Fifty Seven

Home, our best place. We have no dissention, no conflicts, not out of obedience, out of harmony. 
‘Girls, I think we should have another room built. Zero is twelve, CC is twelve but fourteen in birth years. We don’t care about privacy among ourselves, still, I have a feeling a separate space of your own will be welcome.’
Zero, ‘I’m ambivalent, we like the togetherness, we like you sleeping with us. Still, a girl cave has appeal, what do you think CC?’
‘As long as there’s a three way mirror, I must constantly monitor myself, to make sure I remain as splendid as I am.’
‘There’s no great spot to attach it to the building. You use the back for the trampoline and sunning. The only other spot is to build it in front, or, we can put it on the roof.’
Zero, ‘Roof, can we include a patio?’
‘Sure, and I think an interior spiral staircase, and an exterior staircase perhaps, you can go to the yard and back up from outside.’
CC, ‘This is sounding like fun.’
‘I know a good architect, I’ll have her come by, you can tell her what you want.’
I can see the wheels start to churn, Zero, ‘Let’s, no…not right, I started to say look through the web for ideas, but CC and I can talk with the architect. If I search girl’s bedroom, we’ll get all kinds of frill. I want minimal, open, efficient.’
‘And you, CC?’
‘Whatever Zero wants, my one humble request aside.’
It takes a couple of months, I had the roof examined by a structural engineer. He suggested reinforcement since we’re putting a big bath and Jacuzzi. Plumbing and water add a fair amount of weight. I went overkill, now we can park a tank up there.
Our architect caught on immediately, the space is Zen-like, with a walk in closet big enough for girl things, there are two of them after all, Zero is fundamental, CC likes more splash, which translates into shoes and clothes. By the time it’s done, their bedroom-bath plus the patio takes near half the roof. The first floor is three thousand square feet, their space on the second is fourteen hundred.
Zero, ‘We are so spoiled, Commandant, this is amazing.’
‘My pleasure, it is rather nice, isn’t it?’
CC, ‘You’re the VB, Commandant, you may kiss me,’ she turns up one cheek, then the other, I don’t know if I’m the Very Best, but I’m glad the girls think so.
I got them a surprise, a Vespa Sei Giorni for each, identical, there aren’t color options, these are gunmetal grey, Vespa calls it matte grey, I like gunmetal better. 
Zero, ‘You are too much Commandant, are we legal to ride these things?’
‘You are now,’ I hand them each a license that says CC is seventeen and Zero sixteen, ‘first learn to ride around here. It’s ridiculously easy, helmet is in the storage compartment, wear it.’
I earn two long lovey hugs.
Then I don’t see them for two hours, they return full of giggles and broad smiles.
‘You pass by your drug dealer’s?’
Zero, ‘No drugs, riding euphoria, it feels like…freedom. With the Bluetooth connection we can talk to each other on the built in headset and mic. We can even call you.’
CC, ‘Don’t worry, we won’t chatter, you warned us that cars and trucks often don’t see cycles, we’ll pay attention.’
‘After you’re familiar with the bikes, you will learn to drive the SUV, not the Acura for now, it’s a lot of car speed-wise, get more experience first.’
Zero, ‘Good, you won’t have to drive all the time.’
‘And, if we need to, we can rent two cars when we travel on business, better for surveillance. Agencies won’t rent to you directly, you have to be twenty one. No problem, once the car is off their lot they have no idea who’s driving.’
A month passes, girls ride every day it doesn’t rain. Where we live there isn’t a lot of rain, it isn’t desert, but it’s close to the desert. Our place is up a winding mile and a half long road, private, off a lightly traveled two lane for almost five miles after the highway exit. 
The girls are on the rooftop patio sunning. I’m just out of a shower after a five mile jog down the hill to the two lane then back up. 
Zero comes down the spiral staircase, ‘You were on the road?’
‘Yeah, but that was a half hour ago, what’s up?’
‘Better come upstairs.’
I follow her up, then out to the patio, what in hell?
CC, ‘These girls need help.’
These girls means two little bookends, can’t be more than six. They’re ragged, clearly exhausted, look like they’ve slept in the forest adjoining my place. They’re drinking water, nothing but the clothes on their backs, which means jeans and a t-shirt, cheap sandals.
‘They hurt?’
CC, ‘Later, they can barely talk, one hasn’t said anything.’
‘Take them inside and get them washed, they must be hungry, they look…well, not emaciated, but getting there.’
Zero, ‘We want you to get a bath, then something to eat, then you will want to sleep. Afterwards, you can tell us what happened.’
‘Man, he ees okay? He does not make us do things?’
‘No, if you knew us, you would know he saved us from men who do things to little girls.’
She thinks this over, serious as cancer, says something to her sister in Russian.
They stand, CC has to help the quiet one up, holds her hand and they go to the girls’ room.
‘I’m going to make sandwiches, it’s lunchtime anyway, bring them down when they’ve gotten bathed, you have spare toothbrushes?’
Zero, ‘Not up here, I’ll get a couple from downstairs.’
I go down, start pulling things out, the quickest is to make finger sandwiches, bag of chips.
Twenty minutes later, they come down, the twins in t-shirts that hang past their knees.
‘Much better. Okay young ladies, sit up here, eat what you wish but take it easy. If you haven’t eaten in a while you might get an upset tummy.’
Zero pours them a Coke Zero, they demolish a half dozen sandwiches each, not that much, they’re finger sandwiches with no crust and I didn’t pile on the chicken and roast beef. CC and Zero eat with them, I ate some of each without the bread while constructing the sandwiches.
The one who talks says, ‘Ees beeg house, one room only?’
CC, ‘Bathroom down here is over there, that’s the only separate room down here.’
A blink.
‘Finished?’
‘Da, yay-us,’ I take it that means yes.
Zero, ‘Come along, it’s quiet upstairs, you can take a nap.’
No comment, no objection either.
Fifteen later, the girls come back down.
‘I trust they won’t sneak off, down the exterior stairs.’
‘Locked, they don’t know the code.’
There’s a keypad on their exterior door, the door closes and locks automatically. It’s also metal, solid, the frame is metal, the lock would laugh at a battering ram. 
‘Get anything out of them?’
‘No, the quiet one nearly fell asleep while I dried and brushed her hair. I decided to leave questions for later, we didn’t ask them anything, neither said anything.’
CC, ‘Too exhausted to do much but follow directions.’
‘You know my next question.’
‘We spotted them at the edge of the woods, peeking around a tree. We threw on a wrap and went down. They didn’t try and run, I don’t think run was an option, standing was hard enough, we had to carry them up.’
‘Keep an eye on the cams, I don’t they can escape, I’m more concerned about someone looking for them.’
‘Wouldn’t their parents be…’
‘We don’t know jack CC, it will sort out later.’
The girls shower downstairs, we spend the afternoon reading, I take a short zone out, Zero up and down the steps a few times checking on them.
Around four thirty, she goes up again, this time following the two sprites down the staircase. They sit on the couch with CC on one side, Zero on the other, I’m on a love seat that corners the couch.
Zero, ‘What happened?’
They are understandably cautious, but no one has pressured them, if they want to take awhile to orient, can’t blame them.
The twins look at each other, they don’t know I have a smattering of Russian from my army days. 
Talkative, ‘CC says she ees rescue from man who sells her for making sex. Zero says she was always hit. We are the same.’
I let the girls carry the conversation.
Zero, ‘Okay.’
‘But we keel men before they can sell us.’
For anyone but us, that would be shocking, but we’re not anyone, we’re us.
CC, ‘How did they get you, were you stolen from your parents?’
‘Parents gone, first father, we do not anyway know him. Mother was put away, crazy. Then a woman comes, she says we are going to America to lif wiz reech fahmahley. Except for coming to America, all lies.’
Zero, ‘So you killed the men she gave you to.’
‘Da, woman leafs right away, two men lif een house. We hear them talk, they think we speak only Russian, so they talk in Engleesh. Making a deal to sell us to be prosteetoot. We are lettle girl, no prosteetoot. We get idea, men get drunk, we go to bed. Except we get up in middle uf night and keel wiz knife from keechen. Then we take money from men and leaf. We walk a long time, then a…um…sister what ees avtobus?
‘Bus.’
‘DA, bus, buy food from McDonald store, money ees gone. We find forest trees and go in, nobody around.’
‘How long in the woods…forest?’
‘Three nights, we haf only bottle of water, ees cold at night, but we keep each other for warming.’
‘Glad CC spotted you, there are dangerous animals, maybe a coyote, they stay away from humans.’
‘Da, we saw big dog, he ees anyway leaf.’
While they talk, I go online looking for a story about dead men in a house. I find it.
The story is a week old, the bodies were discovered by a housekeeper and had been dead a couple of days. That means the twins were on their own for eleven or twelve days. The police concluded the men were murdered by an intruder, one who got scared and bolted rather than search the house for stuff to steal. No mention of missing money, it must have not been much.
‘Are we going to gulag?’
I tell them what I found, ‘So the answer is no, they police know nothing of two girls or they would be looking for them. You must not have left much at the house.’
‘Nyet, we didn’t come wiz anything, nothing to take. Sister took hairbrush and toothbrush, she ees smart girl, we threw away.’
‘Good, if they were thorough maybe they got hair fibers, but they don’t have the twins, nothing to match DNA. Was there blood, I didn’t see anything on the t-shirts?’
‘Oh, I am remembering, we steal two shirts from sidewalk store. Sister said shirts wiz blood could be trace to men.’
‘Do you want to go back to Russia?’
‘Nyet, do not send us, we will leaf and not be anymore trouble for you.’
CC, ‘You aren’t trouble, we aren’t sending you anywhere you don’t want to go.’
She looks at her sister again, then, ‘Ees gud, we can work, clean, you will see.’
‘We will see you get taken care of, and educated. Lessons later, right now, settle in. If you want something from the refrigerator or the pantry, take it, you don’t need to ask.’
‘What ees pantery?’
‘Pantry, where we keep the food that doesn’t need to be kept cold. Let me show you.’
They examine the contents of the refrigerator, then the pantry, ‘If you want something you don’t see, ask, we don’t eat cereal for instance, but you may want it. Tell any of us and we’ll stick it on the shopping list. Now, go with CC, she’ll load up Amazon and you can get a few things to wear, shorts, jeans, shoes, tops, the whole deal.’
CC has a tablet out on the kitchen island, I pull up stools, they sit on either side and examine options.
CC, ‘At least we don’t need two sizes of things, they are so identical I can’t tell them apart.’
(For clarity purposes ‘the girls’ are CC and Zero. Twins will be collectively referred to as the twins.)

Fifty Eight

A few short years earlier I was a single guy with no entanglements. Look at me now.
A month passes, we turned down, or I should say never replied to, an inquiry for conflict resolution. Zero checked the abuse site, nothing, and she didn’t go searching for sexual predators for us to prey on. She and CC have been absorbed with the twins. We follow our home routines, the twins love the trampoline and aren’t bad, certainly not tentative. CC shows them tumbling, they are little girls, already flexible as string. They go for rides on the scooters, just up and down the private road but we got them little helmets anyway.
They don’t smile or laugh, ever, but I can see their eyes, maybe not joy, but far from depressed or anxious. They attend, like a mongoose and cobra.
Zero is in my mind again, ‘Their auras aren’t sparkly blue, but they aren’t dark like a Shadow. A neutral blue, like yours, with streaks of white, like lightening when they are playing or on the scooters. You notice they don’t speak to each other.’
‘Yeah, now that you mention it, I just assumed one was more introverted.’
‘They talk in their heads, better than us. I can read your thoughts, but we don’t talk telepathically. They do. A twin thing maybe.’
‘Interesting. Have they chosen names, I need to get fake paper on them.’
‘Natasha and Nikita, spelled like they sound, no surname. They like the idea of one name, like me. And they want to dress similarly, but not exactly alike.’
‘Which one is which?’
She giggles, ‘Nikita is the talkative one, I don’t know how to differentiate them if they say nothing, their auras are only mildly different, Nikita’s is brighter. Natasha is an eidetiker. She’s more studious, Nikita says she can get any information she needs from her sister, no reason for her to memorize things. They are insanely practical, matter of fact, direct. Don’t be insulted by what they say, they don’t mean it as an insult, they just lack social subtleties.’
‘I figured that out, never have to guess what’s on their collective mind.’
The twins sleep with the girls, in the middle. It’s a super king bed, nobody’s crowded, but the girls say the twins sleep wrapped up with each other as long as the girls remain close by. If one of them shifts away during the night, the closest twin pulls her back.
CC, ‘It’s touching, and I’m not easily touched. It crimps our sex play, but that seems less important than taking care of them.’
The girls don’t shower with me around since they got their own bath upstairs, girls also cut back on nudity, t-shirts and socks around the house now. 
Zero, ‘We didn’t explain, the twins see us dress, neither of them brings up underwear. My early impression is they don’t care what other people do if it doesn’t affect them, they certainly don’t care what other people think.’
‘It took a boatload of sangfroid to cut the throats of their captors.’
‘Exactly, cold blooded is accurate. We seem to be an exception, they aren’t warm and fuzzy, but they do appreciate what we do for them. Nikita thinks CC is perfect in every way.’
‘CC thinks CC is perfect in every way.’
Zero laughs, ‘She isn’t wrong.’
‘Have they said anything about being home all the time? I don’t know who would recognize them based on their story, they only were seen by the woman who brought them, she left town. The men are dead. People who saw them after they left the house didn’t see them for long, apart from a few purchases they didn’t interact with anyone.’
‘No, CC questioned them, they intentionally kept their heads down. I think it’s a non-issue. You working on paper, making them legal?’
‘Yeah, my guy says it will be ready tomorrow, American birth certificate, a document stating they are my wards. He assures me it’s watertight.’
‘You have good contacts.’
‘I have money, it buys anything, anywhere in the world.’
‘Subject change, do we continue to take jobs, conflict resolutions?’
‘Let’s give it a rest, or…there’s no reason I can’t travel, you and CC can stay with the twins. Most conflict resolutions are a day or two. We can put a hold on the other stuff for now.’
Zero nods, ‘Should I message the one inquiry? It’s been over a month.’
‘Give it a shot, I suspect whoever contacted someone else by now, contract killers are practically available on Craigslist.’
‘I’ll message them. What do you want for dinner?’
‘I’ll get friend chicken, coleslaw, take a cooking break. What are the twins doing?’
‘I’m teaching Natasha to code, she’s a data sponge. CC has Nikita reading English novels to her, light things, Sherlock Holmes is popular.’
‘Where are they on math?’
‘They can count, in Russian and English, add and subtract, multiplication is next, that’s online, there are a fair number of good courses. Natasha catches on instantly, she explains to her sister. They are patient with each other, tender even.’
I leave to fetch the food, when I return, the tribe is downstairs around the island. Zero got two extra stools, I had four, but we have five people now, she decided we need a spare.
The twins are absorbed in something on one of the tablets, I peek over a little shoulder, kids doing gymnastics, specifically tumbling. 
Nikita slides it to CC, ‘We will learn this one.’
CC, ‘Okay, we can work on it tomorrow.’
Zero, ‘What is it?’
‘Back flip hand springs.’
‘Challenging, good for you, tumbling will make you strong and keep you flexible.’
Nikita blinks up at Zero, who giggles, ‘Twin death stare. Was that the last thing the men saw, before you killed them?’
‘Men were drunk, they don’t see sisters.’
‘Probably for the best.’
I put a platter of fried chicken on the island counter, and a quart size container of coleslaw with a serving spoon. Plates are stacked next to the platter, utensils next to them.
‘White wine, Kir or no?’
Zero, ‘Seltzer, and small glasses for the twins.’
She makes them a mini wine, like I used to do when the girls were small. A half inch of wine, ice, seltzer.
‘Taste it, if you don’t care for it, just leave it, there’s Coke in the refrigerator.’
Twins sip, look at each other, ‘Sister says gud, we will haf.’
CC gives each girl a crispy breast, spoon of slaw, ‘It’s okay to eat fried chicken with your fingers, probably better to use a fork for the coleslaw. I don’t do well with messy anything, so I pull apart the piece with two forks.’
I lay a stack of paper napkins on the counter, the twins take one each. I don’t know anything about where they were in Russia, somebody taught them table manners.
Following CC, they both use forks to pry off pieces of chicken, Nikita asks, ‘You haf spicy..um..she mimics holding a container and shaking it over the food.’
‘Yes, several kinds, cayenne, habanero, ghost pepper and scorpion powder. Cayenne is the mildest, the others use just a teeny bit, they are hot, hot.’
‘We will try hot one, only a leetle.’
CC dabs habanero on a piece of chicken, ‘Taste it.’
Nikita does, ‘You will put on, for sister also, we are spicy girls.’
Fried chicken, a national treasure. My theory is if you put people with varying views together for a banquet of fried chicken, greens, creamed corn, and banana pudding, there would be world peace. Vegetarians will be sent to an island of their own, grow organic kale and leave the rest of us alone. Vegans will be shot.
The twins have a new favorite, demonstrated by disappearing the breast and then disappearing two wings and a leg each. They’re six, built like sticks. I notice their feet are growing faster than the rest, a sure sign of future tall.
Zero’s creeping around in my head again, ‘Nikita, your parents, were they tall?’
‘Da.’
Zero’s still learning the nuances of non-conversation. How tall were they would have garnered a more complete answer.
‘How tall? Tall as Commandant?’
‘Natasha, what ees sem'desyat odin santimetr v dyuymakh?’
‘Seventy one.’
‘Seventy one inches.’
‘Five eleven, she was tall for a woman, and father?’
‘I see peekture, he ees more than mother, she comes to…,’ she taps her hand against her shoulder.
‘Over six feet.’
No reply, Nikita wasn’t asked anything, nothing to reply to.
CC giggles, ‘We’re cracking the conversation code, still not there yet.’
Zero, ‘Going to be tall then.’
The twins wash hands, then begin to clear the table. They’ve trained us to let them take over certain jobs, usually by Nikita ordering ‘go away somewhere, sisters will do it.’
Despite two Roomba i7s, for upstairs and downstairs, the twins damp mop and clean corners by hand. The laundry bin stays empty, clean clothes folded and put away. Bathrooms are immaculate, sheets changed every other day, beds made almost before we get out of them.

Fifty Nine

Zero heard nothing from her delayed reply to the inquiry for conflict resolution, whether they found someone else or just dropped it is unknown.
Zero, ‘Funny you should mention that,’ I didn’t mention, not out loud anyway, ‘you have an opportunity.’
‘Did you get details?’
‘Yes. Four states east, small town, target lives alone. I did the regular searches, he had an altercation with one of the locals, wound up shooting him. Got off with self defense, a gun was found at the scene, revolver, one empty cartridge, no bullet, no witnesses.’
‘Who’s the target?’
‘The sheriff, and yes, I told them cops cost more, a hundred. The money is in the bitcoin lockbox.’
‘Someone thinks the gun was a throw down.’
‘Cheap revolver, and the wife swears the victim wouldn’t know which end of a gun the bullet comes out of, didn’t own any.’
‘Ah, she rich?’
‘Didn’t pursue it, we don’t care if she’s the employer or someone else.’
Quite true, knowing who hires us opens the door to second guessing, maybe they’re a colossal asshole. The last thing, the thing we never want to know is the name and relationship to the target.
‘I’ll book a flight for tomorrow.’
‘Already done.’
‘You and CC okay here with the twins?’
‘CC will be, I’m coming with you. You’re going to kill a cop, he’s going to carry, and he may even know how to shoot at distances longer than the few feet from the suspect when he shot him.’
I don’t argue, she makes a point. 
‘Get CC, you stay with the twins, they don’t need to hear what I’m telling her.’
Zero goes up, CC comes down, ‘You’re staying with the twins for a couple of days, tomorrow and next, I doubt it’s longer but it might be. Do not leave the house, yard in back is fine but nowhere else. No scooter rides, keep the place locked down.’
‘Expecting trouble?’
‘No, maybe avoiding it. You can handle yourself I’m being cautious because of the twins. You know the job?’
‘Zero said cop.’
‘Yeah, and it’s a relatively small town, almost better if it was big city, we could get lost easier, but it isn’t. At least we get double rate for the risk. Sheriff is going to the big house in the sky courtesy of Mr. Glock and his companion, Ms. Glock.’
‘Hate to miss the fun, but the twins are in the process of wrapping me around their fingers. I may overdose on adorable.’
‘If they ask, which would surprise me, we went on business, which has the advantage of being both true and vague.’
‘Let Zero volunteer it… have to go on a business trip, I’ll text a couple times a day… like that. They aren’t going to question, they fell into a magical life after a gritty shitty one. They might be seven but they aren’t stupid, our boat will not be rocked by them.’
‘Good then, I’m going to the grocery, get a few things you can heat and eat. Any preferences?’
‘No, go with cold cuts, brioche bread, we have breakfast things, eggs, bacon, potatoes. Nikita wants to learn to cook, besides breakfast there’s stuff in the freezer, she can figure out what she wants. I’ll go with, might spot something in the store.’
Zero comes down, she’s been in my brain again, ‘Twins are working a math program, they want tea and sent me down to fetch. Find a box of Assam, it’s strong, assertive as they say. For now they can live with English Breakfast.’
‘How are you two doing with the twins sleeping with you? Do we add a room downstairs?’
‘Not yet, they aren’t any trouble, they want to be with us. I give it a few months, they settle in, then I’ll ask about private space.’
CC and I go off to the store, she’s done well driving the SUV, I let her drive the Acura.
‘Pay attention and don’t jump the speed limits, we don’t want to invite cops looking to score ticket points.’
We make it there and back without slaughtering pedestrians.
CC is grinning, ‘I did well, this car is a dream to drive, not that I have a lot of experience.’
‘You did great, although when you stretched out one long leg getting out at the store, I think you may have given those kids a heart attack.’
‘Inspiration, they have a goal now, find a girl like me…well, not exactly, a girl who likes boys but otherwise has my assets.’
‘Hard to find.’
She grins, ‘Succinct and accurate.’
CC is not short on self-regard, she knows what she’s got. Tall and lanky luscious, willowy, likely too whip-smart for the average boy. Besides, her muse is Zero, no boy on Earth can compete, not even the dark chiseled moody types that show up in vampire movies.
The afternoon drifts by, then it’s cocktails. Zero grilled a couple of flank steaks, buttery mashed with a hint of garlic accompanies, crusty warm French bread with clarified butter.
CC, ‘I think I could live on French bread.’
Nikita, ‘You would be fat girl wiz deemple thigh like Russian um…Natasha, what ees babushka?’
‘Grandmother.’
‘Da, grandmother.’
CC, ‘Horror! These thighs will never see cellulite, an impossibility, little Tartar.’
‘I will haf more steak,’ she holds up her plate, CC adds three strips, ‘and kartofel'noye pyure.’
CC wrinkles her brow, Natasha clarifies, ‘Mashed potato.’
CC adds a serving spoonful.
‘Khorosho, blagodaryu vas.’
‘I know that one, thank you, what is khorosho?’
Zero, ‘Good.’
‘Why do you know that?’
‘I’m learning Russian, Natasha is teaching me.’
CC, ‘Good lord, you are an overstuffed brain already.’
‘I don’t need to read Cryllic, but I can learn to have simple conversation.’
I listen, think it’s more like Zero making an effort to connect with the twins, bond if you will.
CC, ‘Then Nikita will teach me, before long we’ll all be living on beet soup and caviar.’
‘Svekol'nyy sup and ikra.’
CC giggles, ‘See, she’s already teaching me, seecolny sup and ikra.’
I have a smattering of Russian from my time overseas, appears I need to brush up.
‘What’s tonight’s entertainment?’
Zero, ‘I came across a movie called Split, about a man with twenty three separate personalities, it’s called DID, dissociative identity disorder. I was looking for movies with Anya Taylor-Joy, face of an angel.’
‘We saw her in Thoroughbreds.’
‘Yes, she’s not much of an actor, but who cares? She’s hot just standing there.’

Sixty

Our plane touches down, feels off, just Zero and me. Our sedan is waiting, a Hyundai Fornicator.
I hit the gas, ‘Geez, this Fornicator needs Viagra, it has all the power of an eighty year old.’
Zero laughs, ‘It’s a rental, they put the lamest engine possible that will make the car move.’
‘I asked for something basic and plain, I got it.’
‘Let’s find Sheriff Zombie, the walking dead.’
Turns out to be simple to find, hard to get alone. Zombie is one of life’s most persistent pests, an extrovert on amphetamines. The kind of dope who believes everyone loves him, wants to be pals, a backslapping gland hander, center of attention, in a word, pest.
We gleaned this personality assessment from observation at the local diner, he paraded through and joked with customers, Deputy Bumbershoot trailing behind him like the king’s retainer.
Zero, ‘What a dweeb, I want to kill him twice, CC would shoot him in front of everyone, no doubt getting a standing ovation.’
‘I noticed, he’s a whole lot happier than the people he paws, that little kid actually cringed when Zombie mussed his hair.’
‘You get the sense that not everyone in town is as thrilled with him as he is.’
‘I see his aura, the act is bad theater, Zombie has a streak of mean under that stupid hat.’
‘Technically, all hats are stupid.’
‘We wear hats when we kill people.’
‘That’s for cover and potential forensic issues; your hair is pure white, between that and ice blue eyes, a victim could pick you out of a lineup three states away. Most of our victims are dead, so it doesn’t matter much, but one foul-up and you’re sitting in an interrogation room not answering questions.’
‘He’s finally made it to a booth, let’s get a tracker on his vee-hick-ul while the getting’s good.’
Which we do.
‘I wonder if he’s ever alone.’
Zero, ‘He will be, Zombie can only stand his song and dance for so long, then he has to retreat to solitude. I think he might be a Shadow.’
‘A Shadow with a job this visible?’
‘We don’t know enough about Shadows to say. I’m collecting characteristics, personality traits, like a profile. If he’s a Shadow, he’s the first gregarious one we’ve encountered. And I could be wrong, his aura isn’t black, only black-ish.’
We’re in the Fornicator, first to collect a few eats, then to a hotel Zero found, The Sleep Around on Fifth and Main.
I check in, take the gun case, the bag with wine and cheese, my duffel. Zero comes along five minutes later with her small roller and the rest of the groceries, chicken fingers and a sauce of some sort, paper plates, plastic utensils. The hotel has a restaurant, we prefer not to be too visible.
It’s four thirty, too early for dinner, but we skipped lunch. I open the cheese, precut in squares, box of club crackers, can of peanuts. We sit on the blanket covered couch, flip on the news and nibble.
The President Scumbag continues to insult everyone, brag about accomplishments he never accomplished, embarrassing himself, his office, maybe his weirdo family, although I question whether any of his gaggle of gophers is capable of embarrassment.
Zero, ‘I swear, the daughter is a psychopath, she has that Jodie Comer stare, eyes vacant, empty.’
‘Killing Eve was a truly bizarre series, I almost didn’t finish it, the woman who played the British intelligence agent was too visually distracting, like those photos of people with bad plastic surgery, horrid hair on top.’
‘Beauty and the Beast, lesbian version.’
‘Were they?’
‘I don’t know, that much mutual obsession, there’s a whole series of articles, they say the first season implied the attraction, the second season teased it. Who knows, it’s fiction, some writer made it up. I think CC got the book, Villanelle, titled from the assassin Comer plays. Note the name, Villan-elle, elle being she in French.’
‘Ah, didn’t catch that, not bad wordplay.’
‘She said the book was only ordinary, and she does kill Eve in the end.’
Zero texts CC that we arrived, not sure when business will be completed, how are the twins.
Reply, ‘we tumbled and trampolined got a little sun taught me a few russian phrases nikita is making tacos for dinner then they want to watch one or another of the sherlocks a lovely active day onto a quiet evening’
‘tell twins hello from us kiss them and yourself for me go enjoy the adorables nite’
Z, ‘They didn’t wreck the place or murder anyone, but the day isn’t done yet.’
Tracker dings, it went off earlier when Zombie left the diner, but he went to the station and the car’s been there ever since.
‘Let’s see where he goes, I mean as in follow him, we may get this thing done.’
We know where Zombie lives, an apartment, Zero checked, it’s upscale but not ultra, not gated either.
‘He’s going home. Let’s get there first if we can, maybe we won’t have to knock on his door.’
I make it about a minute ahead, back the Fornicator in an unmarked slot, ‘I’ll go to one end of the lot, you stay on this end, where is he?’
‘Block away, get moving.’
The covered parking is numbered, but not the number of the assigned apartment. We don’t know which slot is his, we’ll find out soon enough.
His car rounds the corner, moves past me, I’m sheltered by an SUV, he’s headed further than halfway, towards Zero. He backs in, lights go off, I can’t see him from here, just the nose of his sedan.
Then I see Zero strolling in his direction, which is towards me. I smile, she’s wearing her suit jacket, t-shirt underneath, sneakers and nothing else…well, she has a bandanna on her head. She must have the Glock in a pocket.
Makes it to the front of his car, on the other side of the drive, phone in hand, she sends me a gibberish text. I hear a car door open and shut.
‘Well hey little honey, never seen you round here, you just move in?’
I see her start…then type, ‘shad trying to take my mind no prob hold ur spot’
‘You texting your mama sweetie?’
Zero freezes, like she can’t answer. He puts a hand on her shoulder, she walks alongside to his door, he opens it, they go in.
Fifteen seconds later Zero comes out, walks to me, we get to the car and go, I don’t ask, we’ll talk in the room.
I stop for vodka, no reason to avoid the hard now.
Zero sips wine, ‘Zombie thought he had my mind, he tried, I felt a tingle, I need to think about why it didn’t take. Anyway, he figured he had me, his mistake. I popped the back of his skull, face first onto a glass coffee table, a challenge to reconstruct him for the funeral.’
‘You did well, distracted him, got his man part warm.’
‘It was…I don’t know, not exhilarating, but definitely a thrill, standing there in near nothing. Got my girl part warm.’
‘Speaking of, I’ll warm up dinner, text CC, she’ll want to know, keep it coded.’
That means only make vague references to the event, nothing implying anyone got shot.
She types, I arrange food and plates, make myself a drink, pour Zero a glass of red.
Zero goes off to shower, then drinks, dinner, couch. She didn’t bother to dress after her shower, I do my part and admire.
We watch TV for a while, I make another vodka, Zero has a second glass of wine, sitting next to me, soaking up my glances.
Her hand rests on my growing erection, she giggles, ‘Works every time. Does it annoy you, to be left unfulfilled?’
‘Sometimes, it’s more important that you are ready to fulfill, you can just enjoy the tease until.’

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