One Hundred Forty Nine

Estragon: We always find something, eh Didi, to give us the impression we exist.
Vladimir: Yes, yes, we're magicians.
Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

CC only tells us that Alice is exercising her bossy, trying things out, that Zoe and Fin are having fun, and the kicker.
‘She can not only move matter, she can take a mind, like a Shadow.’
Zero, ‘I wondered, what did you see Natasha?’
‘Aura is darkening, not black, not yet anyway.’
Zero nods, ‘Yes, she’s sparkly yellow, then more golden, then moving to dark amber, orange shaded by black. But, she shifts auras, Shadows are black, always.
I have no idea where this is headed, anything Natasha?’
‘We will see, she hasn’t hurt anyone, I don’t know what she made them do, but they weren’t injured were they CC?’
CC, ‘No, not at all. My impression is she didn’t so much make them do anything, she released them, gave permission to do what they wanted to do but were inhibited from doing.’
Zero, ‘We don’t have rules, what could they be inhibited about?’
CC, ‘I know what they did, it’s not farm animals or a trapeze, no whips and chains. But Fin and Zoe told me, and I think it’s better if you hear it from them.’
Zero, ‘Agreed. The interesting angle is an eight year old girl, not specific behaviors. CC, when we get home, you have monitoring duty. We’ll all watch and listen, but she may talk to you when she might not the rest of us.’
CC, ‘I’ll keep her narrow butt in a teacup, it will be fine, for her and us.’
‘I’m taking a drive around the courthouse, and collecting the key card for the Incarceration Inn,’ we had to take the room for tonight, the hearing is at nine, we need access early.
‘We’ll all go, unless any of you want to hang here.’
Nikita, ‘Ees better to get out and move.’
We pile in the SUV, a Jeep Wankler, made for a man who wants to explore his feminine side, half a dozen vanity mirrors, cup holder, lipstick holder, courtesy butt plug with a usb cord so MrMiss can tingle while heshe travels. A RuPaul bobble head on the dash that we moved to the glove box, a bit too noticeable in a carload of killers. The color isn’t garish anyway, virgin white, an attempt at auto irony.
I pass by a fastie, load up breakfast wraps and Diet Coke. As we’re wrapping up our wraps, I turn onto the courthouse road….then something makes me pullover and stop.
Zero, ‘What?’
‘Two guys in a van, just sitting, get the binoculars, see if they’re doing anything, maybe waiting on someone.’
Nikita hands them over the seat, Zero looks.
‘One has a camera, a phone, but he’s taking pictures.’
The van pulls forward, from the front to the far side we can’t see.
The courthouse isn’t at the end of the road, it continues past then turns. We haven’t gone down there and don’t know where it leads. I take it now.
Zero, ‘Hold it, I can see the van turning left to the rear of the building. Fair bet to assume they took a snap or two of the side entrance and are now going to do the rear.’
‘Could be anything, the long shot is cops doing advance surveillance. Not likely, the cops have been here dozens of times. They could be media scouts, looking for a leg up on where they might take Burkhalter. Or….’
CC, ‘Or what?’
Zero, ‘They could be vigilantes, like us, or somebody hired them.’
‘To kill Burkhalter?’
‘Or to jailbreak him.’
‘Who would want to help a guy who makes kiddie snuff videos?’
‘Other guys who make kiddie snuff videos.’
‘Looks like a rental, take down the plate number anyway, Natasha, can you get in the DMV and find out.’
I hear tapping on a tablet, it could take a while, different departments have different firewalls. Finding out information on the vehicle is simple, don’t need the DMV. But to find the owner, you have to be a cop or inside the DMV, thus the hack. Why does Natasha know how to do it? She’s Russian, dogged persistence can overcome any firewall. 
Natasha, ‘Do not need to hack, plate is stolen. Came from a car that was in an accident, car was totaled.’
‘Two guys in a van with a stolen plate. That lets out cops doing a prehearing site check. Leaves the other alternatives, either looking to kill Burkhalter or to bust him loose. I vote for kill. If Burkhalter knows them, they figure he’s going to give the DA as much as he can, even if he doesn’t know anything but screen names.’
CC, ‘I don’t see how he made those videos alone.’
‘Of course! Duh award to me, they’re in on it and want him gone before he gets a deal to give up names.’
Zero, ‘We need to follow the van, try and get a tracker on it. If they plan to jailbreak him, makes it easier for us to follow.’
CC, ‘What if the van is a bomb?’
We sit with that for a while, the van starts to move, we wait. We’re behind them if they’re going to the highway, when they turn out of the lot, that’s where they head.
‘Eyes on the van girls, I’ll keep my distance, but we don’t want to lose it.’
The van gets to the highway, turns, headed north. Ten miles later it takes an exit, turns right, five blocks later pulls in to a small parking lot next to a strip mall. Our boys get out and walk to the restaurant, The Eternal Glorious Golden Heavenly Palace of Five Happiness. The Chinese have a penchant for childish exaggeration.
‘Who has the tracker?’
Zero, ‘Me, get as close to the rear of the van as you can, I need the cover.’
I turn in the lot, u-turn and head back out, stop behind the van. Zero’s out and in.
‘Done. Too bad it’s got no side or back windows, no idea what or if they’re hauling anything.’
Targets are out in thirty, now we follow at a more leisurely distance.
They don’t go far, house with a garage, door rolls up, van goes in, door rolls down.
Zero, ‘I’ll fire up the listening device, maybe hear what our boys are up to in the wilds of suburbia.’
It’s a fairly upscale neighborhood, not gated, three and four bedrooms, some with pools, lots of privacy hedges, a few flower beds.
Nikita, ‘No place to hide our car easily, no cars parked on street, nothing for sale. Zero, come wiz me, we will find a place to creep in bushes, listen from there.’
They get out and walk the half block, leave the sidewalk and scoot down a row of hedges. I can’t just sit here, drive slowly down the block, cruise the hood. Since the rise of video games and screens, there is nobody out. Although it’s still early afternoon, I doubt kids getting home from school will unleash a rash of them riding bikes and playing touch football in the street. That world has dwindled to a trickle.
Text from Zero: we need a visual either they are watching a teen scream flick or a kid is being tortured
Reply: sneak and peek do not wait we are coming
I show CC and Natasha the text, ‘Take the guns, I’ll be in the area.’
Glocks in holsters, two extras for Zero and Nikita. I want to join them but we may need to hustle, I keep the car running. If they go inside I won’t hear any shots, the guns have suppressors, or they may use knives, bloody and silent.
Two minutes, a text, back car to garage door open hatch 
I do, garage door rumbles, a bloody little boy and girl climb in with her help, she crawls in next to them.
‘Where are the others?’
‘CC is searching the place, the twins are interviewing the men. We want to know where the kids came from, any video around, who else they contact.’ 
Fifteen, then twins and CC in our SUV.
Zero, ‘Drive.’
One thing we carry since forever is a fairly extensive first aid kit. Not just band-aids and antiseptic, also instant cold packs, Lidocaine lotion and injectible, Ace bandages, antihistamines, pain killers, Dermabond, a kit to make stitches.
‘How do we get them in the hotel?’
‘We don’t, I’m going to a motel with parking in front of the room, we patch them up, get them clean, I’ll make a Walmart clothes run.’
CC, ‘I’ll go with, we need oversized men’s t-shirts, are there any injuries to their feet Zero?’
‘Then socks and sandals.’
‘Pass me a bottle of water, I’m giving them Benadryl and an ibuprofen, I want them sleepy.’
No time for covering what went down, I’ll get details later. I can hear whimpering, can’t see the kids, I’m driving.
I get a room at Lulu’s Happy Hotel, which is a motel with pretentions. Don’t care, I back in directly in front of our door, get out, open up the room and let the girls ease the kids out of the hatch. We now have three different hotels, but it can’t be helped, the kids are part of the plan that wasn’t a part of the plan until it was.
‘Be back in twenty, come on CC.’
Four plain men’s t-shirts, white socks, sandals CC thinks will fit. She’s our resident clothing specialist, and she took a quickie hand span over little feet, tests a few sandals, settles on a pair for each. 
CC, ‘They have head injuries? Do we need a soft cap, never mind, doesn’t matter, we need something to cover their heads anyway.’
We find kid sized watch caps, run the stuff through the self check, add a half dozen bottles of water from the cooler next to the checkout. We didn’t eat lunch, need to get the things to the room, worry about food later.
Back at Lulu’s Happy, the children have been cleaned up with warm face and hand towels, now with blood on them. I go find a housekeeper, ask for more towels and wave a ten at the lady. I thought for a minute she was going to give me the whole cart, always leave ‘em smiling.
Zero, ‘They’re dehydrated on top of the rest, what’s the point in not giving them water?’
‘Guys like that don’t think of water, in their minds the kid is dead soon enough. What did the kids see?’
 ‘Saw us come in, the twins had the men by the throat and belt, hauled them to a different bedroom for interviews.’
‘They didn’t try to fight?’
‘Commandant, you’d have trouble fighting off one of the twins. They drop into an entirely different place when they get aggravated, I swear either one could pick up the business end of a Humvee.’
‘Get the video?’
‘Yep, deleted, CC is looking for others.’

One Hundred Fifty

There are no facts, only interpretations.
Friedrich Nietzsche

Zero gives me an assessment.
‘The boy is four, the girl six, I didn’t ask more questions. Fortunately the two had just started. Boy was being poked with a sharp pointed knife, deep enough to bleed, I counted nineteen punctures. The girl has cigarette burns on her breasts and vagina. There were two cameras on tripods taking video. The men were only hands and forearms, not otherwise visible. There was plastic sheeting on the floor to collect blood. When the children are dead, roll up the sheeting and dump them someplace.’
‘Anything unusual about the men?’
‘I think they were brothers, not twins, one older, maybe forty five, the other high thirties. Facial features were similar, the younger was stocky, older medium. Both of them so average you wouldn’t give them a second glance.’
‘Dark, not black, they weren’t Shadows. What about tomorrow?’
‘It will be a while before anyone finds the bodies, or did it look like more than two people lived there?’
‘Two bedrooms were inhabited, but no women’s items, nor any female toiletries in the bathrooms. One bedroom was for the video, blank and bare other than the restraints on the wall. The fourth bedroom had a cage, the kids must have been in it when the men were checking out the courthouse. There’s something else. I checked the van, it’s a bomb, I don’t know how much C-4 it takes to blow up a van and a courthouse, but there were twenty bricks.’
‘That would do it, not necessarily take down the entire building, but if they blew it while Burkhalter was in transit from the car to the building, he’s dead and everyone within thirty or forty yards. Close enough it might even collapse part of the courthouse.’
‘Then we need to contact the police, the van is sitting there and the detonator caps had been inserted. Timer on the floor but not attached to anything. One goes off, brings new meaning to there goes the neighborhood.’
‘I’ll call, what about the kids?’
‘They stay blanked for the rest of the day and tonight. We’ll sort out who and where when they’re more functional.’
‘CC, make a grocery run, we’ll have to stick here for the night, I’ll get another room after I make a call.’
Anonymous SAT phone call to 911, I give the address and that there is a van loaded with explosives, hang up as she asks my name. Then I call the local precinct.
‘You a cop, or civilian?’
‘Sergeant Tillis.’
‘Sergeant, I’ve called 911, but a lot of those people are idiots, so I’m calling you. You have a bomb squad?’
‘A bomb…’
‘Yes or no, Sergeant.’
‘Take down this address,’ I give it to him, ‘there’s twenty bricks of C-4 with detonators attached inside a van in the garage, there was a timer but it hadn’t been hooked up yet.’
‘You know all this how, sir?’
‘Get to the house, it will be evident,’ I click off.
I get a second room next to ours, greased by giving the desk clerk a ten, drop a comment about friends catching up to me and need more beds. Like Zero says, give them a because and they accept even a vague explanation. Few adults are curious anyway, lost curiosity when they went to school, where open minds are sealed shut.
I sit in the second room with the twins, CC is shopping, Zero is in the room with the children.
Nikita, ‘We are to keel Burkhalter still?’
‘Can’t say. Alerting the police to the bomb was necessary, by default they come on two dead guys and child snuff videos. By the way, what did you do with the plastic sheeting?’
‘Children had not bled so much as to leaf blood on plastic. Boy bled most, but he was pricked with knife on shoulders and chest, blood did not drip to plastic. Girl was burned with cigarette, which does not anyway bleed. They maybe find kids’ DNA elsewhere, but not from blood. There were no personal items like toothbrush. Kids must have been taken only a day before, and there were no kid clothes in rooms or laundry or washer. CC looked everywhere.’
‘Then out of caution they took the clothes and disposed of them. They were going to torture and kill, no need for clothes. I wonder if any missing kids were reported yesterday or day before.’
‘Sister ees look already, nothing.’
‘Maybe they weren’t snatched here, or maybe they were sold.’
A thought occurs, should have asked before but we have a lot going on, ‘What did the men say?’
Nikita, ‘Tried to dance around, for one minute only. Blade across forehead and missing finger changed attitude faster than talking. We get password to encrypted video, left it open for police. They knew Burkhalter, swapped videos, but when he was caught, they think he maybe gives them up, so they make a plan to blow up courthouse.’
‘They must have known you were going to snuff them, surprised they cooperated at all.’
‘A leetle more persuasive involving cock and balls, sister said you are anyway going to die, but we can go slow, or quick, up to you.’
‘Ah, yes, a razor sharp blade to the man part will generally do the trick, saying you could stretch it out sealed the deal.’
‘Da, we anyway cut off balls, let them suffer, then slit throat. No point wasting good bullet on scum.’
‘Sounds reasonable to me. How did they get the kids?’
‘Da, yes, older one said bought from parents, boy from real parents, girl from boyfriend of dead mother.’
‘How much does it cost to buy a kid?’
‘Five hundred for boy, two hundred for girl.’
‘Younger one said both lived in pile of shit, he haf no reason to lie, he was already on his dying bed.’
CC returns, I help her with the few bags, put the stuff in the extra room.
CC, ‘I talked to Zero while I shopped, we’ll sleep with the kids, you and the twins take this room.’
‘I don’t want to make up a reason for a third room, I’ll start being memorable. I can sleep in the SUV, slept in a lot worse places.’
Nikita, ‘Do not make ridiculous Commandant. You will sleep in room wiz sisters, you will lick us, then we will make use of your cock. Sisters always feel sexy after we keel some person, even better to slice up child killers, maybe you don’t slip at all.’
Aw shucks, little old me, Russian Standard vodka, and luscious lurid twins. Things could get well out of hand.
CC, ‘Quit fantasizing Commandant, I have wine, you have vodka, I even remembered cranberry, well, after Zero reminded me.’
Natasha, ‘And tomorrow?’
‘Yes, tomorrow. Turn on the news or go online and see if the bomb story is out. We can get to the hotel early and scope the courthouse. If they connect our dead guys with Burkhalter, they may ask for an extension, reset the hearing for a later date. If they don’t put it together, then…wait, let me think. Okay, the coincidence of a hearing for Burkhalter and two dead guys with a bunch of child snuff video being unrelated is absurd. Even the dullest police department would wonder about that. I’m betting there will be no hearing until they try and sort it out. We can still check the scene from the balcony, if the media is there, the cops will explain why the hearing is delayed.’
CC, ‘And for the media it’s even better, a bigger story, unanswered questions, an improbable coincidence, dead children, a TV producer’s wet dream.’
‘I agree, in which case we go home. Burkhalter loses his chance to implicate the other two, a van loaded with C-4 will only add to his nightmare, and now he’s for sure going to prison. He won’t last two weeks, likely to be an extremely painful two weeks.’
‘Do we still need to go to the hotel?’
‘Yes, on the odd chance they proceed with the hearing. I never mentioned Burkhalter when I phoned the cops, only the house and the van. I doubt Burkhalter ever went there…unless…’
‘Do we know if Burkhalter did video at his place? What if he did it at theirs? They were already set up, Natasha, do you recall anyone saying Burkhalter did his thing at his own house?’
‘Never came up, only that he possessed the videos. We don’t know how the police got on to him in the first place.’
‘So it’s possible he did it with them, all the more reason for the brothers to want him dead asap.’
CC eats a couple fried chicken fingers, goes to relieve Zero. 
Zero, ‘God I’m starved, what did she get?’
‘Chicken fingers, honey mustard and buffalo sauce, coleslaw,’ I hand her a glass of red, ‘Kids wake up?’
‘Nope, and the longer they sleep, the less it will hurt in the morning. If they wake during the night, I’m going to give them more antihistamine and pain reliever.’
‘Did Nikita tell you about the kids?’
‘I heard her telling you, they were bought.’
‘You know the next question.’
‘Social services or us. There’s no social services, the children don’t need more nurses poking around, they can’t do anything more than we can, probably less. And lots of therapy whether the children benefit or not. Therapy is to make adults believe they’re doing something for the kids. I say it every time, having the child relive the event with talk, talk, talk, tells the child’s brain this must be momentous, it must need help, help in the form of adults they don’t know peering over desks or typing on laptops and asking a bunch of stupid questions. From the child’s perspective, it’s as if they did something wrong.’

One Hundred Fifty One

Estragon: We lost our rights?
Vladimir: We got rid of them.
Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot 

The children slept most of the night, Zero said she gave them another dose, then CC held the boy, Zero the girl, until they fell asleep again.
Now CC and I are at the Incarceration Inn, better not to drag everyone here, the children have no idea what’s happening and don’t need to know.
I’m peering through binoculars, CC has the scope. There is media, but nothing popped up online about two dead guys. Of course the cops know, and they know about the C-4. Dogs are walking the area, no cars permitted within fifty yards.
CC, ‘Appears they’re going through with the hearing.’
‘So it seems, and considering the prisoner, the media will think there have been threats and the cops are being cautious. Notice all the police are in vests and helmets.’
We got here at seven with a drive-thru fastie breakfast, eat the wraps while staring out at the courthouse. Now it’s quarter after eight, a small bus, obviously for hauling prisoners, turns into the courthouse lot, is guided by a patrol car to the rear of the building.
CC, ‘Our big moment,’ she shifts the Ruger a bit, its support on the concrete floor of the balcony, the muzzle through the railing. 
‘We’ll both confirm the target, I hope they aren’t stupid enough to try a decoy first.’
Bus stops, more than one case being heard, the first guy out in flaming orange isn’t our target, too fat, neither is the second, too tall and black, then the star of our show steps out.
‘It’s Burkhalter, he’s wearing a vest.’
CC, ‘So it is, vest is a waste’ he turns blinking in the early sun, his head turned towards us but not up at us.
Pop! His forehead has a fresh new hole, the frenzy starts, we aren’t waiting around to watch.
CC breaks down the Ruger, into its cozy case, we beat a retreat. Pass the buffet, people occupied deciding what they want or heaping piles of eggs and sausage onto plates. We’re in the Wankler, CC calls Zero.
‘Kids ready to travel?’
‘Ready enough, we treated injuries, freshly patched. We don’t have the car, need something to eat, find a place down the road.’
‘We have to collect things from the Lapsed Catholic, best to get it done before we get to you. Estimate twenty minutes, hang on, Commandant is shaking his head, oh, yeah, going to swap cars, need something bigger.’
Zero, ‘Yes, with the kids better no plane, they have no ID and they’re injured, don’t want to explain that.’
‘We’ll also stop for food, so call it forty five.’
And an hour later we’re in a Lincoln Road Grader, death black with an engine that could drag a freight train uphill.
CC, ‘What’s our travel time?’
‘Fourteen to sixteen if we go straight through. We have plenty of drivers but it’s already after ten. No way to get home before midnight.’
Zero, ‘We’ll find something simple, the children will need to have dressings refreshed and fourteen hours is a log slog for a kid. Somebody call home and give them an update.’
CC’s on with everyone courtesy of speaker phone, ‘No details, but we have rescues and can’t get on a plane, drive is fourteen or more hours, we’re going to find a hotel later and set out again tomorrow.’
Fin, ‘Glad you’re done, Miss Bossy is in need of CC’s guidance.’
CC, ‘Alice N, dial down the dictator, when we get home you have a new sister and brother.’
‘Really! How old?’
‘Boy around four, girl six, pretty emaciated, but they’re eating and mostly sleeping.’
‘Does this mean I’m not the Pampered Princess anymore?’
‘I think you’ve had enough of that, now you have responsibilities for your younger family members. I know you’re almost nine going on nineteen, but you may still relate to them better than we can.’
‘No doubt I will, those are two lucky children.’
‘Maybe luck, but remember, it’s Zero.’
‘I’m going to make her tell me how she does it.’
‘Uh, huh, your mind control doesn’t have much effect on us.’
‘I would wind up in a family of psychopaths.’
‘Said Alice N, the Psycho Mouse.’
Alice giggles, ‘Got to go, Morshchiny needs out and I’m getting on the trampoline.’
Fin, ‘See you tomorrow.’
Zoe, ‘Bye.’
We disconnect, keep moving with a coffee and restroom stop. The girls took both the kids to the ladies in a hotel, far cleaner than a convenience store. I’m a guy, don’t have to worry about toilet seats. I get drinks, think the kids may be hungry so add chips, cart it to the Lincoln and down the block to get the girls.
Zero, ‘Chips, good, our puppies ate breakfast, but both of the need calories, even chip calories.’
We drive until one, stop by a fastie for burgers in a bag and more drinks. 
I hear Zero talking to the kids, Nikita occasionally, but I’m driving, listening to an audio book and looking over at CC’s elegant perfections stretched out in front of her or one leg over the other. She has courteously slipped off her jeans and folded them neatly next to her door. 
Around three thirty bladders are full, another hotel, back on the road, CC takes the wheel.
The children were also talking, asking questions, not staring out the window. Zero isn’t allowing any PTSD to creep in.
A welcome uneventful drive, CC found us a hotel with a two bedroom suite, House of the Sunken Sun, the suite is on the top floor, the top floor being the third. It’s boutique-ish, more relaxed, less of the cookie cutter furniture and corporate bland found in most hotels.
While they get situated, CC and I make another food run, we keep it simple, everybody likes pizza. We don’t do anything tricky, pepperoni on two, vegetable on the third. 
The boy is still tender, a dozen or more pokes with an ice pick hurts and won’t quit hurting for a few days. The girl had only, not only as in just, only as in nothing else was used, cigarette burns. They hurt too but don’t do much damage. Her vagina was butted twice, a tender spot. Zero said he hadn’t made it inside, the burns are to the external skin. He was no doubt planning to go deeper to intensify the pain. Our twin exterminators made them pay, and they caught a break. If we had time, the two would still be alive, in a state rocketing between hallucinating hysteria and tortured agony.
Pizza goes over well, the kids ate a whole slice and split a second. They’re on the couch with Nikita and Natasha, a Netflix kid thing on the laptop, little girl witches I think.
CC, Zero and I sit around the dining table, Zero updates.
‘They were dazed until this morning, I haven’t tried to get anything out of them. The boy is illiterate, but he’s four. He didn’t know from phones and tablets, don’t think he’s ever seen one. He played a simple game while we drove. The girl was heartbreaking. She’s six or so, and doesn’t understand why people are always hurting her, first the boyfriend slapping her around for who knows what, then sold to the two freaks, put naked in a cage, hung spread-eagled from a wall while he burns her chest and puss with a cigarette.’
‘You say anything?’
‘Only that there are mean ugly people in the world and that nothing like that will ever happen to her again. No idea if she believes me, don’t think I would if I were her. She wanted to know who the boy is, I said I didn’t know, but he won’t be treated like that ever again either. While I answered, she studied my face with almost a stare. I could sense her wheels turning, do I believe her or not? Which means she’s smart.’
‘Anything else of substance?’
‘Who are we, how did we know about the men, where are we going? The obvious stuff. I told her the truth, at least until she asked about the men. I said the same thing I told Alice back when, they aren’t going to bother any child or anyone else ever again. She nodded, I could see she was digesting what I said, but she didn’t pursue it.’

One Hundred Fifty Two

What comes after now?
You could also say, more now, because if it’s now, it can’t be later.
Today’s now is yesterday’s later, as is tomorrow, which is later now, but tomorrow it won’t be later, it will be now…again.
CC, Meditations on Time

Home finally. I took them first to the house, then Fin followed me to the rental agency and I returned the Road Grader. I updated her on the injuries, Zero will fill in Zoe and Alice, they’ll know to be careful until the kids are healed.
They are beginning to wake up to the world, the girl is reasonably animated, the boy quiet. Presume he’s justifiably cautious around adults.
Morshchiny is a huge help, big dogs and little kids have an instinctive bond. She stays nearby, doesn’t crowd but is available for pats and hugs, which are frequent.
Alice has them outside, warm sun, big space to walk around and explore. 
Zero, ‘I don’t want them in Alice’s place for now, Alice likes a bit of solitude, the children are still tentative.’
Nikita, ‘Children will slip wiz sisters, super king bed, two skinny kids won’t bother us.’
‘Natasha okay with that?’
‘Natasha’s idea. We haf been given much, we appreciate, but ees time for us also to help. We will see to education, maybe teach Russian, they are young and will learn quickly. Ees good to haf more than one language, da?’
Zero, ‘Double da.’
CC, ‘Our escapade made national news, we’re officially vigilantes. The FBI stuck their nose in, Special Agent Somebody blathering about the rule of law. He must have been thinking of some different rule of law, since the laws against child rape and abuse aren’t working.’
‘They’ll stumble around flipping their creds under this or that nose. Maybe they can trace sources of video our targets got from other people, they’ll shut down the board Burkhalter and the brothers used, another will replace it.’
‘So we’re out of it.’
‘What the FBI finds is a lot less than what it doesn’t find. We were disguised when we did our surveillance, and when we traced the brothers to their place, no prints, no shell casings, no nothing. The FBI has air for leads.’
CC, ‘What about names? The boy says his name is Billy, the girl Wanda.’
Fin, ‘Nobody wants to be Billy or Wanda, have you asked, maybe not, a four year old doesn’t know from names.’
‘That’s the thing, I think the girl is old enough to pick her name, the boy, maybe not.’
Zero, ‘Make a list, read it to them, then tell them to think about which one they like best. Natasha and I will read the auras, those will tell us what name is a favorite. Oh, and tell them that everyone else picked a name or made one up.’
CC, ‘Another decision. I was going through kid clothing sites with them. I’ll skip to the point, our boy likes the same clothes as our girl, not the clothes on the boy’s sections.’
Zero, ‘Interesting, I didn’t pick that up, but he has said almost nothing, and they were asleep much of the time.’
‘It could be a temporary thing, or maybe he’s just mimicking the girl.’
‘Well, they need clothes, not so much around here where a t-shirt will do, but eventually.’
‘Lay out things that Alice doesn’t wear or no longer fits, let them choose whatever. She has jeans she can’t wear for instance. Most of her t-shirts are gender neutral, she doesn’t do pink.’
CC, ‘Genius, I’ll do it this afternoon. Fin, let’s get a list of names together, ten each, mix male leaning names and female names, nothing boring.’
They tap tablets, there are a few zillion baby name sites.
Nikita, ‘Anyway include Russian names, Valentin and Valery are unisex for instance.’
CC, ‘Suppose we go with those two only, then see how they react?’
Zero, ‘Good idea, they may have other preferences so make a list even if it’s a short one, too many will be confusing..’
By the end of the day, we have Micha, pronounced mekah, and Misha, pronounced as spelled. Both are for either boys or girls, the boy liked Misha, the girl, Micha.
Then the apparel. Micha was okay with any of it, Misha preferred dresses but was good with skinny jeans as well. We didn’t keep Alice’s outgrown shoes, CC took measurements and ordered sneakers they wanted, Misha got pink.
Fin, ‘Misha must be older than four, just small. He seemed clear on what he liked, and didn’t appear to be taking cues from Micha.’
Zero, ‘I think you’re right. Which brings up another small question, is he, he, or is he, she?’
CC, ‘Beats me, I have an idea, Alice, come here for a minute.’
She’s on the couch with the two kids, showing them how to operate the phone. 
She comes over and sits on CC’s lap.
CC, ‘Take them for a walk, Morshchiny can get out for a bit. See if you can find out if Misha thinks he’s a boy or a girl.’
‘I can ask why he likes dresses and pink sneakers, the answer will be a clue.’
‘Excellent, get to it, we can’t keep referring to he or him when it should be she or her.’
Alice hops up, ‘Now that you are home, you can return to your duties.’
‘Like bathe and brush your insanely spoiled self.’
Alice narrows her eyes, ‘Whose fault is that?’
CC giggles, Alice collects the two kids, Morshchiny follows them outside.
Zero, ‘Alice is getting slick.’
Nikita, ‘Sister says Alice is genius girl. She must haf many things to do or she will be bored.’
‘Get her to start the day with a crossword, do either of you play chess?’
Natasha, ‘I know how, sister doesn’t care for it, I am not much interested. Crossword will be good, she is also learning algorithm, now two young ones. She will play big sister. Get to boss around little kids.’
‘Like CC?’
‘Da, CC will always be a little kid in her head.’
We laugh, certain amount of truth there. In a way, all humans are children, no, not children, childish. It’s as if they never left high school, cliques, the football team, petty jealousies, gossip, I mean really, paying attention to Harry and Meghan as if that’s a thing to think about? 
Zoe, ‘I need to heat up dinner,’ the board says meatloaf, brown gravy, mashed and sautéed root vegetables.
‘Your helper, Czar Alice, is walking the dog and the children, I’ll make drinks and set the table.’
‘Thanks Commandant. I thought we’d have another male entity in the house, but apparently not.’
‘Doesn’t hurt my feelings, I like girls, and girls who like girls. I may be a lesbian.’
Zoe, ‘Idiot, pour me a red.’
Alice returns, I filled Morshchiny’s bowl of pebbles, she goes for it. While she crunches away, Alice reports her findings.
‘Misha is a girl with a boy part. Part of what set off her parents, drunk and drugged most of the time, mad because she was attracted to feminine things. I’ll do the vegetables Zoe, go away Commandant.’
Zero, ‘I read that some people are trying to raise their kids gender free, without the labels anyway.’
‘Sounds like brainwashing, or reverse brainwashing, people simply cannot resist manipulating their kids, can’t they let them alone? The kid will figure out which bucket suits them, even sample a few buckets.’
Zero, ‘When did you start expecting people to be rational? All this crap started when being a parent tuned into parenting, from noun to verb, if you aren’t manipulating, you aren’t parenting. We are neither noun nor verb, provide the plant with decent nutrition, a bit of water, it grows fine on its own, better even. Keep screwing around with it, you get a confused plant that gives up.’

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