Chapter One V
Merim Bilalic, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Tübingen in Germany, said in an interview that the way the experts’ brains handled the chess tasks was more efficient. The study also showed that expertise is an acquired skill, not an innate one. “It tells you a very sobering message,” he said. “It tells you there are no shortcuts to expertise.”
The scientists recruited beginning, intermediate and professional players. The subjects were shown different types of shogi positions and problems as well as chess diagrams, Chinese chess diagrams and photographs. They were asked to answer questions about each image and to solve some of the shogi positions, and their answers were timed.
The shogi experts reacted no more strongly to the chess and Chinese chess diagrams than amateurs, indicating that their expertise was highly specialized.
As in the German study, the subjects’ brain activity was monitored using functional M.R.I. scans. The researchers found that there were two regions of the professionals’ brains that were excited consistently when they were asked to solve the shogi problems.
One was the precuneus, which is in the superior parietal lobule, where perception and high-level thinking occur. The other area was the caudate nucleus, which is in the sub-cortical region.
The same areas were activated in the intermediate players’ brains only when they were familiar with the patterns and had a reasonably good idea of how to solve the problems. The same areas were almost never activated in the brains of the beginners.
The significant role of the caudate nucleus was, at least on its surface, surprising because it is part of the basal ganglia, which, the researchers write, “is thought to be responsible for the formation and execution of habit” and for “goal directed behavior.” Put another way, idea generation in the caudate nucleus is “quick and implicit,” as opposed to conscious.
So, it seems, becoming a good chess or shogi player and wanting to win is habit-forming.
Harnessing the Brain’s Right Hemisphere to Capture Many Kings, Dylan McClain
Janah is always studying that kind of stuff. No shortcuts to expertise…they needed research to discover that? Like I care about the superior parietal lobule and the caudate nucleus. Nikko and I like to practice because we like to practice, we don’t need to know why. Janah now, she needs to know ‘why’ everything.
We’re busy doing nothing, strolling around the neighborhood, go to the Village Diner around three before grocery shopping.
I have a second coffee, Janah is polishing off a slice of cheesecake, Nikko takes a bite, finishes the pot of tea. Outside, Juju calls us over from their sidewalk emporium. The Jamaicans are closing up. They’d off loaded enough knock off crap for one day, time to go chill before a night of reggae in Queens.
“Your moms come over the diner for lunch a couple of times, while you out of town playing soldier.”
I say nothing, Janah stares off into the distance, Nikko is surveying the surroundings
“You tink we don’ know who fixed dem gun runnin’ cowboys down Ft. Hood? Dem’ men, for de money, dey let children die right on de street. We see dem guns all de time, punks want us to sell. Mighty Jim, he discourage dem. Dey don’t ask no more.”
Juju continues, “But dat’s not de point. You got a fresh problem right here. Like I say, your moms come over to de diner a couple of times. Big man come around, hang around de place, don’ go inside, den he come over here, ask about Miss Susan. He act like he want to hook up, but I can see it is bullshit. He ax if she a dyke. I look at him hard, don’ say nuttin. He back off when Mighty Jim come from around table, say he jus’ want to check out tings before he make a fool of himself,”
Juju laughs his deep Jamaican laugh, “Mighty Jim tell him, ‘We don’t sell answers mon’, we sell quality merchandise at a deescount. Buy or fly.’”
“Who did the asking?”
“Quiet Man, he follow to hotel in Soho. De Grand, fancy place. Two men, big one come here askin’, the utha, he a couple blocks away, de both go to de hotel. He ask around. One of de bruddas, he got a girl, she work at de hotel. She arrange to clean de rooms. Nothing unusual until she open little safe, got it full of ammunition, guns gone.”
“What kind of ammunition?’
He means nine-millimeter, so they have handguns.
“She can get me in the rooms?”
“She work tomorrow? It’s Sunday.”
“Soho Grand, 5th floor 519-521. You get Shaolin pals to watch. When dey leave, Shaolin follow. Dey call you and her. She get you into de rooms.”
“Monks will be there early.”
Janah calls Master Kahn, two monks will be watching the rooms. Then she calls Mrs. Epstein.
“I need rooms on the 5th floor of the Soho Grand on Broadway booked from tonight to, oh, three days say. We have an interest in occupants of rooms 519 and 521. Take any other rooms vacant, and as guests check out take those too. We want the floor as empty as possible. I want to see security video from the last three days. Then pull security from the 5th floor, no cameras, no visitors. There will be at least four people checking in, I’ll need keys for any rooms available now and when additional ones come available,” she clicks off.
I call Sis, “Monks will show up in twenty minutes. They will introduce themselves as friends of the Abbess. Put them up for a while, learn the dharma or something.”
Janah is talking to Chan, “Go to the condo and watch. Monks will appear, make sure no one follows them. If they do, neutralize and find out what they want.”
Chan hangs up.
A day later, we have photos of the men, bugged their rooms and tapped into their cell phones.
The monks watching the fifth floor occupy themselves pushing sweepers up the hallway, delivering room service to empty rooms, cleaning rooms that aren’t dirty. They simply look like innocuous hotel staff or guests, a man in a business suit gets on the elevator with the two at the 5th floor, then a woman keying herself into a room just as they return. To them, the floor looks occupied, although the only rooms in actual use besides theirs are at opposite ends of the hall. They’re surrounded and don’t know it
Mrs. Epstein, “These two are unknowns, aren’t attached to any military or government agency in any government anyplace. They made one phone call to a man, the discussion centers around Daphne. Who they call wants to use her in some capacity that he clearly understands, but doesn’t discuss with your targets. The targets don’t know why the man wants her. They may plan to use Susan as bait, but I don’t think that’s it.”
Janah, “What is it?”
Mrs. Epstein, “They checked in only a day earlier, in the evening. They went to the diner, obviously knew it’s a favorite spot. They saw Susan, you guys were out of town. They mistook Susan for Daphne, but there was no Janah, no Nikko, rather Chris. They tried to verify with the Jamaicans and tipped their hand. Fortunately, they didn’t follow the moms to the condo, likely intimidated by Juju’s crew. We don’t know if they are aware you live on top of Chapmans. Whoever these people are, they’re new on the scene, on any scene, anyplace. We’ve been through every government agency, Interpol and the Chinese. What do you want us to do?”
“Stay on their phone calls, are they using the internet?”
“They know where we live, Chan spotted them circling the block at Chapmans, looking for a way in. Chan, Nikko and I are going to find out what they want.”
Mrs. Epstein, “How do you plan to do that?”
Janah, “Ask them.”
“And what about Ning and Lacy?”
“Monks will be in and around the building. They aren’t getting in anyway because I’ll have them occupied.”
“If there are backups?”
Janah, “Ning will stay at home. Lacy spends the bulk of her time in the building anyway. Paladin, the security company for the school, has been alerted. The moms’ condo is being monitored, monks are actually staying there.”
Mrs. Epstein, “Then it’s all you can do.”
The next night, when our mystery men return to their room, Chan gets on the elevator with them, and off on their floor. As they turn down the hall they spot someone in a hoodie with black sunglasses leaning against the door to 521. That someone is Janah. Nikko is down the hall behind them.
The men both reach under their coats, Chan grabs each by the arm and squeezes. With their arms paralyzed, Nikko removes a gun from the man on the left, Chan from the one on the right. He pats them down, finds a flick knife and a switchblade, he pockets them both, nods down the hall to Janah. The door to 521 is already open. Nikko enters first, no surprise guest. Chan pushes the two inside, Janah follows. The door closes automatically, two Shaolin appear in the hall and stand by the door.
Janah has already arranged two straight back chairs, she motions the men to sit. When they hesitate, Nikko rams her fist into the back of the neck of Mr. X, and Chan pinches Y’s shoulder. His entire right side goes numb. Since it’s me they are asking about, I stay in our room across the hall, monitoring through Janah’s brain.
Janah, “You have an interest in a friend of mine. Tell me what you want and I may or may not communicate the message. Don’t tell me, and I’ll have the information anyway.”
She begins to unpack a set of needles, syringes and bottles of liquid form the small valise laid out on the desk.
She holds up a bottle of a greenish liquid, “Actually, I’m hoping you hold out. I haven’t tried this one before, it’s a combination of amphetamine and hallucinogenic. I can have you two on Mars in five minutes. I’m most anxious to see its effect on a human. God only knows what that might be, and, as they say, she isn’t telling.”
The men stare straight ahead, neither looks at the other, neither appears to have heard anything Janah said.
Chan ties them to the chairs, tapes their mouths shut and turns off the lights. He pulls the curtains together, Nikko tapes them completely shut, the room is black except for a single tiny bulb inside a small reflective circle that shines blindingly in their eyes.
She inserts the needle into the back of Y’s hand pushes the plunger down a centimeter. They wait. Y begins to shake violently, he tries to scream, she flips the light to strobe. His friend begins to pay significantly more attention.
Janah lets Y shake and shudder, asks X, “Care to chat?’
He says nothing. She inserts a needle in his arm and starts to press the plunger, “Wait! Wait, I’ll tell you what I know.”
Janah shuts off the strobe, “Yes, you will, and if you lie once I’m going to double your dose just for fun. You can skip to the part when you came to town. You have ten minutes, so no boring stuff. If I believe you, then we’ll see if you get to live. In between, you could wind up with an exploded heart or a fried brain. I’m not really sure with this new combination. You friend is alive, so far, with a minute dose. Don’t know how functional he’ll be though. I’m curious to see what happens with a larger one.”
He tells her a story, from the start she knows it’s fabricated.
She presses the plunger two cc’s, before the drug hits she says, “Your buddy will be more cooperative when I bring him up. You, on the other hand, may not come up….good luck.”
While X is losing his mind, Janah unplugs the syringe in the Luer Lok and plugs in another syringe filled with Phenobarbital, a dangerous anticonvulsant and hypnotic. The drug will bring Y down from Never-Never Land and under Janah’s control. She injects it in small doses, he’s in a dark valley surrounded by the hills of hallucination, tremors and hypnosis. She lets him dwell in shadowy purgatory for a time, then more drug. After a time, he’s functional, sweating profusely, eyes blink under the intense light. He closes them. That’s okay, the only purpose of the light is for Janah to remain a distant voice.
“Shall we try for a new beginning? Or did you so enjoy the last trip you’d like to take it again? I’ve got lots of time and plenty of drugs.”
She doesn’t expect an answer, she is implanting suggestions. She taps the plunger, lets the barbiturate do its work. In twenty minutes they chat like old friends.
Y tells his story, “We were hired to bring the Sylk woman to a private airport in Massachusetts. From there, we don’t know. We don’t know who hired us, we don’t know why they want her. We got rooms in this fancy hotel, an address and were to find a way to get her into a car. We were only at the point of doing homework, looking for her habits, the neighborhood, an opportune time, then when we had a plan in place, we were to call a number.”
Janah, “Guess my next question.”
Janah, “Daphne, call the number in to the Society.”
Janah can see Y is telling the truth, she waits to see what I find out.
“The number is registered to no one.”
It confirms her conclusion. She uses buy and fly phones herself, always has three or four, charged and ready to go. Particularly if you don’t use them for long distance, they are untraceable. Even with long distance, best you can hope for is to get the phone and go through the recent calls for numbers. In today’s world, you can buy a number in any area code you wish. For the person who prefers not to be located, area codes mean nothing.
“Check their mobiles.”
Chan, “Each has one, recently purchased. The only calls are between the two individual numbers, one to the number he just gave us.”
Janah sees that as confirmation of Y’s story. He doesn’t know jack.
She takes a stab in the dark, “Who’s in charge, you or your buddy?”
Y, “I work with him, not for him. There isn’t a hierarchy, we do investigative and enforcement work together.”
Janah’s last stab, “Who took the instructions for the job?”
“Both of us. We got a call, I answered, my associate was standing right there. A guy said he had a job offer, we arranged a meet.”
“Central Park, near the street that goes to Tavern on the Green. He was carrying, he let the gun show on purpose.”
Janah, “What kind of gun?”
“That was a bit unusual, for today anyway. It was a revolver I didn’t recognize, short barrel, all black, ribbed grip, not new. There’s an old style revolver, unusual, called a Bulldog, looked like one.”
Janah, “44 special. Short, fat bullet, at close range it will take only one shot, it cuts a wide swath.”
“Know your guns. I couldn’t say, never seen one before, not like that. My partner and I, we carry but seldom use the things.”
Janah cocks her head, “Don’t start lying now. You were doing so well. You carry nines and you do whatever work comes along, wet or dry. If I give you enough money, you’ll shoot whoever I point to. She taps the plunger, the talk is making him friskier. She wants him calm and collected.
“Tell me what you know about the contact.”
“Obviously disguised, down to a fake Balkan accent. He gave us a briefcase with the money and said what he wanted. Gave us a picture of the woman, the location of the Village Diner, instructions for what to do when we had her. That’s it. The whole conversation took three minutes. He walked back to the 5th Avenue side, we went to Columbus Circle, had coffee, discussed possible approaches.”
Janah brightens, “Where’s the photo?”
“Taped to the top of the drawer of the desk.”
Nikko slides the drawer out, reaches in and carefully pulls out a photo. It’s me, a head shot only, taken at least six months ago from the background and the sky. Janah remembers us being in Washington Square park, behind my head is the maroon awning outside the Washington Square Hotel. I have a huge smile and am slightly turned towards the right, which means I was talking to Janah or both of them. I usually take front left, Nikko back right around Janah. There is a dusting of snow in the air, it had been taken in January.
Janah gives it to Nikko, indicates she’s to return it, asks Y, “Anything else?”
“We looked for the subject, a woman appeared that almost exactly resembled the photo. We didn’t want to be seen in the diner, so we asked some blacks, Caribbean types across the street if they knew her. They didn’t say, we left. My associate wanted to follow the woman, I had a feeling about the blacks. I could feel the eyes of one, the one who never said shit. Told my partner we should go to the hotel, come back under cover and trace the woman another time. That’s what we did.”
Janah doesn’t explain that they are losers either way, but at least still alive losers for now. If they’d followed Susan and Chris, either the Jamaicans or C-mom would have taken them out, and Sis is far from helpless. They clearly don’t understand any of what they’re dealing with. Which gives cred to his story that they’re just temps, hired to grab a woman and turn her over.
“What were you doing hanging around the school?”
“We cruised the neighborhood, just caught a glimpse as she went in the school building. Figured she might teach there.”
“Ah, never underestimate the power of dumb luck.”
Chapter Two V
A very thin line separates facts from imaginings, even desires from their fulfillment, and the fictitious from what actually happened, because imaginings are already facts, and desires are their own fulfillment, and the fictitious does happen, although not in the eyes of common sense and the law, which, for example, makes a vast distinction between the intention and the crime, or between the commission of a crime and its attempt.
But consciousness knows nothing of the law, and common sense neither interests nor concerns it, each consciousness has its own sense, and that very thin line is, in my experience, often blurred and, once it has happened, separates nothing, which is why I have learned to fear anything that passes through the mind and even what the mind does not as yet know, because I have noticed that, in almost every case, everything was already there, somewhere, before it even reached or penetrated the mind. I have therefore learned to fear not only what is thought, the idea, but also what precedes it and comes before. For I am myself, my own fever and pain.
Javier Marias, Your Face Tomorrow, Fever and Spear
Nikko, “What now?”
Janah, “My brain has the data, it’s deciding, when it has, I’ll carry out its decision,” she looks off into the distance, which isn’t far since the room is still black except for the light blinding the two men.
“I’m going to erase their memory of this evening and let them go back to work. We still control the hotel floor, we’ll monitor them, their conversations and their phone calls. We don’t know jack about who’s behind this and we’re not going to find out by obliterating these two punks’ memories.”
Janah proceeds. She has Y in a trance anyway, so she starts in on him while Nikko changes the syringe on X and brings him down with Phenobarbital. By the time Janah convinces Y they had come to the hotel and gone to bed, X is nodding. Chan takes him to his room, undresses him to his skivvies, there is a bullet wound in his shoulder, several years old, and a stab wound on his right thigh. I come in the room, look him over.
“He’s seen some fights, been on the wrong end of a gun.”
Chan, “And lived to create more havoc.”
Janah appears, she and Nikko put Y to bed, cleaned out the gear we’d brought. Everyone wears latex gloves, there are no prints.
She begins talking to X. Two hours later he’s asleep. They’d wake up rested enough, maybe a headache. They would figure out they’d been drugged. She doesn’t care if they know something happened, in fact, she prefers it. They will be confused, suspicious that their unknown employer is responsible. Nikko puts the guns in their holsters, knives on the dressers. As we leave, we hang Do Not Disturb signs on the two doors. Monks will track them day and night. The only question is, what will the employer do?
Back at the apartment, Nikko says, “Y had battle scars, he isn’t new at this, and he isn’t a wimp.”
Janah, “So did X, you’re right. They’ve been in scrapes and gotten away without a record. Bullet wounds, and stab sounds would have uncovered at least an arrest, or a hospital report, so it confirms what they told me, former military, clearly deep cover. The Society couldn’t get squat. They’ve been discharged for a long time. Now they’re mercenaries, selling skills to whoever has cash. But they’ve been very tidy. No records, no bank accounts. Y said they kept everything in cash in safe deposit boxes under a variety of names. I didn’t take time to get details, I wanted to get to the immediate problem. We’ll find out who they are eventually and if we have to, grab them again and I’ll dig out the location of their keys and banks. They were each carrying a couple thousand dollars, and the room safes held five more. They didn’t have credit cards, they didn’t have ID, not a driver’s license between them. The hotel room was rented for them, they never personally checked in. Their ID must be in a local safety deposit box. They’ll go visit it sooner or later, maybe we’ll empty it for them.”
In the morning, Janah covers the plan, “Today, we let the monks follow our boys around, Surveillance is monitoring their phones. When we find out who mystery man is, we’ll take the next step.”
Nikko, “Which is?”
Janah, “Beats me.”
Mrs. Epstein rings, “They met in Y’s room at eight-thirty, ordered room service and talked. They have no memory of what happened. Whoever did the defrag and delete did a good job. They remember walking into the hotel and going up the elevator, then waking up this morning. You left just enough of a puncture wound that they figured out they’d been drugged. They have no idea why, they are starting to get suspicious of the anonymous employer, but Y also wondered about the Jamaicans. He’s kicking himself for asking about Susan, but X told him there was no possible way to know Daphne is friendly with them. Whoever is looking for her is not familiar with her routines.”
Janah, “No, they would have known more about the diner, Juju and his men. It’s not local cops, Daphne knows too many of them. They’d never agree to anything like this, they would have called and tipped us. It’s not the FBI, your people have already confirmed, it’s also not the Defense Department or the CIA, or the Secret Service.”
“Must be Al Qaeda, or those Taliban jerks. They hate miniskirts and I don’t wear a veil.”
Janah giggles, Mrs. Epstein says, “Daphne making jokes?’
“You know us too well. She’s blaming it on the Taliban and her miniskirts.”
Mrs. Epstein, “We are, for the first time, stymied. There’s nothing to do but wait until X and Y make contact with their employer. I’m sure it’s occurred to both of you that Daphne may be the leverage to get to you.”
Janah, “Yes. But that’s more evidence that they haven’t done much homework. Anything goes down with Daphne, not only Chan and Nikko go into action, but Black and a small army of Shaolin monks. Pissing off Nishiko would not be their smartest move.”
Mrs. Epstein, “No, slow death would follow. She would have them already if she knew who they were. Surprised she didn’t off X and Y.”
Janah, “She knows they’re pawns, and the employer would only go to another mercenary. They’re like flies, put out some rotten meat and they appear out of nowhere. Call me when you have something, tell the Dr. hello for us.”
They disconnect. Nothing to do but wait.
Reports come in every hour, X and Y are on the move, still deciding when to contact the employer, or even whether. They don’t trust a disconnected voice.
Mrs. Epstein calls again, “Our boys are in a state between panic, frustration and confusion. They are not novices, they aren’t easily spooked, but being found and drugged out of nowhere and employed by nobody has them twisted up.”
Janah, “Did they make contact with anyone?”
Mrs. Epstein, “They left a small package under a bench in Central Park. Not one of the well traveled roads, but nearer the lake. When they left, the package sat for ten minutes. It looked more like an empty envelop against the bush behind the bench. A woman came along, nondescript, hat, sunglasses, jeans and sneakers. She picked it up, didn’t look inside, walked to the Met, dropped it in a trash container. When she walked away, a man appearing to be a can collector rifled through the trash, pulled out only the envelop, stuffed it in his own trash bag and walked uptown. We’re following.”
Chan is on the roof with his family and Nikko. Nikko and Miyako are flying through the air on the parkour course. David Li is surrounded by birds, Ning sits with Chan while the children occupy themselves.
David comes over to his father, “Birds say men are looking to take away Aunt Daphne.”
Chan motions David to sit, “Tell me.”
David, “When I heard about the men looking for her, I sent the birds to the fancy hotel. They have been following the men. Men left a parcel, which was transferred twice. Men are dead now. Aunt Daphne and Aunt Janah are still not safe. Men who were killed works for someone in uptown building.”
Chan, “When and where were the men killed?”
David Li, “Before they got out of Central Park. The bodies are still in bushes.”
David Li, “A man with a big gun, from an apartment on Central Park West.”
“Thank your friends and ask them to continue to keep a lookout on the place where the envelop was delivered and on anyone leaving the place from which the shots were fired.”
David Li goes to the birds, a short silence, they quickly fly away.
Chan calls Janah, “X and Y are dead. A sniper from an apartment on Central Park West. The birds told David, they are monitoring both places, the sniper’s and the delivery point.”
Janah, “Geez, hang on, Mrs. E is on the other line, “Hello?’
Mrs. Epstein, “X and Y are dead. We had them under Surveillance, but a sniper got them.”
Janah, “From an apartment on Central Park West. Make sure Surveillance or the monks get the cell phones and any ID off the bodies before the cops come.”
Mrs. Epstein, “Already done. But how did you know…..?”
Janah, “A bunch of little birds told me.’
Mrs. Epstein, “David Li. I don’t know why we bother to hire Surveillance. I could get the jobs done free.”
Janah laughs, “Well, the birds don’t take photos or plant bugs, and getting them in hotels and restaurants would be difficult.”
Janah gets back to Chan, “Mess is cleaned up. We have their cell phones, maybe this time there are some numbers we can use. Get everyone off the roof. There aren’t a lot of big buildings near here, but let’s not get stupid. Somebody took out two men from better than five hundred yards with two head shots. It wasn’t just good luck.”
Chan tells the children it is time to leave, Aunt Daphne will have a snack for them.
David Li, “Birds will come back with information on the shooter. I have trained them to wait by my window if they have a message and I’m not on the roof.”
There were usually pigeons at David’s window ledge. They like being near the boy. He leaves grain on the ledge and there are roosts on the roof, supplying warmth in the cold winters, the birds reciprocate by supplying permanent eyes.
Chapter Three V
Jin: What's your name?
Jin: Mei? Every girl here is named after a flower. Why is yours so plain?
Mei: I don't want to compete with those others girls. The flowers here can hardly be called flowers. Real flowers bloom in the wilderness.
From the movie, House of Flying Daggers
We decide to have the family over, with the two targets gone, there’s no immediate reason to hole up.
Janah, “We need a confab. Daphne, will you get the kids set up with a movie and something to eat? We’ll circle the wagons at the table and try to piece together this mess.”
Ning, “Let me deal with the children. Daphne will take care of the adults.”
Ning piles pillows on the floor in front of the television, pops in House of Flying Daggers, a Miyako and Nikko favorite. David Li sips green tea, Miyako likes club soda with cherry juice, and a big bowl of spicy popcorn.
Miyako thinks Ziyi Zhang was almost as beautiful as her aunt Nikko, but clearly not as talented with the sword. The sheer splendor of the film keeps them mesmerized, this is their third viewing and it is better than the first as they anticipate the parts they favor.
The table is full, me, Ning, Chan, Janah, Nikko, Susan, Chris, Kara, James and Lacy. Since the original inquiry springs from a misidentification of Susan for me, the entire family is now involved, although it appears to be an attempt to get to Janah by using me.
“I should be insulted. Don’t they think I have any value other than as a hostage for Ange Blanc?”
Nikko, “They clearly don’t know the mental connection, getting you would be the same thing as getting Janah.”
“That’s true! I’m feeling much more empowered now.”
Susan, “My self-image is raised by being mistaken for my little sister.”
Chris, “Don’t joke around, goddammit. I am severely pissed. Thanks for the Jamaicans, who don’t miss the nuances of squat. I’m going to give them a grand each.”
Janah, “They didn’t do this for money. Go to them when we get this done, thank them for their observance and protection, and tell them if they need anything, to make sure they call. Then buy a hundred bucks of crap off their table. That will honor their service and you will be a favored friend.”
James, “Bernie told me this goes beyond the Society’s connections. What that means is it isn’t government, any government. It’s private, and very private. They want something Janah’s got, brain power, access to temple secrets, perhaps they’ve picked up on her qi skills, healing capacity.”
Chan, “And a private army.”
James, “That, too. I hadn’t thought of that. They do appear fairly well equipped on their own. So far, whoever it is has managed to stay under any government’s radar, hired two mercenaries anonymously, then got those same two very experienced men killed. Not work for a lightweight.”
Lacy, “We know they’re invisible on paper, we know they’re dangerous. We also know where they are. Well, we don’t know if it’s a they, could be a him, or her.”
Janah, “Lacy’s right. We may get lucky with the shooter, the birds know what room, maybe they have him, or her, tracked. We know that there’s an uptown apartment, which may or may not be occupied any longer, the Society followed the man who picked up the last message.”
The phone rings, “Trash Man went to ninety-fifth street, near first, entered an apartment building, hasn’t come out. I’ll get back to you when we have more.”
Janah relays the message to the family.
Kara, “I’m settling on Scrabble if anyone cares to join in.”
Chris, Susan and Lacy play, Nikko joins the kids for the movie. I call Marconi’s, arrange for a six-thirty delivery. Ning open wines and refreshes the snacks, the moms are busy arranging tiles. Ning settles in next to Chris to watch the game, Chan joins Nishiko and the kids.
James, Janah and I go to what was the second bedroom, but has morphed into a bit of an office, a long table and three computers line one wall. It has a king sized bed, tonight it will serve as James and Kara’s bedroom, the moms will go to Lacy’s.
James, “This is an interesting problem. Bit of a worry for the moms, but I think Chris is kind of revved up.”
Janah, “Until we know who, we aren’t going to know why. I’m down to few options. Persons unknown need help they can’t buy elsewhere, but it’s not legal, so they know enough to know that isn’t going to lure me willingly. Or they want access to the temple and are aware of what happened the last time somebody tried that. They will correctly assume security has been tightened. The most dangerous books are in an underground vault that takes a variety of fingerprints to enter. Any combination of three out of six. Daphne, Master Kahn, David, Chan, Black and myself.”
“But the books are stored one, no two, other places.”
Janah smiles, “Smart dad. Yes, In my head and Daphne’s. Nikko is mentaling, but we can’t swap memorized information, not well anyway. Nikko can’t just enter my head and get data like Daphne. They actually mental more between each other, not so much with me. We’re not synchronized yet. Very subtle frequency difference I imagine.”
“That’s new information. Nikko is on the channel now as well.”
“Yes, she and Daphne practice much more often, and they do it in Japanese and English. I find myself going into Daphne’s mind for Japanese phrases now instead of the other way around.’
“You guys are complicated.”
“They’ve killed two men, not saints, but the men didn’t know who hired them, they had nothing to spill. They were murdered for screwing it up. It would take a boatload of explaining to get me to do anything for the employer.”
James, “Perhaps they’re just that desperate.”
“You have a point, which opens another possibility, that the two mercenaries weren’t killed by the people looking for us. X and Y didn’t know why they were hired. It was supposed to be a simple snatch and deliver. Simple for men with their backgrounds. I know for a fact they had nothing personal in it, just hired hands. Sociopathic hired hands, but they weren’t out to kill Daphne. They could have killed Susan easily enough, but they didn’t.”
Mrs. Epstein calls, “There was a woman, who dropped off a package, and a can collector who picked it up. We don’t have a clue on the sniper, but we can tell you where the woman and the delivery boy are.”
Janah, “I know where they all are, thanks to David Li. But the birds aren’t perfect either. So, what we can do is verify addresses from both sources.”
“This is intensely frustrating. We were all over that building, but whatever the can collector did with the package remains a mystery. I’m sending locations to the website now.”
“It isn’t the usual Society deal. You almost always have a target and his habits by the time we show up. This time we, almost accidentally, became aware that we are someone’s target. If these bozos hadn’t approached the Jamaicans, who knows how this would have gone down. We’re going to visit the sniper, the woman and the trash collector. There’s a good chance they were hired just like X and Y, to do a job, get paid and walk. If we get no clues from them, then we wait until the mystery whoever tries again. Whoever it is has more serious problem now.”
“Yes, you know they’re out there.”
“Exactly. And we are quite safe here at the apartment. Between Paladin Security, the cameras Daphne and Sis have installed, plus motion detectors and night vision equipment, we’d have to be dead to miss an approach. I got birds, I got monks, I got Chan and Nishiko, I got C-mom and Sis. These people are going to regret not taking the simple route.”
“You mean approaching you with whatever they wanted straight up?”
“Sure. Then we could have talked it over, then I could have rejected them, but nobody needed to die.”
“The only people who’ve died are two bottom of the barrel mercenaries. Hardly a loss.”
“As the abbess of a Buddhist temple, I guess I’m supposed to say something about the sacredness of all life. But as the abbess of a Shaolin Buddhist temple, I think it’s appropriate to interject the part about protecting human life, our own or others. I’ve got my karma bases covered.”
“You don’t believe in karma.”
Janah giggles, “Got me. I don’t believe in anything. It either is or isn’t.”
Janah, “Let’s rest ladies, we have three visits to make tomorrow and it will likely take all day and some of the night.”
Nikko kisses the kids, Susan and Chris go to Lacy’s, the Li family down the hall home. The elevator is locked at the top floor, Chan checks the back exit and the stairwell, both locked.
Master Kahn has been alerted to a potential attempt on the temple itself. This time there are no visitors, the interior and exterior are patrolled day and night. Whoever wants whatever they want from Janah or me is going to have to work for it.
This morning we visit Sniper, holed up in Brooklyn. Chan blasts open his front door, steps back while muffled bullets thwip through the doorway into the wall. Nikko slipped down from the roof, to the landing just above the Sniper’s room. She hears the window open, a head peers out, then stops. Her blade is at his throat, his rifle slung over his shoulder, in a long canvas bag sagging at the bottom, heavy with ammunition.
Nikko cuts away the sling with a swift slice, the bag drops to the floor, the knife back in Sniper’s face before he can register what happened, “Step back into the room.”
He doesn’t move, looks down to the bag, trying to distract her while his hand reaches to his side. Nikko’s sword takes his thumb, it pops out onto the fire escape landing.
“Next one will be your shooting hand, all of it. Step back into the room.”
He edges back, Chan is on him, then Sniper is passed out on the floor.
Nikko picks up the thumb, sticks it in Sniper’s pants pocket. Janah spreads Dermabond over his stump, gauze and adhesive tape, removes the latex gloves, stuffs them in a plastic bag and puts on a new pair. Chan has him in a chair, wires Sniper’s wrist to the arm. Janah sticks him with a needle and fills his injured hand with Lidocaine, inserts a needle and syringe into the back of his hand.
She brings him to life with ammonia caps, Nikko and I search the apartment and Chan disassembles the rifle in such a way it will never fire again. Pieces back in the bag with the ammo to disappear into the Hudson.
There is zero in the apartment otherwise, except for a .22 pistol the Sniper was reaching for when Nikko amputated his thumb. Chan also reworks that into useless metal and drops it in the bag with the rifle and ammunition.
I retrieve the numbers from his cell phone and call them in to the Society. There is no computer, no other electronic equipment. This is clearly a temp hideout. Janah fingerprints him, takes full face and side digital photos, I send those to the Society. Chan rips way his shirt, Semper Fi tattooed on his right bicep, several knife wounds and scars, no bullet holes. He’s used to shooting, not being shot at, but he’d picked up battle scars somewhere.
Awake now, his severed thumb nice and numb, he glares silently.
Janah, “You’re a mercenary, a sniper. When I leave, you will be unable to pursue your former career, but you will be alive. That is, if I believe your story.”
“I ain’t got no fuckin’ story,” he’s working the thousand yard stare pretty good Janah thinks.
“Everyone has a story, and you are going to tell me yours. The stare of death won’t cut it, hotshot. Let me tell you a story instead.”
She begins, “Once upon a time there was a Sniper who was a good shot, very good indeed. And he was hired by someone he didn’t know to kill two targets in Central Park. He did his job, left an unoccupied Central Park West apartment and headed to a dump in Brooklyn. But that was okay with the man, because he’d been paid quite a bit of money to do his job. Since he didn’t know who hired him, he was paid a lot up front, then the rest when the job was done. The man with the rifle was no fool. He wanted, and received, cash. Which he immediately put into a safe deposit box at Chase. See, I have the key right here,” she dangles it in front of him.
He twitches to snatch it, but with everything taped, there’s nothing much to twitch but his eyes, “Fuck with me and I’ll take you and your friends.”
“But, we’re Semper Fi, too. Just not fidelis to you. You see your dilemma. You don’t have a friend in the place. I’ve got lots of friends here. You’re scared, thus the tough guy crap. I’m going to help you drop your fear and be in the moment.”
I cover his ears with Bose headphones and blast away a cacophony of noise that has no rhythm, no beat, no voices, just big bass to high screech and everything in between. Janah shoots him up with her newest mixture, methamphetamine and LSD. Chan tapes his mouth. He moans and cries for an hour, she ups his dosage, muffled moans and screams for another hour. He wets his pants, his wrists are raw from tearing at the wire, blood streams from his bare ankles.
Janah brings him down with Phenobarbital, eventually he is quietly complacent, after another hour completely cooperative.
He has little to add to the little Janah knows. He says he’d been contacted by phone by a woman, maybe Park Girl, she’d know where the targets would be. So did the person we’re looking for.
His answer is confident, “I’m hired to shoot straight. Not to ask why. I don’t want to know why. I just want to get paid and go home.”
Janah presses the plunger, waits ten minutes, “Where is home?”
He gives her a general location in Wyoming, describes how he lives without electricity, forages, lives off the land. How cold it gets in winter. How he’d made friends with some of the animals, shot others for food. He talks about traps he’d set for anyone approaching his place, about the concrete encased, watertight basement he’d constructed himself. He ultimately describes his cabin and the surrounding area in detail.
I upload the description to the Society, by the end of the week, it will be a black spot on the ground. Nature would do what nature does, cover it with grass and trees in short order. Sniper won’t remember where to go anyway.
“What do you do for fun?”
“Go to Bangkok, fuck girls, have a few beers with guys like me. I don’t want to live there, the girls are pretty and cheap. I’ve had enough after a month. Got to bribe the crap out of everybody, the cops are the worst. Usually I go home and wait for a contact. Got a sat phone. I check out the caller. You might be surprised how many housewives want their husband dead, they just don’t want to do it themselves. Want it to look like he was mugged, drugged or just disappeared. If there’s insurance, they want a body though. Can’t be waiting no seven years for a court order saying he’s deceased. I off some fat bastard, the wife pays me, I go away. They don’t know who I am, I never see them. I don’t use a go-between, can’t trust ‘em.”
Janah, “How do they trust you?”
Sniper smiles, “I have a way with words, use as few as possible, I say I understand it all. Tell them they deserve much better. How I’ve helped many women with these problems, many abused, sexually and worse. The clincher is when I tell them I offed my father for the same reason. By the time I’m done, they want to meet me. That ain’t happening. Woman starts thinking she’s in love creates problems, and there’s always Bangkok.”
“You’re a smart guy. Managed to stay alive in a very paranoid business for a long time.”
“Until you came along.”
“Things work until they don’t. The good news is, by tomorrow, you won’t remember anything. You won’t be able to touch a weapon, if you so much as think about it, you’ll freak. Think of me as your murder addiction counselor.”
“I’ve been tortured. Just made me more cautious. Probably kept me alive strangely enough, so, do your best.”
Janah does, and by the early morning hours, Sniper doesn’t know his name, where he lives or what his previous life had been. She made him invisible to himself. We left him an identity, a small bank account, he believes he’s a machinist. Which he is. He’d been grinding down barrels, fixing rifle stocks and pouring metal for bullets before Janah was born. She rearranged his memory so that he thinks he does grinding and shaping for intricate gears. He has a job in Queens, report to work Monday, start in as if he had been there for years.
It’s one of the businesses we financed for former inmates. They’re used to guys showing up with no past. They don’t ask questions. The man would do his work, go home, watch TV, go to bed, get up, go to work. On days off he might go for walks, read books or watch more TV. It will never occur to him to do anything else.
Chapter Four V
I'm astounded by people who want to 'know' the universe
when it's hard enough to find your way around Chinatown.
Janah, “Time to visit Park Girl.”
Park Girl is a student at NYU, working for an escort service on the side, studying psychology, ‘who isn’t?’ Janah thinks. It’s the most common degree around, for good reason. People don’t understand themselves, they think a degree in Psych might be a way to get a grip.
-Sidebar: Trying to understand yourself by listening to lectures by people who got in the business because they don’t understand themselves makes no sense. Thought thinks it can understand thought. Thought is confused, you are asking confusion to make sense of confusion. Psych is also considered the easiest of the bachelors degree courses, appealing for many students. They could focus on sex, social media and rock, pop, hard or electronic. Folk music has mercifully died years ago. Sorry, Arlo, Peter, Paul, Mary, even the anachronistic Bob Dylan only appeals to boomers now. Paradox. His tunes of rebellion and alienation favored by a generation of self appointed radicals turned conformist.
The result is that there’s a short conversation. The girl had been hired by what she thought was a john, asked to pick up a bag under a specific bench and deliver it to a specific trash can near the Met. She was paid well, and told if she thought there was any trouble, to just dump the bag and disappear.
She’s a call girl, been in tight situations before. To her, this was easy money. She was paid up front, she knew the caller would know if she didn’t deliver, which was no different than meeting a man she didn’t know and having sex. This time, she didn’t even have to give it up. Pick up a bag, walk just under a mile, toss it in a trash can.
She’s up front once she understands Janah knows her every move from the time she picked up the bag until this moment at Starbucks on 6th avenue near Waverly Place. There’s no reason to complicate her life. She doesn’t know jack. Janah doesn’t tell her, she is clearly unaware that two men had been shot, and she has no idea who picked the bag out of the trash.
Janah, “Know what was in the bag?”
Park Girl, “I didn’t look inside, I didn’t want to know. It felt like packs of cash though.”
She was paid a thousand dollars for twenty minutes. She’s not a common hooker, she’s a looker who provides sex for money, a lot of it. A beautiful young escort can make three grand just for having dinner. Spending the night goes up exponentially from there. It also means she hadn’t hired or contacted Sniper.
Janah, “She’s learned something. People value things they have to pay for, the higher the price, the more they value it. She’s hot and she knows how to turn that into cash. She may be one of the few NYU students who make more in a year than her tenured professors do.”
“Want to be my pimp? I’d need an exclusive clientele, women, good looking women. Other than that minor restriction, they can do what they like.”
“We already have money, and I get mostly exclusive use of your perfection. I don’t mind sharing with Nikko, she reciprocates so well.”
“Nikko said it best, it’s good to be Janah’s hoes.”
“Sharing is caring.”
“Speaking of which, I suppose we need to get to Trash Man, but now I’m getting horny. So try to work fast, on him, then you can work slowly, on me.”
Shortly after the chat, Janah is having another confab with the family, “Trash Man went to an upper East Side apartment building, 83rd St., which we have confirmed from both the Society and David Li’s friends. He has not left. It’s not a new building, but the Society says it has been regularly remodeled, and prices are high enough that Trash Man didn’t pay for it by collecting cans. In fact, there’s no he. Trash Man is a woman. We have the birds’ description, and Surveillance photos, enhanced when the information came to light, showed no Adam’s apple on her neck, and long thin hands. She was dressed like a man, baggy thrift store pants, floppy hat, jean shirt, dirty, with big, frayed sneakers, very short hair, obviously no makeup. She lives on the fifth floor, 5 E, corner apartment, views up and down 83rd and Lexington.”
Chan, sitting next to Janah, speaks softly in her ear, Janah nods, “I agree.”
James, “Agree on what?”
Chan says to David Li, “Tell us the story you told me today, please.”
David. “The pigeons came back today to let me know the woman had not left the building. The pigeons are good observers, but they lack the keen sensitivity of the Peregrine falcon. The noble birds appeared on my window ledge today, they mate for life, and travel together if there are no young to care for. I opened my window to give them meat, they eat other birds mostly. I enjoy hearing about their family when they are raising the young ones. They get the babies to fly by keeping food out of reach unit they go aloft. Like Aunt Nishiko teaches Miyako, by challenging her. The falcons told me that the woman we seek is one of the kind my father discovered a few years ago. There was a man, who Aunt Daphne killed, that had misused his Qi. The falcons said this woman radiates evil.”
Nikko, “Another of the Dark Ones, and in Manhattan as well. Interesting. Shall I just go dispose of her, we can be finished with this tonight.”
“You expect to do this without me? Why should you have all the fun?”
Nikko, “It’s my turn, you got to behead the last joker.”
“You got to kill his acolytes.”
Nikko replies softly, I catch the twinkle in her eye, “The bitch is mine.”
Susan, “Geez, do your girls always argue over who gets to off the bad guy, girl?”
Janah, “They’re screwing around. Neither could care less, as long as the garbage goes in the karmic recycle bin…shredder I suppose is a better way to put it.”
Lacy, “How many people have you….well, I suppose it’s impolite to ask, but curiosity is killing me…shredded.”
“A few, it depends on what you count. For instance, there are some Nishiko sent to their ancestors, some I did. Janah has rearranged personalities so that the person who was, isn’t. He’s still above ground, but not his former self, he doesn’t recall a former self. So does that count as a kill?”
“Never mind. I don’t think I need to know.”
Chris, “So what do we do with Ms. Head-trip? Remember, she tried to get to Sis, even though mistakenly. That gives me certain privileges, like eating her heart.”
Nikko, “C-mom, if the falcons are right, you won’t get close enough.”
“You think I can’t handle this?”
Janah, “Chris, you won’t get within twenty yards of her, nor have an honorable death. It is not your lack of skill. You simply won’t get a chance to use it. You have to make physical contact. She can kill without touching you.”
Chris, “Nobody can do that.”
“Three people in this room can do it.”
Chris is stunned into silence, but she looks from Chan to Janah to me.
Susan, “How do you mean? I don’t get it. Kill without touching, I presume you don’t mean shooting, which is a form of distance touching.”
Janah, “No, not shooting. Since the family has gotten stuck with this we will make one demonstration. Then no more questions, please.”
She nods to Chan, “Please observe the vase on the mantle across the room. It’s not expensive, made of stainless steel.”
Chan stares at the vase, it began to shudder, then it pops into a half dozen pieces.
Chris, “Holy mother of God!!”
“If he wished, he could have melted it, but it would have made a mess. Little brother is most advanced, but my other could make it fly off the shelf and crack anyone here on the head. If she goes into my head, she can do some of what Chan does. The material world can be affected by the nonmaterial world, if you know how to access it. We hold the teachings at the temple, and in our heads. Some learned, but the learning drove them mad. These are the Dark Ones, each possesses different levels of skill. They are all evil but the depth of darkness is different. They use the power to control, abuse and steal.”
Lacy, “This is a strange discussion, I mean…the children…”
“Ning and the children know of these skills. David Li and Miyako are perhaps more aware of the fragility of the mind than most adults. David Li, may surpass us one day, Miyako is less temperamentally suited.”
Susan, “I don’t know if I grasp what you can do now.”
Janah, “We assume limitations that don’t exist. Don’t assume, find out.”
I can see Sis in processing mode, she’s quiet, but has that look she gets when an insight hits home.
Lacy, “Whatever does she mean?”
Susan, “I’ll explain tomorrow, I think I’ve got it, but I need it to gel overnight. It will be an interesting discussion I think. First, I have to put the parts in order.”
“I can wait that long, putting things in order is what you do.”
James, “So, speaking of do, what to do on the matter at hand?”
Janah, “Chan will find her. The woman may be a black heart, but not possess the skills. She hired an assassin to kill the two men, she could have done that herself if she was fully trained. The birds have not seen her use her skills, but they see the evil as darkness around the person, like an aura.”
James, “How will Chan know….wait, never mind.”
Lacy, “What do you mean, wait, never mind? I don’t get it….oh, yes, I do get it. Takes one to know one, am I right?”