One Hundred Eighty One

We didn’t uncover much on our Friday night creep, apparently Loretta had police business, she is detective grade after all. The boyfriend, Mengele, is a patrolman, I’m guessing he’s on a slow, perhaps stalled out, promotion path, of the half dozen citizen complaints, four belong to him. He’s also five years younger.
When she did show up at home, there was a bit of yelling, but no physical contact we could tell. Loretta was beat from a long day beating the bushes for suspects to beat up and had no battery left to beat her daughter.
We returned to the Hell’s Bells by ten thirty, had a drink and went to bed. Zero slept with me, we snuggled and fell away.
It’s Saturday now, we’re having breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant, Beelzebub’s Buffet, naturally they have deviled eggs, which doesn’t seem like a breakfast item to me, but I see other guests snapping them up on the ends of small pitchforks.
The rest of the buffet is what one would expect, pastries, toast, biscuits, fruit, yogurt, scrambled eggs, an omelet station which is quite good, I have mushroom, cheese, strips of crisp bacon on the side. The girls go with standard scrambled, bacon, and home fries. They split a stack of pancakes.
CC, ‘I’m cutting myself a little slack with pancakes, we didn’t eat dinner last night. I gotta say, these are tasty, and Canadian maple syrup is dee-lish.’
‘Any ideas on what to do until we go for the girl?’
Fin, ‘Think of ideas for how we get the girl before dealing with Loretta and Charlie.’
CC, ‘What if we snatch the girl and leave Mengele and the woman to protect and serve?’
‘Not a bad idea, fairly obvious that mommy and boyfriend don’t much want her, well mommy anyway, boyfriend has his eye on the girl for other reasons.’
Zero, ‘I want them on the other side of beat up, the side where they get the beating, not strung out junkies or little girls.’
CC, ‘There’s that. Keep it simple, we aren’t trying to get into a terrorist cell to capture Abu Whodo, we knock on the door before Mengele shows, after one of us takes the girl outside we deal with Loretta.’
‘Good, Charlie shows, we have his surprise party, go home.’
Zero, ‘Before you ask, if the girl has relatives she likes she goes to them, if not then we have to accept responsibility for the consequences of our intervention.’
‘Call Janah, see what they do, they didn’t take every child they rescued or there would have been boys in her family.’
Zero calls, asks, listens, disconnects, ‘As usual she has a solution, the Shaolin own several ranches, not cattle, horses, or sheep, they call them ranches for a reason, a kid loves the idea of a ranch, a home for orphans is far less appealing. They grow a few crops, small stuff they use themselves, chickens, a couple of horses, always a dog or two, and cats to control varmints. Shaolin volunteer as house parents. She says it’s the most sought after outside Shaolin activity. Online education monitored by the monks, once the kids reach eighteen they get a free ride to college or trade school.’
‘How many kids?’
‘Fifteen or twenty per ranch, she says it becomes like a big family. She’s sending me photos.’
Her phone dings, ‘And she has, let’s see…., wow, check it,’ she holds the phone where we can see it, flips the dozen photos.
Fin, ‘Heck, as a child I’d love such a place, kid dream, animals, growing vegetables, fruit trees, bunch of other kids, look, they have dorm style rooms.’
‘One problem solved, I’m not sure we need more additions, I know Janah doesn’t.’
Zero’s phone blips a text, she reads, ‘Called my Shaolin contact, ranch that can take her, the rest are full, although both of the others have kids that will be moving on in the next few months. If she decides to go, everything is provided including clothes, we find it best not to bring things from the life they are leaving.’
She texts back a thumbs up, adds a note, getting girl today, will call.
CC, ‘When do we go?’
‘We need to be settled in before Charlie arrives, get the girl, take on the woman, park her in a bedroom, wait for Mengele, say, four.’
‘If he doesn’t show until seven, it’s a long wait for the girl.’
‘Good point, while we have time, lets rent another car, anything, compact sedan. Whoever takes her out goes to the hotel, pick up something for her to eat first, talk to her, or just let her watch TV.’
CC, ‘I’ll do the girl, next time I get to bust heads.’
That settled, we go to the suite, driving around is pointless, the suite has a roomy balcony, the weather is good. Someone clicks on the news, turns off the sound, I fetch a book and park on the balcony.
I hear Zero talking to Zoe, the other girls are at Janah’s, Zoe can fill them in later.
CC joins me on the balcony, she’s changed clothes, or changed out of clothes, she’s nude.
‘Figure you could use some inspiration, or I can go inside if you want to read.’
‘Ogling you or flipping pages of a common thriller isn’t a choice, like asking if I want filet mignon or ground chuck.’
She smiles, ‘I’m an attention hog, can’t help myself.’
‘You are a uniquely gorgeous creature, sharing yourself is our idea of visual perfection.’
‘All our girls are pretty, beautiful even, I have to compete with Zero’s ultra blonde, Fin’s brick body, the twins speak for themselves, Alice is adorable, plus the kids who are passing through kid to teen. It just gets worse at Janah’s, that woman has an eye for beauty equal to Zero.’
Fin and Janah come out, pull up chairs, I’m the only one in clothes, may the inspiration never end.
Zero, ‘I’ve been reading Brian Greene, you’ve heard of him?’
‘I read one of the books you bought, he’s the multiverse guy.’
Fin, ‘What’s a multiverse?’
Zero, ‘According to his reading of quantum physics, everything we see, even us, are probabilities. In his view, there are universes beyond ours that exist that contain all the other options, including other people that are us, but have different experiences. That is, the things that happen to us, or because of us, happen differently in these other universes, the things that could have happened here but didn’t because the events we experience were more likely.’
CC, ‘That’s bizarre, I’m perfect, is my other universe me less perfect? I can hardly believe it.’
We laugh, CC loves being CC, she doesn’t take herself seriously.
Zero, ‘Beats me, I’m still wading through his latest book. I’ve lived several lives but I only have snippets of who I was, when, and where. Did the lives occur in those other universes? I have no idea, only philosophical speculation. Or, for instance, is there a universe where whoever lost a Presidential election became President in another universe? Or someone got the promotion but didn’t get it in the alternate world? A woman’s baby died in childbirth but lived in that alternate world?’
‘Didn’t Daphne say something about the little girls, that they visit many universes?’
Zero, ‘She said they have their own world, one that encompasses universes, plural.
I didn’t pursue it then, I’m going to when we get home. Not that it makes any difference to us, we have only the universe we have, although I can’t be certain my other lives only happened in this universe.’
Fin, ‘I wonder if there’s a universe with no politics? An anti-universe, one with only bike lanes and no cars, where the milk never spoils, and the internet is free.’
‘That would be an anti-capitalist universe, a socialist universe maybe, but you did specify no politics, any organizational system is ultimately political.’
Zero, ‘What about a universe where people realize there’s no free will, things are decided in the brain regardless of our belief that we chose this or that, or the people there don’t have a concept of free will.’
CC, ‘You mean like politicians.’
Zero laughs, Fin asks, ‘What’s so funny?’
Zero, ‘Ask Congress, they gave up on free will when they started gerrymandering, picking their voters instead of voters picking them. That way, independent thinking is impossible, they simply pander to their base and don’t think at all, or at least are channeled into one mode of thought. That system can never bring anything but acrimony, no consideration of all the people, just the base, no matter how belligerent.’
‘If, as Krishnamurti says, the means is the end, then none of it will end well, as we see already. Nobody listens to anything except what conforms to their beliefs, no different than a Muslim declaring a jihad, my way or death.’
Fin, ‘Commandant, let’s get the sedan, then we can do something about one kid’s universe.’

One Hundred Eighty Two

Outside Loretta’s torture chamber, Fin flew the drone, Loretta appears to be home, which we confirm shortly when Zero hooked up the listening device.
‘Finish with the vacuum, then scrub the toilet stupid, then take a hot shower, tonight’s a big night, you gonna learn how to suck dick,’ laughter.
‘I don’t want to do that, I’m nine, not nineteen.’
A smack, clearly a slap, ‘You do what you told to do, maybe he eats your pussy.’
‘No, it isn’t right, I hate that asshole.’
Garbled ‘You’re…choking,’ gag, ‘me, let…go,’ hack, cough.
‘Fuck this up and it’s the belt, buckle side until you bleed. I’m gonna tell him to fuck you, once’d you’re broke in, you gonna make me a lot of money. I know lots of men want young, and they pay good to get it. Get going or I get the belt now, Charlie might like to see blood while his dick’s in your mouth.’
Sound of something falling, a shriek, ‘Okay, okay, don’t kick me.’
‘I kick more than your ass cunnie cunt. Charlie be here inna hour or so, you be smilin’ when he shows up, or you be cryin’ right after. And don’t bother to put clothes on, theys just comin’ off, nice surprise for Charlie, naked young pussy answers the door.’
Fin, ‘Any reason to wait?’
‘None. Gloves on, you knock on the door, when she answers, a sharp front kick will set her back, we go in.’
Two minutes later, Loretta’s on the floor, she’s no pint size, Fin kicked her away from the door but she didn’t fall.
Loretta, ‘You fuckin’ crazy? You just attacked a cop.’
Then she realizes a large man has her by the hair, ‘I just attacked a cop too, I rather enjoyed it,’ my oversized fist rearranges her nose.
‘Get the girl out.’
CC sees her peeking out from the kitchen, ‘You sent us a message, you want out?’
Girl, ‘I want way out.’
‘Let’s go, don’t take anything.’
‘Got nothing much to take.’
CC walks her past Loretta, still dazed by my knuckles putting a deep dent in her nose, blood runs over her lips.
‘You can’t kidnap my daughter.’
‘You say kidnap, I say rescue, semantics, she’s gone either way,’ I pick her up by the neck, drag her to the kitchen, Zero ziplocks her to a chair, wraps duct tape around her mouth, clean around her head.
Loretta’s adrenaline kicks in, she shakes and shuffles, nearly tips over the chair. Zero grabs her trachea, starts to squeeze.
‘Here’s a thought Loretta, settle down, or I rip it out and leave you to asphyxiate, how’s that sound?’
Loretta is breathing heavy, but she stops squirming.
‘Here’s how this goes, the girl is history, you will never see her again. I’m going to let you live…maybe, still deciding. Let’s see, how about this, you know, for starters.’
She breaks Loretta’s index finger, the muffled howl sounds so good she breaks the other index finger, ‘Hurts doesn’t it? I got something even more permanent, ‘out comes her SOG, off goes Loretta’s right thumb.
‘And just so you can’t shoot left handed,’ she takes the left thumb.
Index fingers now point in a direction they were never intended to go, two digits on the floor either side of the chair. For good measure, I bring my hard heel fifteens down on the arch of her right foot, it makes a satisfying crunch, the sock begins to turn dark red.
‘Okay, find alcohol and drench hr ex-thumbs, then wrap them. She have a garbage disposal?’
Fin looks in the kitchen, ‘Yep.’
‘Put the thumbs in it and send them to the sewer.’
A crunchy grind, ‘Let the water run on cold for a minute, then pour bleach down the drain and let it sit. I nod to Zero, we don’t use names, ‘keep an eye out for Mengele, I’m going to collect weapons.’
I find her Glock, a backup throwaway, her badge, a couple cans of mace. Toss it all in a plastic bag, return to the living room.
‘I wonder if this stuff does anything,’ I take out a can of mace and give her a face full, she waters like a fire hydrant, ‘damn, so it does.’
Loretta starts to choke, ‘Take off the tape, she can’t breathe with her nose collapsed.’
Zero rips it off, hair is stuck to some, skin is stuck to the part over her mouth. She tosses it in Loretta’s lap.
‘Let’s get her to the back bedroom, one of you stay with her, can’t have her screaming a warning to Charlie. If she tries, cut her throat.’
I look at the mess that’s Loretta, ‘You catch that? Don’t sneeze, don’t bat your eyes, you do and my associate will slice a carotid and you’ll be a blood fountain.’
Loretta blinks, I stick my thumb on her eye, pressure, ‘Do you understand?’
Head bobs up and down.
We situate her, I tell Fin, ‘Keep the blade to the side of her neck, if she coughs, slice it deep.’
Find nods; helpfully, Loretta passes out.
Zero, ‘Charlie’s landed.’
‘You open the door, but open it so you’re hidden behind, I’ll be up against the wall.’
Charlie tries the handle, the door isn’t locked, he opens it and steps in. Better than I expected, I grab the belt in back with my right, his upper arm with my left, and run him hard into the edge where the hallway wall meets the wall of this room. His head gets there first and snaps backwards, he’s a big guy, but his head snapped back so fast his neck is broken. Good Time Charlie has hit his expiration date.
Zero looks down on him like he’s something the dog left, ‘I’ve got the copies of the video the girl sent, and our audio from the listening device. Should I leave them someplace in view?’
‘No, cops are going to show up, one of theirs is mangled, the other dead, that stuff will never make the evidence room. When we get home, figure out who the DA is and the local paper, send it to them.’
‘They’re going to look for the girl. Maybe even stupidly assume she did it.’
‘Between new ID and CC’s makeover, her own mother wouldn’t recognize her.’
‘What about the woman?’
‘She’s not going anywhere, in her condition getting out of those ties isn’t happening. We’re gone, if there’s no news by the time we get home, make an anonymous call. If she dies in the meantime, all the better.’
‘Why not kill her now?’
‘If you want to, go for it, I was thinking she becomes an example, and she sure as hell going to have a miserable life. And any description she gives of us will be the us she saw today, which is not the us we’ll be an hour from now.’
Zero, ‘I’m feeling compassionate,’ she goes to the room, Fin is still in position.
Zero, ‘Charlie broke his neck when he tripped, he’s toast, make the cut and let’s go.’
Fin slices both left and right sides of Loretta’s neck, the two girls go to the kitchen, bleach the blades, then pour the rest of the bottle down the drain.
Zero calls CC, ‘We’re done, coming to the hotel, pack up, we aren’t hanging here.’
In the room, CC has everything ready, ‘Her name is Sheila, we talked, she doesn’t mind changing it.’
Girl, ‘I want to change it.’
‘Good enough, ready for a drive?’
‘I’m really out of there?’
‘You’re really out of there.’
A half smile, better than nothing, we return the sedan, hit the interstate, ‘I’m not going home tonight, call Zoe, then find a hotel around two hundred miles from here, we’ll crank out the four tomorrow.’
Zero clicks around her phone, ‘I’m going two standard rooms, we don’t need suites for a few hours of sleep,’ she makes a reservation, calls Zoe.
CC, ‘Go to the first fastie you see, I need sustenance.’
She’s fudging a bit, rather than ask the girl, figures if food is available the girl will eat it. 
I hear whispered conversation from the second row, Zero’s in the passenger. A brief exit, basic burgers, soda, fries, back on the interstate.
Four hours, it’s near midnight when we get to the hotel, one of the cookie cutter chains, two connecting rooms, two queens in one, king in the other.
The girl fell asleep two hours earlier, woke long enough to brush her teeth, pee and go to bed, which is what the rest of us do, we can shower in the morning.

One Hundred Eighty Three

We make it home for five, everyone there to meet the rescue, Morshchiny checks her over, the girl giggles as the mastiff pokes with her snout. Alice, Misha and Micha take the girl outside, time for a Morshchiny walk around the property while it’s still light.
Zoe, ‘Any sense of how she’s doing?’
CC, ‘She was so relieved to be gone, she cried. Then she told me a few things, sad things, she never understood why her mother did what she did. For the longest she thought she had done something wrong, something to make her mother hate her. My heart twitched, the abuse had been going on since she was six, three years of stupid, bitch, cunt, idiot, among other ugly physical crap. Clearly the woman had mental issues, becoming a cop was the worst possible job for her, a woman already inclined to sadistic authority bullshit gets a job where sadistic authority bullshit is the job.’
Zero, ‘We’ve talked about that before, the kind of person who wants to be a cop in the first place, uniform, armed to the teeth, paranoid with some justification, nobody likes cops, so they hang around with other cops, reinforcing the whole creepy fascist structure.’
‘Why turn her daughter over to the asshole?’
CC, ‘That didn’t come up and we don’t bring it up, if she does then we talk. Anyway, a reason doesn’t exist, or the combination of factors is too big a knot to unravel. Her tormentors are history, the sooner forgotten the better.’
Zero, ‘Totally agree, now, do we take her to the ranch, let her settle first, what do you think Commandant?’
‘I think we get Janah to come over tomorrow, if she’s available. She’s got a lot more experience with the ranches, can answer the girl’s questions, maybe get a better picture.’
‘Would it seem, to the girl I mean, that we’re handing her off, washing our hands so to speak?’
‘Perhaps at first, kids are resilient, as all of you have demonstrated in your own lives. Once she’s at a ranch a month, we’ll be a foggy memory.’
Zero, ‘I’m calling Janah,’ she walks off to the far side of the room to talk.
Zoe makes cocktails, by the time she’s done, Zero returns, ‘She’s coming tomorrow, our timing is lucky, the girls are going to Arizona in a couple of days and they’ll be there for at least two months, probably three, then they go to Canada for August.’
‘Guess the kids are out of kendo for a while.’
‘Can’t be helped, she has a double large family and they have their routines like we have ours. Nikko will be back, they can pick up where they left off.’
‘Did I hear someone say Chloe is making another movie?’
‘I don’t recall, I suppose she can get on a plane from Arizona, they fly private like we do.’
Zoe, ‘Where’s Alice, close to dinnertime.’
CC, ‘Probably stopped at the big rock, sit up there and see the Pacific, the sunsets can be amazing.’
I look out the patio door, the exterior lights have come on. Ours are ground level, essentially a lighted pathway inside the fence, and two branches that go left and right from the far side of the pool to the fence.
‘They’re coming now.’
I step outside, ‘Alice, fill Morshchiny’s bucket and let here slobber out here.’
She waves, the rest come in, CC says, ‘Hit the bathrooms, shower before dinner, and take off your stuff by the washing machine, there are fresh towels folded on the dryer.’
Alice comes in, ‘We saw the most gorgeous sunset, that’s why we took longer.’
‘How’s Shelia?’
‘Jabbered away with Misha and Micha, then we were quiet for the sunset, didn’t talk much on the way back.’
‘She say anything about…anything?’
‘Nope, they talked about Misha, and Misha answered her questions. Misha asked about her hair, she was quick to add she thought it fetch.’
I display my lack of cool, ‘What’s fetch?’
‘Fetching, cool. And it is, her hair I mean. Anyway, that Misha is a girl with a boy part didn’t faze her, she knew a trans at school and that girl was popular. A couple grades up from Sheila, they weren’t friends or anything, but she wasn’t weirded out, just the opposite. I think she has a little crush.’
‘On Misha.’
‘Yes, a little, Sheila’s nine, Misha’s older by a couple of years, Micha by four.’
‘She never had brothers or sisters, if she goes to the ranch she’ll have lots of them.’
‘What if she wants to stay here?’
‘We aren’t making her do anything, Janah’s coming over in the morning, she will talk to the girl about the ranch, get a read on what the girl thinks.’
‘Janah reads auras like Zero?’
Zero, ‘She does, and she’s more advanced. My read on Sheila so far is that she’s just glad to be out.’
Zoe, ‘CC, you have clothes for her?”
‘Yep, There are shorts and jeans Misha’s grown out of, in fact I was thinking of tossing them, glad I didn’t. Her sneakers are okay, about at the end of their cycle though.’
‘If she decides on the ranch, she’ll get outfitted there.’
‘I’ll wait on a decision before buying stuff.’
Alice comes along, she sleeps in the RV, showers in the house, ‘Zoe, what can I do?’
‘Easy dinner, veal lasagna, stir fried root vegetables, you can do that in five minutes so wait until the rest come along.’
Ten later we’re around the table, Zoe and Alice pass plates with a hunk of lasagna and serving spoon of vegetables. She’s opened Chianti, pours the glasses.
‘Do you want wine Sheila?’
‘Never had any.’
Alice, ‘Take a sip of mine, or Misha’s, she has water added,’ sip of both, ‘Misha’s way.’
‘Half water, half wine, here you go, enjoy.’
Shelia, ‘When can I change my name?’
Zero, ‘Anytime you want, anything you want, some of us don’t bother with last names, I’m just Zero, Zoe’s just Zoe, CC’s last name is Blank, Fin’s is One, her first name is Infinity, we call her Fin. Misha and Micha skipped last names.’
‘And Alice?’
‘I’m Alice N Wonderland.’
Sheila giggles, ‘Come on…’
‘No, really, it’s on my ID, birth certificate and passport.’
‘I’m not sure what to do.’
CC, ‘Suppose I make a list, see if anything works for you, if not the first list, we just keep going.’
‘Can we look after dinner?’
Dinner over, I help Zoe and Alice clear and get things in the dishwasher, the girls are fishing for something interesting on TV, which for us is mostly Amazon and Netflix.
Fin, ‘This looks good, Kavanagh QC, the lead is the guy who plays Inspector Morse, both quality BBC productions. What do you think?’
Zoe, ‘Play it, if it stinks we can always do more Morse, I think we have several seasons left.’
‘See if CC and Shelia want to see it from the start, they went to CC’s room.’
Zero goes up, comes down with the two girls, ‘Yes, they do.’
‘Hit on any names?’
CC, ‘A couple, but we’re going to go again in the morning, Janah’s coming when?’
‘Nine thirty, ten.’
The program is excellent, particularly watching lawyers eat each other, funny how barristers from the same Chambers can be on opposing sides. Then there are the QCs, Queens Counsel, nicknamed silks because of the silk robes they wear in court. 
The wigs were adopted from the French King Louis XIV, wigs caught on, and the bigger one’s wig, the higher the status. Is that where the term Big Wig came from? Turns out it was from the French again, then across Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. Enough on that topic.

One Hundred Eighty Four

It’s just past breakfast, CC makes an announcement, holds her hand out towards our new addition, ‘Let me introduce Phaedra de Luce, formerly Sheila. We found the first name looking under Goth names, Phaedra is Greek in origin, the daughter of Minos and Pasiphaë. We didn’t look up who those people were, we simply like the name. According to several sources, the name means ‘bright’. 
‘And de Luce is from the Alan Bradley books?’
‘Yes, Flavia de Luce, the protagonist in the series I think we’ve all read. You can hardly get more elegant that Phaedra de Luce.’
‘Take a photo, I’ll get the ID, birth certificate and passport. And take another photo with a wig, color contacts, and makeup, I’ll get a second set in a different name, like the rest of us have’
The buzzer for the gate buzzes, Zoe opens it and a minute later Janah is at the door.
CC, ‘Janah, you know everyone except this young lady who has chosen the name Phaedra de Luce.’
Janah smiles, ‘Greek mythology, daughter of Minos and Pasiphaë, and I assume de Luce is from the Flavia de Luce series. Wonderful novels,’ she looks at Phaedra, ‘beautiful name, it means bright but I guess you know that.’
Phaedra, ‘I do, now I have a challenge, to be bright.’
Janah studies her, ‘You are already bright. Let’s take a walk outside,’ she turns to Zero, ‘we’ll go alone if you don’t mind.’
Zero, ‘Not at all, we’re here when you’re done.’
They go out the patio door, we break off to do general housekeeping, an hour later Janah and Phaedra return, we’re back around the dining table with coffee and tea.
Janah, ‘We looked at photos of the ranch, talked over life there, she has mixed feelings. Phaedra?’
‘The place looks neat, lots of activities, everyone except the monks are kids like me, from various crap backgrounds. I am willing to go…except…’ she looks to Janah.
‘Except, our young bright one has certain skills, or a specific skill, you may want this particular butterfly in your nest. Phaedra is a math prodigy. I’ve only known one girl of nine that can do advanced calculus, in her head.’
‘Who was the other?’
Janah, ‘It’s not important.’
I tell the girl, ‘You kept that under wraps. I’m certain Janah reinforced what we told you, this is your decision, you are welcome here, even if you didn’t do math in your head.’
‘That’s what she said, and my decision is to stay with you guys, Janah said Natasha is like me, or I’m like her anyway. Maybe she will help me develop my…ability.’
Natasha, ‘We will have time for that, and you will have other lessons, like any student.’
Phaedra grins, ‘Great! So, like, I’m not in the way or anything?’
CC, ‘I hope we aren’t in your way, Mademoiselle Bright.’
‘Will you stay for lunch Janah?’
‘Thanks, I have to get home, we’re going to Arizona tomorrow, you can imagine getting twenty eight girls ready to travel. At least it’s another residence, we keep clothes and whatnot there, no serious packing.’
‘And all the little girls, what? Eight?’
‘Yes, fortunately Kota B is the nanny bot, an enormous help.’
Phaedra, ‘Twenty eight girls, in one house?’
‘It’s a big house.’
I offer, ‘How do you get everyone to the airport?’
‘The airline sends a bus, and we don’t all fly on the same plane, we do use the same airline, Blue Sky.’
‘That’s where our account is.’
‘They’ve been superb, super clean, on time, well, you already know.’
‘And when you arrive?’
‘Danika and Su pick us up, we have our own bus, two actually, on that end. Those are smaller but we can put up to fifteen on each. The house gets used by the parents, mine and Daphne’s, and our friends back in New York go from time to time, the buses come in handy. Which brings me to an invitation. If you can get away for a week, we would like you to come over, there’s a guesthouse, bedrooms and baths aren’t a problem.’
Fin, ‘Awesome, any particular week?’
‘Give us a week to get settled in, anytime after that, we’re there from tomorrow, first of May through July, then to Canada for August and September.’
‘We love the Canadian Rockies, been up four or five times, rent a log cabin, a house, not much like a cabin inside, we like our creature comforts. You must have to rent more than one.’
Janah, ‘House there too, we don’t go in the snowy times, it’s on a hunk of mountain across the lake, access to ski areas is impossible. Canada is for disappearing into wilderness, although the house is neither log nor rustic, it’s modern. Some of the girls fish almost every day, not my thing but I don’t complain about the fresh fish dinners Dasha, Ellen, and Daphne prepare.’
Zero, ‘Arizona sound great, suppose I text you a date when we’ve figured out our schedule.’
‘Perfect. Nice to meet you Phaedra, look forward to seeing everyone in Arizona.’
I walk her to the car, Janah asks, ‘Are you exclusive to Zero, or….’
‘No, we don’t do exclusivity.’
‘Neither do we, I’m ninety percent lesbian, but I borrow Sloane occasionally, but you can imagine, with all the girls, a couple hook up with Sloane, Sarah mostly, a couple of the others. I’m fond of…things only a man can supply, I don’t read you as needing me to be coy or demure.’
‘You read me already, and you know the answer, I’d be honored, delighted, enthusiastic, some other stuff I can’t think of just now.’
Janah giggles, ‘Yes, I know, thought I’d ask, although I sense you prefer to be told, or shall we say, directed.’
‘Zero trained me, then CC, besides, flirtation is fine, even teasing, playing hard to get is dumb, better if people say what they want up front.’
‘Agreed, girls tend to dance around, drop clues, see if the guy is being attentive enough to pick them up. I don’t care for, or have time for, that sort of manipulation, gaming so to speak. Good then, perhaps we can steal away in Arizona.’
‘I was told you share a room with Daphne, wait, that came out wrong, not asking for a threesome.’
Janah laughs, ‘Daphne is in high demand, she never lacks for a bed. She’s a gold star lesbian, women only. I was until Sloane came along and curiosity got the better of me. I enjoy the joystick, and the subsequent release.’
‘And I will do any damn thing you want, any way you want, any time you want.’
Janah smiles, ‘Glad I brought it up.’
‘Me too.’
I kiss her soft cheek, I understand she’s not asking for romance, she’s asking for sex, ‘Anticipating Arizona, see you soon. Oh, the gate going out operates automatically, the code to open it coming in is two nine two nine.’
She drives off, I go inside.
Zero, ‘Your aura says Janah scored.’
‘Well, the marching band is still on the field, actual play will have to wait.’
‘I’m going after Daphne first chance, although I may have to get in line behind CC.’
‘Based on my short chat with Janah, they don’t require courting or dates, flirting maybe, they think direct is best.’
‘I’m good with that, pretty much how we are here.’
‘Janah’s incredibly perceptive, she figured out how we relate, I don’t think any of you told her.’
‘No, we wouldn’t, that’s between us, we say, you obey. Alice picked up on it though, she likes being a bit bossy, which she doesn’t limit to you. Actually, it’s rather interesting, the girls acquiesce, I mean CC, Fin, and I, she doesn’t do it with the twins or Zoe, and she’s gentle with the kids.’
Zoe appears, ‘Time to crank out lunch, Boar’s Head roast beef and buffalo chicken, chopped purple cabbage for topping, chips.’
Mention lunch and the rest of the crowd shows up.
Zoe, ‘If you want the bun toasted, go light, not dark, the bread toasts quickly. Phaedra, it’s build your own today, have at it girls.’
While we make sandwiches, Zoe writes up the tea and dinner menus on our board. 
Tea at four thirty: cream cheese with raspberry jelly on crackers.
Dinner at seven thirty: Seafood gumbo, rice, French bread.
Phaedra, ‘Awesome, looks like I made the right decision.’
CC, ‘Speaking of, this afternoon you and I are going for new sneakers, a few other items. Alice’s wedges and platforms are almost new, worn a few times, but she outgrew them. If you don’t mind, go with those, you’ll be growing too and needing new shoes soon enough.’
Phaedra, ‘Am I changing hairstyles?’
‘I started to, but yours suits you, lush brown, straight to the shoulder, maybe highlights, put a bit of sparkle in it.’
Alice, ‘Can I take a ride?’
‘Sure, what about Misha and Micha?’
Misha, ‘We’ll go, maybe I find a skirt.’
The conversation on that end of the table turns to fashion, not my subject, I help Zoe clear, put away, and crank the dishwasher. The twins go upstairs with Fin.
CC, ‘Zoe, will you come with, I have a herd to watch.’
‘Sure, we need fresh French bread, I have to go out anyway.’
The house empties, Zero shucks her t-shirt, now she’s just in socks, ‘Our earlier conversation has gotten me…warm, let’s go to your room, I want to steam.’

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