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Fallout 3 English Language Patch For Russian Automatic Glock

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Fallout 3 was one of 2008's biggest hits due to its gripping graphics, innovative game play and compelling story about post-apocalyptic survival. But if your copy of Fallout 3 has a Russian menu and subtitles, some of the subtleties of this game might be lost on you. Whether you've purchased a foreign copy of the game or want to free yourself from a friend's prank, you'll have no problem changing Fallout 3's game language from Russian to English once you have the know-how. Click 'Start' from your PC's desktop and then 'Control Panel.' Find 'Region and Advanced Settings' and click the 'Advanced' tab.

Fallout 3 English Language Patch For Russian Automatic Glock

Change your language to Russian and reboot. Start your PC again and insert your Fallout 3 disc. Install it, following all of the prompts. Select 'English' when asked for an install language. Click 'Start' and 'My Computer' and navigate to 'C: Program Bethesda Softworks Fallout 3 Data.' Find the file named 'fallout_default.ini' and open it in a text editor like Notepad or TextEdit.

Fallout 3 English Language Patch For Russian Automatic Glock

Find the text 'STestFile2=' and make sure the text 'eng.esp' immediately follows it. Save the text file and go back to the Region settings. Change your preferred language back to English and restart your computer. Load your copy of Fallout 3. The game's menu text, voices and subtitles should all be in English now.

Invisible Empire (3 of 7) 3 of 7 LEGAL DISCLAIMER The following literary work is one of historic fiction. While certain elements may be recognized as based on actual events, the characters and personal events are fictitious. No actual persons were involved in the creation of this fictional work, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is pure coincidence. Certain characters portrayed within this work are copyrighted to Gould (1993) and Cormier (1988).

The author wishes to express his deep gratitude towards the aforementioned for giving him creative inspiration when still a young man, and to stretch one’s imaginations beyond one’s own reality. For this, and the countless other aspiring writers in the mainstream and underground markets you’ve inspired, the author sincerely thanks you. No malice or slight was intended by the willful inclusion of your marvelous creations into this work. This work is intended for adults, and features situations, dialogue, and descriptions that are unsuitable for minors. Please be mindful of your local laws and customs in regards to distributing or dissemination of obscene material. — Invisible Man (Ralph Ellison, 1947) AN INVISIBLE EMPIRE You can see us, but you do not know where we are. You can hear us, but you do not know what we are.

You can even speak with us, but you will not know who we are. We are an invisible empire, a secret kingdom, and we rule the world. PREVIOUSLY: Stanley recollects what the older telepath Tseng reveals about the invisible empire. Tseng later introduces Stanley to “the agency” (the United States’ National Security Agency, or NSA). Thus begins Stanley’s involvement in agency operations, illegal “odd jobs” to bolster his mettle, and his working relationships with Tseng and the teleporter, David.

After graduating college, Stanley goes to Hong Kong for a family vacation. While there, he meets and seduces his first cousin Aurora Lang.

They have a brief, incestuous affair. Once they return home, they keep in touch only through electronic correspondence. On more personal level, Stanley and Rachelle have a lovers’ quarrel and break-up over Janet’s involvement. He meets her a few years later at Faraz’s engagement party, only to find that she had found someone else.

Sensing Stanley’s depression, Viktoriya instigates a menage-a-trois with Shawn to cheer up her lover. Stanley makes plans to create a place where he and his darlings may live together in harmony. Eschewing Mormon and Islamic beliefs, he falls back on his own family’s history of polygamy as well as literary sources for inspiration.

As the year 2000 begins, Stanley has secured a promising job and received pledges from four girls: Janet Kam-Ling Wu, Shawn Ellen Horten, Melanie Yu-Ching Chen, and Viktoriya Lychenko to be his wives. A LIFE IN FOCUS When I was younger, I thought that building a house was easy as 1-2-3.

Had I known that the actual business was such a monumental task, I would’ve gone into a different profession, or killed myself. Fuck architecture. Architects—the ones portrayed glamorously in the media, or tragically in Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead—are the one in a million.

More often than not, they’re mostly unhappy, under great pressure, and at the end of the day, they say, “Fuck it,” pull out the latest copy of Graphics Standard and cobble together the best design they can come up with. I was a shade above that, but I suspected it would not take much to drag me down. I had asked the girls to vote on their favorite site. I was fairly sure I could persuade either of the owners to sell their property, and I could get all the tenants to move before I started building (although Viktoriya was egging me to kick the tenants out with a little ‘persuasion’).

Janet favored the site on 6th Avenue, since it cut her commute time down considerably; however, it was a little too close to the Golden Gate Park for Shawn’s comfort. Having lived apart from her parents in San Jose, my pudgy pumpkin wanted to be as far away from them as possible. She favored the other place. Viktoriya didn’t put in her preference. She had graduated from her institute in 1999 (hers being a four plus two program—four years of undergraduate study, two more in graduate school) and had partnered with an older man that same year.

She had flown to England for a week to compete in competition, and along those lines, she maintained she wanted to stay in New York for a little longer. They had some overseas competitions they wished to enter. ‘It will be fun, kisa.’ Viktoriya blew a kiss into the mirror so I could see her. ‘I will meet many skilled dancers!’ I cracked my knuckles in frustration while I thought-spoke on my bus ride to work.

I hadn’t experienced jealousy of this intensity before. The idea of Viktoriya twirling nearly nude in another man’s arms thousands of miles away rankled me. It reminded me of how I had lost Rachelle. I couldn’t hide my envy fast enough. ‘Don’t think like that Stanislav.’ Viktoriya scolded.

‘It is the last thing on my mind when I am on the floor.’ ‘It better be.’ I buried my envy and let my humor mask my emotions. ‘And I guess I can’t complain about the opportunity. Just let me into the ladies’ dressing room and I’ll call it even.’ Viktoriya grinned roguishly, extended her middle finger, and gestured with it in the most perverse way possible by fingering her cunt before licking it. I was grinning stupidly at antics occurring on the other side of the continent and hardly noticed people were staring at me on the bus. They probably thought I was retarded. Melanie, sensitive to both Janet’s and Shawn’s feelings, also didn’t put in her vote. Privately, she told me she didn’t want to move.

Wouldn’t it be better, she suggested, to buy a second house, move my parents and Andrew out, and have things the way they were? As much nostalgia as my old room held, I knew I needed a place of my own. I wanted to expand my horizons and didn’t need to live under my family’s roof any more. By now, my life was a little more rough and tumble, and I wasn’t sure if they’d agree. From my weapon seizures, I had picked up some interest in gunsmithing. Having gotten my masters in architecture, I found myself spending my newly acquired spare weekends at a gun shop in San Bruno (just south of South San Francisco).

The owner and the namesake of the place was an old coot by the name of Barnes. We traded ammunition from the weapons I took from dead Mexican banditos and gang-banging thugs. The few pieces I had that could pass for legal I’d bring in and learn a few tricks about maintenance and gunsmithing. Heck, I picked up Barnes’ entire experience after a few weeks; gunsmithing is nothing fancy once you figure out how all the parts interacted with one another. Although I didn’t have a private license or agency authorization to carry a gun, I knew enough about them through my tinkering to disable them quickly. I didn’t sell the guns (since many were illegally obtained anyway)—just stockpiled ammunition and spare parts (springs, firing pins, and barrels mostly) for the ones I kept—but I found the (legal looking) handguns handy.

After buying state-approved magazines (California limited civilians like myself to magazines holding ten rounds or less at the time) I occasionally went shooting with some of my new co-workers. I haven’t gotten to that part yet have I? I finally found a day job that didn’t involve drugs, crime cartels, or cold-blooded murder in the middle of a sun-parched desert. Let me walk you through the process though. After I returned from New York, I took the architecture practitioner’s license exam. At the time, California was engaged in heated debate whether or not to standardize their licensing with more than a score of other states. I had to admit that California was slightly unique: the state had a shit-ton of people living on the fault line.

After the 1989 Loma Prieta Quake, seismic awareness (if not engineering) was a requisite for all design students. I passed my exam by the flimsiest of margins.

It consisted of a two day design studio then a day of presentation. If you missed anything at any time, you were screwed. I couldn’t use my gift of gab for the presentation since it was reviewed without you; if the reviewers understood your presentation, you passed. If they did not, then that was it.

The worst of it was yet to come. The last part was a personal interview conducted by three licensed architects.

Miss a question and you failed, regardless how well you did earlier (or how tired you were from it). The project was something only a sick mind could concoct: some fool wanted to create a facility to serve under-privileged and disadvantaged youth (read: potential gang-bangers) by day as well as house disadvantaged seniors day and night. Simply pushing it through just to accommodate both parties wasn’t enough, I had to “hybridize” the project—we’re talking an ideal fusion of opposing objectives that only an academic, or a day-dreamer, could love. I met the bare physical requirements (which demanded a physical scale model) by drafting only the facade of the facility. I exceeded in presentation. My use of CAD allowed me to draft in roughly half the time (having the money to splurge on a hefty desktop didn’t hurt either). This left me with the ability to draw on my own skills at visual presentation.

I drew on youth-involved community programs and my own culture’s stereotypical filial piety. People are suckers for Asians, especially if they think you’re “traditional.” When it came time for my interview, my gift let me pass it with greater ease than normal. A few quick scans and I knew what those fools were looking for. By the time Lunar New Year came around, I was a licensed architect in the state of California. Despite my success, I didn’t let it all go to my head. I interviewed and got a job as a computer assisted drafter (not an architect) with Ferguson Design & Graphics in a cushy office downtown.

Since I could bring projects home, I would meet Janet (her office was on Sacramento Street). This renewed contact cemented a decade long relationship. Janet and I rediscovered why we hung out so much (despite our occasional differences). Janet’s firm (Friedman, Hoch, Brenner, & Glasser) was one that specialized in defending businesses from class action suits.

Since her graduation, she was working on mounds of briefs, paperwork, and meetings for well over a year. The only vacation she got was for New Years.

With Viktoriya in New York, Shawn busy at Berkeley, and Melanie splitting her time between high school and the culinary program at City, Janet and I found time again to re-connect. I invited her to stay over for a few days and she agreed, packing a few overnight items. It would also be a chance for her to take a look at the offers the owners were making for their buildings, as well as some of the drawings Shawn had done to “eco-friendly” the building. “Stanley?” Janet came in with her set of keys, “Stanley, where are you?” I heard her hollering a bit and cracked open the door to my studio in the outer room with a little telekinesis. “The usual, honey.” I was putting the final touches on some construction drawings and I had to be careful.

Unlike those glitzy plans you’d see at town hall meetings or in the movies, construction drawings were the actual “blueprints”. Various contractors would use them to actually build the damn thing, so if I missed an important detail—say, forgetting to note that there should be five screws at all the T-joints instead of three—my company would get their ass handed to them on a plate in the civil suit, then I’d get fired for incompetence. Janet came in and put her arms around me. “Kiss me you big handsome guy you. It’s Friday.” “They asked me to have these ready Sunday morning,” I reached up absently and pinched her arm.

“Just so they can avoid paying me overtime.” “Animals,” Janet sniffed. “That’s illegal.” I shrugged. “I don’t mind. Keeps me in practice.” “Well,” my lovely lawyer stood up in a huff, “I’m going to take a shower. What’re we having for dinner?” “Considering we just let our parents know what we’ve been doing,” I turned towards her, “I was thinking yutga-cheut-hou-hui-xicfan*.” [* Cantonese: Let’s leave together and have a nice family dinner.] Janet hid her smile but I heard the giggle.

I didn’t know if it was from the incident from a few days ago, or if it just struck her as funny. This was how it started: ever since Rachelle, my parents hadn’t seen me hang out with anyone (officially) save Melanie and—on rare occasions—Shawn and Viktoriya. Janet was one of my most well kept secrets (save the empire). We started seeing each other so furtively that it became second nature to us. When I finally introduced Janet to my parents, I had to deal with a sudden barrage of questions that came up.

Even Andrew, my normally supportive little brother, was curious as to what was going on. Luckily, my mother remembered Janet, although only dimly. It didn’t take her long to suspect something.

She wondered how serendipitous it was for me to meet her again after all these years. Mother finally took me aside and asked her most pressing question: “Kgam yeung Yu-Ching hai lei-ge bien-ge*?” [* Cantonese: Then who is Yu-Ching to you?] When I put on my straightest face and answered, she fainted. Thankfully, I had been practicing my telekinesis so I could gently let her hit the ground without serious injury. When my mother got back up and told my dad, that was when things really got interesting (insert sarcasm here). Artcam Pro 2012 Full Crackle.

My father was furious at my temerity, but I stuck to my guns. I suppose I could’ve done more, like brain-zapping his ass, but I didn’t. Discipline and control were what I had to go on.

Besides, I had a better weapon. An ally more potent than what I had for this problem: my devoted Lady Wu. Janet told them that she knew already. Part of it was her choice as well, and she didn’t mind. “I made this decision Chen-sang*,” [* Cantonese: Mr. Chen / authoritative] Janet used a gentle version of her court voice, “And I agreed to it because I love Stanley and I know he loves me.” And that was it.

Oh, we heard them arguing from my room below and their voices sometimes kicked up a storm. So much so in fact, that Andrew actually came down and asked to stay with us for a while until things quieted down. Once things did, he headed back upstairs. Janet didn’t mind his company though, and made an effort to know him better. “Sorry Janet,” Andrew shrugged apologetically, “You should’ve seen our dad’s face when ah-guo* [* Cantonese: Big Brother (casual)] brought home Rachelle.” “Oh, I’m sure it was something.” Janet smiled thinly.

Andrew saw me scowl past her. “Uh sorry,” my little brother laughed nervously, “I didn’t mean it that way.” “That’s all right,” Janet said, “It’s in the past right?” “It looks that way,” I lied.

Actually, I didn’t know. My last meeting with Rachelle was brief and it was one of the most confusing and painful moments I had. She had gotten engaged without even telling me. But now and then, I would see her emails and I would answer them as I did before, only with a little more attention. I learned a valuable lesson in communication. I left my responses open to more dialogue.

Rachelle would write back and we’d exchange messages once a week or so. I shook off Rachelle’s memory and focused on the task at hand.

I finished checking through the project drawings a third (and by most standards, final) time while Janet was still in the shower. I saved the project, backed a copy to a Jazz disk then stood up for some exercise. While Janet was still occupied, I juggled several paperweights, my chair, wastebasket, and pillow to stay in practice. When I heard the shower’s hiss go silent, I quietly set all the items back down and headed to the kitchenette. Janet came out, her body hidden only by a towel before her; her back was bared for all to see. “Water dear?” I looked up with a smile. “No thanks,” she was hardly surprised to see me but she kept her towel, “Um, could you turn around?” “Why you beautiful girl you,” I stepped close and slid my arm around her waist, “Give your fiance a kiss.

It’s Friday.” A slow grin came to Janet’s face as I pulled her towel and draped it over the back of the chair. “Why Stanley,” she murmured, “Aren’t we going to dinner?” “In a little bit,” I picked her up easily despite the fact she had gained a few pounds. “I just want to give you a few swimmers first.” “That’s not appetizing,” Janet wrinkled her nose at me. “At least have the decency to shower first, you big stinky lug.” “Who said anything about appetizers?” I kissed her.

“I’m making this the main course.” Janet’s eyes widened like saucers. “You’re serious?” “Course I am,” I nodded.

“I don’t know sweetie,” Janet squirmed a little. “I mean I just did start at the firm last year.” “Probation’s over,” I lay her down gently on the sofa. “I thought you wanted this?” Janet said nothing but I sensed her nervousness.

“The house hasn’t been built yet you know,” she lectured me while in the most ridiculous pose: her legs and feet pointed high into the air. “So by the time he or she pops out, it’ll be done.” I sounded more sure of myself than I really was. “C’mon,” Janet stroked my arms and face, “Let’s talk about this afterwards, okay?” “Fine,” I sighed and got up.

My hard-on made it a little difficult. As I stepped towards my studio to get dressed, I looked back at Janet, who still lay there with her legs splayed apart. “You coming?” I asked.

“Oh, I will be, Stanley,” Janet rubbed her pussy deliciously. “Have you forgotten what saran wrap is for?” I grinned and headed back to the kitchenette.

I pulled out a thin piece and whipped out my stiffening cock. I dripped a little vegetable cooking oil and knelt between Janet’s legs.

“Stick me baby,” Janet cooed. “Fuck me like old times.” She was nearly twice her age from when we first fucked. Janet had grown older, her body a little softer and a little less firm. I wasn’t yet 25 (not until September of 2000) and Janet wouldn’t be 29 until June.

Janet’s sedentary lifestyle made her a little flabby, though not much so that she was unattractive. If I was inclined to be so shallow, I wouldn’t have paid girls like Shawn much attention.

No, Janet, like my other darlings, had beauty that was more than skin deep. Oh, I’m sure I’d bone a pretty hot chick if the chance arose. I did exactly that with my cousin Aurora, but I didn’t grow more fond of her.

We remained pen pals over email and we didn’t exactly click. Janet groaned as I slid into her. The saran wrap stretched but didn’t break as I began to pump her slowly.

I looked deep into her eyes and smiled. She grinned back and scraped my stomach lightly with her nails. I shivered as she did so, eliciting a saucy grin from her lips. Janet took my arms and stroked them lazily. The rhythm she wanted me to fuck her with, she reproduced by stroking my palm.

“Easy Stanley,” Janet guided me, “Easy there. That’s right. Ooohh.” She was my tutor and my first love. She taught me manners and showed me a world a little bit past what I could see as a stupid kid. All these memories I had came back and nearly overwhelmed me, but I kept them in check; I knew I was able to hurt her easily with a stray thought.

I had grown, and so had she. I didn’t want to do anything to hurt Janet. I would do anything to protect her. I loved her and she loved me. I leaned forward and kissed her. She held me tightly as I came with a jerk. The two of us were bright, happy and gay as we went out to dinner with her parents and mine.

BONER-IFFIC That night, Janet and I talked a little about our future, about everyone’s future, while we lay nude under the bed covers. We had flashlights underneath and it felt like an old-style slumber party; a naked slumber party.

“It’ll be just a bit longer,” Janet tapped her finger on a small calendar. “You sure?” I asked her, “You’re how old now?” “28 and-a-half. I think I can wait a little longer.” “I guess so.” I didn’t feel as old as she did. But time did seem to fly. I did some quick math.

We’d known one another nearly twelve years. I knew Melanie and Shawn for about eleven, and Rachelle—had she remained intimate—for about the same. Only Viktoriya was lacking in the length of time; I met her later, giving us only six years.

However, she more than made up for it in effort and telepathy. Janet, in the meantime, had been talking a little more, but I only listened with half an ear. Stanley,” she growled, “Are you even listening? If you can’t keep track of our birthdays, there’s going to be hell to pay.” “Tell me about it darling,” I pushed Janet’s calendar off the bed and rolled her onto her back. “What do you think you’re doing mister?” she sounded annoyed, but I saw a trace of mischief in her eyes. “We’re going to play house,” I chuckled, “And the scenario is ‘daddy’s home and he’s horny’.” “Li-xieng-xshie*,” the bob-haired beauty slapped me playfully and laughed.

[* Cantonese: literally, Do you want to die? Colloquial slang meaning ‘Yeah right!’ or ‘You wouldn’t dare!’] “Laopo-lum-hei-di-xie-mun-jai*,” I whispered into her ear, “Think of the children.” [* Cantonese: Wife (said in this fashion, it may be construed as ‘little wifey’) think of the children.] Janet let out a muffled groan as I pressed against her. She played with my ears and mimed Reverend Lovejoy’s wife’s (Helen) whiny screech, “Won’t someone PLEASE think of the children?!” We both laughed. Janet had enjoyed a few of The Simpsons with me.

Might as well, since Rachelle was no longer around. I bit her lips gently and then nuzzled her neck. Janet sucked in her breath as she held me. “You’re crushing me Stanley,” she murmured, “Can I get on top?” “Sure thing dear,” I rolled her atop me and she sat up, throwing off the covers. It was strange. Almost like that night so long ago when we had our first bare-backed night of love.

Janet’s hips swayed as she straddled me. My already hardened prick was working slowly into her depths as she gyrated. I let her work slowly. We hadn’t done much foreplay so she would be a little drier.

“Ung—gawd,” Janet shuddered as I entered her. She leaned forwards so she could be with me. Her soft tits pressed against me as I savored the taste of her lips and skin. Janet’s warm breath was tinged with a touch of mint from our toothpaste and felt wonderful as she kissed my face and neck. I stroked her back gently as she began to move ever faster.

Janet let out a pleasurable gasp as I reached out slowly with my mind and stroked her mentally. Her pussy was getting wetter as her hips moved in a strong rhythm. In the dim light of my room, I could see her most prominent features contort as she approached orgasm. I heard her thoughts clearly as she held my head and locked eyes with me: ‘God I want this.’ ‘I need this.’ ‘This is it.’ ‘I’m taking the plunge.’ ‘I’m going to be a mommy.’ I seized her hips tightly as I shot my load deep into my first love.

Janet’s mouth hung open as she felt the warm spread of my baby butter inside her. All she could make were incoherent sounds as I ground myself against her body. She collapsed in a heap atop me panting, her pussy quivering, her body shivering. I used the darkness to cover my telekinesis. I drew the covers over her as she stretched herself over me, my cock still inside her. After a few moments of silence, I heard her rustling and I moved a little so she could sleep by my side. “Stanley?” she whispered.

“Are you asleep?” “Not yet,” I touched her. “What’s up?” I was earnestly too tired to read her thoughts by then; still, some of it floated through: faceless children, an uncertain future, and the other girls would occasionally pop up. I get it: she was wondering when the others would go preggers. “What should we name him or her?” Janet draped an arm and leg over me. “Anything you want,” I murmured. “I’m sure our parents will give you pointers.” “I know,” she said drowsily.

“Imagine that Stanley. We’ll be like them in a few years.” Her words jolted me unlike anything I had felt. Of the things I’ve experienced. The lethal take-downs during my “odd jobs”, the fall-out with Rachelle, David’s matter displacement, Tseng’s destructive potential, all of that seemed moot. All that paled in comparison to our mortality in the face of ever-marching time.

Eventually, we’d all be relegated to dust. Suddenly, it seemed like I’d never have enough time. Not with myself, not with my girls, not with all that I worked for. I listened to Janet’s steady breathing and realized how unfair it all was. To have worked so diligently, only to enjoy it for a few years. It was unfair, I thought as my eyelids drooped. Suddenly, things didn’t seem all that fun anymore.

I just had more things to worry about and less time to do so with. THREE COUNT TECHNICALITY Lunar New Year (a fifteen day celebration here—it lasts a month in China) was generally a good time for me. Being Chinese and part of an extended family of Chens in the United States, one gets a load of lucky money (of course, one’s parents’ bleeds out a similar amount, so the exchange is usually even). A few days after the city’s Miss Chinatown parade, the most frugal of us would generally deposit the cash right to the bank. Of course, having done several “odd jobs” with Tseng in Mexico, I had nearly two million dollars in drug money stashed in my house. Then things got even more interesting. I took four-day weekend to do another “odd job” with Tseng—this time an accidental loss of shipment—a few miles past Ojinga and became nine million dollars richer after the even split.

Technically, Tseng and I weren’t supposed to do any more “odd jobs” but then again, the agency wasn’t exactly knocking on our door with assignments. I could barely deposit one-percent of the stuff since I wouldn’t have receipts for it if I was audited. While I would’ve gladly paid the taxes on it, Tseng wised me up that I could practically write off a large chunk of my house payments (a mortgage on real-estate). If I played my cards right, he informed me, I could be taxed in a way that would let me keep most of the money I earned, have a place for my girls, and live comfortably for the rest of our days.

‘Either that, or buy into industrial commodities like gold, bauxite, silica, or lithium.’ Tseng advised. I wasn’t a financial whiz and stocks smelled fishy to me. It wasn’t something I felt was tangible, like a house or real-estate. In any case, the place I wanted to build for me and my lovelies was still in (my then) future. And until I had a method of financing a purchase on paper, I couldn’t start the project. So, being the frugal little Chinese bastard I was, I lived like a hermit and sought a way to launder the money I had in a different way.

With the Lunar New Year envelopes, I figured I could sneak in at least a thousand dollars into one of my accounts. The IRS wouldn’t find it odd if I did that on an annual basis (they would if it was a monthly occurrence).

Still, a thousand dollars was nothing in relation to the project I wanted to do. I was standing in line wondering how to launder more money without being caught, when the robbers came in. In my defence, I was preoccupied. I mean, really preoccupied. I was busy mulling over: money-laundering schemes. Tseng and I had collected so much, it was nearly impossible to launder it without professional help (or undergoing a RICO investigation). Next, there were the project’s two possible sites: one of the owners got cold feet and wasn’t sure if she wanted to sell, while in the other the tenants were willing to relocate if I could allow them to live in the new building (not an option for me) or get them a similar rent in another building (also impossible).

Then there were my latest set of drawings at my company (Ferguson Design and Graphics), which were pretty run-of-the-mill stuff. Tedious, but manageable.

Also on my mind were several things that hit closer to home: Viktoriya’s parents had moved. They had bought a house in Eckhart, Indiana (of all places) after they became empty-nesters; both she and I had pitched in to help them move. This meant that Viktoriya would be staying in New York City unless I could give her a reason (and a home) to come back here. There was Melanie’s graduation in June (and I had promised to bring her to a something or other concert—N-Sync I think it was—for her graduation present), along with my brother Andrew (they were the same age). Additionally, my parents were pestering me to get my own place so my old room could be rented out.

That meant Melanie would have to stop her frequent visits until I got the new place. We were in the midst of working something out (so I could go to her place) although I was sure her parents weren’t terribly thrilled at the prospect.

Shawn meanwhile, suddenly found herself going to Japan to study at the technical institute in Tokyo. The timing of it was curious. I thought she had been accepted into the Berkeley program. It was then when I knew Shawn possessed a craftiness that belied her roly-poly appearance. Instead of continuing with landscape architecture, she changed her major to environmental engineering.

This gave her an academic advantage during her undergraduate years; her high GPA and relative ease of landscape architecture courses allowed her to brush up on the skill set she’d need for her graduate studies. My plump pumpkin was a smart woman indeed! Still she was not smart enough to outwit her protective parents. I suspected they packed her off to another country to keep me away from her (although sending her off to a country full of horny Japanese guys wouldn’t have been my ideal solution).

I wondered how Shawn would get by without being able to read or speak Japanese, but I found out that she had taken back-to-back introductory and intermediate Japanese in college. “Don’t worry Stanley!” she beamed brightly, “There’s enough signs in English to tell me what’s what, so ko-nichi-wa*!!” [* Japanese: Good afternoon / colloquial equivalent to good day.] “Well ‘good day’ to you too,” I said with a grin. “Wait, what?” Shawn frowned. “I meant ‘good-bye’.” Having been to Japantown’s boutiques a few times, I knew some Japanese. “Um muffin,” I looked at her with worry, “I’m quite sure that was ‘good day’ or at least ‘good afternoon’.” “Oh yeah. I guess you’re right,” Shawn thumbed through a small pocket dictionary.

“I meant to say sai-o-nara*.” [* Japanese: Good-bye.] “Honey, you worry me.” I regarded her with such distress, my plump angel hugged me tightly as if to comfort me. I wanted to get her a good electronic dictionary and translator before she left in fall. Next, Faraz’s and Ghandia’s wedding was going to be in August; I hadn’t heard a thing about Rachelle and Craig since that disastrous dinner last year. About the only two constants seemed to be my cousin Aurora’s constant emails (the earliest form of ‘sexting’) and Janet’s promotion to full-fledged attorney. My darling First and I simply planned for a quiet evening out with her close co-workers and some friends at a sushi place she frequented.

I barely had time to keep myself in practice, or even attempt to learn new things. Mind-reading made learning new skills a snap although depending on what was required, I may not have had the physical ability to carry it out. While I picked up some kung-fu and self-defence moves, I wasn’t physically strong enough to deliver such blows. Thankfully, I was able to fortify my lack-luster physical side with my mind.

Despite having Viktoriya 3000 miles away, I was learning to develop my telekinesis. I was able to focus it to the point where I could duplicate the technique Tseng demonstrated to me years ago. By focusing my gift into a very narrow point, I could bore metal and stone. This new trick I used to dig out the required 1.83 millimeters of metal where most serial numbers are stamped on gun barrels and slides.

I spent several weeks testing myself and “cleaning” the guns at the Masonic Street storage room into “ghost guns”. So, where was I?

The bank robbers. Since I was so preoccupied, I didn’t notice when the three masked assholes stepped into the bank. I should’ve felt something amiss, but their intentions escaped me until the last minute.

They moved quickly once they were in position. One of them clubbed the old security guard across the face while the other two vaulted over the counter to take the cash in the drawers. One of the cashiers let out a hoarse scream but was roughly kicked by one of the men at the counter until I could hear her sobbing quietly. The third thug kept his back against the side of the door, waiting to ambush anyone stupid enough to enter.

“Hey you,” robber number three yelled at me, “Hands out of your pockets. Put them on the counter over there.” I was still standing in line in a daze and didn’t understand what was happening until I was being talked to. People walking by the bank could see in, but they didn’t. It was a busy work day, but I had called in a half-day vacation to deposit my lucky money and then have lunch with Janet before heading to work.

I sauntered to the counter in the middle of the bank lobby and placed my hands palms down on the counter-top. The two masked men behind the cashiers’ counter moved out quickly. One of them rifled through my pockets and found my packet of money.

“Stupid Chinese shit,” he muttered, “Guess this isn’t your lucky day huh?” I didn’t know if it was bravado, stupidity, or me just being cross. Maybe it was one, two, or a mix of the three. Tseng had warned me not to engage in any stupid ploys that would reveal the existence of the invisible empire. Until I met the “jumper” called David, I thought the “invisible empire” were comprised mostly of telepaths like myself. But having met him, I wondered what the “invisible empire” really was? A power struggle or some conflict of interest among our kind?

That was doubtful. Tseng was shady about the whole thing. He seemed content to gorge me on money and extra-curricular activities to keep me occupied. Well, the agency already knew about Tseng, me and David. So, why didn’t I have a little fun? The robber regarded my sudden smile like I was crazy. I was smiling because I was thinking how Viktoriya was so brazen at times.

We had shared so much during our time together that I wondered if some of her brazenness became nestled into the bosom of my mind. Gun safeties are easy to find and activate. Never attack a psychokineticist who knows the intricate mechanisms of gun safeties.

Magazine releases are a little harder, but they generally fall near where a person’s hands will clutch their handheld boomsticks and pea-shooters. In the blink of an eye, the three thugs’ guns were leveled into the SAFE position. I lashed out and punched the thug—number two I guess —in the side of his neck as I shifted focus and depressed the magazine release on thug number one’s handgun. Someone past the counter screamed. CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK The two thugs pointed their weapons at me, but nothing came out.

Thug number two was jerking spasmodically on the ground, the back of my hand had made contact with the skin at his neck. His brain was fried with the imagery of dead and dying Mexican banditos and SoCal gang-bangers, as well as the astonished faces of Katherine Heeber’s kidnappers as they died.

I quickly knelt, using telekinesis to snatch the fallen thug’s handgun, a Taurus 9x19 that had been “ghosted” (no serial number), into my hand, flicked it back into UNSAFE and fired twice. A ‘normal’ like you would be amazed how accurate a handgun can be when telekinesis is properly applied in just the right amounts. With it, the recoil was next to zero (because one focused on keeping the body of the whole weapon ‘locked’ and immobile when it fired; it took training to release one’s grip on the weapon then secure it again once it was aimed at the next target) and the bullet pretty much went where you aimed. Still, this did not mean I could hit something I didn’t deliberately (and carefully) aimed at; however, at the range those two thugs were, it was quite easy for me to pop their tops. The two other robbers’ blood and brains decorated the walls, floors and windows behind them. Pink mist indeed.

I brought my gun back down as if it were the most natural thing in the world, and stood up once more. I looked down at the thug I had felled with my gift.

I deliberated if I needed to kill him. Unlike that one fight at the pizzeria years ago, I was sure Tseng—or others of his ilk—wouldn’t be able to cover up two dead bodies. That plus a witness who was privy to memories of illegal activities on the US-Mexico border would be “problematic”. I regretted my decision, but discovery meant death anyway. I aimed the thug’s handgun at his head.

I saw his eyes blink as he slowly regained his faculties. He stared at the gun, and then at me. I thought about taunting him, but that ultimately served no purpose.

My face was the last thing he saw as his thoughts went dark. This time, I couldn’t avoid the fallout as I did from the pizzeria years ago.

The two men I shot in “self-defence” were justifiable. However, the slaying of the third perpetrator as he lay there on the ground was considered “something to look into”. So much for ‘normal’ justice. Despite the third thug being “technically murder”, I was cause celebre in the local neighborhood. The police identified the three as members of an off-shoot of a Latino gang which had expanded out from the Mission District.

So much for ‘normal’ criminal expansion too. Almost too late, I realized that this might be a problem if the gangs decided to retaliate. San Francisco might run slick with blood if that occurred. Unlike Baja California Norte, my girls would also be in the line of fire. The president of the Richmond Business District and the bank wanted to hold a party in my honor, but I demurred with feigned modesty. My family certainly didn’t feel the same way as the businessmen did. If there was one thing good about the incident, it allowed Janet and my mother to share their concerns over my well-being.

Both were in hysterics when they learned about the shooting at the bank. My mother needed to sedate herself and lie down. My father wasn’t too proud either; in fact, he was suspicious; he’d never seen me get physical with anyone growing up, let alone shoot firearms of any kind except those rare weekends when he’d take me to the range. “What were you thinking?!” he roared in my face, “You want to get yourself killed?” I had no answer, so I stayed silent as he stormed back upstairs in face of my mute expression.

Once Janet and I were alone, she held me tightly and sobbed while I cradled her in my arms. Unlike David, my family was more or less normal. That meant my parents gave a crap about what I did and my well-being. Sure, there’d been scoldings and spankings when Andrew and I were younger (Andrew was better behaved), but nothing close to the abuse that dumb bastard suffered through. My father had worked the swing shift at a Federal job for nearly three decades (he retired a few years later under the Civil Service Retirement program, not Social Security) so he was absent most of the time when I was growing up.

Apart from our annual summer vacations and the occasional weekend together, I had grown up myself. Well, until Tseng came along. Apart from suspecting his deep personal involvement in the disappearance of Viktoriya’s brother, I began to suspect something else as well. Had he an ulterior motive for taking so much interest in me? By now, Tseng and I shared similar gifts only because he was teaching and guiding me how to use them.

My body got an uncontrollable shudder when I thought about Tseng. Sometimes I had wondered if he was my real father.

The age would fit more or less. He was about my parents’ age. I remembered that pretty blonde waitress at the coffee house a few years back. I saw him use his hand to touch her skin-to-skin. Tseng showed that he too, could do what I did if he wanted to.

Discipline and control my ass, I soured. I pushed that unpleasant possibility out of my mind. If it came up again, I’ll ask; somehow, I was sure I wouldn’t like the answer. It was a long day, answering questions for the police. In the immediate aftermath of the bank shooting, I knew I pretty much was caught. So, I had disassembled the gun I’d fired and sat down to wait.

By nightfall, things were pretty much quiet, save for an under-current of tension that ran through my house. Janet retired to the outer room and no doubt heard my father bellowing upstairs at what he perceived as my rash behavior. Oh, if he only knew about all those other incidents along the border. I was tempted to confess them all right there, even if it meant Tseng showing up. It would’ve been fun.

My dad probably would’ve keeled over with a brain aneurysm or a heart attack. I didn’t need THAT on my conscience (or my mother’s) so I let it be and hopped into the shower. After I dried and dressed, I found on Janet in the studio.

She was lying uncomfortably on the spare sofa-bed plush I kept there when I wanted to nod off and was too lazy to sleep in the inner room. I picked her up and carried her gently with my arms to the bed and tucked her in. I held her hand for a bit then slipped next to her under the covers. Saturday was a little better. Melanie knew nothing of the incident, and both Janet and I decided to avoid mentioning it unless asked.

The police had questioned but not detained me, so I figured the next step was up to them. I didn’t feel like celebrating, but I did take the unusual step of taking Janet and Melanie to Chinatown. We had dim-sum at the teahouse where my two regal darlings met, did some shopping on Kearny and Clay then wandered back to the parking lot on Portsmouth. Walking with them in the old district gave me a strange nostalgia.

I had done something similar with my parents when they first started out in the mid-seventies. I had walked hand-in-hand with my mother as my father bought groceries. How things remained so similar after all these years!

On the way home, I made one unscheduled stop at Japan Town. Fifteen minutes and $300 poorer, I had the perfect going-away present (electronic dictionary with voice) for my plump dumpling’s stay in Japan.

NICE SHOOTIN’ TEX Monday started off pretty normal, at least in the morning. I headed into work and, because I was running a little behind a project (the machine was slow to render for some reason or another), I bought a hefty sandwich and headed back to the Ferguson office. “Hey Stanley?” I heard a knock. It was Franky, my cubicle neighbor. “What’s up?” “You did something over the weekend?” he asked. “The police are in Mr. Ferguson’s office, asking about you.” “Fuck,” I stood and knew there was no real place to go.

“Can you cover for me?” “I guess so,” Franky shrugged. “But you owe me. That lawyer girlfriend of yours have any friends?” “She might,” I replied absently. “I’ll ask.” “Yeah sure,” he didn’t sound convinced. “Well, I guess you’re going to need her anyway; sounds like they want you bad.” “Whatever,” I dismissed Franky. My colleague was pleasant but balding, a loner, and (from my private readings) a man who was addicted to well-hung she-males. I headed to Ferguson’s office and found the door ajar.

I pushed it open and found the same cop who had responded to the bank on Friday there along with a plainclothes detective talking with Mr. “That’s him,” Ferguson nodded towards me. “You want to tell me what this is all about, Stanley?” “It’s nothing,” I said plainly. “Nothing means cops aren’t in my office asking about a guy I just hired fresh from college, sonny,” the old man replied. “I heard a bank customer shot three robbers Friday. Was that you?” “Sounds like it,” I was sick of the hero bullshit, “Which bank was it?” “Wells Fargo,” the detective was not impressed by my cocksure attitude. “Please, come with us.” The cops lead me out, my lunch sandwich in hand.

I didn’t even have time to bring my coat! I ate my lunch while I rode with them to the station near where the bank was. Once there, I was lead into a conference room and I sat facing a one-way mirror. It was pointless to keep me in there, because I could sense the presence of witnesses past the mirrored glass. The detective asked me some more questions, like my training (architecture), background (normal kid), and how I was able to dismantle a handgun like a seasoned professional (read about it online). “Hey man,” the detective, one Jacob Waters, started his spiel.

“Witnesses said you shot the third suspect when he was down and plainly unarmed. You could be booked for murder or man-one.” I shrugged and kept my mouth shut. “Look you got a clean record,” Waters sat back, “Why muck it up with a felony?” “You think,” I picked my words carefully, “That I will be charged with something?” “I think so,” the detective said under his breath, “So c’mon man.

Who are you really? Your records didn’t show any military training, so are you in a gang?” “No.” I was starting to dislike his method of questioning.

“No, of course not.” Waters gave me a fake smile. “But if you want protection, you’ll need to come clean with us.” “Why would I want protection?” I asked. “You know those three you killed?” Waters rummaged through something in a vanilla folder and pulled out some mug-shots. “Members of Sin Titulo, a street offshoot of some Tijuana cartels.” “The Nameless?” I asked.

In the excitement of being attacked so close to home, I only scanned enough to know the robbers were Latino or Hispanic. I didn’t even get their names and addresses. “Odd name,” I remarked.

“Yeah-yeah,” Waters tried not to sound frustrated, “Odd until you find out why they call themselves that; they’ve killed some people. Skinned their faces off so they can’t be identified.” Interesting I thought. It would’ve come up had I done some deeper digging on the last fellow I shot, but I was in a hurry to finish the job before the police arrived. I did know some of the Tecate-Mexicali cartels would do that face-carving bullshit so their victims’ families couldn’t give them an open casket burial. It was that, or something to do with terrorizing them.

I’ll need to look into the that with Tseng later. “You my friend, will be their new target if this ever surfaces,” Waters slid a photo on the table. Shit, I cursed inwardly. It was a still shot of a bank security camera showing me firing the gun at the last thug on the desk.

My face was clearly showing in profile and in the front. I looked at the picture with a wooden expression. If it ever surfaces, I’d be in trouble.

My mood grew dark. That’s if the picture surfaces. Shit, I brooded silently.

Tseng probably won’t care, but Cox was likely going to flip if I needed to silence a cop. “So, unless you want to cooperate,” Waters droned on, “You’ll be on your own.” “That’s not something to joke about detective,” a deep baritone sang out. We both looked up and saw a burly man in a dark suit enter the room, along with another older man and a slim woman holding a briefcase. “Captain?” Waters stood up, “What’s with the suits?” “Cut the crap Waters,” the older man said. “This man, uh—?” “Champion,” Cox said and gave me dour look, “Nicholas Champion.” “Right. He’s a United States Marshal,” the precinct captain said. Chen here is a deep cover agent building a cover as a draftsman.

Something to do with—?” “Illegal contracting with migrant workers,” Cox said. “Some who may be involved with Central or South American drug cartels.” I sensed Cox was lying.

I bet he knew I knew too. “We’re working with Immigration as well as the D.E.A.,” the big agent gestured airily.

“We’d like the case and any charges you are planning to press to be dropped so we can continue the operation.” “But—?” Waters mouth dropped. “We’ll take that,” Cox scooped up the photograph.

“The bank is cooperating as well. The security tapes in regards to the incident are being scrubbed as we speak.” “That’s evidence!” the detective protested uselessly.

“I’m with the city attorney’s office,” the slim woman with the briefcase shot back. “You can make the arrest detective, but my office won’t prosecute.” So that was that. A nice ride back to downtown and I thought I was finished, but Cox apparently had other plans. “Thanks,” I said. “Don’t think it was a favor,” Cox said gruffly, “We need you again. Otherwise, we would’ve let them throw the book at you.” “Gee,” I scratched my cheek. “I take that back then.

You guys are assholes anyway.” “I thought we agreed to keep this crap under wraps,” Cox was next to me in the back seat of the big sedan. “I was defending myself. If you had been there, you’d do the same.” “If I’d been there,” the big man lectured, “I’d have done exactly as they said. There were innocents in there.” “Okay.” I didn’t want to argue. Just because he couldn’t stop bullets with his mind, didn’t mean I couldn’t. Fuckin’ ‘normal’. “You might think we’re like that other agency,” Cox said, “The one called that starts with a ‘C’ and ends with ‘A’; ‘Christians In Action’.

Let me tell you right now, we’re not. You, like us, are interested only in surveillance. Look but don’t touch. Understand?” “All right Brian,” I called him by his first name just to mix things up. Give it a rest.” “Those cowboy operations you and Tseng go on?” Cox ignored me and continued his lecture. “Those we track sonny. Don’t think we’ll forget about them if we need to compromise your ass to renew NAFTA.” “Is that a threat?” I eyed him unkindly.

“No, it’s not a threat,” he said, but I knew he was lying. Perhaps he knew I would read him and know that he was and he was answering just the way I’d expected him to as if he didn’t know. Damn, this was getting heady and confusing. “But consider this,” Cox went on. “Like that shit-headed detective said, if the cartels knew you and Tseng did all those jobs back then, do you think they’d let you live?” I shrugged, because I honestly didn’t know.

Perhaps more importantly, I didn’t care. For me and Tseng, the cartels were targets to be taken down, their possessions to be taken, and if they raised any opposition, they were to be crushed. “Tseng probably has a plan,” Cox admitted, “But unless you guys can predict the future, which you can’t, since we’ve not seen you pull any lottery stunts yet, there’s no telling what will happen with those gangs. They’re animals mister. Feral animals.” “Well, thanks for the advice,” I said, “I’ll think about it. Honest.” “Well you can do that while you’re on the plane,” Cox said. “Er, what?” I blinked.

I was so distracted by the sudden change of my schedule that I didn’t see that coming. “We’re heading for the airport; like I said, we need you.” “You mean like right the hell now?” I was annoyed. “You couldn’t give me a few hours notice?” “Consider this a favor,” Cox growled. “We think Ghost Light’s gone rogue.” “The hell did you just say?” I danced through Cox’s mind and knew he was telling the truth; or at least he thought he was. David Reese, ex-asset, was now considered a serious liability and a possible danger to the country. My mind reeled from the accusation. “You read my mind didn’t you?” Cox looked at me accusingly.

“Only because you’re pouring it out,” I grew apprehensive but faked a migraine. “My head hurts.” “Interesting,” the big man sounded smug. “Well, it doesn’t hurt for you to know.” “I guess not,” I looked at him evenly.

“So, you think David’s gone rogue? How?” “I’ll brief you enroute.” “What about Tseng?” I asked. The brawny agent knitted his brow, “He’ll meet us at Sherwood.” “And where’s that?” I glanced at him. “Upstate New York,” Cox replied. That might work out, I thought. Maybe I could see Viktoriya afterwards. “In the meantime,” he went on, “We took care of your work thing.” “Uh, how?” I asked and realized that the only things I had brought with me were my mobile phone, my house keys, wallet (and identification), and whatever money I had.

“Bethany will cover for you,” Cox leveled me a grin I couldn’t imagine him wearing. “Who the hell is Bethany?” I asked. I’d never known Cox to use first names with anyone; not even me. “She’ll handle work for you.” “Is she a draftsman?” I asked. I don’t think so.” “Uh, people use our drawings to build things,” I pointed out. “Things built wrong get people killed.

Then they get me fired. If I get fired, I might find some more work down Mexico way.” “Okay, fine,” Cox dialed his phone.

“This is Champion. Make sure Masquerade—” Bethany’s code-name “—has.” The burly agent looked at me and I shouted into the mouth-piece, “Architectural, structural, and construction drafting and modeling. I have the specs on my machine.” “You got that?” Cox rolled his eyes. Won’t be long I hope.” Better not be you asshole, I thought. “It’s done.” He shut off his cell phone and settled in for the ride.

“It better be,” I muttered as the car accelerated southbound towards the Peninsula airport. MONUMENTAL MISSION—BRIEFING As it turned out, David Reese (referred to as Ghost Light) wasn’t rogue. It was all a big case of misunderstanding and mistaken identity. But first, let me relate to you some sordid history. This case dated back to 1989, before Tseng and Cox made one another’s acquaintance (it wasn’t mutual).

In October of that year, two big incidents had occurred in the same town of Sherwood, New York: a deadly school fire where more than three score students and teachers were burned alive, and an unsolved explosion at the local DOW chemical plant that killed and injured nearly 100 workers. Tseng and another agent were was sent to investigate. In addition to being Tseng’s liaison, the agent was also there to monitor the new “asset”. Once Tseng got there, the spree of accidents and break-ins virtually disappeared or were subdued (my mentor’s case notes are not clear on this; he merely mentions the reduction in ‘unexplainable incidents’). After three days of investigation, Tseng determined there was nothing more to the case and left. The unnamed agent was left holding the bag. There was a witness though, who claimed to have seen a teenager vanish into thin air just outside the chemical plant before the explosion.

Nonetheless, the disturbances in Sherwood had become nil, so the agent reported back and was duly assigned to be Tseng’s “official” unofficial liaison. Until David disappeared on global television during the hostage crises in Greece (I was too into Rachelle at the time to notice), the agency didn’t have much to do with Tseng. Most of the time, he was off their grid, and escaped their notice. The agency’s attempts to “handle” David were clumsy, resulting in some humorous (if expensive) accidents. After Cox was returned by David to the agency, Tseng’s liaison thought it was ripe enough time to “use a freak to catch a freak”. Since Tseng’s liaison saw what David could do, he thought it was David who had been the Sherwood perpetrator. To the untrained eye, David’s gift for displacement did make him vanish into thin air.

That plus the fact that Tseng had acted as if he knew what to expect, gave the liaison his suspicions. It was around this time that Tseng amputated David’s foot.

Once David learned (from Cox) who had set the snare for him, one of the conditions he demanded to continue with the NSA was to have that agent confined to a desk job. Cox handled it as best he could. The agency was clearly not going to let Tseng depart, so they shuffled Tseng’s liaison elsewhere and Cox became the new liaison officer. But that wasn’t all of it.

Before he left for his new posting, the liaison added notes detailing the 1989 Sherwood incident to Ghost Light’s file that would come back and bite David on the ass. It was these same notes that lead Cox to believe that David was up to no good. So, a new trap (a more gentle one) was set. This time, it wasn’t to detain David, but to determine the truth. As soon as David appeared with a POP I concentrated and cleared his ungrateful ass of criminal activity. Of course, David hit the roof when Tseng restrained him. It took some harsh reasoning, and some clever persuasion on part from me and Cox to keep Ghost Light from displacing a micro-nuke (or the President) to some place where it (or he) needn’t be.

Got all that? Now let’s rewind a little back to 1989 again. As it turned out, Tseng left Sherwood once he found out the source of the unexplainable incidents. He had contacted a woman named Susan Roget through her publisher friend (Meredith Martin). A series of fictional novels authored by the woman’s late relative had piqued his interest.

Over the course of several days and interviews (I’m sure he fucked her rotten) Tseng concluded from Susan’s story about her cousin (and famous author) Paul that there was something amiss; another phenomenon that was responsible for the Sherwood incident. He wasn’t sure how to put it once things were down on the level and the incident was closed by the agency, so he kept checking back.

Every so often, he’d drop in on Sherwood and the surrounding areas for suspicious activity. Susan Roget would occasionally do the same. So when something strange finally did occur on the second March 2000, Susan contacted Tseng, who then immediately got Cox and the agency on the horn. Of course, with Ghost Light’s notes, Cox thought David had gone nuts (which, to someone at the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Group, didn’t fit any known sane profile, and David was quite sane). All that of course, lead to me being tapped on the shoulder in San Francisco on Monday, which all lead to the four of us (and some supporting agents who weren’t privy to the meeting) sitting in conference at a bed and breakfast at the edge of Sherwood. It was the largest room we could find on such short notice. “So you’re saying it’s an invisible man?” David was incredulous, “How the hell are we supposed to find an invisible man?” “Several ways,” Cox counted off on his hand.

“One: thermographic and low-light technology has come a long way since 1989. Unless this unknown talent is a zombie or ecto-thermic, he’ll show up.” “Unless of course,” Tseng corrected, “The talent has learned to be invisible to the infrared bands as well.” “That assumes the worst,” Cox said. “Two: if the unknown talent isn’t a zombie or lacks a brain, Talisman and Snake Charmer can find him.” “Hopefully,” I added, “I can’t find squat if I don’t know someone’s there.” “I’m sure he, or she.” “It will be a ‘he’,” Tseng interrupted Cox.

“Read my interviews with Susan.” “You’re sure of that because you were so fucking charming with women?” David said with a snarl. “Woke up on the wrong side of the desert sun didn’t you?” Tseng’s voice was verging on dangerous. I suspected he was hinting (strongly) at the possibility of revealing David’s desert residence in West Texas. His wife Millie’s Stillwater address was the “official” address where the couple received their mail (and pornography). David was positively livid as he glared between me and Tseng. “Guys enough of this shit,” I said sternly.

“I want to get this crap over with so I can get back to a day job while I still have one, all right?” “Fine.” David vanished with a POP. “Damn it,” Cox turned to Tseng, “You were supposed to safely hold him so we can finish briefing him.” “If I did as you asked,” the old Chinese said coldly, “You’d have found him in another hospital.” “Goddammit Tseng,” Cox was exasperated. “He just went to get a soda,” I said. “He’ll back.” David reappeared in the same spot with a POP and a can of Dr. Pepper in hand. Told you so.” I jerked a thumb at him. “Although it’d have been nice of him to get one for everyone.” “Buy your own goddamn soft-drinks,” David popped the tab, “I’m not Mr.

Moneybags.” “Of course you’re not,” I said and glanced at Cox to continue. “Moving on,” the big agent frowned, “Method one has Ghost Light supporting the assets we already have on the ground. You can cover a lot more ground, and you’ll also be in contact with all my men. They see something unusual or you do, get on the horn and you get our men there to find him.” “So what are we here for?” I asked, “If you’re just going to beat about the bush.” “Ah, there’s the beauty of the plan,” Cox rubbed his hands together. “Let’s assume this guy is invisible. Technically, he can be anywhere but we may not even notice; even with thermals on, we may not be able to tell one silhouette from another unless we compare what we see through the scopes with our own eyes.” “Go on.” I was getting impatient. “So, lets say this talent wises up,” Cox continued, “And he sees suspicious people using special gear in town.” “He’d skip town.” “A likely scenario, Snake Charmer,” Tseng nodded, “And it could explain why the incidents slowed, and then finally stopped back in ‘89.” “Sounds like we’re dealing with a vagrant,” David had settled down a bit, and joined the discussion.

“Maybe he finally wandered home.” “That’s possible,” my mentor begrudgingly acknowledged the other man. “Snake Charmer and I will have to ascertain that.” Tseng emphasized “ascertain” and both David and I grimaced slightly for different reasons.

David had just been “ascertained” as to not be a threat by me. I on the other hand, needed to learn some self-control to defuse dangerous internal security situations without racking up a body count. “So what happened again?” David turned to Cox. I sensed, he’d do almost anything to avoid talking to Tseng. “It wasn’t a chemical plant this time,” the burly agent pointed on a map spread on the wall.

“This time it was a rented house.” “A women’s sorority,” Tseng added. “Wells College is a few miles west-south-west of Sherwood. I believe this guy wants to sow some oats as it were.” “Jesus.” I shut my mind to the scene. And to think Shawn would be alone in Japan. Viktoriya was too (in Brooklyn) but I trusted she could take care of herself. ‘Think again Stanley; Viktoriya wouldn’t be able to do anything if she was unconscious.

Listen to the rest of the report.’ Tseng thought-spoke to me as Cox continued. “The evidence was that four of the six girls showed visible signs of pregnancy all within a week,” the burly agent took up the briefing.

“The other two committed suicide before tests were conclusive, but the autopsies showed they were also pregnant.” The matter-of-fact delivery struck a chill in me. If it had been any of my girls, I would’ve told him to shut it. Still, I swallowed and thought lovingly of my darlings, we needed information.

And it wasn’t like I hadn’t done great things before on the US-Mex border. The only difference though, was that I rarely hassled women or young children. I chanced a glance at David; he looked sick. His hand was gripping his soda can so tightly, he nearly squished the contents out over the top. Agent Cox only permitted himself to show mild discomfort as he briefed us, but I sensed he felt a mix of outrage and discomfort. Only Tseng, in his impenetrable mental mask, wore an equally impassive expression and displayed not a whit of empathy. “The newspaper made light of this unusual story but it was only local,” Cox droned on.

“The story from the sorority members are similar: they drank from the same water tap, and they felt pretty sleepy once they got to bed. It happened over the span of three weeks until they started feeling morning sickness.” “Wait-a-minute. They felt sleepy?” David contended, “You mean they were hypnotized?” “Nothing like that,” Cox shook his head. “Autopsy of the two suicides showed trace amounts of a very pure mixture of GHB and GBL; gamma hydroxbutyric acid and gamma butyrolactone.” I scratched my head and hazarded a guess. “Sleeping pills?” “One of a few date-rape drugs,” David said stiffly.

“Millie’s had to deal with a few victims who were tricked into ingesting that crap.” “So the guy drugged their whole house?” I pressed, “How’d you know it was one guy anyway?” “Aside from the tests? One of the girls was a senior,” Cox explained, “Had a security camera set-up to catch the other girls coming into her room to make sure they weren’t stealing from her. Tseng pulled some interesting footage.” He rifled through a few folders on his laptop and pulled up a video. It showed a time elapsed snapshot of the girl’s room. Around forty or fifty seconds in, the door seemed to open ajar.

Something, a fuzz of light or a nimbus, seemed to have entered the room. It was like watching a ghost come into the room. The video stopped short as the ghostly figure began moving towards the girl at the bottom edge. “So, the theory,” I tried to get my mind around all this, “is that this guy rigs the house so the girls nod off then he rapes them?” “On the ball Snake Charmer,” Tseng said.

“Gentlemen,” Cox opened a metal trunk on the bed; it was tightly packed with various high-tech gear. “Let’s get to work.” MONUMENTAL MISSION—TASKING Sherwood was a depressing place.

It was rural, bug infested, empty, and worse of all, chilly, although not snowbound. The snow-melt had started and I was just getting used to my new shoes. Since I had brought along nearly nothing, I went into a local mall (basically a depressing grouping of stores on main street) and outfitted myself like a New England gent. I had taken off so suddenly, my parents and the girls would no doubt be worried sick, especially Janet. She was supposed to stay only a weekend, but the incident at the bank persuaded her to stay with me (drawing Melanie’s ire in the process) for at least a couple days more.

So, I made my call quickly from a small pay phone booth (one of the few still around in 2000). I didn’t use the payphone, but my mobile phone. The booth was to keep my call private, in case that invisible asshole was around to eavesdrop. The first was to my parents, not that they needed to know anything apart from that I wouldn’t be having supper with them for a few days. The second was to Janet, and it pretty much killed the rest of my phone’s battery.

She was concerned at first, and then she suspicious when Melanie and Shawn didn’t know that I was out of town. She would most likely call Viktoriya next, so I needed a cover story. I couldn’t call out anymore, but I had other ways to communicate.

Sweetheart?’ I thought-spoke. ‘Have a minute?’ ‘A minute Stanislav. But no more.’ Viktoriya pinged back.

Her mind-sight cleared up and showed her sitting in a make-up chair before a dressing mirror. Her hair was wound into a tight bun, her face heavily painted, and a towel was draped over her shoulders, covering her bare teats. ‘Listen, I need you to lie to Janet.’ I thought.

‘Tell her I’m indisposed and with you in New York.’ ‘Tell her yourself.’ Viktoriya bunched her brow. Where are you?’ ‘New York.’ I saw Viktoriya brighten and sit up immediately in her reflection. ‘It’s not a social call sweetie. I’m on business near Rochester.’ ‘That is near the border.’ My dusky Russkie was confused. ‘Stanislav, what’s going on?’ ‘Trust me Vika.’ I gave a little mental sigh. ‘I promise I’ll explain to you later. Just make sure Jan doesn’t go off half-cocked and file a missing persons report.’ ‘Are you in trouble?’ Viktoriya’s mind went into overdrive.

‘Or are you screwing around on us already?’ ‘No, nothing like that.’ That much was at least true. ‘Look, I’ll get you something nice before I go back to San Francisco. Just be sure to say I’m in the tub, or shower, or sleeping, or out when Jan calls. Got it?’ ‘Whatever it is, you come back safely, kisa.’ From her reflection, Viktoriya had a worried look on her face. ‘Or I won’t forgive you.’ ‘I’ll haunt you from the grave if I don’t, babushka.’ I joked, but she threw back a mean little mental hiss. ‘Don’t joke about that, Stanislav!’ Viktoriya scowled angrily at me in the mirror and tuned me out. Well, at least she’s still got pep, I thought and stepped out of the phone booth.

I walked down the street, the small, narrow store fronts to my right. As I wandered the nearly empty streets, I could get a sense of the quaint decay in the area. Like the life was being sucked right out of the place. Shit, I wanted to laugh. No wonder that guy tried to blow the place up years ago.

The town’s gloom only deepened the more I walked around; I wanted to finish my task so I could leave as quickly as possible. Apart from Cox’s plan to “stay alert” and Tseng’s suggestion to “take a look around”, I hadn’t been given much more instructions apart from finding the Invisible Man and making a grab. That’s when I headed to the clothing store, bought some clothing and then went and ate a late dinner at a diner.

Afterwards I decided to have a look around the town. “Yo Snake Charmer,” a familiar voice rasped. “Hey Ghost Light.” I turned and found the thin man coming out of a narrow alley, “Any luck?” “Nope,” he held up his thermal goggles, “I have a better pair, but since the agency insisted on giving me these, I’m going to wrap it and give it to Millie for our anniversary.” “You sure you want to do that?” I wanted to play on his paranoia, “Could be chipped and tracked.” David looked thoughtful.

“You’re right. And that’s two for two. I owe you.” “What?” I asked as we continued down the street.

“What you said about Millie last time,” he sighed, “You’re right. I got trust issues. Didn’t trust my dad after my mom left. Didn’t trust you, but worse of all, I didn’t trust Millie.” “Uh huh,” I wasn’t the least bit interested, but feigned attention. “Right.” “She’s my wife goddammit,” David was frustrated mentally and physically, “And I had the nerve to spy on her.

She wasn’t happy about it.” “How’d she find out?” I disgorged an autonomous response. I needed to stay alert for any mental presences or thoughts that someone unseen was around. “I told her,” he laughed bitterly and hastily added, “Yeah, yeah, and you’d tell me that I was stupid; you read my mind.” He was over-estimating my abilities, which was could be a good thing, or a bad thing. Over-estimating sometimes lead to instances of overkill by those who gave the other side the benefit of the doubt. David rattled on as if I was his goddamned shrink. “Look man, I’m sorry I went back to your place,” he confessed, “But it reminded me of my home.” “Which one?” I asked, “Your desert house, your wife’s in Stillwater, or some other places you bought with that robbery money?” “My old home,” David said, “With my mom and dad. It was like the Twilight Zone when I went into your kitchen.

If it means anything, I didn’t go back, but you know that right?” I didn’t say anything but I knew he was telling the truth. But bad enough that he trespassed into my house. Like Tseng said, this asshole didn’t set any limits on physical privacy. “Ahem,” he coughed nervously, “And well, I appreciate it that you haven’t said anything. About the Chemical Bank thing.” “I don’t need to,” I toyed with his paranoia some more, “Talisman knows too.

If he wanted to spill it to the boss, I’m sure he would’ve.” “Sounds like blackmail,” David said dourly. “You sure went to a lot of trouble clearing me. Why?” “I don’t know,” I said nonchalantly.

“It was orders. Don’t take it personally.” “I won’t,” he said, “But I’m grateful.

I’m tired of running.” “Maybe you should emigrate,” I suggested, “I mean it’s obvious you don’t really like this country.” “And have Millie leave her family and friends?” he complained, “She’d kill me.” “Like you can’t just zap back in an eyeblink,” I snapped. He was about to respond when I felt something on the fringe of my presence. David stopped when I held up my hand. It was the weirdest feeling.

It was a presence, but at the same time, there was a lot of pain mixed in with the pleasure. It certainly didn’t feel like anything I sensed before. I grabbed David gently by the arm and pointed the opposite direction.

“There?” David asked. “Yes,” I said and then quickly switched to thought-speak: ‘He’s behind us. Could be spying on us. Displace to the church I’m pointing. I want him to see you do it.

Maybe get a reaction so I can narrow him down. Keep an eye on things in case there’s trouble you think I don’t know about.’ “Go,” I said audibly, “And contact Champion.” If David was impressed by how fast I conveyed my instructions, he didn’t show it. He stepped back, saluted deliberately and visibly. Then he suddenly displaced with a POP. Instantly, a torrent of thoughts came through: ‘Holy shit!’ ‘He just vanished like me!’ ‘They’re looking for me.’ ‘Have to stay clear.’ ‘Got to stay quiet.’ You’re a dead man, I thought as I walked towards the direction of the mental blip. I wondered if I would be able to contain myself if I found the target. Mischief resulting in property damage was one thing, but rape.

That was something else entirely. I shuddered, for I had come close to doing that myself.

While I became intimate with all of my girls, I had one minor regret: that being Rachelle. I accidentally mind-blasted the pretty mulatto, and then more or less had my way with her physically. Deep down, I knew it was wrong but I worked hard to make amends. I treated her respectfully and graciously while we dated. But as I dwelled on the thought, I grew uneasy; perhaps I did do something to irreversibly scar her. Maybe that’s why she was so complacent in some matters.

Nonetheless, Rachelle was irrelevant right now. Instead, I focused on the task at hand. ‘Talisman this is Snake Charmer.’ I thought-spoke.

‘Making way to my position on corner of Main Street and Abernathy Way.’ ‘Understood.’ And that was it. I was likely on my own. I walked down the street slowly, my mind trying to feel out the people around me. It was weird. The blip with the mix of elation and fear had subsided. Now, only ‘normal’ thoughts were around. I couldn’t quite locate the psychic disturbance I sensed before, but I there was definitely someone around.

All this time, David had moved from the church. He was now shadowing me on the rooftops, using his displacement to move from one spot to another. Although I never heard him displace with audible cue, the POP that came with his sudden reappearance was chiefly his mental presence brimming suddenly in my mind due to his physical proximity. Tseng, I could barely feel. He felt close, but I wasn’t all too sure.

Suddenly, there were one—Wait, two—No wait, three? They all seemed to be normal presences. I spun around and nearly got caught by a blow to the head. Luckily, I had been keeping up with my “repelling force” exercises and I focused my gift in that manner. It probably saved my life (thank you Viktoriya!). The bat went towards my head but my mind was able to push it up towards the sky as it closed in.

“The fuck—!?” a voice came from nowhere. I looked around and saw (with my own eyes) nothing. Nothing save a wooden baseball bat hovering in mid-air.

At first, I thought it was Tseng or Viktoriya playing a trick on me (Viktoriya had some explaining to do if she did!), but the bat was held in an all too-natural angle, and the stick swayed in an all too-humanistic fashion to be telekinetically controlled. Besides, why would a psychokineticist spend effort to twirl a bat when all he or she needed to do was drive it straight (any angle will do) right into my face? “Hit him again Patch!” Again the same voice from nowhere. A different voice, a more feminine one cried out, “No!

Let’s just get outta here!” I shifted my focus. I didn’t want to see the bat, although it was a dangerous tool. I needed to see what was around me. As the bat swung again, I heard a yell of surprise; David had displaced himself and brought a sturdy lead pipe down on the offending weapon, cracking it in the middle and saving me the trouble of shoving it up someone’s ass. The bat quickly went limp, as if someone had let go of it. Ghost Light’s surprise appearance was enough to startle our mysterious guests and allow me to fix their locations.

Two of them, whoever or whatever the hell they were, were near me and David. One more was standing a little off so he wouldn’t be hit in the melee. It made a sort of sense, I thought. If you can’t see your body or others around you, then it’d be wise to step away. I suddenly realized that I was picking up a mixed jumble of thoughts from not one, but three invisible assailants.

David and I needed help, like right the fuck now. ‘Three people.’ My mind chattered.

‘Talisman, do you read?’ “Champion,” I clicked my throat mike, “We have three contacts. All invisible.

Gimme back-up or you’ll have three corpses.” Hearing their situation reported seemed to throw the three invisible people into a panic. “You ain’t gonna find us.” The first voice snarled.

“Scram!” I heard a patter of footsteps followed by more determined footsteps. Tseng and a few dark suited men wearing thermal goggles were running towards us. It didn’t matter though. By the time they got to securing the area, the invisible people had escaped.

MONUMENTAL MISSION—RE-TASKING “Why didn’t you call for back-up?” Cox fumed. “It took Talisman a minute to get us on the horn.” “I was under surveillance,” I said simply. “I thought David was going to tell you.” “I was going to,” David jumped in, “When I was shadowing Stanley on the roof. Then, I saw the bat and I knew he was in trouble.” “Did it look like he needed help?” Tseng spoke up. “No one asked you,” the thin displacer snapped. “Hold on now,” Cox looked at me, “Did you ask for help?” “Well kinda,” I said. “I told him to keep an eye out for trouble.

But that was it.” I was sure I would’ve been able to repel anything I could see away from me. I told you,” David folded his arms, satisfied. “It was three against one. I just evened up the odds.” “We lost the element of surprise,” Tseng registered distaste. “Look,” Cox held up a hand, “I know you don’t like working for us, David.

But Stanley has undergone some training at FLETC (Federal Law Enforcement Training Center); I’m sure he could’ve taken care of himself. All you needed to do was report in.” FLETC my ass, I thought dourly. I only spent maybe three days tops at some lecture courses, like the hostage rescue class. All the rest of my “training” was on the border. Since Cox already knew about my excursions, I said nothing and kept my mouth shut. He could lie to David all he wanted. It took some convincing for David not to teleport back home.

I could hardly blame him. He really didn’t need to be there, but because he was the fastest method of transport, he was asked to remain available. In any case, David didn’t need to get his hands dirty. Tseng and I were doing the real footwork. By now, it was nearly 4 A.M. Eastern Standard Time and we were all running on fumes.

The only reason I was this active was because I was used to staying up late for studio and sleeping odd hours; that plus I was on West Coast time, so it was only 1 A.M. Still, I was feeling like man twice my age as I mutely stirred a cup of black tea. The crap from a teabag tasted awful.

How I missed Yu-Ching’s hand-brewed teas, her delicate fingers holding the porcelain kettle, her soft brown eyes full of mirth and mischief. I was getting horny thinking about that tight, legal, eighteen-year old ass of hers. Snake Charmer!” I nearly spilled my tea as Cox snapped his fingers before me. “Uh, sorry,” I mumbled. “Must’ve dozed off.” “For a good minute,” he said, “Were you able to pull anything from them when they escaped? Thoughts about where they were going?” “I have nothing,” Tseng said as I peered at him.

“And you?” Cox looked at me. “No,” I said, “Not really.” The burly agent never appeared more disappointed than when he threw his hands in the air.

We were pretty much lost. Well maybe not. I sat and recalled a little of the encounter.

At the moment the old gravelly voice said “Scram!” some visual memories popped up. Farms and picaresque farmland near an expanse of water. Well, not exactly.

It looked like a waterway of some sort. There was a sign, a blurry one. I could barely make it out if I focused a little more. “Where’s Saint Anicet?” I suddenly asked. “That’s in Canada,” Cox looked at me curiously, “In Quebec, near Salaberry-del-Valleyfield.” “Hmm,” Tseng thumbed through some files, “Ah here it is. Susan said her grandfather’s grandfather was from around there.

The Rogets are French-Canadian. Very rural area.” “The Rogets?” David asked, “We’re tracking down a family of invisible people?” “It’s all explained here,” Tseng held up a paperback bearing the title: “Monument Of New England” authored by Susan Roget. Cox whispered to one of his men as David asked, “Wait, are these the same guys whose name is on that thesaurus?” Funny. I grinned like an idiot and felt like laughing. “So what next?” I asked numbly. I wanted to sleep.

“Isn’t it obvious?” Tseng said, “They’re headed for the border.” “We have to beat them before they cross into Canada,” Cox said with finality. “We leave now.” MONUMENTAL MISSION—CONFLICT AND RESOLUTION David displaced from the room for a while then later returned before we left. As I predicted, he pretty much as was able to commute back and forth as he needed. I assumed that if we had emailed him a picture of our next destination, he could’ve met us there. But we were all clearly on the breaking point. I had been up for nearly 20 straight hours and I was feeling less than stellar.

No wonder I was so sluggish when the three invisibles jumped me. My mind felt like molasses.

Our choppers came from Birmingham, along with thermal and low-light detection gear. The craft were not designed to catch the three invisibles, but rather to herd them. Pinning them against Cayuga Lake on the west, the choppers were to funnel them into a more manageable search area for me and Tseng to tackle. It was also to drive home the point that those invisible fugitives were now the hunted. Listen, look, but don’t touch was the motto of the NSA. However, because Tseng, David, and I were on board as “specialists” to track the invisible runners, exceptions had to be made. An actual U.S.

Marshal appeared and swore my ass in as a “special deputy” of the United States Marshal service, “effective immediately and to be rescinded upon sun-down the next day” before I climbed aboard my ride. I certainly hoped that would be all the time I needed. I just wanted to go home, take a hot shower, and then head straight to bed. Still, my weariness was the least of my worries once the choppers neared Seward’s Mansion. My mental switchboard lit up in the presence of the three targets near there.

Tseng and I consulted over the wireless with Champion and confirmed that we had three pings. They were definitely fleeing from the choppers, so it lent a little more credence that the presences were what we were looking for. Two of them were pinned against our group moving north and the New York State Thruway. A third was making way east to the Onondaga Indian Reservation. “Plan of action,” Champion radioed in. “Talisman take the two near the thruway; Snake Charmer, grab the one going east. Ghost Light will channel communications through Champion HQ and provide transportation support as required.

Less than lethal now. We want to detain, not destroy.” Whether that was meant for me, Tseng, or all of us, I didn’t know. We were unarmed saved for our gifts, although each of our choppers was accompanied by a second chopper with marksmen armed with compressed rifles and tranquilizers. Our armed escorts would not fly low for fear of being attacked by an invisible assailant; they can however, cover us decently from the air. Cox was coordinating from a temporary base in Auburn and I was assaulted with radio chatter in my ear and crazed thoughts of the invisibles in my mind. “Roger that.” I clicked my throat mike.

I was riding in an east-bound chopper towards the Indian Reservation. It was planned that I drop off early and intercept the fleeing talent.

Over the drone of the craft’s engine, I heard other conversations in my ear piece. “Got it.” David wasn’t going to play with fire and displace whilst in a moving vehicle. He tried that once and it nearly got him killed. He was following me several hundred feet back in another chopper.

He needed to see where I was going so he could displace there. I assumed Tseng likely didn’t need any back-up, but David should be able to blink himself to his position in a few minutes. “Understood.” Tseng was about twelve miles west of me. His plan of action was to confront the two blips against the thru-way and see how’d they react. Capture, not kill, was the directive. Can’t say I didn’t try. We followed the blip I focused on.

My quarry was the girl who had uttered restraint when I was beset by her accomplices. I sensed she was traveling as fast as a vehicle could carry her. My chopper easily outpaced her ride.

I relayed audible instructions to my pilot. “Pick a place and head off that red truck!” I yelled. “Got it,” the pilot crackled back. It was past 7 A.M.

Eastern Time and highway east 20 was starting to see a little more traffic. I’d been operating for over 24 hours. I was verging on mental collapse, I knew. Get her or lose her. That, or the truck she was in would speed up, and she’d kill someone. “Force the bitch off the road,” I rasped over the mike, “I’ll get off and grab her.” The pilot didn’t answer but I knew he understood when the craft dived and dipped towards the road.

My stomach lurched; thankfully, I had nothing to eat so I didn’t feel nausea. The chopper’s skids bared themselves dangerously low to the target pick-up truck, but it was the ample wash from the rotor and constant thumping of the rotors that caused the driver to swerve off the road.

The red truck skidded off the road and into the surrounding slush-covered brush. I quickly clicked on David’s channel. “Going down Ghost Light,” I stood near the doorway, my hands ready to unclick my safety harness, “She can’t go far. Head back and help Talisman with the other two.” “Roger that,” David sounded unhappy, but he acknowledged my request.

I sensed the usual POP and knew he had displaced himself back a ways to leave this end of the chase to me for a little bit. The marksman assigned to cover me could only talk to Cox back at HQ. How Cox could monitor our activities and keep control of the situation that changed so quickly was beyond me. Almost immediately, I reacted almost autonomously; which was exactly as how Tseng and I worked on the Mexican border. Now I appreciated those excursions to Mexico. I was being trained and didn’t even know it.

Still, no time for that now. My chopper dove steeply and hovered a few feet above the ground, I knew the pilot wouldn’t risk landing in the knee high grass.

A stray boulder could tip the whole thing and cause a deadly crash. I unbuckled my restraining harness and jumped from the deck. Telekinetics allowed me to land, cat-like, on my own two feet. I didn’t care if the pilots or anyone else saw me. I was in a way, glad to be after the target.

Through a low-light lens, my squarish silhouette should be a definite contrast to the curved, bosomy shadow of a girl. Even if I was caught by friendly-fire, tranquilizers were much easier for me than real bullets, unless they were loaded with poison.

I cursed inwardly as I approached the truck. My chopper took off and veered away, buzzing around me along with the escort (sniper) chopper like constant shadows. I saw nothing as I neared it. The driver’s door was open, but no one had been seen getting out.

Of course not, I thought. She’s invisible. And if they couldn’t see her. I caught the presence at the last possible second. I whirled and caught the branch across my forearms. Despite putting up my “repelling force”, the blow (and the presence) came out so last second I barely worked up a defence.

My arms felt a little numb as I rolled over the ground. The heavy branch that hit me was now on the ground. I felt nothing of the presence save that it was receding.

She’s fleeing. I gritted my teeth, stood up and gave chase. The runner might’ve been invisible, but she could only mask so much of herself. I had my target in mental range and began to zone in on her.

I picked myself up and “TK-skated” after my quarry. She was running—running scared. Silly little bitch, I thought. Then I remembered what had happened at the sorority house and I hardened my heart. Viktoriya had taught me women could sometimes be as crude and vicious as men when it came to other women. I flew past some ramshackle sheds, dirty snow piled against their sides. Even with her invisibility, I was able to follow through the panic I sensed.

The choppers’ detection equipment were becoming useless as the sun rose. It was very hard to track shoeprints through snowmelt once the sun began to warm things up.

I was on point and the choppers had to follow. “This is Talisman,” I heard Tseng’s tinny voice crackle over my earbud, “Targets are attempting to stop passing motorists and steal their vehicles while maintaining natural camouflage.” Good God, I thought. Invisible car-jackers on a state Thruway? We’ll make the news tonight!

Talisman intercepting with allotted force.” Allotted force my ass, I thought. Knowing Tseng’s personal motives, he was going to exterminate if necessary. Keep the empire hidden. Keep all this under wraps. The dead told no tales.

David was lucky; he only lost a foot. I suspected those two see-through toughs at the highway were not likely going to be captured alive, despite Cox’s orders or their best efforts at escaping. Get to the invisible girl. Get to her before Tseng does and rips her a fourth hole. She’s scared and she’s running.

I had passed several fields of corn or wheat by now. Assuming that invisibility was all she had, she was covering ground at a good clip. Maybe she had another gifts as well? I popped out of a field and saw a barn in the distance.

‘I’ll hide there.’ I caught wind of her thoughts. ‘Hide until dark.’ ‘Get back together with Patch.’ ‘Tell him to ditch Uncle Pauly.’ ‘God, he’s a monster.’ ‘What he did to those girls.’ ‘I can get Patch.’ ‘Turn him back on the good path.’ So, I thought. This was more complex than I thought.

Maybe not everyone in the bunch was a bad apple. I needed a distraction and a stealthy approach. I stopped and the choppers did likewise.

While they circled endlessly around me in that field of crop, I clicked my throat mike and radioed Cox. “Champion,” I said, “Pull those choppers back to base.

Anywhere out of earshot. I’m going alone.” “You sure about that?” Cox asked. “Yes,” I replied. “It’ll make her drop her guard.

She’s looking to hide. Champion, she didn’t have anything to do with the sorority house. It’s not her fault.” “You read her?” Cox’s voice crackled back. “Yes,” I said. “I didn’t know you could read at range,” Cox sounded suspicious. “She tried to floor me with a club,” I half-lied, “She was pretty worked up then and it simply popped into my head when I threw her off. She thinks we’re after her for that.” “Acknowledged,” Cox said.

“Talisman is in pursuit.” I acknowledged his transmission as I heard the choppers heavy whup-whup-whup dim in the distance. I was alone now. How I proceeded was up to me.

I ducked into the grass and duck-walked towards the barn, all while my mind gingerly probing, sensing, and feeling the intense relief in the girl. ‘They’re gone.’ I heard her. ‘I’m safe!’ I didn’t use mind-sight; I wasn’t sure how much my presence would be made known. Still, I could sense she was tired. She’s likely to fall asleep. I lifted myself slightly and pushed myself quickly to the side of the barn. The place was empty save for the invisible fugitive.

There were no signs of animals. I turned up my focus and sensed the girl in the corner of one of the pens. I suppose I could call it in to Cox, but that would be overkill. There was no telling what’d the agency would do. Besides, I’ve handled stuff like this before. I made my decision and stepped in, my focus working overtime. I shifted my focus and concentrated it to the immediate area.

“Anyone here?” I called out. She’s trying to hide from me, I realized. Picking up more of her thoughts, I called to her by name, “Phillipa Roget?” Almost immediately, I saw a plume of dust as the invisible girl scrambled to her feet.

“H—how do you know my name?!” her voice came from the corner, allowing me to zero in on her position. It was a pretty, melodious voice. The English wasn’t perfect. It bore a minor accent I couldn’t identify, but sounded innocent and sweet all the same. “My name is Stanley,” I put out my hands to show I was unarmed.

“Stanley Chen.” My eyes settled on the corner where the dust had swirled. Thin streams of sunlight came through the cracks in the dilapidated barn’s planks.

There was something there; an invisible humanoid form. I focused a little more and began to “sense” the physicality of the invisible mass. It was a girl, and a very shapely girl! “I am—” I decided to leave the agency out in my introduction, “— a mind-reader. You know, I can tell you if your lucky number if you think about it, or what your favorite color or food is.” I sensed the invisible Phillipa was weighing her options.

I could not see her eyes, but she had cast her gaze about, looking for a weapon. She gasped though, when I revealed her intentions aloud. “I’m not looking to hurt you.

You know that. You saved me back there last night.

In Sherwood.” “Y—you saw us?” her voice was unbelieving. “Not exactly,” I shook my head for emphasis. “I sense people. What they think or feel becomes very clear to me. I sensed you Phillipa.

I sensed the others.” “Don’t hurt Patch!” she cried. “It was Uncle Pauly’s idea! It’s his fault with those girls!” “I know, I know,” I tried to calm her as I inched closer. If I could just grab her, it’ll be over, and we could all go home. “You didn’t know about your uncle.

I sense it from you Phillipa. You tried to help them. But you were afraid.” “I was,” there was a strangled sob. “It’s all Uncle Pauly’s fault! He got Patch to do what he says. He got me to do things too.” “It’s okay.” I was near her now.

I could smell the sweat on her body and her hair. I could hear the soft mewing as if it was right next to me. Phillipa reappeared so suddenly, I nearly jumped back.

One moment there was nothing, the next minute, there she was. It was like someone had put an invisible blanket over her then whipped it off, just like in a magic show.

Unlike David’s displacement (which required a conscious thought from him) I didn’t get any forewarning of her intention. It was like physical reflex instead of a mental one. The girl sitting on the ground was attractive, but only as so much an extraordinarily tall lanky teenager could be. She appeared to be about thirteen or fourteen, dressed in plain clothing that was a little bit smaller for a growing girl. Her T-shirt was ragged and there were sizable holes in her jeans.

I saw she had chalky white skin and bright scraggly red hair. Phillipa looked at me, wiped her eyes, and cracked a small smile. Good lord, I thought, she still wore braces. “Are you all right?” I asked. She was about to answer when she suddenly backed against the wall. I heard a buzzing of thoughts, very dim ones, as I heard shouting and cries of the dead and dying erupt behind me. I turned around in surprise.

It was the most unusual thing, to see a humanoid shaped “hole” in spatial reality. Through this window in reality, I could see a dark underpass and Tseng.

He was holding something, or someone, in his black gloved hands. He jerked his hand and I heard a familiar rattle in the empty air. It was familiar because the banditos died with a similar sound down in Tecate. Tseng released his grip on the invisible dead weight and I saw the same un-vanishing act again. Only this time, the magic blanket revealed the body of a withered old man. What startled me wasn’t the fact that he suddenly appeared from thin air but rather from the stark fear emanating from his mind. It was as if the man’s death would precipitate some awful calamity in the future, and somehow I was a mute witness to the doom that would come.

As the final few thoughts drifted towards the edge of my consciousness, my insides turned cold: my mind was filled with fear, panic, and terror. Still, I was rooted in the now of the moment. Something was happening and I had a job to do. I studied the silhouette of the portal and finally recognized who it was. It was Ghost Light. From the fey haircut and the way he was standing, there was no doubt it was David.

Exactly what he was doing that was beyond me. ‘Stanley, Stanley, Stanley.’ It was David’s thoughts.

‘If you can pick this up, Christ, come quick. That bastard’s going to kill—’ At that moment, Tseng looked towards me. No doubt if I could see him, he could see me.

Me, and with Phillipa behind me. He was only able to take one step towards us when— POP David displaced and stood where the portal was. Phillipa opened her mouth, but no scream came forth. I knew then that Tseng was capable of anything. Even during an agency operation, he was like a smart-weapon gone haywire. If there was any doubt in my mind about who likely killed Viktoriya’s brother, it had vanished after that particular demonstration. “What the fuck just happened?” It was Cox, me, and David all shouting at once.

I tore off my ear bud; most of the chatter being utter chaos. I couldn’t sort through it even if I wanted to. “It’s Talisman,” David coughed then stood up woozily, “He’s gone nuts. He killed the two disappearing guys at the Thruway.” “What?!” I stood as Phillipa earnestly began wailing and screaming. “I couldn’t stop him,” David shuddered and looked at me, his heart sick, “Not that I could if I wanted to.

I told Champion.” “Snake Charmer?” my ear bud sizzled with activity, “Ghost Light?! Answer goddammit!!” “Champion this is Snake Charmer,” I snapped. “Someone tell me what the fuck just happened? Where’s Talisman?” “Talisman reported his targets had to be neutralized,” Cox said with some disappointment, “What’s your status?” “My targ—” I glanced at the hysteric teen with sympathy. “The package is alive.

Shaken but alive.” “Alive? That means you killed them!

My family!!” the girl vanished in an eyeblink. “I’ll kill you!!” To his credit, David didn’t displace to escape. That would’ve left me to deal with things alone. Despite not being able to physically see Phillipa, her torrent of thoughts came through quite clear: she was going to use the nearest sharp thing to stab me and David until she sated her bloodlust. As she charged us headlong without regard to her safety, I caught her gently by the arm and let her have it.

IN NEW YORK WITH VIKTORIYA It was mess. For an operation that was supposed to capture, it wound up being as bloody as the “odd jobs” on the border. The boy (Patch) was nudged by speeding car that didn’t see him as he fled across the freeway. Patch was fearful of Tseng’s steady advance; he may have been invisible, but if Tseng wanted something, he got what he wanted.

Dazed, the boy didn’t see the truck that smashed him like a human pinata. Seeing his nephew die so horribly, the older man attempted to attack Tseng. It was the last mistake he ever made.

From what I could piece together, Tseng acted in self-defence and, I suppose, he did keep that portion of the invisible empire from being too visible. There was irony in this decision. The fugitives vanished as they wanted. Unlike my gift, Phillipa’s gift wasn’t rooted in the mental realm.

It was physical (although I’ve since learned my gift is also grounded in my physiological make-up) hence, the reason why it was so hard for Tseng, me, and others like us to locate them. If Phillipa wanted to vanish, she’d just vanish. No thought needed. It was an automatic reflex, like yawning or blinking. Maybe that was the reason, I thought grimly. Pare down the number of potential threats. Unless we were aware of one of them was around, we’d likely not even give the area another glance.

Knowing Tseng, I’d probably never get a straight answer from him. Ultimately, it was a decision we all had to live with. Cox debriefed us the next day after we managed a few hours of sleep. I was both relieved and sad about Phillipa. After I zapped her unconscious, David displaced her and me back to the agency’s temporary forward HQ.

We drove to Syracuse next. From there, we took a plane to New York City then she was wheeled to a secured wing of a hospital for VIP patients. Once there, Phillipa was shackled with a GPS tracker. A second, more insidious tracker was injected into her skin, just behind her shoulder. Tseng came back with the bodies of the other two. Despite Cox’s normal business-like demeanor, even he had to question Tseng’s motives. “I thought the orders were clear,” Cox railed, “Capture.

Not kill.” The old man with thinning hair held up a single, dangerous finger and halted Cox’s tirade. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up, but I was too tired to do anything save watch the two men argue. “Capture,” Tseng cocked his head, “If possible.

One fled into traffic; the other attacked me. I defended myself.” “In a pig’s ass,” David muttered but Tseng ignored him. “Fine,” Cox drummed his fingers lightly on the table. “So you had no choice, or thought you didn’t.

What about Snake Charmer? How’d he —?” “I just gave her a nerve pinch when she was distracted,” I cut him off. “She’ll be fine.” Yeah, I thought glumly.

Fine until she wakes up. “I see,” Cox was humorless. I glanced at him and knew he didn’t believe me.

But for the sake of appearances, he didn’t show it. He already suspected Tseng had his agenda. Now he suspected me as well. Still, the big agent wasn’t 100 percent sure. After all, I had followed my orders and nabbed the package. “Well, since you all have busy lives gentlemen,” Cox rose, “Payment will be arranged.

There’s no need to stay.” “Great. You have my routing number.” The sandy haired teleporter blinked out without another word.

Tseng nodded to me once then walked out the door like a ‘normal’ person. I remained seated though, my hands curled around an empty Dixie Cup and my mind awhirl with thought. “Don’t you have a job and a girlfriend to go back to?” Cox asked. “Kinda,” I said slowly.

I wondered if the agency tracked my goings-ons with my girls. Agent Cox’s face revealed nothing about any surveillance against me, but somehow, I suspected that he suspected that there was. Clearly Cox wasn’t the person pulling the strings; he was just a face for my benefit. “I’d like to stay a bit,” I crushed my cup, “At least until Phillipa wakes up.” Cox shot me a cautious glance, “Masquerade and her blanket team can only cover you so long. It costs us resources to keep her out there.

She’s needed elsewhere.” “I’ve had a lousy Monday,” I said, “The least you could do is give me the rest of the week off. Have her cover for me. Can you do that?” Cox eyed me warily then nodded, “We might be able to arrange that, since you asked. Maybe you can—?” “I’ll talk with Phillipa and do what I can,” I said, “But I won’t mind-scan—” a lie; if I did it, it will be for my own benefit, “— she’s been through enough in one night.” “Great,” Cox nodded and showed me out.

“Thanks.” I headed out to the gift shop and did a little shopping. Tseng used that opportunity to debrief me with his version, and in his way.

It didn’t matter he wasn’t anywhere near me, he spoke to me through mind-sight. ‘Whatever did Reese say.’ Tseng pinged me as I ambled to the magazine rack. ‘That you’d think I’d try to kill the girl?’ ‘Tell me what the hell was that all about at the Thruway.’ I thought-spoke as I picked through a sports magazine. ‘Why’d you opt to neutralize? They’re no more a danger apart from being common ne’er-do-wells.’ ‘They were a danger.’ I saw Tseng’s reflection in a window. ‘That is the truth. The older one was a career criminal.

Imagine an invisible gunman you couldn’t see. Couldn’t sense. Imagine that in Tecate or Mexicali or Tijuana and shudder.’ ‘They couldn’t make their weapons invisible.’ I countered. ‘You knew that from the encounter back at Sherwood.’ ‘The boy couldn’t.’ I could see Tseng’s eyes narrow in the window reflection.

‘But the older one could. That’s how he was able to taint the sorority house’s water with sleeping pills. He was trying to teach it to the others.

Make them into him.’ ‘Like you’re doing with me?’ I dared to broadcast the thought. My mentor ignored me and kept on lecturing. ‘Susan was curious how her family was cursed with this. I should warn you that the girl.’ ‘Her name is Phillipa.’ I interrupted him. She is the first in her family to do that.’ Tseng continued.

‘All the others have been men in the past.’ I blinked. That could explain Patch. ‘Her cousin I think.’ Tseng mentally shrugged. ‘How would this be different?’ I thought. ‘Man or woman, invisibility is invisibility.’ ‘It is a matter that is a little more complex than you realize.’ He thought-spoke. ‘In any case, I have an old friend to visit.

Tell her the news.’ ‘That you killed some of her family?’ I felt a wave of disgust. ‘If I told you that this was all Susan’s idea, would you believe me?’ Tseng thought to me. ‘Not unless I could determine it for myself.’ I thought back.

‘And even then, I wouldn’t be sure it wasn’t you pulling her strings.’ ‘Fair enough.’ His presence became fainter. ‘I’ll be around Stanley.’ And that was that. If I wanted more answers, I needed to find them for myself. Phillipa regained consciousness before I headed back into the hospital.

She wouldn’t talk to the agent liaison put to secure her room, nor would she talk to Cox or anyone else (even the doctors and nurses). She did however, speak briefly to me. Having rooted through parts of her mind when I zapped, I knew some of Phillipa’s most conscious likes and dislikes. I bought a bag of soft candy from the gift shop and gave it to her. “Look I’m sorry about what happened,” I said, “But honestly, I didn’t know anything save what I was told.” Phillipa squeezed the bag of candy like a stress toy. “And I’m supposed to believe that? I should call the police.” “And tell them what?” I regarded her with a mixture of pity and mirth.

“That you turned invisible to do what you can, then got caught by a mind-reader?” She cast a baleful glare at me then went back to torturing her bag of candy. “I’ve read the report,” I said softly, “You and Patch were orphans?” “And cousins,” the gangly girl murmured, “Our parents died in the plant fire in ‘89.” “I’m sorry,” I said. “How old are you?” Phillipa sniffed.

“I’m fourteen.” Jesus Christ, I thought. So, she was three years old tops when that happened.

As we got to talking, she opened up a little more, relating how she spent a lot of time at the orphanage. There, she met Patch.

She didn’t know they were cousins until a man calling himself Uncle Pauly came around. Said he was family. Long lost family. Uncle Pauly took them in, took care of them with his spare dough (that’d explain Phillipa’s orthodontic work and some mysterious robberies in the 90s). Then one day in the middle of last year, he showed them what made them special.

I only wore rear braces up until I was fifteen or so (my teeth weren’t too fucked up) so I knew there was a significant cost to them. I guess Uncle Pauly wasn’t all that bad. Actually, I probably should withhold judgment. The autopsies of the invisibles hadn’t even come back, so it wasn’t clear who had done the dirty deed with those girls. I chanced a glance at the room’s corners and vertices. I was 100% positive the agency was recording our conversation. Probably running checks with local law enforcement on open cases of robberies and such in the tri-state area.

I managed to worm one more fact from her (later corroborated by autopsies): Patch was the likely rapist at the sorority house. Phillipa said that Uncle Pauly and Patch had been doing some sneaking around with her on Patch’s birthday and a few weeks after. When they’d come back, Patch would be both happy and agitated. From what I could conclude, it must’ve been a demented “birthday gift” from Uncle Pauly. Good god, I thought with disgust. I steered the conversation away and spoke amicably with Phillipa about my own experiences (the positive ones and without revealing anything compromising). Since my own cousin Aurora pretty much compromised my e-mail with all those nude images of herself, I decided there’d be no harm in letting Phillipa keep in touch with me through that address.

I filched out my Ferguson Graphics business card and inked my info on it. “Look, I gotta go,” I handed my card to her, “But if you just want to talk or ask questions or whatever, just hit me up okay?” “Okay.” She took my card gingerly, as if she’d half expect it to fly away on its own accord.

I gave her hand a heartfelt and reassuring squeeze. Phillipa grinned shyly at me, showing me her braces. I grinned back and left the hospital wing. I wouldn’t see her again until after September 11th.

Since I had the rest of the week off in New York City, I did the one logical thing that night—I took a cab to Brooklyn to visit my special Slavic siren. “Stanislav!” Viktoriya was so delighted she actually greeted me aloud. “Hallo Vika,” I kissed her. ‘Oh, kisa you are safe!’ She hugged me so tightly, I struggled for breath. “Of course,” I gave her a confident smile, “What’d Jan say?” “She is mad at you,” Viktoriya was curious, “But she hasn’t called since.

What happened? Why were you in Rochester?” At that moment, I hated myself for taking up with the NSA. The agency was something I didn’t want the girls to know. If Tseng’s activities didn’t warrant danger then there was no telling what the agency would do to keep things quiet.

How much was safe? I didn’t know so I doled it out in small doses. I’d figure if anyone would eventually catch me, it’d be Viktoriya. I could hide some thoughts, but not everything, from my curious Cossack cutie. Besides, there was a connection that was more than simply mind-reading.

We’d been together for nearly five years. ‘Six.’ Viktoriya corrected me immediately. ‘We had English in fall of ‘93.’ ‘Of course sweetheart.’ I set my overnight bag on her sofa.

I had left the hospital where Phillipa was staying a few hours before. It taken that long for my cab to weave through New York City traffic to get to Brooklyn. I had arrived at Viktoriya’s apartment just in time for dinner. Fulfilling her role as host, my Russian rumba-queen decided to show me some of the Big Apple’s more tender slices. She and I were at an East Village restaurant, a Turkish place that served great meze. It was there, over the dim glow of candlelight when I finally told her a sanitized version of the truth. I included my suspicions about Tseng but omitted the empire.

Viktoriya sat quietly in her chair as she weighed my words. “Sweetheart, I’m sorry.” I swallowed hard. I hadn’t noticed that my throat was dry from all the talking I did. I took a quick sip of water and waited nervously for an answer. “So you are saying you help in reading people?” she finally asked.

Living alone in a city of millions had improved her social skills. “Like interrogation?” “More or less,” I said. “Nothing more?” she asked. “You don’t—?” Kill. That was what she wanted to know. I quickly dispersed the thought.

Oh sweetheart, how could I explain all this now? “Only in self-defence and as a last ditch effort,” I replied quietly. My thoughts were fully masked now as I spoke in monotone. “That’s what the muscle is for.” “I see,” Viktoriya was pensive. I watched her and tried to anticipate her next move. “That’s what Tseng would be,” I explained as simply as I could, “Muscle. What do you think?

Is he the one?” “I do not know who killed Pyotr,” Viktoriya sighed, “Just that it was one of us. Can you be sure it was he?” I shook my head, “I can’t read him sweetie. His mind’s a blank wall to me.” “Well then,” she seemed both relieved and disappointed, “There’s no point in guessing, yes? But if you think this ‘Sang’ is so dangerous, why do you continue to associate with him?” “It’s out of convenience,” I put my hand on hers. “He’s got some things I can learn. I could teach you too.

But just say the word Vika, and I’ll tell him to piss off and never bug me again.” “No, it’s okay Stanislav.” The brunette beauty smiled, but the worry in her lovely eyes was unmistakable. “I can feel you’ve changed, that’s all. You don’t know it, but you’re different now.” “I am?” I asked. “Yes,” Viktoriya squeezed my hands, “You’ve gotten a little more —” she said something in Russian that I got as “aggressive” or “ruthless” mixed with “self-centeredness”. I felt her hands trembling but there was little more I could do or say to comfort her. “I think you’re going to continue this regardless what I think,” she said finally. It felt weird.

I had confessed something I was sure to have caused Viktoriya no small measure of grief, but she simply took it more or less in stride. We finished our meal in silence then took a cab home. Viktoriya didn’t have practice the next day but we were content to just sleep. After such a long absence, it felt great to be in each other’s physical presence. When I awoke the next morning, I found her stretching in the other room. ‘Good morning.’ I thought-spoke.

“Good morning, kisa,” she didn’t break her routine as she spoke aloud. I grinned despite my disheveled appearance. Someone from logistics support in the agency had grabbed a travel pack with toilet amenities and towelettes. I had bought a pack of underwear (expensive ones) when Viktoriya took me out last night.

I showered, cleaned up, and felt a hundred times better. “So, what do you do for fun around here?” I asked. “Oh, you’re done?” she rose in a most peculiar fashion, as if she was in weightless space. Her telekinesis practically let her levitate. “How about breakfast?” I stood in the narrow hall. Those old apartments were really something; despite my height, the top of my head grazed the upper jamb of the doorway.

“Hungry?” Viktoriya grinned and stepped close. I tried hard to keep my eyes on her face, but it was difficult. She wore a sports bikini and some ankle high socks. Her tits glistened a little with sweat from her workout.

The aroma drove me nuts and I felt myself slowly rise to the occasion. “You bet,” I tried being nonchalant, “I’m starved.” ‘So am I.’ She smiled wolfishly and grabbed my cock. “Christ Vika,” I laughed, then proceeded to thought-speech: ‘I meant food.’ ‘After.’ Viktoriya pulled me and my cock towards the fold-down sofa-bed in her room. Despite having porked Janet just a few days ago, the strenuous activity in up-state New York really got my juices flowing. Absence (and abstinence) made Viktoriya frisky as well. She had flirted with a few of the girls at the institute, but hadn’t dared to do anything during competition.

As usual, Viktoriya was more cautious than I. “Mmmngh,” she groaned with delight as she gagged herself on my stiff fuckstick. She sat on the fold-down, her head at the perfect height to gorge her fill on man-sausage. Maybe it was all those times I did have great bare-back sex, or maybe it was just disliking the chill of saliva as it evaporated from my skin, but I never really enjoyed getting oral.

Still, it turned Viktoriya on, so I let her enjoy herself. The full-length mirror Viktoriya used when we communicated with mind-sight was next to the bed. I saw myself: a skinny, average looking Chinese guy standing in a small New York apartment getting a blowjob from a cute Russian dancing queen. I brushed her hair aside so I could see Viktoriya’s face in the mirror as she face-fucked my pole.

‘Oooh, kisa.’ She thought-spoke after I sent her a mental snapshot of us in a mirror. ‘This looks like porn!’ ‘Yeah.’ I gritted my teeth. Despite my personal dislike of blowjobs, they were still blowjobs. My body reacted the only way it could by threatening to spurt. I pulled Viktoriya away and pushed her down on her back. She was already so turned on and my cock so slick with her spit, I pushed into her without difficulty. “Ungh,” she grunted once as she opened herself to me.

I held her long legs apart by her ankles and began thrusting her slowly. I grinned as Viktoriya turned her head to the side and sneezed. Then she propped herself up on her elbows and watched me as I stick my dick into her body. She glanced at me and thought-spoke: ‘I want to see it go in. Just like in porn.’ Ah, I thought. A neat little problem. But nothing that required too much work.

I picked up Viktoriya then sat her on top of me as I lay back down. ‘So I do all the work now?’ She seemed displeased. Your whore?’ ‘Hush sweetheart.’ I pinched her playfully. ‘You wanted to see this.’ I spun Viktoriya around so she was now in reverse cow-girl. ‘Oh.’ Viktoriya caught on to what I was trying to do. ‘Oh god yes!’ She could now view herself in the mirror, getting fucked like she was with that huge dildo of hers.

Using mind-sight, I could see her reflection in the mirror and wow; it was like a porn film, except I was the actual dude slamming the shit out of the babe. My telekinesis formed an invisible “surface” that let Viktoriya sit quite comfortably as I thrust against her pussy. It was quite easy.

After more minutes of furious fucking, my brunette beauty threw her head back, her shoulder length hair touching my face. She emitted a muffled squeal as I cried out and shot my load. The one thing Viktoriya and I shared (apart from our gifts) was skin-to-skin bare back sex. My dusky Russkie could manipulate fluids far better than I, and each time I’d inject her tank with infant formula, she’d be able to force it back out using a mix of telekinesis and modified Kegel exercises. It often meant we’d have a light post-coital “snack” afterwards. This time though, she simply collapsed atop me (I had relinquished focus on the telekinetic seat she was on), breathless and tired.

It was a little out of character, but it could’ve been Vika was simply tired. “Stanislav?” she whispered.

“Yeah?” I tweaked her nipples lightly between my thumb and fingers. “Would you consider moving to New York? At least part of the year?” “So I’d split my time between cities?” I patted her taut stomach. I guess.” Viktoriya glared at me with her dark eyes. ‘You guess?!’ “Well yeah,” I stroked her lazily.

“What’s in it for me?” ‘I knew it.’ She lay back and stared blankly at the ceiling. ‘You’ve become bored with me.’ “Bored my ass,” I glanced at her, “What gave you that idea?” “Stay with me.” Her audible ‘normal’ answer was plain and to the point.

“I’ve got to get back Monday,” I nuzzled her. “Let’s just enjoy ourselves, alright?” When Viktoriya didn’t reply, I kissed her on the forehead.

She turned her head and remained silent. “What would you have me do?” I asked softly, “I’m not leaving the others, and you know that.” ‘I like it here Stanislav.’ Viktoriya thought-spoke. ‘New York is interesting. I want you here to share it with me.’ “I can’t blame you,” I whispered, “But c’mon, let’s get my stuff out of you before.” ‘No.’ She put her hands on her belly. ‘It will be all right.’ “Now hold on a minute,” I sat up, realizing what this meant. “You’re sure about this?” “If I can’t see you,” Viktoriya’s hands balled into fists as she spoke aloud, “Then I’d rather have a part of you with me every day. I miss you Stanislav.

More than you know!” ‘But we talk.’ I thought-spoke. ‘Daily.’ ‘It’s not the same.’ Her eyes were closed and she was trembling. I suddenly sensed she was trying very hard not to cry. “Vika don’t cry.

If it makes you happy,” I measured my words carefully, “I’ll find a place here, but it’s going to take a little time.” “Nonsense.” Viktoriya sniffed. “You’ll go back and stay in Fog Town with Janna and the others. You cannot lie to me.” Perhaps not, I thought. But neither could she. Her emotional state made her a little more open, and I could dimly read her. Viktoriya was a mixture of anger, self-loathing, and jealousy.

Her dance partner had belittled her inexperience at the last competition then proceeded to question her dedication to the craft. While they’d done well in the show dance, they lost the competition, placing next to last place.

I knew Viktoriya had been elated going to England but she had gotten progressively more frustrated and depressed afterwards. I hadn’t noticed when I saw her three months ago. Now, without the buzz of my other darlings around me, I found I could focus on Viktoriya singly and I sensed her wants more clearly. How blind I was, I rued. She was more soft-hearted than I realized. Had it something to do with that mind-fuck with Melanie?

Or was it when I brought the girls together for New Years? Perhaps it was earlier. Maybe I did something to her; the effects of my gifts weren’t an exact science. Even we, its practitioners, weren’t sure what the long term side-effects would be.

Or had it always been like that with Viktoriya, and had I simply dismissed her a “tough cookie” so I thought she could take care of herself? I couldn’t put a finger on it exactly, but I suspected it was her new surroundings. New York was also a markedly different place than San Francisco.

The place was big, interesting and all built up, but there was a pervasive atmosphere of hard-assed-ness and a pace of lifestyle that I didn’t care for. Now, I suspected Viktoriya may not be either. But whatever it was, she made me feel enormously guilty. So much so, I spent the remainder of my time in New York satisfying Vika’s every whim. We went around Manhattan, poking our heads into shops and sights that struck her fancy. I even went for that one cliche: a carriage ride in Central Park.

When she had practice at the institute, I accompanied her to studio and spent some time talking to her classmates and friends from the institute. I played my part of supportive boyfriend instead of touring other parts of city. I even skipped out on visiting Aurora (she lived in Newark). It was Thursday evening and we had just found neat little place in West Village (this time, Greek and Mediterranean). I was certainly glad to see Viktoriya coming out of her slump. That evening was marred by two things: David and his fat wife interrupting an otherwise romantic dinner, and Janet going on the warpath.

First, the Reeses. David and Millie occasionally came and went to restaurants across Manhattan; they had, after all, met in New York (somewhere, I didn’t care; I just wanted them to leave us alone). “Fancy meeting you here,” David said when he caught sight of me in the restaurant. Despite the intrusion (it wasn’t anything but), I was amicable enough to share a table with them. I introduced Viktoriya and made some light conversation. My Baltic beauty shuffled around Millie’s questions with curt, but polite, answers about herself.

Only when it pertained to the studio or dance did she open up a wee bit more. ‘Good heavens.’ Viktoriya mentally gagged.

‘This cow wants to learn how to dance?’ ‘Be polite.’ I thought back. ‘Otherwise she’ll crush you when you try to lift her.’ The mental image I sent nearly made my Baltic beauty spew her drink. She coughed and sputtered, but kept her laughter at bay. “Good heavens!” Millie offered her a napkin. “Are you okay?” Viktoriya nodded and managed to catch her breath in between coughs. ‘You stupid Yankee clown!’ ‘Guilty as charged.’ I patted her gently on her back.

‘It would be a funny sight though.’ Her dark wet eyes regarded me humorlessly as I excused myself to the washroom. I actually had no urge to pee, but David had excused himself earlier to make a call to his lawyer. I instantly caught the thought of ‘Stanley and I need to talk about Sherwood,’ and ‘Boy, I hope he picks up on this.’ Yes I did. And of course, so could Viktoriya. ‘I’ll talk to his wife.’ My Cossack cutie thought-spoke. ‘Just don’t be long, kisa, or I might have to shut her up myself.’ ‘Spasee baa, sweetheart.’ I bumped into David in the telephone hallway near the washrooms, and immediately asked him, “So you want to tell me what was it you did back up-state?” “You picked up my thoughts?” he made a face. “You didn’t even lay a hand on me.” “You were sitting pretty damn close, and that was all you were thinking about,” I gave him an impartial shrug.

“What’d you expect?” “Well fair enough.” David rubbed the side of his nose lightly with his finger. “Look, about that. I don’t know what to call it but it started a little after you came to the desert house.” “Ah,” I reflected. “They said—” there was no need for him to refer to Cox and Tseng by name “—good guessing was all you could do. Then I saw you do that trick with the water glass. Thought I should try experimenting more with what I could do.” “I see.” David explained his technique of how by having two different locations in mind, he was able to project a “portal” of himself and thus allow matter and energy go from one spot to another. After a bit of experimentation, he’d learn to cascade himself into two simultaneous locations, and interact with the world in a limited degree.

Neat, I thought. I work with a goddamned self-contained talking wormhole who was also the world’s biggest bore. Stephen Mother-fucking Hawking made better conversation than this guy. “Do they know?” I asked the most obvious question. The agency had eyes and ears everywhere. “No,” David said simply, “And if I keep outta sight, they probably will never know. But he saw me.” There was no question who “he” was: we both knew it was Tseng.

“So why’re you telling me this?” I looked around, if just to show we needed to keep this conversation short and furtive. “Because I have you to thank for inspiration.” “Okay,” I accepted his appreciation at face value, but I could’ve cared less. Afterwards, Viktoriya and I hailed a cab for home. She asked the Reeses’ if they had a ride. “They live within walking distance,” I mind-pricked her gently with what I knew.

“They’ll be fine.” Of course, the four of us knew that was a lie. While Reese had an apartment in the rougher parts of the Bronx some years before, he had since given that up. After he and Millie married, David had moved to her Stillwater condo. On paper, and officially, that’s where they lived. I sensed Ghost Light had no intention of letting the night end so early; I picked up the thought that he and his wife were going to displace back to West Texas and spend the rest of the night abusing his dick.

David and Millie shared a grin between themselves as I smiled placidly. Dumb asses, I thought.

You think you’re the only couple in the world with dark secrets? “Okay then,” Viktoriya waved, “Well, good night.” “Good night.” David and Millie both waved then walked around the corner. Both Viktoriya and I sensed their presences diminish with a POP. ‘So which one of them can teleport again?’ She thought-spoke as she flagged down a cab.

‘The man, David.’ I thought. ‘Did you pick-up anything interesting from the wife?’ Viktoriya looked at me curiously. ‘Should I have?’ ‘He’s linked to the agency. And his wife knows about my point of contact.’ The cab came and I ushered her in. ‘Information can sometimes be. Handy.’ ‘Stop it, dorogoi.’ She put a hand on my knee.

‘You are not at work. You are with me.’ “Sorry,” I gave her a quick peck on the cheek. In the theme of things, Viktoriya had the cab stop by a pharmacy so she could pick-up a bottle of lube. ‘Greek.’ She winked slyly at me and thought-spoke so the cabbie couldn’t hear. After that morning of love-making, we hadn’t been intimate much afterwards.

Both of us tip-toed around the bleak possibilities of our future. However, things slowly lightened up over the past few days. Gloom and doom shouldn’t have cut into our personal time. Now this was her way of getting me to stop thinking about my other line of work and to focus on that cute, tight ass of hers. It all came to naught once Janet called.

The phone was ringing before Viktoriya’s key hit the lock. “Hallo?” my lithe lovely scowled as a noisy racket came through from the handset. ‘It’s Tom-Boy.’ Viktoriya wrinkled her nose. ‘She sounds pissed Stanislav.’ I nodded as she turned her attention back to the receiver. “Well yes, Janna I just got ba—” Viktoriya sat on the edge of her bed, unable to get another word out as she got roto-rootered long distance. I sat beside her and waited patiently.

He’s here,” she passed the handset off to me and whispered, “Good luck. I’ll be in the shower.” “Hey Janet,” I managed my most cheerful tone. The rapid breathing on the other end was unmistakable. Janet was pissed.

“Don’t ‘HEY JANET’ me!” my First’s voice came through, “Where’ve you been?” “In New York with Vika,” I said, “Where else?” “Don’t lie to me Stanley Chen!!” her voice rose to a fevered pitch that made me wince. “I’m not lying,” I wanted to add ‘per se’ but that would’ve been going to far. I heard Janet swallow and then continue, “Then explain to me mister, how you can be at work and in New York in the span of a day?!

I know you put Viktoriya up to this! Are you on a conference call right now? Where are you?!?!” “Oh, right.” I realized that the agency’s Masquerade was still filling in for me at work. Fuckin’ hell.

I probably should’ve told my First not to call me at work, or worse. Did she visit the office?

What the hell was that Masquerade doing? How exactly was she “covering for me”?

“You saw me at work?” I took on an inquisitive tone. “Are you sure?” “Of course it was you!” Janet was incredulous. “Who else could it be? And you blew me off! Said you didn’t have the time.

What bullshit is this Stanley!?” “Okay dammit,” I was tired of being yelled. “I’ll come in on the red eye tonight and I’ll see you tomorrow, understand? I’ll explain everything.” Or hope I can. “You’d better,” Janet’s anger slackened a bit, “Because I think I’m pregnant.” I nearly dropped the phone.

“What?” “You heard me,” her voice was shaking. “Where are you when I needed my boyfriend!? In goddamn NEW YORK?!” “I’ll be back tomorrow. Get some sleep okay? Good night.” I hung up the phone, then noticed my hands were trembling. Janet’s sudden news was a surprise.

I didn’t know if I was to be elated or sick. I was feeling a bit of both. “You’re leaving tonight?” Viktoriya stood in the doorway, her body unclothed save for her panties. Her body was dry. She hadn’t hit the shower just yet.

“I forgot I had some unfinished business in the city,” I sat, dumbfounded by the news. Viktoriya straddled me and stroked my neck. ‘What is it Stanislav?’ “Janet’s pregnant,” I felt dizzy, “Or she thinks she is.” “Oh,” was all she could say. I held Viktoriya close to me and wondered if it would all work out. ‘It’ll work out.

Tom-Boy is smart.’ She bumped foreheads with me. ‘I’ll clean myself out. I’m sorry I pressured you, kisa.’ “No don’t,” I whispered, “Don’t.” Viktoriya’s breasts jiggled as she laughed out loud. “Do you think you can take care of two mothers in two different cities silly man?” “I don’t know,” I suddenly felt old. “But there’s always a first time for everything, no?” Viktoriya sighed and hopped off me so I could pack. I did so quickly as she called for a cab. The red-eye always had stand-by if one had money, and money (at least) was not a problem.

Despite the late hour, Viktoriya saw me off. Dressed in black pumps, a loose but conservative skirt, and a fuzzy sweater, she appeared as she did when I first met her at the library. She stayed with me right up to the time they called for boarding. “You tell me,” I held her hand and pressed it against her belly, “You got that?

I’ll call you—” by which we knew it to be mind-sight or thought-speak “—and if it comes to that.” ‘If it comes to that.’ Viktoriya thought-spoke as she looked down. Her mental guard fractured from the emotional maelstrom she was in, and I caught a brief glimpse of her innermost thoughts. I sensed her shame in using her body to get what she wanted. Still, she didn’t want to hurt me (not intentionally anyway). The idea had come to her at the last possible moment. Janet’s call just made everything messier.

“Vika,” I tilted her head up, “We’re only 24.” ‘Speak for yourself.’ Viktoriya pursed her lips as she replied silently. ‘I’m already 25.’ ‘Okay, you cougar.’ I saw her lips twitch but I kept going in regular chat, “There’ll be other chances.” “Not likely with you across the country,” she whispered sadly. “Hey,” I kissed her lightly, “I promise you things will work out, even if I have to move Heaven and Earth.” “Papa and mama would balk at your impious tongue,” she murmured. “But in the meantime,” I got my thoughts got back on track, “It’s only been three days. Do you think you can?” “I’m not sure if I can even if I wanted to,” she was glum, “I never tried it so late before.” “Well fine,” I gave her a brave grin.

“Then whatever happens will happen. But I’ll be there for you, understand?” “Oh Stanislav,” she kissed me sweetly. “Get on board now, or you’ll never leave.” “I wish I didn’t need to Vika,” I said lamely. “Ssh,” Viktoriya rested a palm on my cheek and thought-spoke. ‘Stay safe, lyubimy. For me.’ JUST ONE OF THE GUYS I got back to San Francisco International around 6 A.M. Friday morning.

I was dead tired, but as soon as I stopped by my house and cleaned up, I was out again. I hadn’t notified Brian Cox about my premature departure. Although he might’ve caught me booking my flight last night (which incidentally, set me back a hefty $700; no small number back in 2000), I was almost sure I could find this “Masquerade” character, whoever she was, before Cox called and then wring her scrawny neck before she left. I wasn’t sure what she did, or how, but Janet’s insistence that I was at fault while Masquerade was covering for me now meant my problem was now her problem, at least that’s how I saw it. My office at Ferguson was near Janet’s firm on Sacramento Street, so I waited on her until she showed up. She arrived on the dot at 7:50 A.M.

My proper Lady Wu was always very punctual. “YOU!!!” Janet stopped so suddenly when she saw me, passers-by nearly collided with her.

“You have some explaining to do mister!” “I know,” I grabbed her by the hand. “Come with me.” “But I’ll be late!” she started to complain, but I brushed off her concern.

I took her back to Ferguson about three blocks away, all the while explaining myself without including Sherwood, the invisible people or my “odd jobs” on the border. I included the agency, but only reluctantly. It was bound to come out sooner or later. “Agency?” Janet sniffed as we got into the elevator, “What bullshit is this? I’m not a teenager Stanley.

You don’t have to impress me with stupid spy stories.” “Okay, okay. But just wait all right? I can explain,” I cast an eye on her tummy, “On another topic: have you seen the doctor about it?” “It’s not an ‘it’,” Janet became defensive. “It’s a he or a she.” “All right,” I relented, “But the doctor?” “No, not yet,” my First brushed back some loose hair, “But tomorrow.” “Tomorrow’s Saturday,” I pointed out. “I got hold of a good obstetrician,” Janet said. “He works weekends but has the weekdays off.” “Nice.” The elevator chimed and its doors opened.

I stepped out, pulling Janet with me. Franky turned the corner and jumped at the sight of me. “Stanley?” he paled, “Is that you?” “Who else?” I said as I pulled Janet past him. “But you were just—!!” Franky never got to finish, because as soon as Janet and I turned the corner, we were greeted by a shock. Well, more like greeted by me. My doppelganger, a perfect copy of me, was sitting in my desk, clicking away at God-knows-what. Son of a bitch!

He was dressed in similar clothing, shirt, slacks, very professional. The only problem: I didn’t own those shirts and slacks. And I detested that mix of colors and patterns. It was something a gay, retarded, color-blind clown would wear to a homeless encampment’s Halloween party. My doppelganger looked up at the sudden cry of alarm; Janet’s cry.

It (for what else could it be?) saw me. Its eyes went wide and it quickly ducked out of sight. “Janet?” I turned and found my First swooning. I caught her as she collapsed to the floor, “Honey?!” “Uh, Stanley?” Franky and a few other employees had gathered around, “What’s going on?” “Get her some air,” I handed Janet off to a nearby woman, “I got someone to catch.” “But what should—?” I took off without a backwards glance.

Whoever that was, I was sure Cox knew something about. Was that Masquerade?

Mulling over the code name, I wondered if it was deliberate. I needed to focus, and I caught thoughts of fear, surprise, and shock. Those were the feelings I snapped from my clone just before it vanished. There was plenty of surprise, chiefly because Janet had fainted in the office. Shock, I got from a few of the fellows who marveled at Janet’s ethereal beauty —and her damn skirt had ridden up when she slumped over, showing off her silk underwear. Sorry, honey. But the fear.

Ah, there we go. I zoned in on the emotion and ran after it. I forced open the fire door, keeping the alarm trigger depressed to the fire alarm wouldn’t go off. The door slammed shut behind me. I knew I could open it by applying telekinesis on the other side. I looked up and the presence seemed to dim.

I gazed down and the presence grew stronger. No escape for you, I thought and raced down the stairs. They opened to a busy sidewalk.

Not as busy as New York, but still pretty busy during San Francisco’s morning commute. The presence had stopped. It was hiding in plain sight.

My focus drifted over the crowd in 10 paces of me, then 20 paces, and then 30 paces. About 40 paces away, I caught sight of the polka-dotted shirt and pinstripe slacks. This—thing—just wrecked my carefully crafted image. Oh you may laugh, but in my line of work, I needed to demonstrate good knowledge of color media, congruent pattern, and essential basics of a sharp dressed man.

Anything else may out off potential clients. I stepped right behind the duplicate, focusing my concentration. Some surface thoughts floated back to me, a jumble of imagery and details that took me a while to sort through. I was ready to zap it, or otherwise employ telekinesis and drag it someplace until I could get a hold of the agency to return their meta-human toy.

Damn discovery and damn Tseng. This thing, whatever it was, scared the living crap out of Janet and someone owed me an explanation. I stepped right behind her in the croissant and coffee line and gripped the thing tightly by the arm. “Hello,” I whispered loudly. “Come with me please.” I then thought-spoke a name I had rooted out from the jumble of thoughts: ‘Bethany.’ The doppelganger turned and I saw it had the appearance of a young man, but with a different face.

Caucasian and around my age. He/She appeared shocked and surprised but “it” didn’t show any as I escorted him/her out of the line and back into my building through the side door. “You must have mistaken me for someone else,” the young man sounded very effeminate.

“Who are you?” “Private security. We need to talk,” I said briskly then added thought-speak: ‘Don’t make a scene and stay quiet until we’re alone.’ The young “man” said nothing more until I brought him into the stairwell. I stopped short of the firedoor and block the exit with my body. “How’d you get past the fire door without an alarm?” I asked.

The man stepped back and sighed. “I guess the gig’s up, eh?” His voice sounded remarkably feminine now. I visibly jerked away as his face seemed to melt away. It wasn’t horrible, merely startling. The woman past the mask was a stern-faced beauty with sharp cheeks. “Electronic circuit jammer,” the man-turned-girl held a small palm-sized circuit board.

“Killed the breaker so I could slip out.” “Agency gear,” I glanced at her. “So you’re the one he called on Monday.” “Yup.

But Champion called back,” she said, “He said you weren’t due back until next Monday. What happened?” “Something came up. I had to come back early.” “Oh,” the pretty young blonde nodded. “Well just so you know, this doesn’t happen often, you know. Meeting the original I mean.” “I suppose not,” I gazed at her sternly. “Since you’ve been impersonating me, what’ve you been telling my fiancee?” She broke into smiles.

The lawyer, the cook, or the engineer?” “Janet,” I coughed and corrected myself. “The lawyer, I mean.” “Oh yeah. Well, nothing incriminating I hope,” the woman stretched, looking remarkably alluring despite her choice of attire. “Just said ‘you didn’t have time’.

Very generic. She got pissed though.” “Yeah,” I nodded angrily. That was what wrecked my vacation with Viktoriya. “Jan and I have a complicated relationship.” “Oh sorry.” She levelled a smile before she went on. “You know, you have a very deep voice for an Asian guy.” “I do?” I asked. “Yeah,” she said, “I had a heckuva time just fending them off and sounding ‘all man’.” “Welcome to my world,” I extended my hand. “I suppose I should introduce myself.

Stanley.” “Chen,” she finished and took my hand lightly. “Yeah, sorry about all this.

It was really short notice. My name is Bethany Adams. The agency calls me.” “Masquerade?” I finished, “I overheard Cox. It’s very apt.” “Well pleased to meet you,” Bethany sat on the stairs. “Golly, I don’t know how you manage.

Those girls have all been calling you day in, day out. It got so busy, I couldn’t even forward your work to the Naval Architecture guys.” “The U.S. Navy is drafting plans for the SoMa (South of Market) housing project?” I stared as shock hit my body.

“You sure they know what they’re doing?” “Oh, I’m sure it’s fine.” The pretty bobbed-hair blonde grinned as she debriefed me. “Besides, nothing’s due yet and they made notes for you. I filed everything on your computer.” “Thanks,” I scratched my head, “I guess.” “Sweet porn stash too.” I could tell she was lying by the size of her obnoxious grin. “Must be a computer I’m not aware of.” I laughed as Bethany pouted, her little joke falling flat.

I appreciated her sarcastic smart-assed tongue. She reminded me of me. “Hey no worries.” Bethany recovered quickly. “It’s all good.” “Sorry if I was a little rough,” I said, “You know how things at the agency are.” “Really?” she asked, “I never knew.

I’m just support, y’know?” Of course, I thought. You probably never went down to Mexico with Tseng. When Viktoriya said I had changed, she was onto something.

“Well, I’m sorry in any case.” I gave her my trademark grin. “Such a cad,” Bethany tilted her head slightly. “You know I’d go out with you, if just for fun.” “Oh really?” My smile grew wider.

Monster, my inner voice sang out. Just banged Vika on the East Coast, knocked up Janet, and now trying to score in a stairwell? “Ya really,” her head bobbed, “But I’m engaged.” “Oh,” I brought myself under control. Who’s the lucky guy?” Her mouth twisted into a shy smile. “Her name is Denise.” “Oh,” I blinked. Bethany’s words started to sink in. “Whoa.” “That never gets old,” her eyes twinkled as she laughed, “Must be my charm.” I grinned stupidly.

It hadn’t occurred to me that a girl this pretty would prefer girls to boys. Viktoriya was about the only girl I knew who did that sort of crap, but she leaned more towards men than women when I was around. I guess that was all that mattered. “So,” Bethany got up, “How do you want to do this?

The exit strategy I mean. I guess quite a few people saw us both at once.” “I can give a rat’s ass about them. I can find a new job, but I’m worried about Janet. She doesn’t need to know because.” “She doesn’t need to know because she doesn’t need to know,” Bethany agreed and rubbed her cheek like a girl half her age. “I think I got something, but you just nod and follow along okay?” “Anything to get things back to normal.” I was just relieved there was some sort of solution to this mess. So, if anything, I have Bethany Adams to thank for saving my job and my (future) marriage.

She played the part well, taking my jacket and disguising herself as my agency handler (she had fake credentials to back her story up). Suddenly, instead of being a simple CAD draftsman, I was also a structural weakness analyzer for an undisclosed agency.

Ferguson arched his brow when Bethany brought this up. If my standing wasn’t up to his standards earlier, it certainly was now.

In Janet’s case, well, things more or less worked out for the best. I was a government “something”. Since Janet was connected with law firms that may have specialized in criminal law, Bethany didn’t push her luck and just remained nebulous about the whole matter. In regards to Bethany’s impersonation act, she had rigged up something in her hotel room just for this kinda of demonstration. It appeared like a very well done skin mask (like the ones Peter Graves would use in Mission: Impossible!).

Janet calmed down after that demonstration, and I felt myself going at ease too. Still, it was very hush-hush (although nowhere near the level Tseng and I operated on). But things got sorted out and that’s all that mattered. Bethany even accompanied Janet back to the firm and helped explain her tardiness. Bethany and I remained close on a professional basis if only because we shared the same headaches keeping our agency lives apart from our private ones. Tseng later told me she was a nominal member of the invisible empire for she only had the ability to conjure audio-visual illusions.

Her ability to mimic someone’s appearance was often limited to the face due to the incredible amount of detail she needed to maintain. It was this new angle (and application) of mental illusion that let me handle some unsavory business later on. INTERLUDE—NEOPOLITAN BEAUTIES As it turned out, Janet’s morning sickness was chiefly due to an anxiety attack that started with the aftermath of the bank robbery. Later, it got exacerbated when she discovered I was missing Monday night. And the pregnancy test?

Janet was so nervous and rushed, she misread it (it happens). So after a few more tests, the results were pretty much final in a week: Janet hadn’t. “Score the motherlode?!” Melanie greeted us when we came back. Janet smiled meekly, shook her head mildly then drifted off to the outer room to be alone. “Yu-Ching, be polite,” I scolded her gently. Melanie would normally make a face and try to talk back to me (she did it more and more often as she grew older) but she saw I was serious about Janet’s despondent mood. Yu-Ching turned back to the stove without another word.

I stepped over and took a look at the dishes for tonight. I lifted a lid to peek underneath.

“Looks interesting.” “Ngm-ho-deem*!” [* Cantonese: Don’t touch!] she rapped my hand with the ladle. “You’ll turn them yellow and yucky.” “Sorry.” I withdrew and reached for a glass of water. That’s what it was like around her kitchen. Melanie only attended a half day at high school and spent the rest of her time cooking up new dishes (or improving old ones) at the Hotel and Restaurant vocational program at City College.

Not wanting to just do that, she also took a few computer science courses to round out her education. Nevertheless, with only her and Shawn still in school, Janet, Viktoriya and I seemed to have out-grown (or at least out-paced) the two. In an effort to keep everyone connected, I’d make an effort to have a casual get-together when I could. Viktoriya wouldn’t be able attend, but Shawn always made the effort along with the others. It was Canton cuisine at first, but Melanie expanded to do other things: kabobs, cheese-less pizza (what traditional pizza should be), Turkish meze, vegan meals, and a score of other dishes she’d pick up from restaurant menus.

Now of course, Melanie didn’t just steal them. We’d eat out too.

If my little Chen possessed a gift I didn’t have, it was that she could pick out almost every individual ingredient. Seeing my little cooking mama so focused on the stove, I rummaged through the refrigerator and found a glass jar of dried and cured scallops. Heavily flavored, they were used to bring out a natural sweetness in a variety of dishes. My mother though, had spoiled Andrew and me when we were younger by showing us how we could eat them as-is (straight from the package). They were awesome (even if little bits get caught between your teeth, but that’s what dental floss was for). However, the best brands generally cost upwards of several hundred dollars per pound, so consuming them like junk food wasn’t an option. But with so much cash from Ojinga, I earnestly didn’t feel much of a pinch, so I’d buy a bag of those preserved scallops every couple months.

For Chinese culinary perfectionists like my mother and Melanie, they made great gifts. Melanie’s parents were suitably impressed as well. At least they stopped pestering my parents about how much time their daughter was spending at my place now.

I grabbed the smallest scallop from the jar and sat down at the table. After breaking up the damn thing, I peeled off a thin strand and I savored the unique taste in my mouth. “Xicdou-teem-xai li-yutjun mou-weihou*!” Melanie turned around and threatened me with her ladle. [* Cantonese: Filling up on sweets, you’ll spoil your appetite!] I sat her down on my knee and offered her some. She surrendered to her munchies and popped a few bits in her mouth. “Manman xic-eh*,” I pinched her arm.

“That’s like an hour of work at the office you’re eating.” [* Cantonese: Eat slow; chew your food (in the exact same idiomatic way of Bill Murray’s delivery in Ghostbusters)] Melanie stuck her tongue out, a mess of gold and yellow was atop it. She snuck it back in her mouth before I could say more.

“Li-yinggoy-tung-jiejie.” she swallowed her snack and reverted to English. “You should be with Janet jie-jie.” “I’m sure she’ll be fine. I mean she did misread her own test. She got her hopes up.” “When’d you turn into a big meanie?” Melanie elbowed me gently.

Of all the thing she could learn, she learned rough-housing from Shawn (and got quite good at it). “I’m sure she’ll be fine,” I reached out and sensed Janet’s mood of gloom hadn’t changed much.

“I’ll see her later. Right now, I want to spend time with you.” My little darling was about to reply when we heard the door to the garage creak open.

Stanley?” Shawn came in (she had a set of keys too). “Hi Shawn!” Melanie hopped off me. “Hey muffin,” I greeted her with my usual “hello”.

“So guys,” my plump angel took off her shoes and hugged Melanie. “So, what’s the news?” “False alarm,” I said as pleasantly as I could. “Janet’s in the studio.” “So, go on in and be with her,” Shawn nagged.

“I’ll help Melanie here.” “That’s what I told him,” the petite girl said with a huff. “He wouldn’t listen.” “Well with such a passionate second opinion,” I held my hands out, palms upturned, “It’s much more convincing.” “Uh-huh,” Shawn helped herself to a can of Arizona iced tea. “C’mon, Stanley.

You shot blanks. So, get in there and try again.” “You’re pretty liberal about my body.” I flashed her a sly grin. “Maybe I should let you sub for me and do Janet. All you need is a tube of my stuff and a syringe that looks like Jodie Foster’s knuckles.” “Stanley!” Shawn’s face turned beet red as Melanie broke into laughter. Family Guy had made it into our entertainment circuit (until it went on hiatus), and its cruder lines and quips quickly made it into our daily vernacular. Aside from that impromptu orgy that occurred in Shawn’s apartment when she was still at San Jose State, Janet and Melanie were probably not privy to what Shawn had also done with Viktoriya.

According to my Baltic beauty, she and Shawn had done more than just impale themselves on my stick after my hangover from Faraz’s and Ghandia’s engagement dinner. That was probably one of the few times I could count (on one hand) where I had lost control of my mind. Couldn’t blame me though: I learned (the hard way) that Rachelle had been engaged without even telling me. I wasn’t in the best shape to have a carefree three-some until the next morning. Outwardly, Shawn dismissed her experimentation simply as that. However, I sensed my plump pumpkin was more than a little scared that she was so at ease with it. She was earnestly afraid she was bisexual, and the fallout from her family would compound the problems of her future with me.

My constant teasing of course, did nothing to help her situation. “Seriously now,” Shawn took on a serious tone.

“Janet’s really sweet and if you can stop being such a dick for a minute, you can make yourself useful.” “Sounds like fun,” I laughed and flicked my glance down at my crotch. “After all I already got one.” Shawn glared at me with her hands on her hips. Even Melanie shook her head with disapproval. “All right, all right. I’m going.” I had grown tired of their nagging, and decided to concede before things got out of hand.

I headed to the restroom to wash up. By now, my room was pretty much lived in; when I finally handed the room to Andrew, I needed to have a professional cleaning service go through the place.

The girls left stuff when they visited: lotions, combs, hair clips, soap, perfume, hair gel, nail lacquer, skin cream; if you can buy it a Walgreens (or a pharmacy) I probably had it in my bathroom. I picked through the forest of bottles and plastic on the sink to grab a spool of floss. I cleaned up, rinsed my hands, and stepped back outside. Shawn and Melanie were swapping SanDisk cards and flash drives between their MP3 players.

Despite Napster’s recent shutdown, my two young darlings were web-savvy enough to find other P2P services (precursors to BitTorrent) and continued their file-sharing. I rolled my eyes.

These two were always up to something and they shared lots of things. Last year, Shawn and Melanie were trading Pokemon on an almost daily basis. I gave the two girls a wry grin as I walked past. Seeing me amble by, Shawn threw me a kiss while Melanie stuck out her tongue. That elicited a quick swat on her bottom from me, and a chuckle from Shawn. “Ow!” Melanie yelped and pouted.

“He hit me Shawn Ellen! He’s a big meanie!” “Only one thing for that,” Shawn pointed towards my studio. “Go to your room!!” “Yes ‘mother’,” I gave her a quick peck on the cheek and headed to the outer room.

I found Janet moping on my old drafting table (most of my work by this time was computerized). She had taken up a well-used HB drafting pencil and doodling on some scraps of trace paper. I needn’t say anything. I put my hands on her shoulders and she slumped them. “Took you long enough,” she murmured. “I thought you wanted to be alone,” my tone was apologetic. “You looked worn out when we left.” “I was so sure,” Janet said softly, “I guess I’m just not ready huh?” “Naw.

You’re stressed.” “Yeah,” she sniffed, “And guess who’s to blame?” “I’m touched,” I remarked dryly. My tone was more sarcastic than sincere, but she dismissed it. Instead, Janet turned and glared at me. “No, you’re blessed. How many women do you know who’d put up with the crap you’ve pulled off mister?” “Four that I know,” I gave her a childish grin. “Quit being a smart-ass,” she hissed, “And what’s all this spy crap? You never explained it all y’know.” “I thought Bethany pretty much did,” I said, “I mean, you were listening right?” “Don’t make fun,” Janet scolded, “I was worried sick about you.

I hope you’re not going to make a habit out of this.” “Well that was an emergency,” I shrugged, “Just have to hope it won’t happen again.” “So what do you do?” she looked at me. “Honestly.” “I’m just an analyst,” I borrowed Bethany’s explanation to my employer, “Structural collapses and all that goodness.” “But you’re no engineer,” she sounded suspicious, “Even Shawn would be more qualified than you.” At that, we both grinned stupidly. It was hard to think that the plump, doughty girl was capable of great engineering feats. But while her appearance was that of roly-poly young lady, her mind was pretty sharp where it counted. “Well, it’s not all mechanical,” I rubbed my nose and stretched the truth slightly. “Besides, a fortified bunker protects against a bomb blast, but it’s not that pleasing to the eye.

Clever design can make a place secure without making a city look like Soviet Russia.” “I suppose,” Janet still sounded unconvinced. “Think of it as a side-job,” I said. “Oh.” She blinked and remembered how I had spent so freely during New Years in New York. “Satisfied now?” I growled. “Getting there,” Janet quickly locked the door to the studio then slinked back towards me. “How about a little appetizer before the main course?” “That depends,” my pants suddenly became a little tight, “What’re we having?” “Pussy,” she breathed my ear, “With a creamy stuffing.” “Well sure I guess,” I chuckled, “Since it’s on the house.” Janet smiled shyly as I picked her up and carried her to a small foldout sofa-bed next to the bookcase.

She quickly pulled off her panties and lifted her skirt. “Make it a quickie Stanley,” she looked nervously at the door, “I don’t want to be late for dinner.” “For the record, honey,” I kissed her, “I don’t mind the orgies you’ve sponsored.” “Shut up you and do me.” Her words would’ve scared me, had she meant them. But there wasn’t any anger behind them. In fact, Janet was smiling brightly and giving me “come hither” looks. Given Melanie’s obsession about being on-time, she’d probably be pissed if we were even a minute late for dinner. So, I unzipped my pants and stuffed my stiffy into Janet without much ceremony.

She shut her eyes and grimaced as I rammed her. She was dry but tight. It was different feeling though, like putting myself through sticky plastic or something. It felt weird. It was definitely something we hadn’t done before.

In the past, we had gone at it for pleasure. The sheer enjoyment of looking at each other as orgasms took hold of our young bodies. Now, as I pumped her, I was a man in my mid-twenties fucking a 29 year-old woman.

Well not quite 29. She would be in June. “Stanley?” she whispered, “C—could you stop for a minute?” I blinked and found Janet’s face contorted in pain. I stopped and dared not move an inch.

“Need me to slow down?” I asked hoarsely. “Yeah, please,” she nodded.

I didn’t move my hips but I did bend over and kissed her. My First kissed me back, then nodded for me to continue. I did so, but after a little while, she expressed discomfort again. I hung my head in disappointment and slowly pulled out of her.

“I’m sorry I ruined your fun,” Janet studied me as I dressed. “Oh, don’t worry about it baby,” I kissed the back of her hand. “Maybe we can try later,” she said, “How about after dinner?” “Maybe,” I hushed her, “But it’s likely Shawn’s last night in the city. Let her pick what we should do for fun, okay?” “Oh right,” Janet frowned, “I forgot her parents are pushing up her schedule.” “I’ll find the time,” I winked. “Don’t you worry darling.” “I’m sure you will,” she eyed me wryly, “It’s free pussy after all. You don’t have to work for it anymore.” “Hey,” I growled, “I can barely type after a night with you, sister. Imagine the news headline: Architect Liable For Building Failure.

Flaws In Plans Found To Have Been Caused By Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Because He Had To Finger Fuck His Wife Last Night.” “You stupid asshole!” Janet slapped me lightly on the cheek but she was laughing. I kissed her and felt her tongue flick the insides of my mouth. It was getting me hot and heavy until someone rapped against the studio door. “Janet jie-jie?” It was Melanie. “Stanley?” And Shawn. “Are you two done in there? Dinner’s ready!” “Coitus-interruptus by the two little munchkins,” Janet groaned unhappily.

“We really need to get away.” “I’ll start looking for a travel package,” I grunted uncomfortably as I stood. Nevermind,” my First wrinkled her nose and sighed. I’m starved.” Dinner was pretty good, but for a goodbye dinner, it was bittersweet. Shawn wouldn’t be away forever, but three years in Tokyo would be quite a chunk of time. I was determined to leave a good impression on her though. When I asked Shawn what she wanted to do, she asked if we could play some group games. So, I broke out some old board games (Sorry and Sugoroku/Monopoly were all-around favorites) as well as ball-and-jacks.

Things started getting physical when Janet decided to play truth or dare and Melanie dared her to play spin the bottle. To forestall any naughty plans Yu-Ching might’ve had, I telekinetically nudged the bottle so it pointed at her three times in a row. Instead of kisses though, Janet, Shawn and I tickled, paddled, and pinched the unlucky Melanie until her bottom was sore. “No fair!!!” Yu-Ching whined and rubbed her butt.

She pouted in such a cute way that I succumbed and gave her a consolation kiss. I realized too late I probably shouldn’t have done that. I remembered what happened the last I did that: it was in Shawn’s San Jose apartment, only this time, Viktoriya wasn’t connected to me by mind-sight. It didn’t matter though, as soon as we made contact, a psychic event occurred. Oh fuck, I thought. The psychic ripple emanated from Melanie and the other two girls felt its immediate effect. For some damned odd reason, the whole scene struck Shawn as funny.

Pretty soon, the plump girl was laughing so hard, she fell over with tears in her eyes. There seemed no stopping it, the event was infectious. Janet fought desperately to keep a straight face, but eventually she succumbed and broke into hysterical laughter. Embarrassed, Melanie put on an angry little grin, grabbed a cushion and began playfully bludgeoning Shawn and Janet on their arms, legs, breasts and buttocks. The two older girls let out brief cries and made half-hearted attempts to fend off the diminutive teenager. Janet grabbed one pillow from my bed, Shawn the other and hit Melanie above and below. “Hey not too rough now,” I scolded and got whapped with a cushion for intervening.

So much for being a peacemaker. The three girls then decided that I made a suitable target and I was quickly attacked and held prisoner. The night was still young, and Janet incited further mischief all by herself.

“Lock the door,” she said to no one in particular. Melanie stood up and turned the corner. I heard the door click shut and deadbolt slid into place. “Whoa hey,” I stared at her, “What the heck do you think you’re doing?” “We’re gonna play a little game,” Janet said saucily and winked at the others.

“It’s called ‘Guy Rodeo’.” “Guy Rodeo?” Shawn wore a confused look. “I never heard of it. How’s it played?” My First’s cheeks turned red but she quickly composed herself and explained the game. It’s like ‘Hot Potato’ but—y’know—different.” “I know ‘Hot Potato’ Janet jie-jie,” Melanie came back.

“Is Stanley gonna be the potato?” “I ain’t that fat.” I managed to grin at my own poor physique. “Oh, you’re fat where it counts,” Janet growled and undid my pants. “Janet?” Shawn’s eyes went wide.

“What are you doing?!” “It’s how the game’s played,” my First wore a mischievous grin. “We each take turns riding Stanley’s cock.

Whoever he cums in first.” “Loses?” I said helpfully. “Kinda,” she said.

“We change riders if someone cums. And we play till only one of us remains.” “Wait, what?” my eyes went wide, “That means I have to.” “Twice Stanley dearest,” Janet licked her lips with anticipation.

It won’t be as bad as last time!” I heard Shawn and Melanie both chortle. “Hold up,” I became suspicious. “Where’d you learn this game?” “In Chicago,” my First’s ears burned bright red. “I read it on” “You ever play before?” I pouted. I already read her mind: ‘Just with vibrators at the sorority.’ (da-yum!) ‘Better say no though.’ (sure, okay sister) ‘Good lord, my poor Stanley must think I’m a slut.’ (HU-HU-HUH-UHU-HUUU) “No, of course not,” Janet made a face at me then snapped her fingers. “Mel, gimme a wash cloth will ya?” Melanie grabbed a small hand towel, wetted and wrung it dry, and then handed it to Janet.

My First cleaned my cock and passed the towel back to Little Chen. “Time to ride cowboy,” Janet’s tongue flicked out. I grimaced from pleasure, then gasped as Janet touched a sweet spot.

Shawn sat on the ground in a state of embarrassed silence while Melanie was practically tearing off her clothes. “So, muffin,” I stroked Shawn’s hand gently, “How many three-ways have you been in?” “Why Stanley,” my plump petunia soured, “What a thing to ask!” “C’mere you big soft American cow-girl,” I tugged at her. “Hey wait a minute,” Janet glanced between me and Shawn, “I was going to go first!” “Bet you a hundred bucks sweetheart,” I winked at my First, “That I’ll eliminate you first.” My First grinned like a wildcat. She knew there was little chance I could hold back if she rode me after Shawn.

Janet was up for my bet, and my challenge. You’re on mister.” Shawn winced as she sat on me. Melanie came to her rescue. Yu-Ching grabbed some vegetable oil from the kitchen counter, warmed a few drops between her slender fingers then slid them between my cock and Shawn’s pussy wall.

My Anglo angel gasped. I suppose it felt like one of those Japanese tentacle-rape animated shorts (anime). Melanie’s slender fingers certainly made headway in between the surfaces of my pole and Shawn’s hole.

It must’ve felt like something squirming inside her orifice. “Like it Shawn Ellen?” Melanie giggled. Janet and I looked at one another and grinned wryly. Despite being the youngest, Melanie was probably the most perverted of my darlings (with Viktoriya and Janet pretty much competing for second place). The lithe little teen was behind Shawn, fingering her clit and cupping her melon heavy breasts.

“You keep doing that and she’ll scuzz,” Janet teased. No sooner than Janet’s words left her mouth did Shawn suddenly seize up and cried softly, “Uffuck!!” I felt my plump dumpling’s quim tighten and squeeze Melanie’s fingers out as she came. Shawn’s legs clamped up tight as her body shuddered involuntarily.

“Oooh,” Melanie laughed and licked her pungent, oily fingers, “Looks like my turn.” “Wait a minute,” I said, “Isn’t that cheating?” “That’s okay, Stanley.” Shawn grinned foolishly as she lay quietly beside me. “It felt good. I don’t mind.” I glanced at my First for a rules clarification. Damn, I really could lose a hundred bucks if I came in Melanie first.

“Meh,” Janet shrugged her shoulders. “Anything goes I guess. I mean, this isn’t the Olympics or anything.” “Janet, please,” Shawn’s body glowed a healthy red from her embarrassment. Melanie ignored the by-play and slid her small tender body onto my prick. I groaned concentrated on keeping her cunt walls away from my sensitive glans.

Despite the trick I could do with telekinesis, I could not avoid the feeling of great emotional pleasure from Melanie’s mind. “Unngh—mother—fucker,” I shut my eyes and gritted my teeth, forcing myself to think of something else as the lithe high school senior rode my cockshaft. “O—oohg,” Melanie’s hips slowed then stopped just before I thought I had hit the point of no return. I opened one eye and glanced at her. “What’s wrong baby girl?” I asked. “My butt’s sore,” she slid off and rubbed her ass, “You big mean dummy. Pinching me and all that.

Hmph!!” “Aw, I’m sorry,” I reached out but Melanie strode towards the restroom, rubbing her apple cheeked bottom. Janet quickly rescued me from disappointment. “So studly,” she wriggled her hips and settled down with a sigh of satisfaction. “We still on?” “It’s hardly fair,” I gave her sheepish grin. “We’ll see about that.” My regal First bent down close, kissed my neck, and began moving her hips.

It took barely a minute for Janet to lose her bet. I forgot who won that night, because I matched my record and shot off a third (and final) time. I was just glad I was able sleep in my own bed this time.


That’s what it cost me back in 2000 to buy and then rebuild our new home. Throw in the extras for finding housing for the existing residents and it would’ve been more, but a few quick deals using my gift and the tenants left for new places without incurring much more costs (apart from moving and stuff).

The site that was finally settled on was on 43rd and Geary. The old Sutro grocery had been long replaced by a neighborhood Walgreens. One block down was a district firehouse. There was a reliable stream of public transportation less than a block away.

The neighborhood was comprised of single family homes or small apartments. My project was an aberration of sorts, but it pretty much held to the condo/apartment design. The big difference of course, was that the girls and I would have keys to everyone else’s place (though it was an unspoken rule to ring the bell or knock when visiting someone else’s quarters later on). The building was shrouded from view using scaffolding; the contractors I hired were done through my own connections to the business. There were some minor details I wanted to include to make my girls’ lives more palatable. As for signing off on the design, I prepared two plans: one for the city’s planning commission, and one for my contractors. The building inspector I could find and fool using my gift.

That wouldn’t be a problem once I accompanied him through the place. I suppose a brief list of my improvements wouldn’t hurt: hot water in the showers and baths was provided by electric heaters in the walls (something I picked up from Hong Kong, the U.S. Tags them as tankless water heaters today); generous sound-proofing was applied between floors; the laundry rooms (one per unit) were right next to the showers and bathrooms (easier for chores to be done). Powerful ventilation systems (easily replaceable) sucked air from the kitchens to minimize that oily stench from stir-frying; instead of using a wooden frame, I had contractors replace them with light steel; the garage (lowest floor) was a metal cage (Janet and Rachelle found something in common in hating that garage since there was no cellphone reception); a new concrete floor was poured around steel girders driven about ten feet underground into the bedrock underneath; and there was a pretty good business sized elevator (holding eight 250 lbs.

Adults or approximately one ton) in addition to the interior staircase. That certainly helped on moving day. Moving day though, was still a year off (most of the interior finishing wasn’t completed until 2002). I was marking up bits and pieces as individual contractors began reporting directly to me. For my first project, I was an ambitious little s.o.b. Of course, financing was a nightmare.

There was almost no way I would get a good deal on a mortgage period. 15% (it was 14.48, but I might as well have bent over and let the bank fuck my ass without lubrication) for 45 years (fixed) was the standing offer, which resulted in a monthly payment of about $9,500. And that was before property tax and utilities. Of course, I was earning about $95,000 as a CAD draftsman. No way I could (on paper) that I could cover all that without a little financial fiddling and revealing I was working with the NSA. My parents (had they found out then) would’ve hit the roof, so I kept them in the dark until everything was done. That’s half the story anyway.

The property itself was a lot less than three million (roughly half, say). Only because I wanted to do a rebuild was the cost so exorbitant. Since the contractors I was working with were semi-shady, they were under-writing some of the costs. One good thing about cash and knowing what we were doing meant the guys were getting paid a shade less than normal jobs (saving me money) but that also meant they were paying less to the IRS. I wondered though, if Cox or someone else at the agency would catch me on a RICO indictment and prosecute my ass. That or simply leverage it against me down the road.

Tseng likely knew what to do; if not, he’d know who to tap on the shoulder to assist me. But I was wary. Tseng had demonstrated he was not to be fucked with.

How much information did I risk sharing with him that it wouldn’t come back to haunt me? I was so wrapped up in thought, I was barely aware of the naked tits and asses gyrating before me. “Sh-tan-ley my friend,” Faraz slapped me heartily on the back. “You must enjoy the delights Allah has wisely given us men!” “Sorry.” I shot him an apologetic grin. “My mind was elsewhere.” “This man,” my old chum roared above the din of the music, “Is what Americans call the ‘straight man’. I have learned so much from him, that’s why he’s now also my, uh—” “Best man,” I suggested.

“Yes!!” Faraz speech was nearly slurred. Here!” someone yelled. Several of Faraz’s friends from the stock exchange, some friends from college, and I were there for his bachelor’s party. I had to hand it to him—for a guy who never drank and who was going on his first bender, Faraz sure had tolerance for alcohol.

I sipped my own drink, water with no ice, and coolly regarded the rest of the customers in the neon lit place. I reserved a private room at a casino hotel, hoping things would be contained therein. But the party soon got underway and we called up a limo (on short notice) and headed to a nearby strip club. I knew Faraz loved Ghandia, but having lived in the United States for so long, he had developed a taste for some of the more unsavory aspects of living. While he still abstained from pork, Faraz did start screwing around and drinking (though not necessarily in that order). Ghandia was hardly in a position to chastise him, principally because Faraz was careful.

The other reason was I never bothered to tell her about it. Their business was strictly their business; I wanted nothing to do with it. Faraz was now dancing rather closely with two nude girls at the club. From the collective dough all of us chipped in, the club owner was kind enough to give us a private booth, complete with a trickle of different girls. These girls were physically pretty; they could’ve given Viktoriya a run for her money, but they were all damaged goods. I sensed the mad desperation, the fear, and sly caution they had as they regarded most of our party with wary, hungry looks. Most of Faraz’s band were Caucasian or something so mixed they appeared white.

Faraz was probably the only Iraqi guy there, who along with the one Indian guy (a systems analyst I think), looked pretty much the same to the club’s girls. I was the only Mongoloid in the group. I was one of the few to keep my senses, but a few of them tried their charms on me. “Wanna a lap dance?” “Buy me a drink, handsome?” “Wanna see a private show?” I passed on all but the offers of buying them drinks. I suppose I could’ve given them any amount of money (well, as much as I could afford at the time) but I didn’t need to get myself into more trouble.

Finally, I grew annoyed enough that I passed each girl $50 (totaling about a grand) to leave me the fuck alone. “Entertain him,” I pointed to Faraz, “He’s the one getting married.” So a gaggle of twenty-some girls pretty much descended on my old friend. I sensed for a minute he thought he was in paradise, only with twenty-some odd whores. Wouldn’t Ghandia be proud? And on that note, thoughts of Ghandia brought up other unpleasant memories.

I soured as I mulled over Rachelle. Since my flight was going to be in the late evening tomorrow, I decided to cut out a little early. Leaving Faraz in capable hands, I stepped out and took a cab back to the casino.

Rattling some loose change as I stepped into the casino floor, I looked at my watch and decided to have a quick go at the slots. The older mechanical slots were easier to manipulate (assuming one knew what to push). This was before video slots really took off.

After a few minutes of whirling and experimentation, I amassed a small bucket of change. Enough to cover the cab ride several times over, but definitely not what I had spent at the strip club. I got up and wondered how far I could push it. I sauntered over to the cashier and changed my bucket of winnings for a few crisp bills. I wandered the casino floor, looking for a game of chance that I could exploit. Something that was less mechanical and more “human”.

Ever play poker with a telepath? Here’s a pro-tip: I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re playing for peanuts (if you’re allergic to peanuts then M&Ms or jelly beans). I didn’t jump into Texas Hold’em; there was too much chance that the next two cards drawn would screw with me. My skill in biointroscopy (perception through skin) was developed enough that I could physically “read” surfaces, but it took a little while to get to all the cards.

I was also able to use remote viewing (I called it detached mind-sight since I simply piggybacked on a ‘normal’s’ own vision) but to forestall someone from detecting me, I had to do that slowly and carefully. With the dealer moving so quickly, I wouldn’t have been able to keep up.

Blackjack was too mechanical (as was Pai-Gow), relying more on counting cards than mind-reading. I could cheat at roulette and craps since the physical aspects were easy to manipulate, but it would be too obvious if the ball (or dice) came up on double-zero (or boxcars) more than six times in a row. Draw poker though, seemed reasonably fine. I took a vacancy at a medium sized table and started to play. About ten minutes in, I had effectively doubled my original earnings through a mix of card-reading, mind-reading, and sensible bets. I didn’t need to see my opponents to know what they were holding.

The pit-boss was most likely less than happy. He was probably less happy even after the dealer was changed (twice) and my winnings hardly diminished. As the pile around me slowly grew, I kept my mind sharp by pinging the people around me to see if they worked for the casino. I also kept my own face wooden and impassive, and focused my physical gaze on either the pot on the table or the cards in my hand. “Free drink sir?” a pretty bar girl came up to me and placed an open glass of something vile next to me. Bottled water please.” “We don’t serve bottled water, sir,” the girl’s voice barely registered as I shifted focus on my opponents.

“Then no thanks,” I waved her off and folded just in time. Another player had the makings of a Straight Flush. So instead of losing $500, I lost only $15. I quickly won back my bet though. Boom 1.7 Keygen Download. My four-of-a-kind killed the competition after several raises.

“You play a mean game handsome,” a sultry sonorous voice spoke next to me. “You’re welcome to join in,” I dared a sideways glance.

The woman was about my height (roughly 5′—8/9″ or 174 cm) but that was probably because she was wearing high heels. Her dark black hair fell in a loose, voluminous cascade over a bare shoulder. A thin silver necklace sparkled on her olive skin. Her face wasn’t wide but her smile was (as was her curves). A small black beauty mark graced her cheeks, just to the side of her lips.

Her gaze was polite, but her eyes and her thoughts bespoke of a troubling past. “I would, except for one thing.” She gave me a smile but upturned her hand so her palms faced up.

“You cleaned me out about six hands ago.” “Ah sorry.” I muster a small grin. “I’d offer to share a ride, but I’m staying at the hotel here.” “Oh,” her eyes dipped a bit but her gaze held firm. Damn, I thought. She’s had practice. Probably a damn professional. “That’s okay,” she tilted her head, “Maybe next time?” I was about to reply when the dealer broke-in.

“Hey buddy, you want in or what?” I glanced at my hand and then I closed my eyes. Nevermind the pot or the cards dealt; I had gotten my fill.

If you don’t mind,” I asked the dealer, “May I exchange all of my smaller chips for one or two of the larger ones? It’s a little too much to carry to the cashier.” The dealer’s eyes flicked to the side. It was one of the casino toughs sent out by the pit-boss. Too late now sucker.

I looked around for the woman, but she was nowhere in sight. I guess I couldn’t be THAT lucky. “Ah sir, let me help you with that,” a thin pasty fellow came up with a nondescript opaque plastic box.

The crowd stepped back as the chips were scooped and pushed into the lidded box. “Here you go, sir.” The fellow handed the box to me and motioned to two toughs waiting on the side. “What’s with them?” I jerked my thumb towards one of the toughs. “Security,” the thin man said, “You’re carrying around nearly a quarter million dollars in chips, you know.” “I didn’t bother to count,” I shrugged.

I knew full well where they were escorting me: not to the cashier, but the pit-boss. “I know you were counting cards,” the portly man growled once I was in the office. “But goddamn, I never figured you’d be that stupid.” “Or I played smart.” I gave him a disarming grin. “Ever think of that?” “Where’re you from kid?” the pit-boss rasped as he lit a cigar.

“San Francisco,” I replied truthfully. “Green queens and queer queers,” he laughed, “Oh, the boss is gonna laugh at this one.” “May I go now?” I said pleasantly.

“Sure, sure,” the man tapped the box full of chips, “But take some sound advice: don’t ever show your face on the floor again.” “What if I need to use the bathroom?” I quipped. The pit-boss scowled, “Don’t be smart-ass. Now get outta here.” “My money,” I said plainly, “Cash will do.” “You’re kidding me right?” the man regarded me with smug amusement, “You were counting cards. That’s cheating in my book.” “Have you proof I was?” I asked. I sensed the tension in the room and braced myself. Things were going to get ugly.

“Warren,” the pit-boss gestured, “Get this guy outta here.” “With pleasure.” One of the toughs stepped towards me. When I didn’t step-back as expected, he grabbed me by the shirt. My hand was on him instantly, and I had him “help” me. The tough named Warren quickly made a fist with his other hand and backfisted the pit-boss across the face. The other guard was so startled, he barely had time to reach for his weapon when I telekinetically lifted my body, using the first tough’s grip as an anchor, and kicked the side of the second tough’s head with a “telekinetically shrouded” foot—it appeared like I’d kicked him, but it was the blunt force of my telekinesis that struck him.

My foot was simply a point of focus for my mind. The second tough spun and fell over in a heap. I grabbed the big man still holding me and fried his synapses. I simply used the current chaos of the office, plus his unexpected attack on his nominal superior as the backdrop; with my gifts so potent now, I had to hold back to avoid giving the man a fatal stroke. Warren the bouncer fell over like a sack of dead weight, his look of surprise still on his face. I stepped over to where the pit-boss lay.

The old man’s eyes were glazed over from the blow. I sensed he contemplated reaching for his gun.

“Stop,” I intoned coldly, my concentration focused wholly on him. “Remain still. Do not move until I move you.” The broken cigar dropped from his mouth. He remained where he was until I dragged him up and threw him roughly into his swivel chair. I placed the box of chips on the desk before him. “I won this from this casino, understand?” I stared at him, “Look at me.” “Y—yea,” the man was too dazed to be persuaded in my normal tone. I had to be a little more aggressive.

“Look at me and listen,” I said in a firmer tone. “You will give me the combination to the safe, do you understand?” “Y—yea,” he repeated dumbly. “Look at me and listen,” I repeated, “You decided to cut me a deal. I will never come back and gamble here and you let me keep my winnings, understand?” “Yea,” the pit-boss nodded, his body swaying unsteadily.

I didn’t bother with the safe combination. I simply synchronized all the tumblers in the safe door and it swung open (the pit-boss was facing the wall as he recited the numbers). I counted out the winnings I had, something close to a quarter million, and took that exact amount. Compared to the amounts Tseng and I had dealt with on the border, this was chump change. So how does one walk out with more than two thousand hundred dollar bills after having beat up a crooked pit-boss and his crew? They actually had briefcases for this stuff in the office. There was also a bin of rubberbands on the desk.

I used telekinesis to slip the money bands off, and wrapped the bills with rubberbands. Once I was done, I closed the briefcase, and making sure I didn’t leave prints on it (easy if you know how to mix telekinesis with a little acting) and I headed back up to my room. All that of course, was after I fried the pit-boss’s brain before leaving his office.

I went further on the other toughs; they were not part of my plan. Everything that they remembered in the past four hours, all short-term memory, I forcibly blanked out. The effect was like a concussion but a little more severe.

Only the pit-boss would remember what I told him. Hopefully, that was all I needed to do. The only cameras I noticed were in the hallway.

There were no cameras in the pit-boss’ office. Understandably, the management wouldn’t want me to stay now. I grabbed the my all-important carry-on travel bag and emptied the money into it. The briefcase I left in the room.

I suspected they had a tracking device in it. Unfortunately, my DNA was everywhere in the room, but earnestly there was little I could do apart from taking the few towels I had used; I couldn’t take the bedsheets or pillow cases. I hung a MAID REQUEST on the door knob and hoped that room service would take care of things before someone else did. I hustled back to the lobby and turned in my keycard.

“You’re checking out now?” the receptionist blinked. “Family emergency,” I lied, “I have to get back home now.” “Oh okay,” the clerk typed in a few things, “Er room 2150?

It’ll be $457.90.” “Here,” I slipped five hundred dollar bills I had justifiably earned (or if you prefer, taken) from the pit-boss’ safe and waved off the change. “Keep the change,” I said, “Great service.” “Oh really?” the guy blinked, “Thanks!” I stepped out into the street and bumped into the woman from the poker table again. The leggy Asian hottie was by the curbside, waiting for a cab. “Leaving so soon?” she asked. “You again!” I flashed her a smile despite my predicament.

“Well, the management didn’t take it so well. I can’t go back in anymore.” “That’s a shame.” The sultry beauty smiled back, but kept her distance. “Where’re you going to stay?” “Should be vacancies somewhere,” I shrugged nonchalantly.

“I’m not worried. If worse comes to worse, I can just take a flight home. How about you?” “Oh, I’m just going to hail a cab,” she said. I glanced at her. Something about her seemed oddly familiar. “I thought I cleaned you out,” I said slowly. “Not everything.

I always withhold betting my cab fare,” she said as a slow grin crossed her face. “You’re a smart one.” I grinned back. “At least let me get your cab ride; it’s the least I could do.” Actually, I thought wryly, the least I could do is fuck you six days from Sunday and then leave you in a state of embarrassing pregnancy. The young woman blushed, her face expressed every conceivable emotion and reaction to the possibilities and motives I might’ve had. Guys don’t offer rides to girls unless they wanted something.

“I can’t do that,” she said shyly, “I mean you did win fair and square.” Yeah right, I felt a mild pang of guilt. “Yeah, but I don’t mind,” I said graciously, “I’m sorry I didn’t catch your name. My name’s Stanley.” “Jamie,” she extended her hand.

The name sounded familiar. I shook her hand and it came back in a flash. “Jamie Young?” I blurted.

The woman blinked and withdrew her hand as if she had been burned by fire. “How’d you—?” “It’s me,” I waved meekly, “Rubenstein’s journalism class back in high school, remember?” Jamie took a measured step back, her face went from surprise, to shock, and then to joy.

As quickly as that came, it left and was replaced by sadness and gloom. “Oh, of course I remember now,” her eyes zipped over me from head to toe. “God, that brings back memories.

You were the guy dating Rachelle, right?” “I was?” I laughed, “I guess we couldn’t have kept a worse-kept secret.” “Secret?” Jamie smiled showing her neat pearly white teeth. “I don’t know who told you it was a secret, it was regular gossip.” “Oh,” was all I could say. My expression must’ve struck her as funny, because she smiled and laughed.

“So, new to Vegas?” my old classmate asked. “Just here for a friend,” I said, “He’s getting married next month.” “Not here I hope?” Jamie smiled and laughed again. “He could’ve done all that in the next ten minutes!” “Um, no.” I grinned back, admiring the glitter on her shoulders and cheeks. “Hey, do you have someplace to go?

We should catch up a bit.” “Well maybe.” She bit her lip for moment before answering. “Tomorrow is Saturday right?” “Yeah,” I glanced at my watch. “Well, it is Saturday. Now.” “Oh, right,” she was coy.

Why not?” We took a cab ride down the strip then over to a non-descript apartment complex. “This looks interesting,” I murmured as I stepped out, “Nothing flashy. But I like it.” “Thanks,” she whispered, “I live here.” “Whoa,” I was a little surprised. “Are you sure?” “You’re just going to crash right? It’s fine.” Jamie turned on the hall-light to reveal a small, tiny room in the complex. It wasn’t dingy, but it was small and cramped.

Somehow, it reminded me of my room, and how it too, felt small and cramped, especially when my darlings would come by and visit. “Quiet, okay?” she closed the door softly behind me. “Try not to make a lot of noise.” “Your boyfriend home?” I asked with bravado. Jamie shook her head but put her fingers to her lips. I acquiesced and tip-toed to the sofa. I suppose I could crash here until my flight. I’d just be sleeping.

“Want a drink?” she asked. I could see her dark head of hair from the couch. Whatever she was doing was blocked by the countertop. “Thank you but no. I’m fine.” I put my overnight bag to the side of the couch. Nearly a quarter million bucks.

I suppose I could use it for spare change somewhere. The next phase in the project wouldn’t be for a while. “Well, I like this stuff,” Jamie put a small bottle on the small table in the living room. White rice wine, I read the label. “You don’t drink do you?” she came back with two glasses, one filled with water. “I drive a lot,” I said, “And I can’t really hold my liquor.” “That’s very responsible,” Jamie sat next to me, “So tell me, what’s been up with you, oh for say, the last seven years?” So we talked.

I told her about my major and my career (architecture, not the agency) and spoke briefly about visiting places like Hong Kong, Shek-Kou (the podunk town Aurora and I toured), New York City, Sherwood, and Tijuana. I skipped over Mexicali and Tecate; murder wasn’t a particularly romantic topic of conversation.

“Oh wow,” she took a small sip, “So, do you travel a lot for your job?” “I wish, but no. Plans just get sent to me by e-mail or FTP (file transfer protocol).” I gave her a rueful grin. “I live a pretty boring life in that office.” “Oh well,” Jamie sighed, “At least you’re doing well.” I raised a brow. I had delicately picked through what thoughts I could about my old school chum without rousing suspicion, but I wasn’t prepared for the next shock. “Mommy?” I swear, if I hadn’t been in full possession of my mind, I probably would’ve bolted right out that door. “Crap,” the young woman quickly set down her drink.

“Mommy’s here.” Mommy? I felt the growing presence of a small girl. Her thoughts were a haze of confusion and blurry visuals. Was it near-sightedness? I focused a little more. No, didn’t seem like it.

I stood and walked over to the kid. “Hey kiddo,” I squatted and smiled. “What’s your name? My name is Stanley.” Jamie smiled nervously as I shook the girl’s hand. She was wearing a t-shirt and worn pajamas, and she was carrying a small stuffed pony.

The girl was so distracted and her thoughts everywhere, I could barely get a bearing on what she was focusing on. “C’mon Jill,” Jamie grunted from the weight of the kid.

“Back to bed.” I headed back to the couch and sat, wondering if I should stay or go. I unzipped the overnight bag and grabbed some loose bills, about a thousand (give or take) and tucked it neatly in my pants pocket. If she was what I think she was, then it would be rotten of me to take advantage of her. I zipped the bag back up as Jamie stepped back out from the other room.

“I didn’t know you were married,” I said slowly, “I promise I’ll be out of here before he comes back.” “He’s never coming back,” she sat down on the couch in a huff. “I’m sorry about Jillian. She’s still young.” “That’s all right,” I said softly. “How old is she? Five?” “You’ve got a good eye,” Jamie wore a weak smile. “She’ll be five in a month.” I nodded and did some math. She and I were the same year (we were in the same graduating class).

I would be 25 in September of this year. That would mean—wow. I set my glass down and eyed her with a shit-faced grin as she started talking. “For a minute,” I studied her, “I thought she was your sister or a niece.” Jamie blushed then explained her situation. She had gotten ‘in trouble’ (as the saying went) and fell in with progressively more Bohemian crowd after Howard’s death. She fell in love, “Or thought I did,” Jamie said with a pained laugh, with an ass-clown nearly twice her age. He fucked her rotten all right.

Then he left when she started throwing up. Her family had disowned her for her wayward lifestyle and she was miles away from anyone she knew.

When all seemed lost, she caught the eye of one Joseph (Joey to insiders) Pincelli. “He took care of me and Jill,” Jamie sighed, “And I basically work the casino floor. Hit up high-rollers. Distract them.

Keep ‘em from winning.” Sure you do, I thought darkly. She was only telling part of the truth. I had an idea of what else she did but said nothing on the subject.

“High rollers like me?” I grinned sardonically. “Not like you,” she blushed, “You’re like that cool but geeky guy girls love.” “Well in my defence,” I said, “I do like Star Trek.” “The original series?” Jamie seemed to perk up. “Heck no,” I laughed softly, “The next generation. Captain Picard rocks.” “Me too!” Her cheeks dimpled as she grinned. “Hey, did you know there’s going to be a Deep Space Nine theme casino soon?” “Oh man,” I flashed her a big smile, “We gotta go. You’d look great in a uniform from any era.” Jamie blushed. I could see her face, neck, palms and thighs reddening slightly.

“So, do you have kids?” she cleared the throat a bit and changed the subject. “Nope,” I shook my head, “I’m still the kid I guess.” “Oh, don’t say that,” she murmured, “We’re the same age and all.” “Yeah,” I knitted my brow. Jamie brought up a mix of memories, both good and bad. My days back in school, splitting my time between Rachelle and Shawn while dodging the pedobear stigma with Melanie while juggling my lovely Janet by phone—all while Viktoriya was watching in the distance (and probably masturbating to the thought). I found myself feeling guilty about contributing to Jamie’s plight, and I felt there was something I wanted to get off of my chest for a while. “About Howard,” I started slowly. “I never got to say I’m sorry.” “It’s in the past,” Jamie said quietly, “Why bring it up?” Because if he hadn’t died, maybe you wouldn’t have become a Mafia boss’s whore, I thought.

But I elected to go with a more diplomatic answer. “I never should’ve touched him. I think he bled to death because of me.” “No.

No, Stanley,” she closed her eyes, “Don’t say that. You were the only person there who tried to help.” “But I couldn’t,” I felt her anguish and mine coming together. “It’s my fault. I’m sorry Jamie.” “I don’t to talk about it,” she opened her eyes again. There were dark rings around her eyes where her tears marred her mascara.

“All right,” I took her hand and squeezed it. I sensed Jamie’s inner turmoil and carefully analyzed her psyche. Over the years, I found ‘normals’ and ‘citizens’ found different ways of coping with grief, tragedy, and anguish. The only difference was that a citizen of the invisible empire would be able to act out his or her manifestations in ways that would endanger more people.

Jamie resorted to self-destructive behavior. Once she lost herself into a binge, she’d latch onto some weak emotional bond with a male benefactor. It would work for a little while then she’d sabotage it. She didn’t consciously know why, but I did: she blamed herself for Howard’s death.

Her unconsciousness came through and punished her by having her destroy her relationships and her life. This she willingly accepted like a well-deserved punishment. Still, I felt she had a strong sense of duty to her daughter Jillian; her relationship with Joey Pincelli was something she could live with so long as it kept mother and child off the streets. This was getting sad. “Stanley?” “Yeah?” I blinked, my mind a little woozy from lack of sleep.

“It’s late,” Jamie yawned, “I got to get up later and do some shopping before I go to work, so I’m going to turn in okay?” “Sure,” I let her hand slip from mine, “Good night.” “Good night.” She slipped back into the room. I lay on the sofa for a bit, thoughts a whirl in my head.

I fell asleep, wondering what I had gotten myself into. FIRST CLASS SERVICE I’m sure many of you have been to Las Vegas.

The glitz and glamor on the strip are missing from the area where the support staff live. It’s like living in the servants’ quarters of a castle. Unglamorous, and definitely requiring a little more luster.

I jerked awake and found myself staring at the dusty ceiling of a strange apartment. The sunlight streaming into the room was a dim red glow. Right, I slowly realized. Jamie’s apartment. My old classmate. In the light of day, the place looked a little more dumpy than I first realized.

Stains were on the carpeting and walls, and there were a small stack of dirty dishes and bowls in the sink. The air was dusty too. It was a chemical suspension of desert sand, dust, and god knows what else. At least she didn’t have a pet. I rose and used the restroom.

My clothes were generally clean and I used the hotel towels to dry myself. I checked my watch. Almost 4 P.M. Man, I thought. Must’ve slept in late.

As I opened the door and stepped out from the bathroom refreshed and re-dressed, the door bumped into something. I heard a soft cry as I pulled the door back a bit.

“Oh sorry,” I peeked past the door. In the gloom of the apartment, I saw Jamie’s daughter Jillian was on the carpet, hands covering her forehead and whimpering.

“You all right?” I knelt beside her. I gently pulled her arm away and saw a knob shaped bruise on her temple. Had I swung the door open any more forcefully, I probably would’ve injured her more. She whimpered more as I tapped her bruise slightly. Good, I thought with relief. There wasn’t any physical nerve damage, just mild bruising. I helped her up and asked, “Where’s your mom?” “Mommy’s at ‘woirk’,” came her reply.

“I see.” I picked her up easily and sat her on the cleanest part of the kitchen counter I could find. Jamie at work. That meant she was probably back at the casino or something. This was sad, I thought. What kind of woman leaves her own daughter home alone (well, home alone with a strange man) and leaves for work?

That was simply a kind of desperation I’d seen on the border and in the poorer neighborhoods of Mexico. To citizens in the United States? I found the whole situation utterly abhorrent.

“Don’ be zad mizter,” Jillian spoke with a lisp and in baby English, “Mommy zed you ken weed her letta’.” I never tried to mind-read anyone younger than Melanie (my brother Andrew didn’t really count; all he thought about was anime, videogames, pornography, and girls, so in a way, we were thinking alike) and she wasn’t coming through clearly despite her gift. I suspected why I couldn’t get a clear stream of thought from Jillian was because of her age. Her thought pattern hadn’t “stabilized” like that of older children. In that way, she was earnestly a child.

Still, Jillian had the occasional thought I could decipher: her mother was Jamie; she’d see her in the mornings but rarely in the evenings; her mother would come back very late and Jill would hear her crying. All in all, it was pretty sad psychic panoramic. I found the note Jill referred to pinned to the fridge by an old magnet. It read: HI STANLEY. BY THE TIME YOU READ THIS I’LL BE AT WORK. PLEASE DON’T JUDGE ME BUT I WROTE DOWN YOUR NAME AND ADDRESS JUST IN CASE.



I opened the fridge and found it bare save for some plastic bowls of macaroni and what appeared to be meatballs. There were a few of them, each labeled with a different post-it note: Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, etc.

I shot an appalled glance at Jillian and closed the refrigerator door in disgust. I had a flight in about three hours but I decided there I could do something altruistic. In hindsight, I probably should’ve left, but I wondered what would have happened if I did. It’s something I try not to ponder about too often now. I surveyed the apartment and wondered what to do first.

Jill was still dressed like the night before: t-shirt and worn PJs. I caught the smell of soap and shampoo on her though, so at least she was cleaned. I rummaged through the dressers in the bedroom and found something that passed for OshKosh overalls (they were some generic brand made in China) and some sandals that barely fit the little girl.

After dressing her, I unzipped my overnight bag and organized some bills. I took what I anticipated I needed then hid the bag between the couch and the wall. I unfolded Jamie’s note and penned on its back: HI JAMIE. TOOK JILL TO THE MALL TO GET SOME THINGS. BACK IN TWO HOURS TOPS.

I left my mobile phone number past my signature (which turned out to be a really bad idea) and posted it to the fridge. “C’mon,” I said to Jill, “We’re going to go shopping.” The cab ride took a little longer than I wanted, but we got to the mall an hour or so before the stores started closing. I bought what I could anticipate the two needed: sturdy new clothes, shoes, socks, undergarments (I guessed as best I could), detergent and disinfectant, towels and rags, toilet paper, etc. Stuff what most households needed. The second cabbie was less than thrilled he had to make a pit stop for groceries after his vehicle was loaded to the brim, but the fat $200 tip he got pretty much made him more enthusiastic. He even helped me carry most of the stuff back to Jamie’s place.

My note to Jamie was still there, untouched and unread, so I crumpled it and tossed it into the trash. That done, I tasked Jillian with some chores: “Put that there,” “Bring these things here,” “Help me hold this,” and all that jazz. Things that Jamie had, I didn’t touch. But where there was storage space, I stocked her larder with some helpful goodies (after I had cleaned it with damp rags and soap). Jill was probably unused to the amount of activity; she went about her initial tasks enthusiastically at first then waned as the physical exertion took its toll. By then, between my telekinesis and demonic drive, I had pretty much cleaned the place up. Laundry was done, there were fresh towels on the racks, sheets on the bed, and the kitchen was cleaned and ready for business.

I stood back and admired the effort. My little Lady Chen would’ve been proud if she knew I worked with this much zeal.

“A’hm tiwerd Unco Zan’wee,” Jillian slouched against the foot of the couch. I’d seen this before.

Despite her zest for cleanliness now, Yu-Ching had whined and goofed off around my room when she was younger. I tolerated it to a point but as she grew older, I forbade it and encouraged her to develop a strong work ethic. How she had grown! Now little Jillian was nearing that impressionable age.

I had no intention of sleeping with her (that’d be sick) but I didn’t want her growing up into a fuck-up. I blamed myself for starting Jamie down that road.

I knew it may be impossible to wholly rehabilitate the mother, but her daughter still had a chance. “Your mother is just as tired trying to take care of you,” I admonished sternly, “Now please come here. You’re going to help me cook for mommy.” Jill whined audibly, but she tottered over to the kitchen. I found an old footstool in the closet and set it right next to the counter. I showed the little five year old how to wash her hands, how to clean vegetables (leaves and stalks), what chicken bouillon was, and taught her how to manage the fire on the stove.

“But won’ fiur-men come?” there was concern in her tone, “A’hm not s’posed to pway wif’ it. Mommy zed zo!” “Everything can be dangerous if not used correctly,” I explained slowly, “Do you like candy?” “Yea!” Jill nodded her head excitedly. “Well if you eat too much,” I tapped her chin, “The sweet sugar can cause your teeth to crumble. But some candy is okay.” “W’eally?” her eyes were wide. “Yes, really,” I measured my words. “The fire here on the stove is good for cooking.

It’s how your mommy cooks macaroni for you.” Not really, I thought. Jamie’s microwave had been something from a Mr.

Clean nightmare. But for sake of simplicity, it was all I had to go on. “Mac n’cheez!” Jill said happily.

I grinned, patted her head, and continued: “But you cannot leave the fire on too long. If you do, you will burn things up and the firemen will come, understand?” Jill nodded, but I sensed she was confused how long was “too long”. “Now this,” I started answering her curiosity, “Is how you tell the fire is too long.” I instructed her to look at the clock and the size of the fire. Every five minutes, she was to check for “bad things” burning (stuff that shouldn’t be on fire).

I lit a match then extinguished it quickly with a stream of water and bade her to smell the sulfur. That was burning (or something close to it).

Jillian sneezed and nodded. After cooking, I went through and taught as much as she could take in: from food preparation (wash it all) to cold storage (seal it or it’ll dehydrate). Don’t underestimate the undying curiosity of five year-olds: they can be quite rapacious for knowledge. She barely shut-up enough to finish her dinner, but she finished anyway. By the time she was ready for bed, I was pretty exhausted myself. As Jill brushed her teeth, I went down a mental checklist for stuff going on in my life: None of the girls were expecting me to be back until Monday.

Since Shawn had left for Tokyo earlier than expected—something about a fresh lease and learning more of the language—dinner gatherings were more subdued and quiet. Janet and Melanie had few things in common due to their age gap. Where my lovely Lady Wu was a moderate conservative, little Lady Chen was a hard-line progressive and often took up causes just on a whim. While I could understand it was Melanie’s impassioned empathy that made her do such things, Janet thought she did so just to spite her. The after-dinner conversations became more like arguments (or shouting matches). They were rife about politics and society, two topics I personally detested talking about publicly, let alone sharing. Despite the angry words they’d sometimes exchange, Janet and Melanie respected one another.

It’s one thing to have spirited opposition and quite another to expressly hate someone for their political views. But that didn’t mean I enjoyed being there while it happened. Thus, while my two elegant ladies would argue in the inner room, I’d withdraw to the outer room (the studio) and either get ahead of some projects at work, or work on my own project at home. Without Shawn, I felt a little lonely while at my station.

I suspected her parents had been behind the push to get their daughter out of the country and away from my grubby clutches as soon as possible. I checked in Viktoriya on a daily basis. Between her, my at-home darlings, emailing Rachelle, Shawn, and Aurora, I nearly forgot all about Phillipa, whose emails I’d answer last.

So what the hell was I doing at Jamie’s? Eight might be enough. I snickered at the bad sit-com joke as I took Jillian to the bedroom and put her to bed. Mother and daughter shared a single queen-sized bed. The sheets were clean but they smelled of having been slept on for some time (months perhaps). I managed to get them laundered in time for bedtime.

I tucked her in just as my mobile phone rang. I put it to silent, told Jillian good night, and then headed outside. “Stanley?” Faraz buzzed, “Where did you go my friend? You missed the best girls!” “Had to take off a little early,” I said. Sorry.” Good thing Faraz was calling my mobile number. Had he rang the casino where I was staying, it might’ve been bad news.

“Oh okay,” he laughed nervously, “You sure you’re not telling Ghandia about the club, no?” “No, not me,” I had to laugh, “Of course, if you make it big in New York, I might hit you up for some cash or I leak the pictures: Iraqi Stock Trader Spends Millions On Strippers!” Faraz and I both shared a hearty laugh. We then wound up talking about his wedding (it was going to be in Santa Monica) for the next twenty or so minutes. At the end of the conversation, he passed off something he had heard. “It’s Rachelle,” Faraz said in a hushed voice, “Have you written her lately?” “Frequently enough,” I said, “Why?” “I think you should see her Stanley,” he sounded thoughtful. “Ghandia says she’s changed a lot and wondered what happened.” “Is she sick?” “I don’t think so,” Faraz mused. “That’s why I ask.

Is she well?” “Nothing seems of the ordinary.” I mentally flipped through the last few e-mails. Something about pets, her new job in TV production in Los Angeles, and talking about beaches (and lack of warm ones) in Northern California. All in all, pure Rachelle. “Well, okay,” Faraz sighed, “I guess I will see you soon then.” “Until August. Later friend.” I hung up, and just in time too. As soon as I did, I sensed growing feelings of alarm and fear just past the apartment’s front door. The lights in the apartment were off, save for the one lamp near the couch (that was towards the back of the unit).

I stood up, mentally alert, and concentrated. I heard muffled voices past the door. I recognized one as Jamie’s, but the other was obviously male and not known to me.

The overall mental-image I got from him was an unsavory one, and he was getting agitated. The talk was growing louder and more heated. I sensed the violence behind the man’s words. I strode towards the door, alert and ready for anything. “I said I want—!” The talk immediately ceased when the porch light turned on and I opened the front door. The man was certainly something. Very well built.

Solid muscle. Sharp cheek bones and a handsome but rugged face. I didn’t know, or particularly care. He towered over me, but I had on the scowl of someone who wasn’t to be trifled with. It was my “work scowl” (Melanie coined the term and she hated it when I made it) that I used to put off the likes of people I deal with on a professional level. Jamie was pressed against the wall and the man was definitely standing a little too close to her. I stood on the bottom jamb of the door and crossed my arms.

“Hey Jamie,” I looked between them, “Tough day?” “Ex—excuse me.” Jamie broke away and slipped past me into the apartment. I saw a car, no doubt belonging to the man at the door, double-parked on the street in front. I quickly rifled through his mind to see what I could pick-up, but his surprise was so great, all I could see was my own face. What a gent, I thought sarcastically.

The man backed away, hands at shoulder-level and his palms facing me. He turned around, headed back to his car and drove off.

“Where’s Jillian?” That was the first question that greeted me when I shut the door. “Asleep.” I pointed towards the bedroom. I watched Jamie tip-toe into the dark room as I waited by the front door. My body may have stood at rigid attention, but my mind wasn’t.

I zeroed in on the blip that was the man and “marked” him for future convenience. I got something of a name: Marc Bruneschi; that, along with his specific pattern of thinking, was all I needed to pull from a crowd. I eased up as I felt his presence dim from the immediate area. I wondered where he’d go later though. “You’re still here,” Jamie whispered as she closed the bedroom door behind her. “What happened?” “I missed my flight,” I gave her a wry grin.

“I meant the shiner on her head,” her voice rose defensively, “And what’s with her new pajamas?” “Oh sorry about that,” I put on an apologetic look. “She ran into a doorknob, so I brought her to the clinic out at the Westbrook Mall.

The doctor said it was just a minor bump. Nothing to worry about.” “Oh,” Jamie went from angry to relieved instantly. “I’m sorry Stanley. I didn’t mean to sound angry.” “No, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,” I said meekly, “Anyway, while we were there, I got you some stuff I think you can use.” “Oh?” She regarded me warily as I took her by the hand. “Here, I’ll show you.” Jamie remained quiet and reserved as I showed her what stuff I had gone out and got.

The new stuff, as I had said, I padded or added to her existing stash. Where I needed to move things, I let her know and showed her were I moved it. “Sorry if I seem a bit pushy,” I ended lamely, “But I thought it was the least I could do since you put me up at your place.” “Oh Stanley.” Jamie’s cheeks dimpled as she fidgeted nervously. “It’s more than enough. You shouldn’t have.” “So you’re not mad?” I managed a grin, “Oh good. Then here, you must be hungry.

Jill cooked this.” “What?” she blinked, “She’s not supposed to touch the stove.” “She’s a smart girl like her mom,” Jamie reddened as I went on. “Give her a few more lessons and she’ll be manhandling a choy-dou* [* Cantonese: meat-cleaver.] like the best of us.” “You’re honestly too much,” Jamie brushed her hair back coyly, “How can I ever thank you?” “Well, how about dinner?” I held a seat for her. The cluttered counter-top I had cleared and placed two sets of tableware.

The seats were barstools she’d been using as furniture. Jamie blushed again and took up my offer.

“So, dare I ask who was that guy?” I took her empty plates and immersed them in the sink. “Oh, he’s nobody,” Jamie said, “Don’t worry about him.

He’s just someone who offered me a ride, with strings attached.” “That sucks,” I grabbed a dish-rag and wiped the counter-top of crumbs. I wanted to say more, like ‘stop being a whore’ but I found I couldn’t. I didn’t dare.

Jamie sipped her rice wine and murmured, “Thank you Stanley, for everything.” “Don’t mention it,” I tossed the rag into the sink and washed my hands, “I’d better go, see if there’s a stand-by on the red-eye. I’ve imposed enough on you.” “Oh, don’t worry about it.” She was in such a hurry to get up, she nearly tumbled to the floor. I reached out and caught her by her arms and saved her from a nasty scrape. Her skin felt warm and soft between my fingers. I sensed a spark of desire within her, and I responded the only way my kind could: psychically. I felt the familiar buzz of my id slowly penetrating Jamie’s mind.

I fought bravely, but it was impossible for me to completely ignore my own feelings at the moment. She was young, attractive, and had a pleasant and friendly demeanor. If Shawn, Rachelle, Melanie and my studies hadn’t sucked up all my time back in high school, I might’ve noticed Jamie and hit her up, then tapped that ass. But that was then. This was now. Fearing I had pushed things too far, I immediately let her go once she was standing. Jamie was a little wobbly and knock-kneed, but that made her just more attractive.

I couldn’t keep my eyes off her as she stumbled over and collapsed into my arms. “Do you find me—” hic “—bee-you-ti-full?” she looked at me hopefully. I could smell her breath, but I sensed she wasn’t drunk.

In fact, I got a pretty clear idea what she wanted to do. Goddammit, I lamented.

So much for self-control. If Janet ever found out, she was going to murder me.

“Of course,” I said and helped her to the living room, “You’re very beautiful.” “You’re so sweet,” her eyes seemed to well up, “I—I just want to thank you.” Jamie pushed me on the couch and stood before me. She was wearing a strapless cocktail dress like she did the first night, but a lighter shade of blue. With one deft move, the young MILF slid the dress right off, revealing her firm, stacked body. The silvery necklace on her neck matched the one going around her waist.

Her skin seemed to have been covered by sparkling dust. Parts of her body caught light in ways I’d never would’ve imagined; I was bewitched. Where she wanted my eyes, she’d have a slim piece of silvery metal to grab my attention. Hoop rings dangled from her ears and bits of glitter sparkled from her eyelashes.

Jamie twirled slowly around and held up her lustrous dark hair to show off her body. Aside from Viktoriya, my other girls had pretty average bodies (Rachelle didn’t count as I hadn’t seen her in a while).

In fact, Shawn probably had “more to love” as it were. Melanie was hot by the fact she was young; she still had a little more to go before I could appreciate her womanly curves. I couldn’t imagine how’d any of them would look like in another few years. My jaw hit the floor as the leggy Asian beauty bent over while still in her street heels.

I could see aside from her obscene taste in jewelry, she also had some tattoos. On her back, written vertically like a scroll, I made out the characters: Tian-ha-ping-oan*.

[* Cantonese: Peace/tranquility under the heavens.] The small black dragon tattoo on her calf flexed as she fought to maintain balance. Jamie looked back, saw me panting like a dog, and smiled broadly. She stood back up and straddled me. “Stanley,” she whispered, “If you want me to stop, say it now.” “Now why would I want that?” I asked. “Because you helped out so much today,” she murmured pensively, “And because I don’t want you to think I’m doing this because I’m a.” Whore!

I could’ve easily finished the thought for her, but I hushed her with a heart-felt embrace. She instinctively froze when I placed my hands on her back.

I sensed she had bad experiences of being embraced before. I eased up on my grip and felt her relax.

Jamie slowly became more comfortable as I caressed her tenderly. Alternating between my fingertips and the backs of my nails, I tickled and cajoled her sides, back, and what else I could touch. “Oh god,” Jamie breathed, “That feels so good.” “Want to take it further?” I asked. It was decent to ask first. Regardless, I doubted any ‘normal’ could resist once they exposed so much of their skin to me.

“Uh-huh.” She nodded and I lifted her easily using some clever telekinesis. Jamie’s eyes grew wide; I had just demonstrated something that she didn’t expect from my body type. I wanted to laugh. Oh, how we’re slaves to what we can see (or think we can see)! Even citizens of the empire (i.e. Me) are sometimes fooled.

I suppose it was a good thing for Bethany, I mused. Her and her damn illusory faces. I put Jamie down on her old couch and marveled at the bared bush before me. None of my girls shaved there anymore. Viktoriya did a little only because she had to kick high while dancing but she left a small triangular patch so she could suffocate me when she sat on my face (it’s always awesome when she did that, unless she forgot to wash after peeing). And since Melanie grew up, I hadn’t seen bare bush for quite some time.

Hence, this was quite a novelty for me. Jamie’s fingers were wet with spit as she slid her fingers up and down her baby-smooth slice. I watched her face as she slowly worked herself open. Physically, Jamie reminded me of Janet, if just a little prettier and with a hotter body.

None of the other girls (apart from Rachelle) had dared to ink, pierce, or otherwise defile their bodies (apart from ear piercings). I kissed Jamie full on the lips then bit her nipples gently. She gasped as I worked my way down south. I could hear her groan with pleasure, but mostly, I could ‘hear’ her thoughts: ‘It’s been so long since I felt like this.’ ‘He’s so good.’ ‘He’s probably married.’ (sigh) ‘I’m such fuck-up and he’s such a nice guy.’ ‘How can I tell him I fuck whoever Joey sends me to?’ The last thought gave me pause, but I hesitated only briefly as I picked the details from her mind.

I ate her out as I sifted through my newly acquired intel. Joey Pincelli owned the casino I had stayed. Pincelli was one of the last hold-outs of the old mob. Although young (at forty-something) he was still used to doing things like it was the 1970s or 1980s. The old mob was on its way out. The new mob (to use the term loosely) had come in and laundered money for organized crime.

The old mob often mixed money laundering with certain “problematic” businesses like prostitution, sex-slavery, illegal drugs, and loan-sharking. The new mob focused principally on money laundering and gambling period; the seedier vices turned away customers who would be willing to dump money on the tables. Jamie was part of Pincelli’s business strategy. Cute fuckable girls would be sent out as private dates and escorts, “on the house” to important clientele.

Of course, Jamie was smart. Always packed protection (I wasn’t referring to her illegal.32ACP either) and used it too. The guy she was with tonight though, Bruneschi, was special. A mob enforcer from New York. Jamie didn’t know what he was exactly (just mob) but after a quickie hand-job, she decided she just didn’t like the guy. Gave her the creeps, was the feeling I got.

While he was copacetic with giving her a ride back, she certainly wasn’t going to fuck him at her house. That was when things got rough, I suppose. I hadn’t focused and pulled enough information from Bruneschi, but I knew the most likely reason why. It must’ve had something to do with the pit-boss from the other night. “Oh stop, Stanley, stop,” Jamie whispered loudly, “I think Jill might be awake.” Great, I thought as I pulled away.

My face and mouth smelled like her muff musk. I wiped my mouth with the back of my arm as Jamie quickly slipped on her cocktail dress.

She hesitated briefly at the bedroom door then went in. After a minute or so, she tip-toed back out, her face filled with relief.

“God that was scary.” She smiled at me. “She was just talking in her sleep.” “Oh?” I grinned back. “Anything you can make out?” “It’s nothing,” she shook her head, but I picked up what she wanted to hide from me. Jillian had been calling out: ‘Dad-da.’ Cute, I thought. Jamie kicked off her shoes and I saw other bits of calligraphy on her body as well.