Eighty One

Days roll on, girls are happy in their routines, best of all, nobody competes, there are no arguments. I don’t mean no discussions with opposing views, that’s how you learn, have your opinions challenged. Then do research and see if there’s a right answer, or if the subject is so subjective there is no right answer. When that’s the case, they drop it as not worth pursuing, certainly not worth getting angry over. Idiots get angry, the girls are not idiots, I’m pretty smart, all of them are smarter than I am. 
Age and experience have value, until they become overvalued and useless. Experience is of the past, future experiences are unknown, experience becomes fact, when, in fact, it isn’t. It is only from the experiencer’s point of view, biased consciously because one individual sees from one angle, a second from another. Biased subconsciously because the brain fills in missing parts with what it expects from past patterns coded in neurons. Ultimately inaccurate because parts of recalled experience are muddled with different experiences, overwritten or simply forgotten.
Age becomes rigid, inflexible. Demanding compliance ‘because I said so’ is lame, the refuge of the ignorant and obstinate. It also gives your kids permission to hate you. And just think, you brought it on yourself, in part because you believed you accurately recall your past.
Zero comes to me while the others are occupied on the trampoline, Zoe fixated on the stock market.
‘Several news stories about an anomaly, people doing things they don’t recall or that don’t make sense.’
‘Sounds like Shadows.’
‘What I’m thinking. A smallish town, quarter million, not so small that everyone knows everyone. Cashiers not charging, or giving up the money from the register. Girls, sometimes boys, go missing for half a day, then found wandering a mall with no explanation of where they were or how they got there. Bank accounts emptied, the owner swears they didn’t take out any money. A couple of bank cams show the victim in the bank and taking the cash.’
‘I’ll get copies, I think anyway. One of my former military associates works at the Federal Reserve. I’ll track her down.’
‘I’m going for my turn on the trampoline, you making lunch?’
‘Pulled pork on a bun, fries, coleslaw. Tonight is chili, I’ll make nachos for cocktail hour.’
‘Yum, off to bounce and flip.’
I get on the phone, call goes to voicemail, leave a short message and my email address. The phone I use doesn’t display the number, email is better for video files anyway, I need to see as much detail as possible, a small screen won’t work.
Nothing to do until she replies, I take out the pork, squish it out of the bag into a pot, chop onion, add it to the pork. I’ll use frozen steak fries, good enough for lunch. Then brown the stew meat, add diced tomatoes, onion, chili powder and black pepper. We like chili with chunks of meat, not ground. It can sit in the slow cooker for the rest of the day.
Nachos are simple, warm the chips, I use corn and black bean queso, add shredded extra sharp cheddar, onion and garlic. 
Zoe comes from upstairs, ‘Zoe made five today, no other greens or reds came up so she quit.’
I tell her what I’m making, ‘It doesn’t require much attention until we get to the cheese sauce, I’ll show you how to do that when it’s time for nachos.’
‘Can Zoe use the treadmill?’
‘You know how to get started?’
‘Zoe knows,’ she hops up, already in shorts and sneakers, a cute half t-shirt today. Sometimes she wears no shirt, she’s a kid, her chest could be a little boy’s. CC bought her panties, I know because they’re in the laundry hamper sometimes. Obviously, she doesn’t wear them all the time or they’d show up more often. Or maybe one of the girls gets to the laundry before I do. I don’t care, I’ve no interest in little girl attire or lack of it. I have scruples, even occasionally use them.
She’s rolling along at a decent clip, earbuds in, no idea what she’s listening to, Zero downloads audiobooks from the library site, Zoe plays them while she watches the market. She only looks for colors, almost doesn’t need to pay close attention, just make the trade when the color appears.
I turn my attention to simmering pork in a rich barbeque sauce.
At noon, girls come in to shower, Zoe was done earlier and went off to her room. She comes along with wet hair and her brush.
‘Brush Zoe’s hair, Commandant.’
She climbs a stool, I brush.
‘How old is Zoe, Commandant?’
‘We think six, maybe most of the way to seven.’
No response to that.
‘Nikita says Zoe is doing well in Russian conversation, Natasha helps her with Cryllic, she said Zoe should be functional reading basic Russian, she doesn’t need to write books in Russian.’
‘I read that if you get a hundred words down, it’s enough to read common things, signs, menus, transportation instructions.’
‘CC teaches Zoe conversational French, Zoe has three languages. CC said a little each day is enough, it will fall into place over time.’
‘She’s right, it isn’t like you’re in school and have to learn at the school’s pace. You’re already years ahead of where you would be if you were in first grade.’
She smiles, ‘Enough brush, you did a hundred strokes.’
‘You guessing?’
‘No, Zoe counted.’
Pretty agile brain, count strokes and carry on a conversation at the same time. I couldn’t do it.
She takes her brush, goes up to put it away, comes down with the rest of the girls.
‘Toasting the buns, then you can assemble your sandwich.’
Zero, ‘Nikita did a double front flip with a twist, I tried, got one flip and a half twist, then landed on my butt.’
‘If I tried a flip on the thing, I’d likely face-plant.’
‘Harder for you, you’re big, at least you’re agile, and flexible, not many men your size can do a front and side split without damaging something.’
‘Zoe ran on the treadmill, she was on forty minutes and the pace was more than a jog.’
Zero, ‘Zoe, that’s great, you like running?’
‘Zoe does, she is going to run around the property, more hills, even a couple of steeps.’
CC, ‘Like cross country, good for you, no, my name doesn’t stand for Cross Country.’
Zoe giggles, ‘What does CC stand for?’
‘Just CC, I like it, simple, C-i-c-i is derived from Cecilia, or Christina or Christine, I’m not any of those.’
Zero, ‘Sometimes girls with C as the first letter of their given and surname are called CC, like Catherine Crowley. Doesn’t apply to our CC.’
As I’m clearing the counter and putting washed pots and utensils away, I get an email from my contact.
It reads, Taking an interest in the weirdness? People are saying the water is drugged, or that some kind of gas was released. Local authorities are perplexed, maybe you can see something they missed. Good luck.
She didn’t get into personal questions, like am I married, have kids, it’s been a while since I’ve seen her. We worked a couple of assignments together, no intimate relationship, we were colleagues, not lovers. She’s ex-military, small talk over a beer is fine, not in emails.
She’s smarter than I am too. Lots of people are.

Eighty Two

Zero, ‘Everyone wants to go Shadow hunting, which means Zoe goes, what do you think?’
‘We going to kill one while she’s there?’
‘Neither I nor CC were protected from life’s ugliness. The twins certainly weren’t. 
Zoe was physically abused, malnourished, and likely sexually abused. She understands there are a lot of nasty people out there.’
‘Okay, you going to talk to her, at least about Shadows? I don’t think you need to paint the entire picture of us, see how she does with the Shadow thing.’
‘I’ll talk to her this afternoon, we fly out tomorrow.’
She’s telling me she already decided about Zoe or she wouldn’t have booked a flight. We don’t have bosses here, it’s neither a patriarchy nor a matriarchy. If I disagreed, she’d cancel the flight or just the two of us would go. 
The afternoon creeps along, Zero and Zoe took a ride on the Vespa. Zero will find a spot to stop and chat, gauge the girl’s feelings.
CC comes down, she’s nude, lucky me.
‘Where are the twins?’
‘Practicing being lesbians, which is easy, they are lesbians.’
‘You declined to join in?’
‘I got the sense they wanted a little privacy. Don’t know why, Zero and I have been with them when they play with each other. Steamy is the least of it.’
‘I can only imagine.’
‘You aren’t the type to hang out and see the show, the full performance, you’ve seen then caress and kiss when we travel.’
‘About as much palpitation my heart can stand.’
She giggles, ‘I’m here and I’m nude, any thoughts?’
‘Thinking while looking at you naked is beyond my powers, the man brain kicks in and I’m helpless.’
She smiles, ‘Then lets slip in the sheets and I’ll help you forget all about helpless, your job is to give me a couple of shivers and shakes, you know what to do when you’re ready to fire.’
I deliver what she wants the way she wants it.
‘You satisfied? I know I could die happy right at the moment.’
‘Zero and I have you trained, you are a finely tuned fucking machine. Our mission is to keep you at peak performance.’
‘Jesus you’re gorgeous.’
She studies herself in the full mirror, ‘I am, aren’t I?’
Question is rhetorical, I don’t need to reply.
We shower together, get to wash the splendid, CC is flawless, I take my time.
‘I’m going to be my own clean room, you washed everything twice.’
‘I’ll wash all night if you wish.’
‘Give me the soap, and be still.’
The twins are on the couch when we emerge from the bathroom. They have that post Eros flush, Nikita is curled against her sister, Natasha’s arms around her.
‘You guys have a nice afternoon?’
Nikita, ‘Da. When we came down something in your bathroom sounded like a cat crying to come inside.’
CC laughs, ‘Something came inside, not a cat.’
‘You are feelthy slut girl.’
‘Not what you say when I’m servicing your smoothie.’
‘Sisters like feelthy slut girl, Zero ees same, maybe worse, or better.’
‘Better is better, Commie.’
I realize I’ve been standing here listening completely naked. I walk over to find slacks and a shirt.
Nikita, ‘Commandant haf beeg tool, you take it all?’
‘Every inch, well, not the whole time, Commandant knows when to go deep and when to surf.’
‘How he ees know?’
‘We tell him, or we told him, now he gets it without instructions.’
‘Commandant, you are lucky man, two gorgeous girls, you will get beeg head.’
CC, ‘He’s already got a big head, just not the one on his neck. He’s comfortably obedient, we trained him on that too. We dialed down bossy around the time we got you. No point in ordering around someone who anticipates our needs and is willing to fulfill them. It was play acting anyway, he knew it and we knew it.’
‘Sisters do not anyway go wiz men, eef we ever do, only Commandant. For now, sister ees content wiz current arranging. Nikita always goes along wiz sister, she and I are same.’
One day I’ll understand how that works, or maybe it’s more interesting not to, mystery is the sharp side of life.
Garage door rumbles, I hear the Vespa pull in, then Zero and Zoe appear.
Zoe, ‘Zoe had fun, we stopped at a ice cream place, working on getting fat, we split a hot fudge thing, with nuts and whipped.’
CC, ‘You’d need to eat ten a day to get fat, your body has no idea of fat, wouldn’t know what to do with it.’
‘Zoe is going on a trip, she’s seen Shadows, she didn’t know what they were, just people surrounded in black energy. Zero explained to her.’
I look at Zero, ‘Explained what happens?’
Zero, ‘Her only question was, can I kill one?’
Guess that answers that.
‘I told her she needed more time at the range, which we will get to when we return. For now, she is to observe. I also explained that she can ask questions, but if we don’t reply, it means she doesn’t need to know. She’s good with that too.’
Zoe, ‘Zoe is hungry.’
CC, ‘You just had a sundae.’
‘Yes.’
CC shakes her head.
‘I’m on it, come help me with the nachos, we’ll whip up the queso, I have the additives chopped, we heat the cheese, sprinkle in the shredded cheddar and Monterey Jack, if it looks thick enough, nothing else. If it needs to thicken, add a little Masa, corn flour, better for flavor, takes a bit longer to thicken. The chili is ready when we are. I have chopped jalapenos as well, either for nachos or to add to the chili.’
Zoe laser focuses on queso, stirring, the simmering sauce, drops in the chopped onion. I heat the chips for added crisp, Zero pours Sapporo, beer seems right for Mexican, I don’t keep Mexican beer, no reason, we like the Japanese beer. She makes my vodka, then two shots of Russian Standard in chilled shot glasses, the twins down those.
We crunch nachos and plot Shadow strategy.
‘We need to look at the cam recordings from the banks.’
Zero, ‘I’ll play them on a couple of tablets, another on the laptop, has a bigger screen.’
A woman approach the teller, short conversation, there’s no audio. Then the teller gets the manager, standard for a large withdrawal. Another chat, then the manager walks off, likely to get the cash from a vault, tellers don’t keep much, most people who want a hundred or two hundred use the ATM.
The woman collects her money, stuffs it in a purse and leaves.
Videos two and three show about the same thing, one was a man, then another woman. 
‘Anything?’
Heads shake, except Zoe, ‘Start again.’
About a minute into the first video, a man in a fedora and sunglasses passes behind the woman, he makes no move toward her, appears to be going to the island table where they keep deposit and withdrawal slips.
Natasha, ‘Note his height, maybe six feet, a little less, sport coat, slacks,’ the video is black and white, they can tell the coat is dark and the slacks lighter.
In video two, different bank, this time no man walks behind the guy making the withdrawal, Zoe says, ‘Look, can just see the shoulder of a dark coat.’
The third video, woman withdrawing, no man, no slacks, no coat.
Zero, ‘There’s another set from a different angle. Let’s see what’s what.’
In the second, an angle from the other side of the bank, pointed towards the row of tellers. 
Natasha, ‘Same coat, same pants, different hat, a ball cap, same sunglasses.’
The third alternate cam shows a man at the deposit slip counter with what is clearly a wig, different coat and pants, same sunglasses. Big, black frame, black lens.
Nikita, ‘You did gud job Zoe, almost no one would have attention to another bank customer.’
Zero, ‘Yep, and the cops who reviewed these don’t know from a Shadow. All they see is another customer. Is there any video from outside the banks?’
‘That last file, my contact said it was the only bank with CCTV pointed to the bank side of the street. The second had no cam, third cam was focused on the street, not the businesses.’
Zero plays it, Fedora exits the bank first, walks to an open air magazine and tobacco stand. He’s not visible, the stand is in the way of the camera. The woman comes along, she also disappears at the stand, then appears and continues out of the frame. The man has a folded newspaper, walks in the opposite direction and out of camera range.
Zoe, ‘Do you see?’
‘See what?’
Natasha, ‘It’s brief, check the moment she comes back into view.’
Zero rewinds, starts the video, plays and stops until she appears, then stops it.
‘She just snapped her purse shut. It was closed when she got to the stand, she wasn’t hidden but for a couple of seconds, then visible again. If she bought anything it would have taken longer for her to show up.’
‘She took out the envelop with the cash, gave it to the Shadow, kept moving. If Zoe or Natasha hadn’t caught the half second of closing the purse, the assumption would be she walked right past the stand like any other pedestrian.’
Zero, ‘And we have some idea of what the Shadow looks like, we’re still assuming he’s a Shadow.’
‘There were a half dozen other mystified people, store clerks, cashiers, all of whom gave money or goods away with no explanation. Nor could they describe who they gave it to.’
‘Wouldn’t there be cameras at those places, at least at checkouts?’
‘Yeah, if the same guy, or a guy with a similar build and the sunglasses is on video, wouldn’t the police see him as well, didn’t ring any bells with the clerks when they saw the replay?’
‘This is a guess, but suppose the Shadow stays out of camera coverage, gets the clerk to dump cash or merchandise in a bag, then bring him the bag.’
CC, ‘That’s it. The Shadow blanks the clerk’s mind, he carries out instructions, Shadow leaves, clerk returns to his post oblivious.’

Eighty Three

We move on to chili.
CC, ‘Excellent Zoe, Commandant, that’s a big pot of chili.’ 
 ‘What’s leftover I can freeze, we can have chili tacos whenever we get back.’
Nikita, ‘What do we take?’
‘The lot, including the pharmaceuticals.’
‘You plan on hafing talk wiz Shadowy peerson?’
‘It isn’t a primary objective. If we can capture and I can ask questions, we might find out more about them. To defeat an enemy it helps to know what they know, their habits, contacts, behaviors.’
We wrap dinner, girls go off to pack, Zoe helps me clear, rinse and get stuff in the dishwasher.
‘You’re sure you’re okay with this?’
She grins, blinks up at me with shiny violets, ‘Better than okay, Zero told Zoe these people are ruthless, plain mean and into all kinds of nasty. Zoe’s fake mother and her asshole boyfriend taught me people can be ugly, you killed them I hope. I didn’t ask Zero.’
‘Let’s say they’ll never hurt any child, or anyone else, again.’
She giggles, ‘Prevarication, you forget I read a lot. You killed them, good.’
We land at one local time, traveling east, we dropped two hours in time zones. Now we have to figure out how, in a metro area of a quarter million, to spot a Shadow. Zero mapped out the locations where he appears to have been based on reports of missing money or merchandise. Talking to the victims is no good. They don’t remember the man, just that they felt compelled to hand over what he wanted. 
At first, of course, the police and store owners thought the clerk had either given money or merch to a friend, or stolen it themselves. As the reports started saying the same thing, all they could do was wonder how someone could get away with it.
Mind control is not in the police manual of bad things people get up to. There’s talk of aliens on the radio, or a government conspiracy to justify face recognition, cameras and privacy intrusions. Some callers blamed immigrants, or people who practiced witchcraft, voodoo, Satanic cults. In America, willful ignorance is the national sport, followed by conspiracy theories.
I’m driving a Subaru Sociopathétique, it kills without conscience, because it likes to, it kills just to watch you die. 
CC and the twins are in a sedan, Mercedes Abyss, when you look into the interior, the interior looks into you.
‘What hotel?’
Zero, ‘Keep straight, the Hotel Dysfunction is on the left. It’s a monument to the nauseatingly vaunted American family and its progeny, Congress. Both similarly incapable of functioning rationally.’
‘A hotel dedicated to the American Nightmare.’
‘You may say so.’
We get our stuff to the suite, two bedroom, two bath, full kitchen, a sitting area where we can all actually sit and a dining table big enough for six.
Zoe, ‘Zoe loves to fly, and they give her great food, movies and the internet.’
‘Maybe we should fly commercial coach, learn to fully appreciate the luxury of private air.’
They laugh at me, guess it isn’t happening.
I fix coffee and tea, we sit around the table. Zero has plotted each of the reported incidents on a map, the locations are roughly circular. We assume some incidents weren’t reported, but his hunting ground appears to be an irregular diameter of five miles.
Zero, ‘Not so hard to patrol. I imagine he’s confident nobody will remember him, no photos have been released, no photos to release. The little video snippets we have tell us height, skin tone, Caucasian, sport coat, black sunglasses. We shouldn’t assume his outfits are always a version of the same.’
CC, ‘We ride around and look, keep an eye on the local news for any fresh incidents.’
‘That’s all the plan I’ve got. Tour the circle and keep our eyes open. I can spot Shadows, so can the twins and Zoe.’
CC, ‘I’d feel inadequate, but I have no inadequacies.’
‘Take your adequate self for a drive with the twins. Commandant will take Zoe and I around the right half of the circle, you get the left. Text any observations.’
‘Weapons check, who gets the drug case?’
Zero, ‘We’ll take it, I’m the most familiar with them,’ she gets her Glock from the gun case, it goes to her waist holster, jacket for cover.
‘I don’t see a need for elaborate disguise, Zero might cover that sheer white hair, does Zoe have a hat for that rich auburn?’
CC, ‘Yep, a knit that covers her ears, her own sunglasses, Third Person Princess won’t recognize herself.’
Zoe giggles, she likes CC’s goofiness.
We mount up, start to roam.
It’s a long shot to just stumble on to the guy. I’d take a bit of luck and thank the fates for it. 
Zero looks over her shoulder at Zoe in the second row, ‘Zoe, you take the left side, I’ll take the right, see anyone with a black aura, speak up.’
‘Zoe will say.’
I’m not clear on what she’s accomplishing in the third person, but Zero says there can be a subtle change in perception, like stepping back from personal agency. I am sure that if a therapist got hold of Zoe she’d get an instant label and plastic bottle of pills. Schizophrenic maybe, or dissociative personality disorder, which used to be multiple personality disorder, any qualifying babble in order to bill the insurance drones. As far as I can tell, everyone adopts varying personalities depending on circumstance. Don’t tell the therapists, they’ll have all of us on pills, paying a fortune to sit around and talk endlessly about ourselves. Instead, join the masks on Facebook, it’s free and everyone else is doing it. Like Mardi Gras or Halloween, arrange your mask to present as you would like to believe yourself to be. Even better, jerk around the FB algorithms with a different fake persona, the person you think of as anti-you. Interesting potential there, post enough anti-you and you will become the anti-you, a personality makeover without the expense of therapy. Your brain will believe anything if you tell it often enough, justify any self harming or delusional behavior, like voting.
Zero is scanning her side of the street, ‘I’m beginning to question the conclusions of the non-dualists, the real us as the screen on which the movie of life plays.’
‘You dumping it?’
‘No, there’s something to it. My doubt is that what they call realization, awakening to the real, always brings a feeling of peace, well being, goodwill, the loss of desire for things. First, it seems like a backdoor way to elevate oneself, become beyond human concerns, content to chill and watch the movie play.’
‘And second?’
‘Why should a realized person be a saint, radiating love and harmony? If one is beyond, then she must be beyond everything, not lose anger or hate but keep only peace and love.’
‘Good points.’
‘There’s a third, is it an escape? A lot of realization talk comes out of India. India is a messy, disorderly country, poverty stricken, much of it crowded and filthy. If they can’t simply move, leave the country, the only way to escape is to withdraw and pretend none of it is real.’
‘And just when I was becoming convinced I was consciousness itself, holding the universe together by the force of my…nothing. The blank space on a page that allows the words to appear.’
Zero giggles, ‘Settle for holding our world together. Ambition is deadly.’
Zoe, ‘There Zero, across the street.’
I slow, Zero peers past me to the opposite sidewalk.
‘A Shadow, good catch Zoe. May not be our Shadow, but he’s a Shadow for sure.’
‘Can Zoe kill him now?’
‘Maybe better to wait, it’s fairly busy out here.’
Zoe giggles.
‘Ah, you made a joke, having me on as they say in the UK.’
‘Zoe doesn’t even have a gun.’
‘Make shooting him difficult.’
‘Zoe doesn’t need a gun.’
Zero and I look at each other, what does she mean by that?
We don’t ask, if she wants to tell us, she’ll tell us.
‘What now?’
‘We stalk him, Zero, text Nikita,’ we don’t have to text a location, we have each other on GPS.
She taps, a few seconds later the phone dings, ‘On the way.’
Our target is killing time. He’s taken a bench in front of one of the shops, got a coffee, something in a takeout cup anyway, and a plastic grocery bag. We watch him watch the trickle of pedestrians, not a flow like Manhattan, this is a relatively small place, there’s actual space between people, no mad delivery cyclists, no gridlock….why does anyone live in Manhattan? Half the residents claim to feed on the energy of the city, the other half are in therapy, overwhelmed by that same energy. Masochism on a massive scale. 
​We sit across the street, it has angled parking, no meters. I’ve got us in a slot now, can see him in the rearview. Zoe is kneeling on the seat, watching out of the rear window.
CC pulls up in the Abyss, takes the space on the right, rolls down her window, Zero’s is already open, ‘Natasha confirms what Zoe and Zero see, if he’s not our boy, he’s still one of them.’
A man in a suit walks past, I know zip about suits, could be Armani or Penny, his fits well and is unwrinkled, white shirt, dark red tie. Shadow digs in the bag, pulls out a ball cap and the big black sunglasses.
‘Well, well, he’s starting to look familiar.’
Shadow stands, leaves the cup on the bench and follows Suit.
CC, ‘We could shoot him for being a litterbug.’
‘Somebody follow him.’
Zero gets out, CC behind her, they cross the street and trail along twenty yards behind. Suit reaches a corner, turns left, Shadow is next to him now.
The girls make the corner, out of my sight. I start to crank the engine, then CC comes back around and walks to us.
CC, ‘It was almost fascinating to watch. Suit stopped short, turned to Shadow, took out his wallet and put a bunch of bills in the bag, then he takes out a money clip and drops it the bag. Suit continued down the block as if nothing happened. No words were exchanged.’
‘Where’s Zero, and the Shadow?’
‘I have her on GPS.’
Text dings, hurry targ getting in car
We get a move on, down the block, left, I’m following CC. Two blocks on I spot Zero, she points to an older model Detroit Decrepit. CC continues after him, I stop for Zero, then we’re our own parade, Decrepit, Abyss, Sociopathétique. Must be a sign, three vehicles on the Highway to Hell.
Zero, with an uncanny ability to simultaneously juggle two or three things in her brain, asks, ‘Did you notice the absence of realized women? Is realization a men’s exclusive state?’
‘I thought we’re gender neutral in reality? And what about you?’
Zero laughs, ‘Well, yeah, I could be the exception that proves the rule, there are other women who talk the talk, but they’re bit players on the guru stage. And my situation is vastly different, I’m two hundred years old.’
‘Um, Zoe’s in the back.’
‘She already knows.’
I gotta keep up.
‘Holding up well for two hundred, what’s your secret?’
‘Moisturizer, CC coats me every day, takes her sweet time too.’
Zoe, ‘CC likes Zero to be beautiful, she puts it on Zoe, but it doesn’t work as well, better to be beautiful to start with.’
Zero, ‘Baloney, you have a unique beauty, and adorable freckles, and violet eyes that I should hate you for, and rich silky auburn hair, I should hate you twice as much.’
‘CC kisses Zoe’s freckles, it makes her laugh.’
Zero, ‘He’s turning into a driveway.’
‘I’ll skip the obvious joke, here’s a riddle, why do we drive on a parkway but park on a driveway?’
Zoe giggles, Zero moans, ‘That line was old when I was born.’
‘Which birth?’
‘The fourth…no fifth, two before before this one.’
CC stops, I pull up behind her, we get out and go to the Abyss.
Nikita, ‘Sisters will see eef he ees alone,’ they get out and walk towards the house.
We’re in an older subdivision, plain homes with plain working people and their plain kids. A fat boy with bad hair rolls by on a bike, dreaming of becoming President.
The house next to his is for sale, a real estate agent’s lockbox fixed to the wall. That means it’s empty. The place on the far side is occupied but there’s no obvious activity. Probably at work, a blue vest at a Walmart, or cleaning hotel rooms, maybe a clerk at a convenience store. CEOs don’t live in this hood. I’m likely wrong, hourly slaves couldn’t afford even these stucco and siding havens of family dysfunction.
Zero, ‘Shadows appear to prefer a low key existence. Old car, old house, neither in prime condition.’
‘We’ve only run into a couple, a Shadow could be on the board of a major bank, CEO of some internet company, anything, who would know?’
‘That’s a point. My guess is they don’t like people enough to put up with much company, even high fliers, maybe particularly high fliers. Required to head or attend meetings, travel, go to charity functions. I don’t see it, but you’re right, we lack sufficient data.’
Nikita appears, ‘Sister haf gun on Shadow peerson, you will geev drug, ask question, then we will keel.’
Zoe, ‘Goody, let’s go.’
I look at Zero, ‘She’s here, she’s in, besides, what do we do, leave her in the car?’
I sigh, innocence gone.
Zero, ‘She’s hardly naive, don’t look for innocence, there isn’t any.’
I look over my shoulder, ‘You sure Zoe?’
‘Zoe knows, we are wasting time,’ she opens her door and heads to the house.
We go in, the place looks like the aftermath of a search warrant, crap everywhere. Shadow has a hole in his shoe, blood seeps out. Natasha still has her gun on him, she also has a fork stuck in her back, near the top of her shoulder, went through her jacket and the shirt underneath.
Nikita removes his front teeth with the butt of her Glock, ‘Find out what you want Zero, then he ees mine.’
Zero is loading a syringe, I get the first aid package from the drug case.
CC asks while pulling the fork out, ‘What happened?’
I take her jacket off, pull up her shirt. While I work disinfecting and bandaging, Natasha explains.
‘He tried to take our minds, he thought we’re like everyone else. He must have assumed doing us both was too difficult, when Nikita left to get you he focused on me. Things started flying around the room, I dodged most of it, a book hit me in the gut, it was nothing, then I felt something stick in my back. Then I shot him.’
I hold up the fork, ‘At least it wasn’t a butcher knife.’
I pull down her shirt, ease on the jacket.
Zero injects the man with something, Ketamine I think, or pentothal. 
‘Why’d he quit the telekinesis?’
Zero, ‘Takes a lot of energy, he ran out of gas.’
She gives him a few minutes to drop into a state of lethargy, he’ll be suggestible, even with a hole in his foot.

Eighty Four

Zero, ‘How did you become capable?’
Shadow, ‘Fuck off, why should I tell you?’
‘Because your next injection will be a hallucinogen with an amphetamine sweetener. Before long, your brain will explode, your mental ability is useless because the drug will keep you far too confused to focus. You will answer my questions one way or the other.’
He’s slow to react, which is what she wants, then he says, ‘Tibet, student for years of old man, nothing….then…um…then the training took hold.’
‘Why steal from people?’
‘Ahhh, wait...hard to think…why steal…’ he sneers, ‘because I can.’
Zero feels her head twitch, ‘Don’t waste energy trying to take my mind, you can’t.’
Shadow asks, ‘How…resist?’
‘My mind is more powerful than yours, as is the case with my friends, besides, we’re all psychopaths, even you can’t mind-fuck a psychopath,’ she nods towards Zoe, ‘the little girl is more powerful than you.’
Maybe she is, it sounds good anyway. I can’t do any of that stuff, the only way for me to fly something across a room is to throw it.
‘We call you Shadows, as in a shadow of a human being, your darkness envelopes you.’
He laughs, he has a hole through his foot and busted teeth, and he laughs.
‘Good one, I like it…Shadow.’
‘You know others?’
His head must be clearing, he’s more engaged, ‘A few, we don’t do well together, each one wants to think he’s top dog, or top bitch, women are included.’
‘Do you keep in contact?’
‘There’s not a convention, we’d just trash the town and each other. I’ve heard that sometimes they connect, only two or three, for one or another project.’
‘Project?’
‘Bigger theft maybe, control more people, get more money. We also like certain entertainments. We control the mind, it isn’t hypnosis, people will do anything we want. You can imagine what sort of scenarios ensue, makes Caligula look like a circus clown.’
‘Children?’
He grins, ‘A favorite pastime, so easy to train, and so anxious to please. The little tidbit over there, auburn hair, smooth and tasty underneath I’ll bet.’
He can’t get her mind, so he tries a taunt, Zero ignores him, ‘We haven’t met many of your kind, since you can get money at will, why live so downscale, old car, dying neighborhood?’
‘No interest. See, it isn’t about things, it’s about control of another human being…Godlike.’
‘Gods don’t die…Shadows do.’
As we’re getting into the cars, there’s a pop, like a light bulb breaking. Nikita comes along, climbs in next to her sister.
One Shadow’s crime wave is over.
CC pulls the Abyss alongside, ‘Where to?’
‘We still have stuff at the hotel, you guys get it, we’ll find a fastie and get dinner. We can eat on the road. Zero will find us rooms and book a flight from wherever we wind up. Natasha good for two hours of drive?’
‘Yep, we’ll catch up to you.’
Our timing is good, they drive up as we leave the drive-thru. I pass bags of burgers and fries over, a tray of diet sodas, we get on the road.
Zero, ‘Two miles up the interstate crosses the highway, take the exit west.’
We make good time, speed limit is seventy five, I see no reason to kick it higher, put on the cruise control and ride.
Zoe, ‘Nikita killed the man.’
Zero, ‘Yes, you heard the conversation, Shadows are not fixable, no therapy, no prison will change or restrain them. If they got arrested, what do you think would happen?’
‘That’s easy, take the policeman’s mind and walk away. Or maybe make the police shoot each other, or other people.’
‘Good catch, even if they got him to prison, what then?’
‘He could start fights, make things fly through the air…, kill guards or other prisoners, I get it, nothing to do but put them down.’
‘Good analogy, like putting down a rabid dog; the dog is sick, crazy, attacks people and makes them sick, or worse. There’s nothing else to do, one might say we do not only future victims a favor, but a favor to the dog.’
‘Is Natasha okay?’ 
I answer that one, ‘She’ll be sore, remind me to change the bandage when we arrive, glad we got tetanus shots, tetanus is painful and can be deadly. We still need to make sure there’s no infection.’
‘How can you tell?’
‘The wound would get red, swell, easy to spot. If she keeps the antibiotic on it, she’ll be fine.’
Zoe, ‘Zero, will you teach me the drugs?’
‘Sure.’
We get to the hotel around ten, usual check in procedure, I get room key cards, give one to CC, we go in separately, Zoe, Zero and I, CC and the twins a few minutes later. Zero got us connecting rooms. We need two baths, both rooms have two queen beds.
CC, ‘I brought the wine and vodka we never opened, anyone want something?’
Vodka for me and the twins, Zero and CC have wine, and a watered half glass for Zoe.
‘CC, take off Natasha’s bandage, after she showers put on a new one, don’t be shy about the antibiotic cream…and check to see it isn’t getting inflamed, a little red at the punctures is okay, if it is spreading or swollen, let me know.’
‘Will do, in fact let’s do it now, come with, Natasha, Commandant will have another vodka ready when we’re done.’
Nikita goes with them, Zero and Zoe go in the bath in my room, I sip vodka until they emerge.
Zero, ‘Much better, all slick and shiny, I’ll brush Zoe’s hair while you get your shower.’
Warm showers and drinks after a long day, girls have had it, so have I. Zero and Zoe take the second bed in my room. Natasha isn’t developing an infection, Zero gave her ibuprofen to ease the pain. The twins are tough cookies, not given to complaint, which is why I will make sure one of us is checking the wound site regularly for the next few days.
Before I fall away, I see Zoe curled into Zero, a little puff of auburn on the pillow, Zero has the sprite wrapped up.

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