Chapter Seventeen IV
Daphne, “All life is sacred…”
Janah, “Uh huh, is that what you think when you’re refocusing some jerk?”
Daphne, “No, really, it’s sacred, and his life will be….well…
much more sacred after I’ve had a chat with him.”
Janah is happily back in the temple, her hair full of leaves and twigs, up to her elbows in dirt. I’m in the training area, demonstrating how to get sent flying through the air and landing mostly unhurt. Janah hears me in her head.
“I’m going to need some major repair work. Two weeks in Dallas with only minor practice doesn’t cut it. Wait….”
Janah feels me sailing though the air one more time and ‘thump’ smack down in the dirt that is the training floor.
“These guys are getting too good. That’s it, time to pull out the sneaky stuff.”
Janah giggles, she follows me facing down two attackers. They both come at once. She sees me taking them in, waiting unit the last millisecond, then leaping in the air as if I’d been catapulted, catching them both in the chest with my feet, flipping over backwards and sticking the landing like an Olympic gymnast. The two disciples are on the ground, getting up fast. I front roll, catch one with a down kick and sweep the feet out from the other. I simulate a throat strike to the first, then launch myself into an airborne roll, like a figure skater spinning, except I’m in the air horizontal to the ground, I land next to disciple two and simulate an elbow strike, finishing a millimeter from his face. His eyes widen, then he smiles.
“There is no dealing with Master Sylk. I have lifetimes of work to do.”
Both Disciples stand and bow, Disciple Tom asks, “Master Sylk, can you instruct us as to where we went wrong?”
I defer to Master Kahn, the Gung Fu Master, he clarifies, “You made no error in style. Master Sylk’s senses are not your senses, her reflexes are unmatched, she sees what you cannot see, hears what you cannot hear. Your error was inattention. Earlier, when she allowed you to throw her around, you mistook her cooperation for your skill.”
The two bow to Master Kahn, then to me. They aren’t discouraged. They are advanced Shaolin disciples, past the point of ego involvement in gung fu practice. They are there to hone their skills. Someone is always going to be better.
Janah, “Be done for the day. It’s going to take me two hours to put you back together. Go up to Tan’s hut. I’ll bring liniment and tea. It will take me a bit, just go and sit in no mind, I’ll be along later.”
I bow to Master Kahn and go to Tan’s old room behind the gardens, sit cross legged on the floor, take a few moments to recall all the things he shared, then go blank. She shows up twenty minutes later, I’m still as a tomb, eyes open, seeing nothing.
Janah, “Drink this, then strip off the robe and lay down.”
I lay nude on a mat inside the dark room. Janah covers me with liniment, strong Dit Da Jow, then covers me again. She begins to knead the muscles and tendons starting with my feet and working up to my hips, then arms, flips me over and works my back and neck. It takes an hour and a half.
“Sit up slowly, drink this water and go to no mind again. Come down in an hour and we’ll go.”
I fold up and enter emptiness. An hour later I make my way through the thick bamboo to the garden. Janah is bottling up herbal medicines, labeling them and putting the bottles in Hue’s cabinets.
“I’m going to grab a shower, I smell like eucalyptus, camphor and compost.”
“I’m finished here. I called Chan, they’re all at Fong’s. We’ll go by and pick up food for the moms and go there for diner. No hanging around. We’ve all been busy all day, we eat and hit the apartment.”
“Sounds perfect. I’ve had it.”
Mrs. Fong, “David Li is old lady’s pride, more than ten thousand blessings in my last years. All Chinatown knows of the boy who talks to birds. Boy who came from Fong’s match of beautiful Ning and strong Shaolin priest. They believe old Fong has magic power to see future. Crazy old women. What power does it take to see honorable young girl is perfect for silent priest? Now mothers all bring fat stupid daughters around and hope old Fong can magically turn them into Ning. I tell them, I don’t make princess. Princess already there. Silly women.”
Janah giggles, “We have to go. My princess is exhausted, Nikko and Chan have been busy in the buildings all day and David is ready for his dinner and sleep.”
“You go now, don’t forget me. You see me in two days, no more. Old Sung came around last week. I give him money, so he comes and hands out blessings. I tell him I don’t need blessings, I need monks to quit sponging off old lady who barely makes living. I sweat all day while he sits and stares at Buddha. Buddha sits, they sit, men all sit, women do all work. Go, go now. Everyone work hard today, not like old big deal Masters at Temple with fancy robes.”
She kisses David for the hundredth time, hugs Ning, then me and Janah.
She strokes Chan’s cheek, “Good priest, good Chinese priest. You keep White Angel safe, beautiful wife and my great grandson, or answer to old lady.”
Chan bows to Mrs. Fong. She looks at him and nods, pleased. He is silent, strong. Her girls and the baby are safe with him. Death fears Chan.
Chris, “Man, Fong’s stuff is so good. Thank you for bringing it over. I was dreading going out, even to the deli. I was slaving over a hot word processor all day, then class.”
“What’s so funny?”
“C-mom. Your daughter spent five hours in gung fu practice. She was so stiff I had to work on her nearly two hours. I had to marinate her in Dit Da Jow.”
Susan, “Our children have been exhausting themselves, you sat in your Aeron chair and typed.”
“I taught class.”
“You sat in the corner and bossed around your black belts. I was there, remember?”
“Well, it was very active bossing, and I had to actually get up a couple of times.”
Janah yawns, David is asleep in Kara’s lap.
“We’re out of here.”
The morning is breakfast and nothing, Nikko is on her computer, I do Janah's nails, she does mine, we do the hot and nasty then shower.
It’s a crystal sunny spring Sunday afternoon. It seems as if most of Manhattan is in Central Park. Blankets are spread in the Strawberry fields, Janah is sitting on one, lost in all the colors, sounds and sights she absorbed through my senses. James, Kara, Sis and Chris are with the Epsteins at Kara’s gallery back in the Village. At least some of Manhattan is elsewhere.
Chan carries David on his shoulders, Ning by his side, on a walk around the field. Nikko is occupied brushing my hair. I take in the sights for Janah to enjoy and take in Nikko’s brushing for me to enjoy. Nikko whispers vulgar suggestions in my ear, which gives Janah the giggles.
“You are going to have to deliver on those promises later Nishiko.”
Nikko, “Do I ever fail to deliver?’
“Not that I recall.”
Janah, “You two quit being nasty. I’m trying to catch all the sensory inputs from Daphne’s mind. Then the connection drops when Nikko starts talking dirty.”
“Sure, it’s fine when she talks dirty to you. When she does it to me, you decide you need to study the pansies and smell the tourists.”
Janah, “Quit complaining. You got yours this morning and you’ll get yours tonight. Go for a walk. I can sit here and watch the sights through your eyes while you two flirt and create a sensation among the tourists.”
“When Chan and Ning get back.”
Janah, “They’re coming around the field now.”
I pull Nikko up, we walk over to Chan, “We’re going for a stroll, keep an eye on you know who.”
Chan nods. Ning sits next to Janah and pulls a bottle of tea out and water for David. She shares the tea with Chan while David drinks his water.
Ning, “We have news.”
Janah, “Ah. I thought you might be glowing a bit more than usual. Please, tell me.”
“We’re going to make you, Daphne and Nikko aunts for the second time.”
Janah beams, “Oh my. Perfect news on a perfect spring day. Thank you for sharing it at this blissful moment. May I tell Master Sung and the others? I will leave it to you to tell Mrs. Fong, she will be beside herself. And you must tell the moms, perhaps tonight? Then I have to call Lacy, and see Chuck and Mini, and the Jamaicans will offer incense and much juju. What a grand day.”
Janah drifts off into the bliss.
I hear the conversation while Nikko and I walk, holding hands and enjoying each other.
Nikko, “What’s the giddy grin about?”
“Ning is pregnant.”
Nikko hugs me tightly, I kiss her, Nikko has tears in her eyes, “Your joy for your brother and sister is a beautiful thing.”
Nikko smiles, “I will light incense for him every day, and meditate for he and my sister’s joy each night.”
I whisper in her ear, “And we will light a candle for a girl this time, or the next.”
Nikko, “We may not be doing Ning a favor. If it’s a girl, we will spoil her completely.”
“You say that, and others may believe it, not me. You will see to it that she is strong and independent, not spoiled.”
We walk for a circular mile, past Bethesda Fountain watched over by the Angel of the Waters. We're holding hands, silently enjoying each other, oblivious to the stares of men. Our easy comfort with one another gives more than a few of the women some thoughts about their own sexual preferences.
Nikko and I appear, hug Ning and Chan, we sit quietly on the blankets, even David seems to understand it is a time for stillness. He’s off to the side on one blanket, in reach of his father but not too close. Two pigeons land in front of him.
David reaches out and the birds scoot into his lap. It’s clear to the family that he’s talking with them, despite the silence. David strokes their heads. Passersby stop and stare, not quite comprehending a toddler with two pigeons in his lap and a group of four adults who apparently don’t think anything is unusual.
To their further amazement, the birds waddle over to Janah and sit on her knee. She cocks her head, and they study each other for a time. The birds fly off together towards the south end of Manhattan, towards Chinatown.
Within twenty minutes, Master Hue is telling Master Sung that Chan Li is going to be a father for the second time. The monks gather in the dining hall for a special treat of oolong tea and cakes, then gather for evening meditation.
No fun in babbling into cell phones when you can talk to the birds.
Chapter Eighteen IV
Where action is needed, action happens. You are not the actor.
Yours is to be aware of what's going on. Your very presence is action.
Nisargadatta, I Am That
Two suits approach the table, we’re having tea. Nikko slides in front of them as they walk up, I move to her right. Janah remains seated behind us.
Nikko, “Help you gentlemen?”
They pull up short. The one on the right reaches into his jacket. Nikko has his arm in a lock behind him before he can blink. I face the second, who is still trying to process.
He reaches for Nikko, I snatch his hand, bend it backwards, slip behind him and pull his elbow against my side. At the same moment, my left hand grasps the back of his shirt collar, “You have five seconds to convince me not to permanently handicap you.”
The first one says, ‘Hold up. Christ, I was getting a business card, that’s it. It’s in my jacket pocket. Check it out.”
Nikko ratchets his arm up, he winces, her free hand digs into his pocket. She pulls out a card and hands it to Janah, then reaches under the back of his coat, pulls out a snub nosed thirty eight.
Nikko, “Another business card?”
I spin my new friend around, find a three fifty seven in a shoulder holster. I take it, open the cylinder and dump the bullets into my hand.
“Dang, old style guns. You guys don’t holster nines?”
Suit One, “Don’t need all that firepower. Ours are mostly for show. We’re corporate security, not cops. We just want to talk to Miss Svensson.”
I already know what Janah decided.
“Sit, put your hands on the table, flat,” I flick open my serrated blade, “anything but talk and you’ll be picking your nose with your big toe.”
Suit One nods, Suit Two is rubbing his wrist. He likely never had it yanked back that hard or that far. It will be sore for a week.
“Put ice on it, move it around, don’t just nurse it. Take a lot of aspirin, it’ll reduce the inflammation. You’ll be okay.”
Suit Two looks up at me and nods. It’s plain he isn’t the mouthpiece of the pair. Nikko is on one side, I on the other, just behind them.
Suit One, “We’re only authorized to talk to Miss Svensson.”
Janah speaks for the first time, “Then get more authorization. I’d just tell them everything you said, word for word. It’s beside the point, they won’t leave, even a discrete distance. If you wanted to talk to me alone, you should have shot them first. Of course, they’ve had an eye on you for the last three days. When you followed us to the Village Diner, you were close to disappearing permanently.”
Suit One, “We were just trying to get a moment alone. Nobody’s out to hurt you. We’re the ones looking for help, but I was instructed to speak only to you. Except you’re never by yourself.”
Janah, “I have security issues, they help me feel secure. So, what’s it going to be? Talk or walk?”
Suit One, “Frick, I need to make a call.”
“Not now. Let me save you face, and time. Whatever is said, and whatever I decide, will remain private. Private means me and these two. That also assumes I’m not going to find out a child molester wants protection, or some other crap.”
Suit One, “It’s nothing like that.”
Janah hands him a card, “Then tell your boss to come to this location tomorrow morning at eight thirty. You can come with her.”
Suit One twists his head slightly, was she guessing? “I didn’t say man or woman.”
“You work for Coventry Corporation. Your name is Peter Camille, this gentleman is Marty Shapiro. Your boss is Vanessa Altamont. She has a television show about fashion and home décor, she has substantial contracts with a major department store chain. She has a problem that, should it become public, will implode the whole empire she’s spent her life building.”
Peter, “You validate your reputation. Our sources said you could be trusted absolutely, and that you were on top you your game. They understated. I don’t know if Ms., uh, my boss, can arrange her schedule that quickly…”
Janah, “If she’s the boss, she makes the schedule. See you tomorrow.”
Camille and Shapiro stand, Camille asks me, “Can I have the bullets?”
“Tomorrow, if you come without the gun.”
Camille looks in my eyes, he has never seen human eyes so deeply green as to be black. He turns to Nikko. Check that, he’d never seen eyes so completely black. No color, no shading separates iris from pupil. The message is clear, further discussion is futile. They leave, we walk back to the apartment.
Chapter Nineteen IV
Empires are easy to manage
you need a sense of mission
and dedicated personnel.
I don't have an empire, I do have a mission,
and absolutely dedicated personnel.
Nikko, “How do you know it’s a business problem?”
Janah, “Empire like hers, a personal problem is a business problem. She’s the brand. Even if it’s not a big deal, like she’s in the closet or something, the distraction costs the brand by absorbing her time and energy.”
“You don’t think it’s something as simple as that?”
Janah, “No, for that she’d hire a PR company to whistle and dance until the dust settled. Lesbians are getting popular. It’s a turn on for men, women understand it even if they’re straight. Handled properly, it might actually enhance her business.”
“Maybe I’ll start a fashion line, or knickknack crap, Daphinity Décor. I guarantee Mrs. Epstein would front me.”
Janah laughs, “I can’t have my sex toys tied up running a business. It’s one thing for Nishiko to manage our family property. She does that part time when we’re at the temple. The rest of the time, I want you both around.”
Nikko, “Sex toy is better than CEO.”
“Janah is our CEO.”
“True. She’s particularly good at sexual harassment. I see my job as helping her raise the bar.”
“Play to your strengths, that’s my motto.”
Janah, “We’ll find out what Altamont wants tomorrow. Tonight, I want to receive instruction from my sex coach and demonstrate what I learn on my sex toy.”
“And people think being Janah’s Barbie is all play.”
A few minutes later, there are three nude girls; Nikko kneeling in front of me, making me squirm. Janah is behind Nikko, lovingly attending to Nikko’s most available body part. From time to time, Nikko offers up a tirade of exquisitely erotic expletives. Gasoline on Janah’s already intense fire.
Just as I’m peaking into orgasm I wonder, “What is real life like?”
I hear Janah giggle, then, with a squeal of delight, blissfully lose my mind. The party starts.
I wake up staring at a rather well proportioned black toy. I try to remember who used it on who.
“The last time I saw it, Nikko had it in you.”
Janah, “And you were, uh, occupied.”
“Ah, it's coming back to me. You were busy meeting her strict standards, I was behind her, meeting her other strict standards.”
Janah, “Something like that. Pleasing her pleases me, so it’s not really like I’m doing her the favor.”
“Where’s the other strap-on?”
I laugh, we have several, some designed for one spot, some for another. Nikko uses them on Janah frequently, then found that I am equally responsive. She thinks this a splendid development and is becoming quite an expert.
“Nikko went through two of them on me and one on you. After that, we double teamed her. I presume the toys are in the bathroom, she’s very fussy about cleanliness.”
“Speaking of which, let’s hit the shower.”
“Should we wake Nishiko?’
“I think she might need the rest”
On the way to the bath, I step on an empty tube of deliciously scented lubricant, pick it up, find the cap under the bed.
“Are we out of this? I think so, I’ll put it on the list. It’s a staple, like yogurt and fruit.”
Janah is turning on the shower, “Come wash my hair, and, uh…other stuff…”
I smile, thinking, ‘If I play my cards right, Janah will get all steamy and want to do me. Then I’ll screech at just the right moment and Nikko will wake up and join in.’
Janah, “I love your sense of organization.”
Chapter Twenty IV
An end is come, the end is come:
it watcheth for thee; behold, it is come.
Ezekiel 7:6 King James Version
“You played rough with my security people.”
Janah says nothing. She hadn’t been asked a question. The woman in front of her is in her fifties, earlier rather than later. She’d been a knockout at some point, still has good features, has maintained her figure. She is delicately botoxed Janah observes. Her neck reveals some of the age, not all, she didn’t try to cover it with a scarf or turtle neck. We have no negative judgments about cosmetic enhancement, don’t see it as any different from Pilates class, treadmills or the expensive and mostly useless creams, lotions and mystery supplements people pay extraordinary prices for. We do it too, it’s in girl DNA.
Vanessa, “Did them some good, frankly. Two women toying with them like children. I’d try to hire you myself, except I did my homework, a little late, but I did it. I found out you don’t do for hire. I respect that, it’s almost un-American. Camille is okay, Shapiro doesn’t say much, but he’s honest and discrete. I don’t pay him for likeability.”
She stops, examines Nikko and me standing, we have all the animation of statues. She doesn’t recall knowing anyone who could remain so perfectly still.
“Are your friends always so intimidating?”
Janah, “I don’t pay them for likeability.”
“Touché. Although the one on the left, Daphne, is friends with half of Manhattan I’ve discovered. I’ll cut to the chase. I found you through a friend of a friend on the police department. Daphne has a rep, I think is the word. Further investigation revealed an interesting combination of capacities. The White Angel is known to be most compassionate, has unique healing skills and an uncanny ability to read people’s veracity. One guardian is a Shaolin priest, the other has remained less visible. Nikko is the daughter of Soichi Murakami. Inquiries revealed him to be a highly regarded kendo master, from a clan of samurai warriors.’
Janah, “You are well informed.”
“Yes, I am. I know of your mother, noted artist Kara Kiersted, your father a well known psychiatrist, Daphne’s mothers are successful in their own right. Between Google and my network of friends, some of whom have or have had children in Chapmans, it isn’t very hard. My problem, as you will see, requires absolute discretion. That’s why I wanted to talk to you alone. If you didn’t want to look into it, then I could at least feel like it would stay with you. When that didn’t go as planned, I called Deidre. I should have done so in the first place, but I was embarrassed.”
Janah, “And when you called Mrs. Walker, she explained Daphne and Nikko. So, what can we do for you?
“Deidre Walker has done a remarkable job for me. I owe her a great deal. When I presented my problem to her, she didn’t hesitate. She confirmed you were the one to handle it. I presume she called you.”
“Last night. She told me you asked about us. She didn’t say what you wanted, I didn’t pursue it. I don’t like getting information second hand. It’s hard enough getting it straight from the originator.”
Vanessa Altamont smiles, “You have a clear grasp of human nature. Your father’s influence no doubt.”
Janah doesn’t reply.
“Okay, I’m dodging the issue. You must be curious about what I want.”
Janah, “You’ve committed an indiscretion, serious enough to have to reveal yourself to strangers, not something you do lightly. You are used to issuing orders and having them carried out. You don’t offer explanations. You are a demanding boss, necessary in a business world dominated by aggressive and frequently unscrupulous men. Not that there aren’t a reasonable share of conniving manipulative women around. I presume it’s sexual in nature, otherwise it’s more of a legal matter. You don’t strike me as a financial fraud, or tolerant of accounting manipulations. Actually, you are conservative in the extreme, your stock has been hurt by the complaints of analysts on that very point. Still, you’ve held your ground. Warren Buffet would be proud. Most people treat depreciation expense like free money. You actually reserve for repair, replacement and maintenance. Consequently you avoid nasty surprises. You also don’t pay yourself or your executives stupidly high bonuses or give away company stock like it’s cheap candy on Halloween. That hurts you competitively according to the same shortsighted analysts. They seem to ignore the fact that your core team has remained in place for years.”
I wonder, “Geez, when did you find out all this? We spent last night having unrestrained sex.”
Vanessa Altamont, “Geez, when did you find out all this?”
Janah, “I can read research reports like anyone else.”
“So that’s what you were doing on the computer while I was making breakfast. Glad I didn’t check in, I would have fallen asleep.”
Vanessa, “Okay, okay. I’m coming to it. You’ve figured it out for the most part. I know it sounds lame, maybe it is, but with the pressure of work, I found shedding certain inhibitions relaxed me. It kept my brain from racing around on business matters twenty four hours a day. I spend all day being the boss, the answer woman, I am the Vanessa Altamont brand. If I had known what it would grow into, I’d have called it Mrs. Fields or something. I get tired of being the boss, the ultimate authority. Do you understand?’
Janah, “So you found a way to be bossed, to be submissive to put it bluntly, the bottom of the totem pole, no decisions, just obey.”
Vanessa blinks, her face shades just a bit, she says quietly, “Yes. I became a sex slave. It was role play, but I let myself go, got into it. It sounds dumb, foolish, but it was a great release.”
“She should hire Nikko.”
Janah, “Nikko’s taken. Cut the cracks, I’m trying to be serious and you’re going to make me laugh. This woman doesn’t know we could care less about her sex play. One night with Nikko and she’d never want to be the boss again.”
Janah, “Ms. Altamont, I don’t care how you relieve stress. You don’t have to be embarrassed. I do understand that, in your position, it affects more than you. People make judgments, they cut your lines in their stores, you lose business, you have to downsize. It never ends. Obviously, someone you trusted in your extracurricular activities has decided to blackmail you. Going to the police, or an unknown private agency just opens more windows.”
Her lip trembles, a tear rolls down one cheek, she dabs at it with a tissue, “I don’t care what people believe about me. I have enough money, the business could fold tomorrow, I’m not going to starve. But there are dozens of very good people who are depending on our continued existence. People who have turned down lucrative offers to stay with me, to build our company. It seems so stupid. I didn’t do anything illegal, I didn’t involve anyone but consenting adults.”
Janah, “What’s the threat exactly?”
Vanessa sighs, “I made the same stupid mistake that catches pop stars and politicians. Part of the fun was watching the video afterwards, when I was alone. I have maybe a few hours, most of it tame enough. Sometimes I’d play it and, uh, you know…”
“Someone got copies.”
“Oh, I know who has them. I’ve been paying him. He tells me the next payment is the last, but it never is. It’s digitized, I have no way of knowing where it’s stored, it may be a dozen places. He downloaded it off my home computer over a couple of months. I paid him for his services, he never showed any interest in the video, or the computer. I was stupid because I thought he was stupid. Just a hired stud to push me around, smack me with a flimsy whip, make me do this or that. It’s S&M light, but that wouldn’t matter to the public or my clients. I sell domestic bliss, not porn.”
“What do you want me to do? I can’t guarantee it will all disappear. We don’t do murder. If we slap him around, he might post it out of revenge.”
“Yes. All that’s occurred to me.”
“On the other hand, blackmail is despicable, so I’ll look into it. What’s the guy’s name, is there another person involved? Did he bring anyone over to help, participate?”
Vanessa, “Towards the end a few times. A girl, young, eighteen or nineteen. But she dressed younger. She was very pretty, petite. I…did things for her.”
“She have a name?”
“I only knew her as Mistress. I was her slave. God, this sounds so ridiculous doesn’t it?’
“I’m familiar with versions of it. It’s not so unusual. In the right circumstances, with the right people, it’s harmless. It’s up to you, but it would help if I knew what they look like.”
Vanessa thinks for a moment, “I’ve already given you the general idea, I suppose a few minutes of video doesn’t matter. I would feel better if you came over to my place and watched it, I don’t want yet another copy out of my hands.”
“Understandable. If it troubles you, you can set it up and leave the room. I’ll see what I need to see and leave.”
Vanessa, “Can you come tomorrow, in the evening, say seven?”
“You’ll need my address.
“I have it.”
Vanessa, “But how…” she shrugs, “never mind, I’ve obviously come to the right place.”She stands, shakes Janah’s hand, nods at us and leaves.