One Hundred Fifty Seven

Zero, ‘Natasha the Shadow Tracker has discovered weird behavior in the heartland.’
‘Now what?’
‘Children robbing banks, three instances, little boys and girls taking off their clothes in the middle of a mall, five instances, older girls, twelve and thirteen, offering blow jobs for a dollar, six instances. A preacher’s wife strips in the middle of the Sunday service, shouts praises to Satan and offers to fuck all comers, that was a one-off. Could be more, these were the ones that made the news.’
‘I can imagine people wanting it covered up quickly, then hauling the kid off to therapy. Preacher’s wife, that’s kind of funny.’
Zero smiles, ‘Had the same thought, seems like God’s never around when you need him.’
‘Maybe God thought it hilarious. So when do we leave?’
‘I haven’t been able to think of a way to find the Shadow, if it’s a Shadow.’
‘We could start a church, see if he shows.’
Zero, ‘I don’t want to move there, it’s a middle America town, bland as a Lutheran, their idea of painting the town is to color it brown. 4H, high school football, dads want to fuck the cheerleaders, moms want to fuck the quarterback, maybe the lanky black wide receiver.’
‘If there’s a Shadow it could happen, but it wouldn’t be in secret.’
‘No, it would be on a video, one sent to friends and family.’
‘Takes the fun right out of it.’
‘We’re not getting closer to a plan.’
‘Anyone dead, or just embarrassed?’
‘No dead, at least not from a Shadow’s doing.’
‘Keep an eye on it, so far it’s not worth the time and energy.’
Zero goes off to let Natasha know to follow the story, see if patterns emerge such that we don’t have to drive the city and hope to stumble on a Shadow.
CC comes along with the kids, ‘Break time, done for today actually. Fin and I have video for a month if we post once a week.’
‘You running out of ideas?’
‘Nope, we don’t do an entire outfit in one video, it will take three or four. Fifteen to twenty minute clips are long enough, and we keep it simple so viewers aren’t overwhelmed. Each item is described, then Alice is dressed and we show how it might be worn. But the description, the dressing, makeup, and accessories is a month worth of video. The girls keep a running dialogue, it appears they are deciding as the camera rolls, but it’s all scripted. Misha, Daffodil I should say, goes off script with commentary, which might be anything. Not necessarily related to the project at hand. She might do a riff on a fashion show, the kind with absurd outfits that nobody will ever wear, or comment on a photo of this or that celebrity, but only to compliment good fashion sense. We don’t take cheap shots at bad outfits or lousy taste.’
‘None of that is scripted.’
‘Nope, Daffodil gets a notion and blurts it out, Cornelia or Febe respond, mostly in agreement but sometimes not, which leads to a giggly discussion. Based on comments, the viewers eat it up, and it’s led to more subscriptions.’
‘Any pests or other difficulties?’
‘Google monitors comments, what a gorgeous little girl is fine, I’d like to fuck that is ditched before it sees the light of screen.’
‘Do they reply to comments?’
‘No, this takes enough time, we aren’t trying to make friends, defend ourselves or have any social interaction, just to have fun and dispense a bit of fashion sense.’
‘We may have a Shadow.’
CC, ‘Zero mentioned it, we traveling?’
‘We can’t figure out a way to find him, or them. Natasha is monitoring, if she finds a pattern that gives us a jumping in spot, we’ll go nose around. It’s a near million metro, too big to drive randomly. We might get lucky, but when we stumbled on them before, the town was smaller.’
‘I wonder if they communicate, with each other I mean.’
‘We’ve seen a couple working together, if they have wider contacts we haven’t encountered that yet.’
Fin comes from upstairs, hugs CC from behind, hands up the little t-shirt exposing the soft girl bit, kisses neck, hand to the soft, gentle squeeze, ‘You need a nap.’
CC grins, ‘Will it involve sleeping?’
CC winks at me, ‘It’s so good to be me,’ she turns and follows Fin back up the steps.
I decide to make coffee, distraction is essential given what my imagination will do if left it on its own.
Alice comes down, the kids with her, they go outside with Morshchiny, Alice climbs on a stool, props one leg on the seat, I sigh, another soft succulence. When I look up from the bare Alice is grinning at me.
‘Zero is teaching me the joys of exhibitionism.’
‘I don’t recall you ever being shy about your body.’
‘No, why would I be, no matter who I tease, I always get a gratifying result.’
It’s none of my business, tempted though I am to ask if she’s graduated from toys.
Alice, ‘Zero showed up at my place last night, she didn’t leave until this morning.’
‘She’s most comforting to sleep with.’
‘It was a while before we slept. Toys are fun, girls are more fun. I made her service me in the shower this morning too. Made is the wrong word, she enthusiastically took full advantage.’
‘If you’re going to learn, Zero is an excellent choice.’
Alice bites her lip, her hand runs up her thigh, finger slides along the precious. She leans against the countertop and self serves, clearly enjoying my rapt attention. The coffee is ready, so is Alice, she shivers, groans, shimmies and settles. A wet finger emerges, she holds it out.
She slides it across my lips, then in my mouth, my tongue circles, yum.
Alice smiles, ‘Zero taught me about that a year ago, I think she’s been grooming me to slut for her,’ she reaches down, feels my erection through my pants, giggles.
‘I like to make you rise and shine, one day I’ll make it perform the whole symphony.’
‘I will enjoy anticipation.’
‘As will I.’
She hops off the stool, shirt slips down to cover the sweet. Just as well, I might sprain my eyes otherwise. She goes out to find the kids.
Zero comes along, ‘I couldn’t resist, well, I wouldn’t resist even if I could. She’s a delight, responsive, enthusiastic, unrestricted.’
‘And tight, don’t forget tight, her skin fits like skin.’
‘She loves getting a rise out of you, you’ll make her list when she’s older. In the meantime we can do each other a solid, you’re worked up and I’m in the mood for a healthy dose of vitamins.’
We move on to my room, coffee can wait.

One Hundred Fifty Eight

To the range for a day, shoot holes in targets, ding the star, Alice has gotten quite efficient and can hit each arm five for five at fifteen yards. For an eleven year old, that’s not shabby, she wants it at twenty next trip. Misha and Micha are nine and seven, around there someplace. They shoot the smallest Glock at ten yards, after a couple of magazines, they prefer racing the dirt track. 
Our four dirt bikes are electric, quiet, top speed around seventy and amazing acceleration.
We also got them electric go-karts, they run those around the race track until they need a charge. Then the older girls run the NSXs, we have two now. I sold the first one, the new ones are identical except for colors, one is dark red, the other black. Hybrids, part gas, part electric, zero to sixty in three seconds, top end one ninety.
They aren’t cheap, a buck sixty each, the girls love them. The cars are two seaters, Misha and Micha take the passenger and the rest alternate driving.
I had a garage built for the karts and dirt bikes, we don’t use them except here and I set the batteries on a trickle charge, ready to go when we arrive. 
Since they enjoy the cars and bikes so much, we go once a week, it gives the RV a road trip, better than it sitting for a month. It also serves as Alice’s bedroom and writing cave so she keeps it pristine. 
‘Natasha created a map of incidents and dates, obviously only the ones that have been reported, we think there are incidents that victims don’t report. First, nothing repeats, each incident location isn’t random or there would be two or three in the same general vicinity. Second, time of day varies, nothing consistently happens in the morning, or afternoon or evening. Third, the Shadow, or Shadows, are working a grid. Check the map,’ she shows me a map of the city, ‘Natasha has divided the map into two dozen squares. The lower left is southwest, the first report is there. The second is in a higher square two columns over, the third, in the farthest column at the top square.’
‘So twenty four squares, they keep moving to different parts of the city to avoid doing the same place twice.’
‘The system makes the incidents appear random, but they aren’t. If it was purely random, they would have hit the same square twice. That may not mean much since this is Natasha’s grid, the Shadow may be using one a block or two east-west and north-south.’
‘Sure, but the point is there’s a plan to avoid the same places and neighborhoods while anyone looking at just a map of incidents wouldn’t notice a system.’
‘And remember, the local cops know nothing of Shadows, they may not connect children undressing with teen girls offering blow jobs for a buck and kids robbing banks, which the cops will think is a gang of some sort using kids to avoid prison. That’s a time honored technique for selling drugs. The preacher’s wife is a one-off and likely not included in the mix.’
‘Of course, and it will never occur to look for someone on a camera directing the activity, a Shadow doesn’t actually do anything noticeable, it’s all brain to brain.’
‘If we were to call it in, they’d write us off as crackpots. So you think we should go and cruise the squares where there’s been no reported strange behavior.’
‘Yep, it might take a while, but if the Shadow keeps it up we’ll find him, her, them.’
‘Everyone is going to want to go.’
‘Good, it’s surveillance training, tracking, paying attention.’
‘The kids?’
‘Alice clued them in. To their credit, they never talk about it.’
‘I don’t suppose they want to shoot people.’
‘Never came up. They’re into their YouTube thing, CC has a month’s worth of new video, but they can work on ideas at a hotel as easily as here.’
‘Book a flight and a hotel, let’s go hunting.’
The next day we arrive just after two local time. Three cars are waiting, one fat SUV, Chrysler Magnificence, royal blue naturally, a vehicle with its own sense of self-importance. The others are sedans, Acura Indecisions, modeled after the Procrastinator, both designed to confabulate with an emphasis on maybe or maybe not.
I’m driving the SUV, Zero, Zoe, the two kids, and Morshchiny with me. CC drives one Indecision, Natasha and Alice with her. Fin has the second with Nikita. 
‘What Hotel?’
Zero, ‘Take a right on the highway, five miles, exit twelve, take a left. The Magnificent Heavenly Golden Bed of Eternal Slumber, it’s owned by a Chinese couple who’ve never seen it, never been out of China for that matter. They were interviewed by an Eskimo columnist in The Blubber Times, said they had no idea they owned the place, although it could be a bad translation since the translator supplied by the Chinese government was a deaf mute.’
‘Clearly a government cover-up, the Communist Party is always up to something so clandestine even they don’t know what’s going on.’
‘A secret society so secret even secrets can’t escape, a secret black hole.’
‘The place is so controlled citizens are constantly turning themselves in for this or that infraction, begging to be sent to reeducation camps along the Yangtze, mostly because the noodles are better than what they make at home.’
‘Why do you know this?’
‘No idea, perhaps I was a Communist in a former life, my heart skips a beat whenever I hear the name of Chairman Mao and I’m overwhelmed by the desire to reread The Little Red Book to remind me I’m a reactionary imperialist. You have to appreciate the humility of a guy who calls himself mousey-tongue, who says Communists have no sense of humor?’
‘What room are we in?’
‘The People’s Liberation Suite.’
Misha, ‘Look! A giant golden bed of flowers.’
I check in, the lobby pagoda audio plays Chinese music, the singer sounds like someone scratching high notes on a violin. It’s worse than listening to Brittney Spears’ duck voice.
Zero, ‘All female pop singers sound alike, zero vocal range.’
‘I wouldn’t know, how many songs can they write about boyfriends?’
‘Well, sometimes they write about girls they hate.’
Fin, ‘Most thirteen year old girls have two interests, themselves and fantasies about kissing a boy.’
The suite is practically the whole top floor, Mao’s vaunted Masses nowhere to be seen.
Zoe, ‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much red, the same shade of red from the couches and chairs to the curtains and the bedspreads. Where did they find red toilet paper?’
‘Do they even make colored toilet paper?’
CC taps her phone, ‘Yes, Renova makes a variety of colors, stupidly expensive, six small rolls for fifteen bucks. Available from Amazon.’
‘I’ll stick with white.’
Nikita, ‘We haf entered an alternate universe, a red one.’
Natasha, ‘Maybe better to find Shadow.’
Zero, ‘Right. It’s three now, drivers pick an open square on the gird and let’s get busy.’
Zoe, ‘I think we leave Morshchiny in the room, she’s been so good, plane ride, then in the SUV. She had a walk downstairs. I’ll get a bowl of water, put out her food, and leave the balcony door open for her.’
‘Turn on the TV, low volume, and hang the DND tag on the door, we can’t have her eating a housekeeper.’

One Hundred Fifty Nine

My section of town reveals nothing Shadowy, a text from CC says the same, then a text from Fin, ditto. We have time to cruise another square, text swaps get us in different parts of the grid, by seven we’ve done nothing but ride around.
‘Zero, text the others and tell them we’re picking up dinner, to go to the hotel and take care of Morshchiny, then find us a…never mind, here’s a market.’
In the room for seven thirty, we got fried chicken, mac and cheese, wine and vodka, bag of ice. Zoe sticks the chicken pieces in the warm oven. Mac we can microwave later. I make a drink and head to the shower.
Zero climbs in with me, ‘Three showers at least, but we have to double up or it will take an hour.’
‘Somebody walk the dog?’
‘Zoe went with the kids, no problem, they were back before I came in here.’
This is a shower, shower, not a play shower, everyone is hungry for food, maybe hungry for something else later.
We dry, towel dry hair and brush, skip the blower and go out to organize supper.
I crank up the oven to crisp the chicken, stick the mac in the microwave, Zoe comes along and opens wine, sets out the plastic cups, paper plates and plastic utensils. My trust in hotel cleaning is limited, we don’t use the plates, utensils or glasses they supply. 
Fin, ‘This is not a tiny town. Even with Natasha’s work on grids, it’s going to take a bit of luck.’
Zero, ‘Natasha, you still monitoring local stories?’
‘Da, nothing out of the ordinary. Time between the prior events was a week to ten days. The last, the preacher’s wife, was seven, no, eight days ago.’
‘Then if there’s nothing in the next two or three days, we fly home. It isn’t like the Shadow is killing people, then again they have tended to escalate in the past. Shadows get bored like anyone else. Minor humiliations lose the thrill factor.’
Zero, ‘Interesting you should mention that. Here’s a hypothetical, the past events were training runs for a less experienced Shadow, or even a couple of trainees.’
CC, ‘Implies a trainer.’
‘Right, could we be dealing with a new direction in Shadow behavior? It isn’t like a gang, as when the adults send the kids to sell drugs, Shadows have no fear of arrest. So is cranking out fresh psychos that new direction?’
Nikita, ‘Ees possible, also goes against our experience. Shadows don’t like anyone, even each other, why raise baby Shadows?’
‘I don’t know. I do know we haven’t met that many, perhaps we simply assumed they were lone wolves, coming together only for special projects. What if there’s a more sophisticated social level, one that keeps a lower profile, moved on from kiddie sex or incest, even nickel and dime theft?’
‘Da, as you said, for the more intelligent the sex stuff ees boring, like watching porn, fifteen minutes and it’s just repetition.’
‘I concur, either some have decided to expand their sphere of influence, grow their own, or they have a bigger agenda, or all three.’
Fin, ‘What would they use the junior Shadows for?’
Natasha, ‘Distraction.’
‘You’re onto something. Juniors with enough skill to take a mind, even if for a short period of time can create havoc in one place while the seniors carry out another scheme elsewhere.’
CC, ‘We have no way of knowing what that might be, unless….’
‘Unless we find a Shadow and track him, see if he meets another, use our electronics to pick up conversation.’
Alice and her two acolytes, Misha and Micha, have been listening, more focused on chicken and mac than our speculations.
Alice, ‘M2, collect the plates and utensils, use the bags from the grocery and pack it up,’ the plastic bags float over from the counter to the table, the kids laugh.
‘Alice floats a pillow over us at night and drops it on our heads.’
‘Only when you’re under the covers giggling and I’m trying to go to sleep.’
Zoe, ‘Maybe they giggle so you’ll send the pillow.’
‘Hadn’t thought of that,’ she looks at Misha, ‘that’s the kind of sneak you would dream up.’
Misha does a hands up, shakes her head, ‘Nope, we didn’t think of it either.’
‘So what’s the giggling about?’
Micha, ‘We respectfully decline to answer that question on the grounds that answering might tend to incriminate us.’
The two exchange a quick glance, then subtle grins, hop up and start stuffing the bags. The chicken is gone, the mac is gone, we had a light breakfast on the plane but nothing since. 
Zoe, ‘I’ll take the bags down, Morshchiny needs out as well.’
‘I’ll go with you,’ I take the bags, Zoe leashes Morshchiny, we go down the elevator and outside.
Trash hits the dumpster while the mastiff dumps in a stretch of trees and shrubbery, not an area where anyone is likely to walk.
Zoe comes along, ‘I think the kids are exploring, which is what the giggles are about. You notice they are practically glued together.’
‘Kids are curious, Misha’s a girl with penis, Micha a regular girl. For all we know they tell each other dirty jokes, or talk about the rest of us. We might be funnier to them than we think.’
She smiles, ‘It is a strange group, our made up family. Perhaps having escaped their torturers rather than tortured to death…I don’t know, how would they feel about that?’
‘Good question, one I’m not going to ask. They’re doing well, occupied, engaged, no sulk, no tantrum. Better to let it go.’
Zoe, ‘I’m for that, and a glass of wine before bed.’
The suite is covered in girl, they’ve got a movie on, something about winter with an actor I like whose name I can’t recall. Winter makes me think of ice, ice leads to vodka, I pour a drink, retire to the bedroom for a read. When it hits ten fifteen, I decide to brush and flush. When I return, wow, twins in the bed.
Nikita, ‘You will provide sisters wiz climatic, then we will all slip better, da?’
 We surely will. I ease into bed and follow orders. When they’ve used me up, I lay on my side and watch while they use each other up. We collapse into a dreamless coma, drenched in lust and lotion.

One Hundred Sixty

I wake up to the sound of the shower, the twins must be in there, my insightful deduction because they aren’t in the bed. Got to get moving, so I move.
‘Leave it running.’
Nikita pokes her head out, ‘Da, we are feenish,’ I hand her a bath towel, then one for Natasha, they get out, I get in.
‘I had a smashing evening girls, thank you.’
Nikita, ‘Dobro pozhalovat, we haf also smash, spasibo.’
They move along, I finish and step out for a towel, Alice has brought coffee.
‘Dobro pozhalovat, the twins work you over?’
‘It was mutual.’
‘I slept with CC, Zero got Fin, Zoe the kids. You won’t ask, so I’ll tell, CC is dreamy delish, and she does everything I demand.’
‘She likes to cooperate. Skip the details, intimacies are private.’
Alice smiles, ‘I’m telling you who, not what. Zoe is next on my training rotation, Fin, and the twins, in no particular order.’
She gently squeezes my cock, ‘This big boy will get a turn when I’m post twelve. I’m going to quit aging around there, depending on how I fill out by then.’
‘You’re eleven now, or close to it, maybe just past it since we don’t really know. If you like what you see in a year, fine, if you want taller, then wait, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen. It’s guesswork. If you stop in a year, you won’t know how you would have filled out otherwise. Then again, if you wait, you aren’t going back to younger. Zero, CC, and Zoe did around twelve, they like lanky, small breasts, narrow hips. The twins went to sixteen, Fin as well. We don’t do birthdays, don’t really know any of the girls’ actual ages. I think CC and Zero were more like thirteen based on their height.’
Alice watches my dick elevate and point, she laughs, ‘That was me, I love telekinesis,’ she leans over and kisses the tip, ‘coming soon,’ taps it so it bounces, grins and leaves.
I briefly wonder what Misha will decide. The girls like to play me once in a while, Misha may find out having a penis offers certain advantages.
Zero comes in, ‘Alice teasing again?’
‘I think Micha is happy for Misha to be a girl and a boy. And Misha is happy she makes Micha happy.’
‘They have a bond, both close to being snuffed in a snuff video.’
‘Get dressed or I’ll make use of your staff, which I will later, but now we hunt Shadows.’
We get drive through breakfast, break in different directions to cover more squares. Since we spotted zip yesterday, we start with those, may have to cover the same ground several times.
Everyone is on GPS, we can all track each other, but we still have to pick a square, texts go back and forth. The squares are numbered one through twenty four, we finish half by quarter to one.
‘I’m getting burgers unless you want something else.’
Zero, ‘Fine by me, Zoe?’
Misha, ‘Burger is good, get something for Morshchiny.’
‘There’s a park, take Morshchiny for a pee, then we’ll get to the nearest fastie.’
Burgers in bags, fries, Diet Coke, we continue the search. 
Call from Natasha, she’s with Fin across town, Zero answers, puts her speaker.
‘Another incident, two teen girls strolling down the street in nothing. Cops came and took them off, no other information, we’re going to that location, maybe the Shadow is hanging around.’
Zero, ‘Got it, we’re going as well, more cars, maybe we get lucky. CC, you on?’
‘Yep, headed there now.’
‘It’s in a square we haven’t gotten to, CC you take the top third, Fin the middle, we’ll do the south side. If you get nothing CC, expand to the next square north, we’ll go farther south, Fin pick east or west.’
It takes us ten or fifteen to get there, then we cruise our section slowly, Zero on the lookout for black auras. Natasha can spot Shadows, and Fin has Nikita. 
Call from Nikita, ‘Come on our direction, no Shadow but there is residue in the air.’
Shadows leave a smoke mist like diesel exhaust, nothing visible to normal people, our spotters aren’t normal. 
Zero has everyone on the speaker, ‘Fin, start a circle from the mist, CC take the next ring, we’ll do the outer, and check cars not just pedestrians.’
Maybe we’re getting somewhere. Of course it’s possible that the Shadow drove off and we missed him.
CC, ‘Got him, a dark blue Chevy, don’t recognize the make, it isn’t new. One fender has been repainted, the color is off by a shade.’
Zero, ‘We want to track him, he alone?’
‘Yes, no, wait…there’s someone in the back seat, not a little kid, maybe eleven or twelve from the looks of her.’
‘A capture?’
‘Hang on, I’m going to pass….hmm, Natasha and Alice say she’s a Shadow.’
Progress, dark at the end of the tunnel.
Zero, ‘We’re coming in your direction, follow and look for a spot to stick a tracker.’
‘Will do, right now they’re headed east.’
Fin, ‘I’m a block behind you.’
Zero, ‘CC, pass him, let Fin trail. I doubt he’s looking to see if he’s followed, better to be sneaky though.’
We’re four blocks up in the direction he’s heading. I pull over. CC comes along and goes past us, then the Chevy rolls by.
Zero, ‘Two Shadows alright, let’s get in line.’
A parade, CC leading, the Shadow, us, then Fin. He blinkers a right, off the highway onto a two lane.’
Zero, ‘CC, he’s turned off, circle around and take the exit north, Bullfrog Boulevard.’
‘Who names a road after a frog?’
‘It’s more interesting than Main Street or Martin Luther King Boulevard, every town of any size has a MLK Boulevard, and a Main Street for that matter.’
Another blinker, gas station convenience store.
He pulls to a pump, Shadow and young Shadow go inside.
I pull the SUV between the line of pumps and the store, Zero hops out and sticks the tracker on the strut for the rear bumper, ‘I’m going inside, buy a Coke, see what he’s up to.’ 
I drive to the corner of the lot.
Everyone is still connected, ‘We have him tracked, ease off and let’s see where he goes.’
CC, ‘I’m down the block.’
Fin, ‘Got it, I’ll follow you.’
A few minutes, The Shadow and the mini-Shadow come out, then Zero with a drink.
‘He got thirty bucks worth of gas, two soft drinks and the kid got a candy bar. Then the cashier gave him a wad of bills and they left. He’s pumping free gas, better than free, he got money plus the drinks.’
Misha, ‘Geez, now I see what you mean, they just take what they want and nobody raises a finger.’
Alice on the phone, ‘That’s weird, don’t they have cameras inside?’
‘Probably for the register, checkout counter anyway. But first they have to figure out why the register is short, then they blame the cashier who doesn’t know squat and doesn’t remember giving anyone anything. The kid had a ball cap with no insignia, the adult had a hat and sunglasses, if the manager wades through all the video it won’t do much good. His car had a plate from a different state, has to be a stolen plate, maybe a stolen car, stolen in the sense that somebody just handed over the keys. If there were cams for the pumps I didn’t spot them.’
Zero, ‘There were cameras, our car blocked one, the one behind the Chevy that would have picked up his plate maybe. That’s a long shot anyway, they won’t associate missing cash from the register with cars getting gas. The only way to get the pump to run is to use a card, or prepay. Since he got gas, they will assume one or the other but I doubt they can tag the cashier for the free gas. I suppose if they blame the cashier for the money she handed over.’
‘Think about it. The cashier not only gives money away, maybe free gas. She has no hope of getting away with it, it would be a stupid move. It wasn’t like he had a gun.’
‘She won’t think of it in time, but that’s her out: he told me he had a gunt, I didn’t know what to do so I gave him the money. Her problem is she doesn’t remember doing anything, that space in her day is blank. The gun scenario will never occur to her.’

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