Sixty Nine

About quarter after eleven, Zoe C gets in my head and says they’re staying for lunch, Susan will walk Zak and Mickey over. Do we want to come?
I ask Natalie and Elle, they decline, Nat has a phone appointment with investors, Elle has no appointment but she is tweaking her algorithm. 
‘We’re housebound, I have roast chicken leftover for chicken salad sandwiches. I also need to think up dinner since McKenzie is with you. How’s it going?’
‘Mik and Zak have been with Chloe and Nikko, they’re in the gym banging each other with sticks. McKenzie and Akiko have been with Oceane and Cassandra, don’t know what they did, I’ve been holed up with Janah and Daphne. Janah has connections in Chicago, or I should say Ms. Pearson has connections, both Janah and Daphne are Ms. Pearson to whoever calls from their network. Sergei Đurić is well known as a man who will buy and sell anything, including children, but he’s invisible. A couple of arrests did nothing, insufficient evidence, nobody would testify. A rival in the illegal weapons trade was found dismembered in an abandoned warehouse.’
‘Sounds like a fun guy.’
‘Sounds like a homicidal psychopath.’
‘Did they come up with an approach?’
‘Same thing we do, get to the site, make it up from there. We don’t know what his house looks like, Ms. Pearson was told it wasn’t a compound, it’s a mansion that used to be a museum. He bought it, gutted parts of the interior, made it a house, conveniently with a loading dock in the rear. You can imagine what gets loaded and unloaded.’
‘So how do we talk to, then eliminate, the psycho?’
‘Send a psycho to front a psycho, or in our case, psychopathic twins.’
‘Daria and Dasha aren’t psychopaths, not in the full blown sense.’
‘The other twins, ones you haven’t met, Katya and Katja.’
‘So you, me and double trouble?’
‘I’m told it’s more than enough, in fact, we may just be along for the ride. Janah says the two are capable of taking him and his pals by themselves.’
‘We’re going anyway, this Serb is a vicious fuck, if something goes wrong we would feel lousy that we weren’t there for them.’
‘My thought too. We fly out Monday, dinner for everyone is next Friday, if we’re not back by then we’re dead.’
‘Not happening, I want Ellen’s fried chicken and Dasha’s white beans.’
We jump offline, I need to get chicken salad made, it occurs to me that I don’t know what the others are having for lunch and I don’t want to duplicate it at dinner. Check in again with Zoe C, they’re having burgers, I’ll find fish to grill.
After I get Elle and Natalie fed, off to the seafood market. Fresh sea bass, perfect, scalloped potatoes and perhaps an appetizer of fried vegetables.
Zoe C and the kids are back when I return, “They had fun, Mickey and Zak may need a nap, they went hard.”
Zak, “It was great! Chloe is sweet and always smiling, Nikko is tough, she growls at me when I screw things up. She knows I’m blind, doesn’t matter, her training is the same for Mickey and me, Chloe instructs, Nikko makes adjustments.”
Mickey, “She makes tiny adjustments, little things, angle of the shinai, arm to far out from the body, how we do the shuffle step, every move has to be exact.”
“She’s a good coach then.”
“Hanshi, Nikko is Hanshi, which is like Sensei or Master. She and Chloe had a bout, I couldn’t follow the strikes.”
“If you’re going to haul yourselves around the property do it now before you shower.”
They take the dogs and Burma for a hike, kids are bundles of energy, going to sleep well tonight. I make tea, it’s four thirty the big girls come along with the little girls.
Marissa, “Where’s Zak and Mickey?”
“Out with the dogs, you can catch up with them, or have tea and an oatmeal cookie, no raisins.”
They vote for tea, Natalie pours rich Assam, a half cup for the kids with added hot water. Assam is not exactly an acquired taste, but it is the strongest black tea I’ve found.
Elle, “What did you do at Susan’s?”
B, “Talked mostly, Lacy and Taylor were there too. Taylor is fun, we played poker, I owe Taylor a million dollars.”
“High stakes, what kind of poker?”
“Texas something.”
“Texas hold ‘em, they put cards in the middle that everyone can use to make a hand.”
“Yeah, that’s it. They played while we watched, when we got the idea we played too. Susan is going to teach us to code, she’s coming here to do it. Taylor also took our measurements, then we went online to Chloe’s webpage, she has the coolest outfits. We sent our photos, full length, Taylor added our measurements and we could try on outfits virtually.”
Natalie, “Wait, they can put your picture in outfits, you can see how you look?”
B, “Right on the site, it turns so you can see the side and back too. Pick what you like, they make and ship it in two days, it comes on the third day, which will be Monday.”
“I never heard of it, does she do much business? I guess you wouldn’t know.”
“Susan said about a million a month, but the site is growing quickly. They can sell anywhere in the world with no stores, she has factories in California, Tokyo and India. Next month one opens in Mexico and Nikko is negotiating for one in Italy.”
“Good Lord, Chloe must already be worth millions, and she has steady film work. When does she find the time?”
McKenzie, “Amaya does the clothes, Chloe is the face. Amaya said Chloe would dress like a homeless person left on her own. Chloe has a huge following in Japan, they go to Tokyo and Kyoto a couple times a year. Chloe does a fashion shoot, but mostly she does the rounds of TV talk shows.”
“Who interprets?”
“Nobody, Chloe and Amaya are fluent in Japanese, Nikko is pure Japanese after all. She taught Janah and Daphne a long time ago, they also speak Chinese.”
“It must be bizarre in Daphne’s head.”
B giggles, “Susan said it was weird in Daphne’s head before she learned languages.”
“You two got to know them quickly.”
“Marissa asked ten thousand questions, they answered every one. In the foster place we came from, if Marissa asked a question the answer was usually a slap.”
“So sad, those stupid people had no idea what they had with you two.”
“They wanted the money, not us.”
Natalie, “Well we want you. Let’s get upstairs so you can grab a shower, our chefs are making fried vegetables, they are so good sprinkled with parmesan cheese.
Marissa, “How do you fry vegetables?”
“Get showered, then you can watch McKenzie do it.”
“While I have the rest of the adults here, Zoe C and I are flying to Chicago Monday with Katya and Katja. I’m guessing three days, we have to get the Serb to give up his other connections but we have a secret weapon.” 
Elle, “What?”
Zoe C, “Janah’s pharmaceuticals, one is called Truth. She tells me it makes the subject compliant. We ask, he answers, she said he will have no choice. A lot less messy than torture. Then she has Oblivion, death in seconds. Both can be delivered by drone dart or by injection, the drone avoids the need to confront, he and his pals will never know what hit them.”
Elle, “Good, ‘cause this one was making me nervous. People willing to sell children will surely not balk at anything brutally nasty.”
The outside kids come in with towels wrapped around them, “We sprayed the dogs’ paws clean, and we showered outside since we had to deal with the monsters anyway.”
Elle, “Clothes in the laundry room please, I have lots to wash tomorrow, and be sure things are out of your pockets.”
Mickey, “Already done…oohhh, fried vegetables, yay!”
Marissa pulls up a stool and watches Akiko batter cauliflower, broccoli and mushrooms. She could do other things but none of us are much for zucchini or squash, too mushy.
McKenzie transfers the hot veggies to paper towels, then to a platter and sets it on the table, “Let them sit a minute, the batter holds better if it cools, another batch coming in a few minutes.”
They take small plates, use tongs to select, I have grated parmesan asiago ready to sprinkle. Zoe C pours a crispy sauvignon blanc, they dig in. I have the grill ready, sea bass seasoned, scalloped potatoes resting in a warm oven. 
“Zak, bring out a clean platter for the fish please.”
Soon we’re enjoying delicate sea bass with lemon butter, I’d seasoned the filets earlier with black pepper, paprika and garlic powder, they have a nice crust on the surface, tender white fish inside.
Natalie, “Good job chefs, very good job, the scalloped seem extra tasty, what did you do McKenzie?”
“Added mascarpone and crushed red pepper, not a lot of pepper, if you want more it’s on the table.”
“It works, creamy mascarpone and a bit of snap from the pepper, nice contrast.”
“What do we want to watch tonight? I think our kids have had a full day, I imagine you’re ready to get cozy and settle in.”
Zak, “I know I am. Anything you guys want to go with is fine by me, what’s that thing we started, the suspect one?”
“Prime Suspect, I think we’re less than halfway through.”
Zoe C, “Works for me.”



Seventy

We’re on a plane to Chicago, my companions are Zoe C, Katya and Katja. As identical as Dasha and Daria, and a couple of inches taller. Janah didn’t explain, but Zoe C got the vibe that these two were in the assassination business at some point, maybe still are. They owned four donut shops in Houston, apparently wildly successful. Then Katya wanted to move to New Orleans for part of the year, they still own a place in the French Quarter, Ellen became a superior chef and sommelier, not as a professions but to take care of her girls. Eventually they became part of the Sylk clan.
The ride is smooth, private, we don’t do commercial, it’s hard to take guns on a commercial flight. Put them in checked baggage, some TSA dwarf decides to plow through the luggage we wind up answering questions. It’s not that checking unloaded guns is illegal, it’s that we don’t want to be connected to them. There are rules for private flights depending on the airport and the state, but nobody pays much attention to them as long as you don’t have to go through a commercial terminal first. 
Touchdown at a small executive airport, SUV is waiting. Load up and head to town, not downtown, a suburb where the target lives. Zoe C takes us past the house that used to be a museum, I don’t know what museum, the building emptied out years ago, but it’s a big square building with a rock facing halfway up. Widows are barred on the first floor, enter through double doors at the front, metal stairs on either side acting as fire escapes from the second and third floors. The exterior doors to the fire escape are metal and only open from inside.
Katja, “He is not too worried about privacy,” there’s a rail fence but nothing insurmountable.
“No, he also owns several businesses, restaurant, another bar, a strip club and a Lexus dealership. According to Janah’s sources he is a silent owner, there’s a business manager they think, not sure who. Everything in separate corporate names.”
Zoe C, “Wonder why he got into selling children. He has steady sources of income, all legitimate.”
Katya, “Probably got the money from the child business. Once he is in, he may not be able to get out, particularly if has bosses or partners up the line someplace.”
“Good point. So, how do we approach this?”
Katja, “Fly the drone and get video of all sides of the property, then we go someplace and watch it, look for possibilities.”
We take video of what we can see with our phones then to the hotel. Zoe C got us a two bedroom suite at the Waldorf Astoria, nice, two private rooms, common living area, two full baths, two fireplaces and, most helpfully, a furnished balcony, good for launching the drones.
Katja, “Very nice, shall I get coffee and tea?”
“Yes, but let me go down and get it from the coffee shop downstairs, they call it a patisserie, which means they can charge more. Back in a bit.”
Zoe C, “I’ll come with, toting four coffees you’ll look like a room service waiter.”
When we return the twins have a drone in the air headed to Sergei’s. We settle on the balcony and watch the video feed.
“I thought drones could only fly maybe twenty, thirty minutes.”
Katya, “Eloise makes batteries from graphene, illegal to use, but she doe not market them. She has a big drone cam business, those use standard power, but they can run forty or forty five minutes.”
“What are they used for?”
“Movies, commercials, event recording, lots of different perspectives from a drone. We have some with infrared, can see heat signals in the dark.”
“Eloise some sort of genius? I guess that’s rhetorical.”
Katja, “Eloise is hardware genius, Daria and Susan are software genius. Together they can build almost anything.”
“Like the cleaning bots and the valet bots.”
“Da, yes, she spent three years on valet bots, two before that on cleaning bots. Susan said figuring out how to get them to make a bed was a nightmare. Take off sheets, bring to laundry, put on clean sheets, replace comforter, stuffing pillows into pillowcases.”
Katya, “And in different rooms, with different layouts, all the beds are super kings except the children’s dorm. The bots do not go there much, the kids do their own cleaning, with nine it does not take long.”
“You have, what, nearly thirty people, must take a load of organization.”
“Daphne and Dasha keep the wheels turning, with Ellen running the kitchen, she and Dasha have dinner menus planned for at least a week. Mani and Sarah pitch in as needed. Plenty of hands, particularly with three valet bots.”
“Here is Sergei’s museum.”
It’s not dark, still late afternoon. Katja keeps the drone at elevation and zooms the camera instead. Tonight she’ll get closer and see about picking up conversation.
“How close is Serb language to Russian?”
“Slavic languages have similarities, including a Cryllic alphabet, but they do not sound the same to native speakers. It is easier for a Russian to understand a Serb than the other way around.”
“So if they speak Serbian?”
“We will have it recorded, what we do not know we can translate well enough.”
I think to Zoe C, ‘Man Janah’s people are easy to work with.’
Zoe C, ‘I’m still waiting to do any work, we’re just passengers on this ship. I’m not complaining, they are clearly competent, not merely competent, expert.’
‘We got the coffee.’
She glances at me grinning.
While the drone circles and records, us sitting most pleasantly on the balcony. Coffee’s long gone, a cocktail would be nice but we may have to deal with the Serbs tonight, sobriety it is.
Katya, “We were told he does not leave the place much, other people shop, make food. Other than close confidants, or bodyguards, no one is sure what they are. If he has girls, hookers or strippers, they do not come to the house. We can only assume he does not want outsiders to see inside. Ms. Pearson said if there’s a woman, she goes to a suite at one or another hotel. He doesn’t pick her up or drop her off, they have room service.”
“She found out a lot.”
“Contacts in Chicago PD followed him around for months. They got his habits, but nothing close to an arrest.”
“Think they’re on the payroll?”
“Probably, and not the cops from the surveillance, all Đurić needs is to know that there is surveillance. Surveillance is easy to avoid. A truck comes, remember there’s a loading dock, he gets in, truck leaves. Is Đurić in it? Or in the back of one of his SUVs, lying on the floor. He can go anyplace and cops have no clue.”
Zoe C, “This guy, I know I’ve never laid eyes on him, but he seems…creepy. Converts a museum, owns businesses he never frequents, aside from the odd hotel to have a girl, doesn’t go anyplace, or at least not much. Buys and sells children.”
Katya, “Da, agreed. Maybe tonight we can get a look inside.”
We have a high protein dinner, shrimp, oysters, grilled fish, couple orders of steamed vegetables, I bought wine and vodka but we haven’t opened either.
Zoe C, “Restaurant was cooperative, nothing we got was on the menu, not in the way we got it. Grilled shrimp and fish, they had oysters on the half shell as an appetizer, we wiped out four dozen, good too.”
“Upscale hotel, we’re in their most expensive suite, and we tip generously. They’d do a campfire in the room for the right price.”
A second drone goes out, this one loaded with tranquilizer darts, four, and poison darts, two. The first drone comes in.
“Those things are amazing, almost silent, how fast does it fly?”
“Cruise at forty, can reach seventy if the wind doesn’t interfere.”
“Battery lasted a long time, the meter says it’s still half charged.”
“Solar power, on the wings, we used to use copter style but they were slower and subject to wind interference. These are essentially two foot airplanes, the engines can swivel and adjust to hover.”
Katja, “Okay, we can see in parts of the house.”
The drone is still at altitude, but evening is closing in, another ten or fifteen it will be dark. Exterior lights come on around the fence line, but they are focused out and to the ground, the second and third stories have interior lights on in a few rooms, but no external floods. Katya drops the drone near the third story. The roof is angled, it snows here and a flat roof is an invitation to leaks. 
She flies the drone to the nearest window, a thin curtain, no blinds. Also no people. There’s a dim fluorescent light on. The room appears to be storage, unmarked boxes, a few bits of furniture, stack of folding chairs on a cart.
Only one other third floor window is lighted, video reveals two sets of bunk beds, the bottoms have sheets, pillows and a blanket, the top bunks just the mattress. Off to the left is a bathroom, the door cracked, we can see a sink with a few toiletries.
Katya, “Where they keep the kids when they have them. No place to climb out and if they did no place to go really considering the fence. There is a fire escape but it must be locked from inside.”
“Maybe not, if it’s six, seven, eight year old kids the idea of going out only to wind up in a fenced parking lot doesn’t help. The entire thing is concrete inside the fence and there’s no place to hide.”
“He picked the location well, nothing nearby, truck rolls in, backs up to the dock in the rear, kids go directly inside. If he’s dealing in other things, weapons for instance, same thing. Nobody sees squat.”
Katja, “Look.”
Two kids come in the bedroom, we hear a voice, “Brush teeth, be quiet and watch TV, not too loud,” a door closes.
Two girls, quick guess is six and seven, maybe eight. One is blond, not white blond like Janah, dirty blond. The older is a brunette. They look like off the rack kids, the littlest is skinny but not emaciated, the other has filled out a bit, neither looks damaged.
The smaller girl starts to cry, “Why do they do this to us?”
The older sits next to her, puts her arm around the weeping child, “I heard the one man talk about how much they would get for us. I thought we were kidnapped, like on TV, they would get money from our parents.”
“Money? My mother has no money, we’re not rich.”
“No, mine neither, not like the money they ask for on TV, and the first men took pictures of us naked. I never heard about kidnappers doing that.”
“I’m so scared, my mom must be going crazy, I’m going crazy.”
“No, you’re not. We have to look for a way to escape.”
“How?”
“Don’t know, we look at everything, figure something out.”
They go in the bathroom, door shuts, we faintly hear a shower come on.
Zoe C, “We need to go in now, what if they deliver the girls to whoever?”
Katya, “They have not been hurt, naked pictures won’t kill them. The pictures were to show Đurić the product. Injuring the girls brings down the price. The real pain starts when they reach the final buyer.”
“And the final buyers have different reasons, some want a kid for sex, others want to make child porn, others worse. Some of these guys make snuff films, after they’ve used up the kid.”
Zoe C, “So, what then? Just sit around?”
Katya, “No, watching. If it looks like the girls are being moved, we follow and take them. Buyers will not be coming here, defeats the purpose, somebody finds out where the kids are kept. He will make video, or more photos, distribute then to prospects, receive bids. They could both be sold as one, or separated, sold individually. It’s all about the cash.”

Seventy One

The drone moves to a second floor window, the only one with lights on. A man is smoking a cigarette, it’s not Đurić, a big man, must go six two and near three hundred. Dark curly hair down his neck and a black full beard. He’s watching a TV, no, a computer screen, Katja zooms in tight.
Zoe C, “Ah fuckity fuck fuck, child rape” 
A little girl is bent over a table, all we can see is her and a hairy cock sliding in and out. The camera angle changes, we see her from the side, clearly doped, if her expression got any more blank she wouldn’t have a face. It isn’t one of the girls upstairs but the age is the same, six or seven.
I can feel Zoe C seethe, she’s going to boil over if I don’t intervene.
“We can’t storm the place, where do we storm?”
She nods, turns away from the video.
Katja takes the drone down to the first floor. A kitchen window allows us to see part of the kitchen and into a living area, a second man is looking over an AK, next to him is a wooden box with more rifles. This one is lean, short for a man, a cigarette dangles from the corner of his mouth.
He speaks, “Sergei, a clean shipment, the Canadian came through, ammunition is brand new, in the original boxes. We’re getting heavy on weapons, the storage room is overflowing.”
A voice, “Not as easy to move, in America AKs are cheap and plentiful. I’m working on a deal to clear out the whole lot, less money than selling in pieces, but it takes longer and we sit on illegal weapons, weapons you can’t buy at the local gun shop. If the cops showed up tonight, the guns alone would put us away.”
Katya, “I have a plan.”
Pretty simple, we use the Glocks to shoot out perimeter lights. The Serb will likely think some kids are screwing around with air guns. Our Glocks have suppressors, the pop will never be heard inside, but the lights going out will be noticed.
Katya, “One of them comes outside, if it is not Đurić, we can just kill him. The door will be open, we go in, take over.”
“How do we get past the fence?”
“Maybe find a junk car and plow through that way. We could get on top of the Tahoe and scale the fence, but then we’re trapped inside. I suppose we could get a long enough extension ladder, once we ar at the top of the fence, the drop is only ten feet, even landing on concrete isn’t going to injure us.”
“Let’s find a junker and trash the gate.”
Katja, “Overcomplicated. Once we are inside, we use one of his cars to break out, we do not need to crash anything, he will have a remote in the car to open the gate.”
Zoe C and I look at each other and laugh.
“What’s so funny?”
“Our blindness, you saw what was right in front of us, but we didn’t. We’re laughing at ourselves.”
Katja, “No one thinks of everything.”
Zoe C, “Then let’s get moving, we have to get in, collect the men, question Đurić, it could take a while. I won’t be able to sleep knowing the girls are there.”
Katja operates the drone while we drive to Đurić’s. We may need it if the action goes outside.
Katja stays in the SUV to operate the drone, Katya, Zoe C and I walk the perimeter just past the lighted area. Bulbs start to pop, shards of glass tinkle down to the concrete. 
I see blinds crack open, eyes peering out, we can’t hear what’s said but the front door opens, Shortie comes out with one of the AKs in his hands. He looks left, right, lights out on both sides, he turns and starts walking along the side of the building. 
Sergei is at the door, an auto something pistol in his hand but hanging to his side.
I hear a ‘thwip!’ Shortie falls, Sergei doesn’t see him bounce his head off the concrete.
He calls out, “Dimi, what’s going on, can you see anyone?”
I see the drone shoot past, out to the side, another ‘thwip!, Sergei starts, his hand goes to his chest. The light from inside shines on his face, he’s perplexed, then he falls backwards across the threshold.
Katja wheels the SUV to me, I climb up reach for the top if one rail and haul myself up and over. It isn’t pleasant for a guy my size to thump down from ten feet onto concrete, but I don’t bust anything. The SUV takes off for the others. Zoe C has already hooked up with Katya, twenty seconds later two are over, Katja hands a small rifle through the fence, then the Glocks, three, one for each. Then she’s up on the SUV and over the fence.
They meet me at the front door.
Katya, “I’m going up to deal with Dark Curly. Katja, you and Chef get Sergei wrapped. Zoe C, go to the girls, take them down the fire escape, get one of their cars and open the front gate, take them to our car and wait…make up a story as to why you are waiting, that we’re collecting evidence or something. Oh, Chef, first drag Shortie someplace the girls won’t see him.”
Before I go, I help Katja get Sergei in a chair and wrapped enough for her to finish the job, then I’m out and dragging Shortie under the fire escape. Zoe C will be taking the girls down the opposite side, they won’t spot the body.
By the time I return, Katya has returned from upstairs, “Dark Curly is no longer a problem, I left the video paused, when the police come they’ll see the trash and the other trash dead on the bed.
The front door is open partially, I hear the gate mechanism, the kids are safe.
‘Not sure how long we’ll be, things okay?’
‘Fine, the girls are crying, relief crying, it’s all good. The drone is still up there, I can bring it in, the controls are in our car.’
‘ Just land it by the front door, the less the kids know the better.’
‘Will do.’
So many details on these operations, all necessary to keep us anonymous.
I ask Katja, “What did you hit him with?”
“Truth, I’ve used it many times, when Sergei wakes up he’s going to tell us everything.”
He’s stirring, still drugged, a bit incoherent. We wait.
Katya, “He’s faking,” she backhands him hard, then puts a foot between his legs and pushes, Sergei chokes, groans, eyes snap open.
Katya, “Pay attention asshole, I ask, you answer.”
He’s bleary but nods assent. She begins, it takes maybe fifteen, only because she wanted clarification on a couple of points.
Before I realize it, Katja has a gun to his forehead, then his forehead has a neat hole in it. The bullets are hollow points, and Katja has apparently reloaded them to have less fire power, enough to pierce his skull, not enough to blast out the other side. Now his mangled brain has pieces of lead distributed through it. We search the house, a makeshift office has a common safe. It takes five minutes to open, inside are stacks of hundreds. I put them in a satchel, close the now empty safe.
In fifteen we’re at an all night diner, the girls are ravenous. Pancakes, bacon and eggs disappear.
The older one asks, “Who are you? How did you know we were there?”
Zoe C, “We had them under surveillance, which means we were watching the activity in the building. Those men are dangerous and without conscience. They just want money, selling abducted children is one way they get it. That’s not important anymore, what’s important is that we get you to your parents, who are they, where do they live?”
One set is in Indiana, the other in Ohio. The girls know their addresses and phone numbers to call. 
“Here’s how this needs to go. You got rescued by people you don’t know, either who they are or how they knew about you. You were asleep, a lady took you outside and brought you here, that’s all you know, can you do that?”
Affirmative nods. We don’t think for a moment they can live up to the commitment, cops and parents are going to be in their faces, we won’t be there, it will be near impossible to keep from telling the whole story. At least they don’t know about dead people, even if police and parents press, they can’t talk about things they didn’t see. 
Now the tricky part, getting the girls delivered someplace safe but with us out of it.
Zoe C, “Girls, I know you want to see moms and dads, we’re going to arrange for you to be in a safe place when you do, okay?”
More nods.
Katya goes outside and calls Janah who tells her to wait, she’ll call back soon.
The phone dings a few minutes later, “Take them to the precinct,” she gives an address, “a female officer will be standing outside, she’s not going to see your car, she’s not going to ask you any questions. Blink your lights and let the girls out, she’ll take care of the rest.”

Seventy Two

We stay the night at the hotel, then catch our flight back to Malibu in the morning. Elle collects us and we drive first to Daphne’s. With time changes it’s only eleven. We all go in and then to Janah’s office.
Janah, “Well done. The media got sidestepped and they were able to collect the bodies and take them to the morgue. Autopsies won’t be completed until later today or tomorrow. No relatives rushing to view the corpses and the police are quietly relieved to have the Serbs gone.”
“How’d they spin the story?”
“Vigilantes, although they didn’t use the word, they said unknown persons broke into the building, rescued the girls and left their captors dead. The abducted girls saw nothing. They insist a lady found them and took them to the precinct, an anonymous tip said that the girls would be delivered there. The officer who met the children didn’t see who brought them, the children were tired and dazed, but otherwise fine. It came as no surprise that they couldn’t recall details of their rescue.”
“And the media left it at that?”
“So far, the public response has been overwhelming in favor of the rescuers. It will simmer for a few days until some new monstrosity takes its place. I don’t know about the family reunions, parents may have been informed but there hasn’t been time for them to get to Chicago.”
“No statements about child selling?”
“Insinuations, the official line is that the investigation is still underway. Naturally the girls’ names and home cities remain blacked out. There were amber alerts for them but those tend to be local, or in state. They were missing for four days, not too long unless you’re a parent, then it must have seemed like forever. I don’t know anything else, with the girls going home and us out of it, there’s no point in following the story.”
“We have the names and cities for other child brokers, courtesy of Truth, that stuff is amazing . Đurić spilled like he couldn’t wait to tell the story.”
Daphne, “Courtesy of our pharmacological friends, Chan’s son David Li and his daughter Miyako, chemistry and biology geniuses.”
“We still on for Friday?”
“Looking forward to it. The children are preparing a program, I have no idea what. Susan’s been to your place helping Marissa and B learn to code. Too soon to tell if there’s any natural talent, but code is mostly math in a different language. If they stick, they’ll get good, it may not be their primary interest though, too soon to tell.”
“Hope we aren’t wasting Susan’s time.”
“Not a chance, she likes being with the kids, ours, yours, kids. If they wound up playing rock, paper, scissors she wouldn’t care.”
We take our leave, all four miles to our place, everyone is doing something apparently, the house is quiet except for Natalie.
“They’re outside playing in the pool, Valeria spent the night.”
I look out to the patio, “Valeria, have we met her?”
“She’s usually with the mystery children, but Valeria wasn’t one of the original eight, she’s growing up, the others aren’t . She’s more like Zak and McKenzie’s age now. McKenzie has taken a shine to her and Zak thinks she’s gorgeous.”
“Everyone at Daphne’s is gorgeous, I thought our crew was unusually attractive, like we were an anomaly, not so.”
Natalie, “I wondered if Mickey had her eye on Zak, but she’s more like a beloved sister, kind of like you and Zoe C. She and Valeria sat on the side of the pool nattering away like all time besties.”
“Does she know about Mickey?”
“Yes, made no difference. One of the threads between their kids and ours is they are unpolluted by the common attitude that if you’re not like us, you either don’t matter or are an enemy.”
We stay lightly busy the rest of the week, well, me at least. Natalie has a dozen or more phone calls a day and a bunch of emails to her business account. Elle’s algorithm is cranking along, she’s figured out the shorts, consequently she’s beating overall market performance. The ball doesn’t go out of the park, but she gets a lot of singles and doubles.
Susan is over every day coding with Marissa and B, they spend a couple of hours, then Susan makes them quit to avoid burnout. She wants it interesting and fun, not a death march. The kids will never have to do anything for money, they can develop whatever they want. 
Janah started coming with Susan, she works with McKenzie and Akiko on Qi. They go outside to a spot on the property, plunk down a blanket and sit cross legged. You can’t tell that anything is happening, they just look like people in meditation. In fact, Janah is transmitting directly to their bodies and brains. She explained that she will slowly, very slowly, up the power as they girls get mentally stronger.
Janah, “Go too hard too fast and they risk becoming Shadows, that’s won’t do. We have endless time which helps them avoid exhaustion.”
“You are expending a lot of personal energy though.”
“Not so bad, yes, it fatigues, but at the pace we’re taking, it’s more than manageable. I only transmit for a few minutes to each girl. The rest of the time we exercise the skill, move small rocks, light a candle, little things. They are far more powerful than mere telekenesis, but the exercises keep them tuned up. Qi is like an invisible muscle, don’t use it, it deteriorates.”
“I wonder why Zak and Mickey haven’t gotten into it?”
“They work on kendo, which has its own Qi, they appear satisfied with that.”
Friday arrives, we’re due at three for tea, conversation, meeting the girls we haven’t met, no talk of Shadows or child rape.
There’s Britt, Lauren, and Sarah, who we were introduced to a while back but never sat together to chat. Daphne made it clear that biographies are off limits, whatever happened before they came together is immaterial. Ellen, Mani and Sarah lived with Katya and Katja in New Orleans, none of them were rescues. Ellen worked at Katya Donut, Mani was originally the housekeeper hired as a college student. Mani met Sarah, who is an elite level5K specialist but doesn’t care to compete. They lived in New Orleans, then the whole crew moved in with Daphne’s crowd when they discovered two mutual interests, abusers and girls. The former gets beat to crap, the latter gets mightily orgasmed. As far as I can tell, Zak and I are the only straights in either family.
Tea is a production, twenty eight members of Daphne’s crew, plus Daphne’s mom, Lacy, Taylor and eight of ours. Daphne’s children are served first at their own table, eight of them, the youngest is seven, the eldest is twelve. If they aged they would be mid-teens to adults by now, but they don’t. The dears move in a swarm, like bees or starlings, led or followed by Morshchiny, their massive Neapolitan. Both Susan and Daphne added Burmese kittens, now almost six months old, after meeting our Burma. We brought Burma as well, the incredibly friendly and playful animals are busy on Daphne’s cat tree, twenty feet tall with nooks and crannies the curious animals can think they’re hiding inside. Every so often there’s a burst of cativity as they race up and down the tree in the cat version of tag.
Daphne also said we had to bring Zelda and Cilia. They were introduced to everyone individually, now they have the scent and know who is a friendly. At the moment they’re doing who knows what outside, Daphne’s property is three times the size of ours, they bought two mountains and the valley in between. Ours is a half mile up and down and a half mile across, hardly small, just smaller.
Daphne, “We put tables and benches in different spots, half of them are covered. Family can gather in smaller groups, or individuals can park with a book and solitude. They tell me the book almost never gets opened, they chill and watch the ocean, the birds, get lost in the moment, finding it refreshing. The children go to one of the bigger tables for picnics and to dream up new projects.”
“I hadn’t thought of that, tables around the property, I’m going to get two or three, I know exactly where they should go, covered is another good idea, Akiko can’t do sunlight.”
“Neither can Janah much, she likes to be outside sometimes, but she’s good about sunscreen and hats.”
Tables inside and out are filled with chatter and laughter. The air feels clean and crisp, ocean in the distance with small wavelets sparkling in the sun.
Nikko comes over and sits across from me, “We haven’t had a chance to visit, I have talked to Natalie several times, our investment with her is doing well, I like the idea of buying whole companies and doing it without going public.”
“Natalie wants to grow it into a sizable private concern, she was with Goldman for a while, she didn’t like the manipulation investment bankers engaged in.”
“Yes, they want to push CEOs into mergers that make no sense, creating future scenarios where nothing goes wrong and plans fall right into place. The absurdity is obvious.”
“You mean that a snapshot of today will project out to the future, regardless of whether the current executives actually did something smart or just rode the wave of a good economy.”
“Exactly. And going public means a lot of money on lawyers, quarterly reporting, pressure to push short term earnings up at the expense of long term growth and stability. It’s hard enough to run a stabile ship without juggling expenses or income to fit the analysts expectations. Throw those fabrications in via mystery accounting, CEOs are never sure where they stand, instead of allocating resources intelligently, they allocate by what seems pretty at the time.”
“I think Nat spends a fair amount of phone time talking down extravagances, at least until the executive learns she’s not impressed by rhinestone gewgaws.”
Nikko nods, “No, she isn’t, she has a good Japanese attitude despite operating with the handicap of not being Japanese.”
I grin, under Nikko’s stern exterior is a sense of irony and humor, “The two hundred year view, how the company will look in two hundred years. I suppose since Janah made us immortal, it’s the only attitude to have.”
“Wall Street might notice that the company that has one of the weakest EPS is also one of only two trillion dollar capitalizations. One is the hugely profitable Apple, the other is the perpetually expanding Amazon. Apple has twelve month net earnings of fifty three billion, but Amazon only four billion.”
“But they both have trillion dollar valuations?”
“Seems absurd doesn’t it?”

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