One Hundred Seventy Three

I fetch petit fours and two vanilla custard pies topped with cherries, a new item Luisa concocted, ‘Pies in the refrigerator Zoe, also the trout.’
‘Okay, tea in an hour, or when the guests arrive.’
‘There are nine of us, dining table seats ten, Janah’s crew is five. I’ll put four places on the island.’
‘I’ll park there with Alice and the two kids.’
At four Zero’s phone dings, ‘Yes, come along, opening the gate now, it closes automatically. Oh, we have a big dog, she will want to sniff you out, but she’s really a big baby. Good, see you in a minute.’
Zero, Alice and the mastiff go outside so we can get the dog thing done, Alice gives the friendly command, Morshchiny takes a cursory sniff but doesn’t lift up and plant her paws on the guests.
Introductions, the women are older than our girls, appear to be mid twenties, the twins maybe nineteen.
Janah is like Zero, pure white hair, natural, not a root in sight. Sapphire blues, clear to see, even in a to the knee skirt she’s got a lovely figure. Daphne and Nikko go five ten, both in black silk pants and blouses, one ivory, one deep maroon. Dasha and Daria are as identical as Nikita and Natasha.
‘How do we tell the twins apart?’
Daphne, ‘Dasha has an accent, Daria none.’
We laugh, ‘So Nikita is Dasha, Natasha is Daria, they do it so they can...’
‘Tell each other apart, but more for us to be able to tell them apart.’
‘Exactly…is that pun?’
Zoe, ‘We will have tea by the pool, lots of room, sit anywhere. I have black, Assam, it’s got a bite, a favorite of the twins. The other is green.’
Cups poured, I set the petit fours out, napkins and small plates.
The duplicate set of duplicates on one corner, a burst of Russian, maybe CC or Alice can follow, it’s beyond my limited knowledge of the language. Everyone else mingled together, Janah, Zero, Fin, Daphne, CC on one side, Alice, Nikko surrounded by Misha and Micha, then Zoe and me.
Conversation is active, it’s clear Daphne is expressive, like CC, Nikko talking quietly with the two kids. My impression is she’s reticent, self contained, except for a soft spot for children, nodding while they ask questions which Nikko turns around by asking about their interests and activities. I hear Nikko mention someone called Sloane, then a Really? That’s so cool, can I meet her? from Misha. 
Zoe leans to me, ‘They have a transgender girl, older than ours, fifteen Nikko said.
‘Must be Sloane.’
‘Right, and Alice found a website about Chloe Sylk, a glowing fan page, then a clothing website, Chloe Couture. Chloe is traveling with her bestie, woman called Amaya. She handles Chloe’s schedule.’
‘Amaya? I have a couple of novels by a woman called Amaya, just Amaya, no surname.’
‘Has to be the same person, books any good?’
‘Lots of action, snappy dialogue, no filler, as in long passages of description that takes the story noplace. My only complaint is that she hasn’t written more of them.’
‘They on the shelf?’
‘I think yes, a couple, I have one in my room. She also wrote the scripts for Chloe’s Ultra Violet films and another where Chloe plays a psychologist.’
‘I’ll take a look, you have an extensive library that Zero has only added to with her nonfiction selections.’
‘Mine are filed by author, Amaya’s would be top left.’
‘Ah, no wonder I missed them, I have to use the step ladder to get up there.’
Our guests and the girls will remain outside until dinner, the weather is SoCal spring, seventy six and clear. I clear the cups and plates.
‘It’s quarter past five, cocktails at six, shall I make more tea?’
Everyone’s satisfied, I take in the teapots, only one lonely petit four left, I make it disappear on my way in.
Misha trails in behind me, ‘Commandant, Nikko is going to teach us kendo! Micha and me, she says in only thirty or forty years we might be good,’ giggles, ‘Alice is in love.’
‘With kendo or Nikko?’
‘Nikko silly, she’s awesome…and gorgeous. She and Daphne could be sisters, except Daphne’s not Japanese.’
‘Maybe she’s part, her eyes are more oriental than straight Caucasian.’
‘And guess what.’
‘What?’
‘They have a trannie like me, except she’s older, I’m going to meet her soon, her name is Sloane.’
‘Does Sloane take kendo?’
‘No, she’s a runner, their place is like ours, the grounds anyway, part mountain with lots of ups and downs. Oh, and there are two more Russian identical, Katya and Katja, they’re traveling, with…what was the name…Am…’
‘Amaya?’
‘Yeah, with Amaya and Chloe.’
Three sets of Russian twins between us? I gotta get up on my Russian.
Girls start filtering inside, Alice gets the grill going, comes in, ‘Be good an hot when we’re ready. Dasha is the chef at their place, Daphne pitches in, since we have so much fish, Dasha offered to help with the grilling.’
‘You have the fan on?’
‘Yep, smoke goes away from the house, and the grillers, they do the same thing at home.’
Janah comes alongside, ‘A word with you and Zero?’
‘Sure, we don’t have a private office, let’s go to the RV, Alice and the kids sleep there but they’re occupied, Nikko earned herself a couple of fans.’
‘Kids are drawn to her, she doesn’t talk down to them, although I don’t get the impression that happens here.’
‘No, if anyone started with the patronizing singsong voice, Natasha would shoot them.’
‘Good for her. Daphne, take a walk.’
Daphne, ‘This is a first class RV.’
‘We use it to go to the range, we have a patch of property surrounded by not much, go out to shoot. There’s a full size oval race track and a dirt bike setup, our playground.’
‘Who’s the race driver?’
‘Everyone except the kids, they have go karts. The girls went to Bondurant, you know it?’
Janah, ‘Yes, some of ours have gone, tactical and Formula One, Amaya is our resident speed freak, but the twins, both sets, have taken the tactical, go back every year, they don’t need refreshing particularly, they just like it.’
‘We appear to have more than Shadows in common.’
Janah, ‘What I wanted to speak with you about. We also have teams of two, none of them know us by the way, who serve as counselors to abusers, hard counseling, if you catch my drift.’
‘Zero keeps a list of particularly egregious sex offenders, but we don’t counsel, just correct.’
Janah, ‘Terminally, I get it. We haven’t done terminal, except for Shadows. We do leave abusers in a state of empty, or with injuries that no amount of orthopedics will correct. He twins are particularly efficient, but Daphne has done her share of what we call refocusings.’
‘Change their focus, in a direct way.’
‘Yes, it’s most effective, not to mention the example it sets for other abusers, actual or potential.’
‘How do you handle victims?’
‘Relocation, new everything, or if that’s a problem, then the abuser gets one shot to move several states over and mind his manners, we monitor them for a year or so.’
‘Then your resources are deeper than ours, not only money, bodies to help with relocation and subsequent monitoring. We have good connections, but not the additional manpower.’
Janah, ‘You do now.’

One Hundred Seventy Four

‘Their place is big enough to be a hotel,’ Zero says on returning from Janah’s, ‘CC and I had a tour while Nikko had the kids in their initial kendo session.’
CC, ‘The bedrooms are gorgeous, girls wandering around everywhere, the kitchen is commercial, Daphne and Dasha could run a restaurant out of it. They did the main room like ours, kitchen, dining, living are one big room, ceiling to the sky, two spiral staircases, on either side to get to the second floor, hallway surrounds the main room, more bedroom downstairs, a pool, a garage that resembles an airport hangar.’
Natasha comes down with Nikita, ‘Kids have fun?’
‘It was a sit and learn session, basics, parts of the katana, bokken, shinai, the last two are for sparring, the bokken is a wooden sword, the shinai is tightly wound bamboo used in matches. Someone will take them over once a week, they can practice what they learn in between.’
‘But do they like it?’
‘They like Nikko, it she does it, it must be good.’
Zero, ‘And Misha met Sloane, Micha visited with two girls, Oceane and Cassie, Oceane can float objects like Alice, and I hesitate to say it, but CC and I both witnessed Cassie levitating. She and Oceane are inseparable mystical girls, although there’s a whole dorm of eight young girls who may be mystical plus. We didn’t interrupt, they were engrossed in something, we don’t know what and nobody volunteered an explanation.’
‘Engrossed how?’
‘Chanting softly, every girl in an identical white chemise, appeared to be six or seven to eleven.’
CC, ‘I asked Daphne what they were doing, she laughed, said who knows? They live in a world different from ours. The rest of the tour was depressing.’
‘You don’t get depressed.’
Zero, ‘What she means is we met Amaya and Chloe, and the third set of twins, Katya and Katja. Amaya is not simply beautiful, she’s perfect. Every facial feature is proportional to the whole, she’s five eight, long of limb, skin like satin. Chloe is beautiful but not in a perfect way, her imperfections come together to make her expressive, delightful to look at, take a different angle you see a different woman. She’s also nearly six feet tall, freckles and violet eyes complete the unique.’
‘Ah, so Ultra Violet has another layer.’
‘Yes, that family has multiple layers, and there are others we were introduced to briefly, we did talk a bit with Katya and Katja, they don’t have accents, not to identify themselves anyway, and they are originally from Ukraine.’
Zero, ‘Natasha, you come with us next time, I think you may be interested, something up your alley. They have bots, not bots like you see on YouTube, metal things that either move slowly or assembly bots that do repetitive tasks. They have three bots that, if you didn’t know, you would mistake for people. They can do nearly anything we can, set the table, pick up dishes, refill drinks, talk, reply, Amaya does the voices. There’s Emma B, named after Emma Watson, even has a gentle British accent; Kota B, made to resemble a girl, American, that lives in Japan and does makeup and dress demonstrations; and their first bot, Grace B, named after Chloe Grace Moretz, who played a kid in Kick Ass, since they have a Chloe, they went with her middle name, Chloe Grace was thirteen in the movie, cursed like a locker room full of football players. When Daphne asked Grace B to bring us a soda, she said piss off bitch, but she got the sodas.’
I laugh, ‘Somebody has a sense of humor.’
‘Amaya’s doing, she got along splendidly with CC, they bonded over their primary interest, themselves.’
CC, ‘A woman who can relate to the burden of perfection, it’s not easy being us. And now added pressure, Daphne was in a pair of snug stretchy white shorts, her legs are without comparison, I understand from Janah that Daphne’s mom is the same, she said they look more like sisters, Susan had Daphne when she was fifteen.’
Zero, ‘CC tends to dramatize, in this case she’s right, I confess to being close to a state of drooling worship.’
‘Do they have…what…partners?’
‘Janah and Daphne have a unique relationship, which has included Nikko for years, but nobody is exclusive.’
CC, ‘Amaya told me Daphne gets passed around like a candy dish and her libido is always in the on position.’
‘Thinking of taking advantage?’
‘Oh, I’ll get there, the vibe was electric, a girl knows when a girl wants her.’
Zero, ‘The two of them were talking in the kitchen, the auras were sparkly, I thought Daphne might drag her to the bedroom on the spot. That assignation is a certainty, they’re letting the pot simmer, more fun to flirt and tease, for a little while anyway.’
‘Did you feel…a vibe? None of my business, you can take the fifth if you want.’
‘Janah, she’s a lusty thing, and lust worthy, her aura said I’m coming for you, and when she does she won’t be disappointed.’
‘Sounds like a girl playground.’
‘Well, we have to do something to relieve the stress of chasing Shadows and killing child rapists.’
‘And there are more, besides the women you mentioned.’
‘Eloise, Lauren, Sarah, Ellen, Mani, and Britt. They were off doing other things, Natasha needs to meet Eloise, she’s responsible for the electronics, including the bots, and she has a full equipped workshop.
CC, ‘Daphne mentioned Ellen, also one of the chefs, she’s up there with Amaya in the hot department.’
‘Sheesh, how do they get anything done? Place sounds like lesbian nirvana.’
Zero, ‘It is, we have less quantity, quality is comparable.’
We stick to our rule, I call it the what it is, it wouldn’t be, and what it wouldn’t be, it would rule, what happened before this one or that one came along is only spoken of vaguely if at all, the rule applies to Janah’s tribe, we won’t ask. Easy to assume some of the girls were rescues, others perhaps colleagues or associates. Additionally, there’s no reason to dredge up the past, we don’t subscribe to the therapists’ claim that talking endlessly about trauma is helpful, or even calling it trauma, which to a kid sounds terminal or at a minimum troubled; waterboarded in a gush of words just when kids forget more quickly than they remember except when the paid by the hour therapist insists on talking or getting the child to relive it again and again, tattooing the whole thing into memory at a time when the child’s brain is stripping itself of excess neurons thus deleting memories no longer useful or necessary.
Zero, ‘Yep, it’s clear they adopted a similar approach to us, the girls there all have interests, activities, that keep them busy, engaged with now not then. And the things they do, Cassie friggin’ levitates. Oceane pulls drawing pencils out of the air and says that they tell her what to draw. Amaya is uniquely talented, a successful author, screenwriter, manages Chloe’s professional life, Daphne told me Amaya can duplicate any voice, spoken or sung. They have an elf named Eloise who puts together electronics that haven’t been thought of by MIT or Stanford, she can smell if a circuit is going bad, not when it starts to fry, before it starts to fry, who does that? Nikko is an 8th dan kendo master, which can take forty years, but she’s twenty four or five, except she’s not in years on Earth, she would be forty now but Janah’s people have stopped aging, even the little kids in the dorm prefer who they are now as the eldest, Nadia, informed them several years ago. Daphne said in the children’s case, neither she nor Janah had anything to do with it, they simply don’t grow up and they don’t want to grow up.’
‘Be interesting to see what other talents they have living there.’
‘I’m not going to press, since Nikko invited the kids to learn kendo, one or two of us will be over once a week, we can listen and observe, and our twins are already texting and talking to the other two sets of twins.’
‘Must be a lot of help to have bots to do cleaning, serve drinks and dinner.’
‘The human-like bots don’t do everyday cleaning, they have cleaning bots, no personality, don’t look human, just dust, vacuum, clean bathrooms, make beds, haul the sheets to the laundry. Eloise and Daria, plus Daphne’s mom, put that family into the twenty second century.’
‘They don’t manufacture and sell them? Sounds like an instant money machine.’
‘Commandant, we’re worth, what, around a billion, right?’
‘Yep.’
‘Natasha says Janah’s group is worth fifty times that and it may be a low estimate. Point is, they need more money like the ocean needs water.’
‘Geez, I’d feel inadequate, except I don’t.’
‘There’s one of you, we added a stack of drug money but the major portion came from you. They have several businesses, made a ton in real estate from New York to Chicago to San Francisco until Nikko sold it all. We don’t know how they accumulated so much prime property in the first place, but they did. Money attracts money like a magnet attracts iron.’

One Hundred Seventy Five

Janah calls, Zero answers, ‘Hey Janah,’ she listens for a bit, ‘you need Commandant, he’s the field marshal in these things,’ she hands her phone to me.
‘What’s up?’
Janah, ‘Sometime ago we automated Shadow hunting, our net bot combs the news looking for anomalous behavior, developing patterns that don’t fit the norm. We don’t get many hits, but the ones we’ve gotten have proven accurate.’
‘Natasha has something similar.’
‘Yes, she’s taken a look at ours, the two formats work similarly, but ours goes deeper, she’s using major news outlets, ours drill down to local papers. I don’t know if we have all, but we have a substantial number of small town papers, some are only online, and we get a stream of arrest reports. The program ignores most stories, it’s programmed to zero in on the strange or weird, and like Natasha’s, searches for examples where people can’t explain why they did what they did, or phrases like I felt compelled, I just had to, I don’t know why, I went blank. We incorporated her search terms into our program, ones we hadn’t thought of or she expressed better, clearer. She created algorithms even Daphne’s mom hadn’t thought of, trust me, that’s saying something.’
‘You told her of course.’
‘Susan did, that’s Daphne’s mother. Anyway, yes, it’s a compliment and much deserved. To the point. The program has identified weirdness in a small town, population not quite two thousand. You may know the profile, insular, that used to be called one horse., picnic on Labor Day, church on Sunday, speed trap kind of place. Sherriff is in charge, the Mayor owns a feed store and does what he’s told.’
‘I’m familiar, never lived in one but I’ve met people who have, tend to think the Earth is flat and would welcome a fascist government. Military loves to recruit those types, already beaten obedient, yes sir and no sir are built in.’
‘Yep. The more intelligent teenagers exit as soon as they can, the internet has let them see not everyone is like Daddy and Momma, or the hard ass preacher they’ve been forced to listen to. All that’s missing here is a banjo playing albino.’
‘What’s going on?’
‘Incest, child rape, church mommies fucking everything in sight, including the family dog.’
‘Started when?’
‘Dates uncertain, the first report of child rape, six year old girl, was three months ago, if something else happened before then it was kept quiet. The other events came along bit by bit, the local gossips had plenty of scandal on their plate. Now the preacher is talking demons and Satanic influences. Or was, until he was caught walking down main street naked with an erection, tearing pages out of his Bible, shouting praise Satan.’
‘Shadow has a sense of humor, sense of the absurd anyway.’
Janah laughs, ‘You could say so, I don’t care about defrocked preachers, child rape is another matter and there have been four more instances, kids from six to ten, somebody hacked and posted photos on the town’s simple website, normally a place to announce 4H notices, obits, movie night at the VFW hall, small town crap.’
‘What’s super-cop doing?’
‘The sheriff is hiding behind the preacher’s explanation, when Reverend Butt Naked did his stroll, it was chalked up to the devil. Church has held a perpetual prayer vigil the last two weeks, done as much good as politicians’ thoughts and prayers.’
‘Want us to go take a peek?’
‘Can you? I can’t send our Russians, too obvious, Sloane wants to go, if you and one of yours goes, it shouldn’t be too attention grabbing.’
‘Nikita and Natasha can spot Shadows, but they have the same problem as your twins, Alice and Zero can pick them out. Is there a bigger city nearby?’
‘Yes, thirty miles, close enough for the locals to get to Walmart. The sole employer is a paper mill, sole major employer that is, the rest is retail, gas station slash convenience store, independent grocery.’
‘We’ll leave tomorrow, pickup Sloane along the way, Zero will book a flight.’
‘Need us to cover anything, we’re happy to front the flight, other expenses.’
‘Appreciated but not necessary.’
‘Bring the kids, they can stay here, get more Nikko time if they wish.’
‘Great, they’ll love that.’
We disconnect, Zero followed the conversation, she can read my mind you will recall. She calls the airline, out tomorrow for ten, I find Misha and Micha and tell them they’ll be visiting for a few days, leave them plotting what to pack, Alice is outside with Morshchiny, running the property I assume. When she shows up I tell her what’s happening, another broad smile, broader when I mention she needs to pack her Glock.
Twenty four hours later, we’re in Podunk sniffing the wind.
Zero, ‘A Shadow screwing around in a town like this, seems incongruous.’
‘He makes a bigger splash than in a city, more fun for him, or could be a her.’
‘It may also be another trap, the incidents get lost in a large city, if I was a Shadow trying to lure us, I’d set up shop with a couple more, create the mess and see if my enemy made an appearance.’
‘True, there’s the recognition problem, new people around just as the trouble starts. Then again the Shadow, or Shadows, could blank memories of people they interact with. A bit of extra Qi energy and nobody recognizes or remembers you. I suspect they aren’t interacting much anyway, they pick a target, plant the behavior they want and enjoy the show. Still, to do it they have to be in a certain range, to reinforce the behavior, like the preacher, a Shadow would have to be inside twenty yards to keep control.’
‘And to take pictures of a child rape he’s got two bodies to control, although one is a child and it doesn’t take much to keep a kid on the leash.’ 
Alice, ‘Haven’t seen any Shadows, would they stay in town, or just come in long enough to create an event?’
Sloane, ‘There’s a small motel, The Pulp, must be for visitors to the paper mill, I can’t see any reason to stay here unless I had to, like for business.’
Zero, ‘Drive by the motel.’
We do, not a car in sight except for one that appears local, has an old bumper sticker supporting the Sheriff’s re-election. Must be the motel owners, the place is too small for employees, it’s a mom and pop, maybe hire someone to clean the rooms on an as needed basis.
Alice, ‘Why does anyone live here?’
‘The city scares them, here they know everyone, it’s familiar, I bet some of the oldsters have never been anyplace else. For the rest, driving to Walmart is all the adventure they can stand, their internet is the front porch and the back fence.’
Zero, ‘Take another pass through town, up and down the side streets, then we need to vacate before one of the porch sitters starts to wonder about the rental car cruising their metropolis.’
Sloane, ‘Why hasn’t Sheriff Bull Moose been tapped by the Shadow, I would think doing him would be most entertaining. I get the preacher’s humiliation, seems like the big dog ought to be on the list.’
‘Good point, maybe he’s the finale, do him first and other stuff is anticlimactic.’
Zero, ‘I think that’s right, for now he looks incompetent, helpless, events can only be blamed on Satan for so long, then people are going to want something besides a phantom to blame once it dawns that prayer is useless.’
‘Do we know what time of day the events occurred?’
Zero, ‘Good question, Commandant. Evening, preacher was earliest, five o’clock so he’d be clearly visible naked and deranged, the website photos were taken down. Someone at Janah’s hacked the site, whoever deleted them wasn’t particularly diligent or just didn’t know any better. And whoever took the photos didn’t know they are automatically time stamped, between seven and ten thirty about a week apart.’
‘Then we’re early, but it’s better to have scoped the place in daytime, let’s backtrack to the highway, find a place to eat and return at six thirty or so.’
We have to go twenty miles, ten down the two lane to get to a highway, then more to civilization, I exit at the first fastie I spot.
‘Any preferences?’
Sloane, ‘Standard burger and a soda.’
Alice, ‘Grilled chicken.’
I get a burger, Zero goes with chicken, four diet sodas, fries. We eat in the car, then a restroom break, then back to Podunk. It’s six fifteen, dusk soon becoming evening.

One Hundred Seventy Six

Nothing but burn a little gas riding around, ‘This is truly a sleepy little burg, hardly any cars, nobody walking or on a bike, no sign of Sheriff or his one deputy.’
Sloane, ‘Deputy was manning the radar gun earlier, guess he’s gone home like everyone else, get a beer, pet the dog, kick the kids.’
Pass the one convenience store for the fifth or sixth time, there’s a Ford Fibrillator with the gas nozzle poking in the pipe, I do a slow roll through the lot.
Zero and Alice simulcast, ‘Shadow.’
‘Guy at the checkout, the only other person is behind the counter.’
‘And the poor schmuck has no idea he’s giving away a tank of gas and whatever cash is in the register.’
‘Sloane, get a tracker on the Ford.’
She zips out, thunks it on the bumper strut and is back in our SUV faster than humanly possible, what’s that about?
Alice, ‘How do you move so fast Sloane?’
‘Kind of a long story, I don’t mind telling you but maybe we wait until our business is finished here.’
The Shadow comes out, counting cash as he walks to his car.
Alice, ‘Why do they call it a Fibrillator?’
‘Fibrillation is rapid, and unsynchronized contraction of muscle fibers. In the case of the car, it means it tends to jackrabbit, which is usually a human problem, someone who constantly accelerates then slows for no reason. The Fibrillator is for those people, it does the annoying acceleration and slowing for you.’
‘Why would anyone do that?’
‘Not sure how it gets started, can’t be intentional, it becomes an unconscious nervous habit.’
Zero, ‘Got the little dot, give him a few blocks, then we see what he’s up to.’
This is an old town with old houses, with so many people moving on, there’s no reason to build anything new, much less a subdivision. We track him down the two lane for three or four miles, then he makes a left to what used to be an asphalt road, now half potholes filled in with gravel and patches of aging asphalt. A quarter mile in, he turns right up an incline, a long rutted driveway to a wooden house, not yet a shack, not far from becoming one, a bit of lighter fluid and a match, the place is a bonfire.
Sloane, ‘He’s following the Shadow rulebook, live downscale, ten year old car, thousand year old house, I see someone else inside, female, middle age, blocky but not particularly fat.’
Alice, ‘How can you see that from here…never mind, explain later.’
Zero hooks up the listening dish to the power supply, points the dish to the house, ‘This is great, it’s dead dark out here, we could sit here all night and nobody would notice.’
Voice, female, ‘Fuck you been asshole?’
Male, ‘Piss off, I brought beer and sandwich stuff, got chips, wanna eat now?’
‘Yeah, TV’s working, anything you want to watch?’
‘Whatever, it’s more fun watching mommies eat out their daughters. I know we make ‘em do it but I swear, I think some of the women like it, and the little girls squeal and giggle, I don’t make ‘em enjoy it, that comes from them.’
Woman laughs, ‘You might be right, remember the one a few months back, we were going to get the woman to let the dog lick her pussy, when we got there, the dog was already licking it.’
Man, ‘That was fucking funny, I like making the shits do perv stuff, sometimes I wonder if what we do is simply give them permission to do what they wanted to do anyway, just too inhibited to do it.’
‘Any thoughts on our next adventure in humiliation and guilt?’
‘Think it’s time to give Sheriff Hickabee a go?
‘Yep, another week in this place, I’d set myself on fire just to get out of here.’
‘Suppose we get the Hickabee to set himself on fire, we haven’t killed anyone in, how long has it been?’
‘About a year, remember, in the mall? Guy tossed a kid off the third level…splat!’
Laughter.
Male, ‘Tell you what, suppose we follow Hickabee around and have him shoot random citizens while he yells praise Satan on the bullhorn?’
‘Good one, when?’
‘Tomorrow, we’ll borrow another car, alternate control, he’ll have his windows down, pick ‘em off right from the comfort of his patrol car.’
Zero, ‘They don’t leave here, in fact, this is their last hour to walk upright.’
Another car pulls up, turns in the drive and goes to the house.
Zero, ‘Spoke too soon, there were three people in the car and they must be Shadows.’
Alice, ‘How do you know, I didn’t catch the aura.’
‘I didn’t either, we’re out of range, but Shadows don’t invite people over for a visit, not unless they’re also Shadows.’
Sloane, ‘Janah says the same thing, she’s never encountered Shadows doing anything with non-Shadows except manipulating behavior. She says they have a God complex, understandable I suppose, if you can make people do whatever you want, that’s a powerful ego stroke.’
‘Let’s get this party started, we’re the uninvited guests.’
Zero, ‘I think we’re the point of this party.’
‘A set up, we should keep listening for a while then, and move the car in case the visitors noticed it.’
I crank the engine, move us down the road and back into a stand of trees. If we need to beat a retreat, I want the car facing the road out.
‘You get reception here?’
Zero points the dish, Second Male voice, ‘Anything?’
First Male, ‘No, we plan to have the Sheriff bump off a few citizens, that will make national news. We may have outsmarted ourselves, thinking weird events in a small town would bring out Shaolin. They may never hear about it.’
Different Female, ‘We’ve been watching, no Shaolin around, one of us would have spotted the self-righteous fuckers.’
Third Male, ‘If the Sheriff bit doesn’t bring them, they ain’t coming.’
First Female, ‘We had fun anyway, torched those small town family values, want a beer?’
Sound of tabs pulled on cans.
‘Let them have a few beers, slow down the brain.’
Alice, ‘What if they have one and leave?’
Zero, ‘Then we take them before they reach the car.’
We record what the dish picks up, maybe they reveal things we don’t know about, like location of other Shadows.
Instead, we hear lots of barbed comments, name calling, laughter, locker room stuff.
Zero, ‘You know, in some ways Shadows are children, or I should say teenagers, the ones that bully their way through high school. Preening, jealous, petulant, angry for no apparent reason, or maybe angry at always feeling insecure, can’t control themselves so they control others.’
More tabs pop, the conversation is lively enough, recounting past incidents, how they made the woman do this, the man that, child rape, dogs, walking out of the store without anyone questioning what the bags are filled with, free money from banks, shops, the supermarket.
‘Time to go in, we don’t need to be here all night. Sloane, circle the place, see if there are any surprises, there should be five.’
Sloane exits, heads through the trees, I’m looking through binoculars, a blur passes and turns the corner of the house, then Sloane is back at the SUV. I don’t know how fast she can run, I do know it’s faster than any human I’ve seen or even heard about.
Sloane, ‘Five, no extras in the cast.’
‘Approach with your guns loaded, two of us in back, two of us on this side, we can avoid shooting each other.’
Alice, ‘What if one or more go for the front door, get to the cars?’
‘Good point, you and Zero go to the back, Sloane and I will cut the valve stems on the tires, nobody goes anyplace with four flats, got a blade Sloane?’
‘No.’
Alice, ‘Take mine, pay attention, the edge is surgical sharp.’
She hands him her CRKT Folts, a small knife with a precision edge.
‘You don’t need it?’
She takes out her other, SOG Pentagon, five inch blade, overall nine and three quarters, ‘Got this one.’
Sloane smiles, ‘Geez, you’re dangerous,’ he and I get out, make our way to the front, Alice and Zero around back.
We cut the valve stems, it’s not noisy, some hissing until the tires are flat. At this point, we don’t much care about noise but the Shadows are having so much fun swapping lies it doesn’t register.
Sloane and I move to the left, I go down to the corner, peer around, see Zero and Alice, thumbs up, time for fireworks.
Sloane and I can see in the living room, we hear two pops, watch two Shadows fall to the side, Sloane shoots through the window at the same time I do. A third Shadow falls, we shot the same guy. Two women left, Blocky and the visitor, they’ve evaporated, Zero and Alice come around.
‘We couldn’t get a bead on the women. You know where they are?’
The front door opens, sound of feet clonking down the old wood steps, car door opens, Visitor’s voice, ‘Fuck it Stella, they’ve flattened all the tires.’
Stella, formerly Blocky, ‘I didn’t read no Shaolin.’
‘Neither did I, but somebody is out to kill us, Shaolin or not.’
I walk into the light, Stella, ‘Who in fuck are you? Never mind, you’re the dead guy they found on the lawn.’
I raise my Glock, it’s hot, burning, I should shoot but can’t, I drop it, dive left too late, an Qi shot to my ribs flips me. Visitor is pointing a finger, I roll hoping to avoid another blast of energy.
I catch the pop, there’s a hole in Visitor’s palm, then a blur, I make out Sloane with Visitor’s wrist in her mouth, the hand drops to the dirt, Visitor screams.
I turn to Stella, she’s occupied firing Qi at Zero, too occupied to see Alice coming up behind her. Pop, Stella stands transfixed, her arm still extended, she falls face forward, forehead bounces off a fat rock, it makes a squishy sound.
Visitor is using what juice she has left to try and stem the blood flow, Sloane uses the small blade to slice her carotid and increase the blood flow.

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