Chapter One Hundred One
Our troop drives to the Gutierrez house. It’s ten miles out of Santa Fe, two lane blacktop, no traffic to speak of. His place is easily visible from the road, the only difficulty is the road is visible from the house. The land is flat, mesquite and cactus, a few trees around the house, but wide open as far as the eye can see. Sneaking up on him in daylight will be a problem, but I’m a Shaolin priest, one problem solved.
I check in with Nikko at the drop off site, “The unit is a self contained warehouse, typical warehouse style. Roll down door for deliveries, standard door to one side of the roll down, no rear door. Nothing nearby, stand alone, really alone.”
She surveys the area for me to see, “Sheesh, it isn’t just alone, it’s orphaned.”
Nikko, “Kind of what I thought. The good news is, we won’t attract attention going in.”
“There are no guards outside. Surveillance says there are kids inside. Guys hanging around out here would be suspicious. The roll down is a no go. Hang on while I get the binoculars.”
I’m looking through Nikko’s eyes, which are looking through binoculars at the door alongside the roll down. Standard stuff, but metal door and metal frame, hard to bust through.
“Okay, if there is no door in back, front’s what we have to work with. We’re still checking out the house.”
Nikko, “Back to you later.”
Janah already has our conversation, I forward it to Dasha and Daria, “Nikko will figure a way in, let’s stay focused on getting into this place.”
Dasha, “No dog, ees gud, horse only, they are behind house, feence.”
“Sister and I will have broken car. We will get out, walk around, open top over eengin. We look around, don’t know what to do, go to house.”
Dasha looks at me like I’m a confused child, “We feex Gooteariz.”
“What about the fat man?”
Dasha blinks at me, “We feex, Dahfoney.”
Janah, “Sounds like a plan.”
“Not a plan I’m completely happy with. While our fixers are approaching the house, yours truly will be doing sneaky Shaolin. I want to be near when the door opens.”
Janah, “Good enough. I’ll stay hidden and available, either to get the car in play or deal with surprises.”
I check in with Nikko, “Well?”
“Two thoughts, UPS, or we cut the power and show up as utility repair.”
“UPS will either have a bad address, or the utility thing is obvious. The UPS problem is, what if they decide not to answer at all?”
“Good thought, so, let’s cut the power and come along as utility maintenance to save the day.”
“Let me get the Society on the utility thing. Wait….what if we get the power cut to the building, it’s stand alone, right? Do we need the complications of the utility guise?”
Nikko, “Zi has a suggestion, she says they might call the company on their own, but first they would check fuses, they won’t want utility guys hanging around. The circuit breakers would be inside but the main box is outside. I’m looking at it, it’s locked, we can cut through that, shut down the power, somebody is eventually going to check the box. We also need to act, before they move the kids.”
Janah, “Are you close enough for Zi and Chloe to get a body count? Surveillance said a van went in, there was no way to tell the number of occupants.”
“She’s approaching the building now. You can see we’re off to the side, there’s no window, no external security camera.”
We wait, Zi and Chloe walk the perimeter, skip the front door, Nikko mentals, “Four kids, two adults. One is near the kids, the other is near the door looking at an empty street.”
Janah, “Surveillance will watch tonight, we can take care of this tomorrow.”
“Janah, we’re here now, you have a plan to get to Gutierrez, we have a plan to get in the house.”
“Katana are at the hotel.”
“Two guys hardly calls for katana.”
Janah asks me, “What do you think?”
“I think tomorrow is going to look like today.”
Janah, “Do it.”
She moves to the rear of the SUV, I show Daria where the hood latch is, pop it, she’ll raise the hood when we have the SUV in place, “Just look in long enough to show you have no idea what to look for, leave the hood up and fake a discussion with Dasha. Oh, and point the car towards the house. Then, before you start to the house, close the hood. If Janah has to move the car, we don’t want her to have to get out and do it herself.”
The twins are de-twined, different hair color, sunglasses. Daria has boots, Dasha sneakers, Daria is a bit taller. I’m like a scorpion, crawling through the dirt. I move from bush to bush from a rear corner angle to the house. It’s cloudy, sun comes through, another cloud blows over, best I can do is qi myself shadowy, like the shadows of clouds moving across the ground. I feel Janah kick in, maybe I’m invisible, I advance in a zig zag.
I hear the car pull up in front, clunk of the hood release, doors open. I wait, when I hear the hood slam, I start in again, about fifty yards from the house now.
Crap, the housekeeper answers the door, I hear a question in Spanish, I mental Dasha, “Don’t act like you know any Spanish, maybe she doesn’t speak English, she’ll have to get one of the men.”
Daria, “We do not speak Spanish, car is broken.”
The fat man comes up behind the housekeeper, “Que?”
Housekeeper, “No se, no hablan español .”
Fat Man, “What is the problem, senoritas?”
“Car is broken, we do not have a phone.”
Fortunately, that the Tahoe has OnStar doesn’t register with him, at least not quickly enough.
Daria points at his forehead, his head snaps back, he’s concussed, staggers, she zaps him again, he falls backwards unconscious. The housekeeper screams.
While Daria is playing with Fat Man, across town Nikko uses the car’s lug wrench to break the lock on the main circuit box and pulls the breaker cutting power to the building. Zi and Chloe are on either side of the door in front, out of the line of sight of the peephole.
A few minutes pass, they sense movement inside, muffled talk. Finally, the door cracks open, Nikko kicks it hard, Zi fires two shuriken into the man’s face. David Li’s anesthetic kicks in while they swarm past him into the warehouse, As she passes, she swats his temple with the tire iron, speeds up the anesthetic to immediate and he’s in a heap on the concrete floor. Chloe takes a nine millimeter from his belt, pops the clip, ejects the round from the chamber and throws it out the door for Amaya to retrieve.
Chloe and Zi take different walls, the warehouse is empty, there’s a room, back left, glass panels look out to the warehouse floor, inside is a man, four kids. He’s shielding himself with one of them, gun to the child’s head.
During the standoff, back at the Gutierrez house, I kick in the back door, enter the kitchen, the housekeeper still wails, Dasha clocks her hard enough to knock her down, wraps tape across her mouth and ties her wrists behind her with two nylon ties, two more around her ankles and leaves her curled on the floor.
Gutierrez appears in the doorway leading to the dining room, he’s pointing a gun at me. I zero in on his trigger finger, get in the zone, walk towards him.
Gutierrez doesn’t grasp why I’m not frozen, says, “Stop or I put you down.”
I keep coming, he sneers, I see his finger squeeze, the gun pops once, bullet hits the wall behind me, I’m not where I’m supposed to be. As Gutierrez twists his head to me, he freezes, stone still.
Dasha walks up behind him and takes the gun out of his hand, Daria has turned him into a statue.
Janah comes though the front door, “Daphne, get Fat Man immobilized, close up the front door and lock it, then pull the car around back. Dasha, let’s get the target in the un-comfy chair, time for the Spanish Inquisition. I don’t see the need to haul him elsewhere, there’s nothing around here to disturb us.”
In a few minutes, Gutierrez is wired down at his own dining room table.
Janah, “I’ve got the syringe, we’re going straight to David Li’s tell all drug. Let’s see how it works.”
I don’t need to use ammonia caps, Daria releases his mind after Janah injects him.
It’s magic, in minutes, the story begins to unfold.
At the warehouse, Zi tracks down the other kids, the Mexican takes a shot at Chloe through the glass, she hits the floor, the glass shatters, the bullet pings off the metal wall. Kind of what they wanted, now there’s only air between him and them.
“I keel des one if ju don’ back off bitches.”
Nikko, “Go ahead, we don’t give a fuck, José. They’re nothing to us.”
José is confused, then he’s angry, points the gun at Chloe.
She watches, his aura already red, then a dot of orange expanding in it, she rolls left as he pulls the trigger, the bullet smacks into the front wall.
He turns the weapon to Nikko, she’s evaporated. His arm is outstretched, three shuriken line it, one in his hand, one his forearm, then his triceps. Numb, he drops the gun, pulls the child closer to him, but Chloe is over the wall, a mop handle in her hands. She executes a sideswipe and clocks him on the side of his head, the handle snaps, he staggers, she thrusts the remaining piece just past the child into his side. He releases the girl, stares down at the shaft of wood piercing his gut just below his ribs, he stares at her, sinks to his knees. Zi clips a pressure point on his neck, he passes out.
Extraction screeches up, Chloe and Zi are calming the children, all of them just five or six years, three girls and a boy. They appear to be in decent shape, worn, dirty, but no obvious physical injuries.
One of the Extraction team, a woman, is speaking to them in Spanish, dealing with ‘where’s mama?’ and tears. They shepherd the kids to the waiting van and pull off.
Chloe, “What do we do with the men?”
Nikko, “Patch them up. Amaya speaks Spanish, maybe she can get something out of the one I knocked out. This one,” pointing to José bleeding on the floor, “ isn’t going to be much use.”
Chapter One Hundred Two
We’re back at the Rosewood Inn, meeting in our suite.
“The twins kicked in their end, played the roles perfectly. I doubt the housekeeper knew anything, we left her woozy and untied. Fat Man and Gutierrez have a vague remembrance of themselves, David Li’s new formulas performed as advertised, they gave us details quite willingly and we didn’t need to get them jacked up and delusional first. Cut the time ninety percent, no exhausted Janah and Daria.”
Zi, “We take his money?”
Janah, “As we speak. I don’t yet have an accurate total, but whatever it is will go to the women and children we find. Based on what he said, it’s not multimillions, but it’s two or three. He had cash in the house, we took that, looks like maybe a half million. All his business is cash, he didn’t have so much as a debit card. He sold us the ranch as well, I have no idea of value. The Society will arrange title transfers, get things notarized, all after the fact, but who’s going to complain?”
Chloe, “Is the ranch big enough to start another school?”
“Gee, maybe, but not sold to the Shaolin directly, maybe a shell corporation first. We’ll use the proceeds for that.”
Now, we’ll have three ranches for abused kids.
Nikko, “We had a scare, but three of us had the gunman surrounded, and he couldn’t see Zi. All I had to do was distract him and piss him off. He took a shot at Chloe, missed, then he tried me, Zi planted three stars in his arm.”
Zi, “And Chloe whacked him with a mop handle and stuck it in his gut.”
“My kendo training, slice and thrust.”
Amaya isn’t satisfied, “He took a shot at you, Chloe, you could have been killed.”
“I read his intent, when the flame ignited, it was time to roll.”
Zi, “When do we get the women out?”
Janah, “Tomorrow, unless you are up for it tonight, we have the location, Surveillance updates hourly, no one has come or gone since the women were moved in two days ago.”
“There’s a retail store next to one of those miscellaneous electronics places, like the ones that dot Manhattan. The panadería sells Mexican breads and pastries, doughnuts, ham and cheese croissants, that sort of thing. Both joints are pretty shoddy. The whole neighborhood is Latino, the kind of places that have iron bars in the windows. Can’t go in the front at night, they have metal roll down doors. The back doors are surely not just locked but barred on the inside. Be a bitch to break into.”
Zi, “They keeping them in both places?”
“There’s only one rear door, it must serve both places. I think the fronts are set up to appear separate, but behind the rear wall, the space is just open for storage. Probably share a restroom.”
Amaya, “And we are sure the women are in there?”
“Surveillance said six women were unloaded night before last. Went in the rear door with three men. During the day, the places are open, it isn’t unrealistic that some of the customers exiting were actually the women. Chloe and Zi can determine if there are still people in the rear.”
Nikko, “Does anyone stand around outside at night?”
“Nope. There are some dim lights in both shops they can see from the edge of the roll downs. That’s normal enough. The likely get drinks and sandwiches from the shop. It is also safe to guess they keep the women drugged, both to keep them quiet and get them hooked. Easier to control a prostitute if she’s a junkie.”
Nikko, “Despicable, take a poor woman off the street in Mexico, haul her and her kids up to Santa Fe, take the kid, turn the woman into a druggie whore. I’m killing every man in the place.”
Janah, “If that’s what we find, I don’t care. I doubt they’re holding ESL classes in there.”
Dasha, “Een Russia, they make prosteetoot every day, like fahctory. All over Europe ees mostly legal, but not for peemping or whorehouse, escort service. Meeny women get in beezness, no other way to make money. Why not legal in America? Better for prosteetoot.”
“Misguided morality. Instead of sensible regulation, we have this, snatching women off the street, pimps beating them up, take all their money, keep them drugged up.”
“Tell me about it. Still, even in Europe, or anyplace else in the world, it doesn’t stop the child selling business.”
Nikko, “It doesn’t seem sensible to try and go in tonight, it will be noisy busting in, if we can even get in. I think we should pass by with Chloe and Zi and verify someone is still in the place.”
Janah, “What I thought. We don’t all need to pack up and drive over, Amaya can get them there, someone else for security. Shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.”
Chloe, “The rear is an alley? Can Surveillance tell us if it’s clear?”
“Sure, I’ll call and tell them you’re coming later, nine or ten maybe, then Nikko can let me know when you’re there, I’ll check again. If it’s clear, do your thing and split.”
Zi, “How does Surveillance hang out on the street all night?”
“Panel van with a vague business name pulls up, parks, few hours later another comes along, the first one leaves. The windows are darkened, if someone comes along and takes an interest in the van, like to break in, they start it up, drive off. If a cop happens by, they lay low. It’s legally parked and licensed. Cop sticks his flashlight in the window, he sees a van with boxes in back, cups on the floor, plastic Jesus on the dash. Our people are in the dark behind the boxes. Panel vans, don’t have side or rear windows.”
“During the day, our seniors shuffle along, sit in a café, pretend to shop, buy stuff, carry around a shopping bag. Every so often, another one shows up, the first one leaves. Nobody pays seniors any attention, they tell us they feel invisible most of the time. In this case, they’ve even bought pastries, cheap electronics, sat in la panadería and read the paper, drink coffee, watch the world go by.”
Dasha, “What ees la panadería?”
“The bread store, in Spanish.”
“We haf la panadería at home?”
“What ees gud there?”
“I’m no expert, I’ve had Mexican bread, at least what they call pan dulces, a roll kind of like brioche. It has colored sugar baked on top, sweet and tasty.”
“We will haf pahn doolcees from la panadería.”
Amaya, “Bread with sugar on top, you will weigh a thousand pounds, a Cossack chunk.”
“I do geemnastic, no fat, Eemaya, you will see.”
Janah, “Final piece of business, from our interrogation we learned that Ernesto Gutierrez is part of a network. Like the old crime families, each one has a territory. There doesn’t appear to be infighting, Gutierrez handles the Southwest, the other territories are the Northwest, Midwest, Southeast, Northeast. But borders are flexible in that the pipelines all run though Santa Fe or south Texas for Mexico. There are pipelines through New Orleans, another in Miami. Women and children are taken from Columbia, Guatemala, Nicaragua, a few other spots. They are funneled up through the network to whoever has immediate demand. As for the kids, we aren’t clear on what happens to all of them, the women get the same treatment they get here. It’s fair to assume the kids are sold to pedophiles, used for kiddie prostitution or kiddie porn.”
Amaya, “The market must be big.”
“In the US, somewhere between a hundred thousand and three hundred thousand underage kids are in prostitution or sex slavery. Our work suggests the higher number but let’s split the difference at two hundred thousand. The statistical guesstimates are that eighty percent are US citizens, runaways or kids sold by their parents. That leaves twenty percent, or forty thousand kids coming from someplace else. The group we’ve uncovered can’t bring them in fast enough. Dasha and Daria were caught in a ring from the old Soviet bloc.”
Amaya, “I was pimped by my own parents.”
Janah, “And you aren’t the only one.”
Nikko, “We going to do this full time?”
“No, we have to have a life, doing this work all the time would leave us drained and demoralized. I’m sending other teams to track down the South American network. It could take time, they will be cautious after the collapse of the Santa Fe group.”
Zi, “We only dealt with a few men and a small number of innocents.”
Janah, “Gutierrez ran his business smart. He did a few people at a time, but kept the flow steady. It is much harder to try and bring in twenty or thirty people a crack. Some of these dopes try to pack an eighteen wheeler full of bodies. It’s stupid. He had the right idea, a steady trickle, lose a shipment occasionally, but only a few bodies. He was evil, not greedy. He had more money than he had time to spend, no family, had his type of woman when he felt the need, enjoyed his ranch, his housekeeper cooked his meals. He had a decent library, enjoyed his literature, his animals, his food and wine. What else could he want? That’s how he explained it to me. I couldn’t fault his logic, only his method of providing for his comforts.”
It’s is our tea time, room service provides the essentials, we enjoy the quiet contemplation. Spread around the suite, sipping a variety of teas, crunchy cookies and sweets. The balconies provide views, plenty of chairs and couches for reading and relaxing.
Our twins have become most interested in literature, not Russian, they do like Dostoyevsky, but English, Japanese and American. They read to each other, Amaya and Chloe join them frequently, and went though Dickens, Conan Doyle, Amaya is particularly good at bringing Holmes to life. She can do all the varieties of voices perfectly. A favorite is Murakami, not related to Nishiko, Kafka on the Shore, The Wind-up Bird and 1Q84, Agatha Christie’s Poirot, not so much Mrs. Marple. They read Robert Parker’s Spencer novels until they tired of his fascination with ‘Sus’ and the dog, Pearl. They like Vachss’ character Burke, a sociopath they can relate to. And they read Kafka and Camus. Dasha said they read Lolita, they found Humbert sadly lame and Lolita a child in way over her head..
Chapter One Hundred Three
Tonight is lay low at the hotel. I order a selection of sandwiches, they have preferred cocktails and wine while we wait on room service. Nice, slow night, we watch episodes of Luther on the laptop while we eat. It’s a British series, tormented cop, brilliant, with an unwanted but necessary helper, a psychopath named Alice. She holds the twins attention.
Dasha, “Ahleece ees gud. She ees help Luther.”
“She’s sure willing to do whatever it takes.”
Dasha, “Da, like us.”
“You have a point.”
We switch to the TV, watch a flick called Dead Man Down with Noomi Rapace, from the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Action is good, a few interesting plot twists, love finds the unlovable in the end. Then it’s off to bed, work tomorrow, sleep now.
This morning we opt for the hotel restaurant, lots of Hispanic influence, but they make standard breakfast as well, Amaya tries the egg white frittata, I liked the blue corn pancakes last time, order the same with eggs over easy, plenty of bacon and ham. The others have a variety of eggs with green chile hash browns, couple of cups of coffee or tea and we’re set.
Back in the room, work gear, then on to la panadería. Amaya, Chloe and the twins will stay at the hotel, Janah will wait in the car.
We pull up, Nikko and I go in first, Zi has trouble getting an exact count, there is overlap from shoppers in the bakery. It’s mid-morning, a few customers, a woman behind the counter, a man in the kitchen behind that.
“Nikko, you and Zi surf the selections, Janah, come in and chat up this lady in Spanish. I need her distracted.”
Janah’s in, asking questions, what’s in this, this looks good, her Spanish allows her to go on about her family, recently moved to Santa Fe, blah, blah. I slip around the counter, man has his back to me, making up lunch sandwiches, I whap him upside the head, then help him to the floor unconscious. Then I go deeper, feel Nishiko behind me, hear Janah and the counter woman babbling away, Janah is buying a selection of pastries, Zi slips past the occupied clerk unnoticed.
There’s a door, closed of course, Zi says, “Four women, one man only.”
That’s good, only one thing to do, kick in the door, Bang!
This is almost too simple, the man is watching TV, a soccer match with the sound low. The women are across the room, huddled together. He turns, Nikko douses his lights, we wrap him, call Extraction and open the rear door.
Oops, two dopes are exiting a van, must be moving day. They see me at the door, I walk out like I’m supposed to be there.
“Janah, shut down the woman, close the shop and drive the car around back.”
“Hombres, glad you are here, trouble, Senor Gutierrez sent me to handle it.”
Driver, “And who are ju, senorita?”
“I’m the handler,” I stick my foot in his groin, follow with one to his chin, a third sidekick to his gut. He slams agains the concrete wall of the delivery alley, crashes into a noisy calamity of garbage cans.
Passenger is coming after me, pulling a big old nine out from behind his back. Zi fills him full of shuriken, Nikko’s bony elbow cracks him on the back of his neck while she grabs the gun and twists. Now she has it and uses it to rearrange his face. The anesthetic kicks in, mercifully, Nikko has her blade in his throat, he’s totally anesthetized, as in forever. Janah reverses into the alley, Zi relieves the guy I’d mangled of sentience, one or the other of them sent Soccer Boy to child seller hell. Extraction is here, the women are shaken and sobbing, no time to worry about that, while they’re hustled to the van, we pull away.
Nikko, “Need to lose these clothes, spots of blood here and there.”
Janah, “I’m going to find an empty someplace, there’s a change in back, bleach, disinfectant wipes.”
She finds a deserted strip mall, around back, work clothes in a trash bag, bleach the knives, use the rest of the bleach in the trash bag to soak the bloody stuff.
Janah, “Daphne, call Transportation, we need to swap the car, tell them there’s a trash bag that needs incineration in back and the car has to be sanitized. Then mental Amaya, she can pick us up, I don’t want this car back at the hotel.”
We drop the car in a Wal-Mart lot, spread ourselves around the area, Amaya collects us and we’re at the Rosewood ten minutes later.
“Transportation has the Escalade, the new one will be here in an hour or less, dang they’re efficient.”
Janah calls Don Calderon, “Jeffe, the difficulty has been removed. Regrettably, we will be unable to attend the wedding, it is best if we disappear. And while it is unlikely that we will be connected in any way, we do not want our activities to bring you and your family to anyone’s attention. I thought perhaps we would attend the wedding first, but opportunities arose, it was best to attend to business immediately.”
Calderon, “Of course, too bad, I would love to see you and your friends, but you make perfect sense. The innocent?”
“Safe, due to your concern. Tell Father Jimenez people will be in touch regarding the women he is sheltering, it won’t be but a day or so.”
Calderon, “He will be relieved, the men?”
Janah, “What men?”
Calderon hesitates a beat, “Ah, your people are most thorough. Senorita, please accept an open invitation to visit as guests at my home, come in the fall or spring, the weather is most accommodating then. You will not be disappointed.”
“How lovely, we will be in touch. If there is anything in the future that calls for our attention, do not fail to contact me.”
“It is an honor to know you , vaya con Dios.”
“Every happiness for your daughter.”
They disconnect, “He’s quite the gentleman.”
Janah, “Yes, I doubt a visit is in order, bunch of lesbians in his Catholic community. We need distance from Santa Fe for a while.”
“So, girls, what did you get up to?”
Dasha has a chunk of Mexican bread, actually called pan de huevo, rich yeasty bread topped with sugar, in one hand, “La panadería ees gud.”
Janah got the Mexican bread, also churro, bisquet, cuernos de azucar, a sugared croissant.
I take a bite, “I love these things,” I crunch a churro, then we all dig in and the box is empty.
Janah, “Should have bought more.”
“The best ones in Manhattan seem to be in Harlem, maybe Amaya can drive us up there.”
Dasha has a mouthful of bisquet, “Eemaya will take us, ees gud.”
Amaya, “Bad enough I have to schlep you to Doughnut Plant at seven in the morning.”
Dasha, “Doughnut Plant ees right across Veelege, seemple, best doughnut.”
Amaya, “Why you aren’t a tub of lard is a total mystery.”
Dasha, “Eemaya eat whole raspberry icing doughnut on the way back, every time.”
Chloe giggles, “Doesn’t appear to have hurt you any.”
Amaya grins, “They are sooo good. I cannot even wait to get the thing home.”
An afternoon of long walk, then tea and lounging, we decide it would be foolish not to revisit Pasqual’s for dinner.
Cocktails in our room, the twins can’t easily enjoy a vodka at a restaurant. Yes, they are only sixteen, but they don’t get drunk, and they’re Russian, vodka is mother’s milk. I’m going to set them up with fake driver’s licenses next time.
Ten a.m. flight, in Manhattan for four, half an hour to our apartment. Teterboro is only eleven miles from our place and far more efficient.
“Just set the washing out, I’ll collect it and get around to it tomorrow, if there’s dry cleaning, stack that up as well. I’m calling Marconi’s for a seven thirty pizza delivery. Any special requests?”
Dasha, “Ees caviar?”
“In the refrigerator.”
“Margherita pizza, ees best for caviar.”
Janah, “Veg everything.”
Amaya, “I am desperate for anchovies, Vesnushki the same.”
Zi, “If it’s here, I’ll eat it.”
We’re home, this is the end of Book X, we do go on forever, and this one of our longest offerings. Hope you got your money’s worth.