Up early to stake out Williams, we’re sitting in the Tahoe sipping coffee looking at the building where his office is located. It’s quarter to nine, his small website says his hours are nine to five, his credentials, CPA and a form to make an appointment. He specializes in tax, references to an estate attorney and bookkeeping services. I presume the referrals are reciprocated, widening his reach. There’s a photo.
Zoe C, “That’s him, the chunky guy getting out of the Lexus. Money must be okay, it’s a relatively new one.”
“Good. We’ll let him settle in, make coffee, boot up his computer, what? Fifteen minutes?”
“McKenzie, you want in alone, or one of us with you?”
“Just Akiko, she needs to learn from a real world experience.”
Zoe C, “Hang on, it’s unlikely but what if he’s the Shadow?”
“He’s not, he was discovered staring at nothing, remember?”
“Right, okay then, you know what you’re looking for?”
“Yes,” she steps out of the car with Akiko, they cross the street and go inside.
Zoe C and I wait with only mild anxiety, McKenzie has demonstrated she can handle herself, and she’s not about to let anything happen to Akiko.
Fifteen, twenty, Zoe C, “Should we go in?”
“”Give it five.”
Two minutes later they come out, I open the door, Mac and Akiko climb in.
“What did you get?”
“Everything, downloaded to this,” she hands me a thumb drive.”
“Took a while to download?”
“No, less than two minutes.”
“What were you doing then?”
“We got him to recall the Shadow, it’s not a him, a woman, fifty, fat and filthy.”
“Like dirt, like a homeless person?”
“No, vulgar, fuck, fucking, motherfucker. Williams is a Bible thumper, she did it to irritate him.”
“Ah, sounds Shadow-like.”
“We need to go, he’ll be awake in ten minutes or so.”
“He going to recall anything?”
McKenzie looks at me and blinks. I’ve asked a dumb question. I smile, Mac looks out the window, ignoring me.
Zoe C, “To the hotel, we need to take a look at the names.”
When we pull into the lot, four cars come in alongside, Daphne’s crew dismounts.
“Hey girls, you must have made the rental company’s day, four SUVs.”
Daphne, “Morning Chef, Zoe C, got what we need?”
Janah is talking to Mac and Akiko.
“McKenzie and Akiko got the records on a thumb drive, we’re just headed up to see what’s what.”
Janah and the two kids head for the hotel entrance, jabbering away, well, Janah and Mac. Akiko is between them, silent but listening.
Zoe C, “I don’t think I’ve heard McKenzie so chatty in the years she’s been with us.”
Dasha, “Ees Janah, every peerson talks to Janah, you will see.”
Daria, “We need to see data now, if the Shadow has names, he’s not going to fool around.”
Zoe C, “McKenzie found out the Shadow is a female, chunky with a mouth like a drill sergeant.”
Daphne, “Cripes, some of our worst encounters have been with women. The most powerful we’ve encountered have been women.”
“What happened, can you say?”
“Janah made one explode, Daria melted the other.”
Zoe C, “Melted…um…never mind, I don’t need to know.”
“Actually, it was in a Hampton Inn parking lot, messy but effective.”
We meet in my room, girls pouring over records. It’s all his data, which means some of it is dated, people move, die, get married again. In the end they find a dozen possibilities.
Zoe C, “He got thirty active clients including five corporations, LLCs, nothing major. If we set those aside and focus on the rest, we can maybe narrow down the most unlikely, for instance one lives in a different town and it appears they exchange information online or in emails. Two more are illiquid, that is, their investments are in real estate. If they have gold or other precious metals, coins or jewelry, it doesn’t show up.”
“That makes sense, you can’t pay taxes on things nobody knows you have. Besides, if the Shadow wanted American Eagles, all she has to do is walk into a store that sells them. The clerk will hand over the things with no questions and won’t remember handing them over. Or at least not recall who he handed them to.”
“Coin store will haf camera. Shadow ees no going inside, he gets employee of store to bring gold to him.”
“That’s true, same reason they don’t go in the bank with the victim.”
Janah, “Let’s divide up the names and go Shadow Hunting. Did you bring drones?”
“Good, Daphne likes to overcompensate so we brought four. We’ll set the GPS coordinates for five potential victims, the drone will keep an eye on them. Then we can each drive to six others. We have six people who can spot Shadows by aura, the four of us, McKenzie and Akiko. Is it okay to split them up?”
McKenzie, “Akiko will be fine, she will go with Zoe C, I will go with Chef.”
That was easy, hope the rest of the day is the same.
Four of the drones can be operated by Janah’s folks, McKenzie can operate the one we brought. They’re essentially the same drone, we got ours from Janah and Daphne. Audio with an excellent listening device, video as good as any camera. The little sprite Eloise did most of the work. Nikko told Zoe C they make a lot of money on leases, they don’t sell them and there are more than a dozen patents. In order to avoid copies with minor modifications, anyone who attempts to get to the guts or the software finds out quickly the drones simply melt down to lumps of plastic. The titanium shell falls open while the interior fries, the rip off crowd, mostly Chinese and Korean, can’t tell jack from the shell.
Mac gets our drone up and away, I drive to our designated house, a two story frame, well tended and a fresh coat of paint. The owner, name is irrelevant, must have made his money elsewhere then moved to Lincoln. A Boeing engineer for thirty eight years and there’s no Boeing plant in Lincoln, there is a Kawasaki plant that makes cargo doors for Boeing, and a recent expansion that makes parts for the 777. Our guy retired before Kawasaki even started making Boeing cargo doors.
“Did he ever work for Boeing here, in Lincoln?”
McKenzie scans the notes, the client records we stole from Williams, “Consulted, got paid fifty thousand in 2016, another fifty in 2017. Based on his tax return, estimated net worth is low seven figures.”
“Have a brokerage account?”
“No Schedule D, either he had no capital transactions on any kind, or he keeps cash in the bank. It shows interest income of thirty thousand from one bank. At the low rates for the last couple of years, that translates into two and a half to three million of principle. His pension is forty five thousand a year, social security would add another two thousand or so.”
“A hundred grand a year at least, nice lifestyle for Lincoln Nebraska. He married?”
“Wife deceased, two children live in Boulder, where he lived when he worked for Boeing.”
“Accountant did a good job of collecting data. The more you know about a client, the greater the possibility of connecting to similar people. It’s not exactly marketing, more like referral prospects.”
“Drone is over the other house now.”
She flies it over and around, doesn’t appear anyone is home, but there are trash cans rolled out front, someone lives there.
We sit and stare, I see motion near one front window, then it disappears. A few minutes later the subject’s garage door is rolling up, he backs out, door comes down. We follow.
While I drive, Mac keeps one eye on the drone, calls Zoe C, “Anything?”
“I could walk the streets nude, nobody to notice. The drone, well, I guess you can flip to all the drones, none of them show any activity outside.”
“We are following our man, retired Boeing employee, lives alone, a good target for the Shadow.”
Zoe C, “Likely on his To-Scam list, just hasn’t tracked him down yet.”
Daphne checks in with Chef, “Our man is out of town, must be, locked up tight, no mail, no papers in the drive…do people still buy papers? I called his number from the sat phone, message about trip to Europe, leave a message, call when I return, the usual.”
“Take the next house on the list, don’t know what to tell you about your drone.”
“I’m gonna leave it in place for a bit, if nothing shakes out, I’ll move it to another address.”
“It’s all a shot in the dark, we do know the Shadow got the names.”
“And she’s not going to diddle around, Shadows hit a few marks then move on. Cautious despite having the Qi power. Our experience is they don’t like to leave too long a trail.”
“So they aren’t very good at self discipline.”
“Yes and no. To get where they are took an enormous amount of discipline. Then their brain breaks, and the world gets another Shadow. But the capability gives them confidence, overconfidence, that he or she cannot be defeated.”
Dasha checks in with Daphne, “Dahfoney, I haf found Shadow, but theese one ees a man. He came from house I am watching. Do you want me to keel?”
“Later, there’s a woman and a man now, I can’t believe they don’t know each other, we need to see if they hook up. Stay on him. I’m coming to the house, did he look like he lived there?”
“Nyet, ees house of single old lady.”
I hear Dasha grumbling, “We haf chance to keel Shadow but Dahfoney waits, why? She haf anyway her reasons, Dasha will follow and see what happens.”
Daphne, “Thank you Dasha. The reason is it will be simpler to follow the Shadow than to sit around hoping the woman shows up at a victim’s house. We’re going to maintain surveillance, you follow the Shadow.”
“I am already follow, Shadow cannot escape Dasha, but if he starts trouble, I will keel.”
“Understood, and if you are in the slightest danger, take him out and don’t look back.”
That’s Dasha, the shortest distance is a straight line, like a bullet, or in her case like a Qi shot.
I check with Daphne, “Suppose we shift Daria to help Dasha keep track of the Shadow. I’m sure she can handle him, but if he meets up with our mystery female, that’s an exponentially greater problem.”
Daphne, “Good point, I’ll tap into her and tell her to team up with her sister.”
Daphne must be the Queen of Organization, she can talk telepathically to Janah, Dasha, Daria and Amaya. That’s a lot of movies in your head, but I figure she isn’t online with everyone at once. Either that or she has a lot more bandwidth in her brain than most people.
Our surveillance group texts or chats with each other to kill time, we bring in the drones, they need a charge. Eloise the Wonder Tech has a charging adapter that will fit the cigarette lighter, or can be directly connected to a car battery, which is a faster charge but right now we need to be ready to move.
Mac connects ours, the second row of seats is folded down, the drone sits there and sucks up required power.
“She sure did a job on the drones, they do everything except make cocktails.”
McKenzie, “They have Emma B and Kota B to make cocktails. Janah says she will make one for us, we can pick a name and we have to let it roam the house so it can program itself.”
“Damn, that’s great, how’d you finagle that?”
“No finagle, we negotiate, I offered a half million, Janah said free. I let her win. She will include a cleaning bot.”
“Aw geez, so generous, Zoe C and Elle will be delighted, have any suggestions for a name?”
“Elle and Zoe C can decide, it will take a month to build, a week to learn the house and grounds.”
“We have to have them over for dinner, lots of Champagne, thick steaks, the whole deal.”
Mac is done talking, she checks in with Akiko, ‘Okay?’
Good enough, she sits back and awaits developments.
Fifteen later, we have developments.
Daphne calls, “Both Shadows are sharing the same house, not unheard of if they decide working together simplifies getting what they want. In any case, Fatty and the guy we’ll call Slim, cause he is…ever see Christian Bale in The Machinist? Skinny like that.”
“He was emaciated.”
“That’s the Shadow, an emaciated man and a fat woman, like Jack Spratt and his wife, here’s the address but keep your distance. It’s a standalone house, not in a subdivision, but cars still pass. We don’t need six SUVs parked outside.”
“I’ll work out a place to meet and text you. We can get the rest of us in one car if we shift the drones to cars we don’t use.”
Which I do in short order. Now Daphne, Janah, Zoe C, Akiko, McKenzie and I are in one Tahoe, one drone in the back. We leave the three other SUVs parked in a movie theater lot where cars come and go and nobody pays attention. Then it’s on to the Shadow den.
Dasha’s car is the only one there, Daria is with her, they must have done what we did, left one vehicle elsewhere.
We aren’t in direct sight of the house, I can just make it out through a thick stand of pines. We powwow while we stretch our legs.
I ask, “Best approach?”
Daphne, “We generally walk up and confront. Shadows will recognize Janah and me, we have a certain history they can sense, no time to explain now. The simplest approach is to let Janah and Daria knock on the door, then the death games begin.”
McKenzie, “Akiko and I will do it, she needs to learn, go frontline.”
Daphne looks at me, “Well?”
I look at Mac, “Dasha and Daria go as backup.”
She nods agreement.
Daphne, “I’ll get a drone in the air first. If one or both manage to escape, I can take them down with a dart.”
Zoe C, “A dart?”
“Yep, our drones shoot tranquilizer darts and poison darts. This one will have poison darts, very poisonous darts, death in moments and untraceable.”
“Where did that come from?”
Daphne grins, “Janah and I have a certain history, no time to explain now.”
I propose surrounding the house, Daphne operating the drone from the car with Zoe C alongside to learn about the enhanced machine.
Dasha stands to the side of the front door, out of sight, Daria at the back door, which is solid, no reason to hide. She can watch through her twin’s eyes.
I’m halfway down one side, Janah halfway down the other. I doubt escape by a side window is likely, but not impossible either. I can’t deal with a Shadow mind to mind. Not a problem, I have a Glock.
I hear the knock, I move to the front of my side, I hear the door open.
It’s the woman, “Well, well, sweet young things, whatcha sellin’?”
McKenzie zaps the woman, kneecap implodes, Fats crashes to the floor.
“Darren, we have intruders,” she rolls to her left, can’t stand but still has her Qi intact.
McKenzie and Akiko enter, I see Dasha halfway in, watching in case the young girls get overwhelmed.
The front door opens to the living area, there’s no entrance hall. Akiko is blasted sideways into a chair, a padded one fortunately. There’s a spreading bloodstain on her right side. McKenzie picks her up, places her hand on the injury. Akiko opens her palm towards Fats lying on the floor, an anguished groan, Fats has a nosebleed, more like a nose river, blood spurts out in a stream down her big roly-poly.
A man rushes in, Darren the Emaciated. McKenzie stays in front of Akiko, faces him.
He sneers, “Fuck Martha, you can’t handle two little girls, useless fat ass,” extends his right arm, there’s a bolt of juice, like electricity crackling. The strike snaps toward McKenzie then explodes two feet in front of her. She starts towards him.
Darren the Emaciated sneers, “Big fucking deal, you have an energy wall, using up a lot of juice maintaining it aren’t you?”
Mac flicks her thumb in his direction, then there’s a hole in his shoulder, clean through, the Qi stream hits the wall behind him and shatters a mirror.
Darren the E staggers back, puts his hand over the wound in an attempt to seal it, in front anyway. It went through, he can’t reach his back. He looks to Fats, if she’s still functional she can fry it for him, cauterize it with Qi.
Unfortunately for Darren the E, Fats is having a seizure and there’s nothing but jiggley body and blood, she can’t fix herself much less him.
Defeated, he backs agains the wall and sinks to his butt, “Fuck you want? There’s money in the back bedroom, lots of it, take it.”
Daphne comes up alongside me, Darren’s head snaps up.
“I should have fucking known there was a Shaolin involved, and a cunt bitch at that.”
Daphne smiles, “Good to see you too Shadow.”
“I’ve killed three of your kind, most enjoyable thing I do. Most of ‘em have no idea about us, they don’t know what hit them when I short their circuits. All that meditation and they don’t learn shit.”
“They learn not to hate, not to abuse people, not to steal what isn’t theirs.”
“Don’t waste self-righteous garbage on me, I am beyond society and its petty rules.”
“If that was true, you would earn your keep, show the world what a genius you are. Instead you learned a few mental tricks, pushed it and broke your brain. Now you’re a Shadow, only partially human and full of hate, not beyond society, beneath it.”
He’s pissed, raises his hand again, a hole appears in the palm, more blood.
“Learned a few mental tricks of your own, Shaolin.”
Daphne, “Wasn’t me, that was the little white haired girl.”
He looks to Akiko, she’s smiling, she’s always smiling, I think she smiles in her sleep.
“Impossible, she’s what, seven?”
“And a wonder of the universe, how ‘bout that?”
Darren the E, “I know things, like where more of us are, names, locations, or at least last known location, we move a lot. I also know there’s a price on your head. Anyone kills you earns a million, as in dollars.”
“And you will tell me if….?”
“You’re going to kill me, you have no choice. It can be fast or slow, give your word for quick, I’ll tell you what I know.”
“You have my word, a good story means your quick and painless death.”
Daria and Janah come in, he has a sardonic grin, “You brought a lot of weapons, I’m honored.”
“Get on with it, I have a roast in the oven.”
Darren the Emaciated learned his deadly craft at the feet of a Master in New York, traveled to Indonesia and served another Qi Master there.
“That was a total bitch, fucking old man treated me like a pet monkey, but I learned, learned real good, murdered his ass as a thank you for all his abuse.”
Daphne, “Darren, you keep boring me with your training regimen, I’m going to keep you alive for a few days to entertain myself.”
“A good Shaolin kills, but doesn’t torture first.”
“Who said I was a good Shaolin? Get on with it.”
He shrugs, “I need pain relief, the kid put a hole in me.”
“Qi yourself , or I can put a matching hole in the other shoulder.”
It’s quiet for a few, he’s working on himself, which will reduce his pain but weaken him at the same time. Daphne doesn’t have to worry about a last gasp attempt to escape.
He continues, “There’s a loosely knit group that connects through a Master in Florida. They are aware of you, your blonde girlfriend and a pair of irritatingly powerful twins. Some of them mentioned a woman, allegedly a Samurai, probably bullshit, our kind likes to make up crap to scare the others. Naturally they want you dead, but they don’t know where any of you are. The kids,” he nods to McKenzie and Akiko, “are a recent addition I take it.”
“Go on, you know, like a reporter, who, what, where, when and why, although you can skip why, I know why.”
“Last time I connected, he was still in Florida, Panama City, but he also has a place in the interior, away from rising seas and hurricanes, Gainesville, lots of coeds to fuck with at the University of Florida. I spent time with him, got a few girls to do rather amazing things.”
Daphne kicks him across the cheek so fast I didn’t register it happening, but Darren did, a tooth rolls out and down his chest.
“Fuck was that for?”
“If my roast burns, I’m going to be so mad. Get out the data and skip the bragging, last chance Shadow or I start with appendages then whittle you down until you’re third base.”
Emaciated coughs it up, Janah’s watching, if he fabricates, she will know, then Daphne will cause pain. He’s apparently learned his lesson, we have five names, three cities not counting the Panama City Shadow. Daphne looks at Janah, nothing is said but Daphne nods.
A serious knife appears in Daphne’s hand, I don’t see her move, but a line of blood appears on the Shadow’s neck, then a bloodfall, which, one imagines, is thicker than water.
Zoe C pops in my head, “Damn, I didn’t see her foot move when she kicked him and I didn’t see the knife move when she slit his throat. Maybe I need an eye exam.”
“Make an appointment for me, I didn’t see her move either.”
“How is anyone that quick?”
“Either genetics or lots of practice, I get the impression Daphne has both.”
Two dead bodies, not our problem. Daria collected all the money she could find, almost half a million in a bedroom closet. I suppose if you can get people to hand you money fooling with a safe seems superfluous. She has it in a carryall.
Janah asks me, “Can the local Sheriff be trusted?”
“Yeah, he gave us free rein, didn’t ask for hourly updates or try to get our names and home location. He just wants this over with. He’ll return the money, particularly when I give him an exact count by denomination and total. Did you count it Daria?”
“Five hundred seventy three thousand nine hundred sixty five. Fifty seven hundred hundreds, one hundred fifty twenties, ninety tens and thirteen fives.”
“How’d you count it so fast?”
“It was bundled in packets.”
“Leave it with me, I’ll get it to Parker, you guys should vanish, no reason you need to be connected to this. Next week, we’re cooking for your people, all of them. Pick a day when most of the girls will be around.”
Janah, “Tell you what, we have such a crowd, how about this, you do your thing at our place. Give Dasha a list, just what you want to make, she’ll get the right quantity and you don’t have to shop for thirty or haul the stuff from your place to ours.”
“Good then. I’ll take care of the steaks, is anyone vegetarian?”
“I’ll grill filets and chicken, also handle the sides, just wait to prep them when we’re there.”
Daphne, “We’ll supply beverages, Ellen will take one of you through the wine cellar for selections, full bar for drinkers.”
Zoe C, “That will be fun, the pool will be open?”
“Of course, bathing suit optional.”
Zoe C grins.
It’s almost seven thirty, where did the time go? Not that it matters, it went. We collect all the cars and return to Staybridge with a half dozen pizzas with varied toppings from margherita to the Zen special, one with everything. Zoe C popped in the market for a couple bottles of red.
A weary group of Shadow Hunters takes time to refresh, I stack the pizzas in a warm oven, get a hot shower. Girls appear, apparently everyone wanted a shower, hair is left to air dry. They make pizza selections, glass of red and the original Manhunter movie that broke open the Hannibal Lecter series. The annoying tabloid reporter set on fire in a wheel chair then rolled down the hill still brings twitches. Akiko slept through the whole thing wrapped up in Zoe C’s arms.
We’re at the airport for seven. I call Parker from the plane.
“Your Shadow problem is extinct,” give him the location of the bodies, “and there’s a satchel with the money they stole in the bedroom. I trust you but don’t know your deputies. Let everyone who might handle the money know I have an exact count, five hundred seventy three thousand nine hundred sixty five bucks. Fifty seven hundred hundreds, one hundred fifty twenties, ninety tens and thirteen fives. I expect every dime to be returned to the people who came forward as fairly as you can. The Shadows may have spent some, but nothing in the house looked either new or expensive.”
Parker, “Shadows, like more than one?”
“Two. No sign of more at the house. I doubt there are others, these people generally don’t play well together. If there are, they’re going to beat a path out of town when they find out two are dead. Do any forensics you want, there won’t be prints or blood samples other than the deceased.”
“Very, don’t take rookies.”
“How do you propose I handle the media?”
“You don’t. Go in with as few people as you can, only those absolutely trustworthy. Get the bodies hauled to the morgue, cause of death will be either blunt force trauma, puncture wounds or a sharp knife. Alternatively, go to the house yourself, get the money, then burn the place to the ground. There are no adjoining buildings, you won’t start a forest fire.”
Parker laughs, “Would clear up this mess quickly if it wasn’t illegal.”
“It’s not illegal unless you get caught, more of a problem is explaining how you got the money without arrests or finding bodies. You found the extortionists dead, throw some drugs around, say you found the money in a closet under a pile of old clothes. Either they got in over their heads with a drug dealer, or a vigilante discovered what they were up to and offed them. You’ll think of something you can live with.”
“I can live with the mess, extreme as it is for theft by deception.”
“Parker, these two didn’t just scam money from people. I know their type. They’ve raped children, amused themselves by making a dad screw his daughter, they never met a perversion they didn’t like. Maybe not in your town, but trust me, they’ve done it somewhere.”
“Have a good flight, and thanks, one more criminal horror gone, another will come along and this will be forgotten.”
We disconnect. He’s a good cop, took a hard to swallow story and let us go with it. Won’t be much credit for him, he can’t explain mind control to his deputies or to the press, and it isn’t like he captured the suspects. Still, he’s done with serial perverts roaming his town, that’s something.
Natalie gives me a long lovely kiss, “Even if you weren’t gone but a couple of days, the family likes everyone here. Zelda and Cilia kept looking around for the kids, even went to you room and Zoe C’s. They settled down after Mickey and Zak had a talk with them.”
“Maybe we should Skype so they can see us.”
“You did that once I recall, I think it kind of confuses them, the screen doesn’t smell like any of you and there’s no pats and scratches forthcoming.”
“Think I can get a visit this evening?”
“You read my mind. At least I had Elle, Zoe C doesn’t do boys, even big boys.”
“We like our relationship like it is, neither of us lack female companionship.”
Elle comes along, “Hey guys, all back, no substantial injuries?”
“Akiko got knocked around, she was amazing, took a hard Qi shot that sent her flying, into a lounge chair fortunately. She got up smiling and trashed the fat-ass Shadow.”
Natalie, “Get out, you let her face down a Shadow? She’s seven.”
“McKenzie was there, she and Daphne took out the man. We have the names of five more Shadows, only three locations, our target only knew their names and Shadow names change frequently. The whole list may be useless.”
Elle, “But you’re going to wherever to find out anyway.”
“Going to talk it over with Janah and Daphne, they may want in, there are three or four cities involved.”
Natalie, “Glad we found them.”
“From what I know about Janah, they found us. Daphne intimated their entire crew is Janah’s doing, including Daphne herself.”
Elle, “How’s she do that?”
“Something I haven’t asked her yet, we’re just getting to know them, I don’t want to get nosy, explanations will happen when they do, either that or we don’t need to know. Where’s the other kids?”
Nat, “Roaming the property with the beasts and the crazy cat. Burma apparently thought with you guys gone she needed to entertain us. She raced around the house, learned which throw rugs will slide when she gets up to spend and jumps on it. One rug got caught on a chair leg and braked, she went sprawling over in a front roll. That turned into her signature leaps in the air, she can do a full twist airborne, even a back flip. We’ve learned to applaud her antics, which leads to more antics.”
“Everyone likes a little recognition.”
“When she gets tired, she leaps into Mickey’s lap and expects her to be still until her nap is over. If she moves too much, Burma whaps her on the nose with a paw. It gives Mickey the giggles.”
“So she gets whapped again?”
“No, we decided she does it to hear Mickey giggle. The cat demands everyone be happy and have fun, like our family social director.”
Zelda and Cilia come from outside, followed by Mickey and Zak, I get hugged, which is great. Then I get my shoulders crushed when Zelda decides she needs a hug too. To avoid further squashing I squat to pet Cilia, my duty complete, they thump over to the water bowls and create a small lake around each. Then it’s nap time, they curl up in front of the fireplace, Burma squeezes herself in between.
Elle, “Those animals are the most spoiled on the planet.”
Mickey, “They aren’t spoiled, they look out for all of us.”
“I was talking about you and Zak, not the dogs.”
Zak laughs, “Good one Elle, what’s lunch?”
“Create your own sandwich, there’s roast beef, chipotle chicken, pastrami or ham. Sliced cheese and chips, condiments. Today’s bread is sourdough.”
“The big slice kind?”
“I’ll put things out in twenty, let the travelers get situated.”
Natalie is fussing with Akiko, “Let me see where you got hurt,” pulls her shirt up, there’s the smallest evidence of a bruise, “I see McKenzie worked on it, or you did it yourself, does it hurt now?”
Akiko smiles a no, Nat kisses soft cheeks, “You are too brave for your own good, but Mac was there with Chef, and you volunteered, I can’t grouse too much.”
Akiko hugs her, best possible thing to do for Natalie, then runs off to find McKenzie. I’d tell her Mac’s in the office, but Akiko can read Mac’s mind, it would be redundant.
Natalie, “Was it bad, not for the Shadows, but for the kids?”
“McKenzie doesn’t do bad or good, she does what needs doing and accepts the consequences. Akiko, who knows? She doesn’t tell us anything, but she converses mentally with Mac.”
“So if McKenzie feels something not right, she’ll tell us.”
“She would, they are in each others’ hearts, not just minds.”
Reliable Natalie, eyes moist, I hand her a napkin, “The kids have the best possible moms, Zak and Mik don’t mind expressing their feelings at all, McKenzie and Akiko less so.”
“McKenzie displays little to no emotion.”
“With us, but watch her with Akiko, or Zelda. She opens up to Janah but I think that’s more practical things, Qi, memory, things they have in common. You are her emotional touchstone, you know just when she needs a hug and a kiss and when she doesn’t.”
“Do you trust Janah?”
“Yes, she and Daphne have little reason to be duplicitous, they have beauty, brains and Qi skills. They put themselves in harm’s way willingly, and being with them, you can tell they have your back. And trust is reciprocal or it isn’t trust, they trusted us and came to Lincoln without a million questions first.”
We’ve made sandwich of choice, I like toast, mine’s Chipotle chicken with Dijon, a second pastrami with mixed yellow and Dijon. I was hungrier than I realized, now I’m not.
Natalie, “You have more names, what happens next?”
“I need a crack searcher to dig around the web and find out if the names mean anything, or if the addresses are viable. Shadows move around, change names, hairstyles and color.”
Elle, “McKenzie and I will do it, if anyone can find a Shadow in a haystack, it’s McKenzie.”
“Daphne also has the names, we’ve got net experts in both families, Janah has several. If she ever goes bad and they start malicious hacks, banks would melt down.”
Zoe C, “No point, that family is worth multimillions, maybe billions. They have a home in Canada like we do, for that crew the place must be half a mountain. And they have a compound in Arizona, somewhere between Prescott and Flagstaff. Daphne’s mom and her two girl pals have another house on the property in Malibu.
They want us to visit Arizona when the calendar turns to late fall or early spring. I hesitate to tell you what’s there in front of the kids.”
Zackary, “Spit it out, no fair teasing.”
Zoe C laughs, “How about an Olympic pool with both one meter and ten meter boards, a race track, not a kiddie track, a track, with banked curves, go-karts, Formula One cars and Amaya has a Corvette that will blow you off the road. There are dirt bikes and a dirt bike course complete with hills and dips. Cassandra flies around the course on one speed, flat out.”
Zak groans, “Oh criminey, can we go tomorrow?”
“Fall or spring.”
“How do they keep the places up, sounds like a lot of closing up then opening up.”
“Bots, and two permanent houseguests in Arizona. In Canada there’s a fishing guide business and a small hotel which friends of theirs run. They check the house regularly, plus Daphne has interior and exterior cams in both places. She can boot up either home, all the rooms, and operate the lights and water remotely.”
Mickey, “You had cameras installed everywhere, I mean outside, doors, the pool, entrance gates, and the common areas of the house.”
“Be nice if we didn’t have to, but that’s not the world we live in, remember the boys who showed up?”
“Yeah, one of them clonked me on the head with a rock from a slingshot for no reason, they thought it was funny, for a while. Then McKenzie, Chef and Zelda gave them a fresh perspective.”
Zoe C, “I was sooo pissed, there was no point but mean. We had more cameras installed so we could see each segment or the fence, not just the gates. Might not have stopped the boys, but we would have had it recorded.”
“True, and might have helped if there had any blowback, but those two weren’t calling cops, there were witnesses and more witnesses when we confronted them.”