Eighty One

And that’s how The Aspens came to be, named collectively for a grove of beautiful trees that talk to each other via an underground root system while the children communicate by an intricate telepathic energy system.
I watch nervously as Zak follows Mickey around the track, moderate speed so Zak can sense where he is. His blindsight might prevent him from running into anything, but it’s his proprioceptive sense that tells him where he is on the track. He can hear subtle difference in the surrounding atmosphere, like bats with echo location. 
Cassandra blazes past them twice while Zak gets his bearings, then she makes a sharp turn to the interior track and spins off into the grassy area. I start, concerned if she’s okay. Before I can ratchet up my anxiety, she’s rev’d up and back on the track.
“I’ve said amazing about fifty times, I need a new superlative.”
Janah smiles, “We let the kids stretch themselves, no helicopter moms here. Susan and my mom, Kara, did much the same with us. I was taking the subway by myself to Chapman’s when I was eight. Daphne started taekwondo at five. The things we endured at the Shaolin Temple would have made most parents apoplectic. Although it’s a bad example since ours didn’t know most of what we had to do in the temple.”
Daphne, “They knew it wasn’t easy, physically or mentally, but we’d show up at home enough to verify we hadn’t been hospitalized or lost our minds.”
Cassandra comes off the kart, Sloane and Sarah are on dirt bikes sailing over the hills, cornering on a dime. I hear another bike crank, It’s Cassandra.
“They don’t make much noise for dirt bikes, are they electric too?”
Janah, “Yes, like the karts. Eloise and Daria built them, or I should say changed out the power source.”
“When, or how, did they learn that? I thought they were hard and software people.”
“If it’s mechanical, electric or solar, Eloise can build it or fix it. Daria likes doing more than writing algorithms, she gets her hands dirty with Eloise.”
Mickey is going flat out, Zak directly behind her, guess I’m wasting my worry. I turn to the dirt track, Cassandra is full speed over the biggest hill then sailing out as if she been Saturn boosted. Smooth landing, dirt flies up from the rear wheel and she’s onto one of the smaller jumps. Thankfully the three riders don’t spill, saving me from a heart palpitation.
I hear a gasoline engine, with a deep throat. Amaya comes from their warehouse sized garage in her Vette, she slides down the driver’s side glass, “Take a ride Chef.”
I grin and climb in. She hands me a helmet, I strap up and lock in the seatbelt. The acceleration pushes me back into the leather, then the world becomes a blur. I’m a passenger on the Amaya Rocket, feels like if there was a steep ramp we could actually launch into space. I glance at the speedometer, a chill runs down my spine, two hundred and five. At this speed she could deliver twenty separate pizza orders in a half hour. I find myself with an idiot grin on my face, this is serious fun.
She squeals a sharp turn to the interior track, across the field, then squeals back onto the oval, now we’re going counterclockwise. Four more laps at two hundred, a final sharp turn to the inside, I’m rammed against my door.
I hear her through the helmet, “Hang on,” she stomps the brakes, while she cuts the steering wheel, we spin clockwise, I figure I’m dead. Then we’re in reverse, another turn of the wheel, screeching spin and we’re going forward again. 
I wonder if she has a roll bar in this rocket, but the car handles the abuse, only the tires and my gut complain. Then we’re done.
Amaya pulls of her helmet, looks at me trying to get a breath, “No worries, I have a roll bar but I’ve never been able to roll it.”
“That was more than awesome, I don’t have a word, you are a highly skilled driver, take you long to learn?”
“Not really, Bondurant covers all of it in their courses, I learned to one eighty a Tahoe, didn’t roll that sucker either. The three sixties are the most challenging, lots of pedal brake action and the steering has to be pretty exact. After practice, it’s just action and reaction, no thinking.”
“I’m going the next time the girls go, I have to learn how to do it.”
“Let me know, we’ll come with, Chloe and Dasha for sure, Daphne won’t want to miss it either. I could likely teach you, but it’s more fun at Bondurant.”
“Get hit on by the men? I imagine it’s mostly men.”
“Nope, instructors and students are there for one thing, Bondurant doesn’t allow harassment, it’s a quick way to get tossed out. Never had a moment’s trouble.”
“That’s what Zoe C said, she and Elle have nothing but compliments when they come home.”
“Well, you didn’t lose your lunch, a good sign. Keep us posted, as long as Chloe isn’t working we can take off for a few days.”
“We’ll work around her schedule, we might even be the entire class.”
I pretend my legs aren’t rubbery when I climb out of the car, good thing I’m stout of heart or I’d have needed a diaper. It was a head spinning experience.
Daphne comes over, “You didn’t faint, congratulations.”
“We’re planning a joint trip to Bondurant, Amaya will pick a stretch when she’s not busy with Chloe’s activities.”
Daphne, “She’s just finishing a third Ultra Violet and has begun to talent hunt. Might have to wait until the production is done, but that’s okay, Elle said she and Zoe C were down in Glendale just six months ago. Take a walk, Janah wants to see us.”
The kids put the toys away, in a garage the size of an aircraft hangar. Eloise and Daria’s workshop is in there, they have a hydraulic lift, I see tires stacked around, shelves of tools and parts, all neatly arranged and labeled. These are organized, serious people, which makes sense given the extracurricular activities they get up to.
Daphne and I go to the office, Janah’s on the phone, “Okay, I’m going into a meeting with a couple of confidants, when we have a plan I’ll call, no later than tomorrow, good?”
Must be, she clicks off, turns her chair to us, “We have a Shadow, in Flagstaff. The DA doesn’t know from Shadow, but she does know to call if there’s suspicious behavior on her patch, behavior they can’t explain.”
“What gives?”
“Hikers disappearing. There’s a well known peak in Flagstaff, Mt. Humphrey, also called Humphrey’s Peak, the highest point in Arizona. twelve thousand five elevation. Flagstaff is seventy five hundred, hikers drive to the trailhead parking lot, which is around nine thousand feet, so the hike is three up, all climb. After your hit the tree line, lots of boulders to get around I’m told.”
“The hikers are solos?”
“Three missing were, another two were together when they left, only one came down. She’s being held on suspicion, but from what I can tell, it’s bullshit. It was her and a girlfriend, both experienced, had rock climbed and hiked the steeps across the country and Canada. Pacific Coast trail types too.”
Daphne, “So anything to avoid being indoors.”
I laugh, Janah grins, “You will note that Daphne is not particularly fond of dirt or bugs. Nishiko is worse, she will not camp out under any circumstances. They both hike our Canada property, but that’s more for the waterfall near the top. Sloane and her wolf pals follow along, the eagle visits, if Dasha and Daria go, there’s a grizzly around. Our own natural zoo, the animals are splendid.”
“A grizzly? Just following along for the fun of it?”
Daphne, “She took Dasha to see her cubs, now the cubs have cubs, grizzlies live around twenty five or thirty years.”
“Never a dull moment with you guys. What’s Shadow-ish about the bit in Flagstaff, the missing hikers?”
Janah, “It wasn’t, until the woman showed up without her companion. The trailhead is just there by the parking lot, one goes up Humphrey, the other meanders across a valley, no significant steeps. There’s no check in, no fee, no ranger post. In the winter part of the ski slopes are on one side but the hike is two thirds wilderness, real wilderness, hardly a marked trail, then the hike to the summit dodging or climbing over rocks.”
“So no way to know someone is missing until a relative or friend calls in.”
“Exactly. The first missing came to the rangers’ attention, the mountain is part of the Coconino National Forest. Two and three also took a couple of days to be reported, people go up without informing anyone, dumb, but they do it.”
“Wait, they eventually knew a hiker went up but didn’t come down, so, where are the bodies?”
“No bodies and the woman returning solo is the mystery. The mountain has been closed to hikers, but they say it’s to do maintenance, clear out dead trees that fell across the trail. Just a story to prevent panic at first, but the news has gotten out about the missing hikers, so they turned it into a crime scene. Now it’s just a mass of confusion.”
“We going up?”
“To talk to the rangers and the cops, and to make the ascent.”
Daphne, “Oh well, need to dust off my hiking boots.”
“And we leave in the morning, a quick drive, forty five to Flagstaff, Mt. Humphrey is eleven miles north of town.”

Eighty Two

Seven of us make the trip, Daphne, Janah, Daria, Dasha, Sloane, Zoe C and myself.
We considered one of the dogs, passed on the idea, Janah isn’t convinced the missing are dead, Shadows like to play with their targets, if they’re dead there’s nothing to play with. It’s rained since, the dogs can’t help much if at all.
Janah, “It’s possible he got tired of them and let them die, that begs the question of where the bodies are.”
We haven’t checked into a hotel yet, first thing is to confab with the authorities, then get up the mountain. We don’t hope to stumble on bodies, the trail and surrounds have been thoroughly searched already, we’re looking for Shadow remnants. After the delay and the rain, there may be nothing.
First, coffee with a ranger and two cops.
Janah, “Tell me, us.”
Ranger, “Not much to say, four people missing, three men, one woman. We encourage and remind people to let friends and family where they’re going and when. Some do, not many. Occasionally we find a lost hiker, but if they go up, all they need to is make their way down, even if they lose the trail. Keep going down, you eventually get someplace with people. They panic, night falls, there’s no going down in the dark, even a flashlight is fairly useless and who brings a flashlight on what’s supposed to be a day hike? Yeah, I know, someone who prepares for the unexpected, like twisting an ankle or breaking a bone.”
Janah, “It only happens to someone else.”
The ranger nods and shrugs, “We can’t mommy everyone.”
Officer One, “I’m given to understand that you and your friends have experience with the unusual, any ideas?”
“Not yet, there’s the information you have, you know names, when they went up the mountain…if they went up the mountain.”
Officer Two, “What do you mean if?”
“The bodies aren’t on the mountain, there would be remains even if it was the work of a mountain cat or a bear, at some point the birds would circle to clean up leftovers. The woman who came down, she appear to have been hiking? Or was she just in the parking lot?”
Ranger, “In the lot, but her shoes were muddy, she had three empty water bottles in her backpack, a half eaten protein bar, she went someplace.”
“Okay, she went up at least part way, maybe all the way and they were accosted on the way down. As I understand it, they were experienced, hiked and camped together for years, they must have been in condition, even strong. A guy comes along and confronts, they don’t sound like the type to just surrender.”
Office Two, “If he had a gun…”
“She say anything about a gun? Or a confrontation?”
“No.”
“What did she say?”
“She recalls going up, but not reaching the summit, no memory of anyone confronting them, no memory of coming back down.”
Ranger, “She was dazed, we repeated questions three and four times, her stock answer, ‘I don’t know’. Once she got a night’s sleep, she was better, but nothing useful, quite upset about her friend. I think it’s genuine and she was nowhere around when the first three went missing. They both live in Phoenix, she can account for her whereabouts we checked and confirmed. She and her friend were in Mesa when the first three disappeared.”
“You cut her loose?”
“Would have, the Captain said you wanted to talk to her. She doesn’t need to be in jail, we parked her in a hotel with a female officer, she was cooperative. I believe she wants this resolved and is willing to help if she can.”
“Excellent, when can I see her…alone, no officer, she can wait outside the door. The sooner the better. One other thing, she have a phone?”
“No service up there.”
“Yes, but she may have taken pictures or even video, might give us an idea of where she was up top.”
Officer One, “Good, we have a phone, only one but it’s hers. If the second woman had one, it went with her.”
“I want the phone, did you return it?”
“No, she’s been vague, we did a drug test, nothing.”
“I’m ready to see her.”
“We can take you, or you can follow in your car.”
“My associates need to climb the mountain, they can do that while I interview the woman. If I may, I’ll get a ride with one of you, they’ll go to the site. Your people there will need to be informed.”
“I’ll call them on the way to the hotel. It’s six hours up and down for experienced climbers, it’s ten now and they have to get there first. If they start up by ten thirty or eleven, they can make it back by five or six. Don’t screw around, sunset is six fifteen. After that, it’s no picnic on the mountain.”
Janah looks to Daphne, “We’ll be back before sunset, I can call in to verify.”
Ranger, “No cell service at altitude.”
“We have Sat phones,” Daphne takes on out of her pocket and waves it.
“Good, I wish all hikers had Sat phones.”
Daphne smiles, “I have zero intention of spending the night up the mountain. If we stop to investigate something, I will make sure we have adequate time to return. I have a date with Fratelli Pizza and I plan on keeping it.”
“You’ve been here before.”
“Yep, and breakfast tomorrow at The Place, the good one, by the railroad underpass.”
He smiles, “You have been here before.”
“I’m a sucker for gigantic biscuits.”
We pile in the Tahoe, except for Janah and Daria who go off with the cops. Daphne said she doesn’t let Janah go off alone to anyplace, always a guardian despite Janah’s significant Qi skills. 
The woman is at Springhill Suites on the south of town, we go north, follow the two lane up the mountain. No police, a ranger truck is parked at the trailhead, there’s crime scene tape over the entrance, nobody up here but the ranger and us.
We get out, arrange packs, which are mostly water, a flashlight, protein bars, hiking poles. I have one pack, Dasha the other, the rest just the poles.
We chat briefly with the ranger, seems like a nice guy, he knows nothing we don’t already. He does explain that the trail isn’t always obvious, and it’s covered with roots, fallen trees and rocks. I assure him we’ll take it easy. We slip under the tape and start. The trail goes across the mountain for a bit, then the turn to start up.
Sloane races ahead. 
“Where’s she going?”
Daphne, “Once she’s in a forest, her wolf-self kicks in and she wants to move. She’s going to the top, will come down more slowly and sniff things out. It will save us from having to get to the peak, it’s fairly cloudy today, the view will be less than perfect anyway.”
Zoe C, “We have views in Malibu and Canada, more views at your Arizona compound. Let’s find the Shadow and go home.”
Dasha, “Ees gud thought, I am also for finding Shadowy asshole, then Dasha will keel him dead already.”
You don’t want to get sideways with Dasha, it will get painful quick.
We stay quiet while we hike, Sloane is far enough up we can’t hear her. I want to know how fast she can run but the question can wait, we need to be observant.
We stop from time to time to fan out, then make the tree line, Sloane comes from above, “Nothing up there but dirt and big rocks, signs of boot imprints here and there, I think most of them got washed away.”
“Okay then, let’s head down. Remember, things look different when you look up rather than down and the problem with this trail is you have to look at where you’re stepping or you’ll get tripped up. So we go slow, every twenty paces stop and look around. We’re good on time, Sloane saved us from the last leg. Speaking of, Sloane, suppose you crisscross the trail, sniff out what you can, look for any gear or clothing.”
Sloane, “I swept the area above the tree line, nothing, the Shadow may have grabbed his victims anywhere in the forested part, or even the parking lot.”
Daphne, “I hope not, it means we made this slog for zip. Be more heroic to find something overlooked by previous searchers.”
Down, stop, look, down, stop, look. What I’m guessing is halfway to the parking lot, Sloane comes out of the forest with a jacket and a hiking pole. The jacket is girl sized, the pole set for someone shorter than Daphne’s five ten. We slip on latex gloves like Sloane, she knows not to tamper with evidence and we prefer not to have our prints stuck on any of it.
“Appears to belong to the same person,” she sticks the jacket in a plastic bag then puts the bag in her backpack, takes out water bottles, we glug them empty and return the empties to her pack. I take the pole by the pointy end and try not to rub the handle against anything in case there are prints.
We don’t find anything else that looks like gear or clothing, around five thirty we get to the lot, the ranger is still there.
“You went to the top? Made good time.”
Daphne nods towards Sloane, “She went to the top, nothing there that helps. About halfway down in the forest, she found these,” she shows him the jacket, North Face brand with a hood, I lift the hiking pole.
“We didn’t handle the stuff, it’s not much but maybe the woman will recognize it. You’re on duty until….?”
Ranger, “Dark, anybody goes up after, they’re on their own. Want me to take it in?”
“One of our associates has been with the woman this afternoon, we’re going to get her now and we can show the jacket to her. You can call into your boss, see if he wants to meet us there.”
On the drive to Springhill Suites Daphne says, “I stayed out of Janah’s head, we needed to be focused, so I don’t know what she found out.”
Zoe C, “What can she do that the cops can’t? I mean, the woman’s been interviewed, more than once.”
Daphne smiles, “Janah can help clear the fog, perhaps uncover memories, we’ll see.”

Eighty Three

We get to the hotel, I suggest Daphne go up, the rest of us can hang in the lobby and avoid stuffing five more bodies in the room. While we wait, a detective shows with his partner.
I introduce us To Detective Spenser and Detective Horton.
She comes down ten minutes later with Janah and Daria. More introductions. We’re here under false IDs, I’m pretty sure the cops know that, they don’t ask about us personally. If we have to kill someone, the police can suspect all they want, we aren’t us, Janah’s pure white hair has been a mousey brown since we arrived. The girls have caps or head scarves, sunglasses, none of us are dressed up, baggy jeans, sneakers of no noticeable brand, big pullovers or sweatshirts.
Daphne tells the detectives, “Jacket belongs to her companion, hiking pole too. Maybe you can get something else off them, we didn’t handle them much, had gloves on since it was found,” she sticks her hand up and waggles her fingers. We took photos of the area as well, which I sent to your Captain. Not much to see, wilderness looks like wilderness, oh, and the GPS coordinates too.”
Detective Horton, “Where can we go to talk?”
Daphne, “About what?”
“Take statements, it’s procedure.”
“Not this time.”
Spenser, “What do you mean? We need to hear your account.”
Janah, “No, you don’t. Before this gets into an ass kicking contest, let me make a call.”
Out comes a Sat phone, Janah says a few words, hands the phone to Spenser.
“Sir….I understand that Sir but…. ,” we hear the voice on the other end pick up the volume, Spenser turns away and walks off a few steps. Needs to protect his image I suppose. He comes back, hands the phone to Janah.
“You win this round.”
Janah smiles, “We win every round Detective. So you understand, we come to these sites on our nickel, we offer any assistance we can. If there’s a successful resolution, we step away and you guys take credit. We don’t conceal or withhold information, as you saw with the only physical evidence you have so far, which we found. We don’t need to make it an ego contest, you can do that stuff when the FBI comes along and wants to take over your case.”
He nods, “Fair enough, I’m off the hook, the Chief told me to back off, something goes sideways, it’s his call.”
“See, got your ass covered and you’re bringing in a bit of evidence, I’m certain there’ll be a parade, confetti and a marching band, maybe commendations and medals, your children will be proud.”
Spenser isn’t sure what to make of us.
Horton is grinning, “Come on Spense, she’s yanking your chain, you did what you were supposed to do, nobody told us to lay off the junior detectives until she made the call. Let’s get the evidence to the lab.”
Spenser shrugs, it’s better now, he’s not in trouble and his partner got a mini-dig in on us. Daphne doesn’t say anything, I see her wink at Horton, he gets it. They go off to wherever the lab is, the woman is upstairs with one of the female officers.
Janah, “Don’t know about you, I’m feeling faint from hunger.”
“Any reason we can’t check in here? No, maybe not with the woman upstairs.”
“We can stay at the Marriott Courtyard across the street, and while I arrange rooms, maybe a couple of you can go round to Basha’s, an Arizona supermarket mini-chain. They have decent fried chicken, and enough selection of sides to get us fed. They have wine, beer and booze too.”
Zoe C, Dasha and I do the market run. Three of us picking up this and that, we’re back in thirty. Janah has three suites for the girls and a single for me.
“Hope it’s okay Chef, two girls to a suite, which chewed up available two room suites, you get privacy at any rate.”
“Not a problem, don’t know what I’d do with another room, the singles here are roomy enough.”
Zoe C, “Chef is easy Janah, one of the things we love about him, he’s all about his girls and the kids.”
“What to hear what the woman said? I didn’t get into it with the officer, asked her to wait downstairs while I talked to Wynona.”
“Unusual name, isn’t there a TV series with a Wynona?”
“Wynona Earp, some kind of vampire or zombie thing I think. Anyway, I got this Wynona to recall details. The Shadow blanked her but did it badly, or in a hurry. Can only assume he thinks she can’t remember anything or he doesn’t have the juice to control two people at the same time. If he did he’d have taken her with the other one, Betsy Barnes. Both women are winners in the divorce lottery, which is how they can afford to spend the better part of their lives outdoors.
They were more than halfway up, but hadn’t crossed the tree line. Guy was sitting just off trail, claims he had blisters and was giving his feet a rest. She thought it unusual, he hadn’t taken off his boots. He got up, started down the mountain, her companion following him. She called out, what are you doing? Where are you going, that sort of thing, her buddy following a stranger down the mountain and neither of them saying anything. She ran to her friend, that’s when her mind went black. Next thing she knew, she was awake and groggy, like she’d been doped. Stumbled her way down, visitors found her wandering the parking lot, dazed and confused.”
Zoe C, “So you got a description?”
“Pretty decent one, male, over six feet, full beard black, black curly hair. Canvas pants, brown, flannel shirt under a brown winter vest, the kind with little pillows for insulation. His voice was deep, not bass deep, growly was her term. Betsy had a phone, but no response to calls, he’s either crushed it or removed the sim card, no ring tone, no voice mail, no messages.”
Zoe C, “Geez, you managed to get all that?”
“Like I said, he did a sloppy job of blanking her memory, lucky for her, and us.”
“Should we haul her around with us, now that she remembers what he looks like?”
“We can detect a Shadow without her, still, I can ask, might give her something to do. Let me find out.”
Janah goes to ask Wynona, comes back with the woman. Forty-ish, clearly outdoorsy, tan, lean as a whip, hair has that deep fried straw look of too much time in the sun and nothing in the way of conditioner. Janah introduces us, Wynona isn’t shy, she has a firm handshake and looks you in the eye.
“Thanks for inviting me to help, I’m trying to be optimistic, that Betsy is alive. Like I told Janah, whatever he wants can’t be money, we’re both decently well off, but not seven figure rich. Betsy gets alimony, I went for a one time settlement, my ex isn’t a super rich multi millionaire. I wanted out, but there was no reason to chop his net worth in half. Neither Betsy nor I are the vindictive type, we have a decent net marketing business. The site is about hiking and camping, full of photos and video. Links to clothing and gear outfitters, what works and what is hype. Gives us a tax break, our trips can be seen as business expenses, the site makes it legitimate.”
Daphne, “Sounds like a nice life, do what you like and get paid for it.”
“Yeah, we are considering a book, publisher’s already interested. We’re doing okay, not sure what a book does.”
Zoe C, “It gives you cred, people associate a book with legitimacy.”
She looks at Daphne, “I hadn’t thought of that, we’re definitely doing it,” she stops, realizing Betsy is missing, “shit, I hope she’s okay, she’s got to be okay.”

Eighty Four

Wynona is cleared of any complicity, only kept at the hotel for security reasons. She has a truck, a ten year old F-150, with a fair number of character marks on it. Now it’s a small matter of where to look for the Shadow.
Janah tells Wynona, “We don’t need to just drive around, nobody gets that lucky. I have to talk to Detectives Spenser and Horton, they will want you to look a mug shots, which you should do, a long shot but necessary. The cop with you is going back to her regular patrol if you’re okay with that.”
“Sure, neither she nor I need to be sitting around all damn day.”
Zoe C taps my brain, ‘She’s got spunk.’
‘She does, she and her pal must have seen dozens of wild animals, snakes and who knows what else. They keep going anyway, I doubt she scares easily.’

Janah is on the phone with one of the detectives, gives them a description, yes, Wynona is coming by to look at pictures and help a sketch artist with particulars.
It’s not like we have other stuff to do, but it makes no sense for all of us to hang at the station.
“Daphne should go with Janah and Wynona. I’ll take Dasha in one car, Zoe C can take Daria and Sloane. I know it’s likely pointless just to drive, the Shadow could be in Texas by now. Still, doing something is better than doing nothing.”
Janah, “You’re not just scanning the streets waiting to find the darkness. Shadows often amuse themselves by making an innocent do something out of character. Anything from shoplifting to exposing themselves in public, or just handing over a purse or wallet for no reason other than feeling compelled. I’ll get Spenser to call me with any weird incident, Daphne can pass it along to Daria and Dasha. Another long shot but now that missing hikers has made the news, the Shadow may look for other amusements. Remember, we have people missing, don’t kill the Shadow until we find out where they are, use a dart to tranquilize him..”
We go off to search, I take the north side of town, Zoe C the south. Dasha and I ride to the northeast, there’s a Nestle-Purina pet food factory on that side, after which is not much. I turn around, stop at the Wicked Coffee kiosk just before downtown.
Dasha, “We haf visit Wicked before, they haf not only good coffee, but whoever hires girls peeks only pretty ones, plenty of girls at NAU looking for money extra.”
I lean to the window, she’s right, two girls inside, college age, tiny shorts and snug tops. The coffee tastes better already and she hasn’t handed me the cups yet. Big smiles, a little banter, they have a trivia question posted on the window. I have no idea who starred in Mr. and Mrs. Smith. She hands me the cups, I leave a five buck tip. What can I say, I’m a sucker for hot legs.
Dasha, “You see? Makes buying coffee more eenterest, cute girl wiz cheery attitude makes everything more eenterest. You geev big teep, she geev you flirty smile.”
“I think she was eyeballing you.”
“Da, maybe ees lazebian girl. No mahter, no time for peeking up cute girls.”
I wind through downtown, tourists and students, no darkness. We go up the road to Humphrey’s Peak just to where the inhabited portion ends. Cars and people, no Shadow. We work our way back to the south, I wind through the NAU side of town, it’s a surprisingly big university, school is in session, college students like fleas.
Dasha, “Dahfoney says Janah called with an incident, two guys fighting een parking lot wiz Michael’s store and independent bookstore called Bookman’s.”
“It’s a few blocks further on, I noticed it earlier.”
“Zoe C ees on the way also.”
When I pull in, there’s already a patrol car, got to have those lights going even though they’re parked and the officers are out of the car, one with one guy, one with the other. I see one cop on a cell phone.
Dasha, “Janah haf called detectives, they will talk to patrol peersons.”
I park, we walk up, I see Zoe C’s SUV turn into the lot.
I tell the officer, “You may get a call from Spenser or Horton.”
His name is Dickinson, he says, “Just hung up, you the people helping with the missing hikers?”
“Yeah, and my associate needs to walk through the area and inside the bookstore.”
“I was ordered to give you any access you request, it’s just an altercation over a girl, happens once in a while.”
I tell Dasha, who isn’t Dasha on this trip, none of us are using our names, I’m going to use real names to keep readers from going nuts trying to figure out who’s who, “Walk the store, see what comes to mind. And tell Daria not to approach, we don’t need more cops knowing how many we are.”
Dasha pulls me over, away from the patrolmen, “Not necessary, sister says Shadow ees in that black Honda, three rows over. When he goes, they will follow. Sloane will put a tracker under his rear bumper, quick and quiet.”
I see a flash buzz behind the Honda, then a flash out of sight, girl is crazy quick, one might say sudden.
Zoe C drives off, the lot is huge, they stop on the far end.
Dasha walks the bookstore, I ask the cop what happened.
“One on the left says the other guy said nasty things to his girlfriend, came up for no reason and said he wanted to fuck her, some other stuff, started to pull out his cock, that’s when the boyfriend got into it. Thing is, he’s totally apologetic, doesn’t know what came over him. Wasn’t much of a fight, mostly shoving and bad wrestling the witnesses say. A couple of them did hear him confront the girl, said they would have punched his lights out if he’d gotten his cock out of his jeans.”
“Can’t blame the boyfriend, he assaulted the girl, verbal anyway.”
“Yeah, nobody was hurt though, we’re inclined to lecture and cut loose. Not sure what I’d charge either of them with, disturbing the peace maybe. Why are you guys interested, got nothing to do with missing hikers.”
“We’re looking for unusual behavior, we think whoever abducted the hikers is using a drug or hypnosis to plant ideas, make them feel safe or in any case obey.”
“Why?”
“Amusement, nothing more, because he can. What we have is a twisted individual, a dangerous one. In this case, he was likely just killing time and honing his skill.”
Cop shakes his head, “Every time I think I’ve seen it all…”
“No end to human malice, just ask the people who have to live in barrios with gangs on every corner.”
“Ugly, here we’re more tame. Arizona has medical marijuana, doesn’t take much to get a card. They aren’t supposed to buy more than two and a half ounces every fourteen days, or possess more than that at any given time. Naturally that depends on usage. Lots of people get a card and buy the pot, but they don’t use it themselves or don’t use it very much. They buy vape, three or four each visit to the dispensary, five hundred milligrams each. It has a long shelf life, so they stock up over time or resell to friends who don’t have a card. Only really stupid people get caught. Dogs can even sniff it out vapor cartridges. The thing they smell is also found in black pepper though. I forget the chemical name.”
Dasha has returned, “Drug dogs are trained to detect caryophyllene, which is also found in lots of plants, so they get false alerts.”
Officer, “Yeah, that’s it, it came up at a training session. We’re a college town, chasing around students for pot is a waste, not to mention bad for business. Parents get pissed about a minor drug bust showing up on the kid’s record. We don’t do anything unless they light up in front of us, then we take it but we don’t arrest anyone. I’d have to arrest half of Flagstaff.”

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