Five

I let her lay and absorb for fifteen, ‘Can I get up now, I smell like a mildewed basement.’
‘Eau de mushroom, yes get a shower.’
‘Wash my hair.’
She stands under the rainfall and gets a good soak, then steps to one side so I can lather up her hair. That done, rinse it with the shower wand.
‘Silky hair is all clean and shiny, finish up, that lavender soap you bought is nice.’
‘Sit at the vanity and keep me company.’
She’s good about hygiene, scrubs the delicate bits fore and aft, bath loofah for her back, brush for her toes.
Shower off, I hand her a big fluffy bath towel and she wraps up. I dry her hair to damp, she unwraps, hands me the towel, ‘Dry me.’
‘Your arm broken?’
‘Not yet.’
I relent, use the towel for another light massage, ‘See, that feels good and you get a chance to ogle my splendid self.’
‘You’re pretty cute for a mouse.’
‘Hah! I’m adorable and you know it.’
‘Okay, an adorable mouse.’
‘Squeak, squeak, your mouse needs to get moving on dinner, get me a t-shirt, and my socks.’
White shirt, white socks, I pull the shirt over her head, sit on the vanity stool, powder her feet and slip on the socks. 
‘Dry my hair.’
We swap, I stand, she sits, hair dryer screams. When it’s done her hair is satiny and straight.
She looks up at me, angles one cheek, ‘You may kiss me.’
I do the double, she heads to the kitchen, I follow along obediently. I feel as if I’m being trained, it makes me grin, as a former Ranger I’m used to following orders.
While Zero fusses with potatoes, into the microwave, rinsed mushrooms to one side awaiting grilling.
‘Need me to do anything?’
‘You’re doing it, keeping me under observation. You may have observed that I like being observed, here at home anyway, not the masses,’ she points her spatula, ‘out there.’
Zero doesn’t talk like she’s seven and a half, which means she doesn’t think like seven and a half, but that assumes we know what seven and a half thinks like.
The public education drones believe all children of age X should be in grade Y, learning identical things. That’s absurd on the face of it. Zero handled regular abuse for her first seven, I see her in my mind, getting slapped and backhanded by the asshole, refusing to cry. I thought at first it might be resignation, giving up, giving in. It wasn’t, it was defiance.
As if she’s reading my thoughts, ‘I’m reading about Einstein, one of the great geniuses, he was a crappy student, always daydreaming.’
‘What does that tell you about school?’
‘Nothing good. I’m learning to code out of interest, right online. Reading about neuroscience and consciousness. If I was in second grade, those subjects would never come up. I’d be like the other dweebs, drawing crayon stick figures with my tongue poking from the corner of my mouth in deep concentration.’
‘What are you working on, coding I mean?’
‘Writing simple programs, creating algorithms, if this then that. Slow going but going.’
‘Learning anything new can be frustrating or tiresome, doesn’t matter if it’s math or martial arts. There will come a point when you feel blank, like making no progress, stumped. Then drop it for a while, do a bit of yoga, treadmill, or just nap. Return to it, persist, out of the blue you will see what you are missing and things will mysteriously fall into place.’
‘Is that true, I hope so.’
‘Yes it’s true. You have to give your neurons time to expand and adjust, they work on their schedule, not ours.’
I’m helping myself to a second portion of pulled pork, ‘I don’t really like it, having a second helping to save your self esteem.’
‘Piss off, you practically inhaled the first pile.’
I grin, ‘Ancient culinary wisdom, too many compliments spoils the chef.’
I also ate my potato and half hers, she’s hardly anorexic, she’s little.
‘We need a grill, one of those propane things, I want to learn about grilling steak, chicken, fish, vegetables.’
‘Pick one out and have it delivered.’
‘Already did, you’re lighter six thousand bucks.’
‘Does it launch nuclear missiles?’
‘I thought about the ten thousand one, but it seemed excessive for two of us.’
‘Do I have to wear an apron with something stupid, kiss the chef or whatever?’
‘Don’t be an idiot. It comes with two propane tanks and will melt steel.’
‘Might be useful for disposing of bodies.’
‘You were getting me a knife.’
‘Oh yeah, let’s get the dishes dealt with, thank you for a splendid dinner.’
We get things rinsed and into the dishwasher, fire it up. I don’t like stuff in the sink, most people are slobs, I’m not and Zero is finicky about dirt and grime.
‘Come here, see this block?’
‘Looks like all the other blocks.’
‘Press it.’
She does, there’s a click and the wall opens a crack, not the whole wall, about four feet of it. I push it open, hinged on the inside, wouldn’t be much of a hidden closet if the hinges were visible.
‘Go inside.’
‘Are you going to wall me in?’
‘Not tonight.’
She goes in, ‘Holy shift, when’s the war start?’
‘It sort of accumulated.’
There is a collection of Glocks, seven. The 17, 19, 26, 34, 43, 45 and 48, standard, compact and subcompact. Suppressors in a shelf below with stacks of empty magazines, boxes of ammo next to the suppressors. Suppressors are what people call silencers. I don’t use shoulder holsters, too bulky and easy to spot. Mine clip to a belt. 
Rifles and two shotguns standing stock down and lined up, locked in by a steel strip. I’ve shot them, never used any for a conflict resolution, never had to do any long distance kills, army excepted. A few martial arts weapons, nunchaka, chain whip, shuriken (throwing stars), long stick, three katana, and a line of working blades, military grade.
I start at the left, ‘Gerber Silver Trident, double serrated, eleven and a quarter inch overall, six and a quarter blade.
This one is a SOG Pentagon five inch blade, overall nine and three quarters.
Next, KA-BAR black straight edge, seven inch blade, eleven and three quarters overall.
Next, Cold Steel Trail Master, long knife, fourteen and a half inches with a
nine and a half inch blade, not serrated.
Another Cold Steel, a Recon Tanto, also a long knife, eleven and three quarter inches, seven inch blade.
You should carry the shortest, which isn’t that short, the SOG for your waist; for your ankle, CRKT Folts Minimalist Bowie, two and an eighth inch blade, five inches overall. It can strap to your ankle or thigh.’
I hand it to her, ‘The blades are all razor sharp, don’t fool around. You hold it like what most people would call upside down, that is, the sharp side up. You’re right handed, so hold the knife in your left hand, which will be the one forward if you are in a confrontation. 
Remember, facing an opponent isn’t facing the opponent. You stand sideways, makes you a smaller target. Guy tries to hit you, block with the blade, slice any part available. People get cut, they think twice about getting cut again. In a life and death, slash the arm for instance, then the blade will be shoulder high on your right. Step into your attacker and sink the thing in his chest or neck, chest is a bigger target, but there are ribs and a breastbone, so strike hard, and keep chopping until your guy is down. A big man hyped on drugs may not feel much at first.’
I let her handle each of the guns, not the rifles, then the knives, she’s careful with all of it.
‘What about those things,’ she points at the martial arts weapons.
‘Mostly for practice, eye hand coordination and proprioceptive sense, where is my body in relation to the weapon, am I balanced or wobbly. I’ll teach you those later. When you have a feel for them, you can practice on your own.’
‘This is awesome, you will teach me to shoot?’
‘Yes, I have a private range out in the desert, it’s about a thirty mile drive, can’t be around any people. The handguns have suppressors, they pop, but softly, nobody would hear the guns even if they didn’t have the suppressors, it’s a big swath of valley, mountain behind.’
‘Double awesome, when can we go?’
‘Soon. I think I may have to travel in a couple of days, it isn’t locked down yet.’
I can see wheels turning, she looks at the wall of death, looks at me, ‘You’re a hitman.’
‘I prefer to call it conflict resolution.’

Six

‘Explain, how is killing someone positive, what about the dead guy?’
‘Think of it this way. Two people have a conflict they are unable to resolve. Both are frustrated to angry, two unhappy people walking around sending off negative vibes. One of them hires me. I take out the other for a healthy fee. Now, there’s one dead guy, he’s not complaining, and two happy people, the one who hired me, and me.’
She giggles, ‘You turn two negatives into two positives and a nothing, a miracle, you’re like Jesus or whatever.’
‘Yeah, well, maybe, but I don’t plan on getting crucified.’
‘I’ll stick a knife in their gut first, how much do you cost?’
‘Basic work is fifty thousand, any names, a hundred. I don’t do big names, no political work, no celebrities, too much heat.’
‘Wow, no wonder you’re rich.’
‘I was rich already, the army taught me to kill efficiently but the pay sucked, so I mustered out and here we are. Conflict resolution isn’t regular work, I might do one, another comes along a week later, kind of like now. Before the last trip, I hadn’t traveled for three or four months.’
‘What was the longest, before you got a...what…contract?’
‘Four months as I recall, usually more often.’
‘Seems like a lot then.’
‘You’d be surprised how many people want someone dead.’
‘I wanted my mother’s boyfriend dead, her too for that matter.’
‘See, of course two would have cost you fifty each, I don’t discount for volume, volume is riskier in this line of work.’
‘I see what you mean.’
‘And I see we’ve chewed up the evening, time for Queens to sleep.’
‘You coming?’
‘Soon as I shower.’
Twenty later, she’s got her head on my shoulder and starting to fade.
‘Kiss me.’
Peck, peck, she shifts a bit, then gone.
Then it’s morning, I realize there’s no blanket or sheet over me, prop up on my elbows.
Zero is on her tummy, chin propped in her hands, studying the erection.
‘Geez, it gets gigantic.’
I roll out and stand, ‘Men frequently wake up with an erection, it may or may not have anything to do with sex.’
I go to the toilet, pee, when I come out bad boy has relaxed. Turn on the shower and step in. 
Zero is in the water closet, she didn’t close the door, ‘I read about penises, saw photos on the internet.’
The toilet flushes, she steps out and sits on the vanity stool.
‘You gonna get addicted to porn? Or just curious about guy parts?’
‘Actually, I surfed for nude girls. Did you know that a quarter of all internet searches are for porn? And that the most searched word is lesbian?’
‘No, I didn’t. Why girls?’
‘Don’t know, I was curious about the puss, did they all look the same, they don’t.’
‘Not in my experience.’
‘I was wondering, no wife obviously, no girlfriend either?’
‘Nope. I had an active sex life in the army, girls from all over the world, well, not South America, but the far east and Europe. There were a couple of girls when I got home, but the new line of work makes a girlfriend dicey. Unexplained travel, or lie about it anyway. I think I was also relationship weary.’
‘Tired of sex?’
‘No, tired of all the surrounding niceties and obligations.’
‘But you took me in.’
‘Yes, there was something, how you took the slaps without crying or reacting in any way.’
‘I was not going to let him get to me, he could hit me, but he would never get the satisfaction of making me cry.’
‘So, here we are, no girlfriend but you, a girl who is a friend.’
‘I like that. Um…you have no hair on your body, I noticed a lot of the guys in porn shave everything.’
‘I’m missing the connection.’
‘Why don’t all men do it, a hairy body is yuck.’
‘Some people assume it’s a gay thing, which is mostly wrong, gay guys like guys in all their hairy glory. I do it for the simplest of reasons, I don’t like body hair. I’m lucky, I was never a hairy chest or back man, none on my butt, my beard is light and easy to shave. Hair around the privates and underarms bugs me, and it collects bacteria.’
‘I liked the girls with no hair down there, I don’t have any but I suppose it will show up eventually.’
‘You’re a blonde, blonde, you may never have to shave your legs for instance. If hair elsewhere bugs you, as you saw on the internet, it can be removed.’
‘You could do porn, you have the body…and the other body part,’ she giggles.
‘No thanks. First of all, I doubt it pays that much. How many men are going to turn down the chance to have sex with a hot young girl who, by design, will do damn near anything. Second, you don’t know where these folks have been, STDs are rampant among porn actors, so I’ve read anyway.’
‘I ordered a vibrator.’
‘Have you…entertained yourself, am I being clear?’
‘Yes, I masturbate, you can say it, it isn’t profane, it’s not even dirty.’
‘Understood.’
‘And we can skip the polite words, fuck is okay too.’
I laugh, ‘Are you sure you weren’t in the military?’
‘Past life.’
We dress and go forage for breakfast.
Is it proper for use to see each other naked, or talk about sex so frankly, or to let her surf porn?
First, fuck proper. Improper is firing missiles and dropping bombs on children because we don’t like their parents’ politics or religion.
Second, I don’t let or not let her do anything. She is her own person, it’s her call.
Third, if you want kids who feel they can tell you anything, then you have to listen and respond to anything they say, or want to know; and without the parent tantrum. If she asks, she’s old enough to be answered.

Seven

Ordinary, extraordinary, months go by. Every day with Zero is extraordinary, she’s inquisitive, direct, and blindingly smart. What kid teaches herself to code, reads non-fiction brain books, does regular forms of exercise without prompting, nagging or joining a team? And got me to demonstrate and coach her through the use of martial arts weapons. Now she does most of it on her own, even made a calendar schedule on her tablet. If she’s an eight year old, I’m the Duchess of Cambridge.
Maybe she’s a kid vampire, like four hundred years old, but she doesn’t sleep all day, she sleeps like the dead at night, hasn’t asked for a coffin, doesn’t drink blood, rare steaks excepted. Another small anomaly, what kid eats rare steak?
I took her to the range, taught her how to shoot straight. With the smaller Glocks, she’s excellent, good enough, I use all of them but mostly the smaller ones for work. I kill from five feet or less, the bullets are identical in all of the models I own, I only use 9x19mm, a nine, I do have one that loads twenty twos, she practices with both.
For target shooting I use standard jacket. I also have unjacketed and hollow points, which can be either jacketed or unjacketed. The jacketed hollow point tends to expand on impart but not break up. The mushroom shape makes a mess inside a body. I shoot for the brain, I want the target down and out first time. For my purposes, hollow point with or without jacket is immaterial.
‘I’m traveling tomorrow.’
‘Not without me you aren’t.’
‘Okay, I haven’t stuck up much in the way of rules, but if you want to come, here’s the deal. At home, you can give all the orders you want, I’m happy to go along. In the work, I say go left, you go left, I say stay in the car, you stay in the car, I say be silent, you speak not, get the idea?’
‘On the road, you’re the commander in chief, I’m a private. Be stupid to do it any other way, I have no experience.’
‘And you may or may not be there for the resolution, I’ll decide when I check out the situation. If I say stay in the hotel…’
‘I stay in the hotel.’
‘Good, when we get home, you can take charge again.’
‘You love doing stuff for me, and I love to cook for us.’
‘You’re carrying your weight, no complaint.’
All sixty two pounds of it. Average eight year old girl, Caucasian, weighs fifty seven and is four two. Zero is four-four, taller than average by a couple inches. And she’s solid from her exercise regime.
‘What should I pack?’
‘Basics, jeans, pullover, sneakers, you want to be invisible, an ordinary kid. And take one of the watch caps, something to pull your hair into a ponytail, like when you do gymnastics. You have sunglasses, wear them all the time, pretend you’re a rap star.’
‘No makeup.’
‘Right, you can play with it around here, on the road, nothing, no jewelry, no earrings, no rings.’
She wanted her ears pierced, which was fine, she’s cute, little diamonds, or a pair that dangles two inch platinum chains. She has a few laminate bracelets and a platinum filigree ring she wears on her left forefinger.
‘Dinner in twenty, roast chicken, sautéed vegetables in garlic sauce. If you want dessert, there’s Ben and Jerry’s, cones or cup. Then we can catch an episode of Wire in the Blood, I love serial killer and psycho people programs. Go and set it up, I’ll bring you a vodka rocks, dash of cranberry. Sauvignon blanc with dinner.’
Smile to myself, the idiots that had her had no clue what they missed, fuckwads, I should have offed them both. Sip my drink and set up the program.
I park at the island, watch her sauté vegetables, red, yellow, and orange peppers, I don’t care for green. There’s also water chestnuts and snow peas, she sprinkles in peanuts. The chicken is cut up, she gives me a plate with a thigh, leg, and breast, she has a breast.
As she pours the wine, says, ‘You will probably want to finish off the chicken, if I’m not too full I’ll take the wings.’
She takes a half glass for herself with seltzer, a kid spritzer.
‘You did a great job with the vegetables, hot but not turned into mush, I like a bit of crunch. Chicken is super, what did you do?’
‘Shoved orange slices under the skin, then the rest of the orange in the gut. Salt, pepper, paprika, roast for an hour twenty at four hundred, that’s it.’
‘Tasty, Zero, better than the market and the market isn’t bad.’
We clear and load the dishwasher, move to the couch and watch Dr. Tony Hill get in the heads of serial killers. It is quite well done, British naturally, Americans are incapable of creating intense drama without throwing in people too pretty to be real, dysfunctional re-lay-shun-ships are in both British and American plots.
Zero is nestled against me, still relatively early, half past nine. 
‘We leave tomorrow at eight thirty, flight at nine,’ I know she packed, our home is one big room, the rolling case is near the door to the garage. The only other door goes to the grassy swath out back, I seldom opened it, she goes out now to get a bit of sun.
‘Let’s go to bed, you can read to me.’
‘Neuroscience doesn’t sound like bedtime material.’
‘I have fiction, you know Lolita?’
‘Heard of it, there was a movie I think.’
‘Two in fact, maybe we’ll get the last one and see how it compares to the book.’
‘You know what it’s about…’
‘Yeah, me,’ she giggles.

Eight

Get your mind right, your narrator is not going to have sex with any eight year old. Zero likes to tease, explore bodies, discuss intimate matters, she does it with me because she knows it’s safe. I don’t know if her mild interest in lesbian porn is curiosity or a hint of her eventual sexual preference. It will unfold in due course.
We’re on the plane, a Citation jet that seats four. Blue Sky charges by the hour, not by the passenger, having Zero along doesn’t cost extra.
‘Never asked, have you flown before?’
‘I was a toddler, maybe two or three. I was told that, I don’t remember. Not since, this is nice.’
‘I can carry on what I want without scans or inspections. Technically you can carry a gun, unloaded, in checked baggage. I don’t like TSA lines or waiting around baggage claim, and I don’t trust the baggage people to keep their hands off.’
‘You don’t like people much.’
‘Not a matter of like, matter of trust.’
‘You trust me.’
‘I do.’
She smiles and looks out the little window.
We arrive, there’s a nondescript full size black sedan, a Ford Whatever, the ads say, Buy Me or Don’t, Like I Care. Toss the bags in the back seat, my gun case looks like a suitcase, inside is cushioned with memory foam, it squishes over the parts so they don’t slide around. The Glock is broken down to three pieces, the magazines are empty, ammo in my regular suitcase.
On to the target’s home, which is also his place of business. 
‘Put the Glock together.’
She crawls over the seat, collects the pieces from the gun case, then the ammunition from my luggage. I hear clicks, then the slide engage. She hands the gun through the opening between the seats. I stop on the side of the road and examine.
‘Perfect, you racked one in the chamber, yes?’
‘Not much good with the bullets sleeping in the magazine.’
Still have to check, I don’t want to hear ‘click’ when I pull the trigger. Ease the slide back, there it is.
‘So much for trust.’
‘Trust, but verify, even trustworthy people make mistakes, get distracted, forget. In the case of a gun, I don’t care what anyone tells you, you check to see if it’s loaded, always,’ I get back on the road.
‘Our target has a live in, a pretty boy of nineteen or so. I assume he’s rich enough to buy the younger man’s favors.’
Zero, ‘Maybe it’s true love,’ she laughs once, ‘love is hormones, oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine. People want to believe there is some ‘thing’ called love.’
‘So young, so jaded.’
‘What’s jaded?’
‘Pessimistic, usually based on relationship disappointments.’
‘You believe in love?’
‘No, I believe in attraction, to looks, to character, to sense of humor, makes people feel good…for a while.’
‘So old, so jaded.’
‘Watch it Queenie, I’m, not ninety, just bumping up on thirty.’
She giggles, sweet sound, even to a hardened killer, cause, you know, psychopaths have feelings too.
‘I think we’re psychopaths.’
‘Could be, does it matter?’
She shrugs, ‘Not really. My reading tells me that psychiatric diagnoses are vague anyway. They come up with behavioral descriptions to justify getting money out of insurance companies and to prescribe medications that mostly don’t do much.’
‘You suck up information like a vacuum.’
‘It’s easy for me to remember things, you’re coming up on his house, third left.’
I let her read the file, such as it is, notes on an encrypted message board. I usually read and delete, which I did after she looked it over.
‘Appears someone is home, the garage door is opening.’
A young man is opening a car door, he gets in, cranks it, backs out and cruises down the street. The door stays open.
‘I’m going in from the garage, I didn’t see him lock it, it isn’t a deadbolt.’
‘Can I watch?’
I think it over, ‘Come on, and don’t touch anything for any reason.’
She grins and hops out. We walk up the drive, I snap on latex gloves, gently test the handle, the door cracks open, peer around. This is a laundry room, the door is open to the kitchen, we go in.
Target is on a sofa, flat screen plays a porn flick, guys sucking dick and fucking each other in the ass. I don’t see the appeal, but I’m not him.
I put my finger to my lips, she nods. Push my hand out indicating she should stay where she is, nods again. I go past the kitchen island, to the side of the sofa, his hand is between his legs, fondling, he’s not nude, sweat pants and a t-shirt.
He starts, looks up, ‘Holy fuck, you nearly gave me a heart attack, who are you? What do you want?’
Never engage in conversation, it’s distracting. Less time, less chance of problems. I raise the Glock, ease back on the trigger, pop! A neat hole in the center of his forehead, slight ooze of blood, then it quits. When your heart stops, so does the blood flow.
‘Let’s go, you first, see if anyone is walking by, or a car coming down the street. If it’s good, go to the car. Don’t run, but don’t stop either.’
She goes off, I remove the gloves and stick them in my pocket. Must be okay, she rounds the corner to the left, our car is a half block down,. When I get there she’s safely in the passenger, I start the thing and we drive off.
We go along in silence for five, then, ‘That was fucking awesome.’
I’d say I created a monster but I’m pretty sure the gremlin was living in there anyway.
‘You okay?’
‘I had the shivers on the way to the car, but they’ve gone now. I wasn’t scared, excited is more like it. Can I do one?’
Sheesh.
‘Well, you didn’t puke, or start screaming, so maybe.’
‘My puss is wet.’
Double sheesh.
I didn’t book a room, if we need one I have corporate cards that lead to empty shells, empty of everything but money. I have a corporate account with Blue Sky, fronted them a quarter million, they take the cost from that. When it gets down to fifty or so, I’ll reload.
Call the company, plane is still at the airport, they will have it piloted in two hours, we can be home for six.
‘Guess we brought luggage we don’t need, that went easy, sometimes I have to follow around the target for a couple of days waiting on a good spot.’
‘I’m your lucky charm. A hotel would have been good, but home is better, we can pick up Chinese? I want that silky soup, wonton, those dumplings are sooo good.’
Which is what we do. We only had coffee and tea on the flight, didn’t get to lunch. I get us a double order of shrimp with garlic sauce, two soups, wonton, hot and sour.
By six thirty she’s making me a vodka, I take it in to shower, Zero climbs in with me. You may recall the shower itself is big, I’m big, there are dual rainfall showerheads plus a wand for better rinsing.
‘Wash my hair.’
I do, then rinse thoroughly with the wand, step out while she finishes. When she’s done I towel her head, a second for her body. 
‘You are curvy for eight, exercise is paying off, legs like a little gymnast and a granite tummy. I take it you aren’t into soft and fem.’
‘No, I’m into soft and hard, my skin is smooth and unblemished, that’s the only soft.’
‘Your cheeks are soft, I know because I kiss them.’
‘Which you must do immediately,’ she holds one up to me, I kiss, then the other.
I blow dry her hair, brush it out all silken blonde, slip on my casual pants and a t-shirt. 
Zero is admiring herself in the full length mirror, ‘I’m hot,’ she turns left and right to check-out her bottom, ‘perfect butt too.’
‘At the risk of being written off as a total perv, I agree.’
‘You don’t qualify for perv, if anyone is pervy it’s me, your precious precocious psychotic exhibitionist.’
‘You see what’s there, false humility is arrogance.’

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