Chapter Eighty Five
We're at home for two thirty, I checked in with Dasha, just leaving Le Bernardin and Amaya has a couple more shopping stops.
"Janah, appears we have some time and nothing planned."
"Oh, I have plans, get upstairs and out of the clothes. I want to be licked everywhere, then screwed silly with one of the toys."
"Shall I enlist Chloe?"
Chloe and I spend an hour exploring Janah's erogenous zones, concluding her entire body is an erogenous zone. We wind it up taking turns with strap-ons until her mind leaves her body. While she squirms and shudders in recovery, I take the opportunity to sizzle a movie start right where she sizzles best. Then we lay around in post coital bliss for a half hour. I round up the instruments and clean, lay the three strap-ons on a fresh towel, dancing dildos in a row. Three? Yes, one each for Chloe and I to do Janah's front part, the third for Chloe to do Janah's other part. Chloe's a pro, anal is one of Amaya's favorites, she's had lots of practice. A good afternoon for me. I got off once licking Janah's sensual splendid, again screwing her, and again getting Chloe off. Our strap-ons do double duty, they have a bit that fits into the wearer, and they vibrate. We buy a lot of batteries.
Four thirty, tea time, I go downstairs to prep, Nikko and Zi arrive, then Amaya and the shoppers. Our tea party is getting too big for the low table, time to buy a bigger one. For now, we take it at the dining table, it seats twelve.
"There's black and two greens," I didn't make snacks, but I have a plate of cookies, sugar, oatmeal and chocolate chip.
Susan, "You will be happy to know we didn't go into shopping overkill."
"I see at least a dozen shopping bags and eight shoe boxes."
Amaya, "We bought things for the twins and Sloane, it isn't all Cassie. And I found the most luscious gauzy slip dress for Oceane. It's like she's wearing nothing."
Dasha, "Eemaya gets it for Eemaya."
"Stalinist. Women like to be appreciated by women, Oceane likes to be appreciated by me, and everyone else. I don't notice you ignoring her when she struts around nude."
"She ees lovely girl, what ees harm?"
Susan, "I see nothing changes, Chris and I talked about intimacies when you were a kid. You turned out okay, mostly."
"Cassie saw Oceane swimming, stripped and got in with her. Then Janah was on the bed in her usual zip when I was brushing Cassie's hair. After a bath the other evening, Cassie sat out here nude while Sloane painted her toes. She seems entirely natural with nothing."
Amaya changes course, "Some of the stuff needs to go to the dry cleaners, jeans and whatnot can be washed."
"Leave the bags and boxes where they are, I'll take it apart in the morning and figure out what goes where. So Cassandra, how was shopping?"
"There were a lot of people. Dasha and Sloane kept them away. The people at the stores were nice, they all know Amaya."
"She does almost all of our clothes buying, shoes and makeup. She likes it, the rest of us are glad she does. Sloane likes to shop too."
Sloane, "Yeah, Amaya is showing me what works with what, my favorite is makeup. We'll play with it, just so you get familiar, we can do fingers and toes. No makeup for eight year olds though. When you get older, maybe something light if you want."
"Can I watch TV?"
Sloane looks at me, "Sure, Sloane will find something."
Susan, "Gotta go girls, Taylor and Lacy will think I've been kidnapped. Enjoy your evening."
Hugs and kisses, Sis goes off, all the not even three blocks to her condo.
Over the years she bought up the other two condos, Janah's parents own the one on top of hers. When the first floor came available, she bought it and James uses part of it for his private psychiatric practice. Then she bought the fourth floor and owns the entire building. The forth has been rented to a gay couple for years, gay as in men, not lesbian. One is a techie Susan sent work to when she scaled down, the other is a chef. He cooks for the others once a month. James, Kara, Sis, Taylor and Lacy. I understand the party gets pretty raucous. Mom was always the most laid back person in the room after she met Chris. After her terrifying teens, having me at fifteen, thrown out by Christian fundumb-mental parents, stumbling onto Ms. Alva's doorstep. She cleaned houses during the day, learned programming at night classes, then hacking, became a contract security consultant. She got paid a lot of money, and made a lot more doing freebies for start-ups. Her compensation was stock options. Most of the start-ups failed, but not all of them. She made millions on the successes. Semi-retired, now travels with Lacy and Taylor, Janah's parents go along about half the time. They've been all over the world, Greece and Japan are favorites. Did I say she's an incredible mom?
Back to now:
"Dinner is pizza, what did you guys do for lunch Nikko?"
"I'll add lasagna and ravioli to the order, Italian salad. The rest of us had big lunches."
Nikko, "And pizza is how you compensate?"
I laugh, "You know what I'm getting at, no big dinner, slice and a glass of wine."
Janah, "Daphne and I are going to Raleigh and Charlotte day after tomorrow, finish up two Shadows. We'll see about Palm Beach and Memphis later. I want to get them done before we go to Arizona."
"Zi and I will go next week, unless the twins want to take it."
We turn to Dasha, Daria's upstairs, it's evident she's mentaling her sister, then, "We will go, Eloise wants to go, Meemfiz ees no big deal, but we haf not been to Palm Beach."
Nikko, "Good, thank you, we're still working on Chicago. I had to replace two senior managers, Daria discovered a bit too creative expense reporting, Zi read them lying about it. We have replacements in mind, but there's been some jockeying by candidates. We can't make all of them senior VPs. The sooner we get it sorted out, the sooner we can get everyone focused on property management rather than corner office management."
I'm so happy Nikko likes that stuff. It's a snooze for me. She can pretend to take their ambitions seriously, Zi is good at gentling them down when they have to postpone their dreams of mahogany desks and cut crystal decanters. I tend to want to take my queen and blast away at checkmate, not move a lot of pieces around strategically. My business strategy would have run our business into the ground.
Chapter Eighty Six
We fly to Charlotte first. The target is an Indian female, daughter of a family that runs an America's Best Value Inn on the east side of town. She went from checking people in at a budget motel to operating a fraudulent fortune telling astrology racket. Her name is Nisha, which Janah says means 'night,' arcane data she has floating in that eidetic head of hers. The tag Shadow kind of fits with dark Nisha.
Our car is waiting, it's near eleven in the morning.
Janah, "Go to the business, Surveillance says she's there, they already have a tracker on her car."
"They still around?"
"No, cut them loose when we landed, you were flirting with Amaya."
"She was teasing me in front of her mirror."
We have a standard nondescript Tahoe, easy to store a drone and fly it from the back hatch. I also have a dart gun, both weapons carry Oblivion filled syringes, we aren’t here to convert the Shadow, well, convert her from living to dead.
Janah, "Nisha's got an interesting game going. She finds wealthy women and men, puts it in their head to make an appointment. The appointment is for her to get details of their lives. From there she can create behaviors that make it appear she has correctly predicted the future. Throw in common astrology mumbo jumbo and she has true believers."
"What's she get them to do?"
"Don't know specifics, I'm speculating. For instance, implant the desire to start swimming for exercise. Then tell the person during a reading that you see water and weight loss in the coming weeks. A week later they find themselves joining an aquatic center or putting a pool in the back yard. Eventually there's money wired to an account she controls, or they bring her gold and jewelry. Indians are obsessive gold bugs."
"She's a Shadow, she could do that without the fortune telling structure."
"She may find it fun, perhaps she manipulates them in other ways. Shadows do strange things for entertainment. Just getting someone to hand you a hundred bucks is fine, but more interesting to tell some man she sees family trouble, then mentally implant the suggestion to hit on his wife's sister at the birthday party. Over subsequent sessions, he tells you the whole story including his impending divorce details. Actually marvels at how she knew about family troubles in advance. A Shadow would love that kind of grief creation."
"Sounds like a version of borderline personality, creating grief to enjoy the misery."
"Good call, it is indeed like that. Borderline are called borderlines because they are near the border of psychotic. Shadows fit right in, except they don't have to emotionally manipulate, they jump straight in your mind."
Nisha's business is in a house, two story wood, looks over fifty years old but well maintained. Sits on an acre lot, fenced, rose bushes line the walk, wooden rail porch circles the front and two sides. A carved and painted image of the goddess Kali hangs over the door. Kali is the one with the arms and Miley Cyrus tongue sticking out.
Janah, "Goddess of empowerment, shakti. Associated with black, death, goddess of time and change."
"She's also known as one who annihilates evil."
"Now she sounds conflicted, what's the word, two thoughts that don't go together?"
There's a car in the drive, a Mercedes, a Subaru under a carport alongside the house.
"Must have a customer."
"We'll wait. First choice is to take her, then drive to Raleigh, two and a half hours."
"Don't want to explore Charlotte? Find southern cooking?"
" I get better cooking at home, don't want to hang around after we murder somebody."
"Harsh, I prefer to think of it as toxic person disposal."
Front door opens, a woman, fiftyish, elegant casual, slim as being fifty will allow without starvation. Nisha is in full sari, including the dot on her forehead, ton of bangle gold on her forearm, two gold rings with some fat jewel, ruby perhaps. Nisha is not slim, lumpy comes to mind, appears to be late thirties, dark skin, near black.
"Light skin tones in India are preferred and found in the upper classes. A product of light skin Muslim invaders and a more indoor, less labor intensive lifestyle. The darker tone, like in Africa, is a consequence of outdoor labor and protection against the sun. Dark and light are also woven in with the caste system, lighter is higher. Got any thoughts on how to approach this?"
"I can fly the drone around and catch her by a window maybe. Or you can fly the drone and I walk around until she realizes a Shaolin lurks in the hood."
Janah, "That works, let me get it airborne."
Nisha’s sucker has climbed in her Mercedes, after the usual woman fittering, check hair, lipstick, take stuff out of purse, put stuff back in, stare at the phone, she presses some numbers and drives off with the cell to her ear.
Drone over my head, I stroll up Nisha's walkway, stop and smell the roses. Mid-sniff, the front door opens and I'm blown back to the gate, smash....ouch.
This one got skills girl, first shot best shot.
I stand up, pop a kink out of my back, my gut aches where she energy clocked me, "What happened to Indian hospitality?"
"No daal for a priest, only death."
She's in the doorway, behind a screen door. The dart would probably penetrate, but better to draw her out.
Wait until I get her outside.
Do the qi dodge, she'll have to come out when she doesn't hit anything.
I see her raise a hand, wait....wait...jump! The strike hits the gate and cracks a slat.
I'm fifteen feet from the house, past her effective range, moving to the right, come on honey, just open the screen a bit. I start to the corner of the porch, I want to stay just out of range but have her think I'm looking to get in the house.
"Why do much curry, everything tastes like turmeric?"
"Stupid question, people like it and curry powder is healthy, cumin, coriander, fenugreek, not just turmeric, where do you think you are going?"
I vault the railing, considering the distance, it's a healthy vault. Now I'm alongside the house itself, out of her line of sight.
"You learned physical skills, but no mental ones," she cracks open the screen, still can't see me, I knock on the wood.
"I think you have termites, or the Rolling Stones, can’t you hear them knocking? Bobby Key’s sax rocks honey."
She's trying to probe my mind but I'm in meditation mode, my cache is cleared, no cookies for her to tap. Frustrated, she bangs open the screen, I see a foot, then a thwip! then a thump! I move to the door.
Nisha is face up, feet out the door, body in the house, dart just over the right breast. I pull and pocket it, go in the house.
A quick look around, since we have no idea when an appointment may show up, I drag her chunkness across the floor and away from the windows, pull the shades and curtains anyway. Decide to print a note, 'Out of town family emergency,' tape it to the front door, I take her computer and phone, lock up and leave.
Janah has the drone tucked in, I hop in the driver's seat and we split.
"How's the gut?"
"Like after a session with Nikko, my spleen must be made of iron."
"Your abs are sheet metal, have been for years. Back hurt?"
"No, I splatted the fence but flat, just a kink I unkinked already."
"Going to no mind worked well."
"Yeah, my specialty, empty mind, not a cloud in the deep blue space. With a little more practice, I could be Sarah Palin."
Janah giggles, "That would be more like a fog, even Fox News dumped her."
Chapter Eighty Seven
Just to be cautious, we swap the SUV for a Navigator. The drug we use dissipates quickly and the dead Shadow will look like a common heart attack. A careful examiner might spot a puncture wound but it won't lead anywhere in toxicology. Even if they catch a blood sample early, like ten minutes after the kill, the drug doesn't exist in nature, there is no test for it.
We wrapped the work by one, thirty minutes to swap the car, three hours to Raleigh. Janah drives so I can dig in Nisha's laptop.
"She's e-mailed some of the names we've already dealt with, then follow-up e-mails to others wondering why no reply. One enterprising Shadow surfed the news, discovered stories on the dead in Atlanta and Chicago. San Diego too, but Lake Tahoe hasn't shown up yet. Then, a couple of days ago, it seems like they agreed to shut down. What if they go into hiding? No, wait, Surveillance is following them, wouldn't matter."
Janah, "No but it occurs that they are on heightened alert, call the Surveillance coordinator. If they have vehicles tracked, tell them to back off and suspend active Surveillance. We can pick them up from their cars."
"I suppose they could fly out of town, or get a rental."
"Yes, but I don't want our Surveillance people put that close to danger. We use retirees, not military contractors. A Shadow would make it painful and ultimately kill them. If one escapes the net, so be it."
I make the call, "Everyone is out, except Raleigh. They were just going to contact us, can't raise him."
Janah, "Crap, at least we're on the way, did he get a tracker on the car?"
"Yes and we know where the Shadow lives. Last contact, yesterday, he was still at the house."
"Frank Paradiso, Italian name. I don't recall another Italian Shadow."
"I thought they were all in the Mafia."
"You aren't making pals with the Italian Defamation League."
"My news sources are action movies, criminals all smoke and many wear short black leather jackets, except Russians who may go to full length. Watch caps are popular with lower class criminals, slicked back hair and custom suits with upper classes. Somewhere in the film, usually two or three times, there's a gratuitous scene in a strip club with loud music and a pole dace. Lots of jiggling. Italians are big on nicknames, have families with big bosom wives who yell a lot, irritable teen daughters and sons who are junior criminal wannabees. Hispanic criminals have multiple tattoos, particularly facial and neck. Given how identifiable it makes them, it's a singularly stupid thing to do, but they do it anyway. Japanese criminals have lots of tattoos, but not visible, covered by silk shirts and black suits, ironically made by Italians. American criminals fall into two groups, white trash that uses and deals meth and oxy or CEOs and politicians.
Black criminals are good at stone face and looking casual cool, except Samuel Jackson, who talks nonstop, leading many to believe he's actually an Italian in blackface. Irish criminals get away with a lot because no one but another Irishman can figure out what they're saying, and many of those can't understand them. All other European criminals try for a French casual indifference, insouciance I think is the word. Slavic criminals lean to physical violence, even if they're just buying a pack of cigarettes they have to, at a minimum, threaten the clerk, and frequently beat him senseless. They all have prostitutes for girlfriends, they beat them up too."
Janah is laughing, wipes her eyes, "If I drive off the road it's your fault."
Amaya comes online, You are an idiot, no, THE idiot. I was working with Chloe on her lines and started laughing, Chloe thought I was sniffing glue.
Sorry to distract you, I got improvisationally inspired. I'll think about something else inspiring, your legs maybe.
Amaya looks in her mirror, she's in a miniscule t-shirt, Behold perfection.
Yummy, you got it goin' on girl, got it ALL goin' on.
She smiles, Bye for now.
Janah, "You're flushed, Amaya teasing?"
"Yep. She's amazing, you know she has not a mole, a freckle, not even a tiny red spot, anyplace, ever. I know, I've looked, closely. As bad good as you."
"Said the girl with one near invisible mole on her heel. Considering the stuff you've kicked and punched, and the times you've been kicked and punched, you should be a five ten walking callus."
"Moisturizer. You know, come to think of it, all our girls are mostly blemish free. How did we accomplish that?"
"Wasn't clean living, Chloe has freckles."
"Yeah, but they're so her, she wouldn't be Chloe without them. Sloane has a quarter sized birthmark on her hip, it looks like the Statue of Liberty. Oceane is also annoyingly flawless. Eloise has a few freckles and a mole under her left arm, Zi one on her ankle and right arm. Blemishes fear Dasha, Daria and Nikko. Although Nikko has a couple of battle scars and I'm missing a slice off the top of my left ear. Cassandra is still too young for blemishes."
"She really does resemble you, not quite like you and Susan, who could be sisters, but close."
"Considering how many girls we keep adding, one of them would look like one of us eventually. I don't have a biological daughter, Susan had no other kids. I have no clue what my sperm donor father looks like. Mom once told Chris I don't resemble him. It was offhand, something like, 'Daphne looks nothing like her sperm donor.' I don't remember the context, neither of us pursued the subject."
Janah, "I know you better than anyone, and one thing I know is you never wasted any time in 'who's my daddy?' rumination."
"No, Sis never said having sex with him was a mistake. She told me she worried about raising me at fifteen, but Ms. Alva solved that. After she got started cleaning houses and computer classes, there wasn't time to second guess. Mom was super busy once her consulting business took off. She was making low six figures by the time she hit nineteen and never lost ground. I got deep into martial arts, you came along, then Chapmans, the temple, the Society. Bio-dad has been off the radar for so long I think of myself as an immaculate conception."
"Suits me, go with it."
"Nisha's money is stuffed away in gold. She keeps it in a safe in the house. What do you want to do?"
"Find mom and dad, send them an anonymous e-mail. They may as well get something, we have no way to know who she stole money from. Alternatively, we can get Cleaners to go heist the safe."
"Let's get the Society to research her parents first. They may be great people, immigrants trying to build a life, or they may be something else. Once we have an idea, we can either sell off the gold and put it to good use, or give it to mom and dad. Cleaners can get the safe while we decide."
"Make the call."
We cruise into Raleigh at four, straight to find Frank Paradiso. If he's discovered our Surveillance person, we need to get to him now.
Chapter Eighty Eight
I boot up the GPS, "Five miles, straight, then left for a mile, car still stationary at the house."
Paradiso lives in a standard subdivision, not McMansions, not gated, slightly north of middle class maybe. I'm not a specialist on subdivisions. The houses aren't brand new, aren't old, a mix of brick and stucco, I think they call them ranch style, which means bland, like the salad dressing. Ranch is far and away America's favorite salad dressing, and kids will eat anything slathered in it. Those two facts alone insure its status in bland camp. Ranch is the J. Crew of homes and salads, the minivan, the mall, the IHop, but I digress.
Janah, "What kind of brain makes those analogies? There's the car," it's a three or four year old Infiniti, the middle range, I-something.
"Going to be hard to use the drone effectively, lot of neighbors and its nearing home from cubicle time, and kids are razor scootering down the street."
"If you go up there, he's going to freak, that leaves one option."
"I was afraid you'd say that," my preference is Janah stay out of the fray, but it doesn't always work out. Janah can stop a charging bull with her mind, I saw her blow up a Shadow once, no, not with a bomb, with her energy. Technically, the Shadow was using her qi to fight with Janah's, the consequence was that Shadow exploded. Janah's hair got really mussed though, so, you know, it could have been serious.
Janah, "I can't always send someone else into a situation."
"Of course not, that's for me to do. However, in this instance, we need to get access quickly and with as little warning as possible. That means you. He’s going to sense Shaolin. I'll have the dart gun, it's good for fifty yards, if I’m out twenty five, he won’t sense me. If he answers the door, give me some room so he gets the dart, not you."
Janah, "I trust you, you don't owe me money, no reason to kill me, and we’ve taken the antidote, you’ll have to find another way to off me."
"Don't even…now go find out what's happening."
She gets out, heads down the block. I follow twenty yards back. It's still light, I have the air gun under my jacket. Hard to look like a casual walker with my right hand crossing my chest inside my coat. A kid scoots by, adults are inside, I smell charcoal, it’s suburbia, he's headed to a group playing touch football six or seven houses behind me.
Strange neighborhood for a Shadow, lots of neighbors.
Janah, If I get the chance, I'll ask him about it.
She's down his driveway, garage door open, his Infiniti inside. She takes a left on the concrete walkway to his front door, knocks. Nothing, rings a bell. More nothing.
He's home, doesn't want to come to the door.
Don't suppose he's barbecuing in the back yard.
I'm going in the garage, see if that entrance is open.
Wait, I'm going around back.
What if he senses you?
Stay in my mind, you'll know, thirty seconds, not out here, I'm in the neighbor's yard, out of his range.
Garage entrance is open, get to the back door, if he catches on to you, I can get to him while he's distracted.
I'm approaching, I hear him, can't make out what he's saying but he's either got someone in there or he talks to himself out loud and loudly.
I can see through Janah's eyes, Paradiso's head snaps up, he moves to the rear window.
I say to myself, 'Come on Frankie, come out and play.'
Janah's eyes move to a man in a chair, he's tranced, just staring. He doesn't appear physically injured. Then she's back on Paradiso. He's not cooperating, he sees me, but he's biding his time, I move to the back door.
Janah, "You're all done here Frank."
He spins, "You aren't a priest, she going to sacrifice you for me? That's new, Shaolin are usually protective."
"I don't need protection, not from you anyway."
He tries a qi shot, when the energy gets to Janah, there's a flash of light and a thunderclap, I hear the windows rattle.
I snap kick the door, bash! It flies open and bangs the wall, Frank turns to me just in time to get a dart in his gooey pasta stuffed chest. Almost gets to the superiority sneer, alas, not quite. He falls backward on tacky plum Berber carpet. Amaya would have a heart attack.
"This place needs to be.....gutted. Wow. I don't think I've seen such a conglomeration of mismatch. How did he get everything horrid, wouldn't he accidentally buy something tasteful?"
Janah, "Look around, I'm going to bring our guy out back and get him gone."
I check in with Amaya, I'm looking at....well, see for yourself, I walk the living room, down the hall to bedrooms, the master bath look like a Vegas hotel lobby.
Amaya, Good thing it's late and I've had cocktails, otherwise I'd need to run to the bathroom. There is no excuse other than deranged and colorblind. It looks like a cross between Liberace and Joan Rivers.
Shadows aren't known for taste, not good taste anyway. This one raises the tasteless bar. He's dead, won't be blaspheming any future property. Want me to bring you a lava lamp, a neon chandelier?
Only if you want me to kill you.
Any redecorating ideas?
A can of gas and a match. Come home honey. You are going to need PTSD therapy from the horror you have witnessed. I know just the treatment, me.
I may need close observation.
Not a problem.
I'm going to drag the Shadow to his basement, then we'll find a Hampton and crash, fly out first thing tomorrow, you around to pick us up?
Sure, Sloane needs a mommy fix, I had to fill her in on what's happening a thousand times a day even though you text her another thousand times.
Six, but I take your point. Same time zone, we should be in by ten thirty.
Blue Sky will text us an arrival time.
We drop offline, I don't see anything particularly useful, there's no safe. Take his laptop and phone to search later. The house is maybe a couple hundred thousand, but only if nobody sees the interior before Cleaners strip it. Frank will be hauled off to wherever it is Cleaners haul bodies off to. I don't need to know how they handle disposal.
Janah, "I have the Surveillance agent in our car, his is at a grocery lot. He was tailing Paradiso and got tagged. He isn't hurt. Frank was getting frustrated, Surveillance doesn't know why they're following someone, or who hired them to follow. Fortunately, a Shadow can figure out that's the truth without physical coercion. The problem is he couldn't just let the man go. Either there has to be a memory erase or kill him. Frank hadn't made that decision yet. We got here at the point he knew there was no information to be had, but before what to do with his prisoner."
"Shadows take the easy way, kill him. This wasn't a matter of making someone forget his face, or why he gave a stranger money. Our guy was in his house, and given the decor it might be something so horrible it can't be erased. Amaya took a look, her suggestion was torch it before a child accidentally stumbles in and is scarred for life."
Janah, "Who mixes purple and gold?"
"LSU, but that's Louisiana, there's no excuse for Louisiana; maybe toxins, they sold out to chemical and oil companies seventy, eighty years ago. Bound to be a lot of brain damage and wayward genetics."
"Let's go before it gives us brain damage."
We drop off the agent, don't exchange names, don't explain, he doesn't ask. He has no idea he's just been with the head of the Society, Mrs. Pearson, nor will he find out. There is no photo of Mrs. Pearson, she's a voice on the phone, and she doesn't make direct Surveillance contact in any case. He will be bonused for hazardous duty and if he's ever used again, it will be something minor. He may also decide not to take on another job.
Janah, "Take I-40 to Chapel Hill. I-40 runs two thousand five hundred fifty five miles from Wilmington North Carolina to Barstow California. You can explore lower mid-America in all its glory if you’re so inclined. Anyway, there's a Hampton in Chapel Hill. It gives us a little distance. Probably a non-issue, Paradiso is going to disappear permanently. We Blue Sky at eight, figure you want to see Cassie."
She figures right, plus Sloane and the cast of characters we call family.