Fifty Three

When we emerge and join the others, they’re engrossed in one of the old BBC Sherlock Holmes things. Not the newer stuff with Benedict Cumberbatch, the series with Jeremy Brett, almost line for line from the original stories.
Natalie sits next to McKenzie, her eyes glued to the flat screen, Zelda in front of the couch, McKenzie has her little feet resting on the mastiff’s flank.
I bring her a bowl of ice cream, chocolate with sprinkles. She counts the sprinkles.
“Thirty three, odd number, odd number, odd number, has to be thirty four, thirty four, even, has to be even.”
I bounce back to the kitchen, put one sprinkle on a spoon and take it to her, drop it on the ice cream.
“Thirty four, thirty four, even.”
She takes a half spoon with two sprinkles, slides it in her mouth, “Thirty two, even, thirty two.”
Zoe C, “Sounds complicated.”
“At least she doesn’t demand all the colors be equal.”
“That’s a point.”
I’m bloody filthy rich, I could be on a beach with a couple of bimbos sipping frozen margaritas. Instead, I’m eating an ice cream cone with a snifter of Cognac watching Sherlock and Watson. I can’t imagine anything better.
Time for our auburn haired thin mint to go to bed. Natalie takes her for bed prep.
I open the patio door, “Zelda, do your thing before bed.”
She obediently trots out, across the pool deck and down the hill. I leave the door open and close the screen. Zelda knows how to open it and let herself in.
She’s out five, then back in, I close both doors, Zelda’s straight for McKenzie’s room. I hear her thunk up the steps. We need to get a screen that doesn’t slide open and closed, rather the kind that hangs there with a slit down the middle for passage.
Should I have a cocktail? Not a question, I pour Russian Standard over a pile of cracked ice, throw in an olive and repair to the couch. Girls are elsewhere, I assume gone to Zoe C’s room to either sleep or play. I fire up the fireplace, it’s gas, I don’t want to diddle with wood or ashes, don’t want Zoe C to have deal with them either.
Natalie comes in, sits next to me, I pass her my drink, she sips, then sips again, “Pays to use good vodka, this must be your Russian Standard.”
“Yep, I use Pinnacle for mixed drinks, which isn’t bad on its own. You don’t pour Russian Standard in a mixed drink, that’s blasphemy.”
“I have the feeling I should have more…I don’t know…something…about our earlier discussion, but I don’t. I don’t think it’s a question of morality, I’m never sure what morality is. What’s moral in situation A is immoral in situation B.”
“All ethics is situational. There is only the necessary and the unnecessary, not good or evil. Punks abusing is unnecessary.”
“And it’s necessary that you stop it when you can.”
“Yeah, it is.”
She kisses me, “Agreed. Enough philosophy, I need an orgasm, any ideas?”
I grin, time to play, then sleep.
Morning once again. I’m nudged awake by a tiny sprite and a giant dog. Must be hungry.
“You know how to feed Zelda?”
“Then feed her and fill her water bowl, I’ll be along to fix your breakfast in a minute.”
They go off, I climb out of bed, Natalie is still dead to daytime. Get organized in the bathroom, dress in slacks, a pullover and socks, no shoes in the house.
Zelda has crunched her bowl empty and is nibbling a few pieces she pushed out of the bowl. Then a long drink. The bowl was filled to the top, water spills over.
McKenzie, “Uh-oh, uh-oh, mess.”
“No problem angel, look,” I unroll a few paper towels, squat down and wipe it up, dump the towels in the trash.
“See, no mess. Zelda is a big girl and doesn’t have hands, so she spills some.”
McKenzie squats like me, except she hugs the dog, “Zelda goes out now,” she opens the door, then slides the screen, Zelda disappears down the hill.
“Want to help make the eggs?”
She pushes her stool over to the stove and climbs up, I take that as a yes.
Zoe C shows up, “Got a breakfast helper?”
She gives McKenzie a quick kiss on the cheek.
“Yep, and you can hand me the carton of eggs in the refrigerator.”
I show her how to crack the eggs, toss the shells in the sink. A dozen eggs in a stainless bowl.
“Take this,” I hand her a whisk, show her how to beat the eggs, she takes over.
Zoe C, “That is one intense young lady.”
“She likes things a certain way. Let’s see, there’s a pack of frozen biscuits in the freezer, put a half dozen on the pan, paint a bit of clarified butter on top then in the oven, it’s already heated up.”
Bacon, everyone likes bacon. I lay strips on the grill, the kind of grill that’s in a diner. I can fry bacon or sausage on one end, make scrambled or omelets on the other, if we were having pancakes those would be in the middle.
Elle and Natalie appear, “Coffee is fresh, okay McKenzie, the eggs are just right,” she would keep stirring until the end of time. Let them sit for a minute, here, take the spatula and flatten the bacon. Do not touch the grill, it’s hot.”
I mush the spatula over a couple of pieces, “like that,” hand it off to her and watch while she smushes the strips.
“Great, now slide the spatula under and flip the bacon over, then flatten again.”
While she’s absorbed in bacon, I get a platter and cover it in paper towels.
“Great, nice and crisp. Use the spatula to take them off the grill and lay them out on the platter.”
She does, meticulously, the strips have to be perfectly aligned before she’s satisfied.
“Pour the bowl of eggs onto the grill.”
She does.
“Now, do this with the spatula, easy. But keep them stirred around until they cook.”
Zoe C, “I’ll get the plates and utensils organized.”
I let McKenzie fill each plate, they have to look exactly the same, four pieces of bacon in a square around eggs in the middle, biscuit to one side.
Zelda returns and parks next to McKenzie, we saved a couple of spoons of scramble, “Put that on the floor for Zelda.”
McKenzie dismounts and carefully places the plate on the floor, she watches Zelda turn it into nothing with one lick.
“Food’s up girls.”
We sit around the dining table, dress up our biscuit and dig in. Natalie shows McKenzie how to cut and butter her biscuit without impaling herself, add a teaspoon of blackberry jelly, then she cuts it in half for less messy eating.
Elle, “Perfect scramble McKenzie.”
“Twelve eggs, stir one minute, cook three minutes.”
“You time her Chef?”
“Nope, minutes are counting, McKenzie is a good counter.”
After breakfast, I suggest Nat take a hike around the property with McKenzie and Zelda. She figures out I need to talk to Zoe C and Elle. They slip on sneakers at the door and take off.
“We have an issue in Fresno, didn’t we do something in Fresno already?”
Zoe C, “No, Sacramento, what is it?”
“A woman claims the boyfriend is abusing the daughter, not sexually, one of those pukes who thinks beating a kid will whip them onto shape, whip as in a belt.”
“Jaysus, nobody ever learns anything.”
“We need to get up there and check it out, but Natalie has to go back to work, how do we handle this? We need to take care of McKenzie.”
Elle, “Let me fly up and check it out. I know what to do. You and Zoe C take care of McKenzie, I’ll call in and let you know what’s what.”
When the hikers return, I explain to Nat then ask, “You good with that mommy?”
“Long as Zelda is here and one adult.”
“There will be at least one of us at all times, plus Zelda of course. If you travel, you can Skype or Facetime. She needs her own tablet anyway, maybe we can get something from Amazon or wherever, you and Elle are on top of those things.”
“We’ll research, but I figure an IPad is good for now.”
“Elle, take a quick look on Amazon and see what kind of tablet McKenzie can use. Not too basic, I think she’ll be good at exploring and figuring out how it works. Make sure it has both wifi and cellular so Nat can reach her whenever.”
They hustle off to the office, it’s shopping, a girl thing.
Zoe C and McKenzie relocate to poolside, McKenzie strips off her shirt, then her panties, she takes Zoe C by the hand, “McKenzie will swim, you will show me.”
Zoe C flips off her t-shirt, they walk to the steps, McKenzie turns to find Zelda, “Come see McKenzie swim.”
Zelda takes her place on the steps, the girls get in. McKenzie stands on the third step, the water at her tummy. Zoe C takes her by the hands and pulls her forward into the water.
“I’ll hold you, just kick your legs,” she pulls her around the shallows then takes her to the side.
“Hold on to the side, kick your legs,” wagging her two fingers like a kick.
After five, she pulls her to the steps, “You have to get used to water on your face, let me show you,” she dunks herself under then pops up, “hold your breath or you will breathe in water, let me see you hold your breath…inhale, close your mouth, one, two, three, four, when you head comes out of the water, breathe out, then take a breath. Another demonstration.
“Ready, just under for a second or two, I’m right here if you need me to pull you up.”
McKenzie dunks, pops up, “McKenzie under water.”
“Yes, you did well. Try it again.”
She’s autistic, she repeats the exercise and would probably keep at it until nightfall but Zoe C holds her up after the tenth dunk, “Perfect, is it okay, not scary?”
“Not scary.”
“Excellent. Now I’m going to hold your tummy, you kick your legs and use your arms like you saw us do when we were swimming the other day, do you remember?”
McKenzie rotates her arms.
Zoe C smiles, “Yes! Exactly, ready?”
The next fifteen start with the girl thrashing around, then settling in to a crawl stroke. Like a kid on a bike, Zoe C does less and less support until the girl is effectively swimming on her own. She moves to the steps and sits next to Zelda. McKenzie motors away from side to side. She hasn’t figured out turns yet, just hold on to the side and pushes off.
A dozen side to side laps, Zoe C, meets her in the middle and guides her to the steps.
“McKenzie, that was wonderful, you caught on right away.”
If she’s impressed with herself, it doesn’t show, she’s giving Zelda a scratch.
Natalie and Elle come out, “Got a tablet and a good case, if she drops it, it won’t crack up.”
Zoe C, “McKenzie, let’s show mommy what you learned, I’ll swim with you.”
They watch slack jawed as the two ease back and forth in a lazy crawl, Zelda is stock still, her head left and right following the girl. They return to the steps.
Natalie, “How precious, did she swim before?”
Zoe C, “We started from scratch. She’s so tiny she almost floats on her own. Tomorrow or the next day we’ll see about going longwise for a lap, when she’s got it, I’ll work on turns, then diving if she wants to try.”
Elle, “The Little Mermaid, a water baby.”
McKenzie steps up and out of the pool, “McKenzie will swim tomorrow.”
They shower poolside, give Zelda her rinse, dry and dress again.
I bring more coffee and an iced tea for McKenzie. She passes ice cubes to Zelda while she drinks it.
Natalie, “I’m going to pout having to go back to work.”
“Put in your time, it won’t be that long before you build your own company and you can work out of the office here. Or get an office nearby if you need to meet clients.”
She understands the house is not for visitors, nor clients. We’re private people, I don’t want anyone but immediate family to know anything about the house or grounds.

Fifty Four

Zoe C brings Elle to the airport, it’s Monday, she’s going to Fresno and spy on the alleged abuser. Natalie off to massage the mega wealthy out of a few fees and commissions.
I’m walking laps around the property with Zelda and McKenzie. Twice around is two miles, enough for a little girl, particularly since it’s up and down in spots.
We return, as we pass the pool she says, “McKenzie will swim.”
Off come the clothes, “Zelda,” she waits for the mastiff to come alongside, “you will sit here Zelda,” the dog takes her place, McKenzie pushes off the fourth step and starts paddling.
She takes the route she’s familiar with, side to side, I drag a patio chair to the edge and sit. I’m a bit nervous, I swim but only have a rudimentary knowledge of resuscitation if something goes wrong. I need to read up on it, see what YouTube offers, but right now I’m like Zelda, eyes on the girl.
Zoe C comes in, “You throw her in?”
I grin, “Nope, she didn’t either, she took the steps and pushed off. We did a double loop around the property, she’s going to be tired, a nap after lunch I suspect. Elle off okay?”
“Yep, she’s excited, doing her own surveillance.”
“Hope she’s careful, Fresno isn’t down the block.”
“Elle’s smart, and resourceful, and she knows if anything comes up about cops, she’s to shut up and ask for a lawyer, she’ll call you of course.”
“Good enough, maybe he makes it simple. She’s got the listening device, binoculars, and a gun?”
Zoe C, “Well yea-yuh, do you think she’s going to creep around the exterior hoping to hear something?”
“Just checking.”
She kisses my cheek, “You take good care of us Chef, and I told her to text often, even if nothing happens, to know she’s okay.”
“Okay then, get the fish out, she’s going to exhaust herself.”
Zoe C catches her at one side of the pool, reaches down and pulls her up until she can sit on the side.
“You’re doing great McKenzie,” Zelda turns and climbs out, goes to the girl and sticks her snout in her neck, McKenzie giggles while Zelda sniffs.
Zelda goes to the pool shower and sits.
“She’s waiting for her rinse, let’s go wash up.”
Zoe C, “Turn it on here,” she turns the handle, “then check the temperature,” hand goes under the stream, “make adjustments, this way cooler, this way warmer.”
When it’s right, Zoe C washes McKenzie’s hair, lets her do the rest, then rinse Zelda finishing with a tummy massage.
“Come over here so we don’t get drenched when she shakes.”
Dry enough, they sit in the sun, Zelda flops down next to the girl.
“I thought cold cuts for lunch.”
“Good, nothing heavy, feed her then I’ll take her for a nap. I have housekeeping to do, but it can wait until later.”
Her phone dings, she reads the text out loud, “landed and in the car, they had an egg and cheese jalapeno croissant for me on the way to target house check in soon.’
Zoe C taps her phone in reply.
“I told her to update every half hour.”
I whip up lunch, McKenzie likes finger sandwiches, small, like her. Zelda likes them too, McKenzie sneaks a couple to her while she eats.
Zoe C, “Okay super swimmer, time for rest, let’s go to McKenzie’s room.”
Zelda leads the way, she’s a good napper, maybe her favorite thing to do, second favorite, eating would be first.
I clean up the lunch detritus, sit on a stool and ponder dinner possibilities. Nat’s gone all week, Elle at least a couple of days. Everybody likes pizza, I know, I’ll do a Muffuletta style, no tomato sauce, olive salad, pepperoni, salami, ham, mozzarella and provolone, minced garlic. 
Take a thin pizza crust from the freezer to thaw. I could just use it frozen like any frozen pizza, but I like to pre-crisp the crust before I add the toppings. That way the crust doesn’t deteriorate to mushy. 
Zoe C comes down, “She was asleep before I could finish straightening her bathroom.”
“Heard from Elle?”
“She’s looking for a surveillance spot, the house is not in a subdivision, it’s on a plot of land with no neighbors close by. No fences, no dogs, but not many spots to be invisible.”
I make tea, Zoe C and I take it outside, the sun stares at us, not ready to set. It’s not hot, just glaringly bright. I open the umbrella and fold it to put us in the shade,still a few hours to sunset.. 
Zoe C, “Do we try to educate her?”
“Not sure how. She reads something and memorizes it, do we fill her up with facts?”
“She fills up with facts already, and have you noticed, she doesn’t rock much now?”
“Credit Zelda, she’s a calming influence.”
“She’s a calming influence on all of us, the big girl doesn’t fluster, get anxious or run around barking at nothing.”
“She doesn’t bark at all, but she knows everything that’s going on, vigilant as a ninja, down to her black coat.”
“Is the restaurant idea dead?”
“I don’t know, we’ve have a plateful with the girl. It would be an excuse to take her someplace, see how she handles people she doesn’t know.”
“She’s into cooking.”
“Appears to be, cooking is step by step, follow the recipe, she’s happier with structure. I wonder how she’d do if I gave her a recipe, something more complicated than eggs and bacon. Let her do it on her own, with me watching of course.”
“Not a bad idea.”
“Tonight she can help with the pizza, I’ll do as little as possible.”
Her phone dings, message from Elle.
‘found a spot not perfect but decently hidden from the house firing up listening device now’
Zoe C replies, ‘keep your eyes moving front side rear no surprises’
‘will do’, they click off.
“Maybe I need to curl up with Zelda, this is nerve racking.”
“Elle’s not a dope, she knows if anything looks kinky she’s to bail.”
“I’ll round up sleeping beauty, it’s nearly two hours and she’ll be up all night if she goes longer.”
Zoe C goes off, I clear the cups. Don’t need to start pizza yet, it’s five and we don’t eat until seven thirty or later. Maybe the child is hungry though, what have I got to tide her over?
Fish around in the refrigerator, no cheese, cheese on the pizza, ah, smoked salmon, crackers, I’ll skip the hardboiled egg.
I hear the thump of Zelda’s paws, then a little pat, pat, pat, Zelda and McKenzie show up together.
McKenzie looks up at me, “Five o’clock, feed Zelda, five o’clock, feed Zelda.”
“You know what to do.”
She finds the bag of food, dips the cup in and pours the pellets into her bowl, two more cups, Zelda waits patiently, then makes the food evaporate.
McKenzie fills her water bowl, sets it next to the empty food bowl, Zelda wipes out half, then heads to the patio door, opens it, McKenzie opens the screen and off they go. I remind myself to get a hanging screen.
Zoe C comes along toting laundry, “I changed her sheets, yours and mine tomorrow,” to the laundry room, I hear the machine start dumping water.
When she closes the door I can’t hear anything, it’s a solid core door and blocks washing machine and dryer sounds.
She parks on a barstool, “Cocktail hour, want a vodka or wine?”
“Wine, grab anything that appeals.”
She uncorks a Pinot Grigio chilling in the booze refrigerator. We keep the vodkas and all the wines chilled, red or white or the occasional rosé. We only buy the dry Provençal rosés, not the sweet white zinfandel or blushes.
I sip, “A good one, not as tart as most of our stuff but hardly sweet.”
“Sweet is for old ladies and aging drag queens.”
I laugh, “No PC around here.”
“There’s too much of that stuff now, got to call fat girls curvy, can’t mention ethnicity unless you are that ethnicity, people have gotten so thin skinned there’s no skin at all. At school they paraded around with signs wanting ‘safe spaces’, how stupid is that?”
“I’m saving the world next week, not tonight, fat girls are curvy, big rotund mounds of curvy. I prefer girls with less curve and more muscle tone. No shortage of fat men either, but they don’t call themselves curvy.”
McKenzie and Zelda are outside, I spot McKenzie using the pool shower wand to wash Zelda’s paws. Good for her, the beast won’t drop dust all over the place. We don’t have carpet, too filthy and impossible to clean properly. Zoe C or Elle vacuum every other day,  actually the Roomba vacuums, we have four, then once a week run those wet mop whatevers over the floors.
They come inside, “Thank you for washing her paws, keep the dust out.”
No reply, she does climb on one of the bar stools, looks at Zoe C’s wine.
“Want a taste?”
She hands the glass to McKenzie, a sip, “Flowers,” she hands it back to Zoe C.
I open seltzer, pour a wineglass and add just a tablespoon of the wine, pass it to McKenzie.
She sips, “You like it? If you don’t just leave it.”
I put the platter of smoked salmon and crackers on the kitchen island, Zoe C slices the pieces, puts them on crackers, tells McKenzie, “Try a bite, Zelda loves smoked salmon.”
Good enough for McKenzie, she bits half, sips her seltzer, finishes the rest.
“You can do it.”
She does, then takes another slice of salmon and passes it to Zelda, giggles when she so gently takes it, then not so gently swallows it whole.
McKenzie manages three more crackers with salmon, and manages one more slice for Zelda before telling her “No more, you will be fat girl.”
Zelda lays down, if I had told her that, she would have ‘huffed’ her frustration first.
Zoe C reads my mind, “McKenzie has more clout with Zelda than you do Chef.”
“So I see, good for you McKenzie, Zelda will be healthy and live a long time with you looking out for her.”
“McKenzie takes care of Zelda, Zelda takes care of McKenzie.”
Pretty much sums it up, Zoe C kisses the little sprite on the cheek.
“Tomorrow her IPad comes, we got the bells and whistles, it was four hundred, fifty for the case, but it’s a good one.”
“Find something she can watch, we have an hour then she can make the pizza.”
“Not much on except news, I mean I could find her a Netflix or something on Amazon Prime.”
“Turn on the news, mute the sound.”
McKenzie lays on Zelda’s flank while she watches the news feed go by, we have another glass of wine and nibble the salmon.
Zoe C, “Damn, she’s ridiculously easy to entertain, a dog and pictures on a screen she probably doesn’t understand, but she watches anyway.”
We join them, sit on the couch with McKenzie and Zelda on the cushy mat in front of us. Zoe C gets up and finds a blanket, covers McKenzie and takes her place on the couch.
It isn’t cold in here, but it seems cozier with a blanket and the fireplace going.

Fifty Five

Elle messages Zoe C, ‘woman left with child bundled up and screaming the child not the woman target tried to stop her she was in car with door locked drove off’
‘can u tell if child was hurt’’
‘not sure put the boy in the backseat lying on his side might mean he was whipped man came out with a belt shouting he will get more if you don’t get back inside’
‘hang on’
Zoe C shows me the message thread.
“Take him out.”
She types ‘do what you went there to do’
‘on it’
Zoe C, “Flip, I hope this goes well, the guy is already pissed.”
“Not for long.”
Fifteen minutes later, a text, ‘done i hauled butt to get distance why I did not text right away’
‘good sense’
‘going to need hotel and flight’
‘go to any hampton or embassy use your travel id text flight info soon’
She calls Blue Sky and arranges a nine a.m., texts Elle, ‘flight detail pick you up tomorrow’
‘how is mckenzie’
‘doing beautifully she likes cooking go figure she is watching the news using Zelda for a pillow’
‘so adorable what is dinner I will grab a pizza or Chinese’
‘pizza the muffuletta thing chef makes except mckenzie is going to assemble’
‘call when she does it I want to see’
‘ok an hour maybe facetime’
‘got it talk soon’
Zoe C, “Elle loves being included, not just the gun thing, included in our pasted together family.”
“I’m the lucky one, you and her sunning nude, skimpy t-shirts around the house, be bloody insane not to include her.”
Zoe C giggles, “Thank you Chef,” she walks over to join McKenzie, sits next to her cross-legged, McKenzie says something but I can’t hear it or Zoe C’s reply. I busy myself arranging pizza ingredients.
“Time to get the pizza organized.”
They come over, Zoe C says, “McKenzie can’t understand why the man with the stupid hair lies so much.”
I look at the girl, “Nobody else can either sweet, lying is his nature, he’s a cheat and a fraud.”
The sound was off, wonder how she got the lying part?
I have the stuff on the island, except the crust.
“The crust goes in a four hundred degree oven for ten minutes. That’s to crisp them up both on the bottom and on the top where the ingredients will go.”
I point to the jar of olive salad, and the meats and cheeses, “Those will go on the pizza, each thing in about equal amounts to the other things. So you have to cut the meats and cheese into bite sized pieces, then layer the meat on the pizza. Second layer is olive salad, then layer the top with the two cheeses. The cheese will melt down over the other ingredients.”
I hand her a cutting board and a knife, “Pay attention, the knife is sharp, ready?”
Zoe C calls Elle, directs the phone towards McKenzie.
The girl studies the array as if it were a science experiment, then proceeds to cut.
When she’s finished, there are exact squares of ham, salami, pepperoni, mozzarella and provolone. Minced garlic is in a ramekin next to cheeses. I took the crust out while she worked, better to have them cooled, that’s when the crisp happens.
“Okay McKenzie, layer on like we talked about,” we didn’t talk, I talked and she listened.
I lean against the counter, it’s fascinating. Every ingredient has to be in just the right spot, pepperoni, ham, salami, then evenly layered olive salad. Finally alternating squared of mozzarella and provolone until the pizza is covered. It’s the most geometrically accurate pizza I’ve ever seen.
I hear Elle over the phone, “Awww, it’s almost too beautiful to eat, take a photo Zoe C. My pizza isn’t close, you are a pro McKenzie.”
“Okay young lady, want to slide it in the oven? Take your time and don’t touch the racks, they’re hot.”
I take one, hold it by one edge and the bottom,” hold ti like this, then put one side on the rack and slide it in.
“Did you see?”
She does, no burned fingers, I close the oven door.
“I have a technique to make sure it’s cooked through, and it lets the bottom of the pizza to stay crisp. In eight minutes, we’re going to cover the top with lightly greased foil, the cheese won’t stick and it won’t brown the top while we let the pizza finish.”
I hand her the foil, show her how to unroll and cut it.
“Keep your fingers away from the cutting edge, big enough to cover the pizza.”
She pulls out the foil, measures it through the oven door glass window. 
“Tell me when it’s eight minutes.”
Zelda comes up, pokes McKenzie, the girl takes a piece of provolone and hands it off to the mastiff, gives the giant head a stroke, “all done Zelda, suwaru,” which is pronounced suwadit.
Zelda sits.
“Where did she learn the Japanese for sit?”
Zoe C, “I went over her commands a couple of weeks ago.”
McKenzie, “Eight minutes, eight minutes, cover pizza, cover pizza.”
I open the door, she places the foil exactly over the pizza. 
I hear Elle, “I’m crying, what a puss.”
Zoe C, “That’s called tenderness Elle, nothing lame about it.”
Elle, “We’re going to practice more Japanese with her, in a month she’ll be correcting us.”
Zoe C, “You want to learn Japanese McKenzie, with Elle and me?”
“Makkenjī wa nihongo o manabu.”
Zoe C laughs, “Sounds like we’re the ones who need to learn.”
Elle, “What did she say?”
“McKenzie learns Japanese.”
I hear Elle giggle, a sweet sound even through the phone.
Elle, “Enjoy your much better than mine pizza, goodnight McKenzie.”
McKenzie, “McKenzie has a good night, Zelda has a good night, Zoe C has a good night, Chef has a good night….goodnight Elle.”
Elle, “Time to go, I’m bawling like a baby, see you guys tomorrow,” she clicks off.
Zoe C, “Elle is such a sensitive soul, what a dear.”
“I wonder if that’s what Olivares thinks...thought.”
“He didn’t have time to think.”
Geometrically organized pizza has a certain aesthetic appeal, I almost feel bad about cutting it up, so I let McKenzie do it.
“Okay, this is the pizza cutter, you’ve seen me use it before. I’ll hold it still on the cutting board, you make slices however you want.”
She opts for traditional triangles, by the visual they appear exactly equal, I’m not going to measure them, I’d be amazed it they were and disappointed if they weren’t.
“McKenzie made pizza.”
“Yes you did, and it is perfect.”
The girls and Zelda go off to find something to watch, it’s already quarter to eight, our young ward may need to sleep soon.

Fifty Six

Another day, Zoe C goes off to collect Elle, McKenzie is outside traipsing around the property with her pal, I’m poolside with a third coffee.
The girls return just as McKenzie and Zelda come up the hill.
Elle, “McKenzie! You made such a beautiful dinner,” she kisses the girl on both cheeks.
“She insisted on saving a slice for you, I put it in the oven ten minutes ago, should be sufficiently warmed by now.”
Elle, “She insisted? Or you and Zoe C suggested?”
Zoe C, “It was all McKenzie.”
“I don’t know how many tears I have left.”
“She doesn’t want you to cry, she wants you to enjoy her work, so get in there and enjoy.”
McKenzie strips and gets in the pool with her guardian on the steps.
Zoe C, “I’ll join her, she can handle the pool lengthwise as long as one of us is around.”
I watch them start laps, Elle comes out with her slice, “Damn Chef, this is good, even next day. That little girl is amazing, I guess you’ve figured that out.”
“We all have. The thing is, what do we do? It’s kind of Nat’s decision, but she thinks of us as one family, so do I. My question sort of answers itself, we do very little other than maintenance. McKenzie seems to find her own path.”
“The IPad comes in today, a few hour to charge and a few minutes to set up, then we tell her how it works I suppose.”
“My gut says we don’t tell her anything, just hand it to her, there are tutorials online, we can point her to those maybe.”
“Just let her have at it?”
“Why not, she isn’t going to break anything. I’m curious to see what happens if we just let her run with it.”
Elle finishes the last hunk of pizza, “If she does with the tablet what she did with the pizza, it would be dumb to interfere. So, hands off unless she asks for help.”
“My thinking. When Nat comes over this weekend, she may want to do something else.”
Elle giggles, “As if, but nice of you to defer. Natalie would be the first person to say hand the kid the tablet and go find something else to do while she figures it out.”
I shrug, “True.”
While McKenzie is occupied, Elle recaps, “It was simple, I banged on his door with the butt of the Glock, he came storming up, opened the door yelling, he got as far as, ‘stupid cunt, that boy…’, I don’t know what was coming after cause I shot him in the forehead. He blanked, fell backwards like a rotten oak. He still had the belt wrapped around his fist.”
Zoe C, “They’re going to suspect the woman, what’s her name?”
I intercede, “No gun, no casing, the boy is old enough to back up the story that they left and he was still alive. Cops can try, but they aren’t going anywhere with it. Particularly with a beaten child, I wonder if she took him for treatment?”
“That I don’t know, I just wanted to get gone.”
“You can check the news tomorrow, if she needs legal help, we can supply it anonymously. You did what needed to be done. Now what needs to be done is for you to lose the jeans and let your elder admire your legs.”
Jeans come off and are laid over the back of her chair, she sits, crosses one elegant limb over the other, “Better now?”
I slide my eyes up from ankles to taut creamy thighs, “Perfect.”
Elle giggles, “Thank you…don’t you ever wish, you know, that Zoe C and I weren’t committed lesbians?”
“Not at all, first, there’s Natalie, second, beauty is beauty, just cause the sign says keep off the grass doesn’t mean I can’t stand there and admire the pretty green color.”
Elle giggles again, “Rationalization is what separates humans from the animals.”
“You could build an entire philosophy around that.”
“I don’t have time to build a philosophy, I have an algorithm to monitor, an autistic niece to watch over and a hot lover to please, all equally important.”
“You have a full life, full of wonder and enjoyment.”
“I do.”
My phone dings, it’s Natalie, “How’s the baby?”
“Swimming, she can do full length laps now.”
“You’re watching of course?”
“So are Zoe C, Elle and Zelda, how’s business?”
“Crazy good, I am amazed at the financial bullshit these guys will buy. We come in, toss around numbers with technical terms, standard deviation, diversification, competitive activity, made up economic forecasts, how are they going to know we invent competitors? Then they pay us a shitload of fees to manufacture preferred stocks, investigate mergers, shuffle stock options, it’s like taking candy from the village idiot, he fucking hands it to you.”
“Been my experience, I had your types lined up at my door with one stupid idea after another, most of which would eventually lead to bankruptcy.”
“We get more fees to reorganize out of bankruptcy, we have a lucrative plan for everything, lucrative for us, if the client accidentally makes money, even better.”
“What happened to integrity?’
“Integrity and profit are considered mutually exclusive. We deal in profit, integrity is a minor obstacle, easy to overcome by burying it in money.”
“I can’t imagine you going for that.”
“Thank you, I don’t. I am, however, meeting tons of people with tons of money. When I spot a particularly nasty deal, I steer them to alternatives, with the caveat that I didn’t do jack. If they decide to bust me with Goldman, then I’m busted. So far, I’m building alliances, quietly, surreptitiously. It could blow up in my face, then I’m dead meat in the investment banking biz.”
“Still, you have a handful of well heeled investors for your fund.”
“Exactly, I don’t give a crap about Goldman, or the people they sucker into dicey investments or mergers or recapitalizations, I’d say it’s the nasty underbelly of the business, but the whole beast is underbelly, there is no high road. My list of contacts grows weekly. In a few months I can raise maybe not a billion dollars but several hundred million by exiting Goldman and going independent.”
“Good, you aren’t letting the grass grow then.”
“Not me, but I want a legit fund, it can’t be transparent, that lets too many sharks in, but it will be honest, none of that two and twenty crap.”
Hedge funds generally take a two percent fee regardless of performance, but also take twenty percent of the profits. There is a rule that the twenty comes after the high water mark has been breached. They can’t take twenty percent of old money that’s already paid the performance bonus. If a fund makes a hundred bucks, then takes twenty, they can’t take another twenty until the fund has made money over the hundred buck profit and the bonus is earned only on the amount over the hundred dollar profit mark, the high water mark up to that point. It’s called an incentive bonus, but it mostly involves exposing investors to higher levels of risk.
“What’s today, Wednesday? How is the weekend looking?”
“I’ve cleared it, I want to see McKenzie and I want to see her Friday. I can make calls and contacts from your office as easily as anyplace else.”
“Great! Looking forward to it, the girls too, hard to say about McKenzie and Zelda.”
She laughs, “Zelda and McKenzie are the same, there is no way to tell whether they’re happy, sad or undecided, I call them the Stoics.”
“Good analogy, they are stoical, maybe we should have called Zelda Epictetus or Seneca. McKenzie might be Hypatia.”
Natalie, “Who’s Hypatia?”
I spot Zelda at my knee, McKenzie won’t be far behind, I turn to see her blinking up at me.
“McKenzie is right here,” I ask, “Natalie doesn’t know who Hypatia is, do you?”
“Tell Natalie, I put her on the phone, McKenzie says, “The Christian historian Socrates of Constantinople, a contemporary of Hypatia, describes her in his Ecclesiastical History: There was a woman at Alexandria named Hypatia, daughter of the philosopher Theon, who made such attainments in literature and science, as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time. Having succeeded to the school of Plato and Plotinus, she explained the principles of philosophy to her auditors, many of whom came from a distance to receive her instructions. On account of the self-possession and ease of manner which she had acquired in consequence of the cultivation of her mind, she not infrequently appeared in public in the presence of the magistrates. Neither did she feel abashed in going to an assembly of men. For all men on account of her extraordinary dignity and virtue admired her the more.”
I hear Nat, “McKenzie, that’s amazing, where did you learn about…what’s her name? Hy…”
“Hypatia, Wiki,” she hands me the phone and goes in search of Zelda’s bag of dog food chunks.
“Hi, it’s me, McKenzie feeds Zelda at five, exactly, although she never looks at a clock, it’s always exactly five. Strange though, breakfast varies, but Zelda’s dinner is always five p.m.”
“Dang, how’s she know, I guess you don’t have a clue either.”
“Nope, but she can count seconds and minutes in her head, I don’t need the timer when she helps me cook.”
“You let her cook?”
“She likes it, or at least she shows up and follows instructions. Cooking is orderly, specific ingredients, specific cooking times and temperatures, she made pizza last night and it was geometrically perfect, even when she cut it.”
“Get out, you’re making me want to come home this minute.”
“You can do better for her if you bide your time at Goldman. Before long you’ll be working out of here, or maybe we get you set up in your own office, we don’t want visitors here. You can take your brilliant daughter to work.”
I hear her sniffle, “Thank you for all this Chef, she may have a part time mom, but she’s got a fulltime dad.”
“And she has two doting aunts and a gigantic best friend who will never let her down.”
Sniffle, “What a puss I am.”
“I say that often, just not the way you mean it.”
She laughs, “Keep that thought, I have to hustle, talk soon, kiss the girls for me.”
We disconnect.
Zelda is fed, she and McKenzie go out, Elle and Zoe C come in.
Zoe C, “Getting chilly, McKenzie should have a coat or sweater.”
“Find something and take it to her, I didn’t notice the temperature, I was on with Natalie, she’ll be her Friday, anxious to see the prodigy and her girlfriends.”
Zoe C goes out with a sweatshirt, one of mine, which will serve as total body coverage for the auburn sprite.

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