel, find a bit of dinner, let the brain churn while we sleep. If anything goes down, call, don’t worry about the time. We don’t want another missing person, but if it happens, being there quickly might spring loose better evidence.”
“I’ll do it, and the clock, that was a good catch, a weird one for sure. I hope this is a visual coincidence.”
“And while we’re figuring, maybe try and figure what he’s done with seven people and no bodies. Either he’s got a remarkable disposal method or he’s keeping them someplace. They need food, water, toilet facilities, a couple no doubt have health problems that need attention.”
Chief, “More than one person then?”
“Can’t overlook the possibility.”
“Christ, okay, we’ll talk tomorrow.”
There aren’t many options for dinner here, we’re in a standard chain hotel, they serve breakfast, but no other meals. That leaves the supermarket where we find fried catfish and boudin available in the deli.
Zoe C, “What’s boudin?”
“Ground pork, rice, onion, shallots, and Cajun seasonings stuffed into casings that look like sausage except it isn't technically sausage. Wait until you taste it.”
“Is there a sauce, a dip?”
“Some people use mustard or ground mustard, like Dijon. I’ve had it twice and didn’t see the need for a sauce, maybe Tabasco. We’ll need ketchup for the fish, this will be plenty.”
Now we’re boudin fans, especially Zelda who went through an entire hunk.
Zoe C, “McKenzie, will you and Chef learn how to make this? Or is there someplace to buy it online?”
McKenzie, “cajungrocer.com.”
Zoe C looks it up, “Dang, she’s right, they have all sorts of good stuff. When we get home, you and Chef can go shopping, try a few things.”
We had beer with dinner, Zoe C and I have vodka rocks while we watch a bit of The Americans, an FX series. We pay only casual attention, never watched before and we don’t have the sense of what’s going on with who. Maybe we’ll start from scratch when we get home. Bedtime, the girls and the girl mastiff go to Zoe C’s room, I take a hot shower in mine, pour myself a short vodka, sit on the couch and noodle on the situation.
I get sleepy, brush and flush, crawl into fresh sheets and fall away.
By the time I wake up, McKenzie has coffee made, I sometimes wonder if she sleeps?
Zoe C appears, “Mac was up at six, took Zelda for a walk. I laid around until she returned, then we shagged coffee from downstairs and here we are.”
“Just as well to get going, our target abducted people at various times, times unrelated to the clock. Would have been convenient if he got the first at one a.m. or p.m., and so on, but that’s not how it happened. I never came up with a why for the clock face.”
Zoe C, “Neither did we.”
“I told Chief we could help with surveillance, the obvious places, somewhere on the map that would fit with eight, nine, ten, eleven and twelve. Suggested he use surveillance means to scout the potential spots, let the marked patrol cars cruise around the prior abduction sites.”
McKenzie, “Drone.”
I grin, “Of course! Forgot we hauled it along, perfect for silent surveillance, a camera, sound, zoom. Good call McKenzie.”
“Obvious.”
Zoe C laughs, “Well, it is, isn’t it?”
I shrug, know when I’m licked.
“Rather than deal with the breakfast buffet suppose we get going, pick up some fast food breakfast or other. Zelda will catch a break, I think McDonald’s has some sort of steak biscuit, we can get extras and she can eat the steak part. Pickup a couple gallons of water, girl takes a lot of water.”
Plans laid, we saddle up, steak biscuits sound pretty good, I buy a dozen, diet cokes, enough coffee for now.
McKenzie laid out eight through twelve on her map, although the target, still unknown, has taken victims in order. Unless he deviates, eight should be up next, the circle McKenzie carved out for eight is the first area we cover. 
“This could be utter futility, there is no reason an abduction would occur today.”
McKenzie, “Today or tomorrow.”
Zoe C and I look at each other, she asks, “Why do you think so?”
“Two came two weeks after one, three was three weeks after two.”
“Oh geez, one is the starting point, two weeks later another abduction, three weeks before the next, you see the pattern? Four plus five plus six plus seven is twenty seven weeks, approximately seven months. Eight more weeks would make it thirty five.”
McKenzie, “Today.”
“And somewhere eight o’clock would fit, call it a two, maybe three mile diameter.”
Zoe C, “We need to find a quiet place to launch, Mac can operate the drone while we drive around looking for potential victims. Essentially anyone walking alone in a low traffic area.”
McKenzie, “Everywhere.”
“What? Why would he search for victims where there were a lot of people around? He has to force or lure them into some sort of vehicle, that could get noisy.”
My head dings, “No, just the opposite, no coercion, no threat.”
Zoe C, “Then how in hell…”
McKenzie, “Takes the mind.”
“And they appear to get in voluntarily.”
Zoe C, “One of those…we never called them anything did we?”
“No, Mac sees the darkness around them, not just the dark of anger or frustration, lots of auras reflect that. The ones she’s talking about use the same energy Mac does, but puts it to different use. Grab a mind long enough to gain absolute compliance.”
McKenzie, “Shadows.”
“Shadows? You mean they are dark, like shadows. Didn’t we say they came in degrees? Some steal, others for perversion, others….”
McKenzie stares out the window, “Torture, death.”
Zelda groans, settles on the floor of the SUV, head in McKenzie’s lap.
We spend an hour riding, scoping out the eight o’clock, it’s early but we have no idea what time of day the prior abductions happened. There’s a general idea, the last seen time, but none of those were before nine in the morning.
“We have the drone, which can give us a half hour flying time, one backup battery
and a charger which takes under an hour to recharge the battery. Theoretically we have dead time where the drone can’t fly, but them’s the rules, there’s no quick charge.”
Zoe C, “Then let’s grab coffee and cruise, we get lucky we won’t need the drone. Put it up at ten say, we can fly it until eleven on the second battery, then we’re cruising again for a half hour until the first recharges.”
It’s a plan, we have no other alternatives anyway.

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