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Chapter Twenty One
Janah heads to her bedroom, Chloe says, “Me too, Amaya will you lay down with me?”
“Let me deconstruct, I'll be a minute.”
Amaya finds her under the sheet and comforter, a long stick floating on the ocean liner bed. She is nude.
“Take off your t-shirt, I want to feel you against me.”
Amaya does, earns a kiss, one that lingers on her lips.
Chloe, “We are in tune, I feel it more and more. I wonder what that's about?”
“My experience is all we need do is nothing. Life reveals on its schedule, not ours.”
After a zone out rest, Chloe says, “Shall we shower before tea?”
They get under the rainforest shower in her bathroom one giant spray from above, another shower head with a wand on the front wall. Amaya soaps her up, use the pumice stone on her feet until they are soft and smooth.
Hair dryers scream, then to the bedroom.
Amaya, “What do you want?”
Chloe, “Are we going out?”
“Home for the evening.”
“Then just a t-shirt.”
She pulls a slinky silk top over her head, long sleeves, adds thigh high socks, folds them down to the tops of her knees. Slips on her clunky platforms while Chloe checks herself out in the mirror. A smear of clear lip gloss on her finger, Amaya swipes it over Chloe’s lips.
Chloe, “Thank you.”
I come in, “Let me take care of Amaya.”
Chloe, “I’ll do it, it’s time for tea and a snack.”
I look at Amaya, she smiles slyly, “One slave is as good as another.”
Chloe hops on her and tickles, “I'll teach you who is mistress,” Amaya is screeching as I leave to prepare tea.
Soon, I'm passing around tea and cookies, “God, it is so good to be home with everyone and an evening with zero to do but appreciate it.”
Janah, “Only you would say that cooking dinner is zero to do.”
“I like it, Nikko and Zi come by frequently to cop a feel, I may cook all night.”
“I'll do my part and eat all night,” Chloe and Amaya come in and sit on the mat with Nikko and Zi.
Janah, “On my, look how splendid, a girl garden of magnificent orchids.”
I feel Janah drift off into the bliss, a state she enters beyond common meditation, beyond qi, something even she can't describe adequately. It's a state of intense energy, but not using energy, rather receiving it. Some days she's in and out all day. It comes when it comes, leaves when it leaves, she does not bring it on, or attempt to retain it.
I go to the kitchen and forage. There’s always pasta and a supply of fresh vegetables. I decide it's too early to make the simple dinner. In preparation, I get out two big skillets, chop and grate, cover the vegetables and return them to the refrigerator.
I set out pate, open champagne and wine, I feel Zi behind me, hand swipes my tush, feels good.
I turn and kiss her, “You give the best fondle.”
“Can I help?”
“Crackers, no, there are two baguettes, slice them and toast the slices for the pâté. There's a jar of caviar in there, and the little spoons. Janah will need carrot sticks and celery with cream cheese mushed on. Use the herbal one.”
I fill the big pot half full of water for later, looking in the pantry deciding whether to use standard spaghetti, shells or rotini, I hear Amaya, “Rotini, less sloppy than spaghetti,” I pull out rotini, feel hands up my tummy slip over my breasts and down to my hips, then a gentle kiss on my shoulder, it's Chloe. I turn, holding a box of pasta in one hand, she wears her big toothy smile, I lean over and kiss her, then she kisses me again, two beats. She turns and helps Zi with the appetizers.
Nikko, “Chloe is getting affectionate.”
“So it seems. I'm not sure what to think. I'm not going to shut her down, it seems..not right.”
“Of course it's not right. She comes from getting beaten every day, makes near miraculous progress in becoming an integrated joyful human being. We discover she's even a Sensitive. To start getting moralistic about her show of genuine affection would be stupid. She sees us with each other, she wants to be part of it. Christ, that she wants anything to do with people after her young life is almost baffling in itself.”
“You're right, I know she loves being held, tenderly touched. Perhaps it's enough for her now.”
“Zi says she glows around us, and sparkles with Amaya, says she's only seen that in this family.”
“Ah, then you make me sparkle.”
“It turns out, I do. Zi said it's different between each of us. I like that, we are the same, yet with nuances in each relationship.”
“Well, we do have a variety of intimacy differences one with another. I suppose that it shows up in our energy emanations makes sense inside our strangeness.”
“Strange is what we're about, normal sucks. Can you imagine being regular people?”
“That, precious one, is beyond even my imaginative powers.”
We gather at the table, nibble away, jazz plays in the undercurrent, we talk of small things, simple togetherness.
Chloe makes Amaya’s vodka, brings the pâté to the low table, pours champagne, girls gather around. For the next hour there is shamisen, singing, a recap of Amaya’s latest book.
“It is set in Los Angeles, but the character travels the world. I started thinking of my own story, then morphed it from a girl who’s parents pimp her out to one who is twelve, her parents’ neglect allows her to do as she pleases. She quickly discovers that men and women will pay for her company, she takes full advantage. Inside of a year, she’s got stacks of cash she locks in a safe, too young to open a bank account, and too slick to let her parents know about the money. When she’s fourteen, her parents mysteriously disappear, courtesy of our protagonist and she’s co-opted their bank and brokerage accounts. Online nobody knows your age. In the course of her self-employment as an escort, there is blackmail, murder and mayhem.”
Chloe, “Sounds delicious, can’t wait to read it.”
“First draft is done, I sent it off to the editor, you can read the draft if you wish, it’s on my laptop, a word file called Child Escort. I have not decided on a title, sometimes the editor thinks up something good.”
Nikko, “Sounds like something the young Chloe Moretz would have played in a movie.”
Amaya, “Yes, and I think this one will get optioned for a film, it is a great vehicle for a new young star, like Natalie Portman in The Professional, or Moretz in Hit Girl.”
Zi, “I’ve never seen Hit Girl.”
“Great, we can watch it after dinner, it’s not bad, more like cartoon violence.”
The evening plotted, it’s time get rotini bubbling. Chloe stir fries vegetables, careful to start with the firm ones, add the more delicate later so they don't get cooked to glop. There are green, yellow and red peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, snow peas, leek and garlic. Also tomatoes stuffed with Boscoli olive salad and Panko bread crumbs baking in the oven. I have warm olive oil on the table, grated Parmesan and Romano, capers, anchovies, a crusty loaf of warm Ciabatta.
Janah, “Chloe, you are a stir fry artist. May I have another pile of pasta and a slice of bread please?”
I refill Chianti, seems most appropriate, they like Chianti, Zi and I share a glass. Chloe likes champagne, she has a half glass of wine, her first foray into the red.
Chloe, “It's good, it tastes of tart fruit and wood. I like to let it sit on my tongue.”
You never know. Most kids start with junk so sweet it would choke a hummingbird.
We noodle around with the movie, after Chloe Mortez finishes ripping apart bad guys, we wander off to bed. I get Chloe tucked in, kiss her cheeks a dozen times while she giggles, “Daphne, I know you and Amaya have...plans....if I wake up can I creep in later?”
Amaya leans in for a kiss, Chloe gives her a long intimate one, “Am I doing it right?”
“You are doing it wonderfully, all minty and smooth.”
I stroke the side of her face, she closes her eyes, I hit the light, nightlights blink on. I go to Amaya's room.
She's being devastating, stretched out in herself, she cocks one luscious leg, “You know what to do.”
And I do. A long while later, she is deliciously delirious, spooned into me, her skin is pure satin. This, I decide, is good, magnificent actually.
Amaya, “Of course it is, it's me, silly. Now hold me so I can sleep.”
Chapter Twenty Two
When I wake up, there’s another long legged creature between Amaya and me. She’s facing me, wrapped up by Amaya. I see violet eyes studying me.
I run my finger along her nose, then her soft lips, I whisper, “Amaya is still out, can you stay there for a bit so she doesn't wake.”
Chloe grins, “Who would want to unwrap themselves from Amaya?”
I ease out of bed, do the bathroom shuffle, slip my peasant shirt on and out to get the day going. It's seven and we need to be at the diner for eight thirty. Coffee's made, tea is steeped, I have croissants warm in the oven, hard boiled eggs on the table, fruit and yogurt in the refrigerator if they decide they would rather stay in than get dressed.
I flip open the laptop and read the Times while I sip coffee. I feel Janah in motion, Nikko and Zi are still asleep. In my head, I see Janah looking at me from her bedroom door, I get up and make her tea, and prepare a small bowl of fruit and a couple of spoons of yogurt. She turns her head for a kiss on her cheek, her neck. She opens another laptop and glances through the paper, then starts in on e-mail.
David, not Chan's son, his namesake, David who was in the temple with us, is a contemplative. When he left the temple to be out in the world, we sent him on a tour of the Far East, through Shaolin temples and Buddhist monasteries throughout Asia.
He was rather underwhelmed. He told us the places were mostly filthy, the food lousy and a good number of them in it for tourist dollars. Some of the varieties of Buddhism are more about rebirth, complicated methodologies and ritual than we have at the temple. We have no opinion on rebirth, this life is enough to deal with, we don’t see Buddha as any sort of God, we don’t consider any of it sacred or holy.
David wasn't complaining or judging, it was an observation. How they handle their affairs is not his business. It is also not his interest. He returned to New York and Janah asked him to take over the schools we'd created across the river. We have both a boys' and a girls' school with free tuition plus room and board if students preferred to live there. The students are gifted, perhaps not like Chapmans, but talented in some way. They were stifled and uninterested in normal schools. As usual, that meant truant or creating problems just out of boredom.
At our school, the day starts at seven a.m. with martial arts, for exercise, not fighting. Then breakfast, a rigorous day of study broken up by a snack break in the morning, a healthy lunch at one followed by a rest break, more study until the end of the day, which is frequently six o'clock. Boarding students have dinner. Over half the students board; our beds, baths and food is better than they could hope for at home, and free. Students who can't take the hours can opt to leave, there are waiting lists in every grade.
David doesn't give them time to get distracted, don’t get off all summer, school is in session eleven months a year. Students are expected to take care their personal areas themselves, and clean the common areas collectively. The littlest ones get little jobs, the older students get many more jobs, no different than the temple. Seniors can't lord it over anyone. The only right they have is to set the example for the others, take greater responsibility, not less. Students can wear what they wish, the only rule is it's clean and they’re clean. Many of our teachers are monks. Our lay teachers get the highest salaries in the area, they earn it. Although the school runs eleven months a year, it is open for boarding all year.
There are no drugs, monks patrol the area around the school. Punks find someplace else to hang out. The six blocks around our school has the lowest crime rate of any neighborhood in the city. Property values skyrocketed and held through the rest of the country's real estate implosion.
We let David run the school, he makes all the administrative decisions. If he needs money for a project, there's no problem, we get more donations than we can spend. Dissertation hopefuls apply regularly to study the school. They are usually turned away, or turn themselves away since our policy is that they can't hang around unless they also teach or tutor. We are not a lab for grad students or 'educators.' We are a school.
That's the extra long explanation for why Janah gets e-mail updates from David. He isn't required to send Janah anything, but we do like knowing what's going on. Occasionally he asks for her input on this or that expense. He knows Janah didn't turn our school over to him so he could ask her a thousand questions about how to run it.
She also gets e-mail from former Chapmans students, the temple and people we've met along the path. A hundred or more a week. Not bad. She usually sails through them at or after breakfast. If it's a family breakfast, we don't do text and email. In other words, if we are together eating at the table, technology disappears. If we are spread out over the apartment, do as you please.
It's time to go see Rocco. Our girls are up and having breakfast light, checking on their texts and e-mails. Janah and I leave for the diner.
We go to the room that isn't there. It's designated 'storage,' a room off a hallway to the restrooms. Inside, the walls are lined with stacks of supplies, extra crockery, a layer of soundproofing. The door is lined with sound boards. There’s a table that can fit five or six, hard back chairs. Not a room for 'conferences,' a room to sort stuff out. Politicians, gangsters and worse lowlifes like lawyers and business execs, meet here to hash out things they don't want in their own backrooms and boardrooms. This is New York, the room stays reasonably busy. There is no charge, there is also no service. No waiter comes in, you want water, bring a bottle. You are free to get a coffee, donut or bagel from the counter and bring it in, no service to the room. Clean up after yourself or find a new spot to meet.
Rocco, “Here's the name of the guy we do business with. I had him followed in the beginning, made sure he isn't undercover. This is the bar he goes to straight after meeting, every time. Never varies, like a Swiss watch. Since he’s legitimately illegitimate, I never went deeper. No point I could see at the time. Our people watched for a while, bikers come and go. Whoever is inside, he don't get out much. And these are bikers, it ain't like the boss wears a suit.”
Janah, “No handle on who they’re in the coke business with?”
“None. Like I said, we verified the bikers wasn't the cops or DEA. This other business appeared outta nowhere. I don't know if the bikers are tight or intimidated. People think bikers, they think tough. If you're a citizen, a biker is tough. If you're a Colombian who slices up an enemy's family, a biker is a pansy. Like the theory of relativity, except for relatives.”
“Good to see a gangster with a handle on current physics.”
“All Italians ain't into the Catholic church and makin' babies. Some of us actually read books.”
Rocco nods, “Yeah, like him. But also like Marcus Aurelius, Dante, Galileo, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Columbus, Fibonacci and Fermi. I try to spend time productively while I’m waiting around on Adriana.”
Janah, “Point taken,” we stand, shake hands, “We’ll look into the difficulty. No one will call from our end, if you get more threats or problems, tell Mini.”
Rocco leaves, we wait a few minutes, it's quarter to nine. At five of nine, we leave and go to a booth. At nine the girls come in. We split into two booths and order a massive amount of breakfast. Waffles seems to be on everyone's mind, eggs to order, bacon, ham or sausage.
Chapter Twenty Three
Amaya and I are in the Escalade alone, no Angelo. We're in New Jersey, a few miles off the interstate on a back road, near a township called Glen Garden, sixty five miles from Manhattan. The bar is isolated, just a dirt parking lot and two dozen bikes out front. The front door is open, a mix of country and rock pours out the door. A couple of bikers leave, three more appear. A nod to a past cultural phenomenon, the name on the sign is Hog-Warts. Cute.
White Lincoln Navigator pulls up, a Latino gets out with a big duffel bag and goes in the bar. It's heavy. He's there less than five minutes, comes back out with a similar bag, except it’s empty.
“What do you suppose was in the bag?”
Amaya, “Either this is where he gets his gym clothes washed, or money.”
The Lincoln pulls away, Amaya drives out from the side of an abandoned gas station and we cruise a comfortable distance behind the white car.
“I can see him from forever, pull over and let a car or two pass, we won’t lose him.”
She does, then we resume following the small white square. He drives nearly twenty five miles, then off the Interstate to a subdivision in Bridgewater NJ. Pretty simple following, it's mostly I-78. He turns in the drive of a big house, relatively new, three car garage, on a wealthy stretch of Mountain Road.
“Janah, here's an address for the Society, and the plates from a white Lincoln Navigator, fairly new.”
Janah, “Got it.”
“I'm going to snoop, drive down the block, then around the neighborhood. I'll mental you where to collect me.”
Amaya drives farther down the street, I get out and do my best Shaolin creep. I'm lightly disguised, in working clothes, best to be prepared when you’re doing surveillance on a biker bar. Then this little surprise.
I go alongside the house next door, make my way to the back of the backyard. House is dark inside, people must be at work, lucky me.
At the corner of the property, I'm behind a massive stand of hedge, eight feet high. I crawl through on my stomach just far enough to scope the yard. There are men sitting around the patio, there's a pool. Half a dozen women with breasts the size of soccer balls are either sunning or in the pool, no tops, wisps of fabric for thong bottoms. If there are teenage boys in the hood, I could be overwhelmed any second.
The men are smoking cigars, telling jokes in Spanish, two more soccer moms come from inside and refill drinks. They earn slaps on the ass for their trouble. It looks like a movie about Colombian coke dealers, all the clichés are in place, gold chains, Rolex watches, clunky gold rings, mustaches, short sleeved white or pattern shirts, some balding heads, some thick black and, well, greasy. Pussy moustache on one, longer droopy one on another. I wonder if I've stumbled into a low budget movie set. No cameras, I guess not.
Amaya, “Jesus, Maria, Jose, it looks like the set for a flick about the Medellin Cartel.”
I take mental snapshots of the men, some of the women for Janah's entertainment. Janah, “Good Lord, what heifers, huge tits, pumpkin butts jiggle like Jell-O when they walk, so not my type.”
I tune in my hearing. While the conversation is in Spanish, I hear Eduardo, Alexis, Paco, no last names. The man most attended to is older, balding, has the look of the boss. The others laugh hilariously when he makes a joke, nod seriously when he speaks, waves his cigar hand to make a point. My eyes zoom in and take another round of mental photos.
Janah, “Good enough, they’re just talking macho crap, they aren’t going to talk business with the women around. Get going.”
Chapter Twenty Four
Morning, I'm in the kitchen caffeinating and thinking over breakfast, the troops start coming in.
I start not breaking eggs, inspired to soft boil today, like Janah soft boiled me last night right after she hard boiled me. I make a box of grits, fry a stack of bacon, biscuits are in the oven. As they near completion, I start in on eggs.
Chloe, “Amaya has such neat accessories for me to steal.”
Amaya, “At least you do not sneak. It is all hanging on the necklace and bracelet bars on your dresser. I feel like I am snitching it from you.”
“When she looks at you with those innocent violet eyes, you practically hand her the stuff yourself.”
She smiles, “I can no more refuse her than you can me. I have a slave and am a slave. If I am a neurotic, I am a deliriously happy one. You may kiss me.”
I do, we linger, she tastes too good to make it short.
Nikko, “You two would make out constantly if we didn't have lives to lead.”
Amaya, “I fail to detect a problem.”
“It's a wonder your lips don't chap.”
“That's why God created lip gloss, silly.”
Chloe eases herself onto Nikko's lap, “See, here's how it works,” she gives Nikko a dainty kiss.
I feel Nishiko's heart melt, she says, “Geisha tricks, just like Amaya.”
Chloe giggles, “We are masters of manipulation, to which you willingly submit.”
Nikko surrenders, strokes her cheek, Chloe sighs, “I am the center of the universe.”
We explode in laughter, she is so right.
Janah, “If Daphne will locate me a cup of tea, we need to discuss our current problem.”
I do, she opens the discussion, “I got information from the Society website about our Latins. Like a cliché, they are Colombian. Eduardo is Eduardo Rojas, a recent immigrant who owns vast swaths of property in South and North America. He is estimated to be worth five hundred million, not including cash he can't launder. The Feds are either asleep, or he’s on a remarkably loose leash for reasons unknown. Paco is Paco Días, Eduardo's security chief, alleged to have masterminded the elimination of dozens of competitors, judges and police throughout Colombia and Latin America. He is ruthless, likes his violence extra bloody so as to leave an indelible impression. Friends, family, makes no difference to him. Alexis is Alexis Moreno, he's in charge of day to day financials. Rojas gets a report every day, he's not a delegator when it comes to his business.”
Nikko, “Can we get the Society to do surveillance? We know nothing about these people or their movements and we're hardly in a position to follow everyone around.”
“Already done. I don't want to screw with the bikers until I know if Rocco's assertion is accurate, that they are not happy with the situation.”
Zi, “How do we find that out?”
“Black and Chan are going to pay them a visit as soon as I can get them their very own hogs.”
Which she does. They spend a week learning the ropes and the vernacular. They don't need to be motorcycle trick artists, they need to be able to ride them to the bar, get off, go in and ask a few questions, then leave. Janah hires an expert, one of Mini's pals who’d been riding the things for years. Black and Chan get enough proficiency to do the task. They are Shaolin priests, with intricate mind body skills. Fat guys with limps can ride motorcycles, look around.
One fine Friday afternoon, two not-chopped hogs pull up in front of Hog-Warts. One dude is Black, and the size of defensive lineman without the body fat. The other is not so tall, built like a stainless steel refrigerator. Biker crap, jeans, boots, leather vests, chains all over the place. Unlike most biker chains for show, these unsnap in a millisecond and can remove a limb the next.
They stomp into Hog-Warts, guys are drinking beer, bunch of trashy looking girls around. Apparently biker girls have to have nasty tattoos, big tits, no brains, chain smoke and, despite smoking, carry at least thirty extra pounds. Maybe it has something to do with balancing out the bike sitting behind their fat ass 'daddy.'
An epiphany, the term 'hogs' suddenly makes sense.
A slow witted chunk of semi-human fronts at Black, “Help ya?”
Black doesn't answer him, he looks around, “Shee-it, looks like I might be able to help you. This shithole the best you can do with a million a month in income?”
A second dope, not as slow witted as the first, says, “What's it to you, boy?”
Black, “You profilin' cracker?”
The man starts to react, then Black steps toward him, the shadow Black creates helps cracker decide to give it a rest. Good decision.
Black, “Who runs this bitch ass outfit?”
A third dude, somewhat less stupid than one and two asks, “May I ask who wants to know?”
Black, “Fuckin' A,” he unzips the bag he carries, “A honky named Franklin, he askin' ten thousand times. For those of you who can't make change, that's...”
A voice comes out of the dark corner, “A million dollars.”
Black, “Well, well, well, intelligence. Just as I was thinkin' I done run up against a roomful of retards.”
“What can I do for you, Mr. ....?”
“Franklin, you can call me Franklin.”
Black, “My tribe needs to wash some Benjamins. We heard you might know a good laundry.”
The voice says, “Must have been misinformed. We ride bikes, drink beer, fuck.”
“Somebody whispered in my ear about a certain company, or companies,” Black reeled off names the voice would know, “and that these entities could make Benjamin as white as the man himself, for a nice cut of course.”
Voice, “I'd like to help you Mr. ...Franklin, but I don't have the resources.”
“My underground railroad also says certain, um, persons of the Latin persuasion are interfering with normal business operations.”
“Don't know what you are talking about.”
“Shall I speak more plainly right here, or should we have a less public exchange?”
“Come on over.”
Boss is fifty-ish, doesn't look near as dumb as his troops, wears no gang colors. Credit to him, the colors clash, Amaya would be most distraught.
Black, “Understand you had a tidy arrangement to clean money for your people. Then some assholes from down south, way down south, got wind of it. Now you bein' pressed to up the spin cycle. How am I doin'?”
“You seem well informed.”
“Yeah, I am more well informed than you can possibly understand. I am not official, I am a....concerned citizen, representing other concerned citizens. We don't care about weed, we don't care about how you clean your money. We care about coke assholes who kill anything in the way of what they want.”
“Presuming I have such a problem, what can you do about it?”
“Make it go away. Look, did I ask who you are? No, I don't give a shit. I want to know one thing. Do I have to deal with you before the Latins, or am I doing you a favor by making them gone? If you want relief from insane spics, I can provide it. If you want to sleep with them, then you go with them. My sources say you are in with them under duress, not choice. So, what is it?”
“You waltz in here with one guy backing you and expect me to take your word on anything, are you fuckin' crazy?”
“If you think I walked in here with that guy and nothing outside, I regret your stupidity. Right now, there is C4 packed in every bike, with a cap. The dope you think is on guard is unconscious. I'll sit here while you check it out.”
Voice, “Buddy, get your fat ass outside, find Twitch and check the bikes.”
A few minutes passes, Buddy reappears, “Uh, boss, uh...”
“Out with it asshole.”
Buddy, “Twitch, well, he's layin' in the dirt. The bikes, they got some sort of stuff stuck to a coupla gas tanks, with a fuse kinda thing stickin' out.”
“Get lost, Buddy. And nobody leaves, just be cool.”
Voice, “Let me tell you a story.”