Seventeen

I blink awake to see Zero standing next to the bed, ‘Coffee’s on. We can meditate with a cup on the porch, or just be with the stillness of the lake. It is insanely peaceful out there.’
I do morning things, she has two cups ready, we park on the porch each with a blanket wrapped around us. She’s right, crystal blue lake, not a ripple, a huge liquid mirror reflecting the mountain on the other side, still snow on the high peaks. Sip coffee, thought seems to evaporate, the mind empty for an hour.
Zero, ‘Look,’ she points to the sky, ‘an eagle pair circling, shopping for breakfast maybe.’
One drops from the sky, a feathered bullet, claws extended. Then up again, this time with a rabbit dangling beneath. 
‘Your maybe is a fact.’
‘What can it be like? One moment nibbling the grass, the next pierced by talons and death.’
‘The way of it, if the rabbit doesn’t die, eagle babies don’t get fed. Something must die for something else to live. The rabbit’s fear is over in a moment, then he’s recycled into an eagle.’
‘Maybe that’s what reincarnation is.’
‘You want to be carried off by an eagle?’
‘I was thinking a bear, but no, too hairy. And I doubt getting mauled by bear would be quick. Death makes me hungry, I’m making pancakes with Canadian maple syrup, scramble a few eggs. Then we hike, explore the hood.’
‘What can I do?’
‘Fix yourself a second cup and enjoy my splendidosity.’
Which I do, then she passes me a plate of three cakes and a mound of soft scrambled. She has a single pancake and a couple spoons of egg, finishes before me.
‘Should have made more pancake, it was good if I do say so myself.’
‘You did them perfectly,’ I take her plate and shift over part of my pile of pancake to it.
‘You have enough?’
‘I’m not likely to starve anytime soon.’
‘What if I get fat?’
‘If you do, you do, but I don’t think fat is in your future. We’ll burn up the carbs hiking.’
When we're done she takes the plates to rinse and stick in the dishwasher, ‘I read that seventy percent of Americans are overweight and that half of those are obese. People weren’t always so fat.’
‘No, that’s a fairly recent development. A combination of way too much sugar and processed food, cheap giant burgers, fries, sugar loaded soft drinks or juice. The rise of fast food and chain restaurants focused on salt, fat, and sugar. Add parking on the couch with chips and soda, here we are, land of the chubs. Although I understand it’s a global problem.’
‘Why do they fall for it?’
‘Ease of access, inability to foresee consequences. Mostly, people simply don’t move enough for the calories they eat. I saw a photo on the net, people in their sweats going to a second floor gym. Steps in the middle flanked by two escalators. People on both escalators, nobody taking the steps.’
Zero laughs, ‘Rather sad, at least they wound up in the gym.’
‘People compartmentalize, the steps aren’t in the gym, they fail to connect steps with exercise.’
‘Ah, we’ve talked about only seeing through the tunnel of our preconceptions.’
‘Let’s get dressed and drop, or at least recognize, our preconceptions.’
I have a backpack with water, binoculars and a couple of power bars. Zero leads us up a narrow trail. 
About a mile in, the trail steepens, there are occasional boulders to bypass but it appears to be fairly well maintained, a few railroad tie steps in what must have been trickier spots. Then narrow along a wall of rock on the right with nothing but empty space to the left..
‘Take your time, make sure your feet are planted solidly, a misstep and stumble will land you fifty or sixty feet the wrong way.’
She stops, I hand her a bottle of water, ‘Nice view of the valley, there’s a vast stretch of nothing but forest. Look! A waterfall,’ she points to the left.
‘Stream must cross the trail further along, let’s go on and see if we can find it.’
Another forty five, we can hear the falls, light mist blowing our way, then a half mile later, there it is. A stream, more of a creek, crossing our path, rocks strategically placed for crossing over. The falls look to be fifty yards to the east.
Zero, ‘Let’s hike over to the edge, looks like plenty of boulders to sit on.’
And that’s where we have water and split a power bar.
Zero is on a boulder less than three feet from the cliff, I’m leaning against it. The view goes on for miles, I can see the pool a hundred feet down, then the creek takes a few paths, but all will ultimately wind up at the lake.
‘This is gorgeous, look, by the pool, what is that?’
‘Caribou if I’m not mistaken, big one too.’
‘Are they dangerous?’
‘Not particularly, unless someone is stupid enough to approach aggressively, or if they have young around. They have plenty of food here, and it’s a park, no hunting. If the population gets too big, I assume the park people cull the herd, but mostly the wolves take care of it.’
Zero, ‘How do people develop preconceptions, biases, prejudices? Or perhaps why is the better question.’
‘What comes to mind?’
‘I was hoping for a quick simplistic answer.’
‘Nope.’
‘Okay, let me…parents filling their kids with daddy or mommy’s beliefs. I’ve never been to school, I don’t know what happens to kids there.’
‘Think reciting the pledge of allegiance and singing the national anthem, which glorifies war.’
‘You were a soldier.’
‘Which is why I know there is no glory in war, only mutilation and death, frequently the death of noncombatants, soft peddled as collateral damage.’
‘What’s collateral damage?’
‘People who die as a result of bombs, missiles, errant bullets meant for the enemy except weapons don’t discriminate between the actual enemy and those who just happened to be in the vicinity, they call those deaths collateral damage. We’re getting away from the question of preconceptions.’
‘Krishnamurti talks about conditioning, like your example of parents passing their illusions along to their kids.’
‘Then they go to school.’
‘Ah, and blindly follow along with pledges and anthems. They’re kids, they don’t know any better.’
‘No, at that point the fault is with parents and educators. The kid thinks that’s how things should be.’
‘So nobody wants kids to think for themselves?’
‘It’s a joint failing, what did you say when I asked you what comes to mind?’
She stares off in the distance….then, ‘Oh crap, I wanted an easy answer.’
‘We all do. What’s the problem with that?’
‘We don’t take time to investigate, consider alternatives.’
‘Of course we can’t always think through every decision, small stuff, like chocolate or vanilla, isn’t worth the effort to examine.’
‘Krishnamurti says thinking is the problem.’
‘Interesting, let’s head down, you can explain that to me later, on the porch this afternoon or in front of a fire this evening. Drink another bottle of water, I have another protein bar.’
‘Just the water.’
Hydrated, we hike our way to the cabin, it’s half past noon.
Zero, ‘I’m leaving clothes by the washer, come wash me.’
I get out of mine, head to the bathroom, she already has the shower going.
‘Want me to wait? I can wash your hair from here.’
‘No, get in and scrub.’
After I finish her hair, I soap up her back with a washcloth, ‘Do the rest, it feels good, and no need for shy, clean all of me.’
When I’m done she says, ‘You have to wash your own hair, you’re too tall for me to reach. I’ll do chest down.’
It does feel nice, even sensual, but not sexual despite her bare hands doing the boy part.
Zero, ‘You didn’t pop up, losing my appeal? Can’t be, I am far too appealing.’
‘You are fabulous, that’s not it. This is a joint shower, different than…other situations.’
‘I get it, when you did me it felt, not sexy, more like comforting.’
‘Yes.’

Eighteen

The point is there ain't no point.
Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men

Zero, ‘I’ll crank out a couple of sandwiches, roast beef on toast, chips, pickle slice.’
‘I’ll open one of the Champagnes, want a glass?’
‘I do.’
While she waits on the toast, we sip, Zero says, ‘This one is good, you started with the lowest price?’
‘Yes, but I don’t remember what order the two middle ones were, the most expensive, Veuve Clicquot is fairly common higher end stuff.’
Our practice at home is a nap after lunch, today after a three hour hike and Champagne, nap sounds especially delicious. 
We brush and flush, Zero didn’t dress after the shower, I’m in a t-shirt and casual modal fiber pants.
Zero scoots under the covers, ‘Take your clothes off, I want to scrunch up smooth to smooth.’
She’s asleep in minutes, I let thoughts drop, close my eyes and damned if it isn’t two hours later before I regain consciousness.
Zero stirs, her leg still over mine, hand swipes my tummy and up my chest.
She looks up at me, ‘That was perfect.’
‘Not as perfect as the sprite, not so much a sprite anymore, getting too tall for sprite, maybe sylph.’
‘What’s a sylph?’
‘A lovely slender graceful girl.’
She grins, her hand slides down and squeezes my stiff shaft, ‘Big boy, can he wait until later?’
‘As you wish, Your Worship.’
She strokes me with soft fingertips, ‘I am worthy of worship, my congregation has only one select member, you are so privileged.’
I smile, she’s right, I do feel privileged.
I roll her over to her tummy, grab an ankle and pull her foot up, kiss her toes, then sole, she giggles.
‘Do the other one.’
I do, she turns over, shifts and rubs her big toe against my lips, ‘Kiss the tops too.’
I’ve created a dominatrix-lite, no, not created, she has the inclination, I’ve encouraged her, acquiesced at the least.
‘Coffee.’
We take our cups outside, sit, sip and watch the crystal blue.
‘Clouding up quickly to the west,’ a distant shaft of lightning, ‘headed this way.’
‘A thunderstorm, I bet it’s amazing here in the mountains.’
‘Might knock out the power.’
‘Even better, we can sit in front of a fire and listen to the rain.’
‘Why did, what was the name…krishna…’
‘Krishnamurti, I think it’s a common name in India.’
‘Why did he say thinking is a problem?’
‘He excluded things like thinking where and how to build a house, practical matters. He meant thought as bias, or illusion maybe, and that’s a problem because thought is limited. We believe our thoughts without investigation, is it true, or just something we believe or were told.’
‘Example.’
‘Thought is memory of the past projected onto the future, we can only think of what we know, or believe. We can’t think of what we don’t know, we can understand we don’t know, but people mostly don’t do that. Since we can’t know everything, then thought is incomplete, limited as he says. A woman says she wants to work for the good of the people, how does she know what’s good for everyone?’
‘I’ve seen that, one man’s good is another’s misfortune, like conflict resolution. An extreme example, but it applies.’
‘Or the parent who believes he knows and the child doesn’t, which would also apply to preachers and politicians. Anyone can see the resulting conflict. They bring confused, incomplete thinking to the situation. Something that starts in confusion ends in confusion. One of my favorite quotes of his is ‘the means is the end’, war cannot produce peace, hitting a child may gain temporary obedience, but it won’t last.’
‘No, it will deteriorate into more violence eventually.’
‘And what about when we go out and murder someone to resolve a conflict?’
‘Good question, does it bring peace?’
‘As you said, temporarily. What happens to the man who hired you, us?’
I grin, ‘Now he believes that the simplest way to deal with a conflict is to hire an assassin.’
‘Gangs resolve conflicts by murder every day, I read that some use a random murder as an initiation into the gang, a test.’
‘And they never realize it only creates perpetual retaliation.’
Lightning, then a clap of thunder twenty seconds later.
‘The lightning was four miles away, give or take.’
‘How do you know?’
‘Estimate, count the seconds between the lightning and the thunder, divide by five. My count was twenty seconds, best get inside, getting electrocuted will put a damper on our vacation.’
We go in, while Zero constructs dinner, I pour another Champagne. Zero holds her glass out, I fill it, ‘What’s dinner?’
‘I’m going easy, those frozen battered shrimp we got, there’s a packet of orange sauce in the box, or we can have ketchup. I’ll heat the sauce, put ketchup on the table in case we don’t care for it.’
‘Shrimp and fries, sounds like a beer thing, Sapporo is in the refrigerator, we’re near done with the Champagne.’
Twenty five later, we’re crunching crispy shrimp and fat steak fries, I opened a beer and gave Zero a half glass. She hasn’t had beer before.
She sips, ‘This is like a more potent Champagne, it’s good, maybe I’ll get a beer gut.’
‘That would be attractive.’
She giggles, my music.
The storm came and went, it was wild, dark until blasts of lightning and explosive thunder, rain in heavy sheets We didn’t lose power, turned off the lights though, it felt as if we were alone in the universe. I sat with my back against the couch, Zero between my legs leaning against my chest and pulling my arms around her. 

Nineteen

First six days gone, we hiked every day, going past the waterfall up to the tree line, then to the top. Three hours up, three down, but we took breaks, enjoyed the views. The last time a wolf followed us for an hour. Just before he broke off, he approached Zero, sniffed, allowed her to stroke his head. We had nothing to offer for food, protein bars are likely not in a wolf’s pantry. Better not to start feeding him in the first place.
Today is a hike break. The cabin came with fishing gear. I snag minnows with
a net, show her how to operate the spinning reel. She catches three trout, a couple pounds each. 
I fillet them, put the fillets in the refrigerator with a bit of seasoning, tonight she’ll pan fry, creamed corn will accompany.
‘This is the last bottle of Champagne, we’ll suffer through with cabernet or Chianti the next few days.’
‘Open it now, a glass, cheese and crackers, then a nap.’
I have a stopper specifically for sparkling wine, it does a decent job of keeping the bubbly, bubbly. She sips the Clicquot.
‘I like them all, whatever you feel like buying at home is good with me, it doesn’t have to be sixty buck bottles.’
‘I’ll stock up a few varieties, the clerk at the liquor store at home seems knowledgeable, they have thousands of bottles of wine, sparking wine, Champagne, and dozens of beers.’
Storm gone, the day is sunny with a few wispy clouds, we park on the porch with our light lunch.
Zero, ‘I don’t know how much money you have, and I’m not asking, but could you afford not to take on more conflicts?’
‘Oh sure, when we’re home, I’ll show you the brokerage account, might be good for you to learn a bit about stocks and bonds. The money came from an inheritance and a settlement when my folks were killed in a car wreck. They weren’t poor, mom was a surgeon, dad an accountant with a large practice and several employees. They were savers, didn’t live rich, no expensive cars, I didn’t go to private schools, mom didn’t wear designer clothes. When I got the money, I put it in the market, as you will see. Then blind luck, the stock market exploded, rebounding from a prior crash, it more than doubled an already healthy pile. I lopped off some of the stocks, actually I used index funds, moved money to tax free income. We don’t spend what I make in dividends and interest. The conflict thing is primarily for my amusement. I’m not a serial killer, more like I don’t mind killing people.’
‘So if I wanted to redirect our energies, something that didn’t pay us, we could do it even if you cut back on conflict resolutions?’
‘What do you have in mind?’
‘You rescued me from an asshole man and an idiot mother. Was it pure luck that you happened to stop at that store that day at that time? I suppose, I never mentioned this, but I spent time every day mentally reaching out for someone to help me.’
‘How so?’
‘Sitting alone and asking, in my head of course, it wasn’t like praying. It was more like…intention, I put my intention out there and waited.’
‘How long before I showed up?’
‘About six months. I also plotted to murder them myself, but it would have been messy, there were no guns around and I knew nothing about guns anyway.’
‘Interesting, hell, maybe it works, I’m not a big believer in coincidence, maybe like Jung’s synchronicity.’
‘What’s synchronicity?’
‘Two events that converge with no apparent cause, you think of someone you haven’t seen in a while and a minute later you run into them.’
‘Is it real? Synchronicity.’
‘I don’t know. If we think about how much is going on, people going about their lives, seven billion of them across the planet, all kinds of correlations can occur because there’s so much activity. It would be strange if things like that didn’t happen. Like tossing a coin and getting seven heads in a row, it’s unlikely but toss enough coins and there will be seven heads in a row eventually. Back to your point, I think I get where you’re headed, but tell me, I may have it wrong.’
‘What about kids who don’t have a savior? Or women trapped in abusive relationships? Who saves them?’
‘Why do you care? It isn’t like we’re people, people.’
‘I don’t know if care is the right word. I get frustrated with the daily news about child abuse, which may be like mine, getting slapped around, or worse, kids who are raped, many repeatedly over years, parents or guardians that rent them out to pedophiles or sadists. Most of the rape and abuse is never reported, or if it is, the woman changes her mind and won’t press charges.’
‘I’ve read about cases where child rapists get off with no jail time.’
‘Yes, that too.’
‘And you propose…’
‘To go vigilante.’
‘That has actual appeal.’
She smiles, ‘I hoped you would like it.’
‘And have you any idea of how to go about it?’
‘That’s kind of your department.’
‘Do we kill them outright, or otherwise physically punish them?’
‘I don’t know, what do you think?’
‘Unless you have another idea, killing them is clean. If we go for physical persuasion, we’d have to capture the target, haul him off someplace and torture him. Then what to do with the woman or kid?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘We leave the target alive, now he’s both scared and pissed, who do you think he’s going to take it out on? We have no way to monitor these guys, and we can’t be relocating the victims, that’s not only expensive, it’s complicated. We may make a bad situation worse.’
‘Okay, we can sit with that while our brains digest the idea. We finish our vacation, go home, get back to our routines. If nothing occurs, we take the direct approach and one of us ends their suffering.’
‘Their suffering, I thought it was about the abused?’
‘The abuser suffers, it’s why he’s violent. Think of a rabid dog, the animal suffers and creates suffering, it needs to be put down.’
I have other concerns, not about killing the pricks, I’m good with that. We can easily scan the news across the country to find targets who have been busted. If they go to prison, good enough, we can’t get to them anyway. Child predators have an ugly time behind bars, inmates have children, guards too. Nobody gives a damn about offing a child rapist. What about the ones unreported? I need to noodle on that for a while, so as Zero suggested, drop it and let the subconscious simmer.

Twenty

Back from Canada, Zero scans the news for potential targets, ‘There are tons, particularly if I surf registered sex offenders, any ideas on the unreported?’
‘I thought about developing a network of people who may see abuse, doctors, nurses, social workers, even cops who either can’t get enough evidence or can’t get the victims to testify. It would require a lot of trust, they aren’t going to cough up names to an unknown me. Even if they do, the target dies, our contact is going to be anxious wondering if they can be implicated.’
‘That’s no good.’
‘Right. I’m going to set up a different message board for abuse and child rape. It will take a while to catch on, but you have names already, the ones who got caught. If they aren’t in prison, or got off with a nothing sentence, like home detention, ankle monitor thing, you can search for any additional data. Then we go to the target’s current residence and remove him from the sentient.’
‘Want to make a trial run?’
‘Yep, like anything else, this will have a learning curve. Find something that appears to be simple, uncomplicated. And not local, at least two hours by plane, we can’t use my car anyway, an NSX stands out, better to have a distance cushion.’
A few more days of normal routine. I swear, if Zero gets any more flexible she’ll be a rubber band. And her kicks and punches are gaining speed with a noticeable impact.
We’re sitting on the mat guzzling water, sweaty from whacking the heavy bag. 
Zero, ‘I don’t feel the kicks like I used to, my bones are amour plated.’
‘Let me get the liniment.’
When I return the little getting bigger sylph is stretched out, I go to work, deep massage, she flips, do the other side.
‘Much better, let me marinate for a few, then you can bathe me.’
I strip, dump our damp clothes in the washer and crank it up, then to the shower. I’m wrapping up when Zero steps in, wash her hair, then her, she found a good body scrub, coarse salt and oils, the scent is neutral and it makes her skin silky splendid.
I dry her, hair and body, she likes the Thymes Filigree lotion I suggested, when we’re done she’s delicious. She spritzes a bit of the perfume on the sheets at bedtime, it’s like sleeping in a field of orchids.
‘What’s in the oven, smells good.’
‘Meatloaf in brown gravy, tonight with four cheese macaroni. Leftovers will make great sandwiches. Open the wine, there’s a red blend in the refrigerator. I’ll fix your vodka, we still have episodes of Wire and Luther, I have the Cumberbatch Sherlock series as well.’
‘Your choice.’
‘I thought over the options on our new project, we really have no choice but to put the targets down. As you pointed out, it’s clean, less complicated. Our first target is two and a half hours of flight time, a thousand air miles from here give or take.’
‘What’s his crime?’
‘Assault, repeated assault, stalking, intimidation, violation of restraining order, there’s a photo, what do they call it, with the numbers at the bottom?’
‘Mug shot.’
‘Yeah, a mug shot, see…’
She slides the tablet over, late twenties, hair already thinning, what’s there is black and greasy. Little pussy moustache and a lame attempt at a goatee, rat face.
‘How do these guys even get a woman?’
‘Bet she’s a tub, with tattoos, smokes, voice like microphone feedback.’
I laugh, ‘She live in a trailer?’
‘Don’t know yet.’
‘If you’re right, why in hell is he obsessed with her?’
Zero, ‘Only women with lower self esteem than his will fuck him.’
Laugh again, sylph is on a roll.
She continues, ‘Maybe we should take her out of her misery while we’re there.’
‘If we start killing people with low self esteem, I’ll have to buy a lot more bullets.’
Zero taps her tablet, ‘Flight tomorrow at nine good?’
‘Book it.’
After an enjoyable couple of hours with Luther and Sherlock, we head for bed 
Zero shuffles her lanky next to me, ‘I sleep so much better smushed against you.’
‘I was just thinking the same thing.’
‘Yes, you were, kiss me,’ one for each silky cheek, we settle and disappear.
Does she know what I’m thinking, or simply being playful? 
Morning appears, I check the clock, seven, the airport is but twenty minutes away, we have time. I lay still and let my superior officer sleep a while longer.
A soft hand slides along my chest, down my abs to its destination.
‘That thing is like a brick this morning.’
‘Nature, can’t be helped, in the presence of a sensual sylph it loses its mind.’
‘I think you just have to pee.’
‘That’s part of it.’
She squeezes the shaft lightly, ‘And I’m the other part,’ giggles, traces long fingers up and down, ‘go pee, I have to go myself.’
‘I’ll leave the seat down.’
‘Idiot.’
We roll out together, she follows me to the bathroom, she leans against the door to the water closet watches me stream while she brushes her teeth. Flush, put the seat down as promised. She rinses, I brush, she goes to the toilet. She wants me to watch, leans back against the tank and spreads her legs, looks up at me while she goes, smiles.
‘I even pee pretty huh?’
‘Could not be otherwise.’
‘You bring out the bizarre in me, I like bizarre. You are most obedient, I like that too.’
I smile, ‘You cannot be nine, but you are.’
‘Yes, no, I am immortal, and you will be…as I said, lucky you.’
I don’t ask.

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