One Hundred Sixty Five

We get home by mid-afternoon, gained a couple in time zones, the flight was three and a half. 
Zoe, ‘Enough takeout, I’m going to the market for ground sirloin, we’ll have that and steak fries, anything else?’
Alice is poking around the refrigerator, ‘We have plenty of milk, breakfast things, maybe deli meats for lunch, what about tomorrow?’
‘Let’s see, how about boiled shrimp? Add new potatoes and pearl onions, oh, and corn on the cob, tastes great cooked in the shrimp boil.’
‘Perfect, I’ll ride with you, we can zip through and get home.’
They take an NSX, Zoe likes to crank it, the car is built to crank, she’ll give it a welcome workout.
I go out to check the grill, propane tank is near full and we have two spares. Misha and Micha take Morshchiny around the property, then uncover the trampoline and bounce. 
Zero, CC, and Fin yoga while I get in my five on the treadmill. The twins flip around on the mats then have a hand to hand session. Zoe and Alice return in the middle of our exertions. They crack eggs, mix with the ground meat, Worcestershire, and bleu cheese crumbles, creating fat juicy patties. Cover with cling wrap and stick them in the refrigerator. 
Zoe, ‘Since we’re having potatoes tomorrow with the shrimp I got purple cabbage and sliced carrots, make coleslaw with peanut sauce.’
We’ve blown past tea, time to shower before cocktails.
Fin, ‘Natasha is deadly, I think she threw me down a half dozen times, flipped me clean over once, I think she should have to fight with one hand behind her back.’
Nikita, ‘You haf injury?’
‘Nothing serious, sore shoulder and a yanked wrist.’
‘Haf vodka, will cure anything, want ice pack?’
‘Yeah, for both.’
Nikita brings Fin two frozen gel packs, secures them with Ace bandages, then fixes an icy vodka rocks and takes it to her.’
Fin sips, then a bigger sip, ‘Feeling better already, thanks Nikita.’
The other warriors go to respective showers, I’m cooled down after thumping the treadmill, go to my room for a hosing and hair wash.
When I finish drying and dressing Alice appears with my icy vodka, ‘Perfect timing angel, spasibo.’
‘Zero timed out for a bit.’
She means Zero went blank, eyes open but not registering, it happens when she gets snippets of the future.
‘That hasn’t happened for a while, she say anything?’
‘Dark clouds gathering.’
‘Since it was sunny today and the same tomorrow, it’s not about the weather.’
‘No, she hasn’t figured out what it means other than trouble, no specifics.’
‘Normally her premonitions are vague, too fuzzy to be interpreted.’
‘This one was more, best to let her tell you.’
We join the others, Fin is still in the shower, or just finishing, she sat with the gel packs for twenty before going up.
‘What’s the deal, Zero?’
‘I blanked, the saw what appeared to be storm clouds, dark and roiling, then faces, not in the clouds, the clouds became faces, boiling dark faces with black eyes and strips of blood red where the mouth would be. Then it all faded and I rejoined the present.’
‘Scary?’
‘We don’t do scared, I would say troubling, worrisome. A sense of foreboding, someone, or several someones, do not wish us well.’
‘How do we fit? I mean it could be any sort of trouble, not just for us.’
She nods, ‘True, I can’t say why I think it’s more personal, perhaps it isn’t. There’s nothing to do about it anyway.’
CC, ‘I don’t recall you having a premonition with a follow up premonition, the others have been one-offs and didn’t have any predictive power.’
‘No, I usually ignore it, the mind would fill in blanks and I’d start reading events as manifesting the vision when they don’t, like astrology, seeing connections where there are only generalizations that could apply to lots of things..’
‘You could always start a church, tons of people are looking for fresh crap to believe in, the less sensible the better. We plop you in a fat cushiony chair, throw garlands around it, add a few chants, oh, and a giant photograph, a head shot of you staring dreamily up to the heavens. You’ll need a flowing robe and sandals, some sort of gaudy chain around your neck, I can design a pendant that resembles the pyramid on dollar bills. Maybe shave your head, indicative of casting aside worldly matters, focused as you are on higher things.’
‘Hold that thought…forever.’
Zoe, ‘Grill ready?’
Alice, ‘Started it about fifteen minutes ago, it’s on liquidate steel, turn it down when you’re ready.’
‘Then shred the cabbage and add, no don’t add, take out both goddess and peanut sauce, they can choose one or the other. Also the ketchup, mayo and mustard. While I’m doing the burgers, slice onion and grill in butter.’
Ten minutes later we’re assembling burgers, slice of grilled onion on top, side of cabbage, glass of wine.
Zero, ‘We need a bigger patio table, or another one maybe. Ours is fine, but it won’t seat everyone. It’s nice to eat outside once in a while.’
CC, ‘Get a duplicate, the tempered glass holds up well and the chairs are comfortable and simple to clean.’
‘We bought ours some time ago, I’ll call the store, see if they have the same thing or one similar. They don’t have to match.’
A welcome quiet evening, except they decided to watch Kill Bill, which is hardly quiet. It’s borderline cartoon, blood will squirt if you catch an artery, but nothing like the fountains that spew out of katana sliced limbs. No to mention Uma Thurman fighting eighty Yakuza and killing them all. 
CC, ‘Gogo Yubari shouldn’t have died, how can you not love a Japanese schoolgirl psychopath? If Tarantino had let her live, she could have reappeared in the Kill Bill sequel. I could watch Gogo slice people up all day, then throw her in bed at night.’
Alice, ‘Who is she in real life?’
‘Chiaki Kuriyama, she was a nineties child model, then roles in several Japanese films, born in eighty four, she’s thirty five or six now, a few hot years left, Asian women appear youthful longer than Caucasians.’
‘Maybe Zero can collect a Japanese girl for our tribe.’
Zero, ‘I’ll put the intention out there, who knows? We can handle a little cultural diversification.’
Misha, ‘I’m a Ladyboy, does that count?’
‘Of course, lots of those girls are beautiful, like you.’
Misha grins, I’ve been impressed at her resilience, since she came to us there hasn’t been a moment’s anguish, or even hand wringing. We were happy to accept her as is, they’re still young, but I think Micha would be delighted if Misha decides not to transition, that is, keep the male part.
We move to our rooms, I read for a bit, must be a publishing race to see how many Irish themed cop books they can crank out. Ireland is boring, impossible to take seriously any country that fights over religion, and not even different religions, they fight over varied versions of Christianity, get a grip O’Whatever. I toss it aside, scrunch down under covers and fall away.
Morning arrives, it’s only seven, but I went to sleep at quarter to eleven, enough, get up and get moving.
The main room and kitchen are empty, of girls or the mastiff. Click on the coffee, make a couple pots of tea, green and black. Pour a coffee, click on a tablet, New York Times online, I surf the front page to see what new disasters occurred while I slept.
The Philippines must be the world’s trailer park, attracting cyclones, earthquakes, floods, not much fire, the Philippines may be the wettest place on the planet. I imagine the thousands of call center employees confusing customers with heavily accented English. There are so many Filipino dialects that different islands can’t understand each other, so the language taught in school is English. I’ve traveled so many places accents don’t trouble me as they do some Americans, the ones who think any accent involves terrorism or ignorance. 
Zero comes down, ‘World still in chaos?’
‘Same as yesterday, last week, last month, last year, back to the dinosaurs.’
‘Natasha’s been up a while, she’s researching a series of events that appear Shadowy.’
‘Where?’
‘Florida.’
‘Not enough alligators, mosquitoes, drug cartels, and seniors, now they get Shadows?’
‘And the place is slowly being eaten by the ocean. One day the oldsters will be wading through ankle deep water to catch the early bird dinner specials, the alligators will cull the population of slow movers.’
‘In other news, China’s birth rate is shrinking, so is Japan’s, which is practically at a standstill.’
‘Who wants to have a kid in China? The Communists need to make up their minds, they made a one child rule, now they want people to make more babies. I think people found out one child is simpler and no child is simplest. Plus, they have citizens under constant surveillance and the government will move whole swaths of them on some central planning whim, who wants kids with that level of uncertainty?
Japan I thought different, some other dynamic there, maybe that tiger mom crap, the perpetual hustle to get junior into the top school, get top grades to be allowed into some top college, only to get a bottom job as a salaryman, work eighty hours a week, and drink themselves comatose every night. Add karaoke, which is stupid when it’s voluntary, compelled karaoke is torture.’
‘On a lighter note, the Middle East is in its three thousandth year of turmoil, death, and religious fanatics.’
‘They deserve it.’
Natasha comes down, I point to the black teapot, ‘Assam, you may want to give it a turn in the microwave.’
‘Spasibo,’ she pours a cup, sips, sticks the cup in the radiation box for thirty seconds, ‘suspicious activity in Florida.’
‘Where? What city, or is it all over the place?’
‘Orlando, Disneyworld.’
‘I’ve always been suspicious of Disney, Land or World. How do you get people to pay exorbitant admission for the privilege of waiting in line for forty five to sit in a plastic chair for a four minute ride? With the additional privilege of coughing up exorbitant prices for junk food, not to mention twenty five bucks a day to park.’
Zero, ‘I suspect people will pay anything for a bit of distraction from their drone jobs, drone neighbors, drone schools. Why not a hike, trails are mostly free, if there’s a charge it’s two or three bucks. Or go to the beach to get sand in your ass and skin cancer.’
‘There’s no Mickey or Goofy, no Cinderella, no fake log ride, to get wet at the beach you have to actually go in the water, fat people with fat kids generally avoid bathing suits, unless you’re a balding European man with a hairy gut, bird legs, and a Speedo.’
CC is on the stairs, ‘Eeeewww, this is not first thing in the morning conversation, it could put me off my scrambled with cream cheese.’

One Hundred Sixty Six

CC parks on a stool, ‘Can I get a cup of coffee? I’d do it myself but I don’t want to.’
Zero pours her a cup, ‘You have to add additives yourself.’
‘Where are the children?’
‘They slept in the RV with Alice and Morshchiny. Natasha has uncovered suspicious activity in Florida.’
CC, ‘Florida is suspicious all by itself, where else do they feed children to alligators?’
‘What’s the activity Natasha?’
‘Minnie Mouse offering blow jobs for a dollar, girl playing the character was arrested, Goofy started calling fat tourists fat, tubby, chunk, blubber, among other names including fat-ass motherfucker. That guy was fired. A mom offered to sell her three children for a hundred bucks each, across the park Snow White started yelling for all niggers to get the fuck out and Disneyworld is for white people. The incidents took place over two days, in different parts of the complex.’
CC laughs, ‘I’d pay extra to have seen it. Clearly a Shadow amusing himself. I assume lots of video got posted.’
Natasha, ‘It was all over the web for a day, then the sites took them down.’
‘They close the parks?’
‘No, was not like there was a terrorist threat. And no explanation, they thought it might be someone spiking soft drinks with drugs, could not find evidence of that.’
Zero, ‘Do we do anything, Commandant?’
‘Not for now, it’s a huge place and we can’t ride around in cars looking for Shadows.’
‘We could rent those Fatkarts and roll with the tubbies.’
‘I have a vision of you in a Buttmobile.’
‘Maybe not, so, we wait?’
‘Yeah, Natasha will scour the news from the area. While it has to be a Shadow, he or she could be a tourist, had their fun and moved on. When did this happen?’
Natasha, ‘Two days ago, nothing new since.’
I suspect by now readers have a sense of how we spend our days when we aren’t out killing one citizen or another. 
We were contacted on the abuse site, the message was only that something wasn’t right, the neighbor hadn’t seen a teen girl who lived in a house down the block in weeks. The twins drove south for a few hundred and discovered a woman who decided torturing her niece was a fun way to pass the time. She also had her own three kids join in the ordeal. 
The twins listened in, heard momma and the kids talking about teaching the filthy whore a lesson. It was quiet for a time, then one of the kids said, ‘Stella ain’t movin’ no more mama.’
Mama was in the process of dragging the body off a table in the basement onto a tarp when Natasha and Nikita popped in unannounced.
Before Mama and the sadistic siblings could react the twins shot the three kids, then took a bit more time with Mama. She or the kids had carved ‘whore’ on the girl’s abdomen. The rest of the body was covered in burns, all the fingers were broken, a dog cage in the corner, blood mixed with partially dried urine covered the concrete underneath. Based on the injuries, some had begun to heal, others were infected, the rest were fresh, Natasha figured it had been at least a month.
Mama got a sock stuffed in her mouth, duct tape over it and around her head. The twins kept her alive for two hours, she resembled stew meat when they left. 
We didn’t call anyone until the twins were home, Zero phoned in the anonymous tip. We don’t care how the story is perceived, for instance, it could be read as an intruder doing all the killing, including the girl. A bit of forensics would clear up that mistaken notion, the girl’s wounds in various states of repair or infection would point to a longer time frame than the recently shot kids and the sliced and diced Mama. Knives, cigarette butts and a curling iron shoved in the girl’s vagina, also told a different story. Whoever killed three kids and the woman didn’t kill the girl.
CC, ‘Lot of outrage about the kids, I mean geez, they were willing assistants in the mutilation of one fifteen year old.’
Zero, ‘They want to pretend the kids were somehow coerced.’
‘Who cares if they were? Once they got the taste, they were all in, screw them.’
‘People believe children are incapable of violence without a push. That’s ridiculous, children are up there with the most violent humans on the planet.’
One might wonder whether we are only a version of Mama and her gang of sadists.
Perhaps we are, except we don’t slice up or execute innocents. We don’t want to examine why people rape children or torture them to the point of death or even past the point. We aren’t psychologists, we’re psychopaths who have limited our homicidal tendencies to people with homicidal tendencies. Taken to its logical conclusion, one might speculate that eventually we kill each other. I’m not worried, we don’t do philosophical introspection. 
Unlike the fictional character Dexter, a serial killer of serial killers, we aren’t serial killers, there’s no type or profile, we don’t just kill dark haired teen girls or prostitutes, or serial killers out of an obsession with teen girls, prostitutes, or serial killers. 
We kill people who deserve to die. 
What gives us the right to decide? 
We do, without the burden of philosophical introspection, without existential angst or even a nervous twitch.

One Hundred Sixty Seven

Two weeks pass, no further Disney incidents, maybe I was right, Shadow amusing himself. We might ask what the point was, but Shadows don’t plan much, they’re impulse driven. People were mostly humiliated, they weren’t murdered, and if you want a lot of distracted parents and children, Disney is the place to go, easy to take a mind then get lost in a sea of sweaty sticky. 
Natasha, ‘More Disney, just not at anything Disney, now it’s New Orleans, specifically the French Quarter.’
Zero, ‘There aren’t many kids in the French Quarter, even during Mardi Gras, which I understand has turned particularly nasty in that part of town.’
‘No, and strip clubs, or even the music club are adults only, there is something called Jackson Square.’
‘Ah, maybe kids on weekends but nothing like Disney.’
‘No kids this time. I did a quick surf, New Orleans has a high murder rate, it is a poor minority city, armed robbery, or one gang shooting at another. It was difficult to separate the normal violence from Shadow activity.’
‘So this is more violent?’
‘Cop shot two citizens, not for any reason, tourists strolling Bourbon Street. Naturally panic, a dozen cops showed up, he killed two before the others killed him.’
‘Investigation found nothing?’
‘No, witnesses scattered, the witnesses they could find said the two tourists weren’t acting strange, not even a little drunk, just walking towards a restaurant called Galatoire’s, popular I understand.’
‘Cop not high, or having personal problems?’
‘Nothing was reported, on the force over ten years, family man with two kids and a schoolteacher wife. Officer was black, but nearly sixty percent of the police are black, it’s a black city. One cop he killed was black, one white. The tourists were white, really white, part of a convention, Boring People of Swedish Ancestry, city gets a lot of conventions.’
‘No connection between a black cop and Swedes.’
‘None so far.’
‘It does sound Shadowy, anything else?’
‘A man threw his wife over the rail of a paddle wheeler into the Mississippi, they were having a drink on the way to Audubon Park from the Quarter. He could not explain why except that he felt an overwhelming compulsion.’
‘Fall in that river they’ll be lucky to find the body, the current is swift, lots of wharves to trap a body and hold it underwater. Lots of river traffic too, the body could have gotten mangled by a ship’s propeller, they have ocean going ships on that river, not to mention tugboats.’
‘She has not been found, but witnesses saw him do it, there is no question he tossed her overboard.’
‘Also sounds Shadowy. Were they part of the Swedish thing?’
‘No, he is a successful physician, gynecologist, he wife a colon and rectal surgeon.’
CC, ‘Wonder what they talked about over dinner.’
‘Anything but their jobs.’
‘What do we do?’
‘This is far more serious, you in the mood to fly down and sniff around?’
Nikita, ‘Sisters will go, we haf not anyway been to New Orleans.’
Zero, ‘Based on the events, the Shadow appears to be doing tourist areas, assuming it’s a Shadow.’
‘The two incidents are bizarre enough to merit a visit. Zero and I will go with, this isn’t a kid’s trip and we have Morshchiny, the French Quarter isn’t suitable for a dog her size.’
Fin, ‘I’ll stay here, CC, do you want to go?’
CC, ‘This tracks as dangerous, I should go, Alice too, you may need her telekenisis.’
‘You okay to stay Zoe? You’re an extra Shadow spotter.’
‘You have the twins and Zero, I’ll hang here with Fin and the kids, if you need me I’m a flight away.’
‘Good, Zero book a flight and get a hotel room in the French Quarter, no, hang on, the Windsor Court is adjacent to the Quarter, get rooms there.’
Zero makes arrangements, two days later we’re checked in.
CC, ‘Damn, this is a nice spot, good call Commandant.’
‘A woman I knew in the escort business was here several times, don’t know with who, we didn’t talk about her business associates. Discretion is a necessity in her line of work, she raved about the hotel though.’
Zero, ‘Where do we start?’
I pull up a map on one of the tablets, ‘The Quarter isn’t that big, we can walk every street from Canal to Esplanade, Rampart borders the left side, Decatur the right, or the river side. Zero, Nikita, and I will take Rampart, back up the next street, you take the right side, we keep up and down until we meet, Bourbon Street runs through the middle. We’ll have our twin telepaths keep each group informed, plus you all have your GPS, right?’
Nods yes, CC, ‘We go armed?’
‘When chasing Shadows, always. And working clothes, dress down, not up. I don’t see a need for disguise, but if you want caps and sunglasses it won’t hurt.’
We break off to the left, CC and the others go straight, Decatur is just across Canal.
A pleasant spring day, New Orleans in the summer is hot and humid, no big deal for me, in the army I was in a fair amount of dry desert hot and jungle sticky humid hot. Still, better to walk around in eighty degrees rather than ninety eight.
We get a feel for the place, the front half is hotels, clubs, shops, restaurants, the back half residential.
Zero, ‘It has its charm, not enough charm to live here, we’re weather spoiled on the left coast.’
Nikita, ‘Da, we are not anyway music people, no dance club. I read about the area on the flight, traditional, provincial even, children grow up to move down the block from mommy, which is not growing up. Public education ees a backwater, many companies will not move here because of it. White people abandoned the city years ago, crippling the tax base, which helps explain the poor schools.’
Zero, ‘The city will be under water in fifty years, it’s already below sea level, with the Mississippi River on one side and a big lake on the other.’
We’re talking but the girls are paying attention to the people, so far no black auras.
Nikita, ‘Sister says nothing on their side, they will take a little longer, Jackson Square is on Decatur, so they walked around the square a couple of times, nothing but lame art and fortune tellers. They are on Royal Street now.’
‘Okay, Bourbon is the next one over, tell them to meet us at Bourbon and, let’s see…Iberville, a block off Canal, we’ll do Bourbon from Esplanade to there.’
Zero, ‘You were right, this is not a huge area, what time is it? Seven, anyone besides me hungry?’
Nikita, ‘Da, and a vodka.’
‘You’re in luck, here you can get a drink in a plastic cup and walk around.’
We stop at one of the bars, it’s crowded but we have drinks in a few minutes, the booze here is cheap by comparison to other cities, two double vodkas and a beer, fifteen bucks. When we get to Iberville, the others are standing on the corner, CC and Natasha are holding cups of something, Alice has a soda.
‘Big nothing, at least there’s a restaurant right here, and with an oyster bar. You guys have never had raw oysters, let’s get a table.’
I’m a little surprised, thought I’d hear some squeamish comments about raw oysters, there are six of us, we go through six dozen doused with ketchup, lemon, and horseradish, sip draft beer, peruse the menu.
We wind up with bowls of gumbo and turtle soup, Leidenheimer’s French bread accompanies. The place is mostly a steakhouse, and we may return for that, but New Orleans is about seafood, we have lots of steak at home.
CC, ‘This bread is incredible, crusty outside, light and fluffy inside, too bad we can’t get it in the west, or maybe not, I’d weigh in at a double hundred.’
Zero, ‘Best French bread ever, made by a German Jew, go figure.’
‘Want to keep at it?’
Nikita, ‘We will walk, sister says there ees Moonwalk next to the river, maybe Shadowy peerson ees around.’
It’s just a few blocks over, we’re standing on the walkway, plenty of people out doing the same bit.
Alice, ‘This is nice, more of a family area, the Mississippi is huge, and see down the way, it makes a hard right turn.’
‘Why New Orleans is called the Crescent City.’
Zero, ‘I thought it was the Big Easy.’
‘That too.’
CC, ‘For a Big Easy there are a lot of cops around.’
‘Which would attract a homicidal Shadow, the cops have guns, batons, tasers and mace. Lots of fun stuff to intimidate criminals, the public too for that matter.’
CC, ‘Seems like a war zone, but then all major cities seem like war zones, street cops militarized, swat cops, surveillance cams, drones, people don’t feel safe, they feel, well, you said it, intimidated.’
‘And what does perpetual intimidation do?’
‘Creates fear.’
‘What happens when people are afraid?’
‘They get angry, then violent.’
‘So the protection is the problem.’
After a stroll through the Riverwalk, we return to the hotel, up to the suite and showers after a lot of walking, park on the balcony for a nightcap.
CC, ‘Talked to Fin, Zoe, and the kids, everything is good at home, the kids kept Morshchiny busy, she still wandered the house looking for her missing family. Zoe grilled sausage and peppers for poboys, they were watching a revenge movie, Peppermint, with what’s her name.’
‘I think it was Jennifer something.’
‘Doesn’t matter, she wakes up from a coma to find her family has been murdered, you can guess what happens next.’
Zero, ‘Natasha, any Shadow behavior show up in the local news?’
‘Nyet….wait, something popping up, girl jumps in front of streetcar and is killed, happened a half hour ago.’
‘Could be a suicide, messy way to go.’
‘Have to follow up in the morning, does not give name or whether she was local or tourist.’
‘Not going to release any name until they have things sorted, and they may not say much anyway, chalk it up to suicide unless someone saw her being pushed. Suppose she could have stumbled, like drunk, it’s a drinking town.’
We have plenty of beds two queens in one room, king in the other. Zero piles in, snuggles against me and we’re out in minutes.

One Hundred Sixty Eight

We have breakfast at the hotel, elegant place, everyone wanted to try the crawfish and andouille omelet, the restaurant lives up to its reputation. 
Zero, ‘Any updates on the streetcar death?’
Natasha, ‘Not so far, people are still being interviewed, including family by now, if there was no evidence she was pushed, that leaves suicide, or the possibility she slipped or stumbled. The detectives will want to interview family and friends, it says she was a student at Loyola but doesn’t say if she was local or any other detail.’
“Nothing to pursue on that until we know more. I can only suggest we tourist, which means walk, unless something weird happens outside the Quarter we have no reason to go driving around.’
Nikita, ‘One peerson was on paddle boat.’
‘Yes, but it leaves from the Riverwalk. The streetcar runs down Canal, then off to the Garden District. It’s a guess, but I think our Shadow is staying close, not wandering the city or suburbs.’
Zero, ‘First Disney, a big area, but still confined, then the French Quarter, another tourist spot.’
CC, ‘You think he’s on an extended vacation?’
‘No, I think he’s looking for attention. Unusual deaths at vacation spots makes national news. If someone kills his wife in Boise or Little Rock, it’s local, not national. What’s troublesome is the escalation, Disney was relatively tame, this is murder.’
‘Why would he want to make national news, I mean, it isn’t like he reveals himself, doesn’t claim credit, what’s the point?’
‘What if he’s trying to gain someone’s attention, someone specific?’
‘You mean like us.’
Natasha, ‘Of course, how stupid of me. We have killed Shadows.’
CC, ‘Ah, and if they have even a loose network, they will want to find out who’s graveyarding them, what better way than have their killers come to them.’
‘And we come to them thinking we’re doing the stalking, oblivious to the Shadow plan to trap us.’
Zero, ‘Then there will be more than one.’
Nikita, ‘Better for us then, we will keel them all.’
Typical of the twins, more risk, more reward.
CC, ‘How will the Shadows know who we are? It isn’t like we have anti-Shadow auras.’
‘Bait, one Shadow will be the attractor, the others nearby but not close enough to be read, they have figured out we can spot them somehow, and they aren’t wearing Shadow Society t-shirts.’
Zero, ‘Qi training would include knowledge of individual energy fields, some may even be able to read auras, it won’t help them spot us, ours are different for each of us, Shadow auras are just black.’
‘If our speculation is right, we shouldn’t walk as a group. Or, if one of our spotters, the twins or Zero, sees a Shadow, we need to separate enough to make it harder for them. We get surrounded and they start throwing energy shots we’re fish in a barrel.’
Nikita, ‘We haf guns, fish do not shoot back.’
‘That’s a point.’
‘Let’s walk in pairs with twenty or so feet between and alternate sides of the street. We need the twins to separate, one with CC, one with Alice, Zero with me, each pair has a Shadow spotter.’
Our quickie plan in place, we stroll the Quarter one street at a time, except we also take the cross streets making squares. Our main advantage, aside from lethal weapons, is that our three spotters can see them, a Shadow will only see another person. Three hours of pavement pounding, nothing except a little wear and tear on our steel toe sneakers.
Zero’s phone dings, a text, alice getting hungry.
Zero types a reply, we head to a restaurant on Magazine Street close to our hotel. Nikita joins Zero and me, Alice, Natasha, and CC go in a few minutes later, two tables of three, as if we were separate parties. Our tables are not close together, the twins are dressed differently, Nikita has a ponytail, Natasha’s hair is straight and parted on one side, one removes her sunglasses, the other leaves hers on.
Alice, ‘Crawfish bisque, what’s that?’
Waitress, ‘Try it honey, you think you done died and go to hebin.’
‘Sounds perfect, and the fried shrimp plate.’
We get a mix of bisque and gumbo, various platters of fried catfish, oysters, and shrimp.
Zero, ‘Damn, this is amazing.’
Waitress, ‘Did I lie?’
Alice, ‘Girl, this is a national treasure, and the catfish, crispy batter, not a drop of oil.’
‘Where ya’ll hail from?’
‘Up east, but I may need to relocate, for sure won’t be hungry soon.’
‘Babies, you don’t eat cause you hungry, you eat cause it tastes good.’
We laugh, ‘A philosophy to live by.’
‘I’m bringin’ you a dessert get you a first row seat in hebin, jus’ wait a sec.’
She brings bread pudding with rum sauce, ‘Do be worryin’ bout alcohol, all burned off in the cookin’.’
Zero gets a text from CC, you get crawfish bisque?
Reply, yep, and gumbo and platters of incredible fried seafood, we may have to walk back to malibu try the bread pudding
Five later, OMG! even natasha raves
I pay cash, hand the waitress a hundred separately, leave ‘em smiling, yeah?
Outside, Zero, ‘I think the waitress had an orgasm.’
‘She was pleasant, enthusiastic even, my sense of the people here, I mean the ones in the service business, are making an effort to keep the tourists happy, even if it’s an act, they act like they enjoy the work and the visitors.’
‘Wasn’t an act, she had a cheery aura, can’t fake that.’

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